Kuala Lumpur: New Year’s Day

Upon our return to our hotel from our Melaka trip, we decided to rest a bit. It was now just a few hours before New Year’s Eve, our first outside home and country, and we asked around at the front desk on where to spend our countdown party.  They suggested watching the free, spectacular fireworks displays at either the Merdeka Square (Dataran Merdeka) or the Petronas Towers.  We opted for the latter.

The Last Dinner of the Year at Sushi Tei (Pavilion Mall)

Before anything else, we still have to take our dinner so we all walked to Pavilion Mall along Jalan Bukit Bintang and dined on Japanese cuisine at Sushi Tei.  Here, we were surprised to find out that our waiters were Filipinas.  One was already a supervisor.

Waiting for the New Year at Petronas Towers

After dinner, we returned to our hotel to change clothes and decided to start our long walk all the way to Petronas Tower.  Others were doing the same. The numerous pubs we passed by were also filled with countdown revelers.  When we arrived at the park in front of the iconic Petronas Towers, it was already packed full with local residents and foreign tourists.

The Brightly-Lit Petronas Twin Towers

At the stroke of midnight, the street party started, with kisses, hugs, greetings and shouts of “Happy New Year!,” just as spectacular fireworks started to lit up, coloring the sky near the brightly-lit, landmark towers, Mandarin Hotel and the other buildings around us. The show was over when the fireworks stopped. There were no crackling and exploding firecrackers like in Manila, just horns and merriment in the streets.  What a unique way to start the New Year.

The Spectacular Fireworks Show

Sushi Tei: Level 1, Pavilion Kuala Lumpur, 168 Jalan Bukit Bintang, 55100 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Tel: +603 2141 4640. Fax: +603 2141 466.

Melaka: Jonker Street

The last leg of our walking tour, prior to our return to our tourist bus waiting for us at the Tamil Methodist Church, was all shopping at the narrow but busy Jonker Street (Jalan Hang Jebat). From Stadthuys, we crossed a bridge over the Melaka River to get there. The Melaka River is now canalized to resemble an Amsterdam (Netherlands) canal, with a popular river cruise service running along the river.

Melaka River

Once the rich man’s street, Jonker Street is famous for its more than 15 antique shops (antique furniture, Chinese porcelain, brassware, cast iron beds, lamps, etc.).  Also along this street are cafes (Hai Nan coffee, Nyonya cuisine, beer, etc.), several art galleries,  mini-markets and souvenir shops among others. Souvenirs sold here include items made in Melaka, China and other Asian countries (Thai puppets, Balinese masks, etc).

Jonker Street

Local food stalls sell local delicacies such as cendol (a cold mixture of coconut milk, brown syrup made from the local gula melaka, and shaved ice), laksa (spicy noodle soup), durian puffs, grapes-dipped in chocolate, caramel encrusted kiwis. kaya (a spread made from coconut) filled waffles, etc. The festively-decorated Restoran Famosa, occupying a century-old former goldsmith shop, specializes in dishes served with unique chicken rice balls, actually Hainanese Chicken Rice in the form of golf ball-sized, sticky rice balls cooked in butter and ginger.

Restoran Famosa

Pedestrians here share the same road with passing vehicles and trishaws during daytime but, during weekend night markets (6 PM-12 midnight, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays), the road is closed to traffic and its atmosphere turns carnival-like.

Jonkers Street

A living proof of Melaka’s rich Baba-Nyonya heritage, its buildings are immaculately constructed with elaborate carvings on its pillars and walls.  Also along this street is the Hokkien Huay Kuan, a well-preserved clan house. Its front porch has a pair of symmetrical pillars with dragon relief.  Beyond it are a striking set of door and wall panels with intricate carvings and bold colors. Two rows of Chinese characters frame the entrance door.

Hokkien Huay Kuan (Clan House)

Restoran Famosa Chicken Rice Ball: No. 28-30, Jalan Hang Kasturi, off Jonker Street, 75200 Melaka, Malaysia. Tel: 06-286 0120. Website: www.chickenriceball.com

Melaka: Dutch Square

From the ruins of the Church of St. Paul, we went down St. Paul’s Hill, to picturesque and postcard pretty Dutch Square (also called Red Square).  Along the way, we passed the Democratic Government Museum (Muzium Pemerintahan Demokrasi), formerly Melaka’s State Legislative Assembly building.

Democratic Government Museum

At the square, the port-red theme (originally painted as white, it was repainted as such in 1911) predominates with the buildings around the square as well as the Tang Beng Swee Clock Tower (also called the Red Clock Tower, it  was erected in 1886 to honor the generous Chinese tycoon Tan Beng Swee).

Tang Beng Swee Clock Tower

The massive Stadthuys, built between 1641 and 1660, is a reproduction of the former Stadhuis (town hall) of the Frisian town of Hoorn in the Netherlands which existed from 1420 until 1796.  This building was the official residence of the Dutch governor and his deputy.  Believed to be the oldest Dutch building in the East, this preserved example of original Dutch architecture has solid doors and louvered windows. Now the Museum of History and Ethnography (converted as such in 1982), it exhibits traditional wedding clothes and artifacts of Melaka, dating back to its days of glory.

Nearby is Christ Church, the oldest functioning Protestant church in Malaysia.  Built in 1753, in the Dutch Colonial architectural style, as the Bovenkerk (High Church), the main parish church of the Dutch Reformed community, it was re-consecrated in 1838 with the rites of the Church of England and renamed Christ Church. After the British takeover of Malacca, its original Dutch windows were reduced and ornamented.  The porch and vestry were built only in the mid-19th century.

Christ Church

This church, measuring 25 m. (82 ft.) by 13 m. (42 ft.), has a roof  covered with Dutch tiles, walls of brickbuilt on local lateriteblocks then coated with Chinese plaster, and floors paved with granite blocks originally used as ballast for merchant ships.  Inside are hand-crafted church benches, joint-less ceiling skylights, a copper replica of the Bible, a headstone written in the Armenian language and a replica of “Last Supper” made with glazed tiles and located over the altar.  Its 12 m. (40 ft.) high ceiling has 15 m. long beams made from a single tree.

Christ Church – Interior

Between the two buildings, right in the middle of Dutch Square, is the Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee Fountain, probably one of a few functioning colonial water fountains in Malaysia. Erected in 1904 with English marble, it commemorates the queen’s 60th anniversary (Diamond Jubilee) on the British throne.

Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee Fountain

The Malaysia Youth Museum & Art Gallery (Balai Senilukis Melaka), between Christ Church and Laksamana Road, was built in 1784 as the Dutch Administrative Complex. In 1826, it was converted into the Malacca Free School and, in the 1920s, was renovated to be a 2-storey building to be later used as a post office before conversion into a museum.

Malaysia Youth Museum & Art Gallery

Melaka: Church of St. Paul Ruins

From Fort A’Famosa and Porta da Santiago, we next hiked up a steep, 110-step paved stairway to the summit of St. Paul Hill (formerly called Malacca Hill) where the roofless ruins of St. Paul’s Church can be found.

The Stairway Up St. Paul Hill

Built by Portuguese Capt. Duarte Coelho in 1521, it was formerly called the Chapel of Madre de Deus (Mother of God) and Nossa Senhora do Oiteiro (“Our Lady of the Hill”).  The Portuguese enlarged the chapel in 1556, adding a second storey to it. Further renovation was carried out in 1590 with the addition of a tower.  A burial vault was opened in 1592 and many people of distinction were buried there, including Pedro Martins, the second Bishop of Funay (Japan).

St. Paul Church Ruins

The body of St. Francis Xavier, a missionary who came to Melaka in 1545, was temporarily interred here in 1553 before it was taken to Goa (India) after 9 months. In front of the church stands a huge, pearl-white statue of the saint, erected in 1952 in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of his sojourn in Malacca. A day after the statue was consecrated, a large casuarina tree fell on it, breaking off its right arm (incidentally, the right forearm of Xavier was detached in 1614 as a relic).  His now empty open grave, now covered by a wire mesh, marks the place of Francis’ temporary burial.

Statue of St. Francis Xavier

When the Dutch wrestled Malacca from the Portuguese in 1641, they took over the church, repaired it and reconsecrated it into a Dutch Reformed Church, calling it St. Paul’s Church, a name which remains today. It was used this way for the next 112 years, until it was abandoned in 1753 after the Dutch built their own church at the foot of the hill, Christ Church.

St. Paul Church Ruins – Interior

When the British took over Melaka in 1824, St. Paul’s Church had lost its tower. The British added a lighthouse in front of it and used the church as convenient storehouse for gunpowder. Today, several old monumental Dutch and Portuguese tombstones, with Dutch and Portuguese words engraved on it, can be seen leaning against the strong brick walls of the church.

Old Tombstones Along the Brick Walls

Melaka: Fort A’Famosa

After our tour of Bukit China, we proceeded to Restoran Keng Doma for a filling 5-course lunch. Afterward, our bus next brought our group to  Fort A’Famosa (“famous” in Portuguese), among the oldest surviving European architectural remains in Asia.  From here, it was to be all hiking. Trishaws, pedicabs decorated with bright plastic flowers and blasting pop music from speakers, are a common sight here.

Fort A’Famosa

Constructed by the Portuguese in 1511, the fort encircles the base of St. Paul’s hill. It once consisted of long ramparts  and 4 major towers. One was a 4-storey keep while the others held an ammunition storage room, the Captain’s residence and an officers’ quarters. Most of the village clustered in town houses inside the fortress walls. As Malacca’s population expanded it outgrew the original fort and extensions were added around 1586.

Porta de Santiago

In 1641, the fort suffered severe structural damage during the Dutch invasion that successfully drove the Portuguese out of Malacca. In 1670, the Dutch renovated the gate (which explains the logo “ANNO 1670”  inscribed on the gate’s arch). Above the arch is a bas-relief logo the coat-of-arms of the Dutch East India Company.

The Coat-of-Arms of the Dutch East India Company

In the early 19th century, the fortress changed hands again when the Dutch handed it over to the British to prevent it from falling into the hands of the French. The English, wary of maintaining the fort, ordered its destruction in 1806, almost totally demolishing it. In 1808, Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore and a lover of history, intervened, on its behalf. Its small gate house, Porta de Santiago, is all that remains.In front of the gate are some old cannon.

Cannon in Front of Porta de Santiago

Around the area are a number of museums, all part of the Malaccan Museums Complex.  The Memorial Pengistiharan Kemerdekaan (Proclamation of Independence Memorial), located nearby, was the former club house of Melaka Club built in 1912.  Established in 1985, it now houses invaluable exhibits of the country’s proclamation of independence on August 31, 1957 as well memorabilia and records related to the early history of the Malay Sultanate and the development of modern Malaysia.

Memorial Pengistiharan Kemerdekaan (Proclamation of Independence Memorial))

Proclamation of Independence Memorial: Kompleks Pelancongan, Bukit St.Paul, Melaka, Malaysia. Tel:+606 284 1231.  Fax:+606 282 9730

Melaka: Bukit China

From St. Peter’s Church, our tourist bus proceeded next to Bukit China (“Chinese Hill”). Bukit China is believed to be the largest Chinese cemetery outside China, filled with 5,000 to 12,000 small and big graves with many tombs dating back to the Ming Dynasty.

Chinese Cemetery at Bukit China

During the peak of the Malacca Sultanate, the Chinese Emperor gifted Sultan Mansur Shah with a princess named Hang Li Poh, the great granddaughter of the Yongle Emperor, the third emperor of the Ming Dynasty. Her vast entourage of 500 sons of ministers and a few hundred handmaidens settled here.

Poh San Teng Temple

At the southwestern foot of Bukit China is beautiful Poh San Teng Temple (translated as “Precious Hill”), built in 1795 by her ancestor Chua Su Cheong. The temple is dedicated to Tua Pek Kong (also called Fu De Zheng Shen), the guardian deity of the land and of the 12,500 graves on the nearby Bukit China. Because of its other name San Poh Kong Temple, it is often incorrectly assumed that the temple is associated with Admiral Cheng Ho (Zheng He), a Ming-dynasty navigator. In fact, there is no evidence of Cheng Ho’s involvement in the history of the temple.

Founding Stelae

An inscription on a stela commemorating the founding of the temple reads: “Bukit China is the place where early traders from China were buried. Many Chinese traders came to this country with high expectations of success. Sadly, some died before fulfilling their dreams. Without a family with them, there was no one to pray for their souls. As such, the Chinese Kapitans initiated prayers on their behalf. However, these were always hampered by strong winds and heavy rainfalls because there was no proper shelter. So in 1795, after Chua Su Cheong had been appointed the Chinese Kapitan, he looked into this problem faced by the community and initiated the building of a temple at the foot of Bukit China, to ensure that the prayers for those buried in Bukit China would not be interrupted.”

Perigi Rajah (King’s Well)

Hang Li Poh’s followers also built, adjacent to the temple’s entrance, a well in 1459 that is said to have never dried up, even during droughts. Called Perigi Rajah (“King’s Well”) or Hang Li Poh’s Well, it is believed to be the oldest existing well in Malaysia and was the main source of fresh water for the city from the 15th century onward. The well was later poisoned by the Sultan of Malacca causing the death of 200 Portuguese soldiers. This was repeated in 1606 by the Dutch and in 1628 by the Acheenese.  Today, the well was turned into a wishing well and many believe those who toss coins into the well will return again to Melaka.

Melaka: St. Peter’s Church

After breakfast at the hotel, we proceeded to the hotel lobby where a coach was waiting for us at the driveway.  Once on board, we were brought to the Pusat Jualan Kraf (Craft Sales Center) where we paid up for our Melaka day tour.  We then transferred to a bigger tourist bus.

Pusat Jualan Kraf – Craft Sales Center

The trip to Melaka took just a little over 2 hours to cover the 148-km.  distance from Kuala Lumpur to the city.  First on our itinerary was St. Peter’s Church, built in 1710 (after religious freedom was proclaimed by the Dutch over Malacca in 1702), during the period of Dutch rule, by descendants of the original Portuguese colonists (including descendants of the 600 men that Alfonso d’Albuquerque brought ashore after his conquest of Melaka) on a piece of land donated by Dutch Catholic convert Maryber Franz Amboer.  At the time this area was outside the core city of Melaka.

St. Peter’s Church

The oldest operational Roman Catholic church in Malaysia, its facade (bearing a rosary monogram) and decorative embellishment is a mix of both Eastern and Western architecture.

Interior of St. Peter’s Church

The oldest item in the church is the bell, manufactured by Pedro Dias Bocarro in Goa in 1608 and salvaged from an earlier church burned down by the Dutch during their 1641 occupation.  The bell is inscribed with the words of the Annunciation “Ave Maria Gratia Plena Dominus Tecum Beneducta Tu In Mulieribus Sancta Maria (Hail Mary, Full of Grace, The Lord is With Thee, Blessed are Thou Among Women. Holy Mary).

Wisma St. Peter

The church also has a one-of-a-king, life-size alabaster statue of the “Lord Before The Resurrection.”  The Chapel of Senhor Morto (Christ in the Tomb) is located on the left hand side of the main church, close to the sanctuary. Also within the church compound is the Wisma St. Peter (a multipurpose building built in 2004)

St. Peter’s Church: Gereja St. Peter, 166 Jalan Bendahara, Bandar Melaka, 75100 Melaka, Malaysia. Tel: +60 6 282 2950. Fax: +60 6-2841010.

Genting Highlands

We arrived at the resort by lunch time and our van driver dropped us off at the First World Hotel which, in 2006, was listed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest hotel with its total of 6,118 rooms.  The resort has three theme parks – the Genting Outdoor Theme Park (set around an artificial lake), the First World Indoor Theme Park (arcade games and children’s rides) and the Water Park.

The Outdoor Theme Park

Among its 20 signature attractions are the Flying Coaster (a hang-gliding roller coaster), the Corkscrew (the only double-loop roller coaster in Malaysia, it speeds and spins up to a height of 90 ft. above the ground), the Genting Sky Venture (Asia’s only free-fall skydiving simulator), the Haunted House, the Ripley’s Believe It or Not!Museum, Solera Space Shot (a rapid vertical ascent and descent open-air amusement ride) and SnowWorld.

Snow World

We all tried the last mentioned attraction, donning thick winter jackets and gloves as we tried to last 30 mins. in this 6 degrees below zero winter wonderland. We only lasted 15 but within that time we went tobogganing and bravely ate ice cream before calling it quits.

Genting Skyway

Another welcome treat was our spectacular 3.38 km. (2 mile) cable car ride on board the relaxing Genting Skyway which, at its opening on February 21, 1997, was recognized as the “World’s Fastest Mono Cable Car System” (with a maximum speed of 6 m. per second or 21.6 kms. per hour) and the “Longest Cable Car in Malaysia and Southeast Asia.” Open 24 hours, our gondola lift ride took all of 11 mins. as we glided above a blanket of montane vegetation at its lush rain forest.

First World Hotel

Coffee and pastries at First World Hotel’s Starbucks outlet, prior to our being picked up by our tourist van and return to Kuala Lumpur, capped this cool, fun-filled day.

Genting Highlands: Chin Swee Caves Temple

After our long stopover at Batu Caves, we returned to our van and continue along the ascending road up to Genting Highlands. Along the way, we made a toilet stopover at the mist-shrouded Chin Swee Caves Temple. Cheska and I decided to make a short 15-min. tour of the temple, wrapping ourselves in our jackets as it was very cold outside.

Chin Swee Caves Temple

This 28-acre Taoist temple was built from 1976 to 1994 (at a cost of RM12 million) by the late Genting Berhad founder and gambling magnate Tan Sri Dato’ Seri Lim Goh Tong.  He discovered this serene site (similar to the Chin Swee Crag back in Penglai Village, where Tan Sri Lim was born in Fujian, China) when he started building the first hotel in Genting Highlands.  Taking 18 years to complete, it was officially opened on March 29, 1994.

Nine-Color Dragon Wall of Luck

Just after the entrance gate is the Nine-Color Dragon Wall of Luck.  It has 9 dragons, in different dispositions and shades of colors, painted on the wall.  In Feng Shui, 9 dragons represent longevity. Each dragon, representing different kinds of luck, can bestow blessings on people and symbolized good fortune, vitality and strength.

Statue of Kuan Yin

The sprawling temple complex, surrounded by lush emerald green jungle, has huge statues of a serenely sitting Buddha and a standing Kuan Yin and a smaller statue of the standing Tan Sri Lim Goh Tong.

The 9-Storey Pagoda

The 9-storey pagoda, overlooks the 5-storey, ornately decorated Buddhist Temple, is decorated with thousands of Buddhas covering the entire inner wall, from the ground floor to the top. There are thousands of “blessing lamps” for temple devotees to dedicate to those they want blessed by the Buddha.

The 5-Storey Buddha Temple

The aptly named Sky Terrace (Place for Heavenly Offering), a large, 35,000 sq. ft. square at the base of the statue of Kuan Yin, has an excellent panoramic view of the cloud-sheathed valley below and the layers of hills beyond from its observation deck.

View of the Cloud-Sheathed Valley Below

How to Get There: The temple is accessible by shuttle buses from Genting Highlands Resort or by taking the Awana Skyway cable car to the Temple Station at the bottom of the hill.

Selangor: Batu Caves

From the Royal Selangor Pewter Factory, we returned to our van and moved on to nearby Batu Caves, a series of caves and cave temples within a limestone hill. One of the most popular Hindu shrines outside India, the caves, discovered in 1892, are located 13 kms. (7 miles) from Kuala Lumpur.

Lord Murugan Statue

Outside the main cave is the world’s tallest statue of Lord Murugan (a Hindu deity for whom the temple is dedicated), standing at 42.7 m. (140.09 ft.) high. Costing nearly 24 million rupees, it is made of 1,550 cu. m. of concrete, 250 tons of steel bars and 300 liters (800 gallons) of gold paint brought in from neighboring Thailand.

The Magnificent but Quite Steep, 272-step Stairway

Me, Grace and my kids Jandy and Cheska all gamely climbed the magnificent but quite steep 272 steps (luckily there were landings along the way where we can catch our breath and admire the view at the same time) leading up to the 100 m. high and 400 m. long Cathedral Cave (or Temple Cave), the main cave (there are 2 others) where the Murugan Temple is located.  The huge chamber is lighted by daylight from several holes in the ceiling.

Cathedral Cave (or Temple Cave)

Along the steps and within the cave are numerous, naughty, playful and sometimes aggressive long-tailed macaque monkeys. The temple is the focal point of the colorful Thaipusam (on a full moon day between January 15 and February 14), the annual Hindu festival of repentance.

Lord Murugan Temple

Batu Caves: Gombak District, Selangor, Malaysia.  Tel:  +60 3 2287 9422.

How to Get There: The easiest way to get to Batu Caves is by Komuter train (RM2.00, one way) from KL Sentral station. You can also take a taxi (RM20.00-25.00) from KL Sentral, the Bus 11/11d from Bangkok Bank Terminus (Near to Pudu Raya Terminus) or Bus U6 from Titiwangsa.