Back in the rainforest #RWMF2014

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Only  2 days until the acclaimed Rainforest World Music Festival starts again here in #Sarawak.  Malaysian Borneo. The rhythm of the jungle fits well at the foot of the legendary Mount Santubong. For three days an eclectic mix of traditional, fusion and contemporary world music will delight us all I’m sure. Last year I valued the workshops and ethno-musical lectures and jam sessions during the day…. with the main performances in the evenings on the stages.

If you haven’t been make sure you plan on being here in 2015. See my blogs from last year for more info … andcome back here to see what this years treats have been.

http://www.rwmf.net

No shark-fin soup in this five star hotel!

After 11 hours and some 9 thousand kilometres I arrive in Kuala Lumpur, (KL) Malaysia. An express rail link runs from the KLIA airport(s) to KL SENTRAL and for the first time I take it: arriving in the city more ecologically, and faster, than a taxi.  From Sentral I caught the monorail for the last 6 mins to the hotel. The punctual rail system runs to and from the airport every 20 minutes.

My destination was Times Square, well the hotel Berjaya Times Square to be exact: the hotel was hosting me for a night while I took a bike trip in Malaysia’s capital and checked out a couple of other ‘things to do’.

View of the 15th floor pool from my room
View of the 15th floor pool from my west tower room

In the heart of the city, the twin tower building is ideally placed in the entertainment and shopping district of this city. Playing on the ‘times square’ location it embraces the New York theme with Central Park being located on the 15th floor (pool, children’s playground, fitness centre, squash courts, sauna and steam room).

Central Park links the two towers and has great views of the city including the impressive Petronas Twin Towers and is a great place to relax … not that I had much time to enjoy relaxing by the gazebo! However, I did relax with a wonderful relaxing massage on the same level and can recommend the ‘wellness centre’ – Bunga Raya Spa – to rejuvenate your mind and body. I had their signature massage, which the masseuse said combines old traditions with modern elements. It used kneading strokes focusing on muscles and pressure points.

Some facts about this 5-star hotel: 650 rooms and suites with all the usual comforts to be expected at such a hotel.  It’s worth noting they are also well set up for conventions of many sizes too with the Manhattan Ballroom holding 2000. (See their website, above, for more information about convention or conference facilities). As a travel writer I particularly valued the free Wi-Fi to update Facebook and Instagram as I don’t blog while travelling – too busy experiencing.  After many hours in the air, relaxing in the full-size bath was wonderful too. (I recommend either KL, or Malaysian Borneo, as great stopovers on long-haul flights.)

Food-wise they cater to all tastes (American, Western, and Asian) and when I met with staff in the Broadway Lounge for a briefing then tour through the hotel, I tried their signature drink: Berjaya Kool. This was a refreshing drink of rose syrup, lemon grass, sugar syrup and sour red plum. The glass was rimmed with a granulated powder that I recognised but couldn’t place … it was the sour red plum and I just loved it. Try it!

Berjaya Kool
Berjaya Kool

I ate in three of the hotel’s restaurants: fine dining in Samplings on the Fourteenth, local and western food for lunch and breakfast in The Big Apple, and breakfast in a smaller restaurant which I believe was just for people on the club floor where my room was.  All were impeccable.

As well as their excellent amenities, another bonus is that the hotel’s attached to 900-retail shops in the Berjaya Times Square Shopping (BTS) Mall –which is also home to movie theatres, bowling alley, and for adrenaline junkies, 14 rides at the BTS Theme Park. As I’m a wimp of the first order, and rides with names like Space Attack, Dizzy Izzy, and the Haunted Chamber,  I did not ride any of them! If you have, or do, please leave comments below so others know what they’re like.

One of the many things I liked about the Berjaya were  cards I saw that said (in part) that they will not serve shark-fin soup in their restaurants, a company wide policy made some years ago. It also says “Because sharks are at the top of the marine food web they serve a vital purpose to maintain the precious balance of species in the sea.”

By-the-way: I enjoyed my hosted stay at Berjaya so much I paid for, and stayed, another night – sort of says it all doesn’t it!

Check out some of the food options – and their award-wining Thai Chef, one of  their many specialist chefs.

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Go ride a bike!

I’ve taken bike rides in Laos, Cambodia, Christchurch, NZ; and Bangkok, Thailand – sometimes as a  guided day tour, mostly just hiring or borrowing bikes and doing my own thing. I’ve now also taken a bike tour in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and despite being caught in a tropical downpour it was fun. I’d not been on a bike for sometime so my nether regions where very aware of the saddle by the end of my time:)

As a guest of KL tourism I had a guide to myself, but groups of travellers can also have a guide – if booked beforehand – or you can just grab a map and enjoy the day stopping and  starting as it suits – which is ideal especially for photographers – and of course it’s quick getting from place to places. The bikes have baskets (on the ‘women’s’ bikes) and a bell to warn pedestrians of your approach.

Many of the connections between footpaths and roads need you to get off as footpaths are often raised – I believe the council is looking at smoothing the way where possible. It was not a car-free time when I took the tour, but my guide was very aware of the traffic and car-drivers seemed considerate of us. I enjoyed the garden area in particular as it was mostly vehicle-free.

Beginning and ending at Merdeka Square, with bike route signs along  the way,  the  ride showcased some of the city’s attractions such as the Perdana Botanical Park, KL Bird Park, the National Mosque, Merdeka Square and a number of other monuments and museums.


use IMG_0248Mederka Square
 is full of  historical sites and I believe you could spend a day here alone. It has buildings which date from the late 1800s This was where the British flag was lowered in 1957 and the Malayan flag raised for the first time – signalling the end of British rule and the beginning of  the country being a sovereign nation member of the Commonwealth.

Before the ride I visited the interesting, and free, Kuala Lumpur City Gallery (just opposite the bike hire place and home to ARCH ) which is a beautiful Mogul-India inspired building and the amazing miniature model of the city certainly helps get your bearings.

Cycling is being promoted by the city council to encourage visitors and residents to explore this captivating city. In January, Mayor Datuk Seri Ahmad Phesal Talib led more than 300 cyclists along closed public roads to give them a taste of what they could enjoy under their own steam. The ride followed the launch of “Kuala Lumpur by Cycle” in February last year (2013) and now KL has monthly Car-Free Days during which 6 kilometres  city roads are closed to traffic for two hours on the first Sunday of every month. A cycling track on roads along the Gombak River is also planned so watch for more cycle routes.

“This is a very imaginative idea,” says Zalina Ahmad, director of Tourism Malaysia in New Zealand. “Cycling is a healthy and environmentally friendly way to get around and this will give people the opportunity to explore KL. Cycling is one of the best ways to get to know a city.”

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So if you are eco-friendly or just want an enjoyable way to get around this often ignored city go ride a bike and visit KLs oldest parks and heritage buildings. Just remember no matter the season, in Asia make sure you have sunblock, umbrellas and waterproof gear in your bag at all times – and a plastic bag for your camera!

Other great ways to explore this city are:

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Horse and Carriage ride

FREE Dataran Mederka Heritage Guided Tour (Mon, Wed, Sat)

FREE Little India Walking Guided Tour (Saturday)

And, soon I’ll bog about my day of travel on the jump on jump off bus 

While in KL I stayed at the Berjaya Times Square hotel … Read about my experiences there and the Theme Park

Malaysia Airlines’ has daily flights from Kuala Lumpur to Auckland (and every other part of the world)  For information about visiting Malaysia  – and do a search in my Malaysia category on this blog page for many more stories about my favourite Asian country.

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ANZAC Day In Malaysia.

I had not realised ANZAC DAY is observed in Malaysia. One site it will happen at is the Sandakan Memorial Park  where i attended the 2013 Memorial Day  event .. remembering the men who died on the death marches there – more deaths than any other such ‘march’.

More history I wasn’t aware of, perhaps as no New Zealanders were in involved, (unless they were in the British Army which was captured in Singapore and this is not known) was the Sandakan Death Marches – a series of forced marches in Borneo from Sandakan to Ranau.

I also learn in 1942 and 1943, Australian and British POWs, captured by Japan during the Battle of Singapore in 1942 were shipped to North Borneo to build a military airstrip and their own prisoner-of-war camps at Sandakan. As on the well-known Burma Death Railway, prisoners were forced to work, were often beaten and got very little food or medical attention. By the end of the war only five Australians, and one British soldiers survived, all of whom had escaped. It’s widely considered to be the single worst atrocity suffered by Australian servicemen during the Second World War and many Australians attend this emotional day and follow ‘in the footsteps of heroes.’

ANZAC DAY is commemorated with dawn services on 25th April annually. The initials mean  Australian and New Zealand Army Corps which was formed in Egypt and fought in Gallipoli. Nowadays the term has come to mean all New Zealanders & Australian defence personnel. There is a call in NZ to include the men and women who fought on both side in the 1800 NZ Land Wars.

 

Sandakan Memorial Service
Sandakan Memorial Service 15th August 2013

It’s all about jazz! Borneo Jazz Festival

Shortly I’m off to my favourite Asian country – Malaysia – in time to be at the Borneo Jazz Festival (9/11 May) in Miri, Sarawak. (Staying at the Park City Everly Hotel)

The Borneo Jazz Festival was suggested around 2006 as a way to  increase visitor arrivals to Miri and the northern region of Sarawak. I’m expecting a fun-filled and entertaining musical experience while also exploring Miri – I have only had 2 days there and as I had a cold I didn’t get to explore as I would usually. I’m also looking forward to Sarawak Laksa for breakfast!

All About Jazz  said “The Miri International Jazz Festival [now called the Borneo Jazz Festival] in Sarawak province Malaysia, on the island of Borneo, can lay claim to being the only jazz festival on the South China Sea. A long line of tankers and cargo ships stretches across the horizon like buttons sewn on a vast blue cloth and attests to Miri’s century-old history as an oil town. Located in the lush grounds of the Park City Everly Hotel, the stage facing the sea was the scene for two days of music, drawing artists from Thailand, Indonesia, the USA, Brazil, Holland and Switzerland. Now in its fifth year, the festival is the cultural jewel in the crown of the Sarawak Tourism Board, whose stated aim is to use the festival as a magnet to draw tourists to the province.” Read more on the All About Jazz website.)

Miri is the birthplace of Malaysia’s petroleum industry – oil was discovered in the early 1900s – and it remains the major industry of this city. With a population around 300,000 people, it is also a resort city and is near to the Sultanate of Brunei and Sabah.

The city is surrounded by four world-class national parks which is Gunung Mulu National Park (UNESCO World Heritage Site, home to the world’s largest caves), Niah National Park (Historical and archaeological site), Lambir Hills National Park (diverse species of flora and fauna) and Loagan Bunut National Park (largest natural lake) – I hope to see at least one of them!

Jazz lovers from around the world will no doubt have a great time enjoying renowned jazz performances by the international jazz artistes and here are some of the performers:

Among the bands that will be performing will be Iriao, the eight-piece ethno-jazz band from Georgia. Iriao’s repertoire is based on Georgian authentic folk instrumental and polyphonic music, which has been recognised by UNESCO as being a masterpiece of oral immaterial heritage. However the band is not aiming to modernize the unique polyphonic Georgian music but to saturate and adorn it with Jazz elements. This is the first time that a Georgian band will be performing at the Borneo Jazz.

Another interesting line-up is Vocal Sampling, an all-male a cappella musical group from Cuba who are expected to be a hit at this year’s festival as they are a well-known band and crowd pleaser. Their album “Cambio de Tiempo” was nominated for 3 Latin Grammy Awards.

Other favourite Jazz bands listed for this years’ event will be Brassballett from Germany – the first and only show worldwide where musicians are dancers at the same time. They will perform a choreographed show on stage whilst playing their instruments.  Mario Canonge – a great virtuoso and showman playing creole jazz with West Indies rhythms from Martinique/France. YK Band from Indonesia who will feature Jazz with hints of Borneo flavour. Anthony Strong – hailed as “England’s new jazz superstar” from UK. He became No 1 on iTunes and No 2 jazz charts in the USA.

Local artist Diana Liu, the Sarawakian born artist plays pop, jazz, bossa nova, gospel and funk/soul and will represent Malaysia.

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Will you be part of the crowd this year?

 

Magical Malaysia – top diving and fishing spots.

The only place I have ever scuba dived was on Pulau Perhentian (off the coast near Kota Bharu) and I was not surprised last night when it was described as having ‘breathtaking beauty and superb underwater attractions”. I’ve stayed on both Besar and Kecil islands and know even snorkelling right off the beach is magical with great corals and fish to see: I’ve even seen a sea snake and turtles as well as experiencing a late monsoon storm which was exhilarating!

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Pulau Besar

 

At the event, for Visit Malaysia 2014, at the Crab Shack on Wellington’s wonderful waterfront was to introduce kiwis to the fishing and diving in Malaysia. I also heard briefly about a Shoe Festival that I need to know more about!

But back to Malaysia’s diverse fishing experiences. (Appears they have lots of fishing comps too)

It seems Malaysia has world-class game (sea) fishing as well as freshwater fishing in both lakes and rivers.  The freshwater catch include things like ‘giant snakehead’ which can be ferocious and fearless, and a catfish which is seems can swallow a monkey for dinner!

The deep-sea fishing includes the Black Marlin which they encourage people to catch and release. There’s also blue marlin, yellow fin tuna, various snappers and trevallies, and one called a Whoo which is reputed to be the fastest fish in the sea.

Sounds like for you fishers that there’s something for you all. As for me I’ll just frequent the fish markets and eat there – try the stalls at Kota Kinabalu where you pick your fish and they’ll cook it for you – yum yum yummy!

Talking about food … the food at the Crab Shack was fabulous too.

Cycling in KL … spinning your wheels by night or day!

FANCY SPINNING YOUR WHEELS BY MOONLIGHT?

I’ve taken bike rides in Laos, Cambodia and Thailand – some as a day tour, mostly just hiring or borrowing a bike and doing my own thing. this is one I’d like to do too.

Night cycling around Kuala Lumpur is being promoted by the council to encourage visitors and residents to explore this captivating city. In January, Mayor Datuk Seri Ahmad Phesal Talib led more than 300 cyclists on a 5.4km route along closed public roads around KL to give them a taste of what they could enjoy under their own steam.

Starting and ending at Merdeka Square, the 45-minute night ride showcased some of the city’s attractions such as the Perdana Botanical Park, KL Bird Park, the National Mosque, Merdeka Square and a number of other monuments and museums.

The night ride follows the launch of “Kuala Lumpur by Cycle” in February last year and KL’s first Car-Free Day recently. Under the programme, a 6km stretch of city roads will be closed to traffic for two hours on the first Sunday of every month. A cycling track on roads along the Gombak River is also planned.

“This is a very imaginative idea,” says Zalina Ahmad, director of Tourism Malaysia in New Zealand. “Cycling is a healthy and environmentally friendly way to get around and this will give people the opportunity to explore KL at night, without the bustling crowds the city attracts during the day. Cycling is one of the best ways to get to know a city and fewer cars on the roads is better for everyone.”

And, of course, you can do it all again in the daylight for a totally different but no less magical experience!

Malaysia Airlines’ introduction of daily flights from Kuala Lumpur to Auckland in March will make it even easier to get to Malaysia and start exploring.

For information about visiting Malaysia go to http://www.tourism.gov.my/en/intl and do a search in my Malaysia category on the this blog page for many more stories about the country.