Special Six: Beijing Experiences

During my travel around China with half my APLP cohort, I had the opportunity to explore a little of Beijing in-between our meetings and discussions. So, in addition to the must visit Forbidden City and some of the places in our Discover Beijing challenge, I highly recommend the following special six Beijing experiences which I enjoyed most.

1. Relax at the Summer Palace

We had a free morning on the day of my birthday so some of us decided to visit the Summer palace. After a delicious breakfast of steamed dumplings at a local specialty breakfast place, we took two cabs to the palace ensuring that one of the two Chinese speaking people in our group was in each of the two cabs. After getting our tickets, we walked around the summer palace.

The summer palace, a World Heritage site, has its origins dating back to the 12th century Jin dynasty though subsequent dynasties have added to the original structures and landscape designs of the 2.9 square kilometres palace area.

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Photo credit: Mami Sato

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After wandering around the temple and going up to the summit of the Longevity hill, we walked down to the lake area, where the boats were. A few of us decided to go for a boat ride on a self-paddling boat,instead of waiting in the long queues for the large dragon boats.

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Photo credit: Mami Sato

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Despite the heavy smog, I enjoyed my visit to the Summer Palace. The palace had a very pleasant and tranquil vibe and I would recommend walking around the palace and taking the boat trip on Kunming lake.

2. Visit Peking University 

Peking University in Haidian district is considered China’s leading university and it has a very interesting history. It is China’s first modern national university founded in 1898. It replaced the ancient Imperial Academy, as part of the hundred days’ reform. Therefore, the university campus area has an interesting mix of ancient structures and modern buildings which make it a very fascinating place to visit.

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I was most intrigued by the beautiful lake, as you can see from my photos above.

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I was also fascinated by the pretty buildings with their intricate roofing and creepers weaving themselves along the walls and the green trees besides them.

3. Enjoy a special dining experience at the Red Capital Club

The Red Capital Club at 66 Dongsi Jiutiao Dongcheng district is an interesting dining venue in a historical Hutong neighbourhood. Said to have been the former home of a Manchu princess, the club has been restored and designed to preserve the lovely architecture as well as create a museum dedicated foremost to the Communist party of the 1950s as well as a tribute to the Qing dynasty. The club is a kind of living museum and one can choose to stay at the place or just enjoy a meal and explore the club’s public rooms.

According to Lawrence Brahm, the founder of the red capital heritage foundation, who also founded the NGO Himalayan Consensus Institute in 2005 and the Shambala Serai Group of social enterprises in 2011, the foundation established in 1999 is the first social enterprise in Beijing. The Foundation restored a few homes, including the club venue, in the Dongsi neighbourhood and converted them to sustainable businesses, which has led to the heritage protection order being given for the neighbourhood.

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Photo credit: Michelle Taminato

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Photo credit: Mami Sato

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Photo credit: Michelle Taminato

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Photo credit: Michelle Taminato

The restaurant menu is in line with the theme and boasts of using recipes that were favourites of Chinese leaders across the centuries.

4. Browse through the collection at Bookworm, a delightful bookstore

Bookworm at Nan Sanlitun Road, Chaoyang district, is a place with a lovely vibe. It is a coffee shop/ English bookstore/ library/ event space all rolled into one store. We were there on the afternoon of my birthday, for a little gathering held at the event space of the store. While waiting for the event to start, I enjoyed browsing through the books as well as enjoying my coffee and tiramisu treat.

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5. Walk around an old Hutong 

During our time in Beijing, we stayed in an old Hutong neighbourhood. While hutongs are considered to have been introduced in the 13th century, they obtained a distinctive flavour during the Ming dynasty when neighbourhoods were planned in concentric circles with the Forbidden city at the center and the aristocrats and high ranking officials closer to the Forbidden city and the merchants and artisans in the furthermost circles.

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Photo credit: Mami Sato

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Photo credit: Mami Sato

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Photo credit: Mami Sato

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Photo credit: Mami Sato

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Photo credit: Mami Sato

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Photo credit: Mami Sato

While many hutongs have now given way to modernization and been replaced by modern buildings, there are still some old Hutong neighbourhoods and if you decide to stay in a guesthouse in such a neighbourhood, you are in for a special treat as you walk around the old neighbourhood.

6. Enjoy a traditional tea experience

We had our final morning in Beijing free for doing anything we left for the last minute. Our group broke up into smaller groups to go for some sightseeing or shopping, as per their interest. I was not in the mood for sightseeing or shopping but I was interested in visiting a traditional tea house, before we left China. My room-mate decided to join me in this little trip to Lao She tea house, near Tiananmen square. The tea house is named after the Chinese novelist, Lao She, who was famous for his 1957 play ‘Teahouse’.

The tea house was an interesting experience and I enjoyed the jasmine green tea, which was in the form of a dried ball that blossomed as hot water was poured over it.

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My recommendation is that you do go through the tea menu carefully and ask for recommendations from the tea guide as the tea sold here is very expensive and several are along the USD 500 price range. I personally preferred to focus on the tea as it is an experience in itself and forego the food or snacks or the theatre performance, which can add to your hefty bill. After trying out this special flower tea, I simply had to splurge on a small gift box for home.

Have you tried any of these six special experiences? Which experience was your favourite or which would you like to try out?

[I am linking this post to
*Monday Escapes #41, hosted by My Travel Monkey and Packing My Suitcase
**City Tripping #40, hosted by Mummy Travels and Wander Mum
***Wanderful Wednesday, hosted by Snow in Tromso, Lauren on Location, The Sunny Side of This and What a Wonderful World ]

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Special Six: Weekend in Malé

I was beginning to feel a little burned out at work towards latter 2010. I felt I needed to travel someplace outside the country, to re-energize myself and to regain my focus. Somewhere where I could simply relax, without going about much. My travel budget was almost non-existent since I had undertaken a major travel earlier in the year so my options were quite limited. My colleague and friend, who had traveled me with a couple of times in the previous year, also felt the same. It was while discussing that it emerged that I had sufficient air miles for two return tickets to Maldives and that my friend had a Maldivian friend from university, who had invited her for a visit. So that is how the two of us ended up going to Malé, one October weekend, after checking that it was ok with her friend to host me as well.

The capital of Maldives is a place that travelers usually skim past on their way to the resort islands. Our weekend though was based in Malé and we enjoyed it very much. This must have been the first trip that I had taken without reading something about the place before going there.
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I discovered several things that endeared Malé to me:

  1. It was the first time that I had landed at the international airport, in the capital of a country, which was on its own island. We had to take the airport ferry from the airport island to the city.

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2. Walking around Malé was fascinating. I felt that if I were somewhere in the middle of the city, it would take me at most 15 – 20 mins to walk to any end of the island. The island has an area of 5.8 km2. The narrow streets, in the residential areas, were rather charming. I would have expected that the lack of space would have prevented the use of vehicles but there were so many motorbikes parked everywhere, as well as cars plying the main roads.

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Our host’s mother, whom we visited a few times during our visit, mentioned that bicycles had been the most common mode of transport in the city decades ago and lamented the influx of automobiles with increase in wealth generated from tourism. She still continued to use her bicycle to get about the city.

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3. The beautiful waters. I haven’t seen shades of blue of the sea as I saw them around Malé, and I didn’t even go to the less inhabited islands. We enjoyed taking short rides, on public ferries, simply to go across the waters. Most of my photos from my weekend are of the sea. It was beautiful.

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4. Since we did not have any specific plan for our weekend, besides relaxing, we were content going out on leisurely walks on our own or with our host. During these leisurely, slow-paced moments, I experienced something that I felt was sort of unique to Maldivians – at least to those living in Malé. We would start from the apartment, just the three of us – our host, my friend and I, and we would walk over to her mother’s place for a chat and then meander to another relative’s place, all the while the group becoming bigger as some relatives or friends would add to the group continuing on, while others remained behind at a house. It was such a relaxed group all the way, but was full of surprises as one didn’t exactly know where one would end up or how many would remain in the group at the next place we stopped at. One evening, we ended up at the rooftop restaurant of a hotel, which was our host’s favourite. Another night, we ended up by the jetty area, where there was an open air concert organized by Alliance Française.

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5. I enjoyed my Maldivian breakfasts of roshi and mashuni on the lovely rooftop area, at the nearby Seagull cafe. While roshi and mashuni resembles one of the popular breakfasts of Sri Lanka, roti and pol sambol, in its description, it does taste and look different. We did try out a couple of other restaurants for some meals, but this was my favourite meal in Maldives, besides the one I had at the home of our host’s mother.

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Photo credit: Never Ending Footsteps/ Lauren Juliff

6. We were in Malé, coincidentally on the weekend Maldives was hosting the Hay literary festival. The festival was being held at Aarah island, the official private island retreat of the President of Maldives, which had been opened up to the public for the first time to host the Hay festival. Since our host’s mother was talking about her recently published work at one of the evening sessions, our hosts and some of their relatives wanted to go for that particular session. We had to hire a speed boat, as there was no public ferry at the time the group made it to the jetty. Going on a speedboat was so much fun and we made it just in time for the session. After the session, we walked around the island, enjoying some food and exploring the island. I remember the food stalls, live music, the carnival atmosphere but for some reason, that I don’t exactly remember, the only photos I took at the island that night was of the coconut trees. So, here’s one of those photos of the Aarah island coconut tree 🙂
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It was a delightful weekend, very much relaxed and filled with lots of wonderful conversations particularly with our host’s creative mother, good food, leisurely walks and surrounded by beautiful waters.

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Have you visited Maldives? What were your impressions of Malé?

[I have linked this post to:

*Monday Escapes #37, hosted by My Travel Monkey and Packing My Suitcase

**City Tripping #32, hosted by Mummy Travels and Wander Mum]

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Botswana – the lion country

I was recently watching the documentary “The Last Lions” filmed in the Okavango Delta. It brought back memories of my trip to the delta a few years back, especially that of a lioness that I came across on a safari drive. The lioness had looked quite lost and distressed, looking into the distance as if searching for something. The guide told us that her pride had been shot by the villagers as they had gone into the village and attacked some dogs. This young lioness had escaped death, perhaps she had been with her cubs, when the others were killed. Whatever the reason, she didn’t seem to know that her family was no-more or perhaps she was hoping that they had survived somehow. She did not seem bothered by all the jeeps travelling alongside her. Watching the documentary, I wonder if her small pride might have been driven to the edges of the delta by other larger prides. Having moved closer to the villages and running short of food, they must have foraged into the villages and met their demise. Human villages encroaching further and further into the delta should be prevented. It is sad that the lion population, according to the National Geographic documentary, is down to 20,000 from their population of 450,000 fifty years ago.

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The trip to Botswana was quite an unexpected one as it had not been on my travel list. The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series had been my introduction to the country and while I had found the place fascinating, I had not thought I would visit there anytime soon. Then, I received an invitation from some family friends living in South Africa to visit them there before they returned to Sri Lanka later that year. When my colleague and I decided to visit South Africa, a friend of my colleague invited us both to travel with her to neighbouring Botswana where her relatives lived. I am glad we took her up on her invitation as the trip to Botswana remains among one of my favourite travels to-date.

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From Johannesburg, we took a flight to Gaborone. Only Air Botswana and South African airways flew into Botswana so there was not much air traffic. From Gaborone, we went on a five hour drive to Francistown, where our hosts lived.  After arriving in Francistown at the home of our host family and spending the day with them, we took a car the next morning to Planet Baobab in Gweta. The website of the B&B was lovely and we found that our expectations was met when we arrived there and were shown our quirky accommodations in traditional huts. After a restful afternoon and evening around the B&B, simply soaking in the atmosphere, we woke up early in the morning to go on our booked tour. We went on a drive to the Nxai salt pans, which were a part of the ancient Lake Makgadikgadi. The Makgadikgadi Pans National Park is said to be roughly the size of Switzerland and is the remnants of Lake Makgadikgadi, which dried up around 10,000 years ago.

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The driver/ guide stopped soon after we had entered the park so that we could enjoy our picnic breakfast in the middle of nowhere.

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While driving through the park, we came across herds of zebras. The guide informed us that it was the seasonal migration when hundreds of zebras travelled for water. I was delighted to see the beautiful zebras in the wild.

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I learnt that the zebra is the national animal of the country and also that the black and white stripes in the middle of the Botswana flag, representing racial harmony, was inspired from the zebra.

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The guide took us next to meerkat territory. One of my sisters, who is a huge fan of meerkat manor, would have loved this. We came across the cute meerkats, who seemed to be habituated to humans and seemed comfortable in coming right up to us.

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We stopped at Chapman’s baobab, a 3500 year old baobab tree, named so because it was used as a post office in the old days and people left messages in the tree as they travelled along the route.

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After the lovely drive around the Nxai salt pan, we returned to Planet Baobab and continued onward to Maun. Maun is considered the tourism capital of Botswana as it is the gateway to the Okavango delta, the world’s largest inland delta. The Sango safari camp staff picked us up at Maun and took us into the Okavango delta past the Moremi game reserve. At the camp, we stayed in a luxury tent with proper beds, comfortable pillows and duvets as well as an en-suite bathroom. There was no electricity at the camp and only lanterns were available. Hot water was provided, upon request, by heating a bucket of water and having it poured into the small water tank that provided the water for the shower pipes.

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During our drives in the delta, besides the lioness, we also came across elephants, a hyena and her cubs, a few giraffes, impala, red lechwe and some very colourful birds.

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While it was a privilege and an unforgettable experience to come across some of these majestic animals in the wild, I also felt that we were being intrusive. At the Nxai salt pans, though, it had not felt intrusive and the herds of zebras and meerkat groups we came across had not seemed disturbed by our presence. However, within the Okavango delta, it felt as if we were intruding. Intruding with the numerous safari jeeps rushing at the animals and crowding them out, intruding with the expanding villages cutting down the trees depriving wild life of their natural habitat and shooting them down when they seek food from the villages. It affected me to the extent that I resolved that I would not go on another safari drive again. I hope there are stricter regulations placed on safari drive operators on the number of drives they can undertake and they are provided with training and guidelines on how to move within national parks with the least negative impact on the wild life. Places like this pristine Okavango delta need to be conserved for future generations.

OkavangoParticularly for the lions…

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[I am sharing this post at Monday Escapes #35, hosted by Ting@My Travel Monkey and Allane@Packing My Suitcase and at Wanderful Wednesdays, hosted by Lauren@Lauren On Location, Van@Snow in Tromso, Isabel@The Sunny Side of This and Marcella@What a Wonderful World]

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Road trip across Malaysia

Back in 2009, over lunch at work one day, a colleague and I decided to go on an impromptu trip to Malaysia that month trying out the then new budget airlines to Sri Lanka. We decided we would start our short holiday at Langkawi, the archipelago off the north-west coast of Malaysia, and make our way down to Kuala Lumpur for our flight home. It was late evening and raining heavily by the time we stepped out of our taxi at the hotel, in the Pantai Cenang beach area. So, our first impression of the place was a grey dismal area and this impression was not improved as we were shown our rooms in the concrete block that called itself a hotel.

The next morning, things looked much better perhaps because we had had some rest or because the sun was out. We hired a taxi after breakfast to drive us to the oriental village as we wanted to take the cable car to the top of Gunung Mat Cincang. The drive along the south west coast of Langkawi was beautiful and gave us lovely views of the sea and the numerous yachts dotting the coast. Langkawi was certainly a destination for the sailing enthusiasts who would no doubt love exploring the ninety nine islands of Langkawi. The best aspect of the drive was the contrasting scenery on either side of the road – the sea on one side of the road and the lush, green paddy fields on the other side with the mountains and cliffs ahead of us.
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We learnt that our destination for the day, Gunung Mat Cincang, had a folk story attached to it. According to local myth, Mat Cincang and Mat Raya were two giants who were about to become relatives through a marriage alliance between the families. However, the groom’s misconduct at the wedding party caused a fight between the two families and pots and pans were thrown around. Finally, peace was mediated between the two families and the two key figures that started the discord turned themselves into stone in repentance. They are considered to be the two mountains facing each other, Gunung Mat Cincang and Gunung Mat Raya. There is a little hill in between the two which is considered to have been the mediator of the truce. Many places in the island therefore have been named after the folk story and have been called the place ‘where the pot fell’, ‘the gravy seeped through the ground’ etc.
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Around 10a.m., we took the cable car ride up the mountain to the topmost point at around 700 m above sea level. The winds were blowing very roughly so the gate that led to the walk across the sky bridge was closed that day and even the viewing point at the top was to be closed again soon, even though it had just opened for visitors. We were lucky to have caught the right window to go up the mountain and access the viewing point platform. The view of the island was absolutely wonderful.
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After the cable car ride, we returned to the hotel and checked out. While waiting for the cab, we decided to have lunch at a little cafe near the hotel where I tried out the ‘kampung’ (country style) rice and vegetables with fried fish. Finishing the tasty lunch, we took the taxi to the jetty point and took the speed boat ride to Kuala Kedah, a rural fishing village. The taxi drive from the jetty to the inter-city bus station took us past a village which seemed to have a lot of scrap work-yards. It reminded me of Panchikawatte in Colombo. Rows and rows of shops with vehicle parts and scraps.

At the bus station, we boarded the Transnational bus to Butterworth from where we took a ferry to George Town, the capital city of the state of Penang and a world heritage site. It was again raining heavily that evening, yet the waters seemed very busy with the ferry crossings. The ferry ride was a short one and we took a taxi to our guesthouse, which I had looked forward to staying at as the Old Penang Guesthouse was the No 1 specialty lodging in Georgetown that year, according to Trip Advisor. Upon arriving there, we were greeted by a young woman seated at the desk at the entrance who briefed us on the rules at the guesthouse – no shoes allowed on the upper floor starting from the staircase, make-your-own breakfast with the available supplies in the morning etc.

The ground floor was packed with fellow guests flocked around the TV lounge and the tiny dining area, as we made our way to the staircase. While it is a custom in Sri Lankan homes to leave one’s shoes at the entrance before entering a house, it seemed strange to do the same in a guesthouse. We left our footwear at the bottom of the stairway and carried our bags up the steep wooden staircase. Our room, No 10, was at the end of the corridor and overlooked the back street. The place looked cosy and clean, especially after our dismal accommodation the previous night. The windows attracted me as they seemed to give the room a very old feel with the floor to ceiling shuttered bamboo panels, which was in keeping with the age of the house though the furnishing of the room was modern.
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As we had had a long travel and got a bit drenched in the rain towards the last part of our travel to the guesthouse, we decided to shower and change before we went out for dinner. The shared bathrooms had two shower cabins. As I tweaked the shower knobs trying to figure out how it worked, I heard the singing of some performer across the road. As I finally worked out the knobs and a cold stream of water hit me, the voice went a pitch higher and was so shrill. My friend, who was in the adjacent cabin, was also taken aback by the shrill pitch. After a few moments of silence, we both started laughing as the situation suddenly seemed very funny. The rain pouring outside the old guesthouse, the shower room with a skylight, the cold water shower and the shrill voice of a local opera singer who kept shrieking at even higher pitches at intervals combined to give us the most funniest and memorable experience in Malaysia.

We tried out a little restaurant recommended by our trishaw driver for dinner. I had tasty meal of mee hoon noodle soup with fish balls and some green tea though my friend did not like her vegetarian selection.
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When we got back to the guesthouse, I did not feel comfortable leaving my new shoes at the bottom of the staircase so I decided to carry it up to my room. The next morning, I forgot the ‘wear no shoe upstairs’ rule, put on my shoes and came down for breakfast. So did my friend. We remembered the rule midways down the stairs and as it didn’t make sense for us to remove the shoes at that point, we just continued down the stairs hoping that the guesthouse staff would not see us. Unfortunately, just as we reached the last few steps, we saw the manager of the guesthouse at the foot of stairs, his arms full of breakfast supplies, looking up at us and frowning with displeasure. As we walked to a free table, he came up to us and sternly admonished us ‘next time, no shoes’. We felt like a pair of school kids in a hostel as we apologized and went to get our toast and coffee.

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After breakfast, we took a taxi to the funicular station at the bottom of Penang Hill. We got tickets for a ride on the old-fashioned train going up to the top of the hill. The train ride up the very steep track took a long time and as it was a cloudy day, the view of Georgetown from the top of the hill was quite blurry.

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After our morning at Penang hill, we checked out from the guesthouse and took the taxi back to Butterworth terminal, this time over the longest bridge in Malaysia. Penang Bridge is among the top 25 longest bridges in the world with a length of 13.5 km.
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At the terminal, we got our tickets on the first counter that we came across which stated ‘Butterworth – Ipoh’. The bus was scheduled to leave within minutes so we got onto the bus immediately. However, we had to wait an hour or more as the bus driver waited to fill the bus with passengers. Eventually our bus was on its way. Around 3pm, the bus driver stopped for a break and we decided to have some lunch at the food court. I had ‘nasi lemak’ which was rice cooked with coconut milk (the Malaysian version of the Sri Lankan ‘kiribath’) and served with a little chilli paste in wrapped in banana leaf and a lychee drink. The box drink reminded me of my first years of school in Indonesia where the lychee box drink was an essential part of my school snack pack.

Arriving at Medan Gopeng bus terminal in Ipoh, we took a taxi to the hotel and checked in. We decided to then go for a short drive around the city, have dinner and then avail ourselves of the hotel spa’s complimentary foot massage. As my friend had not been enjoying the local food that we tried out during the last couple of days, I looked up vegetarian cafes and found that one was located opposite the Sam Poh Tong cave temple. I felt that it would be a lovely outing combining a temple visit with dinner. The taxi driver informed us that Sam Poh Tong would be closed at that time but we said we would like to go there anyway as we wanted to go to the vegetarian cafe. He drove us beyond the city to a more rural area across paddy fields surrounded by hills. It felt a bit isolated as dusk was setting in and I was wondering if we should just turn back. Anyway, he soon stopped at the entrance of a cave temple. The gates were locked and I saw the name in front of the temple was not Sam Poh Tong but Kek Look Tong. We again asked the driver to take us to Sam Poh Tong. He drove us back and pointed out Thai temples along the way. As he was very much focused on Thai temples than Chinese temples, we asked if he was from Thailand originally. We didn’t get an answer to that but heard a long monologue about the Thai monks in the temples. Finally, he stopped at another cave temple where the gates were open. He said that this was a temple where he came often to pray and it was a Chinese temple with Thai monks.
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After exploring the cave temple a little, we asked the driver to take us to a restaurant with vegetarian food. He took us to a Chinese restaurant, which seemed to be packed with Chinese families and my friend thankfully seemed to finally enjoy her meal of vegetarian fried rice.

Though I had initially planned that we explore some underground caves the next morning, my friend said she was not interested in more caves after our brief glimpse of one cave temple so we decided to continue on to Melaka instead.

We took the taxi to Medan Gopeng bus terminal in Ipoh around nine in the morning to catch our bus to Melaka. The next set of buses to Melaka seemed to leave only at 11.30a.m. and the Transnational bus only left once a day at 1p.m. As we wanted to have the whole afternoon and evening for exploring in Melaka, we decided to go for the next best option, which was taking the bus to Kuala Lumpur and from there transferring to another bus headed for Melaka. We found a bus leaving within a few minutes for the capital city so we settled down for the four-hour drive to Kuala Lumpur. The conductor who was a Malaysian with Indian roots chatted with us in Tamil. After clarifying that we intended to travel on directly to Melaka from Kuala Lumpur city, he suggested that it would be faster for us if we got down at Klang Sentral without going into the city and take the connecting bus going from there to Melaka at 1pm. As this would save us time, we happily agreed and he conveyed this to the driver in Malay. The inter-city buses didn’t seem to make stops on the way so I was not sure if the driver would make the stop specially for us but true enough, as we approached the highway area which had signboards stating ‘Klang’, ‘Cyberjaya’, ‘Putrajaya’, the bus made the detour and the driver took us right up to the Melaka terminal at the bus station. We were the only ones dropped off. The kind bus staff wished us a good journey before resuming their drive towards Kuala Lumpur.

The Transnational bus started off from Klang Sentral at precisely 1pm and we reached the UNESCO world heritage city, Melaka, in two hours. From the Melaka terminal, we took a taxi to Baba House , a Peranakan historic residence located in the old heritage part of the city. We checked in and made our way to our room located towards the end of the first floor. While Baba House seemed a tiny place from the outside with small doorways, the interior seemed to be extensive with several passageways and interconnected houses. The house was very old with many rooms. We were shown our tiny air-conditioned room. The room was not one where one could stay in and rest as it had a closed in feel to it because of the lack of windows. Well, there was a tiny window but it opened onto the passageway and was located right beside the door handle so we were not comfortable leaving it open.

 


After settling in, we decided to go to Coconut house, the café opposite Baba house, where we had a wood-fired pizza.
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After our filling meal, we decided to go and find a money-changer’s shop before we explored further as we had run out of ringgits. We walked towards the town hall but couldn’t find any along the way so we asked a passer-by who pointed to a little street. We did find a money changer’s place there but it was closed. So, we continued our walk along another street when I realized that it was the Jonker Walk street mentioned on travel websites. The street was lined with touristy shops. We located the tourist information office opposite Stadthuys, the town hall, but it was also closed though the opening hours mentioned on the door indicated it would be open till 6pm on Saturdays.
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While we were wondering how we would get some cash in the Malaysian currency, I spotted the brightly coloured and garishly decorated trishaws playing loud Bollywood music. We decided to go for a drive around some of the historical parts of the city and stop at a money change’s place along the way.

The driver took us first to the ruins of the Portuguese fort, A Famosa, and the surviving gateway, Porta da Santiago, and said he would wait at the entrance while we explored the ruins.


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Continuing our trip, the guide pointed out two Melaka trees, which he stated was the source of the origin of the name of city founded in 1377 by Raja Parameswara.

Then, he drove us past the river cruise starting point, past the maritime museum and onto the more commercial part of the city.
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The driver proudly told us that the trishaw was the ‘king of the roads of Melaka’, as he meandered slowly among larger vehicles and impatient drivers. He stopped at the Newton food court so that we could change our money and dropped us off at the starting point of the river cruise as we had decided to take that cruise next.


As we cruised along the historic, albeit dirty and stinking Strait of Malacca, on a little tourist boat, we joked that it was like going for a cruise on Beira lake in Colombo. Though Beira lake has cleaned up well in recent years. Despite the stench of the river, the cruise did give us an interesting view of the city – both its historical part with the ruins, buildings and churches and the modern cafes and buildings as well as glimpses of the dwellings of the poorer inhabitants of the city and the traditional Melakan houses.


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After finishing our cruise, we decided to walk back to Baba House cafe via the Jonker Walk street. As the weekend market on Jonker walk street was in full swing, the street was fully packed. I wanted to try out cendol, a much raved about Malaysian delicacy so we stopped at the sweet house on the street. The cendol I tried had tapioca pearls and tasted of palm sugar which was a bit of a strange combination for my taste buds.

After walking around for a while, we decided to return to Baba house and booked a cab to take us to the bus station the following morning. The next morning, we found the tiny café of Baba house packed with queues of people. We eventually managed to get our breakfast tray and made it over to one of the quiet inner courtyard table. The view from our breakfast table of the surrounding and especially, the view of the sky and the paintings on the first floor verandahs was lovely.

 


We took the KKKL line from Melaka to Kuala Lumpur, recommended as the fastest by the hotel staff and we reached the city by 11.30am. We arrived at 41 Beranggan, our guesthouse for the last day of our Malaysian holiday just before noon. After checking in and dropping off our bags in the room, we went to Mid Valley mall for some shopping. My friend was most in her elements as she is addicted to shopping especially when it comes to branded clothing and accessories. I, on the other hand, avoid shopping until and unless they are essential and then too, only with a list in hand. So, we decided that we would go our separate ways and meet up at a central point later in the evening.

On our way back to the B&B, I had a last minute idea that it would be nice to drive by Petronas towers before returning to our guesthouse. I couldn’t resist taking a few photos of the structure looming above me.
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We took the flight back home early the next morning, concluding our 5 day road trip across Malaysia. While I do not think I would repeat such a whirlwind trip, I did enjoy this particular one trying out different types of public transport in Malaysia. My favourite place during this trip was Langkawi for its scenic beauty though when it came to accommodation, the favourite without question was the Old Penang guesthouse in GeorgeTown.

[I am linking this post to Monday Escapes #36, hosted by Allane@Packing My Suitcase and Ting@My Travel Monkey and Weekend Wanderlust, hosted by A Brit and A southerner]

Packing my Suitcase
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