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Penang Food Trail Eating and sweating our way around Malaysia's food paradise

[stag_dropcap font_size=”88px” style=”squared”]T[/stag_dropcap]his felt like a proper road trip because we spent so much time in the car during these 4 days. Set off at 4:30am on Christmas Day in Singapore, didn’t experience any of the monstrous jams that we’ve been reading about in the papers, and arrived bright and early in Kuala Lumpur. Then stayed over for 1 night before heading up north towards Penang in our rented MPV.

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I was the only non-driver, so BIG thanks to every one who got us to places safely.

It takes around four hours to get to Penang, so it made sense to have a lunch stop at Ipoh, for its famous hor fun. We settled for Lou Wong, which was among the cluster of coffee shops that were kinda famous. The soup hor fun was really nothing to shout about, but the fat, juicy tao gay was shiok! The steamed kampung chicken also won us over with its salty oily sauce.

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View from our Airbnb stay at Straits Quay residenses.

When we finally checked into our accommodation at Straits Quay (came here once, but didn’t know there were residential rooms just above the mall), we were not only impressed by the view, but also very happy at how clean and spacious the suite was!

And where else to start a Penang food trail than at…………… DÔME cafe? Haha… Only because we were hungry and wanted to shop around in Straits Quay. The food was decent though!

One thing that baffles me is how persistent Penang’s heat is. Monsoon season or not, the sun beats down ruthlessly during the day. I’ve visited Penang about 4 times, and it’s ALWAYS scorching. So much so that when people mention Penang, the first thing that pops into my head is the heat, rather than its glorious food.

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We took things a bit more seriously when it came to dinner. We made a beeline for Chulia Street’s wanton mee because after stumbling upon it 4 years ago, we’ve been dreaming and yearning for it. Its black sauce is to die for, making this my all time favourite wanton mee stall. It’s still as good as I remember, and I’m sure I’m going to be missing it the next few years…

THE Chulia Street wanton mee.
THE Chulia Street wanton mee.
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Then we met up with some friends of friends, who were locals and brought us on a supper food trail.
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First stop at Esplanade food court, where they introduced us to Penang’s rojak.

The Penangites do rojak a little differently than the Singaporeans, and I much prefer their version. The biggest difference lies in the Hae Ko (dark prawn sauce) – it tastes and smells much less fishy than the ones you find in Singapore.

Later in the night, we found ourselves at Green House coffee shop along Jalan Burma for a midnight “snack” consisting of white steamed chicken, hokkien mee, indian rojak, and stingray. All of that felt so damn good in my belly after the drinking session.


Sin Hwa was the first thing on our itinerary for day 2. Its claim to fame is the char kway teow with duck egg. While that was great, their kway teow soup triumphs it. Its simple ingredients belie that flavours that it contains. I’m not usually a fan of clear soup type of dishes, so I was quite surprised at how much I found this fuss-free bowl of soupy kway teow so comforting.

Kebaya restaurant at Seven Terraces hotel was a lovely way to wrap up our Penang food trail. Keith recommended it, and found out later that it’s actually the number 1 restaurant in Penang ranked on TripAdvisor. And its Peranakan cuisine really did live up to its reputation.

We all took the 3-course meal, which worked out to about 4 different types of starters, 5 meat and fish mains, 3 veggie dishes, and a dessert each to share among the 6 of us. It made for a pretty damn filling meal. Almost every dish was a hit, but the meats were exceptional. Especially the slow cooked beef with tamarind, which tasted slightly sweet, and just broke away and melted in my mouth. The joy was too short lived… I want a whole pot of this phenomenal dish!!!

I haven’t had a meal this good in a while, and it was so reasonably priced at SGD50 each. What a fantastic way to end this short and sweet, salty, tasty, fatty food trip.

Perhentian Kecil-ling Out Exploring Perhentian's cheaper and smaller island.

Perhentian Kecil Long Beach

After spending three full days on overpriced Perhentian Besar (the bigger island), Kecil’s (the smaller island) tiki backpacker vibe was very much welcomed.

Priya and I took the earliest water taxi ride out from Besar (RM10 each) because most of the accommodations on Kecil run on a walk-in basis, and we were afraid of getting stuck with shitty rooms during this peak season. We headed straight for Matahari Chalet on Long Beach because we did some preliminary research, and Priya said they sounded friendly over the phone.

Perhentian Kecil Long Beach
Kecil from afar.
Perhentian Kecil
Kecil upclose. The entire beach looked as if a hurricane had just swept through it.
Perhentian Kecil Long Beach Matahari Chalet
Matahari’s cute little huts! Which were already booked out 🙁

The only room available at that point was a RM150/night air con room with hot shower. It was OK, just a bit bothered by the faint smell of drains that lingered in the room.

Perhentian Kecil Matahari Chalet
Check out the amazing construction-front view the room had.
Matahari dive centre
Seeing that Matahari also had a dive centre attached to it, we caved in to our temptation and booked a dive at D’Lagoon with them for RM75 (slightly cheaper than dive centres on Besar).

The dive was was very relaxing, and as it was a shallow dive, we managed to clock in slightly more than an hour underwater. We only went to about 10m, but saw a blue spotted stingray, a massive Jenkins stingray, box fish, barracuda, angel fish, silver bat fish, a crazy trigger fish that kept darting around, beautiful purple clams, damsel fish, clown fish, parrot fish, and butterfly fish.

Perhnetian kecil Coral Bay
After returning from the dive, we followed the short concrete juncle path that connects Long Beach to Coral Bay. It only took us 10 minutes to arrive at Coral Bay.
Perhnetian kecil Ewans Place
Began our post-dive lunch at Ewan’s Place with a drinks buffet.
Perhentian kecil Ewans Place
What else would a hungry Indian girl have but a massive bowl of curry?
Perhentian kecil Ewan's Place
I had pretty good kway teow with gravy. It was loaded with squid, prawn, carrot, corn, and mushrooms.

Also had their sambal blachan long beans, which I asked them to tone down the spiciness, and it was sedap! The entire meal cost us RM42.5.

With our bellies happy and filled, we went in search for Mira beach, a deserted spot on Kecil that Priya’s colleague stayed at and recommended us to visit.

We asked for directions and was told to head into the jungle trail that starts at Butterfly chalet, which was on the end of Coral Bay.

Perhentian kecil butterfly chalet
Entering the jungle path.
Perhentian kecil jungle path
It was more of a proper path that was surrounded by jungle.
Perhentian kecil Mira beach
After the easy 30 mins walk, we emerged at the blissfully deserted Mira beach.

It was a gorgeous beach with just a handful of people. We originally wanted to stay at Mira Beach Chalet, the only lodging on this beach, but it was all booked out.

The sand was fine and the waters were divinely warm and clear. While wading in the sea, we could see right through to our toes, allowing us to observe — without snorkel masks — the curious fish that were doing figure 8’s around our legs. Absolutely wonderful to float on my back and enjoy the weightlessness and quietness too. We stayed and read for a while, and then headed back reluctantly before it got too dark to navigate the forest.

Perhentian kecil Daniela cafe
Dinner at Daniela cafe, the largest alfresco dining area around our hotel.

The food prices in Kecil are slightly cheaper than Besar. About RM5-8 lesser for seafood dishes. We had the sambal sotong dinner set that came with fries, banana cake, a banana, and a drink, and it only cost RM25! Together with a roti cinai, prawns with chili, and a glass of lemongrass, the total bill came up to RM57.

Perhentian kecil Daniela cafe
The glorious sambal sotong.

We were hoping for a party after dinner, but it was a Sunday night, and the only signs of a party we saw were advertisements that read “Fire show!”, “Live music”, and “Bonfire”. We were one day too late for the beach party.

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Day 2

We checked out of our cheap accommodation bright and early, and made our way on foot to our most atas stay of the trip: Shari-La Island Resort on Coral Bay.

We wanted to indulge a little for our last night, so we took this standard room for 2 which cost RM250/night. It was just slightly better than the budget accommodation. Not very worth it, I must say.

Went for a 6-stop snorkeling trip (at an incredibly low price of RM30 each) to pass the afternoon. It was, of course, nothing compared to diving, but it was one of the best snorkelling experiences I’ve had.

And we’ve got these lousy underwater shots from a disposable camera to do it injustice.

Perhentian snorkeling

Perhentian snorkeling barracuda
A lone baby Barracuda.

Perhentian snorkeling

We also stopped by Turtle Bay (off Perhentian Island Resort’s beach on Besar) and saw a solitary turtle. The wonder and excitement of seeing a turtle in the wild quickly turned into disgust as it was terrifying to see all the tourists hovering over it while it fed on the sea bed. And when it was swimming towards the surface to catch a breath, a few tourists even dove down to touch its shell.

It was a horrible sight, and I felt nothing but anger towards people’s ignorance and sadness for the lonely celebrity turtle. All I want to say is: “LEAVE TURTLE ALONE!!!”

Perhentian
Lunch was at, you know, just a regular Perhentian beach.
Perhentian snorkeling lunch stop
Our casual lunch stop.
Perhentian kittie
This clever kitty kept using his paw to gently tap my legs to beg for food.
Perhentian tourists with kitty
Ate with our snorkel boat buddies, an Italian couple who was as crazy about cats.
Perhentian snorkeling
Continued with the snorkelling at a lighthouse stop, which had strong currents.
Perhentian snorkeling coral
Pretty blue clam

Perhentian snorkeling

Perhentian snorkeling

Perhentian kecil Romantic beach
Wrapped up the trip on Romantic beach, which had lovely white powdery sand.

Things were going so nicely on the last day…

Until the expensive hotel room decided to ruin it. Being the cheapskate that I am, I expected nothing less than what I paid for. So you can imagine how furious I was when the water ran out while I was showering.

I was still soapy, so Priya had to get help for me. The room’s phone had no dial tone for her to call the reception, so she went out to inform some of the staff. They took so fucking long that I gave up and resorted to filling a pail with the alternative water source (cold water, but thank god for it) and rinsing off with a plastic water scoop.

I’m not a princess. I don’t mind bathing with cold water from a pail. Just not when I have paid good money for something better. I was so fucking pissed off that I went to the reception to throw a bitch fit. They just looked sorry and apologised, and when I pushed on, they didn’t even offer to compensate.

Damn you Shari-La.

But let’s not end this on a sour note!

Perhentian
This is what I’ll remember of Perhentian 🙂

 

5D6N Perhentian trip cost breakdown

Flight: SGD114
Scuba diving: SGD 314 (for 5 dives)
Accommodation: SGD148
Food and misc:  approx SGD 224
                                                                              
Total trip cost: approx SGD800

Diving into the waters of Perhentian Besar 4 gorgeous dive sites, including a ship wreck.

Perhentian Besar beach In episode 2 of Diving Dykes (hop over to our Tioman adventure for the pilot episode), Priya and I head to Perhentian islands! Plural because it’s made up of 2 creatively-named islands, Besar and Kecil (big and small in Malay). While it’s a destination that’s quite talked about amongst Caucasian expats, it surprised me to find out that some Singaporeans still haven’t heard of it.

perhentian_map Even though we flew, it took us some time to get there. We chose a flight over a 10-hour overnight bus because the price difference wasn’t that much. The AirAsia flight to Terengganu airport cost $114, and only took 1.5h. BUT the cab to Kuala Besut ferry terminal took another 1.5h and cost RM120. It would’ve been OK if it was split 4 ways, but it was just Priya and I, and we felt the pinch.

Kuala Besut durian
Had a RM3 durian while waiting for the ferry to Perhentian (RM70 return open date ticket).
Kuala Besut cat
One of the many lethargic beings we came across at the ferry terminal.

The ferry towards Perhentian was insane. Firstly, we were packed onto the speedboat with three mainland Chinese families (the first of many, many more to come), and when the boat picked up speed and tore through the currents, the lady beside me started yelling “救命啊! 救命啊!” (help! help!) right into my ear. She did have reason to call for help because the ride was a series of ass-assaulting bumps that gave me a throbbing backache after. It was kinda fun though. Haha. When we arrived at Coral Bay on Besar island, I was quite disappointed because I expected the same turquoise waters as Redang (a nearby island that I visited some years back), but the waters here were more green than blue.

Perhentian besar Coral View resort (
Towards our hilltop room at Coral View resort.

We took a dive package with Pro Diver’s World for RM667 each, which included 4 fun dives and 3 nights accommodation with Coral View resort. Works out to be RM152/night for the room, and around RM85/dive. (Check out their dive packages here.) Loved our cosy hilltop room, especially the indoor porch area. The only downside was that it was quite a climb up, and there was no hot shower. Which really bring us tough dykes down.

DAY 1 was spent exploring the beaches near our resort on foot.

Perhentian besar prata
But first, a snack stop at Paradise restaurant! Had this hot, oily, yummy roti cinai.
Perhentian besar coral beach
Our resort’s beach wasn’t very photogenic, but the waters were so, so clear and unpolluted.
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Very amused that fake rocks were still necessary for the resort’s landscaping despite it being surrounded by natural boulders.
Perhentian besar jungle trek
This dodgy hut marked the beginning of a wild jungle path towards Tuna Bay.
Perhentian besar Cozy Chalet view
Emerged at Cozy Chalet, and was greeted by this lovely view!

Walked further down Tuna Bay beach, which was far from crowded although it was peak season, and arrived at some really gorgeous waters.

We ventured passed Abdul’s Chalet, went around the bend via a stone walkway, emerged at an abandoned place named JD Palace, and arrived at an even more deserted beach. I believe it’s called K.K. Beach.

According to all the accommodations’ room rates, July is apparently Perhentian’s “super peak season”. We Singaporeans definitely have a very different understanding of what peak seasons mean! Very surprised and appreciative of this wonderfully peaceful peak period.

Perhentian besar K.K. Beach
We had this beautiful stretch of beach all to ourselves for hours.
Perhentian besar K.K. Beach
The natural swimming pool.

Headed back to Abdul’s Chalet for dinner as they have seafood at lower prices. As it was Ramadan, we had to wait for the staff to break fast, and they only started serving at 8pm.

Dinner consisted of kailan ikan masin (way too salty), salted fish fried rice (fabulous), butter garlic crayfish (had lovely garlic bits in it), and some drinks. Total bill: RM55. P.S: Don’t expect “Malaysian prices” on Perhentian.

It was way too dark to go back the way we came (through the bushes), so we had to take a RM16 water taxi back. The tide at our resort was comically low, so the boat started to scrape the seabed when we were about 200m away from the beach. And when our boatman could push the boat to further, we had to hop off and make our painful way across the rocky seabed towards our resort. DAYS 2 & 3 were spent diving, eating, and bumming at the beach.

Perhentian besar flying lemur
Was greeted one morning by a very drowsy and zen flying lemur that was hanging out right by our balcony.
Perhentian Besar Pro Diver's World
The usual drill at Pro Diver’s World is to check your equipment, and then carry it a short way out to the beach and onto a tiny motorboat.

Apologise for the lack of photos because I’m still not in possession of the pricey GoPro camera. But here’s a lowdown on the 4 dives that we did with Pro Diver’s World, and I beg you to put those imagination brain cells to good use for the time being.

TIGER ROCK tiger rockThe name Tiger Rock is derived from tiga (3 in malay), which indicated the 3 rocks that jut out above the surface of the sea. Pretty good visibility, but the dive experience was hampered by my foggy mask. Followed the local dive master through a tiny hole between the rocks. Quite scary and exciting at the same time because you have to swim into darkness and simply follow the person in front.

Spotted: The adorable yellow boxfish, and some scorpionfish crawling on the sea bed.

 

BATU LAYAR batu layarGreat viz, and teeming with marine life. Had a good mask this time around. Saw tall reefs that were densely populated by healthy corals. My favourite view while diving is when you look up and see the sun shining through the water, and can admire how the dancing light creates mesmerising backlighting against the corals’ silhouette. Enough words. Here’s a nice video taken at the site.

Spotted: Stingrays, huge puffer fish, Indian Ocean walkman, lion fish, massive corals, parrotfish, colourful triggerfish, school of baby barracudas, angel fish

 

SUGAR WRECK sugarwreckWas so absolutely stoked about diving at a shipwreck. This 90m x 12m ship used to transport sugar, but was sunk in the monsoon period of 2000.  We first descended into murky silt-filled waters. It somehow added to the mysterious scene surrounding the sunken ship, which is tilted towards its starboard (right side). There were huge sea urchins all around and I had to take extra care when navigating under the masts. As we approached its stern, Titanic’s Celine Dion theme song started playing in my head. The feeling of floating above this massive submerged structure was incredible, and the sight that opened up before us as we went around to the ship’s port (left side) was heart-wrenchingly beautiful. The waters on this side were crystal clear, and you could see the entire hull, right down into the ocean depths. This is where the real peak season is: massive schools of different varieties of fish either hovering above the hull, or criss crossing each other at aquatic traffic junctions. I simply couldn’t get enough of this National Geographic moment.

Spotted: Lion fish, giant pufferfish, baby barracudas, leopard shark (a baby one resting in a crevice), many many many other miscellaneous fishies

 

TANJUNG BUTUNG tanjung butungWe made the mistake of not booking a day in advance, and the rest of the day’s dives were fully booked. But Stan, one of the dive masters, was kind enough to fit us in with a private dive with a French family. There were less varieties of fish at this site, but it had enormous rocks and loads of corals. Started to really appreciate the beauty of alien-looking hard and soft corals at this site. But I was extremely annoyed at the bad manners that a couple of the family members displayed. They wandered off on their own, kept shoving the GoPro camera into the fish’s face, and was more occupied with getting to wherever the dive master pointed out to first and getting the best shot than enjoying the environment slowly and peacefully.

Spotted: Clownfish, boxfish, Giant purple clams, and loads of other corals

(Phew! I need to build my underwater vocabulary!)

 Aside from the wondrous views underwater, here’s what we saw on land…

Perhentian Island Resort beach
The waters near the expensive Perhentian Island Resort were unbelievably blue.
Perhentian Island Resort beach
The extreme end of Perhentian Island Resort’s beach.
Perhentian Island Resort beach
Hijacked the posh resort’s beach chairs, and thiswas our magnificent view.

What you can’t experience from these gorgeous photos are the Chinese families on the beach, who made their presence heard loud and clear to all the other beach goers. I wouldn’t say it’s music to my ears.

We also had some amazing seafood!!! Not cheap, but still very affordable if you earn in SGD.

Perhentian besar Mama's Chalet
Mama’s Chalet

At the very homely, kampung-like Mama’s Chalet, we had fresh grilled fish and fried noodles. I’m not a fan of the texture of grilled fish without gravy, but Priya really enjoyed it. I preferred the fried noodles, which was bursting with flavours and at just the right level of oiliness. But I was really shocked when the bill came up to RM58.80. It’s the kind of price that I’ve never encountered for seafood in Malaysia. The fish itself was RM45. Yikes! We did go back the next night, however, because I wanted to try their fried squid.

Perhentian besar Mama's Chalet food
It didn’t disappoint!

I didn’t like how the staff tried to work his way around the orders so that we’d pay more and get less. After some negotiations, we got our squid, a small dish of veggies, omelette, and drinks for a total of RM57. After that incident, I felt extra stingy, and decided to scrutinise the hotel bill. There was some confusion because even though we bought a dive+accommodation package, we had to pay the bills separately. And it’s only when I pointed out to the hotel staff that there was an extra RM140 boat fee for a boat transfer we didn’t take, that they removed it from the bill. Hmmmpf! Not appreciating these deceitful doings. But I will focus on the good memories… After four amazing days on Perhentian Besar, we island hopped onto Perhentian Kecil for the second part of our holiday.

Perhentian besar to kecil
Off to the smaller, more backpacker-style island!

 

Open Water Diving at Tioman Finally a certified open water diver!

Taking up scuba diving has been drifting in and out the back of my head for a couple of years, and thanks to a chance encounter with a fellow writer Samantha, who’s also an avid diver, plans got a little more solid. Over the media tasting at District 10, she filled me in on how afraid she was in the beginning, and how she conquered her fears, only to end up falling deeply in love with the sport. She also tipped me off about Asia Dive Expo (aka ADEX), an annual fair in April where dive courses would go for promotional rates, and recommended a couple of companies for me to look out for.

I’m extremely fortunate to have my best girl Priya on board with me on this new adventure. You always pair up and dive with a “buddy”, and I don’t think I can find a better partner. At ADEX, Priya and I were quite distracted by all the eye candies initially, but the urge to score discounts got the best of us, and we managed to re-direct our attention to a few companies before deciding on Ren Scubaworx. We spoke to Danny, who was one of the instructors, and we liked the relaxed vibe he gave off — way more approachable than some of the more hard-sell sales pitches by other companies. 

In exchange for $438, we were offered:

  • 2 theory lessons
  • 1 pool lesson
  • 5 open water dives over a weekend trip to Tioman island, Malaysia (accommodation and meals provided)

It’s a pretty damn good deal for an open water diving course if you ask me.

Even after the day-long pool practice session, I still felt unprepared for the open waters. Bob is the experienced diver that led my group’s training that day, and he put us all at ease with his calm and mellow demeanour. But even though I could go through the motions of the drills perfectly well with him, the idea of being “stuck” underwater (you can’t ascend immediately even if you panic underwater) kept looping around in my head, and felt the need to constantly keep my psychological fear from escalating.

The fear didn’t go away, but I wasn’t exactly a bundle of nerves when the open water dive trip came around. After setting off from Ren Scubaworx’s shop at Bukit Merah Central at midnight on Friday, we arrived at Tioman 8 hours later (5 hours by coach + 3 hours by ferry) next morning.

Tioman island Malaysia
Setting foot on the idyllic Tioman island.
Tioman island Malaysia
A view I can never get sick of…
Tioman island Malaysia Island Reef resort
Our cluster of kampungs at Island Reef resort.
Tioman island Island Reef resort view
A pretty darn good view from the resort’s dining area.

After a quick change into our swim suits, a light breakfast, and a short brief of the day’s dives, we headed out on the ferry again.

Tioman island Malaysia
Clear waters near the shore.
Tioman island Malaysia scuba diving
The Dive Masters set out to secure the buoy line to a rock at the sea bed so that we could hold on to the rope as we descend.
Tioman island Malaysia
The visibility of our first dive site at Labas island was superb; you can tell that even from the surface.

Since I don’t own a GoPro camera and can’t document what went down during our first dive, I can only relate the experience to you as one of the most fulfilling I’ve had in a long time. Strangely, I was less afraid to descend into the open sea as compared to a swimming pool, and everything went smoothly. All 11 of us open water trainees had to line up next to each other at the sea bed, and it got a little claustrophobic at times. Especially when our fussy equipment gets entangled. But it was not a cause for major panic, and I’m glad that no one in the class freaked out.

No underwater shots for now, but here are some gorgeous views as seen on board the ferry…

Tioman island Malaysia

Tioman island Malaysia

Tioman island Malaysia scuba diving
Specks of divers’ bobbing heads.

The second dive site at Nimpah had poorer visibility, and this time around, I had a fearful moment right before I had to do the no mask swim. This exercise requires a diver to remove his/her mask completely, and swim a short distance while guided by an instructor.

The complete loss of sight freaked me out, and when it was my turn to follow David the lead instructor for this nerve wrecking exercise, I had to take a few extra seconds to breathe, calm my nerves and mind, before I eventually dared myself to take my mask off. I did the run, and gave myself a huge mental pat on the back when I completed it without panicking.

With all the drills out of the way, the third dive was for us to practice our buoyancy underwater (controlling your movement underwater). We descended to a depth of about 10m, and while there wasn’t much marine life to observe at the site, I was perfectly happy to practice this fascinating new skill. It was a beautiful feeling, to be engulfed by the sea and be able to move around in it freely. I found myself getting hooked on being weightless and alone in this whole new world.

Tioman island Malaysia scuba diving
Us! Full of glee that we got through and thoroughly enjoyed our first day of diving.

After a pretty exhausting day (shouldering the weight of the equipment was the killer), we treated ourselves to some sinfully good local food.

Tioman island Malaysia Ramly burger
I count Ramly as one of the biggest loves of my life. One reason is that his affection comes cheap. Only at RM3.50.
Tioman island Malaysia sunset
Saturday ends with a breathtaking sunset.

Day 2

Tioman island Malaysia scuba diving
We headed out super early the next day because we had to complete 2 dives before leaving the island at 2pm.
Tioman island Malaysia
The weather was beautiful. It was also scorching hot and I was so ready to dive.
Tioman island Soyak
The location of our first dive of the day: Soyak.

Saw some pretty coral reefs, but was a little disappointed that we didn’t manage to see more than fish and sea cucumbers. But I was still running on the euphoria of discovering how to move underwater, and I was more than happy to just manoeuvre around.

Tioman island Malaysia scuba diving
The advanced divers, who managed to spot a turtle and a white tip shark at one of the dive sites.
Tioman island Malaysia scuba divingat Renggis
The skies darkened just in time, right after our last dive at Renggis.
Tioman island Malaysia open water scuba diving
Finally certified open water divers!

Priya and I discussed during the trip which type of people could take up scuba diving. Must they be calm and level-headed people? Must they be fearless of the open sea? Must they be unafraid of danger? My conclusion is that anyone can take it up. As long as you want to do it, it’s attainable. I witnessed the people who struggled initially overcoming their fear with adequate practice. Everyone, including me, had to cross some hurdles — be it mental or physical. And we all made it! I urge everyone to explore this sport as it’s a wonderful gateway to experiencing a whole new dimension of our environment.

Can’t wait to explore the rest of our lovely blue planet!

A Furry Saturday A doggie haven near Johor Bahru where rescued canines run free.

Once in a while I lend my help to the people behind Noah’s Ark Natural Animal Sanctuary (NANAS), especially when they hold tours at their lovely compound in Johor, Malaysia. It’s a sprawling plot of land that serves as the animals’ (dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, horses, and monkeys) retiring home, which the public can visit via the public tours (there’s a bus which takes you there from Boon Lay MRT) or on your own on days where NANAS is opened up to those who wish to drive up on their own . (Just follow NANAS’ Facebook page to be in the loop for the various tour dates.)

I love this sanctuary because it brings me real joy to see the dogs being so happy when they run freely around the place. But even if you don’t fancy the earnest nudges by the sometimes rambunctious dogs, you can head for the feline blocks to be surrounded by the many, many kitties that also roam free within, where they are safe from the slobbering hyperness of dogs (although a few privileged canines have gotten the approval to share their space).

It was very nice to meet everyone who drove up to NANAS for a visit yesterday, and I’m sure the furry residents couldn’t be happier to be at the receiving end of all the zealous affection. The next public tour is on May 18, so you can hop over to NANAS’ blog to get more details on the tour, or email noahsarkcares@gmail.com to register.

A visitor with Max, the gentle rottweiler who’s allowed into the cattery.

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After a dip in the pond.

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One of my favourite cats, who lost its hind legs, but not its affection towards people.
One of my favourite cats, who lost both its hind legs, but not its affection towards people.

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The main cattery.
The main cattery.

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These quiet moments with individual dogs are the best.
Very often, a dog will trot up quietly to you and just hang by your side… These quiet moments are always the best.

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Jill, who unfortunately keeps getting swiped by the cats because she's partially blind and keeps bumping into them.
Jill, who unfortunately keeps getting swiped by the cats because she’s partially blind and keeps bumping into them.

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This one found new companionship with my backpack.

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The temperamental chow.
The temperamental chow.

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A rather coy one in the other cattery.
A rather coy one in the other cattery.

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Grooming time with one of the local workers.
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“How do you like my lush headpiece?”
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Thanks for sending me off guys! I’ll be back soon!

One Last Tour

It was a trip that was exciting to begin with, and ended bittersweet. It was one last tour for both Swedish House Mafia as well as one of my best friend, Adeline, who is going to leave for London next month.

For almost two years, we’ve been making frequent trips up to Kuala Lumpur, a 5 hour bus ride up from Singapore, to party with our friends. Usually, we just hang out indoors, and do the usual city stuff outdoors. This time, we were up to watch Swedish House Mafia at Sunway Lagoon as well. I was excited as hell because I live for raves — it’s where I can surrender my body, mind, and soul entirely to the beats.

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Making our way deep into Sunway Lagoon, where the stage is.

It was quite a mess to get into the area. The floor was separated into two sections, and we had tickets to the party zone, which was the mosh pit of sorts — right in front of the stage. There were no clear indications of where the entrances to the party zone was, so we all ended up squashed at the barricade which sectioned off the party zone. Some of them jumped over the gate to get into the party zone, while Kieran and I did the civilised thing and made our way out of the crowd, and into the proper entrance by the extreme end. So we got separated that way, and we ended up raving in two groups.

The amazing trio.
The amazing trio.
The massive screensaver.
The massive screensaver.
Group two.
Group one. (Go for Sephora eyeliner if you dig my look.)
Group one.
Group two.
More pretty visuals.
More pretty visuals.
The view of Sunway Lagoon Hotel from our spot.
The view of Sunway Lagoon Hotel from our spot.
What's a rave without lasers?
What’s a rave without lasers?
And it was pyrotechnics, and goodbye.
And it was pyrotechnics, and goodbye.

The Swedish House Mafia gig was great because they had great songs. Not because they were good DJs. And I don’t really identify techno music according to the different songs. Raves are just one very, very long song from start to the end for me.

I can’t help but pit every rave to Tiesto’s, and no one even comes close. He knows how to use his tunes, and rearrange it to bring the crowd up and up, harder and harder, and then exploding it into drops that deliver multiple orgasmic climaxes throughout the whole session.

And what's a rave without people taking photos with passed out drunks?
And what’s a rave without people taking photos with passed out drunks?

There wasn’t much to rave about the rave, but I had a great, sweaty time. And I’m glad that I caught them before they called it quits. But I have a feeling that this won’t be the last of them.

And on to the second part of the trip… It was home party time!

Da bao-ed dinner from OK Restaurant.
Da bao-ed dinner from OK Restaurant.
PJ party.
PJ party.
Love waking up to this bunch.
Love waking up to this bunch.
The view that will always bring back the many, many lovely memories spent at Bintang.
And lastly, the view that will always bring back the many, many lovely memories spent at Bintang.

So very glad to have this bunch of friends.

Scram!

Last week I went dirtbiking for the first time, and it was A LOT of fun. Tristan Park at Johor Bahru offers non-riders a crash course in motorbikes, and I needed that because I’m planning a Vietnam trip Top Gear-style (well, only part of the journey — not bike across the country), and I don’t have a bike or car licence.

So, thankfully, I had a couple of friends who were ready to get dirty with me. Ade is an experienced biker, and Weiming is a fairy who wanted to put his testosterone levels to the test. When I made the booking for the 3 of us, I mentioned that 2 of us were non-riders. But because of some miscommunication, we were presented with 3 fully manual scramblers instead. We arrived a little late (you can start riding at 9am, but we only got there around 11am), so there was a bit of pressure to pick up riding skills quickly. Weiming and I had our first taste of operating a bike (not easy at first but damn thrilling!) at a dodgy back alley in the middle of no where, and when the guide decided that we were really too amateur to ride to the main trail in the woods, we got into his jeep and rode the bumpy way in instead.

Into the woods for practice rounds.
Into the woods for some practise.
Before we knew how adventurous the trail that lay in front of us was.
Before we knew how adventurous the trail that lay in front of us was.

Once I got the hang of controlling the bike, I was hooked. But I still wasn’t 100% confident after two hours or so on the practice grounds. I kept losing balance at the corners because I was just not used to toggling the acceleration and braking. And when the guide said that it was time to head on to the real trail, I simply hyped myself up with some false confidence.

The beginner’s trail was no problem. It was bumpy and some paths were narrow, but it was real fun and we got through it quite swiftly. But it was also at this halfway mark that we realised that we didn’t bring enough water. So for those intending to go, bring along no less than 1.5L for each rider.

A pretty view of a quarry at the start of the beginner's trail.
We got a pretty view of a quarry before entering the intermediate trail.
Our trio of  Kawasaki KLX 150cc bikes.
We rode on Kawasaki KLX 150cc bikes (foreground).
All hyped up!
Martians all hyped up about exploring this new planet!
Our patient guides.
Our patient and rather under-hyped guides.
Navigating the narrow paths.
Weiming entering the first of many narrow paths.

It was after this point that my falling combo started. The intermediate path really tested my amateur riding skills, and I lost balance many, many times because I accelerated when I wasn’t supposed to, and my control of the clutch and brakes weren’t perfected yet. But as we weren’t going at great speeds, falling was neither scary nor painful. I just pitied our other guide, who had to keep picking up my bike. Well at least he was pretty entertained by my clumsiness. Haha.

But thanks to Ade who was super at off-road riding and always ahead of me, she managed to get a couple of nice shots of me looking all tough.
Sloshing through a stream.
Sloshing through a stream. PHOTO: Ade Chong
The trickiest part was trying to navigate through the woods at snail speed. (Photo by Ade)
The trickiest part was trying to navigate the woods at snail speed. Photo: Ade Chong

We had to wrap up by 4pm, and by then, Ade was super satisfied, Weiming was ready to fall asleep anywhere, and I was a little bruised — but we were all extremely glad that we went on this mini adventure. Our outing costed SGD90, and I highly recommend it for all the Singaporeans who have not experienced off-road riding.

How else can you get a chance of being featured in a male-targeted bike calendar?

Tristan Park
I’m sure you see the potential too. PHOTO: Ade Chong
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