Pulau Duyung was one of our unplanned stops in the east coast road trip. For someone who had spent most of her life in the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia, I found this particular side of the country unfamiliar yet, refreshing.
Pulau is the Malay word for island and Duyung means mermaid. By just looking at the name, and compounded by my ignorance - my initial thought was that we would need to take a boat to get there.
Pulau Duyung is an island actually, a river island, to be specific. Located at the mouth of Sungai Terengganu (Terengganu River), it is accessible via riverboats that can be taken at the jetty of Pasar Payang (the Central Market of Kuala Terengganu).
We did not take a boat there though. Vee drove the Camry through the then newly built Sultan Mahmud Bridge that led us straight to our destination (admittedly, we did lose our way a couple of times before getting there). From the bridge, the place looked less the island and more of a typical Malay riverine village.
Pulau Duyung is the home of the artisan boatmakers of Terengganu. Sadly, due to the increasing cost of timber, traditional boatmaking is fast becoming a declining industry - the legacy continued only by a few craftsmen. The most well known, master craftsman Haji Abdullah, resides there.
The boatmaker's workshop opened up to Sungai Terengganu, where a vast body of water lay sleepy- the waves moving slowly, lazily. I could see a few fishing boats bobbing idly by the riverbank - maybe because it was a Friday, the day off in the east coast.
We looked around. The workshop too, was deserted. I supposed because it was almost noon (not long before the time for the Muslim's Friday prayers). Anyhow, we were able to see everything in the workshop as it did not have any walls, with the exception of a small room painted in blue.
As we maneuvered quietly between pieces of wood and tools, we could see a couple of boats in the making. Outside, slabs of timber were lined criss-crossed next to an old house built in the Terengganu Malay traditional house design.
Beneath the clear blue skies, we were left to explore the handiwork on our own. We marveled at the ingenuity of building seaworthy boats without a single nail, only wood pegs - the engineering and artistry of the traditional boatmakers.
I don't remember the three of us talking much. We stood there, most of the time lost in our thoughts, admiring the handcrafted, beautiful and sturdy boats just biding time to hit the water.
I met YC when I was living in Japan. He is from China, and makes delicious gyoza. But, since I only eat halal meat, I don't eat the gyoza he made.
To YC, my food restriction practice is "mendokusai". Mendokusai is the Japanese word for "troublesome". His opinion didn't come as a surprise, even expected actually - at one time he told me of the Chinese saying - "anything under the sun that can be cooked, can be eaten"...
Anyway, regardless of his sentiments towards my dietary practice, YC at one point began making two kinds of gyoza - one with meat, and the other filled with scrambled eggs (just for me). What a sweet heart!
Practicing food restrictions, for whatever reasons (e.g. religion, medical, belief, principle) while in a foreign country, would appear to those uninitiated or unfamiliar to it as mendokusai or even challenging. I suppose that was how YC looked at me - a Muslim who eat only halal food, living in Japan, where Muslims make up a very small minority.
I come from Malaysia, and I am used to easy access to halal foods in my country - halal foods is available everywhere and clearly flagged by the halal logo. Thus, to some extent, I do agree that practicing food restrictions in a foreign land is not easy. But I won't go so far as to regard it as challenging. You just need to put in a little bit more effort to find what you can eat, that's all.
Here are some things I learnt on my travels (mostly while eating chocolates)...
There are many variations of the vegetarian symbols on food packages. Specifically, in my travels to India, I got acquainted to the green dot - the vegetarian symbol applied in India. It became the best friend that I would refer to when buying food items at the hypermarkets.
The green dot on a food package indicates that its ingredients are plant-based and can be eaten by a person who practices vegetarianism. One thing to note is that milk and dairy products are also marked with the green dot. The other important symbol is the brown dot. It indicates that the food item is non-vegetarian in nature.
While Muslims eat halal foods, Jews eat kosher foods. Food that is kosher is flagged with the K symbol (note that there are other variations of the kosher symbol).
Without going too much into the theological aspects, it is suffice to say that Muslims can consume kosher foods as a substitute to halal foods since the kosher rules (especially with regards to the animals of which meat can be eaten and how they are prepared) is very much aligned to the halal rules, if not stricter.
So, food restriction practice is mendokusai? Not really, methinks...
Love Lane, Penang
The name it goes by is Love Lane. In Malay, the name is translated as Lorong Cinta (although I doubt many would refer to it by that name). Hokkien speakers call it Ai Ceng Hang. All these names refer to the narrow street adjacent to Muntri Street - located somewhere in the heart of the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Georgetown, Penang.
There are many stories as to how Love Lane got its name. Some say that in the colonial era, it used to house brothels frequented by sailors and soldiers. Another story claims that in the olden days, many wealthy Straits Chinese merchants stayed at Muntri Street - and kept their mistresses at Love Lane. The second story is satirized in Tang Mun Kiang's steel rod sculpture - Cheating Husband - which you can find at Love Lane.
A couple of months after moving to Penang, Abi who knew my penchant for old buildings took me to Love Lane. Ecstatic with what I saw, I put up a public FB status "Love Lane, just my kind of street!". A couple of days later, another friend told me that until today, Love Lane still has the reputation of being a red district area. Oh, well...
Anyhow, red district or not - today, most of the townhouses there have been converted into boutique hotels, backpacker hostels and a few shops selling vintage and artistic items. If you're there and when you get hungry, do walk over to Muntri Street and try the Nasi Lemak Bento at Muntri Mews Cafe.
Last year, on a weekend trip to Ipoh - Vee and I found ourselves lost in Ipoh old town. Wandering around, we came across a small lane. An English bar at the entrance of the lane has a signboard. So, we've stumbled upon the Concubine Lane.
Concubine Lane's formal name in Malay is Lorong Panglima. Now, Panglima is the Malay word for Commander (so I guess the English name is translated by virtue of reputation rather than semantics). Like Love Lane, I doubt many folks here would refer to the lane as Lorong Panglima either. It's name in Chinese is Yi Lai Hong.
As the story goes - Concubine Lane too used to be an area where wealthy Chinese merchants kept their mistresses (that goes without saying on account of the name). But what's more intriguing, it is believed that the story of mistresses were merely a smokescreen to cover visits to gambling houses and opium dens! Apparently, Concubine Lane was where the vices dens were. And essentially, going to Concubine Lane to visit your mistress was more acceptable than conceding that you smoke opium or that you love gambling!
As we walked through the alley, it is sad to see most of the houses there in a dilapidated state. Some are in so much ruin with missing rooftops and weeds literally growing in them! The good news is that, there is some evidence of refurbishing work being done. Don't worry if you get thirsty, there is a small shop that sells beverages, cotton candy and touristy knick-knacks.
Prostitution, harems, mistresses and concubines - these concepts may have been around ever since human understood the meaning of love, lust, marriage, adultery and infidelity. With that, I guess all towns have their own versions of Love Lane or Concubine Lane - and each with its own tales to tell.
There we were, a little lost somewhere in the old Ipoh town. The initial intention was to check out a place call Plan B. But we had to park the car some blocks away, and for some reasons, just couldn't get our bearing right to get to the cafe (...must be the rain, definitely, the rain).
So, as we walked aimlessly trying to figure out where we were, I saw these advertisements. Sights like this is not something one see much on the streets of Malaysia these days. And if you love old buildings and their designs (like me) - you can understand my interest in the poles!
Can you read the writings on the left pole? Don't worry if you can't read the Jawi script - on the right pole is the Rumi or romanized version of the advertisement.
Okay, let me see if I can explain a little bit of the writings to you.
Jawi refers to the Arabic alphabets that has been used to write Bahasa Malaysia (or back then, Bahasa Melayu) since the pre-colonial era (possibly dating back to as far as 1303). In those days, education for the Malays was mostly focused in Islamic religious studies, and, hence, the prevalent usage of Jawi as the writing system.
This Jawi pole says - "Kain palikat cap siput, tanggung tiada luntur". Basically, it's promoting a particular Sarong brand (specifically, the Siput/Seashell brand), and its tagline is that the sarong's color won't fade or run.
It's kind of amusing to see pelikat/sarong spelled Pulicat, and siput/seashell spelled Sipoth. I don't know why they are spelled this way. But apparently this particular brand of sarong comes from India - so maybe there is a juxtaposition and influence of Malay, Indian, and English pronunciation and spelling in this texts.
Now that is just the thing to love about Malaysia. In every step I take, I am always reminded of the multiplural society of Malaysia that we are - and all the similarities that bind the differences.
The sarong referred here is what we locals call kain pelikat - the checkered patterned fabric sewn in tubular shape, worn by men in place of their pants (or sometimes together - with the sarong's length folded in half). Men wear the sarong by wrapping and folding the top of the fabric around the waist. In Malaysia, men generally wear sarong as house wear. And for some, as part of the attire in religious ceremonies.
On this pole, the same content is now written in Rumi (what we Malaysians call the Latin Alphabets used today to write Bahasa Malaysia). I found this pole no less charming with its Malay/English text written in pretty much archaic spelling - an indication of how long the shop has been in operation.
The Botanical Gardens a.k.a Waterfall Gardens is a park in the middle of Georgetown, Penang. On weekends, I drive about 20 minutes to get there - to be one with fellow fitness junkies or in my case, fitness wanna-bes for some outdoor workout. This routine is part of my overarching plan to get fit for marathon running - and the operative word here is "plan"...!
Situated in what used to be a valley, the Botanical Gardens is surrounded by hills covered with lush vegetation. Everyday, and especially on weekends, you can see people jogging or brisk-walking around the park. There are a few small fields there - where taichi takes places, and occasionally you can see children playing badminton.
But working out in the Botanical Gardens is not the point of this story. The point of this story is what you can treat yourself to after the workout....*wink*
Ice Cream Roti
Ice cream on a hot day or after a "torturous" workout would be heaven sent! And then, comes the question - what was the point of one-hour jog to shed off 300-400 calories, only to replace it with 300 calories or more found in a cup of ice cream?? Well, to be honest - there is no point at all. But if you're game, you can try out this "pointless" activity at the Botanical Gardens, with the Ice Cream Roti!
The ice cream stall is located just opposite the waterlily ponds, outside of the Botanical Gardens. Known as the Flower Top Ice Cream because of the flower-shaped ice cream cone, I think the stall has been there like, forever! There is a photo of an older ice cream seller - the person serving the ice cream to me that day was much younger, possibly the son.
With RM3, you can get a hefty chunk of ice cream (chocolate, vanilla or strawberry flavor) sandwiched between two rectangular-shaped soft buns. Hence, the name, Ice Cream Roti.
Roti is the Malay word for bread. Junior asked me if I'd like some peanut toppings on my chocolate ice cream - and obviously, I said "yes". He prepared my order swiftly and handed me my yummy ice cream roti wrapped in a piece of white serviette.
My take on this - On a hot day, it will be pretty challenging to eat the ice cream roti, but definitely worth all the fun! Or you can have it the easier way, and get the ice cream in the flower top cone, to go.
Fresh Fruit Juice
A couple of years ago, I had to undergo physiotherapy for some injury. My physiotherapist and I would often talk about random stuff, but interestingly, the conversations would always lead to the subject of losing weight (and I wonder why...).
Anyway, she recommended working out at the Botanical Gardens and ending the session with a glass of fruit juice - as a treat. This was how I heard about the fruit juice stall.
Located outside of the Botanical Gardens, you will see the stall on the left side of the road (right next to the Bee Gallery) as you walk or drive away from the park. It is a rustic looking place with its white walls and wooden benches. But don't let this humble appearance fool you. Offering an impressive list of tropical fruit juices and smoothies options, the place is aptly named the Tropical Fruit Juice Bar.
Whenever we're in Melaka, a visit to Jonker Street will always be an important, must-do agenda. Jonker Street, or its official name, Jalan Hang Jebat, is a street located in the Chinatown area of Malacca's World Heritage site.
During the day, Jonker Street is quiet and somewhat deserted - if not for vehicles passing through its narrow, one-way street and tourists exploring the area on foot. Along the street are rows of heritage houses designed to the style of the Straits Chinese. Today, most of the houses have been converted from living quarters to boutique hotels, cafes, galleries and mostly into shops selling antiques, clothes and souvenirs.
On Friday and Saturday nights, the street is closed off to traffic and is transformed into a busy and crowded night market. Other than shopping for keepsakes, vintage clothes, or handmade wooden clogs - you can stop for a henna tattoo, or try some cendol, buah melaka, assam laksa, etc.
This time around, I decided to just walk around Jonker Street and take photographs of anything I fancy. Looking back at the photographs, i guess there appears to be a theme to "what I fancy"...
This is the outcome of a 2-hour walk around Jonker Street, Melaka.
My mom loves nature walks. So, when she came to visit me in Penang, we decided to go to the Botanical Gardens. It was almost noon when we got there. As the day was getting pretty hot, we decided to take the tram ride* around the park.
As we wait for the tram to move - out of nowhere, a group monkeys appeared. And just then, 2 teenagers walked towards them. One of the girls had a plastic bag in her hand. Both were excited. They were going to feed the monkeys.
The girl with the bag took out some bananas and held them out to the monkeys. That obviously was a huge mistake! Seeing the bananas - the monkeys went crazy! They tried to grab the bananas and the plastic bag - all the while making scary monkey noises, with their mouths wide open, showing red tongues, sharp-looking teeth and all!
Seeing that, both girls started to shriek like banshees! For some reason, the girl with the bag, didn't let go of her plastic bag. And so, she stood there - playing tarik tali* with the monkeys over the bag!
My initial survival instinct was to jump out of the tram (which was less than a meter away from the girls and monkeys) and run away, Then I remembered that I have my mom with me - so jumping off the tram and running away was not an option! On hindsight: I think my mom would have managed jumping off a stationary tram...
Anyway, in the midst of the chaos someone shouted, "Oi! Balinglah beg tu!" - literally translated as, "Throw the bag!" Guess that made the shrieking girls came to their senses, and they threw the bananas and bag to the monkeys and ran away.
The monkeys are probably the park's primary inhabitant since 1903 when the Botanical Gardens was opened to the public. And maybe they were there even before that. Over the years, they are used to having us humans around and generally, pose no threats and neither are they aggressive. That said, it is best not to bring food with you as you walk around the Botanical Gardens.
But, if you do want to feed the monkeys, don't hold the food in your hand and offer it to them. Leave it somewhere for them to take themselves. That's a piece of common sense, that is probably not common to everyone...hahaha!
The tram ride takes about 10 minutes and costs RM2 (adult), and RM1 (child)
Tarik tali is the Malay word for Tug-of-War
Thank God for GPS! If it were left to me, we would've probably ended up circling Taiping town dozens of times before eventually finding Sentosa Villa.
Honestly, who would have guessed that there was an amazingly cosy resort tucked at the end of Taman Sentosa housing estate in Taiping.
Hidden, and yet strategically located - Sentosa Villa is about 10 minutes away from Taiping old town. This means that the resort is also only a few kilometers away from most of Taiping's main attractions:
Bukit Larut (formerly known as Maxwell Hill)
WWII War Cemetery
Sentosa Villa, to me, was a wonderful introduction to the lush and scenic natural landscape of Taiping. Its concept is a reminiscent of the orchard lifestyle - fruit trees all around, fowls roaming the compound, wooden living quarters and a stream that possibly originates from the surrounding hills.
And if you're game, you can also play Teng-teng kapal terbang* at the resort ground.
* Teng-teng is the Malay word for hopscotch
* Kapal terbang is the Malay word for airplane
Taiping, one of Perak's more historical towns, is a good road trip destination for the weekend, and especially so if you're coming from Penang (just over an hour's drive). It has all the integral elements of a wonderful road trip - good food, old colonial buildings and beautiful landscapes.
Pantai Kerachut (Beach) continued...
It was the jellyfish season apparently, so we couldn't swim in the sea because there were literally hundreds of jellyfish floating around in the water! For the untrained eyes, they looked like floating plastic bags - so you can understand how turtles could have mistakenly consumed discarded plastic bags, thinking that they were jellyfishes!
After exploring the beach and the Turtle Sanctuary, we ran out of things to do. But the worst thing was that we also ran out of things to eat, and the water supply was also rapidly decreasing!
In making sure that our backpacks were light, we had forgotten to include even a sarong (to sit or lie upon as we wait for our boat ride back), and what more a good book to read, or a chocolate bar or two!
On top of that, the internet connection there was pretty temperamental. So nothing to surf, no FB status updates, no check-ins, no comments.
Anyway, after hundreds of selfies from below the Rhu, we slept. It was a pretty good nap, lulled by the soft breeze and sounds of the waves. Our suite had the wonderful view of lush, green plants; the calm, blue sea and the clear, blue skies.
About 5 minutes to the hour of the boat, we walked to the jetty. Frankly, we were more excited at the prospect of getting some nasi kandar to eat than to getting back to civilization. The 10 minutes boat ride back to the park's entrance was exhilarating - the sea, a beautiful reflection on the clear blue skies.
If you're not into hiking...
Since this first hiking adventure, I have been back Teluk Bahang a couple of times - exploring it via the Pantai Kerachut and Teluk Duyung trails. So don't let this account of self-inflicted torture scare you off :-)
If you're not into hiking, bring some food and have a picnic by the beach as part of the round island tour by boat. Make arrangements to stop at Pantai Kerachut, and spend your time there, before completing the tour.
At Pantai Kerachut, do visit the Turtle Sanctuary, and learn more about the meromictic lake - an amazing scientific phenomena.
When Rozi came to visit me in Penang for the first time - us couch potatoes decided to do something slightly more adventurous than our usual cafe-hopping activities. So we decided to explore Teluk Bahang.
At 2300 hectares, Teluk Bahang is the smallest National Park in Malaysia. Yet, in the words of Master Yoda - "Size matters not. Judge me by my size, do you?"- one should not dismiss this smallest big forest on account of its relatively tiny size. In fact, Teluk Bahang National Park is a treasure trove of rare and diverse flora and fauna species; pristine, unspoiled beaches as well as a meromictic lake, a unique natural wonderment.
For outdoor enthusiasts, Teluk Bahang is known for its two hiking trails, leading to different beaches - Pantai Kerachut, and Teluk Duyung (better known as Monkey Bay). We heard that Pantai Kerachut was the less formidable trail between the two. And so, us amateur hikers decided that we would explore the National Park via Pantai Kerachut - one way (that is, to hike to Pantai Kerachut, and return to the National Park entrance by boat).
The first thing we did before walking into the park was to secure a boat ride back to the park entrance from Pantai Kerachut. You can't miss the boat services - their counters are right before the Teluk Bahang jetty (just opposite the park entrance). According to the boat operators, the trail would generally take up 2 hours. So again, taking in mind our physical fitness level, we asked them to get us after 5 hours, just in case.
Once the ride back was secured, the second thing to do was to register ourselves at the National Park office - a mandatory safety precautions. Teluk Bahang is may be the smallest National Park, but the chances of losing one's way in the jungle is still a possibility.
The Hike to Pantai Kerachut
Once we've registered, off we went into the park - our backpacks each contained a big bottle of mineral water and a bun. Honestly, at that point of time, the minimal water/food supply plus the 3 hour boat waiting time seemed pretty reasonable! Firstly, we didn't want our backpacks to be too heavy. And, secondly, we may take longer than the expected 2 hours hike. So a 3 hour buffer, made a lot of sense - or at least, that was what we thought...hahaha!
The first 10 minutes was a breeze. No downhill or uphill hikes - just flatlands. We passed by a family having a picnic of nasi lemak at the table bench. From among the mangrove leaves, we could see the white, sandy beach and the blue sea. That was a heavenly stroll.
Slowly, the trail got tougher and tougher. In our tired bodies, the uphill torture felt like forever! Along the way, we met fellow hikers who were doing a return trip. All - were drenched in perspiration, and a few - looked very red in the face. We secretly felt relief for having the boat ride back!
After 2 hours of torture, you can imagine how happy we were upon seeing the Pantai Kerachut bridge, and crossing it! The bridge is built over the meromictic lake, which was dry, that day, unfortunately.
From that point onwards, we had 3 hours to kill at the beautiful, quiet beach...(Teluk Bahang Part 2)