Posts in Travel

A week at the Marina Bay Sands

The first week of June saw me going down to the little island called Singapore for the week. I had the opportunity to stay at the new Marina Bay Sands for the week. My room package came with breakfast and internet access. Everyone was raving about the sky park and infinity pool so obviously I was going to check it out.

My five nights there was a pleasant experience. Room service dinner was great and quick. I love it when you tell them that you have to leave at 10pm and your dinner has to arrive by nine and it’s now 8:45pm and they actually do it. My room was pretty spacious with a nice recliner that a friend of mine who popped in promptly fell asleep within a couple of minutes.

My second night was spent at the Club at the Skypark and I must say few bars ever have such an atmosphere and view. Breakfast and suppers spent at the Rise was also awesome. I must say a couple of things about the Rise at the Lobby of the MBS… it has awesome ice-cream to wrap up your night. I think I must have had like four jars of it. Yes, it comes with a jar and I kept forgetting to take a picture before digging in! The morning coffee is also pretty good. It’s tough to match specialized coffee places that really “love” coffee such as Highlander
which I also visited but the Barista’s at the Rise were able to pull decent shots of espresso for me. No more simple poured coffee that taste stale… breakfast at the Rise in MBS got me started on a couple of espresso shots.

The sky park and infinity pool was also an awesome experience. The somewhat hazy weather was the only dampener. Being the school holidays, it was also a bit more packed but it’s always a good end to a long day with a soak on the roof top pool. Reminded me somewhat of a quaint little hotel I was at in Spain that also had a little roof top pool.

The internet access was also pretty good. The wireless could do with some improvements but I was able to connect all my devices — and yes, I travel with lots of gear. I could viber my lovely wife back home on my iPhone, check email and get some work on via the wired network, catch up on Facebook with my iPad on the bed and video call home on Skype with my MacBook Pro… The wireless access extends to the convention center, shopping mall and the lobby areas so it’s pretty good overall. Speed needs some improvements though. Being Singapore, I expected much faster speeds than Malaysia but it was a bit disappointing to get what I get at home — speeds here averaged about 1mbps.

All in all, there are hotels with better “star” ratings with more luxury but the Marina Bay Sands is a comfortable place to stay with all the lovely amenities and facilities to keep me productive, entertained and relaxed. I think those are hard to match. The Ritz might be glitzier but I love starting my mornings with the iPad and an espresso shot in the sun basked Rise, get work done, and finally ending the day on the sky park pool with the Singapore skyline and a couple of drinks. It’s a pity it was only a week. — I’ll be back, soon.

Unfortunately I didn’t get the city view but it can be considered the “sea view” room!

Legend International Water Homes

Just last week, we wanted to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. Only caveats were that we didn’t want a long drive or bother with flights and international travel. So, on a lark, we decided to head down south. A place I’ve been before but that was ages ago. Port Dickson or more popularly known as PD. According to Wikipedia… This small town used to produce charcoal, but it was later developed as a small port by the British during the Strait Settlement period. Port Dickson was also known as Tanjung. In Malay language that means “cape”. The oldest shophouses were the four situated presently at Jalan Lama. There was also a carbon mine at the first mile of the coast road (Jalan Pantai), and therefore Port Dickson was also called “Arang” (charcoal) in the Malay language.

We head to the newest (as far as I know) hotel development, which was Legend International Water homes. They’re about a year old as of writing so things are still in very good condition. The main attraction of the resort is that each room is built over the sea and comes with a private, open-air swimming pool. The pool isn’t large by any standards (my aunt’s pool in her house is bigger) but it’s comfortable enough to soak five adults if needed 🙂 Since the place is new, the room is still in immaculate condition and everything works nicely. The bed and linen are still plush and soft.

Facilities are still being built so other than the rooms themselves, the pool area and the gardens and playground, there’s no other facility. The archery range is supposed to be ready by end of October though. The sea, is, well, not as blue or pristine as the large oceans, this being the straits of Malacca. It doesn’t smell as bad as it does over at Avillion though. Generally, you have the salty sea tang and that’s about it. The color of the water, being a rather muddy green/blue and the view port in the room to look at the sea generally serves no purpose other than to show you when the tide’s in or out!

Breakfast was so-so. I think the chef’s need more practice and they shouldn’t be calling Ramly burger patties as beef slices. That’s misleading and wrong. The problem about PD is that there’s not much in terms of food and they don’t have the draw of Melaka town or Penang in terms of seafood or choices. The rooms come with a decent size kitchenette equipped with a microwave. I might considering bringing some goodies for dinner next time.

I do plan to return with a family vacation here so, till then, I’ll let my photos do the talking.

The Koloi 4×4 Road

The Kampung Koloi road, at about 18 kilometers, and going from 1300 feet above see level to approximately 4600 feet is usually a challenge for even veteran drivers. It has deep ruts (75 profile tires on 16-inch rims won’t save you here) and drastic drops and sharp turns with deep ravines at the sides. You’ll also encounter steep inclines (and declines) up to 20-plus degrees. At some point, when the mud and ruts end, you’ll have a bit of a rock-crawling adventure that if you’re not careful, you might shred a tire. Landslides also are a threat at all times. Unfortunately, circumstances prevented me from having a professional media crew along for this trip so you’ll end up seeing my iPhone photos and only when I could stop or slow down. Texting or talking on the phone can be done (illegally of course) while you’re driving but NEVER do it when you’re off-road!

And here are some tips when going off the beaten path…

1. Keep your thumbs in the air – right off the steering wheel. Otherwise, if one of your front wheels hits a snag – and it will do of course – your steering wheel will rote at a heck of a lick, and if your thumb is in the way of a rotating spoke or wheel strut, it hurts!

2. Use engine braking to slow your descent down a hill not the brakes. I usually “walk-down” a slope in 1st gear. If the back end starts to slide around then ACCELERATE slightly to re-gain control. If you brake when driving down a hill and a skid develops EASE OFF THE BRAKE. It goes against your instincts but you will gain traction again and therefore be able to steer. Wheels must be turning to be steerable.

3. Don’t fight your steering. When driving through demanding terrain, avoid the tendency to hold the steering wheel in a death grip — let the wheel move around and gently guide the vehicle.

4. Be aware of your vehicles ground clearance and location of its lowest points. Allow wheels to follow their own route inside a deep rut and avoid over steering.

5. Check the water depth before fording a river!

Mountain descent. The angle is steeper than it appears. My angle indicator here reads about 18 degrees!*
Devil’s solo marble or giant hockey game (the log is J-shaped from the other side).
The 180 degree switch back will damage any vehicle with less than 12 inches of running ground clearance!

* The generally acceptable maximum for a highway or road gradient is about 6-7 degrees.

Off-road prepping

{edit: should have been published yesterday morning — got stuck in draft mode}

Like I blogged earlier about 4×4 adventuring for a cause, there’s still a lot of preparation behind the scenes. While as a group, we’ve gone in faith that the Good Lord will never fail us (never did), there are some basic things that will always prove handy when you’re going into the bush. This trip is no different even though the road is one of the more challenging trails. I also carry my spare tire in the truck tray. It makes it easier to get out when you’re stuck in deep ruts or knee deep mud. Not necessarily for use when you have a flat or shredded tire but it can fill up a deep hole or rut you’ve managed to slide into.

Things I always have in my truck when going off the tarmac are listed below. Some may sound silly but you never know if it comes in handy.
1. Hi-lift jack. While a winch helps, this jack will save your ass.
2. Tow-cables (steel). I normally carry two along with a nylon strap for use on trees.
3. Chain saw. Some obstacles require trees. Include extra pre-mixed fuel.
4. Extra fuel and lubricants. Running off-road is not your Sunday afternoon drive.
5. Extra floor mats. Not because you want to keep your car clean, they help on muddy ground.
6. Flashlights. It gets pretty dark in the jungles. I bring 3.
7. Long handle shovel, hand-shovel and fold-able spade. Getting stuck is no fun
8. 2×4 inch wood beams. You never know.
9. In-car phone charger. You may need to call for help!
10. Leather gloves.
11. Leatherman wave tool.
12. Water container. 5 Liters. Engines do overheat.
13. Canvas tarp.
14. GPS units with extra batteries.

Olé! – Spanish bullfight! (blast from the past)

Back in 2001, I had the opportunity to travel to this fantastic country where breakfast would be cerveza (beer) and jamón (dry-cured Spanish ham) and where many restaurants don’t even open for dinner till 8pm.

The story has been recycled and slightly tweaked from a long time write-up posted on my photo-sharing site (webaperture) which I’m closing end of this year. I figured it was a good time again to dig through my old scanned archives, process them a bit differently and in Photoshop CS4 — I was using Photoshop 6.0 then! I shot about 6 rolls of film (gasp!) within the hour-long event. I would have shot more but light levels were dropping and I only had ISO100 left after exhausting all my ISO400 film! Shooting digital, I would have just jacked the ISO up! Film was Kodak Supra 100 and Supra 400 (I later switched to Kodak Portra series). Cameras & Lenses: EOS-30 with 70-200 f/2.8 with 2X teleconverter, resulting in a 140-400 f/5.6 lens and an EOS-50E with a 24-85 f/3.5-4.5 lens. This was before my big shift to transparency film (aka slides) such as Fuji’s super-saturated Velvia 50 and Kodakchromes (along with ekta and elitechromes).

The bull ring at Madrid

The Iberian Peninsula forms a link of sorts between Europe and Africa and that makes it not only an interestingly unique country among Europe but one of the most culturally rich as well. Strategically located, it was invaded and visited by many, the Celts, the Phoenicans, the Greeks, the Romans, the Visigoths, and the Moors. It is also the home of the fierce Iberian bull. This also makes Spain such a historically rich country that one can be really confused where to start. I mean look at the depth of this country’s history and cultural roots. Many consider bullfighting as such an essential part to Spanish machismo. So one day, while we were stuffing ourselves with tapas and beer in Madrid, we decided that we’d watch a bullfight. Bullfighting would be quite an exciting start to our cultural tour of Spain since it is so much a part of Spain that almost everyone you meet will associate it with Spain although some Latin American countries also do it. Famous Spanish painters like Goya or Picasso have glorified it. If you drive around Spain, it’s unlikely that you’d miss these huge billboards in the shape of a bull.

The bull ring at Malaga

Now, don’t get me wrong. Even if you’re against this event, I still think you should go watch one. The problem is, how do you go about watching a bullfight. I mean most Spanish cities have these huge bullfighting stadiums called Bull Rings, all of which probably hearkens back to the decadent days of the Roman Empire where slaves and gladiators fought each other and animals in such arenas. When I approached the first bull ring I saw in Seville, I saw this long winding line of people. What they were queuing up for was never apparent to me despite walking around the entire ring and looking lost. The signs were all in Spanish and I gave up — hey, these were the days before google, mobile internet! Now, you’d just pull up your iPhone and google translate it. Anyways, call me lucky or whatever but it just so happens that my Uncle was posted to Spain as an ambassador. I figure he’d we able to get me some tickets. What’s the use of being an ambassador if you can’t get tickets to a bullfight. Again, I was fortunate to be in Spain in April since the bullfighting seasons starts after Holy Week which ends with Easter Sunday in April and continues until August. Any other time, and it doesn’t matter who you know because you probably won’t get tickets. Anyhow, so I got my tickets.

A good friend of my Uncle’s, who is a true-blooded Spaniard commented:
“The bullfight is the essence of Spanish-ness and it’s good for you to see one.”
His lovely wife, with a not-so-strong-but-you-can-recognize-it welsh accent replied:
“Ghastly. Cruel.”
Obviously, she wasn’t Spanish by birth. He continued:
“It defines Spanish culture and who we are!”
But she wasn’t finished:

Oh well. I have a fight to catch. Click on the Entry to read more…

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A Rancho upgrade

After 125,000km and about about 6% of that something else other than bitumen tarred roads (gravel, sand, kaolin, mud, river beds, rivers, etc), it was time to swap out the factory installed shocks. They’ve grown rather soft and in the case of the rear pair, one side was definitely much softer resulting in a slight tilt. Must be all those crazy teenagers from our Church Youth ministry riding shotgun in the tray, singing, jumping and doing everything they can to fall off while I’m trying to do the opposite. Eight teenagers can weigh quite a bit and you’ve got to throw in 400 kilos of rice and supplies to boot.

Trawled the forums for suggestions but most came down to Rancho‘s. Remember that unlike many 4×4 drivers I see in my daily commute, my truck gets dirty regularly. It’s just so silly to see a 4×4 with solid rear axles, low-ratio 4×4 mode with 18-inch super polished rims and low-profiles. The forums also strongly recommended me to go to Off-road Equipment in Batu Caves. So off I went and a full set of Rancho RS9000XLs got installed in under fifty minutes. Great service, good people and well, I’ll be back for more upgrades later this year!

The RS9000XLs are heavy duty adjustable shocks which seemed like something I would need as an unloaded tray tends to bounce on KL potholes so I figured I can adjust the rear stiffness based on loading. Right now, my front is set to the mid-point which is 5 (it goes from super-soft 1 setting to hard at 9). My unloaded rear is set to 2. I just had them for two days and what a difference it makes to the handling. Ride quality is improved along with reduced bumpiness when the tray’s empty. Overall stickiness to the road’s also better, especially taking corners although I can’t quantify it. Well, the big test in coming in two weeks when we head off for some community service in conjunction with Sanofi-Aventis. The road’s pretty tough but don’t take my word for it — members from the Land Rover owner’s club in Malaysia who went with me once judged the trail at about 4 if following this scale here or about 7 to 8 (depending on wet weather) using this rating scale. Ok, let me go and look at some MT tires…