Brutalist architecture is characterised by functional, ‘soulless’-looking buildings, which often incorporate raw concrete and massive, monolithic designs with rigid, block-like shapes. The style was especially popular in the Soviet Union and its former allied countries from the 1960s to 1980s. Over the years, brutalism fell out of favour due to its association with totalitarianism and its cold, unwelcoming appearance — but the style has been seeing a comeback in the last decade, albeit with softer features and fixtures.
Tamarind Square in Cyberjaya seems to be one of these places drawing inspiration from a hipper, more modern version of brutalism, and industrial architecture. Developed by Tujuan Gemilang, the commercial development was intended to promote a ‘tropical retail and office experience’, and is arranged in an 8-figure courtyard with a ring road circulating the premises.
On their own, the buildings might have looked austere and clinical, but the impact is offset by beautifully landscaped plants. Here you will find curtains of green draped over the side of metal walkways and staircases, and a cooling stream runs through the centre of the courtyard, which is lined with shrubs.The greenery is in stark contrast to the square’s raw concrete floors, stone pillars and exposed brick. Personally, it gives me a feeling of an abandoned place reclaimed by nature — and it’s easy to feel you’ve been transported someplace else, especially when there aren’t many people around.
Walking tour here:
Tamarind Square is spread across several blocks, with most of the shops concentrated on the lower floors of Block A. Aside from chic cafes and eateries, visitors will also find retail outlets selling clothing, eyewear and shops providing beauty and wellness services. The block is centred around a courtyard filled with plants and two-storey “stand-alone” shops. These are not connected to other shops within Block A, but can still be traversed via the ground floor and elevated walkways on the first floor. Pictured above is a shop called The Botanist (they serve artisan brewed coffee and handmade baos), which I’ve wanted to try for the longest time but unfortunately couldn’t on this particular visit. Other noteworthy cafes in the area include Herbs and Butter (Asian and Western fusion), Pastribella Bakeshop (cakes), Alcea Cafe (coffee spot) and Book Barter Cafe (they have book shelves where you can read while you sip on drinks).
The layout of the place is such that you can round a corner and discover a ‘hidden’ nook, or staircases leading to your next adventure.
Not all of the offices and retail spaces are occupied, which lends to the ‘abandoned’ vibe. But it’s good news for architectural photographers – you can basically take your time photographing and exploring without having to worry about crowds getting in your shot!
I come to Tamarind Square mainly for BookXCess, which at 3,000 square metres, is the largest bookstore in Malaysia. Prior to the pandemic, it was also open 24 hours, so you could come for a spot of book-shopping if ever insomnia hits (is it just me?) Keeping to the theme, the store’s design is similarly industrial (it was apparently part of the car park — so you can see pillars with signs on them and yellow lines on the floor).
GETTING TO TAMARIND SQUARE CYBERJAYA
It’s best to drive or take a Grab, as public buses are few and far between, and do not stop directly at the Square. The nearest bus hub is the Cyberjaya Transport Terminal, 2 kilometres away. Driving, Tamarind Square is accessible via the MEX Highway from Kuala Lumpur, or if you’re coming from Puchong, the SKVE.
Tamarind Square, Cyberjaya
Tamarind Bldg Rd, Cyberjaya, 63000 Cyberjaya, Selangor
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At first glance, Tanjung Sepat looks like any sleepy fishing town – boats docked by the river mouth, narrow roads flanked by wooden homes, quaint flower gardens and vegetable patches. Venture further in to Lorong 4, however, and you’ll find a bustling area where you can find all sorts of delicious delicacies, from handmade paus to local snacks.Villagers have made the area into a food street of sorts, with their homes doubling as food stalls. Some offer seating, while others sell snacks that you can get for takeaway.
Tanjung Sepat is famous for its pau (buns) – and there are two popular places to get them. One is Mr Black Handmade Pau, which is closer to the centre of town; the other is Hai Yew Hin, located at Lorong 4. The shop is a nondescript wooden building, but you can easily find it by looking out for the long line of patrons spilling out onto the road. Their signature is mui choy bao (pork with Chinese mustard), sang yoke bao (pork chunks with egg), vegetable bun, as well as various baos with sweet fillings such as red bean.
Tried the sang yoke bao when I got home; it did not disappoint! I enjoyed its light and fluffy texture. The egg and pork was filling as well.
If you want to have your buns fresh out of the steamer, you can dine in at the coffeeshop across the road. They also sell loads of snacks such as fried crab rolls, shrimp fritters and fishballs.
HAI YEW HIN
Address: 405, Lorong 4, Off, Jalan Besar, Pekan Tanjung Sepat, 42800 Tanjong Sepat, Selangor (opening hours: 1PM – 6PM (Mon-Fri), 10AM – 6PM (Sat – Sun)
Next to the pau place is a store selling pastries such as tarts and biscuits, which are made fresh in house. It’s easy to be enticed by the smell of baked goods as you walk past the shop, and you’ll get to see the store assistants in action as they expertly pack up kaya puffs, lou por beng and egg tarts neatly into plastic containers.
Another must-try in the area is coffee from Kwo Zha B. This small but charming kopitiam is run by 3rd generation coffee roasters, and is quite popular – there are pictures of food show hosts and celebrities adorning one side of the wall. The coffee beans are locally sourced from a nearby village and roasted with sugar, margarine and salt – creating a deliciously smooth and rich flavour.
Perfect for a hot day! You can add a scoop of ice cream for extra oomph. Kwo Zha B also sells their coffee in powder form so you can make your own drinks at home.
KWO ZHA B
Address: No. 15, Medan Selera Lorong 3, Tanjung Sepat, 42800, Selangor (Open daily 10.30AM – 4.30PM)
If you still haven’t gotten your fill of cold desserts, walk a bit further to Jalan Sekolah’s Hin Leong, which has great cendol. They offer several flavours, including the traditional one with green cendol and red bean, as well as pumpkin and durian.
The inside is air conditioned, so you can escape the sweltering afternoon heat. There are other snacks for sale as well.
The traditional cendol is good, and the chewy rice flour jelly has a satisfying texture. If you like flavours like salted caramel, you’ll enjoy the pumpkin cendol, which has a salty aftertaste that balances surprisingly well with the rich coconut milk. I like that they serve the cendol in coconut husks – more sustainable and environmentally friendly, less mess and easy to clean !
HIN LEONG TRADING
Address:359, Jalan Sekolah, Pekan Tanjung Sepat, 42800 Tanjong Sepat, Selangor (Open daily 10.30AM – 5.30PM)
With state borders reopened and regulations eased, the government has urged Malaysians to help boost domestic tourism by travelling local (following SOPs, of course)! Heeding this call, the fam and I decided to go for a short day trip to Tanjung Sepat, located on the fringes of Selangor, to feast on seafood and check out some attractions. I’ve been here a few times (you can read about what to do in town here) – so I was pleasantly surprised to find that there are some places I missed out on, like the Kuan Wellness Eco Park.
The park was founded as an ecotourism attraction, in addition to being a birds nest business, which is a booming industry in Malaysia. In Chinese culture, birds nests created by swiftlets (using solidified saliva) are considered a delicacy, and they are eaten for their purported health and beauty benefits.
The main building is a 3.5-storey swiftlet house, the ground floor of which doubles as a visitor centre. Traditionally, swiftlet nests are collected from caves, but these days, swiftlet houses (rumah toko) are becoming increasingly popular. These are enclosed concrete structures meant to emulate the dark, warm environment of a cave.
The museum is not big, but the exhibits are educational. There’s a mini theatre where you can watch a documentary on birds nest harvesting, how to differentiate the different types of birds nest, what to look out for when picking out one for consumption, etc.
Structure of a rumah toko.
Running a swiftlet house is more than just having a building – there are multiple factors to consider including pest, water quality and bacterial control. Pests such as rats and certain insects, as well as predators like owls can snoop in and destroy the swiftlet population, so keepers have to be vigilant to ensure that the swiftlets are protected, there is no contamination and it yields the best results. Typically it takes six weeks before the nests can be collected, as you can’t harvest them if there are young swiftlets within.
Samples of birds nests. Sometimes you get stuff like faeces, feathers, mold, broken nests, etc.
Top grade birds nest are usually pure white, with minimal breakage and contamination. Previously, ‘blood’ nests – nests that are tinged red – were much sought after, as it was believed that the red colour came from the blood in the saliva of exhausted swiftlets hurrying to finish their nests.These blood nests fetched a very high price, sometimes much more than regular birds nest. We now know that the red likely comes from exposure to nitrites (in caves or the swiftlet houses), and can actually be harmful.
I mean the idea of eating bird saliva is probably quite gnarly to some, but why anyone would wanna eat bird blood vomit (and pay 10s of 1000s of dollars!) is beyond me lol.
Bottled products for sale. Birds nest is usually sweetened with rock sugar. Sometimes they can also include other ingredients such as jujubes (red dates).
Despite its purported health benefits, science has never really backed birds nest as a health food, although those who swear by it will tell you otherwise.
Aside from the museum, there is also a mini zoo of sorts within the park, which has a RM5 entry fee. I do not recommend visiting this, as the enclosures are poorly maintained and the animals are unkempt. In fact there was a dead bird in one of the cages, and the other birds were taking turns doing something we shall not write about in this family friendly post @-@. The caretaker removed the poor thing after my mom alerted him, though.
Rabbit enclosure. You can go in to feed / play with the rabbits. They looked dirty and some of the ones that were in cages had sores and wounds, with patches of fur falling out. Not good.
At least the fish looked okay.
A nice building for photos. The inside has a small shop selling organic products. Next to it is another building with a nostalgia theme, selling snacks and children’s toys.
Cafe area where you can order birds nest soup and other snacks.
An outdoor display of vintage cars.
Overall, Kuan Wellness Eco Park is a place you can consider visiting if you’re in Tanjung Sepat, although I wouldn’t drive all the way here just for it. The birds nest exhibits are interesting and educational, but the mini zoo needs some serious upkeep.
KUAN WELLNESS ECO PARK
408, Tanjung Layang, Kampung Batu Lapan, 42800 Tanjong Sepat, Selangor
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again – I have a love-hate relationship with Manila.
On one hand, I love how culturally rich and historical it is, with its museums, churches and art galleries (And Jollibee, of course!). On the other, I’m not a fan of its insane traffic, the pollution, and the fact that its one of the most densely populated cities in the world. It’s extremely difficult to find a quiet space.
Having been here several times, I often get friends asking me if Manila is worth visiting (for many Malaysians, the Philippines is not as popular as other S/E Asian destinations like Thailand or Indonesia – and if they do visit, it’s usually to Boracay). My answer is always “It depends on what you like.” If you’re thinking the type of packaged cultural offerings you often get in Bali or Chiang Mai, or a beach getaway (because Manila is by the sea right? lol), then you will be disappointed. Manila is not a place to ‘get away from it all’. But if you’re up for a bit of urban adventure in a chaotic and colourful city…then Manila has a certain charm.
While quarantine restrictions are still in place due to COVID, that doesn’t stop you from planning for your next adventure. Since June 24 marks Manila Day – commemorating the 449th anniversary when Manila was proclaimed as Spain’s capital city in the Philippines – I’ve made a list of my favourite places to visit! For those who have never been to Manila, this will give you a good idea of what to expect.
If you’re new to Manila, Intramuros is undoubtedly the best place to learn about the city’s rich history. Dating back to the late 1500s, this old walled city has walls that are at least two-metres thick and six metres high, and is home to many historical landmarks, from churches and gardens to old mansions and museums. You can walk around the impressive stone ramparts, some parts of which have cannons on them, or ride around in horse-drawn carriages called kalesa.
SAN AGUSTIN CHURCH
One of my favourite places to visit in the area is the San Agustin Church, which was founded as a monastery by Augustinian monks. Part church, part museum complex, the building has a sad and haunting beauty, with austere stone hallways and sombre oil paintings. This is in stark contrast to the church proper, which features stunning architecture rivalling the grand churches of Europe. There are also galleries filled with religious artefacts and even a crypt. If you’re a history nerd like me, a visit to San Agustin is a must.
BALUERTE SAN DIEGO / SAN DIEGO GARDENS
The San Diego Gardens is one of those rare oases in Manila that offer a quiet respite, with tranquil European-style lawns and fountains that make it popular as a wedding photoshoot venue. The Baluerte San Diego, a small fort within the gardens, is the oldest structure within Intramuros. Its purpose was to ensure a clear view of the place and prepare against invaders. Back in the day it had all the facilities: courtyard, water supply tank, lodging and workshops – but all that remains of what must have once been a thriving fort are bare brick and stone.
The story of Jose Rizal fascinates me. I am no revolutionary, but as a writer, there is something very moving about how Rizal’s writing set a fire in the hearts of the Filipino people that eventually led to their fight for freedom against their Spanish oppressors. His story is a true embodiment of how the pen is mightier than the sword.
Fort Santiago is where Rizal was housed before his execution in 1896, and visitors to the fort will see a pair of bronze footprints embedded in the ground and leading out to the gate – said to retrace Rizal’s last footsteps. Inside the fort, you will also find a shrine/museum dedicated to this Philippine National Hero, which contains various memorabilia including poetry pieces, letters he wrote to family and friends, replicas of sculptures, paintings and more.
PLAZA SAN LUIS
One of the items on my bucket list is to visit Vigan, a town known for its Spanish colonial architecture. In Manila, you have Plaza San Luis, a complex that contains five houses, a museum, theatre, hotel, souvenir shops and eateries. Since Intramuros was nearly levelled during the war, many of the old homes were destroyed, and the homes here have been replicated to represent different eras in Filipino-Hispanic architecture. The overall colonial feeling of the place – with its quaint courtyards and staircases – makes it easy to believe that you are peeking through a window in time. You can almost believe that some rich young ladies in traditional Filipinianas, giggling behind their fans in the summer heat while out for an afternoon stroll, are just about to round the corner.
This cathedral was rebuilt a whopping eight times – it kept getting destroyed by fires, earthquakes and whatnot. While the architecture is not as grand as St Agustin, I like the stained glass art that it has, as well as the replica of Michelangelo’s La Pieta in which Mary cradles the broken body of Christ.
A short distance away from Intramuros is Rizal Park, one of Manila’s few green areas. Like many old parts of Manila, it teems with history – hundreds of nationalists were executed here during Spanish rule, including Jose Rizal. It is fitting then, that the Philippine Declaration of Independence from America was read in this spot, and that the park was named after the revolutionary himself. When Pope Francis visited the Philippines and conducted a mass at the park, six million people turned up – that’s 1/5 of Malaysia’s population! While I wouldn’t say Rizal Park is the best park I’ve ever been to (litter is a problem), I think it’s a great place to visit if you’re sick of Manila’s endless malls. There are a few smaller parks within like the Nayong Filipino which are nice to explore.
NATIONAL MUSEUM OF ANTHROPOLOGY
With it’s tall, white-washed Corinthian columns and wooden doors, the grand-looking National Museum of Anthropology (aka Museum of the Filipino People) is hard to miss and is just a stone’s throw away from Rizal Park. Part of the National Museums of the Philippines, it houses the anthropology and archaeology divisions, spanning five floors. Coming from Malaysia where we have pretty lame museums (sorry, got to call a spade a spade), I was blown away by the quality of Manila’s major museums. The quality of the exhibits, as well as how they are arranged (with sections dedicated to indigenous art and culture, the history of the Philippines during the colonial era, etc.) offer interesting insights into the development of modern Filipino society.
NATIONAL MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS
Filipinos are artistic people – there’s even a stereotype about how all Filipinos are good at singing and dancing (these people have obviously never met my husband) – and art has always been a way for the people to express themselves, even in times of oppression.
The National Museum of Fine Arts, which is housed in the former Legislative Building, is a testament to this creativity and resilience, with works by national artists such as Juan Luna, Félix Resurrección Hidalgo and Guillermo Tolentino. In fact, when you walk in, the first thing you will be greeted with is an almost floor-to-ceiling work of Juan Luna Y Novicio’s Spoliarium – possibly one of the Philippines’ most popular pieces of art. The gallery is filled with artistic treasures, most of which reflect the country’s European-influenced past, and there are pieces that are so intricate and detailed, you can’t help but marvel at the level of craftsmanship that went into creating them. It’s definitely a place that you can get lost in for hours.
NATIONAL MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY
Another must-visit is the National Museum of National History, which has a very picturesque central court that boasts a structure called the DNA Tree of Life, as well as loads of interesting exhibits on nature and geology in the Philippines. There are sections dedicated to botany and entomology, marine life, mangroves and more. Even if you’re not into natural history, the architecture of the building alone is worth dropping by for.
I try to visit the local Chinatown whenever I visit a foreign country. Idk, call it a subconscious need to reconnect with my roots or whathaveyou, lol.
Manila’s Chinatown, Binondo, is the oldest in the world, dating back to 1594. Its narrow, chaotic streets, with its haphazard signboards and buildings, can feel claustrophobic, but it has a charm of its own. What I like about Binondo? The food. There are legendary establishments here that have been in the same family for generations, such as Eng Bee Tin – known for their hopia (a type of pastry) and tikoy (sticky rice cake – in Malaysia we call it niangao). If you’re here, look out for a shop called Ling Nam, which serves mami noodles (plain or with pork asado) – I stumbled across this gem purely by chance. There are many restos around the area that I haven’t had the chance to try yet, so I’m looking forward to another visit!
*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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The aviary allows you to walk freely amongst birds, like flamingoes. They seem very used to human presence.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
*This post is part of my Euro-tour series. I’m clearing up some very old travel posts, some of which were migrated from another site.
Guten Tag! Germany has one of the prettiest landscapes I have seen so far, with its vibrant colours that seem fit to burst out of every leaf, its cloudless blue skies and sapphire blue rivers. Our next stop on our itinerary was the beautiful town of Heidelberg. Surrounded by rolling green hills perched with castles and overlooking the River Rhine, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a place more picturesque than this.
As we approached Heidelberg in our bus, we were greeted by the most famous landmark in the area – Heidelberg Castle – which majestically overlooks the town and the flowing waters of the Rhine. Originally built in the 13th century, the castle has been destroyed and rebuilt several times. Although it is relatively small in comparison to some other European castles, nobles and kings once called this castle home as they stared out at their surrounding lands. In the 17th to 18th centuries, as the ruler of the area moved the court to a newer, grander castle, Heidelberg Castle fell into disarray, parts of its stone quarried for other buildings. It decayed even further during the French period, when most of Northern Europe was controlled by the Napoleonic French government, with townsfolk looting the castle for wood, stone and other materials.
Ironically, it was a French count – Charles de Graimberg – who saved the castle from falling into further disrepair, serving as its warden and living for a while in the building’s Glass Wing where he kept an eye out for looters. His work with the castle, which he commissioned for painters and writers to document (the olden-day equivalent of Instagram/ travel blog marketing, I should think) eventually drew interest from many tourists to visit Heidelberg. Even famed American writer Mark Twain wrote about the castle and its town.
Another major landmark here is the Old Bridge (Alte Bruecke), which connects the old part of town to newer establishments. Built in the late 1700s with sandstone, it is an example of a classical stone bridge building and spans the Neckar, a tributary of the Rhine river. We alighted at the base and proceeded to the bridge for photos.
It was my first time seeing such a deep blue river, disturbed only by occasional boats slicing through the surface like knife through butter. The sky, which was cloudless, seemed to stretch into an infinite horizon, while the banks were green and full of lush vegetation, lined with colourful, square-shaped buildings. I absolutely would not mind living here for the rest of my days, lol.
At one end of the bridge is a large arch, signifying the entrance to the old town. Originally part of the town’s wall, the two black helmets were later added on in 1786 when the bridge was built.
One of the most prominent statues on the bridge is a monkey holding a mirror. Records indicate that such a statue existed as early as the 15th century, but the original disappeared during the Nine Years War of the 17th century, fought between Louis XIV of France and a European coalition of the Holy Roman Empire. The current statue was only put up in 1979. You can put your head inside the monkey’s helmet-like hollow. If you rub the mirror, local legends have it that it will bring you good luck, and if you rub its fingers, it will ensure that you will return to Heidelberg someday! Next to the monkey are some bronze-cast mice, which are reported to bring fertility.
As you walk through the archway and into the town proper, one of the first buildings to greet visitors is the Town Hall (Heidelberg Rathaus). With its many windows and flowery plants lining the edges, it looks more like a posh hotel than a town hall. The building is located within the Marketplace, which is littered with cafes and small tables and chairs for tourists, where you can grab a coffee and dine al fresco.
Heidelberg is a touristy town. During our visit, it was crowded with people from all over the world and I could hardly see any locals, except those manning the stores.
A little history – modern Heidelberg has ‘existed’ at least since the 5th century. Did you know that the Filipino freedom fighter, Joze Rizal, lived and studied here for many years? He attended the prestigious University of Heidelberg, then considered a leading university in Europe.
We didn’t have a lot of time in town – just a couple of hours – which we spent wandering the streets and popping into whatever buildings seemed interesting. The houses are colourful and uniform, with an occasional turret or castle-like structure.
There is a large church in the centre of town called the Church of the Holy Spirit, its turret towering over everything in town. We took some pictures outside, but since there was a crowd waiting to go in, we opted to spend more time in a smaller church that we stumbled upon in one of the alleys instead.
The Jesuit Church (Jesuitenkirche) has an attractive, rosy pink facade. It was erected in the 1700s as a Catholic church and was originally built in a baroque style, although this was not preserved. All that remains of the original is a central altar painting. If you’re into history, the church houses a museum of sacred and liturgical art with objects from the 17th to 19th centuries, including treasures of gold and silverware.
The inside is so well kept it looks brand new.
The central altar painting.
We only had a couple of hours to spend in Heidelberg, before it was time to bid adieu to this lovely, historic town. I touched the monkey statue’s fingers, so I’m hoping I’ll be able to visit again someday!
Travel tips: The nearest international airports to Heidelberg are Frankfurt and Stuttgart. From Frankfurt, trains run regularly to Heidelberg and take approximately an hour.
May 7 marks Wesak (or Vesak) Day, which commemorates the birth, enlightenment and death of Gautama Buddha, a central figure in Buddhism. It is one of the most important days for Buddhists around the world. Unlike Christmas, which has a set date each year, Wesak falls on the full moon of the month of Vesakha according to the ancient Indian calendar, which is typically between April and May.
While Wesak is celebrated in many different ways, with some practices intertwined with the local culture, one common aspect of the festival is paying homage to Buddha and observing the Buddhist precepts of kindness to all living beings. As such, Buddhists will usually eat vegetarian food, go to temples to offer prayers, practice loving-kindness and donate to charity. Many temples around the world will also organise talks on dharma (the Buddhist equivalent of the gospel – ie Buddha’s teachings) and activities such as bathing the Buddha, a symbolic ritual which involves pouring water over a small Buddha statue to cleanse one’s sins.
At 19.2% of the population, Malaysia has a significant number of Buddhists – and Wesak is considered a national holiday. During this time, temples are usually packed with devotees, who come together to donate to the needy and light candles, incense and joss sticks as offerings. The Buddhist Maha Vihara Temple – one of the most prominent Sinhalese Buddhist temples in Kuala Lumpur – turns into a bustling hive of activity on Wesak Day, as thousands converge to chant sutras together and pray for the wellbeing of all living beings. The highlight of the celebration is a large procession through the streets of Kuala Lumpur, with lighted floats of Buddha and the deities accompanied by devotees holding prayer candles.
Buddha was believed to have been born in Lumbini in Nepal, and every year, thousands of pilgrims gather at this pilgrimage site (as well as the surrounding Kathmandu Valley) on Buddha Jayanthi (Buddha’s birthday), to attend religious processions and chant Buddhist scriptures. Similar to other parts of the world, kind deeds and acts of charity are observed, such as donating food and clothes to the needy, providing financial aid to schools and monasteries, and taking part in blood donation drives. Some people dress in white (to symbolise purity), and observe a vegetarian diet.
Wesak is a major event in Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka, with celebrations lasting for a week. The sale of alcohol and fresh meat is prohibited during this period. Aside from alms-giving and prayers, Wesak celebrations in Sri Lanka take on a slightly festive mood – with public displays of electrically-lit pandols (a temporary structure which illustrates stories from Buddhist scriptures) as well as colourful lanterns called Vesak kuudu hung along streets and in front of homes, to represent the light of the Buddha, Dharma (his teachings) and the Sangha (the Buddhist community). There are also organisations and groups that go about singing bhakti gee, or Buddhist devotional songs, much like the Christian practice of carolling.
South Korea celebrates the birthday of Buddha, or ‘seokga tansinil’, on the 8th day of the 4th month in the Korean lunar calendar. Besides being a religious celebration, it is also very much cultural, with traditional performances, folk games, parades, and more. The world-famous Lotus Lantern Festival, which dates back over 1,000 years, is held in conjunction with seokga tansinil. Seoul hosts the largest event of its kind, featuring grand parades, floats with Buddhist figures and cultural icons such as dragons and phoenixes. Parade participants carry lotus-shaped lights (Buddha is often depicted seated on a lotus) – a symbol of purity and wisdom.
Another Buddhist-majority country, Thailand’s Wesak celebrations are massive. Many Thais are deeply devout (young men are encouraged to be ordained as monks for a certain amount of time as a rite of passage into adulthood) – so temples will usually be full of devotees offering prayers to gain ‘merits’ (in millennial terms – they’re kind of like a points system in Buddhism: do good stuff, get good merits, do bad stuff, get demerits) in order to accumulate good karma.
The Buddhism in Thailand is mainly of the Theravada branch (there are several differences between the two major branches namely Theravada and Mahayana), so devotees observe the Five Moral precepts according to the branch’s tradition – by refraining from harming living things or consuming intoxicating substances. Bars and clubs are closed during this period as a sign of respect.
Indonesia once housed powerful Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms, with many ancient structures that have stood the test of time scattered across the region. One of these is Borobudur near the city of Yogyakarta, the world’s largest Buddhist temple. It is an important site for Indonesian Buddhists as well as pilgrims from around the world, who gather here for Wesak Day celebrations. Something unique to Indonesia’s Wesak Day celebrations is Pindapata, a ritual involving thousands of monks walking around the structure as well as on the streets, whilst praying to receive charity and blessings for the Indonesian people. Sky lanterns are also released into the night sky, which makes for a magical display against the backdrop of the full moon.
Wesak is known as Visakha Bouxa in Laos, where Buddhism is the predominant religion. As Visakha Bouxa falls during the transition between dry and wet season, Laotians celebrate it with Boun Bang Fay, or the Rocket Festival. Villages compete with each other to send large homemade rockets into the sky in an attempt to convince celestial being to send down rain. The rockets can be rather dangerous as they contain a large amount of gunpowder and can sometimes reach several hundred metres. The rocket launching is preempted by parades, musical shows and dance performances. These practices are also apparently quite prevalent in the northern Thai region of Isan.
Happy CNY, everyone! The Chinese New Year lasts for 15 days, so I’m not too late with my wishes! 😛
This year’s celebration was a little different. Instead of the usual balik kampung to Ipoh, the fam rented a bungalow in Janda Baik, Pahang for a 3D2N stay. Tucked among hills and greenery about an hour’s drive from Kuala Lumpur, the area is a popular tourist spot for those who like relaxation and nature.
Our accommodation was called Rest.Pause Rainforest Retreat – and it did not disappoint.
Built on a hill slope, the house was spacious and beautifully designed, with all the comforts of a modern home, surrounded by lush greenery. There was a nicely kept garden at the back with its own fish pond, as well as a natural stream. There was also a caretaker on hand to take care of all our needs during our stay. He lived in a small but immaculately kept house just next to the main building, and kept the fattest chickens I had ever seen.
(Above) Spacious living room, complete with comfy couches, a large-screen TV and a selection of DVDS to watch. Tall wooden sliding doors opened up to the verandah, allowing for plenty of sunlight to filter in. The place was airy and bright.
The dining area where we had most of our meals was outside on the verandah, affording us scenic views of the garden and surrounding jungle. It was lovely especially in the morning when a mist shrouded the trees and there was a cacophony of chirruping crickets and birds.
Insert obligatory vain photo here.
Our welcome drinks of sweet and fragrant pandan water.
They also prepared a gift basket of snacks; peanuts, instant noodles and Mamee.
There were four rooms in the bungalow – two on the ground floor, and two upstairs. Ideally, the house should fit a maximum of 15 people – we had 25 ._. They were still really accommodating and even prepared extra mattresses and pillows. Some of us slept in hallways and living rooms.
View of garden from staircase window.
One of the rooms upstairs. The setup was basic but comfy. The springy mattress wasn’t good but I slept on a thin one on the floor. Super comfy and cooling!
Room shared with Moo, Pops and the Bro. I like small spaces and tight corners so you can guess which bed I ‘booked’ immediately upon entering the room. 😀
The thing I liked most ? THEY HAD A MINI LIBRARY!!!! The bookworm in me shrieked with pleasure when I saw the cupboard of volumes just waiting to be flipped and caressed and devoured (figuratively speaking, of course). There were also some board games on the shelves underneath: UNO blocks, congkak, poker cards, Monopoly, chess.
Picked up a gem of a book called Shantaram; but it was a long novel so I couldn’t finish it within 3 days. 😦
Venturing out to explore the garden. Caretaker’s house (right).
View of the bungalow from the garden.
Bougainvilleas in bloom.
Dinner on the first night was hotpot. The place had all the facilities we needed, included cutlery and pots – all we had to do was bring the food. It felt really warm and comforting to enjoy hotpot in the cooling weather!
Breakfast the next morning was prepared by the caretaker and his wife – simple but tasty fare of fried eggs, sausages, toast and beans.
Janda Baik is close to many tourist spots, including Genting Highlands, Bukit Tinggi, Bentong and a couple of waterfalls. I wanted to stay in and read but the fam was bored so we drove up to Genting Highlands. It was my first time playing slot machines at the casin; it might have been beginner’s luck but I won some money – enough to treat the fam to a good lunch.
Dinner on our second night was BBQ – the caretaker set up the charcoal and stoves for us on the front porch. The aunties also made a killer lap mei farn (rice with waxed meats).
Breakfast on our final day was fluffy pancakes with honey and butter – washed down with steaming mugs of coffee and refreshing glasses of orange juice.
I’d highly recommend Rest.Pause to those who love nature, and those who want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city without driving too far. The Wifi is pretty wonky, which prompts you to tear your eyes away from the screen for awhile, and reconnect with nature, family and friends (in my case, I still had my nose in a book so, shrug). Everything was provided for – kitchen facilities, entertainment such as books / TV, even mosquito repellents and insect cream – so all you have to bring is yourself and the food. Travel is best by car as there is no public transport in the area. Cycling seems popular but I don’t recommend it as the roads are windy and narrow.
A stay at Rest.Pause costs approximately RM1,000 per night.