16 May 2010

Kota Tinggi – 2nd Click Clique Adventure

Date of Exploration : 8 – 9 May 2010. Took a weekend trip to Kota Tinggi’s waterfall in time to cool off from the recent heatwave. Is it me or is the weather really climbing up the thermometer? I don’t remember May being so bitingly hot in the past…

Splish Splash!But the weather wasn’t the only bother that got me boiling. Arranging this trip was a whole lot of chasing to the point where I almost wanted to give up. First of all, it was very hard to get the commitment from our driver to go. He was always ‘maybe’, ‘could be’, ‘have to make arrangements’, but never confirmed in the 2 months that the trip idea was discussed.

The driver (and his car) was the key to the trip and it was difficult to plan with ambiguity. If it was a last minute trip, I can understand the problem to commit. Then just say ‘no’. But if it’s planned 2 months in advance, there’s ample time to make any necessary arrangements to make the trip happen. Else, just a simple ‘no’ is welcomed rather than to leave me hanging. I guess when most people make their decisions, they forget that they’re a part of the decision-making process of others. It’s not a nice feeling having to give up another activity to make this trip happen while the other travelers are perpetual ‘Shouldbedoos’ (think Scooby Doo).

Decisive by nature, I have a problem empathizing with wishy-washy characters. If you can, say ‘yes’ and make any upcoming plans around this commitment; if you can’t, say ‘no’ and allow others plan ahead. If you’re not sure, tell me by when you can give a confirmed answer and give it. Sometimes I wonder if indecisiveness is a tactic to make ourselves feel important.

The other challenge was also to toe the soured relationships between some in the group. Based on my understanding from both sides, I could see that intentions were good, rationales were valid, but the execution was flawed and lots of miscommunication in-between. However, I’m so very glad that this trip worked out well and things were the way they were before.

Sometimes we get in trouble with people because of our words or actions intentionally or unknowingly, or we may be troubled because we hold on to being done wrong. With the flowing of a river or a waterfall, the same water will not pass by twice, so I’m glad bygones can be bygone and whatever that stole our joy was allowed to flow away and letting the waters put out all fires of fury...


Kota Tinggi is a small town in Johor Bahru, Malaysia, well-known for its 34m cascading waterfall from the 634m Gunung Muntahak Mountain. The fall creates refreshing pools ideal for cooling off in the afternoon heat. The waterfall is also known as the Lombong Waterfall.

Rush of TimeI’ve been there once a long time ago and had plain forgotten what it’s like so this trip felt virginal. The first thing that struck me was how murky and brown the water looked. Should be clean but definitely not crystal clear. And it was very chilly despite the morning heat. The difference in water temperature was really apparent when I took a dip in the resort’s swimming pool after soaking in the waterfall. The pool’s water was warm and felt light compared to the cold and heavy fall waters. However, I felt much more refreshed and light after a dip in Mother Nature’s saliva.

The Kota Tinggi town itself is rather small with its town centre and major developments, such as a very modest shopping centre and retail complexes, situated along a river. The waterfall is situated about a 15 minutes drive from the center. We drove to Kota Tinggi from Singapore and it took us about 1 hr 30 mins via the Tuas Link. Just take the highway and after clearing about 2 tolls (or 3?), you’ll see directional signs that point you to Kota Tinggi.

You’ll cross a bridge over a river when you enter into the town and along the banks is where most of the developments are including the boarding site for the Firefly Tour. Apart from the waterfall and Firefly Tour, there’s really very little else to do at Kota Tinggi. As part of our exploration, we drove up to the Desaru Fruit Farm and Desaru beach. We also had the Kota Tinggi Crocodile Farm in our itinerary but gave it a miss due to lack of time.

Weekend Hotel Room rate : RM150.00
Weekend Chalet rate : RM180.00

Around the vicinity of the waterfall, there’re 2 accommodation choices – Kota Rainforest Resort and Kota Tinggi Waterfalls Resort. Kota Rainforest Resort is about a 5 minutes drive to the waterfall, more expensive of the two, but looked in better condition and newer. Kota Tinggi Waterfalls Resort is right where the waterfall is located but has no ‘wow’ factor.

Getting There

We stayed at the Waterfalls Resort due to its proximity to the natural pool. To get there, follow the brown signs that say ‘Air Terjun’. That means water (‘air’) fall (‘terjun’) in Malay. We missed the turn into the resort initially because we were looking for English signs that said ‘waterfall’. Well, they were right before our eyes the whole time but we don’t read Malay! The authorities should really include an English translation in the signs.

Lousy Condition

The resort is surrounded by forested areas and provides a rustic sanctuary embraced by nature. Facilities include air-conditioning, fan, TV, and fridge. There’s also a restaurant while food tents line the bank of the rock pool. But on hindsight, maybe we should’ve tried the Rainforest Resort instead because the room condition at the Waterfalls Resort was rather appalling. One of the room’s air-con didn’t work, I found gecko shit on the sheets, and the TV was the size for ants. Then again, maybe the other resort isn't any better.

Both resorts do not have online booking facilities. I had to email them to check rates and availability. The Waterfalls Resort is represented by Impressions (impressions@impressions.com.my) and I was required to TT the full amount of the lodging price to secure my reservation. Since it was such a hassle, we decided to just walk in and book 2 chalets. There’s no difference in rates for walk in or email booking and a RM200 deposit is required. Towels and remote control for the TV were issued at the reception counter and you must bring those items back to the reception for check-out.

Waterfall Resort

The saving grace was of course its closeness to the waterfall. There’re 2 parts to the Kota Tinggi fall that are accessible. The lower part consists of a section of the natural fall with a dammed up pool with slides, while an upper part was kept pretty much natural. There’s a stairway by the side of the lower fall that leads to the upper fall. It takes about 15 minutes of easy trekking.

Kota Tinggi Waterfall

I preferred the upper part because there were less people and the feeling of swimming in a natural pool surrounded by a forest was just awesome! But be prepared to be nibbled on by fish in the rock pool much like those fish spas. They were not painful, more ticklish… or maybe because I have thick skin. Haha.

But I thoroughly enjoyed dipping in both the upper and lower falls. Totally refreshing and inspiring to think that the waters had gushed relentlessly and with such velocity over so many years… much like how youth slides from us with such vigour. Every droplet represented a second and how I will never get back the time which has flowed.


Our self-planned itinerary included a visit to the Desaru Fruit Farm. Located 39km from Kota Tinggi, it took us roughly 30 minutes to drive there. I read that many different varieties of tropical fruits can be found in the farm and there’s even a small petting zoo and aviary. A guide will take you around while giving you a commentary on the plants either on a bull cart or your car.

Desaru SunshineBut when we got there, no one greeted us or showed us where to go for the guided tour. We planned to have lunch there too but it didn’t seem like the cafeteria as operating and a set meal costs RM45! So after wandering around for 10 minutes without seeing anything of interest, we left.

We had lunch at a nearby food stop where everything was fried with too much oil and headed for Desaru Beach. From the roadside hawkers, it was another 15 minutes drive. Again, I’ve been to Desaru eons ago. I think I was 15 years old when I made the trip with my secondary schoolmates. I remembered the beach was white and powdery, and the waves were huge. It’s impossible to swim in that tidal assault so I never understood why people want to go there from then on. Desaru became a joke of a vacation destination for me and never went back.

How very different it was this time round. The beach was still desirable, but the sea was a calm inviting blue! How I wished I could plunge in but alas, this wasn’t planned for so none of us came prepared to frolic in Poseidon’s embrace. Apparently, the mood of the waves has seasons. So I guess May is when it is on Xanax.

Like a diabetic kid in a candy store, the only way to release that pent-up enthusiasm was to find a replacement. So we decided to create our own fun by taking jump shots. With the beautiful sky and turquoise ocean as our backdrop, our frogging moments turned out really great. I love those photos.

Group fun

Touring hours : 7:00 pm – 10:00 pm
Tour ticket : RM20.00

One of the must-dos at Kota Tinggi is the Firefly Trip. After taking the cruise, we left in awe of the magical presence of nature. Like Christmas trees flickering by the water’s edge, the visual symphony was simply spectacular.

Found in the berembang trees that line the banks of the Johor River, fireflies are actually beetles and spend 9 months as a glowworm (larvae state) before becoming an adult. The lifespan of an adult firefly is 2 weeks with the sole purpose to mate. Different species emit a different pattern of light to attract its own kind.

Firefly Tour

We bought our trip tickets (RM20.00) from the resort hotel although you can also buy it on the spot (don’t know if it is the same price). There was no pick up from our resort or map given so we had to make our own way there. The boarding place is located along the river where the town centre is. When you drive into Kota Tinggi, you’ll cross a bridge and the firefly tour jetty is located not far from it. If you lose your way, just ask the locals for directions.

The tour lasts 45 minutes and it is best to go for the 8pm slot as that’s when the sky is dark enough. The best time to see the fireflies is during moonless nights. If it rained during the day, you’ll be rewarded with a bumper view of the flies. It didn’t rain during our visit so what we saw was pretty sparse but magical nonetheless. Also, it was impossible to take photos of the fireflies because it’s too dark. So forget about photographing and etch the image in your head.


We didn’t explore much of the gastro-offerings of Kota Tinggi but we found this restaurant called New Mui Tou that’s affordable and good enough. It is along one of the streets near the Firefly Trip and opposite Hotel Seri Kota. We had dinner there and went back again for lunch.

Dinner at Mui Tou

Dinner : Chili Crabs (though they looked more like pubic lice), Cereal Prawns (so-so), Hot Plate Tofu (yumz!), Wild Boar with Ginger and Onions (super yumz!), Fried Potato Leaves, 5 Man Tous, 1 bowl of rice, creackers, tea, and 2 bottles of Heineken.
Total Bill : S$50.00

Lunch : Fish Meat Steamboat (so-so), Sambal Squid (yumz!), Wild Boar with Ginger and Onions, Sweet and Sour Pork, Stir-Fried Vegetables, Fried Noodles, 1 bowl of rice, crackers, and 5 drinks.
Total Bill : RM87.80 (S$37.80)


After dinner and some shopping at the riverine pasar malam, when were wondering what to do and found this karaoke, Big Box. It was newly opened so the place was nice and clean, the karaoke system works superbly, and the drinks were really cheap.

A bucket of 4 bottles of Tiger beer costs RM38.00 and a cup of honey lemon tea only RM3.00! The room charge was RM25.00 per hour. I tortured my friends with my singing till 2am.

Big Box KTV

And we woke up at 6:30am the next morning to shoot sunrise. We don’t know of any place to shoot so we just drove out to a field about 5 minutes from the entrance of our resort hotel. Nothing really much to shoot and by then, the sun was too bright to be photographed well.

Sunrise at the Fields

We left Kota Tinggi totally tired. Although it was a small town, we managed to max out our 2 days 1 night there. Even though I encountered some frustrations organising this trip, the company quickly dissolved the stains and the waterfall washed the black away. Don't waste time holding on to bad times.

All for fun!

For more photos from the trip, please visit my album Kota Tingi : 2nd Click Clique Adventure.

04 May 2010

Bangkok - Top 5 Culture Shockers!

You love Bangkok and had been there umpteenth times. So much that the mosaic wats with their overbearing gold are beginning to seem blinding and your shoes have been worn through from bargain hunting. You wonder… is there more to Bangkok than the great shopping, delicious cuisine, clubbing and sleaze decadence?

Well, how about taking the road less travelled and discover some of the unusual and bizarre in this city of a thousand joys? Look no further! Here are top 5 of the most eccentric places to visit in Bangkok!

They may seem like sideline freak shows, but I think they exemplify the level of tolerance and acceptance that defines the Thai culture… Or maybe no definition at all because it seems there’s nothing too taboo for its people! I love Thailand!

*WARNING!* This post contains contains macabre contents and images that may be disturbing or downright frightening. DO NOT READ ON if you believe you'll live forever or deeply religious.

Address : Rama IV Road, Pathum Wan
Getting there : Take MRT to Hua Lamphong Station
Opening Hours : 24 hrs
Entrance Fee : Free

Main entranceHow about doing some charity on top of donating to Bangkok’s street beggars? At the Chinese temple (義德堂) tucked by the side of Wat Hua Lamphong, you can donate coffins for the burial of the destitute deceased. The cost of a full burial is approximately 500 baht (based on posts I read online) but you can donate any amount you wish.

Your donation pays for a coffin and burial ceremony for the poor whose families can’t afford the cost of death rites or for those unclaimed bodies from accidents or illnesses. I was told by a friend that the temple used to put up photos of the deceased on a board so you know who you’re helping but that practice has since been stopped due to controversy. Coffin donation is considered a form of merit-making for the Thais. Being Christian, I don’t treat it as accumulating good karma, but the simple fact that compassion and charity should transcend religious doctrines.

There’s an administrative area that handles your donation and you’ll be given two slips of paper – pink and white. The pink slip you’ll stick to a wooden coffin and the white slip you’re to burn at an altar where the deities are. It takes less than 15 minutes to make a donation and after that, you can visit Wat Hua Lamphong.

The wat is very prominent in downtown Bangkok and all the locals know it. It’s almost impossible to get lost getting to Wat Hua Lamphong (less than 10 minutes by cab from Silom) but remember that the donation place is along the side of the wat’s compound.

Coffin donation

Address : Swisshotel Nai Lert Park Hotel (formerly Hilton Hotel)
Getting there : Ploenchit BTS Station
Opening Hours : 24 hours
Entrance Fee : Free

Chao Mae Tuptim ShrineThis place will give even the most self-assured man a serious inferiority complex. The penis shrine, or more correctly known as the Chao Mae Tuptim Shrine, is hidden in a corner within the grounds of Nai Lert Park Hotel. The shrine area is small but rather amusing. Not many tourists visit this place so you can take your time to look around.

Getting there took a bit of walking from Ploenchit BTS Station, and the hotel was not prominent. When we alighted from the train, we stood on the alighting platform and scanned the area for the hotel. We barely saw it. Once you can see where the hotel is, just walk towards it from the station. Look for the hotel while you’re at the alighting platform because you won’t be able to see where it is on ground level.

The shrine was originally dedicated to Chao Tuptim, a female animist spirit who people believe has been residing in the banyan tree next to the shrine for hundreds of years. Years ago though, a woman came to pray at the shrine asking for help from Chao Tuptim because she couldn't conceive. Nine months later, she gave birth to a healthy son.

She was so pleased with her child that she came back to the shrine and left a large wooden carving of a giant penis in thanks. Others followed her lead and today, you can literally see hundreds of wooden penises, all different colors and sizes there. I wonder what could guys pray for…?

Penis Shrine

Address : Wat Maha But, On Nut, Sukhumvit 77
Getting there : BTS On Nut. Maha But Temple is 900m down Sukhumvit Soi 77
Opening Hours : Unsure
Entrance Fee : Free

Mae Nak ShrineReady for some romance? This is probably the most romantic of all shrines in Thailand. Legend has it that about a hundred years ago, there was a beautiful young woman called Nak who lived on the bank of the Prakanong River. Nak married a man named Maak. During the war, Maak was drafted to fight for his country, leaving Mae Nak at home alone. She was with child and died during labour.

Because of the love for her husband, her spirit refused to leave the house and waited for his return. Maak finally returned home not knowing about the death of his wife. The couple went on living together for some time as if everything was normal.

However, once her husband discovered that she was just a ghost, he fled to the temple. Mae Nak was furious and began terrorizing people in the village. The whole community was terrified. The reverent 'mor pii' (ghost doctor) heard of Mae Nak's rampage, so he came to the village and defeated her by cutting a piece of her forehead bone to make a buckle and capturing her spirit in a bottle.

Mae Nak Shrine, supposedly her burial place, is located within Maha But Temple built in the late-Ayutthaya Period, and named after the monk who initiated its construction. Locals often refer to it as Wat Mae Nak Prakanong (Temple of Mother Nak of Prakanong). The shrine looks more like a 'home' for Mae Nak and her child as it's always filled with flower garlands, colourful Thai costumes, cosmetics, toys, diapers, and milk bottles offered by devotees as gifts for her child. One of the most fascinating items in the shrine is a TV that is on 24 hours everyday!

Ghost Wife Shrine

Address : 436 Mahachai Road, near Rommani Nart Park
Getting there : Take cab (about 15 mins from Silom Road)
Opening Hours : Mon - Fri, 9:30 am - 4:00 pm
Entrance Fee : Free (Donations welcomed)

Old Prison MuseumThe locals know it as 'kook gao' but not many know where it is located. I had a hard time trying to get the hotel staff to understand where I was going as I wanted to get the place right before I get in a cab. But apparently, none of them had heard of or been there. I even resorted to show them the webpage of kook gao only to draw blank stares and them talking amongst themselves without so much as a verdict.

After what seemed like a long sentence I was serving, someone knew and instructed my cab driver. Can’t remember the exact fare but I think it was less than 100 baht to get there. The old prison compound has been converted into a park so don’t be surprised when the cab drops you off at a playground.

Only the administrative block, some watchtowers and a cell block remained of the old prison. This prison was the first prison in Thailand to be built according to international standards. And the tortures meted out behind those walls should count it as one of the world’s most gruesome.

This is the place to learn about the cruel punishments meted out to offenders in Thailand in the past. Grisly corporal punishment tools and weapons exhibit the severities of the old penal system, a sadistic system based on retribution through severe punishment and suffering. At the museum, you can see life-sized wax figures act out with painful precision execution scenes.

Remaining architecture

There’re two parts to the museum. The admin block is an air-conditioned indoor museum that showcases the methods of execution – from beheading during the ancient times to gunning to lethal injection that is used today. Aged photos of the actual executions accompany the wax exhibits. I shuddered at the sight of real people being killed.

Admin block exhibits

Again, this place sees very little visitors and it’s a pity because the exhibits aren’t too bad at all and you can really get a feel of hopelessness once you get behind those bars. After visiting the admin block, approach of one the blue jerseyed cleaners (I don’t know if they’re always there) to bring you to the cell block. I reckoned I can get there myself but I asked for directions and one of them took me there.

Execution by firing

The ‘guide’ didn’t ask for a fee but I tipped her 20 baht as I’m out of fifties and hundreds. Initially, she just left me to explore but when I tipped her, she walked with me and pointed out some exhibits. She didn’t speak a word of English and a guided tour was really not necessary, but in our chicken-and-duck way, we had quite some fun. As it turned out, she liked being photograph but I could never get her to take a photo of me. But she’s funny.

At the cell block museum, you can see how ex-prisoners were punished and their living conditions. One of the grim highlights includes a man-sized rattan ball pierced with nails pointing inwards. Hapless prisoners were placed inside and an elephant was encouraged to play football with it. Ouch!

Cell block exhibits

Address : 2nd floor, Adulaydejvigrom Building, Siriraj Hospital, 2 Phrannok Road
Getting there : Take cab (about 30 mins from Silom Road)
Opening Hours : Mon - Sat, 9:00 am - 4:00 pm
Entrance Fee : 40 baht (foreigners) 20 baht (Thais)

Forensic MuseumThis is the Big Mac in macabre! It makes Gunther von Hagens’ Body Worlds feel like a pickle among the mangled patty.

Siriraj Medical Museums consist of the Songkran Miyomsane Forensic Science Museum, Pathological Museum, Parasitology Museum, Anatomical Museum, Prehistoric Museum, and History of Thai Medicine. The exhibits, especially those in the forensic museum, have been collected over many years and document the human condition in birth anomalies, accidents and murders.

Often touted as the Museum of Death, I read somewhere that it has lost a number of its exhibits over the years, many of which depicted rare medical conditions. Surveillance cameras have since been installed but I sure would hate to be the security personnel having to witness a necrophiles’ orgy party.

The other museums are pretty radical except for one where there’s the preserved exhibit of a 75kg scrotum that'd been amputated from a man suffering from elephantiasis. That poor man could even use his balls as a beanbag chair! Oh by the way, photography is discouraged in the museums and never take home sweets or toys that’s been offered to the dead babies.

Siriraj Hospital

Murder weapons, autopsy photos, body parts, diseased organs and glass jars containing stillborn children pickled in formaldehyde are exhibited alongside each other. It’s a grim reminder that we’re after all flesh and bones. We are mortal.

Museum of Death

Perhaps the most ‘famous’ of all the exhibits is the mummified corpse of See Uey Sae Ung (labeled as Si Quey on his display case and sometimes also referred to as Si-oui or Si Ouey depending on who is writing about him). He was the most notorious serial killer in Thai history.

A Chinese immigrant who moved to Thailand in 1944; See Uey suffocated and then ate the hearts and livers of over a half dozen male children. He apparently believed that the practice made him stronger, healthier, and by some accounts, immortal.

He was captured and executed by hanging in the 1950s. After an autopsy, the cadaver was filled and covered with paraffin wax to preserve it. In recent years, the museum has added a film educating visitors about the story of See Uey and he became a sort of bogeyman for Thai children. Parents would threaten misbehaving kids with a visit from his ghost. The case of See Uey Sae Ung was also adapted into the 2004 Thai thriller Zee-Oui.



Many a times, I asked myself why I keep going back to Bangkok for vacations and looking at all my previous trips’ photos, it was the constant mystery of what I was going to encounter that drew me back there time and again.

That place has so much to offer that each trip turns up different encounters and new discoveries for me. But then again, no matter where we’re at, if we look for the unusual in a place… or people, that’s usually what we get!
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