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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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Farm in the City, Seri Kembangan: A Unique Petting Zoo Experience

I’ve been getting bored of malls lately. And since I’m not a sporty person, that leaves me with few ‘outdoor’ activities to enjoy, aside from walking around parks, museums, and art galleries (there aren’t too many in Malaysia, so you run out of options after awhile lol).

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The Hubs and I initially thought of visiting the zoo over the weekend, but after some thought, we ended up at Farm in the City instead. Spanning 7 acres, this petting zoo in Seri Kembangan is home to over 100 species of animals, including exotic ones like alpaca and blue tongued skinks, as well as common pets and farm animals such as guinea pigs, hedgehogs, rabbits, and more.

Video below. Subscribe to my Youtube channel if you haven’t already ! 🙂

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The park is nicely landscaped and full of greenery, so even though it gets warm in the afternoon, the trees provide plenty of shade. Tickets are priced at RM39 for adults and RM32 for children. You can also buy a bucket of feed (with millet, hay, pandan leaves, carrots) for the animals.

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The ‘farm’ is built around a lake and is divided into several sections, such as the Bird Aviary, Reptile Cavern, Pet Village, and Jungle Walk, each housing different animals. At the entrance, you’ll be greeted by two friendly ponies, whom you can feed carrots and hay to. The hair on the top of their heads feels rough and warm, like hemp fabric.

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At the Giant Tortoise section, you’ll come across both the second and third largest tortoise species: the Aldabra (pictured above), and the Sulcata (pictured below). Both can live up to 150 years old. Maybe there’s something we can learn from these creatures – take things slow and easy, so you’ll live longer!

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Pig-nosed turtles are native to the rivers, lagoons, and streams of Northern Australia and Southern New Guinea. They are listed as endangered due to loss of habitat and the exotic pet trade.

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The small but interesting Reptile Cavern houses several large snakes, such as the Reticulated Python. The snakes tend to coil in the corners or on top of the glass roof, so you can walk by and see how it looks like from underneath lol. Also within this compound are some Dwarf Caimans, which are sort of small alligators.

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Chickens, ducks, and guinea fowl roam the common areas. You can feed them corn and millet. They all look well fed and groomed.

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Emo guinea fowl. Look at that hair!
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The Bird Aviary was my favourite section. There were so many colourful types: Mandarin ducks, pigeons, lovebirds, even a white peacock strutting its stuff!

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Unlike some zoos I’ve been to, the water in the pond looked clean and fresh – so kudos to the management for keeping the place clean and conducive for the animals.

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A stunning Golden Pheasant.
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At the goat/sheep paddock, I was nearly mobbed by the herd, who tried to get to the hay in my feed bucket lol. I ended up scattering it on the ground because a particularly aggressive one looked like it was ready to put its front legs on me to reach the feed.

The Hubs was also fascinated by the feeling of actual wool, and kept following one particular sheep around the paddock trying to pat it.

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The stars here are the alpacas. They have huge, watery, liquid black eyes and soft wool.

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Hey Kid
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We popped into Pelican Quay for a quick sojourn. There was a small bridge spanning a pond, where a pod of pelicans were sunning themselves by the water’s edge. Their long, gangly wings and sharp, narrow beaks reminded me of pterodactyls.

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Aside from animals, the farm also has a vegetable patch and orchard, with plants such as black pepper and a variety of flowers.

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Also in this area is the buffalo paddock, which is home to two regular water buffalos and an albino one. They like wallowing in mud to keep cool, so expect a lot of flies.

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Javan Deer. I’m so used to seeing them from afar/from outside enclosures that I forget how big they are up close.
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The farm’s resident ring-tailed lemur. Did you know that lemur colonies have matriarchal structures ?

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Stop for a quick break by the lake, which is home to hundreds of colourful koi fish. Drop some feed into the water and watch them swarm in a mass of fat, squirming bodies, lol.

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Very active otters.

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A marmoset. It was tiny! These new world primates measure just 20cm long, and sustain themselves on a diet of insects and fruit.

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There is a section dedicated to small animals, such as guinea pigs and hedgehogs. Here the Hubs touches a blue-tongued skink (it looks like a salamander, but is actually a lizard), and a bearded dragon. Kids will love the Pet Village, where you can cuddle with rabbits – we gave this a miss as the place was crowded with families. There is also a small stream outside where you can try your hand at Longkang Fishing (catching and releasing small fish).

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Iguanas
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A pair of vibrant blue and gold macaws. They can live up to 50 years in captivity.

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Before exiting, remember to say hi to the raccoon squad! They’re super fluffy and fat. You can buy feed from a machine nearby.

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If you’re hungry, stop for lunch at the cafe. The souvenir shop also sells refreshments.

Farm in the City is an educational attraction that’s great for families, especially those with young children, to teach them more about animals and conservation. Even for adults like the Hubs and I, it was a fun ‘date’, and we enjoyed feeding and touching the animals. Consider coming here for a day out, instead of heading to the mall on your next weekend trip.

Tickets can be purchased online, or at the venue.

FARM IN THE CITY

Lot 40187-40188, Jalan Prima Tropika Barat 1, Pusat Bandar Putra Permai, 43300 Seri Kembangan, Selangor

Open daily (Weekdays: 10AM – 6PM, Weekends: 9.30AM – 6PM)

Getting there: The farm is easily accessible via car, and has ample parking space. Unfortunately, public transport does not stop directly at the entrance, so you’d still need a Grab for the rest of the journey.

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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World of Phalaenopsis, Ulu Yam – Malaysia’s Largest Moth Orchid Farm with Its Own Hipster Cafe

What’s the best remedy for stress? Experts suggest that spending time in nature – a term coined ‘ecotherapy’ – can help to boost mental health and improve your wellbeing. It can be anything, from hiking and camping, to a picnic by the waterfall, or even a visit to a plant nursery.

If it’s the latter, then I suggest a day trip to Ulu Yam, where you’ll find World of Phalaenopsis, a plant nursery that specialises in phalaenopsis (or moth orchids, because phalaenopsis is a mouthful. lol). Tucked within a quiet kampung, about an hour’s drive from Kuala Lumpur, the nursery is home to thousands of orchids as well as a myriad of other plants — and it even has its own hipster-esque cafe called Florescence.

Vlog here!
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There’s no admission fee, so feel free to waltz in, admire the blooms and get a plant or two (or a dozen – one can never have too many plants!) to bring home. Photos are allowed in the outdoor areas, but not in the dedicated air-conditioned sections, where they carry some of the more exotic plants.

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Moth orchids are a genus of orchids, of which there are over 70 species. They are native to places such as India, Taiwan, China, New Guinea and Australia, as well as Southeast Asia. With their bright colours (usually in hues of pink, white and purple) and large, shapely petals, these orchids are a popular choice for many gardens in Malaysia (which is why you’ll see them often at plant nurseries.

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But first things first – food. I had skipped lunch and was feeling famished (we got there around 3.15PM), so we made a beeline for the in-house cafe, Florescence. The interior was spacious and bright, thanks to glass windows which allowed for plenty of natural light to filter in. The windows also afforded diners with a nice view of the duck pond next to the cafe.

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The menu is rather limited, but what they offer, they do well. My Nasi Lemak with Rendang Chicken (RM13.90) came in a sizable portion, and although the chicken was a tad salty, it was tender and seasoned well. The rice was fluffy and the sambal added a nice kick, without being overpowering.

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Pop’s ordered the Assam Laksa. The cafe also has items like Mee Goreng Siam, pasta, and a variety of coffees and cakes. Moo got a Banana Cake with Ice Cream, which was excellent as the cake was not too sweet and still warm when served, which contrasted nicely with the chocolate ice cream. My iced chocolate drink was a disappointment, though, as it was powdery. Maybe you’re better off ordering one of their teas or coffees.

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The ducks in the pond outside looked clean, healthy and well fed. You can buy feed for them at the counter.

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After we were fed and watered, it was back to exploring the nursery. The moth orchids look lovely when they’re all lined up in a row together – you can walk in between the aisles and literally be surrounded by flowers.

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Most of the orchids are white, pink and purple, but there are yellow ones too.

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The orchids are for sale, and you can get a plant for between RM25 and RM40.

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A section dedicated to other varieties of plants.

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We spent about an hour soaking in the greenery. Didn’t buy anything though, because the fam and I don’t have green fingers, and any plant that makes its way to our ‘garden’ will just be in for a world of sadness.

World of Phalaenopsis is open daily from 9AM to 5PM. It’s best to drive there (Waze or Google Maps: World of Phalaenopsis), as there is limited public transport in the area. Ample parking can be found outside the farm.

WORLD OF PHALAENOPSIS

1017, Jalan Batang Kali – Hulu Yam Bharu, Kampung Sungai Kamin, 44300 Batang Kali, Selangor

Phone: 03-6075 1133

Website

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.

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.

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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! 🙂 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Visiting The Historic Town of Heidelberg, Germany

*This post is part of my Euro-tour series. I’m clearing up some very old travel posts, some of which were migrated from another site. 

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Guten Tag! Germany has one of the prettiest landscapes I have seen so far, with its vibrant colours that seem fit to burst out of every leaf, its cloudless blue skies and sapphire blue rivers. Our next stop on our itinerary was the beautiful town of Heidelberg. Surrounded by rolling green hills perched with castles and overlooking the River Rhine, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a place more picturesque than this.

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As we approached Heidelberg in our bus, we were greeted by the most famous landmark in the area – Heidelberg Castle – which majestically overlooks the town and the flowing waters of the Rhine. Originally built in the 13th century, the castle has been destroyed and rebuilt several times. Although it is relatively small in comparison to some other European castles, nobles and kings once called this castle home as they stared out at their surrounding lands. In the 17th to 18th centuries, as the ruler of the area moved the court to a newer, grander castle, Heidelberg Castle fell into disarray, parts of its stone quarried for other buildings. It decayed even further during the French period, when most of Northern Europe was controlled by the Napoleonic French government, with townsfolk looting the castle for wood, stone and other materials.

Ironically, it was a French count – Charles de Graimberg – who saved the castle from falling into further disrepair, serving as its warden and living for a while in the building’s Glass Wing where he kept an eye out for looters. His work with the castle, which he commissioned for painters and writers to document (the olden-day equivalent of Instagram/ travel blog marketing, I should think) eventually drew interest from many tourists to visit Heidelberg. Even famed American writer Mark Twain wrote about the castle and its town.

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Another major landmark here is the Old Bridge (Alte Bruecke), which connects the old part of town to newer establishments. Built in the late 1700s with sandstone, it is an example of a classical stone bridge building and spans the Neckar, a tributary of the Rhine river. We alighted at the base and proceeded to the bridge for photos.

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It was my first time seeing such a deep blue river, disturbed only by occasional boats slicing through the surface like knife through butter. The sky, which was cloudless, seemed to stretch into an infinite horizon, while the banks were green and full of lush vegetation, lined with colourful, square-shaped buildings. I absolutely would not mind living here for the rest of my days, lol.

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At one end of the bridge is a large arch, signifying the entrance to the old town. Originally part of the town’s wall, the two black helmets were later added on in 1786 when the bridge was built.

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One of the most prominent statues on the bridge is a monkey holding a mirror. Records indicate that such a statue existed as early as the 15th century, but the original disappeared during the Nine Years War of the 17th century, fought between Louis XIV of France and a European coalition of the Holy Roman Empire. The current statue was only put up in 1979. You can put your head inside the monkey’s helmet-like hollow. If you rub the mirror, local legends have it that it will bring you good luck, and if you rub its fingers, it will ensure that you will return to Heidelberg someday! Next to the monkey are some bronze-cast mice, which are reported to bring fertility.

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As you walk through the archway and into the town proper, one of the first buildings to greet visitors is the Town Hall (Heidelberg Rathaus). With its many windows and flowery plants lining the edges, it looks more like a posh hotel than a town hall. The building is located within the Marketplace, which is littered with cafes and small tables and chairs for tourists, where you can grab a coffee and dine al fresco.

Heidelberg is a touristy town. During our visit, it was crowded with people from all over the world and I could hardly see any locals, except those manning the stores.

A little history – modern Heidelberg has ‘existed’ at least since the 5th century. Did you know that the Filipino freedom fighter, Joze Rizal, lived and studied here for many years? He attended the prestigious University of Heidelberg, then considered a leading university in Europe.

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We didn’t have a lot of time in town – just a couple of hours – which we spent wandering the streets and popping into whatever buildings seemed interesting. The houses are colourful and uniform, with an occasional turret or castle-like structure.

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There is a large church in the centre of town called the Church of the Holy Spirit, its turret towering over everything in town. We took some pictures outside, but since there was a crowd waiting to go in, we opted to spend more time in a smaller church that we stumbled upon in one of the alleys instead.

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The Jesuit Church (Jesuitenkirche) has an attractive, rosy pink facade. It was erected in the 1700s as a Catholic church and was originally built in a baroque style, although this was not preserved. All that remains of the original is a central altar painting. If you’re into history, the church houses a museum of sacred and liturgical art with objects from the 17th to 19th centuries, including treasures of gold and silverware.

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The inside is so well kept it looks brand new.

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The central altar painting.

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We only had a couple of hours to spend in Heidelberg, before it was time to bid adieu to this lovely, historic town. I touched the monkey statue’s fingers, so I’m hoping I’ll be able to visit again someday!

Travel tips: The nearest international airports to Heidelberg are Frankfurt and Stuttgart. From Frankfurt, trains run regularly to Heidelberg and take approximately an hour.

 

We Spent Six Hours At The National Museum in Bangkok, Thailand

Thailand has a rich and colourful history, and it’s chronicled incredibly well at the National Museum in Bangkok.  From the early days of its ancient Buddhist kingdoms of Sukhothai, Lan Na and Ayutthaya to the more modern eras under the Rama kings, the museum offers visitors a look into the history and various facets of what makes up Thailand today – and it’s absolutely fascinating. N and I spent six hours exploring the vast museum grounds, and would have spent more if it wasn’t for the fact that we had other items on our itinerary to go to :’D

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The museum was about 1.5 kilometres from our hostel in Rambuttri, and it was packed with tourists, locals and students, despite being a weekday. From the outside, the museum didn’t look very large, but there were actually many buildings within. There was an entrance fee of 200 baht (RM27) for foreigners.

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Our timing was excellent as the museum was running a temporary exhibition, “Qin Shi Huang: The First Emperor of China and Terracotta Warriors” during our visit. The showcase included historical artefacts and items from the rule of China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, some of which were flown in from Xi’an.

QSH was a bit of an obsessive personality and during his lifetime, drank mercury in an attempt to prolong his life (mercury was believed to be the secret to immortality back then). When he died (presumably from mercury poisoning), he was entombed in a necropolis, complete with 8,000 life-sized terracotta warriors. The mausoleum, which was designed as a reflection of a palace / city so that QSH could continue ruling in the afterlife,  has never been fully excavated due to fears of possible damage.

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Although it said ‘life-sized’, I felt like the sculptures were actually taller than normal, averaging about eight feet.

The original statues that were discovered were actually coated in paint, so they weren’t all grey and dull looking. The paint evaporated into the air after the mausoleum was excavated.

 

 

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Terracotta horse-drawn chariot.

Beyond just his odd practices of drinking mercury and burning books, SHD was an extraordinary figure who united China’s many warring factions under one banner. The exhibition also detailed this, explaining the economic and political reforms that took place during his rule, as well as cultural and historical impact that can still be felt two millennia later.  On display to tell the narrative was advanced weaponry, decorative statues, household items, ritual objects, and more.

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A distinctive stone armour worn by soldiers, made up of hundreds of interlinked stone pieces connected by bronze wire to offer more flexibility.

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Decorative / ritual objects in the shapes of farm animals like horses, cows, goats, pigs and sheep; or scenes from everyday life like a rice mill, shrines and small houses.

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N was fascinated, and I had to literally drag him out to the main courtyard (lest we stay there the entire day). We next ventured into the Buddhaisawan Chapel. Built in the early 18th century, the main hall houses one of the most sacred Buddhist images in all of Thailand, the Phra Buddha Sihing.

The vast hall had sleek wooden floors, with a red ceiling and walls decorated with images of the Devas, as well as old paintings telling Buddha’s story. Some of these were faded with age and were difficult to discern, but you could still see the meticulous attention to detail poured into creating each one.

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The entrance to Buddhaisawan Chapel is guarded by garudas – mythical creatures in Buddhist and Hindu mythology that sport avian and human features.

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Another building you can check out within the museum is the vibrant-looking The Red House. Constructed from teak, it was originally the private living quarters of a princess. Today, it houses items used by royals in the past, including those of Queen Sri Suriyenda.

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A beautiful gold pavilion with intricate decorative features and exquisite detailing on the ceiling.

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The halls within the museum seemed to go on forever – there were just so many things to see. There were sections dedicated to Buddhist art from Thailand and neighbouring regions, the evolution of the country’s monetary system and currency, paintings, weaponry, clothing worn by royals, palanquins which were used to mount onto the backs of elephants, war drums, dioramas and much more.

 

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Royal throne. The colour gold is prevalent in Thai colour, as it is an important colour in both Buddhist and Thai culture.

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Life-sized replica of an elephant with a palanquin strapped to its back. Elephants are the national animal of Thailand.

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Students writing notes down as they observe a diorama, complete with war elephants, cavalry, foot soldiers and archers

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Thai royals were a fashionable lot, with ceremonial and everyday costumes featuring rich fabrics, elegant colours, beautiful detailing and patterns, and slim silhouettes.

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Everyone likes beautiful things – and there were sections detailing Thai art, such as how artisans apply mother of pearl to everything from furniture to sword scabbards; as well as a section for enamel pottery.

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Another impressive section was a hall containing numerous royal funeral chariots. Built from teak, the chariots were ornately carved, painted and gilded in gold, with mythical / religious figures and decorative fixtures such as nagas and devas.

Thais have deep respect for their royalty (they have some of the world’s strictest lese-majeste laws), and they revere them as much in death as they do in life. When a member of the royal family passes, the chariots are pulled by hundreds of men in a parade down the streets with the urn carrying the ashes of the deceased royal sitting atop a tall roofed shrine.

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Grand send off.

The Bangkok National Museum is, by far, one of the most impressive museums I have been to in Southeast Asia, and it’s definitely worth checking out if you love history and culture. Allocate at least half a day for the place if you’re planning to have a more in-depth experience.

BANGKOK NATIONAL MUSEUM 

Na Phra That Alley, Phra Borom Maha Ratchawang, Phra Nakhon, Bangkok 10200, Thailand

Opening hours: 9AM – 4PM (closed on Mon – Tues)

 

What To Do At Khao San Road: Bangkok’s Backpacker Mecca

So after years of incredulous looks whenever I tell friends I’ve never been to Bangkok (“but it’s so near!”), I finally got to visit Asia’s City of Angels, The Big Mango; or more notoriously, Sin City. It was a short trip and we barely scratched the surface of what the city has to offer – but N and I enjoyed our time here immensely. Now I see why everyone was like “why haven’t you been to Bangkok yet?!”

Bangkok at night 01 (MK)
Mathias Krumbholz [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D
We didn’t do much research prior to going (a mistake seasoned travellers should avoid!) so I wasn’t sure which area would be a good place to stay. Bangkok is a huge city, divided into many subdivisions, each with its own attractions and experiences. We were on a budget so I picked the cheapest accommodation I could find that wasn’t a hostel. I found one near Khao San Road, a backpacker’s paradise. The only problem? We aren’t exactly party people, so I wasn’t sure what we could do around the place. Turns out, plenty.

Bangkok, like Kuala Lumpur, has two major airports: Don Mueang, which services low-cost airlines, and Suvarnabhumi, which is about 20 km away. Traffic can get pretty bad in the city so always allocate plenty of time going to and from the airport.

HOW TO GET TO KHAO SAN ROAD from DON MUEANG AIRPORT 

The night before we were due to depart for Bangkok, I scoured various websites for info, but there seemed to be no easy way to get to Khao San from Don Mueang. If you’re landing at Suvarnabhumi, things are much easier as there is an airport rail that goes directly to the city centre. The worst case scenario (for our budget, anyway) was to take a taxi (900 baht (!!!) (RM 121) from the official taxi stand inside the airport).

I wasn’t about to spend a good chunk of the money I brought for one taxi ride, so I stubbornly went to the tourist information counter to ask if there was any other way to get there. Lo and behold – the airport runs shuttle buses to various tourist-centric areas within the city ! The A4 bus would take us directly to Khaosan Road and it only costs …. 50 baht! (RM6.77). That’s like a 95% cheaper alternative! 

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The A4 bus runs every 30 minutes. You need to wait for it at the airport’s Exit 6, which is just after arrivals. If you have a lot of luggage, this might not be the best mode of transport since you’ll have to lug it on and off the bus, then up to wherever your hotel is.

The coach was air conditioned, clean and cosy. We got on around 2-ish, and it was quite empty so we had a lot of space to ourselves. From the airport, it took us about an hour to reach Khao San Road.

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We hopped off near Banglamphu, because our hotel/hostel was actually on Soi Rambuttri, just off Khao San Road. Rambuttri is a good place for people on a budget who want to be close to the action, but not at the centre of it. The place is much quieter, with a quaint hipster vibe. The streets are well paved, there is very little traffic except for the occasional bike or trike or two, and there are loads of shops that mirror the ones you find at Khao San, but with less crowd.

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Rambuttri is known for its chill cafes, bars and restos, with large and shady trees and greenery.

 

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There are street stalls as well, peddling souvenirs, cheap clothing, bags, shoes, and more.

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Street massages are a thing. No one bats an eyelid if you’re reclined in full double-chin glory with your feet exposed by the side of the road. An hour-long foot massage will set you back around 250 – 300 baht.

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Exploring the Banglamphu area

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We took a short cut that ran through a covered area, which had more souvenir shops and massage parlours, but also some interesting gems like indie bookstores

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Cue N pushing me past this 2nd hand bookstore really quickly lest I stop to look (after which he wouldn’t be able to get me out of there again)

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Souvenirs for sale. Many sold the standard stuff like fridge magnets and T-shirts saying “I Love Thailand”, but there were also some interesting pieces like paintings, decorative wall hangings and handmade items.

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Finally emerging into the 400-metre-long Khao San Road, we were greeted by dozens, if not hundreds of signages proclaiming various services, from bars and massage parlours to jewellery stores, fashion and retail centres, tattoo studios, restaurants, money changers and supermarkets. Not to mention the many street stalls selling food and clothes on the pedestrian-only main thoroughfare. Loud music blasted from every corner, vendors shouting cheap beer! massage! exotic show! party! fun! It seemed like if you had the money for it, you could find anything along Khao San Road.

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Bangkok’s famous tuk-tuk 

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Khao San felt like a riot on the senses. The swirling colours, the different faces from all walks of life in every shape, colour and size, the smell of barbecued meat and steaming corn wafting into the air, whole barbecued crocodiles and exotic insects on sale, touts shouting “Ping Pong Show!” while holding up placards of sexy women, open air bars where the music was so loud the ground felt like it was shaking slightly.

There were tall blonde Westerners dressed in strappy spaghetti tops laughing boisterously over drinks as they flirted with the tanned, handsome bartenders, petite Thai college girls giggling with their friends as they checked out merchandise, young local women clinging to the arms of older white men, old Japanese tourists, families, students. An essayist once wrote that Khao San was a ‘place to disappear’, and she wasn’t wrong.

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Even the McDonalds here has a Thai flavour ! (pun)

It was fun for awhile to observe the goings-on at Khao San, but also draining for introverts like N and I lol. We retreated back to the Rambuttri area for dinner. Popped into one of the nicer restaurants, which was still reasonably priced.

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Can’t come to Bangkok and not have a coconut shake

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Cheese-filled wontons

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Chicken tom yum for that spicy kick

 

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Gotta pad thai like a basic tourist. It was great though!

Me to waitress: I don’t want beansprouts.

*Waitress does not understand.*

Me: You know, the long white things.. vegetables

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Walking back to our hotel we came across this souped up van that was converted into a mobile bar, with seats on the pavement and a TV installed into the boot. If you like your alcohol, I think you’d be very happy at Rambuttri / Khao San.

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There was still some time to kill so we had a massage (in the shop rather than on the street). Wasn’t much in terms of privacy as everyone was chatting away, but still relaxing.

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Ended the night with a banana nutella pancake!

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