Cycling Culture Manila

IMG_7896crop (Large)

In my recent business trip to Manila, I have observed a thriving work commute cycling community. Most of the cyclist wears shorts and carries a bag which I suspect a change of clothes when they reaches work. Most of the bikes were Mountain bikes, then Road bikes and I did not see a Single multi color Fixie. There was one guy cycling Strida, he was all suit up for work. Strida has Belt drive, so he needn’t worry about his pants getting greased.  I got to get a belt drive for my Fixie. In Penang, most of the cyclist who commute to work are foreign workers. There are only a handful of peddlers that cycle to work in FIZ. My hope for 2012 is to have more commuters cycle to work in FIZ, lessen the traffic and CO. 

Driving to Krabi

It has been something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time and this long holiday weekend provided the opportunity for me to put the plans into action. Driving from Penang to Krabi/Ao Nang takes about 8 hours. We took 11.5 hours due to rain and heavy border traffic. That also we started from Penang at about 5am and arrived at the border at about 7am. We first have to go get the Car Insurance, and for that, we queue almost 45minutes, then when we arrived at the Malaysian Immigration, there was already a long queue. Clearing the Malaysian Immigration was easy, we just have to drive through, draw down the windows, give the passport to the immigration officer and he starts to process our documents. After almost an hour of queuing, our documents were processed within minutes. Next is Thailand Immigration. We first park at a large carpark next to Thailand Immigration. All of us got down to process our passports. Once done, I have to get import documents for the car done with the Thai Customs. The customs are located on the right with drive through booths. No money is needed, just need to hand over the copy of the car registration card and officer starts to process the import. The office refuse to process the import without first seeing our passport being processed. So, for anyone else who wants to drive into Thailand, remember to first queue to get your passport chop and then only proceed to queue for the custom import documents. Again, after almost an hour of queuing, the documents were processed within minutes. I went back to collect the car and family and drove through the customs where they gave me the import document. This document needs to be presented back to the customs upon exit, else, you will have trouble bringing in the car in the next visit. By the time we clear the border, it was already 10.30am.


The weather was good till after Phattalung where it started to rain. The Phattalung to Trang stretch is also the hilly and single lane stretch. From the border to Phattalung, the entire road way was double lane and was very pleasant to drive. Also, there was not that many cars. It was Sunday and it was not busy. There were a few Malaysian cars that zip through us, treating the road like the Malaysian Highway. Though the Thai road with double lane feels like a highway, it does not have the safety features of one and going in a high speed is risking it. We had some problems with our Garmin in Trang. I miss a turn and the map was not complete as there were roads that the GPS did not display. Trang to Ao Nang road is more Kampung with single lane going through rubber estate on the left and right. We arrive at Ao Nang at 4.30pm.

The drive back was faster as there were no rain, but we spent some time in Hatyai having lunch and the border held us up for another 2-3hrs, we took a good 12hrs on the road before arriving home. Driving to Thailand just need to remember to bring a few things. 1-Car Registration Card (Photocopy is sufficient), 2-Insurance (Purchase at the border), 3-GPS (Garmin MFM maps are quite complete, except for Trang)

Kota Kinabalu Food

I did very little to no research on my holiday in Kota Kinabalu. This resulted to my plea on facebook on what to eat and was answered with a single word, ‘Rice’. As my network of friends are of not much help, I turn to blogs, and through some of the local food bloggers, I manage to experience the best of Kota Kinabalu has to offer in food.

Yu Kee Bak Kut Teh

Photo Aug 18, 8 20 13 PM 

I found this place through Google Places and Bloggers. The Google Places coordinate on Google Map is a little off and we had a hard time finding the place the first day. As in all Malaysian Bak Kut Teh restaurants, all kinds of Bak Kut ingredients are available with sides of tofu and assorted vegetables. Sadly, the vegetables we ordered did not come. Each of the dishes are presented in small plates and the prices are based on how many plates you consume. The Bak Kut tea has a very strong medicinal taste with a pack of heat to it.  Its very different from those had in Peninsula Malaysia and its a must try for those who visits Kota Kinabalu. Even the Chinese Tea (Tie Guan Yin) was served on a tiny cup and the flavor was foreign to me.  It complements the Bak Kut Teh well. Yu Kee BKT Facebook.

Fook Yuen Cafe

Photo Aug 18, 8 16 43 PM

I We took a cab to this restaurant for breakfast and the cab fare were more expensive than what we spent on the food.  This is the sad state of Malaysian Taxi where out of the capital of Kuala Lumpur, metered taxis are almost non-existence or the meter were never used. We later found out that Fook Yuen Cafe has a branch at Gaya Street and we had our subsequent breakfast there. This restaurant offers Bread, Pastries, Toast/Steam Bread with Kaya and Fried Noodle/Rice with assorted sides such as sausages, yong tou fu, etc.  We started with the recommended Butter Kaya toast and Milk Tea (Teh Si).  The Butter & Kaya Toast was better than the steam ones and was much more generous compare to Old Town Kopi Tiam. The Milk Tea need some getting used to. We later develop a liking to it and found that it goes well with oily food where it helps to wash away the oily after taste on some of the food offered.  Fook Yuen Cafe Facebook.

Five Star Chicken Rice

Photo Aug 18, 8 15 18 PM

I stumble upon this place while searching for Yu Kee Bak Kut Teh on the first day. This was the brightest lit shop at Gaya Street and with a few patrons. We decided to try it out and was not disappointed. The chicken was very smooth and tasty.  We also had the soup with fish cakes, though it is not the best, it complements the Chicken rice Well. Five Star Chicken Rice Website.

SEDCO Complex Seafood

Photo Aug 18, 8 26 46 PM

Can’t come to Kota Kinabalu without trying out the Seafood. We just had to try out one and found this Sedco Complex at Kampung Air, Kota Kinabalu. Coming from Penang (Andaman Sea), we were very interested to try out the local (South China Sea) catch. We tried the 4 dish above, RM50 for Tiger Prawns, RM50 for Sea Crab, RM50 for Rock Fish (with green bones) and Sabah Vegetables fried in Sambal. There were various types of seafood, and since there were two of us only, we couldn’t try all, plus, we were not that adventurous. At Sedco Complex, there were about 3-4 Seafood Restaurants there, with each concurring their end of the complex. Some bloggers said this place is cheap, we thought it was ok and definitely cheaper than the Chinese Seafood restaurants scattered around the city.

Tuaran Mee @ Seng Hing Coffee Shop

Photo Aug 18, 8 23 17 PM

On our last day, we went to Seng Hing coffee shop which was famous for it’s Tuaran Mee and Laksa. Tuaran Mee was indeed unique and we have not come anything like it in Peninsular Malaysia. Its yellow egg noodle fried with sausages, roast pork and egg. The laksa or Curry Mee is also unique where it is sour, more like a fusion of curry powder, coconut milk and tom yam. Tuaran Mee comes in Fried or Soup version and it is the most ordered dish among the patrons there. Tuaran Mee from around the web.

We enjoyed our stay at Kota Kinabalu as much as we enjoy the food there. Mostly, the unforgettable Tuaran Mee and Bak Kut Teh marks Kota Kinabalu as one of the Food City of Malaysia.

Hong Kong to Shenzhen

IMG_5384a (Large)

As The plane was about to land, I remembered that I would have to go through Hong Kong Immigration before I could get to Shenzhen. I have forgoten to fill up the landing card, so I will have to do it at the counter. Usually I would rush through point to point, but this time, I decided to take it easy. Clearing the plane, I followed the crowd and listen to some of the loud conversations as we all walk the long journey. It seams like the plane landed on another terminal as at then end of the walk was a train that leads to immigration.

I took my time to fill up the landing card and proceeded to the packed snake like queue. I lost count of the number of counters open. An officer lady in a distance was flagging people to a shorter queue and I quicken my pace. I compose myself as I waited for my turn. The immigration officer held up my passport and took a long look at me, the he check the passport again, and another long stare. The time seams to stop for a while. A sign of relieve when he continued to scan the passport and stamp it.

Off I go through baggage claim and to the ticket counter. There seams to be some changes, the counters were still there, but now running another kind of services, express visas and hotel transfer counters. Starbucks was just next door and I went for a mocha and a couple of pastries before went looking for the ticket counter. I decided to ask the Express Visa counter and the ladies there were very kind to take me to the Shenzhen Van ticket counter instead of just shrud me off or just point me to the general direction. She must get some commission out of this I thought. To my surprise, after showing me the counter, she return back. After a short queue, I bought a ticket to Shangri la and off I go to the van pick area.

It was a black Toyota Alphad MPV. I took the third row seat and hand over my passport. This is a first time I am in an Alphad and it is much more roomier and comfortable in the third row seat than my Alza, of course the price of one second hand recon Alphad can buy 4-5 Alza. We passed a couple of huge bridges that look like the Golden Gate and Penang Bridge. Disneyland must be near by as there was a couple of road sign in the shape of Disney logo.

The Hong Kong immigration at this part is very interesting. While still seated in the MPV, we just have to show our face and and the officer will process our documents. The driver continues and return us our passport.  The Chinese Immigration is where we alight and leaves the nice and comfy MPV behind. A short walk to meet up with the immigration officer again the officer took his time. Time seams to stop during these moments. A couple of stamps and a bag scan, I am in China. The MPV for this part were no more Toyota, but China own. Still ok and the journey to Shangri La was short.

Tokyo & Hakone : Fall of 2007

It has been 6 months since we came back from this amazing trip, and I finally had the drive to write about it. The trip itself was a year in the making. I had over 80k of miles from United Mileage Plus and wanted to go for a vacation somewhere far. For the both of us to travel, we can only go somewhere in Asia. Japan was the first choice. The first thing we did was to book the Hotel in Hakone (through RCI). We used our Swiss Garden Vacation last year’s allowance for the booking. Booking a hotel on RCI in Japan is horrifically difficult. This is because Japan is such a popular vacation location that RCI members all over the world books the hotels years in advance. I book mine about a year in advance. The flight was booking on the other hand was easy. I just need to call the US helpline and within minutes, I got my booking done. Since it was E-ticket, I did not need to collect any physical tickets from the United offices. I only had to pay the airport tax, and a service charge of $25. Having these two done, we did nothing till 6 months before the trip.

That is when I purchased a Japan travel Guide book, by Rough Guide. The Rough Guide to Japan was a very useful book. It has the much needed information on places of interest, local culture, and everything one need to know about Japan, especially before going there. Most of the guidebooks are almost the same, with different books having their own different strengths. Some books have plenty of pictures, and some books have great maps. I picked this book because it has some detail about climbing mount fuji, which the other books didn’t. For those who wants to save some cost, Google or yahoo is a great source. You can get everything you need from these search engines. However, the guidebooks do give some extra advices, such as promotions, or cost saving tips, like special subway passes, that you don’t see in google if you don’t ask for it specifically.

We sat on the book and it became a coaster for our coffee mug for quite a few months, and about two months just before the trip, I booked the Ryokan in Tokyo. Ryokan is the traditional Japanese hotel and are also the cheapest accommodation you can find in Japan. After we have identified a few from the book and, I mail them and the keepers replied the very next day. Extremely fast in response and friendly. Without hassle, we have all the basic things set for the trip. Now, the gritty details on where to go and transport. That took us another few weeks and in under a month before the trip, we were all set. Everything have been planned out, and I enter them into the Yahoo Trip Planner. In short, the guidebook compiles all you need to know in one paperback, while with Google, you have to do the work of compilation your self. If you love to do research, you can skip buying a guidebook.

From Penang to Tokyo, we first have to transit in Singapore and change planes. As the journey takes 6-7 hours from Singapore, we wanted to get a nice seat. We tried checking in a couple of days earlier online and could not (maybe because the tickets were mileage claimed). So, we went over to the airport and to the airline office to get some help. The lady over the counter was very helpful. She got us an excellent seat, the best seat of the house with plenty of leg room.