Heading Towards Home

Today its time to head home.

Now when I say heading home, well, we will be home in a few days and I didn’t want to tell you that we also have a few days in Singapore as well, because I always seem to be in Singapore and I didn’t want to bore you before I started. But I always try to do new things when I get here for my own interest anyway and its one of those places in the world where I feel at home so I want to know everything about it. Someday I’ll be able to say I’ve seen and done it all – surely?

So first up, we are staying in a different location, booking four nights at the Grand Park Orchard on Orchard Road. I’ve never stayed on Orchard Road before. I’m expecting, nay hoping, that it will have an electric buzz, that continues long after the shoppers have hauled their treasures home.

I was hoping to get to a few places that have been ‘on my list’ for some time now, plus showing Mum a couple of the new places I’ve found on the last few trips, but given we aren’t well, we’ll just see how we go.

Anyway, our hotel room is not quite ready so we pop out for some shopping and a bite to eat.  The first shop we come across is The Soup Spoon, and its menu board shows a chunky mushroom soup that looks purpose made for people with bad colds.  Its so thick and full of mushrooms and good for the soul.

Afterwards, I spy a Ya Kun Kaya Toast stall.  Here goes the first of one of those ‘on the list’ things.   Kaya toast is a popular breakfast item in Singapore. It consists of toast spread with a kind of jam made of coconut and eggs, called kaya, and either peanut spread or thick slabs of butter. I know it ain’t breakfast time, but if I don’t grab some now, I fear I’ll never try it. So here goes.

Full of peanutty goodness
Full of peanutty goodness

I’ve gone for the peanut spread and its actually really tasty – very sweet, but definitely tasty.  Don’t know why I waited so long to try it.

With still more time to fill in, the next stop is across the road at Japanese department store, Takashimaya – more specifically – Kinokuniya, my favourite bookshop.  I was introduced to Kinokuniya by my friend Emma when I visited her in KL last year, and now I am hooked.  Upon entering I feel giddy with the prospect of so much choice.  I don’t know where the start and I can’t seem to focus, my eyes darting from book to book as each cover catches my eyes.  It’s a wonderland of words.  I leave with five books, spying another on the way out – which I’ll just have to come back for tomorrow.  The thing about Kinokuniya is there is so much range and the prices are better than what you can buy books for at home.  The other thing, is that the topics of a lot of the books interest me far more – tales of Malaya past and modern day Japan and gritty KL.  Book subjects we don’t get at home.  Mum is wondering how the heck I’m going to get all these books in my luggage – she doesn’t know that I pack an extra bag for the way home – just for such bounties!

I like books - just a little bit!
I like books – just a little bit!

Now it’s time to check in.  The hotel is fairly new and our rooms looks out over the shopping metropolis of Orchard Road, lights blinking with the promise of new and exciting purchases.  We are feeling quite revived after our mushroom soup.  Or am I still high from my book shopping? I’m not sure.  So we get dressed and head on out into the evening.

Our room high above Orchard Road
Our room high above Orchard Road

So we head down to the Esplanade to see a small, but free, exhibition called Rotations – The Art of Tim Yip.  Tim (Timmy) Yip is foremost a renowned costume designer. Winning the Oscar for Best Art Direction and Costume Design in 2001 for Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, he has also collaborated with other prominent film directors such as John Woo (Red Cliff), Feng Xiangang (The Banquet) and Chen Kaige (Farewell, My Concubine).

CTHD 1

Outside of film, he has also created stage and costume designs for dance and theatre. This exhibition pays tribute to his works of art with photographs, prints and a collage of videos, showcasing his visually arresting costume and set designs and his other works in fashion and theatre.

After the exhibition, we stop by Makansutra Glutton’s Bay for dinner – yet another place I haven’t made it to yet.  Funnily enough, Makansutra was on tv in Langkawi last night and we watched him eat his way through the backstreets of Penang.  I guess it made me more determined to try this place, this time around.  People jostle each other and shuffle from signboard to signboard selecting their fare for the night.  I decided on Roti John, a dish I have never had before, washed down with a big Tiger beer.  It was kind of a like a big bun filled with a fried egg and accompanied with a spicy chili sauce.  Pretty good!

Roti John
Roti John

Whilst I was lucky enough to see the Gardens by the Bay light show on my last trip, Mum hasn’t been to Singapore since the new garden was up and running, so that’s where we are heading. Plus, given I was on a tour last time, I didn’t get to wander around as freely as I would have liked. Given the youth of the gardens, the night air provides perfect cover to explore, safe from the burning sun.  The gardens don’t disappoint – and its still wondrous the second time around.  Catching the MRT back to Orchard Road, I’m glad that we have managed to fit in these few things this afternoon and can only hope we’ll feel better tomorrow.

Super Trees
Super Trees

Driven to Paradise

Apparently it only takes about two hours to drive around the island of Langkawi, so it seemed to us that it would be a good idea to hire a car for the day and take a drive.

We had wanted to make our first stop at the Langkawi Cable Car and Oriental Village, but they seem to have chosen today to close shop for maintenance.  We continue to drive in this direction, and take a look at Seven Wells Waterfall.  Its considered the most beautiful waterfall on Langkawi.  It is said that the wells at the top of the waterfalls are where the fairies come to bathe.  Now what we didn’t realise when we started walking, up the steps towards the wells, was that there are a lot of steps.  638 of them in fact.  No sign tells you that, until you get about half way, and by then you don’t want to quit – no matter how hard you are breathing and how much you are sweating.  It was probably not the brightest thing to do while we are both sick, but we take it slowly, stopping frequently on the benches provided along the way.

Somewhere near the bottom of the hill, with no inkling whatsoever about how many steps are to yet to come
Somewhere near the bottom of the hill, with no inkling whatsoever about how many steps are to yet to come

It was a really taxing hike, but I felt exhilarated that I had made it – especially being unwell and not able to breathe properly.  No more steps today I hope.

On the way down FINALLY!
On the way down FINALLY!

The roads around the island are very easy to drive and everything seems to be very well signposted.  It’s a cruizy 60km/hr.  And a beautiful drive to boot.

Along the way, we stop in at the Langkawi Craft Complex.  Lots of souvenirs to buy here – and you can also see batik in process.

Batik in process
Batik in process

Just across the road from the LCC, is the most beautiful roadside area beside the beach.

Look at that view!
Look at that view!
DSC09563
Stilted homes

The next stop on our island journey, is Mahsuri’s tomb.  Mahsuri was a young woman who was accused of adultery (in either the 14th or 19th centuries) and tied to a tree and stabbed to death as her punishment.  White blood apparently bled from her wounds, signifying her innocence and she cursed the island of langkawi for seven generations to avenge her death.  Many islanders believe the curse to be true as there were periods of failed crops after her death and numerous attacks by Siam were encountered.

Mahsuri's Tomb
Mahsuri’s Tomb

After Mahsuri’s tomb, we tried to find the burnt rice paddy field but despite the signs we just couldn’t find the turn off.

Langkawi views
Langkawi views
Rice paddies
Rice paddies
The weather coming in
The weather coming in

So we just drove to Cenang beach and did some shopping before dropping the hire car back to the jetty.  At RM130 for eight hours, I would definitely recommend this as the best way to see the island!

Island Hopping with Nick Saxon

This morning we are up bright and early to go island hopping.  Our taxi driver hits a black monkey which has unexpectedly swung down from a tree across the road.   I hope this isn’t a sign of things to come!

Waiting at the jetty for our boat to leave, a group of young men come striding down the jetty with photography equipment in hand, and one carrying a guitar.  They stand in front of us.  Wonder if its someone well known, I wonder to myself.

Looking at his curly shoulder length hair, I’m about to think not, until he turns his face to the side slightly.   Aha!  I do know who that is!  Nick Saxon from Nat Geo’s World Traveller (Foxtel) who’s also a singer/songwriter.  For the uninitiated, here’s a plug from Nat Geo:

I try to take a sneaky snap but the angle is no good.  Suddenly it is time to board the boat.  As I pass by him, he talks to me, which stuns me cause there are heaps of others around.  “Beautiful day for it, isn’t it?”, he says.  Shocked, I reply, “sure is”.  “Guess I’ll see you out there then!”, “Yeah, see you there!”

The boats race off towards our first island, the wind against our faces and the water spraying against the sides of the boat.  The waters are crystalline and the view stunning.  It feels good to feel the wind in my face.

The prow of our boat up ahead as we slice through the water
The prow of our boat up ahead as we slice through the water
Stunning
Stunning

Tasik Dayang Bunting Lake of the Pregnant Maiden) was said to be the favourite bathing pool of a celestial princess of Mambang Sari.  A prince fell in love with her and tricked her into marrying him.  Their child died from a mysterious illness at seven days old.  The grieving Mambang Sari left the child’s body in the lake and returned to her heavenly abode.  Popular law would have you believe that barren women who bathe in this lake will fall pregnant.

Alighting from the boats, tourists stream knowingly towards the forest, where a set of stairs awaits.  I don’t know where its going.  All our boat driver told us was that we had an hour here.  But there are steps and people are climbing them, so we follow.  After about 10 minutes, another 100 steps or so, we come across a segmented swimming area, and everyone’s diving in the water.  After the climb in the heat, the water is refreshingly divine.

Welcome to Dayang Bunting
Welcome to Dayang Bunting
The boats standing by
The boats standing by
The swimming hole
The swimming hole

Returning from the watering hole, crowds of monkeys gather around the tourists, screeching as they fight each other for the scraps the tourists are throwing them.  I know I’m over cautious, I’ve heard lots of stories about monkeys stealing stuff and attacking people and I’ve seen them in action stealing clothes from people’s rooms on Sentosa Island, and leaping off the stairways at the Batu Caves in KL, anywhere there’s monkeys battling for food amongst tourists and I reckon you’d be best to keep your distance.  There’s one monkey with half his nose missing – I ain’t touching that!  But there’s groups of tourists with their faces inches away from these screeching monkeys, stirring them up, feeding them – to me – asking for trouble.  A riot breaks out amongst the monkeys and everyone flees – luckily no-one was hurt and hopefully no-one ends up with some face-eating disease from an infected monkey!

All the boats now start to come into the dock to pick up their passengers, its amazing that none of the boats have numbers and we aren’t given driver names, so I have no idea how they know who belongs on their boat, but as soon as they can see that their group is assembled, in they come to the dock, and on board we go.

Next is a brief stop at Singa Besar Island where we sit and watch eagles circling the sky and then swooping into the waters below before soaring again.  In Malay, Langkawi colloquially means “Island of the Reddish-Brown Eagle”.   These eagles are all over the island, we can see them soaring the skies above our resort.  There’s even a 12m large statue of an eagle, in Eagle Square,  greeting tourists.

Fly like an eagle
Fly like an eagle

Last stop on our island hopping express is Beras Besah Island, where we have time to stop and play in the beach waters.  There are all sorts of water sports to undertake here, but unfortunately when you book the tour, they don’t really tell you that.  So I have no idea how much any of it cost, but there are loads of young people enjoying banana boat rides and a couple of para-sailers.   I was thinking it was a good thing I had worn my bathers, but to be honest it didn’t matter.  A lot of people taking the ride are Muslim and all just plunge into the waters fully dressed – seems like a good idea to me, so that’s exactly what I do too.  The water is beautifully warm and salty.  Its divine to float around in the warmth and the sun.

Heavenly
Heavenly

Unfortunately I don’t get to speak to Nick again, but I did manage to catch a snap of him playing his guitar whilst I was sitting on the beach.  Cool little brush with fame!  Certainly made my day, which coincidentally is my birthday.

Nick playing his guitar
Nick playing his guitar

And whilst I wouldn’t mention that normally, preferring to pretend the day is a normal day like any other, without any attention, I was made to feel extremely special by the staff of Rebak Island also.  A slab of cake was delivered to my room when we returned from the island hopping.  And for dinner, a special plate of complimentary desserts and a glass of champagne…

Mini dessert buffet...
Mini dessert buffet…

and then, when I returned to my room…

Birthday balloons
Birthday balloons

A Full Day of Travel to Arrive Half an Hours Flight Away

We were supposed to take a short half hour flight to reach Langkawi today. Unfortunately, Malaysia Airlines changed our flight (not sure if its anything to do with the missing flight MH370), so that it will now take us three and a half hours to get there, having to go via Kuala Lumpur!  If you go grab a look at a map, you’ll see that KL is well below the island of Penang, and that Langkawi is above Penang.  So we are flying southward for an hour to go north of where we already were!  Which means a whole day of travel pretty much – and not an exciting prospect seeing as I am unwell at the moment.

By the time I arrive at Langkawi I rather feel like rubbish – all the in and out of hot/cold environments and two flights have taken their toll and I feel sicker than I did this morning.  Thankfully, the island of Langkawi is so beautiful that it’s easy to try and forget how I feel.

Langkawi got its name from the combination of ‘lang’ & ‘kawi’. ‘Lang’ from the Malay word helang meaning eagle & ‘kawi’ from Sanskrit meaning marble.

We have booked three nights at the Rebak Island Resort on Rebak Island off the Cenang Beach end of Langkawi.  Once we arrive at Port Langkasuka, its a fifteen minute boat ride to our resort.  From the jetty we take a little buggy to reception to check in, greeted with a small glass of tea that tastes like nectar.  Then its back in the buggy to our room.  We have a partial view of the sea and a lovely little balcony from which to enjoy it.

On the way to Rebak
On the way to Rebak
Our home for the next three nights
Our home for the next three nights

After unpacking and freshening up, we pop into the reception area to book some activities for the days ahead, which is easily achieved.  And then we don’t have long to wait until happy hour which is from 6pm – 8pm at the Lepak Bar nightly.  After a short walk, we find out there is a Malaysian night market buffet on for dinner tonight.  I’m very happy to see there’s a roti canai (pronounced ‘charnai’) stall because its a dish I’ve been wanting to try for a while.  Served up with a nice chicken and vegetable curry, its a delight.

The Nights Delights!!
The Nights Delights!!

The satay sticks have been grilled to perfection and I also get to try nasi kandar for the first time,  which I really liked too.

Perhaps best of although, is the selection of desserts because most of the buffets we’ve encountered lately have had western desserts rather than local.  I grab a plate of pandan crepe filled with pandan flavoured coconut, some coconut mousse (absolutely heavenly) and one other coconutty piece which I can’t recall the name of.

Heavenly treats
Heavenly delights

This has definitely been one of the best meals to date, perhaps helped along by the night market atmosphere.   People are I right when they say the food in Malaysia is to die for!