REX KL – An Urban Creative Space In The Heart of Kuala Lumpur

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Just a stone’s throw away from Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown, REX KL is one of the city’s latest creative spaces and is packed with chic cafes, edgy food outlets and eclectic tenants. Formerly a cinema, the building was abandoned for some time before it was given a new lease of life. As such, vestiges of its days as a cinema remain, such as the wide staircase which leads up to the second floor, the main theatre which has been converted into an exhibition / events space, as well as fixtures such as tiles and signages.

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This is my second time to REX KL (you can read about my first visit here!). The fam and I were there to check out their Buy for Impact showcase, which ran for several weekends in September and featured local social enterprises such as Masala Wheels, Helping Hands Penan, Krayon.Asia and Silent Teddies, to name a few.

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There weren’t many stalls, but they were all interesting.

We stopped by the GOLD (Generating Opportunities for Learning Disables) booth. They were selling T-shirts, Kindness Cookies in various flavours, mugs, cards and beautiful notebooks, all made by the disabled community. Moo bought a T-shirt and we also got some cookies, which were tasty. You can find out more about what they do here.

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Checking out the Krayon.asia booth, an online eco-art store and social enterprise that promotes eco friendly products and arts & craft made by the disadvantaged community, artists and crafters with special needs and those who are marginalised and have limited resources. The keychains they had on sale, which are made from recycled plastic beads, were absolutely adorable.
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Another social enterprise at the showcase was ENTO, which aims to promote entomophagy as a sustainable solution to the world’s food security problems. The company sells roasted crickets in flavours like salted egg, kimchi and barbecue. There were samples which I would have liked to try (I tried crickets in when I was in Phuket) but the Moo, who was hovering over my shoulder, gave me a horrified expression and a firm “NO”. You know how some mothers are lol.
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There was also a photo exhibition on the same floor, featuring stunning portraits of local artists and makers.

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WHAT ELSE CAN YOU DO AT REX KL ?

Even when they’re not having events and exhibitions, there’s plenty to do here.

You can grab a cuppa at Stellar, which is located at the entrance and has several al fresco seats surrounded by lush greenery. Order a hand-brewed Guatemalan or a flat white, or opt for a refreshing cold brew to go with delicious cakes. They also serve coffee cocktails for those who want a shot of booze (drink responsibly!)

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Bibliophiles can browse for rare books, indie titles and second-hand items at Mentor Bookstore. Although most of the books are in Chinese, there are a few English titles too.

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Just next to Mentor is where you can unearth nostalgic treasures and collectibles like old toys, records; even cassette tapes and old-school radios. There is quite the collection here, and if you’re a millennial like me, bring your parents so they can tell you how a record player works lol.

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There’s more on the ground floor: old stamps, postcards, etc.
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Come on a weekend for fresh produce from One Kind Market, which features locally grown vegetables and fruits from local farmers and traders.

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If you love craft beers, then The Rex Bar should be on your list. Helmed by Modern Madness, you get interesting Malaysian-inspired flavours like teh tarik ale and lemongrass lager, or (if you’re brave enough!) bak kut teh beer and durian beer. They serve a selection of non-alcoholic beverages as well.

There are plenty of things to eat within Rex KL: urban warung Lauk Pauk offers Malay favourites like Ayam Bakar (roast chicken) and Paru Sambal Hijau (beef lungs cooked in sambal), while ParkLife dishes out contemporary London cuisine with a healthy twist.

REX KL remains open during the CMCO period until October 27. While unnecessary is discouraged in light of the pandemic, consider supporting some of the local businesses while you’re in the area – maybe grab a cup of coffee or takeaway from the eateries there.

And finally, although events aren’t allowed yet, you can watch some previous live sessions on their Youtube channel:

REX KL

80, Jalan Sultan, 55000 Kuala Lumpur

Open Tuesdays to Sundays, 10 AM – 10PM

P.Ramlee Memorial, Kuala Lumpur – A Tribute to Malay Cinema’s “Golden Boy”

Hollywood’s Golden Age had figures such as Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, James Dean and Clark Gable.

Early Malay cinema had Tan Sri P. Ramlee.

Potret P. Ramlee.jpg
CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Born Teuku Zakaria Teuku Nyak Puteh on the island of Penang, Malaysia (then the Federated States of Malaya) in 1929, P. Ramlee was a man of many hats. Beginning the late 1940s, he acted in, produced and directed numerous films (some of which are still considered beloved classics till this day), and also performed and wrote hundreds of songs. At the height of his career, his fame reached as far as Brunei, Indonesia, Hong Kong and Japan – cementing his name in the annals of classic Malay music and cinema. Unfortunately, he died of a heart attack at the relatively young age of 44.

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My dad is a big fan of P. Ramlee’s black and white films, and as a kid, I often joined him to watch movies like Bujang Lapok, Nasib Do Re Mi and Tiga Abdul, which were usually shown on weekend afternoons on national TV (or during the patriotic month). Being young, my comprehension was limited – but I still enjoyed the acting and stories, which often had a moral behind them.  Now as an adult, I can fully appreciate the simple and heartfelt artistry that went into the characters and the film, something which I think is missing in many modern films, despite the big budget CGI, better equipment and techniques, and whatnot. Old films had soul. 

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If you’re keen on finding out more about our national icon, there are a few places dedicated to remembering his contributions, such as the P.Ramlee Memorial House in Setapak, Kuala Lumpur. Tucked within a housing estate, the building is one of Ramlee’s old homes, and was converted into a mini museum in 1986. The space is small, but there are a couple of interesting exhibits. I suggest pairing a visit with nearby attractions such as the Visual Arts Gallery and the National Library.

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PS: Filming is not allowed within, but you can take photos.

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The exhibition space is neatly divided according to themes. There are sections dedicated to his childhood growing up in Penang to Achehnese parents, his directorial debut, and his love story with another iconic Malay actor, Saloma. Ramlee was married twice, but it seems third time was the charm for these two lovebirds. In fact, Saloma was so overwhelmed with grief at the death of her husband, she suffered from depression and various illnesses, and passed away at the still young age of 48, 10 years after Ramlee’s death.

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There is a small AV room within where visitors can watch old P.Ramlee films.

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Ramlee’s impressive filmography. My favourite is Tiga Abdul, which draws inspiration from old Malay folktales. Set in a fictional Middle Eastern Country, the movie tells the story of three brothers, who are tricked by the cunning businessman Sadiq Segaraga, who uses his three daughters to force the brothers into parting with their wealth. The story is lighthearted, humorous and dramatic all at once, but with a moral lesson behind it about greed and honesty. Another must-watch is Anak-ku Sazali, where Ramlee shows off his acting chops playing dual roles as both the father and son characters.

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Films were not the only thing Ramlee was known for – he often sang and wrote/composed the soundtracks for them as well. In total, he wrote about 400 songs throughout his career.

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He was also apparently quite a tall man, judging from these clothes!

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Ramlee’s old piano.

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Although he is celebrated today as an icon of Malay cinema, it was said that Ramlee’s final years were mired in financial trouble and setbacks, with his once celebrated movies flopping, as the entertainment scene moved on to better, shinier things.  Some even saw him as a ‘has-been’, and Ramlee died a broken man, ridiculed by the public and the industry he loved so much. Recognition might have come too late and he might have died poor, but he left behind a rich legacy – one that will hopefully inspire and entertain new generations for years to come.

“Karya seni adalah satu daripada kerja Tuhan. Oleh itu, buatlah sungguh-sungguh dengan penuh kejujuran.” (Art is god’s work. Do it with diligence and honesty.) – Allahyarham Tan Sri P.Ramlee

P.RAMLEE MEMORIAL HOUSE 

22, Jalan Dedap, Taman P Ramlee, 53000 Kuala Lumpur

Opening hours: 10AM – 5PM (Tuesdays – Sundays, closed Mondays). On Fridays, they open from 10AM – 12PM and 3PM – 5PM to allow for Muslim prayer break.

Admission: FREE

*There are no designated parking spots, since it is a residential area – so you can park by the side of the road. Do be mindful of where you park the vehicle though as you don’t want to block someone’s front gate! 

 

**PS: I am now on Patreon!  You can subscribe here. You can also follow me on other social media channels on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Your support would mean the world to me! 🙂 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Things To Do Over the Merdeka Weekend – August 2020

Monday (31 Aug) marks the 63rd Hari Kebangsaan or National Day, which commemorates the Federation of Malaya’s independence from British colonial rule. This year’s theme, aptly dubbed  ‘Malaysia Prihatin‘ (Malaysia Cares), is a tribute to our front liners who have worked tirelessly during this difficult time, and is also timely to foster a sense of community which is now even more important than ever. While celebrations will be much more subdued this year, there are still plenty of things that you can do to get into the patriotic spirit:

WATCH A PARADE… KINDA 

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Photo by CEphoto, Uwe Aranas via Wikimedia Commons

In light of the pandemic, the usual National Day parades and processions have been cancelled. BUT. You can still watch a pre-recorded version on TV. The contingents will march separately, and the footage will be stitched together to create the programme, with the aid of augmented reality and CGI. Now that’s a historic first! Pro: You won’t have to wake up super early to try and get a good spot at Dataran Putrajaya.

PARTICIPATE IN PATRIOTIC-THEMED ACTIVITIES / COMPETITIONS

No parade? No problem! The gov is organising a bunch of programmes with a national theme, including photography and public speaking contests, as well as colouring and drawing contests for kids. Submit your applications here.

VISIT HISTORIC LANDMARKS

Tugu Negara - National Monument

Photo via Flickr / Naz Amir

Since it’s a long weekend, this is the perfect time for some Cuti-Cuti Malaysia (whilst adhering to social distancing norms!) If you’re in KL, you can go on a historic trail and visit some of the city’s prominent landmarks, such as Tugu Negara (dedicated to the sacrifice of our armed forces), the Sultan Abdul Samad Building (formerly the offices of the British colonial administration) and Dataran Merdeka, where Tunku Abdul Rahman proclaimed our independence. There’s also the Petronas Twin Towers – which stand tall as a proud reminder of our country’s achievements.

JOIN A VIRTUAL RUN

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There are a couple of virtual runs you can participate in, complete with medal and T-shirt. The only difference is that you’ll be running on your own, and measuring the distance based on the number of steps on your pacer. Heck, you can even ‘run’ 10 kilometres indoors! Another upside is that you’ll be able to pick your own route. Wear a Malaysian flag bandana for good measure.

GO ON A FOODIE TRIP

Image via needpix

Malaysians and food are inseparable  – and what better way to pay tribute to the national past time (eating) than by tucking into scrumptious local fare? Start off with some Nasi Lemak and Teh Tarik at Village Park, then perhaps Curry Noodles or Kuih Bakul at the Pudu ICC FoodCourt. For tea time, go cafe hopping around KL (I recommend Merchant’s Lane), and finish off your gastronomic adventure with dinner at the popular Jalan Alor. Some restaurants and cafes are offering special Merdeka-themed menus, such as MyBurgerLab with their Nasi Lemak Ayam Rendang Burger, or Knowhere Bangsar’s Cita Rasa Gemilang, featuring 13 specially crafted dishes to represent the different states in Malaysia (Pizza Tempeh teratai, anyone?)

SUPPORT THE LOCAL ARTS SCENE 

Mass gatherings aren’t allowed, but that doesn’t mean you have to cut out entertainment completely. Show your support for local artists and performers by attending small-scale events. The Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (KLPAC) in Sentul has reopened its doors, and they’re kicking things off with a series of cabaret shows over the Merdeka weekend. Love shopping? Get cool goods from local entrepreneurs and small businesses at The Linc KL’s pop-up market, which is happening from August 29 to 31.

 

So. Have you made plans ? 🙂

Sunway Putra Hotel Kuala Lumpur Launches “Stay-Kawtim, Makan Unlimited!” Package

Staycations don’t have to be pricey affairs.

If you’re keen to explore the city over the weekend, book a stay for you and the whole family at Sunway Putra Hotel Kuala Lumpur, which has just recently launched its new “Stay Kaw-tim, Makan Unlimited!” package, offering unbeatable value at an affordable price. Priced at just RM238 nett per room per night, the package combines:

Superior King Room

  • A 2D1N stay in a Superior Room for two (2) adults and two (2) children (under 12 years old), inclusive of breakfast.
  • An 8-hour eat-all-you-can spree of a la carte orders with over 25 specialties to choose from including Malay, Chinese, Indian, Western and vegetarian favourites and appetising selections for children starting from 12.00pm at the Coffee House.
  • A minimum of RM100.00 in redeemable cash vouchers from participating tenants plus amazing discounts and offers at the adjacent Sunway Putra Mall, which is directly linked to the hotel.

*Terms &Conditions apply.

Chicken Chop

eat all you can on ala carte orders! 

The all-inclusive staycation package is perfect for families and friends who want to take the opportunity to explore Kuala Lumpur’s Diamond Triangle and rediscover the city’s many hidden gems. The package is available for stays on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and on Public Holidays, while bookings are to be made from now until 31 August 2020, for a stay period from 14 August to 27 December 2020. While the check-in time is at 3PM, guests can arrive from 12pm onwards to start their 8-hour Makan Unlimited. Make bookings now at www.sunwayhotels.com/sunway-putra/offers/stay-kawtim-makan-unlimited. or call +603 40409888 / email spkl.reservations@sunwayhotels.com.

4 REASONS TO STAY AT SUNWAY PUTRA HOTEL KUALA LUMPUR

Convenient Location

Sunway Putra Hotel Reception

The 5-star, 650-room hotel is nestled in the heart of KL’s Diamond Triangle – known for its vibrant streets lined with trendy cafes and bars, bustling markets and landmarks – making Sunway Putra a great base for your exploration of the city. Aside from being close to hotspots like KL Sentral, Publika, Mont Kiara and Bangsar, the hotel is also conveniently linked to the PWTC LRT station, so you can hop on and get to the KL city centre in Bukit Bintang in under 10 minutes. You can also opt for a semi-guided tour of KL via the Hop-On Hop-Off double decker tour bus.

In short, SPHKL is close to the action, but away from the crowds.

State of the art Facilities 

Fitness Centre

Swimming Pool

Spacious, comfy rooms with top notch amenities, a swimming pool with gorgeous views of the city, a gym where you can work up a sweat (in air conditioned comfort!) – the hotel has got it all. You can indulge in delicious food at the Coffee House as well.

There’s an award-winning mall just steps away 

Sunway Putra Hotel Mall Link

The hotel is part of an integrated development and is direclty linked to Sunway Putra Mall, a shopping haven with eight floors that host over 300 international and local brands. Shop to your hearts content, enjoy the recreational and entertainment facilities such as cinema, indoor children’s playground and karaoke centre, and tuck into delicious food from over 80 renowned F&B outlets and specialty restaurants.

Safety is of the utmost priority 

Regular Sanitisation in key hotel areas

Let’s not kid ourselves – we are in the middle of a pandemic. But given that everyone adheres to SOPs and hygiene practices, there’s no reason why we can’t go for holidays to help boost the local economy. To ensure complete guest safety, the hoel has implemented new normal standard operating procedures (SOPS) and enhanced is hygiene practices and procotols. The Sunway Safe Stay programme, which is implemented at all Sunway brand hotels, incorporates five pillars of safety and hygiene comprising over 30 protocols of heightened cleaning practices – so you can check in and stay with peace of mind.

DID YOU KNOW? 

With the resumption of interstate travel within Malaysia, Malaysians can take advantage of the personal income tax relief of RM1,000 on expenditure related to domestic tourism and hotel accommodation – more reason to enjoy holidays locally. The period for claiming the income tax relief has been extended to 31 December 2021.

Also announced as part of the National Economic Recovery Plan by the Government of Malaysia in June 2020, a service tax exemption on accommodation and related services has been extended to 30 June 2021. Hotel rates are now quoted nett in Ringgit Malaysia (RM) inclusive of a 0% service tax. Additionally, an exemption of tourism tax (TTx) will be given to all foreign tourists staying at any accommodation in Malaysia until 30 June 2021.

SUNWAY PUTRA HOTEL 

100 Jalan Putra, 50350 Kuala Lumpur

General inquiries: +603 4040 9888 or email spkl.enquiry@sunwayhotels.com

 

*Photos courtesy of Sunway Putra Hotel Kuala Lumpur

What To Eat In Tanjung Sepat : Handmade Pau, Coffee, Cendol and Snacks

At first glance, Tanjung Sepat looks like any sleepy fishing town – boats docked by the river mouth, narrow roads flanked by wooden homes, quaint flower gardens and vegetable patches. Venture further in to Lorong 4, however, and you’ll find a bustling area where you can find all sorts of delicious delicacies, from handmade paus to local snacks.Villagers have made the area into a food street of sorts, with their homes doubling as food stalls. Some offer seating, while others sell snacks that you can get for takeaway.

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Tanjung Sepat is famous for its pau (buns) – and there are two popular places to get them. One is Mr Black Handmade Pau, which is closer to the centre of town; the other is Hai Yew Hin, located at Lorong 4. The shop is a nondescript wooden building, but you can easily find it by looking out for the long line of patrons spilling out onto the road. Their signature is mui choy bao (pork with Chinese mustard), sang yoke bao (pork chunks with egg), vegetable bun, as well as various baos with sweet fillings such as red bean.

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Tried the sang yoke bao when I got home; it did not disappoint! I enjoyed its light and fluffy texture. The egg and pork was filling as well.

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If you want to have your buns fresh out of the steamer, you can dine in at the coffeeshop across the road. They also sell loads of snacks such as fried crab rolls, shrimp fritters and fishballs.

HAI YEW HIN 

Address: 405, Lorong 4, Off, Jalan Besar, Pekan Tanjung Sepat, 42800 Tanjong Sepat, Selangor (opening hours: 1PM – 6PM (Mon-Fri), 10AM – 6PM (Sat – Sun) 

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Next to the pau place is a store selling pastries such as tarts and biscuits, which are made fresh in house. It’s easy to be enticed by the smell of baked goods as you walk past the shop, and you’ll get to see the store assistants in action as they expertly pack up kaya puffs, lou por beng and egg tarts neatly into plastic containers.

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Another must-try in the area is coffee from Kwo Zha B. This small but charming kopitiam is run by 3rd generation coffee roasters, and is quite popular – there are pictures of food show hosts and celebrities adorning one side of the wall. The coffee beans are locally sourced from a nearby village and roasted with sugar, margarine and salt – creating a deliciously smooth and rich flavour.

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Perfect for a hot day! You can add a scoop of ice cream for extra oomph. Kwo Zha B also sells their coffee in powder form so you can make your own drinks at home.

KWO ZHA B

Address: No. 15, Medan Selera Lorong 3, Tanjung Sepat, 42800, Selangor (Open daily 10.30AM – 4.30PM) 

 

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If you still haven’t gotten your fill of cold desserts, walk a bit further to Jalan Sekolah’s Hin Leong, which has great cendol. They offer several flavours, including the traditional one with green cendol and red bean, as well as pumpkin and durian.

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The inside is air conditioned, so you can escape the sweltering afternoon heat. There are other snacks for sale as well.

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The traditional cendol is good, and the chewy rice flour jelly has a satisfying texture. If you like flavours like salted caramel, you’ll enjoy the pumpkin cendol, which has a salty aftertaste that balances surprisingly well with the rich coconut milk. I like that they serve the cendol in coconut husks – more sustainable and environmentally friendly, less mess and easy to clean !

HIN LEONG TRADING

Address: 359, Jalan Sekolah, Pekan Tanjung Sepat, 42800 Tanjong Sepat, Selangor (Open daily 10.30AM – 5.30PM)

Kuan Wellness Eco Park, Tanjung Sepat, Selangor

With state borders reopened and regulations eased, the government has urged Malaysians to help boost domestic tourism by travelling local (following SOPs, of course)! Heeding this call, the fam and I decided to go for a short day trip to Tanjung Sepat, located on the fringes of Selangor, to feast on seafood and check out some attractions. I’ve been here a few times (you can read about what to do in town here) – so I was pleasantly surprised to find that there are some places I missed out on, like the Kuan Wellness Eco Park.

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The park was founded as an ecotourism attraction, in addition to being a birds nest business, which is a booming industry in Malaysia. In Chinese culture, birds nests created by swiftlets (using solidified saliva) are considered a delicacy, and they are eaten for their purported health and beauty benefits.

The main building is a 3.5-storey swiftlet house, the ground floor of which doubles as a visitor centre. Traditionally, swiftlet nests are collected from caves, but these days, swiftlet houses (rumah toko) are becoming increasingly popular. These are enclosed concrete structures meant to emulate the dark, warm environment of a cave.

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The museum is not big, but the exhibits are educational. There’s a mini theatre where you can watch a documentary on birds nest harvesting, how to differentiate the different types of birds nest, what to look out for when picking out one for consumption, etc.

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Structure of a rumah toko.

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Running a swiftlet house is more than just having a building – there are multiple factors to consider including pest, water quality and bacterial control. Pests such as rats and certain insects, as well as predators like owls can snoop in and destroy the swiftlet population, so keepers have to be vigilant to ensure that the swiftlets are protected, there is no contamination and it yields the best results. Typically it takes six weeks before the nests can be collected, as you can’t harvest them if there are young swiftlets within.

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Samples of birds nests. Sometimes you get stuff like faeces, feathers, mold, broken nests, etc.

Top grade birds nest are usually pure white, with minimal breakage and contamination. Previously, ‘blood’ nests – nests that are tinged red – were much sought after, as it was believed that the red colour came from the blood in the saliva of exhausted swiftlets hurrying to finish their nests.These blood nests fetched a very high price, sometimes much more than regular birds nest. We now know that the red likely comes from exposure to nitrites (in caves or the swiftlet houses), and can actually be harmful.

I mean the idea of eating bird saliva is probably quite gnarly to some, but why anyone would wanna eat bird blood vomit (and pay 10s of 1000s of dollars!) is beyond me lol.

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Bottled products for sale. Birds nest is usually sweetened with rock sugar. Sometimes they can also include other ingredients such as jujubes (red dates).

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Despite its purported health benefits, science has never really backed birds nest as a health food, although those who swear by it will tell you otherwise.

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Aside from the museum, there is also a mini zoo of sorts within the park, which has a RM5 entry fee. I do not recommend visiting this, as the enclosures are poorly maintained and the animals are unkempt. In fact there was a dead bird in one of the cages, and the other birds were taking turns doing something we shall not write about in this family friendly post @-@. The caretaker removed the poor thing after my mom alerted him, though.

 

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Rabbit enclosure. You can go in to feed / play with the rabbits. They looked dirty and some of the ones that were in cages had sores and wounds, with patches of fur falling out. Not good. 

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At least the fish looked okay.

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A nice building for photos. The inside has a small shop selling organic products. Next to it is another building with a nostalgia theme, selling snacks and children’s toys.

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Cafe area where you can order birds nest soup and other snacks.

 

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An outdoor display of vintage cars.

Overall, Kuan Wellness Eco Park is a place you can consider visiting if you’re in Tanjung Sepat, although I wouldn’t drive all the way here just for it. The birds nest exhibits are interesting and educational, but the mini zoo needs some serious upkeep.

KUAN WELLNESS ECO PARK 

408, Tanjung Layang, Kampung Batu Lapan, 42800 Tanjong Sepat, Selangor

Open on Sat / Sun only : 9AM – 5PM

kuanwellnessecopark.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 Of My Favourite Places To Visit In Manila, Philippines

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again – I have a love-hate relationship with Manila.

On one hand, I love how culturally rich and historical it is, with its museums, churches and art galleries (And Jollibee, of course!). On the other, I’m not a fan of its insane traffic, the pollution, and the fact that its one of the most densely populated cities in the world. It’s extremely difficult to find a quiet space.

Image: Assy Gerez via Unsplash

Having been here several times, I often get friends asking me if Manila is worth visiting (for many Malaysians, the Philippines is not as popular as other S/E Asian destinations like Thailand or Indonesia – and if they do visit, it’s usually to Boracay). My answer is always “It depends on what you like.” If you’re thinking the type of packaged cultural offerings you often get in Bali or Chiang Mai, or a beach getaway (because Manila is by the sea right? lol), then you will be disappointed. Manila is not a place to ‘get away from it all’. But if you’re up for a bit of urban adventure in a chaotic and colourful city…then Manila has a certain charm.

While quarantine restrictions are still in place due to COVID, that doesn’t stop you from planning for your next adventure. Since June 24 marks Manila Day – commemorating the 449th anniversary when Manila was proclaimed as Spain’s capital city in the Philippines – I’ve made a list of my favourite places to visit! For those who have never been to Manila, this will give you a good idea of what to expect.

INTRAMUROS 

If you’re new to Manila, Intramuros is undoubtedly the best place to learn about the city’s rich history. Dating back to the late 1500s, this old walled city has walls that are at least two-metres thick and six metres high, and is home to many historical landmarks, from churches and gardens to old mansions and museums. You can walk around the impressive stone ramparts, some parts of which have cannons on them, or ride around in horse-drawn carriages called kalesa.  

SAN AGUSTIN CHURCH

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One of my favourite places to visit in the area is the San Agustin Church, which was founded as a monastery by Augustinian monks. Part church, part museum complex, the building has a sad and haunting beauty, with austere stone hallways and sombre oil paintings. This is in stark contrast to the church proper, which features stunning architecture rivalling the grand churches of Europe. There are also galleries filled with religious artefacts and even a crypt. If you’re a history nerd like me, a visit to San Agustin is a must. 

BALUERTE SAN DIEGO / SAN DIEGO GARDENS 

The San Diego Gardens is one of those rare oases in Manila that offer a quiet respite, with tranquil European-style lawns and fountains that make it popular as a wedding photoshoot venue. The Baluerte San Diego, a small fort within the gardens, is the oldest structure within Intramuros. Its purpose was to ensure a clear view of the place and prepare against invaders. Back in the day it had all the facilities: courtyard, water supply tank, lodging and workshops – but all that remains of what must have once been a thriving fort are bare brick and stone.

FORT SANTIAGO

The story of Jose Rizal fascinates me. I am no revolutionary, but as a writer, there is something very moving about how Rizal’s writing set a fire in the hearts of the Filipino people that eventually led to their fight for freedom against their Spanish oppressors. His story is a true embodiment of how the pen is mightier than the sword.

Fort Santiago is where Rizal was housed before his execution in 1896, and visitors to the fort will see a pair of bronze footprints embedded in the ground and leading out to the gate – said to retrace Rizal’s last footsteps. Inside the fort, you will also find a shrine/museum dedicated to this Philippine National Hero, which contains various memorabilia including poetry pieces, letters he wrote to family and friends, replicas of sculptures, paintings and more.

PLAZA SAN LUIS 

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One of the items on my bucket list is to visit Vigan, a town known for its Spanish colonial architecture. In Manila, you have Plaza San Luis, a complex that contains five houses, a museum, theatre, hotel, souvenir shops and eateries. Since Intramuros was nearly levelled during the war, many of the old homes were destroyed, and the homes here have been replicated to represent different eras in Filipino-Hispanic architecture. The overall colonial feeling of the place – with its quaint courtyards and staircases – makes it easy to believe that you are peeking through a window in time. You can almost believe that some rich young ladies in traditional Filipinianas, giggling behind their fans in the summer heat while out for an afternoon stroll, are just about to round the corner.

MANILA CATHEDRAL

This cathedral was rebuilt a whopping eight times – it kept getting destroyed by fires, earthquakes and whatnot. While the architecture is not as grand as St Agustin, I like the stained glass art that it has, as well as the replica of Michelangelo’s La Pieta in which Mary cradles the broken body of Christ

RIZAL PARK 

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A short distance away from Intramuros is Rizal Park, one of Manila’s few green areas. Like many old parts of Manila, it teems with history – hundreds of nationalists were executed here during Spanish rule, including Jose Rizal. It is fitting then, that the Philippine Declaration of Independence from America was read in this spot, and that the park was named after the revolutionary himself. When Pope Francis visited the Philippines and conducted a mass at the park, six million people turned up – that’s 1/5 of Malaysia’s population! While I wouldn’t say Rizal Park is the best park I’ve ever been to (litter is a problem), I think it’s a great place to visit if you’re sick of Manila’s endless malls. There are a few smaller parks within like the Nayong Filipino which are nice to explore.

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF ANTHROPOLOGY 

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With it’s tall, white-washed Corinthian columns and wooden doors, the grand-looking National Museum of Anthropology (aka Museum of the Filipino People) is hard to miss and is just a stone’s throw away from Rizal Park. Part of the National Museums of the Philippines, it houses the anthropology and archaeology divisions, spanning five floors. Coming from Malaysia where we have pretty lame museums (sorry, got to call a spade a spade), I was blown away by the quality of Manila’s major museums. The quality of the exhibits, as well as how they are arranged (with sections dedicated to indigenous art and culture, the history of the Philippines during the colonial era, etc.) offer interesting insights into the development of modern Filipino society.

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS

Filipinos are artistic people – there’s even a stereotype about how all Filipinos are good at singing and dancing (these people have obviously never met my husband) – and art has always been a way for the people to express themselves, even in times of oppression.

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The National Museum of Fine Arts, which is housed in the former Legislative Building, is a testament to this creativity and resilience, with works by national artists such as Juan Luna, Félix Resurrección Hidalgo and Guillermo Tolentino. In fact, when you walk in, the first thing you will be greeted with is an almost floor-to-ceiling work of Juan Luna Y Novicio’s Spoliarium – possibly one of the Philippines’ most popular pieces of art. The gallery is filled with artistic treasures, most of which reflect the country’s European-influenced past, and there are pieces that are so intricate and detailed, you can’t help but marvel at the level of craftsmanship that went into creating them. It’s definitely a place that you can get lost in for hours.

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY

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Another must-visit is the National Museum of National History, which has a very picturesque central court that boasts a structure called the DNA Tree of Life, as well as loads of interesting exhibits on nature and geology in the Philippines. There are sections dedicated to botany and entomology, marine life, mangroves and more. Even if you’re not into natural history, the architecture of the building alone is worth dropping by for.

BINONDO 

I try to visit the local Chinatown whenever I visit a foreign country. Idk, call it a subconscious need to reconnect with my roots or whathaveyou, lol.

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Manila’s Chinatown, Binondo, is the oldest in the world, dating back to 1594. Its narrow, chaotic streets, with its haphazard signboards and buildings, can feel claustrophobic, but it has a charm of its own. What I like about Binondo? The food. There are legendary establishments here that have been in the same family for generations, such as Eng Bee Tin – known for their hopia (a type of pastry) and tikoy (sticky rice cake – in Malaysia we call it niangao). If you’re here, look out for a shop called Ling Nam, which serves mami noodles (plain or with pork asado) – I stumbled across this gem purely by chance. There are many restos around the area that I haven’t had the chance to try yet, so I’m looking forward to another visit!

 

 

 

 

Travelogue: Attractions at Underwater World, Langkawi – Malaysia’s Largest Aquarium

*This post was originally published in April 2012 on an old blog. I am gradually migrating some of the content over to this site, and will backdate them once I’ve got things sorted out. (I’ve also added in some updated info). In the meantime, enjoy!

This is a long overdue post. I’ve been lazy busy with stuff at the magazine. Amidst the crazy hustle and bustle of work and saving up for my big Euro trip, I took the weekend off for some well-deserved R&R, far away from the concrete jungles and smoke fumes. Sounds cliche, but never underestimate what an island getaway can do for you. Langkawi it is!

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Departing from the LCCT.

I was feeling really tired for some reason and dozed off right after takeoff. Regretted this immensely after getting off the plane and vowed to stay awake throughout the rest of the flight during the return journey.

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Located far to the north of the Malaysian peninsula, Langkawi island is a lush green landscape of hills and bright green paddy fields underneath an almost unearthly bright blue sky, with an equally bright blue ocean reflecting it. The name of the island derives from Malay, Lang(eagle) and Kawi (a type of stone).

It has been over 17 years since I last stepped foot here, but from the looks of it, this scenic cluster of islands has not changed much. It still exudes the sleepy feeling of an island town where tourism is the main activity, where the shops are still quaint-looking and rarely over two storeys tall, where streets are unlit at night and where the biggest shopping mall is approximately the size of a Hypermart here in KL.

One thing I remember clearly from my visit all those years ago was seeing an eagle fly by Eagle Square. It was the first time I had seen one, and the way it beat its wings majestically as it soared through the air struck me, even as a child, with the same feeling as I feel now whenever I’m in beautiful places. That feeling where your heart seems to burst with emotion and how blessed you are to be witnessing all this breathtaking beauty.

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We rented a modest Proton Wira for three days to get around. Much easier and cheaper than taking a taxi. 

The first order of the day was to go raid the chocolate shops. Chocolates, liquor and cigarettes are duty-free in every shop on Langkawi island, and you will see tourists buying a whole luggage-full of stuff to bring home. I mean, six sticks of assorted flavoured Toblerone bars going for only RM20? A 6-pack of beer for only RM9? Now THAT’s a good deal. 

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Then it was off to the Langkawi Underwater World.  Spanning six acres, it is the largest aquarium in the country. Entrance is quite pricey at RM28 (*updated price 2020 – RM46), and although the place is quite old (it opened in 1995), it’s pretty well maintained. There are over 200 marine and freshwater fish species at the aquarium, as well as a variety of small animals and even birds. 

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You can explore several sections within the complex, namely Freshwater, Tropical Rainforest, Temperate and Sub-Antarctic. The Tropical Rainforest area houses wildlife such as lizards and skinks, birds and fish.

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The aviary allows you to walk freely amongst birds, like flamingoes. They seem very used to human presence.

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The Sub-Antarctic is home to cute penguins. At the Adelie penguins enclosure, I saw this penguin standing perfectly still, gazing up into the white lights. It kind of reminded me of the scene from Happy Feet where the hero penguin gets caught and after a while got stoned as the rest of them because they were stuck inside their cages for, well, literally, forever. Just waiting for feeding time, standing around, swimming in that confined little space with no hope of ever leaving. Some might even be born here and never know that beyond these walls, there is a place where columns of ice are as large as titans, where their kind fished and swam freely in the oceans. It’s a sad existence. I felt rather sorry for them. I feel that animals should be free, but at the same time, there is educational value in zoos and conservation centres – although many of these are mismanaged which causes some of the animals to suffer.

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The rockhopper penguins were much more aggressive. They swam faster, were more active and dove into the water quite often to swim, before leaping up again.

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Moving on to the aquarium proper, which houses plenty of sea life. The highlight of the section is a 15-metre ‘underwater’ tunnel that you can walk through, which has sharks, turtles and giant stingrays.

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A Fu Manchu fish, so called because of the tiny ‘moustache’ it has on its face. It showed me its butt when I tried to take a photo.

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Aside from the marine and wildlife, there is an educational centre and 3D theatre, as well as a cafeteria within the premises.

All in all, the Langkawi Underwater World is a family-friendly attraction where you can enjoy a couple of hours of educational fun. A worthwhile stop if you’re in the Pantai Cenang area.

LANGKAWI UNDERWATER WORLD 

Zon Pantai Cenang, Mukim Kedawang, Langkawi, Malaysia.

Opening Hours: 9.30 AM – 6.30PM (Mon – Thurs), 9.30 – 10.30PM (Fri – Sun)

Tel: +604 955 6100