Malaysian Food Blog, Travel, Diving & More

Tag / Travel

Earlier this month I went to yet another island in the East Coast of Malaysia for a little bit of R&R as well as put a bit of time breathing compressed air underwater. For this trip, everything was arranged by my colleague, Rich, I sort of just tag along. A vacation where you don’t have to plan for anything? Sign me up!

Our destination – Pulau Kapas.

Kapas Turtle Valley resort, Pulau Kapas, Terengganu
Kapas Turtle Valley resort, Pulau Kapas, Terengganu

Pulau Kapas is one of the lesser known islands of Terengganu. Located just 6 km or so from Marang Jetty, it is only some 10 minutes on the ferry (every 2 hours), which makes it really accessible even for those who may be prone to sea sickness. Furthermore, with East Coast Expressway in operation, getting there is easier than ever, around 400km on dual lane expressway with another 20 or so KM trunk road.

snorkeling, sand castle, and playing with hermit crab
snorkeling, sand castle, and playing with hermit crab

Kapas Turtle Valley is run by a Dutch couple who called Malaysia home, there are a lot of pro & cons living in Malaysia as an expat. It is a fairly small resort with capacity of less than 20-30 guests at any one time. It is also located at semi-private sort of beach with other resorts accessible via a short walk across the small hill in 10 minutes, perfect for those who loves a bit of privacy and quiet time.

You’ll be expected to spend close to RM 100 per night per person to stay at KTV, with breakfast inclusive. The bungalows are comfortable, bathrooms are big and quite luxurious for island standard, and you do have electricity around the clock.

food at Kapas Turtle Valley was excellent
food at Kapas Turtle Valley was excellent

What I love most though, is the food prepared by Sylvia. Breakfast usually consists of very good pastry, dutch cheese, egg, and juice, while lunch & dinner is as per order (usually from 3 choices) and priced reasonably. Her dishes are at least on par with some of the better restaurants in town, and that is certainly quite a luxury on an island, with a budget.

kayaking looks a lot easier in photos
kayaking looks a lot easier in photos

Holiday on island is about rest and relax, reading a book, listening to the waves and such, but if you’re restless, or you’re between 3-6, there are still quite a bit to do.

Making sand castle, catching hermit crab, snorkeling at the house reef, kayaking, throwing freebies, or even sailing on a catamaran is an option.

Aqua Sport Divers, the only dive center at Pulau Kapas
Aqua Sport Divers, the only dive center at Pulau Kapas

We spent 5 days and 4 nights at Turtle Kapas Valley, and only decided to put in some diving on 3rd and 4th day.

Aqua Sport Divers is the only dive center on the island, and some 25 minutes walk from where we stay. Fortunately, they are more than happy to ferry us on a small speed boat to & fro from KTV to dive center.

nemo with anemone, always one of my favorite shooting subjects
nemo with anemone, always one of my favorite shooting subjects

As for the dives, underwater visibility at Kapas isn’t exactly stellar, mostly due to the fact that the island is a mere 6 kilometers away from peninsular Malaysia, but they were more than decent.

Over the 3 dives, we spotted moray eel, barracuda, humphead wrasse, clown fish, jelly fish, big puffer, blue spotted stingray, and more. There were even a story about a group getting a glimpse of a whale shark a couple weeks prior.

UW pics taken with Olympus TG-5
UW pics taken with Olympus TG-5

I loaned a couple cameras from Olympus that are fit for underwater purposes. The Olympus TG-Tracker for video, and Olympus TG-5 mainly for stills. They were very convenient, pop the SD cards in and you’re good to go, no meticulous checking of seals or carrying my huge set up of my (now dated) Olympus E-PL3 with underwater housing. The picture quality isn’t as good as a micro 4/3 format for sure, but there were more than acceptable, and of course, carrying a small pouch with 2 cameras is much easier than a whole luggage full of gear for just one.

Overall it was an awesome trip, thanks to Rich & San San for organizing, will look forward to more R&R trips such as this one.

On our trip to London, we were lucky enough that accommodation was arranged at Dorsett at Sheperd’s Bush located about half an hour from Heathrow Airport by taxi, and only some 10 stops from the heart of the city via the tube on central line.

Dorsett Hotel at Sheperd's Bush, London
Dorsett Hotel at Sheperd’s Bush, London

The hotel has some 300 rooms separated in eight floors. The design is a mix of contemporary British style with Chinese influence, pretty interesting. Right in front of the hotel is a park, with Sheperd’s Bush tube station about 5 minutes away on foot, and conveniently, Westfield (as we found out later, the largest mall in London), less than 10 minutes away.

our suite on the 8th floor, Dorsett Sheperd's Bush
our suite on the 8th floor, Dorsett Sheperd’s Bush

Though we booked the deluxe room, the hotel was kind enough to bump us up to their suite. This was like the business class of hotel room that comes with all the bells & whistles – there’s a full master bedroom, a separate seating area to entertain guests, a “living room” with 42″ TV & sofa, as well as a nice bath tub and shower facilities.

Other convenience such as a work desk, mini fridge, iron board, hair dryer, bathrobes, and even small bottles of wine & sparkling water are included too.

executive lounge & the gym at Dorsett Sheperd's Bush
executive lounge & the gym at Dorsett Sheperd’s Bush

There’s also a gym, meeting room, spa (unfortunately we didn’t get to try), business center, and access to the executive lounge if you stay in the suite or executive guestroom.

Best of all, to me personally anyway, is that the hotel also has SUPER FAST wireless internet connection. I did a speed test and got something like 700 MB/s download speed – definitely first world connectivity.

English breakfast at the hotel
English breakfast at the hotel, we have bacon!

Like most hotels, Dorsett Sheperd’s Bush serves continental English breakfast daily. While the buffet spread isn’t particularly huge, the quality of food made up for it. The bread & pastries were all so delicious (must be the butter & flour they use?), and I also particularly like the bacon and those pork sausages, so yummy.

"Pictures" restaurant on the ground floor
“Pictures” restaurant on the ground floor

The hotel has three restaurants on the ground floor, on the second night, we had our dinner at Pictures, their all-day dining brasserie style restaurant with European menu.

The restaurant was tastefully decorated, and got its’ name from the building’s previous role as a theater. There’s even pictures of classic movie stars on the wall, pretty neat isn’t it?

crayfish cocktail & crispy calamari as our starters
crayfish cocktail & crispy calamari as our starters

To start, we had crayfish cocktail and the hotel manager’s recommendation – crispy calamari as our starters.

The mixture of fresh water crayfish and avocado was somewhat interesting, as most savory but cold dish tend to give. I think it’ll be great to have it as a filling in a sandwich too.

The calamari however, was excellent! I’ve never had fried calamari in coriander dressing, but the recipe turned out to be sophisticated and beautiful. I certainly would want to try to make this at home one of these days, you don’t even need mayonnaise or beer to enjoy this, no wonder it’s one of their best sellers.

21 day aged 6 oz Scotch fillet
21 day aged 6 oz Scotch fillet 

For mains, I had the 21 day aged 6 oz Scotch fillet, while Haze went for the 28 day dry aged cattleman’s 8oz striploin. Both dishes came with portobello mushroom, cherry vine tomato, and skinny fries.

While wagyu and kobe is all the rage these days, I still enjoy my proper aged beef, and they were very well executed here – tender, juicy, and full of flavor, can’t ask for more.

we enjoyed our stay at Dorsett Sheperd's Bush, thank you for the lovely time
we enjoyed our stay at Dorsett Sheperd’s Bush, thank you for the lovely time

We enjoyed our 3 nights at Dorsett, and if you head to London for business or leisure, this place should be in your short list.

Note: This UK – Malaysia Influencer Exchange programme was organised by Malaysia Airlines.
However, opinions are of my own. Malaysia Airlines flies between London and Kuala Lumpur
twice a day on the A380. There are 8 seats in the First Class, 66 in Business Class and 420
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I am blogging on behalf of Visa’s Travel Happy campaign and receive compensation for my time, but the thoughts, words, and promotions on this page are mine, not Visa’s.

For my birthday back in 2011, Haze took me to Bali. It was a rather awesome trip and we did quite a lot in the few days we spent on the Indonesian island.

Fast forward 2014, and we decided to head there again to do and see some of the things we missed the last time around, only this time we decided to go cashless – with the help of Visa.

beautiful resorts, quirky people, great food
beautiful resorts, quirky people, great food

First of all, why Bali?

The decision is simple, the largely Hindu island has plenty to offer and remains a pretty affordable travel destination despite its popularity. On top of that, they are lots of resorts and hotels to choose from, covering the whole spectrum of budget. A simple online search reveals over 3,000 hotels and resorts on the island smaller than the state of Negeri Sembilan.

getting wet at waterbom, and marvelling the mantas at Nusa Penida
getting wet at Waterbom, and marvelling the mantas at Nusa Penida

The last time around, we did the following:

  • had a massage at one of the resorts
  • went to Waterbom, a waterpark
  • went diving and managed to see mola-mola and manta rays
  • rented a bike and rode up to the volcano
  • visited monkey forest
  • visited many art galleries
  • drank cafe luak
  • visited kuta beach
  • tried bebek begil and babi guling

For this trip, I’m keeping my options pretty free. We will certainly rent a motorcycle to get around (traffic isn’t the best), perhaps take a day trip to see/swim with dolphins, or dive the Liberty wreck. Finally going to see what Tanah Lot is all about could be in the list as well.

monkey forest, paddy field, motorbiking, chicken on bicycle, art
monkey forest, paddy field, motorbiking, chicken on bicycle, art

Secondly, why cashless?

Well, I’m always a bit wary of carrying a bunch of foreign currencies when it comes to traveling. Furthermore, it is always a bit messy when it comes to tracking your expenses when everything is based on a currency you aren’t familiar with (I track all expenses on my phone). Using the Visa card for these purposes only seemed logical.

For the time when cash is needed (such as eating street foods), withdrawal can be done at the local ATMs too.

I also found out that there’s Visa travel assistance services that provides pretty neat services such as emergency cash provision, emergency card replacement (1 business day)

Additionally, there are also offers exclusive to Visa that you can take advantage off when traveling. These include discounts and upgrades for participating hotels and car rental services, discounts on shopping, restaurants, and more. Definitely something to check out, the offers are unique to each destination.

I got my tickets booked, and can’t wait for our Bali trip 2.0!

To find out more, Click Here.

p/s: This post is brought to you by Visa.

We went to Maldives for a holiday of sun, sea, and plenty of fun in the beginning of October 2013. This was the second dive trip of the year, the first was Anilao at the Philippines in January.

Two international trips in the same year, I can’t really ask for more. Anilao was mainly for macro (small creatures), while Maldives is famous for its’ awesome big marine animals. Perfect.

This post is about being on the cruise and the entire trip, there will be other entries with underwater photos detailing the dive sites and diving experiences.

map of Maldives

For those who aren’t familiar with this paradise of a country, Maldives is located in the Indian ocean, about 400 kilometers south-west of India.

We took the Malaysian Airline flight that goes straight from KLIA to MLE. The airfare cost a little over RM 1,000 all inclusive. This was a promotional price, usual fare goes for around RM 1.6k.

Luggage weight limit is 30kg, but showing your dive card gets you another 10kg if you’re traveling to a dive destination. Air Asia also flies to Maldives now (via Columbo).

the airport at Male, Maldives
the airport at Male, Maldives

The flight to MALE took about 4 hours and we touched down just passed 10pm.

The airport is built on Hulhulé Island and while you can see the capital of Maldives – Male, the two islands are not connected to each other.

crystal clear water right outside the airport
crystal clear water right outside the airport

Hence, instead of lines of buses and cabs, you have ferries and plenty of private boats picking up travellers.

Right from the get go, we were already impressed. By the airport there were crystal clear water, coconut trees, and gentle cool breeze. We knew that it was going to be a good holiday.

Before getting off the airport, we bought a local SIM card for data services. 22 USD gets you the “unlimited” data package that lasts a month, though unlimited really means 5 gigabytes worth of data before you get throttled.

Data coverage is surprisingly good, albeit the relatively slow speed.

plenty of liveaboard cruise ships parked near Male
plenty of liveaboard cruise ships parked near Male

We were transferred to Handy Cruise via a Dhoni, a multipurpose sailboat that’s equipped with a motor used in Maldvies. The Dhoni also serves as the boat that we used for diving, as well as a rescue boat in emergency situations.

Having a separate boat for diving ensures that the main boat that we spend most of our time in is always dry and clean.

aboard on Handy Cruise, where we spent the next 6 nights
aboard on Handy Cruise, where we spent the next 6 nights

The Handy Cruise is a pretty fine liveaboard boat, there’s a sun deck on top, followed by 5 cabins on first floor (two of which has built in jacuzzi), with access to front and rear of the boat. The entertainment area (with TV and sound system), dining room, kitchen, and the bar is on the main deck. There are five more cabins on the lower deck as well.

There’s a charging station for cameras & phones on the common area, and each room is also equipped with air conditioning with attached bathroom and hot shower. I’d say it is equivalent to a 3-4 star hotel.

light attracts planktons, which attract the beautiful manta rays
light attracts planktons, which attract the beautiful manta rays

We logged 17 dives in 6 days, with the seventh day spent clearing nitrogen out of our body before flying home. As mentioned earlier, posts on diving will follow.

For two nights, the crews set up strong halogen lights at the rear of the boat. This attracts planktons and small fishes, which in turn attracts manta rays that feeds on planktons.

There was a single manta ray on the 2nd night of the trip, and two more that visited us on the 4th night. These magnificent creatures were some 6-8 feet across their wingspan, gracefully gliding through the water and doing back flips just beneath the surface as they feed.

Beautiful beautiful fish, and no, you can’t have it for ikan bakar.

we parked near Machchafushi island on the 4th night
on the ocean, you get beautiful sunset everyday

The cool thing about living on the ocean, or really anywhere around Maldvies is that you get beautiful sunsets every single day. There are no tall buildings or hills obstructing the view. It was magical.

Of course, if you’re an early riser, there’s sunrise as well, but who can wake up for that?

on the ocean, you get beautiful sunset everyday
we parked near Machchafushi island on the 4th night 

We cruised passed many small islands with beautiful resorts on them. The views are worthy of wallpapers and postcards. The photo above shows the Centara Grand Island Resort & Spa on the Machchafushi island, South Ari Atoll. Spending a night there cost something like RM 1,700.

We paid less than half of that per day, including, diving, food, board, and tips.

dolphins came by and played a bit in front of our boat
dolphins came by and played a bit in front of our boat

We were also extremely lucky. On the way crossing from South Ari Atoll to Maadhoo, we spotted a pod of dolphins. A few of them actually came and ride the wake of our boat for a couple minutes, it was the closets I’ve been to wild dolphins. You gotta be there to appreciate the moment.

food on board was not bad, we had sashimi for a few days after they caught this sailfish
food on board was not bad, we had sashimi for a few days after they caught this sailfish

Food on Handy Cruise is pretty good too.

While we’re diving, the boatmen sometimes go fishing (at non-reserve areas, of course), and they actually managed to net a 7 foot long sailfish on the 4th day of the trip. We dined on delicious sailfish sashimi for the next 3 days, cooked sailfish filet wasn’t nearly as tasty though.

Maldivian food is not very different from Indian cuisine, their dal is creamier, there’s plenty of seafood, and the meat of choice is usually chicken and the occasional beef. Since it is an Islamic country, everything is halal too.

Oh, the papaya from Maldives is also a lot juicier and sweeter than our Malaysian counterpart.

we stopped by Maadhoo island, beautiful place
we stopped by Maadhoo island, beautiful place

On the penultimate night of our stay, we stopped by Maadhoo Finolhu, also known as the picnic island.

The long and slender island with white sandy beach on boat sides is used for nothing but to host picnics and bbq parties. This was the first time we got off the ocean after 5 days. You do get a little bit of “land sick” after spending so much time getting used to gently rocking on the boat.

BBQ party at Maadhoo island on the 5th night of the trip
BBQ party at Maadhoo island on the 5th night of the trip

The BBQ party was awesome, instead of a sand castle, we had a sand whale shark. The crew even set up disco lights and sound system. Good food, great company, and we danced through the night.

Stepping on the beach along the water line excites the bio-luminescent creatures to generate lights, it was like tiny dots of stars on the beach. I’ve never seen anything like it.

I think Michael Jackson must have gotten his inspiration for the Billy Jean music video from this.

On the last day, we spent a few hours on Male, the most populated island
On the last day, we spent a few hours on Male, the most populated island

On the last day of the trip, we got to spend a few hours on Male, the most populated island in Maldives with some 100k inhabitants.

The island is less than 6 square kilometers, with majority of traffic comprises of motorcycles traveling at maybe 15-20 KM/h. We visited the fish market and witness a master carving up a huge yellow fin tuna in just some 5 minutes, bought some souvenirs from the local gift shops, and spent some time at the fruits and vegetable market too.

By nightfall on the 7th and the last day of the trip, it was time to go. We reluctantly bid goodbye to the excellent crews on the Handy Cruise and left for the airport on the Dhoni.

It was an excellent trip and one that I hope I’ll be able to repeat in due time.

Two months ago, from the 1st to the 7th January, Haze and I traveled to the Philippines for a dive trip at Anilao. The week long trip includes two nights at Manila and four nights at Anilao, Batangas. In this entry I’m going to talk a bit about the journey and Arthur’s Place, the resort we stayed while at Anilao.

map of Anilao, the Philippines

Anilao is a pretty popular diving destination in the Philippines due to its proximity from Manila, as well as the myriad of underwater creatures the various dive sites has to offer. If you love macro (those small stuff like nudibranch, crabs, shrimps, etc), you will love Anilao.

I’ll be posting plenty of underwater photos on subsequent posts.

we drove from Manila to Anilao, took about 2 hours
all smiles, driving to Anilao took about two hours

We flew Cebu Pacific and spent New Year’s day at Rich, my ex-colleague’s place at Manila.

On the next day, we drove about 2 hours to Anilao on a journey that’s about 75% highway and 25% slow moving busy town-roads. Our destination was Arthur’s Place where we will meet up with Dave, Caterina and others diving buddies (we dove together at Similan Islands and Tenggol Island)

Arthur's place, love the lawn
Arthur’s place, love the lawn and the gazebo

Arthur’s Place has about a dozen rooms facing a lawn with a gazebo in the middle. The restaurant is located “upstairs”, while the dive center is half a level down, right next to the beach. It isn’t exactly luxury, but the rooms are clean, and comes with hot water and air conditioning.

Once we have our equipments set up for the first day, the helpers at the resort made sure we had fresh tanks of air for every dive, and transferring of equipment from boat to dive center’s usually taken care of as well. The level of service is excellent.

Arthur's Place at Anilao
Dive center at Arthur’s Place

Our dive guide was Richard, the guy knows practically everything about dive sites at Anilao. All we had to do was telling him what we wanted to see, and he’ll know exactly which dive side and be able to locate that particular frog fish that’s only 2cm across, or the one sea fan with pygmy seahorse out of the hundreds of sea fans underwater.

If you are going to Arthur’s Place, I highly recommend getting Richard as your dive guide.

the pebble beach, not real sandy, but not too bad
the pebble beach, not real sandy, but still a lovely view

The beach in front of Arthur’s Place isn’t exactly superb. The beach is made of broken corals, pebbles, and sand. A pair of booty is very useful if you want to take a stroll by the seaside. This is typical of beaches around Anilao and not limited to this stretch at Arthur’s Place.

Water is generally clear and you can snorkel or dive right from here.

awesome sunset everyday at Arthur's Place
awesome sunset everyday at Arthur’s Place

Arthur’s place faces west, which means post-card worthy sunset view every evening. We had the privilege of enjoying four golden sunsets here, and each time it takes your breath away.

some of the food we had, plenty of choices to last a week
some of the food we had, plenty of choices to last a week

Everything here is ala-carte basis, and that includes room, diving (per dive depending on number of divers, distance of dive sites), and best of all – food. The restaurant at Arthur’s Place carries a pretty decent menu offering traditional dishes such as steamed fish, chicken adobo, bangus (milk fish for breakfast), to Western entries such as their very delicious bacon cheese burger.

The prices are from around 80 to 200 Philippines Peso per dish, while on a slightly high side for Philippines, we had no qualms about how they tastes and looked forward to every meal.

KY, Haze, and Rich, partner in compressed air breathing
KY, Haze, and Rich, partner in compressed air breathing

Over all we spent about RM 2,500 for 4 nights of accommodation, food, and around 20 dives for myself and Haze. It was money well spent and the trip was only made better by the excellent hospitality by Rich and San San.

Looking forward to doing this again. Underwater photos coming soon.