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Penang 2013 Day 1 – Long Time No See

Published by on April 20, 2014

While doing my recently concluded Lombok travelogue, i realized that I did not do a write up on my Penang trip back in December. Well, here goes, before I forget all the small little details.

It all began when I was planning a surprise Christmas holiday for the missus. At first i was thinking somewhere nearby, possibly Serendah or Janda Baik. But the hotel situation didn’t favour me, due to the super peak season during Christmas. I was discussing this with my colleague, and she said why not go Penang? Penang! Yes, why not? I got the hotel recommendations from Boone, and managed to get a cheap rate at short notice. And I was set.

Here’s a little bit about me and Penang. While it is obviously Peninsular Malaysia’s top tourist destination, i have only been there, well let’s see, 4 times?

My parent took me there when i was 5 years old. My only recollection of that trip were from a photo they took of me and my siblings standing in front of the old funicular train going up Penang Hill. My mom always reminded me that i was sick on that trip.

The second time i went was in the mid 90′s, with Boone and Peter for a treasure hunt. We spent most of the time in the hotel and one dinner in Gurney Drive, didn’t get to see Penang at all.

The third time was a short trip a few years later when Alyssa was small, but with her being a toddler we didn’t go out much either. But i remember going up Penang Hill and staying at The Gurney. And the last time was with the cell group back in 2007. But being in a huge group meant we didn’t go around much either.

So basically, I have never done the full touristy stuff, so this trip was the best opportunity to do it all.

On Christmas morning, i surprised the wife with the news. And the bigger surprise was… We are going TOMORROW!

Anyway compared to our other trips, this was a cinch to prepare for, with not much packing. We set off early on Boxing Day, stopping in the post office in Batu Gajah to renew WY’s driver’s licence. We set off before office opening hours, and this particular office was en route and rural enough to be deserted. Second stop was in the famous Foh San for authentic dim sum, it was packed with tourists as expected.

No more pitstops, and we reached the ferry terminal. Taking the bridge would have been faster, but this was more for nostalgia. Even with relatively few cars, it was a long wait.

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And then we are on the island! First impression was that traffic was good! My previous trips here left me with the memory of jams and reckless motorbikes.

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This trip, we had Waze so navigating the city was so easy especially with the newly implemented one way traffic. We headed straight for Royal Hotel.

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The place was alright, a little run down, shaky wifi but the location was perfect.

View from our room.

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Nice mansion turned into KFC. Stop the madness.

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After my first lunch of char kuey teow in Georgetown, we decided to walk to E&O Hotel, taking pictures along the way.

The Han Jiang Ancestral Temple was really impressive, I was glad to see it renovated into world class tourist level, with the signs and displays.

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More sights as we walked on.

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Next was Khoo Kongsi, but it was closed when we got there.

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The camera museum looked interesting but there was a steep entrance fee.

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Now THIS is my kind of shop.

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The interesting looking Jap restaurant opposite the Khoo kongsi.

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We dropped by this place to look around plus iced coffee. Bit of a tourist trap, really.

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Made it to E & O Hotel on the seafront. I’ve read about the rich Armenian history, the food at Sarkies and high tea, but we were here just for photos. I suppose back in the colonial times this was grand, but now it looks small compared to modern hotels and pushed to the edge by development. But it is a beautiful hotel, nonetheless.

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We walked all the way back to the hotel for a swim. The pool is Royal Hotel is quite small. They should really refurbish this place.

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We didn’t plan for anything for dinner, so I googled some food blogs for recommendations. One of them mentioned this place for tai chow in Pulau Tikus, so we drove all the way. Unfortunately, it was closed, so on the recommendation of some locals, we drove up near the flats to find a coffeeshop. We found one to have some char kuey teow, but it was kinda disappointing. The old cook thought a good idea to have sotong in his char kuey teow.

Not satisfied, we drove back to Gurney Drive for supper. I know people say its commercialized and all, but at least I knew we’d find good food here.

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We were not disappointed.

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Next – Georgetown Heritage Trail.

Lombok 2014 Day 6 – Goodbye

Published by on April 17, 2014

(This is part of an ongoing travelogue. To start from the beginning, click here)

The last day in Lombok started early with breakfast, then a shower before packing up and getting on our taxi to the airport. Senggigi is a long way to the airport, so it was advisable to start off early even though it was a Sunday.

Driving through the island, it was interesting to see weekend life of normal folks on the island. In one small village, we saw folks wearing their Sunday best gathering to repair a the roofing on a house beside the main road. In Mataram, we saw some lots of people gather as they watch workers repair a portion of the road.

Everywhere, we saw women on cidomos (horse drawn cart taxis) with their weekly marketing shopping, some of them with little kids staring into passing cars.

This was the Sunday before Qing Ming (All Souls Day), we saw the Chinese graveyard was milling with very tanned-skinned Chinese families clearing the graves. Its always a source a comfort for me to see our valued Chinese traditions as one of the oldest civilizations on earth still practiced in different countries.

Our slow drive through the island ended in the airport.

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Looking back, it was as usual, a very enjoyable holiday for the family. We didn’t buy much stuff back this time, save for some Lombok coffee and souvenirs for friends.

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So in retrospect, would i recommend Lombok to my world-travelling friends. In a heartbeat. But there are some caveats. Tourism isn’t really there yet on the island. This isn’t a starter destination, meaning if your family isn’t used to traveling a lot, you might find it quite inconvenient. It takes some experience and legwork to find the right transport, or place to eat, etc. If you’re a beginner traveler, get your feet wet with easier destinations like Bali or Bangkok. Here, there aren’t many tourists, there are hardly any Western restaurants on Lombok except on the strip in Senggigi. Don’t expect shoulder to shoulder restaurants offering burgers here. In fact in Mataram, you have survive on local spicy food. So parents with kids should take precaution. Most local folk don’t speak English except at the hotel. And if your not familiar with Bahasa Indonesia, it might take you some practice to catch their accent.

Gili Trawangan is far more commercialized, although in a limited way, and nothing like anywhere in Bali. There are lots of restaurants, and you can find help in English easily.

But don’t take it wrongly, even if you’re a newbie to traveling, with some proper planning and research you’ll do just fine. There are a lot of stuff to see and do here.

If you are physically inclined, climb Mount Rinjani to see the surrounding islands of Sumbawa, Flores and Bali from above the clouds (we didn’t go for it as you need to spend overnight on the mountain).

Go for the waterfalls.

See the mysterious pink beach. (Didn’t get to see this, it was a day trip)

See the Sasak village.

Swim with turtles just off the beach.

Eat ayam taliwang and cap cai.

Soak up the sun on one the most beautiful beaches in Indonesia.

Until next time, Lombok.

Lombok 2014 Day 5 – Waterfalls

Published by on April 13, 2014

(This is part of an ongoing travelogue. To start from the beginning, click here)

This marks the final full day in Lombok. Nothing beats a morning swim just before breakfast.

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This is an awesome view, an altar facing Gunung Agung in Bali. At night they light up the fire like a sacrifice.

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Lady going for a morning walk on the beach along our hotel.

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Breakfast was something i looked forward to. They had a la carte brekkie, all with servings of fruit, juice and coffee or tea.

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Today we planned to go to one of the waterfalls on the island. There two places to see spectacular waterfalls, all emanating from the mystical Gunung Rinjani in the centre of Lombok. The most impressive series of falls, Senaru or Tiu Kelip, are at the north of the mountain. Unfortunately its a long drive through back roads to get there. Plus after the first waterfall, its hard and steep trekking to get to the next ones. So we decided to take our guide’s tip to visit the slight more accessible Benang Setokal and Kelambu falls to the south of Rinjani.

Although easier to traverse, they is by no means within easy reach. Ot takes almost 2 hours driving from Senggigi. Our plan was to take a slow drive while taking time to visit some interesting sights along the way.

First up, a furniture factory outside Mataram. En route we paased the market again. You see the chaos outside.

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Lombok is famous for cultivated pearls, folks come from all over Indonesia to buy them. A side industry has blossomed from this – they embed the shell of the oyster in furniture to make this distinct feature common on the island.

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Basically after embedding, they scrape off the wood layer to reveal the luminous oyster shell.

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From Mataram we drove past Narmada, the old capital of Lombok. Here the morning pasar had lots of stalls selling all kinds of machetes and carving knives.

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Theres a palace ground in Narmada but gave that a miss.

Beyond Narmada its just small villages interspersed by paddy fields and coconut trees.

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Deep into the heartland we finally reach the waterfalls. Here they have a series of 5 falls, each set is deeper in, higher up, and harder to trek. Not to mention more expensive the fees. I took the package for the first two falls only for IDR 120,000 per adult (can’t remember exactly) , kids enter for free.

The first is Benang Stokal, an easy 5 minute walk in from the parking.

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On the way we saw this strange tree with fruits on the trunk.

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There are two falls here both gushing ice cold water into shallow pools, you can wade under it.

Some schoolkids enjoying a day out.

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The second fall, Benang Kelambu, is 30-45 minute hike from here. But we were not wearing proper shoes and it would have been tough on Hannah, so we opted for the alternative – motorbike! They use another easier but far longer route, but only 5 mins on wheels.

First time riding pillion. That’s our driver doing motorbike duty also.

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and the local guide. He used to work in Cameron Highlands.

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After the bike ride there are some pretty steep and slippery steps.

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But once there, you can see its all worth it.

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we didn’t go on to the deeper falls, I wonder how beautiful they are.

we got back to civilization at about 2pm, lunch was babi guling in Cakranegara, the commercial centre of Lombok. Here are where the Chinese and Hindu businesses are concentrated. Today happened to be 2 days before Nyepi, so there were many ogoh-ogoh (giant effigies) ready for burning.

Babi guling here is pretty much like on Bali.

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then on we went shopping for some food stuff and Lombok coffee.

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they deep fry the weirdest things here.

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Late afternoon we reached back Senggigi, we checked out Café Alberto. Our driver told us they offered pickup and drop off service from hotels, but the receptionist said they only had dropoff. Anyway later we read some poor reviews online. Nevermind, we’ll decide on dinner later.

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More pool time followed.

Evening in Lombok is great. Our hotel sets up beach romantic dining. But be prepared to be hassled by touts.

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Dinner was decided on Square (ranked #1 on Tripadvisor, hooray!). they offered to and fro transport, I figured the cost of taxi is factored in the price.

Popular with foreigners.

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Hannah’s nasi goreng was the best.

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Later back at Qunci we explored the rest of the resort. they have a good reading room.

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And the hallways had art installation.

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Next – Goodbye.

Lombok 2014 Day 4 – Gili Meno and Qunci Villas

Published by on April 11, 2014

(This is part of an ongoing travelogue. To start from the beginning, click here)

Day 4 starts as the second day on Gili Trawangan. Beach looks calm and beautiful in the morning.

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The night before we had tried to find a cheap snorkeling transport to Gili Meno, where there was supposed to be some awesome dive spots. But they were all quite expensive (at least IDR 1mil), especially for the few hours we wanted to go. We were checking out at 12pm, so we decided snorkel off the beach. So we started walking along the beach going down south. There didn’t seem to be any nice beaches comparable to the one we spent on yesterday, even until we reach d the end of the restaurants and chalets. So we decided to talk to this tout on the beach, he seemed to be offering a less than expensive rate of IDR 800,000 for 4 hours of snorkeling and ride on a glass bottom boat.

So, not able to find a good spot off the beach, we decided to go with this guy.

The glass bottom boat was just okay, the main reason was to go to Gili Meno.

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Gili Meno is but 10 minutes away, maybe less. the best snorkeling spot is about 200 meters from the beach, but the seabed is pretty deep.

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I would say the corals and fish off Gili Meno were quite beautiful, but not much different from what we saw the day before on Gili T, and probably on par with Ko Lipe. There was also another baby turtle. We spent about 45mins at that spot, boy I can tell you that snorkeling even with fins and life jacket is really hard work…

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We landed in Gili Meno for a walkabout. As beautiful as the island is, the beautiful is covered with broken corals, making walking on it a dreadful affair. After clearing the beach onto solid ground, the guide took us inland for a walkabout. There is a really small village on the island, at first it looked like a strange cult inhabited here…

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What we saw in the middle of the island is weirder still. walking through a dirt path made out of even more broken corals (ouch, ouch, and ouch! We were barefoot) there was a large saltwater lake. the water comes out of the ground, not from the sea. the water here is apparently far saltier than the ocean, the guide told us the villagers here held an annual ceremony to collect the water and make salt.

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Nothing lived on or in this lake, except for some small tadpole-looking fish, and a certain kind of lotus plant. But this lends the lake to a very serene and calming feel.

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By twelve we were back on Gili T to take a cold bath and check out of Marta’s. I’d recommend Marta’s to anyone. Very affordable and friendly staff. We left our bags at hotel and went for lunch. By now I started to realize I may not have enough rupiah to last the rest of my trip, so we decided to find a restaurant that accepted credit card. We chose Egoiste, a trendy Italian pasta place, that served great pizza (the pizza actual came from another take-away only shop next door, but they had some table sharing thing going). Egoiste is really nice, actually. There were divans under the trees on the beach facing the sand, you can lie down and enjoy pizza and sipping some Bintang beer.

But we opted for the table.

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We had some time to kill before the boatman came at 2pm, so we took our time with the pizza and beer, enjoying the breeze.

On the way back, I tried the CIMB Niaga ATM (yes, they have ATMs on the island) but couldn’t withdraw money. So I had to exchange Ringgit to rupiah at a dodgy looking currency exchange stall. Poor rates but it was only a small amount.

Anyway, we ended our sojourn in the Gilis, as boat and then car brought us back to Senggigi in Lombok.

Our next hotel? Qunci Villas.

Qunci is a beautiful hotel. I know I used that word a lot during this travelogue, but this place took my breath away. It was the hotel that convinced me to come to Lombok (seeing the photos on the website). And it really exceeded my expectations. Rarely do you find a place more impressive than the photos, but this was it. It’s a pretty expensive place (one of the most expensive on Lombok, according to my driver) but they allowed us to fit an extra bed in addition to the existing day bed, making it affordable for my family of four. In fact, Scott, the owner, is one of the friendliest hotel owners in the Tripadvisor forum. Usually, hotels answer posts with a standard answer, but Scott takes time to participate in forums and offering honest opinions.

Anyway, like I said, photos don’t justify the place.

(the reception)
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(everywhere its landscaped)
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(Room 21)
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(Hannah’s day bed)
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(enjoying our welcome drink on the room patio)
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(The sexy bathroom and shower)
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Qunci has 3 pools right next to the beach, all facing Bali and the sunset.

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(you don’t get to see pink plumeria in Malaysia)
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(Hannah in the sunset pool)
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(looking up Qunci Villas from the beach)
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(Coral décor on the beach)
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(we had our breakfasts here, the furniture all made from petrified wood)
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We spent the whole afternoon napping and swimming, after the tiring morning of snorkeling.

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Suffice to say, sunset here is pretty awesome.

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For dinner, we didn’t want to spend much, so we followed Wikitravel’s recommendation of a good warung on the beach next to Qunci. The aforesaid warung wasn’t there, but there was another even more ramshackle place called ‘Warung Sasak’. Good food, though.

We had yellowtail grilled right out of the sea, grilled chicken and cap cai.

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Next – Waterfalls.

Lombok 2014 Day 3 – Gili Trawangan

Published by on April 6, 2014

(This is part of an ongoing travelogue. To start from the beginning, click here)

After two days in Kebun Villas & Resort on Lombok, on the third day we packed up after breakfast. Next destination – the Gili Islands!

All the while doing research for Lombok, I read about the 3 Gili Islands. Some posters said they were the most beautiful islands in the world (pinch of salt included) and any trip to Lombok would not be complete without at least a few nights here. I wasn’t against the idea of staying here, but the thought of packing up and moving hotels 3 times in 6 days wasn’t what I had in mind for a relaxing holiday. But my wife was keen on it, so I went with the idea.

Checking out of Kebun was a quick affair, so we waved goodbye to the 2 beautiful swimming pools and got into our transport (IDR 550,000 all inclusive of transfer and boat). This was the same transport we had used for the past 2 days, except today it was his assistant, a really nice guy whom I’m sad to say I’ve forgotten his name.

Getting to the Gilis, as they’re called, usually meant going through one of 2 public harbours – Bangsal or Teluk Nare. Both have notorious reputations, but have regular, cheap public boats every hour. I was advised by Sasha and Tripadvisor to pay more for a private charter boat, we did.

So driver then takes us on a scenic route along the coastline, giving us many stops to photograph the fantastic clifftop views of Senggigi.

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Everywhere on the island, its clear blue waters…

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Here you can see the Gilis from Lombok. From the left, that Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air (not in picture).

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After Senggigi, we passed by a few remote seaside villages. One of them has a private boat unofficial ‘harbour’, run by the villager. Far from having just simple fishing boats, they have modern skiffs and speedboats.

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That’s our boat.

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And off we go. the trip at moderate speed takes about 25 mins.

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Looking back you can really see how huge Lombok is, and how much of is still undeveloped, green and beautiful.

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Mini Kardashians.

Alyssa & Hannah speed boat

Landfall in Gili. First impressions – more beautiful than Lombok, sandy white beaches and clear blue waters. And scorching hot.

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Down the main street of Gili Trawangan. The island does not have tarred roads, because they don’t allowed any motorized vehicles on the island. Not even motorcycles. The only modes of transport are bicycles, and cidomo. What’s a cidomo? you will see it later.

main street Gili T

Our home for 2 days 1 night in Gili T is Marta’s. Marta’s is a small, homely hotel, a lot like a homestay. Here’s a bit about finding accommodation in Gili T or any of the Gilis. There are many such homestay and chalets on the island, however not many of them can be booked online. A lot of tourists just show up and find a room somewhere. Those hotels that DO have website or are affliated to booking websites like Agoda or Booking.com are usually fully booked most of the time. From what we observed, most of the hotels are the budget family-run places, or the backpacker types. There are a few upmarket resorts, like the 5-star Villa Ombak, they are usually on the west or north of the island. So they aren’t many mid-priced hotels, its either end of the price spectrum.

Martas

Marta’s is a family-run place. a little on the old side, but we like it and its near best snorkeling spot and the town centre of Gili T.

Marta's garden

Marta's pool

We got the largest room in the resort, above the office. It has a large balcony / drying yard overlooking the pool.

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Marta's pool topview

After checking in we took a walk through the town centre of Gili T.

There are few scuba schools to get your certification. Both Padi and SSI available.

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Jetty in centre of town in front the Art Market. The Art Market is a small square that turns into a local food court at night.

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At the side of the Art Market is La Dolce Vita, a bakery run by an Italian couple, serving authentic baguettes and pizzas, and great coffee. And its really cheap to boot.

Surly looking Italian owner.

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Love the food. Real Italian style, not the American style we’re used to here.

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After lunch we took a cidomo ride around the island. If you are still wondering what that is, this is what a cidomo looks like.

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A ride around the island takes less than 30 minutes, and you can see all the beaches.

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then it was snorkeling time.

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Hannah snorkel

we spotted a giant turtle just off the beach, too bad we didn’t have an underwater camera. It was truly a beautiful creature, allowing us to snorkel right next to it.

(Everyone’s looking at the turtle as it surfaces.)
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After a few hours of snorkeling in the scorching sun, we went back for a shower and nap.

For dinner, there was no shortage of places to eat and drink. the main town strip lights up with all kinds of restaurants – local, Irish, German, fusion, Italian, whatever you want. From the recommendations on tripadvisor, we narrowed it down to Beach House or Il Pirata, in the end we went for seafood grille at the former.

bbq spread

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Dinner was a little pricey but good. But you can’t complain much about having sunset dinner with your loved ones right on one the most beautiful beaches in Indonesia / world.

Next – Gili Air then back to Lombok.

Lombok 2014 Day 2 – Island Tour

Published by on April 2, 2014

(This is part of an ongoing travelogue. To start from the beginning, click here)

Day 2 started very early at 6.30am. Don’t know why I always wake up really early while on holiday. But the 6.30am is bright like our 7.30am in Malaysia. Breakfast only starts at 7.30am at the hotel restaurant, so the kids had time for a morning swim in the pool. After the swim, you can just walk up and have breakfast poolside. So convenient.

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For a small hotel, I’d say Kebun Villas & Resort has quite a good breakfast spread. I like that even though its fully booked, its not packed at all and I don’t have to wait in line at the eggs station, they even send your order to your table. They should change their toaster, though.

After a slow and easy brekkie, our driver Dzul picked us up for a island tour (IDR550,000 for 12 hours, all inclusive). First order of business, a visit to Pura Batu Bolong, a 5 minute drive away from our hotel in Senggigi. It is a Balinese temple right next to the main road. The name is derived from a crevice in the black rock face where the temple is built around.

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The empty throne Tunggal altar perch on a narrow precipice jutting out to the sea makes for a rather stunning photo op.

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Its not difficult to see why this spot is favoured to be a temple for the invading Bali folk – the ominous crevice, the black volcanic rock just like on Bali, and most importantly, you can see Gunong Agung from here. You know, the holy mountain in Bali, where Pura Besakih is located.

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View of Senggigi beach from atop the temple.

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The beach at the temple has dark coloured sand, making it rather unappealing. But the water is crystal clear, though.

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Next up was the a visit to a local market. Here, we had a choice. The older market in Mataram (sorry can’t remember the name) or the newer one in Bertais, just outside the capital. The former is more congested, the latter is more spread out. We drove past the older market, but upon seeing the crowd outside we decided to go for the newer one in Bertais.

Well, ‘newer’ is of true in the sense of relativity. We didn’t expect it to be LIKE THIS. Its REALLY a local market – no tourist. Really off the beaten track. the walkways are muddy and littered with rubbish. The market is hot and stuffy, definitely not for the queasy. But that aside, it is an experience in itself, you’d see and smell things you’d never see anywhere else. Every village and town in Lombok has a daily market like this, (we passed one in Narmada too) but this is the mother of all markets.

This actually is one of the cleaner and drier pathways.

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Name all the grains!

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Its a good place to get fruits. You see rambutan stalls like this all over the market and Lombok.

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Old school weights.

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5 points if you can guess what this treasure is.

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Easy to find this. Just follow the smell. What people did before they had refrigerators.

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unfortunately due to the heat, we didn’t last half an hour at the market, plus many stalls were starting to pack up already (next time come earlier). Our driver was a little disappointed he didn’t even get to finish his drink at the stall.

Next up – a pottery factory. A word about all these factory and cottage industry visits. As touristy as they are, I just love them. You get to learn a lot of stuff, plus I love making corny jokes while at it. But here’s where you can really see Lombok not being as commercialized as, say Bali or Chiang Mai. There are no tour guides here, heck our driver acted as the tour guide, telling us the process to make these pots. No swanky air conditioned showroom selling the finished products. Just a steaming hot wooden shed.

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This is the latest trend in Lombok pottery. Clay pots covered in egg shells. Very popular with Aussie tourists, apparently.

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This is the aforesaid steaming hot shop.

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I saw a Lombok gecko here. MY GOD they are big. About one foot long and fat.

This was followed by a weaving factory. A little less impressive but equally hot. The tradition here is geometric patterns, don’t think it looks as attractive as weaving from other countries.

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By now we were hungry and it was a little out of town to turn back for babi guling (yes, they DO have it here too), so our driving took us to a local eatery to try Nasi Balap Puyung.

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What’s that, you say? This is what it is.

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Its basically fried kampong chicken (very tasty) with spiced shredded chicken (even tastier). its served with fried anchovies (they seem to fry everything) and veg. This was one of the cheapest meals we had in Lombok.

After lunch it was on the road again, taking in the scenery.

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Then we reached the Sasak village. this would be one of the highlights of the tour, giving us a fascinating insight to the lives of the Sasak people.

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150 families live here. One of the most fascinating things I learnt is that for 15 generations, the villagers inter marry among themselves. Wow, 15 generations of in-breeding… must a genetic headache. Plus, they’re very traditional and communal, electricity only came here 3 years ago. 80% of the folk here can only speak Sasak, which is very different from Bahasa Indonesia. What was most fascinating was that our guide, Emran, one of the few villagers who can speak English, learnt English BY HIMSELF. Through books! No internet, as they don’t have electricity all this while, remember? Wow, my utmost respect.

This is the headman’s house, right near the entrance. Its a hereditary position.

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This is a kelambu where a few families store their grain. If you notice, this shape is the symbol of the Sasak people used all over the island. you see it everywhere, on road signs, streetlights, shopfronts.

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This is a typical village hut. They worship a mix of Islam, Hindu and animism. The guide was proud to tell us they spread cow dung on the floor every month, like some Hindus in India do.

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Spent the late afternoon in Kuta beach (there’s one in Lombok too) and Tanjung A’an.

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They have some of the best beaches on the island.

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There’s a boulder that separates two types of sand on the same beach. One is fine powdery sand, the other side has this grainy sand. Here’s the 2 types together.

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See the special grainy sand? See? SEE? OK, fine. Its not as impressive in the photo, gotta see in yourselves. Looks like pepper seeds.

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Next up was Pura Lingsar, a popular Hindu temple.

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The guide will tell you a long story about how this temple is holy to all religions, they have also have Buddhist shrine, a well for Catholics, and a Muslim prayer area.

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After a long day, we had an early dinner before going back to the hotel. Our driver brought us to the most famous restaurant serving Ayam Taliwang, Lombok most popular dish. I’d described it as fried or grilled skewered chicken, doused with spicy sauced. A bit like our ayam percik.

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After dinner, we went back to hotel for a evening and night swim, then an early night.

Next – The Gili islands!!

Lombok 2014: Day 1 – Arrival and Kebun Villas

Published by on March 31, 2014

For Valentine’s Day, I bought my wife a surprise trip she’d never expect in a million years – 6 days in Lombok! Why Lombok? Why not Bali? Where’s Lombok?! Those were the questions I was asked by my friends and colleagues. Well, we did a few mainstream tourist destinations recently in the past few years, like Bali, Gold Coast and Bangkok. I thought it would be a good change to do one a little less ‘touristy’ – a bit off the beaten path. Ever since we’ve been doing annual family holidays since 2006 (I think), the ones we enjoyed the most were the more obscure destinations, like Ko Lipe (when was that? 2011? I can’t even remember without checking the photos).

Anyway, it was during the research for the Bali trip in 2009 (can’t remember for sure again) that I read about Lombok, the island just next to Bali. Known as the ‘the undiscovered Bali’, I think Wikitravel sums it up the best:

Located just east of Bali, Lombok in many ways lives up to or exceeds the promotional term, “an unspoiled Bali”. With beautiful beaches, enchanting waterfalls, the large, looming volcano of Mount Rinjani combined with relatively few tourists, Lombok is indeed the paradisaical tropical island that many people still mistakenly imagine Bali to be now.

Well, its not exactly ‘undiscovered’ or ‘unspoiled’, but I like to think of it as Bali was 40 years ago, before mass tourism hit the island in a big way. Although its only a 45 minutes boat ride from Bali, there are several marked differences in the culture and geography of the two islands. For one, the indigenous people of Lombok, the Sasak, are predominantly Muslim as opposed to the Hindu of Bali. However, there are Hindus on the island, along with temples, remnant of when Bali ruled this island a long time ago. There are many other important differences, we will see them over the course of this travelogue.

So with a little help from Sasha (who was here just recently) and a lot of help from TripAdvisor and the Internet, it was off to Lombok.

Anyway, last Tuesday AirAsia brought us to Lombok’s new airport located in Praya, on the south of the island. Its a 3 hour flight from KL.

first sight airport

The old airport was conveniently in the capital city of Mataram, this new one is a little out of the way from all the places tourists might want to go. Aside from a handful of Mat Salleh tourists and a few Malaysian families on school holiday, the flight was full of local Lombok folk coming back from working in Malaysia. Later our taxi driver told us that everyday, hundreds of Lombok men return from work in Malaysia, and hundreds more to work in Malaysia.

Although the airport is new, they aren’t really prepared to handle big crowds. Only 3 counters were open, serving one common line, which included locals and foreigners.

If I thought inside the airport was a little disorganized, outside was almost chaotic. Hundreds of families clogged the entrances, either sending off or receiving family members. Everyday its like this, my taxi driver said.

ouside airport

Speaking of driver, I was approached by a few guys, it instantly hit me and my wife we didn’t do any research on taxis… but I went with this local guy who could speak ‘Malaysian-Indonesian’ – you know, like how the Indonesians here in Malaysia have learnt to adjust their accents and vocab a little to be better understood by Malaysians. Anyway this guy Dzul later told me he spent many years working in Klang and KL, so it figures. Dzul turned out to be a great pick, we actually used him (and his assistant) on all the days we were on Lombok. Anyway the trip from airport to our hotel in Senggigi cost IDR225,000.

Immediately after leaving the airport, all you can see are paddy fields, and empty fields with tall coconut trees. There are hardly any buildings, except near tiny villages, and even fewer shops. There were hardly any cars on the roads, just a few bikes and cidomos (horse drawn taxis, very popular here). In fact, our driver had a habit of driving in the centre of the dual carriageway.

paddy field

The capital city Mataram has a little bustle, but not really much either. Reminds me of a small town in rural Perak, very low density but spread out larger. No traffic jams, no speeding cars, no loud honking. Everyone takes it easy.

After leaving Mataram and moving on the coastline to the north, we approach the beach strip of Senggigi.

first beach

The beaches in Senggigi have beautiful vistas from the many seaside cliffs, but the sand is black. the beaches in the south are more appealing with their unique grainy or powdery sand.

For the first 2 nights of our stay in Lombok, we stayed at Kebun Villas & Resort. Its not a beachside resort, since we figured the pool would be more suited to my kids.

Its actually a rather small resort, but like its name, its built around a garden / landscaped concept. EVERYTHING is surrounded by greenery – my Landscape Architect colleagues would love it here.

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The rooms are simple, all facing greenery and the pool.

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The thing that drawn us to this place was the 2 pools. One is a small pool next to the restaurant. The other was a 70m pool and is simply stunning.

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Anyway after checking in it was kinda late and since there were no restaurants around our hotel, we ate in the hotel.

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Hannah's lunch

After that was an afternoon in the pool and sleeping it off.

For dinner we took a cab to Senggigi town (IDR 30,000, rather overpriced) at Big Papa’s café. Its a Chinese owned placed that we really liked.

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my dinner

After dinner we walked back to the Art Market (nothing much to see) and then back to hotel, taking some night shots.

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(This is the other pool next to restaurant)
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Next: Day trip around the island.

Doing A Title Search at the Land Office (PTG)

Published by on March 19, 2014

Over the years working in the property development industry, I’ve often asked our land surveyors to do a title search. What’s a title search? Basically, if you are interested in a piece of land, doing a title search at the local land office will tell you who the owner is, and other stuff like his address and and land details. If you are the owner and want build a house or sell the land, a title search is the official confirmation from the Land Office that you are the owner of the land.

Law firms also commonly do title searches whenever there is a legal procedure tied to the land or property.

All this while, our consultant land surveyor handles title searches. Recently, we needed searches for 91 plots owned by my company. Apparently, one person can search up to only 15 titles in a day. So we needed at least 6 people to do the job. The one extra title can be done with some persuasion to the counter staff. So i was on the phone with the consultant (a young surveyor about 2 years out of college).

“So i meet you at land office tomorrow lah. What time ah?” I said.

“Seven, ah, Mr. Simon.” She chirped.

“Seven something? Why so early?”

“Mr. Simon, its seven o’clock, not seven something ah. Have to be early to get ticket.”

Er, okay. I’m fine with waking up at 6am, i do that 2-3 times a week these days anyway. i’m just worried about traffic on the Federal Highway.

Anywy, this morning, i reached Land Office (PTG) in the Selangor State Secretariat (SUK) at 6.50am. I was THE FIRST CAR in the parking lot. My other 2 colleagues reached almost the same time with me. No sign of the 3 guys from the consultant. When we walked into land Office, there was a line of bags and satchels arranged neatly in front of the ticketing counter, stretching about 10 meters. Now i understand why i have to be tere so bloody early.

The 3 consultants ambled in at 7.20am and they were a further 10 meters behind our bags. Meanwhile the waiting hall was slowly filled with runners, despatch riders, other consultants, rookie lawyers, all waiting for the counter to open. Maybe i should mention something cliched here about the obvious camaraderie and friendliness among the regulars here of different races showing the true spirit of Malaysia, but its true.

So anyway, from 6.50am to 8.30am, I went to the cafeteria for breakfast, read my Cormac McCarthy book (good thing i brought it). The ticketing counter opens at 8.30am sharp, so as the clock ticks nearer, everyone starts standing in the place of their bags / placeholder. Its a narrow space between the seats and the public phones, so its kind of a cram. When the counter opens, the line moves really fast, if you’re late to claim your place, its gone forever. In less than 2 minutes, more than 200 tickets are issued and the counter is closed. Wow.

After that burst of activity, it mellows down again as we wait for our number (mine was starting at 115). Each ticket can search a max of 5 titles, each person can take up to 3 tickets only, hence the 15 title limit. Took me another 2.5 hours of waiting, in which i had a power nap, had another trip to the cafeteria for a mid morning snack, read newspapers, etc.

Anyway, when your turn comes, its rather straightforward. Hand in your form (pre filled in, please), pay the fee (a whopping RM50 per search), collect the printout. Of course, holding three consecutive tickets makes it trickier.

Anyway, everything done, was back by in office by 12.30pm. They weren’t joking when they said it would take at least half a day.

Signal Cigarettes

Published by on March 8, 2014

Signal brand cigarettes.

That’s the brand of cigarettes my grandmother smoked. Not the grandmother in Melaka, the other on that stayed with us at home and took care of me.

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No one else I knew smoked this brand of cigarettes, not then, not now. She smoked it when she stayed in Batu Gajah, and when she stayed with us, my mom bought it for her from the sundry shop near my house. I’m not sure if its a coincidence, or if my mom requested for the sundry shop to stock the brand, but i’ve never seen any other shop sell this particular brand.

It came in a simple pale orange box, with a picture of a white railway signal on the cover.

My grandmother smoked a pack a day, was thin as a reed, was completely deaf, swore like a Cantonese sailor, but lived to almost 80.

Anyway, the cigarette company is still around, its still being sold in the US, albeit from the website I can see they’ve changed to a modern box design.

Memories of Chinese New Years Past

Published by on January 28, 2014

Ever since I could recall, every Chinese New Year was spent in my paternal grandmother’s house. The entire clan converged there, so all my CNY memories are interminably linked to the happy times in that little house in Malacca.

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My grandmother was a respected matriach in the extended family clan, every year the relatives, both close and distant, would come to pay their respects to her.

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We had a tradition of hanging a red cloth around the door, like at some weddings. Except the cloth was measured for the door on the old wooden house my grandmother stayed in many years ago. The newer house had a bigger doorway , so cloth hung halfway at the sides.

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My grandmother never made cookies, but there was never shortage of goodies to eat. My favourites were always keropok (prawn crackers) and white sunflower seeds. The type with the salty white powder coating the shells.

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As with any traditional Chinese family anywhere in the world, the family dinners were always the focal point of reunions. I don’t really recall much of the food, but I do recall we always had steamed chicken and chinese sausages (‘lap cheong’). Later after dinner my dad would always have a small shot of rice wine made by my grandma.

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Lion dances were more common then, I suppose it was cheaper compared to now, one of the neighbours would definitely have them on. Firecrackers and fireworks were far less common, though.

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My grandma was by no means a cheerful person, but not mean or a disciplinarian. She was just serious and upheld the traditions. But I guess she liked New Year very much. She liked the attention of and the long chats about days gone by. I suppose its true then, they say that Chinese New Year is most enjoyed by the very young and very old.

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We weren’t a big family, but with 4 children and spouses, and 7 grandchildren, it made quite a crowd when we all came together. There is a photograph of the clan on one Chinese new Year, i remember. My grandmother sat solemnly in the centre, everyone else around her. I was sitting on my mother’s armchair rest to one side, i was probably 9 or 10. Maybe when i go home this weekend, i’ll dig out that photo.

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That old house now stands run down and deserted, waiting to be sold. The inhabitants, long passed on, others all grown up and grown away.

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Happy New Year, everyone. Remember the past, live for the future.

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