Friday, 11 January 2008

Malaysia or Thailand?

At least Malaysia is somewhat more expensive. They speak essentially better English in Malaysia than in Thailand. At least Malaysia is somewhat more expensive. They speak essentially better English in Malaysia. Malaysia a is a Moslem country while Thailand is Bhuddist. Some people consider the latter society more relaxed. However, my narrow experience on Malaysia convinced me that at least in such major resorts like Penang and Kuala Lumpur, tourists don't get severely disturbed by restrictions of the religious origin. In Malaysia it seems to be a good idea to carry an ATM card, because time to time it is oddly laborious to cash travellers' checks. Malaysia

Regards, Patrick

Saturday, 3 March 2007

Shopaholic's guide to KL

Kuala Lumpur shopping with wallet-friendly prices and Mega Sales, from jewellery and silk to pewter, designer-wear and factory outlets. Check out Sunday flea markets and browse fashionable Bangsar.

GET SET. Strap on your jet packs. Go. No, this is not a space jaunt at the speed of light but an exhilarating – and potentially exhausting – shopping marathon at whatever speed your wallet can muster. From haute couture and high-gloss brands to flea markets and home grown fashion, Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital, has it all.

If you’re truly serious, invest in a large suitcase, don’t overstuff it, ensure your credit is humming and mark your calendar from 16 June till 2 September. This is the official Mega Sale Carnival period when shoppers get high on lower than low prices – almost 70 percent off in some cases. More information at the Tourism Malaysia official site. With 2007 designated Visit Malaysia Year there are extra carnivals and sales slotted in to keep shoppers busy. The Malaysia GP Sale coinciding with the Kuala Lumpur F1 Grand Prix race is from 24 March to 22 April 2007. Also watch for the Malaysia Year End Sale Carnival from 1 December 2007 till 1 January 2008.

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One of the first things you might do is to pop into Central Market, on Jalan Hang Kasturi (tel: [603] 2274-6542), to pick up a host of local handicraft and other quirky souvenirs. It’s little wonder that this art deco market is top on every traveller’s list. It offers a genuinely local feel and, most importantly, friendly prices. Once inside, you’ll excuse the shades of pink and blue that coat the exterior. Amble past painters, sculptors, fortune-tellers and traders who have made their home in this former wet market. Central Market has just undergone a facelift and sports a spanking new interior. My pick is Collectables Centre (G43, tel: 2273-3182) cluttered with every imaginable collectible from old Craven cigarette tin boxes, charcoal irons and oil lamps to century-old Nyonya tea sets and hairpins. If you’re persuasive enough, the owner might just part with original prints of Sun Yat Sen and old family portraits for the right price, of course. Next stop, Songket & Sutera Asli (M53, tel: 2274-2645), for beautiful songket (richly woven silk) fabric from the East Coast.

Kuala Lumpur luxury shopping Starhill Mall
Starhill pulls in the posh crowd

Prices begin at RM75 (US$22) and then climb indefinitely depending on workmanship. The exchange rate is roughly US$1 = 3.62 Malaysian ringgit (RM).

Be sure to also visit the House of Silver (G15, tel: 2274-4457) to take home, a Kelantanese tea set, antique silver dining wear, jewellery or the Malay keris. For kites of every shape and size, (the wau bulan being most popular), stop by Wau Tradisi (M51, tel: 22741906). Prices here range from RM198 (US$55) to RM500 (US$138). Batik is wall-to-wall throughout the market. Before heading off, rummage through the pottery, pewter, wayang kulit (shadow puppets), traditional costumes and local snacks or have your portrait painted. Master Chin (1/F, 3rd bridge), the resident fortuneteller might offer some tips on paying for all that stuff clattering about in your suitcase-on-wheels. Stop to refuel at the newly opened Precious Old China (M2, tel: 2273-7372), an antique and art gallery doubling as a restaurant and bar serving authentic Nyonya cuisine.

A short walk from Central Market is the newly upgraded Chinatown with its signature lantern-lined streets and pre-war shop houses, now oddly complemented by palm trees and modern roofing, aimed at sheltering shoppers from Kuala Lumpur’s heavy rains. Nevertheless, Chinatown retains its old world charm when it transforms, come rain or shine, into a bustling night market. Thread your way through the maze of street-vendors on Petaling Street and haggle vigorously. Not for the faint hearted.

Petaling Street is a vibrant mix of Chinese, Nepalese and Burmese traders who all vie for attention selling jewellery, herbal medicines, dried food, designer T-shirts, handbags and wallets. Knock-offs and fakes abound. Striking a bargain is not always easy. The trick is to throw in a few local terms like “Murah sikit?” (A little cheaper?) or “Mahal sangat!” (Too expensive!) and pretend to leave in a huff. Sure enough, a voice will call out behind you. “Okay lah, Okay lah! Ow-mach-you-wan?” By the way, Chinatown’s Hokkien-style thick noodles are purported to be the best in KL.

Kuala Lumpur shopping Lot 10
Lot 10 for those brand bargains

Then on to the heart of Little India at Jalan Masjid India. A similar makeover is taking shape here as part of the country’s beautification and upgrading project. Don’t fret; all is not lost despite the covered walkways and paved paths. Little India’s vibrant character is very much alive. Vendors lug bales of sarees through the traffic and past shops heaped with gold, traditional medicines and gaudy glass bangles. Brightly hued sarees and Bollywood-inspired Indian dresses (salwar kameez and lengas) are some of the greatest temptations here. Salwars are loose fitting tunics with a long knee-length shirt/blouse while lengas are long skirts. My favourite is the one-stop complex, The Madras Store (100, Jalan Masjid India, tel: 2693-0072) for fabulous sarees, brassware, oil lamps and home accessories. Another that comes highly recommended is Saree Centre (98, Jalan Masjid India, tel: 2691-0276). For fancy jewellery, Little India (50, Jalan Masjid India, tel: 2693-3443) is sought after, mainly by young brides-to-be. Be sure to whip out your reliable Casio calculator (don’t leave home without it). Prices correspond to the weight of the jewellery. Remember, the price of gold is fixed. What you’re negotiating down then is the premium on the workmanship.

At the other end of this street, there’s a different sort of street theatre with huge crowds congregated around peddlers vociferously declaring the merits of their cure-alls – for impotency, feminine facial hair – through loudspeakers. If all this is too much, have your feet massaged the traditional Malay way, for just RM30. On Lebuh Ampang street (a short walk from Masjid India), shuffle between spice and sundry shops, Indian restaurants and saree shops. Pop into Nalli’s (49A, Lebuh Ampang, tel: 2070-5809), a hot favourite among locals for the latest saree trends, be it in chiffon, Mysore silk, Kanchipuram or cotton. Stop to savour every type of Indian sweet imaginable along the way. Try phatisa, moti choor ladoo, kalakand or barfee.

Kuala Lumpur malls, department stores
New Dior at Starhill

Parallel to Jalan Masjid India is Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman lined with shops, noted for their wonderful fabric, antiques and jewellery. Old and new mingle on Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman; modern complexes rise above retro buildings. Gulatis Silk House (162/164, Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, tel: 2698-3901) and Euro Moda (No. 126 & 128, tel: 2694-0805), both more recent additions, deserve mention for their exquisite fabric, studded with sequins and beads. This long stretch is also a good spot to hunt for oriental antiques and art.

Udani Carpets (No. 393A, tel: 2698-1962) and Shalini Carpets (No. 40, tel: 2692-7008) offer quite an extensive range. Stock up on winter essentials like boots, cardigans, scarves and thermal undergarments at P Lal Store (No. 135 Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, tel: 2694-2694), the city’s oldest department store. Also check out the pewter at Selangor Pewter Showroom (No. 223, tel: 2698-6244). If you need to recharge again, check out the 1920s Coliseum Café for a cold beer and heavenly, but spicy, prawn sambal, accompanied by their home-baked Chinese toast with REAL butter. Despite the dismaying crush of tourist coaches, The Craft Cultural Complex (Jalan Conlay, tel: 2162-7533) is still a great venue for batik, rattan baskets and other traditional handicraft sourced from around the country. In fact, the complex’s main attraction is its community of artists and their workshops. Get to know these artists while observing them at work, and you may just go home with some unique finds.

Moving upscale, Kuala Lumpur’s monster malls are crammed with designer brands and more. Just name it and KL has it, from Versace, Gucci and Prada to Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior. The Suria Shopping Complex (Jalan Ampang), situated at the foot of the world’s tallest twin towers, is a gem, with its swank shops, cafes and beautiful people. Stealing the thunder is the upscale Aseana (G/F, tel: 2382-9988), a treasure trove of handmade clothing from all around the region. Perk up your wardrobe with shawls and sarongs by designers Marilyn Tan and Bobby Ch'ng and your home with silk, teapots and sculptures.

Lot 10 Kuala Lumpur
LOT 10 upscale fashions

If you love all things beautiful, step into Salabianca (17, First Floor, tel: 23820428), adored for its stunning fashion. Expect everything from top to toe - accessories to chiffon and silk tops and skirts adorned with delicate beading, painstakingly hand sewn. For exclusively designed pieces, ARCH World Miniature (307, Level 3, tel: 3820-489) has small-scale reproductions of just about anything. It’s one way to take a small piece of KL home in your pocket. Head up to KLCC’s sprawling Kinokuniya bookstore (Level 4, tel: 2164-8133), which offers a wide selection of coffee table books, novels and specialty material.

Be sure to visit The Specialist Bookshop (Level 3, tel: 2166 3433) to browse titles on Islamic, Judaism and Christian theology, neatly tucked into green wooden shelves. Pay close attention to the quotations inscribed along the shelves.

Go across to Avenue K (opposite Suria KLCC), through an underground connection, only if you want to marvel at the exquisitely designed structure by French designer Christian Liagre. Avenue K is otherwise a tepid experience devoid of any real bustle, its long, wide corridors flanked mostly by vacant retail space. This highly anticipated temple of high fashion has failed to kick off as yet as one of Kuala Lumpur 's fashion hotspots.

Instead, flag a cab and head to discount warehouse Melium Outlet (MO) , a mere 10 minutes' drive from Suria KLCC. A taxi ride from Suria KLCC should cost about RM6. Be sure to avoid the lunch-hour traffic because the taxi meter is bound to tick furiously while you ponder traffic jams and sweat it out in the midday heat. At MO (62, Jalan 8/91, Taman Shamelin Perkasa, tel: 9207-3288), f ashion devotees get their designer fix for a song. You'll be surprised to find that you don't have to rummage through knee-deep piles of clothes unlike in most warehouses . Everything's elegantly displayed and neatly stacked on racks and shelves. Expect luxurious surroundings and impeccable service minus the exorbitant price tags. Prices of u nsold end-of-season stocks go for a fraction of the original. Imagine Furla shoes at just RM400 (US$110) compared with RM1,000 (US$276); Furla handbags from RM700 (US$193); Stuart Weitzman shoes at RM250 (US$69); Ermenegildo Zegna suits at RM2,000 (US$553) and Zegna shirts from RM400.

KL bargains at Sungei Wang mall
Bustling Sungei Wang plaza

Continue to splurge if you must, this time at trendy Bintang Walk. There’s Lot 10, StarHill, KL Plaza, and of course, Sungei Wang Plaza and Bukit Bintang Plaza, staples long before the strip became hip. No shopper will be disappointed with Sungei Wang Plaza’s funky fashion styles, found nowhere else. This is fun shopping, low-brow, elbow-jostling. Browse Giordano, Baleno, mobile phones, cameras, computers, costume jewellery, SASA for cosmetics, and Levi's (a 501 original jean for RM265). At Lot 10, take your pick of British India's casual and bright linens, Timberland, Guess, Espirit, Swatch, and trawl the myriad shoe and handbag sales that clutter the lobby area. The ultra-upmarket Starhill has developed rapidly and is a popular shopping stop and watering hole. Most major designer brands and fashion labels are represented and there's a whole floor devoted to art where you'll find places like the Loft Gallery run by Valentine Willie Fine Art (tel: [60-3] 2284-2348). The Loft features local artists and runs different shows from time to time. Elsewhere in Starhill, pop into Dior, Ferragamo, Timberland, Fendi, Kenzo, Aigner, Valentino, Celine, Porsche Design, Versace, Dunhill, or Louis Vuitton, or drop by the funky basement cafes and the even funkier toilet. The male toilet is a dark Arab street recreation with shale tiles, claustrophobic corridors and water piped through bamboo shafts. The newlook Dior and Louis Vuitton shops are adjoining the JW Marriott lobby for ease of spend. The designer brand floor is appropriately called the "Indulge" level in the elevator. Look for this when you press the button. Plenty of food rest stops are around at places like the Arabic Tarbush or the mod multi-cuisine Shook.

Just opposite the road from here on the other side of Jalan Bukit Bintang near The Regent hotel is longtime music store Bentley Music where you can strum guitars and plonk on assorted keyboards.

Kuala Lumpur luxury brands Valentino
Starhill is tops for luxury brands

Turn up the heat and drool over sequins and ruffles conjured up by top local designers, Rizalman Ibrahim (Rizalman Ibrahim Couture, 110-G-M, Jalan Imbi, tel: 2141-6149) and Bernard Chandran (S-32-35, 2/F, KL Plaza, tel: 2145-0534). If you are prepared to fork out a pretty penny you’ll make heads turn for sure. Jalan Bukit Bintang is known for its diversity. Further down the road, Low Yat Plaza showcases the latest in computer software and hardware, all at rock-bottom prices. Digital camera and video shops are abundant in Sungai Wang Plaza and Low Yat Plaza in the Bukit Bintang area of Kuala Lumpur. Check out Foto Edar (LG012, Bukit Bintang Plaza, tel: 2141-6683), Foto Nicki (95, Jalan Bukit Bintang, tel: 2142 3368), Fotokem (LG149, Sungai Wang Plaza, tel: 2145-5011) and Jaya Kamera (LG035A, Bukit Bintang Plaza, tel: 2145-0122). The shops stock an extensive range of renowned brands such as Nikon, Olympus, Fuji, Canon, Hasselblad and Pentax. You can count on the staff being courteous and knowledgeable.

There are also numerous electronics and digital camera shops in just about every mall. Or pop into a shop like Foto Miami (tel: [603] 2143-3493) ground floor of KL Plaza next to the JW Marriott hotel. They stock digital cameras, videos and assorted electronic items. Prices will perhaps be most negotiable in Low Yat Plaza. Bear in mind that electronic goods prices in Kuala Lumpur are higher than in Singapore and Hong Kong and the models appear around three or four months after they have arrived in Singapore and Hongkong. KL Plaza also houses one of Kuala Lumpur's best shopping bargains, the large and well-stocked Factory Outlet Store (F.O.S) where you can pick up jeans for RM79 (US$22) or less, and t-shirts and sleeveless linen shirts for RM29-RM39. The store is at the back of the ground floor. The same shirts at Lanvin (where the stitching is done in France) or Givenchy at Starhill will set you back over RM1,300 (US$359) or more. (Another Kuala Lumpur factory outlet option is the GME Factory Outlet at KL Sentral Station where an Obermain shoe starts at RM135, and a Nautica T-shirt at RM29.)

Since you’re into the serious business of shopping, check out Berjaya Times Square (Jalan Imbi), with over 1,000 shops. Britain’s Debenhams has since closed, making way for KL’s favourite one-stop fashion store, Metrojaya. Can’t get over how much you’ve spent? Mull over it while Berjaya Times Square takes you for a ride at its largest indoor theme park, the complex’s top attraction. If you’re an art lover, seek out Artrageously Ramsay Ong The Art Gallery (43 & 45, Changkat Bukit Bintang, tel: 2141-2566), to view Sarawak artworks and handicraft. If Ramsay is around, he’ll be happy to chat with you and you’ll have a free lesson on Sarawak culture, traditions and art.

Kuala Lumpur luxury shopping Louis Vuitton
Designer brands at Jalan Bukit Bintang

Squeeze the time to pop by the recently opened Maju Junction Mall (Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman), Great Eastern Shopping Mall (Jalan Ampang) and Mid Valley Megamall (Lingkaran Syed Putra, tel: 9368 3333), and check out long time favourites Sogo Pernas Department Store (190, Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, tel: 2698-2111), Ampang Park Shopping Complex (Jalan Ampang, tel: 2161-7006), City Square (Jalan Tun Razak, tel: 2162-1566) and The Mall (Jalan Putra).

Bangsar deserves mention. This suburb is stealing the thunder with its rising tide of fashion hotspots. To get to Bangsar, hop onto the light rail transit (LRT) system, then catch a taxi to the Jalan Telawi enclave. Once better known for its countless nightclubs and pubs, Bangsar is fast becoming a chic stop for fashionistas. The boutiques mushrooming in the area display a unique bent on what’s hip. The popularity of boutiques like Cats Whiskers (7-1, First Floor, Jalan Telawi 2, tel: 2282-7317) and Gossips (8A, First Floor, Jalan Telawi 2) rely mainly on word of mouth (no pun intended). These boutiques are a cross between someone’s living room and a museum; very Bohemian in appeal. They’re quick to pick up on catwalk trends. So expect to slip into the latest designs like a kimono and wrap style dresses or pile on the trendiest accessories. Swing by Baci Boutique (12A, First Floor, Jalan Telawi 3) for some vintage dresses, Peoples...Egg (32, Jalan Telawi 5, tel: 2283-1084) for oversized bags and Shoes Shoes Shoes (31A, Jalan Telawi 3) to stay in step with the well-heeled fashion pack. Contemplate on your fashion finds over some sangria at the ever-popular La Bodega Tapas Bar (16, Jalan Telawi 2).

Kuala Lumpur bargain shopping, Bangsar weekend market
Girl at Bangsar Weekend Market

When in Bangsar, track down spunky local designer, Melinda Looi’s Showroom (279, Jalan Maarof, tel: 2093 2279). Her haute couture designs are distinct; dresses in muted tones, embellished with intricate beading and crystals. Purportedly gracing the wardrobe of celebrities like Elizabeth Hurley and Cameron Diaz, Melinda Looi’s designs are a must if you want to sashay home in style.

Not too far from Bangsar is Brickfields, buzzing with a genuinely local Indian feel. If you’re coming in from the city on the monorail or LRT, get off at KL Sentral and a short walk will take you directly into the heart of Brickfields. Walk past old women threading garlands of jasmine flowers, smouldering joss sticks and camphor plus sacks of aromatic local spices, the scent of which hits you harder than a slug of sangria. Sales staff at boutiques such as Mumbai (184, Jalan Tun Sambanthan) and Preet’s (206, Jalan Tun Sambanthan) rave about transforming you into the next party-circuit dazzler. Their intricately beaded and sequined numbers will undoubtedly do the trick.

If the heat becomes oppressive, opt for a relaxing interlude at one of the many massage centres that employ blind therapists. Try the Blind Master Massage Center (Jalan Tun Sambanthan 4, opposite YMCA). Combine shopping with some culture – use this time to browse the rest of the area. Brickfields is tagged the ‘Divine Location’. Famous Buddhist, Chinese and Hindu temples and churches, some almost 100 years old, are located in the area, on Jalan Berhala. Pop into Lavanya Arts (134, Jalan Berhala, tel: 2274 -2722) for Indian arts and crafts.

A few more diversions for the travelling shopper are the night markets or pasar malam and flea markets. If you’re watching your cash, the pasar malam is a good place to shop without paying tourist prices. For a fix of local foods, fresh produce, craft and a real atmosphere, go to Bangsar’s Jalan Telawi Sunday Market. Juicy vegetables, fresh fish, accessories and hand phones add character to this already colourful scene. The night market in Bangsar is a big draw, bringing together both expatriates and locals. While you’re there, be sure to swing by Silverfish Bookstore (67-1, Jalan Telawi 3, tel: 2284-4837), and do look out for the Silverfish New Writings 2, a collection of short stories by regional authors.

Kuala Lumpur designer brands, Louis Vuitton
Louis Vuitton shop at JW Marriott

Bargain hunters should not pass up the flea markets. They’re the latest craze. It’s the hip way to spend your weekend, over a cuppa, browsing through stacks of old magazines, stylish home décor from Burma, Thailand and India, trying on exotic jewellery or some silk blouses. Manned by locals as well as expatriates, Sunday flea markets are mushrooming in and around the city. Sogo’s Sunday bazaar flea market (Sogo Pernas Department Store), and BSC Saturday flea market (Bangsar Shopping Centre, 285, Jalan Maarof, tel:2094-7700) are a must. As for Bukit Bintang’s Carnival flea market, you’ll get more than you bargained for. Operating every Sunday, the Bintang strip is packed with tiny booths. You’ll even spot a clown or two.

Keeping to the bazaar theme is the Souq Putrajaya (Dataran Putra, Putrajaya). Styled after Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, the fledgling souk has a way to go yet. However, the factory outlets are a must-see. Renowned brands, typically costing hundreds of ringgit, sell at bargain prices. End-of-season clothes and accessories by brands like Guess, Fame, MUFC, U2, G2000, Hush Puppies & Renoma will fill up your shopping bags, without burning a hole in your pocket. Prices are slashed 50 to 70 percent, coming down as low as RM9.

Next, pop into Alamanda Putrajaya Shopping Complex (Jalan Alamanda, Precinct 1, tel: 8888-8882) and head straight for Archipelago (Ground Floor, tel: 8888-5389), offering an exciting array of fashion from the Malay Archipelago. Watch out for the boutique, Chantek Chantek, for its collection of figure-hugging Nyonya kebayas (blouses) that are aggressively making a comeback into the local fashion scene. Make a statement and cause jaws to drop back home when you pair this sexy, lacy top with your favourite pair of jeans.

Kuala Lumpur bargain Duty Free
KLIA duty-free selection is reasonable

If you’ve still got some ringgit spare, do some last- minute shopping at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA). A Ferragamo silk tie will set you back RM415 (US$115), an Hermes tie RM520, and a Christian Dior "Jadore" eu de parfum 50ml with vaporiser is RM220. Other airport outlets include Versace, Coach, Guerlain, Dunhill, Burberry, Guy Larouche, Aigner, The Body Shop and Tie Rack. With Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) becoming a useful and convenient hub for passengers flying from Europe to Asia and Australia, there is increasing interest in digital video camera shopping here. However there is only one electronics shop for video and camera buffs - Electric & Electronic Shop, SATP G04, Satellite Building, KLIA. Tel:[60-3] 87-762252.

That’s it. You’re on your own now.

credit to :

Bako National Park

A visit to Malaysia’s natural reserves turned out to be a thrilling experience. Malaysia has kept no stone unturned to safeguard and protect its natural heritage. And for me a visit to the oldest national park in Sarawak, Bako National Park was an awesome adventure trip.

Being located to the east of the Bako River near Kuching, the capital of Sarawak the park is easily accessible from Kuching along a 37 km road and short ferry ride. I started with ample information on Bako with the reservation in place. The tourist information center which is an old 19th century court house near the riverside provides with all the necessary information. I visited the place in the month of April which is the best time as it’s a drier season and it’s not advisable to go there during the months of October until March as the sea gets rough due to the monsoon and access to the park may not be possible.

Malaysia has a wealth of natural reserves and parks but Bako stands out for its extraordinary variety and contrast in its natural scenery, habitats, plant life, and its wildlife. I would call it as a treasure chest of nature’s flora and fauna. It’s a striking coastline of steep cliffs, rocky headlands, and many stretches of sandy bays. The amazing sea arches and sea stacks caused by the erosion of left me awestruck. It’s beautiful sandstone formations featuring pink and iron patterns on the cliff faces is a great sight to the eyes.

As a nature enthusiast I was delighted to find a wide range of vegetation including the varieties of pitcher plants and wild orchids. The park's mangrove forest, mixed dipterocarp forest, peat swamp forest, and kerangas forest was perfect for trekking through its 16 well-maintained jungle trails, making it the most interesting experience. During a walk in the forest I encountered long-tailed Macaques and silver leaf monkeys along with giant monitor lizards, plantain squirrels, wild boars, and mouse deer. And the most rare long-nosed proboscis monkeys are found only here. With a great love for swimming, I enjoyed my stay along with beach combing at low tide, and watching the sunset along the sandy bays of the park made my day. For the eco minded travelers and nature lovers Bako National Park is truly an ideal place as it turned out to be for me.

Boka National Park is definitely worth a visit and I had one of the best, unforgettable and enjoyable times at the park, amidst its amazing beautiful sights.