Thursday, April 30, 2009

Cameron Highlands - hiking trails

"Ask me one more time and I'll wring your neck!"

This is my reaction when I'm asked the umpteen times which trails in Cameron Highlands (CH) are good (define good), and if there are any wild animals like tigers and elephants (see earlier post for answer).

The trails west of Tanah Rata (No. 6, 10,11,12): not clearly signposted, easy to lose your way, often within sight of buildings.

The trails east of Tanah Rata are more challenging and interesting.

Trail 4: the easiest, your grandmother will thank you, watch out for small squirrels, walk by the canal but a bit of imagination needed as you are not in the deep rain forest.

Trail 9A: easy walk to the Boh tea factory but can be slippery

Trail 8: after Robinson Waterfall, takes you to top of Gunung Beremban (1841m), trail goes up and down mountain slope, some fitness required, make sure grandma or grandpa has made their will if they insist on tagging along, those with heart problem beware, interesting and challenging. Return via trail 7 or 5 and come out at MARDI or trail 3 and 2 emerging at golf course and Chinese temple respectively.

Trail 1: steep and challenging, start of trail hard to find, best to walk up via paved road and hike down, summit is Gunung Brinchang at 2032m, can camp at summit if you can stand the cold.

Happy Hiking

(Read about precautions in earlier post)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


A steamboat meal

When you are in Cameron Highlands you tend to be greedy, and more greedy with each passing day. You want to eat roti canai, satay, strawberries and so on. Everything that can be eaten, you feel like trying. Maybe, the nice cool weather makes your stomach growl all the time for food.

But it seems everyone who goes to Cameron Highlands (CH) will try the steamboat. In China it's called hot pot or huo guo.

Steamboat in CH consists of many plates of uncooked food which you dip into a pot of boiling soup to cook them. Steam rises from the hot pot of soup that's why they call it steamboat I guess. It's sweaty work cooking your food but it's enjoyable when the weather is cold.

In CH most restaurants offer steamboat for a least two persons at a fixed price. If you're alone there's no need to disappointed - just call me so there'll be two persons for the meal. Just nice don't you think so?

Happy eating!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

SJK (C), Brinchang, Cameron Highlands

Photos: Children from SJK(C), Brinchang. Spot the Malay, Indian and Orang Asli kids who are fluent in Mandarin.

To: The Headmaster/Principal
SJK (C), Brinchang

Dear Sir

About a week ago while looking around Brinchang, I spotted your school and went in to have a look (sorry, without your permission).

Your school may not look very modern but I simply love it. Your students were wonderful and friendly.

I was surprised to learn that Malay, Indian and Orang Asli kids are learning Chinese at your school. I spoke to them in Mandarin and they impressed me with their fluency in the language. I congratulate your teachers for this great achievement.

I have not been able to find your e-mail address to send you the pictures of your students as promised. I hope if you come across this message you'll let them know how pleased I was meeting them. Thank you.


PS: I visit CH regularly and on my next visit may I drop by your school again? xie xie

Monday, April 27, 2009

Cameron Highlands, Pahang (Malaysia) Hainanese Association

Hainanese Clan Association in Singapore.
Hainanese Clan Association in Brinchang, Cameron Highlands

Walking around Brinchang in Cameron Highlands I was pleasantly surprised to see a Hainanese Clan Association. Below the building is a Chinese restaurant. I trudged up the stairs to be greeted by a huge hall with photographs lining its walls.

Two elderly men in a small office were in earnest discussion. Behind the hall was another room for recreation. Mahjong tables awaited the gamblers. I spoke to the guy who was arranging the tables. I asked if he could speak Hainanese but he replied in Hokkien (a Chinese dialect) that he could not. Another senior citizen was reading the Chinese paper.

Obviously there must be a large Hainanese community in Cameron Highlands but in my years of coming here I've yet to hear a SINGLE person speaking Hainanese. It's a big disappointment.

In Singapore there's a big Hainanese Clan Association in Beach Road. This year the World Hainanese Conference will be held in Singapore.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Trekking in Cameron Highlands, Pahang (Malaysia)

This paved path leads into the jungle.
One of the pleasures in Cameron Highlands is the great variety of flowers growing everywhere.


After encouraging you to trek in Cameron Highlands I feel duty-bound to warn you to take certain precautions. I have seen many times people walking into the jungle empty-handed and just wearing slippers/sandals.

Now mind you this is a real jungle, part of the great Malaysian rainforest and not a theme park! 99% of the time nothing will go wrong but still it's better to be safe than sorry.

Things to bring:
  1. Water - despite the cool weather you'll still sweat a lot.
  2. Food - to provide energy and in case the unthinkable happens and you get lost
  3. Lighters, flashlights, whistle - in case you get lost
  4. Raincoat
  5. Walking stick to provide support
  6. A fully-charged cell phone
  7. A hat/cap
  8. Long-sleeved shirt as there are thorny plants.
It's important to start as early as possible. It can be dangerous to start late in the afternoon as the jungle gets dark early.

Inform your hotel or the police before setting out. Trekking with a friend or in a group is the ideal. As mentioned in an earlier blog, don't try to be a hero and take an unfamiliar trail.

As for wild animals, don't worry I have yet to come across any. But you'll see hollow tree trunks and then your imagination works overtime and you imagine a leopard is hiding inside waiting to turn you into its lunch. But if you do come across any wild animals do consider yourself "lucky".

You won't be troubled by leeches either. Even during the rainy season none attacked me. Maybe they could tell my blood type is unfit for consumption or something. I don't know.

The trails become very slippery after a heavy shower so wearing shoes with a good traction is important. I fell down a few times but luckily I didn't break any bones. But it was more fun than a roller-coaster trekking in the rain! Skidding, sliding, falling, screaming...

Happy trekking, mate.

Oh, by the way if you come across a short guy coming out from the jungle don't worry. He's not an apparition but most likely an orang asli (aborigine) hunting for birds for dinner.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Cameron Highlands, Pahang (Malaysia) Part 4

Visitors to the Highlands on the way to their trek.
One of the "gunung" (mountain) for trekkers to conquer.

A popular jungle walk.

Apart from the year-round spring weather in Cameron Highlands, the other thing which I find interesting is trekking in the jungle.
There are a number of treks the authorities call "walks" but don't run away with the idea that your 90-year-old grandma can easily take an easy stroll. If you're reasonably fit, you can trek. Some treks will involve walking up and down the slopes of mountains, and may take up to 2 to 3 hours.
Beware, the trails are poorly signposted but as long as keep to the well-trodden paths you won't get lost. But don't try to be hero and blaze a new trail to Taman Negara (National Park) or you might end up as another Jim Thompson

An American businessman known as the Silk King, Jim Thompson went for a walk in the Cameron Highlands and disappeared mysteriously. To this day, the mystery has not been solved.

Enjoy your "walk"

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Cameron Highlands, Pahang (Malaysia) Part 3

While walking to Robinson Waterfall in Cameron Highlands, I came across this lovely house which reminded me of British cottages.

It is surrounded by all sorts of flowering plants, and strawberry jam is on sale. But strangely the house seemed deserted.

I shouted "Hello" as loudly as my ageing lungs could manage but there was no response. I could easily have entered the house and walked away with a few free bottles of strawberry jam and nobody could have been the wiser.

Kurnia Bistari and Regal bus companies - take at own peril

This is a warning against travelling on Kurnia Bistari or Regal buses to or from
Cameron Highlands.

A few backpackers lost their backpacks when the luggage hold below the bus accidentally opened and their backpacks fell out.

The buses are so old that they should be in a museum than on the road. The seats are torn, broken and the interior of the buses is very dirty.

Going down Cameron Highlands to KL via the old winding road can be dangerous as the drivers go quite fast. Since the buses are so old, their brakes can't be trusted.

Halfway they may switch to another bus without air-conditioning. It happened to me. I felt cheated. But what was worse was that I had to suffer in the terrible heat all the two hours to KL.

You've been warned.

(In Dec 2004, a Kurnia Bistari bus fell into a ravine killing two foreigners and injuring many. In Sept 2007 another was involved in an accident with a lorry killing a Myanmar man.)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Cameron Highlands Part 2

My friend, John Archer, asked me, "How do you get to Cameron Highlands from Taiping Town?'

Ok, let me set it down step by step:
  1. From Taiping Town go to the bus station near Legend Hotel
  2. Take a bus to Kamunting station on outskirts of Taiping Town
  3. From there take bus to Ipoh Medan Kidd bus station
  4. From there take a minibus to Medan Gopeng bus station
  5. Take the bus to Cameron Highlands. Last bus is at 6 pm
  6. Bus takes about two hours to reach Cameron Highlands bus station in Tanah Rata
If you arrive late at night at Tanah Rata, you can stay at the following places:

  1. Twin Pines (for backpackers, 10 mins' walk)
  2. BB Inn (cheap, RM$25 off-season, TV, attached toilet, small room, free biscuits and coffee, 10 mins' walk)
  3. Hillview Inn (for families, clean, budget accommodation, 15 mins' walk, on a slope)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Cameron Highlands, Pahang (Malaysia)

Tanah Rata town.
Starbucks at Tanah Rata

Brinchang town. Hopelessly congested.

With its temperate climate, Cameron Highlands have been my favourite hill resort in Malaysia.

I haven't been back in two years so on this visit I was curious to see if there have been any changes.

Oh boy, was I surprised! I noticed a lot of development has taken place in the two tourist towns of Brinchang and Tanah Rata. There are more hotels in the moderate and budget classes. More new cafes and restaurants which for those who live to eat will be most welcome news. The pub at Tanah Rata, where you can have a drink and watch live soccer telecasts, is still going strong.

And Starbucks has come to Tanah Rata. Surely now McDonald's will not want to be left out of the action.

The best thing that has come to Cameron Highlands is the free Wi-Fi everywhere. For netizens, WOW!

Cameron Highlands is booming!
"The hills are alive".


View from New Champagne Hotel
A good budget hotel with friendly staff. Pocket-friendly too.

Apart from transport cost, the next thing that can make a big hole in your pocket is accommodation. If you are the next Warren Buffet, you may skip this part.

The nice thing about Taiping Town is the pleasant, well-maintained and inexpensive budget hotels.

When I arrived in Taiping it was already 9pm. My plan was to stay at New Champagne Hotel. I knew roughly the location but I asked around anyway.

I was surprised nobody knew where the hotel was! Not a single person.

I spotted Hollywood Hotel. Nice name but hotel only in name as it looked more like a homestay for foreign workers.

"How much a night?" I asked the Indian youth at Reception.

"RM$70," he said.

He must have thought I had just come from the planet Mars. RM$70!

Finally, I found Hotel New Champagne which was just around the corner from this cheat.

"Why nobody in Taiping knows where your hotel is?" I asked the hotel receptionist.

The Indian lady said, "You must say 'Old Cathay Hotel' or 'Soon Lee Restaurant'."

The room cost me RM$68.

Cozy room with a 14-inch TV, air-conditioned and free drinking water outside.

And the beautiful Taiping Lake Gardens is just within spitting distance.

If you have more Malaysian ringgit to throw than me, then Panorama Hotel at RM$92 is a steal. Its coffee house is the perfect place to relax after all that hard travelling.

If New Champagne Hotel is full try the similar Furama Hotel nearby.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


A popular wet market in Taiping Town. Such is the relaxed atmosphere in town that residents have time to have a chat.
The infamous Peace Hotel which doubles as a knocking shop. A well-known travel guide raves over its architecture. When the Japanese invaded Malaya its army took over the hotel.

One of the greatest pull factors in Taiping Town is the great numbers of eating establishments all over town. You certainly won't starve here. For US $1 you can have a filling meal. "Olden Days Kopitiam" (Olden Days Coffee Shop) offers not only a cuppa of coffee but also free wi-fi. When night falls, out come the notebooks.

Another hawker centre (eating establishment). There are foodstalls (size of pushcarts) where you order your food and sit anywhere you like Hmm...makes me hungry just blogging about Taiping food. Not only is Taiping food delicious but also wallet-friendly. Know what I mean?

Taiping Lake Gardens, Malaysia Part 2

On arriving at Taiping Lake Gardens, unless you suffer a sudden loss of your visual sense, you'll certainly be amazed by a row of huge trees with spreading branches.

Their branches dip into the lake, and they seem to be drinking from it!

Those who grew up in Taiping Town never fail to mention how much Taiping Lake Gardens played in their formative years.

In the early mornings and evenings, the gardens come alive with joggers, strollers and families having a spot of fun.

It may not match the Singapore Botanical Gardens in diversity of plants but it's more scenic.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Taiping Lake Gardens, Malaysia

Three reasons why you should visit Taiping. The top reason is its beautiful and peaceful Lake Gardens with the mountain range as its backdrop. There's no where else in the whole of Malaysia which can equal or surpass the Lake Gardens.

Thirty years ago I stepped foot here, and it's still remarkably well-maintained.

Century year old trees won't fail to attract your attention as well.

That's why Taiping has been consistently voted (by me!) as the best town in Malaysia.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Riding the Malaysian train Part 3

Pic: Everyone rushes to pay before train leaves (Keluang Station canteen)
KTM is a disappointment as it does not provide a dining car.

How was I going to survive the 12 -hour journey to Taiping without a proper meal? I had only some biscuits and a bun.

At Keluang Station a surprise announcement was made that we had 10 minutes to grab a bite from the station's canteen. Everyone rushed down like their backsides were on fire.

Everyone grabbed whatever they could lay hands on and rushed to pay at the same time. In the wake of the food poisoning incident in Singapore where two persons died, I played it safe and bought two hard-boiled eggs.

When the guard blew his whistle everyone rushed back into the train fearing to be left behind. In my haste I stumbled and dropped one of the eggs onto the tracks below! Half my lunch gone. Sigh.

Throughout the journey, I rationed my food (like I was in war time) to last all the way to Taiping, still a good 10 hours away.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Riding the Malaysian train

Pic: Interior of Superior class on Express Rakyat
Pic: Train arriving at JB station from Singapore
Pic: The modest-looking Johor Bahru railway station

As mentioned in the previous blog, I was impressed with the cleanliness of the Malaysian train, the Express Rakyat, particularly the toilets.

When my stomach started to rebel with growling noises, I went in search of the dining car. I remember the last train trip on KTM I was served expensive and indifferent food.

But Express Rakyat is a far cry from the ramshackle trains of the last century. It is a de-luxe and superior class train only. After a fruitless search I asked one of the cleaners.

She said, "Tak ada tempat makan." (There is no place to eat.)

I was disappointed. I hoped the train would stop at a station long enough for us to grab some "makan" (food).

BTW, many students have yet to travel in an intercity train. Maybe schools should organise train travel. Peirce Secondary School could be the pioneer.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Riding Malaysian train to Taiping

The last time I travelled in a Malaysian train was probably 20 years ago, and much has changed since. So it was with much anticipation that I looked forward to a renewal of ties with Kereta Api Tanah Melayu (KTM).

The pleasant thing if you are a senior is that even foreigners are entitled to half-price tickets. To Taiping it cost me RM $30 or about S$13. I really appreciate KTM's generosity especially in these hard times. Terima kasih KTM.

Though the train, Express Rakyat, has seen better days it was clean and the toilet s didn't smell. This is not by accident as I observed cleaners going about their chores, ensuring there is cleanliness throughout the train.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Vietnam Travel

Most people are apprehensive when they go to Vietnam, especially Americans to whom the country is not exactly an American Idol of a travel destination as desirable as the singing competition.

Their anxiety is understandable as Americans dropped more bombs in Vietnam during the Vietnam war than in the whole of World War 2! Imagine you are now going back to your former enemy's territory.

For others, well, Vietnam is a communist country so will they be harrassed by the secret police? Or worse, thrown into jail on trumped up charges. Don't laugh...people have expressed such fears to me.

To be honest with you, I too had a stab of anxiety the first time I travelled to Vietnam.

Chinese temple in Padang

Pic; Chinese temple in Padang

Although the Chinese have settled in Indonesia for hundreds of years, I have never come across a Chinese temple.

So you can imagine my delight when I saw one in Padang (which also has a few large churches). And like all Chinese temples, red is the main color. Unsurprisingly, it's located in an area with many Chinese clan associations.

When I walked into the temple and looked around I attracted some attention.

"Are you from Japan?" an elderly man asked me.

From Lake Toba to Bali most people asked me if I were from Japan or Malaysia but never Singapore. I don't think I look like a Japanese at all.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Tjoe and Kha Family Association in Padang, Indonesia

Pic: Tjoe (Chua) and Kwa

Pic: Tjoe and Kwa Family Association

As I wandered about Padang I was delighted to come across other Chinese clan associations (at least half a dozen), all with huge imposing buildings. Peering inside I noticed they had a very large hall, rows of photographs of past leaders and members on the walls and a table for reading newspapers.

At Tjoe and Kwa Association I was lucky to meet Tjoe and Kwa themselves. We had an enjoyable chat for an hour during which I was liberally feeding the resident mosquitoes! (Tjoe is the Indonesian spelling for the Chinese family name of Chua)

Like most Indonesian Chinese, they have lost almost complete touch with their mother tongue, being unable to read or speak Chinese fluently. This is the result of having been totally assimilated into Indonesian society.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Padang food

Pic: Padang beach foodstalls

Pic; Tempting Padang food

Pic: Padang beach

What is there to see in Padang? is usually the first question people ask.

Frankly, there is nothing much. Although Padang came under Dutch control there are no grand monuments or buildings except for a row of Dutch houses.

How about the beach? Padang beach is forgettable really. The beach is filled with black sand and littered with all sorts of rubbish. Careless, and you might end up in the emergency ward of Padang Hospital as there are nails and broken glass on the beach.

But watching sunsets at Padang beach is a favourite activity for courting couples.

Those who are interested in surfing head out to Mentawi islands.

Finally, mention should be made of the famous Padang food which has spread to Singapore and Malaysia. Walk into a Padang restaurant, and immediately the waiters slap a dozen small dishes of food on your table. The food range from skinny, tough chicken, curried beef liver, curried fish, chili eggplant, sambals (spicy sauces) and so on.

You pay for what you eat, and the dishes taken away to await the next customer!

If you have a weak stomach, beware. After eating Padang food a few trips to the toilet are guaranteed!

The Batak in Padang, West Sumatra

Pic: A Batak gathering in Lim Clan Association in Padang

Although this was a Chinese clan association building, I was mildly surprised not to see any Chinese inside the huge hall.

They were all Batak people. Being a busybody I stood outside the entrance and watched the proceedings. Prizes were given out and the audience applauded.

And where the Batak go there are always songs and music. They are famed for their singing. Hailing from the Batak Highlands and Lake Toba in the north, they claim to be of Polynesian descent. They are all Christian.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Padang's Chinese clan associations

Pic: Lim's Clan Association

Roaming around Padang, which is the provincial capital of West Sumatra, one hot afternoon I was surprised to hear people singing very enthusiastically. On closer observation I realised the singing came from a huge building with the words "Lim's Association".

Lim is a common Chinese surname so I thought How nice to come across Chinese people in Padang. I saw a large hall which can easily accommodate at least 100 people. But the people inside were not Chinese.

On making enquiries I discovered that these people were Batak from northern Sumatra (from Lake Toba, Batak Highlands) who rented the hall for their communal gathering.

"Why are the Batak here?" I asked a young girl sitting on a motor-bike.

"Merantau," she replied. (merantau = travelling because of job demands)

As i was to discover later, there were other clan associations in Padang.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Anglot of Padang, West Sumatra (Indonesia)

The thing that immediately caught my attention when I arrived in Padang (West Sumatra, Indonesia) was the boom, boom sound. I paused to find out where the noise came from, and realised it came from passing anglot (mini-vans used as public transport)

Every where in Padang I heard the boom, boom beat of heavy rock music blaring from speakers installed in anglot.

They are like flies buzzing about all over Padang which is the provincial capital of West Sumatra. Each anglot is covered in eye-catching and colorful artistic designs. You can't help feeling it's the possibly the work of a mad artist.

To get on board one, you simply raise your hand. On board there are small bench seats. As the game plan is to pack in as many passengers as possible, you are squashed like sardines. A trip around town costs 2000 Rp (SGD 0.30 cents)

Monday, April 6, 2009

Fish farming in Lake Maninjau

Pic: A fish farm in Lake Maninjau

One of the attractions in Lake Maninjau that fascinated me was the fish farming.

Fish farms ring all round the side of the lake. At night they are lit up.

Young fish are bred in the fish farms and just like food crops are "harvested" when fully grown and sold to restaurants and some kept for self-consumption.

Cats roam around hoping for a free meal.

The lake looks inviting, good for a dip. But the locals say the water is dirty. Throughout my stay I did not see a single swimmer. But on a previous visit, I had a dip in the lake. Refreshing.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Mr Porcupine of Danau (Lake) Maninjau

I met Mr Porcupine at WF Restaurant where I was having lunch.

"Tourists used to call me Mr Porcupine," he said proudly.

"How did that come about?" I said.

"You see, at that time I was a tourist guide. I wore a necklace made of porcupine...what do you call...?"

"The sharp things on a porcupine?" I volunteered. Frankly, I myself couldn't recall the exact word.

"Yeah. People then called me Mr Porcupine. But now i have this restaurant. I'm no longer a tourist guide. You want to see pig hunting on Sunday? We hunt wild boars with dogs. Not here in Maninjau because there are no wild boars."

"What do you do with the wild boars?"

"We feed them to the dogs."

As mentioned in the preceding blog, WF Restaurant is the best eating place in Maninjau.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Best dining place in Maninjau

Picture 1: Dutch drinkers enjoying a cold beer

Picture 2: Best dining place in Maninjau at WF Restaurant

Visitors to Indonesia often worry whether the food is safe to eat or whether there is any western food.

The food is safe if it has been boiled or fried over high heat. From Sumatra to Bali I have never had any stomach problem due to food. In India it's different. As for western food, even restaurants in guesthouses know how to prepare such food.

The best place to eat in Maninjau is at WF Restaurant which has a dining area jutting out into Lake Maninjau. Sometimes it is reserved for special functions.

Local food which I liked: lontong, fried rice (small restaurant beside Maninjau mosque, has small small dining area where you can meet local folk)

Horse-drawn carriages in Padang, West Sumatra (Indonesia)

Everybody loves horses. Indonesia is the only country in SE Asia where you can see horses being used as a form of transport in towns and even in cities.

But the horses seem to be overworked as they haul passengers about from morning till night. Also, they have to put up with the constant traffic noise and air pollution. Must be tough on them to stand on their feet throughout the day.

In Padang and Bukit Tinggi in West Sumatra (Indonesia) horse-drawn carriages are common. They are called "dokar". Tourists love to take a ride on them.

I remember the first time I rode on a horse was in Tretes, a mountain resort, in eastern Jave. It was exciting to gallop along the mountain paths. Give it a try and you'll find the experience unforgettable.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Houses in Maninjau, West Sumatra, Indonesia

Pic: House in Minangkabau design.

Pic: House on stilts over a pond. Can you see the fish?

When I was bored with staring at the beautiful and peaceful Lake Maninjau, I went around the town of Maninjau admiring the dwellings of the people of Maninjau town.

There was one which I liked very much. It was built on stilts over a small pond filled with fish (see photo).