i spent the new year on a trip to cameron highlands with avid travelers (and good buddies) yusuf and sern yong. it was a much needed (and hastily hammered together) getaway from city life, especially from the crowds and my increasing sense of claustrophobia. after the internship stint in nepal, i can scarcely push away the feelings of dissatisfaction and disillusionment with life in singapore, though that’s a blog post for another time.
after 12 hours on the road, the only cure for weariness in the cold of the night is hot, delicious food.
counting down to 2011 was a rather subdued affair over drinks, though we were issued ravers’ finger lights, whistles and mini-poppers. the nearest party was probably miles away in kuala lumpur.
breakfast the morning after was roti canai (malaysian version of prata), which we had a copious amount of during our stay.
we attacked one of the jungle trails after breakfast. cameron highlands has plenty on offer for those looking to punish themselves with long walks.
clowning around above and bokeh porn below.
one of my favourite shots from the trip (above), which i have taken to calling “chrysalis”.
doing the tourist thing and visiting boh tea plantation and its hyper-cool cafe. the first picture in this post was taken from the balcony of the cafe, which overlooks but a small portion of the farm.
inside the cafe.
after cameron highlands, yusuf and myself headed to kuala lumpur for a day, during which the highlight was the insane japanese buffet at jogoya in starhill gallery.
on the road home.
just returned from my trip to gunung stong with ntu’s outdoor adventure club yesterday and still feeling the effects of the exertion. not that i mind, considering that the experience itself as well as the people that i met made it all worthwhile.
gunung stong is a small mountain located in the mt.stong state park in kelantan, malaysia. it is famous for being home to the highest waterfall in south-east asia, at a height of about 900 metres.
the journey started with a ride on bus 170 from woodlands across the causeway into johor. having used that service a few times, i maintain that if want to see the really ugly side of people, just hop on that bus during rush hour. it is a classic demonstration of “every man for himself”.
sarah and yiling looking real happy inspite of the fact that they were standing in a sea of raised armpits. this scene caught my attention with the lines converging towards the girls in the centre, and the fact that they were nicely lit by the light they were under.
upon reaching johor, we had to get past the checkpoint to get to the train station. it was my first time in the new complex and it was massive. in fact, overly so, with the barriers and the snake-like routes compounding that. no pictures here as i was not sure about their policy on photography and wanted to err on the side of caution.
time was getting a little tight as we were caught in traffic earlier for a while. we reached the station around sunset and thankfully, the train was a little late (apparently, it always is) so everyone got onboard. would have had been a pity if the trip ended even before it started.
the group occupied an entire sleeper carriage of the train. the sleeper car is basically 2 rows of double-decked beds separated by a centre aisle for walking, with unclean bedsheets. obviously, we are not talking the orient express here so something has got to give. to be frank, it was bearable, really.
tze min and yiling enjoying their new digs.
what i saw before i went to bed. i managed to get some sleep, which is surprising because i am not much of a sleeper and have problems with new environments. must be the rocking motion of the train. rather hypnotic after a while.
we reached dabong, a railside town, before sunrise. went to a little malay cafe for breakfast, which was rice with fried chicken and really spicy chilli. you should have seen the chilli padi, it was puny. you just need 2 or 3 of those in a grown man’s mouth to take him down.
after the darkness dispelled, we were left with a gorgeous foggy scene. some of my favourite photos from the trip are in the series below. a really promising start.
abandoned train carriage. no longer much use for ktm, but plenty of use to me.
getting in a bit closer.
the fog gave everything it enveloped an ethereal glow. i was commenting to a friend that you could shoot blindfolded and still get some nice stuff.
sarah posing with the train. good thing this one does not move.
the train station a little later in the morning. you won’t believe this, but i actually think there are people who do nothing but sit in those blue chairs the whole day, watching life go by. no wonder the railway and the idea of the journey are metaphors for the journey of life itself.
sarah’s holga. a pity we didn’t use it much. would have been fitting, given the rustic nature of the place.
after monkeying around while waiting for the guides, taking pictures and picking up some supplies, we headed off to the “guas”, or caves, to do some caving.
we encountered steep slopes throughout the trip. this was the first of them. we literally just walked off a main road to reach the caves.
the caves were created due to plate movements, water erosion, changing sea levels and other geographical concepts that i am no expert at. some of the limestone formations were beautiful, though there were parts where we had to get on our bellies to cross.
this is heng, one of our guides. he is a quiet fellow, always the silent but vigilant guy who ensures that everyone is fine. caught a quick portrait of him while he was taking a smoke break, with the light from one side of the cave to give him a strong, high-contrast look. these guys take plenty of smoke breaks.
we chanced upon this beautiful, fleeting shaft of light. it remained for maybe a few minutes, before losing its intensity. i am not sure who the girl in the picture on the right is, but i think the pose is really great.
after finishing with the caves and lunch, we started the 3-hour ascent towards the top of gunung stong. having to contend with a substantial load while traversing steep inclines and slippery slopes was more challenging than i initially anticipated. i had thought that the trip would be an enjoyable “walk in the park”. boy, was i wrong.
a happy accident. i didn’t see the rainbow with my naked eye but the camera caught it, like a third eye.
one of the seven tiers of the waterfall. yo, another one of the guides, said that the waterfall was tame this time of the year. it seemed more like a trickle compared to the gushing torrents during the periods with the heaviest rainfall. he also explained that it would be foolish to attempt to scale the mountain then, as the slippery surfaces would be too dangerous.
that is yo above. i asked him if he had always lived in these parts and he said that he was originally a “cityboy” living in kota bharu (kelantan’s capital) before this place stole his heart. slow-paced and carefree.
at the end of the climb. notice how happy everyone is. this is really reason to be happy.
the photo on the right was shot from the edge of the waterfall, or what the locals term “the viewing gallery”. i wanted to kick myself when i realised that i did not take a shot of the view when the town below could be seen.
after setting up camp, we washed ourselves in the rock pools before cooking dinner, it was already drizzling a little. the drizzle developed into a full-blown storm while we were preparing dinner and drove us into one of the shelters, which was little more than a collection of wooden sticks and planks. we had dinner there, amidst great company and not too bad food, before heading back to our tents to rest for the night.
the next morning began with breakfast. we had roti prata, pancakes and curry, and of course various permutations of them mixed together with some other ingredients. not too shabby for outdoor cooking.
shortly after breakfast the fog descended. thus, more foggy pictures.
we then packed our bags and left them in the tents before heading on a waterfall trek.we took a jungle track instead of simply walking up the rock surfaces for the sake of safety. according to chye kiat, the trip leader, some parts required you to leap across, failing which the results are not really desirable.
fu yi, sean and ray posing with one of the waterfalls.
first you climbed…
then you slide, like sarah.
the highlight of the day was getting to slide down one the waterfalls. it was about 10 to 15 metres high and threw you into a pool of water at the bottom. some of the local regulars were doing it standing. seemed pretty crazy to me. maybe they were not getting enough oxygen to their brains, given the altitude.
we broke camp around mid-afternoon and started our descent. we thought that we would be required to go down the way we came up, which was not a very comforting thought. then we realised that there was actually an easier route to go up and down. took us half the time we did to get to the top.
we then washed up at the foothill while waiting for the vans to take us to dinner and then back to the station. saw an enormous millipede. it was a size 6, same as sarah’s feet.
after dinner we sat around the train station sharing stories and just talking, waiting for our ride to take us home. i have to say, i thoroughly enjoyed the trip, as well as am pleased to have met all the wonderful people i shared the experience with, a quick shoutout to them – chye kiat, xuan jie, ray, sean, jean, belicia, lauren, evonne, fu yi and of course, sarah, tze min and yiling.
will be definitely looking to go on more of the trips organised by odac (mount kinabalu, especially)!
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whenever i speak of going to malacca, i always refer to the trip as “going back“. that is the way that my mum puts it, because malacca is the place when she was born and raised. almost all of her family still reside there.
i returned from what i have come to describe as my “annual pilgrimage” last wednesday. the trip to malacca this year was a short 3 day/2 night affair, largely thanks to the fact that my reservist unit is on standby and i could be recalled anytime. i figured that it was pretty safe for me to skip town for a couple of days and no longer. the prospect of having to explain myself to a bunch of numb-skulled superiors should i fail to materialise if my unit got activated does not really excite me.
below i have posted some of the more interesting photos from the trip, along with the corresponding text. feel free to post comments or questions. enjoy.
how we roll — there are a few ways to get to malacca. being broke students, my brother and i naturally chose the most cost-effective way – mrt to kranji station, bus 170 across the causeway to larkin bus terminal in johor, then onto an interstate bus for the ride to malacca.
on the interstate bus with our “skinny stethoscopes”. it’s not easy shooting yourself with a dslr sans tripod and remote trigger, but we managed.
one of the many pylons that dot the malaysian landscape. the cables stretch as vastly as the roads and the land that they overhang. a strange kind of communion between nature and the works of man.
once in malacca, the typical way for a foreigner to get around would be by taxis, which do not have a meter in them. as such, the cabbies would often call out exhorbitant charges if they get a sniff that you are a tourist. since i have relatives who are locals, i always am updated on the prevailing fares from one point to another. if i sense that a cabbie is trying to rip me off, i just grunt in disapproval and walk away. they are plenty more around lazing in the slow afternoons. regardless, fares usually hover around the 20 ringgit mark.
taxis aside, there are also buses that run on irregular schedules. if you are willing to wait an hour at times as well as endure the less than comfortable ride on these rickety old “tin cans”, you can save a lot of money. bus fares are around 1 to 2 ringgit.
the inside of a bus run by the patt hup bus company. this is a company that does not believe in keeping up with modernity and upgrading its fleet (not exactly) of buses.
this boy can’t wait to grow up and buy his own proton ___ra (or “ga”).
while we are still on the subject of beat-up old buses, adjacent to my auntie’s place is a lot where buses go to rust and die. they are stripped of all recyclable materials (and their dignity as well) and then just left there. clearly, the authorities there have a lot to learn in terms of waste-management.
above is the photo of my auntie’s kampung house bathed in the glow of morning. i woke up at 6 a.m. that day (no one wakes up at 6 a.m. there because there is no chase, corporate or otherwise) to shoot the sunrise and got the following:
in case you are wondering why there are temperate-looking trees in the background, it is because there is currently this big effort in malacca to reclaim land and to make the coastal areas more aesthetically-pleasing. let us not judge them, for we each have our own way of dealing with the current economic downturn. in their case – potentially unsuccessful attempts to boost tourism.
malacca is home to some really great food. my favourite local specialty has to be “satay celup”. a bunch of starving individuals sit around a table with a cooking pot of peanut-based gravy in which they dip their food (on satay sticks, of course) and wait impatiently to stuff their mouth.
the boy caught in the act of doing so is my nephew terence, by the way.
being a historical city, there is no shortage of culture and heritage in malacca, even though much of it is not the doing of the locals. there is a strong portugese presence in terms of historical structures. below are what remains of a church on a hill, and the handless statue that stands vigil.
a final note, they are not 2 seasons behind in terms of fashion.
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