Sunday, October 07, 2012

Redang scuba diving

Malaysia Day Redang scuba diving
15 - 16/9/12

I've been wanting to scuba dive for quite some time but was put off until recently when PEERS organized a Malaysia Day dive at Redang in collaboration with Seamonkey Dive Centre and Majlis Daerah Sepang (don't ask me why Sepang) to be registered in the Malaysia Book of Records as the biggest underwater Malaysia flag bearing. Well actually MDS was the main organizer, while PEERS just chipped in.

To participate, I'd need to be certified as an Open Water diver, and there was limited time so all had to be done in express. Theory classes were completed in 2 consecutive day, 4 hours each after office. I was starving by the end of class.  Next I completed 3 pool sessions on the only remaining weekend (Saturday) before the event and had to continue the remaining 2 sessions plus the theory exam on Tuesday after work travelling to Taman Jaya as I wasn't free that Sunday. Whoa that was really tiring, but it had to be done, else I would put getting certificied on hold again.

So on Friday night 14 Sept the group comprising of 17 of us departed from office via a chartered bus to Merang. We arrived quite early at about 5.30am at Merang jetty. We had breakfast and chilled a bit while waiting for the boat to Redang at 9am. A bit of drama ensued when the boat we were in stalled just 10 mins after departing. So we had to wait for another boat to pass by. Half of the group boarded the first boat to pass by, the remaining half waited for the next boat. However, all of our luggages were loaded onto the first boat.

First boat (which I was in)  then stopped at the marine park after about an hour ride which was not our stop (ours was the Amangappa Resort) but 2 of our group members disembarked here without realizing. Luckily I asked the boatmaster and was told it was not our stop. Since our group members didn't know each other yet, I only saw 1 member of our group (a mat salleh - that's why I recognize him) got off here. Another member (local guy - I completely missed him) was totally oblivious and had already made his way to the marine park. Another confusion here was that we were not sure to whom the luggages belonged to as not all the group members were on this boat.

We finally reached our destination at the Mutiara Redang / Amangappa Resort jetty at almost 11am. The drama was not over yet. Our group was supposed to stay at Amangappa, but due to some misunderstanding of the resort, the girls were told to stay at Mutiara Redang instead for 1 night and could shift to Amangappa the second night. It would have been better if the guys were put up at the other resort instead of the girls as a safety measure. But nonetheless, the girls made their points known and the organizers acknowledged their mistake and refunded us for the first night as Mutiara Redang has a cheaper rate. So all was well...

Oh yes, the guy who alighted at the marine park was sent to Amangapa jetty by sampan. Poor him :-p

Our first dive for the trip was at 2.30pm after lunch. The open water students (3 of us) still had to complete 4 open sea sessions before we could make our leisure dives. For the 4 open sea dives, we had to follow our instructor - Arnold and repeat the skills that we learned in the pool. 2 dives were completed on the first day, and another 2 on the second day.

It was quite an experience doing the sea dive for the first time - nervous and excited at the same time. Swallowed some sea water (bleurgh) on my first attempt. By the end of the 4th session, we were certified open water divers hurray! I still had to practise on my bouyancy as I kept floating up to the surface unintentionally. But at least this was better than sinking unintentionally! Also I need to always de-fog my goggles before jumping in the water as it tended to get foggy easily. Foggy view is not enjoyable! Ah another thing during the pre-certification dives, I was maybe too focused on the equipments on me that I missed the huge stingray! How could anybody miss this!  I guess I was a bit too stiff and needed to relax more lol! Luckily I didn't miss the clown fish (nemo) and saw some rainbow and blue coloured fishes. My dive buddy Dan mentioned seeing puffer (box like) fishes, but somehow I failed to recognize which one lol! I guess I need to bring the fish ID card with me - Arnold had one but he didn't bring it down at the time.

Here's a summary of our 5 diving spots at Redang:
1. Redang Kalong house reef (9.4m)
2. Stingray reef (12m)
3. Seamonkey House Reef (6.6m) - here was the flag bearing spot
4. Terumbu (coral) Che Isa (18m)
5. Terumbu Kili (17.6 m) - this was my 1st leisure dive after being certified hurray! We did a Project Aware Clean Up dive here. Me and buddy Dan collected only 1 bottle. The spot was clean actually. So it was more a leisure than clean up dive ;)

Overall I really enjoyed my first Scuba diving trip and made new friends / diving kakis for future excursions, including a sporting GM (En Zul) and an avid underwater photographer with high tech gadgetry (Amar). Respect! And the 3 ladies (Adibah, Hazel & Dan) Of course there are skills that I still need to improve. Where to next trip? ;)

Enjoy the pix, courtesy of pro diver/photographer Amar

malaysia flag bearing with PEERS

more ikan
Mr Stingray (Cue: Are U Jimmy Ray? haha)


Saturday, October 06, 2012

Lovely Taiping

Short breakaway: Taiping
31/8 - 2/9/12

Went for a short breakaway trip to Taiping during the Merdeka Day break. There's so much to do in Taiping, really!

Fri, 31/8
Before proceeding to Taiping, we stopped by Kalumpang, near Kuala Kubu Bahru via PLUS' Tanjung Malim exit. My mom read about Refreshing Resort Kalumpang in the papers, so she has asked me to check the place out. Well, our family likes to do gatherings, so she was searching for a nice spot for us. Our last family day was in April 2011 at Janda Baik. We had another mini day trip gathering at Janda Baik again, around late last year.

Anyway, back to Kalumpang. The entrance is via a gravel, un-tarred 5km road. So it's advisable to drive a 4WD instead if you're interested to go there. The resort is private premise. When we arrived, we were not allowed entry as we need to make a booking first. Luckily there was a signboard there with the name and no. of the contact person. So we called up the person in charge and was told that it was a private area, therefore prior bookings need to be made before we could enter. However, I tried to reason with the person in charge (PIC) if we could just take a look around the resort since we have came all the way from KL. And when I mentioned I read about the place from The Star's ad, the PIC lighted up and became interested, asking me how I came to know about the  resort. He agreed to let us tour the resort with the resort's lorry.

The resort area is big. It has a paintball game area, streams, rock climbing and fruit orchards. On the way to the resort, there is a fishing pond, probably a disused mining pool. We couldn't check out the accommodations though since they were expecting a group checking in that day.

wall climbing

nearby pond

fruit orchard

the gravel road to refreshing resort

refreshing resort

We headed for Taiping next. But we had a pit stop at Kuala Kangsar for lunch of Laksa at Medan Laksa Kuala Kangsar. We had to enter Kuala Kangsar and follow the direction to the Istana Kuala Kangsar. The eatery is just beside the Perak river, such nice view! The laksa is so-so only, but it's cheap. So no complaints there. Of course we washed it down with cendol. Slurp...

Sg Perak

We finally arrived Taiping at about 1pm. We took the trunk road from Kuala Kangsar as the distance would just be about the same if we took the highway. Plus there was no heavy traffic here.

At Taiping we stayed at a relatively new hotel - Flemington hotel near the Taiping Lake Gardens. It is reasonably priced at RM138 per room per night including tax and it comes with breakfast. It is so near to the Lake Gardens you could just walk there. Nice for jogging to in the morning or evenings.  The century old raintrees provides shade and they really make a nice view! It's a good location for photo shoots too as we saw a few newlywed couples taking their photos there. Ah we saw people paddling swan  boats at the lake so we had to try that one too! It was quite an effort to paddle the boat though, it would have been easier to just kayak lol!
Flemington's swimming pool

View from Flemington's pool deck at dusk

View from Flemington's pool deck  morning

century old raintrees

Taman Tasik Taiping

Taman Tasik Taiping

After some 'exercising', we went searching for Doli's Kuey Teow goreng restaurant, but unfortunately, it is closed on Fridays, and it happened to be that day today. Oh well, we turned back towards the Lake Garden where we saw some stalls selling kuey teow goreng and parked ourselves there. If I'm not mistaken it was gerai Cik Pah. No that bad ;) My partner in crime's nasi goreng was so-so only, so better stick to what Taipingites do best - kuey teow goreng. After the early dinner we had back to our room to refresh, before checking out the Taiping Night Safari.

Way to Zoo / Night Safari

The Taiping Zoo and Night Safari is located at the vicinity of the Lake Garden. We wanted to check out the night safari as we've never been to one. Unfortunately, it was poorly lit - but this was understandable to me - as to not irritate the animals. But because of this, we couldn't really see the animals. The animals that we saw weren't really active as well - perhaps it was still early at 9pm. In my opinion, just stick with going to the zoo at daytime. After the safari, we called it a day - but not before getting some roadside burgers for supper. The burger stall is next to Kak Leha's stall but it opens later to cater for the night owls.

Sat 1/9
Rise and shine! After breakfast, we headed to Kuala Sepetang to see the mangrove park, and charcoal factory. I've read about the factory as it was frequently featured in travel or photography blogs / articles, so I just had to check it out.

We decided to go to the Mangrove Park first. From Taiping city (which is not really that big), Kuala Sepetang is about 20km away. There is accommodation available here at the park. However, the bathroom is common, so probably it's more suitable for students or budget travellers. Bird watchers / photographers would love it here as the park is a stop for migratory birds coming from colder climate regions. We also took an hour boat ride costing RM 60 for 2 persons around the river bank and the fisherman's village.
Mangrove Park walkway

Hostel at Mangrove Park

Mangrove tree

Migratory birds

Mangrove tree bark

our boat

the river

fisherman's boat

river mouth

fisherman's village

river bank

After that it was makan time! So the nearest target is Mee Udang Mak Jah. We tried the mee udang of course. The portion is generous and the prawns are huge, and juicy. Unfortunately for me though, I don't like prawns, so I just ate it without much salivating. But I'm sure it's nice - according to partner in crime it is ;)

Next stop is just next door - Mr Chuah's charcoal factory. We had the honour to meet the man himself. Again, this is a very famous site - for shutterbugs. The rusty and traditional factory with the charred woods of the mangrove trees makes an interesting backdrop for a scenic image. At a right time, the sunlight penetrating through the window/ holes of the roof could make out an artful image. . This was explained by Mr Chuah of the photographers who came to visit. Hoardes of them came by the busloads. Mr Chuah really is a famous man now. He even made it as an extra in a Chinese drama serial lol! I forgot the name of the series - he was paid RM50 for his role ;)

Anyway, on to the factory itself - Mr Chuah's family has been doing the business of producing charcoals from mangrove trees since the 1930s. Mr Chuah made it a point that people tend to think that the mangrove tree logs are burnt to produce the charcoal. They are dried up instead, the logs are stripped of their water contents by drying them up by heating. The logs are left standing inside igloo like furnaces or 'ovens' to be dried up. The igloos are made of bricks. The furnaces need to be heated up at a right temperature and there a few processes involved. After 'drying up', the 'baking' continues for a few more days, then there is the cooling period. While all this is happening, the igloos need to be shut close. The igloo is opened only after the process is complete. Now you get the black charcoals which are ready for export and also for domestic use. To read about the complete process, go here.

the mangrove logs sent via river

the mangrove logs

closed igloo - during heating

closed igloo - during cooling

inside igloo -charcoals ready to be collected

We went back to the hotel for a short rest before heading back out to check on Maxwell Hill. The entrance to the hill is also near the Lake Garden and Zoo, ample signages are around, so just follow them. We found out that we could not drive up to Maxwell Hill or locally known as Bukit Larut, the place with the highest amount of rainfall in Malaysia. We would have to take the 4WD services via Land Rovers provided at the base of the hill which cost RM6 for a return trip. Not bad. However, by then the tickets are sold out. So you'd better come early to get up. It was about 4pm when we reached there. So we just had some drinks at the base, then proceeded to the Burmese pool nearby which is a waterfall of Sungai Tugoh. It's a good picnic spot for families and for those who want to take a dip in the cool water.
Base of Bukit Larut. You can hike up!

Burmese pool

Still early, we decided to check out Sentosa Villa which is situated in a housing area of Taman Sentosa. Who would have guessed there's a resort among the residential houses? The backdrop of Bukit Larut and the streams running provides a haven to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. The resort is perfect for a smaller scale family gathering (unlike Kalumpang which could cater to a big group such as for teambuilding events). The houses are built kampung style on stilts and ducks and geese are left free to roam around and swim, just like in a village setting. There is also a jogging trek for those who'd like to keep fit while on holiday. Gosh, I sound like I'm getting a piece for selling this place lol. Anyway, do check the place out here. There was also a newly wed couple taking pictures here. The rates are not that expensive either.

Sentosa Villa

cute ducks

pond at sentosa

Sentosa's kampung accomodation

After the short excursion, we went for an early dinner at Doli's as I've read that there would be huge crowd there. When we arrived at 6pm, the restaurant is almost full already and we only had our Kuey Teow goreng special about 45 minutes later. So better be there early! The kuey teow is no that bad. I've tried their branch in TTDI, but it's not as tasty as its originator. After dinner we went back to the hotel and hit the shacks.

Sun 2/9
Checking out today and heading to Lenggong to search for the Perak Man. We took the highway this time to Kuala Kangsar, then it was about another 30km away. The Lenggong archaealogical findings was recently declared as Unesco heritage site so that was what took me there - I'm a sucker for Unesco's heritage site list ;)

We went to the archaealogical museum first to read a bit about our ancestors and took a picture of the Perak Man's IC lol! Disappointingly though, apart from the museum - which was so-so and it seems that we were the only visitor at that time - there was nothing done to promote the area. There were no proper signages to direct us to the archaealogical sites. Probably they are only accesible via foot or 4WD, but perhaps a booth with a guide at the museum who could explain about visiting the sites would have been more helpful. I was really interested to see the actual site, but without a guide it was not feasible. We tried to follow the signages and came to a kampung, but the signage just stopped there without any explanation/details.
Perak Man - how he was found in Gua Gunung Runtuh

Perak Man's tools

Perak Man's IC

Early writings

So our so called adventure had to stop there and we headed back to KL as it was already approaching 1pm and we didn't want to be caught in the traffic jam of people coming back from the short Merdeka holiday. We enjoyed ourselves in Taiping - so much to do and see there! Perhaps we could come back and visit again :)