Month: April 2012

Perhentian Islands – Malaysian tropical paradise

The Perhentian Islands are lovely. From Penang you can drive to Kuala Besut and take a 40 minute ride on a speedboat; or take a bus to Kuala Besut; or fly to Kota Baru on Firefly and make your way to Kuala Besut by bus or taxi.

Location of Perhentian Islands

Perhentian Islands

We chose to drive, as detailed in my previous blog – “Road Trip – Penang to the east coast of Malaysia by car” There is a secure parking lot to the left of the Samudera Hotel, and this costs RM7 per day (not per 24 hours or night) – so RM 20 for Monday – Wednesday for us – with RM1 discount.

The story starts on our first morning in Kuala Besut, having endured the night at a local hotel. We had booked a three-day / two-night all-inclusive package at the Bubu Resort. This includes the boat ride to and from the island. Bubu has many packages, which can include a bus from the airport, then the boat, too. Another resort is Shari-la, which we walked past but didn’t enter. However friends of ours stay there and like it. There are many boat companies at the new jetty – which you can’t miss because it is all sparkling new and very orange.

very orange jetty

If you want to go to the islands and have no booking, it is easy enough to book a ride as there are so many agents at the jetty – but you may have to wait until the boat is full until it departs. Bubu has an office at the jetty, and we left our luggage there and it was taken care of until they delivered it to our room at the resort. A few minutes before departure we were ushered to the tax window where we had to pay an “environmental” tax of RM5 per person for up to three days – RM2 for pensioners – which we didn’t bother asking for.

tax details

Then we boarded the boat…

speed boat to island

There were only eight people on our boat, and we were asked to wear life jackets. It wasn’t scary, but the boat ride can be bumpy as they drive quickly,

a bit bumpy

and takes about 35 – 40 minutes to the jetty near the resort.

Bubu Resort from the boat, just before arrival

At the jetty a hotel representative greets you…

view of resort from jetty

and accompanies you to the hotel cafe/restaurant where you are immediately served a welcome drink – non-alcoholic, but nice and not sickly sweet as you often receive in Malaysia and Thailand.

you are presented with a welcome drink

welcome drink and view from cafe / restaurant

The representative then explains about the resort and the activity schedule, and lets you know when your room is ready.

Itinerary for 3 days / 2 nights

As it was about 12:00 noon, we had to wait about an hour before we could take our room, but we just wandered down to the beach.

beach

And then a little later were invited to take possession of our room.

The accommodation block

we were on the third (top) floor

We had requested the top floor as mosquitoes would likely be less of a problem.

room view

The room had a nice view of the resort and beach…

view from room

And what do you know? Lunch was being served, so we wandered down for that.

buffet dinner

You may notice from the time stamp that this photo is actually dinner, and this is because the buffet lunch and buffet dinner on the first day were more or less the same. This is simply what I chose, but of course it is all you wish to eat.  Thereafter we spent some time under the beach umbrellas, and swimming.

beach view

Then it was time for our snorkelling practice near the hotel.  We rented a life jacket, snorkel and mask for RM40 per person (for the duration of our stay), and just wandered down near the jetty to water about neck-deep, and snorkelled with the guide watching over us.

snorkelling near the resort

I found it was not necessary to wear the life jacket – if you just lay in the water you floated anyway, and you could watch the lovely tropical fish on the coral to your heart’s content, just peacefully breathing through the snorkel – you not the fish.  After about 45 minutes we wandered back for afternoon tea – although I was still full from lunch.

Afternoon tea – chocolate pastry, butter biscuits, and some strange fish thing you eat with chilli sauce.

view from restaurant to beach

Then it was back to the deck chairs.  And before you know it is happy hour – cocktails 20% off.  They were pretty popular with the guests.

happy hour cocktails

Some time after this we were escorted to the other side of the island to view the sunset. This was about a 15 minute walk.

walkway across the island

And we viewed the sunset from in front of the Shari-la resort.

sunset walk

almost sunset

The path there is very simple – you’d have to try really hard to get lost. So we walked back before it got dark as there was no lighting.  It was almost dinner time – not that we were really hungry.  As I mentioned, it was pretty much the same as lunch, so see the lunch photo. In case you didn’t buy an all-inclusive deal, there are plenty of eating places in shacks along the beach, and also near Shari-la.  But Bubu was the most upmarket (although Shari-la is similar), and the rest various stages of down-market.  If you eat a-la-carte at Bubu, here is one page of the menu as an idea.

One page of Bubu’s a la carte menu – there are more pages

And this is the restaurant and bar on the beach.

Same place we had welcome drinks, so you can see that photo for the beach view.

Speaking of the bar, the price of drinks  at Bubu was very similar to any other place along the beach, but the atmosphere at Bubu is much nicer.  I saw one kiosk selling beer for RM7, but it had no seating – just the beach. Here is Bubu’s drinks menu…

drinks menu page 1

drinks menu page 2

There is no refrigerator in the room, by the way.

So, that was Day One. Pretty busy, but still plenty of time on the beach and  in the water.

Day Two, I was up before dawn to greet the sun as I usually do anyway.  And to grab the best deck chairs.

sunrise from Bubu’s beach

And then a nice swim.  I discovered that breakfast is probably the best meal – if you like western breakfasts.

my breakfast choice to start – then I went back for more

There were really nice croissants freshly baked, chicken, sausages, bread, jam, fruit and others.  This is the restaurant where all-inclusive patrons eat their meals.

Part of the breakfast buffet, with the egg chef to the left.

Next came the highlight of the holiday – and I have no photos because I was afraid of getting my camera wet, and because I couldn’t photograph underwater anyway. This was a three-hour boat trip to three different points to snorkel and see the sea life. First we were taken near the shore of the other island and snorkelled, and saw many tropical fish – but much of the coral had died.  No currents here, so no life jacket really necessary if you can swim OK, unless you want to play it safe.  Then we were taken to another spot on the coast of the same island, where again we saw fish, and also a shark about four or five feet long. Again no life jacket really necessary for swimmers.  Finally we were taken to a spot between the two islands to see turtles.  Here the current was strong, so wearing a life jacket was advisable. Those turtles sure move fast, but I saw one for a little while.

Back on land, and I was tired, but satisfied. And, it was lunch time.  Lunch was similar to the day before – watermelon, pineapple, chicken, rice, cooked vegetables, salad…  Then back to the deck chairs to relax.

deck chairs and beach umbrellas

Then afternoon tea.

afternoon tea – today cake, samosa and sausage roll

There was another walk to a high spot on the island, but we skipped it in favour of lying on the deck chairs, a bit more snorkelling nearby, and going for a slow walk along the beach and back. Dinner this night was a BBQ, and it was delicious. Fish, prawns, clams, lamb, potato, corn, and skewered vegetables.

delicious BBQ dinner

We opted for a 4PM boat back to the mainland, so as to get an almost full day on the beach, and spent the day swimming, lying on the deck chairs and doing some more snorkelling.

last chance to snorkel

The boat trip back was part of the package, but was a shared boat – which meant the captain picked up people from other places – and involved doing one circuit of the island – which was a bonus. And then back to Kuala Besut and the final adventure – we decided to drive to Kuala Lumpur from there – so took a route we’d never done before from north-east to south-west.

Bubu was great, and the minor complaints patrons had made in the past, such as no soap provided, had been addressed, so management is doing its best to satisfy customers, it seems. Mosquitoes were not much of a problem. The staff were helpful and very friendly. Some of the food was really good. Some was between OK and good. Drink prices were reasonable for Malaysia. Activities were relaxed and fun. We really enjoyed ourselves.

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Road Trip – Penang to the east coast of Malaysia by car

We booked a holiday at the Perhentian Islands, departing from the jetty at Kuala Besut, but neither the flight schedule nor the bus schedule was convenient for us, and there is a secure parking area near the jetty, so we drove.  Besides, it is an interesting drive. It would take about five hours non-stop, and is about 350KM, much of the way being on Route 4.

map of route

In fact, it was an adventure – due to the driving of many of the other road users. We departed earlyish Sunday morning, thinking that traffic would be light.  And we decided to take it slowly and look at a few sights along the way. At first one drives along the motorway, and then a fairly flat and straight road past Kulim. Traffic was light.

flat and easy going

Later it starts to climb, and is hilly until one reaches  the plain on the other side, around Jeli.

slightly hilly

The traffic stayed reasonably light at the slopes became steeper, and there were some lorries and a few buses, but most traffic was passenger cars.

some hills were terraced

A small but significant minority of drivers took the risk of overtaking around blind corners or before the crests of hills. I took the precaution of following another vehicle where possible.  Unfortunately, it was not always possible. Now that it was quite hilly and many curves, overtaking was often difficult.  One oncoming driver didn’t let the small matter that he couldn’t see the road ahead over the crest of a hill discourage him from overtaking a lorry, nor when he noticed our car in his path heading straight towards him did he abandon his manoeuvre.  Fortunately for us there happened to be a verge on the side of the road – usually there wasn’t – and I braked hard then pulled off the road, while that driver carried on his suicidal way, past the lorry, and on possibly to shorten someone else’s life.

the earth was very red

So far there had not really been anywhere to stop, apart from mostly uninviting looking mini-hawker centres. No where to stop and admire the view. However, now we come across Lake Temengor. As you approach the bridge shown below, there is a military base on the left, with a tank displayed at the front, and a parking area where you can stop. On the right is a resort hotel, but up high, seemingly without access to the water.  I was going to drop in and see the rooms…

Lake Temengor

…but on the other side of the bridge is Belum Rainforest Resort, and I spent so much time there I thought we had better not dawdle any longer.

Belum

To enter Belum you have to pass through a security barrier – just tell the guard anything and they let you in. They have a very nice cafe, pictured below. The resort is very pleasant, the rooms, of which there are a great many, small but clean and modern – although the room I saw smelled a bit musty. You can take tours of the rainforest, see Rafflesia, swim in waterfall pools and generally enjoy nature. My only concern would be bugs – as soon as I alighted from the car a mosquito immediately located me and had its fill before I could eliminate it.

cafe

Moving on, we later spotted an elephant sign. I only noticed two elephant signs on our route, most signs being of cattle. Elephants are apparently nocturnal, so an elephant appearing suddenly in front of your car is another reason for not driving at night. Another major one being the cars with no rear lights that suddenly loom up in front of you.

one of two elephant signs we spotted

Later on you reach the summit of the mountains, and there is a big parking area, big hawker centre, and a nice view. We didn’t stop this time. Later still there is a swimming spot near a waterfall on the right hand side – it is signposted, so easy to find. And then a bit further on is my favourite spot, near the intersection of Route 4 and Route 200.  You cross a bridge over the river Sungai Pergau, then turn left, then left into a small lane soon after, and you reach the base of this hill. Last time I was here I could swim, but the river was a bit too rapid this time. However, one man was swimming. There is a small hawker centre there, too.

swimming spot

It was now 1PM, so we decided to carry on and get to Kuala Besut. Traffic was becoming heavier – then I realised that Sunday was a working day in this state (Kelantan State). Children were going to school, or returning home, and businesses were open.  Once we approached Jeli traffic was crazy. Cars pull out in front of you from left or right as they cannot just wait five seconds for a clear moment, and then just crawl along as if they weren’t in any hurry after all.

Kelantan River

This situation continued for quite a distance to about the turn off to Route 8, and then suddenly it was light traffic all the way to the turn off to the south.

after this the traffic improved

We are not sure what this giant concrete fruit is. We saw some interesting names of villages around this area – Kampung Pak Mud, of a river – Sungai Satan…

hmm?

After the turn off to Kuala Terengganu it is a nice four lane road, and then another 15 minutes or so down an ordinary two lane road to Kuala Besut.

GPS on arrival at Kuala Besut

We had booked the Hotel Samudera for the night as it seemed like the best of a bad lot. But it is well past its prime, and I wouldn’t recommend it.  Close by is a newly renovated hotel called T’Lodge (Tel. +609-6978777; tlodgekb@yahoo.com), with a nice cafe called C Putera on the ground floor. This looks a much nicer place to stay. (By the way, the 208KPH was not registered on this trip – it was in Germany in a friend’s Porsche. The traffic was too heavy to go fast, he told me.)

Air Tawer beach

Air is Malay for water. And Tawer is probably Malay for tower. We drove south along the coast and found nice beaches. And there was next to no litter. Amazing.

another beach

About 20 minutes drive along the coast towards Kuala Terengganu we found the Bukit Keluang Beach Resort.  This is a nice place to stay, and the staff are very friendly.  The only disappointment was the pool. The beaches nearby are very nice, so the pool is not so important.  While waiting for the next day’s boat to Perhentian Island, I’d stay either here or at the T’Lodge, the latter costing about one half to one third of the former.  Without a car, of course T’Lodge is far more convenient.

It’s a nice drive across the peninsula, and there are lovely beaches to welcome you.  But you need a driving strategy to avoid head-on collisions – drive with your headlights on, follow another vehicle if you can, and be aware that a car could be coming straight at you.

Fasting

Eating is pretty good in Penang.  Although there has been quite noticeable inflation over the past years, eating out is still affordable, and the supermarket and wet market bills not too high.  So, it is easy to put on weight.

Two or three times a year I do a water fast for two weeks or so, in order to detox and lose weight. Apparently this is good for longevity, too. I have been doing this for about three years, and simply looked online for hints before starting. Most sites say you should consult your doctor.  I am healthy, have no known conditions, nor a doctor – so I just started.

The first fast was really hard, but it became easier the more I did it.  The general idea is to drink just water, but sometimes I have coffee – which is helpful in suppressing my appetite, or some vegetable or fruit juice – made using a juicer, not bought from a supermarket. So a cup of coffee or a juice every couple of days.

I don’t just lie in bed; I generally just try to carry on with life as normal. I don’t work, so I can do this, but it would be too difficult if I did.  Sometimes my energy level becomes too low to function, and a need a couple of teaspoons of honey, or a boiled lolly.  It’s a good idea to have something with me when I go out just in case. Weight loss is about 1KG every two days; stomach size reduction about 1cm every two days.

Part of my routine is exercise, and so I continue with this, too. The days I exercise, paradoxically, I seem to have more energy than other days.

It is easy to tell when one’s body is detoxifying by, er, sorry to be indelicate, one’s odour. For me this stops after about a week or 10 days.

Every day I keep a log so I can see how weight loss and stomach size decrease is progressing, and look back on previous fasts to compare.  It can be discouraging when my stomach size just stays the same for four days without dropping, but a check on previous fasts show it not to be uncommon.

I make the log in a spreadsheet with the following headings:

day no.    date   stomach    Kgs            notes

There is a kind of juice fast called juicefeasting, where one just drinks juice, but I found I didn’t lose any weight on its regime.

However, on my most recent fast I did have a couple of vegetable juices on some days, and cheat a little by eating three (cashew) nuts  occasionally, when I was feeling hungry.  This fast was easy, and I always had energy, and my weight loss was 6KG – not too bad; but stomach size only decreased by 3.5cm.

Whether a diet works or not seems to depend on individual differences, and also the time in a person’s life.  I suspect fasting is more reliable than most methods, but then harder, too.  For me it works, and regular detoxing has got to be a good thing, too.

Korean for lunch in Penang …/2

Mrs Tropical Expat decided she wanted to eat Korean for lunch – again. Our favourite here is Daorae Korean BBQ in Bayan Baru, but that is a bit far from where we now live, so we went to the Tanjung Tokong branch of Daorae, hoping it would be as good as the aforementioned. In fact, it was better.

Daorae

There is parking at the front, and it was totally empty when we arrived a little after 12:00 noon. We were the first patrons. We were offered the choice of sitting at a conventional table, or at a Korean style table on the floor with a sunken area for one’s feet.  We chose the latter.

Korean style and spotlessly clean

There are many choices on the menu, so I only photographed a few pages.

menu

And the drinks page:

drinks menu

A pitcher of cold tea is provided on the table, and included in the price of the meal. We only ordered two dishes, there only being two of us, and I am trying to cut down on food intake.  We ordered Bulgolgi and Pajeon.

Bulgolgi and side dishes

As in the Bayan Baru branch side dishes are provided and also included in the price of the meal. And they will refill them if you wish.

Pajeon

The Pajeon is very filling so we took some home later.  Dessert, being a slice of water melon each, and a very sweet rice tasting drink was served after we finished the main courses.

During our meal a couple of groups of patrons arrived, but the restaurant remained quiet.  There are private rooms available on the first floor which you can book with a minimum of eight people.

The only criticism was that there was MSG in the food – if you eat out it is almost impossible to avoid – so this is not unusual.

Service was good, and the staff polite and friendly in a reserved way. The restaurant was pleasant, airy, and spotlessly clean. The toilets were also OK.  Our bill was reasonable and comparable with other Korean restaurants, but the value much better.

the bill

It was raining when we departed, so we were handed umbrellas to take to the car, and then they were collected from us, so that we remained dry.

All in all, a great choice for a meal.

Daorae Korean BBQ – Tanjung Tokong

No. 104, Jalan Tanjung Tokong,

10470 Pulau Pinang.

Tel: 04-8913616

Meeting people as an expat in Penang

Unless you are a recluse you’ll probably want to make some friends here.

It’s likely that the only people you know are the people at the visa agency.  They are a great resource if you have any questions.

Well, if you move into a condo you can make the opportunity to meet your fellow residents.  The kind of people living there can be one factor to take into account when choosing where you live.

If you are religious, try out different churches until you find one that suits you.

There are several Rotary clubs and Lions clubs in Penang, and if you were a member in another country you would probably fit right in.  There are at least two Toastmasters clubs in Penang that I am aware of.

Peruse the local papers: the Sun and the Star have announcements of clubs’ activities.  The free Expat magazine also announces club meetings. Just attend anything of interest and see how it works out.  It’s easy enough to leave even part way through a meeting if you think it is just not for you. I have seen plenty of people do that. So you have little to lose.

You could also try hosting couchsurfers or join in some of their activities – this has worked for me.
Couchsurfing site.  There are plenty of couchsurfing members in Penang.

With www.meetup.com, if you can’t find a group to join, you can create one easily. I am thinking of doing just that, because the only group in Penang I found on it was a Futures trading group.

There are also clubs such as the Penang Club, Penang Swimming Club, and the Penang Sports Club, but these require a substantial investment to join.

And if you are interested in learning languages, at Alliance Francais they hold lessons in French and Bahasa; at the Malaysian German Society, German, of course.

Many women seem to join dance classes and meet many locals that way.

Otherwise, just be open to meeting people whenever you are out, and it can sometimes happen.

Walking in Penang for the non-suicidal – Walk 5 – Air Itam Dam

Air Itam, Ayer Hitam etc.- or some combination of these spellings – means black water.  Hmm, a great start for a dam that supplies drinking water.

The address: Jalan Balik Pulau, Pulau Pinang.  Without a car it is a very long walk from near the entrance to Kek Lok Si Temple. I do see people riding up on bicycles, however.

air itam dam Penang

The parking area is very small, so you may need to park your car a little further down the road.

This is a relatively easy walk of 2.8 KM around the lake.  Unusually, there are no shops or vendors, so if you want anything to eat or drink you would need to bring it.  There is a morning market and shops before you turned onto Jalan Balik Pulau, so it is easy enough to buy something before or after. Mobile phone reception up here is also a bit spotty.

Of course, being a circular walk, you can go clockwise or anti-clockwise. I happened to go clockwise. And you would have to try really, really hard to get lost.

This is more or less where you start, with the car park in the background.

monument

Looking the other way you have a nice view

view from starting point

First you are warned about snakes…

beware of snakes

then, right on cue…

Mr. Snake

Mr. Snake goes by in a stream. You get glimpses of the dam as you proceed around.

view

No one warned me about turtles…

turtle sunning itself

they were also swimming…

swimming turtle

The road is a bit up and down…

uphill

Looking into the sun, and with a hazy atmosphere – but you can make out George Town in the background.  It could make a good photo at the right time of day.

George Town in the distance

Almost completed the walk, now…

waterfall

Looking along the dam retaining wall…

dam retaining wall

And looking down the other side of the wall…

retaining wall

Having crossed the causeway, and back near the car park…

end of the walk

That’s it – a quite short, but very pleasant and natural walk not far from the city centre.