Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Trip Down Memory Lane - Day 2 and 3

Day 2

We booked our hotel room at Sentosa Regency Room in Alor Setar online via Agoda the hotel booking site while we were in Pasir Mas. I have come to trust Agoda as the provider of the cheapest booking site and managed to get our room at RM108 per night, inclusive of tax the total came to RM275 for two nights averaging RM137.50. So when we checked in, our room was there.
Sentosa Regency Hotel Alor Setar is within the town area and has a very large room and an equally large bathroom attached to it. They could easily have halved the size of the bathroom and saved on space. I wonder why the architect didn’t think of that when they design the hotel rooms. Anyway I have no complain about the room other than that the wifi failed me on the second day. I guess there was line congestion as there was a course going on at that hotel on the second day of my stay.
Our plan for the second day in Alor Setar was to do Bukit Kayu Hitam in the morning and do the Pekan Rabu in the afternoon. Later in the evening we had a friend Tuan haji Zakaria and his wife joining us for dinner. Tuan Haji Zakaria and Kak Asmah had been with us on our European Tour sometime in 2011 and were very happy when we informed them that we will be in their state of Kedah. Though they live in Gurun further south, they were willing to come down to Alor Setar to meet us.
The visit to Bukit Kayu Hitam.
When we lived in Felda Sungai Tiang in 1980, the shortest way back to Kelantan from Kedah was via the border check point of Bukit Kayu Hitam through Thailand. After Bukit Kayu Hitam, we wiill pass by Sadao, Patani, exiting at Sungai Golok and Rantau Panjang in Kelantan is just across the river. The other way hoe was via the East West Highway and off course we had to negotiate the torturous climbs and turns before reaching the highway entrance somewhere near Grik. So the route via Thailand was more of our choice especially when we have other friend going to Kelantan to keep us company.
Present day Bukit Kayu Hitam before the immigration and custom complex.
Bukit Kayu Hitam of today is much developed. Though it wasn't really much to see there, reading about glorious duty free shopping in the local travel magazine Libur that incensed my other half into wanting to visit this border town and I was just accommodating her wish to go there.
The Bazaar Majlis Daerah Kubang Pasu.
Hardly a soul inside the bazaar. I guess we were there too early.
The Duty Free outlet.
Bought a folding mosquito net as a token purchase at an equally visitorless BazaarBukit Kayu Hitam.
Extended lorries bringing in cattles from Thailand. Such lorries must be more cost effective as only a single engine can transfer double the load.
Since it wasn’t the tourist season, we found the bazaars and duty free shops in Bukit Kayu Hitam to be deserted. In the end we didn’t buy much to justify the visit to this town. Before noon we headed back to Alor Setar for a simple lunch at Pekan Rabu and some small shopping. Here I found a mortar and pestle made of marble which I wanted to use as a decorative item.
The staircases of Pekan Rabu

Inside Pekan Rabu.

Mat Kelantan doing business in Pekan Rabu Kedah.
Our friend Haji Zakaria and spouse came to our hotel to pick us up in the afternoon. After a short drive around town we ended up at Zakaria Laksa Telok Kechai on the road to Kuala Kedah for our first taste of Kedah Laksa. The similarity in name was just coincidental. Though my friend Haji Zakaria wanted us to try the special mee udang, we just can’t wait to savour laksa Kedah since we didn’t manage to do it on the first day. I did a second helping and insisted on some cut up chilly padi as the first plate was devoid of the zing of hot chili padi that should be the real taste of laksa.The name of the eatery was just coincidental.

Tuan Haji Zakaria and Kak Asmah sandwiched between yours truly and wife Fatthiyah.
Haji Zakaria drove us back to town showing us the location of a few more tourist sites for us to visit including Rumah Tun Mahathir Mohamad along Jalan Pegawai, the new State Secretariat and the gem of all gems, Gunung Keriang where the Muzium Padi is located. Muzium padi is a must visit for anybody coming to Alor Star. Along the way we stopped at a small village where the locals collect crystal rocks from the many caves of Gunung Keriang. These lumps of crystals ranging in size from a few inches to a few feet are set up in glazed clayware as decorative pieces. Thay are beautiful and are much sought after by visitors. They range in price from a few ringgit to several hundreds depending on size and beauty. Though I dislike the idea of defacing the beautiful caves, they have constributed to the locals as a mean of earning some income from tourism. Without it, they have nothing much to gain from the tourism industry.
We stopped at this mosque along Jalan Pegawai for Asar prayers.
Pekan Melayu on the right and Pekan Cina on the left.
We entered the old Alor Setar town passing under an arch with an indication that Pekan Cina is on the left and Pekan Melayu is on the right. I didn't manage to check whether there are still Malays plying their trade in that section. Tuan haji Zakaria told me that there is a small budget hotel there belonging to a Malay.

Mesjid Zakhir in the midst of Alor Setar town.
A newspaper cutout about the crystals found at Gunung Kerian and it was displayed at one of the stalls.
Some crystals of brownish hue.
White Crystals
Crytals mounted in a flat shallow vase with crystal chippings at the base.

The Muzium Padi from afar.
When we reached Muzium Padi, it was way past the visiting hours. Given the immense size of the building and Haji Zakaria’s insistence that the place is worth a visit, we were determined to come back on our own the next day.
We parted ways with Tuan haji Zakaria and Kak Asmah after they dropped us off at our hotel with the promise that we will be calling on them at their house in Gurun on our way to Penang after doing Perlis.
We slept early on the second night at the hotel as I failed to get an internet access though I had an excellent connection with the wireless router. I guess the lines at the hotel was congested. The second posting can wait.
Day 3

We rise early for the Subuh prayers and continue with our sleep after performing the prayers. By 8.00 AM we were down for our complimentary breakfast. Breakfast was great except for the lack of fresh juice because the hotel only provided cordial drink and soya bean juice which wasn’t my choice.
By 9.00 AM we were already checked out.
While we were in Felda Sungai Tiang, Cikgu Mahathir had told us that their former headmaster at Sekolah Kebangsaan Felda Sungai Tiang is still alive and living in Alor Setar near a Chinese School along the road to Kuala Kedah. The way to locate his house is to look for a green roofed house.
True enough there were two green houses. The first one was the wrong house as the two young kids left at home by their parents couldn't recall the name of their grandparents. Unfortunately when we arrived at the second green roofed house, nobody was in the house. I was confident that it was the residence of Cikgu Hashim but he was not in. We were on the verge of walking to our car when a car drove into the house compound. We could immediately recognize it was Cikgu Hashim though he couldn't recognize any of us even after getting a hug from me.
His wife Kak Yam was away at their daughters place as the daughter is still in confinement.

Fatthiyah with her former headmaster.
Though he is already 80 years old, frail looking Cikgu hashim is in the best of health and devoid of such ailments such as hypertension, diabetes, heart disease or kidney problem often associated with the elderly. His secret to good health? He lives a frugal life. Using his own words "saya makan macam orang miskin".(He eats like a pauper) He eats little and avoiding the fatty food. He will buy the freshest fish that are yet to added with preservative such as formaldehyde which is becoming a common practice among fishmongers. He will try as far as possible to eat chemical free vegetables and fruits by buying the worst looking ones in terms of pest attack for leafy vegetables and the smallest watermelon for fear that the big ones are chemical laden from the heavy use of fertilizers.

After another hug, we took leave telling him that we are heading for Kangar Perlis with a stopover Kg. Sungai Baru where Gunung Keriang and Muzium PADI is located. Cikgu Hashim specifically told us to look for Alor Janggus and take the right turn but we took an earlier turn when we saw the sign showing Gunung Keriang.

Upon reaching Gunung Keriang, we headed for the Gunung Keriang recreational park with the intention of buying some crystals which we didn't buy when we visited the place with Haji Zakaria earlier. This time we bought a piece together with a kilogram of the white crystal chippings.
Upon returning home to Pasir Mas this is how the crystal look.

Muzium Padi is on the other side of Gunung Keriang. A short drive took us there.

The spiral cavelike staircase to the top of 'Gunung Keriang'
The view from 'the top of Gunung Keriang' based on the paintings by some North Koran artists.

Padi seed samples from all over the world is displayed.

Equipments related to rice production on display.

Scenes of the rice growing areas in Kedah painted by some Koran artists.
After the muzium padi we headed to our next destination, Kangar Perlis by passing the Pusat Sains nearby the Muzium Padi.
We didn’t do any prior booking of any room in Kangar assuming that rooms in Kangar are easy to come by. Right smack in town we saw this hotel by the name of Sri Garden Hotel with a vacant parking bay right by its entrance. We booked into a room and since I irequested for a room with very strong wifi signal, I was given room 103 with the wifi router right smack opposite the room door. Connection was very good and I was very happy with it.

The Sri Garden Hotel where we stayed on the first day in Kangar.
That afternoon we decided to visit Taman Ular in Sungai Batu Pahat. The famous harum manis mango farm was also along the way so it will be like hitting two birds with one stone. Harum Manis is the best local variety of mango in term of sweetness, texture and color. Unfortunately it was past its season which ended in mid June. I can’t find a single fruit to taste and I was later told by a friend that if there is any harum manis on sale, they are not the true variety they they are being sold at an astronomical price of RM15 per kg.
On the way to Taman Ular Fatthiyah remembered Cikgu Mahathir from Sungai Tiang telling us to visit Cikgu Asmah who had opened up a Kopitiam by the name of MaiCafe. He said it was easy to find if I could locate Mesjid Putra on the right side of the road after taking the road to Padang Besar. MaiCafe was visible immediately after we made the turn to the right. Asmah and Fatthiyah had stayed together in the bachelors quarters together with another two friends during her teaching days in Felda Sungai Tiang. When I changed job and relocated to Besut, Trengganu, her transfer couldn’t be effected immediately and she had to stay on till the end of the year, while I left Sungai Tiang with the three young children.
We were invited to dinner and agreed to visit the cafe by 7.00 PM.

Upon reaching Taman Ular, we were quite surprised to see quite a sizable number of visitors there given that it wasn’t really the tourist season and it was a Wednesday. Some minor renovations were going on with a covered walkway with concrete paving being constructed. This is something good really. We did the gallery and were amazed at both the living and preserved specimen on display. With excellent write up, we learn more about these reptiles and thus recommend to all visitors as a must see on anybody’s visit list to Perlis.
The entrance to Taman Ular.

Preserved specimen in the gallery.

Live specimen of an albino python

Live King Cobra in their hut.

A beautiful lansdsape pond with a few kois in pool.
It was 6.45 PM when we left the hotel for MaiCafe located near Mesjid Putra.
Asmah was there to greet us. It was a sight to see as old friends get to meet again after 30 years. Cikgu Mahathir had told us that Asmah had been asking about Fatthiyah and this visit was just like an answer to her callings.
Two old friends meeting again after 30 years.
MaiCafe is tastefully decorated. The owner had traveled extensively to find ideas for the décor of the place. The husband did much of the décor himself had saved MaiCafe with lots of expenses. Though the café is an open air café, an air-conditioned section is available for those who wants privacy. With 2 experienced chefs working with her and a total work force of 21 staffs, MaiCafe is in serious business in the food business. One of the chefs is an ex Sheraton chain of hotels who prefer to work in Kangar than the world capitals even at lower pay, MaiCafe can only prosper. Their prices are way below the price of the same if they were to be served in the five star hotels. Even the Perlis Royalties who incidentally own the premise dines at MaiCafe which serve authentic western dishes using the finest china and cutlery. The chef had insisted that only the premise and price can be different but the food and presentation must be the same as those that are served at any Sheraton Hotels. So there you are, the best at less than half the price.

Unique interior decoration for MaiCafe.
The chicken dish recconmended by Asmah for Fatthiyah while I dug in my delicious lamb chop in black pepper sauce.
Khairul Syafic is the manager while the younger brother is the assistant. Both are graduates but prefer to be in business rather than be stuck to a 9 to 5 jobs.
For reservations please call the manager Khairul Syafic bin Baharudin at 012-4199772 who incidentally is Puan Asmah’s son together with another brother who chose to work there immediately after their graduation from courses in Accountancy and the other in Business Management.
Cikgu Asmah, thanks for the dinner.
We didn’t have a good rest at the hotel that night. The stiff spring bed didn’t help as the covering material was too thin and we could feel the steel spring on our body. We decided to change hotels the next day.


Anonymous said...

Pak Zawi,

Just let me stay anonymous for a while. Just take me as from the SIS community.
On top of your painting, you shd be writing travel books. Injustice is being done when we have non-Malaysians writing abt our country. Yours ornates our culture. While in Perlis, you shd have stayed at Sri Malaysia Kangar. It's along the road after/before (depending on which road you approach Kangar from the PLUS Highway) the State Legislative building and only 2 months old. So new that the bed bounces you right back after sinking into it (after a tiring walkabout day!!!).

~Covert_Operations'78~ said...

Salam, Abang Zawi. Those are some fascinating photos of Bukit Kayu Hitam, as well as crystals, Muzium Padi, Taman Ular and your esteemed friends. I've heard so much about Bukit Kayu Hitam, but I generally stay away from anything related to shopping. I love pythons, they are very easy to handle and are very affectionate. If I put them on my shoulders, they normally stay there without giving me many problems.

Pak Zawi said...

Anon of SIS,
Would be most pleased to know your identity but I will respect your desire to be anonymous.
Writing about my travels in my blog seems to be sufficient avenue for me to share the joy of my travel. Judging from the many hits from people looking for information about Malaysia, especially about Kelantan shows that what I wrote is of some benefit to the visitor as well as the country. So I will let it be for the moment. Your suggestion is nevertheless noted.
I have had bad experience staying in Seri Malaysia and avoid it like the plague. Maybe being brand new, the one in Kangar is different. When I googled for Hotels in Kangar, somehow I missed Seri Malaysia and was taken to Putra Palace which is beyond the mean of pensioners like me. Maybe I should give Seri Malaysia another try and rewrite the almost indelible remembrance of the past. Anyway I must have missed it because I entered Kangar via the old road from Alor Setar.

Pak Zawi said...

Ee Lynn,
It is not really me that wanna go shopping, its the other half. Anyway it was just window shopping.
later when we were at the summit of Bukit Bendera, Penang, there was a place where you can have yourself photographed with a python slung over your shoulder. My youngest daughter have no qualms about doing the same but I feel squeamish myself and will thus will not touch it. I guess we all could overcome it once we give it a try.

Wan Sharif said...

Time with long lost friends priceless.. you really make time for this post.. ;)

AWANG said...

Pak Zawi.
Seronok betul saya baca entry traveling macam ni..Terima Kasih kerna berkongsi pengalaman yg indah.
Terima Kasih sekali lagi.

Pak Zawi said...

Had to make a long one so that I can shorten the time to write about the whole trip. I feel that there are many things that I want to cover. hope readers will not get bored reading such long posts.

Pak Zawi said...

Kalau Awang seronok membaca, seronokla saya menulis. Kalau ada seorang sahaja sekalipun yang sudi membaca sudah memberi saya perangsang untuk terus menulis cerita mengenai perjalanan saya ini. Yang saya bimbang ialah tak ada orang nak baca. Pengalaman sedemikian adalah sangat indah bagi saya dan saya mahu berkongsi dengan semua kawan.

Pat said...

I always enjoy reading about your travels, Zawi. You have a wonderful style, and it is distinctly local. That is a compliment, btw! ;)

Nice photos, but I could have done without the ones of snakes. Too many painful memories there. They are god's creatures, I know . . . .

Pak Zawi said...

My style? With limited vocabulary, it is the only style I know. Thanks for the compliment.
The snake photos are for Ee Lynn who loves such creatures. I can understand your phobia of snakes as I fear them myself irrespective of whether they are poisonous or not. My career as a plantation manager has put me into unplanned encounters with spitting cobras or of them slithering under strides. Luck has been on my side. one of my staff in Sungai Tiang wasn't as lucky and he was bitten by a branded krait while lying on his bed. Even in your own home you can never know if you are safe from them.

Zuera said...

When are you going to JB dad? A lot of interesting places in Malaysia actually....

Pak Zawi said...

No fixed date yet. All depends on mum, if she gets bored doing nothing, we will just go. I am happy staying at home as I can pat while I am still enthusiastic about it.

chiabh said...

hi zawi...

thanks for the informative write-up on perlis and kedah... i have been to alor setar numerous times for meetings but still had not visited the padi museum... i have always wanted to go to kangar and play putra golf club, it is near the taman ular, i undersatnd... and i read some time ago that there is also a vineyard near kangar... perlis laksa is suppose to be famous in kuala perlis which i visited many many years ago... i will make it a point to visit maicafe for a "sheraton" meal... is khairul's mobile number correct, it has 8-digits instead of the normal 7-digits for maxis numbers... regards... ~chia

Pak Zawi said...

Thanks for pointing out the mistake on the phone number and I have made correction to it. MaiCafe is easy to locate so give their food a try, you will like it. If you are there pls show Khairul my blogsite.
I did see the Kelab Golf Putra near the Taman Ular with a stream running nearby it with many people bathing in it as there was a concreted section of the river made suitable for bathing and swimming. A swimming pool with running water. There was a vineyard near there too but just like the Harumanis mango, it was past the fruiting season so we couldn't try it.
Please visit the Padi museum. The tourism authority is renovating the dilapidated Kampong Traditional Kedah beside the Padi museum which was closed after 6 months of it's opening after spending some RM6 million on the project. The build but not maintain mentality is the normalcy rather than the exception in Malaysia. Maybe the wooden structures was difficult to maintain and the income was way below expectation.