Sunday, January 20, 2013

Time to Say Goodbye

Hello friends and strangers,

I am afraid I kind of lost my interest to write. I waited for two months to see if this is just a temporary feeling, but looks like other than watching Korean dramas on this MacBook, I did not regain any desire to use it to write again. So rather than leaving this blog to exist on permanent hiatus and gathering cobwebs, I will cease to update on personal ongoings, and will delete all the old posts too...

... except for my book recommendations, travel writings and pictures, which I will continue to update whenever I travel and has the will to write something about it (yes, I still need to write about my trip to Korea, and I have yet to completely blog on my previous trips to Uzbekistan and Turkey and Mulu National Park and Pangkor Laut too hahaha. See just how lazy I am?!). I first thought of quitting the blog cold turkey and delete everything all together just to have a clean slate, but I noticed that a lot of search queries had arrived to my blog regarding travels - indeed if you google 'Campuhan Ridge trek', my entry is the first result to be shown, wuhooo! If only I got paid for that hahaha - so I decided to keep the travel posts alive. As a traveller, I love reading and researching on places that I am about to go, and my best source has always been personal blogs from common backpackers and travelers who shared their tips, how-to and experiences. I hope whatever I have written on my travels have helped some wandering soul to get their bearings and enriching their experiences, just as much as I have from reading others' experiences as well.

So, thank you for stopping by all this while. Do check back once in a blue moon for future travel posts and pictures. And maybe book recommendations (for nothing makes me happy than recommending my favorite books to others!).


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Yangon's Circle Train

When we told our local colleagues that we are taking the city's circle train, they just laughed like it was the funniest thing ever. "Only foreigners do that".

Now that I did it, I understand why they laughed. It is as if some tourist told you with the most cheerful expression ever that he is going to take the KTM commuter from one end (Pelabuhan Klang) to the other (Rawang) just for the heck of it. But trust me, it is one of the thing to tick off your check-list if you are ever in Yangon.

The train is the city train in Yangon. There are several routes that serviced the city, but the famous only-foreigners-do-that route is a loop - basically you start and end at Yangon main train station. Transportation and getting around in Yangon (and pretty much everywhere else in Myanmar) is still so expensive, and you'll understand why the train is still a very popular mode of transport for some people.

The whole trip takes approximately three-hours. Yes, three hours, so we came prepared with food and drinks. There are actually food and drink vendors coming in and out of the train, but due to dietary restrictions, we didn't buy any. The train is rather wide (and I only understand the importance of this fact halfway through the journey), with wooden bench lining against the wall, and when we left the Yangon station, it was rather empty. We started all excited and happy, chatting like some school children on a field trip.

Of course after an hour passed by, we got tired already haha. It got rather hot - there was no fan or air conditioning - except when some breeze passed through the windows. The train chugged along slowly around the city, and we passed by the townships and villages. There were a lot of stops along the way that I lost count. The good thing was I were with work friends who are pretty much new to each other, so I didn't really notice the time passing by since we chatted a lot getting to know each other better.

Halfway through, we stopped at one of the busiest stops ever - I forgot the name, but it looked like huge market, and suddenly, out of nowhere, there was this huge mob of people trying to get into the train with baskets and loads of vegetables. I am not kidding you. Some even put in their stuff through the window, trying to 'book' the empty seat. Some struggled to haul in huge bundle of their load through the door. My friends who were standing at the door even had to help to pull the stuff through, haha. From this point on, the train got extremely crowded until the end of the line. The middle of the car was filled with mountains of vegetables and stuff, there's hardly space for people to walk. No wonder the car was so wide. Some of them even continue on to work on their vegetables, snipping away the roots and putting them in small bundle to resell later. Fascinating sight.

I am not sure if I'll do it again - it was really tiring that when we went straight to a restaurant afterwards, I eat sooooooooo much - but I really enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime experience. It was a way to appreciate how the locals are living and to see another slice of the city that we might just hurriedly passed by otherwise.

So some tips:
1) The train cost USD 1 for foreigners. It cost much, much less for the locals of course, just like everything else in Myanmar.
2) This was actually our second attempt to ride the train. The first time we came too late, around 4 pm, and they didn't allow us in as it would be dark by 6pm and they didn't want tourists to ride the train in the dark, so better to come early in the day.
3) Dress comfortably as it can get really hot. Bring water and some snacks in case you got hungry. And bring a hand fan if you can't stand the stifling heat.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Pretty Little Things: Yangon's Gem Museum

Myanmar is famous for its gemstone. These sparkly things are definitely a girl's bestfriend, but unlike shoes, handbags or clothes, gemstone is not an item that one will buy on impulse, right? While I do posses a lot of accessories, they are all the non-precious, funky and upbeat kind, like the ones you could find at Sinma or flea market. I seriously don't think I'll be tempted to buy a lot of gems here.

Mmmmmmmmm, that is before I visited the Gem Museum in Yangon.

The actual museum was only on the fourth floor. The first three floors are gem and jewelry shops. Mmmmmmmmmm. (Can you already guess where this is going?)

To enter the museum, foreigners have to pay USD 5 (you only have to pay if you want to enter the museum. You are free to roam the shop levels). The displays are okay for one-time visit, though I would say it is quite a letdown if you think about the entrance fee. Pretty much all kind of gemstones you can find in Myanmar are displayed here, from amethyst, moonstone, ruby, sapphire, jade and so on. There are rough, unpolished samples which to my untrained eyes, looks like chunky quartz that you can find on the roadside. I would have chuck the stone out, not realising it's real worth. Then there are also the loose, cut-stone versions, all polished and pretty. Lastly, a set of displays of jewelry such as pendant, brooch, rings, necklace and I went all krrrraaayyyyyyyyzzzzzeeee. The craftsmanship is just fabulous for some of them (most are rather ordinary or nothing special especially since you can find prettier designs at the shops around the city). There are a couple of items that I just fall in love with (too bad photograph is not allowed), such as a golden brooch in the shape of a dragonfly with pearl and ruby inlays, a gold necklace with woven-like texture, little jade elephants decorated with colored gemstones and a tea set made of jade (ahhh, how cool and emperor-like must if feel to drink tea out of a jade tea pot and cups?!). Too bad the collection is not more extensive, or has more educational value besides just simple labels. As a geologist, and as a woman who enjoy pretty things, I can appreciate the display. Even then I only spent twenty minutes in the museum and more than an hour at the shops downstairs (that's pretty telling, huh?). I could see how many others might think there's nothing much there especially considering the rather steep entrance fee.

But no worry! Head down to the first, second and third floors and feast your eyes. I was like a moth floating to the light, enchanted by the blinding sparkle. I was like a kid in a candy store, all excited and giddy. Gems of every colors imaginable! Peridote! Citrine! Ruby! Sapphire! Everywhere I turned! Silver and gold! Even if you won't buy anything, it was just nice looking at the jewelry and try them on. Is this how it feels to walk into Cartier, huh?

Aaahhhhhh, restrain, restrain!

(My souveniers. Hehehe)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Books: The Hunger Games Series

This is a case of severe ‘tertinggal bas’. Hahaha… I couldn’t believe I had not read the Hunger Games series earlier. It had been in my iPad for so long, but I had been reading some mediocre Young Adult novels lately that I put this one off. When I finally read The Hunger Games (Book 1), I just could not put it down; neither could I for the next book (Catching Fire) and the next (Mockingjay). I ended up reading all three books back-to-back in one week. While lacking in the richness of prose, the story was vivid and mesmerizing, and at the end I am glad that I started to read the series only after all the books had been published – if not I would die in agony waiting for each sequel to arrive in the bookstore! Now I don’t think I ever want to watch the movie – I prefer to have my own version of Katniss, Gale and Peeta in my head (especially because I think in my imagination, my made-up Gale and Peeta are waaaaaaaayyyyy hotter than the actual actors that starred in the movie, hahaha).

(Yeap, as I am positive that 95% of the world’s population has already watched the movie, there's need for me to write the sypnosis here. Just go and read it lohhhhh. It is really good. May the odds be ever in your favor!)

Friday, February 17, 2012

Travelogue Bangkok: Oasis Spa

If I were freaking rich, besides spending my money travelling the world, I would like to have my own spa. I won’t buy a custom-made ring from New York that will cost me millions (eh). I would rather spend it to have my own masseuse. My home will be a little oasis where I can enjoy and relax after a hard day shopping, something like this…

The moment I stepped in into Oasis Spa, my mind just go “Toing-toing! I want a home like this!”. Who could have guess there’s a little peaceful gem tucked away within the hustle and bustle of Bangkok city? A quiet, grassy garden greets you as soon as you walked into the main gate, and stood before it a handsome bungalow, with wood accent and clean white exterior. The building was build around a small pool, with chairs and umbrellas lining up along the side. Ah, if this were my home, I could just imagine myself eating cekodok and kopi-o at the pool area while waiting for Abang Anuar to come back from work.

I sat down, and the staff hurried in with a cold towel and a cup of scented tea. I wished I had taken the pictures of the reception area that was tastefully decorated with wooden floor, and bright, canary yellow cushions on the wooden bench chair. The colors are lively, but the whole effect was calm and soothing.

I decided to try, for the first time ever the Ayurveda treatment, which consists of two parts: first, the pouring of warm oil onto the forehead, followed by scalp massage; and second, Ayurveda body massage, using East Indian technique.

The warm-oil-on-forehead thing was okay; perhaps I had too much expectation heh. But the scalp massage that followed – OH MY GOD. And the body massage – NICE. Do I really have to return to KL? Can I just stay here?

The price is of course, OH MY GOD too, hahaha. The 2.5 hour treatment costs as much as something similar at the high-end spas in KL. Haishhh, see… this is why I have to work hard, in order to enjoy little luxury like this once in a while. Kalaulah dari kecil aku kumpul duit, mesti dah berjuta-juta dalam tabung. Hmmmm…

But then, if you are looking for the whole exquisite spa experience, the ultimate pampering and that queen-for-day feeling, go for it :p Sekali-sekala nak memanjakan diri, kan. Though I would say that this still can’t beat the massage, service and atmosphere at Khareyana Spa, my favorite spa in the Klang Valley - definitely the best, ever. And at a much cheaper price too. Malaysia Boleh!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Travelogue Bangkok: Health Land Spa and Massage

Bangkok is such the perfect city for a girfriends’ trip. The shopping opportunity is abound, from the street-side stalls and flea market to the high-end fashion that most of us could not afford anyway. My head almost explode in excitement when I discovered that the stretch of road that I was using everyday is practically [Bukit Bintang + Berjaya Times Square + Suria KLCC + Low Yatt + Pavillion], but, 5 times more populated with shopping malls. Arrghhh, restrain, restrain. Nasib baik my day was totally filled with conference program, so I only had the night for some quick shopping (But yeah, within that ‘not enough time to shop’ pun, I came back with a new skirt and three new dresses, all but one acquired from street stall. So cheap! And I brought back some home décor stuff too. Weeeeee….)

And it is a perfect place for a girlie trip because spa is everywhere. It is like Starbucks in the States – you have one in every corner. After a long day shopping, what a good way to recharge for a new round of shopping the next day other than foot reflexology. Or a back massage to relax those tired muscles from handling so many shopping bags, eh? An hour or two of back massage or foot reflexology will only set you back RM 10 – 40 only.

My friend recommended me to go to Health Land, because he said the place is proper (hehe, because massage parlor in Bangkok can be a bit special too), nice and cheap. It is indeed close to the conference area and the hotel, so I decided to check it out. It is pretty much a huge mansion with multiple levels of spa rooms (it even has elevator), and from the amount of people there, it looked like a very popular place. The reception area is as huge as any big hotel’s. Put down your choice of massage and paid for it first, and after a while your name will be called.

The staff I encountered there were very polite and nice. The massage room is nothing special in terms of the décor, but it is soothingly simple and spotless. I love the wooden and grayish color tone. There’s a small shower and a separate basin area.

I am not a fan of Thai massage – I tried it once in KL, and I hate it. I go to spa to relax and drift away in slumber, but with Thai massage, I spent the hour cringing and fully alert, afraid of what the masseuse going to do next. Ah, I always felt like she is about to snap off my neck any moment. Shudder…. So, I decided to go for the much gentler aromatherapy massage. The massage itself was okay. It was nothing spectacular - a really good one always made me feel as if I was melting away, the tension dissolved into nothingness, and I’ll feel so light, almost floating on the way home. None of that here (maybe it is just the masseuse that I got) but despite that, it served its purpose. The ache and knotted muscles did go away. It is definitely a good massage place, but with such cheap affordable price, don’t expect the ultimate spa experience. The one-and-a-half hour aromatherapy massage was less than RM 85. Foot reflexology is only RM 25 (an hour) and Thai massage about RM 45 for two hours.

I had a much, much outstanding spa experience the next day somewhere else (and paid much, much more too. See the correlation here? Weeeeeeeee!), but that one will be reviewed next. This entry is already too long, eh.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Travelogue Bangkok: Land of Smiles

We always prided our country has having the friendliest people. We sell the idea of warmth and hospitality to the tourists, as a draw for them to visit Malaysia. I do believe it is so, to some degree.

But man, I think the Thais beat us to it.

Take the conference itself. The national oil company of Thailand was the host of the event. By the end of the conference yesterday, everyone has only the highest compliment for them, calling them the ‘perfect host’. I’ve been to a couple of international and local conferences, but I’ve never been to one that takes pride in making the guests feel so comfortable and showcasing the best that they have to offer, especially the richness of their culture. It was nice that they also converted two small meeting rooms as the prayer room for the Muslims, and I did not see any pork served during the lunch as well (the other meat dishes are probably not halal as well, in terms of the slaughtering, so I eat the veggies or seafood only. But at least I am less squeamish if I did not see pork next to the vegetable lasagna, as example). If they were to host again soon, I will definitely come back even if I have to pay the conference fee myself, hehe.

Then of course, the ‘sawadeekap’ gesture, where you press the palm together in front of the chest. I absolutely adore that. Sometimes I will be the first to do so before the hotel staff or the shopkeepers, haha. That gesture, and the Korean bow (I watched Music Bank on KBS which is something like Muzik-Muzik, and find it so cute that all those modern, hip-looking artists - guys with eyeliners and perfectly coiffed hair and girls in short shorts and mini-skirts – bow to each other after the winner is announced) and the Muslim gesture of pressing the right palm on the chest, are so humbling and welcoming. I observed that the speakers, even the dignitaries, did these, towards the audience, before they took the stage. The younger staff will also do so when they approach the table where the more senior ones or their bosses were seated. Once, I got into an elevator with two high school kids, still in the uniform, and as they got off the escalator before me, they bowed to me before they walked out. I felt like an Empress!

I often heard how the King is revered, and it is only so evident once I am here They do think highly of the monarch. His huge portraits are everywhere – in the public park, shopping mall – and even the kids that participated in the science competition in the conference talked with so much respect of the King when I visited their booth display. Once, on my way back to the hotel after the conference, I wanted to take the BTS (the Skytrain, much like our LRT). I had only walked into the ticketing area when I realized something odd. Everyone was standing still. The guy in front of the ticket machine, the lady manning the booth, the guard at the turnstile, the passengers. Everyone. Did I just walk into a Twilight zone? Is this some sort of Inception movie thing? Or am I on Candid Camera? Then I heard some patriotic-sounding song over the speaker, which I assume was the national anthem of some sort. Ahhh, now it makes sense why everyone was frozen at their track. I wonder if KLCC played Negaraku in the middle of the busy lunch hour, will people stop whatever they were doing, stand straight up and stay still? Hehehe…