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).

Related Post :

Kuala Medang Homestay & Kuala Gandah National Elephant Conservation Centre

22 November 2013

Pahang - Kuala Medang Homestay & Kuala Gandah National Elephant Conservation Centre

Date of Exploration : 18 Nov 2013

I always tell my father not to go to Pahang. The reason being that 'Pa' gets 'hang' there. LOL... Okay, super LAME joke. The other joke is that I thought I've never stepped foot in the Malaysian state of Pahang before when I actually had. And many times.

If like me, you've been to Genting Highlands, Cameron Highlands, Mersing (to get to Tioman Island) or the beaches of Kuantan, you've touched Pahang grounds. I didn't know that until this trip to visit Kuala Medang Homestay and the National Elephant Conservation Centre in Kuala Gandah. They are all in Pahang... which goes to show that the state which often lets its attractions precede its name is a treasure trove of getaways up in the mountains, to the beaches, and everything in between!

A return to innocence with orang asli kiddos at an aboriginal village in Pos Pantos.
The largest state in West Malaysia, Pahang is so huge, it borders 7 of the 11 states on the peninsular and is well stocked with highland retreats, protected forest parks and beachfront resorts.

Since I've been to Genting and Cameron Highlands (abet at a very young age) and passed by Kuantan on the way to Tanjong Jara Resort, this visit to Kuala Medang Homestay and Kuala Gandah filled the gap of exploring Pahang's inland.

However, our day trip to the two attractions in Pahang was rather short and insufficient to fully experience all the activities they have to offer.

Karak Expressway - The Haunted Highway

As we made our way to Pahang from Kuala Lumpur, we took the Karak Expressway which is also frequented by tour coaches to Genting Highlands. We were well on our way speeding along the highway when our guide, Jack, turned around and told us this story...

Due to the high number of accidents and supernatural sightings, Karak Expressway (or Karak Highway) is deemed to be haunted by the locals. Popular scare legends include a yellow Volkswagen that appears out of nowhere, a boy roaming the highway searching for his mother, a Pontianak, and a demon who feeds on human flesh. This makes for one helluva hair-raising ride!
... motorists on the Karak Expressway have seen a yellow Volkswagen that appears out of nowhere and overtake their vehicles. Moments later, the same yellow Volkswagen will appear and overtake their vehicles again! *Spooky*

And if a garang motorist tries to overtake the yellow Volkswagen, he will notice that the yellow car has no driver!

The yellow Volkswagen account is just one of the many horror urban legends that the highway is notorious for. Another story traced the encounter of a tired driver who stopped by the roadside for a nap because he was tired only to be woken up by a boy tapping on his car's window. Curious that such a young boy is alone on a highway at night, he rolled down the window. The boy asked, "Have you seen my mother?" The driver replied that he has not seen anyone along the highway at such a late hour. But the boy persisted with his question.

Sensing that something wasn't quite right, the driver rolled up his window and sped off. He then took a glance at his rearview mirror and saw that the boy was running after his car! Panic-stricken, he looked back at his steering wheel and stepped on the accelerator.

As his car sped to over 100km/h, he heaved a sigh of relief.

Then he heard tapping on his window... the boy was running right next to him.

Apparently, there was an accident on Karak Highway where a young boy and his mother were killed on the spot. While the boy's body was secured to the car by seat belt, his mother's body smashed through the windscreen and landed some distance away.

The hauntings on Karak Expressway were so well-known and a part of the Malaysian folklore that a horror movie stringing all the paranormal stories was made in 2011. Here's the trailer...

I was seated at the back of the minivan and took the above photo of the highway through the back window. Thankfully I didn't see any yellow Volkswagen, boy or anything unholy!

Kuala Medang Homestay Half-Day Tour

After a two-hour ride from Kuala Lumpur with no boy tapping on our window, thank God, we arrived at Kuala Medang Homestay.

Kuala Medang Homestay offers visitors an opportunity to become one of the locals. The homestay village has won several accolades and named one of the best homestay experiences in Pahang.
As our visit was very brief, I didn't explore very much of Kuala Medang Homestay and the activities it provides. Apparently, homestayers can get to go kayaking, fishing and participate in a variety of handicraft workshops.

However, it seems that the activities are catered more for big groups (eg. school and packaged tour groups with a minimum of 30 pax) at the moment and I'm not sure if free and independent travellers (ie. single, double, or less than 10 in a travelling group) can partake or join big groups to experience the activities.

A central hall at Kuala Medang village where homestayers can converge.

Haven't seen a payphone in a long time and couldn't resist a selfie with it. The homestay houses at Kuala Medang are not shabby at all. Households offering homestays must go through approval and certification by Tourism Malaysia.

While taking photos, I walked into the courtyard of someone's house and small streets. The few villagers I encountered were friendly with ready smiles.

The bungalows for homestay looked really comfortable although I didn't venture inside.

What's cooking? One of our hosts preparing to feed us with Kuala Medang's specialty...

... durian assam fish! Yup, the sauce was infused with durian flavour and tasted pretty interesting. I went back for seconds because the fish was really fresh and sweet... maybe because of the durian.

Fans of chilli and durian would get a high from this paste. It made for a really tasty dip for ayam goreng (fried chicken).
At Kuala Medang Homestay, you can opt for a day of fishing and handicraft activities or a visit to the nearby orang asli settlement at Pos Pantos. We went for the orang asli visit but if you homestayed longer, you can experience it all. A 3D2N stay would seem an appropriate length to get under the skin of Kuala Medang.

A group photo with my trip's travelling companions at the mouth of a suspension bridge leading to Pos Pantos' orang asli village.

Bridge over troubled caramelled waters. The river is not dirty but infused with earthy sediments of the river bed and banks. Spa time, anyone?

Pathway leading to the orang asli village. Orang asli means "original / natural / aboriginal people" in Malay and forms one of the earliest ethnic tribes that inhabit Malaysia. There are three groups of orang aslis and the group we visited belonged to the Senoi tribe, which is the largest amongst the three.

The difference between original orang asli housing and modern kampong adaptations is that traditional orang asli homes are simply built with flattened bamboo while more sophisticated 'modern' dwellings use panel wood, cement and paneled windows. Olden day orang asli housings have holes within their walls from the uneven flattening of bamboo material, which facilitated ventilation. But rain is a bummer.

The moment we arrived at the village, we were crowned with hand-woven garlands that made us go... "I like to move-it move-it!" Heh heh... Photographed here with the granny who organicessorised me.

Orang aslis obtain their food sources from the forest (such as tapioca), hunt for games, or fish in the rivers and streams. Here, the womenfolk are skinning tapioca roots.

It was a feast to be inducted into the way food was prepared the traditional way. We tried our hands at preparing leaf wrapped rice too.

Tada! My orang asli lerek leaf wrapped rice.

The wrapped grains were then stuffed into gigantic hollow bamboo tubes filled with water and cooked over an open fire. As hunters-gathers, the orang aslis cook with whatever they can find in their surrounding.

Open sesame! Piping hot forest-flavoured rice cakes is served.

Bamboo cooked tapioca and rice eaten with crispy salted fish. It's a very simple meal but pretty appetizing.

Another traditional activity we got to try at the village was the orang asli's blow dart hunting technique. I didn't do a good blow job with my dart missing the target board by a long shot. Taking good aim was harder than it looks.

The village boys sat spellbound looking at us city folks wielding their tribe's hunting weapon. I think they look worried.

Homes built by the Malaysian government to rehouse orang aslis who left their forest dwellings.
Our short visit to the orang asli aboriginal village lasted about an hour and we went on our way to the National Elephant Conservation Centre. Along the way, we passed by rows of neat houses that have been built to house the orang aslis who have moved out of the forest.

It's invaluable to have visited the original orang asli forest village at Pos Pantos with its remaining aboriginal residents for a glimpse of their idyllic lifestyle before they too opt for the convenience of modernization.

National Elephant Conservation Centre (Kuala Gandah)

After a very bumpy 2-hour van ride from Kuala Medang Homestay, we arrived at the elephant sanctuary. The best way to get here would be to charter a vehicle or take a cab. Contact the centre for more info at 09-2790391.

As the only one such rescue and rehabilitation shelter for elephants in Malaysia, the National Elephant Conservation in Kuala Gandah educates visitors on the importance of harmonic co-existence with nature while providing an opportunity to get upclose with the long nosed giants. If you enjoy ecotourism, this place would satisfy your green appetite.

As we arrived rather late, we missed the various activities and video presentations that the centre has. Daily activities start from 10.30am onwards with the highlight being a chance to bathe the elephants in a nearby river at 2pm.

Unfortunately, the water level was too high on the day of our visit and the bathing activity was cancelled. If you are lucky enough to take a dip with the elephants, bring a change of clothes and towel. Entrance price to the centre varies with the number of activities you want to engage in. We got the ticket that allowed us to see and feed the stompers.

I imagined the conservation centre to be a mud pit like the elephant camp I've been to in Chiang Mai but this one is pretty well kept, landscaped and doesn't smell bad.

At the point of visit, there were about 30 elephants at the centre. They have been rescued in the wild from poachers or been removed from plantations all over Malaysia where they pose a threat to human life and crop. The elephants are housed at the centre and those suitable for release are relocated to other wildlife parks.

Their size and perpetually curious trunks were a little intimidating initially but once hand touches trunk, there's a certain kind of magic with having made contact with such a formidable but gentle beast.

One of the elephants had her feet cut off from a trap set by hunters.

For RM3.00, visitors can buy bananas and peanuts to feed the elephants. Each elephant eats a staggering 100 - 150kg of food a day! Sleeping only 4 hours daily and eating the rest of their waking moments, they are literary walking stomachs.

An orphaned baby elephant that's about two years old. It has such a happy face!

Without Googling, do you know how many teeth does an elephant have? Answer at the end of this blog post.

Another elephant trivia... can you guess which set of four footprints belongs to a male elephant and which to a female elephant? The first set of four prints are evenly spaced while the next set of four prints have two back prints that are wider apart. Again, the answer is at the end of this post.

As the number of Asian elephants in the wild is dwindling due to illegal poaching, urbanization and deforestation for farming, the National Elephant Conservation Centre plays an important role to rescue and relocate the distressed animals. I think what the centre tries to accomplish and the work of the volunteers are admirable to preserve Malaysia's wildlife.

Shuttling out from the hyper-urbanized, metropolitan skyline of Kuala Lumpur to the rustic meanderings at Kuala Medang Homestay, the orang asli village and the elephant conservation centre, it's amazing how the scenery and pace of life changes so completely. But that's Malaysia. There's the choice to be lapped up in the luxury of modern extravagances, or put city life on pause mode and go wholeheartedly back to basics.

Oh... and here are the answers to the elephant trivia :

- an elephant has 26 teeth but they are arranged into four blocks of massive chompers so technically, an elephant has 4 teeth
- the evenly spaced set of footprints belong to a female elephant and the set with the hind prints wider apart belongs to the male (because of the animal's testicles!)

This post has been made possible by Tourism Malaysia (Singapore Office).

Related Post :

Kuala Lumpur - A Weekend of Fashion, Food & Fun
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