Breakfast @ Alcove Cafe, Port Campbell, Victoria

If you’re spending the night in Port Campbell on your Great Ocean Road journey, The Alcove Cafe is a nice place to grab a quick bite before you leave town. They open from 6AM daily, and the menu has gluten-free and vegetarian/vegan options.

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Like many of the buildings in this quaint seaside town, it looks and feels rustic and homely. The prices are, however, quite steep as they cater mostly to the tourist crowd.

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The interior is casual, filled with knick knacks, quirky decor and lots of fun wall art.

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One of my favourites!

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The ice cream bar wasn’t open yet as it was still early, but we could see the creamy concoctions all lined up, just begging to be tasted.

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Opted for a yoghurt bowl with berries, muesli and bananas. It was humongous, and could have easily fed two to three people.

The cafe offered a selection of pastries and bread as well at the counter, plus coffee, tea and hot chocolate.

THE ALCOVE CAFE 

34 Lord St, Port Campbell VIC 3269, Australia

Opens daily 6AM – 3PM

Make Your Own Chocolate @ Mornington Peninsula Chocolaterie & Ice-Creamery, Flinders

 

Tucked by the sea on the Mornington Peninsula, the tiny town of Flinders (population: 905) is a two-hour drive south of Melbourne. Charming and idyllic, there are virtually no tall buildings here, and the main street is a wide expanse lined with beautifully manicured lawns and quaint shopfronts, some (like the post office and general store) of which date back to the 19th century, when the town was founded.

That is not to say that there isn’t anything to do in Flinders – it’s quite the opposite. I was pleasantly surprised to find that despite being away from the city centre, there is lots to do in town for visitors, from art galleries and golf courses, to nature trails, beaches and scuba diving sites.

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If you’re a chocolate or ice cream lover, then more reason to visit as Flinders is also home to the Mornington Peninsula Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery. Opened in December 2018 by husband and wife team Ian and Leanne Neeland (who are also behind the highly popular Yarra Valley and Great Ocean Road Chocolateries), the shop was a packed with customers during our visit on a Saturday, as staff bustled about handing out free samples and introducing the best flavours. The store offers a whopping 180 different chocolate varieties!

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Aside from ready-packed boxes you can get as souvenirs, the chocolaterie also offers handcrafted artisan chocolates, which form a colourful tapestry on display – each looking prettier than the last! The team behind these mini masterpieces are European chocolatiers, and you can watch them in action at the store and get an insight into the art of chocolate making.

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Better yet, try your hand at making chocolates, by joining one of the chocolaterie’s private Chocolate Discovery Classes. While you won’t be a master chocolatier anytime soon (that takes years of hard work and diligence!) it’s a great way to learn more about the art, and also take some of the chocolates you ‘make’ home.

Our session started off with tastings, and there were a variety of flavours to sample from. I like super dark chocolates, so the single origin cocoas were right up my alley, but I also liked the floral with its sweet, flowery scent, the spicy notes of the Buderim ginger, as well as the tangy hint from the Violet Forest Berries.

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More truffles for sampling!

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Our chocolatier, a pretty French lady (whose name slips my mind – I think it was Anne) guided us to create two chocolate items – chocolate bars (which we could fill up with our favourite toppings), as well as a chocolate lollipop to decorate. It felt like play-cooking at times! For the bar, after we made the ‘base’, we had to pour the chocolate over to seal up the toppings, which was easier said than done as we had to be quick with our hands, or the chocolate would spill over.

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I have the artistic capability of a five-year old. I think some five-year olds can probably make something better than this lol. Nevertheless, we had lots of fun and we left with plenty of chocolate (and some extra, to boot).

MORNINGTON PENINSULA CHOCOLATERIE & ICE CREAMERY 

45 Cook St, Flinders VIC 3929, Australia

Opening hours: 9AM – 5PM (daily)

mpchoc.com.au

 

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7 Things To Do In Sekinchan – The Rice Bowl Of Selangor, Malaysia

Located on the far northwestern reaches of Selangor, Sekinchan is a small fishing and agricultural town that is perfect for daytrippers from KL. Known for its vast paddy fields, it is also called the Rice Bowl of Selangor. For urban folk, the laidback pace here can be a nice change from the hustle and bustle of city life.

The only way to get here is by car, as public transportation is virtually non-existent. From Kuala Lumpur, Sekinchan is approximately a two-hour drive. Part of the trip is through the expressway, but most of it takes you through small towns, scenic kampung roads and even parts of palm oil plantations. Just be ready with Waze!

Here’s a short guide to things you can do / eat / see in town:

Take Lovely Photos of the Paddy Fields (In season: Sept – Nov)

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You’ll know you’re in Sekinchan when the landscape turns into vast swathes of paddy fields, dotted with concrete buildings (these are swiftlet nests; the locals use them to cultivate birds nest for consumption in Chinese herbal medicine), scarecrows and heavy machinery. The fields are green (pre-harvest) from September to October, which is also the perfect time for photos. Some couples come all the way here just to do their pre-wedding photoshoots (getting their gowns dirty in the mud / dirt notwithstanding). December is harvest season, when the fields turn into lush carpets of gold. Make sure you come at the right season to avoid disappointment !

Visit the Paddy Gallery 

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Sitting among the fields is a large paddy processing plant that also has a couple of shops for tourists. If you think rice is just rice, be prepared to have your eyes opened: they sell all kinds, from long grained basmathi to fluffy Jasmine and chewy brown rice (in smaller packs of two kilos up to gargantuan 20 kilo portions). There is a small ‘museum’ upstairs detailing the paddy processing, but entrance is RM5 which isn’t worth it IMO as all you get are static displays. Aside from rice, you can also get other products such as noodles, belacan, snacks, homemade goods, and more.

 

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Offer Prayers at Nan Tian Temple 

Overlooking the paddy fields is an old Chinese temple dedicated to the Nine Emperor Gods, which are nine deities in Taoist belief. Our visit conicided with the Nine Emperor Gods Festival and there were awnings out front, so I couldn’t capture the exterior – but it looks extremely Chinese, down to the bright yellow/red colour scheme and the curved, tiled roofs topped with dragons.

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2-metre high joss sticks, which will be burnt as an offering to the gods

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An intricately decorated paper (?) tower in front of the main altar, with figures of deities and mythical creatures

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The main prayer hall. The wood columns look pretty old.

Even if you’re not a devotee, come and observe the architecture and the going-ons in the temple – it’s a great insight into the local way of life here.

Get A Dose Of Nostalgia At Ah Ma House

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Close to the edge of the fields you will find Ah Ma House, a bakery-cum-tourist attraction. Step into its interior to be greeted by the smell of freshly baked goodies such as their famous kuih kapit and kuih bahulu, and while you’re munching away, browse through the decor which is filled with items from yesteryears. On display here are items such as antique furniture, cabinets, analog telephones, old sewing machines, black and white TVs, vintage radios, suitcases, and even a replica of a traditional wood-fired kitchen.

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I am old enough to remember the days when we had to adjust the antennas on our TV to get better reception. lol

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Ceramic bowls and tiffin carriers were a common sight in kitchens and dining rooms back in the day, and they were often kept on glass/wooden shelves like these.

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Colourful hand made fans – perfect for cooling yourself down in the sweltering Malaysian heat

 

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Shelves lined with local products you can buy, like belacan, sauces, noodles, snacks, and more. We bought a large packet of fried shrimp crackers for RM8 which we finished in a day, lol.

Lunch Break: Tuck Into Fish Noodles At Old Friend Kopitiam

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Since Sekinchan is also a fishing village and part of it is located by the sea, the place is famed for its fresh seafood. The initial plan was to look for a seafood restaurant, but we ended up at a kopitiam called Old Friend, in the centre of town. This turned out to be a pleasant surprise, as a random order from the noodle stall (handmade noodles with fish slices) was delicious, with soft slices of fish in a spicy, peppery broth paired with al dente noodles (only RM6!)

Address: Old Friend Kopitiam, 158, Jalan Radin, Pekan Sekinchan, 45400 Sekinchan, Selangor

Indulge In Fried Goodies

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We noticed many diners with packets of what seemed to be fried goodies and located the source: a street food vendor just across the road. Business was brisk, with workers frying batches of items in a huge, oil-filled wok. There were fried prawn fritters, nian gao with yam (glutinous rice cake – it’s rare to see it outside of festivals!), sesame balls filled with red bean paste, goreng pisang (banana fritters) and more. We got a bit of everything and it did not disappoint; seasoned well, and not the least bit greasy. Should have gotten more!

Make A Wish At The Sekinchan Wishing Tree

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Done with lunch? Drive away from the town and fields to Pantai Redang, the seaside portion of Sekinchan. There stands a picturesque ‘Wishing Tree’, which was popularised by a Hong Kong TVB drama and now attracts tourists and shutter bugs who come to snap photos and make their own wishes. Just next to the old tree is a small temple where visitors can make a small donation and write their wishes on one of the red ribbons, weighted on both ends with holed coins. Once you’re done, sling it up onto the branches!

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There are many resident kitties and dogs around the area; some are friendly but always approach with caution.

Protip: Relax on one of the wooden swings under the tree and let the gentle rocking motion lull you into a nap.

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The beach itself isn’t pretty, but there are a couple of elevated huts where you can sit down and enjoy the sea breeze.

 

Siniawan Travel Guide: Attractions and Things To See & Do In The Cowboy Town Of Borneo

When it comes to travel these days, ‘hidden gems’ don’t stay hidden for very long. All it takes is one viral photo, and suddenly the hordes are descending upon the place like a swarm of camera-toting, Instagram-obsessed zombies. 

Siniawan in the Malaysian state of Sarawak, however, has largely remained ‘off the beaten path’ – although its popularity has also been on the rise. Having never heard of the place prior to my trip, I did not know what to expect. By the end of it I was absolutely taken by its rustic charm, the warmth of its people and the town’s extraordinary story of resilience and perseverance. This is, truly, a gem that needs to be seen and experienced – so I recommend visiting before it gets too commercialised.

With that, here is a list of things to see and do in Siniawan. I hope you’ll find it useful!

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Tucked by the banks of the Sarawak River, Siniawan is about 30 minutes away from Kuching and was once a thriving trade town, thanks to the region’s gold mining activities.  At its peak in the 1870s – early 1900s, it even had opium dens, theatres, hotels and brothels.

After Sarawak became part of Malaysia, improved infrastructure meant shorter travelling times – but roads had been built bypassing Siniawan, and the town lay forgotten. Refusing to give up, the townsfolk (some of whom have lived here for over FIVE generations!) decided on a revival plan – a night market. Started in 2010, the pasar malam became a success, and is now a must-visit for many travellers to Kuching, who come to dine and bask in its unique old-world atmosphere.

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Siniawan during the day. The difference is, pardon the pun, like night and day. lol. 

The main street is comprised of two rows of wooden shoplots. The buildings were constructed during the height of the town’s glory days in the 1910s. Unlike Sino-Portuguese buildings in West Malaysia, which typically sport colourful facades and elaborate decorations, the architecture here is Javanese, since it was easier to get carpenters from there via Singapore). The double-storey shops look rustic, with vertical wooden panels and unpainted fronts, earning the town it’s nickname “cowboy town”. (Doesn’t it look like the perfect place for a showdown at high noon? All it needs is a couple of tumbleweeds rolling in the wind).

1. HAVE A KOLO MEE BREAKFAST AT YONG TAI CAFE 

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Start the day with breakfast at Yong Tai Cafe, one of the few kopitiams in town that are open during the day. The shop has been in operation since 1971, and specialises in a well-loved Sarawakian Chinese dish – kolo mee (literally dry noodles). With deft movements, the shop owner expertly cooks and tosses the bouncy egg noodles dry, before placing into a bowl and topping it off with fragrant fried onions in oil and lard, a serving of minced meat and charsiew (sweet barbecued pork).

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Dine ‘al fresco’ on the walkway. Most patrons are locals and have been eating here for generations.

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There are two types of kolo mee, the original (plain) and the one in red sauce which is actually a sweet charsiew sauce. Personally, I prefer the red as I found it more flavourful. The version at Yong Tai came topped with a few pork balls, veggies and charsiew slices. The noodles were bouncy and al dente, and everything just came together really well.

Can I just say that the PORTIONS HERE ARE HUMONGOUS ? And it only costs RM3 (USD 0.72!?) per bowl what in the actual eff. I know it’s a small town and everything but you can’t even get nasi lemak for RM3 in Kuala Lumpur these days (average bowl of noodle in KL = RM6.50 – RM10, depending on area).

2. VISIT SHUI YUE GONG TEMPLE

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Walk a few hundred metres down the road and you’ll come to the town’s Chinese temple, Shui Yue Gong (Water Moon Temple) which is dedicated to the Goddess Guanyin. The temple is almost as old as the town itself, with a Qing dynasty sign hanging from one of the doors that dates back to 1886. While parts of the temple such as the compound are new and modern, the interior of the main shrine looks pretty old. The Guanyin statue on the altar was brought over from China over a century ago.

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While small, the temple is well maintained. A fresh coat of pink paint hides the temple’s age, while the beautiful gold dragons coiled around the pillars look like they were carved just yesterday.

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One of the town’s major festivals happens during Chap Goh Mei, the 15th day of the Lunar New Year, where a grand parade takes place. Departing from the temple to the town centre, the deity is taken on a procession accompanied by lion dances, music, firecrackers and performances.

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I was fortunate enough to be in town close to Gawai (Harvest Festival / Thanksgiving for the Dayak people of Sarawak), and there was a small activity going on nearby – a blowpipe contest! These weapons were used for hunting game in forests, such as squirrels, birds and wild boar, for hundreds of years. While less used today, communities in the area still practice the art, with blowpipe associations and blowpipe competitions.

The ones they used for the competition were extremely long – around 7 or 8 feet. I was amazed at how accurately they could hit the balloon targets which were about 30 metres away. Some of our group tried at the line where the asphalt ended (like what, 5 metres?) and still failed miserably lol.

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Traditional beads for sale. It was hard for me to tell them apart, but they were sorted according to colour and style – eg beads from the Bidayuh ethnic group would have a certain colour, while beads from the Iban typically featured red, black, yellow and white.

4. TAKE A STROLL AT THE SINIAWAN BUDDHIST VILLAGE (AKA KBS BUDDHIST VILLAGE) 

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The Siniawan Buddhist Village surprised me, because I had not expected to find such a beautiful place so far away from the city. The place was abuzz several months ago when Hollywood star Steven Seagal (is he a star anymore though? lol) came to visit, but otherwise, visitors can take their time wandering the massive, tranquil grounds – home to a crematorium / columbarium, function halls, rooms where you can book a night’s stay (for meditation activities, talks, etc.) and a nine-storey pagoda, easily the tallest building for miles around.

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Surrounded by greenery, the grounds feature several Chinese-style gazebos and gardens peppered with stone statues of Buddhist deities; it even has a small pond stocked with fish.

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Thankfully, we did not have to climb nine storeys to the top of the pagoda, as it had a lift (whew!). At the top, there was a beautiful statue of a thousand-hand guanyin facing four directions, while the roof was painted to look like the sky.

5. DROP BY LIU SHAN BANG SHRINE 

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There’s not much to see at Liu Shan Bang’s shrine, but it’s worth a visit for the sheer history.

So who was Liu Shan Bang? 

Liu Shan Bang was a gold miner from nearby Bau who founded the 12 kongsi (companies) that would operate the Bau gold mine, effectively making it a self-governing entity. Unhappy about taxation laws imposed by the ruling British ‘White Rajah’ James Brooke, Liu led 600 miners to attack Brooke’s mansion in the capital. Brooke escaped and his nephew Charles led an Iban force to quell the rebellion. Liu was killed. Many years later, a mining company came to the area looking to establish their operations, but the story goes that staff had horrible dreams about Liu’s restless spirit. Eventually they built a shrine over his grave, and the nightmares stopped. Today, Liu is worshipped as a local deity and has been recognised as a Sarawakian freedom fighter.

6. INDULGE IN STREET EATS AT THE SINIAWAN NIGHT MARKET

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Head back to town as the sun sets to see it literally coming to life. Stalls are setup, shutters are opened, and traders bustle about preparing for the night. The decorative red lanterns hanging from one end of the street to the other are lit, providing a picturesque backdrop for photos. With the rustic buildings flanking both sides of the street, one might almost think that they’ve taken a step back in time, if not for the plastic tables and chairs.

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Here, visitors will find all sorts of delicious and mouthwatering street food, be it Chinese, Bidayuh or Malay – the three major ethnic groups in the area. You’ll also find typical street food stuff like fried chicken, grilled seafood, grilled meats, satay, and more.

One of the must-tries here is the pitcher plant stuffed with glutinous rice – a Bidayuh specialty – but after walking up and down the street I couldn’t seem to locate it. 😦

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I did get to try the kompiah, a Fuzhou specialty which came highly recommended by the locals. It’s basically like a fluffy Chinese-style burger stuffed with tender pork and various fillings, overflowing with juices. You can easily polish off half a dozen in one go!

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A ‘stage’ where you can choose a song to karaoke to for just RM1. Cue aunties and uncles belting out power ballads at the top of their voices out of tune.

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The Chinese vibe is pretty apparent in town, seeing as how 99% of the shops are owned and run by Hakka Chinese.

7. GRAB A DRINK AT THE BIKALAN

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The only non-Chinese shop in town is The Bikalan, or ‘The Jetty’ in the Bidayuh language, which is run by a husband and wife team, Andy and Grace Newland (super nice people – I stayed at their place during my visit). Quaint and cosy, the bar-cum-bistro serves a good selection of traditional Bidayuh food, a few Hakka dishes, Western fare as well as alcoholic drinks.

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PS: RIDE A SAMPAN ACROSS THE RIVER 

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While Siniawan can be reached by car from Kuching, villagers from the surrounding areas who live across the river commute to town by sampan, a traditional boat. It was quite the experience for a city girl like me! The fare is just 0.50 cents per ride.

GETTING TO SINIAWAN 

The best way to get to Siniawan from Kuching is by car, as public transport only services town during the day, with the last bus leaving Bau at 3.20PM. Grab is the only other choice if you intend to visit the night market, costing around RM30+ one way.

Bus schedule (Bau Transport Company. Tel : 082 – 763160) :

Departure from Kch – Bau : 7:00am, 8:20am, 10:20am, 12:20pm, 1:40pm, 4:00pm, 5:10pm
Return from Bau – Kch : 5:45am, 6:40am, 8:40am, 10:20am, 12:00pm, 2:20pm, 3:20pm

ACCOMMODATION 

There is a homestay in town called Tian Xia Homestay, which is affordable but very basic. Rooms start from RM65.

 

 

 

5 Things To Do In Kuala Rompin, Pahang

Strategically located by the sea and the river, and surrounded by tropical rainforests, the town of Kuala Rompin in Pahang, Malaysia is blessed with an abundance of natural gems. The place retains vestiges of its roots as a fishing village, with many folk still making a living from the sea and the Rompin River. In recent years, the town has come to be known as a sailfish haven, drawing anglers from all over the globe during fishing season. It also makes a great base for adventurers looking to explore the Endau-Rompin National Park – one of the oldest rain forests in the world.

I was in town recently for a short trip, and while we weren’t able to visit many places, I’ve listed down some of the lesser known activities that you can add to your itinerary while in Kuala Rompin! 🙂

1 ) Visit an Orang Asli Village 

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Kuala Rompin is home to a sizable Orang Asli population, most of who make a living from agriculture and fishing. If you’re travelling in a group, you can make arrangements with some local hotels to visit a village and buy fresh produce/seafood. One of these villages is Kampung Deraman – which has its very own balai masyarakat (community hall) right next to the main road. The building is where the locals organise events such as weddings and celebrations. We were given a brief insight into the arts and culture of the Orang Asli during our visit, as they welcomed us with a traditional dance. A village artisan even taught us how to weave!

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There is a compound in front of the village where visitors will find large fish tanks housing various types of fish, shrimp and udang galah (river prawns) – a local specialty – for sale.

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A wooden shack sells fruits and forest produce.

2 ) Go Clam Picking 

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The Rompin River is the lifeblood of Kuala Rompin, cutting through vast swathes of land before flowing out into the South China Sea. Clam picking is a popular activity for tourists, with trips usually organised by hotels or tour agencies.

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A boat from the jetty takes you to shallow parts of the river during low tide, whereby you can wade into the sandy riverbank and muck around for clams. A little luck is needed, as it is not always in season! Activities usually cease by 4PM, as the tide starts to rise. If you’re lucky you might even spot shoals of silvery fish ‘jumping’ on the surface of the water. This is also a popular spot for anglers and game fishing.

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3) Go Firefly Hunting 

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Come night, you can take a larger boat from the jetty, to catch a sight of fireflies in the trees by the river bank. The trip is pretty long (approximately two hours) but worth it. The boat gets really close to the trees, so the fireflies are literally dancing around you, twinkling like hundreds of tiny fairy lights!

PS: Please do not be a social media whore and try to take flash photos so you can ‘show off’ to your friends – it kills the fireflies.

4) Chill by the ‘Mirror’ Beach & See… Dolphins!? 

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One of Kuala Rompin’s best kept secrets can be found within Lanjut Beach and Golf Resort. Book a stay and walk out to the beach in the evening to witness an incredible ‘mirror’ beach phenomenon, where the sand ‘reflects’ the sky and the clouds – blending seamlessly with the shoreline. The effect is really pretty, and wonderful for Instagram photos!

PS: The manager of the resort tells us that if you wake up before dawn and lady luck is on your side, you might even see dolphins frolicking in the water! Apparently the area is part of their territory.

5) Gorge on Fresh Seafood

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Being so close to the river and the sea, it would be foolish not to gorge on the abundance of fresh seafood available in Kuala Rompin! River and sea side seafood restos aplenty, with the specialty being udang galah (river prawns). (Above) the seafood spread at Lanjut Beach Resort. I’ve never eaten so much sotong in my life, lol

BONUS: Pineapples! 

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Rompin Integrated Pineapple Industries Sdn Bhd (Rompine) is a pineapple plantation / producer that exports pineapples to places like Japan and South Korea. We all know how stringent they are with food quality, so you best believe that the pineapples at Rompine are fresh, sweet and tasty. The factory/facilities are usually not open to the public if you’re buying one or two pineapples, but if I remember correctly they do sell any extras they have for walk-ins, if you’re buying in bulk. The pineapples were indeed extremely juicy and sweet. They are primarily exporters, so quantities are limited for local consumption.

Happy travels!

 

Review: Cheng Kee Seafood Restaurant, Sg Pelek

Sungai Pelek, located about 20 minutes from the Sepang International Circuit, seems like an unlikely place for tourists – but that was what the fam and I were there for recently, to see what the small town had to offer. First order of the day – lunch! Owing to its close proximity to the river and the sea (Sungai Pelek literally means ‘weird river’ in Malay – a name attributed to a local legend where the river flowed upstream), there are several established seafood restaurants in the area.

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Cheng Kee Seafood Restaurant is one of the larger ones in town, complete with air conditioning so diners can eat in comfort.

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No question as to what’s popular here.

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Typical Chinese seafood restaurant interior : underwater paintings, red and yellow ingot decorations, red tablecloths.

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We ordered one of the house specialties – clams in superior soup. We were impressed with the size of the clams, which were much larger than the ones you find in city restaurants, and juicy to boot. The generous amount of ginger got rid of any unpleasant odours, while the soup was clear, peppery and sweet, thanks to goji berries.

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Perfect with rice and some chopped garlic + soy sauce.

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The stir-fried sweet potato leaves were crisp and fresh.

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Deep fried tofu, egg and fish paste cakes, which were light and fluffy on the inside. Tasted excellent when dipped into a side of chilli sauce.

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Last but not least, “salad” chicken – essentially fried chicken cooked with mayonnaise. The mayo wasn’t prominent, but gave the chicken a sweetish tinge. Meat was fresh and juicy and tasted homecooked.

All in all, it was a satisfying meal that ticked all the boxes! Pricing is quite reasonable as well.

CHENG KEE SEAFOOD RESTAURANT

1416, Jalan Sungai Pelek, Kampung Baharu Sungai Pelek, 43950 Sepang, Selangor

Opening hours: Mon – Sat (dinner only, 5PM – 11.30PM), Sun (11AM -2.30PM, 5-11.30PM)

Phone: 011-2306 6880

 

Travelogue Japan: Rail Mountain Bike @ Gattan-Go! in Hida City

They say that once you know how to balance yourself on a bike, you’ll never forget how to ride it. While that’s partially true, the last time I tried re-riding one after 10+ years almost ended up in me being flattened into a pancake (read  story HERE). I was understandably wary when our guide in Japan, Mariko-San, announced in the car that we’d be heading to a ‘mountain biking’ place next. I mean, it’s already difficult for me to ride on flat ground, and now you want me to bike on a mountain!?

image credit: Japan National Tourism Organisation

…… Oh. 

Turns out it was ‘sort of’ flat land after all, and the bikes she was referring to were railroad mountain bikes – basically bikes that have been attached to a railroad track on rollers! 😀

This unique activity in the Hida region of Gifu was the brainchild of illustrious locals, who decided to convert part of the disused 2.9km track (which formerly served the Okuhida-Onsenguchi station in Hida and Inotani Station in Toyama) into a tourist attraction. And so, in 2006, the Rail Mountain Bike Gattan Go (a Japanese term similar to ‘clickety clack’ in English) was born.

Hida Takayama & Hida Furukawa

There are several ‘models’ to choose from, including family-friendly ones that have a carriage at the back for the little ones.

Since we were a group of four, I took the front with Mariko-san, and the two guys followed from the back. A safe distance needs to be kept between the bikes so the instructors let us gain some ground before releasing the next set.

Before we set off, there was a safety briefing and a brochure to read (in simple English, if you can’t understand Japanese). We also had to wear protective safety helmets. Loose items need to be stored as it will be difficult to retrieve if they fall onto the track. You CANNOT jump off or stop during the ride (kind of like the motorised jeeps in Jurassic Park – and we all know what happened when they stopped lol).

Hida Takayama & Hida Furukawa

And… off we went!

The bikes rolled faster than I anticipated! Every now and then there was a loud “CLANK!” as it went over a notch in the railroad track, but the ride was anything but bumpy. If you’re lazy to walk but would still like to enjoy the beautiful mountain scenery of Hida, I 100% recommend riding the Gattan-Go. As the wind rushes through your hair, you’ll see verdant green landscapes on both sides, sometimes passing through high ledges that offer sweeping views of the quaint rural Japanese towns below.

Hida Takayama & Hida Furukawa

A vivid red bridge spanning across a roaring river. I couldn’t stop the bike so I precariously balanced the DSLR on my arm while taking 10x shots hoping one will turn out good lol (don’t try this at home kids).

Hida Takayama & Hida Furukawa

Riding past the backyards of some homes.

Hida Takayama & Hida Furukawa

Some parts of the track passed through tunnels that cut across the mountains. The tunnels were pitch black, and I could hear rushing water in the darkness even over the loud clanks of the bike roller against the rails. We also passed by several disused stations, some of which have small shrines next to them dedicated to local deities.

Kanazawa, Japan

End of the line! We had to stop so that the staff could turn the bike in the other direction. There was a basin nearby which was filled with fresh mountain water. Cool, refreshing and sweet!

Hida Takayama & Hida Furukawa

Heading back to the starting point with more gorgeous scenery.

The entire trip took us about an hour, but it sure didn’t feel like it!

Kanazawa, Japan

This ‘tunnel’ cookie was almost too cute to eat.

Almost.

Due to Japan’s changing seasons, RMTB Gattan-Go! only operates from April to September from 9AM – 4.30PM (8 slots per day) and October to November from 9AM-3.30PM (7 slots per day).

Price is at 1000 yen per pax.

RAILROAD MOUNTAIN BIKE GATTAN GO 

〒506-1147
Azumo, Kamioka-cho, Hida City

Getting There 

The attraction is accessible via buses and taxi from JR Takayama Station or Okuhida Hot Spring Villages (55-60mins).

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Travelogue Japan: The Thatched Roof Houses of Ainokura Village, Gokayama

People often talk about visiting Tokyo and Kyoto. I’m sure they are amazing in their own right, but Japan is so much more than these two places. For those who venture off the beaten path, there are exquisite gems waiting to be discovered, hidden deep within the mountains of central Honshu.

Welcome, to Gokayama.

Kanazawa, Japan

Like something out of a painting? Yes. 

Located within Toyama Prefecture, Gokayama is a valley region surrounded by mountains – best known for its gassho-zukuri (literally, prayer hands) houses. The slanted roofs are angled at 45 to 60 degrees, designed to withstand heavy snowfall in winter. Some of these buildings date as far back as 400 years! Three villages in the area have been designated as historic treasures and are on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Due to its remote location, locals have retained much of their customs and traditions, making Gokayama the perfect place to experience rural Japanese life, one that has changed only slightly over the centuries. Most villagers still earn a living through farming and agriculture, as evident by the vegetable/terraced rice fields dotting the landscape.

Kanazawa, Japan

Breathtaking scenery. 

Kanazawa, Japan

Our day tour in a private car took us to Ainokura, the largest (and most remote) village in the area. Home to about 60 villagers, there are some 20 gassho-zukuri houses here. Some are still residences, while others have been converted into museums, inns and shops.

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There’s something invigorating about fresh mountain air – it’s so clean, it’s like air that hasn’t been breathed by any other living creature. It’s easy to see why people have ‘retreats’ organised in the mountains – the air, the clean water, the lush greenery… it does wonders for one’s wellbeing.

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What you should do in Ainokura: Take lots of pretty pictures of the homes, framed by the mountain scenery.

What you shouldn’t do: Trespass. The homes are private property.

Kanazawa, Japan

Neighbours pitch in to replace the thatched roofing every decade or so, according to our guide. The design is such that it leaves a lot of attic space, which in ancient days the villagers used to cultivate silkworms.

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There was a small shrine in the village that looked straight out of an ancient Japanese tale. Hidden in a grove, we accessed it through a traditional wooden gate (torii). Shady trees surrounded the clearing and in the middle was the wooden shrine. It was shuttered, but it looked really old and mysterious, with a bell pull dangling from the front.

Kanazawa, Japan

Kanazawa, Japan

On the right were steps leading further up the mountain.

Kanazawa, Japan

Flowers in full bloom in the village.

Kanazawa, Japan

A house verandah with children’s toys and bicycle. No gates or fences – very unlike the ‘forts’ you find in urban housing areas in Malaysia.

Kanazawa, Japan

We were pressed for time, but our guide told us the hike up to the viewpoint would be worth it – so we huffed and puffed our way up the side of the mountain (and realised we were really unfit).

Whoa. 

 

If you have a bit more time to spare, maybe stay overnight at the inn to really immerse yourself in the experience of rural mountain life, and visit some of the attractions in the area such as the museum (where you’ll get to see handicrafts such as washi paper – a popular product).

Getting to Ainokura Village

Bus: You CAN get to Ainokura by bus; it’s a stop along the bus route between Shirakawa-go (another gassho zukuri region) and Shin-Takaoka Station on the JR Hokuriku Shinkansen. The ride takes 45 minutes and 1,300 yen for one hour. Getting back might be a problem though.By car

Car: Ainokura is a 45 minute drive from Ogimachi via National route 156.