Thursday, 31 December 2015

Less Travels in 2015

2015 was a relatively boring year for me in terms of travel. I only travelled to 6 places locally and abroad. Here goes:

Bangkok in January

Left for Bangkok immediately after work and arrived at the hostel at 12 midnight on New Year's Day just in time to see the fireworks.

This trip to Bangkok was a fruitful one because we met up with Sitt and Orn whom we met during our trek to Poon Hill, Nepal in October 2012. We went for dinner at CentralWorld to catch up and to talk about more travels, what else!

And what would a trip to Bangkok be without shopping. I bought loads of dresses, t-shirts and shoes at the Platinum Fashion Mall.

Boat ride on the Chao Praya river to get to the Grand Palace. The water was black in colour that I was careful to keep my mouth closed literally throughout the ride for obvious reasons. 

Pulau Tidung (Jakarta) in March

This trip was relatively disappointing because the island was dirty, dirty, dirty. You can read about my experiences here.

Sunset on Pulau Tidung. The piece of land on the right are dead corals with rubbish on it.

Universal Studios Singapore in April

LvH was in Singapore for work at that time so I took the opportunity to organise a trip to Universal Studios Singapore, for the sake of visiting it.

We also visited the SEA Aquarium which I think LvH enjoyed most because he's an avid diver. The rest of the rides in Universal Studios were too young for us actually but I had a great time!

Jelly fish at SEA Aquarium.

Mulu World Heritage Area in May

This was my second time in Mulu. Decided to go again to accompany LvH who has never been there.

I had a great time doing other stuff that I didn't get to do during my first visit. The new stuff that I did were Garden of Eden Valley Walk, Fastlane to Lagang Cave, adventure caving in Stonehorse Cave and the canopy walk.

We saw this snake during the canopy walk early in the morning.

Sandakan (Sabah) in July

It was a long Aidilfitri weekend and we took the opportunity to visit the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Labuk Bay Proboscis Money Sanctuary and the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre.

You can read about my experiences here.

Australia in September

Saved the biggest (read: expensive) trip for last.

The main reason I went to Australia was to attend my sister's MBA graduation in Toowoomba which is about 125km from Brisbane. So I took the opportunity to visit Sydney and Melbourne too.

View of the iconic Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge from Circular Quay.

New job

Joining a Japanese bank was probably the biggest change for me in 2015.

I was already almost 2 years working under the bloodiest bitch of a boss at one of Malaysia's leading resort & hospitality company, and I was planning to move on. So I upated my Linked-In profile and waited. Soon I received a call from a headhunter and the rest as they say, is history.

I left for Australia on 28 August which was my last day at the job, spent 2 weeks in Australia, returned to Kuala Lumpur on 12 September and started my new job on 14 September. Timing was absolutely perfect.

2016 travel plans 

I have 31 days annual leave in 2016 (includes 9 days carried forward from 2015). So I'll have more time to travel compared to my previous jobs which had less annual leave.

Angie and I are already preparing ourselves physically and mentally to trek to Everest Base Camp in September/October 2016. I plan to blog about my preparations - monthly practise treks, wardrobe, gear, etc.

I'll also be making a trip to Oman at the end of the year to visit LvH who's now based there.

Apart from that, I don't have any other plans to travel. If I do, it would only be domestic travel. One reason is because of the drastic fall of the Malaysian Ringgit. Malaysians are now poorer everytime we step out of the country. And foreigners are richer whenever they come to Malaysia. I won't be surprised if the number of tourists to Malaysia will reach an all time high in 2015 and beyond.

As the world welcomes 2016, I wish all my readers, followers, family members, friends, relatives, etc. a wonderful year ahead. The world may be in a state of chaos and disarray. But I believe that there's always hope.

Happy New Year 2016! May we be continuously blessed in every way.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

The Most Pleasant Day Trip to Manly

My day trip to Manly in New South Wales, Australia was one of the most pleasant trips I've had in a long, long time. Everything was perfect - the weather, blue skies, sea and sand.

Manly was so perfect that about 30 minutes after I arrived, I told myself that I could live or even retire there! Yeah, right ...

So the day began when we headed to Circular Quay in Sydney and hopped onto the ferry to Manly.

There are various whafts in Circular Quay where you take different ferries to different destinations.  The price of a single ticket (one way) from Circular Quay to Manly was AUD7.60.

The weather was perfect that day. Eventhough it was just entering spring, the weather was chilly but the bright sun kept us warm.

We had to pass the iconic Sydney Opera House to get to Manly:

After looking at numerous side view photos of the Opera House, it's odd to look at it from this angle. And when up close, I think the Opera House needed some TLC.

This is the view from the ferry:

The clouds were so pretty. It's not often I see clouds with such formations. 

After about 30 minutes, we approached Manly:

 Must be pretty cool to have a boat of your own. Last time I saw so many privately owned boats was in Oslo, Norway a couple of years ago.

After disembarking at Manly Whaft, we navigated our way to the beach with a map.

I was amazed at how scenic, clean and relaxed Manly is. It has a certain vibe, feel, ambience, whatchamaycallit that makes me want to live or retire there.

Those clouds again!

The Manly guide mentioned that there were different walks that I could do. So I decided to do the simple but scenic walk to Shelley Beach.

At the beginning of the walk I passed the Cabbage Tree Bay:

Then I came to a road along the coast:

So scenic and relaxing.

Since I was already thinking of retiring in Manly(!), I was wondering how much property there would cost. Then I saw this property up for auction:

The location of this property was along the coast and with sea frontage. Location wise it was perfect which means the price will also be exhorbitant. 

Next I saw a group of tourist gathering around to look at something ...

... which I later found out were water dragons which are Manly's residential lizards:

Water dragons are not big like the komodo dragons. They are about the length of your arm.

Not too far from the water dragons was this gorgeous pool:   

Since this was a body of water within another body of water, I called it the Inception pool, after the movie starring Leonardo Caprio :-) Go figure.

Soon I approached Shelley Beach:

There were shops and cafes where you could sit and enjoy the view ...

... and changing rooms for those who decide to take a dip in Shelley Beach:

Now that I've reached the end of the walk, I decided to continue walking by taking another trail at the back of Shelley Beach. It was a decision that I didn't regret.

After about 10 minutes, I reached this view:

Kinda reminds me of  Bali.

There was a lookout point with a Bible quotation:

The Bible quote could probably come in handy when meditating at that spot. 

It was already late at this point and I decided to turn back. So I did the whole walk in reverse, headed to Manly Whaft and took the ferry back to Circular Quay. What a pleasant day it was.

To end this story, I would like to share with you this photo of one of the most irritating birds I encountered in Sydney:

They are everywhere in Sydney and Manly. Each time I took out my food, they would start gathering around hoping that I would share my food with them. Some of those birds even tried to swoop down at my food and I had to chase them away. Those birds made things stressful.

My sister even saw these birds attacked a girl for her sandwich. Animals can sense when someone is afraid and they will take advantage of that. So remember, show these birds who's boss.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Why Many Young People are Having Financial Stress

The Asian Institute of Finance recently conducted a study and discovered that the Gen Y in Malaysia are experiencing significant financial stress early in their life. Many of them are living beyond their means and are trapped in emotional spending.

I got to witness this 'financial stress' at a sale recently.

I had attended a Valiram sale in October that was held  at The Westin, Kuala Lumpur. Some of the brands that were on sale include Canali, Tumi and Michael Kors.

For those of you who are familiar with these brands, you would know that most of the items are generally not in a price range that's affordable to most people. Just to give you an idea, the Kate Spade leather handbag that I bought for my mum at that sale costs RM652 after discount. The usual retail price was RM1,630.

Christmas present for my mum.

While standing in queue for almost 30 minutes to pay at the counter, I couldn't help overhearing the conversation that was going on behind me.

A young lady who looked like in her 20s was talking to someone over the phone. She sounded annoyed and suddenly blurted out, "Mana nak cari duit?!" (Translation: "Where to find the money?!"). My ears pricked up when she said that.

From her conversation I could tell that she wanted to purchase some of the items at the sale but she didn't have the means. The person at the other end of the line (whom I presume is her fiance) had asked her to consider using the RM1,000 that she had saved up for their wedding. But she was reluctant.

Then she was discussing something about wanting to buy a certain item but will only do so after the wedding when she has more money.

After she put down the phone, she asked an elderly lady (I presume is her mum) to stand in queue while she went back into the sale to pick up more items. She returned to the queue with a few handbags and started modelling them so that the elderly lady could tell her which one suits her best.

I didn't stay long enough to see how many handbags she eventually bought. Or how much they costs. But I did listen and watch the whole spectacle in disbelief.

This young lady has a strong desire for branded items. But she was certainly not earning enough to be at the sale, let alone purchase the items. This is exactly what the survey by the Asian Institute of Finance had revealed, i.e. young people are living beyond their means.

I call it MATERIALISM. That's the main cause of financial stress amongst young people these days.

A RM100 handbag does not offer the exclusivity and class of a RM1,000 leather handbag. That's why young people desire the expensive stuff.

Buying expensive, branded items is certainly not a crime, provided one can afford it. But if one does not have the means but still wants to own these items, then it becomes a problem.

The desire may become so deep that they may even resort to theft, fraud, prostitution, loan sharks, etc. to get more money. And when one starts getting involved in these type of activities, one starts nurturing a life of chaos and it becomes a a spiral that never ends.

Monday, 7 December 2015

Day Tour to the Blue Mountains

The Blue Mountains was one of the must-visits when I started planning for my trip to Australia. Reason is simply because it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site and I have a bucket list to accomplish.

We had booked a day tour to the Blue Mountains with Oz Trails. The tour costs AUD75/pax and we paid extra AUD35/pax for a trip (optional) to Scenic World.

Our guide, Adam picked us up promptly at 7.45am from the entrance of Holiday Inn Potts Point in Sydney which is a stones throw from Kanga Guesthouse where we were staying.

After picking us up, Adam went on to pick up 25 more travellers from various locations around the city. Since we were the first passengers on board, we had to sit in the bus for about 1.5 hours more before we started driving out of the city and into the Blue Mountains. Not happy.

Along the way, Adam stopped at a park where we were served refreshments while Adam collected AUD35 from each person for the Scenic World trip. This visit is optional. Anyone who don't wish to visit Scenic World may wait in the bus.

After completing the paperwork and collection of Scenic World entrance fee, we headed to our first pit stop to see an aboriginal rock engravings of a kangaroo.

Can you see the outline of the kangaroo?

Next stop was Wentworth Falls which has a nice lookout point ...

... where you can see this view: 


At Wenworth Falls there are also a few trails like the Princes Rock Track which is relatively easy to do:  

I like that the signboards gives an indication of the length of the trek, level of difficulty and what to expect. I've yet to see a trek in Malaysia with such signboards. 

I was tempted to do one of the trails at Wentworth Falls. But being in a tour group, it was impossible to do so as we had to keep to a schedule. 

After Wentworth Falls we stopped for lunch at a small town called Leura:

Most people think that the Blue Mountains is only about mountains. But in fact it comprises 7 valleys with many small towns too, one of which is Leura.

Since we were on a budget, I had pre-packed sandwiches at Kanga Guesthouse where we were staying. I bought a latte from one of the cafes in Leura and found a nice spot to tuck into our food.

When we visited Australia in August/September, the exchange rate was RM3.07 = AUD1.00. So everything was damn expensive after conversion.

After lunch we headed to Scenic World.

The sky was so blue!

Scenic World comprises of 4 different rides, i.e. Scenic Railway, Scenic Skyway, Scenic Cableway and Scenic Walkway.

Each ride has a different type of cable car. For example, this is how the Scenic Cableway cable car looks like: 

On the Scenic Skyway, we could see waterfalls like this:

Don't know what is the name of this waterfall. I'm guessing it's Wentworth Falls.

And the infamous Three Sisters:

The Three Sisters are Meenhi, Wimlah and Gunnedoo. You can read about their legend here.

At the Scenic Cableway Bottom Station, we walked into the temperate rainforest to see what the place had to offer.

Stay on the boardwalk at the Scenic Walkway.

There were interesting bits of information about the flora and fauna like this:

After finishing Scenic World, we hopped onto the bus and headed back to Sydney.

Along the way, Adam stopped at the Olympian Rock in Leura for another view of the Blue Mountains.

The lookout point is located behind this house:

This house must be worth millions since it has an absolutely gorgeous view of the Blue Mountains.

After walking for about 10 minutes, we reached the lookout point ...

... for this amazing view:

On our way back to Sydney, Adam passed the Sydney Olympic Village for the last pit stop at the ANZ Stadium:

Sydney hosted the 2000 Summer Olympics. Despite being 15 years old, this place looks brand new. Goes to show what proper maintenance can do to preserve a building.

Then Adam brought us to a jetty which is located near the Sydney Olympic Village. Here we were given tickets for a river cruise:

The interiors of the ferry were clean and comfortable. They had wifi on board too, and with a good reception at that. I quickly took the opportunity to log on and check my WhatsApp messages.

Announcements were made in from time to time on the ETA, safety aspects, and other important information pertaining to the river cruise. The crew also patrolled the ferry every other minute to make sure everyone and everything was alright. Very professional.

Whilst almost everyone stayed inside the ferry because it was chilly outside, we went to the back to watch the sunset:

After approximately 45 minutes, the ferry arrived back in Sydney and dropped us off at Circular Quay. And that was the end of the day tour.

If anyone were to ask me to rate the Blue Mountains on a scale of 1 - 10, with 10 being the best, I would give it an average score of 5 - 6. Reason is because the Blue Mountains is nothing to shout about. And I'm saying this after seeing the beautiful mountain ranges in Nepal. I guess this is one of the disadvantages of travelling too much. Once you've seen a gorgeous mountain, you tend to compare it with all mountains after that. And that diminishes your ability to appreciate a new mountain and its uniqueness.

The other 'painful' part about this day tour was the cost. We paid a total of AUD75 + AUD35 = AUD110 which was approximately RM337.70 per person for the whole day tour. I found that exhorbitant! And moreover paying that much for an experience that I didn't really enjoy. But then again this is Sydney, one of the most expensive cities in the world.

The only good thing that came out of visiting the Blue Mountains is that I've managed to tick off another UNESCO World Heritage Site from my list.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Orangutans, Proboscis Monkeys and Sun Bears

During the Eid holidays in July, LvH and I made a weekend trip to Sandakan. Our mission: To visit the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, the Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary and the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre.

From Kuala Lumpur, we flew to Sandakan in the state of Sarawak and stayed at Four Points by Sheraton because the company that LvH works for has a corporate rate there.

This is a lovely hotel with sea frontage. While having breakfast on our last morning there, we saw navy ships and air force fighter jets patrolling the area. It was something I've never seen before. I didn't snap any photos because I was enjoying the moment. 

For a traveller, taking a taxi seems to be the most convenient way to move around in Sandakan.

I didn't even bother to find out how to get around by bus because it seems like buses were non existent or extremely infrequent in Sandakan. I think that's why almost every local has their own mode of transportation to get around.

There are taxis waiting outside the hotel and the drivers follow these fares religiously: 

For convenience sake, we booked a taxi for the whole day to take us from the hotel to the 3 places, i.e. (in choronological order) Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary and The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (located beside the Sepilok Orang Utan Centre).

According to the driver, we need to visit those places during the feeding times because that's when we'll be able to see the animals. 

So the best itinerary would be to head to Sepilok first thing in the morning to catch the 10.00am feeding time. After that drive to Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary for the 11.30am feeding and then back to Sepilok to visit The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (no specific feeding time).

Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

We reached the centre at approximately 9.30am just in time for the 10.00am feeding time.

Before entering the centre, all visitors must keep their bags in the lockers provided (maybe it's to prevent any crazy visitors from kidnapping any baby orangutans!).

These are the entrance fees to the centre:

I let LvH bring his camera into the centre and I kept mine in the locker. The only camera I had on me was my mobile phone.

Feeding times are at 10,00am and 3.00pm daily. It's important to take note because you'll need to arrange your visit according to the feeding times.

As you can see from the photo just above this text, visitors gather at the feeding platform to view the primates partaking in their food. 

The crowd was considerably large that day. Maybe because it was the long Eid holidays.

When the caretaker started dishing out the food on the feeding platform, it took some time for these shy primates to make their appearance. But soon the orangutans started emerging from the forest one by one. Some of them looked hesitant and unsure at first. But soon they started partaking in the spread of fruits, vegetables and milk.

I was rather disappointed that only a handful of them came to the feeding platform that day. Later the taxi driver informed us that not many orangutans could be seen during that time (July) because it's the dry season when flowers are abundant in the forest which translates to an adundance of fruits too. So these orangutans have a wide variety of fruits to choose from in the jungle. 

It is only when food is scarce in the jungle that the orangutans come to the centre regularly for their meals. And this is usually during the rainy season at the end of the year. So take note if you want to see orangutans appear by the dozens at the feeding platform.

This brochure contains all the essential information like getting to the sanctuary, entrance fee, viewing time, etc. 

Entrance fee to the sanctuary is relatively high, especially for non-residents. Someone told us that the high prices is because the sanctuary is owned and managed by a private company and therefore there are no subsidies like in a government organisation.

I was telling LvH that with these entrance fees, the sanctuary better be serving the monkeys food equivalent to the standards of caviar, truffle and wagyu beef - the three most expensive food in the world.

From Sepilok, it took us approximately 40 minutes to get to Labuk Bay by car. We made it for the 11.30am feeding time on Platform B. There are 2 feeding platforms hosting different feeding times. 

During the feeding, the keeper brought fruits and vegetables to the platform where the monkeys stomp down the wooden platforms for their meals.

These monkeys come in all shapes and sizes. Some of the female come carrying their babies around their bellies. The bigger ones are usually the male. Some of them end up fighting with each other over the food.

What makes these monkeys fascinating is that their large noses make them look like humans, including their ...

The sanctuary is not only home to proboscis monkeys but other animals as well:

We were lucky to see a trio of hornbills in the trees. Reminded me of the movie animation, Rio, except that these birds didn't do the samba :-)

After watching the proboscis monkeys at Labuk Bay, the driver took us to the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) which is located opposite the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre.

Opening hours and entrance fees can be obtained here. There are no specific feeding times so you can just walk in and view the bears in their habitat. According to the BSBCC website, there are about 35 sun bears at the centre. 

I've always had a fascination for sun bears after watching a bunch of these cute fellas dancing in their pen (don't know whether that's the right word) at the Air Keroh Zoo in Malacca many years ago. 

"No, I'm not having a hangover. I'm just hanging out."

According to the BSBCC website, the main threats of the sun bear are deforestation, commercial hunting and pet trade. These bears are often found in appallaing conditions, without a home, a mother, or left to rot in tiny cages. Reading about all these makes me sad.

After visiting the orang utans and sun bears, LvH and I were talking about adopting either an orang utan or a sun bear. LvH said we should name it Lima which is a combination of both our family names. I thought that was a brilliant name!

Day Trip

It's possible to visit these 3 centres in a day trip from Kuala Lumpur. Take the first flight in the morning to Sandakan. Upon arrival head straight to Sepilok, followed by Labuk Bay and BSBCC. In the evening, take your flight back to Kuala Lumpur.

The only thing about this method is that you'll need to make prior arrangements for a car to wait for you at the airport. A day trip may be tiring but you would save on lodging costs and time.

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