Tinkerbell lives in Timun

When we landed in Melaka I started browsing the local tourist brochure, when I noticed a small paragraph mentioning that it was possible to view what is apparently the best firefly colony in Malaysia. This immediately sparked my interest. As it was mentioned in a published brochure I incorrectly assumed that it would be easy to arrange a tour of this natural treat. Three days of searching soon proved me wrong.

We were both very interested in making a trip out to see these little critters but every attempt we made to source information brought up another dead end. No one had heard of it or knew even in the slightest way how to assist us with getting to see them.

We searched high and low on the internet, scouring travel chat rooms and other people’s blogs in an effort to locate some useful information. All we received was a rather unnecessarily curt response from one person who challenged Damien’s rudeness for “hijacking” someone else’s fruitless post /enquiry about the bugs, apparently this is not the done thing and we should have started another post. It takes all types.

On our last day in Melaka before we were due to depart to head off to Sepang, Damien suggested that we go to the Discovery Café as he had read in Lonely Planet that this was a reliable place to go for information on tourist options in the town. We headed down the river to the Discovery Café not too hopeful that it would be a fruitful venture but willing to give it one more shot, after all we are travelling to see more than the towns and eat the food! As good as that may all be.

I have very fond memories of years ago when I was at a party at my friend’s place in Uki of seeing my first firefly. I was sitting out the back of the house overlooking a little valley, engrossed in conversation with a new found friend, when out of nowhere a little firefly came and floated in front of us lazily and then glided off into the darkness. It was a magical moment, as I had never seen something like this before and recollections of this moment spurred me on to continue in our quest to find a means of seeing these little guys in Malaysia.

We met Mr Tang, the owner of the Café, and he was quickly encouraging us to stay, drink beer and listen to his band play. We sat down and explained our mission and he was only too happy to assist. He got straight on his mobile and started what sounded like a very earnest conversation to obtain us the hitherto elusive details. After what seemed a very long time he concluded the conversation and told us that he needed to get someone to talk to someone else and if we came back in about four hours he may have something for us. Fair enough, it was more promising than previous efforts so we stayed for a beer and marvelled at the large array of washed up and strung out looking travellers around us, staring off depressingly into the night. Time to get out of there even if the beer and the music was OK!

Return we did and Mr Tang beamed that he had been able to arrange a taxi out to Sungai Timun, where we would be introduced to a man who would take us down the river to see the fireflies. We dearly wanted to stay at Sungai Timun as we had heard that lobster was often caught there by the local fisherman and that crocodiles and birds were also in abundance on the river. But the cost involved and the difficulty in communicating and executing our plan soon dictated that we would need to adjourn and discuss whether we took this option any further. Seeing only the fireflies and staying in Melaka afterwards would mean back tracking to Melaka after the festival, and staying additional nights before heading up the coast to Penang. Should we or shouldn’t we? Damien in his thoroughness had me answering an array of “what if this” and “what if that” options until finally we decided that yes, it is OK not to go on our trip in a linear direction and that doing a return journey to Melaka after the festival was the right decision.

Buoyed by our recent experience at the festival we went to see Mr Tang on Monday, mildly confident that this venture via taxi out into the countryside would bear fruit and not be a TIA moment. Monday night rolled around and we set off with our taxi driver, Martin, who was a friendly chap. We were enjoying our drive out on roads less travelled by buses when Martin started to drive in an alarming way. His tailgating and attack driving style with oncoming vehicles soon had me rather nervous, and reasoning it was better to look out the side window then where we were headed. I was having flashbacks to years ago when I was on holidays with a bunch of my good mates in Thailand. It was during that trip we coined the phrase “pseudo laning’ to describe the Thai penchant for driving wherever the hell they liked on the road. We had a particularly hairy experience one night where I still remember us all screaming as our taxi driver pulled out in the dark into on coming traffic and a hapless motorcyclist went flying off the side of the road in an effort to avoid our car. We still don’t know whether he made it…

However, I digress. Due to Martin’s driving I darted a worried glance Damien’s way and he affirmed my feelings, by demonstrating his: dramatically grabbing onto the seat in front with vigour and might I add a facial to match. Thank goodness Damien had the sense to speak up and expressed to Martin that we were in no hurry and could he slow down please. Mercifully, he did. From there (minus the occasional lapses of hooning) Martin rectified his driving and we were able to take in the sights of the countryside as night fell.

Martin had obviously never been to Sungai Timun, so as we inched closer we had to go down a few dead end dirt tracks into the bush. We asked a few people conveniently hanging out on the side of the road for directions, until serendipitously we stopped to ask a lady selling food at a small road side stall and funnily enough it was her own son who was waiting for us and she pointed us in the right direction.

We arrived in the little kampung (village) of Sungai Timun and soon were suited up in life jackets and on the river. The ride in the tinny was in itself so lovely to me. The smell of the tropical night air filled my nostrils and had me transported into happy memories of holidays in Northern NSW. I always marvel at the power of our sense of smell to evoke such strong feelings and emotions which are memories linked purely to that particular scent. When I have one of those “smell” related memories I want to keep inhaling it to conjure up the feeling it evokes as it is so much more whole than a visual recollection alone. It’s like when you first awake and you are in the half sleep half awake phase and you are holding onto the image and feeling of the dream you just had…you know it is fleeting but it is so real and vivid in that moment. Those olfactory memories are like that to me….

It’s hard to put down in words how happy and content I felt being surrounded by the beautiful shapes of the trees that silhouetted the banks and the sound of the insects as they filled the night air but truly, I live for this stuff… nature is always where I am happiest and I was glad to finally be immersed in it here in Malaysia.

To top off what was already a special journey we did get to see those little fireflies. They hung in masses on various trees and lit them up like so many little blinking fairy lights. Damien commented that they were like little Tinkerbells, such a lovely way to describe it. Our boat driver kindly nudged our tinny close to a few of the trees and cut the engine so we could quietly sit beneath them as they floated, flashing their little bums at us. I stood up on the boat and caught one in my hand and Martin shone his torch so I could take a closer look. Wow. Such a wee snip of a thing to put out such a pretty light. One fell on my shoulder and blinked away at me. Ah the simple happiness of that moment 😀

Unfortunately all good things must come to an end and we worked our way back up the river to the kampung, but not before our eagle-eyed guide (how did he spot it in the dark???) shone his torch on the bank and putted us in closer to see a baby croc.

We questioned him via Martin (who also served as our translator on the night) how big the crocs are in this river and we were told a staggering 20 ft. Yikes! Hands firmly inside the boat now!

Needless to say we were more than happy with the outcome of all our hard work to find a means to get there. The hard worked for wins are often the best, aren’t they? I felt a little like a trailblazer considering no one else in Melaka seemed to know about these little sparkly gems.

However, it was not without a little disappointment in that we found out there was a dorm in the village we could have stayed at, and that we could have gone on a crocodile and bird viewing boat ride if we had been able to sort it out. But I don’t want to seem ungrateful for what we had and it is more than enough motivation to return one day now that we know how.

Categories: Malaysia, Melaka, travel | Leave a comment

You’ve gotta go with the Flo

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An inspired decision was made on a whim when Damien and I waited at the Airport Bar in Sydney.  I noticed on the Malaysia Truly Asia update on my Facebook page that the Australian music festival, Future Music, was making it’s Asian debut in Malaysia the Saturday after we were to arrive. The tickets were at a temptingly cheap price so we thought it was too good an opportunity to pass up.

Future Music was held at the F1 Circuit in Sepang (which is incidently on next week here). The day itself was perfection from beginning to end. Sometimes the magic happens and good thing after good thing keeps happening. Some days are just like that and this was a stellar example. To others the things that made this perfect for Damien and I may not seem so astounding but for us, conditions were perfect. Repeat. Conditions were perfect.

It started with our decision to thumb our noses at the overpriced limousine service at our hotel and try our luck down the road where we had spied a few cabbies having lunch earlier that day. As we entered this small cabbie eating haunt a guy in a car with some tourist travel logo emblazoned on the side drove past, and for whatever reason we and he locked eyes and the next minute he had pulled up and we had piled in. We wheeled a deal with him and were happy with our substantially cheaper transport option. The dude was friendly in the typical Malaysian way, though he did ask us at one point why we had decided to get in his car as he could have been ‘bad’. Bad he wasn’t and soon we had arrived at the Festival.

During the hotter parts of the day there were not massive swarms of people, definitely not the 30 000 we had heard reports of on the radio. However, this was just fine by us as we were able to get our bearings sans crowds and stroll on up to the empty bars for some beers. May I add here that there were no queues for the bars at any stage even at night when there were 1000’s of people at the venue. Photographic evidence attached! Being a seasoned festival goer back home this kind of gift from God is not to be sneezed at! One of the bonuses of drinking in a country where a substantial proportion of the population don’t due to their religion.

The toilet situation was equally good. Anyone who has had the misfortune of having to line up in an exceptionally long queue when you already need to go understands the value of a no toilet queue festival! Though the novelty factor of the Asian style port-a-loo was not lost on me, so a high brow photo of that is attached 😛 As is the curious warning sign about not putting holes in the toilet or bringing candles…cause you know I always carry a candle or two in case I should need one in a festival dunny!

One of the acts we were really keen to check out was Flo Rida. Neither of us were massive fans of this muscle bound behemoth prior to heading o/s but after watching too much MTV in Scandinavian hotels we got more well acquainted with the large man….not as acquainted as we were soon to be though.  In Flo Rida’s Good Feelin’ video clip he spends a lot of time running around the cities of the world with his shirt off. We figured any dude who has such a good opinion of himself as to be comfortable to have his own name inked in massive letters on his back deserves to be witnessed in the flesh. Even if more for our own amusement than listening pleasure.

We soon realised that this was the festival of the Flo as DJ after DJ would drop a sample of his extremely catchy Good Feelin’. The first to do so was none other than the gorgeous Ruby Rose who I was rather stoked to see in real life, literally a couple of metres away. DJs played homage at the temple of the Flo all day and night long, and as Damien remarked even Eddie Halliwell – the epitome of the “I am a God” DJ – dropped Flo’s Good Feelin’.

We both really rated the set by Kyoto Protocol and they are definitely a band I would like to see and hear more of. It was nice to listen to their tunes whilst enjoying a bit of respite from the heat via the breeze that gently blew at this hill top stage.

We were keen not to miss the big man so we sauntered on down to the main stage and caught the end of the Potbelleez just as they started up the tune, “Don’t Hold Back” which I love. We waited in anticipation as the onstage cameraman and DJ revved up the crowd – we were all waiting to go with the Flo. When he finally hit the stage in all his muscle bound magnificence I was soon converted from slightly skeptical arm chair critic to screamin’, dancin’ appreciator! For a man who had apparently just got off an 18 hour flight he certainly had a lot of energy. He was the consummate performer.  As it turns out despite rarely listening to commercial radio I must have by osmosis absorbed a lot more of his tunes than I realised because I knew practically every one. He of course did not disappoint our preconceived impressions and strutted around the stage like he owned the place, and let’s face it, when every other act on the day drops your song into the mix who can help but feel like a God? My personal favourite was when he unashamably exhibited some public self love by kissing his bicep. Thanks Flo. Hilarious. You made my day with that one!

In true performer style he handed out red roses to all the pretty ladies and oh did they love it!  Then all of a sudden it was over and he said goodbye and was off the stage…what, no Good Feelin’? This was rather disappointing. Everyone started to empty out of the area and then bam! He returned to stage with that song as the finale and the departing crowd came running back at top speed. Flo got down amongst the crowd on the shoulders of people and everyone went crazy. It was a gold moment and I luckily caught it on my mobile. Unfortunately my poor phone didn’t cope well with the loud music so about all you can hear is me singing very badly over the top of the din at one point. However, I am willing to put aside my dignity so I can record for posterity in a visual sense what was one of, if not the, favourite part of our day. [NOTE: am having trouble uploading this video, so I will try to do it as a separate post soon]

Riding the good feelin’ and grinning from ear to ear we then enjoyed nearly an hour of Eddie Halliwell before heading to the hilltop to cool down and listen to a little of Chase and Status. They had a really unique sound which I would have happily heard more of except that we really wanted to catch Aussies, Pendulum do their thing. Pendulum were awesome but after about an hour we decided that a serious session of trance was in order so off we went and the DJs there were definite highlights – Fono, John 00 Fleming and Super 8. Damien loves his trance and I realised that night, so do I. Taken over by the brilliance of the day and let’s face it our lives since we ditched work, we were having a moment, reflecting on how much we feel for each other when suddenly uncharacteristically out of nowhere, in time with our ‘moment’ Super 8 stopped his typical trance sound to play a segment of Kings of Leon’s ‘Use Somebody’ . Yep, right at that moment. It was freaky in it’s timing and perfect for our feeling. Thank you Hermes!

We also reflected while we were at the Gnome stage listening to quality trance that coming to this festival was indeed an inspired decision as it was something ‘normal’ to do and we didn’t feel like tourists, just part of something with the locals. We made some local friends at the Gnome stage and I had a great dancing partner  in a chick we met who came from Melaka.

We had rationed out our beer money to last us throughout the day, but as we enjoyed the good vibes at the Gnome stage we realised that we would have to spend our last 30 RM that was reserved for a taxi on two beers. We could get some cash for the taxi when we got back to the Concorde Inn, we reasoned. Money spent and beer drunk we said goodbye to our Malaysian mates and headed over to check out the Chemical Brothers. We were both happy to call it a night shortly thereafter as it had been a long day.

The grand finale in our perfect day was when we reached the bottom of the street where we needed to wait for a taxi. There was instead, lo and behold, a mini bus from the Concorde Inn waiting, already nearly full with other guests. We timed it beautifully as no sooner had we sat our bums on seats the door to the mini van was shut and were we whisked away to the hotel. Perfect indeed. Didn’t need that 30 RM after all!

One last thing worth mentioning from my perspective is that nearly all Malaysians are Kristen-sized. Consequently, I could stand ANYWHERE and watch what was happening on the stage with ease. What a joy and revelation that was to me! No more smelling dirty armpits and dodging elbows for me!

Viva Future Music Asia!

Categories: Future Music Asia, Malaysia, Music, travel | 4 Comments

Return to Melaka

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When I embarked on my solo Asian journey in 2009-2010, Melaka was my first stop after arriving in Singapore. I was drawn by its long and fascinating history as a crossroads of cultures, and was captivated by the distinctive character of its narrow streets and laneways. And the food. And the fellow travellers you can meet along the way.

So when we were planning our shared journey, Melaka was high on the list of places to visit and of course it didn’t disappoint. We have already spent three nights there (I’m currently writing this from a hotel near KL’s airport), and we are about to return for two more nights for a special expedition which will be explained later. Because Kristen has not been to Melaka before we covered some ground I’d already seen, such as the Porto d’Santiago, the church on the hill, and Jonkers Walk night market. We’ve eaten up a storm, with highlights including chicken rice balls, top-shelf Indian at bottom-shelf prices at Selvam, a dim sum breakfast, my favourite chicken satay at Geographer Cafe, and plenty of stick food from the streets.

But the real highlight has been discovering the riverside walk north of the centre which has an amazing series of spray-painted murals on the walls of houses facing the water (many are shown in the slideshow above). It’s not mentioned in the guidebook, and I didn’t wander to this part of town last time; in fact we discovered it mainly because our guesthouse is actually on the riverfront and contained in one of the bemuraled houses. It’s been enchanting to sit outside on the edge of the river in the evening, watching the boats pass by as we read or blog or sort through photos. At some point the call to prayer from a nearby mosque breaks the silence, and when darkness comes waterfalls of tiny lights illuminate the far bank of the river. I’m looking forward to our return…

Categories: food, Malaysia, Melaka, travel | Leave a comment

Salang Beach

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Damien has already told of our days on Salang Beach before our return to Sydney, so I will be brief here. I would like to share my photos though as they tell  a story in themselves.

I loved Salang Beach because it was so laid back and quiet, most days it felt as if we were the only ones there. Maybe this was because it was just at the tail end of the monsoon season or maybe it just isn’t overrun by the hoardes like so many Thai islands are. Either way, I didn’t care. The sun, the sand and the warm ocean were ours to enjoy.

So in brief my favourite aspects of our stay there were (in no particular order):

  • The view from our hillside balcony.
  • The wildlife – cheeky monkeys and impressively huge monitor lizards.
  • The local cats with their stumpy little tails. My favourite was a little furry friend who would meet me at tea time when we would dine at the seafood BBQ. She would mostly sit patiently at my side, sometimes gently patting my leg expectantly with her paw, waiting for a tidbit. I invariably succumbed to her charms as she had the ability to turn on those Puss in Boots eyes (if you have seen Shrek, you will know what I mean).I could not resist the cuteness 🙂
  • Long hours spent laying on the sand and in the water.
  • Having enough time to devour three books.
  • The abundance of beautiful tropical fish and coral. Which on a still day, I could see through the water with the same clarity as I would have through goggles.
  • The friendliness of the locals.
  • And the knowledge that we had picked the best Tioman beach to chill out on.

I hope we return one day!

Categories: Malaysia, travel | Leave a comment


Before our trip to Scandanavia pretty much all of my overseas travel has been concentrated in Asia. So I feel that I have a reasonable handle on the quirks of Asia and have developed a comfort level with all it can present to you.

However, after three weeks in Northern Europe when we arrived on Salang Sayang, Pulau Tioman and we trudged laden with backpacks to the far end of the beach I admit to being somewhat unthrilled with our chosen destination to dethaw. I like to think that perhaps I was suffering from a little jet lag and this was colouring my experience…ask anyone who knows me well…I am not a happy camper when I am tired! But my first impressions as we walked along were, well, this isn’t the travel brochure pictures I was expecting, I mean what’s with that run down piece of so and so there, and what’s with that dilapidated piece of crap there and has anyone heard of a coat of paint???

Anyway, jet lag quickly whisked me away and I pretty much slept through my grumpy introduction to Salang Sayang with the soothing sounds of a monsoonal downpour no less…it’s not all bad, you see.

So I had to admit to myself that I had indeed suffered a little from that old chestnut…culture shock.

Jet lag dealt with, I awoke with my rose-coloured Malaysian sunnies on and all was good in the world again. Suddenly all those little  bits and pieces that were no good yesterday started to seem OK, good even. I mean TIA afterall!  This is why we love it, if it was perfect, it wouldn’t be Asia and it wouldn’t endear itself to me quite as much as it has over the years.

Let me explain TIA. It’s a phrase we have stolen from Leonardo DiCaprio…well, his character in Blood Diamond anyway. Not long before we went on the trip we were watching Blood Diamond and there is a line in the movie where in an effort to explain all that is Africa, his character simply says matter of factly, TIA ‘This is Africa”.

And as I was adjusting to life in Asia again, TIA (This Is Asia) sprung into my mind and I was not at all surprised when without me even mentioning this thought to Damien, a couple of days into island time, he of his own accord casually said TIA in reference to some little oddity we were experiencing and I knew exactly what he meant!

Here’s a few examples of TIA:

  • We were staying in a hillside bungalow with a million dollar view of golden sand and azure waters….but we had to flush the toilet in the good old way…using a bucket. Oh and when I cleaned my teeth my feet always got wet, I realised halfway through the stay that was because the basin had a pipe that emptied straight onto the bathroom floor. TIA.
  • The salt on the restaurant tables, is in fact not salt at all. Careful inspection of the label reveals that it is MSG (with possibly some ‘trace’ elements of salt…but I couldn’t taste it). Even closer inspection of the ingredients label on the pepper uncovers that it too has MSG. WTF? TIA. Consequently, on our brief return to Sydney we purchased some salt to bring with us as we both recalled that (although we had forgot) the other Asian countries also have this love affair with MSG.
  • An off the island example, and not a pleasant one, is when we were waiting at the bus station in Mersing and I spied a table with no one seated at it. Success! As I descended to stake my claim, I soon realised why no one was there…the back end of what was once a kitten was left under the table (in food court area). TIA.
  • We are now staying in Melaka in a lovely little Guest House on the Melaka River. The owners are friendly, the place is clean, quiet and backs onto the Melaka River which is charming in bucket loads….but more about that later. Our room may be basic but it has a MASSIVE bed, air con and our own little balcony – which is actually quite gross…but it’s a balcony.TIA. But on the first day as I arose to greet the morning I went to pull back the curtain to take in the less than salubrious view out onto our balcony and the whole curtain rail came off the wall. TIA. Told the owner and her response was, whilst smiling sweetly of course, “I don’t know how to fix it’. TIA.

There will be ample more of these experiences all the way but all I can say is that I love it. When things are sometimes a little more basic, not so perfect, not always bright and shiny it just seems somehow more fun and dare I say it, more real.

So I’ll step out today and hunt down the next Melakan culinary masterpiece and try to ignore the occasional waft of eau de toilet and marvel at how fine this little slice of Malaysia is.

Categories: food, Malaysia, Melaka, travel | Leave a comment

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