Thursday, February 14, 2008


I have heard a lot of beautiful things about Bali when I was young, miles of wonderful sandy beaches, crystal clear water, smoking volcanoes, rich cultural heritage, friendly people and breathtaking sceneries. Bali is a magical and mythical tropical island of paradise. Everything about an ideal vacation destination, but 2 terrorist bombing in 2002 and 2005 has changed all that. I had dropped Bali out from my vacation list but in 2007, I was tempted with the very attractive value 4 days 3 nights package (Air Asia DIY holiday package). I managed to convince my wife and 2 of my friends to join me on this 4D3N trip.

Day 1
We took off from Penang at noon and arrived at LCC terminal about 1.00 pm and then continue from LCC terminal at 4.20 pm and arrived at Denpasar 7.20 pm. Our prearranged transport was there to pick us up and we arrived at Rama Beach Resort around 8.00 pm. After checked in we had our dinner across the road (which was much cheaper than our hotel). Rama Beach Resort is situated in Kuta, the main tourist attraction of Bali. The October 12th, 2002 bombing that killed 202 people and injured another 209 happened right here in Kuta. Kuta is a bay area with miles of fine black sandy beach. The main street of Kuta is concentrated with Beach hotels, resorts, restaurants, discos, bars, and shopping malls. It was once packed with thousands of tourist (mainly Australian) everyday and night but ever since the bombing, the numbers has dropped significantly. Rama resort is quite nice and the room is very spacious with full amenities. The only draw back is the water supply is very hard with high dissolved solids, not good for bathing and definitely not for drinking. I get a sticky feeling after taking the bath.

After breakfast, I negotiated with the tour agent at the lobby for our 2 ½ day’s travel itinerary. I have done some homework prior to the trip and I know what I want to see and where to go to places of interest. I did some bargaining and got a 2 ½ day package for Rp1,400,000, equivalent to RM560.00. Cost includes an air conditioned car, driver, and petrol. Entrance fees and meals are not included. Our driver is a young Balinese named Pudu. Speak some English but not a good guide. First day itinerary covers some temples, Gua Gajah, Gunung Batur in Kitamani, Tirta Empul, Ubud and end at Tanah Lot.

First stop was at a temple in Mengwi, one of many thousands Hindu temples in Bali. They say that there are more temples than houses in Bali. To enter a Balinese temple, one must wear clothing long enough to cover the knees. Entrance fee is Rp6,000 per person which include the rental of sarong if your cloth is not long enough to hide your knees. Next stop was Elephant Cave "Goa Gajah", a hermitage from the 11th. century used by both Buddhists and Hindus. After that we drove all the way up to Kitamani. From Kitamani view point, we can see Gunung Batur and its surrounding lake, Gunung Abang, the adjacent mountain and Gunung Agung the highest peak at 3,142 meter in the distance. Both Gunung Batur and Gunung Agung are still active volcanoes. Gunung Agung last erupted in March 1963. We had our buffet lunch at the view point restaurant.
Outside Gua Gajah

Gunung Batur

After lunch we proceed to Tirta Empul. The most striking feature of Tirta Empul is the holy bathing pool for spiritual cleansing. With a small donation of Rp10,000, one can perform the spiritual cleansing at this holy pool. On our way back we passed thru some rice terrace farms in Ubud. Ubud is the center for art galleries and museums. We end our day one at Tanah Lot, Temple in the Sea’. Tanah Lot located north of Kuta and is built atop a huge rock surrounded by the sea. The best time to see Tanah Lot is in the late afternoon when the temple is in silhouette with the setting sun. I had a couple of beers at one of the cafĂ© watching the sun set. It was the best scenery of the day. In the evening after dinner, we took a stroll along Kuta main street.
Spritual cleansing at Tirta Empul

Tanah Lot 'Temple in the sea'

Day 3
We started day 3 at 9.15 am and our 1st stop is the Royal Temple of Taman Ayun. On our way to Bedugul, we made a stop to have a panoramic view of hill terrace farming. Bedugul is quite similar to our Cameron Highland with lots of vegetable farms but no tea plantation. The weather turned bad when we reach the peak of Bedugul. There is lake and a temple at this peak. Weather was not conducive for photo taking and we go straight to the view point restaurant for our buffet lunch. We also skip the visit to this lake side temple and headed straight back down hill to Uluwatu. On the way to Uluwatu, we stop by a small town to witness a holy celebration at a temple. There were Balinese women with a decorated fruit baskets well balanced on their heads entering the temple. These fruit baskets are offering to the temple. We tried to enter the temple for a closer look but were stopped because we are not wearing the proper attire. We also made a stop at one beautiful hotel situated on a hill top facing the sea at Nusa Dua. The view from this hotel is spectacular but unfortunately this place is a bit isolated and virtually no occupancy after the bombing incident at Kuta.

Offerings to temple

We arrived at Uluwatu a little passed 5.00 pm. We quickly bought our ‘Kecek’ Dance show ticket @ Rp50,000 each. This ‘Kecek’ dance is a local Balinese cultural dance highly recommended by friends. This is a big group of about 70 dancers in trance portraying the story of The Ramayana Epic on a hill top with beautiful sunset background. It’s a one hour show which starts at 7.00 pm every evening. We still have about an hour plus before the show to explore the temple and surrounding. We were forewarned about the notorious monkeys at this place. They are known to snatch things from tourist like spectacles, foods and bags. True enough, just minutes after the warning, out of nowhere came a big long tail monkey, snatched the spectacle of my friend. The monkey was so fast and appears to be a ‘professional’. It got my friend’s spectacles, ran to the brick fence, sits and waits for us to react. Then one of the locals came and throw some food (pineapple cubes) to the monkey in exchange for my friend’s spectacles. The monkey dropped the spectacles and grape the food thrown to him. Now my friend is obligated to reward (pay) the local for his service in getting back his spectacles. We highly suspect that the monkeys in this place are well trained by the ‘owners’ to prey on visitors. These monkeys are big, fat (obviously over fed) and very bold. After this incident, we were extra careful. I had my wife watching over me with my tripod in her hand while I take photographs. The ‘Kecek’ dance show performed in open air was very nice to watch indeed. This colorful dance together with the natural beauty of the surrounding environment was our high light of the day.

Notorious monkeys of Uluwatu

Sunset at Uluwatu

Day 4
Day 4 is ½ day city tour cum shopping at Denpasar per the package. Our return flight to KL is scheduled at 8.20 pm and that means we still have ½ day free and easy on our own after the city tour. We have to check out and store our luggage at the reception area after our breakfast. The city tour and shopping trip was a bad decision. Nothing much to offer in Denpasar and we were hassled by some locals who keep following us everywhere offering their service in return for some tips. We had to cut short our shopping trip and return back to Kuta instead. We took the remaining morning to explore the famous Kuta beach. The beach was very nice indeed, long and wide but unfortunately, the weather was bad. No blue sky, no surfer, not much people at the beach. We had fast food lunch at the mall and took a slow walk back to our hotel via the beach.

We spent the afternoon at the swimming pool of our hotel. In the late afternoon, we went to the convenient store at the corner of the street and bought some souvenir. We had some Bali coffee and Chicken Bakso (chicken dumpling noodle). Bakso is the most favorite dish in Bali. It’s cheap (Rp5,000 per bowl) and good. After this tea break, we went back to the hotel to get our luggage. We did some re-packing of our luggage while waiting for our transport to the airport. We arrived at the airport 2 hours before flight time. The return flight to KL took off on time and we arrived 10 minutes ahead of schedule.


Sunday, February 10, 2008

Cheese Prawn

I'm going to introduce a very simple recipee of my own and most children will love it.


600 g of prawns washed and peeled.
1 can button mushroom, sliced into small pieces.
100 g of mixed colored vege (jagung beans, green beans and carrot cubes)
1 onion, sliced into small pieces.
2 table spoons of creamer (coffee mate) or ¼ cup of UHT milk
½ tea spoon of salt.
3 table spoons of oil.
5 slices of Kraft cheese.


1. Heat 3 table spoons of oil in pan and fry the onion.
2. Add in the prawns, mushroom, mixed vege cubes, creamer, salt and stir fry until prawn is just cooked.
3. Transfer the above into a bowl and place the cheese evenly on top.
4. Put the bowl into oven, set 200 C and bake for 10 to 15 minutes until cheese is melted.
5. Remove and serve while it’s still hot.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Lijiang Old Town.

Aerial view of Lijiang Old Town
This is a continuation of my last post on Tiger Leaping Gorge. After our 3 days trek at TLG, we came back to Lijiang old town for 2 more nights. Lijiang old town is the best preserved old town in China and it’s more beautiful than Shangri La old town and Dali old town. Lijiang at 2,400 meters above sea level is blessed with clean fresh air, crystal clear stream and breathtaking Jade Dragon Snow Mountain as backdrop. The inhabitants of this area are mainly the Nazi which has a very unique Dongba culture. Till today, Nazi people still practice the pictorial Dongba script. Lijiang was once confluence for trade along the Ancient Tea-Horse Road. Lijiang old town became UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site in 1997. It’s now a tourist magnet and a paradise for backpackers. Lijiang old town is famous for its unique reticular aqueduct system that supplies water to every family and every street. There are about 350 bridges in this small little town and it’s sometime referred to as ‘Suzhou in highland’. Rows of widow weeps are lined along the main streets beside these waterways.
Another interesting fact to note is that this is the only old town build without any city wall. According to legend, Lijiang was ruled by the Mu family for more than 500 years. In the Chinese character, if 'Mu' (represents the ruler of Lijiang) is boxed up in a frame (represents the city wall), you have the character 'Kun' which means 'siege'.

The layout and architecture of Lijiang old town reflects a very rich historical background. Wooden houses with beautiful engraved figures of people and animals on doors and windows. The center of the town is Square Street (Sifangjie) and has 4 main streets that extend to four different directions. Countless narrows alleys and lanes from every corner of the town are connected to these 4 mains streets. These streets and alleys are packed with tourist from morning till late night. At night, the whole town is brightly lighted up with lanterns. Groups of Nazi women trying to out sing one another across the street. I had 3 wonderful days exploring this little old town. No matter where I go, I find the fusion of old and new in a pleasant environment.

Square Street (Sifangjie)

Main street

Dongba pictorial script

Waterway of Lijiang

Lijaing old town at night

Bar Street at night

Water wheels at entrance to old town

Friday, February 1, 2008

Trekking Tiger Leaping Gorge (Hutio Xia)

I love trekking and one of the best trails I ever trekked is Tiger Leaping Gorge (Hutiao Xia) in Yunnan China. Tiger Leaping Gorge (TLG) is about 80 Km northwest of Lijiang and is the deepest gorge in the world. This 15 Km long gorge lies between Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (Yulong Xueshan) and Haba Snow Mountain (Haba Xueshan). Peak of Jade Dragon Mountain is about 5,600 meters and Peak of Haba Mountain is 5,400 meters. At the bottom of the gorge is the Golden Sand River (Jingsha Jiang) which becomes the mighty Yangtze River down steam. The narrowest portion of the gorge is only 30 meters wide with a stone in the middle of the river. Legend says that a tiger jumped across the river at this narrowest point to escape from a hunter and hence the name of this gorge. The inhabitants in this area are mainly the Nazi ethnic minority. The total length of TLG trail is about 40 Km long which starts from Qiaotao and ends at Daju. The trail can be covered in 2 days but we opted for a 3 days leisure trek. There are a few guesthouses along the trail. The best time to trek TLG is autumn or spring. Summer is peak season and may be crowded. We did it in late autumn of 2006.
Jade Dragon Snow mountain
Day 1
We left Shangri-La in the late morning and arrived at Qiaotao around noon. We had lunch at a nearby restaurant while our guide was busy negotiating with the locals for mules transport. Our team of 16 members includes tour leader and a local guide. After lunch we proceed to our starting point which is just a short distance from the gorge entrance. The local farmers with their mules were there waiting for us. 3 mules were used to carry luggage and 9 of us including me and my wife opted for the mule ride. The fee for mule ride is only RMB100 per day and we hire the service for 2 days. I have never ridden a horse or mule before and this is really a good experience for me especially when negotiating narrow winding tracks. Day 1 trek was easy, relatively flat with some slight ascent and took us about 2 hours to reach our first destination, Nazi Guesthouse. The weather is superb, cool with bright sunny sky. The trail was scenic all the way and the view was spectacular, with the majestic Jade Dragon Mountain on the other side of the gorge. We passed thru some farms and villages. The locals here are friendly and some waved their hands as we pass thru. We arrived at Nazi Guesthouse around 3.00 pm. Nazi Guesthouse is a typical Nazi family house with a courtyard surrounded by 4 blocks of buildings. The guest rooms are on the top floors and each with a window to a beautiful view. The amenities are very basic, no heater, no hot shower, 2 common bathrooms to share, one gents’ toilet and one ladies’ toilet. I quickly took a shower while the sun is still up. We took the whole afternoon exploring the guesthouse and nearby village. Our dinner at 7.00 pm was served on a long table. It was a simple Nazi dinner food and it tastes good. The temperature starts to dip when the sun sets and I have to put on my wind breaker. We gathered at the courtyard after dinner accompanied by 2 young friendly Nazi girls. These are the same 2 girls who make our rooms and prepared our meals. Tonight, they teach us how to do the Nazi dance. We had a wonderful time till late night.
Nazi Family House

Doing the Nazi dance
Day 2
Morning was broken by the call of roosters. I looked out my window and saw the most memorable view. The silhouette of the jagged peaks of Jade Dragon Mountain and the slow swaying trees under the crescent moon light was simply unforgettable. I watched and admired at this tranquil scene for almost half an hour.
We had simple Nazi pancake with coffee for breakfast. The Tibetan Yak butter tea is also available but it’s not agreeable with my taste bud. Day 2 trek is expected to be tough as we have to ascent 900 meters thru what the locals referred to as the ’28 bends’. We left Nazi Guesthouse at 9.00 am and were soon struggling up the ’28 bends’. More spectacular sceneries as we ascent higher. The snow jagged peaks of Jade Dragon Mountain with drifting misty clouds and the gushing Jingsha River below remind me of those ancient Chinese watercolors. The romantic colors of autumn are everywhere. Patches of green, yellow, brown and red vividly displayed on the slope of the mountain. Our shaded trail is paved with fallen colored leaves. We made a couple of stops on the way and many were busy with their cameras shooting the spectacular views. We arrived at our 2nd destination, Tea Horse Trade Guesthouse, around 1.00 pm. Our mule ride service end here and we bid farewell to their owners. Only 3 mules are left behind for the luggage. We had a late lunch and immediately after lunch everyone armed with their cameras again and starts exploring the neighborhood. There was a small waterfall nearby but the water was too cold for me to take a bath. The neighbors are really friendly and some even invite us to their house. Later in the evening a few of us gathered at a resting area just beside our guesthouse for a couple of beers. From the rest area we have a good view of Jade Dragon Mountain to the East. When the evening sun sets, Jade Dragon Mountain glows like a gigantic piece of gold in front of us. The shadow cast on the mountain then starts to inch slowly upwards till its tip and then disappeared into the darkness of the night. Dinner was at 7.30 pm and to night we had 2 more trekkers joining us. Both are female and if I remember correctly, they are from down south Australia.

Tea Horse Trade Guesthouse

Silhouette of Jade Dragon Mountain
Day 3
After a good night sleep, we woke up early at 6.00 am to catch the sunrise. The sunrise is not as spectacular as the sunset but we still enjoy the cool fresh morning breeze. After a simple breakfast we move on again. Day 3’s trek is equally tough and much longer than Day 2. The first part of the trek in the morning is relatively flat with a short steep descent to the service road where Tina’s Guesthouse is situated. As usual the trail is scenic and we pass thru villages and some nice waterfalls. We arrived at Tina’s Guesthouse at 1.00 pm and had our lunch here. Our mule service for luggage ends here. From Tina’s Guesthouse we took a short van ride, about10 Km down the road where we continue our trek to Daju. The most difficult part of today’s trek starts from here. It’s a half hour steep descent to the Jingsha River bank with heavy haversack on our back. We then took a ferry across the river. Luckily on the other side of the river, our guide had arranged mule service for our luggage. It’s another half hour steep ascent to a flat plateau. From here we can see Daju, a small village town, in the distance surrounded by farm lands. It took us about 45 minutes slow walk to Daju. Our 3 days trekking end at Snow Flakes Guesthouse.

Trek pass thru 'Kuan Yin' Waterfall

Sunset on Jade Dragon Mountain. Dinner at Tea Horse Trade Guesthouse
& Tiger Leaping Gorge. Daju

Monday, January 28, 2008


The above link is forwarded to me from a friend of mine. I find it very meaningful and would like to share all of you. Forgiveness is not to forget but.............

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Hanoi/Sapa/Halong Bay

Sunset at Halong Bay

10 Day Hanoi/Sapa/Halong Bay (Nov 2007)

This is a very recent trip with a group of friends. Below is the 10 days itinerary which begins on Thursday 8th Nov 2007. I engaged the service of Yongo (an aternative travel organizer) to help me tailor out this 10 days itinerary. It's a win-win partnership and it turn out to be one of the best organized trip.

Day 1 Thu 08 Nov KL to HanoiAssemble at Penang international airport at 06.30 hr and board the Air Asia AK6313 from Penang to KL(LCCT) at 0810 hr arriving 0900 hr. Will continue our flight to Hanoi with Air Asia AK762 t500 hr arriving 1725 hr. When reach Hanoi, we will transfer directly to Hanoi Railway Station for night train to Lao Cai at 21.30 hr (Lao Cai,310km northwest of Hanoi) . Overnight on the train.

Day 2 Fri 09 Nov Sapa - Cat Cat - Ta Van -Arrive at Lao Cai Station at 6.00 AM. Have a breakfast of local foods before departing to Sapa ( about 40 km from Lao Cai ). Arrival in Sapa hike downhill 4km to Cat Cat stream and waterfall ,visit Cat Cat village of the Black H'Mong to explore their routine life, walk around the village to enjoy the scenery of forests and continue trekking to Lao Chai (H'mong ethnic group) and Ta Van (Zay people) villages. Overnight at homestay in Ta Van village.

Day 3 Sat 10 Nov : Sapa trekking - After having breakfast, trekking to visit the Red Dzao in Giang Ta Chai village, visiting waterfall and suspension bridge. Jeep back to Sapa. O/N in Sapa.

Day 4 Sun 11 Nov - Sun: Sapa -Bac Ha market - night train to Hanoi - Leaving from Sa Pa early in the morning at 6.30Am, we take the bus to Bac Ha market. We arrive in Bac Ha at 9.30 AM, the best time to visit huge market with its entire colorful ethnic people as Flower Hmong, Phu La and Dzao, Tuyen who gather to buy and sell. After visiting this outstanding market , a short walking tour to visit the house of H'Mong King (or Meo Minority King) built by the French as well as a light trekking tour to visit some surrounded villages of Bac Ha (Dao, H'Mong..). Transfer to Lao Cai Railways Station for catching the night train down from the mountains back to Hanoi. O/N on the train.

Day 5 Mon 12 Nov: Hanoi - Hoa Lu - Tam Coc - Arrive in Hanoi about 6.00 am. Transfer to the hotel for check-in and relax till 8.30 AM, tour guide come back for welcoming the group to Hoa Lu - Tam Coc. A 90km drive south of Hanoi will lead you to Ninh Binh, the site of the one capital city of ancient Vietnam before Hanoi took its leading role in 11th century. The area is featured by lots of well-known sceneries, which include Tam Coc Caves and Hoa Lu ancient capital with the old temples dedicated to King Dinh & King Le reigned in 10th century. The visit in Ninh Binh starts by a boat trip in Tam Coc where spectacular limestone karsts jut out from the green paddy fields reminding about Guilin (China) and Halong Bay of Vietnam, which gives this scenery the name “Halong-bay-on-land”. Further discovery in Ninh Binh will be continued in the site that used to be the kings’ palace in 10th century and now famous for the wooden relieves of the shady Dinh and Le temples. O/N in Hanoi.

Day 6 Tues 13 Nov: Hanoi - Today is free and easy. No guided tour. Group have whole day to explore and shop around Hanoi city on own time and leisure. Overnight in Hanoi.

Day 7 Wed 14 Nov: Hanoi - Halong - At 8.00 am pick up from hotel in Hanoi for Ha Long. Arrive at Ha Long Bay wharf around 12:00 noon, check -in registration, Board Anh dDong junk. Have lunch on board with welcome drink. The cruise will take by exotic islets with shapes of Dog, Incense Urn, Sail, Fighting Cocks, which are naturally formed by process of erosion between the see water and lime stone mountains. Arrive Surprise Cave and explore the bay with kayak, paddle to Luon cave, this cave is a natural tunnel thrusts through a mountain's foot and leads to an exotic lagoon surrounded by mountains covered by dense jungle. Seafood dinner and optional night paddle. Overnight on boat inside a wonderfully tranquil atmosphere in Luon cave area.

Day 8 Thu 15 Nov: Visit Halong bay - A new day wake up with joys and emotions in an early morning for watching sunrise on sea. Have breakfast, continue kayak exploration. Paddle from Luon cave toward islets in shape of Tortoise, Man's head, Cua Van fishing village. Have lunch on board. Paddle to Three Tunnels lake ( selected according to the tides). Have dinner on board. Optional night paddle. Overnight on board in Three Tunnels area.

Day 9 Fri 16 Nov :Halong -Hanoi - Sunrise breakfast, continue islands exploration by kayak to Con Vit, Ba Hang. Have lunch on board, back to Ha Long wharf then transfer back to Hanoi by private car. Overnight in Hanoi.

Day 10 Sat 17 Nov: Hanoi - home - We fly home on AK761 at 0915 hr arriving in KL(LCCT) at 1330PM. Will wait until 21.30 hr for AK6316 flight from LCCT arriving Penang at 22.20 hr.

Here is a comment by Pipit, one of the team member of this trip.

Pipit wrote ....."My side of Sapa – Hanoi – Halong Bay .............
I don’t travel all that often and I normally look for slightly different traveling experiences when I do, which is why I snapped up Master Wong’s offer to join him to Vietnam on a Yongo trip. Most travel operators offer sightseeing, shopping, eating, entertainment, business or health, but with Yongo’s reputation for non-commercialism, I hoped the niche for odd ball travelers like me might be satisfied.

One’s memories of experiences much depends on how adventurous one’s behaviour is. Unfortunately, I was not adventurous enough to risk what Thiem our Vietnamese guide called “eruption inside”, but this was my own entire fault. I talk of the myriad of tiny “benches” selling hawker food whose fare sometimes looked worrying, but often temptingly delicious. Nor did I take up the numerous offers of motorcycle taxis to tour the city of Hanoi, not even when some of them offered “bang bang” as a last resort in persuasion. But then I don’t usually take up what I don’t know (ahem, anyone knows what it is?)

I guess I am a little conservative stick in the mud after all. Still, the trip proved rich and rewarding in terms of experience – from the rustic dirt tracks of Sapa hills to the mad cacophony of Hanoi’s traffic and on to the olive green glassy sea of Halong Bay. I hope our Vietnamese hosts got something rewarding in return too for all the trouble they take in opening their country up to demanding and self-interested foreign tourists like me and if they are still open, I think it is worthwhile to make a second and hopefully braver and more intimate repeat trip."

I shared same behavior and feeling with Pipit on the adventurous part. Guess it’s the fear inside that prevent us from taking risk when we are in unfamiliar ground. This fear will gradually reduce when we get to travel more and also when we are with experienced traveler.

Highland Sapa has a lot to offer for those who love nature and cultural life style of ethnic minorities. A home stay in one of the many villages is highly recommended.

A river cruise on Tam Coc is another nice experience. The misty limestone islands as back drop is just simply picture perfect.

Ha Long bay is no doubt a very beautiful place. Relaxing on the deck of a Junk boat surrounded by small exotic islands, floating on calm green water, with blue sky and red orange setting sun is unforgettable. One may choose to star glazing on the deck at night with a cup of warm aromatic Vietnamese coffee or join the karaoke session at the dining area. I’m afraid that this beautiful place is not sustainable with the current large numbers of boat operators. The pollution in the form of refuse and wastes that are dumped into this bay are quite evident. I can see plastic bags, bottles, wrappers and occasionally oil floating on the water surface.

Hanoi is a busting city and the historic Old Quarter near Hoan Kiem Lake is filled with tourist and travelers like us. One uniqueness of this narrow streets and allies of Old Quarter is that most shops on the same street sell the same merchandise. This makes your shopping so much easier. You want to buy shoes, go to shoe street, like wise you need bags look up at bag street. Crossing the streets of Hanoi requires real courage. You are advised to move at a constant pace and they will know how to weave around and avoid you. Any sudden move or stop can mean disaster. The Water Puppet show near Hoan Kiem Lake is recommended but you have to book your ticket early to avoid disappointment.

Boating at TamCoc

Terrace farming at Sapa

Group at Sapa

Water Puppet show

Friday, January 25, 2008

Roast Pork

Beside traveling and hiking, I do love to cook during weekends and holidays. Chinese new year is just round the corner and I would like to share a recipe on Roast Pork (Siew York). Roast pork fresh from the oven taste much much better than you buy at the market. Here are the ingredients you need and the method to roast a perfect crispy 'siew york'.

> 1.5 kg or 3 kati of pork belly.
> 1 table spoon of salt
> 3 table spoon of vinegar
> 3 cups of water
> 1 tea spoon of white pepper powder
> 1 tablespoon of 'five spice powder' (Ngo hiang hoon)
> 1 teaspoon of sugar

> Wash and dry the pork
> Use a sharp knife and make a few cuts on the meat side.
> Boil 3 cups of water and add 3 tablespoon of vinegar.
> Bath the boiling water with vinegar on the pork skin.
> Let the pork cool down and rub some salt on the skin.
> Rub the remaining salt, white pepper powder, five spice powder and sugar on the meat.
> Leave the marinaded pork for a few hours (best over night)
> Place the pork with meat side up in pre heated oven.
> Set oven temperature to 200 C and roast the meat for about 30 minutes.
> Remove from oven, turn the meat up and prick the skin with skewer or folk.
> Put the meat back to oven with the skin facing up.
> Continue to roast for about 30 minutes or until the skin turn crispy brown in color.
> Remove from oven, let the meat cool for a while and serve.


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Sabah Adventure

This is my second post and again I would like to share a trip experience. With Air Asia everyone can fly especially with direct flights from Penang to KK. Our group of 17 is made up of close friends and their immediate family.

Day 1 - Sunday 17th, 2007 (Penang – KK)

Our Air Asia flight AK852 arrived at KK on time at 12.35 pm. Rachel, our guide was there waiting for us. After checking in to our rooms, we went for lunch at one of the food court in a shopping complex. We took the whole afternoon checking out the Filipino market which is just 10 minutes walk from our hotel.

We had a grand seafood dinner at the Ocean Seafood Village. We also had a surprised birthday party for 4 of the members whose birthday fall in June. Thanks to Rachel for ordering the birthday cake in advance. We continue the party at our tiny hotel room with sweet rice wine which I bought at the Filipino market early in the afternoon. The wine was so good that everyone decided to buy more for the next few days.
Pick your lobster.

Group with birthday girl and boys.

Day 2 - Monday 18th, 2007 (KK – Poring)

After an early breakfast we hopped on to our vans and headed for Kinabalu National Park. We took a guided tour on one of the trails in the National Park. We also had a glimpse of the highest peak in south east Asia.

Our lunch at Kundasang is mainly vegetables that we bought at near-by market. After lunch we headed to Poring. It was raining quite heavy when we arrived at Poring and we have to wait for the rain to stop before we can hike up to the canopy walk. It was quite a strenuous hike for some and a disappointment at the end of the hike. Most part of the canopy walk was closed for maintenance. We end the hike with a soak at the hot spring. We had a simple dinner across the road just outside the park.

After dinner we gathered at one of the chalet for party. We had more rice wine tonight. I bought ten bottles at the Filipino market early in the morning before breakfast.

Day 3 - Tuesday 19th, 2007 (Poring – Sandakan)

Not a good start today. There were no water supplies to our chalets. All of us had to use the dormitory’s facilities. At the time we left Poring at around 7.30 am there was not a single restaurant or shop opened. We had to travel almost 2 hours to the nearest restaurant for breakfast. We continue our journey for about 3 hours to Sandakan. We had a brief visit at the Australian War Memorial Park before we checked into our hotel. After a good lunch at the hotel lobby, we walked about 20 minutes to Agnes Keith House located on a small hill top overseeing Sandakan bay. Next to Agnes Keith House is a typical English Tea house where we had our afternoon tea break. We spend the afternoon at this place playing lawn polo. In the evening we had another splendid seafood dinner at Ocean King Seafood Restaurant.

Day 4 - Wednesday 20th, 2007 (Sandakan – Sepilok – Batu Putih)

We visited Sandakan’s biggest fish market in the early morning. We checked out after breakfast and proceed to Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary. We were just in time for the morning feeding session. After seeing the feeding of Orang Utan, we decided to do the 1 hour trek up to the water hole at this park. We had a late lunch at a nearby restaurant and move on to our next activity, river cruise on Sungai Kinabatangan. We saw a lot of Proboscis monkeys and Hornbills on this river cruise.

After the river cruise, the group is divided according to their assigned Orang Sungai homes in Batu Putih village. This home-stay program is aliened to all of us and a cultural shock. There is no pipe-in water supply and fresh water is precious. I thought my assigned home was bad. I had to wait for about 10 minutes to fill up a 5 gallon pail for a bath. The 2 ladies assigned to another home were even worst. Their toilet is without door and no water tap inside. They were given only 3 water containers of about a gallon each to do their washing and bathing. The night seems very long at Batu Putih. The experience of staying with Sabah’s Orang Sungai reminds us not to take things for granted especially food, water and the conveniences we have in our present homes.
Batu Putih Home-stay

Orang Utan at Sepilok

Day 5 - Thursday 21st, 2007 (Batu Putih – Semporna)

After a long night every one woke up very early. We had a simple home cooked breakfast and followed by a short visit to the grave museum inside lime stone caves. It was amazing how ancient people carried the coffins 30 meters up a near vertical lime stone hill into these caves.

Our 1.00 pm bus to Semporna only shows up at 3.30 pm. It was late evening when we arrived at Semporna and we have to cancel our visit to one of the factory making jelly. After checking in at the nice Dragon Inn water chalet, we gathered for dinner. Guess what? More seafood again.

Day 6 - Friday 22nd, 2007 (Semporna – Mabul/Sipadan)

The breakfast given by Dragon Inn was extremely little, only 2 slices of bread and a cup of coffee. We had to supplement with a packet of nasi lemak each. Our speed boat to Mabul island arrived at 9.00 am. It was still drizzling and the sea was a little choppy. We left our luggage at Mabul water chalet and went straight to Sipadan island. The weather turned fine when we arrived at Sipadan. The old abandoned Sipadan Resort still standing and now used as rest area. This island and Kapalai is now guarded by Police and Army. We spend the whole morning snorkeling off Sipadan. The water was crystal clear and the corals were the most beautiful ones I have ever seen. We had packed lunch and short break before we head back to Mabul for more snorkeling. A few of us spend the late afternoon walking around the small Mabul Island and enjoy the sunset. That night, we had good Bar-B-Q fish for supper provided by John the Master Diver.
Sunset at Mabul

Sipadan Island

Day 7 - Saturday 23rd, 2007 (Mabul/Kapalai – Semporna – KK)

It was raining heavy, the sea was rough and our morning trip to Kapalai looks doubtful. The rain stopped at about 8.30 am but the sea was still rough so we decided to take another walk around the island. We were lucky, the weather improved later in the morning and off we go to Kapalai. Kapalai is a small beautiful Atoll with only one resort, built on stilts. It was an ideal place for snorkeling. The water is shallow, crystal clear and abundant sea lives. We left this beautiful Atoll at 1.00 pm and back to our ‘little resort’ at Mabul for lunch. Our boat picked us up at 4.00 pm and we arrived at Semporna just before 5.00 pm. We had an early dinner at Semporna before we head to Tawau for our 9.25 pm flight to KK. Every one of us cursed and swears at MAS when they announced that our flight to KK is delayed 2 hours to 11.30 pm. It was almost 1.00 am in the morning when we reached our hotel in KK.
Beautiful Kapalai Resort

Day 8 - Sunday 24th, 2007 (KK – Home)

We slept about 3 hours and left the hotel at 4.30 am to catch our 6.30 am morning flight to Penang. We arrived at Penang 20 minutes ahead of schedule.


This trip was well executed and the itinerary was planned to suit all the participants. The close friendly relationship of group is also the major factor for the success of this trip. Everyone had their shares of fun, joy, experience and unforgettable memories to bring home.

Recorded by WH Wong

Monday, January 21, 2008

Cambodia trip

7N8D Trip to Cambodia (1st April to 8th April 06)

This is my first post and I would like to start by sharing a trip I took last April with a group of friends. There were 6 of us together with my wife on this self organized trip. Though the timing was not right, (April being the hottest time of the year) there was no rain to spoil the trip. Day time temperature in Cambodia soars above 37 C and we get exhausted and dehydrated fast. Our 7 days in Cambodia cover Siem Reap, the gateway to Angkor, and Phnom Penh, the capital. First 3 nights at Siem Reap, then bus to Phnom Penh for 2 nights and back to Siem Reap for last night. Should have saved one night and took the direct flight out of Phnom Penh.
Siem Reap
Siem Reap, the gateway to Angkor Archeological Complex is a small blooming town with lots of hotels and guest houses to cope with increasing visitors. The small little airport is just 6 KM from town. Cambodia has 3 seasons weather, the cool and dry from October to January, hot and dry from Feb to May and hot and wet from Jun to September. Angkor Archeological Complex is a huge site of a ruin city and temples. A truly magnificent wonder of the world and an UNESCO Heritage Site. The entrance fee to Angkor though expensive (US$20 for single day pass. US$40 for a 3 days pass and US$60 for a week pass) is worth the money spent. We opted for the 3 days pass and that is the minimum to me. You’ll be cheating yourself and done no justice for the trip if it’s just a single day visit to this site. Angkor Wat, the biggest temple ruin is well restored and maintained. The panoramic view during sunrise and sunset is simply spectacular. No wonder it attracts so many visitors every day. The Bayon inside Angkor Thom is another magnificent site. Other must see spectacular sites include Baphoun, Elephant Terrace, Thommanon, Ta Keo, Banteay Kdei, Preah Khan, East Mebon, Ta Phrom, Banteay Srei, Ta Som, Neak Pean and Phnom Bakheng. The best way to explore this vast site is either by Tuk-tuk (motorized trishaw) or hired van.

Another worth while place to visit is Tonle Sap, the biggest inland fresh water lake in South East Asia. Though it’s dry season and water level is low, the boat cruise on Tonle Sap is still rewarding. The sight of Vietnamese refugee life on floating villages in this lake is intriguing and unforgettable. The reflections on the water, the color of the sky and distant sun set makes a perfect picture.

Group in front of Phnom Bakheng.
Angkor Thom South Gate

Ruins of Bantey Kdei.

Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia is now a busy town but still bears the horror images of Pol Pot’s reign of terror. I guess it will take many more years to recover from the damage done by this mad man and his ruthless army. Nearly half of the seven million people in Cambodia were tortured and brutally executed during his 4 years in power for reasons that is still unknown today. The Toul Sleng Genocide museum and the Cheoung Ek Killing Field are very eerie places and one must be mentally prepared before visiting. Other places of interest in Phnom Penh are the Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda, Russian Market and National museum. The best way to visit all these places is take a day trip package with guide. It’s relatively cheap at US$6.00 per person and readily available at the Capitol Guest House.

Killing Field.

Lodging in Cambodia is not an issue. There are plenty of Hotels and Guest Houses to suit all kinds of visitors. Dormitory bed from US$1.00 to 5 star hotel suites more than US$1000.00 per night is available. Our first 3 nights is at Red Lodge Guest House, a highly recommended place by friends who has visited Siem Reap. For US$12.00 per night for an air cond double bed room, I rated this place a 5 out of scale of 10. Pros are coffee / tea, bread and some fruits on the house whole day, relatively clean and close proximity to market and town. The cons are room is hot, the old air cond takes ages to cool down the room, water pressure low and that makes cooling off with a shower is not possible, and got a couple of cockerels next door waking you up at 4.30 every morning.

Our 2 nights at Phnom Penh is at Hoong Pien Guest House, same owner as Capitol Guest House. At US$10.00 per night for an air cond double bed room, I rated this place 6, slightly better than Red Lodge. At least the room is bigger, air cond cooler but still not up to my expectation, water pressure is good, has got a small 14 inch color TV, and much quiet. The cons are my room is on the 3rd floor with no elevator and 3 fleet of long steep staircase, window with no view – just a plane un-plaster wall of next building, and has no save fire escape route.

Last 1 night before departing was at Tasom Guest House. Original plan was to stay some where on the east side of the river around Wat Bo but was taken to Tasom by the same bus owner, Capitol. At also US$10.00 per night for an air cond double bed room, I rated this 6.5 the best among the 3 Guest House we stayed. It has the pros of the above 2 guest houses and the air cond is cool. The only cons is the toilet is a bit small and toilet wall partition is not full height to ceiling. All 3 guest houses’ water supply is yellowish in color and has a distinct foul odor of organic decay in stagnant water. Obviously it’s not safe to drink.
Tasom Guesthouse

Cambodia food is very much like the Thai food minus the chili. A lot of coconut milk and spices are use in their cooking. Amok is a non hot green curry in coconut milk, a favorite and famous Cambodia food. It can cook with fish, chicken or pork. Palm sugar made from Sea Coconut palm, is sold as candies. The variety and quality of food in Siem Reap is much better but more expensive than Phnom Penh. The cost of living in Siem Reap is also higher than the capital Phnom Penh, mainly due to the higher number of foreigners. There are also the exotic delicacies for the more adventure gourmet eater. Duck egg embryo, preserved animal internal organs, deep fried inserts and retiles are sold on the side walks and market places. Surprisingly the deep fried inserts taste good and goes very well with beer.
Deep fried cicadas

Cambodia has a population of about 12 million and 95% are Buddhist. Physical feature of Cambodian is like the Thai, even the language also sounds alike. The country is still very poor and is now on the road to recovery from the civil war. Life is simple, very basic with bare necessity. Most residences don’t have the basic electricity and pipe in water. Many are in the poverty class and are concentrated in town areas. From my observation, those living in Siem Reap are much better than Phnom Penh mainly because of the revenue generated from tourist visiting Angkor.

Young Apsara dancer

Despite having Angkor Archeological Complex, a world heritage site and wonder of the world, I wouldn’t make a second trip to this place. Once is good enough for me. I couldn’t deny that this trip is a good experience and worth every cents. I would even recommend it to my friend. I felt very lucky and fortunate to be a Malaysian after this trip. The only regret I have in this trip is not able to see the Apsara cultural dance that comes together with the buffet dinner for US$12.00 per person. I should have used my influence power on the group.

The End.
Tonle Sap