Pulau Payar Marine Park

Pulau Payar Marine Park

Located about two hours boat ride from Penang is the Pulau Payar Marine Park which is basically a tiny island surrounded by coral reefs and well, all the things that come with coral reefs. We decided to pay this island a little visit since my father-in-law and his wife was in town and wanted something to do during the weekends. If you’re on a budget, this marine park may be a little heavy on the wallet. Locals fork out at least RM200 while those on work permits and passes (like my husband and two children) pay RM250 and RM200. Infants (children below 4 years old – I think) pay RM50. Foreigners fork out a whooping RM300. The package does not include Marine Park entrance fee as well as handling charges for the Penang Port authorities. This totals up to about an additional RM18-20 for the adults and RM14-15 for children.

But before you balk at the price, know that it includes almost all the activities possible save diving (that’s another package), lunch and access to fresh water shower, toilet, and changing room facilities. We discovered that there are tour operators running a cheaper package which only gives you access to a very short stretch of the beach (about 100-150m long), mediocre food and no fresh water shower at all. More on the cons of the cheaper package later.

Our journey starts early in the morning as check-in is at 730am at Swettenham Port, Penang. You can catch a cab and ask them to drop you off at the main entrance (where the Star Cruise ships dock) or if you’re driving, you can park your car at the carpark next to the old Fort. Note that parking charges there are RM0.80 per hour. If you leave your car there for the whole day like what I did, parking will total up to RM8.

Check-in was quite fast – we just approached the counter (the people queueing were heading to Langkawi) and were given different tickets and a waterproof band of some sorts. The band is important as the return boat will be using that as an indication that you’re a valid passenger for the ride back to Penang. If you have children and are afraid of losing it, you can remove and keep it some safe. The ride will take about two hours so try to keep the kids entertained with either books, games or a tablet with movies in store. Noah fell asleep on the way there so entertaining him wasn’t a problem at all.

Pulau Payar Marine Park Pulau Payar Marine Park

We docked at the Langkawi Coral Platform – a floating, well, platform that has toilets, changing rooms, fresh water shower facilities as well as an underwater observatory – about 200 to 300m away from the shore. After getting settled in, we were briefed on the dos and don’t as well as schedule for the day. This is an important bit because there are no hotels or any form of accommodation on the island and if you miss the boat, well, you miss the boat. So it was important to stick to the schedule and obey the rules. The package includes snorkelling and swimming as well as a short trip to shore via boat. Luggage, bags and slippers are stored in baskets under the tables – safety was definitely not an issue in our case as nothing went missing but if you’re paranoid, you can ask them to keep your belongings under lock and key.

The platform has a nice little take-off area where you can sit and watch the fish swim up close to you or take off for snorkelling. There are also little floating bays nearby for people who want to sunbath and all and areas for swimming and snorkelling are marked clearly. There are lifeguards at the platform to keep an eye on people (but I feel that it’s more to prevent them for getting up to their mischief (I’ll explain this later). While the adults and Eva went swimming, I sat at the take-off area with Noah – he was more into splashing and the seating area (see the picture below) was suitable for just that. We had a few tourists feed fish with the bread although personally, I wouldn’t recommend that.

Lunch is part of the package and we got a lovely buffet spread that included fresh fruit, some seafood, cake and jellies. After that, a trip to shore was in order. The beach was packed as there was other tour operators that had similar packages. Between the platform and the beach, the hubs and I preferred the former as the beach was crowded and the water murky (due to the waves). You could swim a little further to see more things but it still doesn’t beat the view we got when you snorkel around the platform.

The overall experience was really nice save for some of the tourists that were present. The same group of people were stepping on the coral or coral beds and catching fish despite being told not to do that by two separate people (one of which was leading that particular group). A lady who did just that had to be rescued because she swam too close to the shallows, stood on the coral and got a banged up knee as a result of her actions. The marine park operators had to warn the same few people several times and because they were all parked where Noah and I were, I was privy to a lot of their misadventures. I too got quite annoyed, especially when they started bragging and telling others to go around stepping on the coral and catching the fish. They got a very polite shelling from me which of course resulted in them giving me the no-so-happy face. I’m more concerned about what you’re doing to the environment than whether you like me or not. Pfft.

People should understand that if everyone were to step on the coral, catch the fish, a few months down the road, you can forget about visiting the Marine Park at all because you’d have killed the coral and stressed out the marine life. When you visit any place, be it a musuem, forest, beach have some due consideration and respect for the life around you – not just people but the animals and the environment. One tourist who was a diver was kind enough to fish out a plastic bottle he saw lying on the bottom of the diving area. The tour operators in charge of the beach packages were going around picking up trash that tourists were leaving behind. Is it really all that hard to keep your trash to yourself?

All in all, a still-enjoyable experience.

Note: Don’t go to this place during public holidays as per recommendation by the Langkawi Coral folks. It can get pretty packed and you won’t have a nice time. Go during offpeak seasons or over the weekend like what we did.

Pulau Payar Marine Park

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{ 34°C }

Bees busy buzzing!

We are seriously seeing some high temperatures this week – all hovering around 34-35°C. While it wouldn’t have been an issue in Dole, currently, the entire family is spending a few weeks semi-house-sitting for my mother-in-law. Nil calls me “Mabel’s self-imposed vacation”.

That means I spend less than two hours on the Internet each day, juggling assignments on precision instruments, emails and Facebook. I didn’t have time to pack my knitting or spinning so I’m left with just reading. It isn’t a bad thing at all. It has been quite a while since I last read anything and the environment here is good – garden, some breeze…

It has been good playing catch-up with some titles especially Christian titles by Max Lucado so much so that I ordered a few more titles via Book Depository. With any luck, I should have fresh titles to digest by this weekend.

Hopefully Nil is taking care of my plants and making sure that the house in Dole is still in relatively good shape. In the meantime, I’m hoping (and praying) for cooler weather. The following week looks to be cool so it’s just one more day to go.

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In the Provence area!

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May was a rather busy month. We were away every weekend and on on particular weekend, we dropped by down south. Or rather, in some little town in the Provence area.

We were in Verdon a couple of weeks back to check out the gorge. Plenty of pictures taken during the hikes, and plenty of interesting experiences enjoyed/experienced while traveling with two children. No pictures of the multitude of lavender fields tho – this isn’t the season and as such, the lavender flowers are just buds. I look forward to returning during the lavender season tho, just to pay a visit to the distillery, take pictures and well, enjoy the blossoms. Oh yes, and the shopping! Did I mention that I bought 5 liters of olive oil? Great for not just soapmaking but eating too!

I was a little tired at the end of the trip because of the lack of sleep (Noah cutting a tooth and dealing with eczema flare-up from the heat) as well as long distance driving (I definitely have to find a way to put some cushions on the driver’s seat just to take the edge off my butt!). The hubs drove more tho so I can only imagine his fatigue. Now, when the summer holidays come around, can you imagine how busy we’ll be? Going on the road again and all…

Eeks!

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Scenes from Paris

We dropped by Nil’s uncle’s place in Paris recently for the weekend and did the whole tourist thing (I chucked my knitting aside), except that we just settled for the Albert Kahn Musuem & Gardens, a boat ride along the river Seine and a visit to the National Museum of Natural History. I fell in love instantly with the last place we visited – the menagerie and gardens were simply amazing to say the least and it was also the place when I went trigger happy with the camera. Here are some of the pictures from the trip…

Along the river Seine – it wasn’t a really great day. Rainy, cold…

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At the National Museum of Natural History

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All in all, a very nice day!

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Merry Christmas!

Bunny-wabbit Christmas greetings!

It is snowing here in Lyon and definitely the epitome of a white Christmas. So far, a good start to the trip. I was pleasantly surprised at how well Eva took to the flying – she was her usual toddler self on the flight from Singapore, had a snack – we bought our own – on the short flight and joined us for dinner at KLIA airport. Because our flight was at nearly midnight, we found a quiet corner near the gate and allowed her to take a snooze while we wait it out for boarding. She ended up sleeping…right up till it was time to board the plane.

We ran into some problems then as we were booked behind the front rows (where they place the bassinets) and no one wanted to switch their seats with ours. The flight attendant, Jim Liew/Lim was very apologetic about the whole thing and while waiting for the matter to be resolved, we found out that we had forgotten Nil’s suit – the flight attendant from the previous flight had forgotten to pass the suit back to me and so Nil had to check if they found it or not and so forth. Turned out that they didn’t so it meant lodging a report once we land in Paris. Gah. In the meantime, our seat problem was resolved by the fact that we got placed in a row of four empty seats – I suspect it was because there was a monk seated in the row which meant no women. Turned out to be a good thing as Eva had her own seat and could sleep better plus we had more space for things like eating and so forth. She slept for most of the flight up till four hours before we landed whereby all she wanted to do was nosy around and what-not. We came well prepared with a book, but found added help in the packs of snacks, paper tray and tissues. She occupied herself well with those things!!!

Once we landed in Paris, the weather shocked us! It was utterly chilly and I thanked myself silently for having the initiative to buy the stroller footmuff and as well as a sweater to tide Eva through. She burrowed herself in the footmuff while we waited for the TGV train at the platform. Standing in the cold at 8am in the morning was not my idea of fun although seeing steaming hot breaths coming out from people brought back memories of life in Switzerland which I sorely missed. On the TGV, after some snacking, Eva fell asleep again in my arms – I guess it had something to do with the fact that I was asleep as well!

We arrived in Lyon two hours later and since then, I must say that my daughter has surprised me at every turn. She is embracing the weather well not to mention the food – she loves foie gras!!!!! Although she is still on Singapore time, she takes instructions well and understands the rationale behind “everyone is sleeping so Eva should sleep, plus no sleep, no go out”. I’m really proud of her and hope that the coming days will continue to be this wonderful (sans the little accident with me forgetting to bring some accessories for digital cameras – BAH)!

In the meantime, have a Merry Christmas…from Eva, Nil and myself!

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Out and about in Ubud

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When most people travel to Bali, they head to places like Tanah Lot, Jimbaran, Seminyak and Ubud. Nil and myself together with Eva opted to stay the full length of our trip just in Ubud and make daytrips, if possible, to the surrounding areas. You could say that it was a very leisurely holiday for the both of us and a chance for Eva to bond further with my in-laws. It came at a good time as she is beginning to experience some separation anxiety but more on that in my baby blog.

Note: Ubud has a no-electricity-town-wide every Saturday from 6pm till 10pm so choose your activities wisely.

What’s nice about Ubud?
In a nutshell, if you like culture, a slightly more laidback environment (compared to the hustle and bustle of Kuta), then stop here. Tourists flock here for the cultural shows, as well as the arts and crafts (galleries, markets, shops, etc). Most people will opt for about two to three days but if you’re staying longer, you can explore more than just the center of Ubud.

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Where to stay?
There are plenty of resorts, homestays, cottages and villas – the sky is the limit…or rather your wallet, that is. Most people opt for accommodation in the centre of Ubud, which is along Monkey Forest Road and Jalan Raja Ubud. There are a few hidden gems in the other smaller streets like Jalan Goutama, Dewisita and so forth. Because our accommodation was paid for and we didn’t have to scout around (we stayed with my in-laws at Agung Cottages along Jalan Goutama), I can’t be too sure about the prices but what I do know is budget accommodation are priced below 100,000 rupiah per night.

Do be careful when it comes to choosing a place to stay – you’ll want hot water as the water in Ubud can get frighteningly chilly. Bonuses are things like air-conditioning (you won’t need it around this time of the year as the rains are heavy and very cooling) and a swimming pool (which is great if you’re heading there in the hot months).

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What to eat?
Balinese cuisine, of course! While rich in spices, it is an eclectic mix of Malay, Chinese and Indian influences, making it very unique. The traditional bebek betutu (roasted duck stuffed with herbs and spices before being wrapped in leaves) and babi guling (roast stuffed suckling pig/pig) are must-tries on the list. If your palate is adventurous, you can opt for some lawar – with or without meat. Other Indonesian favourites like gado-gado, bakso and soto are good options as well.

Warungs or simple family-styled eateries are your best bet if you’re on a budget and would like to stretch your rupiah to the limit. Warung Local and Dewa Warung along Jalan Goutama have pretty delicious choices starting from 6,000 all the way till 15,000 rupiah (and more). Warung Ika Oka serves up some yummy roast suckling pig that is a hit with the locals during lunch and it’s located opposite the palace.

Posh places like Nomad and Kita serve up pretty good food but the ambience is more for tourists rather than locals or budget eaters like myself and Nil. Tourists love Nomad and another spot called Bunute for its lively environment and in the case of the latter, a very talented local band.

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What to do?
Relax.

Seriously, if you’re looking for adventure or a boisterous nightlife, Ubud is hardly the right place to stay in. Come here if you’re after some cultural shows – there are plenty all year round – and some art. There are plenty of galleries to feast your eyes on plus the surrounding areas like Batun, Mas, and Celuk are home to some of the loveliest works of arts in this region, be it in the form of canvas/paint, stone or wood.

Spas and massages are popular as well; expect to pay 50,000 rupiahs for an hour’s worth of traditional Balinese massage on site. Add about anywhere between 25,000 to 50,000 if you want the masseur to drop by your hotel. Pedicures, manicures and facials are available as well not to mention the full on treatment of a lovely scrub plus a bath. Options like mandi lulur, milk baths and what-nots are available. Yes, when it comes to pampering oneself, Ubud is the place.

If you’re bored, rent a bike or bicycle and head off to the surrounding villages. The view can be fantastic with scores of paddy fields and houses/villas lining the skyline. Alternatively, if you don’t mind, take a walk. Best times are during the early hours of the morning. Bring some sunblock and an umbrella in case the heat gets unbearable OR in case it rains.

For those into shopping, expect some lovely gems at the local Pasar Seni located along Jalan Raja Ubud. Remember to hard bargain as anything and everything can be priced exorbitantly especially if you’re a tourist. Don’t be afraid to ask for less – your cue is this: if it doesn’t have a price tag (even handwritten ones can be challenged), it’s okay to bargain. Start off at the lowest possible – at least 75% off the original price before making your way up. Then again, don’t die from a heart attack if you end up paying more than what someone else paid. Most of the time, the difference hardly makes a dent in your pocket but means a lot to the locals.

Special notes
Drink only bottled water (a large bottle of 1.5L only costs 3,000 to 4,000 rupiahs) and avoid fresh vegetables & fruits (salads, etc) whenever possible.

Also water here is quite soft so if you’re doing laundry, you may want to buy local detergent available at the mini-marts or Delta chain stores here.

Watch out for dog poo as you’re exploring the streets as Bali has an awful problem with the huge number of stray dogs – they are not wild, just loose. Most are harmless and some, well, their bark is worse than their bite.

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Paris 09: Part II – At Versailles

Versailles, former home of the French royal family, and now a musuem, tourist attraction and seat of political power

Where we went
Versailles
Versailles, formerly the home to the French royal family up till the death of Louis XVI (and events preceding his execution), is today one of the most expensive, traditional and wealthy suburbs in Paris. You won’t find factories or industries here. Ohno, a good part of the suburb is dedicated to the the grounds of the Château de Versailles and its gardens while the rest features shops catering to both locals and tourists, as well as residential homes and other “service”-oriented buildings like schools, administrative buildings and so forth.

While Paris remains as the official capital city of France, in practice government-related affairs like senate and parliamentary meetings, greeting of dignitaries and so forth are still held at Versailles. It is very much still a place of political power as it was in its heyday as well as a popular tourist destination.

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Paris 09: Part I – In Paris

Durians available for sale in Chinatown

WARNING: Ultra long entry ahead!

First things first, some basic information…

Getting around
Your best bet if you are staying within Paris itself is to go on foot or by train. Now, the Paris network is split into two types – metro or RER (the train line leading out to the suburbs like Paris Disneyland, Versailles, airports and so forth). One way to know which is which is to look for for signs like “Metropolitan” or “M” to signify metro lines (stops within Paris itself) and “RER” (stops outside Paris city).

Prices are as follows:

  • One way tickets WITHIN Paris – 1.60 euroes
  • One way tickets OUTSIDE Paris – depends on where you are stopping (for example, Champigny to Nation/Gare de Lyon costs

There is a Paris Visit pass for those who intend on staying for 1, 2, 3, 5 or 6 days and this depends on how many zones and so forth. Prices and more info is available on the RATP (the Paris network) site here (in English but also available in Italian, German, French, etc). The site has information, fares and guides to help plan itineraries as well as maps too. If you’re looking for places to stay, tourist centers will have information on hotels, B&B, motels and luxury apartment rentals in Paris

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