Having just returned from Singapore and Sarawak I was given a great opportunity to talk fast and furiously with DJ Wan on Radio Melayu about my experiences.
We also had the Consul General of Malaysia, Mr Ahmad Fikri, come on the show and talk about his experiences of Sarawak and what we had spoken about together at a recent Tourism Malaysia event.
From some destinations in Singapore you might not be aware of to Sarawak, a land of constant activity by day and night, it was a wonderful opportunity to describe my adventures and encourage listeners to book their flights!
For the August issue of Just Urbane I’ve written a story about Malacca. The Straits of Malacca is one of those bodies of water that is famous for its pirates and spice traders. Malacca is more than a melting pot of culture, it’s a seething cauldron! The Dutch, Portugese, Chinese, Indian, Malay and British influence is in the buildings, it’s in the food, it’s in the craft and art of the little alley shops and it’s in the streets and on the river.
Radio Melayu is such a wonderful community radio station and I love any chance to contribute to their programming.
If the link above works it may not take you straight to my discussion but if you scroll down through the posts then my latest chat was on October 18.
DJ Wan and I talked about KL nightlife and views, the pink mosque at Putrajaya and then we talked about my time off the coast of Semporna on Mabul Island and a bunch of other islands with high peaks, white beaches, sea gypsies and Nemo.
I was travelling on the Tourism Malaysia Mega Fam with a bunch of travel writers, journalists and bloggers from India, Hong Kong, Malaysia and New Zealand. We shared adventures and quickly felt like we were doing more than capturing moments we could write about or describe on radio. We became friends and fellow travellers, soaking up experiences that were genuinely breathtaking.
The land below the wind always takes your breath away, whether from the exertion of a trek or just sitting on a beach watching a Sabah sunset. The resorts are safe and friendly and the adventures feel undiscovered and exotic.
Make the most of your time in Malaysia. Whether its shopping, street food or hidden bars in KL or the tropical paradise of life on the islands off the coast of Sabah, there’s something for all travellers, all the time.
Mabul Island: All your days I will sing in praise of your forests, waters, your shining sands.
On Perth’s best talkback radio station, 6PR, I recently discussed with my fine friend and colleague Chrissy Morrissy some options for luxury abroad; the magnificent Apurva Kempinski in Bali and the distinguished Ritz-Carlton Kuala Lumpur.
A bit closer to home I spoke about day trips through the Avon Valley, from bakeries to canola crops, from Bentley Blowers to the history of this beautiful part of Western Australia.
The featured image for this post is the Apurva Kempinski Bali, located in Nusa Dua. The inspiration for the design are the classic and iconic rice terraces found throughout Bali.
Above: The sumptuous lounges of the Ritz-Carlton Kuala Lumpur are perfect for high tea, gin and tonics or just resting between shopping sprees.
Above: What makes a beautiful resort that you will return to again and again? Water slides for the kids? Restaurants? Waterfront views? Rooftop bars? Maybe. The Kempinski has all of these things but I think it’s the people who work there that are the greatest influence on your enjoyment. Tom is holding a soft toy of the Bali Myna, an endangered local species of bird that the Apurva Kempinski is working hard to protect.
Above: The Library at the Ritz-Carlton Kuala Lumpur. Come for the atmosphere, stay for the food. An enchanting and refined menu full of passion for the flavours that represent the melting pot culture of Malaysia.
Above: The Avon Valley has rolling hills filled with wildflowers, rolling fields of canola crops and great towns with bakeries, museums, galleries and pubs.
Spend some time on a Sunday afternoon listening to Chrissy and ‘The Gentleman Traveller’ on 6PR 882, Perth’s only commercial talkback radio station.
Recently, we spoke about my week long adventure to Malaysia, spending some time in one of my favourite cities, Kuala Lumpur, before heading to the Malaysian state of Sabah on the island of Borneo.
ABOVE: THE SEA GYPSIES ARE ONE OF THE WORLDS TRULY NOMADIC COMMUNITIES THAT LIVE ON THE SEA IN THE CORAL TRIANGLE BETWEEN INDONESIA, MALAYSIA AND THE PHILLIPINES.
I travelled to the small island of Mabul and from there took daily boat trips to other islands in the area to experience pristine snorkelling, intriguing sea gypsies and awesome views after trekking the peaks of small but tall islands.
ABOVE AND BELOW: SIPADAN-MABUL RESORT LOCATED ON MABUL ISLAND. USE THE RESORT AS YOUR HOLIDAY DESTINATION OR A BASE FOR EXPLORING OTHER ISLANDS IN THE NATIONAL PARK, INCLUDING WORLD RENOWNED SIPADAN ISLAND.
Sabah is easily accessible from Perth with direct flights to Kota Kinabalu with Malaysia Airlines. Boat travel to the islands is well monitored and accredited by Malaysian park authorities.
Come to Borneo. Come to Sabah.
We also spent a few minutes offering some tips to travellers to Melbourne who are attending footy finals. Some of the ideas we suggested were to form a collective group of other supporters to get some bargaining power when booking flights and accommodation or considering flying to other destinations and making your way to Melbourne from there, including flying to Hobart and catching the ferry across Bass Strait to Melbourne or flying to Canberra or Sydney and driving down in a hire car. It’s too late to expect a cheap fare but you can avoid the most expensive fares if you think about what options work for you.
A wonderful way to spend a Sunday afternoon is to listen to Chrissy and Chris on 6PR 882, Perth’s only commercial talkback radio station.
For this chat, I described how luxury travel can be exciting and affordable.
We talked about the all new Apurva Kempinski in Bali and how its architecture sets the heart racing with awe and how there is so much space to hide away and relax or strut your gut in front of other guests if that’s your thing. Most of the Kempinski rooms have their own private plunge pool or access to small lagoon pool while there is also a massive lagoon pool and another good sized pool that includes a water play are for kids, including three waterslides.
ABOVE: APURVA KEMPINSKI NUSA DUA, BALI. ARCHITECTURE INSPIRED BY THE RICE TERRACES AROUND UBUD.
We then talked about my experience at the Ritz-Carlton KL, located in the heart of Bukit Bintang. With a level of refined luxury, complete with crooners and jazz bands around every corner, this hotel reminds you of travelling on a 1920’s ocean liner with its sumptuous lounge chairs and library restaurant.
ABOVE: THE RITZ-CARLTON KL, FULL OF SUMPTUOUS LOUNGES FOR DRINKING, EATING OR COLLAPSING IN AFTER A DAYS SHOPPING IN BUKIT BINTANG, JUST A MINUTES WALK AWAY.
The food options at the Ritz-Carlton’s renowned Library restaurant provide some of the best food available in Kuala Lumpur.
ABOVE: RITZ-CARLTON LIBRARY RESTAURANT EXECUTIVE CHEF WAI COMBINES MODERN AND TRADITIONAL CULINARY TECHNIQUES AND DEVELOPING FLAVOUR PROFILES THAT ARE FRESH AND LUXURIOUS.
If you’re considering a luxury experience, take advantage of offers that pop up on popular websites and I always recommend then contacting the hotel/resort yourself and making yourself known and maybe negotiating some of the inclusions. Maybe you want more golf and less day spa time. Maybe you’d like to give up the fine dining vouchers for pizzas and chips around the pool for your kids. Try making a relationship on your own that provides the inclusions that are important to you.
I recently spent a brilliant evening on Radio Melayu chatting about my recent adventures and how we all need to find a way to get packing and escape winter by getting overseas or embracing winter and snuggling into a gorgeous resort down south.
The link below features descriptions for a few of my new favourite things, including Bali’s spectacular new resort the Apurva Kempinski Bali, Hong Kong Star Ferries and markets, Hong Kong Disneyland, Pullman Bunker Bay Resort and amazing airlines for travelling with children, including Malindo Air, Batik Air and Cathay Pacific.
In the link above to Have A Go News enjoy reading my feature article on travelling, eating and shopping your way around Kuala Lumpur and making sure you stay somewhere amazing as well. You can also find Have A Go News in over 1800 outlets across Perth and regional Western Australia.
Love Lot 10! From the Hutong Food Court in the basement, amazing shops and activities in between and the cheesecake in Tokyo Restaurant at the top, you’ll be splashing your cash and loving every minute of it.
Travel from KL airport to Kl on the fantastic KLIA Ekspres. The best way to travel into KL and also the easiest and most comfortable.
Stay in the heart of KL’s shopping precinct, Bukit Bintang, at the luxurious and very friendly JW Marriott. If you’re not doing the shopping, this will be the perfect place to wait for your shopping partner to return. Look, they even parked my car under the hotel sign!
On Saturday evening, 18 September, I spoke on 95.3fm about my regular Malaysian travels, Malaysian food and Malaysian tourism strategies.
We also spoke about Rajah Brooke butterflies, the JDT Tigers, the benefits and consequences of spicy food and how much I enjoy using the rail network (particularly the monorail) in Kuala Lumpur to travel the city.
When we travel, there is nothing more remarkable than a new destination. The genuine excitement of visiting a new location on this planet is one the best reasons why we travel.
Muar, located on the west coast of Johor, the southern-most state of Malaysia, is perhaps paying the price, for better or worse, of being just 45 kilometres south of the famous town of Malacca, the exotic destination that gives its name to the Strait, the narrow 550 mile stretch of water between the Malay Peninsula and Sumatra to the south.
Muar is just a 2 to 3 hour drive from Kuala Lumpur and not much longer from Singapore. Snuggled against the Muar River, this historic port town enjoys a year round tropical climate.
Muar is intriguing. Muar is authentic. What Muar lacks in tourism finesse it more than makes for in the feeling of discovering the undiscovered. It is well developed but there are no tourist trishaws pedaling around. The food on the streets and cafes is aromatic and gorgeous but there aren’t the boardwalk, waterfront restaurants of other South East Asian waterfront communities.
Muar is a community that revels in good food, good times and then more good food. Late night markets, street carnivals, car shows and dragon boat racing all take place in the time that I’m there and for the second half of 2017 the pace gets even quicker with the Malaysian leg of the Asia Pacific Rally Championship, the Lantern Festival and the Music and Zapin International Festival.
It’s not just the events that are the life of Muar. In 2012, His Royal Highness Sultan Ibrahim proclaimed Muar as the royal town of Johor. This status has ensured that heritage and history of Muar is prominent in the architecture of its buildings and in the hearts of its people.
One of the reasons why a new destination is so exciting is what it does to our senses. Walking the streets of Muar, I was also reminded that food truly is one of the best experiences that a new destination provides.
An early walk around Muar is a satay sensory overload as the Muar breakfast of choice sizzles on curbside cookers and fresh jackfruit is chopped up to order, all while you sip at a strong cup of the rich and renowned Muar coffee.
While exploring the fishing community of Parit Jawa on the outskirts of Muar, I enquire how far out the local fishing fleet has to travel to catch the fish that was cooked for my lunch. The famous Asam Pedas is a sour and spicy fish stew that is very important to the cultural heritage of Muar. The importance of this heritage is made all the more clear to me as a local fisherman volunteers to take me out to his fishing traps. Chugging out into the Strait of Malacca we locate some traps that are extraordinary and ingenious. A large v-shape of wooden poles has been driven into the sea bed and at the bottom of the v there is a net. As the fish encounter the poles they swim along the side of them which effectively guide them into the net.
It’s a genuine opportunity to see where the fish you’ve eaten was caught and have it explained to you by the man who caught it. As we make our way back to shore, more boats are headed out and it’s possible that my dinner tonight, the famous otak-otak, spicy fish cakes wrapped and grilled in banana leaf, has come from the fish traps of Parit Jawa.
Communities that are fun, friendly, safe and interesting, yet remain largely untouched by mass tourism are rare throughout the world. Muar deserves your attention. If you don’t need a guided tour. If you enjoy curbside food. If you enjoy talking to local people. You will love Muar.
I leave Muar and head 30 kilometres east to the little town of Parit Sulong, located on the banks of the Muar River. It was near the bridge at Parit Sulong that nearly 150 Australian and Indian soldiers were killed by Japanese soldiers in January 1942. A simple memorial and well maintained garden are reminders of these tragic events and the local community are very understanding of the importance of the memorial, particularly to Australians who visit the site. The Australian War Graves Commission maintains over 30 memorials and cemeteries throughout the world where Australians have fought and died and this is most likely the least known of them.
I continue my journey across Johor, travelling through small regional communities, palm plantations and pristine jungle and all the while keeping my eyes open for the tapirs that can shuffle across the road without a care in the world. Malaysian tapirs can grow to be over 2 metres in length and weigh in at more than 250 kilograms and while they have a keen sense of smell, their very poor eyesight doesn’t help them cross the road with much awareness of what is around them.
Arriving at Mersing I make my way to the dockside where I have a boat waiting for me. The boat is going to take me to Pulau Rawa for an overnight stay at this island resort.
A few years ago my daughter wanted to have a luau birthday party and I put together a playlist of tracks suitably themed for a tropical island paradise.
As the Pulau Rawa resort boat idled towards the jetty, protruding midway along this little island 16 kilometres off the east coast of Johor in Malaysia, the luau playlist in my head started up. I began singing Island In the Sun by Harry Belafonte and then a Jimmy Buffet mashup of Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes and Margaritaville. Thankfully for everyone onboard we secured our mooring and disembarked before I got started on Key Largo by Bertie Higgins.
At just over 1 kilometre in length and a steep few hundred metres high, this little island sits in the middle of the Sultan Iskander Marine Park, an area covering 8000 hectares and 13 islands. The rules of the marine park are well enforced and include no fishing, jet-skiing or anchoring vessels to coral. These rules have ensured that both above and below the water the view and the life you’ll see is pristine and gorgeous.
During a quick snorkel off the beach, barely twenty metres off shore, I encounter a family of clown fish that hide in their anemone and then come out for a photo, turning for their left side and turning for their right side.
A barracuda streaks past me a few minutes later but thankfully going in a different direction to where my little clownfish family were living. It hovered in front of me but as I lifted the camera to take the shot he flashed me a toothy grin and flashed out of sight.
Pulau Rawa is one of the marine parks islands that is owned by His Royal Highness the Sultan of Johor. A week after my visit to Pulau Rawa I am invited to meet with His Royal Highness and we discuss this amazing marine park and how important it is to him.
The rules are tough for those who want motorized action but those rules have created a marine park that is appreciated by those who want a peaceful island escape. More importantly, the life within the park, including the turtles that are protected by the turtle watch camp on Pulau Tengah, have a chance of life that is difficult to find in the busy sealanes and seaside resorts throughout South East Asia.
The Sultan is pleased that I have seen turtles, clownfish and been slightly bullied by a barracuda. He is a keen underwater explorer and enjoys diving the reefs that surround the islands within the marine park.
We discuss tourism in the marine park and the importance of continued support for turtle and coral conservation, particularly the education of snorkelers who sometimes don’t appreciate just how fragile these forests of the sea can be.
In the afternoon on Pulau Rawa I slowly paddle and drift a kayak around the main beach and watch kids from around the world wizz down a good sized slide that is mounted onto the jetty. On the beach there’s a scuba class for a family taking place and lots of laughter as the mother of the family tries to walk forwards in her fins. A surfcat sits rigged on the shore waiting for a twilight sail as the basics of jibes, tacks and avoiding a swinging boom are explained to a young couple in orange lifejackets.
The only sounds I can hear are people having fun, the occasional peacock that inhabit the island and maybe the clinking of cocktail glasses as toasts are made by what may be a pair of honeymooners or just very relaxed parents.
In the evening there’s my favourite thing about the South China Sea to see, its sunsets. The science of sunsets is something I’ve come to understand but choose to forget every time I see one in this part of the world. The end of the day on the South China Sea is like creation itself celebrating the passing of light. The orange burns deep and lingers long as brush strokes of red and gold set alight the wispy streaks of cloud that appear to descend over the horizon with the sun.
With the remaining light I seek out one of the resorts peacocks to request my wakeup call for 0800.
My room is well appointed with my own private veranda that I only have to share with the peacocks. Most of the accommodation on the island is in the form of timber bungalows with various configurations to suit the requirements of travelers. Some of the bungalows are over the water or on the beach itself while others set in the jungle overlooking the beach.
Currently, the most frequent international travelers to Pulau Rawa are from Singapore. It’s easy to understand how appealing this island is to those on the bustling isle of Singapore. From the causeway linking Singapore to Malaysia, it is an easy two to three hour drive up the east coast of the Malaysian state of Johor to the port town of Mersing. From there the resort boat will meet you at the departure time of your choosing and have you on the island twenty minutes later.
The next morning I take the track literally around the edge of the island and discover a vast timber deck with sunlounges overlooking the sea and islands in the distance with nothing to obstruct your view.
Leaving the island walk path, I choose the jungle trekking option of a path that leads up to the summit of the island. It’s a steep climb surrounded by jungle and only a few hundred metres above sea level and once you get your breath back it provides a breathtaking 360 degree view of the island. It’s no mountain but up there I felt I was on top of the world and the world belonged to me. I couldn’t see anyone. I couldn’t hear anyone. I was alone on top of a tropical island!
This is an intriguing island paradise. It’s far from undiscovered but far enough from the discovered to make it a true getaway.
If you want a South China Sea resort with parasailing, jet skis, kid’s pools and swim up bars you could borrow Pulau Rawa’s surfcat and set a coarse eastwards for the west coast of Borneo where you’ll find wonderful coastal resorts to the north and south of Kota Kinabalu, the port city and capital of Malaysian Sabah.
If you want a South China Sea Resort on an island you can walk around and up in a couple of hours, fall asleep on the beach, undisturbed by hawkers, and pick the time of your choosing to swim, sail, kayak, snorkel, scuba or just sit with a Long Island Iced Tea inches away from a sparkling shoreline then this is where you need to be.
As I sit on my duffle bag waiting for the boat to take me back to the port town of Mersing, I am given a message to say that the boat may be a little late. With nothing to do but nothing, I am happy to wait awhile. No man is an island but I am an island guy.
My final destination in Johor is the capital, Johor Bahru, located on the very tip of Johor, overlooking Singapore and linked to it by the ever busy causeway that is just over a kilometre in length.
As an indication of just how good the shopping in Johor Bahru is, the busloads of Singaporeans who come across daily really tell the story, particularly at the Johor Premium Outlets shopping centre featuring 130 premium brands and only an hour’s drive from Singapore.
Featuring designer label shops such as Gucci, Armani, Polo, Burberry and DKNY there’s plenty of time to shop with even the kids if you negotiate a deal to get in some shopping time if you take them to nearby Legoland, Hello Kitty Town or the very active Angry Birds Activity Park, often visited by the Johor Tigers Football Team for training.
Malaysian Airlines fly regularly to Kuala Lumpur and Singapore with great flight deals available throughout the year.
Muar is easy to get to by flying to Kuala Lumpur and arranging a hotel transfer or taxi to your Muar accommodation. For quality accommodation near the waterfront try the new Muo Boutique Hotel and enjoy the view from the rooftop bar that looks over the river to the Strait of Malacca and the setting sun in the evening.
The quickest way to Pulau Rawa is to fly to Singapore and drive to the port town of Mersing, two to three hours up the east coast of the Malaysian state of Johor. Taxi’s permitted to travel between Singapore and Malaysia are available for hire from Changi airport or a search online will offer several private companies from which you can select the vehicle of your choice for a safe, comfortable ride from Singapore to Mersing.
At Pulau Rawa all rooms are equipped with ensuite bathrooms, air-conditioning, wifi and cable television. The restaurant buffet caters for all cultures and ages. The Rawa Island Resort has a range of accommodation packages available throughout the year.
The writer travelled with Malaysian Airlines and was a guest of the Consul-General of Malaysia in Perth, Tourism Johor and Tourism Malaysia.