Sunday, December 28, 2008

Be Right Back

Destination: Penang, Malaysia

The author is back in his home sweet home and will be busy catching up with family, friends and food over the holiday season.

He will be right back after the holidays!

In the meantime, if you're coming over to Penang for holidays and you need a tip or two, please drop him a mail.

Happy New Year and happy holidays!

Drive safely.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Pulau Payar, Malaysia

Destination #5: Pulau Payar, Malaysia

Year of Visit: 2007

Pulau Payar is one of the hidden snorkeling and diving gems of the west coast of Malaysia.

Situated in the northern part of the Straits of Malacca, Pulau Payar can be assessed from Pulau Langkawi, Penang and Kuala Kedah on the mainland.

Image courtesy of

There are no accommodations on this island but if you wish to live the semi-castaway life of Robinson Crusoe you may request for a permission from the Fisheries Department in Alor Setar, Kedah to camp on the island. The marine life at the Pulau Payar Marine Park is very much alive and kicking but be please be reminded that fishing is strictly prohibited.

Most tourists make a day trip to the Pulau Payar Marine Park from Pulau Langkawi, Kuala Kedah (approximately 30 minutes ferry ride) and Penang (approx. 1 hour).

I, for instance, took a day trip from Swettenham Pier, Penang.

This is how the Pulau Payar Marine Park looks like. The ferry will first drop you off on a large Langkawi Coral floating platform. That's where you leave your belongings behind, put on your snorkeling or diving attires, apply your lotion, listen to instructions, get your shower and off you jump into the water.

The turqoise water and corals beneath.

When we were there we brought along with us loaves of bread to feed the fishes.

I'm not sure if it's still permitted though. Ask the operators when you make your reservation.

Feeding the marine fishes was really exciting and plenty of good fun. Hundreds of them will swim to you so quickly as if they have not eaten for years and it's also the best time to prank your friend by throwing bread at him. The fishes will nibble him all over thinking that he's a giant piece of bread.

For those who don't dive, you can marvel at the spectacular sights below the surface from the observation chamber at the floating platform.

A barracuda and a diver close by.

You can also dive near the observation chamber to have your photo taken - like this!

The Langkawi Coral floating platform.

Just before the buffet lunch, you will be transported to the beach in a glass bottom boat for a walk on the sandy beach and also to witness a shark feeding session.

Shark feeding session.

The black-tip baby shark, similar to the one in Maldives!

You don't have to go to Maldives to see it, haha!

Remember to bring your camera with you when you're transported from the floating platform to the island! You won't wanna miss out on the shark feeding photos!!

The school of fishes and baby sharks was a very pretty sight.

The giant floating platform and the corals of Pulau Payar Marine Park.

A group photo taken from the observation chamber on the floating platform.

For more information of the Pulau Payar Marine Park, log on to:

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Nice, France


Destination #4: Nice, France

Year of visit: 2008
Nice [nis] is a city in Southern France located on the picturesque Mediterranean coast. It is also a leading tourist centre and resort on the French Riviera (Côte d'Azur) alongside Cannes and Antibes with an enjoyable mild Mediterranean climate.

I flew into Nice from London in my favourite low-frills airline, Easyjet. Upon arrival, we could feel the immediate change in climate from London's so-called summer where the temperature hovers around 12 oC compared to Nice's 20 oC. Now this is summer!

From Nice's Côte d'Azur Airport, you can catch a public bus to the city centre - the most affordable and convenient option!

This was my first trip with an absolutely minimal planing. We didn't make prior reservation at any hostel, hotel or apartment despite it being summer! It was so spontaneous. The only thing i had in hand was a £2 mini-map from the post office.

No worries, Nice has an excellent tourist information centre not far from the Le Meridian hotel and McDonald's. You can get as many brochures about Nice from there and also get your accommodations settled over the counter if you're looking for a mid-range or high-end accommodation.

If you're looking for a budget accommodation, i suggest you make an earlier reservation or spend at least half an hour looking for one around town. Well, we split up, walked under the scorching sun around the high-streets and found one! Also a very good excuse for some Gelati.

Nice high street

I love the French architecture most in Europe.

All the old buildings look so classy after refurbishment.

That playful pussycat at our apartment's balcony. She's really cute! She knocks on our door whenever we're back at our apartment.

A square (Place in French) a stone's throw away from our apartment, with many 'grand' hotels lined up next to it namely the Grand Hotel Aston.

The coolest looking tram and tramway tracks i have seen in Europe!!!!

Take a walk along the narrow alleys and stairways for an insight of life in Nice's old town (Vieux Nice) - picturesque and colourful houses, boutiques and sidewalk cafés.

To us, the most impressive discovery of all in this old town is the food.

The beach is a walking distance from the old town. It has the feeling of Miami in United States with a whole lot of activity going on there - cycling, dog walking, jogging, skate-boarding, roller-blading, mini-trains, sun bathing, para-sailing, boat rides etc. except for the beach which is not sandy but covered with flat-stones.

If you're looking for nice sandy beaches, head on to Villefranche-sur-Mer, Antibes or Cannes.

Villefranche-sur-Mer isn't very far from Nice by bus.

Other than the old town, Place Masséna and its vicinity has many restaurants, boutiques and cafés. Be careful not to stray into the tramway though shopping in this district might cause an adrenaline rush.

Don't you agree that France sets the benchmark for high-street shopping, restaurants and cafés?

The mysterious author with Notre-Dame de Nice as the backdrop.

The 17th century Nice Cathedral or Cathédrale Sainte-Réparate de Nice in the heart of the old town. It is also the seat of the Bishop of Nice.

Now comes the MUST GO location in Nice - Colline du Chateau

The Colline du Chateau overlooking the Baie des Anges and harbour offers a spectacular panoramic view of the city. There are other things to see at the Chateau amongst them some castle ruins and a Jewish cemetery.

View from the Colline du Chateau.

And make sure you dine in one of those sidewalk restaurants if you have not sampled authentic French cuisine. There are so many restaurants around the old town for you to choose from depending on your budget.

Old town at night.

Finger-food and spices.

Please try the fried anchovies with lime! It was so addictive.

Our €25 three course dinner with complimentary champagne.

For ice-cream/gelato lovers, Fennochio's gelati are mandatory! IMHO, the gelati in Nice are better than those i have tried in Italy and Fennochio has way more variety of flavours.

Fennochio is located right infront of the Nice Cathedral or Cathédrale Sainte-Réparate de Nice.

Last but not least, the five wackos who conquered Nice.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Tourist Submarine, Maldives

How often do we get to sit in a submarine let alone see one?

Here's a chance for a dive in one of the world's only tourists submarines if you visit the Maldives.

According to the Whale Submarine Maldives' website : On board the submarine you will descend to a submerged reef 40 meters beneath the surface. However the first stop is at 25 meters where you will see a colorful display of corals and different types of reef fish. In most of the dives the submarine is greeted by a school of blue or yellow-stripped Snappers. Common Lionfish, Yellow Box Fish and turtles are usually found here. Next stop at 40 meters is yet another type of coral garden and depending on current the submarine will be beached on a sandy spot just close to a big cave. The exterior lights of the submarine will enable you to see the different types of fish taking shelter inside the cave. Occasionally White Tip Reef Sharks and Napoleons are sighted here. If you are lucky you may be able to see one of the biggest Groupers in the Maldives here on this location.

The submarine ride costs U$ 75 for 45 minutes underwater.

I have never been on a submarine so i thought why not, for the experience.

The submarine ride is highly recommended for families with young children and those who are not keen on snorkeling or diving. The website says it's disabled-friendly as well. From my observation, most passengers on the submarine are well-dressed Asians who didn't look like they want to get wet snorkeling or diving.

Inside the submarine.

If your intention of boarding the submarine is to look at the marine lives underwater, i suggest that you snorkel or dive if you are able to. It's Maldives afterall, 99% of Maldives is water! The marine lives we have seen from the glass windows of our submarine were disappointing. It felt exactly like plunging into a giant aquarium with many dead corals and typical marine fishes you always see. Not a pretty sight at all compared to what i have seen snorkeling in the tropical waters of Malaysia and other parts of Maldives. This is what happens when tourism becomes too commercialised - the ecosystem suffers.

The sad looking fish.

The angry looking fish. 'why are you humans trespassing into my territory!!!'

Some fishes inside the underwater cave.

Lionfish and others.

Another type of marine fish. Nothing special.

Oh, the only other good thing about the submarine ride is that you get to photograph and record videos of the marine lives underwater from the submarine IF you don't have a water/underwater proof camera or an underwater protector with you.

Well, for the once-in-a-life-time feel of being on a submarine i shouldn't be complaining so much.

Check out the Whale Submarine Maldives webpage for more information.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Veligandu Island, Maldives

Destination #3: Veligandu Island, Maldives

Year of Visit: 2006
Now this is what Maldives is all about. Seat back, kick those shoes away and enjoy!

The second Maldivian resort of our trip is the Veligandu Island Resort in North Ari atoll.

How to get there?

A 15 minutes ride on the sea plane or the Maldivian water taxi from Hulhule International Airport. That was my first time on a sea plane. I have not even seen a sea plane before.

This is what i have been waiting for. A scenic ride on the sea plane would have cost about U$ 90 for 30 minutes if you are interested. I must thank my host for arranging this 15 minutes scenic sea plane ride to Veligandu Island inclusive of a 2 nights stay at the exclusive resort.

Aerial view of the capital, Malé and Vilingili island.

It was rather noisy and stuffy inside the plane but it was totally worth it!

Look at the beautiful turquoise blue lagoons, reefs and beautiful islands!

They were truly breathtaking beyond imagination. They looked just exactly like what you have seen in travel magazines and one of those photos of Maldives circulated in the email but you just gotta witness this yourself at least once in your lifetime.

So beautiful beyond description. Unbelievable.

The 40 odd seconds video of the aerial view from the seaplane ride.

The 15 minutes ride ended here and now we have landed on this makeshift platform off the resort to catch another boat to the resort.

Welcome to the stunningly beautiful paradise where marine fishes can be seen from above the surface and the sand is white!

The hotel staffs were expecting our arrival at the resort and we were immediately led by the resort manager to the resort guest lounge for the welcoming cocktail and the wet towel. I think it is a common practice that new guests are served cocktails and given a wet towel.

We settled down a little to enjoy some sandwiches and drinks, especially the Fanta orange which was very different from what we have in Malaysia. The buffet dinner with a wide variety of food is worth mentioning too! Everything there is quoted in U$D, from food to scuba diving charges so you can forget about the Maldivian Rufiyaa (MVR) when at any of the resorts.

This is a testimony of the crystal clear waters at Veligandu Island - What do you see?

A baby shark chasing a school of fish!

These are the water villas ideal for honeymooners, with a great deal of privacy, facing the vast ocean and also - a romantic site to watch the sun set and to gaze at the gazillion stars that decorate the skies at night. The room rate starts from U$ 290 for a single room.

For those of you with the PADI certificate of scuba instruction this is paradise.

There are night divings as well and boats depart late at night for the night diving. For those of you without a scuba diving license don't despair. You can still go for snorkeling and still see many fishes and marine lives. However, you have to know the designated areas for snorkeling around your resort. There are certain areas which are not suitable for snorkeling and can be dangerous eg. rocks, sting rays etc so please be very careful.

We signed up for the catamaran sailboat adventure as well. It was one helluva experience, almost slipped off into the sea when the catamaran sailed at its maximum speed with sea water constantly hitting right into my face but wow it was awesome!

Life's a beach, surf it up! Haha!

Enough of water activities? Go baby shark sighting! Plenty of them near the beach.

Indoor activities like foosball and pool if you fancy?

Or sit/lie back and relax on the white sunny beach complete with a session at the spa.

Life doesn't get any better than this.

Veligandu Island Resort.

Signing off here. Maldives, the sunny side of my life.

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