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Tian Hock Kung – The Snake Temple of Klang

I’ve always had a fascination with temples—and being raised a Buddhist (the faith of which a majority of Malaysian Chinese people profess to), I’ve been to my fair share of unique places of worship in Malaysia. Among them are:

But just when I think I’ve seen it all, my backyard surprises me with a hidden gem — Tian Hock Kung, also dubbed the “Snake Temple of Klang”. I chanced upon some pictures online while doing research; there wasn’t a lot of info available in English, but it was enough to pique my inner travel journalist. So I decided to drag the Hubs, a fellow person of culture, on an impromptu adventure to seek out the place.

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Once the capital of Selangor, Klang is one of the region’s oldest cities, known for its colonial buildings and rich heritage sites. It has a huge Hokkien Chinese population, and as such, there are dozens of beautiful Chinese temples within the city, some of which are over a hundred years old.

Tian Hock Kung is tucked in a quiet locality next to the Klang River, a few minutes drive from the city centre. There are no signs along the way pointing to the temple and the building is hidden from the main road by foliage, but it’s not that difficult to find (you can Waze there, or look out for Klinik Kesihatan Sungai Berthek, which is just next to it).

Even though it was a weekend, and most temples would have seen at least some visitors, it was so quiet that we thought the place was not open to visitors. But since the gate was open, we ventured in cautiously. No caretaker was present; we were greeted only by a skinny black and white dog, ie the informal temple guardian.

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On the outside, Tian Hock Kung looks like an ordinary Chinese temple, with all the elements — curved orange roofs, lots of red, typical Chinese motifs. But as you walk closer, you’ll see why they call it Snake Temple.

In place of dragons or phoenixes, which are common motifs that represent auspiciousness and prosperity, you’ll find dozens of life-like snake statues and carvings; coiled around pillars in menacing poses and perched atop roofs.

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Even for someone without ophidophobia (fear of snakes), looking at the figures can trigger a feeling of uneasiness — even though they are clearly not alive. I think it stems from a primal sort of fear : a NatGeo article suggests that fear of snakes may be hardwired, a remnant from a time when being wary of dangerous animals gave humans an evolutionary advantage. Even though only one in five snakes are venomous (a smaller number are fatal to humans), and snakes are generally shy creatures that would run away from people rather than attack them, I think the natural reaction for many of us towards snakes is to get the hell away from them, lol.

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A large green snake figure surrounded by flowers and plants on a giant wheeled float.

There is also, perhaps, another reason why we fear snakes. Their appearance and slithering movements seem cold and alien; far removed from mammals like ourselves, and so unlike cuddly, furry animals such as dogs and cats.

PS: For those unaware, a majority of the Malaysian Chinese population subscribe to an amalgamation of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism, the latter two which incorporates many elements of traditional Chinese folklore and pagan practices of ancestor worship. Tian Hock Kung is primarily a Taoist temple, but it has a Guanyin statue as well, which is worshipped in both Buddhism as a bodhisattva, and Taoism as a deity/god.

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So why does this temple have so many representations of snakes?

Since I couldn’t find a caretaker to answer my questions, I can only rely on info I found online (most of these are written in Mandarin, which I can’t read lol and had to Google translate— so excuse me if I get some things wrong in translation).

The deities worshipped here are three sworn brothers, and like many Taoist deities, they are based on real historical figures. They are Zhang Gong Sheng Jun, Xiao Gong Sheng Jun, and Hong Gong Sheng Jun. You will find their statues inside the temple, with the main deity sporting a green face.

I’m not 100% sure which brother it is (I think it’s Zhang Gong Sheng Jun) but the god has an affinity for snakes and was known for defeating a thousand-year old snake demon. He also carries a magical weapon that used to be a snake which he subdued. You can read about the legend here.

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The interior of the temple is quite spacious, and the ceiling features an octagonal window with a Yin Yang motif — the primary symbol of Taoism — surrounded by other Taoist symbols that represent the different Immortals, such as the fan, gourd, iron crutch, and flute. In the centre of the room are several small but intricately carved wooden shrines with wooden seats on them (I’ve seen this before and I think they’re used to carry the deity statues out on religious parades). During our visit, there were also large stacks of paper offerings, sorted into neat bundles.

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Of course, it won’t be a Snake Temple without at least one resident snake — a huge albino python in a cage in the corner. Apparently snakes used to come here from time to time (on their own). According to a China Press article, in 2011, a six-foot-long python climbed into the temple and made a cozy nook for itself behind the altar, just before the deity’s birthday celebration. However, the snakes don’t come anymore, likely due to the surrounding neighbourhood’s development.

PS2: The northern state of Penang, another Chinese majority place, also has a snake temple, but instead of being in cages, the snakes roam freely around the temple. The history behind that temple is super interesting too, but I haven’t visited, and that would be a story for another time.

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Wall paintings. I think they tell the story of the deities worshipped at this temple.
Not being able to read Chinese characters is a real bummer. :c
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The main altar has been designed to look like a cave, complete with stalactites and outcroppings. There are three nooks, each housing one deity. The main one, as mentioned, has a green face, with a dragon on its back, and many smaller deities at the base. There are also large snakes with glowing LED eyes on each side of the central altar.

Unlike Buddhist statues, which often have serene, calm expressions, Taoist gods can appear quite….intimidating. In Cantonese, we call it having a strong sat hei, or ‘killing’ aura — ie a fierce disposition which is meant to scare away evil. You need not fear if you’re not an evil-doer, but those with evil in their hearts, beware.

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More paper offerings, these in the shape of clothes.
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Why pineapples? Pineapples are symbols of prosperity and good luck — the Hokkien word for pineapple ‘ong lai’, sounds like ‘prosperity comes’.
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The entire time we were roaming around and taking photos, there was not a soul in sight. I would have liked to speak to the caretaker to understand more about the place, but it was also a positive experience in a way, as I could take my time exploring without having to worry about bothering anyone.

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While on my way to the toilet, I chanced upon an area that was almost hidden from sight, adjacent to the main building. Peeking in, I saw that it was a shrine to the Taoist god of the underworld, Yanluo Wang. The entrance was designed to look like the gates of Hell, flanked by Hell’s guardians in Chinese mythology, Ox-Head and Horse-Face. As the name suggests, they have the bodies of men, but the head of an ox and the face of a horse. They are believed to escort newly deceased souls to face Yan Wang’s judgement, where they will subsequently be sent to the different levels of hell for punishment, based on their earthly crimes, or sent on to heavenly realms if they’ve been good people. Trivia: Japanese mythology has similar beliefs, where they are known as Gozu and Mezu.

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If what the temple committee wanted to achieve was to evoke a sense of fear and apprehension, then they certainly succeeded. The shrine was located lower than ground level, so visitors would have to descend steps to get closer (I did not because no way, Jose), and it was also bathed in an eerie blue light.

Instead, I respectfully (call me superstitious if you like, better safe than sorry!) asked for permission to take photos (the husband, a Christian, looked at me with a funny expression at what must seem to him absurd; ie me talking to the air, lol).

There were baskets of paper offerings lined up on one side of the shrine, a small table and chair on the other with some teapots (for mediums to channel the gods, perhaps?) on the other. Like at the main shrine, Yanluo Wang’s shrine was made to look like a cave, with the deity elevated on an outcropping, flanked by his assistants, the Black and White Guards (Heibai Wuchang). Taoism is heavy on balance, and like the concept of Yin and Yang, the Hei Bai Wuchang represent rewarding the good, and punishing the evil.

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Before leaving, I paid a visit to the Na Tuk Kong shrine within the temple’s compound. You might be wondering why there’s a dome resembling a mosque, and why the deity within seems to be wearing traditional Malay clothes. Well, when the Chinese migrated to Malaya centuries ago, they brought their folk worship beliefs with them; that is, paying respects to the local guardians and spirits they may encounter in this new land. Malays probably have another word for it — penunggu.

Klang’s Snake Temple is an interesting look into the Malaysian Chinese community’s way of life, culture, and beliefs. It’s a unique mixture of adherence to long held traditions passed down through hundreds, perhaps thousands of years – combined with new influences shaped by centuries of migration and assimilation. Definitely one of the more unique temples around!

TIAN HOCK KUNG (KLANG SNAKE TEMPLE 巴生天福宫)

Lot 3115 & 3116, Jalan Siakap, Jln Tepi Sungai, Taman Teluk Pulai, 41100 Klang, Selangor

Opening hours: 9AM – 11PM (daily)

PS: I hope you liked this post! Please consider supporting my blog via Patreon, so I can make more. Or buy me a cup of coffee on Paypal @erisgoesto

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Pulau Ketam Day Trip 2022 — Selangor’s Unique “Crab Island”

If a foreign friend was traveling to Malaysia for the first time, where would you recommend they visit?

Perhaps Melaka for its rich history, Penang for its art and food, Langkawi for its gorgeous beaches, or Sabah and Sarawak for beautiful nature. Not forgetting Kuala Lumpur—the bustling metropolis and the heart of the Malaysian economy—with its eclectic mix of skyscrapers, glitzy malls, colonial shophouses, and chic cafes; a true melting pot of the region’s culture and influences.

Pulau Ketam, however, is probably not the first place that comes to mind. That should change — because it’s an excellent spot for visitors seeking something truly immersive and local. Doubly so for the Malaysians who have yet to pay this place a visit! You might be surprised at the unique experiences you can find in your own backyard.

Here’s a video for the lazy-to-read people. Also to give you a ‘feel’ of how it’s like on the island!

Located off the coast of Port Klang in Selangor, Pulau Ketam (or Crab Island) is a fishing village established in the 1880s by Teochew and Hokkien Chinese immigrants. The settlement, built on mudflats surrounded by mangroves, is known for its quaint homes and elevated pathways built over stilts, which gives them the appearance of floating over water during high tide. What started as a small fishing village soon grew; today, the island hosts some 1,000 homes.

In the past, the main industry in Pulau Ketam was fishing, but tourism now contributes a major part to the local economy as well. Visitors to the place are mostly Malaysians; the few times I have been here, I have not seen many foreign tourists. All the more reason to put it on your itinerary !

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GETTING THERE

Since there are no roads connecting the island to the mainland, villagers have their own boats in lieu of cars whenever they need to travel for supplies. As for visitors, the only way to access Pulau Ketam is via ferry from the South Port Terminal in Port Klang. If you’re driving, you can park your car at the Asa Niaga Habour City compound, next to the terminal.

The terminal can be quite warm, and crowded on busy days, but there is a canteen where you can order drinks and finger food, as well as stalls selling snacks. There are several ferry operators here, so once you step into the terminal you’ll be greeted by touts yelling out prices.

We went for the Alibaba Cruise (RM20 – return tickets, RM12 – one way) which is slightly cheaper than a speedboat. Regretted this decision, as even though they have scheduled departure times, they still waited for the boat to be full before they left the port. We waited more than 45 minutes on the boat, which was supposed to leave at 11.30AM, but only left around 12.15PM. -_-

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Either way, off to Pulau Ketam we go!

The ride takes about 30 to 40 minutes. If your boat has a deck on top, I suggest sitting there so you get a nice view of the mangroves. But maybe not in the afternoon because the weather can get extremely hot.

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WHAT TO DO ON PULAU KETAM

I last came here in 2016 and made a blog post about my trip (read it here) – so you can check the post out if you want a gist. This time around, I’m going to share more photos and commentary, because on my previous trip I didn’t really get to explore as much as I wanted to.

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Walk along the pier and enjoy the breeze. If you come in the afternoon, when the tide is low, you’ll see hundreds of tiny crabs and mudskippers crawling around in the mud (hence the name Crab Island).

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A new addition since my visit in 2016 – colourful signage and some nautical/ocean-inspired art installations. You’ll also find some interesting murals scattered around the island.

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Houses on Pulau Ketam are built on stilts measuring around 1 to 10 metres above the water. Most of the structures are made of either wood or concrete, as are the walkways that form an intricate maze connecting the many different parts of the village. Because of how narrow the streets are, there are no large vehicles, only motorbikes and bicycles. You can rent a bike to get around the island, but I prefer exploring on foot, since you can really take your time to soak in the sights.

Take note that most of the bikes are electric. Since they don’t produce a lot of noise, you have to be aware of your surroundings while making your way through the alleyways!

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Despite it’s remote location, Pulau Ketam is well equipped with all sorts of facilities. They have their own police station and volunteer fire brigade, 3 primary schools and a secondary school, a post office, and even a Maybank (so don’t worry if you’re strapped for cash – there’s an ATM machine within).

The internet and call quality is probably better than what I get at home (thanks for the ‘coverage’, Digi!), and they also have a constant supply of electricity and water from the mainland. You might still find a couple of homes with a rainwater harvesting system, which is what they used before a direct water supply was installed in 1991.

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Mini post office and souvenir shop.
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Pulau Ketam’s Jalan Besar (main street) bustles with activity, flanked by seafood restaurants, snack stalls and souvenir shops. It was high time for lunch, so we popped into one called Restoran Kim Hoe.

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Very Chinese decor. Bright red lanterns hanging from the ceiling, red fans, auspicious paper cutouts, red chairs and round tables, all the trimmings.
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It was just the Hubs and me and we didn’t want to overstuff ourselves, so we went for fried squid and kam heong style bamboo clams to go with our rice. The squid was fresh and springy, the batter deep fried to crunchy perfection. There was some seasoning in the batter so it wasn’t bland, and the chilli sauce complemented it well too.

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Bamboo clams get their name from their long, cylindrical shells. I think they taste like a meatier cross between oysters and Live Venus clams (what we call in Malaysia and Singapore as ‘lala’).

Because shellfish tends to have a briny, ‘fishy’ smell, they are usually cooked with strong spices such as curry and kam heong. FYI, kam heong is Cantonese for ‘golden and fragrant’ – a fitting name for an aromatic, rich sauce made from dried shrimps, curry powder, shallots, and garlic. Here’s another fun tidbit: kamheong is a Malaysian Chinese creation! Chinese immigrants here took influences from their Malay and Indian neighbours (hence the curry powder, dried shrimps, and other spices), added it into their own cooking, and voila.

The version at Restoran Kim Hoe is tasty. The clams were not cleaned thoroughy so there was a bit of sand left in them, but I understand that it’s difficult to get the sand out entirely sometimes. Otherwise, an excellent dish!

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Having had our tummies filled, it was time to explore the streets.
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Chinese immigrant communities back in the day were deeply religious and had strong beliefs in gods and the supernatural. More so for a fishing village, as they were dependent on the sea and nature for a living. As such, you’ll still find many temples scattered across the settlement. The one right after main street is probably the most photographed/popular, but if you wander deeper, you’ll find other temples too. Although small in size, the temples are colourful and richly adorned – great for photography.

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I love the detailing here! Aside from dragons, which are a common motif in Chinese temples, you can also see that they have crabs, as well as other sea creatures like shrimps, squid, octopi, and fish.
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An empty wooden altar in the hall next to the temple with phoenix, dragon, and cloud motifs.
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A shrine dedicated to the Thousand Hand Guanyin.
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Since most of the villagers built their own homes, no two houses on Pulau Ketam are the same and each boasts unique features. They’re mostly single storey, but there are some grander double storey homes as well. They’re also painted in various colourful shades. No two homes next to each other have the same colour – I wonder if they discussed beforehand like “Hey, I’m going to paint my house yellow, so maybe you can take blue instead?” xD

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Instead of cars, villagers have boats parked next to piers in front of their homes.
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Keep your eyes peeled for interesting murals. I like this creative piece – if you look more closely, you’ll find that the yellow guy on the left has an Ultraman tattoo on his belly drawn in the style of a Chinese deity!

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Many homes on Pulau Ketam leave their doors unlocked during the day – something almost impossible to see in the big city. But I guess if you’re stuck on an island (with their own police station to boot), it’s going to be pretty hard to run anywhere unless you have your own boat…

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A local Datuk Gong shrine.

Fun fact: a lot of people don’t know this, but the deity/spirit that the Malaysian Chinese here worship as Datuk Gong is actually – wait for it – Malay! That’s why you’ll often see the figure within these shrines dressed in traditional Malay clothing, such as a songkok and sarong.

The story goes that when Chinese immigrants came to Malaya, they brought their folk worship beliefs with them (specifically the worship of Tudi, or the god of the earth/the local deity of whatever land they’ve settled in). It was believed that the Chinese back then blended it with the animisme that some Malays practiced in ancient times, before they embraced Islam – hence why Datuk Gong has the appearance of a Malay personage.

This belief is also prevalent in other Nusantara Chinese communities, such as in Indonesia and Singapore.

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Someone’s hall in front of their house, complete with rocking chair to wile away the hours.
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More colourful homes. Some of these have been renovated and turned into homestays, but the more traditional ones are still made of wood.
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Another temple.
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A Taoist temple with a hexagonal window featuring the Yinyang symbol. There were a few very old, weathered looking statues within. Unfortunately the temple was not open during our visit.
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A clan association building.

Clan associations were the OG social networks – a place where people could mingle, and where they could go to for support, especially financially. In the 1800s, when many Chinese emigrated overseas in search for a better life, they often travelled long distances and arrived on distant shores with nothing but the clothes on their back. Clan associations were founded as a way to offer a support network for its members, and to build camaraderie and a spirit of kinship in a place far from home.

The associations would pool together resources to help solve problems that their members might face, such as securing a loan so start a business, buying land for burial, or building temples. They also facilitated personal and business introductions, and acted as important links to their homelands back in China. Some of these clan associations became very wealthy and powerful, such as the Khoo clan in Penang.

Today, clan associations are dying off because the roles they used to fulfill have been taken over by modern institutions such as banks or business associations. Also, many Malaysian Chinese communities no longer have any links to China. Their role, if any, has evolved to focus more on culture, education, and social service.

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A villager’s garden, filled with gorgeous blooms.
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Pulau Ketam is not very big, and you can probably explore everything within the day. We were done by 3.30PM, caught the next ferry back, and reached Port Klang by 5PM.

To be honest, nothing much has changed (aside from the addition of a couple more homestays?) – but that’s the beauty of living in a village like this. Seasons change, but the essence of the place – it’s quaint charm, the friendliness of the locals – remain constant. Personally, I love the story behind how Pulau Ketam came to be, as it’s a testament to the resilience of the Chinese immigrant community in Malaysia, most of whom came to Malaya with nothing, and built a life for themselves here.

There are a couple of things to remember while planning a trip here:

  • Bring a hat or sunscreen, as the weather gets super hot. Maybe because they don’t really have trees to shade the place, or because they’re located in an intertidal zone.
  • Most places operate with cash, but some have upgraded to accept e-wallets too.
  • Please remember these are actual homes and that there are people living in them, so be respectful.
  • The last ferry from Pulau Ketam leaves at 6PM on weekends, and 5PM on weekdays. While chatting with a local, she told me that some tourists forget this, miss the last boat, and are forced to spend the night on the island lol. Be mindful of the time!

PS: I hope you liked this post! Please consider supporting my blog via Patreon, so I can make more. Or buy me a cup of coffee on Paypal @erisgoesto

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2D1N Itinerary@Genting Highlands, Malaysia (2022 Update!)

Can you believe it has been four years since my last trip to Genting Highlands (excluding visits for work)? But then again, the last two years since the pandemic started have felt like a waking dream, so…yeah.

With that said, I think it’s high time for an update! A lot has changed in Genting since my 2018 visit (read my first 2D1N Itinerary post here), most notably the opening of SkyWorlds, a new outdoor amusement park, as well as dozens of cool restaurants and entertainment centres.

Buttttt we’re getting ahead of ourselves here, so let’s rewind a little bit.

It was a long weekend and I got a free room at First World Hotel, courtesy of a relative. It’s been ages since I’ve had a vacation (since before the pandemic, actually) – so even though it was ‘just’ Genting, I was super excited for the trip. The last time I went to Genting it was via bus from KL Sentral, but I’m officially too old for that these days (by that I mean travelling in public transport lol), so we rented a cab instead. Our cab for four cost us about RM30 each.

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You can choose to have the cab ferry you straight up to the resort, but I wanted to visit the Chin Swee Cave Temples which is mid-way up the mountain, so I told the driver to drop the Hubs and I off at Genting Highlands Premium Outlet instead. If you’re keen on buying branded goods from names like Coach, Armani, Burberry, and Michael Kors at discounted prices, then you might want to spend some time here.

We made a beeline for the cable car station. Tickets are priced at RM10 for a one way trip.

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We made a pitstop at the Chin Swee Cave Temples, where you can stop to explore the temple at no additional cost. Opened in 1994, the temple sits on forested land donated by the founder of Resorts World Genting, Lim Goh Tong. Combining Chinese Buddhist and Taoist beliefs, the temple is dedicated to Qingshui (Chin Swee in Hokkien), a deity in China’s Fujian province, Lim’s hometown. If you’re here on a sunny day, the temple affords panoramic views of the surrounding mountains as well as the base of Genting. To be perfectly candid, the sight of the towering skyscrapers (read: luxury holiday ‘condos’) mars the beauty of the area’s natural surroundings. But I guess that’s development for you.

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The temple is great for photo enthusiasts, thanks to its vibrant colours and beautiful architecture. Look out for the giant stone Buddha which sits against a backdrop of lush greenery.

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Another interesting highlight here is the ‘Journey to Enlightenment’ section, which is not quite accurately named as it’s more a journey through hell lolol. It basically depicts the various hells in Chinese/Taoist belief, and features some pretty gruesome statues ala Singapore’s Haw Par Villa.

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The temple’s pagoda is great for photography, seemingly ‘floating’ above the mountains and clouds when taken from certain angles.

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The story of the Monkey King (Sun Wukong) is carved into stone tablets near a section of the temple made to look like Flower Mountain, the legendary mountain where the deity is believed to have made his abode.
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Statues of the 18 Lohan, which in Chinese Buddhist belief were the 18 original followers of Gautama Buddha. Kinda like the Apostles were to Jesus, I guess.
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While the temple has not changed much since my last visit, there are a couple of additions.

There are now a couple of stalls next to the pagoda selling snacks and tidbits; the Hubs and I had some curry fishballs which was perfect in the chilly weather (it was pretty cold, despite the sun). Another fun fact: this temple is home to a Starbucks, which opened in 2019. It’s right underneath the shops near the pagoda, and offers scenic views of the mountains as well as the temple through the cafe’s floor-to-ceiling glass windows. Who says religion, culture, commercialization and capitalism can’t coexist peacefully? (Unfortunately we could not pop into the store as we were pressed for time).

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Continuing our cable car journey, we were fortunate to ride on a glass bottom gondola. Typically you’d have to pay RM16 for this, but the guy at the station allowed us to board this, so. Yay! The Hubs wasn’t thrilled though, and clutched me with sweaty hands with an increasingly stronger grip until we arrived at our destination.

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Resorts World Genting is a massive labyrinth of buildlings sprawled across a large area; so it was a long walk from the new SkyAvenue Shopping Centre to the First World Hotel Complex, where we were staying for the night. While many parts of the hotel have been renovated, the lobby has been virtually unchanged for decades – I still have photos of me as a kid in this sparkly tree corridor, so it was nostalgic to see it again.

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Our room was in the new wing, but we didn’t manage to get mountain views since it was sandwiched between corridors. No photo of the room because it was super ordinary – basically a bed with a TV – but here’s a photo of the exterior.

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Now we come to the fun part: what is there to do in Genting?

The main attraction is, of course, the Genting SkyWorlds outdoor theme park, which opened its doors to the public just a few months ago, after a four year delay. The old outdoor theme park closed in 2013 (which means that the outdoor theme park was effectively closed for a decade). There was supposed to be a deal with 20th Century Fox to have a movie inspired theme park with rides from well known films, but they ran into licensing issues. What followed was a pretty nasty spate and several lawsuits, but they eventually settled with Fox granting Genting the rights to use their intellectual property for certain rides and sections. They still couldn’t call it Fox theme park though, so it was renamed SkyWorlds.

The park has nine ‘worlds’, and I can tell from the layout that its similar to the themed areas in places like Universal Studios and Disneyland. If I was a couple of years younger, I think I’d give the place a go, but I’m much older now and my heart can’t suffer from extreme excitement anymore lol. That, and the entry tickets cost close to RM200. But if you’re an adrenaline junkie, I think this would be a great place to spend your day at!

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Aside from the outdoor theme park, Resorts World Genting is also home to an indoor amusement park called Skytropolis. The rides are similar to what you might get at a funfair or carnival, albeit bigger and fancier. Unlimited rides cost RM90 per adult, but you can also choose to pay per ride. In total, there are about 20 rides that you can go on, including a rollercoaster, a pirate ship, a tomahawk thing that flips you upside down, a ferris wheel, and more.

I really like the design at Skytropolis, especially the neon pillars and the large digital screen on the ceilling which emulates clouds. It feels like a futuristic, cyberpunk world; like a place you can escape to for a couple of hours, indulge in entertainment, and just forget your worries for abit.

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The Hubs does not like fast rides, so I ended up riding the spinny thing on the right. It’s not too crazy, but is just fast enough to get the adrenaline pumping. Excitement in measured doses is the way to go for someone in their 30s, lol.

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We spent most of our time at the arcade upstairs, which has a decent selection of shooter games. RM30 netted us a complete playthrough of Jurassic Park. There are classic carnival games to play here too, where you stand a chance to walk away with giant stuffed toys.

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Of course, one does not come to Genting and not indulge in their lifestyle offerings, ie food, some of which are only available exclusively. Dinner was at Tampopo, a Japanese restaurant specializing in ramen. The Hubs and I shared a miso ramen, which had al dente noodles swimming in a rich and thick broth, topped with bamboo shoots and a half boiled egg. We also got crispy tempura, lightly battered and fried to golden perfection, and juicy chicken gyozas. If you’re in the mood for Japanese, Tampopo is a good choice. Course, most of everything in Genting is pretty pricey, but that’s to be expected if you’re coming here for a night’s stay – unless you’re okay with eating instant noodles or fast food.

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Highline is an area with a bunch of trendy bars and drinking spots. It is extremely lively at night, with each bar blasting live music, DJs spinning turntables and bands performing.

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We ended up heading up the escalator at Highline to a viewing platform, which imo, is the best spot in Genting. It’s cold and breezy up there at night, and you can see the entire theme park lit up with lights. It’s too bad they don’t have seats, because I’d bring a cup of Maggi + a packet of chips, and just sit there snacking and chatting with the Hubs.

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And finally, before we left Genting the next day, we stopped at the famed Five Guys for lunch. You can read the full review here.

Not pictured: We spent some time at the casino, because the Hubs has never been and he wanted to experience what it was like. It was crowded af on a Friday evening because apparently there was some oldies concert going on, and there were a lot of elderly folk. I think the last time I came here, there was a no smoking rule, but this seems to have gone out the window, as the casino stank to high heaven of cigarettes – pretty unpleasant. We weren’t in there for too long, but I still ended up losing close to 200 bucks on the slot machine. 😦

As they say, house always wins.

And that was our 2D1N itinerary to Genting! As you can probably tell, there’s a lot to do besides gambling – you can eat, shop, watch movies, explore the theme park, play at the arcade, and much, much more. Genting has really invested in making the resort a lifestyle destination, moving away from its ‘gambling’ image (although it’s still an integral part of the money-making machine – judging from the crowds). I think it’s a good place for a day trip or weekend getaway that’s not too far from the city.

Okay Genting.

See you again in four years?

Day Trip to Bukit Malawati, Kuala Selangor

The beauty about living in Malaysia is that as a multicultural society, we have loads of holidays for each of the major ethnic groups/religions in Malaysia. So even though I don’t celebrate the Muslim festival of Eid-al-Fitr (or Hari Raya as it’s known colloquially), my office still gave us a three-day break. Plus the weekend, I had five days off – plenty of time for some R&R!

The Hubs and I did not plan to go to the usual tourist places like Penang/Malacca, as the highways were extremely congested – but we did a short day trip to Kuala Selangor, where we got into some… monkey business. Literally.

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Located about 70km from Kuala Lumpur, Kuala Selangor, or “Estuary of Selangor”, lies at the point where the Selangor River meets the sea. Surrounded by forest and mangroves, it was once the capital of the Selangor sultanate in the 18th century, thanks to its strategic location. Today, the town oozes a sleepy, laidback vibe, but is well equipped with facillities, including major banks, a school for sciences, a firestation, and places of worship.

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We arrived a little after lunch and hopped onto the tram (a modified vehicle with carriages attached to a tractor). For RM5 (locals) and RM10 (foreigners), it ferries you up to the top of Bukit Malawati. Along the way, you’ll pass by large boulders on the hillside – all that remains of the ancient Malawati Fort.

Built during the Malacca Sultanate in the 16th century, the fort offered a strategic vantage point, with its steep hill face and surrounding mangrove swaps acting as natural defensive ramparts. It fell to Dutch invasion in the 18th century, and they renamed it Altingburg, fortifying its walls and strengthening the fort with cannons. They also built a lighthouse on top of the hill. A year later, a surprise attack by Selangor sultanate forces drove the Dutch back to sea. It remained under Malay rule until the late 19th century, when British gunboats pounded the walls to smithereens.

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These days, people come for more than just the history: they come to see monkeys! A colony of silverleafed monkeys (and a couple of macaques) call the hill summit home. Because the hill is a tourist attraction, the primates are used to humans, and are reliant on them for their source of food. There are peddlers here selling food like bananas and fruits that you can feed to the animals, but beware because the animals will climb onto you to get your food.

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The silverleafed monkey, or silvery lutung, is an Old World ape endemic to the forests of Sumatra, Borneo, and Peninsular Malaysia. They are categorized as vulnerable, with populations declining due to deforestation and loss of habitat. Like their namesake, they have silvery fur, although babies are golden with pale skin.

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The summit of the hill is the highest point for miles around, affording visitors panoramic views of the river winding towards the sea. There are a couple of canons here as well, but I’m not sure if they are well preserved originals or just replicas.

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Also here you will find the Baitulhilal, a moonsighting pavilion, which I believe our Muslim religious authorities use to sight the moon on the eve of Ramadhan, which would then signify the beginning of the holy month.

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Another prominent landmark here is the Altingsburg Lighthouse, built by the Dutch and spruced up by the British almost a century on. Unfortunately you can’t access the buildling, but the views from the outside are still great, and it looks well maintained. Within its grounds is a museum chronicling the history of the fort, but it wasn’t open during our visit.

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We spent some time enjoying the sea breeze under the cool shade of the trees while watching the monkeys. It was fascinating to see them interacting with each other; relaxing on the branches, playfully chasing one another, jumping across branches, fighting, grooming – very human interactions.

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If you’re up to a walk around the area, there are a couple of interesting historical attractions to see, including a Poisoned Well, where traitors were apparently lowered into a mix of poisonous latex and juice from bamboo shoots, undergoing a slow and painful death. There’s also a large stone slab, where legend has it that a palace maiden was beheaded for adultery.

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We spent about an hour on the summit, before returning to town and driving 2 minutes away (the weather was scorching, it wasn’t coz we were lazy lol) to Auntie Foo, a cafe in the middle of town. Only outdoor seating was available as they told us the inside was ‘reserved’ (we came and went, but no one showed up though) – so we had to sit on the verandah. It was still fairly cool, as are most of the old shophouses. Perhaps something to do with the design and materials used in the old days?

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Auntie Foo serves mostly Western and Asian fare. We already had lunch, so we got some dessert to quench our thirst and cool down from the sweltering heat. The cendol was nice but the portion was small; the Hubs gulped it down within two mouthfuls. The Ais Kacang, on the other hand, was humongous, topped with a dollop of sweet vanilla ice cream, crushed peanuts, rose syrup, and other goodies.

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The cafe also sells souvenirs and handicrafts.

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Aside from visiting the hill and its monkeys, there are a lot of other things you can do in Kuala Selangor, namely firefly watching at night on the river, and taking photos at the Sasaran Sky Mirror beach (which is often dubbed the Salar Uyuni of Malaysia, because the beach appears like a mirror at certain hours of the day). You can also go eagle feeding, or take a hike at the Kuala Selangor Nature Park.

As our trip was kinda spontaneous, we were content with just visiting Bukit Malawati and enjoying the relaxing drive. If you like the laidback vibe of small towns, history, and nature, it’s worth the drive for a daytrip, or even an overnight stay as there are plenty of homestays and boutique hotels around.

Getting There

Kuala Selangor is best accessed by car. Driving along the North-South Highway, exit at Sungai Buloh and follow the signs towards Kuala Selangor. There are buses plying the route as well, but I wasn’t able to find updated information online.

PS: I hope you liked this post! Please consider supporting my blog via Patreon, so I can make more. Or buy me a cup of coffee on Paypal @erisgoesto

Revisiting The National Planetarium, Kuala Lumpur in 2022

The Hubs and I were looking for things to do over the weekend that didn’t involve a mall (but would still have air conditioning, lol) so like the true nerds we are, we ended up at the National Planetarium (Planetarium Negara) in Kuala Lumpur. My last visit here was solo, and it was almost seven years ago. How time flies!

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Good news? Even after all this time, entrance to the planetarium is still free. Considering how much it would cost to maintain the place and keep it running, I think this is a very generous initiative by our Ministry of Science, Technology, and the Environment.

Video of us mucking about. Subscribe if you haven’t already!

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Most of the exhibits are the same from my previous visit, with a couple of additions. Most notable among them is the “Anti-Gravity Room”. It’s not really ‘anti-gravity’ in that you float around or anything like that, but is more an optical illusion that messes with your balance. Because the chamber is tilted, our brains are unable to process if it’s our body or the items that are supposed to be standing straight – creating a sense of imbalance. The deep blue lighting also adds to the illusion.

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Adding some local flavour to astronomy with cut outs of Malaysian architectural icons
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Malaysia had this whole space fever thing in the late 1990s to early 2000s, the pinnacle of which probably involved sending our first (and to date, only) cosmonaut into space on a Russian space exploration mission.

Sadly, I don’t think there have been many updates in terms of new tech/achievements in space science for the country (or at least, that I am aware of) – and this is reflected in the exhibits at the Planetarium. The takeaway that I would have gotten visiting the planetarium in 2008 would have been exactly the same as what I would get today. In a sense, the museum itself is kind of like a ‘time capsule’, a relic of the massive potential, but unrealized hopes and dreams of a nation.

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One thing I do appreciate is that they have Braille for some of the exhibits, so PWDs can enjoy them too.

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Not sure if it’s a replica (I’m guessing it is, because guests can touch it), but one of the exhibits features the Campo del Cielo, which is a group of iron meteorites that were found in Argentina, believed to date back 4,200 to 4,700 years ago.

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The same periodic table of elements exhibit that was here all those years ago when I first visited: with the addition of some interactive quizzes that you can play on the screens.

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Sample of an astronaut suit. There’s a section here dedicated to Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor – the first Malaysian in space. Sheikh apparently brought Sudirman songs to listen to while on board the Soyuz TMA-11 to the International Space Station. Because he’s Muslim, our religious authorities also came up with a handbook on how to pray in space, including how to determine the direction of Mecca.

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The Ariadne engine, which was used to propel Malaysia’s first satellite (MEASAT) into space, is the highlight of the Planetarium’s exhibitions.

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Space can smell like raspberries. Trivia to tell your friends at your next gathering. But when I do it people stare at me like I have 3 heads, so do so at your own risk.

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Another major highlight at the planetarium is the ‘Space Pod’, which is meant to ‘simulate a ride in space’. Personally, I feel that it’s more of a theme park ride, but hey, whatever keeps people interested and coming. PS: This is a paid experience so you have to shell out RM12+ for it. (I think it was RM12, can’t recall the exact price).

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I wasn’t looking properly during my last visit, but I just realized the English displays are atrocious.

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The Planetarium covers about 11,000 sq feet of space, and there’s an observation tower where you can view the surroundings. Unfortunately this was closed during our visit, so we forked out RM12 per pax to watch a science show in the auditorium instead. This is a theatre with a massive dome-shaped screen, where they play shows in large format. It was a 30-minute presentation on moon, earth and the sun, geared towards families as there were many cartoons and animations incorporated. N and I ended up falling asleep because the dark theatre was like a cozy cocoon and the seats were slightly reclined lol.

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All in all, the visit was enjoyable – but I still left slightly disappointed at the quality of the exhibits. There’s potential, but it’s a far cry from a world-class attraction, and if this is meant to stimulate younger children to gain an interest in space science and technology, let’s just say I don’t think there would be any future astronauts saying “I became an astronaut after my interest was piqued from a visit to the Planetarium”.

That isn’t to say that the trip isn’t worth it. Not many countries in ASEAN have their own public facilities dedicated to space science, and although the National Planetarium is a bit dated, it’s still a fun and relatively engaging experience, especially for families with children. Beats going to the mall anyway. Best of all? It’s free.

PLANETARIUM NEGARA (NATIONAL PLANETARIUM)

Jalan Perdana, Tasik Perdana, 50480 Kuala Lumpur

Opening hours: Daily 9am – 430pm (closed on Mondays)

Phone: 03-2273 4301

https://www.planetariumnegara.gov.my/

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Book Xcess @ Rex KL

Continuing its trend of bookstores that double as lifestyle destinations, Book Xcess’ newest flagship store in the heart of Kuala Lumpur is set to become the city’s hottest hub for arts and culture. Tucked on the second floor of Rex KL, the store opened in November 2021 and is home to thousands of books. But even non-bibliophiles have a reason to pay a visit, thanks to its cool aesthetics and architecture.

While parts of the space have been renovated, much of the old layout and fixtures from the venue’s days as a theatre have been retained, providing some very cool photo opps for the Gram.

I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

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Book Xcess is located on the second floor, where the theatre used to house the first-class seats.
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The store’s entrance houses a section dedicated to children’s books and young adult fiction. The shelves are built with a low overhead clearance, so it feels like you’re entering a maze of sorts.

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Large floor to ceiling windows allow for plenty of natural sunlight to filter in and afford visitors with stunning views of the surroundings.

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KL Tower in the distance juxtaposed against older shoplots with the typical ‘kaki lima’ (five foot walkway) design. This is one of the things I love about KL — it’s eclectic flavour where modernity meets tradition.
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Ascend the staircase — which is intentionally left in a raw and exposed state, with chipped concrete and peeling paint — and you’ll come to the main area, which features rows upon rows of towering shelves, built to resemble a labyrinth, and with books stacked from floor to ceiling. The high ceilings give the space an airy, lofty feel, and it just looks great architecturally. It’s no wonder influencers have been coming here in droves to take photos.

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Exploring the ‘maze’.
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View from the mezzanine. As mentioned, this used to be where the first class seats were located, back when Rex KL was still a theatre. The large movie screen has been removed, but the hall below is still used as an event space.
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Mind your step while exploring the place—since they’ve kept the original floor plan (ie tiered, to accommodate for theatre seating), it’s easy to accidentally stumble down the steps. There are warning signs around, but if you have kids it’s best to be cautious, as the steps are pretty high.

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If you’re coming from the main floor, look out for this little door near the cashier which leads to a stairwell and loops back into another section of the store. There’s a glass walkway here leading through a narrow corridor, which is pretty cool looking.

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Also within this space is Rex KL’s new rooftop bar and restaurant, Shhhbuuulee, which serves small plates alongside sake, high balls, and wines. I came during the day so it wasn’t open, but would love to come back for a visit.

What else is there to do at Rex KL?

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Plenty! Rex KL is one of those creative spaces where you can easily wile away your time, and they also regularly host cool events and exhibitions. There are some good F&B options within too.

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Stellar is located at the entrance and serves specialty coffee.
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The Background is RexKL’s collective of eateries and restos. There’s something for every palate, from the plant-based urban ‘warung’ Lauk Pauk, to Ticklish Ribs & Wiches which is every meat lovers dream.
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The Rex Bar is where you go to quench your thirst on artisan craft beers, handmade highball cocktails, experimental drinks as well as local items with a spin, such as sparkling tuak.
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If you can read Chinese, there is another bookstore within Rex KL to check out called Mentor Bookstore. They carry books from indie Taiwanese as well as Malaysian authors, plus titles translated from Western authors.
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Retailers located on the mezzanine and ground floor include DH Paper Art, an indie design studio, and Outsider Bikes, a bike shop offering custom builds.

BOOK XCESS @ REX KL

80, Jalan Sultan, City Centre, 50000 Kuala Lumpur, Selangor

Opening hours: 10AM – 10PM

Getting to REX KL

The nearest train station is the Pasar Seni LRT station. From there, Rex KL is a 5 minute walk.

PS: I hope you liked this post! Please consider supporting my blog via my Patreon, so I can make more. Or buy me a cup of coffee on Paypal @erisgoesto.

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Shah Alam Lake Gardens, Shah Alam

Malls may be popular in Malaysia because of our sweltering tropical weather, but for those who want a green respite in the city, there are many well landscaped parks to explore too. One of the largest in Selangor is the Shah Alam Lake Gardens, located in the heart of the state capital, Shah Alam.

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Designed by renowned Japanese landscape architect Fumiako Tanako, the Shah Alam Lake Gardens opened in 1985, covering a massive 43 hectares (roughly the size of 35 football fields). The park is built around three man-made lakes, and includes playgrounds, exercise lawns with equipment, elevated walkways, cycling and jogging tracks, gazebos, a floating seafood restaurant, and even an extreme sports tower where you can ride the flying fox across one of the lakes.

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N and I came here for a walk after our visit to the immigration nearby, thinking it would be a nice and relaxing stroll. We’ve never been here before, so when we parked at the east entrance and saw the smallish lake there, we thought ‘meh we can do this in under an hour’.

What we didn’t know is that the park is divided into three sections. We only ‘discovered’ the Central and West sections after walking through an underpass and emerging into another massive area lol. Still underestimating its size, we decided to make a ‘circuit’ around. It ended up being an absolute workout that took over two hours. The good news was that I got almost 20,000 steps in!

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The east section is smaller than the others, but has one of the most picturesque views of Shah Alam’s famous Blue Mosque. If you stand at the bridge spanning the lake (or a bit further, like in this shot), you’ll get wonderful shots of the building reflected on the water’s surface.

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The park is beautifully landscaped with a variety of different trees and plants. On the East end, you’ll find sparse-looking trees forming an archway over the bridge, which I think is very-eye catching for photography.

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Peeping Tom

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Some of the flowers you’ll come across at the park.

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After passing an underground tunnel of sorts, we emerged to the gardens’ Central area. It was massive, but it looked like there was an elevated walkway built across the lake where we could cross—so we (foolishly) decided to press on. We would later find out that the walkway was closed 😛

By then we were too far in to walk back the way we came so there was no choice but to finish the entire circuit lmao.

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If you’re an adrenaline junkie, look out for a tower in this area where you can sign up for the Flying Fox activity. N and I are too old for that sht, so walking on these elevated walkways was plenty of excitement already. The walkways were connected to each other with these wonky wooden bridges that swayed dangerously whenever someone walked on them—and although they weren’t high above the ground, it was a strenous workout to balance ourselves and not fall over.

The large trees provided plenty of shade. We even saw a couple of bushy-tailed squirrels darting across the branches!

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Taking a breather.

I actually missed out on taking pictures because I was getting tired by the time we got to the halfway point and was only focused on getting to the end. But along the way we passed by well-maintained exercise lawns complete with equipment, a massive children’s playground, the floating restaurant, and a boat rental area where you can rent paddle boats out onto the lake. There is also a museum, which was closed during our visit.

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As you loop to the other side of the lake which faces the Immigration department, you will see birds such as storks and geese. We even came across a giant monitor lizard slithering along the water’s edge.

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What we thought would be an easy, hour-long walk turned into a two-hour excursion—but not an unpleasant one. If you cycle or jog, this is a great place to workout, soak in the sights, and breathe in the fresh air. I think it’s wonderful that we have such nice parks right in the middle of the city that offer a respite from the concrete jungle.

SHAH ALAM LAKE GARDENS

Persiaran Tasek, Seksyen 14, 40000 Shah Alam, Selangor

Parking: Public parking is available at several entrances around the park.

Transport: It’s best to drive to the park. Alternatively, take bus T754 from the Shah Alam KTM station.

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Ilham Gallery, Kuala Lumpur: A Public Art Gallery for the People

From the prestigious Balai Seni Visual Negara to smaller, independent spaces like The Refinery Sentul, there is no shortage of art spaces to explore in Kuala Lumpur. The art scene here is an interesting reflection of the city’s diversity — so while you do have higher-end galleries that are by appointment only, there are plenty of public galleries as well.

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One of the latter is Ilham Gallery, which is housed within Ilham Tower in KL, just a stone’s throw away from the Petronas Twin Towers. The gallery is located on the 3rd and 5th floor of the building, and touts itself a “public art gallery committed to supporting the development, understanding and enjoyment of Malaysian modern and contemporary art within a regional and global context.”

Entrance to the gallery is at the side of the building, while the other leads to corporate offices — but don’t worry, as there are plenty of signs to guide you there.

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N and I came here on a weekend afternoon. SOPs are in place, including mandatory mask wearing and social distancing. It was also not crowded, so we could take our time exploring the exhibits without having to worry.

We liked Ilham’s sense of space: the ceiling was high, and exhibits were neatly divided according to sections, making it easy for visitors to look at each without having to double back and forth. The lighting was spot on too: I’ve been to some smaller galleries where the light is too bright, which reduces the impact of the art pieces and can make them look cheap and ‘exposed’.

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Since October 2021, the gallery has been hosting an exhibition titled Kok Yew Puah: Portrait of a Malaysian Artist, featuring works by the titular artist.

Born in Klang, Selangor to a wealthy business family, Puah’s story is unique in that he chose to become an artist twice: first in the 1970s as a bold, hard-edge abstract printmaker fresh from art school in Melbourne; then as a figurative painter in the 1980s and 1990s, where his works captured the gritty, unique visual landscapes of a Malaysia on the cusp of change.

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Puah often used himself as well as his family members and friends in his human portraits, with visual cues to represent the ordinary, everyday Malaysian. As someone who grew up in the 1990s, many of the props he uses in his works are instantly recognizable: take this very interesting blend of people dressed in 90s fashion (the tucked in t-shirt with belted jeans + chunky watch — my dad used to dress like that in the 90s!) juxtaposed against a backdrop of a Hindu temple’s facade.

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‘Two Important Men’ (acrylic on canvas, 1993) and’ Self Portrait In Deep Thought’ (acrylic on canvas, 1993).
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Puah’s works remind me of photos captured on analog cameras — but on canvas. You get scenes of people in cars, smiling and posing as if for a photo, against a backdrop of the signature colonial shophouses found throughout towns and cities in Malaysia. Yet another painting captures a bicycle propped against a wall, with the standard blue and white roadsigns that are ubiquitous around the country and that many Malaysians will know from first glance.

Aside from paintings, also on display are letters, newspaper clippings, as well as personal effects such as photos. Puah died at the relatively young age of 51, and this collection curated more than 20 years later offers a glimpse into the life of an artist who was well beyond his time.

Kok Yew Puah: Portrait of a Malaysian Artist will be running until 3 April 2022.

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Remember to stop by the gift shop before leaving. The shop carries souvenirs made by local artists, from canvas bags to dolls, postcards, art books, miniature figurines, jewellery, and more.

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The back of the shop has a mini exhibition of sorts, featuring vintage studio photos. It was interesting to catch glimpses of important moments captured on film — there are wedding photos, graduation photos, family photos, of people from all walks of life. It makes you wonder about where all these people are today — are they alive or dead? — and what has happened to them in their lives from the time they took these photos until today?

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Ilham Gallery is a great place to soak in arts and culture, and to learn more about the colourful contemporary art scene in Malaysia. Entrance is free.

ILHAM GALLERY

Levels 3 and 5, Ilham Tower, 8, Jln Binjai, Kuala Lumpur, 50450 Kuala Lumpur, Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur

Open Tuesdays – Sundays (11AM – 7PM except Sunday, 11AM – 5PM). Closed Mondays.

PS: I hope you liked this post! Please consider supporting my blog via my Patreon, so I can make more. Or buy me a cup of coffee on Paypal @erisgoesto.