Saturday, August 23, 2014

2-day KL Walkathon Tour

"I have been to Masjid Jamek!"

On the way back to KL…

At first I thought of taking the Transnacional bus, however the next trip will yet be at 2pm. One barker walked towards me and offered a seat for MYR35 in the next bus to leave Butterworth. I took it of course; it would be better to reach KL early. When the bus moved out of the bay, around quarter of 12 noon, a Bus Personnel (I trust he’s from the company because of this uniform) collected out tickets. I was expecting to get a copy when he came back but he never came back. I saw this other passenger who just caught our leaving bus; he paid the same MYR35 and was signalled to board the bus. I saw it in his facial expression he was perplexed of the signal. I bet he’s also expecting to receive a ticket. He boarded nevertheless.

At the first toll gate, I noticed one signage saying, KL 121KM. That’s odd because it took me 6 to 7 hours of bus travel from Melaka to Butterworth, and that it took me 2 hours of travel from KL to Melaka, so it did not add up. Well, if the signage is right then it will take me 2 hours to reach KL. Then 2 hours passed and I noticed another signage saying, KL 144KM. That meant I still have 2 more hours of travel before reaching the Malaysian capital. It was okay to me to arrive in KL at late afternoon because the bus I was riding will park at the Puduraya Station, which is in the heart of the city and which is familiar to me. Indeed, the bus settled in the arrival bay at few minutes before 5pm of Puduraya Bus Station, the exact place I arrived at during my first visit to KL in 2008.
Time to look for a room accommodation before anything else, have to deposit my luggage before roaming around this familiar yet undiscovered city. I looked for the Pudu Hotel I have stayed before. It gone! The site where it previously stood was occupied by this Marquee Hotel, quite expensive one by the looks of it. So I checked in the neighboring budget KL City Lodge, for two nights at MYR60 a night, an airconditioned room with my own toilet.

Denying the urge to sleep, the long bus trip adding to stress, I studied the map and marked the first set of the five major groups of tourist destinations within the city that I should check that day. In few minutes after I left my bag in the room, I found myself walking along the major streets in KL City. I started at Jalan Pudu towards Plaza Rakyat Train Station. I found it appropriate to start my 2-day journey at the place where I left off, that was the Petronas Twin Towers. On my way back, following the same route in opposite direction, I stopped by the Masjid Jamek Train Station to sight the majestic mosque during sundown. Night came by so quickly. Taking advantage of the lightings around the city, fyi KL is said to be the City of Lights, I walked straight to Merdeka Square where the city government centers were situated. The sight was so European, the Victorian Clock Tower at the center, the City Gallery where the human-sized replica of the country’s National Monument stood to one side and the giant boulder sized peg, “I <3 br="" by="" kl="" other="" side.="" stood="" the="">

Noted Petaling Street

Victorian Clock Tower

Textile Museum

Truly feeling tired, I walked back to the lodge, passing by the Petaling Street, and retired.

One Day of Full Walkathon

Today was the last leg of my visit to Malaysia alone once again. Back in 2008, I set foot around here alone, followed by a group tour in 2010, me tugging along my friends, Dupong, Jacqui and Erick in KL, and then another group tour in 2012, me acting as tour guide for Ruth’s family in Johor Baruh. Since I don’t have wifi access at the guesthouse, I dropped by the 24-hour McDo nearby before starting the tour of the day. This tour would be totally and completely pegged “Walkathon Tour”.
First up was the Batu Caves. Reaching the site which is located at the outskirts of KL city, so walking is not applicable, I took the connecting train rides, LRT from Plaza Rakyat Station to KL Sentral Station and then Komuter Train from KL Sentral Station to Batu Caves Station. I noticed hills and mountains on the nearby horizon. And then an awesome, gigantic, elevated Buddhist Temple welcomed me as I emerged from the train station. Thought it to be the Batu Caves’ temple, I took pictures of the a giant green-colored statue, a Monkey God, guarding its site right outside of the station’s walls. I then climbed upstairs unmindful of any posted reminders. I actually lost manners being overwhelmed by the grandness of the temple, only to find my shoes still on, and so a temple keeper pointed at me and shouted “you are still wearing shoes!” I retreated apologetically and only noticed the caution sign “take shoes off” when I climbed down the stairs. Shame on me!
Ashamed of the incident and feared the keeper might come after me to scold me more, I walked briskly towards the other side of the complex. There I beheld a gargantuan golden statue, known to be Lord Murugan whose height almost as tall as the mountain he’s guarding, towering over the complex, way bigger than the green monkey god. To his right side stood the famous 272-step concrete stairs towards the Hindu temples inside the cave’s chambers. Of course I have to experience the climb. On my way up, I noticed plenty of monkeys jumping from branches to branches and climbing down the twigs of the surrounding trees. On ground, they grabbed foods, usually bananas, from tourists who intentionally brought one to get closer interaction with the primates.

Monkey God

Lord Murugan

Reaching the mouth of the cave, I noticed a Hindu priest in traditional half naked attire. I signalled him asking if I can take his picture. I did not know if he got my true message but he gestured me to come in. I saw him later settling at the ramp of inside a small Hindu temple right at the cave’s entrance. Amazed by the unique very welcoming grandiosity of the cave’s main chamber, I diverted my attention away from the priest who was also entertaining other inquisitive guests. The cave has three cathedrals and just like normal caves, you have to climb up and down in every chamber. What is unique in Batu Caves is that all walkways are concretely paved, there are stairs all around. I pushed on strolling the center chamber, the biggest cathedral among the three, and found several mini-temples, statues and figures fashionably hanged on walls, more monkeys walking here and there, and bats flying overhead. I continued on to the more elevated third chamber with its own Hindu temple and more statues and figures on some of its walls. There I stayed for awhile, observed the activities in each temple, the dry contoured cave walls, the holes above where each cave chambers opens to the skies which rays entered the cave like spot lights, and the roving monkeys. All these I captured in a video. I stood by for a while also to catch my breath from the climb.  Even on my way down, I did not bother counting the steps, instead I mesmerized at the unique feel of the surroundings, marvel at how minute things on the ground look like from up the cave on a hill.

Lord Murugan

Monkey God

I was sweating profusely when I reached the ground. I looked and felt tired already but I need to finish my planned city walk tour today. I headed back to the city on board the same Komuter Train and made a stop at Kuala Lumpur Station (take note: KL Sentral Station is different). I walked the long platform exiting the station to get to the National Mosque, the KLTM Headquarters, and the National Museum. These three major city landmarks have three different touches in terms of architecture and interior and exterior designs. I kind of lost my way in search of the KL Sentral Station from the National Museum but with the help of the locals, the workers who dug the ground to give way to the expansion of the KL Sentral Station, I was back to the right course towards my lodge.
Recharged by the afternoon rest, I went back on foot to the KL Tourism Gallery at 3pm and watched the numerous exhibits. They have this video presentation over a miniature perspective of the whole KL City, the video moved in rhyme with the voice over, along with colourful neon lights dancing to the tune of the background music, showcasing the future of KL City. It was very impressive, the way they packaged their tourism campaign, featuring fantastically the 2020 Vision of KL. This really made me plan as well my next visit to Malaysia in year 2020.

Kuala Lumpur Central Railway Station

I was supposed to watch the MUD play in one of their theatres, but the show was cancelled due to the return of some of the bodies of the MH17 cash victims. So I waited for the late afternoon to arrive, by shopping souvenir and pasalubong items in the Merdeka Square basement, in order to resume my city walk tour in the City of Lights, which is best experienced at nighttime. I started walking the Jalan Raja Chulan that led to the KL Tower location. After several clicks in my SLR camera to capture the now blinking tower, I proceeded to the location of KLCC Suria Mall walking the Jalan Ramlee to also see the Petronas Twin Tower lighten at nighttime.  I was treated more than the bright lights of the tower but also by the colourful dancing fountain at the mall’s façade.

Around the grounds of the National Mosque

Satisfied with the show of lights around, I headed to Bukit Bintang for a grand finale of this tour. I planned to celebrate it with ample food and some booze. This was the journey that lost me a lot, time, direction, and sweat. I just followed the Jalan Ismail until I reached Kuala Lumpur Pavilion, a high-end shopping mall at the corner of Jalan Bukit Bintang. There was a mall-wide sale that day, but just like in Manila, the discounted prices still seemed expensive. I checked on their items on sale and bought few souvenirs and pasalubong items. Then I continued my search for the party zone in Jalan Alor, as pointed out by my Scottish friend, Mark. As per my study of the map earlier, the party-mood street of Jalan Alor is just around the corner from Jalan Bukit Bintang. But then I got lost again, especially when I realized that I was on Jalan Ismail yet again. I just walked in circles! So I entered this McDo store at the corner and recheck my google map. Due to a very disappointing wifi access in this McDo outlet, I forced myself to open the hard map I pocketed. I realized I only need to make a turn one more block from that junction.

It actually says, "Come inside the National Museum"

So I found Jalan Alor. I found it to be a crowded street, guesthouses are everywhere, most of them occupied the upper storeys of every restaurants, where restaurants and convenience stores lined the whole stretch, where restaurants occupied both lanes with chairs and tables, where the supposed 4-lane street is now a lane passable for motorists, where motorists compete with pedestrians in that single lane access. As I scanned the backpacker’s inns thriving here, I noticed that the supposed Town View Inn I planned to stay in to be among them. As I entered the corner, the hanging Chinese lanterns greeted me, the lighted signage of every restaurant blinded me, and the competing sounds of entertainers here and there deafened me. This was the hype of a place I was expecting to be in every night, the party seemed endless and the crowd looked hungry for food and fun. Most crowds were settled in their respective chairs and tables while others were still looking for vacancy, some crowds were busy handsignaling the waiters to order food while others were already munching the servings on their tables, other crowds were done and leaving while plenty more were arriving. Arriving guests including myself were busy looking for the right place, with the right feel, and the right foods.
I planned to reward myself from that tiring, long and winding walkathon; spending MYR100 for tonight would be appropriate. I then looked for a place nicer than the ones I passed by. I did not have much time to look for more others. I made up my mind and finally settled with Xin Ji Kitchen, the one with the live acoustic performer. I found a vacant table for two though I came alone, approached right away by a waitress, scanned the menu, and choose the braised beef, crispy fried shrimps and a small bottle of Tiger beer. After devouring the first set, which I disliked the braised beef by the way, I reordered the crispy fried shrimps, fried wanton, and another small bottle of Tiger beer. The whole street of foodtrippers was a complete chaos, awesome chaos! I can say that I love the nightlife in Jalan Alor. Two hours later, I paid MYR78 for that dinner experience, and followed the traffic towards the Jalan Pudu. I was surprised to note that party and food Alor street, which comes livelier at night, was just two blocks away from the lodge I stayed in Jalan Pudu. Had I known it, I would be at the venue every night I was in town.

KL's National Museum

I encountered two Arabs along the street seemingly lost. When I reached their spot they asked if I was from KL, I answered, “no and why?” “Do you know Jalan Haler?” they asked again. Haler! I just came from there and they passed it, I told them. Feeling jubilant to have discovered the shortcut way, I gave them the direction.  I was so glad I had a wonderful night – a grand finale of my 7-day tour in Malaysia.

Twin tower at day

Twin tower at night

One Extra Day

I still have one more day in KL city. This was actually a souvenir day. I ditched the Petaling Street this time since I have been there in my previous visit twice. I just found my way to the Central Market and this Kasturi Walk, which both sell souvenir items, where kiosks around sell anything under the sun. So what to buy from here? I already have plenty of ref magnets: first set was bought in Melaka, second in Penang and third in Batu Caves. I also have bought ladies dresses and men’s shirts in Melaka, other sets in Penang, and the rest in KL Tourism Gallery and Merdeka Basement Mall. I have bought ladies bangles at Pavilion Mall and the Erick’s requested sunglasses at the National Museum. But I still have plenty of ringgits. I circled the Central Market and found interesting things to buy. I bought shawls for my mother, sister and househelp, leather wallets for my father and brother-in-law, and another sunglass for my boyfriend.

Night out, eat out, hangout? Jalan Alor is the right place

I went back to KL City Lodge at 11am to pick up my already packed up luggage and check out. My way to the airport was fast albeit expensive. I took the LRT from Plaza Rakyat to KL Sentral and then boarded the KLIA Express, which one way cost MYR35. At KLIA 2, I found a place to eat my lunch and then settled at the nearby Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf outlet for a coffee. I did everything in slow motion to kill the time and while waiting for the check in counter to open.

Replica of the National Monument at Merdeka Square

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

2-Day EuroPenang Tour

At Dharmikarama Burmese Temple

On the way to Penang…

The trip to Butterworth, the entry point to Penang Island, took us more or less 8 hours, from supposedly 6 to 7 hours. This was because an accident happened on the expressway before us. A trailer truck careened to the highway walls, crushed itself to several concrete boulders, turned upside down covering all but one lane. I observed paramedics prepping the stretchers while others were laboriously opening the trucker’s door to pull out bodies in the front seats. That delay served me well that I was able to find some sleep because I planned to layover for few hours yet had we arrived in the bus station early.

Khoo Kongsi

It was around 6am when the bus parked at the Butterworth Central Terminal. I made some rounds to check whether some bus lines have route to Georgetown in Penang Island. Few minutes passed and I have not seen one. I only observed people climbing the stairs towards the ferry boat. So I asked one bus operator who pointed me out that there is no commuter bus from Butterworth to Georgetown but only the ferry. I had the impression that since there is a long bridge connecting Penang island to the mainland Malaysia, a bus route is now existent. So I climbed sleepily the stairs and walked the platform to the ferry boat. I noticed people approaching the counter with markings MYR1.40. I handed the teller 1 ringgit bill and as I was about to give him 40 cents, he handed me back two 50 cents. I grabbed it and realized that the machinated entrance will only accept MYR1.40 in coins. I fed the whole with the coins and got in. I simply joined the other passengers in the bench and waited for the ferry to dock in the other end. It was around 10 to 15 minutes later when we disembarked at Georgetown Jetty Port Terminal.
A European-designed hotel

When I reached the grounds, I noticed several Rapid Penang buses queuing in what appeared to be a bus station. Rapid Penang is the only public utility bus in the island but it’s very organized and reliable. It serves like an interconnected train lines in many advanced cities. There are route boards around to guide the tourist where to go and what bus number to ride corresponding to the selected tourist destination. It was too early for me to start the tour; I needed a map of the city and the island first. I did not know what brought me but I found myself taking the bus marked CAT. Well, I have read about this free shuttle bus ride within and around Georgetown. Indeed, it is the CAT-marked buses that offer free shuttle ride. I was more fortunate to ride with and meet Bob and his wife, who noticed me to be tourist and started conversing in Malay. I told him I only speak English and I came from the Philippines. They went ecstatic and spoke to me in English and guided me more in this free downtown tour. They generously pointed to me those potential cheap guesthouses I should check in. I knew later during our conversation in the middle of the bus tour that Bob was an exchange student of Ateneo de Manila University – Loyola Schools, when he took his graduate school at La Salle in Asia in Georgetown, Penang. Bob called me Cri while his wife correctly pronounced my name Cris. They both have stayed in Quezon City for a month and have experienced heavy traffic back home. They generously accompanied me until I completed the turn and the downtown tour until and we bid each other goodbyes.

Hindu temple

Once they departed on the same shuttle bus, I decided to make a second turn while waiting for the check in time at 2pm. I was not yet sure where to stay despite the fact that I already noted the Tune Hotel’s direction during the joyride. I traced back the bus’ route by walking on opposite direction. I enjoyed capturing the European-designed building structures and landmarks in photos, especially at this breaking hours of the morning. Penang, particularly Georgetown, made me feel like making a ala-Europe tour, from the facades of the Maritime Museum, the Royal Penang, the Victorian Clock Tower, the City Hall, and St. George Church. I walked the whole stretch of the so-called Harmony Street (a portion of Penang Road), from the point I made a selfie at Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, Chocolate House and Museum, until I reached the KOMTAR building and mall, my reference point for the Tune Hotel.

Along Jalan Burma on my way to the hotel, I passed by a Camera Museum, a Muslim mosque and a Chinese Temple. I booked an airconditioned room for MYR103; more expensive than I expected. Per my plan, I must spend less than MYR100 for the room accommodation per night. But I guess one night experience of Tune Hotel’s accommodation, which was my very first time, won’t hurt. But definitely I would never patronize Tune Hotels, not even recommend it to my friends. Its services come in piecemeal or like “sachets” wherein you pay for each particular service or amenity, like aircon, wifi access, towel, TV, et cetera. As for me, I may not use all these amenities at the same time but at least I have them for my own choosing to enjoy my stay whenever I am inside the room. Even the luggage deposit comes with a price. Should you need all of the amenities and supplies, you would pay as much as paying an accommodation in some good 3 or 4-star hotels.

Find this mosque on top of Penang Hill

One Fine Day in Penang…

After depositing my backpack for MYR5, I went back to KOMTAR and found a hawker spot fitting for my cravings for breakfast. Later I found a Chinese temple, called Khoo Kongsi, in front of it, along Penang Road and so I dropped by to get beautiful photos. I went back to Jetty point to take a bus heading to Penang Hill, after quite a while waiting at the bus stop, along the temple’s sidewalk, for Bus 204. It followed a different route so it did not pass by Penang Road where I stood earlier waiting for it. The commute cost me MYR3 and in more or less 30 minutes I was at the foot of Penang Hill. That was yet 10am but I already noticed plenty of tourists climbing in and out of the tram.

The monorailway in Penang Hill

Reaching Penang Hill is through a tram, a single coach tram, which ticket cost MYR30.  Up there I found more postcard perfect spots. I climbed the highest portion of the hill where I found a Buddhist temple neighbored with a Muslim mosque and a Christian church. They all looked like miniatures but lifesized; putting them side by side is a complete representation of what Penang really is, a perfect place of harmony. I took selfies with each of them before climbing down. I also took my selfies at the exhibited old tram, at the lover’s lane atop the food court where love notes and padlocks on a chain are tied together in a fashionable way, and an owl museum’s façade. After that tiring climbs, I settled in one high chair inside the foodcourt and ordered an avocado fruitshake.

Penang Hill tour

I got back to the hotel in time for the 2pm check in. I made sure to drop by the KOMTAR’s electronics section to purchase the right adaptor for my battery charger, which only cost MYR6.90. I was shocked to find it sold at the 7-11 store located at the ground floor of Tune Hotel for MYR30. I finally had the room, so I climbed up my room with my backpack, plugged in my battery chargers, get showered and took a nap. I woke up at little past 5pm and headed to the location of this European-designed building resided solely by McDo beside Penang Time Square. There, I finally got online, first time of the day. I was thrilled to update my Facebook status and leave private messages to my family informing them of my trip condition and current location – my ritual at least once a day.

Then I realized I had planned to capture photos of Kek Lok Si Temple at the last hour of the afternoon, known to photographers as blue hour. Dusk time would be perfect for this awesome, elaborate and gigantic Buddhist temple. I took the Rapid Penang Bus 204 again, which crisscrossed around the communities and villages first before reaching the base area of the temple. The temple is set atop Air Itam’s hill. It was past 7pm when I reached the site and found it closed since 6:30pm. Fortunately, I talked my way in to a Bangladeshi I met at the main entrance. He was pulling down the bar closing the parking spaces. He agreed to give me access inside, but only up to the base area of the giant statue, at the peak. I found most areas around the huge temple to be under renovation, so most of the scenic sites were blocked with plastic covers, steel scaffoldings and concrete barriers. I tried to get some beautiful shots out of these restrictions and marvelled at the sight of Georgetown down the hill blinking like stars in the night in different colors.

Kek Lok Si Temple

As I find my way back, I waited for a very long while at Air Itam Public Market for a Rapid Penang Bus number 203 that flew back to the town proper. I later decided to take any bus number that will pass anytime now for as long as it’ll take be back to Georgetown. But none came. Not even an empty taxi passed here by. I noticed one bus passing by at the other end of market, but it looked empty; guess it was heading towards its headquarters. I thought of walking the whole way back. I transferred from one point of the wet market to another until finally at 9:30pm, Bus 201 passed by. Thank God I was boarded and heading back to the hotel.

Chuliah Street where most backpackers' inns can be found

My thought changed when I reached the Penang Times Square, I went looking for night spots to experience Penang’s nightlife. There were couple of bars in its basement but felt very cold and empty. I proceeded to the KOMTAR Walk only to find most shops closed; some bars were still open but looked to me to be drab and empty. I guessed there’s not much for a Tuesday night in the city. So I decided to return to Tune Hotel only to find the neighboring New World Park open, crowded in a positive way, and in party mood. There were plenty of bars around, including a Starbucks and an Old Town Coffee and Restaurant. I ditched the Starbucks and looked for a seat inside the Old Town Coffee and Restaurant instead. I ordered their signature dish and white coffee. Then I retired so full that very late night.

Lover's Lane on top of Penang Hill

One Bad Day in Penang…

Had a nice sleep with Tune Hotel, despite the fact that I didn’t like the accommodation package being served on a piecemeal. To order all amenities and supplies would cost one a fortune, which I would end up paying for a comparable luxurious accommodation. I did have a nice sleep despite the fact that the AC unit stopped working, maybe I was so tired of the trip and the tour to mind the warmness of the room. So I decided to check out at 10am and transferred to Hotel 118, a hostel-type accommodation near Penang Time Square I checked last night after spending dinner and browsing the free internet access at McDo. At Hotel 118, I booked for the same double occupancy quality bed, with mattress and duvet as that of the Tune Hotel’s with a room rate that was reasonably lower and covered all amenities, from aircon, TV, wifi access, bathroom supplies, and even the complimentary bottled water than that of the Tune Hotel’s. I paid MYR90 for the hotel-type comfort.

Most British colony have Victorian Clock Tower

Well, to start my day early I put on my slippers and had a morning walk around Georgetown retracing once again the roads I’ve been to yesterday. But I tried new roads like Lebuh Chulia and noticed plenty of backpackers’ accommodations. The primary tourist destinations, from temples to mosques to fortress, from little India to Cantonese settlements, and to major city streets where most structures are European-designed structures, deserved a second look and be enjoyed over and over again. Before completing the rounds in Fort Cornwallis, my feet hurts at the friction with my new Islander slipper. So I decided to find a nearby hawker to take a break for my hurting feet and take breakfast with locals. I bought this rice topped with viand wrapped inside the banana leaf and a “kopi panas”. Then I walked to the adjacent ferry terminal where the CAT-labelled hop-on hop-off bus for the free ride back to the hotel or at a stop close to Tune Hotel. I washed up and then checked out. Walked towards Penang Time Square and checked in at Hotel 118.

Masjid means mosque

At first it seemed that one night extension to stay in Penang was a bad idea. After having settled in Hotel 118, after having found it more comfy than Tune Hotel, I felt like staying inside the room, with functioning aircon, cable TV set, and free wifi access. But then I still have six more tourist spots to check that would require travel by Rapid Penang Bus since they are all located outside Georgetown.

Dharmikarama Burmese Temple

First up was Wat Chaiya Mangkalaram, so I boarded bus number 101. Then the heavy rain fell and more heavily when I was about to go down the bus stop near the said temple along Lorong Burma. I ran fast to find a shed in the bus stop cottage as soon as I exited the bus’ door. After almost an hour passed, the rain did not dissipate, not a slightest indication of stopping. I was already feeling wet, my shoes and my pants were feeling sodden. I thought of going back to the city when I noticed that I only had MYR2 left as the smallest bills with few more cents in coins. I knew for a fact that the drivers here don’t change large bills. Further, that side of the road I was at was one way and I need to go to the other side of the block to catch the returning trips. With the unremitting heavy pouring of rains, crossing the other street is not a good option.

Dharmikarama Burmese Temple

After several minutes more, I finally decided to push my luck with the remaining MYR2.90. I hailed the approaching Bus 101 and told the driver to drop me at the Toy Museum. “How much?” I asked and he answered MYR2.70. Perfect! Thank God! I will surely find a place somewhere there to change my MYR10 to MYR1 bills. The surroundings became darker, rains pouring heavier, flooding some portions of the roads around. I looked out of the window to check the road signs for Toy Museum until we passed by the Floating Mosque. I said to myself, I am close now. But then the road went on and on and no sign to indicate the location of the Toy Museum on either sides. Not until I reached, I mean the bus reached the landmark for Batu Ferringhi that I realized I already lost my way. I hailed the bus and went down at Penang Batik Factory and faked for sightseeing. Inside the store, while circling blankly around all stuffs made of batiks, from RTW to home decors, from personal to souvenir stuffs, I formed a thought of walking under the drizzles and catch any returning bus 101. But I still did not have small ringgit bills. So I walked the wet outdoor and found an eatery at the corner facing the center isle landmark. I ordered chicken rice again, paid the bill, and finally got the small bills. With the rain finally dissipating, I walked the distance to the nearest bus stop. I felt like blending with the locals, sort of living and eating like them. I ate in the nearby hawkers where residents flocked, ate local recipes, drank local coffee. It was already casual to me to ask for “tandas” to mean toilet and order “kopi panas” to mean hot coffee.

Dharmikarama Burmese Temple

On my way back on board Rapid Penang bus, I kept my eyes open and vigilant to note the location of the Toy Museum I missed on my way in. But still no sign of it; I again passed by the floating mosque, while it was indicated in the city map that the museum is just around another corner from the mosque. So I gave up, guess I should miss the Toy Museum this time; at least I have still reason to go back to Penang. Then I noticed this golden obelisk along Lorong Burma. Despite the fact that I paid MYR4 for the trip straight to KOMTAR Mall, I called on the driver to drop me at the nearest stop. I walked back to where that golden obelisk was last spotted.  Much to my surprise, I found in there these two very beautiful temples opposite each other. I started with the Dharmikarama Burmese Temple and I lost time taking photos over and over, again and again for each angle and every point of this very elaborate, very rich in culture, very unique temple that I want to stay there for the whole day. This pissed me to be reminded of my failed attempt to reach this spot and started the tour earlier that was when the rain poured heavily and interrupted my planned day. But I cannot stay much longer because the eve was fast approaching and I still have another temple to marvel on. I crossed the street to the Wat Chaiya Mangkalaram Temple, aka the reclining Buddha Thai temple, another very flamboyant and intricate in design both interior and exterior which made me said to myself that I would be a great experience to be Buddhist even for just a very short time. It compensated my tiring day, it recovered my bad day. It was not a bad day after all.

Wat Chaya Mangkalaram: Sleeping Buddha Temple

To celebrate my last night in the island, I resumed my search for a nightlife. I withdrew my desire for drinking liquor since the spots I checked in the basement of Penang Time Square, the so-called Entertainment City during Wednesday’s Ladies night, so I treated myself to an expensive dinner at James Foo Western Food with a delicious beef steak. Sadly, they don’t serve rice but bread. Nevertheless, I retired that night full and satisfied. Although I have the desire to go find nightlife at Chulia Street for the affordable drinks and share gigs with other tourists, but the rain poured that night and ruined my plan. So I stayed in my room, packed my things up for tomorrow's trip out of Penang, and called the night’s off.

Very elaborate structures around Wat Chaya Mangkalaram

Sunday, August 17, 2014

2-Day Melaka-thon

Dutch Square

On my way to Melaka…

I was under the impression that all budget airlines, including Cebu Pacific, will land in the KL Low Cost Carrier Terminal or LCCT. What I discovered when deplaning was that we arrived at the so called KLIA2 (obviously an acronym of KL International Airport Terminal 2), which is a very huge state of the art facility. It was known that the former KL LCCT was demolished to give way to the construction of this new airport. Duty free shops and other stalls were still open when I passed them by on my way to the immigration counters. I passed the immigration without a hitch; the gentleman only asked me how long will I stay in the country, and I said, “7 nights and 6 days”, then he stamped 14 days on my passport.

I just followed the signs to exit and as I reached the giant glass door to push it towards the parking public buses, I realized I have no Malaysian monies yet. I found the nearest Money Changer kiosk open and changed my USD380 to MYR1,128. I was actually hoping to change 1 USD to 3 MYR but as usual the forex inside the airport is way lower than in the “black” market.
I ran outside to board a bus but I noticed no signboards as to the routes these queuing buses will be taking. So I went back inside the airport lounge and found bus ticket counters standing side by side. I approached the one with Melaka 6:30am sign and the lady willingly gave me a seat for MYR35. I was hoping that an earlier trip to Melaka is available so that I will settle in Melaka early and recoup my sleeplessness. Just like everybody else around the passenger lounge, I took three empty chairs in one corner to lie down. Just the same, the crooked contours of the three chairs were discomforting and thus kept me awake.

A Famosa Ruins
When 6 o’clock struck, a commotion from my fellow commuters startled me. I went outside with them, queued at A1 bay, waiting for the just parked bus to open its doors. This bus parked at our assigned bay, so everyone like me expected this to be it. But it did not accept us. When I rechecked my ticket, it said Star Mart Bus, unlike the name of that parked bus. So I went back inside deciding to urinate while waiting. On my way out of the toilet, I noticed this so-called Capsule, a cozy corner that appeared to me like a wine bar. I grabbed a pamphlet, read it and realized that it was a room accommodation for short time nappers. Silly me to not check it out! I would have a nicer rest had I discovered it earlier. It was just a division away from where I laid down uncomfortably. Until next time, I concluded.

Finally the right bus parked at the right bay at exactly 6:30am and my journey towards southern Malaysia began. The Star Mart busliner have us all Melaka bound passengers boarded. Most of my seatmates are of Indian descent so it felt like I went to India. I knew they have this distinct smell but I actually surprised myself to have endured them. For two hours. And two hours was still short for me to gain sleep. The bus arrived at Melaka’s Sentral Station at 8:20am. Once disembarked, I scanned around the surroundings for possible room accommodations, remembering my travel strategy. Unfortunately, all I saw were shops selling RTWs and dry souvenirs, restaurants, food chains, and eateries. I needed some breakfast, so I approached one of the Malaysian eateries inside the bus terminal. I did not mind the other customers who daringly grabbed a plate and spooned their choice of rice and viands. I just stared at the food until one lady server asked me what I want for breakfast. I just did the pointing, she spooned them all to my plate. I then paid at the counter and ordered a coffee. She asked me, “Panas, Iced?” and I answered “Hot!”

I realized later that hot is panas in Malayo, the local dialect. I should keep it in mind then that every time I ordered a hot coffee I should tell the server “kopi panas”.

One Full Day in Melaka…

Panorama Bus No. 17
Now that I was full, I needed a place to stay and settle down, wash up, clean up. But that was still 9am and most room accommodations will be available at 2pm, especially for backpackers. I grabbed a yellow pamphlet, or is it brochure?, from an unmanned Information Booth inside the bus terminal about this Discovery Hostel, complete with instructions to get there. I found it very interesting because in the map, it quite close to Stadthuys where most heritage sites are located. It mentioned about taking Panorama Bus No. 17. I saw these busliners parking outside so I occupied a vacant seat around bays 8 and 9 and waited for Bus 17 to arrive, park or even pass by.

St. Francis Xavier
I waited about a long time so I went back inside the terminal and approached a local wearing red polo shirt that resembles that of the bus drivers I saw outside. I spoke in English so I guess that guy in red shirt did not understand me, and somebody from his group answered in his behalf. He was in police uniform, who pointed me to Bay Number 17. I understood then that bay numbers correspond to bus numbers. So  I did proceed to the pointed bay and saw Panorama Bus 17 filled with commuters coming. I told the driver as I stepped in “Stadthuys”, he answered “3 ringgits”. With about 50 pesos, I reached the Dutch Square where the Clock Tower, the Christ Church, the Victorian Windmill, the Stadthuys, and the colourful, flamboyant rickshaw scattered around. This was where my Melaka heritage tour kicked off.

I spent some time in photographing the square and everything touristy around, purportedly to kill time, until my bowels went moving… I needed to find this Discovery Hostel soon enough wishing that I can be accommodated ahead of 2pm usual check in time. Or even just to book the room for the night, use a toilet for the time being, and deposit my backpack while I consumed the waiting time strolling around. I rechecked the brochure and traced my way to its location.

On my way there, I passed by this covered walkway, as most Portuguese-influenced housing in Macau, and then I came out at the Saint Francis Xavier Church. This has significance to me because in my hometown in Anao-aon, Surigao del Norte, our patron saint is St. Francis Xavier. In fact, the new town name is San Francisco in honor of the patron saint, San Francisco Javier (the Spanish translation of his ame). When I read some marking there, it mentioned that St. Francis often lost his shoes, which we in my own parish also believe in this happenings. I entered and said a quick prayer, said thanks for the safe travel and the opportunity to meet him here.

Windmill around Dutch Square
I strolled a little farther from the church, along Lacsamana Street, and found this island centered by an intersection; the signage says Little India. I took pictures from the side of the church and noticed from the picture the painted sign “Discovery Café”. There was one more hostel adjacent to it, which name I can no longer remember, maybe because I was not interested upon inquiring that the room was pricier that the 40 to 50 ringgits budget. It was half past 10am when I approached the counter and entertained by an old Chinese man. Obviously he is fond of Filipinos whom he knew to be singers because he asked me if I could sing that night at their café bar. Obviously most guests in his family business (the hostel and the café with nightly live band) are Filipinos because he asked me in Tagalog words “ilang gabi?” I booked for one night and promised to extend should I find it necessary. He was too accommodating that he gave me a room that is already available that very minute. I paid MYR40 for the double occupancy bedroom, MYR2 for local tax, and MYR30 for the key deposit, which is refundable upon checkout. A Nepalese assisted me, I remembered asking for his first name but I cannot remember it. We climbed four storeys and he showed me the emergency stairs should I stayed outside beyond midnight, when the café and main entrance are already locked.

I unpacked only those stuffs I should need in 2 days, cleaned and showered, and took a nap. That supposed few minutes nap extended to a sound sleep until 3pm. I was too lazy to wake up but my stomach ached for food; I needed some late lunch or an afternoon snack. Dressed up for a walk, I climbed down, found a table in the café and ordered fries and juice. The heat of the sun is now bearable when I finished my snacks, so I decided to resume my walk tour of Melaka’s heritage. Scanning the map I asked from the café, I now knew the way to get to all important and well publicized tourist destinations.

The Revolving Tower

The Discovery Hostel is situated along the riverbank, so I walked the bank on my way back to the Dutch Square. I later discovered that the riverbank is lined with plenty of guesthouses and cafes on both sides, where some of them has put up umbrellas and chairs along the boulevard; some of them were still setting up in preparation for the nightly parties. I took more pictures of the Xavier Church and the Dutch Square, then proceeded to Stadthuys and more heritage buildings and museums standing side by side along Jalan Kota. Upon noticing a small entrance in my left side with an arrow saying “Bukit St. Paul”, I remembered reading in the map “St. Paul’s Ruins” and I thought about the similar named ruins in Macau, China. This may be some twin church ruins, considering that Macau and Melaka shared the same colonizers, the Portuguese. I pushed on walking further, thinking of going back for the hill and ruins. Then I reached the A Famosa crowded by tourists. It is said that the ruins, some kind of small stone bricked structure, was the remnants of the old fortress of the state. On to its front across the street is the Independence Memorial Building, to its right the Pahlawan Mall, and to its left the King’s Palace, which was closed that time. I noticed a series of stairs to its back, leading towards the St. Paul’s Church. Before climbing, I paused to read the erected plates of writings that account the Melaka’s history and heritage. It was quite a breath-catching climb, with a breathtaking vantage view of the city and the Melaka strait from atop. Well, the St. Paul’s Church Ruins here is no similar to that of Macau. It was a complete structure of a church with giant tombstones with figures and writings, accounting for its history and heritage. There was a curated façade, the patron saint’s statue in its front lawn, a belfry, and an unknown huge yet covered underground hole. I did not bother asking the tourists why they threw coins into this pit. Around the hill’s ground, I noticed few concrete tombs without tombstones; few tourists, may be residents, sat on them. So I quite doubt if they’re really burial tombs.

St. Paul's Church on top of a hill
From up the hill, I noticed a revolving tower few meters away from the Pahlawan Mall. It looked closer from where I was than it is presented in the map. I initially thought of skipping this, but not anymore, that would be my next destination. I hesitated to recheck my map because nobody among the crowd was checking any map or direction. I only consulted my map when I entered the Heritage Gallery Mall, where souvenir items come in different forms, sizes, designs, and of course, prices. I picked and paid for interesting designs of ref magnets, then crossed the walkway connecting the gallery to the Pahlawan Megamall. On to the right side, by the children’s park covered with trees, I saw the revolving tower climbing and rotating. I entered the Menara Taming Sari building, approached the counter and bought a pass for MYR20. It was a 5-minute experience up there, with better bird’s eye view of the whole city. I captured that experience in a 2-minute video.

Flor de la Mar

When I was rotating with the tower, I saw this very interesting design of a ship, perched on top of a concrete platform. Again, I did not bother rechecking my map again on this one because it appeared to be quite a distance from rest of the tourist spots. Since it looked so close to the revolving tower, I pushed on to check on it. I later found it to be the replica of a Portuguese ship within the compounds of the Marine Museum. Plenty of gallery exhibits, comprising of antique finds and life-size panorama, can be found inside for a MYR6 entry fee. It was adequately maintained, except for the toilets. Fortunately, the unmaintained toilets are located outside the replica ship; its messiness cannot directly taint the museum’s integrity. Up the tower also, I already noted that the boarding site for the Melaka River Cruise is just beside the Maritime Museum, fronting the Casa del Rio Hotel. After a short tour inside the Flor de la Mar, I headed to the boarding site right away. The river cruising cost me MYR15 and the whole ride took 40 minutes of our time – a perfect timing really as the sun was almost down. The journey towards the other end of the river cruise route was silent, perturbed only by the slapping of the speedboat on the small but many waves caused by afternoon winds and countering boats, and the ohs and ahs of the passengers reacting to the sprinkles of waters every time the boat’s front hull slapped the rolling waves. We passed by several interesting points such as the old watermills, the Hard Rock Café, the back of Discovery Hostel and Café, the settlements with artistically painted walls, the Pirates Theme Park, the uniquely designed bridges, and more. I specifically captured in video the point where Kampung Morten is located. It was only in our way back, when the voice over describing each interesting tourist points was played, that made it known that the said river village was the oldest and still existing in Melaka and named after a the Land Commissioner JF Morten in 1920s. I have witnessed the unique design of their houses, especially the pointed sides of its roofing.

The Melaka River Cruise ended just in time for the Jonker’s Walk experience that normally start at 6pm. This is a Guinness title holder activity in the city where business, dry market, leisure and tourism are brought to the Jonker Street. My walk tour resumed at the point where Hard Rock Café is located and I found Jonker Street a flea market where almost everything was displayed for sale, that is, from utility tools to personal apparels, from fried fish balls to barbecued chicken, from small souvenir items to large home decors. I ignored them all except for finger foods. I bought steamed siomai with spicy sauce and ate them while walking towards the other end of the known street. I noticed along the way some temples on one side, some more leisure parks on the other side, and an entertainment center at the peak point. I observed a performance of three old Chinese ladies singing a Chinese version of a familiar classic English song, which title I can no longer find and tune I cannot remember. I was again eating on my way back, this time I ordered a barbecued chicken, flushed it with Coca-cola, but I have not found any interesting dessert. I don’t know of the rice cake of unknown taste would count as dessert. On my way out, I was fascinated by the LED lighted, Hello Kitty-inspired rickshaws, so flamboyant and girlish!,  parked side by side at my starting point of the Jonker’s Walk, few meters away from Hard Rock Cafe.

Don't ever miss this Guinness World titleholder

Comparing the rickshaw seen during the day and at night
I occupied a table in Discovery Café when I got back to the hostel, the live duet band prepping the stage and about to start, ordered two beers and a serving of fries. These substituted the flopped dessert and appropriately close my city tour in Melaka, before calling the night’s off. It may be a long day, a long walk as a matter of fact, but an educational, experiential, and fitness perfect activity.

One Idle Day in Melaka…

I woke up too early, only to realize that it was Monday and my body clocks worked as I usually arise at 5am to prep for the office. To put to use my rash of adrenaline, I exited the hostel in the back door via the winding emergency stairs. I mistakenly pushed the door to the café bar and retreated when I heard a groan. I hurriedly open the back gate with the issued key, afraid that the owner will peek out and reprimand me for disturbing too early. I strolled on to new streets hoping to find more interesting spots less seen by tourists. I followed the road from the bridge beside the hostel away from Little India and back. I have found to be alone walking the street towards the end where intersection meets, and seen nothing interesting. So I walked my way back and followed the road to the other side entering the Little India. I started with the side street of Xavier Church and found the Golf Gallery building, and onwards was some green-painted mosque and a government office. That was when I located the Yellow Mansion hostel, my intended place of stay when I researched for the backpackers’ accommodations. I strolled on following the road passing the Yellow Mansion hostel and reached a public market. I finally found people awake and prepping for the day’s business. I walked on passing this market and reached another intersection where a glamorous mosque, Gurdwara Sahib Melaka, was standing on one side and an interesting landmark, Hang Li Poh Well, on the other.  After taking photos of these two interesting places, I made a turn to the market, bought a rice cake that looked like puto in the Philippines, only with pink or red dot on top, for my breakfast, and walked back to the hostel.

Hang Li Poh Well
I earned some sleep after that early morning walk and prepared to check out at 11am. I initially planned to have my brunch at the bus terminal and take the earliest trip to Penang. Having cleared from the hostel, I went to the Dutch Square to catch the Panorama Bus 17. It gave me a free tour as it crisscrossed around the city until we arrived at the Melaka Sentral Stesen (local term for central station). After the chicken rice lunch at another Malaysian eatery and a dessert of Durian McFlurry at the adjacent Mcdo, I carried my backpack to the bus ticket counters where kiosks crowd side by side and several men barking at approaching riders, asking for your destination, offering their bus companies, and assisting interested passengers. All ignored all the fixers and approached the ticket counters of bus lines that post Butterworth in their windows. All of them answered, “trips to Butterworth start at 9pm”. Gees! That meant I have to waste 9 hours in the bus terminal while waiting for the 9 o’clock ride. I chose the Matahari bus company and pre-booked a First Class seat for MYR60.

There was nothing else I could think of doing than staying at the bus terminal for 9 hours than spending it in the mall. Well, McDo food outlets have free wifi to pass the time but it would cost me some bucks for the snacks. It would be shameful to stand by there, use its wifi connection for free, and order nothing. I initially planned to buy more souvenirs and the pasalubongs once I got back to KL before I fly back to Manila but thought better of that. I prepared MYR100 for potential buying in Pahlawan Mall and Mahkota Mall. I approached the Luggage Deposit Counter I noticed yesterday, deposited my backpack for MYR2 and waited for the Panorama Bus 17 at bus bay 17.

I actually spent more than a hundred ringgits when I shopped at Pahlawan Mall for ladies apparels at Terranova shop which was on 70% off sale and men’s tees at Garage which was also on 50% off sale. I carefully chose women’s tops for my mother Dulcing, my sister En, our househelp Tatang, and my little niece Bella, and men’s shirts for my father Tantong, bro-in-law Jun, and partner Erick. So it took a while for me to finish shopping. I found a place in a KFC food outlet in Mahkota Mall, ordered an early dinner, used its free wifi, and pass the time until 6pm. This day initially seemed idle but I have found ways to enjoy it.

Back in the bus terminal at 7pm, I grabbed some bread from a bakery in one corner, settled in a waiting area and nibbled again. Guess the price of waiting is expensive for me since I need something to enjoy the passing of the time. This idle day in Melaka was so costly, way pricey, than the walk tour I did yesterday. I was scribbling this blog while feeding already full stomach. Then 9pm chimed and my journey towards northern Malaysia has begun.

Flor de la Mar and the Maritime Museum