Back (kut teh!) in Malaysia!

I have been to Malaysia countless of times yet the thought of indulging on my favorite local dishes keeps me excited each time. My flight last Wednesday, 15 December was no different. On the plane, though delayed for half an hour, I can’t help to dream of various Malaysian food I have missed for the past 6 months. Bak kut teh, xiao long bao, satay, kuey teow, laksa.. name it! I’ve drooled for it.

Walking at Level 5 View Deck of Kuala Lumpur International Airport

Since I arrived way too early for dinner, I took the time to explore the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA). If you’re arriving from the Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT), a shuttle bus would take you to KLIA for only RM 2.50 (US $.80). The airport is huge but not as impressive as neighbor Singapore’s Changi International Airport.

Exploring KLIA

Shuttle bus from LCCT to KL Sentral charge RM 8 (US $2.58) while from KLIA, it’s RM 10 (US $3.22).

Bak Kut Teh at Jalan Sultan, KL!

Now the highlight of my first night back in Malaysia.. Bak Kut Teh at Jalan Sultan! The first time I tried BKT was way back in 2002, at the same stall. Never mind the sweaty forehead, nose and upper lip! I just love this piping hot local dish eaten along the busy streets of KL’s Chinatown! Though I have tried excellent BKT at a more comfortable place such as Pao Xiang Restaurant in Pavillion KL Shopping Mall last June 2010, nothing beats the authentic street-side way of how locals enjoy BKT.

Bak Kut Teh is definitely a must-try Malaysia local dish

We ordered the BKT in clay pot which cost RM 9. The serving of meat, mushroom, tofu and various pig organ is a lot. The mix of assorted spices on the soup base is just heavenly. According to the street stall vendor, their specialty is the pig trotter with peanut for RM 7. I’d probably try it the next time I’m back in Kuala Lumpur.  A mental note to also eat at the Kim Lian Kee Hokkien mee which I tried back in 2002 as well.

What else would make Malaysians happily crazy aside from food?

On the way to the Bukit Jalil Bus Terminal to catch a bus back to Batu Pahat, we noticed the National Stadium was well-lit, with hundreds of motorbikes and cars parked outside. Also, loud cheering can be heard that no matter how tired and sleepy I felt that time, I can’t help to suddenly feel energized too!  Well, what else would make Malaysians happily crazy aside from food?

2 - 0 in favor of Malaysia! Woot!

You guessed it right! It’s soccer! The Malaysia – Vietnam AFF Suzuki Match was ongoing so after quickly leaving my heavy backpack at the pay locker, we head to the stadium to catch the last minutes of the game.

The game was won by Malaysia (2-0) so the stadium was full of happy Malaysians! I can’t help to cheer with them too. Good thing it wasn’t a match against the Philippines or else I would really stick out like a sore thumb!

It’s not difficult to love the Malaysian culture, with the great food and awesome people. I’m really glad to be back!

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Summer in the Philippines! Part 1

Yesterday, 04 March 2010, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) announced that the dry season, or summer, has officially started. The agency said the northeast monsoon (Amihan) has terminated or stopped blowing into the country. It only means one thing.. It’s time to island hop and head to the beach!

The Philippines is an archipelago with 7,107 islands. Choosing which island to visit to beat the heat and work on a fabulous tan is an exasperating task. Here’s a list of the top 5 islands I have visited last 2008 to help you where to go.

1. El Nido, Palawan

© Photographer: Mtkang | Agency: Dreamstime.com

I would say, El Nido is the most beautiful beach I have ever been. It’s not as touristy and crowded as #2 Boracay. One reason is, it’s a bit difficult to get to this island. It is possible to get to El Nido hassle-free but it could be costly. There is a range of accommodation along the island, suitable for backpackers, families and honeymooners. I stayed in Bayview Inn Guest house for PhP350 (US $7) for a double room with fan and a shared bathroom. Unlimited coffee and tea is provided free for guests. The place got a nice balcony overlooking the beach too. The kitchen can also be used for preparing your own meals, which is suitable because once in a while, vendors selling fresh lobster, crabs, prawns and fish pass by the area.

© Photographer: Mtkang | Agency: Dreamstime.com

I recommend the island hopping tours at El Nido Boutique & Art Cafe. For a group of 10 people, they arranged island hopping to the Big Lagoon, Small Lagoon, Simizu Island and Pili Island for PhP400 (US $6) per person including a hearty lunch of grilled fish, grilled chicken, rice, green mango salad and drinks. An additional fee of PhP200 (US $4) for snorkel, mask and fins. The tour was from 8 in the morning until 6:30pm to catch the sunset. It was the best island hopping tour I ever had. El Nido is breathtakingly beautiful. I was amazed with the bluish gray limestone karsts jutting out from the middle of the sea, the clear blue-green water, the white sand and colorful preserved corals.

© Photographer: Mtkang | Agency: Dreamstime.com

We booked another tour to visit other islands. This time it’s for 8 people going to Hidden Beach, Secret Beach, Talisay Beach and Helicopter Beach for Php750 (US $15) per person, again including lunch. This time the people at El Nido Boutique and Art Cafe included the mask and snorkel but an extra PhP100 (US $2) for the fins.

Palawan got the freshest and cheapest seafood. Aside from having your guest house staff prepare fresh-from-the-vendor seafood meals for a fee, you can always dine at numerous restaurants around the El Nido town. One restaurant I would recommend is Marber’s. Good serving portions and of course reasonable price. Service is a bit slow because the meals are prepared as ordered. Expect your food to be served fresh from the pan and not just heated by microwave.

2. Boracay, Aklan

Tropical Paradise
© Photographer: Alexshalamov | Agency: Dreamstime.com

Boracay is probably the most popular beach destination in Philippines. The beach is crowded, guest houses and hotels are full specially during the summer months of March, April, May and the Christmas season.

I was fortunate to visit Boracay during the low season and got a cottage at St Vincent Guest House with 1 double bed and a single bed, cable tv and fridge for just PhP500 (US $10). Just like #1 Palawan, there’s a lot of accommodation available for every type of traveler.

Tropical Resort
© Photographer: Alexshalamov | Agency: Dreamstime.com

The 5km stretch of powder-like fine sand of White Beach is divided into 3 stations. Station 1 is where most of the upscale hotels are located. This area is generally peaceful and away from the action-packed night scene. Station 2 is at the center of the beach and where bars, shopping and eating are mostly concentrated. Mid-range priced accommodation are also located here. Station 3 is where cheaper lodgings are located. Recently though, upscale hotels can now be found in this area.

Seafood market
© Photographer: Alexshalamov | Agency: Dreamstime.com

Cheap seafood is in abundance in Boracay too. The best way to try the local seafood is to buy it yourself at the market and have it cooked any way you like at the restaurants around it. For PhP2,000 (US $40), you have fresh fish, crab, prawns and lobster cooked as you wish, good for 2 people! If you are craving for Western food, you won’t have a hard time either. Greek, Italian, Indian, Mediterranean.. it’s all there!

Buffet lunch and dinner signs are all over Boracay as well. It’s not as bad as I expected. Some even include steamed crabs and roasted pig on the menu. Price range is Php250 – 650 (US $5 – 13). May or may not include bottomless drink.

We booked an island hopping tour with Allan B Fun tours for PhP500 (US $10) per person. The buffet lunch and a swim at the Puka Beach was great. However, snorkeling around the area where they took us was a bit disappointing. Most of the corals were dead. The boat man didn’t even care that the anchor was held by a coral. An Italian guy on the same tour was telling the boat man that it was illegal and that he would be reporting the incident to the tourism department. But the boat man just ignored it. I won’t take that tour again nor recommend to others.

To be continued…