Penang is popularly known as the Pearl of The Orient, and Penang was where we, the family, went for our little family break.
Well, with the exception of two members of the family that is. Unfortunately, but education do come first.
For the record, we made plans for our little break to coincide with the school holidays. Just before that is, as to coincide with the school break would mean getting caught in a mad rush to secure good accommodation, never mind the traffic conditions associated with school holidays.
My better half made all the necessary arrangements, where to stay, where to go etc etc. Trust her to do all the necessary research. Thanks Yang!
We took off for our journey to Penang early in the day and by late afternoon we had, despite a short detour to Gua Tempurung in Ipoh, had already checked into our homestay accommodations.
It was a nice double-storey two-room apartment in a new part of town, with all the convenient facilities required for people on the road eg eateries, 24-hr convenient stores, etc, all of which were just around the corner, and most importantly, within short driving distance from the main reason we are in Penang – the sights, the sounds and the smells of George Town.
In the itinerary planned by my better half, for places to visit in George Town itself, we had listed Fort Cornwallis, Chowrasta, The Esplanade, Armenian Street as the places that we must go and explore.
Well, ‘must’ is a pretty strong word to use. Maybe we should say ‘should’ instead.
In addition, we also had Entopia, Teluk Bahang, Penang Hill, Batu Ferringhi, the Botanical Gardens and Balik Pulau in the list.
All in all, quite a number of places to visit and to look forward to. All within the 5 days and 4 nights that we will be in Penang. And that does not include the gastronomy aspects yet.
But first, once we have settled in our rented apartment, the search was on for food. And where else but to venture into George Town. To be specific, the Jalan Kota Lama food court.
Why, as you might ask. The word is that the ‘Mee Udang’ is to die for. Well, that’s the word anyway and we were pretty sure that would be the case.
Rest assured, our visit to the food court there was, to say the least, an experience. From the moment we stepped into the food court, we felt like we had just entered a ‘war zone’ with stall owners ‘fighting’ amongst themselves over our small group of five.
We could see that we have the sympathy from the other patrons of the food court. I guess they too went through the same experience as we were going through at that moment in time.
But as it turned out, soon it was our turn to extend our sympathies to another group who walked in after us, as the stall owners lay siege on the unsuspecting group.
I guess, after years of experience, the stall owners can instantly tell whether you are a local or an outsider. It’s like you have this big signboard on your forehead saying ‘NOT LOCAL’ or ‘OUTSIDER’. They go easy on the locals and lay siege on the outsiders. Huh!
Anyway, having placed our orders, we were then given another ‘experience’ to savour when our orders of ‘Mee Udang’ arrived. As we were hungry, we tucked in what was served.
Or rather, we tried to, and at the same time, ask ourselves whether ‘Mee Udang’ is supposed to taste this way.
Let’s just say our first night’s experience in Penang this time around was not as memorable as we thought that it would be. But since we were hungry and our need for some proper nourishment was not satiated, we went for the safe option and got ourselves some fast food to tide us over for the night.
The experience served us well, for since then, we had proper comfort food for the remainder of our stay. By proper comfort food, we mean but what else, ‘Nasi Kandar’.
As they say, once you are in Penang, its ‘Nasi Kandar’ time, for ‘Nasi Kandar Penang’ is also to die for. I mean, after all, it’s a foregone conclusion that in Malaysia, Penang is the capital city of ‘Nasi Kandar’.
So, it was ‘Nasi Kandar’ as the basic food and the rest eg snacks, street food, impromptu stops at eateries as add-ons.
Worked well apparently. Never once did we returned to the apartment hungry like the first night after that.
Our first drive into George Town that first night also gave us a crash course in negotiating Penang traffic. For both my wife and myself, Penang traffic came across as a slight shock despite our combined on-the-road experience exceeding half a century’s worth of driving, what more for the uninitiated or they who had barely got their driving licence.
If you need a clue as to what we are talking about, look back to your driving lessons and if you remember the phrase ‘hands on the steering wheel and eyes on the road’, then you should be ok.
For Penang traffic does have its surprises and I do mean surprises. Most of it when you least expect it.
In hindsight, it was good for us to be given a ‘baptism of fire’ on our first night in Penang. It was as though, all the ‘bad juju’ of our planned mini break were brought together in one night, leaving just the ‘good juju’ for the rest of our stay, having fun and enjoying ourselves.
After five days and four nights, we could honestly say that we did.
More posts to come from our mini-break in Penang, Pearl of The Orient.
My wife and I travelled a fair bit in 2017, on business and for leisure.
Melaka, Cameron Highlands, Kuantan, Pekan and a host more. All domestic, none overseas. Sad to say and much to our regret.
Of all the trips that we made, the one that takes the cake has to be our trip to Cameron Highlands. Why, some of you might ask. No surprise there, the rest of you may say.
Without doubt, Cameron Highlands was very eventful. Not only was it a trip that both my wife and I had really looked forward to, but it was also a real getaway for us, for it has been quite a while since we had a decent break.
Starting off early, we manage to reach our destination in good time, despite the leisurely drive.
We checked into our hotel (the booking made several months earlier despite our trepidation about making travelling plans too far ahead in advance), proceeded to our room and found it to be more than adequately spacious.
The pillows and the mattress were very comfortable, making a good night’s sleep in a ‘foreign bed’ something to look forward to.
The bed was adequately large, large enough to make falling off the bed not feasible nor possible.
The bathroom may not be as ‘modern’ as some of the hotels we have stayed in during our travels but it was OK.
Hot water was available but no air-con. But then again, you do not need air-con up in the highlands. Or do you?
Beverages were on the standby, with mugs, an electric kettle and sachets of instant coffee, tea bags and sugar, brown and white, available should we need a hot drink in the comfort of our room.
No doubt, to be topped up in the morning when Housekeeping comes a calling.
A mini fridge was also available, which is essentially an invitation to stock up and stock up we did. After all, we are still young enough to remember and enjoy the joys of carbonated drinks as well as canned energy boosters.
Having checked the room and the hotel out and finding it to our satisfaction, the next agenda was to set our plans into action.
The plan was simple : to dine in the colonial ambience that is Ye Olde Smokehouse, having hot tea and scones at The Bharat’s Cameron Valley (which we had ticked off the list on our way in to Tanah Rata), witness how tea was made at BOH’s Sg Palas tea plantation, have tea amongst the flora at The Barracks, and take a stroll amongst the flora at MARDI’s research station.
All that and to enjoy the cool fresh air. Nothing too taxing and nothing too tiring. Just the way I would like it, much to my wife’s chagrin. She leads a very energetic life, she does.
In all honesty, we would have loved to have include a round of golf at the local golf course, which apparently was just nearby to where we were staying, but then again, as we had left the clubs at home, we agreed to put it down for the next time we are in town. Huh!
Furthermore, to buy a new set just for a round of golf would not make sense, never mind wasteful. Ah well, you can’t have it all now, can you?
Day became night and night later turned to day. The plans we had carefully laid down was, one by one, ticked off our itinerary.
Ye Olde Smokehouse was delightful. The food was, as expected, superb, the ambience authentic, and the garden well maintained.
So was The Barracks. It is really a relaxing experience, dining amidst the colourful flora, and in cool weather, to boot.
I guess the experiences themselves made up for anything lacking in the fare served. I mean, here we are, dining at the very places that so many before us had highly recommended.
The realisation and the experience itself made us so grateful for the bounty that came our way, almost spiritual you might say.
The tea plantations at Sg Palas and Cameron Valley were not only delightful and a joy to behold. Seeing carpets of tea shrubs covering every hilltop as far as the eye can see, can do that to you.
It was also educational, watching how they actually process tea leaves into the tea that we drink. Even at this age, I might add.
Going up to the BOH Sg Palas tea plantation was also an experience, though it may not be the best of experience to most people. Me included.
I mean, Malaysians are used to driving along narrow roads, giving way when its best to give way and vice versa.
But the narrow roads to Sg Palas do really test your driving skills, your patience and at some places, your heart.
Maybe, they should limit the types of vehicles going up Sg Palas’ way. It’s either sedans or bikes but maybe not pick-up trucks, and MPVs. But definitely not buses. I mean, like seriously!?
And yes, it was good. It was restful. Overall, a very good and much needed break. Even the weather, it being up in the highlands, helped. Cool refreshing air. Slight drizzles, nothing much.
It reminds me of King’s Lynn and of Cardiff, both in the United Kingdom, as autumn was about to give way to winter when, as both being near the sea, rain rather than snow was the order of the day.
And to make it even better, the town of Tanah Rata where we stayed was within a few minutes walking distance, should we ever needed something from the stores or to grab a bite at the local food stalls or even, God forbid, a late-night Roti Canaior Mee Goreng, washed down with good ole Teh Tarik at the local Mamak 24-hour eatery.
There was even a designer coffee shop available in town, and maybe, just maybe, the only one anywhere near where we were staying, should we ever get tired of all that tea.
After all, it is THE Cameron Highlands.
In short, everything was perfect. Or so we thought. Come to think of it, maybe it was TOO perfect.
And as they say, they keep the best til the last. Or rather the last two nights that we were there. With the benefit of hindsight, we should have known better, it being TOO perfect and all.
It all began on the second-to-last night, when we were awoken from our deep slumber by a telephone call. A call that came through the house phone by the bedside. On my wife’s side, that is.
The call sounded urgent and me being me, kanchong and all, I got up and sleep walked over to my wife’s side to answer the phone. When picked up, not only was there no one on the other end but the connection sounded akin to a vacuum.
Thinking the obvious ie the connection may have been really bad, I put the phone back in its place and the both of us went back to sleep. It was not long before the house phone rang again. And again, no one on the other end. Not even heavy breathing.
Not thinking too much about it, we went back to sleep and that was it. No more calls through the house phone.
Come morning, we thought nothing of the late-night phone calls and proceeded with our planned itinerary. Since it was going to be our last day in Tanah Rata, we had planned to enjoy ourselves before making our way back to the grind of everyday life, the next day.
That night, by the time we got back to the hotel, we were already dead tired and despite it all, manage to do a bit of packing, with the exception of the toiletries and the clothes that we had planned to wear the next day. It was not long after that we fell asleep. Soundly, I might add.
We were rudely awakened by the insistent banging on the door and the constant ringing of the door-bell. Jumping out of bed, I was fast approaching the door when my wife pleaded with me not to open the door.
The panic that was in my wife’s request made me stopped. It was ok with me, cos as far as I was concerned, I had only planned to take a peep through the peephole.
But she did not know that.
As I did not see anything, we waited for a few more minutes before trying to go back to sleep and that was when it started again. The banging was loud and insistent, almost violent, and the persistent ringing of the door-bell, in the dead of the night, only made it worse.
In the dead of the night, both the banging on the door together with the ringing of the door-bell created a very unsettling feeling deep in the gut of our combined stomachs. So unsettling that we place a call to the front office to lodge a complaint, to which the personnel-in-charge replied that they would send security to check.
Needless to say, we barely got any sleep that night even though there were no more banging of the door nor ringing of the door-bell. However, we both agreed that the both of us fell asleep through sheer exhaustion and when morning came, we had somehow arrived at an unspoken agreement to check out soonest possible. But not before making a beeline for the front desk.
And that we did, to which we got, what we sensed, an evasive answer. Leaving it at that, we went for our breakfast (part of the package it is).
Needless to say, breakfast was a blur for the both of us. After several cups of caffeine, we proceeded to ‘interrogate’ the front desk and this time, we got a more revealing answer.
And the answer to our questions was ‘yes’, we were not the only ones to have been ‘disturbed’ in the dead of night in that wing of the hotel, but what was more revealing was that, it was not our room that was supposed to be ‘occupied’ but rather five rooms down the corridor.
As to why we got ‘disturbed’ the last two nights despite our room not being ‘the hot room’, no one at the front desk could give us a convincing answer.
Not wanting to wait any further, I proceeded to get our belongings from the room, escorted of course by the concierge, whilst my wife stayed behind at the front desk.
Checking out, I tried my best to be cheerful throughout the whole checking-out process, cracking jokes about a new form of tourism, ‘Ghoul Tourism’, to add to ‘Gastro Tourism’, ‘Medico Tourism’, etc etc.
Nervous and feeble jokes, mind you but still jokes. Cos after all, the sun is already up, and its bright and sunny out there in the courtyard, and we will soon be on our way out of Tanah Rata.
However, all cheer left us when my wife revealed that, when I was upstairs collecting our belongings, the front desk personnel confirmed that there was no recording of any persons passing by the corridor leading to and from our room, several hours either side of the ‘disturbance’.
That revelation was enough to make the hairs on my arm and the back of my neck stand. Just as it is now, when I am writing this piece.
So HANDS DOWN, the most memorable trip that both my wife and I ever had thus far, never mind 2017, for both the right and the wrong reasons, has to be our getaway trip to Tanah Rata in Cameron Highlands.
Looking back at what I had posted then, we had apparently visited quite a number of interesting places in and around Pekan, namely the Pulau Keladi Cultural Village (which was the childhood residence of Tun Abdul Razak, the 2nd Prime Minister of Malaysia and who also happens to be the father of the current Prime Minister, Dato’ Sri Mohd Najib), the Istana Abu Bakar (Abu Bakar Palace, the royal residence of the reigning Sultan), and the Royal Pahang Polo Club, amongst others.
Back then, we could not venture into the Sultan Abu Bakar Museum as it was undergoing renovations.
But as the museum adopted an ‘open space’ concept, we made do with the exhibits on show on the grounds of the museum.
But before there was the museum, there was a palace and it was called Istana Kota Beram and it was, at one time, the official residence of the late Sultan of Pahang, DYMM Al Marhum Sultan Abu Bakar Riayatuddin Muazzam Shah.
It began life as a two-storey building and made of wood. Built in 1888, it served as the official residence of the first British Resident of Pahang, Sir John Pickersgill Rodger KCMG, who himself makes for an interesting read.
As a matter of interest, the role of a British Resident is akin to being an ‘advisor’ to the reigning Sultan, and whose ‘advice’ are given, even when not sought.
Apparently, Sir JP Rodger was not only the first British Resident of Pahang but prior to his posting to Pahang, he was the British Resident to Selangor, having succeeded Sir Frank Athelstane Swettenham. When he left Selangor to take up the post as the British Resident to Pahang, he was in turn succeeded by Sir William Edward Maxwell.
His was succeeded in Pahang by Sir Hugh Clifford, and went on to re-assume the position of Resident of Selangor before being appointed as the British Resident to Perak.
He was succeeded as Resident of Perak by Sir Ernest Woodford Birch, who happens to be the son of James Wheeler Woodford Birch (or more famously known as JWW Birch), the first British Resident of Perak and whose claim to fame was to be the first British Resident in the Malay States to be assassinated.
JWW Birch’s assassination was the catalyst AND the excuse to up British influence in the Malay states, which includes political intervention, depending from which side of the divide you are from.
Why the digress? The names mentioned eg Sir Hugh Clifford, Sir Frank Swettenham, JWW Birch et al had left footprints in the historical annals of Malaysia.
For example, the assassination of JWW Birch led to long lasting British ‘interventions’ in the Malay States and ultimately, colonisation of the Malays states until independence in 1957.
Back to Istana Kota Beram, the two-storey wooden building was designated as the official residence of the British Residents to Pahang.
The wooden building eventually got replaced with a brick and mortar building in 1929 and as a sign of the times, it was converted into the military headquarters of the Japanese Imperial armed forces during World War II, which does not come as a surprise bearing in mind the circumstances at that moment in time.
It was only in 1948 that the then reigning Sultan of Pahang, DYMM Al Marhum Sultan Abu Bakar Riayatuddin Muazzam Shah made the building his official residence and re-named it Istana Kota Beram. An extension was added in 1954 and this extension was named ‘Balairung Seri’.
In Malay customs, the ‘Balairung Seri’ is normally where the Sultan grants audience to community leaders to discuss matters pertaining to the people under his rule.
DYMM Al Marhum Sultan Abu Bakar passed away in 1974 but not before efforts were underway to have a museum to exhibit important artefacts and exhibits of the State of Pahang, available for public viewing.
The proposal to have such a museum was mooted by Tun Abdul Razak, the 2nd Prime Minister of Malaysia and a son of Pekan itself.
It is also a matter of interest that Tun Abdul Razak himself was a nobleman and chieftain of Pahang, and being one of the ‘Orang Besar Empat’ of Pahang, a very major one at that.
Istana Kota Beram was converted into a museum and named after DYMM Al Marhum Sultan Abu Bakar, in honour of the late Sultan Abu Bakar, who had actually made Istana Kota Beram as his official palace of residence.
The Sultan Abu Bakar Museum was officially declared open in October 1976 by DYMM Sultan Haji Ahmad Shah, son and successor to DYMM Al Marhum Sultan Abu Bakar.
The museum housed many an exhibit related to not only the Royal Family of Pahang but also to the different communities that calls Pahang, home.
Weaponry of days of old, portraits of members of the Royal Family, articles of clothing, adornments and awards are just some of the exhibits made available for public viewing.
There are even exhibits that are testimony to the advent of Islam to the state, wood carvings, skin covered drums with some of these artefacts dating back a bit.
All these artefacts and exhibits are housed in two separate buildings linked by a covered walkway connecting the two buildings on the upper floor, with the temperature in both buildings kept cool to maintain the artefacts in good condition.
As we were making our way out through the courtyard lined with giant replicas of hilts used to adorn the ‘Keris’, we were told by helpful staff of the museum of the new museum next door : the Sultan Abdullah Mosque museum.
Inaugurated in 2016, it was opened to the public after three years of renovation works . We however passed the opportunity to explore that museum, opting to explore it the next time we are in Pekan again. Too much of a good thing only spoils the fun, as they say.
Making our way to the car park, we again passed by the exhibits on show. Imaginatively and creatively placed on the grounds of the museum, it never ceases to amaze us the creativity and ingenuity of the local tribes people of Pahang : from pieces of wood, horses graze, elephants trumpets and cranes wade by the water’s edge.
Very creative that. Very.
How to get there
By road :
via Kuantan (the capital of Pahang) from points north of Kuantan on the East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia,
via Muadzam Shah from points south via Mersing as well as via Segamat, and
via the Gambang exit via the East Coast Expressway.
Closed on Mondays ;
Tuesday – Sunday : 9.30 am to 5.00 pm (except Fridays)
Fridays : 9.30 am – 12.15 pm ; 2.45pm – 5.00 pm
Malaysians : RM5.00 (Adults)
Non Malaysians : RM15.00 (Adults)
All images were immortalized using a smartphone camera and are the copyright property of Nachmeinemeinung.
Off the west coast of Sabah as well as Brunei lies the island of Labuan.
Together with another six (6) smaller islands of Daat, Papan, Burung, Kuraman, Rusukan Besar and Rusukan Kecil, it forms the Federal Territory of Labuan, declared as such since 1984.
Being declared a federal territory has its perks, primarily having its continued development looked after by the Federal government of Malaysia via the Labuan Corporation, whose role it is to manage Labuan-related affairs and development.
Its also akin to being a member of an exclusive club, as there are only three federal territories in the country, namely Kuala Lumpur (the capital of Malaysia), Putrajaya (the administrative capital of Malaysia) and Labuan.
In 1990, as part of the efforts to develop Labuan, it was declared as an international offshore financial hub known as the Labuan International Business and Financial Centre (Labuan IBFC), as well as being a free trade zone.
As a matter of interest, Labuan IBFC is under the jurisdiction of the Labuan Offshore Financial Services Authority (LOFSA) and at present, a total of 6,500 offshore companies and 300 licensed international financial institutions (including major financial institutions) operate under LOFSA’s supervision.
The international offshore financial companies offer financial and business services from their offices, mainly located in Victoria, which also happens to be the capital of Labuan.
Being in Labuan, it is not that difficult to make out where that is as the buildings housing these financial companies easily dominate the Labuan skyline.
In 2010, due to international pressure on the term ‘ Offshore’ affecting tax havens and financial centres, all references to the term ‘Offshore’ were dropped.
Not much has been said about it but Labuan, has over the years, also played host to a number of companies servicing the Oil & Gas industry players operating in the region, and in the process, established Labuan as a base for the sector’s support industries.
This fact is reinforced by the sight of Oil & gas personnel in those thick multi-coloured overalls as worn by those in the Oil & Gas industries going about their business about town.
Labuan is about 92 sq km in size with has a population of 96,800, based on a 2015 census, with the population mainly made up of Bumiputeras (over 70%) while the Chinese, Indian, Sikh and other smaller communities (including the expatriate community) make up the balance.
The name Labuan takes after the Malay word ‘Labuhan’ which literally means ‘harbour’, and is itself oft referred to as the Pearl of Borneo.
Its proximity to the coasts of Sabah and Brunei allow for ferry services to be had to and from Labuan, in addition to flights landing at the Labuan Airport.
Politically, the island of Labuan has served many flags, starting with the Sultanate of Brunei (15th century til 1846) and thereafter the flags of United Kingdom and various other British-affiliated flags and finally, since the independence of Sabah via the formation of Malaysia and events thereafter, the Federation of Malaysia.
Needless to say, as elsewhere in the region, the political allegiance came with with a three-year intermission (1942-1945) during World War II, by Imperial Japan.
It is a footnote in the history of Labuan that Labuan was once re-named Maida Island (after the first Japanese commander to be killed in action in the North Borneo theatre), albeit temporarily. It was re-named Labuan after the defeat of the Japanese Imperial Army by the Commonwealth forces, led by the British and Australians.
Labuan saw more than its fair share of military action during World War II, with casualties from both sides of the warring divide.
Casualties of war consisting of British, Australian, Indian, Sarawakian, Bruneian, North Borneo and Empire combatants killed are all interned at the Labuan War Cemetery, numbering close to almost four thousand (4,000).
Using Singapore as a benchmark, Labuan is small with a landmass only 70% Singapore’s extended landmass.
Most of the daily economic and commercial activities are centred in the part of town often referred to Old Labuan.
Nevertheless, new areas at the fringes of Old Labuan are being developed, as evidenced with new modern hotels coming up to accommodate the increasing demand for overnight stay, competing with re-furbished hotels making a re-entry into the market.
In addition to the new office blocks making an appearance.
Moving around Labuan Old Town does not require you to rent a car as most of the places that cater to official and personal matters are all within walking distance, including the international financial district of Labuan.
Walking about town is encouraged if you want to get a feel of Labuan. But should the need arises to travel further about, then taxis are available. Remember them?
It was during this walkabout that we discovered several memorials marking events from World War II, as well as other events affecting Labuan. And surprise surprise , not far from where these memorials were located, lies the Labuan Museum.
Nondescript and easy to miss, if not for the memorial plaque placed at the entrance.
Entering the museum, we were greeted by friendly museum staff. After signing in, we made our way our way around the two-storey museum, to be treated to the sights of exhibits that is Labuan : its people, its culture and its history.
Not much different from other museums. But then again, different place, different museum, and hence different exhibits.
Being a history buff means you should not be phobic to the sight of a museum, and I am a history buff. Reading the narrative accompanying the exhibits, it gives you a crash course in getting-to-know Labuan and its people.
Having gone through the exhibits, you cannot help but note the strong influence both the state of Brunei Darus Salam and Sabah has on Labuan. It is reinforced by the knowledge of Labuan’s proximity to the Bruneian shores nearby as well as to the shores of Sabah.
Food outlets are readily available in Labuan Old town, including that of international fast food joints. But as a Malaysian, the sight of a Mamak eatery (and there are several of them) is enough evidence to convince you that should you go hungry in the dead of night, you can always make a beeline for these 24-hour eateries.
There are also other hang-out places available in town, where casual discussions, social and business, can be held over dinner or drinks. And failing that, there is always the fast food joint. With them bright lights and those well recognised logos, not easily missed. Definitely.
Our visit to Labuan, our first ever, despite it being a short one and unplanned, does leave you with a good impression as well as positive vibes.
Beating the walkways and pathways in Old Labuan does bring you back in time a bit, especially when you notice that there are no traffic jams despite it being rush hour.
Having learnt more about the place, we are pretty sure that our second visit there will be more fun and satisfying. Definitely worth a second visit, that’s the verdict. And a longer one at that.
How to Get There
There are direct flights available from Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KUL), Kota Kinabalu (BKI) and Johor Bahru (JHB) to Labuan (LBU), with prices dependent on the route, time of flight and when the booking was made.
Where to Stay
Most hotels in Labuan are listed on the major hotel apps available.
All images were taken using a smartphone camera and are the property of Nachmeinemeinung.
Hand on heart, we will all admit to being travel enthusiasts.
As we travel far and further afield, whether it is within the borders of our own country or to visit the land of others, we develop talents that only seasoned travellers have, like how to plan and put together the best travel arrangements that we possibly can on our limited budgets and how to respond to the unexpected.
Many of us have would also have adapted to the many demands that travelling, whether for business or for leisure, and whether it’s on a limited budget or otherwise, requires.
But things can still go wrong and do go wrong, in compliance to Murphy’s Law and normally when you least expect it too. When it does, most often than not, due to the experience accumulated from our travels, we are able to adapt.
In most cases, admirably and with thanks, in no small measure, to the kind heartedness of the locals as well as a prayer or two.
But there are situations that are not only beyond our control but beyond anybody’s. Especially when it is not of this realm. And for that, you need a special kind of skill set.
I consider myself lucky that, most often than not, I do get ‘good and clean’ (in both senses of the word) hotel rooms.
But there have been times that as I am about to enter a room, I get that ‘hairs on arms standing’ feeling. More times than I care to remember, actually.
Normally, after observing certain rituals or procedures that I have been taught over the years, I do get a peaceful night’s sleep.
It’s even better when you are already exhausted and the lights go out on you the moment you place your head on the pillow, only to wake up early the next day with the lights and yesterday’s clothes still on.
That’s not so bad as when you experience ‘the hairs on your back stand’ situations. Sad to say, that too has happened to me a few times as well.
Whenever I experience these kind of situations, I have been known to check out straightaway as I did at a hotel on Penang Island, in Kota Bharu and in Port Dickson.
Talk about instant checkout. And looking at the expressions on the faces at the reception desk when you return the room keys, they pretty much have an idea why you checked out in such a hurried manner.
There has however been occasions when these ‘hair standing on back’ occasions manifested themselves, few and far in between they may be.
One of the most recent ones was during our trip to Cameron Highlands. To say that it was creepy is an understatement.
My wife and I were booked in for 3 nights and looking back, the first night itself should have served as an indicator of things to come.
As we remarked many times to friends, the hotel was first-rate, the room large and expansive, the bed was extra-large (like, there was no foreseeable way you could sleep-roll off the bed), the pillows were very, very comfortable, the shower and the toilet worked well and there was a mini bar and mini fridge.
The latter being ideal for us, allowing us to stock up with our favourite drinks.
My wife did however remarked that it felt cold in the room. As we were up in the highlands and that it was raining when we arrived at the resort, we did not think too much of it even though there was no air conditioning unit in the room.
In fact, the sight of no air conditioning in the room seemed a novelty to us lowlands dwellers, where a bright and sunny day means it’s a hot day.
As we were already tired from the day’s travelling, we got settled in, went for an early dinner and upon returning to the resort, went to bed early.
The morning after, over breakfast, my wife complained of a splitting headache as she did not get a good night’s sleep. Again, we did not think too much of it, being newbies in Tanah Rata, as we were.
We went on our planned itinerary for the day, after which, since as we had no plans to go out for dinner, bought some snacks and drinks before returning to the resort.
Settled in for the night, watched TV (same as in most hotels we stayed in, here was not much on offer. Must have got a bum deal, these hotels.) and without knowing it, we were out for the night.
Until the telephone call.
It was 2 in the morning when the phone rang. It did struck me as odd that my wife did not pick up the phone despite the phone being on her side of the bed.
It struck me as even weirder that she asked me not to pick up the phone when I walked over to her side of the bed to pick up the call. I mean, it could have been the front desk.
Upon answering the phone, there was nothing at the other end. More like it was just a vacuum. Thinking that there might be a bad connection on the other end, thought nothing of it and went back to sleep.
It did not take long before the phone rang again, and this time before I could answer, the ringing stopped.
At my wife’s behest, we changed sides and continued with our sleep. Or tried to.
Everybody knows of the saying that you always save the best for last. They or whoever they may be, must have known that particular saying, for they did save their ‘best’ for our last night at the resort.
Apparently, the magical hour seems to be 2am, there or thereabouts. And this time, we were rudely awaken and I do mean rudely.
Insistent hard knocks on the door, coupled with the incessant ringing of the door bell and someone trying hard to open the door were the order of the day. Or is it ‘order of the night’?
As I rushed to the door, thinking that it might be an emergency of some kind, my wife pleaded with me not to open the door. And somehow, I complied.
The same happened within five minutes or so and this time, we called reception to send security up to check. Needless to say, we barely had a wink after that and only fell asleep out of sheer exhaustion.
We had planned for a late check out but after the night’s events, we decided to check out as soon as we had breakfast.
On the way to breakfast, we checked with the front desk and inquired as to the night’s events.
The words were comforting but we did notice glances being exchanged between staff at the front desks.
After breakfast, we decided to take the bull by the horns and leaned on strongly at the staff at the front desk.
And this time, the beans were spilled, with the staff being surprised that it was our room that was ‘disturbed’, as the norm would be a room a few doors away.
As I returned to the room with a concierge to collect our belongings, my wife stayed behind at the front desk. Tired, weary, and wary, I guess.
It was only after we checked out that my wife mentioned that she insisted at having a look at the CCTV recording of the corridor outside our room. What she recounted made the hairs on my back, never mind my arms, stand.
Recordings of the CCTV showed absolutely nothing. Absolutely nothing. For an hour on both sides of the time it happened, absolutely nothing. Which gives credence to the report from the security personnel.
We had looked forward to a ‘happening’ holiday. Well, we got more than we bargained for. Well, next time we go up to Cameron Highlands (if we ever that is), we might even go back to the resort where we stayed. With the knowledge that we have now, we’ll know which floor to stay this time.
Trouble is, ‘they’ might still remember us and come a visiting. Would not that be a bummer?
Kellie’s Castle, which is sometimes known as Kellie’s Folly, is located in Batu Gajah, Perak.
Easily visible from the main road, it is essentially a mansion and was, more likely than not, a labour of love of one William Kellie Smith (1870-1926), a Scot by descent and a planter by occupation.
The mansion was never finished, owing more, it is said, to the sudden death of William Kellie Smith, in 1926, of pneumonia when on a business trip to Portugal.
And upon his death, his wife, who was then in Malaya, decided to pack up and return to Britain with both their son and daughter, never to return.
The man whose name it is given to the castle, William Kellie Smith, was born in Kellas, Moray Firth, Scotland.
At a young age of 20, he made his way to the then colonial Malaya in 1890, to work as a civil engineer.
He, however, made his money from a business venture with another Briton, clearing about 9000 hectares of forest in Batu Gajah.
With his share of the profits, he bought for himself 1000 acres of jungle, cleared it and started planting rubber trees.
In addition, his business venture also included tin mining, from which he then went on to own the Kinta Kellas Tin Dredging Company.
With his fortune made, he returned to Scotland and married his sweetheart, Agnes. After their marriage, he then brought his young bride, Agnes, with him to Malaya in 1903, and in the following year, their daughter, Helen, was born.
By all accounts, he was a successful businessman. In 1915, a further addition to his family, his son, Anthony, was born.
It was then that he decided to embark on building Kellie’s Castle.
It was a grandiose plan, Kellie’s Castle. The design had Scottish, Moorish and Tamilvanan Indian influences and for the purpose of building his castle, he brought in 70 craftsmen as well as building materials from India.
So grand was the design that it included what would have been the first elevator in the then Malaya, a watch tower, indoor tennis court as well as a rooftop courtyard for entertaining guests.
Apparently, it seemed that construction of the castle was not smooth sailing.
It was reported to be disrupted several times, with issues with finance and also when a virulent strain of Spanish flu struck his workmen.
The latter was so disruptive that when his Indian craftsmen approached him to have a temple built as a means to seek the good graces and intervention of the gods to help ward off the disease, he readily agreed and funded the construction of the temple himself.
In recognition of his deed, his workmen included his statue amongst the pantheon of deities placed on the wall of the temple, of which the statue can be seen still, to this day.
With the passing of William Kellie Smith in 1926 and the return of his wife, Agnes, with their daughter Helen and son Anthony to Scotland, work on the castle came to a halt.
A pity really, cos looking at what’s left of Kellie’s Castle today, it would have been a grand sight should it have been completed. Really a pity.
When touring the ruins of Kellie’s Castle and reading the informative plaques placed strategically amongst the ruins that is Kellie’s Castle, one cannot shake off the spooky and uneasy feeling of being watched even in the heat of day.
And no wonder. Over the years, Kellie’s Castle has gained a reputation of being haunted with sightings of the man himself been reported, walking the corridors of the castle as well as at strategic locations of the ruins.
The grounds of the castle itself is quite expansive and complements the castle.
And as earlier mentioned, had the construction of the castle be completed, it would have made for a grand sight.
A really grand sight. But as fate would have it, it was not meant to be.
Today, Kellie’s Castle is maintained as a tourist attraction, primarily for what it could have been ie a fine stately home, built sometime in the colonial era.
Not only is it maintained as a tourist attraction, it has also been used as a setting for movies like Anna & The King (1999) and Skyline Cruisers (2000).
But it also has an added attraction and it is one that not many people will talk about BUT privately acknowledge. It has been claimed, as earlier mentioned, that the castle is haunted, with the man himself seen to be walking down the corridors of the castle.
It may be true and it may not be true, but if you can feel the hairs down your spine standing up, even in broad daylight, then there may be some truth in it.
But as they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Visit Kellie’s Castle yourself, tour the ruins and walk down the corridors of the castle and you decide.
As for us, it will probably be quite a while before we made another visit to Kellie’s Castle. If ever.
Over the years, I came across newspaper articles (before the explosion that is the Age of Digital that is) which tells of places of interest located within the district of Cameron Highlands.
All of them were written by they who have had the good luck to have travelled to Cameron Highlands and enjoyed what Cameron Highlands has to offer.
A few of them articles remained stuck in my mind. One of them, should ever I find myself in Cameron Highlands, or at Tanah Rata to be exact, was to dine at Ye Olde Smokehouse.
The articles that I read described Ye Olde Smokehouse as an old house, built sometime in the colonial era, with a fantastic ambience, a place to sleep and good food to boot.
For me, the good food is of course an attraction. That and the ambience but a stay at an old house built-in the colonial era? Mmmmm.
The reviews, over the years since the day I chance upon that article, had been consistently good, and since I am, at present, in Cameron Highlands, so to Ye Olde Smoke House it is then.
We found Ye Olde Smokehouse in good time. This, despite it being off the main road and hidden from view behind some hedges.
I mean, given the proper landmarks and a bit of old school navigation, you‘ll get there. That plus a signboard or two.
And ‘good time’ means just before the drumbeats in the bellies gets any louder, to the point that dining anywhere will do. Just to quieten them drumbeats.
As we had spent some time visiting the MARDI Agrotechnology Park and Cameron Valley (for the second time) earlier, we had built up quite an appetite, with the thought of having them satisfied at Ye Olde Smokehouse.
Ye Olde Smokehouse has its own car park, separated from the establishment by a small and narrow road. Although the word ‘lane’ would be more apt. But then again, it’s all semantics.
Lane or road, it’s quite convenient that, the car park that is. As we made our way from the car park into Ye Olde Smokehouse, its like being walking into one of those taverns usually found in the countryside of the United Kingdom or even mainland Europe.
No prior reservation to dine here is required, as told to us by the member of the staff.
Very convenient that, especially when you are one of them who likes to do things spontaneously.
Of course, there is some waiting time but when you are getting comfortable in the lounge and taking in the atmosphere that is the Ye Olde Smokehouse, it does not seem like waiting at all.
Attended to by one of the waiters, we placed our order and waited the lounge, whilst availing ourselves to the comfort that it offered.
There is always the garden, should you feel like stretching them legs. Especially when you have been driving for quite a bit.
As for me, I am always partial to a well laid and well maintained garden and I must admit, the garden at Ye Olde Smokehouse is a garden that I would be partial to.
Nestled in the garden were also few tables to cater to those who would prefer to do their dining there instead of the dining area.
On a sunny day, as today was, that would be very inviting. Especially up here in the highlands, a sunny day does not necessarily mean it’s a hot day.
It was not long before we were led into the dining area and yes, definitely, its like dining in a tavern. Led to our table, our orders were brought over by the waiter who happens to be a matured gentleman.
It was noticeable that almost all the staff that we met were matured, in their fifties and sixties.
The way they handled the guests, with quiet dignity and polite deference, tells you that these are a cultured lot with loads of experience, wise to the ways of its guests and I’ll bet you, lots of interesting stories to tell.
Dining at Ye Olde Smokehouse is an experience. A delightful experience at that, and one to enjoy and savour.
It has to be said, as it’s not often that we get to travel to Cameron Highlands, what more to dine at Ye Olde Smokehouse.
After a delightful Western meal complemented with coffee and desserts, we made our way to the gardens to relax and enjoy what it, in turn, has to offer.
If I were a cigar aficionado, I’ll most probably have a cigar and coffee at one of the tables found in the gardens. It’s that inviting and relaxing.
That I’d imagine would be another delightful experience, one more to add to the growing list of delightful experiences gathered during this trip to Cameron Highlands.
Next trip to Tanah Rata, most likely than not, its Ye Olde Smokehouse again for us. Maybe this time, we’ll have scones, homemade jam and butter with tea in the gardens.
Now that would be another delightful experience, would it not?
The Barracks is not the name of the local army camp but rather the name of this delightful bistro / café in Tanah Rata, the exact location initially being difficult to locate for this newbie in town.
Being a newbie, getting to The Barracks by a car can be quite trying. But then again, I did say I was a newbie to Tanah Rata and therefore, my inability to get about town does not count.
We got to The Barracks by foot instead, many thanks to my better half who had done some study of places to visit and places to dine.
Walking about town that is Tanah Rata, in all its misty glory, many thanks to the rain that fell just prior, we were suddenly caught in the second coming of rain.
And I don’t mean that Korean male singer cum actor, damn fine artiste he might be.
Luckily for us, we were already nearby The Barracks and fitted with our cheap and easily available but very colourful rain coats (so colourful that you can’t miss us), we found our way to The Barracks in good time.
A combination of the rain, the weather and the rhythmic drumbeats of the increasingly empty and gastric-induced tummies, made the first item on the agenda being to get some hot good food in our bellies.
The place looks very nice, with an ambience suggesting a cosy place to have a private meal for two, with the choice of either having your meal in the ‘garden’ or in the ‘barracks’.
Both options looked good, but for us, the ‘garden’ won. Wonder why.
Having seated ourselves and making ourselves comfortable, a look at the menu tells us that we have the option to go east or to go west. Good that.
There are times when I have this craving for fish and chips or sometimes, even a steak or lamb cutlets.
And today was no different.
But having gone through the menu, ever the Asian, I opted for a safe dish of rice and mutton curry, whilst my wife, my better half, went for something hot and something soupy.
Having placed our order, we began to size the place up. The ‘garden’ was never in any doubt and so, we ventured into the ‘barracks’ and see the place which gave the eatery its name.
Inside the warm and comfortable barracks, we noticed that the walls of the ‘barracks’ were lined with framed photos of days past.
The framed pictures were showing signs of age, some yellow in colour, whilst some in black and white, but all of which told of Tanah Rata’s history, of days past leading up to the present, before Independence and after Independence.
It was evident, from the framed pictures on show, Tanah Rata has an interesting history. Not surprising that.
The Barracks is not only known for its menu, it seems, but apparently for its ambience and its ‘garden’ as well.
Orchids seems to be the main attraction, and I guess, being located up in the highlands, it should not be a surprise.
A visit to The Barracks should be on the itinerary whenever and should ever one visit Tanah Rata.
With an ambience like what The Barracks offer, it makes for a memorable experience, senses-wise and gastronomy-wise, whilst having your steak or a soup-in-a-bun or even your safe dish of rice with mutton curry (tasty that!).
No visit to Cameron Highlands would be complete without a visit to the tea plantations of Cameron Valley and Sungei Palas (or more popularly referred to as Sg Palas).
For the uninitiated, Cameron Valley is the tea plantation belonging to the Bharat Family while the Sg Palas tea plantation is that of the ‘BOH’ brand.
Having visited Cameron Valley, one could not be faulted in thinking that a visit to the Sg Palas ‘BOH’ tea plantation would be no different from that of Cameron Valley.
As I rather enjoyed our visit to Cameron Valley, I must admit, I was pretty excited at the prospect of visiting the Sg Palas BOH tea plantation. Especially when the BOH brand is rather a favourite of mine.
And so we made our way to the Sg Palas tea plantation, and to get to the Sg Palas tea plantation, we had to make our way to Brinchang and from there, make our way to the plantation located not that far away.
The journey to the plantation itself was quite eventful as we had to, first, endure the Brinchang ‘ traffic jam’ and then later, the Sg Palas ‘traffic jam’, as we made our way to the plantation.
The Brinchang ‘traffic jam’ was due to an ongoing experiment to try out a new traffic plan as the previous traffic arrangements were given a royal thumbs down, with what was described as ‘rather haphazard’.
Understandable that. The ‘traffic jam’, that is.
But the Sg Palas ‘traffic jam’ is something else. A tarred road, two lanes : one going in and one going out. One siding the sides of the hill and the other, with the slopes of the hill covered with dense foliage as a sidedrop. Ok if traffic is just sedans and compacts.
But holiday seekers travel in all shapes and form of vehicles.Some travel in their sedans, some travel in their SUVs, and some make the journey in a travel coach. So the name of the game is patience (lots of it!) and a give-and-take (lots of it too!).
The appearance of the local police directing traffic indicated that we were already nearing the plantation. And before long, having parked our car, we were making our way to the Sg Palas Visitor’s Centre, and passing several plots of tea shrubs along the way to the main station.
From arriving at the Sg Palas Visitor’s Centre, from where we were standing, we noted that the centre is made up of a cafeteria, the BOH tea shop, information centre and a tea factory.
Having noted all that, the first order of business was to get a drink at the cafeteria and maybe, just maybe, some scones with butter and jam (strawberry of course!) and enjoy the view from the viewing deck.
But lo and behold, the sight of the long queue and the cafeteria jam-packed with visitors, laid waste our plans. Must have been due to the long weekend holiday that.
So we opted for a long cool drink of one of those tea concoctions (tea with mango and peach respectively, to be exact) instead. To go, of course and minus the scones and the butter and the jam (strawberry, but of course!).
Since we could not avail ourselves of a table, never you mind a table with a view of the plantation itself, drinks in hand, we made our way to the Tea Shop.
The Tea Shop is a tea connoisseur’s heaven of the BOH brand. The varieties of tea to choose from, some of which I did not even know existed.
Whats even more surprising, they have been around more than for a few years. But then again, that’s me.
Going through the process of what tea to buy can be a tedious affair, as I found out to my amazement. My better half however is more of a tea drinker than I am, and so the choices of tea to buy was left to her. Good decision that, I thought.
Having bought and paid for our selection of tea, we then made a beeline for the tea processing factory. The highlight of the visit, for me at least.
The tea processing facility was opened in 1935 and was reopened in 1972. Why and when it was closed, we could not find any answers to that. For now, that is.
Apparently, the whole process of making tea is made up of harvesting (or plucking), withering, rolling, fermentation, drying, sorting, tasting, and packing. Quite simple and logical really, come to think of it.
But to witness the processes being played out is quite a thrill, nerd that I am. It was wondrous to note that some of the machines, like that used in the rolling process, dated back to 1935. And what makes it even more wondrous is that those machines are still in use in 2017. A rarity that.
I also noted that the employees manning the tea processing facility tend to be quite matured. Long term employees, most likely. And with their wealth of experience, it does make sense.
Having been in and out of the processing facility, we wandered around the grounds of the Visitor’s Centre, snapping moments in time, not knowing when we’ll be back this way again.
It was not long after that we took leave of the Sg Palas BOH tea plantation, to make our way back to our accommodation at Tanah Rata.
The journey out was as eventful as the journey in, negotiating bends and incoming traffic at the same time.
But as the journey in, patience (lots of it) and a give-and-take attitude, will soon get you back, all in one piece.
It was as good that, the visit to Sg Palas, as the visit to Cameron Valley was. For different reasons, it must be stressed though.
However, the sight of vast ranges of tea shrubs, ready for plucking, does bring back reality to mind and that being the shrubs represents one of the biggest money earners for the local and national economy, with its products marketed not only locally but also in international markets.
And for BOH, it’s all down to that one man, J A Russel, who in 1929, established the BOH tea plantations despite the onset of the Great Depression. Fancy that.
But whatever and however one looks at it, one thing is for sure. Drinking tea, for me at least, will be never be the same again.
Lata Iskandar is not really a town. To describe it as such would not do justice to the word.
A settlement perhaps? Maybe, if you could call a few shops selling drinks, snacks and souvenirs either side of the narrow road that.
But nevertheless, whatever you may call it, from the moment I first laid my eyes on the cascading waterfalls of Lata Iskandar, I was captivated.
Something about the image in front of my eyes, the sight of water cascading down a face of solid rock, tug at the heartstrings, making you slowly melt, just like the cascading waters slowly smoothening the rough edges of the rocks.
The X factor, some might say.
The feel of cold water stinging the tip of your toes when you dip your feet in the pool brings you back to reality fast, but not so much as a splash or splashes of cold mountain water to your face. To say its ice-cold would not be far off. Bbbrrrrrrrrr!!!
After a few splashes, you feel the pores of your face closing up and your skin tightens up with the crevices on your face all but disappear, making you feel young and new again.
The air is fresh and crisp especially when you get closer and closer to the cascading waters of Lata Iskandar. A lungful of clean and fresh air feels odd at first, so long having had not-so-clean air in them lungs.
But after a few deep breaths, it feels good. Really good.
It’s not so often that you come across images that captivates and triggers your imagination, so much so that you just have to reach for either your camera or your mobile phone and snap away.
In the process, you pretend that you are one of them world-famous photographers, in a quest to capture that one moment frozen in time when all that’s in play just happen to be at the right place at the right time. Magic that!
And when faced with that one moment, frozen in time and all laid in front of you, just for you to snap away, you do feel as if you are as good as them professional photographers.
It warms your heart to see the results of your efforts and though you know deep in your heart that you can never compete with them pros, the images that you captured are good enough. For the moment, that is.
After all, every picture tells its own story, and YOUR picture tells the world YOUR story.
I do not know when I will pass this way again. Maybe never.
But for one thing for sure, the memories of Lata Iskandar and its cascading waterfalls will always be there.