Monday, November 30, 2009

Malaysia & Singapore: Bus trip from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore

Bus travel from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Singapore and vice versa is very convenient. You can easily get on a bus at the Puduraya Bus Station anytime of the day. But since I was with my family, I made sure to purchase the tickets months before. It was a good thing I was in Malaysia several times this year before our Singapore trip so I got us front row seats on the executive bus.

A regular round trip ticket on the 20-plus seater executive buses is between RM80 to 100 if you buy it in Malaysia (remember that tickets can cost double in Singapore). The luxury 16-seater buses can be triple that or more. But seats can come with individual TV screens or even WiFi Internet access (such as Transtar which leaves from the Pasarakyat Bus Terminal off Jalan Imbi/Bukit Bintang). The choices for land travel between Singapore and Malaysia are endless.

Since the only thing you'll see along the way would be Malaysia's modern highway system, take this opportunity to rest or sleep. The trip usually lasts five to seven hours, depending on the bus company and how long the lines are in Singapore and Malaysia Immigration. So it's best not to be at the border during rush hour when workers move between Singapore and Johor Bahru.

The only thing I did not like about our trip was that place called Restoran Jaya, the stopover of the Transnasional bus, because the flies were swarming all over the place and on the food! I didn't expect to see anything like that in Malaysia, especially at a bus stop. And we didn't get to finish lunch with all the flies! In fact, the flies got in our bus and we had them as guests all the way to Singapore! But aside from that, the trip was fine.

I know of two major bus stops in Singapore which receives buses from Malaysia. In my previous trips, we were dropped off at Golden Mile along Beach Road. For this trip, it was the Lavender Bus Station along Lavender Street. There are other stops depending on the bus company.

Puduraya to Lavender v.v.
Mahligai Espress +65 62949306
Transnasional +60 (3) 2070300/20705044

Puduraya to Golden Mile v.v.
Konsortium +60 (3) 40416789

Puduraya to Other v.v.
Citiexchange Express +65 63981216
Lapan Lapan Travel +65 63922188
Suasana Edaran +60 (3) 20722666 or +65 62962666

Pasarakyat to Lavender v.v.
Transtar Coach +60 (3) 21411771 or +65 62929009

Other to Golden Mile v.v.
Grassland Express +65 62931166
StarMart Express +65 63965681

Other to Other v.v.
Aeroline +60 (3) 21649611 or +65 63419338
Airebus +60 (3) 22870300 or +65 67376535
First Coach +60 (3) 22873311 or +65 68222111
Luxury Tours & Travel +60 (3) 20783988 or +65 67332808
Nice++ Bus +60 (3)22721586/22723634 or +65 62565775

Malaysia: BOH Tea Plantation and more from Cameron Highlands

Cameron Highlands is Baguio City before it exploded. It's the most extensive hill station in Malaysia and became prosperous during the British colonial period of Malaysia when planters discovered that its fertile mountain slopes was perfect for growing tea, then a very important commodity.

I had booked a half-day tour of Cameron Highlands which was quite convenient. Our first stop for the day was the Rose Centre which is actually a botanical garden. Many of the flowers found in the garden are also seen in the Philippines, particularly Baguio City. But it was a nice walk up the hill with all the plants in full bloom.

The main reason I wanted to see Cameron Highlands was to visit the tea plantations. And the BOH Tea Plantation, the largest tea plantation in Malaysia surely did not disappoint.

The Sungei Palas Tea Centre of BOH currently has a well-equipped visitor center and is very welcoming to tourists. From the platform, you get a superb view of the plantations. Plus you could purchase some tea from the tea shop. It's a really great place to learn about Cameron Highlands, the benefits of tea, and the history of the BOH Tea Plantation which opened in 1929.

I got to walk around the small museum and a tea factory where they process the tea leaves. It's really informative getting to observe how natural and simple the tea making process really is.

After visiting the BOH Tea Plantation, we also passed by a bee farm and Market Square where you can purchase the local produce, flowers and other products from Cameron Highlands. There was a hawker who sold deep-fried battered vegetables which I enjoyed munching on.

Anyway, I was hoping to be back in Tanah Rata before the 1 p.m. departure of my bus back to Kuala Lumpur (the tour agent assured me I'd be back). But the half-day tour usually extends beyond 2 p.m. so I had to request the driver to bring me back to Tanah Rata while the other guests were in one of the attractions. As a result, I missed the the butterfly farm, strawberry farm and cactus farm which isn't much of a loss since that's something I'd see in La Trinidad and Baguio anyway.

Part 1: Bus trip from Penang to Cameron Highlands

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Malaysia: Bus trip from Penang to Cameron Highlands

As soon as I arrived at KOMTAR in Penang, I bought a bus ticket to Cameron Highlands for the next day. I wanted to make sure I had a ticket already since I was pressed for time. The only downside of taking a bus was getting to the bus terminal very early in the morning. Instead of riding the bus from Penang (it's quite inconvenient getting to the Penang bus station especially early in the morning), I decided to catch the same bus when it arrived in Butterworth.

Anyway, I would later regret it since there are van services that would pick you up at your hotel and take you straight to Cameron Highlands. No need to go to the bus terminal, it leaves hours earlier, and the trip is faster since the vans are smaller than buses and thus it’s easier for them to move up the mountain roads. But you don't get refunds for bus tickets.

So the next day, I left the hotel at 6 a.m. and from my hotel, I took a local bus to the George Town port area. The ferry service from Penang to Butterworth is just 15 minutes. And the good thing about the port in Butterworth is that the terminal is right beside the bus station. So I arrived quite early for the 8:30 a.m. departure. In fact, I remember the bus left Butterworth at almost 9 a.m. If I took the van at 6 a.m., I would have been there already in Cameron Highlands as the bus made its way there.

The bus ride was quite uneventful. The trip was between five to six hours and the bus really moved slow on the zigzag road. To make the long story short, I arrived in Tanah Rata, Cameron Highlands at about 2 p.m.

First order of business was to look for a place to stay. Since I wanted to keep my budget low, I was able to get a non-aircon room for less than RM20 (but no amenities, just a bed and common bathroom). At least it's very cool in Cameron Highlands so like Baguio, no need for air-con rooms.

Since it was too late to join a half-day tour, I decided to walk around and explore Tanah Rata. Transportation between the Cameron Highland towns is quite scarce. So if I wanted to visit Ringlet or Brinchang, I'd have to take a cab. So it's really best to join the half-day or whole-day tours.

For late lunch, I had tandoori chicken. Later in the afternoon, I decided to try out one of the walking trails of Tanah Rata. Since it was getting dark, I chose the nearest waterfall which is Robinson Falls. You get to view it from the top of the trail. It wasn't that impressive though and not that clean neither.

Just like Baguio, food in Cameron Highlands has a strawberry twist. So they had roti with strawberries in one of the shops. Dried strawberries are also available so I snacked on some while walking around. Later in the evening, I had more Indian food!

Since there was nothing much to do in the evening, I was able to rest especially since I wasn't feeling that good, tired from all that constant moving around. The cool mountain weather was definitely a relaxing break.

Twin Pines Guesthouse
+60 (5) 4912169
twinpines@hotmail.com

Part 2: BOH Tea Plantation and more from Cameron Highlands

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Malaysia: Malacca's Perenakan (Nyonya) cuisine

Malacca also has it's share of Perenakan cuisine. So before I move on to a different topic, let's continue our discussion on Malaysian food. While we were in Malacca, we had lunch at a Nyonya restaurant called Seroni Nyonya Cuisine Restaurant.

We were served a really sumptuous selection of Nyonya cuisine that included chicken tempra, fish fillet with tamarind sauce, anchovies with cili garam, ginger venison (deer), fried kampung rice, lemak prawns and stir fried okra. For dessert, we were given yummy bowls of cendol.

While we did our walking tour around Jonker Street later in the afternoon, I also got to try out some of the goodies. There was a shop which sold pastries with pineapple filling as well as winter melon cakes (a.k.a. hopia). Along the street were a good number of hawker stalls which sold siomai, baked siew pau, radish and yam cakes, dried fish and squid, and other local stuff.

It's sad that the chicken rice balls restaurant was closed by the time we arrived. It's really in-demand so it gets sold out easily and they close shortly after lunch. In Malacca, Hainanese chicken rice was modified so that the chicken is served with rice balls rather than a bowl of rice.

Part 1: Melaka, Malaysia is a historic city of the Straits of Malacca

Related entries
More Straits Settlements history in Malacca

Exploring the Penang heritage trail on foot
Bus trip from Kuala Lumpur to Penang, Malaysia
Following the heritage trail in Penang

Seroni Nyonya Cuisine Restaurant

60 & 62 Taman Melaka Raja 1, Jalan Melaka Raya 24, Melaka
Telephone: +60 (6) 2814848

Friday, November 27, 2009

Malaysia: Traditional trades and food adventure in George Town, Penang

Intangible heritage, particularly traditional trades and local cuisine, is very much a part of the Penang cultural landscape.

I was quite pleased that some of these trades were identified in Penang maps. I got to see several of them while walking around old Penang such as the Chinese calligrapher and seal engraver who carves personal chops to order.

I also got to pass by the Nyonya beaded shoe maker who crafts women's shoes with beadwork faces. The designs are very colorful and intricate and I found out it takes several weeks just to complete a pair.

Near the Goddess of Mercy Temple is a joss stick maker who rolls incense and sandalwood sticks by hand. Also near the temple are several garland makers who create colorful flower garlands which Hindus adorn on statues of their deities.

Other trades worth seeing in Penang include the Indian goldsmith who hand tools gold jewelry in traditional Indian designs, the signboard engraver who carves and gilds Chinese calligraphic plaques, the songkok maker who sews Muslim headgear on an old fashioned sewing machine, and the tombstone engraver who chisels Chinese and Muslim gravestones by hand.

Penang is also a culinary delight. Another testament to its multicultural setting, you can get the best of Penang food from road-side hawker stalls. It's such a shame I missed trying out the Penang laksa, a spicy and sour tamarind-based fish soup with thick round rice noodles.

One of the more popular hawker areas is actually several kilometers outside old George Town in an area called Gurney Drive. The choices there are endless and it's a must visit for any serious foodie.

But inside George Town, you won't go wrong as well since hawkers set up shop, especially as day gives way to night. Anyway, while walking around George Town, I'd stop to taste something that looked interesting. Since I was on the go, I had cha shar pau and roti babi which I saw at Pitt Street Koay Teow Th'ng to satisfy my hunger.

The colorful Indian sweets got me really curious as well. But I would later realize they were like sweeter versions of our already sweet pastillas candies.

In the evening, I tried out the local satay as well as several noodle dishes such as wan tan mee and sui kau. I didn't want to eat too much. So I was content with walking around and observing all the hawkers cook their signature dishes.

Part 1: Bus trip from Kuala Lumpur to Penang, Malaysia
Part 2: Exploring the Penang heritage trail on foot

Related entries
Following the heritage trail in Penang
Melaka, Malaysia is a historic city of the Straits of Malacca
More Straits Settlements history in Malacca

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Malaysia: George Town and Penang's British colonial heritage

The cities of the Straits Settlements represent various periods in Malaysia's history. Melaka covers the period from the 15th century Malay sultanate to the Portuguese and Dutch periods beginning in the early 16th century. George Town on the other hand is a testament to the British era from the end of the 18th century.

Near St. George's Church and the Church of the Assumption and close to the sea are an ensemble of structures that remind us that George Town was once a British city. In between the two churches is the Penang State Museum. Built in 1906, it was once the home of the Penang Free School and the Hutchings School. Across the street is the Supreme Court Building built in 1905.

My personal favorite is the magnificently-white City Hall Building, a neo-Palladian building completed in 1903 to serve as the seat of government of Penang. Right beside it is the Town Hall Building which was completed in 1880.

Right beside these buildings is the Penang War Memorial. This cenotaph to commemorate war dead is something I've seen in many British colonial cities.

Like many colonial cities, George Town also has fortifications. Fort Cornwallis was built by Sir Francis Light immediately after his landing on the island, with its present star-shaped structure completed in the early 19th century. Beside it is the Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee Clocktower built in 1902.

Facing the port in Pengkalan Weld (Weld Quay) are the Boustead and German merchant houses that were built between 1890 to 1910. The Customs Building with clocktower, built in 1907, once housed the F.M.S. Railways. Near Convent Light Street is the Eastern & Oriental Hotel, a grand colonial hotel established in 1885 by Armenian hoteliers. Check out the 1920s echo dome and Otis cage elevator. It's now a luxury all-suites heritage hotel.

Finally, a Christian Cemetery that dates back to 1790 still exists. It has both Protestant and Catholic sections and is the final resting place of many of Penang's governors, administrators and other pioneers.

Part 1: Bus trip from Kuala Lumpur to Penang, Malaysia
Part 2: Exploring the Penang heritage trail on foot

Related entries
Following the heritage trail in Penang
Melaka, Malaysia is a historic city of the Straits of Malacca
More Straits Settlements history in Malacca

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Malaysia: Penang's ancestral temples, clan associations & mansions

Penang has a large ensemble of ancestral temples, clan associations or halls called kongsi, and grand mansions.

Kongsi are organizations among overseas Chinese communities for individuals with the same surname. Khoo, Cheah, Yeoh, Lim and Tan Kongsi were known as the Five Big Clans (or Goh Tai Seh) that formed the backbone of the Hokkien community of Penang. There are several more clan halls in Penang. But those worth visiting are the Khoo, Cheah and Yap Kongsi.

Khoo Kongsi is the most popular of Penang's Hokkien clan houses perpetuating Confucian practices and one of the most ornate clan halls outside mainland China. Established in 1835, the present temple was built from 1894 to 1906.

Cheah Kongsi is a Hokkien clan hall founded in 1820 and built in 1858. While Yap Kongsi was built in 1924 in the Straits Ecclectic style. It's Ciji Temple is a Taoist temple dedicated to Nan'an patron deity.

There are also ancstral temples such as the Han Jiang Ancestral Temple (or the Teochew Temple) which was built in 1870. The temple won the prestigious UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Award in 2006 for outstanding restoration. Along King Street (Lebuh King) are temples which represent the diversity of the Chinese communities in Penang such as the Cantonese and the Hakka.

The Hock Teik Cheng Sin Temple is a temple to Tua Pek Kong (a Malaysian Chinese god) and was used in the mid-19th century as a Hokkien secret society headquarters.

Penang also has a great number of mansions in various architectural styles. The Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion is an example of the fusion between Oriental and Western architecture. It won the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Award in 2000. Also check out the residence of Ku Din Ku Meh and Syed Alatas Mansion (now the Islamic Museum).

The Pinang Perenakan Mansion is one of the most ornate private homes in Penang. Once the home of Kapitan Chung Keng Kwee, it now houses a museum of antiques from the Perenakan (Baba-Nyonya) community.

Along the historic neighborhood of Lebuh Armenia, although not a mansion, is Dr. Sun Yat Sen's Penang base.

Part 1: Bus trip from Kuala Lumpur to Penang, Malaysia
Part 2: Exploring the Penang heritage trail on foot

Related entries
Following the heritage trail in Penang
Melaka, Malaysia is a historic city of the Straits of Malacca
More Straits Settlements history in Malacca

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Malaysia: Exploring the Penang heritage trail on foot

George Town in Penang is a living testament to the multicultural heritage of Asia as well as European colonial influences. As I stood in front of the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy Temple, I noticed a small Hindu shrine and stalls of garland makers. Just a few meters away was a joss stick maker. Down the same street as the temple is the Anglican St. George's Church. As I walked towards the church, a call to prayer echoed from the minaret of a centuries-old mosque.

There are several ways to experience old Penang. I’ve tried out the trishaw with the driver serving as your guide. But to me, the best way to explore and appreciate the rich cultural heritage of Penang is on foot.

As soon as I found a place to stay for the night and dropped my bags, I was off. Before you start, make sure you have a street map of George Town. There is a really good free map published by Areca Books which not only marks important architectural landmarks, but also some recommended food outlets, local crafts and trades, and places to shop for things that are uniquely Penang.

I tried to cover as much ground as I could given that I only had a day in Penang. But what is very obvious and commendable is that Penang's heritage has undergone a lot of restoration especially after its inscription in the UNESCO World Heritage List last year.

Among the sites I got to visit were religious structures of various faiths. There's the Goddess of Mercy Temple (Buddhist & Taoist) which is Penang's foremost Chinese temple established in 1800; and the Sri Maha Mariamman Temple (Hindu) consecrated in 1833.

St. George's Church built in 1818 is Southeast Asia's first Anglican church. While the Church of the Assumption (Catholic) dates back to 1787. The current structure was built in 1860 and was elevated to a Cathedral in 1955.

Nagore Shrine is a Tamil Muslim shrine to the Saint of Nagore. While the Kapitan Keling Mosque (also Tamil Muslim) was founded in 1801. The Malay Mosque in Lebuh Aceh was founded in 1808.

Part 1: Bus trip from Kuala Lumpur to Penang, Malaysia

Related entries
Following the heritage trail in Penang
Melaka, Malaysia is a historic city of the Straits of Malacca
More Straits Settlements history in Malacca

Banana Guest House
355/357/359 Chulia Street
+60 4 2626171
info@banananewguesthouse.com

Monday, November 23, 2009

Negros Occidental: Road trip from Himamaylan to Victorias

Negros Occidental is one province I haven't really explored. Except that trip to Mambucal when I was still a kid, and a more recent visit to Silay City some years back, I've only really been to Bacolod City. So I decided to explore Negros Occidental before our family reunion in Bacolod.

Since I only had a few hours after the welcome breakfast prepared by our relatives, I decided to rent a car to speed up things. We drove down south as far as Himamaylan and made our way north to look for some interesting stuff. Along the National Highway was this continuous stream of sugar cane trucks. Negros is one big sugar plantation and all you see on both sides of the road is sugar cane.

The first old church we passed by was Binalbagan Church built in 1937. Except for the retablo, most of the church has been renovated. And it was such a hassle to get to it no thanks to a presidential visit. I was shocked that they stopped traffic on the National Highway just to let her convoy pass. So we had to make a lot of detours. In fact, she arrived in town exactly when I was standing in front of the church.

Anyway, from Binalbagan, we went to the next town which is Hinigaran. The Hinigaran Church, completed in 1858, is one of the best-preserved Spanish colonial churches in Negros Occidental. I was quite impressed with its well-preserved exterior. But inside was a different story.

While most of the interior was intact, I was surprised that they were doing some renovations, trying to mimic some European church since they had a large tarpaulin of a church interior they were trying to imitate. These priests really need to realize that our churches are not European! They are Philippine Baroque to be exact, a folksy style only found in the Philippines. Let's keep our churches Filipino please!

Hinigaran is a favorite stop as well thanks to Mila's royal bibingka which you could buy from Mila's Restaurant along the National Highway. Another favorite is the creamy buko pie which is quite different from the ones in Laguna and the rest of the Southern Tagalog since they really put in a lot of cream.

While we were having lunch at Mila's Restaurant, the presidential convoy passed by again. And there she was in a coaster with windows open, waving to everyone like a queen.

From there, we proceeded to Valladolid. The Valladolid Church is also of Spanish colonial vintage. It was twin bell towers. But just like many of our heritage churches, the interior has been modernized.

Bago City still has a few of its grand old mansions. One of those homes is the Gen. Juan Anacleto Araneta Mansion which is a National Historical Landmark. The grand ancestral house is now home to the local museum.

The Bago Church has a very unusual Neo-Gothic facade, built by the Augustinian Recollects in 1891. But again, the interiors have been modernized. The city plaza was the site of the historic proclamation of the Republica de Negros on November 5, 1898. This event is commemorated annually with the Al Cinco de Noviembre.

From Bago, we crossed Bacolod to get to Talisay City. There are two houses worth visiting there. One is the Lizares Mansion or the Balay ni Tana Dicang which is now a beautiful period museum and art gallery.

The other is the ruins of the grand mansion of Don Mariano Ledesma Lacson which is simply known as The Ruins. They have a restaurant there as well so if you like to have lunch or dinner amidst its old walls, that would be a great option. It's actually hard to get to and the roads are a bit bad. But see what proper conservation and marketing can do to promote the shell of an old house?

Anyway, since it was getting dark, I skipped Silay as well. Besides, you need a full day to explore this wonderful heritage city. And I've done it before. I'll try to visit Silay again when I get back.

Our last stop for the day was the Chapel of the Angry Christ inside the compound of the Victorias Milling Corporation. Did you know that the UP Chapel was originally designed for the Ossorio family? But I guess it doesn't matter now since the current chapel is itself a work of art.

The central figure of the vibrant altar murals is an image of Christ with a burning heart, standing on skulls and a serpent. It's that image from which the chapel gets its moniker since the church is actually dedicated to St. Joseph the Worker. These murals were painted by Alfonso Ossorio. Around the church are mosaics that were made using broken soda bottles.

I rushed back to Talisay City to attend an event at Balay ni Tana Dicang. But I decided to take that photo of The Ruins before it got really dark.
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