Thursday, February 10, 2011


Brickfields, one of the pioneer settlements in Kuala Lumpur during the 19th century , is now a vibrant and thriving area dubbed as Little India for its predominantly Indian character and the high percentage of Indian residents and businesses there. Beautiful arches carved by artisans from India greet its visitors once they enter Brickfields. These vibrant colourful arches line the pedestrian footpath, giving the area a festive atmosphere throughout the day.

The historical relationship of Brickfields to the development of modern Kuala Lumpur goes back to the late 19th century. Brickfields was initially developed by Yap Kwan Seng, the fifth and last Kapitan of Kuala Lumpur. He took advantage of the rapidly growing Kuala Lumpur and the new Kuala Lumpur by-law which required that all new buildings be built of bricks and established a kiln here. Brickfields soon became the centre for brick-making and as a result, the area was named Brickfields.

Later on, following the establishment of the Railway and Public Works Department Offices in the Brickfields area, many jobs were created. Workers found it convenient to live along the Brickfields road to be near their work. Brickfields then became a small residential district.

To complement the new development of Brickfields, tourists and culture enthusiasts can now participate in a guided walking tour of Little India @ Brickfields every first and third Saturday of the month. This guided walking tour is a free service provided by Kuala Lumpur City Hall starting from 15 January to 17 December 2011.

Unknown to many, Brickfields holds many of the city’s historical landmarks. From temples, churches and a 100 year-old government quarters, the guided walking tour gives visitors a glimpse into the lives of the community here.

The buildings and places of worships here show a unique mixture of influences. The Sri Kandaswamy Temple, built in 1902, is one of the most prominent temples in Malaysia. It showcases rich Sri Lankan architecture and is said to be inspired by the Nallur Kandaswamy temple in Jaffna, Sri Lanka. The Holy Rosary Church (1903) on the other hand was built in the French Gothic Revival Style and took eighteen months to build.

Meanwhile, a walk along Jalan Rozario will take visitors to the Hundred Quarters which was built in 1905. The charming quarters are named in accordance to the exact number of quarters that were built for civil servants of all races in Kuala Lumpur, most of whom were in the clerical service.

Brickfields is also home to a large population of the visually impaired who live and work in the area. The Malaysian Association of the Blind and the National Council for the Blind located on Jalan Tun Sambanthan are where the visually impaired practise their trade as skilled masseurs.

A trip to Brickfields will not be complete without a visit to the Temple of Fine Arts, a sanctuary for the arts especially music and dance. Students here are taught Bharatanatyam, folk dances, semi classical movements, and they learn to play musical instruments such as mridangam, veena, flute and the harmonium. Founded by His Holiness Swami Shantanand Saraswathi in 1981, the Temple of Fine Arts has captured the imagination of art lovers in Malaysia, Australia, India and even USA.

There are seventeen historical landmarks listed on the Little India @ Brickfields map, each landmark is a unique institution of its own. Brickfields is also famous for its Indian food delights and various bread, especially the banana leaf rice and thosai (Indian pancake made from fermented rice flour).

The Little India @ Brickfields walking tour starts off at the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) building on Jalan Tun Sambanthan 4 at 8am and lasts for about two and a half hours. Qualified English speaking guides conduct the tour in groups of twenty.

Individual bookings are not required but it is recommended that visitors do so 24 hours in advance. For groups of ten and above, booking is required. Please email: or call +603-2617 6273 (Monday to Friday)

Visit to download the map of Little India @ Brickfields.

For more information please contact:

Ms. Noraza Yusof

Tourism Unit,

Kuala Lumpur City Hall,

Level 14, DBKL Tower 3,

Bandar Wawasan Jalan Raja Abdullah,

50300 Kuala Lumpur.

Tel : +603-2617 6273

Website :

Getting there:

Brickfields is well-serviced by public transportation:

• KL Monorail: stop at Tun Sambanthan

• Rapid KL's Kelana Jaya Line (LRT): stop at KL Sentral station

• KTM Komuter: stop at KL Sentral station

• Express Rail Link: stop at KL Sentral station

• Rapid KL buses

• KL Hop-on Hop-off


Colourful kites in various shapes and sizes will soar across the skies of Johor this February as the state plays host to the prestigious annual Pasir Gudang World Kite Fest 2011. Considered to be one of the best and most organised kite festivals in the world, the 16th Pasir Gudang World Kite Fest will showcase the skills and creativity of local and international kiters.

With the theme "Colouring the Sky" the festival will run from 16 to 20 February 2011 at Bukit Layang-Layang, Pasir Gudang, Johor. His Royal Highness, Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar, the Sultan of Johor, will grace the opening ceremony on 19 February 2011 at 2pm.

This annual colourful event is noted for attracting large crowds of enthusiasts and curious spectators. In 2010, as many as 100,000 visitors came to the five day event and the organiser is confident that the figures will double this year.

International participation for 2011 has also increased with 190 participants from 30 countries. They are from Australia, Austria, Brazil, Brunei, Cambodia, Canada, China, England, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Italy, Korea, Kuwait, Lebanon, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the Philippines, Portugal, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Japan, USA and Vietnam. 500 local participants from the public, government and private sectors have also registered their participation this year.

The festival promises to be a lively event with a variety of exciting and entertaining pocket shows, colourful exhibitions and workshops organized for the public.

The Pasir Gudang World Kite Fest is organised by the Pasir Gudang Municipal Council and the Johor State Government through the Johor State Tourism Department with the support of the Ministry of Tourism, the Ministry of Information Communication and Culture, the Ministry of Education, the Malaysia Kite Council, the Johor Kite Association, Iskandar Malaysia and Tourism Malaysia.

For more information on Pasir Gudang World Kite Fest, please log on to

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The 8 signs of travel burnout

by Chris Anderson

Traveling can lift spirits, inspire and infuriate -- here's how to recognize and deal with the low moments

This photo was taken right before the happy couple experienced travel burnout because they couldn't find the Eiffel Tower

Some believe travel can be good medicine. While others may reach a point during their travels where they crash and burn. They hit that point in a journey where they just can't handle it anymore. They snap and stubbornly continue their trip in a foul mood, not enjoying what might otherwise be a wonderful experience, or they hang up their backpack, camera, and iPad GPS app and head home to the comfort of their own bed.

Different road warriors burn out for different reasons. For some it could be as simple as sleeping in a hard bed for too long. For others the final straw could be something serious like losing a passport while in a strange land. Travel burnout can occur during a week-long vacation or after months of traveling.

Here are some signs that you, dear traveler, have travel burnout, and how you can overcome it.

1. Travel blogging to travel bitching

Seventy blog posts-worth of complaining. Sad but true. On one blog detailing the three-month long trip of two Australians through Vietnam by motorbike, on Day 67 the author obviously reached, surpassed, and smashed his burnout point with a paragraph of derogatory venom, "Vietnamese people are stupid f**king retards and this country can burn to the ground for all I care. Apparently they wouldn’t care either. If I were to pull out a gun, go downstairs and point it at the hotel manager, I would almost expect him to say 'Oh, haha, you got me!' and laugh as I blew his brains out all over the wall. They just don’t seem to place any value on human lives whatsoever."

Darren Cronian, author of the popular Travel Rants blog has this suggestion for the above blogger, "I would say he needs to go somewhere cool and calm down, and move on to another destination."

2. Can't let the small things go

Jodi Ettenberg, author of Legal Nomads, a former lawyer and round-the-world traveler, believes the small things do not matter. "One of the luxuries of a more sedentary life is that you can control a good swath of the tiny activities that make up your day. Not so on the road, where oftentimes your meals, lodging and whether or not you even get to your desired destination remain out of your hands. To avoid burnout, I try and let the small things go. Easier said than done, but an important way to stay calm when traveling to far-flung places."

So how does the long term traveler cope when the small things get to be to much? Ettenberg says to plan a vacation within your trip. "This might sound counterintuitive, but round-the-world travel is not all ponies and rainbows. You will get sick, you will get tired and you will find yourself culturally out-of-water. When you are no longer able to let the small things go, it might be time for a vacation. Head to an island somewhere, relax for a week or more and let the frustration seep away."

3. You stop laughing

Laughter truly can be the best medicine. Travelers that have learned to laugh off their frustrations cope better on the road. Those that turn their frustration into anger punch goats and end up in prison. If you lose the laugh, Jodi Ettenberg suggests talking to other travelers who can help turn frustration into laughter.

Ettenberg says, "Sometimes the best thing to do is to sit down and have a rant with fellow travelers who can empathize with your head-smacking experiences and offer funny stories of their own. Laughing off misadventures is one of the more fulfilling ways of getting past them, and it often helps to know you're not alone in feeling the way you do."

4. You start seeking the comforts of home

Seriously, go for the local food.You find yourself eating at McDonald's and other recognizable fast-food chains or seeking out only the comforts of home. Yes, there is an argument to be made for resorting to "comfort food". But why are you resorting to something easily gotten back home? Why do you need comforting? What would Freud say?

Start exploring the local food. Ettenberg says, "When I am feeling overwhelmed in a new place, I turn to the street food to ground me."

She doesn't mean ground you in the bathroom either. "I get a crash course in local culinary tradition, I meet local people and it makes a foreign city seem more accessible. It is a small and easy way to ease the sensory overload of arriving at a new destination already frustrated with how you got there."

5. Obsessive over-planning

You're traveling for a week to the Philippines and you've planned every bit of the trip down to the minute, leaving no time in your itinerary for spontaneous travel and exploration. This means you can't let go of the control you have over your daily life when you travel, or you previously got burned on a spontaneous travel decision. But over-planning denies travelers the ability to choose which way to go when confronted with that proverbial fork in the road. You can't choose the path to the right because damnit, you have a schedule to stick to and that schedule dictates you go left and arrive at the Museum of Boring History at 3 p.m. sharp.

What if taking a right would have led to the most amazing travel discovery you've ever experienced? Sorry. You'll never know.

When planning a trip, leave some room for the unexpected opportunities that might arise. Don't let past mis-adventures decide how you plan trips in the future.

6. Getting aggressive

Punch or pet?
Infrequent or newbie travelers must quickly figure out that aggressive behavior while traveling doesn't do anybody any good. People that "get it" eventually learn to listen and adapt the more they travel. Travelers who previously figured this out but shift into aggressive behavior are relapsing. Hiroko Yoda, a CNNGo contributor and constant traveler says, "I think successful visitors/expats learn to listen and adapt rather than aggressively demand satisfaction in ways they are used to from their home culture. Life is a gray zone. Not something that can be compared."

During Ettenberg's around-the-world trip she remembers sitting on the roof of a minivan with a goat in her lap and thinking, "OK, I could do what the person next to me is doing and start yelling at the driver, or I can pet this goat." She didn't start yelling. She pet the goat, it probably liked it, and she had a hilarious story to tell her brother.

Say the hotel you wanted to stay at said they are fully booked when you showed up after calling them earlier and listening to them assure you of plenty of vacancies. Be calm, ask to talk to the manager and be insistent but not aggressive. You're still a guest. If somebody came to visit you in your home and demanded they get the master bedroom instead of the futon "or else!" how would you react?

7. Stop respecting the local culture

Once you stop respecting the local culture, the locals stop respecting you. People notice if you truly don't give a damn, and they'll react accordingly. These reactions are likely to be less than favorable, and raise the potential to bring your attitude from calm and cool to aggressive jerk in a flash.

Ettenberg believes that "respecting certain customs (covering up in certain countries, handing money or items with my right hand in others, etc), also goes a long way toward being treated with respect by the locals in that country."

8. Stop being excited about traveling to new places

The night before a big trip usually entails tossing and turning in bed, brain running wild with anticipation of the upcoming journey. Ettenberg thinks it might be best to take a break if "new places stop exciting you, or if you find yourself rolling your eyes at the thought of unpacking yet again and having a new set of money in your wallet, you might want to take a break from travel and take off again at a later date. You want to experience new places in Technicolor; once burnout sets in, sometimes it is best to go home until you're excited about travel once again."

And yet...
A traveler can recognize all the signs of burnout and still not shake the bad travel vibe. Darren Cronian has a sound bit of advice for travelers everywhere: "They need to remember that they are in the fortunate position of being able to travel the world."

Remember, don't punch the goat -- pet it.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Ba'kelalan - The Land Where Rainbows End.

Images by: Seth Peli of Seth Photography
Fahmi Aziz

The 45-minutes flight on MasWings twin otter plane from Miri provided a mesmerizing view of the long stretch of green terrain below with miles of lush tropical rainforest painting the landscape of Miri. Deeply lost in my own thoughts as I sat there gazing at the scenery below, I knew we were nearing our destination as the plane started to descend and stretches of paddy fields can be seen dotting the village of Ba’kelalan.

Coined as the Heart of the Borneo escapade, Ba’kelalan is situated about 3000 feet above sea level, and 4km from Kalimantan, Indonesia. The charming and rustic rural village of Ba’kelalan comprises of 9 other small villages and is home to about 1500 Lun Bawang people.

Three beautiful Lun Bawang girls, heads adorned with yellow strings of beads and dressed in their traditional black costume which set a startling contrast against the azure blue sky of Ba’kelalan greeted me as I stepped down from the small aircraft
The welcoming ceremony did not stop there. As I headed towards the Apple Lodge, which will be home for the next four days and also literally situated right next to the airport, I was greeted by the melodious voices of the people of Ba’kelalan, young and old, singing the tunes of “Ba’kelalan My Home Sweet Home”, a reflection of the harmonious culture in Ba’kelalan. Tapping my feet to the uplifting beat of the song, I felt myself feeling at home amidst the the sun shiny warmth of Ba’kelalan.

Only in Ba’kelalan

Ba’kelalan is well known because of its apples. Yes, only in Ba’kelalan are you able to find locally grown apples. The cool and refreshing highland air makes Ba’kelalan the ideal, and in fact, the only place where apples are cultivated in Malaysia. The Ba’kelalan apple story began some time back in the 1960’s, when Andrew Balang Paran brought back 50 apple seedlings from Kalimantan, Indonesia. It was only 5 years ago back in 2007 when Pak Tagal and his family decided that it was high time Ba’kelalan has its own Apple Fiesta. Held yearly from 6-8 May, the Ba’kelalan Apple Fiesta brings about a festive air throughout the normally quiet and peaceful village. It is during this 3 day fiesta that the villagers will get a chance to showcase their talents at singing, dancing and even demonstrating on how to make apple pie from scratch. This is also an opportunity to visit the apple orchard and be fascinated at the apples wonderful colors of green and red. Consisting of four varieties with names such as Rome Beauty, Manalagi, Ba’kelalan and Cherry, bite into any of these apples and you will find yourself wanting more of the juicy sweetness and soft crunch of Ba’kelalan apples.

Apples and a bit of adventure

But apples aren’t the only main attractions in Ba’kelalan. To me, what defines Ba’kelalan is the endless warmth and genuine smiles of the people. Wherever you go, either taking a leisurely stroll along the paddy fields in the warmth of the evening sun, or sweating it out and hiking to Bukit Sarui to take in the wonderful sights of Ba’kelalan, you will always be greeted with a toothy smile and sometimes toothless grins (depending on the age) of the villagers, and if you’re lucky enough, after a few curious glances and smiles, you will have your own personal entourage of kids from various ages, showing you the sights and sounds of the village.

Breathing in the fresh air and watching the kids playfully chase each other around the paddy field; there is an element of serenity surrounding the village. However, don’t be fooled by the quiet tranquillity of Ba’kelalan. Adventurers in search of the beaten track can expect for the challenging terrain here to live up to its expectations especially during tropical rainy season. The Borneo Jungle Safari (BJS) offers an adventure trail package which promises to get your heart racing and adrenaline pumping. This would be a good opportunity for you to test your off-road driving skills. If you are up for a roller-coaster ride in a 4WD, you can enter Ba’kelalan from Lawas, where the off road journey would take a good 5-6 hours, depending on the road conditions. Be prepared to camp out if the roads get treacherous especially during those heavy rainy seasons. If you’re an avid tracker, a five hour trekking expedition through the jungles of Borneo will lead you to the border of Malaysia-Kalimantan.


While the images of mud tracks and rivers are appealing, I very much preferred a less strenuous activity. Spending a whole day visiting 3 villages around Ba’kelalan, I took the opportunity to learn more about the people of Ba’kelalan and immerse myself in the Ba’kelalan culture and lifestyle. I was even lucky enough to witness a Lun Bawang marriage ceremony. There was relentless teasing from the crowds as the mock bride and grooms shyly took their designated place as husband and place at the front of the room. What is a wedding celebration without a traditional dance routine? All the guests and myself included was then dragged to dance along to one of their traditional dances done at every wedding ceremony. I could see from the smiling faces on everyone present that they were having fun and a little bit drowsy perhaps from the endless cups of rice coffee served to us at every village, but that’s Lun Bawang hospitality for you. Serving the guests the best of what they have to offer.


The thing that I love most about Ba’kelalan is the passion of its people. The passion that they have for the land they call home. I could hear it in their voice, see it in their expression what Ba’kelalan means to them. Over a steaming cup of tea on my last night in Ba’kelalan, Mutang and his band of brothers circled me and began narrating stories of Ba’kelalan from years gone passed down from generation to generation. It was a story of their people; their tribe. They began their story saying that hundreds of years ago, many tribes in Sarawak were head hunters. Tribal fights occurred because of revenge and the power over territory. When a warrior is victorious, a ritual dance would take place around the perimeter of a crocodile or “Buaya Ulong” erected from earth. The warriors would then be chanting incantations relaying the story of the fights and how they were victorious. It gave me the goose bumps, listening to his story while in my mind I was imagining a warrior, looking down at me from a hill, challenging me. I was shaken from my reverie when told that there are still a few sites of these Buaya Ulong intact around the village. I didn’t need to twist anyone’s arm when I asked to be taken to one of these sites the next morning. Mutang was very much eager to show me around, proud and very passionate of sharing the story of his people.

Rural golfing anyone?

My late night conversation with Mutang also led me to the discovery of a 9-hole natural golf course right there in rural Ba’kelalan. I challenge those golf enthusiasts to have a go at Ba’kelalan’s Highland golf course as it is made even more challenging with natural hazards such as rivers, paddy fields and jungles. Don’t expect a club house or buggies to be made available here, but you will find yourself loyal spectators in the form of buffaloes. Yes, buffaloes but fret not, these buffaloes will be herded away from the course if there are any players on the green. Granted, buffalo dungs will be scattered here and there and if your ball goes into the dung, the good thing is that you get to take a free lift! A plus point of playing on this natural gold course is that you will be able to take in the beautiful scenery of Ba’kelalan as you play. If you are interested and up for the challenge, a two weeks notice is needed by BJS in order for them to prepare the green and fairway.

Where rainbows end

No one is a stranger here in Ba’kelalan. I was constantly greeted and smiled at and not forgetting the centre of constant friendly bantering and teasing from Kading and Lisa, two locals who made sure that I had a comfortable stay there at the Apple Lodge. Ba’kelalan may not be able to offer a luxurious five star retreat, but what it does offer is a simple lodging with basic amenities.

I have always wondered where rainbows end, what amazing things can be found at the end of such beauty. As I was flying out of Ba’kelalan towards Miri, gazing out the window, looking at the twin peaks of Mulu and wondering when will I ever come back to the warmth of Ba’kelalan, I saw a beautiful rainbow across the blue sky, I did not scramble to take out my trusted camera as I just wanted to take in all the beauty of Ba’kelalan one more time before I go home. As cliché as it may sound, I left my heart back in Ba’kelalan, bits and pieces of it with Mutang, Bulan, Kenny, Edwin, Sultan, Freddie and all the wonderful people.

A few days after, back in busy Kuala Lumpur, I thought of Ba’kelalan. I sent a text message to Freddie back in the village, telling him how much I miss the people that have now become my friends and family. His simple reply made me ache more to go back. He simply said “come home”. I found where my rainbow ends, and it’s in the land of warmth and sunshine – the land of Ba’kelalan.


Maswings flies to Ba’kelalan four (4) times a week.
Monday – Lawas
Wednesday – Miri
Thursday – Lawas
Saturday – Lawas

In support of the Apple Fiesta, MASwings increased their direct flights from Miri from once a week every Wednesday to three times a day, four days a week.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

People in Glass Houses

There is a proverb that goes "People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones"

The proverb has been traced back to Geoffrey Chaucer's 'Troilus and Criseyde' (1385).

It implies that you shouldn't be over critical of someone since you, yourself, could be open to the same sort of criticism.Those who are vulnerable should not attack others. And I, am definately vulnerable when it comes to criticism. I don't like throwing stones anyway. Bad memory involving stones when I was a kid. Kena piat dengan dengan my mom with I threw a stone at my kid sister just because I felt like throwing a stone at her. But I do like the idea of a glass house. Kinky thoughts are crossing my mind right now.

But I'm not gonna write on criticism and vulnerability today. I'm going to save that for another day.
Instead, I want to share this tranquil place where I escaped to one weekend late in January.

I went away on a weekend retreat to a secluded place nestled and tucked secretly away about 30 Km from the hustle and bustle of the city that I heart so much.

I found this sanctuary while browsing online. Purely by accident about a few years back. Plan finally became an action somewhere in late January. I rounded up my sisters and friends and a photographer for the 2 days 1 night stay.

Trust me when I say, never ever attempt to reach this place without a proper map from someone who has actually been there. From the mainroad, don't count on seeing any signboards leading you in. Don't bother with GPS as it's not located on it.

Don't bother turning your cellphones on, there isn't reception or network coverage to begin with. It's just me and my friends acquainting ourselves with the sounds of nature.

So there we were, after several wrong turns, and a few "wei, masuk sini la" we finally made it to a place with a very unique name, Sekeping Serendah which in English would literally translate into 'a piece of Serendah'. Beautiful isn't it. It's a piece of heaven which can only be found to those who want it bad enough and look for it hard enough.

While my sisters and friends were happily jumping and diving into the pool, I chose a quiet corner in the house where the sunlight streamed through the glass wall, switched my Ipod on and read a book. It was bliss. everywhere I looked throughout the house, all I saw were the leaves and the trees. All I heard was the sound of the stream somewhere near the glass house and the birds chirping.

I took walks alone along the path, stopped at the stream, dipped my feet in and just stood around looking in wonder and awe at god's creation. It was a significant moment for me personally. I took the quiet time alone to just be with me. A moment of reflection. I made a few decisions and hoped that I won't regret them...and I haven't.
So there we were, 3 sisters and friends, no tv, no cell coverage, no radio...the only thing to do was to spend time with each other.

It was a weekend worth spent away from the city that I heart so much, late in January. I will come back. To pause and reflect once again.

Rockin in Penang

I was giddy with excitement when a friend texted with a message stating that we’ll be staying at the Hard Rock Hotel Penang (HRH-Pen) for our weekend getaway on the island. Well, it wasn’t actually a getaway; I was planning on being on the lookout for materials to write a feature on. It was a work/fun weekend getaway rolled into one.

Ok so to be fair, HRH-Pen is a colourful and bustling hive of activities for everyone. If you plan on immersing yourself on the Hard Rock culture of rock music and some noise, then this is the place to be. One will never sun short of things to do here. Either jumping into the pool, strolling down the beach, or maybe some pampering moments at their spa, this is one hotel that will keep you on the move.

First, what I love most about the hotel is the pool, a huge free form pool stretching from one end to the other. The best thing areas of the pool are definitely the more secluded and quieter corners where it’s surrounded by lush green garden plants. Kids would love the children’s pool area as it is equipped with water slides and other what nots that I don’t even know the names for it. The pool area is also the perfect place to people watch as the ladies will be in their bikinis and swimsuits and the lifeguards..well, let's just say that I had a good time people watching.  

Fancy a horse ride? No problem, there are independent operators along the beach of Hard Rock that offers horse rides, banana boat rides, jet-ski and paragliding, with a price of course. Only be careful when you decide to go for a swim in the sea as the jet-skiers and island tour boats will be zig-zagging on the waters every now and then. There are no strange looking objects floating on the water but it’s not crystal clear either. I’d rather swim in the pool than the sea.

HRH-Pen's hotel staff or Band Members as they are referred to here are really cool. They’ll greet you at any time of the day, from the top level management to the pakcik gardner. They make you feel like a rock star and  the breakfast spread at the hotel is yummers. I absolutely love their hash browns, golden and crispy to perfection. Their array of pastry is an absolute must try but I gotta warn you, breakfast crowd on a weekend is like rampaging through a warehouse sale. Noisy and overcrowded. So either you come in really early or really late for breakfast. Nonetheless, I loved the dining area as it was decorated in white, and it opened to a sort-of courtyard area where you can go sit under huge shades and enjoy your morning coffee.

The downside of all this, for a published rate of RM1000 or get a 48% discount on their Internet rates, my Seaview Deluxe room was nothing to shout about. Well aware of the fact that it was clearly stated in their brochures that the rooms feature a cutting edge design, I guess I was expecting more from HRH-Pen. My room was spacious, well maybe it is because of the fact that there was less furniture around. For RM500++ a night, I was at least expecting for the bathrooms to be a bit more luxurious. The bathroom was a small, dark, narrow area with no tubs (well actually not that I care but it’s nice to have options, ain’t it?) and they provided me with the very basic complimentary toiletries.

As for the international satellite TV, I have to say that HRP-Pen provides very basic satellite TV. Thank god for the DVD player, I ended up watching a Korean series which a friend brought along. Hotels in Bali and even Cambodia have better satellite channels that Hard Rock Hotel Penang.

And so, if you’re looking for a fun and chic weekend retreat with your girlfriends or a weekend of male bonding that this is the place to be. Families with kids would also love the hotel. But if a quiet, relaxing weekend is what you’re looking for, better head on down to Golden Sands down the road. I think that this hotel is more suitable as a family retreat where kids can scream their head-off without the parents getting dagger like glances from other guests of the hotel.

But then again, it’s all about one’s preference.

Will I ever come back?

Only if it’s free ;-) I’m more of the Golden Sands Hotel and Resort kind of person.

What I will remember most about my time here is the laughs I had with new friends that I made. Running around like kids on a Christmas morning, trying to find the perfect spot for a picture op and posing and pouting and acting all silly and goofy. You're allowed to act all silly and goofy here, to have fun and as they say, to just hang loose.

Like they promise in their brochures, this is the ultimate rock retreat. So Rock On!..With kids in tow.

An untold secret, Kellie's Castle

Perak, the Land of Grace is famed for its beautiful limestone mountains and caves and of course, for its food. Many would opt for a trip to Ipoh for its well known chicken rice and Mee Rebus Ramli. Many, however, would often bypass the rustic small town of Gopeng, when in fact Gopeng is Perak’s best kept secret.

Gopeng, today is well known for its heritage and eco-tourism where river bugs will have a thrill experiencing the adrenaline rush when rafting down the Kampar river. However, situated a few kilometers away from Gopeng, near Batu Gajah, stands a pre independent castle which holds untold secrets of William Kellie Smith.

History buffs will fall in love with the magic and mysteries that surrounds Kellie’s Castle. Easily visible from the Batu Gajah-Jalan Gopeng road, Kellie’s castle sits on a little knoll just by the bend of the Kinta River, commanding a clear, unobstructed view of the Kinta Valley. Its first stone foundation was laid in 1915 as a symbol of love for Kellie towards his wife and son.

Kellie Smith, a Scottish planter came to then Malaya in search of tin and rubber. As Kellie Smith prospered, he built his first mansion and named it Kella’s house. The castle which he built and is believed to be gift for his wife and son was never completed. In 1926, Kellie Smith travelled to Portugal and died on his journey from pneumonia. After his death, his heartbroken wife decided to pack up and sell the estate to a company, returning to Scotland. The house and its ruins can still be seen today next to the castle. The mansion was then bombed during the Japanese occupation and what stands today is only the structure.

The castle adjacent to his mansion was intended to be the centre of social life for the wealthy colonial planters and administrators living in the area back in the days.
I was mesmerized by the remaining ruins of what was the first mansion built by Kellie Smith. If the castle were to have been completed, it would have boasted of a ballroom, a courtyard, a library and a wine cellar.

A trip to Kellie’s castle wouldn’t be complete without hearing the stories from Mr. Tajuddin, the castle’s guide. He will take you to every corner of the castle and recount tales and histories past at the same time tickle your funny bones with his witty commentaries and jokes. What makes the tour around the castle much more interesting is simply because of the fact that Mr. Tajuddin is passionate about the castle.

As you follow in the wake of Mr. Tajuddin’s heals, you will begin to imagine what life would have been like back that. You visualize rich European tapestries that could have probably graced the walls of the mansion. You imagine elegant chandeliers hanging from the ceiling above and dark, wood carved furniture in every room.

I loved going round the castle, reading the descriptions on the wall and listening to the stories. According to Mr. Tajuddin, Kellie's castle is also believed, should it had been completed, would house Malaya's first elevator. The castle's elevator goes straight to the rooftop terrace which provides a beatiful view of the surrounding area and the long unwinding river across the castle.

One of the castle’s many dark secrets is believed to be located in a tunnel under the castle. A secret in the form of a black car. Nobody seems to know why the car is that and how it got there. Nobody is allowed to go down and until enough resources and funds can be pooled, the mystery of the tunnel and the black car shall remain.