Sunday, July 15, 2018

Up in the Highlands of Malaysia

View from the top of the farm
My family didn’t go on holiday much when I was a child.  We’d been to Penang (and Penang Hill), and to Genting Highlands.  But, we had never gone to Cameron Highlands.   The British, of course, had built holiday chalets in the Cameron Highlands which remain the most developed of these highlands.  But thanks to continued development over the years, this area has grown rather congested and busy, especially during peak periods.

Fortunately, we would be in a much more secluded and peaceful part of the highlands - specifically the Sigar Highlands' Moon River Lodge.  Beside the lodge is the farm, which provides all the vegetables used in the meals provided in the lodge, using sustainable farming methods.  It was indeed an opportunity to spend some time out of busy Singapore, to breathe the cool fresh air and look out to the magnificent scenery, where the clouds roll down the mountainsides even as the sun still shines on the distant hills.  At night, the stars looked down on us and the sound of water flowing just beyond my room lulled me to sleep.

We woke bright and early the next morning, to  go for mass at the Chapel of Our Lady of Mt Carmel in the little town of Tanah Rata.  It's only an hour's drive away from the lodge!

It is a pleasant little church, bright and cheery (it has been newly rebuilt).  I was amazed when the mass was celebrated by Fr Philip Heng, a Camerons native who of course is now the Rector of the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd in Singapore!  Just goes to show how many and how close the ties are between Malaysia and Singapore.  ubsequently tried to drive around the area a little more but unfortunately the traffic was starting to build up and we ended up just going for a steamboat lunch with lots of fresh vegetables, fish and meat.

The Rafflesia
The next day, we went on the "Rafflesia Trek", to search for the elusive Rafflesia flower (another milestone to mark our Big 50 year).  One would have thought the largest flower in the world is not that difficult to spot.  But, you have to walk through the cloud forests first!  And for that, you definitely need a guide familiar with the forest, who knows where the flowers are likely to be found.  Fortunately, our guide had managed to find the flower (probably he had marked out its position some time beforehand on previous trips to the forested area) and after an hour's walk or so, slipping and sliding on the slippery trail (trying to stay clear of pesky leeches), we found the Rafflesia flower!

Some say that this is supposed to be a smelly flower - but I didn't really think so.  Yes, there was a smell but I had to go quite close up to detect it.  I did see a few insects trapped in the liquid which had collected within the flower though - this reminded me that the Rafflesia is a carnivorous plant, relying on the foul stench to attract insects to it.
Rafflesia and bud (left, beneath some leaves)

I was glad to see a few more buds of various sizes near the flower, so presumably the flower will continue blooming away in this area.  The flower blooms for about a week, and ours was apparently about 3-4 days old, so it was probably starting to wilt.  Subsequently, we also spotted a wilting Rafflesia. 

Of course, the trek was not over.  1+ hours in, and 1+ hours out!  As is often the case, the way back seems faster than the way in, as we spotted landmarks and other familiar spots along the way.

The sad thing is that there is much development going on in the Highlands.  Farms are expanding, many growing flowers and fruit for export.  I hope that there will still be sufficient forest to sustain this majestic flower for many more years to come.

After the trek (and after showering off all our mud) we drove off to Ipoh, where we would be spending our last night in Malaysia before going back to Singapore.  But it was indeed a happy and memorable interlude out of our busy lives.  Good friends, good food, happy memories.  What could be better.

All photos of the trip here.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Big Food Night in Ipoh

We spent one night in Ipoh, just before going back to Singapore.  Of course it was a big foodie night, where we had a huge dinner followed by supper.

For dinner we went to Restaurant Mun Choong (or Mun Zhong) at 57-65, Jalan Horley, Kampung Jawa.  It's also apparently known as Pusing Public Restaurant (or under this group).  It's one of the most popular Chinese restaurants in Ipoh, as attested on various websites including this one here.

Indeed, it was very busy on the Monday night we were there, so we were grateful that we had gone early.  We ordered a sumptious meal, befitting our last night on the road:

Shark's Fin (evil I know but just this once) - really flavourful

Roast Suckling Pig (pork fat is good fat!)

Qing Long (青龙) Vegetables (unusual, we hadn't tried it before)

Fried Prawns - big and fresh!  

Red Bean Soup - with that hint of orange zest

We also had some noodles to complement the dishes.  All in all, a truly excellent meal.  Indeed, Malaysia has so many good Chinese restaurants to visit!

For supper of course it was taugay chicken accompanied by oh-so-smooth-and-slippery hor fan!  There are many famous spots for Taugay Chicken in Ipoh but we went to Onn Kee.  As we were slurping down the hor fan and chomping away on the crunchy sprouts, one of my friends (a native Perak boy) suddenly exclaimed that one of the opposition candidates was walking towards us!  (Don't forget that this was during GE2018 in Malaysia).  Well, he greeted the candidate as though they were good friends, and introduced the rest of us as his friends.  We on our part nodded politely and the candidate walked on, probably guessing (correctly) that our lukewarm reception was because we were tourists.

Supper at Onn Kee

(After eating at Onn Kee, go over to Lam Fong Biscuit Shop around the corner, for traditional Malaysian Teochew biscuits.  I found the ark-am or duck's neck biscuit which I bought in Penang last year.  I really like the texture of the crunchy peanuts against the soft paste of the biscuit.  )

P.S.  For those interested, we stayed at another of those hip new hotels in Ipoh - M Roof Hotel  Residences.  Recommended. The hotel coffeeshop is run by Old Town, which means you get a great coffee for breakfast.  We went back to Singapore the next am, with stops at Bidoh and Seremban for our second breakfast and lunch respectively.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Malaysia Road Trip - Caves of Gua Tempurung

The Caves of Gua Tempurung
When you reach a milestone in your life's journey, you want to commemorate it.  My friends and I decided to celebrate our Big 50 by going on a road trip to Malaysia together.  If ever you want to pretend you’re 18 again, there is no better company than the people you were 18 with in the first place.  It was an adventure like no other, a chance to remember the years we have spent on the journey of our lives together, as we climbed through the highlands of Malaysia and into the limestone caves at their centre.

We departed from Singapore in two groups - one by car and the other by air, to meet in Kuala Lumpur where we would spend the night before our trip proper began.  Our plan was to spend two nights in the highlands, before moving to Ipoh for the night, then making our way back to Singapore.  Food, fun and friendship were all on the agenda.

But first, we drove off to Gopeng, the launch point for the caves of Gua Tempurung.  There's a pretty good write-up on the caves and their origins here, so I'm not going into all that detail.  Suffice it to say that these limestone caves were created many thousands of years ago, discovered by man and used to mine tin, hide during wars and during the Malayan Emergency period, before becoming one of the major tourism draws in the state.

Indeed, the caverns are magnificent.  Soaring caverns, stalagtites and stalagmites can be seen in this cave and I can confidently say I’ve been to the top and bottom of the caves.  There are four alternative treks, ranging from the easy one to toughest.  We were on the third option, considered "Exciting and Challenging". The first part was the “easy” part, where we walked into the huge cavern, bigger than any cathedral.   Stairs - lots of them - take us up to the top of the cavern, so near we could *almost* touch the ceiling.  Water drips slowly, and we see where stalactites/stalagmites are forming slowly, over millions of years and slowly meet, thicken and become massive pillars.

Then we walked down all the stairs to reach the bottom of the cave.  Here we squeezed through little tunnels, to where the underground river flows through the "caverns measureless to man".  We had to crawl through in places, on elbows and knees through the water-filled tunnels to reach the larger caves beyond.  And then we came to a point where we had to slide down the side of the cavern.  Shall we say that I was exceedingly grateful that the guide was there to catch me at the bottom.  We finally got through the last tunnel, to emerge back into the huge cavern from which we emerged back into the main campsite of the caves - wet, dirty, scraped and bruised, but with a pleasing sense of accomplishment.

We’d gone with Radak Adventures, and the guide took us back to their campsite near the caves to clean up before we went back to Gopeng.  The campsite is by a large river, where we rested and waded (and had a snack).  If you ever think of going to Gua Tempurung, some practical stuff to remember - bring a torch, wear old clothes, preferably a long-sleeved top and pants which cover the knees (I wore leggings) and shoes you don't mind getting totally soaked (and which dry fast).  I wore my Crocs sneakers and they were perfect.  If you want to bring a camera, make sure you have a waterproof bag.  I left my cameraphone behind - hence the lack of photos in this post; the one above was taken by a friend of mine.

More photos of our KL hotel, and of the caves here.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Teochew Food in Malacca - Teo Soon Loong

When you have a group of two, it's harder to have a good variety of food when eating at Chinese restaurants.  So with our group of four, it was a good time to go try out the food at Teo Soon Loong, a well-known Teochew restaurant in Malacca.  It used to be in a tiny coffee shop on Jalan Hang Kasturi, just round the corner from Jalan Hang Jebat, but has shifted out of the Old Town to a newer, much larger restaurant in a newer part of the city (on the reclaimed land area).

Our hotel got us a car via Grab - a modest RM6 only.  We drove well out of the old town, through undeveloped plots to a small cluster of buildings.  I was not really expecting a large crowd but when we got there, the restaurant was packed!  Good thing that we had a reservation (via our kaki in the jewellery shop).  We had to wait for our table to be ready (we were a little early) and so had ample time to review the menu.

We chose a mixture of recommended dishes (off the internet) - the pork ribs with bittergourd (really tender, highly recommend), the braised Teochew duck (it was good but not as good as the pork), cai por hor fun (good wok hei but not enough cai por for me), braised noodles with oysters (I know, two carbs but we couldn't resist) and sweet potato leaves cooked with ginger (to be honest this was a revelation - I really enjoyed the freshness of the vegetables and somehow the gingery flavour complemented it well).  Indeed a suitable dinner for our last night in Malaccca.

Saturday, May 05, 2018

Buying Manek Potong Shoes

Every time we visit Malacca, we end up visiting this little Kasut Manek (Nonya beaded shoes) shop down Temple Street called Lim's Trading.
Down Temple Street
But it was always an exercise in window shopping.  For myself, I was determined not to buy another pair until I had finished making my own.  And that took years!  As for my dear friend, she makes her own shoes most of the time!

But this year I was determined that I would buy a pair of "Manek Potong" shoes.  For the uninitiated, "Manek Potong" represents the utmost pinnacle of beaded shoe craftsmanship.  The beads are smaller than the standard machine made beads, and even the better quality Japanese Beads.  Apparently they are made somewhere in the former Czechoslovakia, cut by hand such that the facets of the beads are less regular and reflect the light differently as a result.  Because the beads are smaller, the patterns on the shoes are more intricate as a result.  The beads are also difficult to get, because the Czech factory which made them has discontinued the line... ... at least that's what we are told but somehow there are rumours that there is a new source ...

Anyway, Mr Lim is well known in Malacca/Malaysia for his beaded shoes, as this New Straits Times article can testify.  (The article also gives a little more background on beaded shoes, which I'm not going into here as I've done so on a number of times on this blog already).  In 2012, he received the Unesco Seals of Excellence for Handicrafts in recognition of his work.  What is so unique is that rather than just use the "traditional" patterns, he designs his own beautiful designs, of goldfish swimming with water and seaweed rippling around them, of birds and flowers amidst the foliage.  You can choose yourself a pattern, and he will sew it up for you, get the cobbler to make up the shoe and post it to you.  I have to say that I was tempted to do that but fortunately I found the perfect shoe in terms of fit, design and style so I bought it on the spot (for a pretty penny, I should add). Here it is:

Birds and flowers - my Manek Potong shoes

In my humble opinion, they go nicely with my new turquoise kebaya and orange sarong :-)


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