An Afternoon in Malacca

25 October 2009

It was pretty much a very smooth bus ride to Malacca. It was so smooth that I was able to sleep for the whole duration of the two-hour trip. When I woke up at quarter past two in the afternoon, the bus was already parking in its assigned platform in Melaka Sentral.

First agenda upon disembarking was to get return tickets back to Singapore for the following day. Initially we were looking for a bus that will take us directly back to Singapore, however most of the tickets were either sold out or the only available seats are the morning trips. Definitely, we don’t want to take an early morning trip back to Singapore as we’ve done it last year and we almost missed the ride. In the end, we settled for a bus back to Johor Bahru that leaves Malacca at 4PM the following day.

It was a very hot afternoon when we arrived; we decided to take an air conditioned taxi to the central part of town instead of the cheaper bus ride. The fare to our destination costs 12 MYR; not your good taxi with very cold aircon but it is better than sweating it out in the heat.

Traffic was horrible that afternoon; the driver explained that it was because of the Deepavali holiday. I would surmise though that given that Malacca is a very popular end of week destination from Kuala Lumpur and Singapore plus the narrow one-way streets, it would really be jam-packed with cars during the weekends.

Malacca is a vibrant old city that is very much wealthy in terms of history. The rich historical background of this lovely place earned it a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation together with Penang in July 2008. Some would say that this designation really helped increase the tourist influx.

one of the two newest source of pride for Malaysian Tourism

one of the two newest source of pride for Malaysian Tourism

The taxi driver dropped us off around 15 minutes later in Jonker Walk, the short stretch in the heart of the city that is home to many stores selling all kinds of stuffs mostly to tourists. It was chaotic when we arrived there; the sidewalk of the narrow street was filled with people while the street itself was filled with cars.

taken in Jonkers Walk circa 2007

taken in Jonker Walk circa 2007

As this was an impulse trip to Malacca, we wasted no time in finding our accommodation for that night. We inquired first in Twenty Hostel as it was just along Jonker Walk; as we have stayed here last year, we know that this is a very good place to spend the night. Unfortunately, there were no vacancies (as I initially expected). Hopping on from one accommodation to another to inquire, the place was just either full or was just not to our liking.

Half an hour later, we decided to check the other side of town to check on some more hostels. Along the way, we passed by the Heritage Area. It is very distinct because of the bright brick red color; I just learned that several years back, the government decided to paint the area with such color as the constant spitting by passers-by was proving a nuisance to aesthetic value of the historical attractions.

We managed to get a decent accommodation a few hundred meters away from the Heritage Area. A small affordable room with aircon and private toilet pretty much was enough for us; quite affordable as well at 70 MYR but definitely there are much better accommodation elsewhere. As it was still very hot outside, I took a nap for an hour.

The temperature outside was already bearable when we went out. We took a quick stroll and found ourselves in the foot of Bukit China. Poh San Teng Temple was built at the foot of the hill in 1795 as a graveyard temple. The well of Hang Li Po stood beside the temple; it was built in the 14th century and has served throughout the early years as a main source of water in the area.

taken at the gates of Poh San Teng Temple (circa 2007 again!)

taken at the gates of Poh San Teng Temple (circa 2007 again!)

the Hang Li Po Well - main source of water in the past

the Hang Li Po Well - main source of water in the past

We made our way up Bukit China; a hill that was used as a graveyard by the early Chinese settlers in Malacca. It was said that it was the biggest Chinese cemetery outside China and has several graves dating back to the Ming dynasty. Today though, it serves as a jogging track for the locals. The hill also offers an excellent view of the city.

A grave marker in Bukit China

A grave marker in Bukit China

As it was already sunset when we reached the top of Bukit China, we slowly made out way down not long afterwards. Definitely no one would want to get caught in the dark in a cemetery.

To be continued…

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I woke up at five in the morning last Saturday; hurriedly packing my backpack for a quick weekend getaway out of Singapore. The destination was Tioman Island in Malaysia.

It has already been a while when I started dreaming of spending a weekend under the sun in this island. It was just this time that we decided to give it a go. Armed with my backpack and a 200 SGD budget for two persons, we headed out of my apartment at around 6:30 AM; it was still a bit dark then.

We boarded one of the earliest trips out of the Orchard MRT station; inclusive of walking and the waiting time, it took us approximately an hour to reach the Kranji MRT Station. From there, we waited a bit for the SBS Bus # 170 to take us from there to the Larkin Bus Terminal in Johor Bahru, Malaysia.

Orchard MRT at 7 in the morning...

Orchard MRT at 7 in the morning...

The SBS Bus # 170 is the cheapest way to get to Malaysia from Singapore. The ride from the Kranji Station will drop us to the Woodlands Checkpoint to clear past Singapore immigration. Bad news early on as there was a very heavy traffic going to the immigration building in Woodlands; it was so bad that it took us more than 40 minutes for a ride that would normally takes less than 5 minutes.

Inside the Woodlands Checkpoint was not good either as it took us more than 15 minutes to clear past the supposedly ultra efficient Singapore immigration.

We boarded the next SBS Bus # 170 that was available and from there we headed out of Singapore Island via the Johor-Singapore Causeway, the next stop being the Sultan Iskandar Complex. Another traffic jam clogged the Causeway, which took us at least 30 minutes to reach the Malaysian side of immigration.

very heavy traffic jam in Malaysian soil

very heavy traffic jam in Malaysian soil

The Sultan Iskandar Immigration Complex is very clean and very huge; I was in fact more impressed by it than the checkpoint in Singapore. I was bummed out however by the sea of people who were there to clear past immigration as well. Picture taking is prohibited in most immigration facilities in the places I’ve been to however I managed to snap the below image during the 20 minutes I waited.

lots of people wanting to enter Malaysia

lots of people wanting to enter Malaysia

Another SBS Bus # 170 waited for us upon clearing past Malaysian Immigration, thankfully the traffic was no longer that heavy on our way to the Larkin Bus Terminal, The ride took less than 10 minutes. It was 9:45 AM when we finally reached our destination albeit more than two hours late.

queuing up for the bus to Larkin Terminal

queuing up for the bus to Larkin Terminal

Wasting no time, we started looking for the bus to Mersing. The next trip is not going to leave until 11:30 AM, from there it will be more than a 2 hour ride before we reach the jetty port in Mersing. It would take at least another half hour waiting time for the ferry to Tioman plus another two hours for the ferry ride, we expect to reach our destination at 4 PM the earliest. It was here that we decided to cancel out our trip to Tioman Island as time simply was not enough for us to enjoy and relax considering that we need to be back the following day.

front of the Larkin Bus Terminal

front of the Larkin Bus Terminal

Definitely we do not want to go back to Singapore; it was then I suggested on visiting again Malacca, a place where I have been to twice already in the past. Since the next bus leaves at 11 AM, I wasted no time and got us tickets. Much to my surprise, I was very glad to find out that the tickets here cost way cheaper than in Singapore. The ticket cost us just 19 MYR (roughly 8 SGD) versus the Singapore – Malacca bus that would cost around 25 SGD on the average. True that it was not that convenient as compared to getting a direct trip from Singapore but if you were on a tight budget, it would make sense to take this route.

a pair of tickets to Malacca please...

a pair of tickets to Malacca please...

The bus arrived on time and we were already onboard ten minutes before departure. Although we postponed our trip to Tioman Island indefinitely, I was more than happy to visit Malacca again than go back to Singapore…

onboard for an uninterrupted ride to Malacca

onboard for an uninterrupted ride to Malacca

Happy Deepavali!!

17 October 2009

From Wikipedia:

Diwali or Dīpāvali (Sanskrit: a row of lamps) is a significant festival in Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism, and an official holiday in India. Adherents of these religions celebrate Diwali as the Festival of Lights. They light diyas – cotton string wicks inserted in small clay pots filled with oil – to signify victory of good over the evil within an individual.

In Hinduism, across many parts of India and Nepal, it is the homecoming of Rama after a 14-year exile in the forest and his victory over Ravana. In the legend, the people of Ayodhya (the capital of his kingdom) welcomed Rama by lighting rows (avali) of lamps (dĭpa), thus its name: dīpāwali. In South India, it marks the victory of Krishna over Narakasura. Over time, this word transformed into Diwali in Hindi and Dipawali in Nepali, but still retained its original form in South and East Indian Languages. In Dravidian languages it is called as Deepavali and the same is used in Malaysia and Singapore.

In Jainism, Diwali marks the attainment of nirvana by Mahavira on 15 October, 527 BC.

Diwali has been significant in Sikhism since the illumination of the town of Amritsar commemorating the return of Guru Har Gobind Ji (1595-1644), the sixth Guru of Sikhism, who was imprisoned along with 52 other Hindu kings at Fort Gwalior by Emperor Jahangir. After freeing the other prisoners, he went to the Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple) in the holy city of Amritsar, where he was welcomed happily by the people who lit candles and divas to greet the Guru. Because of this, Sikhs often refer to Diwali also as Bandi Chhorh Divas – “the day of release of detainees.”

The festival is also celebrated by Buddhists in Nepal, a majority-Hindu country, particularly the Newar Buddhists.

In India and Nepal, Diwali is now considered to be a national festival, and the aesthetic aspect of the festival is enjoyed by most Indians and Nepalese regardless of faith.

On the day of Diwali / Deepavali, many wear new clothes and share sweets and snacks. Some North Indian business communities start their financial year on Diwali and new account books are opened on this day.

Mr Whattaworld would like to greet all his Hindu friends a Happy Deepavali (or Diwali) – the festival of lights this year falls on a Saturday so there will be no holiday from work here in Singapore. However, for us in the company, there will be an additional off in lieu credit which will accrue into our leave balance. This could only mean more holidays for me… 😉

Happy Deepavali!!

Happy Deepavali!!

On Packing Light…

14 October 2009

Whenever I wander around, there is dire need to pack lightly as I don’t usually buy any airline entitlement to bring any check-in baggage. Don’t blame me guys; not getting this will save me around 30 SGD on a roundtrip journey. My trusty 30L backpack is sufficient for me during most trips I went to.

this is traveling light - taken at the Thai border enroute to Siem Reap, Cambodia

this is traveling light - taken at the Thai border enroute to Siem Reap, Cambodia

Now let us all be honest and assess ourselves; some of us really don’t try to travel light and take far more than what we really need on our travels. I will try to share some insights I have regarding the topic on packing light.

The Bag:
  • If you are traveling in a budget airline, try to limit yourself to bringing only one piece of bag. Ensure that it is not too large so you can just carry it onboard – you can save on your trip from this!
  • If you really need to carry more than your hand carry allowance, try to avoid taking in a heavy luggage.

The Items:

  • Try to ask yourself on each item you can packing whether you really are going to use it. The key here is to bring the essential items only. As for me, I use to bring a book or two but I later realized that I never get the chance to read them anyway.
  • Leave some items that can be bought abroad (and sometimes this will even be cheaper) – case in point, we bought a 150 ml bottle of sunscreen here in Singapore for our trip to Phuket, Thailand only to find out that it cost around 30% less in our destination.
  • The bulk of your items will be on clothing; try to minimize what you bring by selecting clothes made of lightweight materials. If you need to warm yourself up, do so by layering your clothes. No need to bring bulky heavyweight items.
  • Some attractions require travelers to maintain modest dress requirements, particularly for women. A sarong should do for this, keep it handy if ever there is a need for you to enter a temple.
  • No need to bring 3 pairs of shorts! Believe me, one will do.
  • No need to bring lots of footwear. The important thing here is to bring the more comfortable pair. If you need to really bring two pairs, wear the heavier item and pack-in the lighter one.
  • Leave electronics such as hairdryers at home as these are available if you are booked in a hotel.
  • Gadget chargers – in this digital age, certain items are essential such as mobile phone, digicam and even laptop computer. If there is a need for you to bring charger for these, make sure you research beforehand the electric plug in your destination and get an adaptor if necessary. It is a bummer to bring these bulky chargers only to find out, you cannot use it because of plug incompatibility. CLICK HERE for an idea on what outlet plug to expect in your next destination.
  • Bring along a handy and light bag for use during the daytime. Use it to store items such as the guidebook, snacks and souvenir items.
  • Well if you really insist in bringing a book, try not to bring a volume of the Twilight Series… 🙂

It takes a while to master the art of packing light but it is not that hard really. As with most things in this world, it just takes practice, practice and more practice…

In the past, I have often ranted as to why I need a visa to countries such as Germany, USA, Canada, etc. There is a very high probability that if you are holding a travel document from the Philippines then you definitely need to apply for visa in these first world countries a few weeks prior to the actual trip. Even when then if you decide to apply, getting a visa is still dependent on the decision (or probably mood) of the consul of that particular country.

417px-Philippine_Machine_Readable_Passport_(maroon)

The current maroon Philippine machine-readable passport

The past few years though, I have come to appreciate my passport as it gives me visa-free access to countries in the region. Clearing immigration during past trips to Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos was a breeze; I just simply line up and answer a few questions and most importantly I didn’t have to pay for anything.

I have stumbled upon this page from Wikipedia, which outlined the countries, and territories in which a Filipino can have visa-free access or at the very least can apply for visa upon arrival. According to the article “it is estimated that 62 countries and territories (highlighted in blue and green patches in the map) granted visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to Philippine passport holders, while 41 countries and territories are visa free accessible.” All the areas in grey requires pre-arrival visa while the lone red patch is Iraq, a country in which Filipinos are prohibited from traveling. Click on the image below to be redirected into the webpage which outlined the complete list of these countries.

800px-PhilippineVisaFree

To my fellow Filipino readers, if you are planning a trip next time somewhere, do go back to the Wikipedia link above to find out whether or not you will be needing a visa beforehand.

If your passport is expiring soon, Nina of Just Wandering posted an article several weeks back on how to renew your Philippine passport in 30 minutes

Oh yeah, anyone planning on going to the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro? Better start saving up as there is a free 90-day access for all of us… 😉