National Monument, Kuala Lumpur

National Monument, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

The National Monument or Tugu Negara is not as popular as the Petronas Twin Towers yet its symbolism to the Malaysian people is as important.

“To Our Glorious Dead”

According to Wikipedia, it commemorates those who died in Malaysia’s struggle for freedom, principally against the Japanese occupation during  World War II and the Malayan Emergency, which lasted from 1948 until 1960.

Each bronze sculpture represents leadership, suffering, unity, vigilance, strength, courage and sacrifice. Malaysians should also be proud that this is the largest bronze monument grouping in the world.

A dedication to Malaysia’s heroic fighters

The National Monument is located at Lake Gardens, Jalan Tugu off Jalan Parlimen, Kuala Lumpur. Open daily from 9:00 am until 6:00 pm.

Full Moon Party!

May 18, 2011 Full Moon Party, Koh Pha Ngan

*This post is best read with this song playing on the background, What’s My Name by Rihanna ft. Drake or On the Floor by J. Lo ft. Pitbull, one of the more popular tunes played at the Drop In Bar =)

So the most awaited night in Koh Pha Ngan has arrived. For the month of May, the night of the party was not on the first day of the full moon but on the second since it fell on Vesak Day, Buddha’s day of birth, enlightenment and entry to nirvana, a very important Buddhist holiday.

Full Moon Party!

Let’s see how everyone’s preparing… First thing on the list before the party starts, a ‘sleeping area’ for those who had difficulty holding their liquor. Check!

The ‘Sleeping’ Area

Bucket drinks bar has been set-up for party goers. Check!

Pick your bucket drink!

Neon hats, blinking head bands and neon body paint for party goers. Check!

Neon body paint

Let the party begin!

Paradise Bungalows, the site of the original Full Moon Party

 According to Koh Pha Ngan brochures available throughout the island, the First Full Moon Party started way back 1987 or 1988 when a group of friends celebrated a birthday party which coincided with the Full Moon. The same group agreed to meet the next month, also on a Full Moon. So every month afterwards, word spread out and the Full Moon party just got bigger and better! During the peak month of December, numbers can reach as high as 30,000 party goers.

Solo writes his name on customer's arm so she will remember to buy a bucket from him again

Haad Rin Nok was so crowded! Boats from Koh Samui, Ko Tao and Suratthani arriving non-stop. Everyone’s all geared up and ready to have a great time!

Full Moon Party!

Everyone's up and dancing!

Days before, some vendors have little or no business at all. But on Full Moon Party night, even the tarot reader had pretty good business!

What does my future hold? Yes, you'll have 2 rounds of bucket vodka before you pass out!

Let’s check the ‘Sleeping’ area. Anyone checked-in yet? Yup, this guy was knocked out as early as 11 in the evening!

The first guest who checked-in at the 'Sleeping' area

More fun and daring games! Limbo Rock anyone?

Bend like you've never bent before! Or else...

The ring of fire!

Flaming jump rope

I was having a devil of a good time! Literally =p

Whoops! What's that on your behind Borat?

Follow these precautions and you’re guaranteed a great time at the Full Moon Party in Koh Pha Ngan.

Hey Mister! Buy from me! Love you long time! Free hug!

The morning of the Full Moon Party… STILL partying??!!

Everyone's still up and dancing while the bartender takes a nap

WARNING! The photos you are about to see are the effects of those darn colorful buckets =p

Passing out near a trash bag

No more buckets? Then I guess I should just sleep here... zzzzz

Curled like a baby

Still hanging on to the bucket. I hope this dude woke up before the high tide!

More zzzzzz

Come on! It was just a few feet to your bed dude!

The obedient ones to sleep at the designated area

The morning after

We made it to our room, did we? Yeah I think so, let's snuggle then.

Empty bottles and buckets everywhere!

We went back to our room at around 6:30 in the morning. It was a fun night, a party that seem to never end. ..but I think one Full Moon Party is enough for me =)

Haad Rin Nok from a viewpoint just a short hike from Seaview Sunrise Resort

Not to be missed… Haad Rin, Koh Pha Ngan, South Thailand

The first time I heard of Koh Pha Ngan was at Siargao Island, Philippines way back in 2008 from 2 British guys who just came from the island. From their stories, my impression of Koh Pha Ngan was drink-till-you-drop Full Moon beach parties which lasts all night. Not my kind of thing. So Koh Pha Ngan wasn’t really in my must-visit islands.

Days before the Full Moon Party, Haad Rin Nok is almost deserted. One can freely enjoy the peaceful blue sea and fine white sands

Haad Rin Nok, a day before the Full Moon Party

The South of Thailand was unfortunately not included in our 2009 Southeast Asia backpacking trip due to financial and visa constraints. So now, fast forward to 2011… with a free* 2-month visa sticker to Thailand (which we got at the Thai Consulate in Penang, Malaysia, for those who are curious. See * at the bottom of the page for more information), we are making sure to explore as much of the South as we can.

Haad Rin Nok, Koh Pha Ngan

While in quiet and sleepy Khanom, we learned that the Full Moon Party is coming up in a few days so we thought of starting our Gulf of Thailand island hopping at Koh Pha Ngan. Not a bad idea to see the world-famous beach party once in your life right? So 5 days before the full moon night, we took a songtheaw (80B/US $2.66) to Don Sak pier and caught the 10am Rajah Ferry boat to Thong Sala Pier which costs 220B (US $7.33).

Haad Rin Nok from a viewpoint just a short hike from Seaview Sunrise Resort

The month of May is low season for Western tourists. That particular weekend though was the last weekend before the new school year starts for Thai students so there were a couple of Thai families on the ferry with us heading to Koh Pha Ngan. We met these amazing and beautiful kids; Wen Wei, Pei Wa, Phet and Pheng; who taught me several Thai words.

My beautiful 'teachers' =) Wen Wei, Pei Wa, Phet and Pheng.

Upon reaching Thong Sala pier, we were surprised that the songtheaw fare to Haad Rin was a fixed rate of 100B (US $3.33) per person. Don’t bother negotiating. It will NOT work. It doesn’t matter whether you’re alone or 8 of you are sharing the ride. Some French girls were unhappy with the fare rate as well so we thought of renting a minivan to take 8 of us to Haad Rin. Same story, 100B each. Renting a motorbike for 150B (US $5) crossed our minds. However, when we saw the winding and steep road on the way to Haad Rin by minivan, we were glad that we didn’t push through with the idea.

View from Sea Breeze Resort, Leela Beach or Haad Seekantang in Koh Pha Ngan. The sea is so calm and clear.

It’s a good thing that the minivan stopped at several hotels and guesthouses so we can check out cheap accommodation. 5 days before the Full Moon party, most inexpensive rooms are booked or reserved in advance! We decided to stay near the beach so we walked around the resorts just a few meters from the sea.

My first impression of Haad Rin, Koh Pha Ngan... 5 days before the Full Moon Party... it was a little piece of paradise!

My impression of Koh Pha Ngan, specifically Haad Rin Nok or Sunrise Beach where the Full Moon Party is at? I was stunned! The water is so blue, clear and calm… the sand so fine and white. Haad Rin is an amazing sight! The beach was not crowded at all. That would change though 2 days before the Full Moon party.

Mellow Mountain Resort... not so mellow when party music blaring until 6 in the MORNING!

We ended up staying in a double room with fan and attached bathroom at Mellow Mountain for 300B (US $10). The resort was up on the rocks, overlooking Haad Rin Nok. It would have been a nice place to stay longer but the cottages are not well maintained, some trash scattered near our cottage, music blaring at the Mellow Mountain bar and nearby Kangaroo bar until 6am.

Mellow Mountain Resort up on the rocks. Perfect location, but not the perfect bungalows.

After one night, we have to say goodbye to our priceless overlooking view of Haad Rin Nok and transfer to nearby Seaview Sunrise Resort (400B/ US $13.33). We got a good deal since we’ll be staying for a couple of days. Just a 100B difference and still a few meters from the beach, we got a well-maintained and clean cottage.

Seaview Sunrise Resort.. right on the beach... the best and affordable place in Haad Rin Nok, Koh Pha Ngan

Facilities which guests may enjoy freely includes unlimited coffee, use of the pool table, wifi, use of flat screen TV with wide choice of movies, hammocks, inflatable mattress for lounging at the calm sea, woven mats for sunbathing at the beach, sunblock and insect repellant. The resort restaurant also offers delicious Thai and Western food which suits a backpackers’ budget. The manager, Tim, a gorgeous Thai lady originally from Bangkok, is very accommodating and pleasant. The staff who are mostly from Burma, are a friendly bunch too. We learned that Tim recently took over the resort, barely 6 months. Her family owns the land where the resort stands and after leasing the land for more than 20 years, her family decided to take over. There were some bad reviews online about the earlier owners of the resort, which used to be named Seaview Haad Rin. But I’m sure under Tim’s new management, it’s not far-fetched that Seaview Sunrise Resort would welcome back previous guests and say hello to more new guests.

Nightly fun and party at the Drop In Bar. It gets more crowded as the Full Moon night gets nearer.

Bucket drinks for everyone!

Foam parties at Drop In Bar... where some 'crazy' things happen

As each night drew closer to the Full Moon, more and more people are arriving from different parts of the globe. The nightly fun and games at Drop In Bar and Cactus Bar gets merrier, crazier and more crowded.

Flaming jump rope... would you dare to try? =p

Games include the flaming jump rope which I dare not try, Tug o’ War and shooting a soccer ball from several distances where one can score a cup of whiskey coke, vodka red bull, beer and the grand prize of vodka bucket, which we won 3 times! Woot!

Fun and games! Vodka bucket shot, flaming jump rope and a sack race!

Nightly fun at Koh Pha Ngan

During the day, when mostly everyone is just lounging around Haad Rin Nok with a good book or catching up on sleep while sunbathing at the beach, one can also hike to nearby beaches like Haad Rin Nai or Sunset Beach, where you could catch an amazing sunset (what else?).

Sunset at Haad Rin Nai

Another option is walking to Haad Seekantang or Leela Beach for a swim and again to catch the sunset while having a drink at Lighthouse Bungalows.

Clear blue-green water at Leela Beach

Haad Rin town or the commercial area a few meters away from the beach have several cheap accommodation options for those who prefer to stay away from the beach scene. There are also a range of restaurants offering good value meals which includes a can of soda. Jaya Restaurant which also have rooms for rent, got one of the best tasting Tom Yum Goong for 90B (US $3) which comes with either a bottle of water or a can of soda. For my seafood pasta fix, I usually go to Little Home Thai Restaurant. 100B (US $3.33) for a generous serving of seafood in tomato sauce! Yummy! For those looking for near authentic Italian food, there are several restaurants to choose from, however, their pasta dishes can’t be lower than 250B (US $8.33). Still cheap for others, but not for me!

Moon rising over Haad Rin Nok, Koh Pha Ngan

It would have been a big mistake to skip Koh Pha Ngan or believe what everyone say about Haad Rin and head to the other isolated beaches of Koh Pha Ngan. My week stay at Haad Rin Nok, Koh Pha Ngan was one of the best so far. I would definitely be back in the future.

* 2 month visa free Thailand stickers are issued to citizens of the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Tunisia and South Korea. Just give your passport at the Thai Consulate in Penang, Malaysia in the morning. Before the consulate close at 4pm, your passport is ready for pick-up. For citizens of other parts of the globe, 2 month visa sticker to Thailand costs Malaysia Ringgit RM 110 (US $36.66). Information was good as of April 25, 2011.

Inside the Batu Cave, Kuala Lumpur

The Batu Caves of Kuala Lumpur

The Batu Caves, located at the Gombak District north of Kuala Lumpur, is one of the most visited tourist spots in Malaysia. According to Wikipedia, the limestone hill forming Batu Caves is said to be around 400 years old.

Inside the Batu Cave, Kuala Lumpur

*The cave is one of the most popular Hindu shrines outside India, dedicated to Lord Murugan. It is also the focal point of the Hindu festival of Thaipusam in Malaysia. (*Excerpt from Wikipedia)

From the Kuala Lumpur station of KTMB Railway, you can take a 30-minute train ride direct to Batu Caves for only RM1 (US$ .33 cents). The ride back is RM2 (US$ .66 cents).

Train to Batu Caves

A 42.7m high statue of Lord Murugan, the tallest in the world, greets every visitor to the Batu Caves.

Entrance to the Batu Caves

272 steps all the way up! Not really as bad as it looks.


Stairs going up the Main Temple

Beware of these mischievous monkeys! They grabbed a few snacks and made some children cry.


Wild monkeys guarding the steps to Batu Caves

It’s very cool inside the cave, a respite from the heat outside. It was two weeks before Thaipusam when we visited the cave. Since more than a million devotees visit this popular Hindu shrine during the festival, some temple staff have started to put metal guards inside the cave for crowd control.


Metal guards in preparation for Thaipusam

More photos inside the cave.

An old Indian lady sits and waits inside the cave. In exchange for a few ringgit, she would put some white or red powder on the forehead while whispering prayers of peace and blessings.

On the way down, we saw devotees carrying milk pots as offering to Lord Murugan. We were able to catch the Thaipusam Festival in Penang where devotees do more than carry milk pots. More on Thaipusam on my future blog post!

If you have a few hours to kill while in Kuala Lumpur, I would recommend visiting the Batu Caves. The train ride is so cheap, no entrance fee to the caves and you get a glimpse of the Indian culture up close.

One of the marked tuna at the GenSan Fishport

The Tuna Fishport of General Santos City, Mindanao, The Philippines: More than the usual (Part 1 of Series)

One of the marked tuna at the GenSan Fishport

General Santos City or GenSan in South Cotabato, Mindanao is well-known among Filipinos as the hometown of the best pound for pound boxer in the world, Manny Pacquiao. However, before Manny became the legendary boxer that he is now, GenSan has been known for its most popular local commodity, the tuna. Hence the tag, Tuna Capital of the Philippines.

Lots of huge tuna!

When I went on a 2 month backpacking journey across Mindanao way back December 2008, I made a mental note not to miss the GenSan Tuna Fishport. Of course it’s not as huge or as busy as the Tsukiji Fish Market in Japan. Still it’s a place worth visiting while in GenSan.

Weighing the tuna. Some of it were around 70 kilos.

We were at the Tuna Fishport before 7am as suggested by GenSan locals. All tourists need to log in at the Administration Office, get a written permit to take photos and wear white rubber boots provided.

The tuna is bigger than me! Not as heavy I suppose.

While inside the Fishport, I can’t help to take a lot of photos as I’ve never seen so much huge tuna in my life! Some are even bigger than me! Most of these tuna are for export overseas. The lower grade tuna are of course, for local consumption.

Not your usual tuktuk passenger!

I feel pitiful looking at these men. Imagine carrying 70kg on one shoulder, from the boat to the fishport! I discreetly took photos since I know carrying those huge tuna is not an easy task.

A thin metal tube was inserted to check the quality grade of the tuna meat. Some of the tuna were cleaned, gutted and placed on iced containers. Ready for selling at the market.

Unfortunately, fresh sashimi is not available at the Fishport. If you want to have some, you have to buy the whole fish! Maybe in the market, which I wasn’t able to visit. The next time I visit GenSan, I’ll make sure to go during the Tuna Festival. Don’t forget to bring wasabi and soy sauce!

Test driving my new bicycle on the outskirts of Batu Pahat, Johor

Cycling the outskirts of Batu Pahat, Johor

It has been 2 weeks since I last rode a bicycle. Yes, not that long ago but yesterday’s bike ride was special. First, it was the day I test-drived my new bicycle for a long ride and second, I’m cycling in Malaysia!

Test driving my new bicycle on the outskirts of Batu Pahat, Johor

Malaysia roads are wide and well-paved but it was disappointing to know that road-sharing with a cyclist is non-existent. I just can’t wait to get out of Batu Pahat small town and cycle the outskirts.

A rough road leading to rows of palm oil trees

I was happily surprised that just a few minutes of cycling from the town center, we reach a place where we can cycle undisturbed by cars and just enjoy the peaceful natural surroundings.

Discovering the outskirts of Batu Pahat on a bicycle

Mid-way, we saw these kids swimming in a small stream. They were inviting me to join them. ‘Auntie! Mandi*!’ (*Mandi is bath in Malay) What??!! These kids call me Auntie?? Haha. I didn’t bring extra clothes as swimming didn’t even enter my mind yesterday and besides I don’t think the water is that clean.

Kids happily swimming in a small creek

Can’t wait to discover more of Malaysia on a bicycle!

Clear blue-green water and limestone karsts in El Nido, Palawan

The Philippines: More than the usual* (Introduction to a series)

Batad Rice Terraces in Banaue, Mountain Province. A UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Philippines is a country blessed with amazing natural wonders. However, tourist arrivals don’t even come close to that of Thailand. I have read several round-the-world blogs yet a visit to the Philippines is almost always not included.

Clear blue-green water and limestone karsts in El Nido, Palawan

Why is that so? I have spoken with backpackers from all over the world whom I’ve met when I traveled around Mainland Southeast Asia last year and asked this question several times. One obvious answer is that the Philippines is not part of the mainland. Honestly, I half-heartedly believe that. Indonesia is also an archipelago, farther than the Philippines from the mainland yet tourism statistics is better?

The most amazing sunset I've seen in the Philippines. Saud Beach, Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte.

The main reason is definitely the security concerns in the Philippines. With all the news about kidnapping and terrorist attacks, who would want to fly in? But then, the same things happen all over the world, even much worse!

Fish pens in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato

I am also almost a victim of my ignorance and almost didn’t see the beauty of Mindanao. When we were planning a 6-month backpacking trip around the Philippines in 2008, I was adamant in not including Mindanao. I’ve never been to this infamous island yet I believed all the things people have been saying that the whole of Mindanao is unsafe and that the Muslims are not kind-hearted people. Though it’s true that foreign and local tourists need to avoid very few places with continuous political instability in Mindanao, but just like everywhere else, being alert and common sense is necessary.

Bongao Peak, Bongao, Tawi-Tawi, Mindanao

Looking back, I was glad to make that trip to Mindanao. We even ended up staying for 2 months! It was in Mindanao where I met honest tricycle drivers and strangers who welcomed us to their homes expecting nothing in return.

The old city of Vigan, Ilocos Sur. A UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Yes, one have to be truly adventurous enough to book a flight and hop on a plane to visit the Philippines. Those who do are pleasantly rewarded.

The magnificent Paoay Church in Ilocos Norte. A UNESCO World Heritage Site.

I’ll be sharing my photos and (mis)adventures during my 2008 backpacking trip in the coming posts. From way up north in Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte, all the way down south in Sitangkai, Tawi-Tawi. Exploring most of Southeast Asia intimately for more than a year gave me a deep appreciation of my country and being Asian. It was a pleasure to see the Philippines first and I would love to share its beauty as I see it.

*More than the usual.. This line was part of Wow Philippines Tourism campaign which was successfully launched in 2002. Several well-made 30-seconder plugs were aired in CNN and other international channels. The line perfectly described what Philippines got to offer. More than the typical Asia that everyone knows.