Let me let you in on a secret: the secret to sensible packing is photographing what you pack. For hand-carry bags, for instance, it is imperative not to overstuff lest your shoulder is prepared to bear the yoke of overpacking.
So how does photographing helps? Whatever doesn’t look good in the photo, goes.
Genius, right? Right!
On a trip home to Manila, I tried this formula (and will prolly start a series after this), and am so stoked it works!
My favourite people in the world are Malaysians. Four trips to the country and countless of airport layovers in between, I stand by this claim with the conviction of a traveller who’s only had smashing reminiscence of the country.
It started with Jabidi, an old neighbour whose stories of coming to the Philippines by small boat from his native, Sabah, bequeathed my first glimpse of Malaysia. Then it continued with Tasha, whose food blog was spiced with family secrets from her grandma’s recipe book. Lastly, with Teoh, the most disarming gentleman I’ve ever known in this lifetime. (and you know how “disarming” stalls all else into standstill, but that’s for another blog post, so…)
On my recent trip however, Wilson, Nicole and Casey took centerstage. They did right, primarily, by taking me out on one hell of a gastronomic adventure.
To pay the thoughtfulness forward, here’s an Ultimate Kuala Lumpur Food Trip Hack from sunrise to midnight with local expertise courtesy of my Malaysian friends.
1. Instant Mi Goreng with a Gourmet Twist
Because really, who were we kidding? What with the fast-paced KL metropolis and its ironically severe traffic jams, nothing spelled convenience than a pack of instant Mi Goreng.
Then again, I was in posh Mont Kiara and somehow, there was a need to live up to the prestige. To the rescue were few drops of truffle oil and a perfectly fried egg and voila! Gourmet Mi Goreng ala Casey.
(Nota bene: I actually had this at dinner, but for this exercise, let’s pretend it’s an all-day breakfast.)
Technically, we drove out of Kuala Lumpur and to the neighbouring city of Petaling Jaya for lunch. It appeared that we actually drove against the direction of traffic too, which was half-genius, half-miraculous.
Village Park Restaurant
5 Jalan SS21/37
47400 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
2. Nasi Lemak
One cannot claim to have been in Malaysia until one had gobbled an entire plate of Nasi Lemak up. To Malaysians, nothing is Nasi Lemak enough unless it is the one at Village Park in PJ.
The hero of this national dish is in how fragrant and well-cooked the rice is. Usually cooked with coconut and pandan, this rice dish is often served with meat, anchovies, hard-boiled egg, vegetables and peanuts.
3. Milo Dinosaur
Common in Malaysia and neighbouring Singapore, this a traditional (street) drink made of Iced Milo topped with an excess of undissolved Milo powder.
Cheap and easy to make, but surprisingly a refreshing palate cleanser.
Jalan Alor is most alive at night. Proximal to the backpacker haven of Bukit Bintang, Jalan Alor is KL’s street food Mecca.
From sundown onwards, this whole street transforms to a series of outdoor restaurants serving a variety of local dishes: a true reflection of Kuala Lumpur’s multicultural identity.
Triple Gold Kitchen
67-69 Jalan Alor
50200 Kuala Lumpur
4. Mo Mo Cha Cha
Also called Bobo Chacha or Bubur Chacha, it is a traditional Nyonya Dessert. Comprising of root crop like taro and sweet potato, it is cooked in coconut milk and added with tapioca, banana and other fruits. It can also be served hot or cold.
5. Oyster Omelette
Oyster Omelette is a savoury dish comprising of an oyster-filled egg-and-flour battered omelette. A common street food in Taiwan, it can be attributed to Fujian and Chaozhou origins, and is widely available in many parts of Asia.
6. Grilled Stingray
Basically, this dish a grilled/barbecued stingray, laden with sambal topping and served on a banana leaf. It is widely popular in hawker stalls across the Malaysian peninsula and nearby Singapore.
7. Yin Yong
The duality of Yin and Yang– the harmony of two oppositions, is what this cultural dish represents. Basically two types of noodles are used: a dry one (usually vermicelli) and a wet one (usually flat noodles), which are then fused into a dish of contrasts, with vegetables, protein and other spices.
8. Kuey Tiao
Infamous in Penang, Kuey Tiao is a flat noodle dish that is stir-fried in lard and mixed with a variety of protein and vegetables. Often, it is served on a plate of banana leaf to further enhance the aroma of this Malaysian staple.
9. Hokien Noodles
Also known as Hokkien Char Mee, this soy sauce- braised yellow noodle dish is another hawker stall favourite that is widely served in many Asian countries.
It’s one thing to rough it out at a roadside eatery. It’s another to polish up to the heights of luxury immediately after roughing it up. That’s precisely what we did when right after Jalan Alor, off we went to the very exclusive Fuego Sky Dining at The Troika.
At first we weren’t sure if we’d be allowed entry in shorts and sandals. But my friends made calls and luckily so, we were gracefully received despite being under-dressed.
Reminiscent of clandestine rendezvous amongst the most influential, the atmosphere in the towers were almost eerie in its silence. We were led to a lift, to a dim-lit foyer and finally through a narrow corridor. I wasn’t prepared of what greeted us thereafter: panoramic views of the Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur’s best-known landmark.
Fuego Troika Sky Dining
Level 23a, Tower B, The Troika
19 Persiaran KLCC
50450 Kuala Lumpur
10. Churros and Salted Caramel
Fuego Sky Dining is tapas for the high society. I was fine with cocktails. But then Nicole insisted we try the Churros with Salted Caramel dip. And my golly was she right. If not for our very heavy dinner, I would’ve downed the entire jar of dip, spoonful after sinful spoonful.
It was such an experience that even before leaving, I was already planning on coming back: one day soon, and always, until I have sampled all items in their menu.
I have been to Kuala Lumpur many times in the past. But after this Food Trip, the country took on a new form in my eyes. The city’s gastronomy, I realize, somehow mirrors the identity of the nation: boldly open to fusion, but proudly rooted on tradition.
In the late 90s, my once progressive home city lost its clout as The Industrial City of the South. Public amenities were sold to private operators. Housing projects were abandoned, half-built. The largest steel mill in Asia was closed down and left rusting. Jobs were made scarce. Even beer houses, once frequented by husbands whose wives didn’t care so long as they were provided for financially, turned their lights off for good.
Iligan City was stripped off of prestige.
The City of Majestic Waterfalls
But when one is forced into nakedness, one learns to love its own skin. When progress left, nature stayed.
Fast forward two decades later, the city has risen up to the national stage, viciously proud of a new monicker: The City of Majestic Waterfalls.
There are twenty-four, to be precise. But Iligan is best-known for two: one for its power; and the other, for its beauty. I know both for its legends.
What the people in my far-flung hometown lacked in luxury, they made up for in imagination. I grew up in those: in stories woven from the very fabric of nature.
The Lore of Maria Cristina
Perhaps the more renowned of the two is the mighty Maria Cristina, the heartbeat of Agus VI, a hydro-power plant that lights up most of Mindanao. Imagine the force.
In intangible terms however, such force can only be equated to two emotions: love and hate. Coincidentally, these are the legs on which the saga of Maria Cristina Falls stands on.
Once upon time, on the coast of Iligan Bay, there lived two sisters who were famous for their beauty. Maria and Cristina were very close as siblings, but were often compared and pitted against each other.
There came a time when they fell desperately in love to the same man, who in turn, deceived them both. Unable to take the heartbreak, Maria leapt into a ravine and plunged into death. Guilt-ridden for her sister’s untimely demise, Cristina followed suit. Deeply saddened, the townspeople then put a boulder of a tombstone on the spot where the sisters jumped, to remember them by.
Soon after, river water started to flow and fall into the ravine, between the boulder. This created the twin waterfall that was later named after the sisters, Maria Cristina.
But as the playwright Congreve once said, “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”
In the years that followed, the waterfall and its surrounding waterscapes, were noted to have been claiming lives of men: motorists mysteriously driving over the bridge and into the unforgiving water turbine under it; swimmers winding up dead, their carcasses floating in the nearby BucanaBeach; and fishermen going missing for days— some, never to be found.
Maria Cristina Falls, to this day, exudes radiance. But like a maiden who never got justice, it also rages twice as bad.
Maria Cristina Falls Travel Guide
HOW TO GET THERE
From the North Bound Integrated Bus Terminal – (if on an Iligan line bus) – take a city-bound jeepney and disembark at Zoey’s Cafe in Aguinaldo Street. Then catch a Buruun line jeepney and disembark just after Agus Bridge.
From the North Bound Integrated Bus Terminal – (if on an Ozamis /Dipolog/Pagadian/Zamboanga line bus) – disembark just after Agus Bridge.
From the South Bound Integrated Bus Terminal – take a jeepney (either Buruun, Linamon, Kauswagan, Kolambugan lines) and disembark just after Agus Bridge.
From Lanao del Norte – disembark just after Agus Bridge.
Travel Time – from the city centre, depending on the traffic, 15-30mins.
PUJ Fare – 7PHP (within city centre); 12-15PHP (Ma. Cristina, Buruun, Linamon)
From Agus Bridge, walk to the gate of NPC Nature Park (approximately 10 minutes from the highway).
Entrance Fee – 35PHP (adults); 25PHP (kids)
Shuttle Fee – 10PHP (return)
The power plant controls the flow of the falls, except on weekends where it is usually on full blast.
The Lure of Tinago
In the last decade, news of a modern-day Arcadia seemed to have caught the fancy of curious outsiders. People have come in throngs, garbed in bright orange safety vests to frolic in the other-worldy waters of Tinago Falls.
Nestled deep in a cavernous gorge between the suburbs of Ditucalan, Buruun and the municipality of Linamon, is most probably the country’s most spectacular waterscape. To get to the basin, one has to descend at least 436 steps down a concrete set of stairs– a small price to pay for such precious a beauty.
But nature, just like all else in life, is a double-edged sword. Unbeknownst to non-Iliganons, behind the charm of Tinago Falls, lies a lore of darkness, whose extent was never before gauged.
To start off, the depth of the basin is not known. Many have tried, but not one has succeeded. The accounts of those who neither died nor disappeared varied from pleasantly enchanting to downright harrowing.
One of the few, non-horrifying versions of the Tinago narrative, was about a rainbow that appeared every afternoon, and whose end dipped into the waterfall. It was said that behind the cascade was a cave. In the cave, was a pot of gold guarded by a giant snake.
Another version recounted how an entire coconut tree was once dropped into the falls in an attempt to measure its depth, but it did not float back.
But the most nightmarish of all, told of a tale of a diver who surfaced out in sheer panic after hearing voices at the bottom of the falls. When prodded, the poor man reportedly, eerily described the voices as “wailing in suffering, as if it was the very doorway to hell.”
The truth to the mystery of Tinago Falls may be something that no one can ever get close to in this lifetime. But maybe too, there are truths we do not have to pursue. The way of nature is something that needs not only to be respected, but also, accepted.
In Iligan, we recognise that our realm, may sometimes overlap with that of others. There is good; there is evil. But the humankind is gifted with the most powerful magic of all: freewill.
It means get to choose our own versions of truths. How I choose the pot-of-gold-at-the-end-of-the-rainbow version of the Tinago story every time, for instance.
Tinago Falls Travel Guide
HOW TO GET THERE
From the North Bound Integrated Bus Terminal – (if on an Iligan line bus) – take a city-bound jeepney and disembark at Zoey’s Cafe in Aguinaldo Street. Then catch a Buruun line jeepney.
From the North Bound Integrated Bus Terminal – (if on an Ozamis /Dipolog/Pagadian/Zamboanga line bus) – disembark in Buruun or Linamon crossings to Tinago Falls.
From the South Bound Integrated Bus Terminal – take a jeepney (either Buruun, Linamon, Kauswagan, Kolambugan lines) and disembark in Buruun or Linamon crossings to Tinago Falls.
From Lanao del Norte – disembark in Buruun or Linamon crossings to Tinago Falls.
From Buruun (my favourite route) – from the highway (Buruun crossing to Tinago falls) – hire a habal-habal to Tinago Falls.
Accessible through the ruins of the old Tinago Falls Resort
From Linamon (the most convenient) – from the highway (Linamon crossing to Tinago falls) – hire a habal-habal to Tinago Falls Highland Resort.
Maintained by the local government. Roads are less steep and more paved, plenty of parking spaces and easier access to the falls.
Entrance Fee – donation only (10PHP minimum)
Live Vest – 25PHP
Bamboo Raft – 10PHP
Table – 75-100PHP
Visit on weekdays as weekends tend to get very crowded.
This is my entry to the Pinoy Travel Bloggers’ November 2016 Blog Carnival, with the theme, Stories From My Hometown, hosted by Celine Reyes.
When asked about my travels, I can only tell stories. How I ate fried grasshoppers in Vietnam or drank my way through Laos, for example. I suck at giving structured information like budget and itinerary.
But here’s an attempt at a Baguio-Sagada Travel Guide that really, is just Sagada. Don’t judge 😛
This guide is based on a backpacking trip I did years ago and is purely experiential. Also, allow me to disclaim that this may not be the most updated information on rates (although I tried my darnedest best to check on latest rates and prices). However, I have provided contact information if you wish to double-check.
Disclaimer :When I write about myself drinking beer in the Philippines, I mean Red Horse and nothing else.
Coming straight from an early flight from Cagayan de Oro, I was exhausted. The comfort that Victory Liner’s first class bus provided was formidable. What with full air-conditioning, reclining seats, free wifi, free snacks and a bus stewardess, it was an experience in itself.
Fare: 455PHP (Regular Aircon); 750 PHP (First Class) | Tickets can be pre-purchased online or in the terminals
Tip: If going to Baguio without prior reservations like we did, seek assistance from the Tourist Information Centre outside the Victory Liner bus terminal.
When we reached Baguio, it was nearly dusk. Thankfully, the men at the Tourist Information Centre were very helpful. Without a hotel reservation, they offered to drive us around the city until we found a hotel that we liked.
Fare: 50 PHP (Van and driver; until a hotel is found)
Where to stay
Our main requirement was a comfortable city-centre hotel that was close to the bus station for Sagada. After a couple of other enquiries, we found Belfranlt. The hotel was a bit dated, but its location, spacious rooms and clean toilets sold us. The hotel also had cable television, hot and cold shower and free breakfast.
Rates: 1650PHP (Double Aircon)
General Luna Road, Baguio City, Philippines
Phone: +63 74 442 4298
Where to chill
Remember that acoustic bar in the movie That Thing Called Tadhana? We’ve been there long before the movie was shown.
Perhaps, there was something about Baguio that made unraveling a little less difficult. Bohemian Cafe, for instance, beckoned nostalgia. Dim-lit nooks and alcohol, and the music that filled all the spaces in between.
Early the next morning, from Baguio, we took the 0700H GL Lizardo bus to Sagada. We were supposed to take an earlier bus but missed it. Hearty breakfasts do that. The trip took around 6 hours via the scenic Halsema Highway.
Fare: 220PHP (Regular Non-aircon)
GL Lizardo Bus Terminal
Rajah Matanda St, Baguio, Benguet, Philippines
Where to stay
We alighted at Sagada Public Market and walked further down along South Road to the SAGGAS (Sagada Genuine Guides Association, Inc.) office. After making initial enquiries, we looked for an accommodation to drop our bags in.
As it was past lunch time and we didn’t have a prior booking (again!), we didn’t walk far. Most of the accommodations near SAGGAS were fully-booked.
Fortunately, we chanced upon Alibama Inn, a small hostel situated above Pinikpikan House. It was okay, except it didn’t have hot shower. I died.
Rates: 250PHP per head (Non-aircon bedspace)
South Road, Sagada, 2619 Mountain Province, Philippines
Phone: (63) 920 8135797
Where to eat
Famished from half a day on the road, a siomai stall outside SAGGAS felt like oasis in the desert. I devoured an entire serve and downed it with a glassful of black gulaman.
Price: 28PHP(Siomai, 3 per serve); 10PHP (Black Gulaman)
South Road, Sagada, 2619 Mountain Province, Philippines
After doing the Echo Valley and surrounds tour, we dropped by Yoghurt House for some refreshments. Centrally located and with an instagrammable yellow facade, the Yoghurt House sure was unmissable.
The menu was on the pricier end of the spectrum, though. But I was all for good food and cozy ambiance, and really, I allowed myself to fall prey to good marketing and pretty interiors.
Price: 99PHP(Lemon Lassie)
South Road, Sagada, 2619 Mountain Province, Philippines
Phone: +63 908 112 8430
For dinner, we strolled further into the innards of Sagada, away from South Road. We were checking out souvenir items in a random shop when my nose caught a whiff of the unmistakeable pork binagoongan.
I heeded the call (or smell) of the home-cooked goodness, of course. That, plus plateful of extra rice later, I was solved.
Tip: grab a couple of free Mentos candies from the jar on the counter.
Salt and Pepper
Phone: +63 998 979 8695
South Road, Sagada, 2619 Mountain Province, Philippines
After the Cave Connection, we dropped by Sagada Lemon Pie House to supposedly sample their renowned lemon pies. But man, I was starving. Famous lemon pies be damned, I needed rice and a proper meal!
Price: 150PHP (Spicy Red Chicken and rice meal); 20PHP (Lemonade)
Sagada Lemon Pie House
South Road, Sagada, 2619 Mountain Province, Philippines
Phone: (63) 907-7820360
Where to chill
“Fcuk Sagada, ang sarap mo!” said the vandal on a hanky pinned on a freedom wall. It stood out from all the trinkets that travellers before us had left in the comforts of Bamboo Bar.
I fell in love at once; left awestricken by the myriad of stories stuck on the walls of that rendezvous. I could have stayed there and made friends and found love and lost pieces of myself. I could have been the resident storyteller, or secret keeper, or kiss-and-spiller.
I could have been everything; and nothing. And even the latter would have been okay.
South Road, Sagada, 2619 Mountain Province, Philippines
What to do
(Rates are based on a 2pax shared tour)
Echo Valley and Bokong Falls
Knackered from the bus ride from Baguio, we settled on an easy activity for the afternoon. Our sampler tour started at St. Mary’s Anglican Church and into the woods behind it.
While hiking, we learned a bit about how faith was the core of the town, and that in many aspects, religion shaped huge part of the town’s culture and history.
We first reached Echo Valley, where everything you screamed was screamed back at you. It was popular to those who needed emotional release from romantic shambles. I swore alright; profanities overload.
Shortly after we resumed our hike, we came across a high rock with coffins hanging on the side. “Ah, there you are,” I exclaimed, noting the most recognisable spot in Sagada; the most photographed. The underground river cave was cloaked just behind the hanging coffins.
Further, Bokong Falls hid behind a dense shrubbery. It wasn’t easily visible, but the sound of the cascade lured the water baby in me. Ice-cold but rejuvenating, I couldn’t have thought of a better way to round an intrepid day off.
Our guide, Anthony, met us outside the SAGGAS office at 4am on our second day. Much to his dismay, we opted to trek Kiltepan, as opposed to taking a hired van to the peak. We promised him a tip though, as consolation, explaining how as backpackers, we didn’t particularly like being herded.
The trek was relatively short and easy, nothing like the tramps we’ve done in other backpacking trips. Several vehicles ran past us, filled with tourists in identical crocheted bonnets.
When we got to Kiltepan Peak, most have already taken their spots and have set up tripods to photograph the iconic Sagada sunrise. Some have pitched tents right at the peak the night prior, we learned.
I found a spot too, and from there, the sunrise was glorious. There was barely sea of clouds, however. So really, I didn’t quite achieve the frame I woke up early for.
Determined to still enjoy the moment, I ejected myself from line of disappointed tourists and joined a company of local guides around a bonfire at the back. Someone offered a tin mug of brewed coffee; another, a stick of cigarette. I said yes to the coffee, no to the cigarette.
Apart from Bungy Jumping in New Zealand, the Cave Connection was probably the bravest feat I have done to date. It was a rightful bragging right, but definitely something I would not allow any of the people I love to ever do.
Imagine going through the mouth of one cave to another– the kind that takes up to 4 hours– with a single kerosene lamp and zero safety gear. Oh wait, we were advised to go barefoot as it was apparently less slippery that way. To slip, by the way, meant 2,500ft down into the abyss of nothingness.
Rendell, though, was awesome. He has been guiding Cave Connection tours for a couple of years, but initially joked that we were his first tour. His familiarity of the route made the whole ordeal a little less daunting. It also helped that he kept saying “eto na yung pinakamahirap, Miss” (this is already the hardest, Miss) each time we get past a tricky obstacle. Only to realise that a more difficult one will come up next.
Including stopovers, we were able to finish the connection in just a little over 2 hours. Rendell, who, towards the end of the tour also identified himself as John, couldn’t stop gushing.
“Sure ka Pinoy ka? Ba’t ang bilis mo? Korean lng ang ganyan kabilis!” (Are you sure you’re Filipino? Why are so you fast? Only Koreans can be that fast!)
I could only smile. I got what he meant, but chose not to go there.
Probably my most favourite of all, was Pongas Falls. It was a bit away, and was thereby our most expensive activity. But it was all worth it. Our guide, Alder, doubled as a photographer, and was big on candid shots.
We passed by a village to get permission from the local chieftain before proceeding to the falls. On the way, we walk past villagers going about with daily life– women cooking for early dinner, kids on their way home from school and men racing to finish the day’s work before sunset. I saw myself in each one of them, remembering my own village back home.
When we reached the waterfall, we were delighted to find it deserted. We basically had it all to ourselves for the rest of the afternoon.
It was past dusk when we made it back to the main road. Before calling it a day, we shared a beer with Alder, who, at the time, was chewing betel nut to celebrate a day’s worth of hard work.
Rates: 600PHP(Guide); 600PHP(Van Rental)
Sagada Genuine Guides Association, Inc.
South Road, Sagada, 2619 Mountain Province, Philippines
WHAT IS YOUR SAGADA STORY? SHARE IN THE COMMENTS BELOW.
This was the most common (unsolicited) suggestion I got from friends upon them learning that I was going to Melaka. Not particularly a foodie, I pushed those suggestions on the back burner. My fancy with Melaka lay on stuff that I found more interesting. But boy, I didn’t know any better.
It all changed when a Melaka-born friend I met in Indonesia the week prior, drove down from Kuala Lumpur and showed up in my hotel. Nicole and her boyfriend, Casey, very hospitably dragged me on a food trip around town. Bent on awakening the foodporn star in friends visiting their hometown, Nic and Case led me to the best local secrets in Melaka’s merry mix of gastronomic adventures.
Under their tutelage, let me take you to a full day of eating your way around Melaka — my new, by far, favourite food capital in Southeast Asia.
0830H | Start the day with Chicken Rice Balls.
Exploring Melaka entails a lot of walking. Therefore, it is imperative to have breakfast. What better way to carbo-load and fully-charge your energy levels for the day than Chicken Rice Balls?
Kedai Kopi Chung Wah, right outside the Jonker Street marker (beside Hard Rock and across H&M), serves the best in town! The place opens up to 3pm on weekdays and 4pm on weekends, but unless you are prepared to line up, it is wisest to go there for breakfast.
Retaining the good old ambiance of traditional Malaysian-style restaurants of open kitchens, Kedai Kopi Chung Wah has no need to hide behind pretty interiors. Its signature Kampung Chicken (steamed) and Rice Balls (rice cooked in chicken stock and rolled into balls) will leave you asking for seconds (or in my case, thirds! LOL).
For spice lovers, a huge jar of chilli sauce is available on every table. Needless to say, it was perfect to tie the whole dish up.
Price: 8RM per single serve (Chicken and 5 Rice Balls)
Kedai Kopi Chung Wah
Address: 18, Jalan Hang Jebat, 75200 Melaka, Malaysia
Hours: Monday – Friday 830am-3pm ; Saturday – Sunday 8:30am-4pm
Phone: +60 16-733 0699
1030H | Sip a cup of Melaka Kopi for morning tea.
After a morning stroll around Jonker Street, warm up (or cool down if you want the cold variety) with a shot of Melaka Kopi (Malacca Local Coffee).
Geographer Cafe at the corner of Jonker and Hang Jebat, is housed on a pre-war building, with warm and cozy atmosphere. Its woodsy interior and fast internet make the cafe an ideal chill-out place to catch up on journal writing or blogging.
The coffee isn’t really mind-blowing, considering how the coffee culture is cut-throat in Peninsular Malaysia. But the selling point here is in the explorer vibe that Geographer Cafe is able to perfect beautifully. That, plus, the excellent vantage point for people watching that the cafe has effortlessly provided.
Price: 4.5RM (Hot) | 5.5RM (Cold)
Address: Jalan Hang Jebat, 75200 Melaka, Malaysia
Hours: Monday – Saturday 10am-1am ; Sunday 8am-1am
Phone: +60 6-281 6813
1230H | Feast on Green Salad and Pineapple Beer.
For lunch, do splurge for the things that are worth it. Also, when lost in the bustle of Melaka, seek for a refuge where you can enjoy lunch in the stillness of the town without losing grip on the chaos of its art.
Good news for you, The Baboon House is just the place for that.
Doubling as an art gallery and a mini rainforest, it is every oddball’s happy place. It was mine, right off the bat. There is a catch though: no one is supposed to take photographs inside. (But a little bird told me she steals snaps all the time, so I did, too. Don’t judge! :P)
Much has already been written about The Baboon House’s freshly ground coffee and gourmet burgers, so if you are keen, choose to try something else. For example, their garden salad (read: bacon) and homemade pineapple beer are a must-try!
Price: 9.5RM Homemade Pineapple Beer | 15.5RM Green Salad (+2.5RM Service Charge)
The Baboon House
Address: 89, Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock, Kampung Bukit China, 75200 Melaka, Malaysia
Hours: Wednesday – Monday 10am-5pm
Phone: +60 12-938 6013
1400H | Cool down with a Sugarcane Juice-to-go.
I have a deep love for those who work small jobs with big pride. Street vendors, for instance. So I make it a point to buy from them on my travels, hoping to help, even if it only meant 1.5RM of spare change.
This uncle for example, cheerfully said hello whilst I was taking photos of the facade of Cheen Hoon Teng Temple in Jalan Tokong. So I struck a conversation which ended in me guzzling cold sugarcane juice from a plastic bag.
Here, let me tell you a secret: street vendors are the most credible source of local information on a place. They know not only history, but also folklore. Sometimes, even gossip. Thus, if you are running out of twists to your narratives, go find a street food cart. 🙂
Price: 1.5RM (per serve)
(in front of) Cheng Hoon Teng Temple
Address: 25, Jalan Tokong, 75200 Melaka, Malaysia
1700H | Meet friends over Satay Celup for dinner.
The best relationships are forged over food. Communal eating is something that is highlighted in Ban Lee Siang’s Satay Celup.
Similar to the concept of the more well-known Hot Pot, a boiling pot of peanut sauce is sunk into a hole at the centre of the table where skewers of meat, vegetable, tofu and shellfish are dipped into and cooked.
Customers get to choose skewers of food from a buffet style counter, which are then dipped into a boiling peanut sauce. A number of rules are practiced though:
The satay sauce is only refilled, and not replaced between customers.
Ergo, double-dipping is a big no-no.
Skewers don’t get thrown away. You leave it at the table for the attendants to count later.
Skewer count determines how much you have to pay.
Price: 1RM (per stick)
Ban Lee Siang Satay Celup
Address: 53-C, Jalan Ong Kim Wee, 75300 Melaka, Malaysia
Hours: Friday-Tuesday 4pm-1230am
Phone: +60 12-651 5322
1800H | Cap the day off with Putu Piring.
Jalan Tengkera is famed for the Putu Piring sold in the area. Loosely, it translates to Rice Cake Plate, after the delicacy’s plate-like shape. What makes Jalan Tengkera’s Putu Piring is that it specifically uses Gula Melaka, a palm sugar variety that is unique to Melaka.
This family-owned and operated Putu Piring store opens daily (except Sundays) at 6pm, just in time for after-dinner desserts. Try to come a bit earlier though, to beat the queue.
Usually served on a banana leaf with a bed of salted grated coconut, Putu Piring is best eaten while hot.
Price: 1.10RM (per piece)
Putu Piring Tengkera
Address: 252, Jalan Tengkera, 75200 Melaka, Malaysia
Hours: Monday- Saturday 6pm-10pm
Phone: +60 6-282 1505
Did I miss any must-eat food in Melaka? Please write so in the comments below!
Savage Garden had it down pat: “I knew I loved you before I met you.”
That’s how Melaka was to me. That distinctive red square in photos that tugged at the heartstrings. That ruin on a hill that beckoned for my coming. That beautiful mess of a Jalan that even on TV, smelled of good food and better coffee.
Contrary to what most guidebooks say, I knew in my heart that Melaka couldn’t be downplayed as “A Day Trip from Kuala Lumpur” or “A Weekend Escape from Singapore.”
So when an opportunity appeared out of thin air, I jumped on it. Coming straight from a 2-week media trip in Indonesia, I was haggard as hell. But it was Melaka, so even if it meant having to catch an early bus out of Kuala Lumpur with a suitcase full of dirty laundry, I was ecstatic.
The Hattten Hotel Experience
Hatten doesn’t short-change the luxury it offers: this, I knew the moment I walked into its doors.
Soaked in warm, almost golden light, the lobby spelt opulence. A massive chandelier ran through the expanse of the centre ceiling, paving one’s eyes to a lounge set before a feature wall. A number of smaller lounge sets peppered the foyer— a gesture of comfort for waiting guests.
I, however, opted to wait for check-in while caffeine-binging at CoffeeVine. Strategically accessible through the hotel lobby and the Hatten Square shops, CoffeeVine was a modern-day rabbit hole that served the freshest skinny latte and the best blueberry cheesecake.
While enjoying my latte, the marketing dynamo in me gasped in admiration at how the Hatten brand is carried over even to the tiniest of details. For instance, the emblem on CoffeeVine’s coasters, stirrers and serviettes.
Paying attention to the nitty-gritty was something that Hatten has flawlessly achieved. And that, sure spoke volumes.
My room was a Deluxe Suite on the 16th floor with sprawling city and sea views. The door opens to a small lounge with an LCD television. A plate of fresh fruits awaited my arrival, with tea and coffee facilities tucked away in a corner. A glazed glass wall divided the lounge from the rest of the suite.
“Perfect!” I exclaimed, glad at how suited the layout was for digital ninjas like myself. Carefully, I wheeled my luggage to the side, getting it out of the way so I can photograph the immensity of my albeit temporary, luxe abode.
My bed was king-sized, with the softest sheets and fluffiest pillows. Sleep-deprived for days already, it was almost hypnotic, to say the least. A study table that doubled as a vanity stood at the foot of the bed, a subtle reminder of the narratives I was yet to write. The marble-tiled ensuite was pristine, and had a rainshower shower head to boot.
The Melaka Cityscape
But the true feature of the room, posh as it may be, was a ginormous, almost floor-to-ceiling glass window. Outside, a panorama of the historical Melaka Raya bound in an embrace by the equally historical Malacca Strait, flaunted itself.
“I could live here,” I surmised, before burying myself in the comforts of my bed.
Chatterz All-Day Dining
When the initial elation of my staycation eased to a manageable level, it also dawned on me how I was famished. After a quick shower, I headed down to the 11th-floor Chatterz All Day Dining Restaurant.
Consistent with Hatten Hotel’s casual chic interiors, Chatterz did not disappoint. An entire hall of culinary delights awaited guests, with a team of very hospitable men and women who made sure everyone was well-attended to.
I was pleasantly welcomed by one of the waiters and was led to a table near the dessert bar. I looked around and was surprised to see that there were actually a number of other patrons dining. Only, the layout of the place— what with its high ceilings and well-placed dining tables— conveyed an illusion of space . It was a pleasure to have felt as if I had a private space despite being in a buffet hall.
There was a wide selection of food, traditional and western alike. It wasn’t bad. But food, as perhaps everyone would agree, is one thing that should always, only befit superlatives.
To be honest, my food experience was a bit underwhelming. Perhaps, being in Melaka, a gastronomic capital, raised expectations a bit. I thought, “if Hatten could somehow harness that insatiable passion for food that the city is known for, undoubtedly, that would earn them their 5th star.”
Splash Pool Bar
Late in the arvo on my second day in Melaka, I went to see the Splash Pool Bar on the 12th floor of the hotel. I walked straight to one of the high chairs and ordered french fries from the boy manning the bar.
He was gracious, but looked perplexed, seeing me order food and tuck my tummy in at the same time. “Ah, no worries,” I shook of his worries. “No need to be skinny to be sexy. I only need french fries,” I said laughing.
“Right away, miss!” He nodded in agreement.
After walking the length of the infinity pool, I took a dip and marvelled at the contrast of colours in the skies. “The Golden Hour”, photographers would say. A group of kids broke my brooding, after I overheard them saying they’d do laps. I invited myself and joined in, much to the amusement of their parents who were watching by the sidelines.
When my french fries arrived, I excused myself and got up to the bar. There, I went on brooding, admiring the teeming cityscape sprawling below.
Alto Sky Lounge
Alto Sky Lounge at the 22nd floor was hands down, the best place to see sunset in Melaka. Exclusive and luxurious, the sky lounge can be likened to my previous experiences in Helipad Bar at the Bitexco Tower in Ho Chi Minh and in Fuego Troika Sky Dining in Kuala Lumpur.
As a solo traveler, I treasured my solitude. Very seldom did I get sentimental and miss people whilst on the road. But that afternoon was different. I was enthralled by an event so spellbinding, I wanted nothing less than sharing the experience with a beloved.
That’s what Hatten Hotel’s grip to the world, I guessed. Whilst it wowed patrons with its central location and superb environment, it was in little packets of less-known secrets— like having a top-floor bar with priceless views of the sunset— that true magic was kept.
So I picked up my phone and shot a rare message to the boylove:
“Wish you were here.”
Hatten Hotel Melaka
Hatten Square, Jalan Merdeka,
Bandar Hilir, 75000
Phone: +60 6-286 9696
Hatten Hotel Melaka very kindly sponsored my stay in Melaka for 3 days and 2 nights in exchange for a review. Opinions expressed in this post are my own and do not necessarily reflect the view of the hotel.
Lemongrass. Its soft, citrusy smell lingered in the air as I aimlessly sauntered into the colossal foyer of Alila Seminyak in Bali. A tunnel of refreshing breeze from the oceanfront met my arrival— an architectural genius made possible by epic use of high ceilings, open-plan design and cross ventilation.
A couple of ladies garbed in colours of the beach, rushed to my side bearing trays: one with cool drinks, and the other with damp towelettes. I dug both at once; potent antidotes against the unforgiving Bali sun. On the table was also a tray of more artillery : after-sun spray, insect repellant, hand lotion and face mist.
“This is like a welcome spa,” I exclaimed, touched at how attuned and sensitive Alila was to the needs of their guests.
Whilst waiting for my room, the staff at the hotel very hospitably offered a tour to the penthouse. Bad idea. Because after seeing the penthouse—after being in one for the first time ever— I almost didn’t want to be anywhere else anymore.
Imagine waking up in a king-sized bed in a room with views of the Indian Ocean; where the worst of your woes is you cannot make up your mind whether to enjoy a relaxing bath in a fancy tub or take a dip in a private infinity pool.
Boasting three suites, living and dining areas, and a sundeck, it has all the makings of a truly luxurious and very private retreat in the city centre. What with the Potato Head Beach Club only a stone’s throw away, the penthouse is definitely a cocoon right smack in Bali’s party hotspot.
My Garden Suite
Shortly after, I got given the swipe card to my room— a garden deluxe suite, just a level up from the main foyer.
When I opened my room, I gaped at the surprise. It looked just like the rooms in the penthouse; a chunk off, really.
Panels of solid wood cut through the room flawlessly, acting as a partition between the main bedroom and the ensuite. Along the corridor, separating the toilet and bath, ran a bench and a mirror backsplash; just the perfect space for the multitude of cosmetics as I was cramming to prepare for the sunset party that the hotel has prepared for Trip of Wonders.
Sunset Cocktail and Farewell Dinner
I’ve been to Bali twice before. But I do not remember basking in twilight as elaborate as it was that afternoon in the Beach Terrace. Perhaps, it was emotions. It was the conclusion of a fortnight’s worth of adventure with fellow travel influencers from all over Southeast Asia. When strangers become friends, goodbyes become a bit difficult.
Alila Beach Terrace
Spicy Cha Margartia
So we drank the sadness away, and Alila had the perfect signature cocktail for that: Spicy Cha Margarita.
Spicy Cha Magarita Recipe
Don Julio Reposado
Passion Fruit Puree
Sweet Togarashi Salt
After sunset, we proceeded to a function room inside the main building for dinner. There, we were regaled with an array of delectable dishes— the perfect accompaniment to a night of celebration.
But even with an enjoyable dinner and a brief after-party, my mind was in a perpetual anticipation of the pleasurable night’s sleep that awaited me. What with the extravagance of my deluxe suite, I could hardly wait.
Early the next day and well before breakfast, I went to one of the three infinity pools of the hotel for a quick morning dip. The walkway leading to the pool were lined with smooth stones on either side. Likewise, leafy vines crawled along the wooden walls lining the corridors. I was still in the building, but it felt like I’ve gone outdoors.
Perhaps, that was the intent of the Alila brand: to bring in the best of nature and meld it with the comforts of modern living.
I walked along the edge of the pool, watching the angry waves of the Indian Ocean lap against the expanse of the world-renowned Seminyak beach.
When I was done swimming, I lay on one of the beach beds, parched. As if on cue, the pool attendant offered a bottled water and a towel. He also brought in a basket of goodies: sunscreen, face mist, and an after-sun spray, amongst others.
“Breakfast is downstairs, Miss.” he volunteered, guessing that I must be starving, too.
“Don’t worry, that’s exactly where I’m heading next.” I said, ever impressed at how attentive and outstanding customer service was at Alila Seminyak.
Breakfast was world-class. Featuring both indoor and al fresco sitting options, with communal tables to boot, Alila dining aimed to please.
And it did. I devoured platefuls of bacon, the default Times New Roman of all breakfast dishes, bold and italic.
The buffet was traveling in itself: overflowing with the best selection of dishes from homey East to sophisticated West. There was always something that catered to everyone’s palate. And perhaps, that was exactly the point of Alila’s brand of hospitality:
To have a place in the sun for everyone.
Alila Seminyak – Bali
Jalan Taman Ganesha No. 9
P: +62 361 3021 888
Alila Seminyak hosted the Bali leg of Trip of Wonders – ASEAN Batch 2, an invitational trip for travel influencers, as sponsored by Ministry of Tourism – Indonesia. Opinions expressed in this post are my own and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Ministry.
Labuan Bajo wasn’t part of the original itinerary for Trip of Wonders. But a volcanic activity in the west of the archipelago necessitated some last minute changes in the schedule. Hence, the happenstance to Flores’ tourism epicentre.
Maktub; the Arabs has a term for things that are fated. Serendipity; the English has, too.
When the plane landed in Komodo Airport, a knowing feeling— as if the island always knew I’d be there— stirred inside me. If only to feel the earth under my soles, I was tempted to walk barefoot. Glad to be where I was, I wanted to show gratitude that way.
But I got up at 3AM that day, having to fly back to Bali from Lombok, before catching another flight to Komodo. Being too sapped out of energy to think poetry, I didn’t walk barefoot. But I was thankful still, albeit in silence.
I ran the shower a little longer that afternoon. It almost didn’t matter that I was in an oceanfront hotel and my room had a boulder for a view. My priority then was to stay awake long enough for the promised sunset on the trip’s guide book.
Perched atop a hill, a bit away from the chaos of the town centre, was a shack-cum-bar aptly named Paradise.
At once, I rushed to the invitation of the open deck, boasting panoramic views of the Labuan Bajo coastline and the calm waters of Sumba Strait.
“Front row seats,” I announced whilst grabbing a chair to sit beside Indra, one of my new-found friends.
“HiSo!” he teased, meaning High Society, a moniker we’ve adapted during the trip to denote special privileges.
It was too early to party, so we settled with mocktails. However, judging from the makeshift stage on one corner, and a wooden bar on the other, I was certain what chill a place Paradise Bar is at night.
“Sons of the sea under a star-studded tropical sky, darn.” I mused, just as the yolk of the dying sun sank into the flaming horizon.
Whilst everyone else was on their cameras, I put mine down and sat back. “There is no way still photographs could capture this drama,” I mumbled. I then went back to my drink, savoured the fortune of just being there, and sang along with the soundtrack in my head:
“My youth, my youth is yours!”
The next couple of days passed in a blur as our jaunt was nearing its end. In speed boats, we hopped from one shore to another and explored some of the least frequented but most must-go-to parts of the Lesser Sunda Islands.
In between sunscreen spray retouches, I stood on the hull of the boat like a she-hero in a quest for lands to conquer.
In factions, we swept the woods of Komodo and came face-to-face with the last of the dragons. Perhaps, also of the dinosaurs.
The book nerd in me kicked in. My name was Daenerys Targaryen, Mother of Dragons. With a wardrobe ensemble pre-rehearsed the night prior, I completed the look with a wooden staff, borrowed from one of the park rangers.
By virtue of semi-matching outfits, Marcos, who was garbed in a multi-colored cape from the weavers of Sasak Sade, became an instant ally
“Travellers are the real fashion bloggers,” I declared, and we guffawed at our shared hilarity.
My first memory of Pink Beach wasn’t its salmon-coloured sand. Right after disembarking from the boat, someone I had a short chat with back in Komodo Island, asked if we could climb the headland together.
Because I disintegrate at the sight of tall, lanky Southeast Asian Chinese men, I reflexively responded with an excuse that really, meant No— much to the chagrin of my gay friend, Lloyd, who was crushing on Jakarta boy, too.
For the rest of the afternoon, I steered clear of the headland and settled with Woman Versus Wild snaps in the vast mousy field beyond the beach.
As a popular stop for divers and manta ray spotters, there were more amenities in Kanawa than most of the other islands. Drinks were sold too, albeit a bit overpriced.
There , the sea proved irresistible. Starfishes scattered across sand beds and baby sharks swam through calf-deep waters. Upon seeing the first baby shark, I jumped at once. Thankfully, it seemed uninterested and swam on to the foot bridge before the setting sun.
Nothing prepared me for the sheer awesomeness of Padar. It was the perfect backdrop for everyone’s perfect moment— NatGeo moment for explorers, Wallpaper moment for fashionistas, this-trek-is-so-tiring-imma-eat-afterwards moment for foodies. I was all three.
On one hand, I couldn’t wait to tell the planet about the magic at the summit. On the other, I wanted to keep the place a secret, if only to shield it from commercial exploitation.
I ended up sharing anyway. I am a teller of travel stories, after all.
An array of mangroves forming a barrier around Loh Buaya was Rinca’s most recognisable landmark. Unlike the other islands we’ve been to, Rinca had no beach. Or at least, I didn’t see one where we were.
A stone arch featuring a giant ora on either side was erected near the dock. From there, we had to walk across a barren field— an area reached by water at high tide, I was certain— to the base camp.
A short trek further into the island led us to sightings of more Komodo dragons, perennially patient but ever poised to slay.
Kelor was a subtle ending to a series of awe-inspiring discoveries. Its underwater wasn’t as colourful as Kanawa’s. Its sand wasn’t as fine as Pink Beach. But Kelor’s secret weapon was the undeniable charm of its twin island, Kukusan, acting as a photogenic backdrop.
There, I climbed on trees, like a warrior surveying distant lands for prey. I only saw beauty everywhere.
Labuan Bajo was the last stop in September 2016’s Trip of Wonders, an invitational trip for ASEAN travel influencers. It was hosted by the Ministry of Tourism of Indonesia. Opinions expressed in this post are my own and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Ministry.