Travel Experience VM Review10

Fun in Kapas

At least once a year, my whole family would take a drive to Kuala Terengganu to see my Grandma who lives in Marang. The drive, which spans eight-hours is usually a whole’s day trip already.

For the most part, Marang is quite old school. Although it still resembles a kampung, much of it has been renovated. Houses there used to have nipah roofs. Now, half the houses have been refurbished with bricks and concrete. There is nothing much here, but sometimes you really need this sort of escape. Life is simple, people are friendly and the roadsides are lines with little stalls selling keropok lekor and dodol.

I fondly recall a trip we took not too long ago. We were already in Kuala Terengganu when my family and cousins decided at the last minute to take a trip to Kapas Island. It was totally unplanned. We just walked over to the jetty and enquired the boat schedule, and that was it.

We left early in the morning. There are two kinds of boat that goes to Kapas Island, a speed boat and a normal boat. We were on the normal boat. The boat ride took about 45 minutes. At first, I was not really used to being on a boat. But surrounded by my family really helps.

We checked into a beachside resort quite early on Kapas Island, and went straight for snorkelling. You got to be early to go snorkelling. We were provided life jackets, snorkel masks and flippers. The water was cool and the sun was warm. This was my very first snorkelling experience and it was really fun.

Someone told us that if we wanted the fish to come to us, we should bring bread to feed the fish with. It was really fun to see the fish swimming up to us. Even my mum, who did not snorkel, waded into the water halfway, just to feed the fish. Two hours went by really quickly.

We spent the afternoon and evening going on long walks by the beach. I felt so peaceful, relieved and glad that I got to spend some quality time with my family. We passed by people playing volleyball. It was just so relaxing.

We were supposed to have a bonfire that night, but it rained, so we spent the better part of the night just hanging out at the resort’s restaurant chatting and drinking coffee. The thing about this place is that the people are helpful and friendly. If you need anything, there are willing to help you.

We returned to Kuala Terengganu the next morning. Kuala Terengganu has its own charms, actually. There is a huge pasar in town that sells everything from vegetables, to batiks and dodols. Everything is just so fresh. I have no idea when the pasar starts, but when we went there in the afternoon, it was already open. You can get practically everything here, stuff are cheap and you can bargain with the sellers. The traders will try to give a good price most of the time.

I bought quite a lot of things, some batik for my aunty, a doll pillow and keychains.

We spent five days in Terengganu. It was nice and certainly a trip where I could take my mind off everthing except enjoy, relax and have fun. Everyone in my family seemed crazy during the trip, but that makes the whole experience fun. Between long drives from KL, to last minutes plans to go to Kapas Island, to having a blast at the pasar in Kuala Terengganu, it really was a good break for me.

It felt good to come back to town and face the music after all that. I wish I could go to Kapas Island again!

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Travel Experience VM Review9

Giving TENGGOL a helping hand

Tenggol Island is beautiful - in every sense of the word. Crystal clear water laps upon its soft and sandy shores, fading to emerald green and royal blue horizon. Leaves of every shade of green frame the bluest skies imaginable.

While enjoying its natural wonders, our crew from Virtual Malaysia, had come here to do more than that. Virtual Malaysia has always been supportive of the preservation of our environment and eco-system. Here, in Tenggol, we were going to put our words into action by organising a beach clean-up to help conserve its beauty.

In our first foray, we snorkelled and dived picking up plastic bags of different colours, instant noodle packages and bits of string made of synthetic fibre, none of which were biodegradable. All in all, more than two bags of rubbish were collected from the beach surrounds.

The next day, a shore clean-up on a massive scale began, bringing thirty Virtual Malaysia staff members together. We were split into two groups, each covering half of the shore. There was a cluster of rocks on my half. Anis was tugging on something in between the rocks that turned out to be a huge piece of buried rubber.

What it really was remains a mystery. It could have been a rubber dinghy, a wave breaker or something cast aside by much bigger boats. Whatever it was, it had been broken up by the elements, with a piece ending up wedged tight under the rocks, and a most unwelcome visitor on the beach.It was a tough job cutting up that huge piece of rubber and disposing of it.

From a distance I could see Raihana and Ali pulling tattered plastic bags from the sand. Combing the beaches, we collected over twenty bags of paper, plastic, rubber, aluminium cans, cigarette butts, old rope, fishing lines and glass bits from the shores of Tenggol Island. It was both surprising and alarming how much rubbish everyone was able to accumulate that morning. The thoughtlessness of those who littered is a sad indictment of the people’s attitude and responsibility to the environment that we all share.

Virtual Malaysia’s trip to Tenggol Island saw a strengthening of bonds, not only between each other, but also between every one of us with the splendour of nature.

At the very heart of it, we had fun. The sort of fun some of us never expected to experience. Many may say that it is because we are such a fun-loving company, but I believe that a lot of it also has to do with the bewitching charms of Tenggol
Island itself. More than one soul was awestruck by its sheer beauty, from the moment the boat floated to its waters. The kind of limpid clear waters that you only dream about and usually never get the opportunity to experience. Beautiful. Pristine. Clean.

I’d like to think that I saved a turtle that day. Or that I help prevent the break-up of precious coral. Or I allowed even just one of those colourful reef fish to see its cousins without hindrance, sentiments that was shared by the whole group. Our team at Virtual Malaysia hopes that with this small gesture, more people will step up and do their bit for Mother Nature as she does need our helping hand.

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Travel Experience VM Review8

Hitting the Beaches of Pahang

Although our first child, Nurul Hidayah, is already five years old, we have never had a chance to go on a proper family vacation outside of Kuala Lumpur. So our first official vacation last January was an event we all looked forward to, and Pahang.s wonderful white sandy beach which stretches from Balok, about 15km north of Kuantan, down through Beserah and Teluk Chempedak, was our destination of choice.

The two-an-a-half hour drive from Kuala Lumpur to Kuantan on the new highway was unforgettable. Neither of our children have ever been to the beach, so their excitement was understandable. Our youngest, two-year-old Alif Hakimi, didn.t fare well throughout the entire journey and could not keep his food down, while first child, five year-old Nurul Hidayah, kept asking when we were going for a swim in the ocean every few minutes throughout the journey. By the time we arrived at Swiss Garden Hotel, both my wife and I breathed a sigh of relief. But it wasn.t too long before Alif felt better and Nurul pleaded for us to go to the beach.

The weather was picture perfect, not too hot and surprisingly dry for January. Although the clear, blue waters seemed inviting, we didn.t go for a swim that afternoon, but had a nice time just walking along the beach, enjoying the cool sea breeze and listening to the endless surf crashing on the shore. A solitary kite-boarder caught our eyes, skimming across the water.s surface with help from the strong wind and surf. We learned that Balok beach is the venue for the annual international Windsurfing Regatta fondly known as the .Monsoon Madness.. Such events, coupled with the string of high-end hotels around Balok beach attracts a lot of foreign tourists here.

Our early morning strolls along the beach were the best moments of our vacation. Those with really young children would know how fond they are of rousing you from sleep and urging you to go out to play. And play we did. By about 7.30am the next day, my wife, Farah Harnum, and I were already sitting on the beach, laughing at Alif and Nurul.s antics as they chased the frothy, white bubbles of the surf and explored their new surroundings, poking into the tiny holes in the sand made by hermit crabs. They simply loved investigating the beachside, peering curiously at every new thing they came across, marvelling at anything and everything, and asking questions about the sea.

Beserah, just 7km south of Balok, is a rustic fishing village and a good place to just laze around and watch the comings and goings of the local fishermen who occasionally pass by, occupied with their own business. It was quite interesting
to watch a fisherman using a triangular net to catch fish, patiently trawling the shoreline. If lucky, you will see water buffaloes hauling the fishermen.s catch from boat to land. We brought two kites with us on the trip and flew them high on strong winds. Although the kites were meant for the children, my wife and I ended up spending more time flying them, while Alif and Nurul busied themselves with an attempt to build a sandcastle. Later that afternoon, I took Alif for his first swim in the sea. Carrying him to the water.s shallow edge, I carefully lowered him into the water and bathed him there. He was afraid of the waves at first, but after a while, he got used to it and began to enjoy himself, laughing in delight as the waves rushed past him.

Closer to Kuantan, Teluk Chempedak, which is just a 15-minute drive south of Balok, attracts more casual visitors, especially during the weekends. We had a wonderful dinner at the lively food stalls by the beach-front. After dinner, we took a slow stroll along the beach, marvelling at how chilly the sea breeze was and spent some time gazing in awe at the amazingly bright stars dotting the cloudless night sky. There is also a night market along the road from Balok to Teluk Chempedak that you should not miss. The people in Pahang are known for their fondness of the state.s speciality rice dish called nasi minyak. Like the Penangites and their nasi kandar, the people here enjoy nasi minyak regardless of the time of day. Perhaps it.s because it was home cooked or maybe it.s because we were in Pahang, but the nasi minyak we had there the second night was certainly worth the drive out!

Our trip to the beaches of Pahang was a good choice for our first family vacation. There.s plenty of things and places to explore just a short, leisurely drive away from our hotel at Balok. We discovered many new pleasures as we spent quality time with our young children, watching them marvel at even the simplest things the strong wind caressing their faces, the funny hermit crab scampering in its shell and the fine white sand as they moulded imaginary sand castles. Things we take for granted, which appear new and exciting through our children.s eyes. Indeed, our first vacation together sets the benchmark for many more wonderful family vacations to come.

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Travel Experience VM Review7

KENYIR Real Vacation

When we decided, on a spur, to venture off on a short trip to Kenyir, we didn’t realise it would be one of the most unforgettable holidays we’d ever have. Our group of 10 - Ina, Adiba, Raihana, Hafiedz, Eugene (a.k.a Mowgli), Fung Kit, Chong, Habib, Fareez – met at a debating competition and have since been close friends. Rai who was my roommate in university suggested that we visit Lake Kenyir in Terengganu. Out of the hundreds of islands in Kenyir Lake, we chose Poh island, a medium-sized island just 10 minutes boat ride from Pengkalan Gawi and has a modest resort built right on top of the hill.

The overnight Kenyir Express, which departs at about 9.00pm from the Putra World Trade Centre in Kuala Lumpur, proved to be a very convenient and comfortable way of getting there. Not long after the bus left the city that Friday, the swaying of the bus lulled us all to sleep. We slept soundly through the journey, waking up only at about 5.30am to have a super early breakfast of nasi lemak which turned out to be pretty delicious.

The sun was just rising in the horizon when we first set eyes on the watery expanse of Kenyir Lake. It was one of the most beautiful scenes I’d ever laid eyes on. In 10 minutes, we’d crossed the short distance from Pengkalan Gawi to Poh Island by boat. Between the ten of us, we had to literally fight off the urge to jump straight into the tempting blue waters and have a swim the moment we reached the island. Fortunately, level-headed Ina managed to get us all together to pitch up the tent first.

There were quite a number of people on Poh Island including a school group. The campsite was neat and well managed by the people who run the resort there. The second our tents were properly set up and our food rations securely stored – quite imperative as we were informed of the presence of quite a number of wild boars on the island – we made a manic dash for the water. Within the safe confines of the square netting pool built by the side of the sandy banks, we had a roaring time in the cold, clear waters of Kenyir. It wasn’t just a swim in a lake, it was every single lakeside holiday dream come true. As we cannon-balled into the lake from the edge of the makeshift pool, we all became kids once again.

We’d brought foodstuff such as instant noodles, eggs, cooking oil, rice, as well as solid fuels and cooking utensils. But still clinging to life’s simple conveniences that first day, we opted for a quick lunch at the resort’s restaurant instead. We decided to circumnavigate the island with kayaks after lunch. As we paddled away in our two-man kayaks, I found myself marvelling at the miracle of Kenyir. What were once hilltops are now islands. Grounds once trudged by elephants, tigers and numerous other wild animals, now lay under an unfathomable mass of water. Kenyir was both impressive and intimidating.

On the second day, after a fun morning of trying our hands at abseiling, we hopped onto a boat and headed to the Saok waterfall, about 45 minutes away. The crystal clear water that cascaded down the rock-face into the pool at the bottom of the waterfall was extremely cold but refreshing. We had amply supplied ourselves with cheese and bread, which made for a delicious picnic snack after our swim. Then we lazed by the riverbank, watching people in boathouses moored nearby as they sat on their decks, enjoying a cigarette and smiling at their children jumping off the boathouse straight into the water. How they lived a charmed life!

Later, at about 5pm, we found ourselves busy fishing – or rather, netting – for our dinner at one of the aqua farms in the middle of Kenyir Lake. These fish farms, which float in the middle of the lake, are one of the ways to avoid depletion of the fish stock in Kenyir Lake due to its popularity among anglers. We netted about 12 siakap of various sizes, paying a rather good price per kilo to the aqua farm owner. Cleaning the fishes proved to be quite a hilarious attempt, especially for the boys as they had to deal with live fishes. In the end, the gruesome task was left to the girls, while the boys went off swimming or preparing the other food rations we’d brought with us.

We already had the fire going strong an hour later when the winds picked up quite suddenly. In a split second a full blown storm descended upon us. We were caught by surprise! Scrambling, we pulled one of the ground tarp over ourselves and the foodstuff, including the marinated fishes.

As the heavy rain and strong wind lashed against the plastic tarp over our heads, we prayed that it wouldn’t last long. What we hoped was a short spell turned out to be a full-blown three-hour storm. Fung Kit and Chong, who’d just finished swimming when the storm began, suffered under the tarp, wearing only their shorts, their teeth chattering from the cold. If ever there was an experience we would never forget, it’s being stuck under a plastic tarp with our closest friends and a dozen well marinated, raw fishes!

After the storm, we discovered that the wind was so strong, even the electric lamps were knocked over and three out of four tents were flooded. Not wanting to admit defeat by seeking shelter in the resort, we took one of the ground tarp and spread it on the soft, grassy banks by the lakeside. That was where we ended up sleeping the second night on Poh Island after we finally managed to cook our fish and enjoy what must have been the best dinner we’d ever have. Some of us were lucky enough to still have dry sleeping bags to tuck into while the rest settled into a snug huddle to keep warm from the chilly winds. The next morning, we discovered Fareez and Fung Kit, whose sleeping bags got soaked the night before, sleeping right on the ground with the plastic ground tarp pulled over their heads!

Our trip to Kenyir Lake was certainly one of the most memorable vacations, and I’m sure my friends would agree. Despite the trials of the storm, the vacation was one of those experiences whose memories would last a lifetime – not just for the sheer beauty of Kenyir, but also the wonderful and unexpected moments that had brought us closer.

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Travel Experience VM Review6

MALAYSIAN Marine Day, July 2005

Who would spend their vacation cleanning up garbage and repairing broken coral? I would. Having been diving for over 10 years and being a PADI dive instructor for four years and counting, I was naturally very excited to participate and help organize the Mabul-Sipadan Islands excursion in support of the first ever Malaysian Marine Day. The event was a joint effort by Pacific Dome Travel Network, Global Scuba, the Malaysian Youth Movement and Sipadan Water Village Resort. The event, part of the PADI Project AWARE was aimed at encouraging divers and non-divers alike to be more responsible and helps preserve our underwater heritage.

I went there with my wife, Stepheni and a small group of friends. It was an event, which I found to be more of a treat than serious conservation work, which it really was! Almost a hundred divers where there, most of them come from all over Malaysia.

We attended a briefing the night before the first day’s work, where we were introduced to the proceedings of the two-day event. The mood was sweltering with excitement and everyone was looking forward for the first day’s highlight activity: Coral Transplants!

Everyday, hundreds of corals become loose break, tear or chipped off due to strong waves and water currents, and get washed by the sea. The dive instructors at Mabul-Sipadan have collected all these drifting pieces of corals in buckets of seawater and brought them to be transplanted at this event. There were about five types of coral species altogether.

The tag line for the day was ‘Adopt-A-Coral.’ We were all given a coral to tag as our own, and using an environmentally friendly adhesive, we ‘planted’ the coral onto a designated patch of rock.

The transplant area was specially chosen for the event’s purposes. Extensive research has been done in order to determine that transplanted coral would be able to grow well at the area. The water was not too deep and the area was located near the resort. All these were important for monitoring purposes.

The second day of the event saw a massive clean-up project; a task that saw us going into the water with a garbage bag each and picking up litter. You would not believe the things that people throw down there. I gathered a great number of sardine cans, plastic bottles and broken fishing nets. Among the most outrageous things we found were baby diapers (which are not biodegradable!) and a big oil drum.
I extended my trip for three more days after the Marine Day event and my friends and I had a wonderful time on the islands of Mabul and Sipadan. There is something about the place which just makes for a satisfyingly relaxing stay – good accommodations, good food, good company and good diving – it is as though time just stood still and everything was, for a divine moment in time, perfect.

We engaged in about three dives a day, and even though it may seem as if we have dived at the very same spot before, I saw different things every time. Marine life environment are ever changing, obstinately fragile and sensitive to changes in time, water currents and things like that.

I joined a sunset dive, which was an exceptional treat. At the transitional gap of about 40 minutes just before the sun sets completely, I got to watch the rare mating rituals of the mandarin fish. At the exact moment, as if triggered by some temporal currents, the mandarin fish would come out and engage in a dance routine involving about twenty female fish and a single male (lucky fellow). It was certainly a dance I would not forget!

Night diving presents its own excitement with sightings of nocturnal marine life such as crabs and eels. We also saw the unique sleeping habits of certain fish such as the parrotfish, which spins a sort of cocoon around itself from its saliva. The purpose of this cocoon is to protect itself from that predators as it sleeps.

My extended trip to Mabul-Sipadan for the Malaysian Marine Day event was memorable and educational. Something I would be pround to call myself a champion for.

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Travel Experience VM Review5


It all really began when I met Kak Jam, the President of Malaysian Coral Reef Conservation Society (CoRal Malaysia) at her office back in Kuala Lumpur. She told me that the society is organising a record setting underwater painting activity. As a diver, I was naturally interested in the project and instantly signed up. In conjunction with this year’s Merdeka month celebration, we were to paint the first ever Jalur Gemilang underwater! It was my very first participation in a CoRal Malaysia project.

So here I am. Kapas Island is beautiful. The people here are friendly, the environment is refreshing, and the atmosphere is calm. After a short introduction to the rest of the divers for this project (there were almost 50 of us!), we went for an orientation dive – my first dive in the waters of Kapas Island! – and discovered many interesting marine specimens. That evening, we were briefed on the more intricate details of the painting project itself by Ajis Mohamad – Malaysia’s first underwater artist. There were to be three dives all together, two to complete the flag itself and the last one to work on the marine creatures surrounding the flag.

Everyone was excited the next morning. After the project was officiated by the Menteri Besar of Terengganu, Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh, we headed out to the site for our first dive. It wasn’t very deep. Just about five meters. However, some unexpected guests had turned up to witness our activity – a large school of jellyfish. Everywhere I turned, there were jellyfish. Safety came first of course, considering that we were quite a big group, so everyone looked out for each other. Personally, I found the first dive really challenging, as I also had to constantly watch out for my dive buddy.

Doing the painting itself was a unique experience. I spent about an hour underwater on the first dive. The task was tricky because all this while, we were used to painting straight up. This time however, it was done downwards. It was a fun experience. The divers of the project were a great bunch. Everyone was like a family and there was a lot of respect for each other. You need that as divers. Everyone was constantly helping and looking out for one another.

I recalled an incident involving one of the divers underwater. A jellyfish stung him on the leg. He panicked and started convulsing. With the help of a divemaster, we managed to help him surface and got the paramedics who were on a stand by. Thankfully, the sting was not poisonous.

The flag was completed in record time. By the time I went for the third dive of the day, some of the marine creatures were already painted and the flag looked fabulous. There was an air of satisfaction after the task was completed. I was very proud of everyone for accomplishing the project. The flag was the result of our co-operation and hard work, so that made it special. I am definitely keen to participate in future CoRal Malaysia projects.

In a victorious dinner that night, we watched videos of our project and everyone was laughing and joking. Projects like those initiated by CoRal Malaysia is important to spread awareness of environmental issues of the underwater world, but there is also so much we can do on land. Cleanliness is important and everyone should play their part in it. The Merdeka Dive is a fine example of what we can accomplish if we work together.

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Travel Experience VM Review4

My ‘Royal Vacation’

Believe it or not, my real vacation was when Iwas on a travelling job to the Royal Belum Forest. Last July, leaving my colognes, ties and the stress of my neighbours quarrelling at home, myself along with 27 friends from the Tourism Malaysia offices, travel agents and the media, headed to the Hulu Perak District, about 200km from Ipoh on a rather tight but an enjoyable trip.

Departing Ipoh on the morning with full anticipation, we stopped at the Kuala Kangsar Resthouse for a traditional and delicious lunch. I was glad to see many members within the group starting to get to know each other. We arrived later in the evening at the Banding Island jetty where, I hustled everyone into a group photo. I know that it was rather early in the trip for picture-taking, but I was keen in capturing the excitement portrayed by the members of the expedition.

We transferred from the jetty to Tail Kail Island via speedboats. Several members of the group were even lucky enough to get a ride on a boathouse which is quite literarily a house built on a boat. Even though I was stiff from the longbus ride, the boat ride through Temenggor Lake was refreshing and exhilarating.

After dinner and welcoming formailties, we were briefed on the Royal Belum Forest by Wan Shaharuddin, the General Manager of the Perak State Park Corporation, before adjourning, not to sleep, but to the boats yet again.

The night was lit by the sparkles of a million stars which shone smoothly on the lake’s waters, as we donned out life jackets tightly for a night drifting expedition. I had expected the stillness of the night would make for a silent boat ride, but the forest itself was very much awake with the nocturnal sounds of crickets, frogs and what’s more interesting, the distant sounds of elephants and tigers. The drift took us to the edge of Temenggor Dam and back to Tali Kail Island to retire for the night.

Instead of the roaring sound of kapcai bikes racing, I woke up the next morning to the soothing song of birds. It took us more than an hour boat ride from Tali Kail Island to the Royal Belum Forest. The sun was rising, the waters were gleaming and I could feel the tension and stress from overwork melting away from me. Two hours of jungle trekking later, we arrived at one of the most important areas of the forest: a salt slick. The locals call this place the animal clinic. It is really a small stream flowing through the forest. What makes this stream special is that the water is naturally nourished with salts and minerals, and that the animals frequent this place for their monthly, weekly and sometimes even daily dose of essential nutrients.

We had lunch at Kejar River before making a stop at an Orang Asli village on our way back to Tali Kail Island. That evening, we had a wonderful feast for dinner which truly made me appreciate the abundance of food God has blessed us with. Somehow, food just seemed much tastier in the wilderness. We also organised a small karaoke competition. In the forest, I can sing as loud as I wanted without disturbing my neighbours. We really had fun that night. More importantly, I was glad to see the group bonding and being supportive of each other.

I felt heavy departing Tali Kail Island for the last time the next morning. But with my body and mind fully recharged, our group took our last boat ride to Banding Island jetty and headed to the Lenggong Museum. The visit to the museum was extra special to me because not only did I get the opportunity to see an amazing collection of pre-historic relics, our group was also given the rare permission of viewing the actual remains of the Perak Man. From the museum, the group was guided to the actual cave site where the Perak Man was discovered. Even lunch was special to commemorate the last day of the expedition. It was a traditional lunch and a fruit feast at the same time. We had rambutans, dokongs and durians.

My ‘royal’ trip to the Royal Belum Forest truly made me appreciate the beautiful plants and animals that God has created. This realm of its own was a far cry from the hustle and bustle of city traffic jams. Even if for just a couple of days, I escaped from my boss and punch cards. I could go fishing the whole day if I wanted to. I was able to leave my hand phone in my bag and not worry about it because there was no signal in the jungle. Above it all, I was able, for just a moment, be a kid again. I was with nature, I made new friends and I return to the working world as a responsible adult, a new man.

Though I am a tourism officer and have been traveling quite a lot, this trip is actually a ‘royal vacation’ for me. It truly is all here in Malaysia. Join me and Cuti-Cuti Malaysia.

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