Monday, December 31, 2012

Great Reunion of My Alor Setar Gang

Right after I landed from Medan, I had a few hours to eat lunch, unpack, repack, rest, eat dinner and fly off to Penang. My greatest girlfriends (since we were 15 years old) from Alor Setar gathered in Penang for this rare reunion. One came from Sydney, another from Singapore, two from KL and one from Alor Setar. 

We met up and chatted and chatted for at least 6 hours that day but the hours felt like they just flew by.

I think we were 16 when this was taken.
Us now.

Really glad to have such good girlfriends even after years of being in different parts of the world. Love you gals!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Medan - Berastagi - Lake Toba Family Trip

As my parents didn't get their holiday this year, I decided to go somewhere nearby as a family, somewhere we've never really thought about going. So we settled on a  4D3N tour to Sumatra, Indonesia to cover Medan, Berastagi and Lake Toba.

Someone asked where Medan is so here's the Google map just in case. It's just a 50 minute flight west off KL.

Scouring the internet for information, I found that there wasn't really much trustworthy details that I could rely on for my usual trip planning. I found that I am not very comfortable without trains (Paris, London, Japan had good train systems which became the backbone for our planning). 

I decided to ask my husband's cousin who's working in a tour agency. She quoted me a price I couldn't refuse and it seemed, well, safer to go on a tour.

So here's a brief overview of where we went. Our first day brought us around Medan, covering the Maimun Palace. What's interesting here for me was that the Sultan, who's a teenage as his father passed away in an accident rather young, has no powers except for ceremonial. 

Right after that, we went to the Al-Mashun Grand Mosque. It is a beautiful structure. And, shy to say, it's the first mosque I've ever stepped into. 

Thereafter we went to a huge Buddhist temple called the Vihara Maha Maitreya (hehehe, thanks to KS for his research in his blog post on the trip). I had just woken up from my nap in the bus en route so I didn't take much photos there. 

After picking up another family from the airport (there were 20 of us in the bus!) and lunch, we rushed off to Berastagi. Berastagi is a little town in the valley between two volcanoes. Unfortunately, we didn't visit either of the volcanoes nor did we do much sight-seeing except for a short stop at the fruits and flower market. The roads to Berastagi is windy, narrow, steep, full of large vehicles and it was raining. I was so glad we weren't driving on our own!

The fruits colours were extremely vibrant! The carrots were the orangest I've ever seen, the red peppers a fresh red, it was amazing! There were several fruits I've never seen before either. Alas, I'm not adventurous when it comes to food so I didn't buy to try.

Colourful fruits and vege!
Mum went a little nuts over the bulbs and flowers.

We were quickly brought back to the hotel to check in and have a quick dinner before calling it a night. It was very cold that night as it was raining. Plus, there wasn't hot water at first so I was shivering so badly I could hardly wash my face!

Gaya eh? Dad was so tickled to pose like this.
Dad insisted we take one with us standing in a row. With us are some of our tour passengers.

Moving off quickly, we journeyed to the Sipiso-piso waterfall. It's quite impressive if only we had time to go nearer.

From here, the waterfall looks like an endless big drain but it's 120m tall!
There was also a fantastic view of the northern tip of Lake Toba. Unfortunately, the weather wasn't so cooperative so the view was rather grey.

Along the way, we saw loads of trucks with workers heaped upon fertilizers on their way to farms.

As we made our way to Parapat, where we would take a boat to Samosir Island to stay the night, we were greeted by magnificent views of the lake. Couldn't capture the views from the bus. Saw a large fish along the way. It's not open to public but the owner built it as there is a legend about a large fish which goes something like this (very condensed version of what I remembered the guide telling us):

A young man caught a large fish and was happy to have caught it for food. As he brought it back, the fish spoke to him and begged him to release it and that his wishes will come true. At that point, he was pursuing a love interest but the girl wasn't interested in him. So the fish told him he would meet a beautiful woman who would love and marry him.

Confused, he walked out of the house and when he returned, he was greeted by a beautiful woman. The fish had turned into the woman. She cautioned him that he should never tell anyone that she was originally a fish otherwise a disaster beyond his imagination will occur. 

Well, they got married and had a kid. One day the kid, who's duty was to bring his father his lunch, forgot. By the time he arrived, the father was extremely angry and scolded him, "You really are a son of a fish!". 

Of course the wife found out and wept so much that the lake begin to fill with her tears. Hence the birth of Lake Toba.

The fish structure.

Our boat ride to Samosir Island took about 45 minutes. The lake was calm that day so it was a good ride.

Lake Toba

Just as a comparison, Samosir Island is larger than Singapore. It sits in Lake Toba and has only about 20,000 people living on it due to the mountainous terrain. They are mainly the Batak people. Lake Toba was created from a volcanic eruption ages ago.

Map of Lake Toba

Our first stop was to the tombs of the Batak kings. In the picture below, the oldest tomb is the one on the right followed by his grandson (second from left) and the last one which is the tomb on the left. By that time, Christianity was introduced to the Batak people and hence the last tomb is a Christian tomb. 

We then got onto the boat and were brought to Ambarita Stone Chair Tribal Village.

Traditional Batak houses.

See the space at the bottom of the houses? They used to store their cattle at night to prevent people from stealing them. They also locked prisoners there before their trial. The king then, as a symbol to spread fear amongst his enemies and would kill a prisoner and eat the flesh and drink their blood.

Mock execution. 

We finally reached our hotel just as the clouds started to cast its gloom. We had just about an hour to freshen up before dinner but KS and I decided to walk around the hotel just a bit.

A little mini island to relax on at the hotel.
KS torturing himself with the reflexology stones.
Angel's trumpets which are poisonous according to Ron but gave such a wonderfully strong fragrance .
There were cats waiting by the steps into the lake. Schools of fish would swim up to the shallow part of the last step and the cats would go fishing. So cute!

Next morning was a pack! eat! go! as we had to reach Medan to send off 2 from our company to the airport. The distance is about 170km but due to the uncertainty in traffic, the guide didn't want to take the chance to be late.

Last few glimpses of Lake Toba from the bus.

Once we dropped off the two girls at the airport, we were brought to this strange church, the Annai Velankanni Catholic Church, which incorporates influences from Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism. Apparently there are two of such buildings in the world, the other one in India. 

The view as you enter the gates.
Flanking the entrance is this carving
And this is the other matching set of the carving.

After that, we insisted we wanted to do some shopping and we were brought to Sun Plaza. With less than an hour, after battling the terrific jam in Medan, all I managed to buy was some packets of Indo Mee Goreng as KS said we can't get those back here in Malaysia.

In summary, if I were to do this again, I'd hire my own personal tour guide (and not having to try to squeeze some other person's itinerary into ours), stay an extra day in Berastagi to walk around the town which looked quite interesting as it whizzed past the bus window and definitely stay a couple of days in Lake Toba and explore the island a bit more.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Perth to Albany: Pemberton to Denmark

The next leg of our journey was to travel from Pemberton to Denmark where we based ourselves for the next two nights (point A to B), stopping by a couple of places along the way.  

First stop was at Walpole where we bought our tickets to the Valley of the Giants at the Visitor Centre, grabbed a sandwich and headed off to the Walpole Inlet at a picnic spot. It wasn't particularly pretty, just that it was secluded. It was also quite a challenge to eat and not chomp a fly! This is the first time I've experienced so many flies trying to park themselves on my face!

Right after that we took a drive along Tingle Drive, a dirt road which led us to view the Tingle tree with the largest gap at it's base. Basically, Tingle trees are very hardy. Despite fires and bacteria attacking the base of the trunk, as long as there's a little bit still stuck to the ground, the tree will continue to grow. The holes can be as large as allowing a vehicle to pass through. Sadly, that tree which allowed cars to pass through died after it's roots were too run over by the vehicles and thousands of visitors. So this one here is currently the one with the largest gap.

A short distance from Tingle Drive was the Valley of the Giants Tree Top Walk. This is a 400m walk on a suspension bridge as tall as 40m.

That's KS and Yen

The ticket also allows you to walk to another area beside the suspension bridge see more tingle trees.

From here, we then drove to Denmark where we stayed at this lovely cottage along Ocean Drive. This was our base for the next two nights. 

The next day, we took a drive to Albany for a day trip. First stop was The Gap and Natural Bridge. This is where Australia broke off from Antarctica. The rocks here are exactly the same as those found at the northern point in Antarctica. Of course, everything here is carved by the pounding waves.

See the humans at the top? That's how huge The Gap is.

As I approached the viewing area of The Gap, I could hear and feel a thunderous rumbling, very much like a huge trailer passing by but much louder. I was wondering what it was and when I looked over the railings, I was greeted by a frightening but majestic sight of huge waves charging into the narrow gap, slamming into the wall of rocks and spraying a fine mist into where I was standing, about 70 feet high?

We were free to walk around but I didn't dare stand close to the edge for fear of being blown off. KS and I were then told by Yen to walk on to this area which looked pretty easy to walk down to.

We slowly made our way and heard more pounding waves. Little did we know we were walking on The Natural Bridge then and the pounding waves were right beneath us! Later, we heard someone say that there was once the waves were so high that it splashed onto the bridge itself! Thankfully, nothing of that sort happened when we were there.

KS doing the star jump on The Natural Bridge

From here, we went into Albany town itself (a very pretty town) and had a quick lunch before we headed to the Sandalwood factory. We were just in time for their gong session, something about using the gong vibrations to relax. I think most of us fell asleep in that session! We also joined the free tour to learn more about sandalwood. Interestingly, the Indian Sandalwood originates from South East Asia especially Indonesia but illegal logging has deteriorated the trees so much so that there's not much of it left. It takes decades for the sandalwood to be ready for harvest, hence it's price.

After that, we headed off to Emu Point and had a snack at The Squid Shack which is right at the jetty.

Emu Point pier

When we got out of the car, I saw some large birds and thought they were statues. They turned out to be wild pelicans! One was astray from the flock so I hunted it down, going as near as I dared to. Luckily, it was a bit shy so it kept putting some distance from me.

KS as a point of reference to the pelican 
So that was our day trip to Albany.

Our final day, we headed off to Williams Bay to visit the Green pools and Elephant Rocks. My goodness! It's such a lovely beach! The rocks beyond the shore blocks the strong waves so that by the time the water reaches the shore, it is calm and clear. How I would have loved to swim in this peaceful bay!

The crystal clear blue waters. I don't know why it's called Green Pools. 
On the way to Elephant Cove
See the strong waves beyond hitting the rocks?

A little walk of about 5 minutes from the Green Pools and we came to the Elephant Cove. Here we saw rocks which looked like elephants and another peaceful bay.

Can you spot the elephant?

After that, we headed to a nearby honey farm and bought honey, wine made with honey and honey ice cream. Yumz!

Our final stop was to have lunch at a vineyard called The Lake House where we had the most unusual lunch of our entire trip, a platter of antipasti, cold cut ham, cheese and crackers, fresh bread amongst other stuff:

The lunch platter
Vineyard jump!

We reluctantly left this beautiful place at about 3pm to head back to Perth for a 6 hour drive.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Perth to Albany: Via Busselton and Pemberton

Our first part of our journey was to travel from Perth to Pemberton, via Busselton and Augusta:

We stopped by Busselton for lunch and took some time to appreciate the view at the longest wooden jetty in the southern hemisphere. It also has a slow train that takes you from end to end.

Busselton Jetty
Train at the Busselton Jetty

We then headed off to Augusta to catch the last tour of Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse. I actually was hoping to see the line waves clashing when two oceans meet since I missed the one at Cape Reinga in north of New Zealand.

Visitor information
The lighthouse!
The tour took us up the lighthouse with a bit of history thrown in.

Just to inject some history, there were over 200 shipwrecks in the area, all but one happened prior to the building of the lighthouse. The one that happened to sink after the lighthouse was built happened in 1910, a luxury cruise liner whose captain thought he could navigate closer to the shores on a calm day. Ironically, the ship was built in the same shipyard as the Titanic and it was also it's maiden trip. No one died, thankfully.

Also, the lights from this lighthouse blinks every 7 seconds, it's thumbprint for captains to know which lighthouse they're looking at. And the custom made crystals which reflect the light is worth a LOT of money now.

See where to waves are clashing? It's not where the official line of where the two oceans meet though. And it doesn't form a continuous line. Darn.

From Augusta, we rushed to Pemberton, racing against the darkening sky. The ride was one of our more interesting rides because we were going through the southern forests with immensely tall Karri trees with their straight trunks hugging the side of the roads. 

At one point, the most beautiful sight of my entire holiday came as we were navigating out of darkened roads due to the tall trees when the left side of the road continued with a line of trees while the setting sun cast it's last rays from the right. It was like coming out of a tunnel with a golden light at the end. Aiyah, I don't know how to describe it but I wished we could have stopped in the middle of the main road to take that photo.

We also passed by several kangaroo families hanging out on the middle of the road. So, quite an eventful ride. We arrived at our place of stay Lavender & Berry Farm at 7pm, in time to start a roaring fire, cook dinner and get plenty of rest.

The Lavender & Berry Farm, Pemberton
Their famous pancakes. We ordered 2 servings for 5 of us but they were so huge we had to feed the birds around us.
A bright blue bird grabbing our offered pancakes
KS looking past the lake to our cottage
View from the cottage on the other side. The lake was steaming in the cool of the morning at a very bright 5am on our first morning.
Beautiful rose bushes at the farm apart from the lavender bushes.
They also had sheep and an Alpaca which we fed. Didn't manage to see the horses/ponies/miniature horses (?) on the other side.
Some chicks trying to get into the feeding action.

First thing we did in Pemberton was to climb the Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree. The pins that are stuck to the trunk carry you up to 76m high (that's over 200 ft). These are fire trees where folks climb up to see which direction a fire is coming from. There are three of such trees in this area and this is the tallest.

Looking down from the 25m station
Climbing the tree

I stopped on the way down to take this video. See the gaps between the pins? There's nothing to stop you from falling through, well, except the pins below. So far no one has died. But KS and I still only made it to the 25m station. My hands were starting to sweat from fear, which created more fear of slipping! A cheeky sign at the station said "That was the easy bit".

For lunch, Jarrah Jack's Brewery was highly recommended by Yen's boss so we headed there. The view was simply stunning! We ended up sitting there longer than we anticipated enjoying the atmosphere that we missed our plan to go for the tram ride. If I were to go back there, the tram ride will be in my next itinerary.

We then went back and were going to spend the rest of the evening sleeping when the farm's owner Pete bumped into us and encouraged us to visit the Big Brook Dam. Pushing aside any tiredness, we gamely got our snacks packed and headed off.

It was a beautiful serene place. We were the only ones there for about an hour taking in the setting sun, enjoying the breeze, gazing at the tall trees... I could have sat there for ages!

That's my mum-in-law at the bottom right in white.
I didn't want to leave!

The next day, we decided to head off early on the next part of our journey to Denmark as we had much more to cover. This will be covered in Part 2.

Family picture in front of our cottage.