Day Trip to Bukit Malawati, Kuala Selangor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The cafe also sells souvenirs and handicrafts.

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

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

Getting There

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

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

I Finally Played Assassin’s Creed – Here Are My Thoughts

The Assassin’s Creed series is one of the most popular games in the world, with 11 installments under its belt and over 140 million copies sold. While I have heard many good things about the game, I never had the chance to play it until recently. Steam was having a sale on all AC titles, some of which were going at half price – and after looking up reviews, I settled on AC: Origins.

Only regret? I should have started playing sooner.

AC Origins is set in the last days of the Ptolemaic dynasty in ancient Egypt, and follows Bayek of Siwa, a Medjay whose duty is to protect the people – sort of like a modern day sheriff of sorts. A dangerous job begets dangerous enemies, and Bayek and his son Khemu are captured by mysterious masked figures from The Order of the Ancients. They demand Bayek open the Siwa Vault, but Bayek was actually oblivious to the vault’s existence, a fact the Order of the Ancients refused to believe. In the ensuing scuffle, Khemu is accidentally murdered by his own father. 

The story picks up one year later, with Bayek returning to Siwa after successfully killing The Heron, one of the Order. Bayek and his wife Aya are hell-bent on revenge, and they have a list of targets from which they intend to eliminate. However, the more Bayek investigates, the more he realizes that toppling the order isn’t simply about assassinating a few men, as the organisation is not only firmly entrenched in society and politics, but also wields enormous influence. They also discover that the Order is actually after powerful relics – which is why they wanted access to Siwa Vault – and use these powers to subjugate the population and bring peace and order to the world. 

To counter this, Bayek and Aya found The Hidden Ones, the precursor to the modern Assassins. Like the modern version, the Hidden Ones are meant to represent peace through freedom, whereas the Order of Ancients – a forerunner to the modern Templars in other AC games, represent peace through order. These two secret societies will battle each other through the ages: one determined to seek out relics for power, the other to prevent the subjugation of mankind. 

The Story and Characters 

If you’re a fan of historical fiction (like Dan Brown), you’ll love how the story weaves Bayek and the Hidden Ones into real-life events in history. There’s even a mission where you help sneak Cleopatra into Ptolemy’s palace, so that she can meet Julius Caesar. The main story isn’t all that long, but there are plenty of side missions to keep you occupied. Some have interesting plots and add to the overall story; others are mundane and involve things like fetching items. As much as I like the game, I found the side missions tedious and repetitive after awhile, but kept going because I’m *hangs head in shame* a completionist and it bugs me when there’s an incomplete mark on the map lol. 

Bayek as a character is quite likeable, albeit a little naive (he often takes what people say at face value, then (insert Pikachu face meme here) is shocked when they betray him. Bayek’s guilt at Khemu’s murder ,his helplessness at being unable to protect his son and family, is also well written and portrayed through small side missions, like the one where you can complete puzzles and be rewarded with some dialogue about how Bayek and Khemu used to go star gazing.

I also think that the theme of revenge is conveyed really well. Bayek feels that by killing the people responsible for his son’s death, as well as those who have wronged Egypt and oppressed its people, he will be able to feel at peace. We see that this is not the case. 

Whenever Bayek makes a kill, the player is transported to a dark space where Bayek has a conversation with his victim and passes judgement for their sins, before they are sent to the afterlife. But as the player observes, Bayek is not always happy, even after his vengeance is complete, because deep down he knows that like Hydra in Greek mythology, cut off one head and another appears. There will always be oppressors, just as how there will always be the oppressed. It isn’t until he realises this and finds a greater calling – to protect the people through the Hidden Ones and leave a legacy that lasts beyond his own life – that he truly finds purpose. 

Graphics and Setting 

Image via Ubisoft

I’ve always been fascinated by ancient Egyptian history (one of my dreams as a kid was to go see the Pyramids of Giza), and AC Origins delivers with breathtaking visuals. It’s one of the prettiest games that I’ve played, aside from Detroit Become Human. 

The immersion is wonderful; at times I felt like I was actually exploring ancient Egypt in Bayek’s shoes, checking out tiny details on the buildings and statues,soaking in the culture and colourful tales of their gods and myths. The costumes are amazingly detailed and reflect the different stations of its characters, from the everyday people and the priestesses, to soldiers, merchants and nobility. You also get a nice mix of Egyptian, Greek and Roman culture, as during the Ptolemaic period these three were intertwined (Rome invaded Egypt in 30BC, ending Cleopatra’s rule and the ancient Egyptian dynasty). As Bayek, you visit important cities such as Alexandria, Krokodiliopolis, Thebes and Memphis, each with their own unique architecture.

Gameplay 

I have to admit – I was rather miffed at the lack of a ‘jump’ command when I first started playing, because it seemed like such a basic move that players won’t be able to do at will. Instead, you vault over obstacles when Bayek’s avatar is close – but you kind of get used to it as the game progresses. As the AC series is all about stealth, you’re not supposed to be running through hordes of enemies hacking and slashing, relying instead on hiding yourself in bushes, around pillars and timing your attacks so that enemies won’t raise the alarm. Overall, the gameplay feels smooth, even though sometimes I would accidentally release myself from a ledge and watch as Bayek falls to his doom wtf haha. That being said, the game allows you to move and climb virtually anywhere. The use of your hawk Senu to hone in on hidden treasure and enemies is a nice touch, and is apparently a hallmark of the AC games (can’t compare because I’ve never played the other ones). 

I feel that it is a good thing that I started with AC: Origins. Not only does it start in the ‘correct’ chronological order ie how the Assassins came to be, thus giving the player plenty of backstory, it’s also touted as one of the best AC games of all time. Because I had so much fun, I purchased AC: Odyssey, which is the latest one in the franchise and will be checking it out as soon as I have more time – and I’m planning to get some of the older games too.The thing about that, though, is that the new games tend to be improvements over old ones, so you just can’t get into them once you’ve played the new (case in point: I played Witcher 3 first, and Witcher 2 just sucked in comparison. Same case with Borderlands 2). 

Have you played any of the Assassin’s Creed games? Which one is your favourite? 

4 Historical Spots To Visit While In Melaka

Melaka is one of Southeast Asia’s most historically rich sites. Founded by a Javanese Hindu prince in the 1400s, it thrived as a port and welcomed traders from as far as China, Arab and India. It was then conquered by the Portuguese, the Dutch and the English for hundreds of years. Naturally, old structures and the influence of various cultures remain, making Melaka a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

For first-timers in the city, there’s no running away from visiting four important historical hotspots. They’re all within walking distance of each other, so getting to each is just a matter of legwork. Just ready the sunscreen, shades, an umbrella and lots of water – Melaka is scorching at most times of the year.

THE RUINS OF ST PAUL’S CHURCH @ ST PAUL’S HILL 

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The heart of Melaka is centred around a hill (now known as St Paul’s Hill), since the high vantage point affordsgood views of the coastline (ergo, important back then to see ships + invading forces).

Perched on top of this hill are the ruins of St Paul’s Church, a Roman Catholic church built in 1521 by the Portuguese nobleman Duarte Coelho. Originally called the Nossa Senhora da Annunciada (Our Lady of the Annunciation), it was dedicated to St Mary. The church was later deeded to a Jesuit missionary called Francis Xavier, who used it as a base for his missionary trips around Southeast Asia. After his death and ascension to sainthood, his body was interred for a while at the church, before it was sent to Goa. A burial vault was also opened in the 1590s, and many Portuguese nobles and people of distinction were buried here.

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After the Dutch invaded in 1641, the church was re-designated as St Paul’s Church under the Dutch Reformed denomination. For a while, the Dutch community in Melaka used it as their main church, but left it abandoned after the new Christ Church was completed in 1753. Parts of the building were also taken down to help fortify defense structures around Melaka. The church building fell further into disrepair during English occupation, when it was used as a gunpowder depot.

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View of the Straits of Melaka from St Paul’s Hill

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There was a church event going on at the ruins during our visit.

The building itself is just a shell of its former self – four walls, no roof and exposed red brick, lined with elaborately carved stone grave markers. One wonders how it must have been like in its heyday, when both the Portuguese and then later the Dutch came to pray and attend religious sermons and events.

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The stage was set up for a play later in the evening, while the open grave where St Francis Xavier’s body was once interred was littered with flower petals.

PORTA DE SANTIAGO @ A FAMOSA 

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When the Portuguese invaded Melaka in 1511, they established their base at the hill (now St Paul’s Hill), built a fort around it, and called it “The Famous”. The Dutch continued to use it during their occupation, but when the British came, they destroyed almost all but this last gate called the Porta de Santiago. Visitors who visit the site today will find little more than a simple gate, its brick facade blackened and weathered. Over the archway is an inscription, Anno 1670, as well as the logo of the East India Company – both additions by the Dutch. While there isn’t much by way of sights, the historical significance itself makes this place worth a visit. It is, after all, the oldest surviving European remains in Southeast Asia.

MALACCA SULTANATE PALACE MUSEUM 

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Just steps away from the Porta de Santiago is the Malacca Sultanate Palace Museum, a reconstruction of the old palace based on written accounts in the Sejarah Melayu, or Malay Annals. The old palace was said to have sat on the hill where St Paul’s Church is now located, but it was destroyed when Portuguese forces invaded. This modern version tries to stay as true as possible to descriptions from the Malay Annals, and was built with timber wood without the use of nails.

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Inside, visitors will find various exhibits detailing the history of the sultanate, as well as cultural and historical artefacts. Only the main hall is air conditioned; it is very stuffy upstairs and at the outer verandah, so it’s best to visit at a cooler time of day.

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The story of Hang Tuah is told here through a series of paintings.

Hang Tuah is the OG of Malay warriors and features prominently throughout Malay legends and literature, although whether or not he truly existed remains highly debated. He was apparently highly skilled in the martial arts (silat) and was an extraordinary warrior, second to none.

One of the most famous tales is the one where some ministers of the court, jealous of Hang Tuah’s standing with the Sultan, spread slander and lies about him, to which the Sultan ordered him executed. The chief minister who was tasked with this knew that Hang Tuah was innocent and instead hid him in a cave. Hearing of unjust done to his childhood friend, Hang Jebat – who after Hang Tuah was the best fighter in the land – ran amok, seeking to avenge him.

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It was then that the Chief Minister revealed that Hang Tuah was in fact, alive – much to the relief of the Sultan. Jebat was happy that Hang Tuah was alive, but Hang Tuah berated his friend for rebelling against the Sultan. A fight ensued that lasted for seven days, and Tuah emerged the winner after killing his friend. He continued serving Melaka, going on numerous other adventures. Yes, a rather grim ending for Jebat who was only thinking of avenging a friend whom an unjust ruler wronged – but hey, loyalty to the Sultan was paramount to anything else back in the day, even childhood friends whom you grew up with.

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A diorama of the Balairong Seri, or the audience reception hall where the Sultan received political dignitaries, guests and his advisors.

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Costumes worn by the different classes in Malaccan society, including royalty, as well as accessories and jewellery such as hair pins, brooches, belts, etc.

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Another diorama, this one of the Sultan’s bedchamber.

The Melaka Sultanate Palace Museum is open daily from 9AM to 5PM. Entrance is RM3 for Malaysians and RM5 for foreigners.

RED SQUARE / STADTHUYS/ CHRISTCHURCH 

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Last but not least, make your way to the Red Square, where you will find fire-red buildings which include a clocktower, the 18th century Dutch founded Christ Church, and the Stadthuys, which was once used as an administration building and residence for the Dutch Governor and now houses a museum of History and Ethnography. The square is a colourful place, filled with loud and gaudy-looking trishaws that blast techno music and are decorated with pop culture characters. Once the main mode of transportation around Melaka, you can now take a ride around town for a hefty RM25.

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If the Melaka Sultanate Palace Museum detailed the history of the ancient Malay kingdom, the Stadthuys is more focused on the period between the landing of the Portuguese up until Japanese occupation in the days of World War II. Exhibits include a selection of weaponry, including swords, sabres, guns and armour, plus items from trade such as pottery, crystal glasses, silverware and the like.

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Melaka’s four conquering forces – the Portuguese (1511 – 1641), the Dutch (1641 – 1825), the British (1826 – 1942) and the Japanese (1942 – 1945).

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A diorama of Melaka during the Portuguese occupation. notice how the fort was still completely intact, surrounding the city.

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A painting depicting the captain of the Portuguese guard surrendering the keys to the city to the Dutch after the defeat of Portuguese forces.

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Aside from colonial history, the museum also houses exhibits on local culture and practices of the community. Pictured is a diorama of a traditional Malay-Melakan wedding. The bersanding ceremony, where the bride and groom sits on a raised dias, draws from Hindu cultural influences.

The Stadthuys is open from 9.30AM – 5.30PM daily. Entrance is RM5 for Malaysians and RM10 for foreigners.

If there’s one thing Melaka isn’t short of, it’s museums – although I can’t say they’re all impressive. If you like museum-hopping, also worth visiting is the Melaka Maritime Museum (housed in a replica of the Portuguese galleon Flor del Mar), the People’s Museum, the Stamp Museum and the Submarine Museum (housed in a decommissioned submarine by the coast), to name a few.

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Uncovering Melbourne’s History @ The Old Treasury Building

 ‘Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.’ – Winston Churchill

Melburnians are a blessed lot. Not only do they have a vibrant culinary arts scene (one of Australia’s best – plus great coffee!), there are also no shortage of things to do within the city, with a festival of some sort every other week, beautiful parks and nature, seaside and beaches perfect for surfing, as well as museums and art galleries at every corner.

But how did it all come to be?

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A great place to learn about Melbourne’s history and its roots is at the Old Treasury Building along Spring Street. Constructed in the mid-19th century, the Victorian-era structure was once home to the Treasury Department of the Government of Victoria, and now houses a museum chronicling the city’s history.

Melbourne as a city grew exponentially during the Victorian Gold Rush, when settlers flocked to the area in search of gold. As such, the building was originally built not only to act as treasury offices, but also to house the state’s gold vaults.

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The building’s interior exudes an austere Victorian charm, with thick wooden doors, dimly lit corridors and antique chandeliers. The museum’s permanent exhibition, “Melbourne: Foundations of a City” takes visitors through the city’s early days as a settlement by the Yarra River, its heydays in the Gold Rush, and later on during the World War. Most of the exhibits relate to the socio, economic and political development of Melbourne, told through important documents, letters or even decrees preserved to this day.

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Bust of Sir Edward Macarthur, Commander-in-Chief of British forces in Australia from 1855.

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An interesting exhibit on criminals, including female felons. There was a display of their mugshots along with their names, and their respective offences recorded in a book. These ranged from petty crime and disorderly conduct, to more serious offences such as murder.

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During World War I, Australians were faced with a choice – on whether their men should be conscripted to fight overseas. A Nation Divided: The Great War and Conscription tells the story of this time in Australian history. Some historians have described the debates resulting from the issue as being the most bitter, divisive and violent to ever consume the nation, splitting up families, communities and political parties.

 

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The exhibition covers material both for and against, showcasing impassioned posters, comics, poetry, speeches and many more. In the end, despite a huge government campaign, Australians voted against conscription – although many Australian soldiers still volunteered to participate in the war.

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What was it like living in 1920s Melbourne? Venture downstairs for an insight into the lives of the Maynard family, who lived in the basement of the Old Treasury Building.

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Mr Maynard was the superintendent of the building, in charge of security, maintenance and the cleaning staff, while Mrs Maynard took care of their eight children, whilst also preparing morning and afternoon tea for the Governor’s meetings upstairs. The family squeezed into five rooms, and you can see items and furniture perfectly preserved as they were in the old days. There’s even one of those old metal bathtubs on display!

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The basement is also where you will find the gold vaults, with real (?) gold bars encased behind glass, and this replica of a real-life giant gold nugget found in the area during the Gold Rush.

The museum is not very large, but it’s great for an hour or two of delving deeper into Melbourne’s history. Entrance is free.

OLD TREASURY BUILDING 

20 Spring St, Melbourne VIC 3000, Australia

Open : 10 AM – 4PM (closed Saturdays)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review: Shin Kee Beef Noodles @ Chinatown, Kuala Lumpur

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When it comes to good food in Kuala Lumpur, Shin Kee Beef Noodles is practically an institution. Tucked in an old colonial-style building in Chinatown, the establishment has been run by the Koon family for over 80 years. That’s basically older than Malaysia as a country. And for something to have been around for that long, you best believe they’ve got a recipe to their success.

The kitchen is at the restaurant’s entrance, so you can watch the chef in action as he boils and tosses the noodles, ladles pieces of beef and soup into each bowl, or tops off the dry noodles with a smattering of savoury minced meat.

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The restaurant space is cramped, so expect table sharing when it gets busy. There is also a small room at the back which is non-air conditioned, so it can get pretty warm. This is a strictly eat-and-go kinda place.

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The lady boss comes to your table to take your orders, and you pay once food arrives. Diners get a choice of three types of noodles – bihun, yellow mee or kueyteow – in either soup or dry form. We opted for the dry. N had beef soup, while I had the beef + meatballs. You can also get tripe. The ‘small’ (which was not very small at all) costs RM9: a fair price in the heart of KL.

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Verdict: A solid bowl of beef noodles, and I can see why people have been flocking to the place for decades. It’s hearty, it’s comforting, and it’s substantial. Most impressive were the beef balls, which were so springy you can practically use them as ping pong balls – not a trace of tendon or whatnot left.  The noodles were al dente and slathered in the savoury meat sauce.

Shin Kee fans might crucify me, but in my humble opinion, the best bowl of beef noodles still goes to another iconic decades-old beef noodle spot – Soong Kee. I simply prefer their version of meat sauce and the thinner noodles. N, however, said he liked Shin Kee better, so it’s all a matter of preference.

Better yet, try both!

SHIN KEE BEEF NOODLES 

7a, Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock, 50000 Kuala Lumpur

Telephone: 012 673 7318

Opening hours: 10.30am – 7pm (closed Wednesdays)

Exploring Phuket’s Historical Old Town District

Phuket may be known for its beautiful sandy beaches and party scene, but if you’re into culture and heritage, then Phuket Old Town is a definite must visit. Comprising several roads including Dibuk (Thai for ‘tin’), Thalang and the narrow but extremely popular alleyway called Soi Romanee, the area is a haven of old shops and hipster cafes, selling everything from artisan ice cream and drinks to cheap clothing, accessories and jewelry.

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Before it became a popular island destination, Phuket’s riches were founded in tin, and in the late 18th century, Hokkien Chinese immigrants made their way to its shores, establishing themselves in the trade centres which would later become bustling towns. As such, the architecture is reminiscent of regions in Southeast Asia with a similar ethnic heritage and past, such as Penang in Malaysia as well as Singapore. The architecture style, dubbed Sino-Portuguese, features colourful facades and elaborate decorations, blending both traditional Chinese /local elements with European touches.

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While small and narrow, Soi Romanee is perhaps the area’s most popular (and Instagrammable) street, flanked on both sides by cafes, hole-in-the-wall eateries and boutique inns.

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Apparently a great place to get ice cream (especially in Phuket’s scorching weather!) is this ice cream parlour called Torry’s.

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Also like Penang and Singapore, the area has been spruced up with large and colourful murals adorning the sides of several buildings – bringing together the old and the new.

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Crossing over to Thalang Road, which boasts the same neat and colourful buildings with shaded five-foot walkways.

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Parts of the walkway are occupied by pop up stalls selling clothing and jewellery. If you’re a fashionista, this would be a great place to get some unique pieces that you won’t be able to find back home – and at cheap prices to boot.

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Reflecting its Chinese heritage (Thailand has the largest population of overseas Chinese in the world), many of the shops here have been running for generations and still carry Chinese names. Next to swanky cafes and cool eateries sit generation-old businesses such as gold shops, optical shops and traditional medicine stores.

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There’s actually plenty to do in the area but we were pressed for time and missed out on alot of places.

Some notable spots for a half-day tour include the Thavorn Hotel Museum (as the name suggests, an old hotel turned museum), The Memory at On On Hotel (where they filmed The Beach starring Leonardo di Caprio), Thai Hua Musuem ( a museum on Chinese heritage in Phuket/Thailand), Jui Tui Shrine (a Chinese temple), Blue Elephant (where you can have cooking classes), and many more.

 

Teratak Za’ba, Negeri Sembilan – In Memory Of A National Scholar

We learn of him in history books, but ask many young Malaysians and they probably can’t tell you who Za’ba was. Which is a shame, because the contributions he made to the country and the Malay language are phenomenal.

Born Zainal Abidin Ahmad in 1895, young Za’ba displayed an affinity for languages and knowledge from a tender age. He became the first Malay to pass the Senior Cambridge test in 1915, when Malaya was still under British colonial rule. Through the years, he played the role of scholar and educator, teaching at various schools whilst writing essays. He wrote the Pelita Bahasa – a series of monographs which became the basis of the modern Malay language that we use today – and his social commentaries in newspapers and magazines contributed to the rise of nationalism, subtly influencing the way to independence. The pen is mightier than the sword, indeed.

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Za’ba was born in Batu Kikir in Negeri Sembilan. Teratak Za’ba – a museum and monument to his legacy – was opened here in 2001, to honour his memory and contributions. The museum is done to resemble a traditional Negeri Sembilan Malay house, the likes of which are difficult to find today, and is well worth a visit if you’re in the area – if not for the history then the architecture.

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The slightly curving roof hearkens to the state’s Minangkabau roots. The building sits on stilts and is made of chengal, a type of hardwood tree that is resistant to rot and weather.

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Entering the house, it feels cool, even with the scorching heat outside. Our guide explains that the first section of the home – a spacious corridor – was basically the men’s quarters, where they would eat, sleep and convene. The inner quarters were for the women, and men were not allowed in.

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Photos of Za’ba through the years – family portraits, at work, snapshots of a life well lived.

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The museum is home to some of his personal possessions, such as his trademark round glasses, watches and clocks.

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Old typewriters, phones and a dressing table complete with mirror. What has it seen?

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I will not sully these beautiful words with translation.

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Books written by Za’ba.

Although small, Teratak Za’ba is worth a visit for those who like history. It also offers a glimpse into the life of a great scholar and writer, whose writing paved the way for a better future, for the nation and its people.

TERATAK ZA’BA 

Kampong Bukit Kerdas, 72100 Batu Kikir, Negeri Sembilan

Opening hours: 9AM – 6PM

Admission is free.

Travelogue Yogyakarta: Taman Sari Water Castle

Most visitors to Yogyakarta in Indonesia will no doubt make a beeline for the ancient Buddhist and Hindu temples of Borobudur and Prambanan – but there is a lesser known attraction within the city that is well worth a visit. Located just a stone’s throw away from the Kraton (palace), Taman Sari (literally, beautiful garden) is an 18th century royal garden – once the leisure grounds for the old Sultanate of Yogyakarta.

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Spread across a large area, Taman Sari was also called the Water Castle, as its main complex featured a man-made lake – complete with artificial islands and buildings, which the royal family could reach via boat. The water has since been drained, and replaced with clusters of homes.

The East entrance (where you pay a fee for entry) might not seem very impressive, but venture in and you’ll discover meandering pathways, secret underground chambers, defensive structures and a well-preserved central bathing complex called Umbul Pasiraman, which is very popular with tourists.

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… and for good reason.

The story goes that the complex was used by the palace concubines and serving women, where they would bathe and frolic in the pools.  The Sultan would be up in the tower, observing, and if one caught his fancy, he would pick her as a companion for the night.

It’s easy to imagine how the scene would have looked like back in the day – the turqoise pools, the calming stone and greenery, the blue sky reflected in the water, the beautiful maidens.

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Moving on, we ventured past the West gate, which is more intricate than the east, decorated with floral motifs, foliage and birds.

**From this point on, it is highly recommended you get a guide from the village (which is within the chateau grounds), as the layout is extremely confusing. You might just end up wandering into dead ends, on a roof, or someone’s backyard lol. The guides are ‘volunteers’, and you’ll find many of them loitering around the area. They have a minimum fee (can’t remember how much exactly but I think it was like RM20-30) but you can pay more if you’re satisfied with your guide.

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Your guide will most probably take you through Kampung Taman, which are settlements within the royal gardens. There are about 2,700 residents living within the grounds. The narrow alleyways often feature colourful graffiti with a local flavour, like these Javanese characters.

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Some of the structures are already in ruins. Our guide led us up to a vantage point where we could see over the roofs of the settlements, which stretched out a fair distance.

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Traversing the labyrinthian complex through underground passages, we search for another photogenic area – the Sumur Gumuling underground mosque. Natural sunlight filtered in through strategic gaps, illuminating the otherwise dark tunnels.

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The mosque is, imo, one of the most unique areas of Taman Sari. A circular one-storeyed structure, it used to sit on an artificial island (before the lake was drained), and could only be reached via an underwater tunnel. The building was open in the middle, similar to a well (hence the name ‘Sumur’ (well in the Javanese language) and featured an elevated platform with four staircases, as well as various ‘windows’ surrounding it. The imam (religious leader) would stand in the center to give sermons. There is also a pool on the ground floor which was used for ritual ablution.

 

It is entirely possible to explore Taman Sari without a guide, if you like wandering and discovering things on your own – but the mosque area is notoriously difficult to find. We certainly would have missed it if not for our guide.

Entrance to Taman Sari is a cheap IDR 15,000 (USD 1.50 – RM6).

Address: Wisata Taman Sari, Jl. Tamanan, Patehan, Kraton, Kota Yogyakarta, Daerah Istimewa Yogyakarta 55133, Indonesia

Opening hours: (Daily) 9AM – 6PM