Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Perhentian Trip '07 - The One Before the Write-ups

(Tried to recreate the photo that I posted in the previous entry but I couldn't find the exact spot so have to make do with this instead)

Back safe and sound with a mild case of sunburn and tons of photos to go through. Manage to spoil another phone (yet again!) on this trip by forgetting to take it out of my pants before I waded through the water all for a photo shot. Have to see if the shop can fix it.

Perhentian was a blast and the weather was picture perfect. I’ll put up a trip report and photos once I get them organized.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Perhentian Trip '07 - The One With Pre departure Notes

Dateline : 25th May 2007.
To read the previous entry, click here.

I am feeling very excited that in a few hours time I will be on my way to Pulau Perhentian for some time off with the family. We bought this tour package during the KL Matta Fair back in March and I have been waiting patiently for this day to come. It was fortunate that there were no unforeseen circumstances happening in the intervening weeks that would have had us cancel the trip. We did however made some changes from the original travel plan.

When we bought our 3 days 2 nights stay at Perhentian Island, we did not actually know which resort we will be staying at. Given that we were a family group traveling together, the tour operator in Kuala Besut recommended that we stay on the family-orientated Perhentian Besar instead of the more rowdy backpacker’s places on Perhentian Kecil. We all agreed with the recommendation and booked 2 chalets at Abdul’s Chalet on the south end of Perhentian Besar. The more sedate environment didn’t matter much for us since we could always take a water taxi to the Kecil island if we wanted to get some nightlife action. I went online after we confirmed the chalets at Abdul’s to find pictures of how the place looked like and I have to say that I was really impressed with what they show on the net. I hope that what they have on the web was not all false advertising.

We also originally planned to travel from KL to Kuala Besut, Terengganu by overnight express bus before taking the first fast boat out from the jetty there to Pulau Perhentian. Considering that some of us (yours truly included) wanted to stop by Kuala Terengganu to do a bit of shopping, we decided to scrap that plan and drive up to Kuala Besut from KL instead. This meant that we would be adding another day to the travel plans as we will be leaving KL very early on Saturday morning instead of later in the evening. We hope to stop at Temerloh for breakfast before making our way up the east coast to Kuala Terengganu for lunch and a bit of shopping. Painted batik material and a good piece of songket are high on my to buy list for this trip.

After Kuala Terengganu, we would have to travel further up the coast for about 3 hours before we reach Kuala Besut where we would be spending the night before taking the first boat out to Perhentian Island the next day. We were lucky to be able to get 2 hotel rooms for that night on short notice as it seems that the rooms are getting booked up pretty fast due to mid year school holidays. We just need to check in at the tour operator’s office at Kuala Besut when we reach there and everything will be handled for us from that point on until the 30th when we leave the islands. Snorkeling and kayaking are among the activities on the island that I am looking forward to most. As long as they provide me with proper gear and a swim vest then I’m all set to go. I hope to make best use of my time there until we have to check out and leave on the 30th.

I’ve already got my newly purchased Speedo board shorts and sun tan lotion packed. I have already bought a few Kodak disposable underwater cameras for the trip in case we do find Nemo during our snorkeling trips. My mum will be bringing her digital camera as well so I know I will be taking my travel pics with that camera too. Will be spending the night at my parents house tonight so it’s easier for us to get everyone together to leave early tomorrow morning.

Barring any major catastrophes, we are all good to go. I'll blog about the trip when I get back and get all the pics together.

(Perhentian Besar South Point - I'm expecting something like this to be there when I arrive on Sunday)

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Manila Trip '07 - Day 4

Dateline : 5th Feb 2007.
To read the previous entry, click here.

After getting only about 2 hours of sleep, I woke up at 4:30am to get ready to check-out of the hotel that we stayed in during our time in Manila. Except for the lack of the tea making facilities and the broken down water heater unit, the Palm Plaza Hotel (524 Adriatico St. Pedro Gil, Malate, Manila) was an acceptable place to stay in for the trip. It’s close proximity to a mall, night life, halal food places and public transport made our time in Manila hassle-free and enjoyable. There were more than a few sights around the hotel that I missed because I was not adventurous enough to go out further in my explorations of the area. I hope to be able to do that next time now I know which hotel I would go to they next time I come into town. I would definitely recommend it to other people who would be visiting Manila.

After a quick shower and clean up to make sure that I did not leave anything behind, we all went down to the lobby to settle our room bills. My double-bed room bill came up to 5700 pesos (RM 422) for the 3 nights we spent in Manila. I thought that the price is reasonable considering the size of the room and the amenities around it. Once all that have been squared away, we took a taxi from Mabini St to the Pasay City bus terminal to catch the Philtranco bus to Clark Air Field for our Air Asia return flight to KL. On the way to the bus terminal, we passed a big fire happening in the area where we were just in 2 nights ago. One of the buildings there caught on fire and there were fire engines all around. Fortunate for us this was very early in the morning and it did not cause a massive traffic jam that would delay our taxi.

We reached Pasay City bus terminal without any incidents after that and had to wait for them to board the bus going to Clark Air Field. When we arrived at the terminal, there was no indication on where we should buy the tickets to get on the bus. After asking around, we discovered that some people bought their tickets earlier and some would buy them on board the bus itself. Those who bought tickets earlier were actually given open seat tickets instead of assigned seats. Given that there seems to be only two buses departing at the time which will reach Clark Air Field in time for our flight, we were worried about not being able to board the bus because we did not buy our tickets early.

(Philtranco Terminal at Pasay City, Manila)

When we finally got on the bus, we discovered that the seats were indeed overbooked and some people who had to catch that early morning flight had to sit in the aisles for the whole journey. Considering that the journey from Pasay City to Clark Air Field would take about 2 hours, I was thankful that I was not one of those people. My luck would not hold long when I found myself stuck behind a rude and inconsiderate tourist who insist on pushing her seats back as far as possible and in the process crushing my kneecaps. No amount of “excuse me” or glares would make this girl understand that she was not the only paying customer on the bus and so she should put her seat upright. What was more irritating was that she had the cheek to loudly complain to her disinterested boyfriend that the “locals” are making it hard for her to sleep because she can feel my knees pushing into the back of her seat.

I tried to get as much sleep as I can on the bus despite the useless lump of a woman who was crushing my kneecap. The bus stopped for about half an hour at the SM Megamall in Ortigas to pick up even more people for the trip. Fortunately for us it was not as many as those who boarded the bus at Pasay City but you would think that there would be more buses to cater for the extra people. Our bus fare were collected at this point for people who did have a ticket purchased earlier before we continued on our journey to Clark Air Field. The scenery along the route was exactly the same as the one I saw on the earlier journey in to Manila at the start of the trip so I was not missing anything new. We arrived safely at Clark Air Field a little over 9am and had to wait outside the terminal before they allowed us to check in for our flight.

(Philtranco bus and Departure Hall gate at Clark Air Field)

Compared to LCCT in KL, Clark Air Field was fairly spartan. They had a few kiosks setup to sell coffee and tidbits but that was about all they have outside. Once they allowed us to check in for our flights, we had to queue up outside the main departure hall to go through security body checks and baggage screening. Unlike LCCT, non airline ticket holders were not allowed in the terminal building so they have to say their goodbyes outside as we stood in line to go through security. Once inside it was another queue to check into the Air Asia counter before queuing up again to pay our exit tax. Fortunate for us the crowd at the Clark Air Field was thin that morning and the queues were not unreasonably long.

(Air Asia counter and interior shot of Clark Air Field Terminal)

(Departure Hall at Clark Air Field Terminal, Manila)

After another queue to go through passport control, we waited in the departure lounge for our flight to start boarding. They had a small duty free shop and coffee kiosk inside but that’s about it in terms of facilities at Clark Air Field terminal. Good thing that our Air Asia flight came in again that day so we departed Manila about 40 minutes ahead of schedule. My journey back that day was on one of those new Airbus airplanes that Air Asia recently acquired so not only did I get to sit in those comfortable leather seats but also had more leg room than on the plane we took on the way in. The flight was fairly smooth except for a little turbulence over the South China Seas but it was not as bad as the rough patch that we went through on our previous flight from KL to Manila. The plane safely touched down at LCCT sometime around 3pm and about 40 minutes ahead of schedule.

(Enroute from Manila to KL)

Taking a Skybus from LCCT to KL Sentral, we reached our destination at about 5pm. It was there that the group said goodbye to each other and parted ways to go back to our own homes. I went off to change the last of my pesos and dollars back to Malaysia ringgit at the money changer and had just enough money to get a replacement for the phone that I lost in Manila. I’ve already called my mobile phone service provider about my lost and requested that they monitor my number to see if there was any activity on it since then. Happy to know that it would be barred until I go and collect a new SIM card from them, I just needed to buy myself a new phone to use with the new SIM card. I was too tired to get a phone on that day but I was not too tired to go for a nasi lemak meal that I have been craving for during my stay in Manila.

During nasi lemak and iced coffee, I took time to reflect on the past few days and how much I have enjoyed myself during the trip. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I was glad that I took and it was well worth the money paid. I almost never get a chance to go on an overseas trip nowadays so it was fortunate that this trip came my way. At the very least I can start thinking about travelling to all the nation capitals in the ASEAN region and check off Singapore and Philippines off my list. I also discovered that I like being behind the camera capturing the snapshots of life around me. I still loath being in front of the camera and that won’t change anytime soon but I am now thinking about getting a camera for myself to capture more memorable moments in the future.

Manila was a blast and I hope to return there again someday.

(Yours truly writing out his travelogue at Clark Air Field Terminal, Manila)

Manila Trip '07 - Day 3 (Part 3) Photo Entries

Last entry of this series will be posted soon.

(Walkway up to the embankments)

(One of the very few cannons left in the area)

(Close up of the relief on top of Fort Santiago entrance)

(One of the many stairways that ended at a locked gate in Fort Santiago. Some felt more creepy than others)

(Brass statue of guard and view from the embankment gaps at Fort Santiago)

(Fading light at Fort Santiago, Manila)

(This couple were taking their wedding photos in traditional native costume and was happy to let me get a shot of them)

(Handicraft stalls at Fort Santiago, Manila)

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Manila Trip '07 - Day 3 (Part 3)

Dateline : 4th Feb 2007.
To read the previous entry, click here.

After spending literally hours walking around Intramuros, we crossed the street opposite the Manila Cathedral to reach Fort Santiago which was the last stop of the day for us. Unlike the lived in Intramuros, Fort Santiago was set aside and maintained as a tourist spot which means that they charged for entrance into the area. The entrance fee of 40 pesos was reasonable especially when it was clear that it went to the upkeep of the area. The gardens that surrounded the area enhanced the setting and looked wonderfully festive in full bloom. Compared to the surrounding Manila area, both the Intramuros and the grounds at Fort Santiago were a welcome respite from the drab brown earthy hues that seem to be the preferred color of the whole city.

(Gardens and water fountain at Fort Santiago)

Walking through the garden and the water fountains, I found myself trying to imagine how the surrounding area looked like back in the days when the Spanish were the lords of the land. I wished that I did my homework and looked up if there were any pictures of how the area looked like back then. I was fairly sure that the now beautiful garden and water fountains were not part of the original grounds. I also walked up part of the outer wall of the area that must have overlooked the original moat that surrounded it and the Intramuros area to take some photos and to get a feel of the whole historical complex.

An inner moat marked the boundary between the gardens and the inner walls. Unlike the outer moat that was filled up and converted into a golf course, the inner moat was still filled with water and water-lilies. I could not see if the inner moat went around the inner courtyard as the water seem to flow from underneath the fort embankments. Since the water in the moat did not seem to be stagnant, I have to assume that it flowed in from somewhere I could not see from where I was standing. Walking across the bridge that spanned the width of the moat, we came to the entrance of the inner courtyard. At the top of the entrance was a sculptured relief commemorating the victory of the Spanish conquistadors over the native population that lived in the area. The site of Fort Santiago was actually built on top of the ruins of the place of Rajah Suliman who ruled the area before the Spanish came to Manila.

(Long shot of the fort entrance and the brigde across the moat)

(Fort Santiago Entrance)

On the grounds of the inner courtyard prominently stood another statue of Dr. Jose Rizal since this was the place where he spent his time in incarceration before his execution. To the left of the entrance was the Rizal Shrine. At this point, the others from my group were a little tired from all the walking we did so we decide to go our own ways in the grounds and meet back later in the evening. I decided to go off on my own to explore the Rizal Shrine I saw earlier. The building held personal items and artifacts belonging to the Philippine national hero as well as his written works and art. Since photography was not allowed inside, I had to make do with trying to capture all the images that I was seeing in my mind in hopes that they will not fade so quickly. All the displays were clearly organized and captioned which made learning about this prominent person much easier. Guided tours were also available to paying customers but since the building was quite small it was easy to overhear the running commentary and learn more from the experience.

(Rizal Shrine and statue)

Walking around the building, it was clear how much Filipinos revere their national hero. While we also have our own national heroes in Malaysia, I don’t think we place the same amount of emphasis on them like they do in Manila. I think this is partly due to the cultural differences between Malaysian and Filipinos when it comes to reverence of a past figure especially on the subject of statues and depictions of people who has passed on. It was thought-provoking for me to ponder as I walked though the Rizal Shrine realizing that I might now know more about him than some of the unsung heroes of my own country.

After exiting Rizal Shrine from the upper floors, I found myself walking along the battlements towards the area of the fort that faced the Pasig River. The river was not as foul or full of garbage as what my guidebook made it out to be so I guess that the river recovered once the squatters of the area moved out. Standing there in that balmy afternoon, it was easy to see why this spot was strategic for the Spanish to build their fort. Even in the current conditions, the fort still have clear and unobstructed views of both direction of the river which made it easy to spot any boats that passed through. There were also some stairs that led to the lower levels of the lookout point but most were gated off. I could just imagine that they might have a whole labyrinth of service tunnels underneath the fort that one could get lost in if they were not careful.

(View of Pasig River from Fort Santiago and the embarkments that surround the area)

As the sun began to dip lower on the horizon, I took one last circuit around the fort embankments to return back to the main entrance of the fort. This was actually my first time being in a proper fort so I was quite excited to be walking the same path that people have walked through 500 plus years ago. The idea that I was standing on a spot that had been through so much through the years fueled my imagination and drove me to try to discover as much as possible in the time that was left to me in Fort Santiago. I could have easily spent more time here if it was not for the promise that I already made with the other to regroup so we can all go back to the hotel.

(Walking through history)

Once we left Fort Santiago, we walked back towards Manila Cathedral to see if we can find a jeepney that went to Mabini St. Instead of walking though the Intramuros again to the entrance where we saw jeepneys picking up people earlier, we decided to veer to a different direction thinking that we might be able to get jeepneys there. It turned out that there were no jeepneys that passed the area where we were walking through and this fact did not dawned on us until we were too far to turn back. Our only option was to walk back toward Rizal Park in hopes of finding jeepneys there.

We finally reached Roxas Blvd before the group decide that they had enough walking for one day and decided to get a cab instead. It had been the most interesting day of the trip for me and I was sad that it was coming to a close. Not knowing if I would ever make it back to Manila left me a little sad but at least I was able to do something that got me excited about while I was there. Since we all had a very early start the following morning, some of the guys I was with decide to turn in for the evening. I, on the other hand, had some dried mangoes to buy and another night out to spend in Manila.

Once we reached the hotel at about 7pm, I took my leave to go back to Robinson’s Place mall to buy packaged dried mangoes. Somewhat of a must bring back item for visitors, the dried mangoes turned out to be more expensive than I had originally thought at 78 peso per 200g pack. I don’t know if it’s because I was buying them at a supermarket but the price was comparable to how much they cost in KL. Wandering through the supermarket, it was interesting to spot both the familiar and not so familiar items on the shelves. There were also quite a few halal food items on sale although they were the minority here instead of the other way around in KL. After buying about 2 dozen packs of dried mangoes for friends and family, I made my way back to my hotel room for a quick dinner of cheese and crackers, a lukewarm shower and got dressed to go out again for my last night out in Manila with one of the guys who knew the area from his previous visit.

First order of business when we left the hotel at 9 pm was to look for an ATM machine to withdraw some cash. Fortunately I knew exactly where having found the Mabini St Maybank ATM machine while exploring the area the day before. I tried my own card and found that although I could not lookup my bank balance, I could withdraw cash from it fairly easily if I wanted to. Once we had our cash, we walked up the street to find the place that my friend was taking me too. He was fairly sure that he knew the way but true to form, we got lost again walking the streets of Manila. We ended up just outside of the Hobbit House Bar which while was a novel place to go to, was not what we were planning for the night. In the end we decided to take a taxi to go to the other direction of Mabini St and stop at the Cowboy Bar & Grill for some live music.

The night out at Cowboy Bar & Grill was more my style compared to the strip club we went to the night before. The night we were there, they had 3 bands playing 3 sets through the night. There was no cover charge to enter but you do need to buy food with your drinks. Deciding on grilled mushrooms and fries with our coke (I've gave up drinking for good and he wanted to be sober for tomorrow’s flight), we stayed for a set of the 3 bands. The first 2 were the normal Filipino bands that you find locally in KL and they played mostly pop songs for their sets. The last one was the clear crowd favorite as they played classic rock songs much to the enjoyment of all of us. They spent the night rocking down the house with their mix of old and new rock songs.

Since we had to get up at 4:30am that morning to get to the airport on time for our morning flight, we left Mabini St Cowboy Bar & Grill at about 2am. The walk from the bar to the hotel was uneventful as there were still a crowd out on the street at that early in the morning. I guess that having company with you to walk the streets helped as I would not think that I could do it on my own. Once I reach the hotel room, I decide to take another shower before trying to get 2 hours worth of sleep on my last full day in Manila. I knew that I would be dead tired the following day but it was worth every moment.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Manila Trip '07 - Day 3 (Part 2) Photo Entries

Took a ton of photos while I was at Rizal Park and Intramuros so here are some of them while I write out the last remaining entries for this series.

(Rizal Monument with Manila Hotel off at the distance)

(Jeepney stop although none actually stopped there and actual jeepneys at entrance of Intramuros)

(Close up to the gate house entrance at Intramuros)

(This doorway lead into a beautiful garden that I wished I had gone in to see but I think it was a private residence)

(Street level at Intramuros - wished that the tangled electrical wires didn't spoil the view)

(San Agustin Church entrance and bell tower)

(Close up of Manila WW2 Liberation Dead Memorial with inscription at the base of the statue)

(Wished I had a better panoramic lens setting to capture how big the Manila Cathedral entrance was)

(Bell tower for Manila Cathedral and the wedding crowd in front of the cathedral)

(Kids in front of Manila Cathedral was more than happy to pose for this silly tourist who wanted to get a pic of the girl who wore the white traditional costume)