29 December 2013

Pengerang - A Christmas Ride to Tanjung Balau

Date of Exploration : 21 - 23 Dec 2013

I didn't realize it but this is my fourth long-distance cycling trip in Pengerang this year. I thought there would be nothing left to blog about since I covered the same trail as my last bike tour from Sungai Rengit to Tanjung Balau but new encounters along the way made for a progressive account of the Malaysian coastal hemline undergoing some pretty major developments.

As I've talked at length about how to get here, things to do at Pengerang and cycling from Sungai Rengit to Desaru and Tanjung Balau, you can find out more by clicking those links. This entry will serve as an addition to the bulk of information and tips that have already been shared. I think I'm becoming a Pengerang junkie. LOL!

And under the influence of the yuletide season, we decided to do something to bring on the festive cheer during our long ride this time round with...

... a Santa Hat! Hahaha... or should I say, Hohoho?
If you are unfamiliar with Pengerang, it is a seaside district in the Malaysian state of Johor that can be reached by an hour's bumboat ride from Changi Point Ferry Terminal (the same terminal that offers ferries to Pulau Ubin). Sungai Rengit (the main township of Pengerang) is famous for seafood and lobster feasts at lower prices than Singapore and Johor Bahru.

Pengerang / Sungai Rengit is also a popular starting point for long-distance cycling enthusiasts to pedal to Tanjung Punggai, Batu Layar, Desaru, Tanjung Balau, Tanjung Sedili or even all the way to Johor Bahru and taking the Woodlands causeway back to Singapore (a distance of 190km)!

Getting to Pengerang involves taking a boat from Changi Point Ferry Terminal to Tanjung Pengelih Ferry Terminal. We took wooden bumboats (S$11) on all previous trips but we were lucky to board an air-conditioned speedboat this time round. It costs more at S$13 but it's worth the extra S$2 for the comfort and speed.

We usually take slightly over an hour to reach Tanjung Pengelih but it took only 40 minutes with the speedboat. Problem is, you cannot choose the boats and it's a matter of luck which boat is next in line to take passengers and there's no knowing what kind of boat is available. The boats don't depart on a fixed schedule and leave port once there are 12 passengers.

Arriving at Tanjung Pengelih Ferry Terminal, we took a 15-minute cab ride to Sungai Rengit. There were usually cabs waiting for passengers at the ferry terminal but this time round, there weren't any. Thankfully, a terminal staff was kind to call us a cab. So if you don't see any cabs at the ferry terminal, approach the staff to help call for one. The cab ride costs RM20 be it free board or called in.

Upon arriving at Sungai Rengit, we saw a replica of the famous Lego wall art from Penang at the side of the town's coach and taxi terminal. This was a new addition as we've not seen it during our last trip on 26 October 2013.

Since Christmas was round the corner, we decided to pimp our ride with some windmills to add a festive spin during the ride. Heh heh.

You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen
Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen
But do you recall, the most famous reindeer of all?

*Having a Rudolph moment*

Something crazy we did was wishing motorists that passed by Merry Christmas! LOL. Many drivers were taken by surprise and some of them toot their horns and waved back.

A few slowed down. My take is that they were wondering if we needed help (bless their kindness) so there's a technique to roadside well wishing to distinguish between a SOS cry and Christmas cheer.

We learnt that waving thumbs-up and peace sign conveyed good tidings while waving with both palms opened up (as in this photo) tend to get drivers to slow down to see if we required assistance.

After a 4.5 hours cycle, we reached Tanjung Balau. We did slightly better than our last timing of 5 hours. Since we stayed at Bayu Balau Resort the last time, we decided to stay with Pelangi Balau Resort on this trip.

Twin room at Pelangi Balau Resort (RM160 per room per night). We didn't make a booking and just walked in for a room. We were lucky to get one as moments later, we saw a "Full House" sign at the reception.

The room was comfortable enough although the hot shower wasn't working. Breakfast was included and although it was a fuss-free minor buffet train of local favourites such as nasi lemak, roti prata, ayam redang and fried noodles, they tasted pretty good. I was addicted to the nasi lemak quickly.

Unbeknownst to me, I packed vacation garb that matched Pelangi Balau Resort's yellow visage. I even found a yellow towel in my room to complete the dirty Superman look! Muahahaha...

We reached Tanjung Balau at around 5.30pm just in time for sunset.

The thing that says Tanjung Balau is the distinctive jetty with four pyramid shaped shelters.

Our arrival coincided with low tide that released its grip of a rocky coastline.

I was awed by the endless blanket of rocks and peddles that were visible after the waters have retreated. It's like a curtain of the seabed had been pulled back.

As the beach was east facing, the sunset displayed its colours inland.

I followed the sunset hues that brought me to an outback lane opposite the resort developments. I didn't have my bike with me so I didn't follow this path to see where it leads or it could bring me closer to the setting sun.

Dinner was at the entrance to Tanjung Balau kampong where three Malay stalls (stir-fry, bakar and drinks) at a carpark made up an unlikely open-air restaurant. We had sotong goreng, assam ikan, fried kalian and mee goreng for RM31. Good price after the SGD-Ringgit exchange rate but taste while palatable, was lackluster.

Supper was an ayam burger (RM3.00) under the influence of Ramly and thick but exceedingly sweet iced Milo at the entrance to Tanjung Balau jetty.

6.41am : As Tanjung Balau faces the east, catching the sunrise here is a must!

The morning was thick with clouds and just when we confirmed that we won't see the iridescent yellow disc ascending the horizon, golden rays broke free of the shadowy shroud. With the high waves returning for the tide and the shine of hope, the momentary light show though fleeting, was immensely uplifting.

Watching sunrise at Tanjung Balau is very scenic. Too bad the golden lights at the top left of this photo aren't obvious after my phone cam aggregated the scene's foreground and background lighting differences. 

A tiny swamp nearby contains a sparse collection of mangroves struggling against the vigorous waves. The stoic and expressive woods make for some pretty beautiful shots.

A decaying trunk we saw in October was lost to the waves by December. So thankful that I got a shot before the wooded spouses got separated eternally.

Tanjung Balau conquered yet again!

After spending a night at Pelangi Balau Resort, we set off on our ride back to Sungai Rengit.

The weather had just the right amount of sun and gloom that made for a comfortable long haul ride to enjoy the Malaysian countryside.

Along the way, we took a Zen break to pose with this striking tree at the entrance to Punngai Beach Resort.

Carpets of endless lalang fields accompanied our ride.

Contrasting with the green were a mushroom of construction sites lining the highway. We snuck into one to camwhore. Shh... don't tell the builders. LOL.

A train of drainage slabs got lined up like the backbone of a new housing estate.

After a 4-hour ride, we arrived back in Sungai Rengit to spend the night. We tried Straits View Seafood Restaurant, a new eat in the town for dinner. It is definitely a strong contender to dethrone Jade Garden Seafood Corner, the most popular seafood restaurant at Sungai Rengit currently.

We tried Kam Hiong Lobster, the delightful Ginger Wine Egg Soup, Lotus Root in Salted Egg Yolk Sauce and Gung Bao Wild Boar meat. They were all yummers and the bill came up to an affordable RM111.60 (S$44.30).

Straits View Seafood Restaurant had the most different styles of cooking lobster compared to the other restaurants who bank on four popular styles - in superior sauce, steamed, buttered, or with salted egg yolk. We tried Kam Hiong style at Straits View which was basically lobster stir-fried in dry sambal sauce with dried shrimp. It's not bad, but the spices overpowered the lobster meat's freshness.

This quick pre-Christmas cycling trip had been yet another great eat-and-burn vacation. With this funny photo (wacky hat and sleeping uncle), I wish you and your love ones a healthy and fun-filled yuletide and coming new year!
Related Posts :

A cycling Tour from Sungai Rengit to Desaru

2nd Attempt at Bicycle Tour from Sungai Rengit to Desaru

Cycling from Sungai Rengit to Tanjung Balau

26 November 2013

Kuala Lumpur - A Weekend of Fashion, Food, & Fun

Date of Exploration : 15 - 19 Nov 2013

To unveil the 1Malaysia Year End Sale (1MYES) season and launch Visit Malaysia year 2014, Kuala Lumpur (KL) played host to a string of celebratory experiences and I got to attend the KL Fashion Weekend as well as a day trip to explore the rustic side of Pahang.

Hardly a fashionista, I had a wardrobe emergency pulling together garb from my closet for the Fashion Weekend that says stylish and doesn't spell disaster. After all, I should try not to throw Singapore's face at such high profile events right?

Here's what I managed to put together and without realising, the three tops were all bought from Malaysia on previous trips!

(Left) Let's Chill... Pastel floral tee with the word 'CHILL' by Fahrenheit bought at F.O.S City Square (Johor Bahru) / S$10.60. (Centre) Let's A-Go-Go... Retro psychedelic shirt bought at Sungei Wang Plaza (KL) / S$16.00. (Right) Let's Kungfu... Attempting a Wong Fei-hung with Malaysian designer Key Ng's taichi master top / S$23.
I'm not much of a shopper but I do indulge in retail therapy when I'm in Bangkok or KL because of the exchange rate and affordability. The prices of the tops above are all after discount, which makes the Malaysian mega sale seasons a must-chop-passport period.

There are three mega sale seasons in Malaysia with varying strengths across the nation but KL is definitely the heart of all the action. Here are the dates for when the sales are happening in 2014 :

1. 15 Mar - 6 Apr 2014 : Malaysia GP Sales held in conjunction with the Grand Prix
2. 28 Jun - 1 Sep 2014 : Malaysia Mega Sale
3. 15 Nov - 4 Jan 2014/15 : Malaysia Year End Sale

With so many sale periods, they are hard to miss! The other thing not to be missed is the flight. For this trip, we flew with Malaysia Airlines (MAS).

The Malaysian national carrier has recently been named Asia's Leading Airline by World Travel Awards (WTA), and took The World's 5-Star Airline Award and Best Airline Signature Dish award at Skytrax World Airline Awards 2013.

Taking MAS to KL is like a pre-Christmas present and for the first time, my seat was right at the back next to the lavatories! I should've brought along a guni-gong and collected 20 cents from users. LOL.
On arriving at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), we boarded the KLIA Ekspres train to KL Sentral, which is basically downtown KL. The KLIA Ekspres is my preferred mode of airport to city transfer as the train service is punctual, comfortable and most importantly, fast. It takes only 28 minutes to reach KL Sentral from the airport.

A one-way ticket costs RM35. Ensure that you get on the non-stop express train to KL Sentral though. There's another train that makes a couple of stops along the way. During peak hours, train departs at 15 minutes intervals.

Passengers arriving at KLIA can take the KLIA Ekspres but those arriving at the Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) will have to take a bus transfer to KLIA to board the train. The good news is that KLIA2 will be opening in May 2014 to replace LCCT and the train will serve the new airport too!
Royale Chulan Hotel

Our nest for 4 nights in KL was at Royale Chulan, a luxury hotel richly flavoured with Malayan traditional architectural elements and regal woodwork. As it sits 5 minutes on foot from the swanky Pavilion mall, the hotel is situated away from the traffic and crowd of the popular Bukit Bintang shopping district. The hotel acts like a mute button from all the hustle and bustle.

Overall, the stay experience was sublime but for folks who like to start shopping as soon as the hotel lift hits the ground floor, Royale Chulan is a tiny bit out of the way. Also, singlets, tank tops and sleeveless tees are not allowed during breakfast, something that I've never encountered before.

The 5-star hotel comes with a complete suite of facilities from pool, to gym, to restaurants and business amenities. One of the things I enjoyed most about the hotel other than the spacious room is the breakfast. The spread is rather extensive and food quality is good.

Fit for a king! The bed's pretty comfy but the beddings didn't smell fresh. I really dig the sliding screen that separates the room from the bathroom as it feels like I'm looking through a kampong window. 

I stayed in room 353 and while there is free wifi, connectivity in my room was intermittent.

Love the bathroom where if I lay in the bathtub, I can still watch TV through the sliding window. So I decided to pamper and romance myself on one of the nights with a bottle of white, strawberries, and cocoa.
KL Fashion Weekend 2013

Held at the KLCC Esplanade, the KL Fashion Weekend marked the start of the 1Malaysia Year End Sale (1MYES) with local as well as international labels gracing the catwalk.

The fashion event also served as a fringe activity to frame the new Visit Malaysia year where upcoming infrastructures (such as KLIA2 in May), hospitality developments (Hotel Majestic KL, Harrods Hotel, St Regis Hotel and more), new attractions, and new ways to see Malaysia are set to make 2014 an exciting year for tourists.

I've already identified a couple of new things I wanna check out in KL such the KL City Gallery at the historic Dataran Merdeka, go on a bicycle tour of the Perdana Botanical Garden nature precinct that is home to the KL Bird Park and Butterfly Park, and a day trip to trek Tabur Hill, which is believed to be the world's longest crystal quartz outcrop.

But for now, let's check out the attractions on fabric at the KL Fashion Weekend runway...

This edition of the KL Fashion Weekend was themed 'Fashion is GREAT Britain' to throw a spotlight on Brit labels in Malaysia alongside local designers.

Class acts entertained guests with contemporary dance by performance arts students from ASWARA, acapella grooves by Black Voices from Britain, and Malaysian songstresses who serenaded models as haute couture made their appearances.

Malaysian designer Pink Jambu reinterpreted culture with a collection that celebrated the Malays' penchant for striking colours and decorative prints.

High society fashion meets high drama with Zang Toi, the Malaysian name not associated with being understated. 

The sunbird on heels... a Zang Toi vision.

Spanish label Desigual spilt a rainbow on the runway with its signature far out prints and colour riot in this season's prêt-à-porter selection.

Strong clean lines and flirty, feminine details sum up Brit label Warehouse's offerings for career women this season.

For the first day's fashion show, I was stuck behind this pro photog the whole time so decided to 'use' him to frame a shot. Felt so inadequate shooting with my puny mobile phone and Casio Exilim ZR1000 compact cam when the horde of shooters around me wield impressive DSLRs. Must bring my big gun next time too. LOL.

When I got on the runway, everybody ran away.

Enough of watching, now it's time for spending! The whole city is on sale with brands and retailers offering discounts from 30 - 70%. I expanded my wardrobe with a couple of shirts, slacks and berms. I can hear my credit card company popping champagne.

Apart from bargain hunting, the other thing to do was clicking the Christmas decors at the various malls. I call this 'three and tree' at the entrance of Pavilion mall.

Be careful of pickpockets while shopping even at such upclass malls. While window shopping, a lady with a Hong Kong accent in front of me suddenly stopped and exclaimed to her friends that her mobile phone and purse had been stolen after searching unsuccessfully for them in her handbag.

A massive Christmass tree was the centerpiece at Berjaya Times Square mall with the red pillars looking all ready for Chinese New Year.

Fahrenheit 88 mall hoped jesters would bring on the yuletide cheer but their unsmiling faces looked more scary than merry.

Did the mall recycle its Halloween décor for Christmas?

Ho ho ho... bo. And its in-mall Santa looked more like a bewildered hobo than Father Christmas. LOL.
The Mill Café at Grand Millennium Hotel KL

I've walked past the Grand Millennium Hotel many times but had never stepped in until this trip where we got a peek at its stylish rooms, gorgeous suites and enjoying a round-the-world cuisine at its buffet diner, The Mill Café.

Located just opposite Fahrenheit 88 and a stone's throw from Pavilion, Grand Millennium is right at the doorstep of KL's shopping belt.

A certain Zen fills the ambience at The Mill Café.

Buffets are available for lunch and dinner with ala carte offerings provided on demand.

The dinner buffet spread crosses continents with a line up of cuisines from Mediterranean, Middle East, and Asia.

As display portions were kept small at the buffet line, refills were frequent, which ensured the freshness of dishes.

One of the must-try at Grand Millennium's The Mill Café is the cheese naan freshly made on the spot! I usually avoid carbs because I'm vain but this had me floored.

Western confects and Malay kuehs kuehs rounded up the dinner buffet at The Mill Café which cost RM88. At this price point and spread, I think it is a good contender for stomach space among the crowd of restaurants and eateries at the nearby malls.
Ready for More in 2014

I've been to KL many times, sometimes as many as four visits in a year, and it remains to be one of my favourite places for a quick getaway. Despite having my handphone snatched on the street in June last year, which had me staying away from the capital city for a while, I couldn't help coming back again for shopping, good food and discovering new sights. I hope steps have been taken to reduce crime incidences for the safety of tourists and locals amidst all the investments to make KL a top destination in Asia.

While the authorities do their part, being vigilant when travelling would minimise accidents and unpleasant experiences that may mar a trip be it in KL or anywhere else. With due care taken while on the go, I am ready to explore more of KL and Malaysia in 2014!

Having packed my luggage to the brim with my shopping loot on this trip, I'm thankful for KLIA Ekspres' flight check-in service at KL Sentral. I could drop off my heavy baggage and enjoy the ride comfortably to the airport... or shop some more! Currently, the service is available for passengers of Malaysia Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Etihad, Royal Brunei and Emirates.

Wearing my new top bought on this trip from Brands Outlet at Fahrenheit 88 / S$16.
Goodbye KL! I'll be back again to shop, savour and sightsee you!
This post has been made possible by Tourism Malaysia (Singapore Office).

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Kuala Medang Homestay & Kuala Gandah National Elephant Conservation Centre
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