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!

DSC05986

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.

DSC05990

 

DSCF1996

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.

DSC05999

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. 

DSC06004

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. 

DSC06005

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.

DSC06015

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

DSC06027

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.

DSC06035

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.

DSC06037

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.

DSC06040

DSC06059

DSC06060

DSC06063

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.

DSC06069

 

DSC06074

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

 

The Taaras Beach & Spa Resort – Day 3: Snorkelling!

The past two days at The Taaras Beach & Spa Resort was spent stuffing my face with delicious food – so it was high time for some exercise! Woke up early in the morning and headed to the Taaras Villa along with another blogger. There was nobody there so while he took pictures for his social media, I went for a nice swim in the infinity pool. An hour later, still in swimwear, I went down to the beach and soaked in the azure blue waters.

Then it was snorkel time! After the safety briefing at the hotel, the boat took us to a spot with pretty coral reefs and lots of fish. We got some bread to feed the fish and they swarmed around us in colourful swirls.

Ignore fat face.

On the way back to the resort.

The hotel invited some guests from an arts/culture club to show us the traditional way of making Batik, which uses wax to create patterns on fabric. We also tried our hand at painting some sample pieces! 🙂

Bought several sarongs (wraps) for only RM10. 

Terengganu style keropok lekor (fried fish paste snacks) with sweet chilli sauce for an afternoon tea time snack! 🙂

Had BBQ dinner at night, and it was just R&R for the rest of the trip.

Bye Redang! 

for more info, head on to http://www.thetaaras.com

The Taaras Beach & Spa Resort Day 2 – The Taaras Villa

Second day at The Taaras Beach & Spa Resort on the scenic island of Redang, off the East Coast of Peninsula Malaysia!

Woke up early and headed to the Asean All Day Dining restaurant for a good ol’fashioned Western breakfast – sunny side up egg, baked beans, beef ham, butter on toast, chicken and egg sausages, with a glass of cold fresh milk.

Headed to the beach. The skies were a clear blue, the hills were illuminated in sunshine, and the sea was a beautiful shade of turquoise. There were guests sunbathing, and even some surfers, since the waves were still quite strong. I sat in the shade and listened to the ocean lapping against the shore, before heading back to my villa to sink into the soft bed and watch TV. Now that’s what I call a holiday.


Later in the afternoon we attended a signing ceremony between the hotel proprietor, Berjaya Group and Prima Air. Under this partnership, Prima Air will provide chartered flights in s Cessna plane that accommodates about 10 guests, directly from the Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport in Subang to Redang, three times weekly. The flights will be packaged with accomodation at The Taaras. This service is expected to start in April.

Our dinner that night was at the exclusive Taaras Villa, the most expensive accommodation available at the resort. Apparently the Princess of Jordan and HK superstar Andy Lau stayed here during their visits! 🙂 The bungalow is perched atop the hill, with expansive views of cliffs, ocean and parts of the island. The living room even has its own karaoke system.

Dining area. Guests will be privy to private chef and butler services.

Perhaps the star attraction is the 16m infinity pool, which offers gorgeous views while you’re taking a dip. I got to swim in it early the next morning (since the rest of the group weren’t there, I had the whole pool to myself!)

Exploring the five bedroom villa. The house was very big and can easily fit 10 – 20 guests. In each room there were soft beds and couches along with TVs, large closets and bathtubs.

There’s even a basic gym in the basement, complete with treadmill, exercise ball, bike machine and yoga mats.

View from one of the rooms on the first floor. 

The jacuzzi area was hidden in a vast room that looked like an art gallery, before opening up to this space with glass partitions and the tub.

The sea was a stunning dark teal/turquoise.

Our dinner that night was a traditional Malay meal – sambal squid, beef rendang, mutton kurma, fried shrimp, stir fried veggies and meat stew. Everything was excellent.

I’ll make it my dream one day to be able to afford such a place on a holiday. Not a bad thing, to dream. 😛

Review: The Taaras Beach Resort & Spa, Redang – Day 1

Back in the year 2000 (when I was still a tween and VCDs were still a thing), I watched a Hong Kong romcom called Summer Holiday.  In the movie, a materialistic Hong Kong woman (Sammi Cheng) travels to Redang island in Malaysia to claim inheritance of a resort – only to find that she can’t sell it unless the owner of the other half, an island boy played by Richie Jen, agrees to relinquish it. In true blue romcom fashion, Sammi initially tries to seduce the guy, but soon finds herself falling in love. Story was kinda blah, but I remember the setting well – a beautiful tropical paradise, with clear blue waters, soft, sandy beaches and swaying palm trees.

17 years later, I finally got the chance to visit this place on a media trip – and to a five-star luxury resort to boot. I was understandably excited setting off from Merang Jetty in Kuala Terengganu.

Our organisers definitely weren’t kidding when they said they wanted us to ‘experience’ the sea. It was the tail end of the monsoon season, so the seas were rough. The small boat, which seated 10, bounced and rolled like crazy – at points I felt my butt literally flying off the seat. Now it’s all good and fun for the first five minutes, but imagine going through that for a full 1 hour 15 minutes. The waves were high and all of us got soaked to the bone. At the end of it I was very close to puking, despite the two seasick pills I popped before boarding.

Imagine our relief when we finally pulled in to Redang Island jetty, dotted with fishing and speed boats against a backdrop of tropical hills. Hotel staff were waiting for us with towels, and we hopped onto a bus to the resort, which was about 10 minutes from the pier.

‘Taara’ is Sanskrit for Goddess of the Sea – an apt name for The Taaras Beach and Spa Resort, which is owned by Berjaya Group. The lobby fits the tropical theme, with loads of wood and delicate Malay-style carvings. Peering out from the verandah, I spotted lush greens, swaying palm trees and dozens of villas leading out to the private beach. Visitors can choose from 183 rooms and suites: some with ocean views, others with garden and cliff scenery.

Had one unit all to myself – and best part was it was just a few steps away from the beach (although the view was blocked by a few other villas :P). I entered to a cosy looking and spacious living area, complete with sofas and a work desk near the window. There was also a basic toilet at the far end. A really nice touch throughout my stay was that they replenished my fruits/cookies and also had a platter of really yummy welcome chocolates.

The room was equally spacious, with a nice and soft queen-sized bed, sliding wooden shutters, closet and the usual amenties such as coffee making facilities, clothing rack and TV. The TV was fuzzy and had a lot of static though, and there weren’t too many channels to choose from. I guess they’d rather you go outside and enjoy the ocean breeze rather than be cooped up in your room all day.

Note: The Wifi at the resort is bad. I mean, yes, a beach getaway is about disconnecting from it all, but it would be nice if I could have sent work emails without having to use my data. Digi internet reception was fair.

The tub was so fancy it had three taps which I spent an eternity trying to operate because I couldn’t get it to adjust to the right temperature. They also provided bath salts so I could pretend I was in a real spa.

My villa was super close to the pool. Which, unfortunately, I didn’t manage to use during my stay. They had these fun, giant inflatables of swans and unicorns.

After the seasickness subsided, I was feeling ravenous. Lucky for us lunch was already served at the Asean All Day Dining area – a cosy restaurant with views of the pool and the beach beyond. There was a nice selection of local and international cuisine, along with dessert, appetisers and fresh fruits.

Cold cuts/salads, bread.

Noodle station where they cook your customised bowl of noodles to order. The tom yum soup was not up to par, so I abandoned my bowl.

(Right) Starting off with some cold cuts and salad. The meats were good. Moving on to the mains (left), the pasta was al-dente, with the carbonara sauce thick, rich and creamy without being cloying. Had it with stewed lamb (tender and not gamey), and curry chicken.


After lunch, we were taken to the Redang Island Resort nearby; another place run by Berjaya Group that caters to a mid-end crowd.

No private beach, but they have pretty good views too.

After the quick visit, back to The Taaras for some free and easy. I took the chance to head to the beach. The sky was cloudy, like it was going to rain soon, so the pictures didn’t turn out so well.

Dinner that night was at the Beach Brasserie; fittingly located just next to the beach where guests can watch the ocean waves lapping against the shore and the sunset. While live music played, we tucked into our course meal.

First up: appetiser of seared tuna, still pink on the inside, served with greens and balsamic vinaigrette.

The soup was hearty and warming, a thick and rich pumpkin puree with salty toast.

Clearing up the palette with a refreshing berry sorbet tart.

Our main of the night was fragrant rice and tender chicken in a mushroom sauce and a side of firm, white fish. The meal was good but after a long day, I was practically asleep on my legs and excused myself early to go to bed. Fell asleep as soon as my head hit the covers.

More to come!

Kota Kinabalu – Of Sunsets, Rain and Pisang Goreng Cheese

I’m lucky to have been to a lot of places. The UK, the US, parts of Southeast Asia… so it’s embarrassing to admit that I’ve never been to East Malaysia. Living near Kuala Lumpur, the central hub of the Peninsula, there was little reason for me to venture there. Recently I had to travel Kota Kinabalu for work, so it was a good time to play tourist in my own country…

20161208_140233-tile

Flight via Malaysia Airlines took close to three hours. They served decent airline food – rice with boiled vegetables and ginger fish with a side of peanuts and water. Juices were also available on request.

20161208_173710-tile

It was evening by the time we checked in at Le Meridien KK, just across the road from the Filipino Market. Here, visitors will find all sorts of local delicacies, produce and snacks such as fish crackers, amplang and kueh cincin.

20161208_173713-tile

It started raining cats and dogs almost as soon as we got to the market, but the PR guy I was with wanted to get Pisang Goreng Cheese (fried bananas topped with cheese) from a food court about a kilometer down the road. We decided to brave the rain with flimsy umbrellas, but had to stop at the nearby Oceanus Mall because we were soaking wet.

20161208_181222-tile

The mall seemed sad and empty in the evening. There weren’t many patrons and most of the shoplots were empty. We bought socks to replace our soaking wet ones. While strolling around, we heard a shout, a loud bang, and next thing we knew a huge gush of water came pouring down from the upper floors. Security guards rushed over.. turns out a panel under the escalator gave way.

20161208_180658-tile

The rain eased a little. We were privy to a beautiful sunset view at the mall’s ocean front, where boats were docked for the night.

20161208_180642

20161208_183015-tile

Finally made it ! Pisang Goreng is a well-loved Malaysian snack, similar to the Filipino banana cue. A few years ago some genius decided to put shredded cheese on top, and this simple addition resulted in a popularity boom. The version here uses generous amounts of savoury, stringy cheddar, which does wonders for the crunchy battered bananas. It was also drizzled over with some syrup for added sweetness.  Worth the walk in the rain!

More of KK to come. 🙂

 

 

Southernmost Point of Phuket – Promthep Cape

20151107_100300

Promthep Cape is a very popular place for sunset photos on Phuket Island, and is located at the southernmost tip – about 40-50 minute drive from Patong Beach.  Even so, the place offers equally beautiful views in the daytime, surrounded by hilly green slopes, swaying palm trees and windmills in the distance.

SAM_0880-tile

There isn’t much to do here other than take photos, but just to look at the blue sea, which seems to stretch on into the sky, is worth a visit. 🙂 Can’t be denied it’s a touristy place – there was a busload of Chinese visitors when we stopped by.

SAM_0865-tile

SAM_0862-tile

There’s a cute island nearby shaped like a half-submerged tapir. 🙂

20151107_100632-tile

The Asian Elephants are revered as national symbols of Thailand, so it was natural that there would be a shrine dedicated to the majestic creatures. The carvings were painstakingly created out of hard wood, and draped in fresh flowers. Visitors can also make offerings of joss sticks to the shrine deity.

20151107_100911-tile

SAM_0889-tile

Roosters are also a common decoration on altars. I asked our guide, Lek, on what they symbolised. “Virility,” he said. “And manhood.”

SAM_0891-tile

After taking photos at the cape area, you might want to drop by the lighthouse. Made from smooth, grey marble, the lighthouse is small but interesting. Shoes have to be taken off before going in.

SAM_0898-tile

Inside are a few exhibits on old items that were used in the lighthouse, such as oil lamps and compasses.

SAM_0894-tile

The sky suddenly turned dark after we climbed to the top of the lighthouse. Then it started raining, so we had to run back to the car. 😦

The drizzle lasted for a short while. By the time we got to our lunch spot, the skies had cleared again. We stopped at a restaurant recommended by our guide – basically a nicely constructed wooden shop perched by the side of the hill. There’s no air conditioning and it’s a bit humid, but the views are well worth it.

20151107_131126-tile

See what I mean?

SAM_1007-tile

One can’t come to Thailand and not have Tom Yum! Well, we do come across tom yum often in Malaysia, but we wanted to try an ‘authentic’ version. While it was yummy, it wasn’t very different from the ones we get back home. Pieces of squid, bouncy shrimp,and sliced button mushrooms swam in an orange broth. Leek, ginger, tomato and onions gave it that sour, tangy flavour tom yum is so famous for – making it super addictive to go with rice.

SAM_1008-tile

We ordered a stir-fried dish of pork with garlic. This was tasty, as the pork was tender and flavoured really well with garlic oil and spring onions. I wished the portion was bigger though, it was only a small handful and the price was steep.

20151107_131852

For myself, I ordered stir-fried noodles, which was loaded with baby corn, veggies, and seafood. Taste-wise it was alright, but nothing distinctly Thai. In fact, it tasted a lot like Cantonese stir-fried.

20151107_131528-tile 20151107_131147-tile

Forgot the name of the restaurant, but it’s a wooden restaurant, clean and painted green.

Promthep Cape is worth a visit for the views, even though it is far from other attractions on the island. If you’re going to the must-see place in Phuket (The Big Buddha), chances are you’re going to pass by it anyway so why not?

Beautiful Island Views @ Ya Nui Beach and Karon Viewpoint, Phuket

It was a beautiful Saturday morning when H and I set off for our tour of Phuket, Thailand. Our driver, Lek, picked us up from our hotel in Patong and from there it was a 40 minute drive to the south of the island.

The first stop of the day was a quiet beach called Ya Nui. We almost missed it, if not for the glimpses of azure blue water and sandy white peeking among the trees.

SAM_0857-tile

There was a rocky outcropping in the southern end of the beach. The beach itself stretches about 300ms or so, with crystal clear and blue water. There were also some food and drink stalls, shops renting snorkelling gear and the customary Reggae Bar.

Net searches say that the place is quite busy during peak periods, but it was quiet and tranquil during our visit (November- just after rainy season). Some families were out basking in the sun on beach mats, or playing in the shallow water. In the distance is an island called Koh Keyao Noi. 

SAM_0860-tile

Fishing boats and some water sports like kayaking and speed boats.

20151107_095153-tile

I like how the beach is C-shaped, sheltered by soft, sloping green hills on both sides. The sand was fine and warm. Glad I brought slippers!

20151107_095145-tile

We didn’t go into the water because we still had to visit other places and I didn’t have a change of clothes… but the waves sure looked inviting.

20151107_094937-tile

After admiring the views for a short while, we hopped onto our car again and headed to Karon Viewpoint, a very famous viewpoint up on the hill.

20151107_092626-tile

In Thai, the place is called ‘Koh Sam Haad’, or ‘Hill of Three Beaches.’ There is a viewing platform and a gazebo where you get amazing views of the island’s west coast. True to its name, visitors will get to see the three bays, which are shaped like a fork – Kata Noi Beach, Kata and Karon beach.

12208823_10154489730649152_3813126698216915056_nSAM_0851-tile

Getting There 

Not accessible by bus. You can get a tuktuk to take you up, but the roads are hilly and narrow.. so your best bet is to hire a private driver or taxi. For those driving, the viewpoint is on the main road connecting Rawai and Kata. Look out for a big gazebo on the side of the road.  Admission is free.

Travelogue Penang: Fort Cornwallis, Georgetown

Fort Cornwallis was established in 1786 and was named after the British Governer-General in India, Charles Cornwallis. Although called a fort, it has never engaged in battle. It is the largest and most intact surviving fort in Malaysia and was built by the British East India Company to protect the island from pirates and any possible attacks from the neighbouring state, Kedah. The walls are built with a reddish-brown brick, and there are decorative canons surrounding the perimeter.

SAM_3368

Entrance.

SAM_3371

Sir Francis Light, founder of Penang.

SAM_3381

The fort is divided into several sections, including the main courtyard, some cubby-hole-like structures which used to be prisons, ramparts for canons, and the wall on top where visitors can stroll through. There is also an ammunition room, which was built to be very cooling, to house gunpowder. We hid in there for a few minutes for a brief respite, because the sun was merciless.

SAM_3380

SAM_3404

 

SAM_3407

The biggest and nicest cannon within the fort is the Seri Rambai, which has made a long journey to be here. Cast in 1603, the greyish blue cannon was a gift from the Dutch to the Sultan of Johor. While fighting, the Portuguese (who colonised Malaya from 1511 until the Dutch took over) gained possession of Seri Rambai and took it to Java, where it sat for a long time and was later given to Acheh and Kuala Selangor before finally being seized by the British and placed at the fort.

SAM_3408

Fort Cornwallis is not terribly large and there aren’t that many things to do within, but it’s still a nice place to visit, especially if you love history.

Entry is RM10.

FORT CORNWALLIS

Jalan Tun Syed Sheh Barakbah, George Town, 10200 George Town, Pulau Pinang

Opening hours: 9AM – 10PM

SAM_3410

While you’re at it: Nearby is the Queen Victoria Clock Tower, built to commemorate her Diamond Jubilee in 1897. As you can see from the photo, there are local elements to it like the big yellow ‘bulb’ on top which is influenced by Moorish designs and is commonly seen on mosques.

SAM_3412