Monday, December 17, 2007

Fascinating Malacca (Malaysia)

When Malaysia was just a pipedream and I was still brainstorming with myself on how to go about with my Malaysian visit, the one place that fascinated me no end wasn't KL or Penang or Johor Bahru. It was "Malacca"! For how can one forget a place often alluded to from History lessons. There was
Malacca (of Malaysia)- and there was Moluccas (of Indonesia)! And any form of association was welcome: Portuguese, Galleon trade, barter, spices, etc. I would be thrilled to visit distant images from the "past"... visiting such faraway places. This was my chance.

Malacca is conveniently located between KL (125 km.) and Singapore (225 km.) This is why many of the Singapore tourists are found on day-trips to Malacca (as well as
Johor Bahru). The border crossing takes from 3.5 to 5 hours!

I approached my trip to Malacca with a bit of skepticism. I would take a bus from KL's
Puduraya Station and pray to the heavens that people I meet along the way would a> understand english, b> be helpful. Finding Puduraya was a breeze. After taking a nice breakfast at a popular backpacker's hotel along Bukit Bintang (I found myself sitting on their front-of-house "veranda" directly facing the street - which was supposedly reserved for their in-house guests – but I was allowed by my friendly waitress to stay there if I please, so I was smug!), I took a leisurely walk going North. Some 15 minutes later, I found Puduraya Bus Station.

I expected a crazy environment teeming with people, but instead I found a building which looked like the old Ali Mall Building - only bigger! I crossed the street, went inside, and saw organized rows of buses with digitized signage’s bearing the destination and their exact time of departure. It WAS a cheap ticket too, and the buses looked new, well-maintained and clean. Inside, it smelled good, the waft of the air-conditioning was regulated and the seats were comfortably distanced. YES! My bus left on time! Everything was pretty convenient and well organized.

The 2 hour trip was a breeze. Scenic route it was! As we neared the Malaccan bus garage (I always remember a Scottish friend saying, "garr-ij"), I recognized some points of interest that I read from my guide. The bus depot was a sprawling one-storey berth. I went off my bus and headed towards the shops. I wanted to check out what was there. Went to a DVD shop and got crazy buying original DVD's and VCD's of Malaysian and Indonesian movies (this usually takes a while coz I have to make sure that they have english subtitles). I found some shawl and shirts as presents. Cheaper here than in KL.

Took an early lunch (restaurants everywhere) and bought bottled water at their 7-11. Also checked out the ticket counter where I would purchase my return ticket back to KL. Nice place. There was a seating room (like in airports) where travellers can comfortably wait for their bus rides. Malaysia is unexpectedly tourist-friendly. Most people speak or understand english (a lot better than Indonesia). The transportation fares are cheap, and the whole transportation system is well organized.

I also found a travel shop advertising local packages. I realized that it will be a very, very far walk to the city center, and since I am wary of a taxi ride from there (“Hostel” anyone?), I decided to hire a 1-hour local tour.

The people from the shop were obviously disappointed. ONE hour meant 30 Malaysian Ringgit (about PhP 370). I specifically told them, I just wanted 1 HOUR or "no go". Are they crazy? In the big city, KL offers a ride-all-you-want roving buses (hop on-hop off) that stops at various tourist attractions (like the Petronas Tower, etc.) for just MR35. This was good for 1 whole day! Compared to what KL offers, their MR 30/hr rate (though this is on a private car) is highway robbery of sorts. Well, I took that, and just decided to let the car go at one point (once I am at the town center) – I can go on my own from there!

The main tourist attractions comprise the "historic" areas heavily influenced by the Dutch and Portuguese settlers and traders, thus walls are painted in "red" (the Stadthuy Building), streets are cobbled, architecture is pre-war Portuguese and Dutch. There is "Jonker's Street", which was advertised for their "authentic" architecture and antique goods, never been rehabilitated, etc. This was supposed to take a carnival environment during weekend nights. What I saw instead was a row of run-down derelict houses in fast state of decay. Everywhere you turn, they were just ugly, dilapited relics of the past. Other than this disappointment, the whole town boasts of old colorful churches, a whole line of Chinese street, a mini-Lisbon square (ahhh I miss Lisboa!), and my favorite – St. John’s Fort, an 18th century fortress on a hill facing the Strait of Malacca, fortified with cannons from the past. This has stairs leading to the top of the hill, a church relic, and one of the best views overlooking the historic Strait, etc. St. Paul’s Church attracts the religious too. This was where the body of St. Francis Xavier was interred before he was transported to Goa, India. There is a huge Galleon ship marooned in front of St. John's. THIS was all part of the past, and I am so thrilled.

An antique shop at Jonker's Street.

Stadhuy Buildings, including Christ Church - Dutch architecture, red painted...

Mini-Lisbon Square

Stadthuy - in its characteristic reddish paint.

At the Church, I met an old man who volunteered to take my photo, so I decided to come back for him – to hire his trishaw (these are colorful tricycles decorated with either flowers or brass decors - and you see them all over the town) - after ditching my car service (my driver was morose).

Before my 1 hour ended, my last stop would be the hill. I went up while the car waited. 15 minutes before my hour, I decided to go back down (which was strenuous - it was a long way up and a long way down as well) and let my driver go. To my surprise, the idiot left me just like that! Might as well. I was about to give him gratuities that I was sure would help his regretfully dour life and his family! The nerve!

St. Paul's Hill and Church

I have accepted the fact that, in any travel, NOT everything will go as planned. Something will turn out not to your liking. This was one such instance. It's best to just shrug the shoulder and charge it to experience.

Entrance to the hill tower/church.

Long way down. Inside the fortress' entrance, some local art works are being sold. I bought 4 pieces.

Church relic on the hill

St. Paul's Church on the hill

The view from the hill: Strait of Malacca

By then, I was drenched with sweat from every tip of my hair and down to my shoes. It was that hot! I went to a carinderia. Braved some "colorful" viand on display, enjoyed one of my cheapest meals at just 5 ringgit (PhP60) – ice cold coca cola included! It was almost on-the-house, the owner kept asking me to "get more". I wanted to be sure I wouldn't be charged more than necessary so I timidly took a small portion of one viand. How shy! Hehe. I was still smarting from the stupid driver who left me - though I was gonna let him go anyway. It was just insulting, to say the least! The idiot left me!

Hospital (white), residential, shopping plaza... notice how the main road is "paved" with color concrete blocks.

Shopping Plaza

I noticed the regular movement of school buses. There was a school near the hill. Though it doesn’t have the bustle of a city, Malacca had constructions everywhere, and the structures standing were new - a shopping mall, a hospital, high-end residential tenements; wide, clean, "cobbled" streets. Some 2 hours later, I decided to leave Malacca not knowing how exactly. I wasn’t sure if those trishaws would take me to the bus depot. Seemed too far.

THIS was another adventure! From the sidewalk, I bravely hailed the public bus. I had NO idea where this was gonna take me. As I went in, I asked everyone, "Bus Station?" When one nodded, I took my seat and relaxed. I was still wishing they understood me. THIS ride took a good 1 hour! To my delight, this turned out to be a local commuter bus which traversed most of the 3 districts that comprise the whole town of Malacca – I inadvertently availed myself of an inexpensive local tour, one that will terminate at the main bus station! We passed by Jonker's Street again, some residential areas, a row of new hotels. I watched as the bus took in new passengers. It was fascinating people-watching, observing the change of faces. For just PhP 5!

THIS was gonna be a technique I will use in the future - maybe when i find my way to the new city of Putrajaya - I made a mental note!

You lose some. You win some!

My Transnasional Bus back to Kuala Lumpur

My updated visit of Melaka 2010 here -

This is the Eye in the Sky!

Davao Where The Colors Come Alive

Davao is a favorite city. Just 1 1/2 hour plane ride south of Manila, Asia's biggest city - in terms of area (244,000 hectares) is a delightful gem. It has a charming balance of laidback provincial life and the excitement of cosmopolitan city. The streets are wider than Cebu, and is considered the safest city in the country. The locals protect their tourists. Sumptuous exotic fruits abound. And everything else is cheap! A buffet can be enjoyed at PhP99 at restaurants like Kuya Ed's. Davao has the best of everything: the mountains, the beaches, nightlife, shopping, foooooooood, etc.

My favorite getaway is Pearl Farm Resort, an 11-hectare resort nestled in Samal Island, just 45 minutes by boat from Waterfront Insular Hotel's port. Though overnight stays are relatively expensive, a day-tour can be enjoyed at just under PhP2,000 which already includes transportation, welcome drink, a dizzying array of culinary delight at the lunch buffet, and boat rides to and from its neighboring island, Malipano, which is a secluded island which has 11 villas of the Florendos. For day-travellers, boats leave for the city at 3:30PM.

The Parola Bar at the entrance of Pearl Farm Resort in Samal Island.

It has 2 swimming pools. This one overlooking the Malipano Island, which you can visit for free, as often as you like during your whole stay. Boats can be readily availed - for free, if you want a more solitary sun-and-sand experience in Malipano.

Infinity pool near the Parola Bar entrance of the resort.

Mangroves in Samal Island

Native designs of elegant cottages, one is named after a royal guest, the Prince of Brunei.

Poetry in a strip of white sand in Malipano Island.

Commune with God and nature at a chapel in Malipano.

Ahhh... life! (Malipano Island, overlooking Pearl Farm Resort.

The bluest of blue skies can be enjoyed almost all year round in Davao.

Lily (?) at a pond in Malagos Garden Resort.

Orchid Heaven at Malagos Garden Resort.

This is the Eye in the Sky!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Idyllic Bicol

I have to admit, I know almost nothing about the Bicol Region except the cone-shaped Mayon, Cagsawa ruins and the little town (or is it city?) of Iriga where Nora Aunor supposedly used to sell bottled water to train commuters. Hehe.

My mom was a huge Nora Aunor fan back when Vilma Santos was just a trying-hard celebrity, always on her heels to try duplicating the brown superstar's successes. Fast forward to the new millennium and Ms. Santos has re-invented herself into a well-respected and even more popular politician, as well as a durable actress, and La Aunor has morphed into a legendary celebrity whose best days have passed 3 decades ago! And guess what? Camarines Sur has transformed itself into a tourist destination for watersports-savvy individuals - better refered to as CamSur!

Well-maintained roads on the way to the peak of Mount Mayon.

The "almost" symmetrical" cone of Mayon Volcano, the Philippines' most active volcano, and Philippines' version of Japan's Fiji.

A park at the Mayon Shrine.

Serene beach in Bicol: dark but fine sand, and very clear water. this floating kubo cost below PhP500, imagine that!

Provincial Capitol of either Camarines Norte or Sur. Take your pick. LOL

My vivid recollection on visiting the place was the travel on a van, halfway up the Mayon. There was a shrine and cemetery midway to the top. Due to its altitude (which should be around 4,000 ft, since the whole volcano stands 8,000 ft above the gulf - and 15 km. northwest of Legaspi City), the climate gets cold in mid-afternoon. The shrine boasts of an austere park that quickly reminds one of the peaks in Mines View Park, without the crazy crowd. The way home is also memorable, with children and adults waving their hands to bypassing vehicles hoping for "alms" which isn't a respectable tradition to follow, if you ask me.