Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Wani Wedded, Bibah Betrothed

A week ago, the family got together in Seberang Perai to celebrate a wedding and a betrothal. My niece Wani was wedded to her beau on the evening of 22 November 2013 at her father's/my brother's house. The next day saw the Majlis Perkahwinan (wedding kenduri/reception) being held in a Dewan in Seberang Jaya. To Wani & Hafiz, our "Felicitations and all the very best for a new life together"!

The newly weds with the bride's family (CNB 2013)

The newly weds with the groom's family (CNB 2013)

The happy couple & extended family at the reception

Wani & hubby pose with B & me 

Wani's sister Bibah's engagement ceremony was held on the morning of 24th November 2013, also at their home. Looks like we have another Majlis Perkahwinan coming up in the new year 2014.

Niece Ina (SR)  & Bibah (CNB 2013)

Pretty pink gifts for the betrothed (CNB 2013)

Moi & Bibah (Bibah's friend 2013)
22-24 November 2013

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Kool Krabi

On our approach to Krabi (CNB 2013)

The next 'port of call' on our Andaman Sea cruise was Krabi, landing at Klong Heang or Ao Pra Nang jetty by boat in the morning around 10.00 am. Krabi Province has scenic karst formations near the coast and in the middle of Mae Nam Krabi (Krabi River). Part of the Thai mainland, the province also incorporates more than 150 islands including Ko Phi-Phi Leh, made famous by the Hollywood movie, The Beach.

Boats for island hopping at Ao Pra Nang jetty area (CNB 2013) 

Again we toured some parts of Krabi Province on a colourful local bus. Our first stop was in the capital, Krabi town, which sits on the banks of the Krabi River. As tourists, a photo stop at the Khao Khanap Nam was quite compulsory. The town's most prominent landmark and symbolic of Krabi are the two limestone 'pillars' rising over 100 metres from the water and contain caves complete with stalactites and stalagmites.

Our colourful local bus (CNB 2013)

The quintessential tourist pic at Khao Khanap Nam (AB 2013)

At midday, lunch was at a local Muslim restaurant, Rabeab's Kitchen at Suksamran Road. Apart from delicious tom yum, I also loved the Thai laksa, complete with refreshing herbs and vegetables. Halal food is not hard to find in Krabi as half the provincial population are Muslims.

Refreshing herbs and veges for Thai laksa (CNB 2013)

Malaysians love shopping, so after lunch it was shopping at the Outlet Village Krabi at Petchkasem Road. We picked up some superhero tees there, compliments of a gift exchange game the previous night on the ship. Then we were supposed to visit the Marine Fish Rehabilitation Centre, but ... this was overruled and the bus headed back to Khao Khanap Nam because a dictatorial someone wanted to do more shopping there. Sheesh! So A and I just crossed the road to this interesting looking coffee shop/cafe/restaurant to have a cuppa while waiting for the others who bought (made in China) stuff to their hearts' content. The Doi Chaang coffee we had at the Koko Nest was really goood. (And no wonder, as I only discovered later, it is wild Thai civet coffee!)

A at the Koko Nest cafe/restaurant (CNB 2013)

After this we headed back to Ao Nang beach (the longest in Krabi) where we could at least walk on the almost white sand for a while. The beach had been popular with Swedish package tourists but now the Russians have 'invaded' the multitude of shops, restaurants and accomodations along the rather well developed strand. Then for us, it was back to the cruise ship around 6.00 pm to get ready for the gala show and dinner on our last night on board.

At Ao Nang beach (CNB 2013)

12 November 2013

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Phuket Island, Pearl of the South

Phuket in the rain (CNB 2013)
While on our Andaman Sea cruise, Ko Phuket or Phuket Island was the (Superstar Libra) ship's first port of call. When we left the ship on a small boat to the island's Patong Beach jetty, it was raining cats and dogs. The Patong Beach area seemed a pretty busy stretch despite the rain, and according to our local guide Samart, most tourists who come here now are Russian (previously it was the Scandinavians). There are no signs of the tsunami disaster which devastated Phuket in 2004. In fact, just two years later Phuket had recovered and the tourists have all come back in droves.

Phuket was originally Bukit (hill) in Malay. This biggest island of Thailand is also a province with income derived from tourism, tin, rubber and cashews. Formerly it was called Ko Thalang and before that Junk Ceylon (English corruption of the Malay 'Tanjung Salang' or Cape Salang). Phuket has a culture all of its own, combining Chinese and Portuguese influences with that of the chao naam or the sea gypsies, an indigenous ocean-going people, and the southern Thais. About 35% of the island's population are Thai Muslims and mosques outnumber Buddhist wat (temples) 38 to 37 (in 2001)*.

Elephant ahoy!
A tour of Phuket island had been arranged for us. By bus we were taken to the Island Safari Adventure Camp where we rode on elephants; always a thrilling experience. We noticed that all the mahouts seem to be Myanmarese and they displayed great control of the elephants (aided by sharp metal hooks which did not look elephant friendly). There were other rides including on bullock carts and 4WDs, but when in Thailand, elephants are the way to go.

Tourists riding in a bullock cart (CNB 2013)

On the south east of the island is Promthep Cape with a panaromic view of the Andaman Sea and the Indian Ocean. This is the southernmost tip of Phuket. There is also an elephant shrine there. While taking photos at the Cape, a very red-haired girl snapped our pictures (on the sly), so in turn I took hers, but with her permission. She may be a chao naam but the language barrier between us provided only uncertainty. Anyway it turned out that she was working at a nearby stall which then processed our pictures and put them in frames. A tourist trap surely, but then parting with your money for a tacky souvenir is really voluntary.

At picturesque Promthep Cape (CNB 2013)

Red-haired girl at Promthep Cape (CNB 2013)

After Promthep Cape we went to where all tour buses seem to stop by - this cashew nut factory of Sri Burapha Orchid. I love cashew nut so it was fine with me. Here you get to see how they extract the nut from the cashew seed and process it. The nuts get flavoured in ...  wasabi, bbq, honey, tom yum of course, etc., etc. There was also cashew juice which proved quite a refreshing taste.

Extracting cashew nuts (CNB 2013)

Just before going back to the ship, we returned to the Patong Beach area again to check out the (in)famous Soi Bangla (Bangla Road), Phuket's 'party zone', closed to traffic when the sun sets. There was also quick shopping done at the Jungceylon shopping complex.

One of several bars on Bangla Road (CNB 2013)

Sidewalk tile of the Patong Beach area (CNB 2013)

We left Phuket to get back to the ship around 8.00 pm. Suffice to say, we only got a glimpse of this island life in the very short time we were there.

*Ref: Thailand. 9th ed. (Lonely Planet, 2001) Ex Libris CNB 1299  ** I know, I know ... it is a decade old!
11 November 2013

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Cruising the Andaman Sea

Sailing away from Pulau Pinang (AP 2013)

Recently I went on my very first cruise on a big ship. The 4D/3N trip would start from Pulau Pinang, sail to Phuket and Krabi in Thailand before coming back to PP. The cruise started on a Sunday with a 'check-in' at the PP International Cruise Terminal, so passports must not be forgotten. Boarding started in the afternoon and there was a mandatory safety drill for all.

The mandatory safety drill (CNB 2013)

The ship set sail at 5.00 pm and a 'sail away' party started at the poolside on deck 9, followed by a BBQ dinner party. In the later part of the evening, it was showtime at the Stardust Lounge. But for A and me, it was time to hit the sack, because the very early morning bus trip from KL up to PP and the various activities that followed led to tired bodies. Ahh ... it was quite blissful to be sleeping in a comfy cabin bed in a floating hotel!

Welcome to the cabins on deck 6 (CNB 2013)

The next morning after a sumptuous breakfast, it was "Fun with Pak Nil" at the poolside. Popular presenter Datuk Aznil Hj Nawawi or Pak Nil, played host to about 300 of his fans who'd followed him on the cruise.

At midday, the ship arrived in Phuket, Thailand and we enjoyed a shore excursion of about 7 hours before re-embarking for dinner on board (I will write a post on Phuket in more detail). Later we would celebrate Pak Nil's birthday in a pyjama theme party. Certainly he's a very youthful 51 year old. Here's wishing a very happy birthday, Aznil and many more to come.

With Aznil, host extraordinaire (AB 2013)

Tuesday morning was the start of another shore excursion in Krabi (I will do a post on this later too). We re-embark in the late afternoon and in the evening there was the Gala dinner with the ship's Captain in attendance, at the Four Seasons and Ocean Palace Restaurants. The dinner was preceded by a Gala show - Rasputin, by a Russian troupe. Quite a fantastic performance by very tall dancers, acrobats and contortionists. A farewell party too followed as the next day will see the ship arrive back in PP around midday. I noticed that many of the passengers came with families in tow, some three generations strong. There were also many tourists from India and maybe China/Taiwan.

The first of many poolside parties on deck 9 (CNB 2013)

A pose at one of the numerous parties on board (AB 2013)

The Star Cruise's Superstar Libra is quite a big (10 deck) ship with a capacity for nearly 1,500 passengers and 740 cabins. With the super typhoon Haiyan hitting the Philippines* earlier, I thought the seas would be rough in the Andaman. But it was really smooth sailing. We were on the sixth deck and slept like logs on all three nights on the ship. On board it was mostly fun with lots of activities that may be enjoyed - there are live shows and bands, KTV, disco, movies, spa, sports activities including swimming, gymnasium, basketball, golf, etc. (plus gambling - is it a sport?) and duty-free shops. There are many (8) food and beverage outlets to cater for all gastronomic needs, including the halal-certified Spices Restaurant. Heck, it is a mini-city afloat. All in all, it was a thoroughly fun trip.

*Our heartfelt condolence to the victims of this disaster. May recovery be fast with the aid of the international community, including generous Malaysians.

10-13 November 2013

Sunday, 17 November 2013

SA Garden Catalogue: Heliconia 'Golden Torch'

Heliconia 'Golden Torch' (CNB 2013)

There are more than 35 species of Heliconias or Hummingbird flowers, much hybridized and often difficult to distinguish from each other. I have two of the common varieties grown in tropical Asia and the above Heliconia 'Golden Torch' is one of them.

This hybrid of two Heliconias (H. psittacorum and H. spathocircinata) does not look like either parent which sport pink, red, orange and yellow inflorescences. The yellow inflorescences of this 'Golden Torch' are erect, with bracts facing upwards. This plant grows well in partial or full sun. Propagation is by division of the rhizomes. The rhizomes do spread out vigorously, so once you have any Heliconia growing in your garden, they will never leave! In fact, I never purposely grew the two varieties I have, but they 'followed' us from Pulau Pinang ('hiding' in containers of other plants) when we moved here five years ago. But I guess they are here to stay, because after all, the inflorescences are bright and beautiful.

Weather wise, this month of November is mostly rainy and wet. For me, it seems the best time to prune away any overgrown plants or trees. Its like winter is creeping up on us in the garden, heh heh!

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Melaka's Harmony Street

A mosque, a Chinese temple and an Indian temple just a few doors away from each other make Melaka's Jalan Tokong (Temple Street) truly a harmony street. All three buildings exhibit interesting facades and facets. During our previous visit in 2009, we rode in one of the colourful beca (trishaws) along this street and the trishaw-man kindly made stops for us to visit these houses of worship. But this time we walked around and were content with taking pictures from the outside.

Kampung Keling Mosque (1748) is in Sumatran-style with a three-tiered roof. The pagoda-like minaret is rather unusual, while in the prayer hall are Corinthian columns.

Cheng Hoon Teng temple (1645) is the oldest functioning Chinese temple in the country.

The Sri Poyyatha Indian Temple (1781) enshrines Vinayagar, the deity with an elephant head and the body of a man with four hands.

Apart from the houses of worship, Jalan Tokong also has other interesting buildings. The shophouses have pretty facades, and some exhibit unusual trades. One shop still makes little bound feet shoes following the original pattern. Did I mention shoes? Yes, and of course someone has to buy these shoes, even if they are only three inches big small. B did!

We also spotted this little wooden house offered for homestay, just opposite the Cheng Hoon Teng temple. Nice, but would you stay here? Surrounded by so much ... history.

Just off Jalan Tokong, near the end of Jalan Hang Kasturi, is the 15th century Achinese style Makam Hang Jebat (Hang Jebat Mausoleum). To many, Hang Jebat was the champion of justice who died tragically at the hands of his sworn brother, Hang Tuah in a duel of honour. RIP, our hero.

Hang Jebat Mausoleum (CNB 2013)

Melaka 2-5 November 2013

Friday, 15 November 2013

Jalan Hang Jebat aka Jonker Walk

Jalan Hang Jebat and an old bike (CNB 2013)

Jalan Hang Jebat aka Jonker Walk (previously Jonker Street) is in the heart of Melaka's China town. Its fame lies in the many antique and curio shops on both sides of the street. By day it is a lively enough place, but come Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings, the street turns into a huge and even more lively 'pasar malam' or night market. Here you jostle along with other tourists, both local and foreign, looking for antiques or knick knacks to waste spend your money on.

One of the many antique shops in Jonker Street (CNB 2013)

Another antique shop (CNB 2013)

At this juncture of my pretty ordinary life, I am no longer collecting anything material (I hope), least of all antiques! So its more about looking for 'eats'.

Cincaluk (CNB 2013)
Just as well, Jalan Hang Jebat is also a 'food street'. You find many little cafes and restaurants, including some famous ones like the Geographer Cafe, Famosa chicken rice ball restaurant (the halal outlet is in Tesco Hypermart, Peringgit), Jonker 88 (which I dub 'Mao's Cafe', not for their well-known dessert of  'mao lagi' durian cendol, but for the many interesting pictures of Mao Tse Tung adorning a wall), etc.

We bought a bottle of cincaluk (Melaka's most iconic food appetiser made from udang geragau or krill) from a shop here. The very friendly shop-lady Teh, originally from Negri Sembilan is married to a local Baba. (Does this make her a Nyonya?) Anyway she speaks in good Malay, as all Baba Nyonyas do.

'Mao's Cafe' at 88 Jonker Street (CNB 2013)

The 75 year old Royal Press where letterpress printing still
thrives (CNB 2013)

Jonker Walk in the evening (CNB 2013)

We observed that Jalan Hang Jebat now has some 'quirky' landmarks like a Mamee Museum (complete with its Blue Monster) and a Taman Warisan Dunia (with the statue of our very own Mr. Melaka/Malaysia/Asia/ World). Though definitely not in this quirky category, a revisit to the mausoleum of Hang Kasturi seems a must for us. (Maybe what is quirky here is the fact that the English translation of the signage for this mausoleum is atrocious. The Thomb's (sic) of Hang Kasturi? The rest of it will make you cringe even more ... another case of bad machine translation?)

At Makam Hang Kasturi (CNB 2013)

Just off Jalan Hang Jebat/Jonker Street are some interesting shops on Jalan Hang Kasturi. Among them, about the only Malay eatery to be found, 'Aku dan Dia'. Here they serve the best kway teow goreng and other dishes. You can finish your meal with home-made buah melaka or ondeh-ondeh, made before your very eyes.

Simply delicious, melt in your mouth buah melaka (CNB 2013)

Another interesting shop in Jalan Hang Kasturi is the 'Red Handicrafts'. Its beautiful shop front never fails to prompt us to pose for pictures there when we pass by.

Red Handicrafts, off Jonker Street (CNB 2013)

Melaka 2-5 November 2013

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Melaka River Cruise

The 45 minute Melaka River cruise is worth every ringgit spent. The river cuts across Melaka city on its way to the Straits of Melaka. All along the river, the sights are most interesting. Especially the murals (graffiti?) on the buildings, and the bridges we passed under. Also the old church of St Francis Xavier (1849), warehouses, villages and gardens on its banks. From the jetty opposite the Casa del Rio, the boat goes up to Kampung Morten and back. Remember the movie 'Entrapment', when the buildings were grotty? Well, the river has been widened, and though the water is still muddy but no longer murky, the buildings and embankments are clean with pretty potted plants as decor. You get to enjoy some of these sights below as you cruise the Melaka River.

A replica of the Melaka Sultanate water wheel (CNB 2013)

The riverside buildings

Another boatload of tourists cruise by (CNB 2013)

Hang Jebat, I think, adorns this building (CNB 2013)

Some more colourful backs of buildings (CNB 2013)

There are eight bridges over the Melaka River that we pass under during the cruise, each one quite different from the others.

One of the foot bridges across the Melaka River (CNB 2013)

The Chan Koon Cheng bridge with the St Francis Xavier
Church in the background (CNB 2013)

Kampung Morten, where the boat will later make a turnaround, is a very old Malay village. Although it would be nice to explore this kampung on foot, we have to reserve it for another time perhaps.

Approaching Kg Morten (CNB 2013)

Later in the evening, we returned to one of the riverine cafe restaurants to sample some of Melaka's cuisine.

Dining along the river (CNB 2013)
Melaka 2-5 November 2013