Monday, January 4, 2010

Port Dickson: New Year BBQ at Duta Hacienda/Palm Springs Resort

We had planned to have a BBQ trip to Port Dickson for quite some time now, and what better time to do it than on the dawn of the New Year? ;) Well, not exactly on the primordial dawn of January 1st, 2010, as I was still trying to gather enough sleep from the last night partying but rather on the night of January 2nd, 2010 instead. :) Due to logistical reasons however, we had to split our party of 15 people (++) into a number of groups, arriving at our 'home' away from home in Port Dickson's Duta Hacienda/Palm Springs Resort at various times throughout the day. Wei Han had suggested for an advance 'recon' party to reach Port Dickson in the morning so that they can secure the room, check out the facilities and advise the forthcoming teams of what items to bring to ensure the BBQ is completely equipped! The morning of January 2nd, 2010 witnessed the assemblage of a small posse of 4 people at my home in Bandar Puteri, Klang, the 'advance' party to Port Dickson consisting of Wei Han, Cheah, Kam Keong and myself. We should have had 5 people if not for the 'continuation of the new year party' the night before (which I didn't attend), that apparently floored Eric and rendered him 'comatose' on his cozy bed.

Why Klang? Well, our travel plan was to head out to Port Dickson using the old coastal road, passing through Teluk Panglima Garang-Morib-Banting-Sepang-Lukut. It has been a long time since I used this road (or gone to Port Dickson for that matter) but judging by the extensive upgrading of the road to a dual carriage system, travelling time should not be more than 2 hours. But before the 'scouts' set out to do their recon work, they have to pay 'home-age' to something uniquely 'Klang' first, none other than to our famous landmark dish, BAK KUT TEH. :D Bringing forth my can of Jasmine Tea, we went over to Yap Eng Bak Kut Teh, a shop located about 10 minutes away along Jalan Sungai Jati, between Taman Sentosa and the roadabout to Jalan Kebun, Kampung Jawa and Shah Alam.
Taman Sentosa's famous Dry Bak Kut Teh! Mmmmm... :D

Ordering 2 servings of normal claypot soup Bak Kut Teh and 2 servings of exotic 'dry' Bak Kut Teh, we chowed down, accompanying our meal with 'yau char kueh' and generous doses of tea to 'wash down the fat'. ;) During breakfast, Wei Han was so kind enough to regale us on the tale of how the 'dry' Bak Kut Teh was first invented some years back. Apparently some young guy in Puchong won a 'King of Bak Kut Teh' competition by 'inventing' the dish and resulting in the propogation of his 'lore' throughout the land for the benefit of us mere mortals. ;) With our bellies full (if Cheah even had a belly), we commenced our trip, mounting my sturdy Vios to head down the kampung lined, palm and mangrove fringed road to Port Dickson. Overall, the roads were pretty clear for this long weekend holiday, although the slower pace of driving tends to play on my nerves. It rained as we approached Sepang town, located on the border between Selangor and Negeri Sembilan, bridge construction work causing a small loggerhead due mainly to inconsiderate motorists queing on the opposite lane to pass a working backhoe, therefore obstructing oncoming traffic (and myself) from passing. I didn't know it then, but it's appears like a foretaste of Negeri Sembilan driving I will encounter later on. :p

We arrived at Duta Hacienda/Palm Springs Resort around 12:00pm, finding it more through the announcement on my GPS than anything else. Located on Batu 13, Jalan Pantai, a distance from Teluk Kemang, there were no signboards whatsoever to indicate the identity of the premise from the road. An impressive looking arch spanned over a guardhouse, but inscribed on it were the name 'Palm Springs', a far cry from the establishment's website ( which declared it as Duta Hacienda Riviera Resort. :p Only as we approached the 'check-in' office built before the arch did we finally see the word 'Duta' which we correctly surmised to be linked with tonight's place of abode.
The only thing that was impressive about the place was probably the arch :p

"Sorry, but all our apartments are fully booked," said a rather stern looking lady at the reception. I had wanted to get another room for the night since our number of participants for this trip had swelled to more than 15, which in hindsight, was fortunate for us not to plonk down another RM365.00 as the penthouse (listed capacity, 8 ppl) I had booked three weeks earlier had more than enough space to house >20! :p We ordered additional beds instead at RM35.00/piece. However, we couldn't receive our keys until after 2:00pm because we can only check in then, the check-in officer insisted. This meant we had some spare time in our hands in the interim, which Wei Han used to call Eric (who had by now woken up) to 'instruct' him to buy the BBQ foodstuff due largely to the absence of large hypermarkets in the vicinity. :p He also suggested that we move across the road to Tiara Resort's 'Thai' Restaurant to have lunch.
Looking through the menu, apparently hunger overode the warning signs of overly inflated prices :p

I was actually rather full but since the other 2 travellers in my entourage sort of agreed to Wei Han's suggestion, we went into the restaurant anyway. An order of Tom Yum Khung, Green Chicken Curry, Egg Foo Yong and Mixed Vegetables set up back about RM90.00, not exactly economical. :p A glance around the surroundings of the sparse restaurants revealed framed photos of the Raja of Perlis having a meal at the restaurant while in a adjacent room with a stage, the names of two 'Tengku's of Selangor royalty are displayed overhead, confirming that the extravagant prices of our not so tasty 'Thai' food was perhaps tailored for royalty and not us 'commoners'. :p

At 2:00pm, we checked in, driving into the 'Hacienda/Riviera' following instructions from our check-in officer to our 'penthouse'. We passed a number of dugout holes located on parking lots in front of rather nicely painted apartment blocks which appeared to be goverment owned. As we edged closer to our own apartment block, things begin to go downhill. Lalang grew wild on open land on one side of the road as we passed over a dilapidated (and sinking) bridge that spanned over a 'canal' filled with brackish brown water.
Ah... the 'riviera'. Mostly filled with brown, dirty water. You'd probably get irradiated if you waded in...

The apartment we were assigned to had generous coats of 'pigeon poo', with metal railings and fixtures rusting in the wind. There were no signs of other people around as we got out our car and went up to our room at the topmost level, giving us an impression of an abandoned housing project.
Frontal view of our 'home' away from home...

It was not very impressive inside either. The aircond unit were missing their handheld controllers and looked old. Some light bulbs were burnt and furniture few and far between.
View of Master bedroom. Looks decent enough except for the burnt overhead lamp...

The TV only showed the local terrestial channels with it's antenna haphazardly hung over the railing of a balcony decorated with more pigeon excrement. :p
One of two halls. Strangely, the TV is in the smaller hall, while the main is virtually empty (except for a few chairs and a coffee table).

This was definately a far cry from the rather impressive looking pictures touted at the website. The surroundings were also a far cry from the overly ambitious scaled model of the beach side development envisioned by the owners, with bungalow and apartment terraces extending into the sea on man made peninsulas, yatch filled channels and an artificial beach to boot (ala Dubai's Palm Jumeira). It's really a reflection of Port Dickson itself, an ambitious tourist dream which somehow ended rather badly with numerous 'projek terbengkalai' littered along the sea front, an ugly sight. :p

We went out to Teluk Kemang town to buy BBQ supplies next, getting drinks, sauces, snacks, ice and aluminium foils at a local supermarket. Seasoned meats there were none although sausages, burger patties, nuggets and minced meat were available. Eric would have better choices at the Giant hypermarket.

George joined us here at this point, arriving at the supermarket to follow us back to the 'resort'. We stuffed all of our perishables into this yellowed fridge before going out into the 'recreation' park to check out the 'facilities'.
Map of the 'facilities', mostly unusable or in disrepair/lack of maintenance

By now, I wasn't expecting to be impressed. I had placed some many apostrophes (') in my description of the place mainly out of dismay that what we've got wasn't really what was described in the website of this place. The BBQ pit at the clubhouse which we had paid RM150 for, was little more than a cut out drum with some wire mesh.
The clubhouse. Scene of our BBQ tonight ;)

Two packs of charcoal accompanied it with a miserly supply of 5 little pieces of firestarters represented the 'full BBQ package' (no skewers or tongs mind you).
Water in the swimming pool. Can you spot the organic matter floating on top? Yuck!

The water in the swimming pool was an unhealthy murky green with organic material floating over (although it didn't deter a mob of fully clothed people frolicking in it's water) and the much touted golf course didn't even have it's driving range open (much less a roof to shield golfers from the sun and rain).
George trying to find the ignition for the golf cart. "Sorry, carts are for GOLFERS only," says the receptionist (who wouldn't want to let us drive even if we paid!)

The referee's chair on the tennis court was rusting under the sun while the exotic 'caravan' park option of accomodation looked like a junkyard.
A scene from one of those apocalypse movies: Rusting and abandoned caravans amid 'lalang'... :p

Efforts to venture into the junkyard, opps caravan park was thwarted by our fear of snakes that might probably be lurking in the tall grass! Couldn't imagine how on Earth tripadvisor would rate this place 4 1/2 stars ('s probably also due to the fact I was lazy to actually read the reviews!):p. I really pity the people who actually invested in the apartments thinking they had bought a piece of paradise by the beach. :p

The rest of our group had linked up with us by now, most of them forgoing the walk through the 'facilities' and heading straight to the 'penthouse' instead. My group returned as well, settling down as the sun dipped below the horizon playing a few rounds of 'chor tai tee' and 'Texas Hold Em Poker', the last courtesy of George's tutelage. :) Call it beginner's luck but by the time we have to return to the BBQ pit, I was probably richer by RM50 at the expense of George and Eric. Vincent and Kam Keong broke even while Cheah provided moral support by 'watching' the game. ;)
Actually the scene here is of us playing 'chor tai tee' later in the night. ;) Sorry, nobody took picture of the afternoon game ;)

Wei Han had chosen to play with 'fake money' instead, indulging himself into Monopoly with the ladies.

Not surprisingly, we had trouble starting the fire with the miserly 5 fire (non)starters, entailing us to dispatch two volunteers to head back to Teluk Kemang to get more. Of staff, there was no one in sight. In fact, our apartment wasn't even equipped with a telephone! When the fire got started however, things started to get better as we laid out a row of sausages on the grill.
Glorious food! Sausages and chicken breast ready to serve!

When that was cooked and consumed, we went for the main course, servings of marinated chicken breasts and lamb shanks, the last skillfully prepared by our BBQ supremo, Vincent.
Eric doing a Chef Gordon Ramsey, "Get out of my kitchen!"

We supplmented our meal with aluminium foil cooked mushrooms, prawns and ocra (lady's fingers to you ;)). The generous supply of Chivas, Dewars and Black Label enticed our chefs to experiment with lacing our alumium cooked food with alcohol with rather 'good' outcomes. ;) There was so much food available, I had to stop by the time the chicken wings were served, keeping what remaining space in my stomach to consume another half piece of lamb shank to finish the meal. When the smoke settled and the charcoal consumed, it was already 10:30pm.
Ahhh... a spot of alcohol wouldn't hurt isn't it? ;) Succulent lamb shanks in the foreground...

A group photo concluded the event and it was time to head back to the apartment. Another friend joined us, Pui Voon's friend, Lily. After taking our baths to wash off the smoky tange on our bodies, we spent some time playing 'chor tai tee' in two groups, then when everyone is fully 'washed', it was time for 'werewolves'. ;)
Game master in 'ready to sleep mode'... ;)

A maximum of 15 people played the game with myself being the Game Master. Time flew as innocent villagers quarreled and burnt, wolves hunted down, witches healed, little girls peeped, master wereloves bit and seers predicted the future. The game was over at 3:30am, none other than the game master himself exhausted :p. Eric tried to lure me into another round of Texas Hold'Em Poker but weariness beckoned me to my air-conditioned room and soft bed instead. As everyone else checked in to their rooms, this single lighted hall in this sparsely populated and rather abandoned looking apartment block echoed with triumphant laughter and howls of dismay as Vincent, George, Eric and Wei Han soldiered on into the wee hours of the morning; while *I*, counted sheep (and my WINNINGS, hee-hee-hee-hee-hee). ;) Happy NEW YEAR everyone! :D

Ipoh Road Trip: Gua Tempurung and Kellie's Castle

The morning of Sunday, 29th November 2009, started a little slower as the group of us slowly crawled ourselves from the bed. Originally aiming to have our go at Ipoh's famous Dim Sum at 8:30am in the morning, our progress was delayed till about 9:30am instead, due mainly to the very long check out sequence we had to endure at Casuarina's counter. To be fair, I guess it was not entirely the hotel management's fault although I did hear something about them losing details of our stay at the hotel desk and that they were a little 'understaffed' at the counter. On our side, it is understood that our Mr. Wei Han made a booking through a somewhat 'unauthorized' agent of the hotel via the internet, thinking that he could utilize some leftover 'points' he garnered while he was in the UK (United Kingdom NOT Ulu Klang). The process in cumulation, took about 45 mins. Once that ordeal was over, we finally set course for the center of Ipoh town in search of Dim Sum, opting not to go to the obvious choice, which is Ipoh's Foh San.
Foh San, where we thought it was...

Personally I didn't find it any better than the ones in KL and the long waiting time needed to get a table renders it even less favorable an option. We therefore went for the 2nd 'best', Ming Court (Ming Ker) Dim Sum located close to the center of the town in the shadow of Excelsior Hotel.
Ipoh's Ming Court (Ming Ker) Dim Sum Restaurant

To our surprise, we found out that Foh San had actually moved their premises from the previous clan center to a large lot almost directly opposite of Ming Court! It has also increased its size although it looked like it was still unable to cope with the huge number of people flocking to have a taste of it's dim sum.
Foh San, where it is now!

There were crowds at Ming Court as well whom I believe belonged to two groups. One being people really coming over to eat here in the 1st place while another group being those frustrated clients unable to get seats at Foh San. We nevertheless got our table after about 15 mins.

Immediately a somewhat elderly lady spread out a mass of circular metal containers, each containing a type of dim sum for us to pick and choose.
So many choices to make!

Some of us who were not used to this style of serving were a bit overwhelmed but we pulled through and made our selections. At this point Wei Han told us an interesting trivia about this shop by first pointing out to us the apparently large number of upper middle age to elderly women working in the shop. According to him, the shop sort of made a preference to hire persons of this age group to be their serving staff. Whether it is a conscious social effort to decrease the amount of jobless 'aunties' roaming the streets of Ipoh town center or a coincidence is anybody's guess though. We didn't dally long, due to the fact that our next destination, Gua Tempurung closes it's doors to visitors at 11:00am! We did however make a brief stopover at the Funny Mountain Soya Bean aka Rabbit Tau Foo Far for some snacks, only to be told to wait till 10:30am for it's official opening to be served.
The signboard to Funny Mountain Soya Bean

Not wanting to be deterred the 2nd time around, we waited, some of us sitting and reading newspapers on a wooden long bench amidst old pre-war buildings looking like old grandpas. ;)
While we waited for our Tau Foo Far, Eric harbored thoughts of escape from the 'cave'. ;)

It was in this position that I unexpectedly bumped into one of my colleagues from my office in KL. Apparently, she too was on the way to try the 'tau foo far' and somehow manage to spot me sitting on the bench from inside the car as she passed by! What are the odds of that happening huh? :p At 10:30am sharp, the store officially opened.
Fresh Tau Foo Far delivered! :D

We took our bowls of precious 'tau foo far' and filled up a couple bottles of soya bean drinks before we set out of Ipoh on a course to Gua Tempurung. We arrived with nary a second to spare! Forking out a total of RM154 for a total of 7 people to participate in the 'Grand Tour', I got the tickets a few minutes before the clock struck 11:00am. The guide for the last group of people to go in arrived shortly after and together with two other sub-groups, we moved into the cave.
The 'touristy' section of Tempurung Cave

At this time of the year, it is common for heavy downfalls to occur in the afternoons, so for safety reasons we were instructed to start the journey through the 'wet' passages first instead of the standard overhead 'dry' walkways. Travelling through the wet passages were as my previous number of experiences, some passages requiring us to duck and others literally requiring to crawl on our bellies over sand to get through. Needless to say we soon got drenched although the water was refreshingly cool. We spent about an hour wading through the water before we reached the midpoint, represented by an opening that provided us a view of the jungle. We rested here for 15 mins before heading back in to commence the 2nd 'dry' leg of the journey through which we found ourselves sliding down slippery slopes, squeezing down a hole in the ground and scrambling up muddied inclines in the darkness.
Sliding down the incline. The boy is scared. :p I was too ;).

All throughout, our guide was somewhat silent, with nary a word of explanation as to the features in the cave. :p After about 2 hours, we exitted through the dry 'touristy' walkway, passing through the 'Top of the World' and a small Chinese wording inscribed rock that was shrouded in darkness and which our 'guide' again did not say anything.
As you might have noticed now, the cave photos are not from our trip. (My waterproof Olympus Nu camera was commandeered by my aunt for her China trip) Rather, they were 'lifted' off from the web, with some surprising and 'familiar' results! ;)

For the benefit of those not in the 'know', the Chinese wordings on the rock were left behind by the last permanent occupants of the caves, that is the members of the Communist Party of Malaya which fought the Japanese, British and then the Malaysian government in the 1940s to the 1970s.

We took a refreshing bath at the nearby toilet before getting ourselves into the car after paying RM0.20 at the entrance.
Photos of the ladies outside the cave, with OUR camera! :D

Customary group photo taken, we went on to our next stopping point, Kellie's Castle. Located along the road to Batu Gajah from Gopeng town, it's previously vine entwined facade has been completely cleaned and the surrounding undergrowth cleared, removing somewhat it's romantism, making it look now like some unfinished theme park setpiece.
Kellie's castle in Batu Gajah

Still, it's all for the best I guess as the roots would have destroyed the castle eventually. A small booth was located close to the bridge overlooking a river that divided the parking lot from the castle. In Malaysia, this would only mean one thing, that you have to PAY to get across. :p Entrance fees for adults is RM4.00, Secondary School Children RM3.00 and Primary School Children RM2.00. We didn't pay the fee and stood on the opposite side of the Kinta River, taking pictures of the castle from our 'free' vantage point. A large number of people did however paid the fee and can be seen milling about the battlements and halls of the castle. Detailed information and history can be found here (
By the time we had finished taking our photos, it was time to take our leave. But stomachs were beginning to growl and it was time to look for food. Heading south, we dropped by at Bidor's famous Pun Chun Restaurant (they even have a website! check it out at, located on the town's main road in a pre-war shop (38-40, Jalan Besar, Bidor, Perak).
Pun Chun. We have one closer to home, in Kota Kemuning, Shah Alam as a matter of fact! :)

It is home to it's signature duck leg served with herbs in a metal bowl as well as it's 'Wu Kok' and 'Wan Tan Mee'. You could also get Kampar Chicken Biscuits and other tidbits as you dine in the shop.
Pun Chun's famous duck meat soup

However, it was not the food that attracted my attention as I walked into the shop, rather, it was the familiar looking person browsing through the items there: We met our friend, Hee Yau with his most mysterious girlfriend! Heading to Taiping the same time as us heading to Ipoh, we just about miss visiting him there due to time constraints (or so said Wei Han), but surprise-surprise, we met him here with his girlfriend in of all places, Bidor! A hasty introduction and an excuse to leave (due to a wedding) saw him and his partner zipped through the shop, paid their wares and dissappeared into the dusk even before Eric, Vincent and Fei managed to catch a glimpse of him (or more importantly his mysterious girlfriend). We headed back to KL from here, crossing the Perak-Selangor border in the night. Half an hour later, as I drunk my teh tarik, watching the Liverpool vs Everton game in Kota Damansara's Kayu with Eric and Vincent, my thoughts aside from 'Goal! Liverpool won!' was... 'Mission accomplished'. ;) Until next time...