Category Archives: Cuti Cuti Malaysia

Though I happily borrowed the Malaysian Tourism Board’s tagline “Cuti Cuti Malaysia”, I’m in no way related to the MTB. Over the years, I’ve travelled to many parts of Malaysia but this is the first time I’m publishing my travels. For those who live in the region and ran out of ideas on where to travel, I hope these little posts will inspire you to explore the beautiful treasures of Malaysia!

Stay tuned for more.

Home for the Lunar New Year

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How clichéd are photos of clouds taken from a plane? But I love looking at these clouds. I want to sprawl on this white fluffy cotton mattress, roll in daydreams, live on ultra thin air. 

The plane descends. Transporting from the sea of white into a swathe of green and geometrical rows of palm oil plantations as far as the eye can see. The river meanders so romantically in the glow of the morning sun, even though I know the weather outside swelters.

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These photos were taken while I flew home for the Lunar New Year. My other home that is. After all, I have lived abroad for more than half my life.

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Coconut trees and kampung charms

If there’s a day trip out of Singapore that I’ve always raved about, it’s a cycling trip in Pengerang, Malaysia. You could also extend the trip all the way up to Desaru along the east coast, charging like a speed monster, or cruising languorously (i.e. with the spirit of a champion at the speed of a tortoise) like we did some time back with a stay over at Desaru and returning via another route. Even if you are not keen on a long ride, a short fun cycling trip to Sungai Renggit would satisfy all lusts for riding down a quiet road with coconut trees swaying to the caresses of sea breeze on one side, and enchanting kampung charms on the other.

Found this draft post on our last trip to Pengerang last October – how time flies! The jetty in Malaysia, Tanjung Pengelih, is just a short bumboat ride from Changi Village. However the boat ride seems to take just a bit longer each trip as the boat goes round the ever-expanding Pulau Tekong, the result of land reclaimation. Singapore’s Pulau Tekong was, at the time of my last trip, actually within sight from Malaysia’s Tanjung Pengelih, even for short-sighted me!

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Departing by boat from Changi Village which is not far from the airport.

Pengerang occupies a corner in Malayan WWII history, where the British troops readied their defences in preparation for a Japanese attack via Singapore. Eventually, that was all for nought since it’s now famously known that the Japanese surprised everyone by invading Malaya via the north of the Peninsula.

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Remnants of parts of the south-facing Pengerang battery.

A villager once told me that a massacre happened at a bridge near the old jetty during the Japanese occupation. The old jetty has been substituted by a new jetty which also houses the Malaysia Immigration checkpoint. Still, it doesn’t appear to see much traffic.

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The new Tanjung Pengelih jetty.

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From Tanjung Pengelih, we unloaded our bicycles and rode to Sungai Renggit, about 15km from the jetty. After lunch we returned the same way, sprinting into mini cycling races with children; young energy wins. Took detours into the small roads towards the seaside, at times surrounded by only lalangs taller than an adult, or flanked by coconut trees. Cycling in the spotted shadows of lanky coconut trees is inexplicably comforting. I encourage everyone to do it.

In the fishing villages lining the southern shore, modest wooden houses sit proud on well-manicured lawns with well-trimmed hibiscus shrubs. A chance conversation with a Pengerang resident the day before revealed that a lot of these land have been acquired by the government for an integrated petroleum complex and many villagers are just waiting to be relocated to newly built housing estates a few bays to the east. This trip took place one week after the Himpunan Hijau “green shirt” protest at Pengerang. Had I known I’d have been there a week earlier! If not for lofty ideals, then out of pure sentimentality for these coconut trees, languid villages and the makcik‘s stall and her delicious homemade kuih-muih. The shoreline seemed more eroded on each trip. With the industrial development that has been on-going for a while further east at Teluk Ramunia, the pollution to the sea was already evident with more and more dead fishes being washed ashore. Given the Malaysian government’s infamous efficiencies, I doubt the multi-billion ringgit petroleum complex will be up any time soon. Still I shudder to think what these developments would do to this idyllic area, its environment and its residents.

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Campaign flags were up in advance of the General Elections, which eventually only took place 7 months later.

I don’t know how many more cycling trips we can do in Pengerang. But perhaps it’s time to visit again. Soon. Maybe September. Anyone care to join me? Before my favourite day trip out of Singapore is no longer a possibility.

Scenes from Keretapi Tanah Melayu

Not many people would regard the train as their first choice of public transport from Singapore to Malaysia, except perhaps for some of those going to the states of Johore and Malacca. For me I take it out of convenience since it stops by my home town.

Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad (KTMB) has run the Malaysian railway for many decades. In the 17 odd years that I can remember, it had only ever increased the fare once, and at only a hike of RM 1 (US$0.30) all through those years. The inter-city train in Malaysia is probably the cheapest in the world, even cheaper than that of Vietnam and China, given comparable distances. That said, the condition of the trains have remained pretty much the same as well. Sure, some carriages have been overhauled with new seats; the same can’t be said of the toilets though. It’s also not the fastest or timeliest mode of transport: the odd occasion when it’s on time actually throws one off one’s expected schedule. It is also very susceptible to floods especially in the low-lying areas. The single-track system also means low frequency, and sometimes long wait at stations for on-coming trains to pass. The PA system on my most recent ride seems to have broken down, not that it’s very much more effective (or audible) when it’s working. But the train conductor constantly walks around to announce the next station.

No, the inter-city KTM train is not the ideal mode of transport. But it presents a very unaffected and rustic way of travelling into Malaysia. The Singapore-KL route offers views of large swathes of plantation and undulating hills as the train rumbles on. Occasionally the train pulls up to a quaint little station from a bygone era. While stations at larger towns have been rebuilt and expanded  to cater for impending railway development, I believe the quaint charm of small town stations will still stay around for some time, given that Malaysian authorities’ track record in redevelopment of the inter-city railway system is … *erhem* unproven. The route up to the east coast takes one through the “heartland” of Peninsula Malaysia, offering a different  perspective from the urbanised parts of the  west coast.  Also, no such thing as jacking up of prices during festive season: railway ticket prices remain constant unlike the bus companies and airlines. Sure floods happened, but for some reason, KTMB manages to arrange for alternative transport even if that means interminable hours of delay and sitting on the floor of a bus in between other passengers’ luggages, jars of festive cookies and potted plants (happened to me once just before the lunar new year).

The list of reasons why you should try the KTM train goes on and on. But not least because it takes you into a whole other system of how things are run. And how suddenly having no expectations whatsoever is very liberating.

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The train rumbles down the causeway on a rainy day, crossing the Straits of Tebrau into Johore.

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Twilight. Somewhere near Alor Gajah.

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More vegetation along the way. Somewhere near Tampin.

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Sunset over banana plantation

*KTM trains run from Singapore/Johor Baru to Kuala Lumpur between 2 and 4 times a day. A second class ticket costs less than a taxi ride from Singapore’s Central Business District to Woodlands. Tickets can be purchased online at www.ktmb.com.my. Sure, sometimes the website is down. Just like how sometimes the train breaks down. But the website will usually come back up again. Just like how, in spite of all the delays, you will still manage to reach your destination.

On the road in Selangor

Captured scenes on the road last month.

The day started out fine enough. A giant billboard stood against the backdrop of a bright blue sky.

Spotted a purple (!) Mini zipping around.

Dark clouds loom large past Pintu Gerbang Selangor.Menara Telekom in the background. At Shah Alam, capital of Selangor.

If you are rushing for time and stuck in traffic,a billboard advert provides a friendly reminder of how late you are.

And no, it was not a good time to visit you, KFH.

This translates to “Smooth traffic after exit to J. Klang Lama/Cheras”. Such encouragements are necessary as eventually the exit to J. Klang Lama/Cheras took, oh well, only a total of 45mins.

A little piece of heaven in turquoise

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Pulau Aur, together with Pulau Dayang and Pulau Lang are hidden gems off the East Coast of Peninsula Malaysia. The boat ride from Mersing in Johor to Pulau Aur took about 4.5 hours. At the end of the long trip, be rewarded by sight of coconut trees on white sandy beaches, luscious dramatic foliage capping the hilly, rugged ridgeline terrains of the island, turquoise waters, large coloured corals – some like giant cauliflowers, some like hard flower petals – extending from the seabed in abundance – even if you don’t snorkel, it is still visible from above water even during high tide, and more so when the water recedes. Countless dark coloured sea cucumbers lie prostrate on the sandy sea bed, gently rocked by the ebb and flow of the sea waves, as colourful fishes swim in oblivion of human existence.

If you’re expecting a 5-star resort or rave beach parties, then this is not the place for you. But if you are looking for fresh air, sounds of sea waves gently tumbling on fine white shores, chatting with kampung folk and enjoying the natural surrounding with as little distraction as possible from the outside world, this is it. The island currently only has 200 people, most of whom came over to the pakcik‘s house for Hari Raya (this trip took place around end August). It was a wondrous sight: people in their best attire arriving by boat on a festive occasion and gathering for a meal on the beach.

Getting there:

Pulau Aur is presently not served by commercial ferries, so it’s necessary to book your own boat from Mersing in Johor (which has commercial ferries running to the Tioman & Sibu islands). Booking a boat can be a costly affair so finding a group of people to go with you and sharing the cost is the most practical. Depending on the type of your boat, the boat trip can take 2 to 6 hours.

Kuching – Bako National Park

Kuching city is under-rated: the city centre is clean, scenic with its riverside promenade, dotted with historic buildings and quaint shophouses. For those who can’t live without shopping malls, a brand new mega one just opened about 7km from the city centre. For those who want a hearty dose of nature, the dense rich natural forest beckons, with Orang Utans at the Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre. For a quick tour of the cultural diversity hosted by the marvellous state of Sarawak, visit the Sarawak Cultural Village, which is also the site of the world famous annual Rainforest World Music Festival.

Kuching city combines tourist accessibility appeal without compromising its charming laid-back vibe. And we were lucky enough to meet warm friendly people who made our stay all the more pleasant. At no point in time were we harassed by mercenary commercialism that pervades so many cities. In fact within hours of landing, my Singaporean friend talked of returning to the city again. I almost don’t want to write these posts for fear that people will find out about this true gem in Borneo. Okay, it’s not obscure. But it doesn’t usually feature on the radar of wanderlusty travellers.

Not far from Kuching, is Bako National Park, which certainly deserves a visit. We took a day trip – although you could stay at basic lodgings at the National Park, and have a better chance to catch sight of more rare wildllife – note to jy: next time we should do that! From Kampung Bako, buy the park entrance ticket (RM 10) and charter a boat to bring you to the Park HQ (RM 94 return for the whole boat, with additional top up of RM 38 if you want the boatman to pick you up from Pandan Kecil beach instead). Bako is actually not an island. The forest is so dense that it is just easier to enter the National Park from the coast. Within 5 minutes of landing, I heard noisy leaves rustling above and to my surprise, we were greeted by the rare proboscis monkeys! Proboscis monkeys only live in Borneo, and there are about only 150 in Bako itself.

Boat departing Park HQ, at Bako National Park

What do you think these cheeky guys are looking at?

Visitors are required to register at the Park HQ, where you get the chance to use the toilets before you start exploring the Park. Thereafter, got a map and off we wandered. We took a walk on the trail in the direction of Pandan Kecil Beach. The terrain is well-marked across the forested-hills, with sightings of wild fern, carnivorous pitcher plants and so many plants of which I do not know the names – time to invest some study in botany!

After walking up and down the hill for a while, we were finally rewarded with the beautiful view of emerald waters from high up above, gleaming under the hot sun.

Even in the hot noon sun, sitting on the rocked cliff with the view of the sea was a tremendous feeling, a perfect pay-off from the walk through different terrains. How could I resist a dip in the sea?

On the return journey, the boatman tells me that Bako National Park actually belongs to the people of Kampung Bako. But the government had marked this territory as a national park, and therefore no de-forestation is allowed. The villagers were given boats in return, and are allowed to live where Kampung Bako is now, but not in the National Park itself.

On the coastline are strange stacks of rock formation. What a fascinating trip.

Have read much about Sarawak’s biodiversity in Geography classes from secondary school days. If only school classes were conducted on-site more often (the wanderer wishes!).