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Tourism Malaysia

20 Boutique Hotels – Stay with Style!

If you need some cosy time all by yourself, and looking for somewhere unique to stay for a night or more, boutique hotels in Malaysia offer you more than an accommodation. You will get extra nice decoration, extra services plus extra experience.

Today, boutique hotels – normally a cosy-signature accommodation with less than 100 rooms – are mushrooming with variable themes and decors. For our 20 SPECIAL picks this month, we give you some of the popular choices from many states of Malaysia.

Ambong-Ambong

1. AMBONG-AMBONG, Langkawi, Kedah (www.ambong-ambong.com) The Travellers’ Choice 2019 Winner outshines the most in the mystical island of Langkawi. Ambong-Ambong Rainforest Retreat is rainforest accommodation of boutique resort perched on a slope, overlooking the sea and islands of Langkawi offers great Japanese restaurant and highly rated massage services.

Terrapuri

2.   TERRAPURI, Penarik, Terengganu (www.terrapuri.com) Terrapuri (The Land Of Palaces) is a conservation and restoration project of Terengganu Malay Classic house. Its feature 29 antique hundred years old Classic Houses. The layout of the resort is inspired by the 17th century Terengganu Palace and its surrounding. Terrapuri consists of 20 exclusive restored villas, a gallery and a beach house.

Majestic

3. MAJESTIC, Melaka (www.majesticmalacca.com) The heart of the hotel is a restored 1920s Straits Settlement mansion complete with its original porcelain tile flooring and teakwood fittings. It has been extended to house the guest rooms and suites as well as an award-winning spa that is a reflection of that era, melding luxury, modernity and tradition. (source www.ytlhotels.com)

Estadia

4. ESTADIA, Melaka (www.estadiahotel.com) Estadia By Hatten is perhaps the best Baba Nyonya-themed hotel in Melaka. It is located in the center of Melaka City and the interior of the hotel is tastefully done up based on Baba Nyonya style. There are a Nyonya restaurant a pub located beside the hotel lobby the Nyonya foods are fantastic (review in tripadvisor.com).

Seven Terraces, Georgetown

5. SEVEN TERRACES, Georgetown, Pulau Pinang (www.georgetownheritage.com/seven-terraces-hotel) Winner of the 2007 UNESCO Award of Distinction for heritage conservation and regular Conde Naste Hot List nominees, It successfully captures and celebrates the spirit of this world heritage town and its unique peranakan culture. Pure beauty!

Cheong Fatt Tze, Georgetown

6. CHEONG FATT TZE, Georgetown, Pulau Pinang (www.cheongfatttzemansion.com) The majestic boutique hotel rooms are tucked within the tranquil tropical courtyards of The Blue Mansion. Each of the 18 personalized boutique rooms are uniquely adorned and intricately furnished, taking you back into Penang’s glorious history in the exclusive rooms, invigorating jacuzzi and authentic furniture of the 19th century.

Royale Chulan Cherating Villa

7.  ROYALE CHULAN CHERATING VILLA, Cherating, Pahang (www.royalechulan.com/Cherating) Located in a resort town on the east coast of Malaysia, Cherating is home to some of Malaysia’s most picturesque seascapes, a perfect getaway for soul searching singles, lovebirds and family gathering. 34 private villas and suites come with a private beach. What a package!

Anggun

8. ANGGUN, Kuala Lumpur (www.anggunkl.com) Located in Changkat Tong Shin, Bukit Bintang area – Anggun is a boutique hotel with rooftop spa and semi-outdoor café fitted with wooden flooring and teak furnishings. The Alam Beauty Spa surely a bonus if you are to stay here. Choose room with four-poster bed and private balcony with street views, advices booking.com.

Ranee B

9. THE RANEE B, Kuching, Sarawak (www.theranee.com) This is an exclusive 24-room boutique hotel strategically located in the heart of Kuching’s picturesque Old Town. Stylishly rebuilt from two traditional 19th century shophouses and ingeniously adapted to modern standards of plush comfort, The Ranee is unique in that every spacious room/suite is different – designed to express its own individuality, charm and character, hints www.tripadvisor.com.

Villa Molek

10. VILLA MOLEK, Langkawi, Kedah (www.villamolek.com). As you step into Villa Molek you are greeted by 12 charming and beautifully designed private villa studios, each resembles a complete home. Its superb location and quiet elegance makes it a favourite among travellers looking for total relaxation (www.tripadvisor.com)

Panji-Panji

11. PANJI-PANJI TROPICAL WOODEN HOME, Langkawi, Kedah (www.panjipanji.com). Enjoy the comforts of a sea frontage tropical wooden Malay house. A home situated next to the Cenang river and the local fishermen’s pier, and is only minutes away from the famous Cenang Beach. A perfect place to enjoy the sunset and relax (from booking.com).

The Blanc

12. THE BLANC, Melaka (facebook.com/TheBlancBoutiqueHotel). Originally a refurbished heritage building, The Blanc is a tastefully decorated new hotel in Melaka. The room is full well decorated and designed, plus a rooftop view. Centrally located and just a walk away from Jonker Street Night Market and Mahkota Parade Shopping Mall. Very convenient.

Tanjung Jara Resort

13. TANJUNG JARA RESORT, Tg. Jara, Terengganu (www.tanjongjararesort.com) Offering accommodation inspired by the majestic 17th century Malay palaces, Tanjong Jara boasts 2 outdoor pools and an award-winning spa. It features 3 dining options with South China Sea views.

Sari Pacifica

14. SARI PACIFICA,  Redang, Terengganu (www.saripacificaredangisland.com) In the beautiful island of Redang, Sari Pacifica Resort Spa offers spacious villas with private balconies and spa baths. It also features a beachfront pool and restaurant. The spaciousness of tropical-style villas allows for a large walk-in closet and seating area. Unfortunately the door is closed during monsoon season.

Rosa

15. ROSA, Melaka (www.rosa.com.my) This hotel screams nothing but an industrial-concept marvel. Bare bricks, cement walls, and wooden floor panels make up most of the hotel’s interior which is further complimented with tonnes of fun and timeless deco. Such a photo haven for Instagram addicts! (from www.rojakdaily.com)

Timez

16. TIMEZ, Melaka (www.timezhotel.com) The hotel is literally a melting pot of culture as it incorporates five cultures in its design – Chinese, Peranakan, Dutch, Portuguese, and British but with a modern twist.

The Lantern

17. LANTERN, Kuala Lumpur (www.lanternhotel.com) This budget boutique hotel revolves around an industry-meets-tropical design concept with a funky touch and friendly atmosphere. The rooms here are minimalist but elegant and with rates that will definitely meet your budget. (thesmartlocal.com)

Bliss Boutique

18. BLISS BOUTIQUE, Johor Bharu, Johor (www.blissboutiquehotel.com) Not all boutique hotels charge exorbitant rates, some are value-for-money and offer high rated services. Bliss Boutique Hotel falls into this category, adorned with artistic and flamboyant touches. This Art Deco hotel is totally colourful and chic!

M Boutique Hotel

19. M BOUTIQUE HOTEL, Ipoh, Perak (https://ipoh.mboutiquehotels.com) Featuring stark contrasting monochromatic furnishings, this unique hotel takes its inspiration from jazz bars of the past. Black chandeliers, monkey cages, and rustic grey furniture adorn the rooms and communal areas, lending it a stark yet classy vibe (source www.smartlocal.com)

JapaMala Resort

20. JAPAMALA RESORT, Tioman, Terengganu  (www.japamalaresorts.com) JapaMala is Tioman Island’s only boutique resort, and one-of-a-kind in Malaysia. This small and exclusive resort of 13 rooms is hidden amidst 11 acres of lush tropical rainforest. A one-village-one-resort property, JapaMala has its own private and quiet beach. Rated highly in www.tripadvisor.com.my

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Tourism Malaysia

Ramadan Rarities!

The most-awaited month is approaching, for various reasons.

Ramadan!

For Muslims, this month of fasting is also the month to enhance their relationship with Allah by doing more good, be it towards each other or by increasing number of prayers and reciting the Holy Quran.

For Non-Muslims (and many Muslims too, if you’re really honest!), this is also a month of enjoying food. Yes, Malaysians generally enjoy food on a daily basis, but during Ramadan, there is something special in the air, the hustle-bustle at the Bazaars, that takes the whole experience to another level.

Be it the common martabak, roti John, or the sweet and silky tepung pelita, everyone has their favourite must-have dish when breaking fast.

Here are some ‘Ramadan rarities’ from a few select States around Malaysia.

When I went back to Kelantan to my in-law’s place a few years back, I was very much intrigued when I saw some of the dishes available at the local Bazaar. One of which was lemak bakar, or literally translated, grilled fat. Yes, FAT. It was really a chunk of cow fat on a stick, grilled over an open fire. I was fascinated! Out of curiosity, we bought one to try. It was weird, because when you bit down on it, it was like an ‘oil balloon’ that just burst in your mouth! If you are a fan of the fatty bits from a perfectly-cooked sirloin, you MUST try this!

Another dish which was unusual, even to my in-laws, was apam telur. It looked like a rolled up egg omelette, slightly sweet with a filling of shaved young coconut. And it was delicious!! Another must-try dish if ever you are in Kelantan during Ramadan.

Sweet desserts are not uncommon in Kelantan and Terengganu, and one of the elusive ones that only often appear during Ramadan is nekbat.

Nekbat is made from rice flour, sugar and eggs, and the syrup it is drenched in contains cloves and pandan leaves, giving it a unique spicy-sweet aroma.

Way down South, in Johor, the absolute MUST when breaking fast is air kathira. It is a milky-green concoction made from blended dates, milk (some use soy milk, some use evaporated milk), and added to it is some basil seeds, kembang semangkuk, and a dash of rose water. It is said to be really nutritious and great for quenching one’s thirst.

Another dish which is difficult to find on normal days is botok-botok ikan. Fresh whole or sliced fish is laid on banana leaves, drenched in a spicy, aromatic sambal sauce, then covered with fresh herbs and various ‘ulam’, then wrapped carefully and steamed till cooked through. Best enjoyed with a plate of steamed white rice!

Let’s journey back up North to Kedah, and savour the uniqueness of this one particular dish – Nasi Ulam.

Because of the meticulous preparation required to prepare this dish, one will not easily find it outside of Ramadan.

A variety of fresh herbs and ‘ulam’, some of which are quite rare, are sliced really finely, combined with fried salted fish, grilled Indian Mackerel (ikan kembung), and a basic sambal, it is then topped off with toasted coconut paste (kerisik). Everything is then mixed together to form a beautiful, aromatic, healthy rice dish. One can enjoy it on its own, or with a side serving of asam rebus keladi, a savoury dish made from yam stems.

And there you have it, some of the rare dishes which one can only find at the bazaars during Ramadan. You can probably find a few of them at the bazaars in the Klang Valley, but really, nothing beats the original!

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MAGIC OF SHADOW AND LIGHT

One of the age-old performances that is still being practiced today but becoming increasingly rare is the Wayang Kulit. Imagine a show where music, light, shadow and masterful storytelling come alive under one roof, transporting you back to ancient times, and leaving you, the audience, breathless and delighted in the fact that you may have just witnessed a centuries-old living heritage unfold right before your eyes.

This specialty theatre, a must-watch whenever you are in Malaysia, can be found in Kedah and Kelantan. The Wayang Kulit is a live theatre performance orchestrated by the main puppeteer, Tok Dalang, who controls and breathes life into various puppets as he narrates epic dramas to the accompaniment of live music.

The Wayang Kulit traditionally begins with a loud shrill call made by the instruments – traditionally, this was to call the village people from around to gather for a night of storytelling. The Wayang Kulit stage is a basic setup consisting of an area for the spectators who usually sit on the ground. Another area, separated by a linen cloth which is essentially the screen, is where all the puppets, musicians and Tok Dalang are seated. Normally, this space is small and dark, with everyone cramped together with bulky instruments, but here is where all the action takes place.

Here’s a secret: watching the behind-the-scenes show as the theatre progresses is just as great as being an audience! You will see exactly how everything – the music, the storytelling, the light, the puppets, the narration – falls into place under the genius orchestration of one Tok Dalang. Indeed, it is quite the performance to see the Tok Dalang and the musicians create a perfect symphony of music and storytelling.

To create the shadow play, light from an electrical or oil lamp is projected towards the puppets thus casting shadows on a fabric screen separating the performers and the audience. The Tok Dalang sits behind this screen, ready to conduct the show. It is certainly not an easy task to be a Tok Dalang because he has to manipulate more than 10 puppets during a typical performance that can last several few hours, remember all their characters – some are evil, some are heroic, etc., modulate his voice to suit the characters, and also conduct the orchestra at the same time with 10 to 30 musicians.

The language in Wayang Kulit performances can somehow confuse the audience due to the dialect used, for example the northern Kedahan and the eastern Kelantanese dialect. But rest assure, it is not really hard for you to understand the main storyline guided by the Tok Dalang’s voice tones and simply enjoy the music.

Puppets used in Wayang Kulit originally are made out of water buffalo hide and goat hide, and mounted on bamboo sticks. However, the best puppets are typically made from young female buffalo parchment, cured for up to ten years. Each puppet, a stylized exaggeration of the human shape, is given a distinctive appearance and not unlike its string puppet cousins, has jointed ‘arms’.

Historically, the stories narrated in Wayang Kulit are strongly influenced by Hindu and Javanese cultures. Maharaja Wana (Rawana), Sri Rama (Rama), Siti Dewa (Sita), the Laksamana, and the court clowns, Pak Dogol and Wak Long are some of the main characters in most performances. Hindu Epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata were performed through Wayang Kulit as a means to spread the religion. The Mahabharata is an epic narrative of the Kuruksetra War and the fates of the Kaurava and the Pandava princes, while Ramayana is an ancient Indian poem which narrates the struggle of the divine Prince Rama to rescue his wife Sita from the Demon King Rawana.

These days, the modern Wayang Kulit emphasizes on stories that are relevant to current times, national or global issues, as well as comedy and entertainment. In fact, an adaptation of Star Wars called “Peperangan Bintang” with puppets made in the likeness of the original characters such as Sangkala Vedah (Darth Vader), Puteri Leia (Princess Leia) and Si P Long (C-3PO) has recently emerged as a variation of Wayang Kulit. These newer versions certainly appeal to a younger audience and those living in the cities and is a great way to reach out to them about a dying art.

There are four main versions of Wayang Kulit in Malaysia: Wayang Kulit Siam (Kelantan), Wayang Kulit Gedek (Kedah), Wayang Kulit Jawa (Selangor and Johor), and Wayang Kulit Melayu (Terengganu). Nowadays, only the first two Wayang Kulit are still being performed. If you are looking forward to watch the Wayang Kulit Gedek, there are various Wayang Kulit associations in Kedah and one of the notable one is Wayang Kulit Sri Asun. Meanwhile for the Wayang Kulit Siam in Kelantan, Wayang Pak Dain is recognized as the authentic Wayang Kulit performer there.

WHERE TO WATCH:

Gelanggang Seni (Culture Centre)
Jalan Mahmood, Bandar Kota Bharu,
15200 Kota Bharu, Kelantan
Tel: +609 748 5534 / 3543

Opening Hours:
Saturday – 3.30pm-5.30pm
Monday Wednesday – (3.30 pm – 5.30 pm), (9.00 pm -11.00 pm)

Wayang Pak Dain
Simpang 3 Morak,
Kampung Paloh, Wakaf Bharu,
16040 Tumpat Kelantan
Phone : +60179778929
Email : [email protected]

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TOP THINGS TO WATCH OUT FOR DURING HARI RAYA

When the takbir is heard echoing from far, we can immediately see smiles on the faces of everybody. That marks the end of one month of fasting during Ramadan, and Syawal is knocking on the door, ready to be celebrated. Eid Day, or commonly known as Hari Raya comes once per year and is a day where families and friends get together and celebrate with various types of traditional delicacies after a full month of fasting in Ramadhan.

For first-timers to Malaysia, you might be wondering what to do on Eid Day. Well, read on to know how Malaysians celebrate the day and the iconic things not to miss during Hari Raya.

HARI RAYA OPEN HOUSE
It’s a common thing for fellow Malaysians to invite friends, neighbours, even strangers to their houses to celebrate together, especially on the first day – this is in the spirit of the Malaysian Open House. It’s a great way to try out the typical Hari Raya dishes and join in the fun. Keep an eye out for Open House invitations by some popular local personalities, Government agencies, and even the Prime Minister of Malaysia.

FOOD AND DELICACIES
Rendang, Ketupat and satay are the signature dishes of Hari Raya. It would not be Hari Raya without these dishes. Rendang is a spicy meat dish made from meat, coconut milk, chili, ginger, lemongrass, garlic, ginger, turmeric and onion (shallot). Each state will have a slightly different version of the recipe (and claim theirs to be the best!). For example, chicken Rendang from Negeri Sembilan would look and taste differently from chicken Rendang made in Kedah.

Ketupat is a type of dumpling made out of rice packed inside a diamond-shaped pouch of woven palm leaves eaten with a thick and spicy roasted peanut gravy. You can also eat ketupat with rendang.

Another type of ketupat is made with starchy glutinous rice wrapped in daun palas into a triangle shape. These are usually found in the northern region of Malaysia.

Satay is a seasoned, skewered and grilled meat, served with Kuah Kacang. It is eaten on sticks and served hot right after being grilled, garnished with ketupat, cucumbers and onions.

SWEET TREATS
Every household celebrating Hari Raya will definitely have some Kuih Raya to serve the guests. There are a variety of Kuih Raya and snacks, but all are bite-sized sweet delights. Our favourites are the pineapple tarts and London almonds!

Cakes are also served on this day to sweeten the celebration. There are a few signature Hari Raya cakes that are so special, they only make an appearance on the day of celebration.

Kek Lapis or Layered Cake is also typically served during Hari Raya. It is especially popular in Sarawak where a whole table is often dedicated to displaying all the different and colourful varieties.

Also famous in Sarawak is the black-as-soot steamed Hati Parek cake made of black raisins, caramelised brown sugar and lots of eggs.

FIREWORKS – AN ENTERTAINMENT FOR ALL
It’s habitual for Malaysians to celebrate Hari Raya with one of the most compulsory things: fireworks. Don’t be surprised to hear fireworks going off or see them in the sky, it’s a sign that Hari Raya will be tomorrow. As for kids, you will see them lighting up sparklers, ground spinners, rocket-style Thunderclaps and others to welcome the celebration.

FASHION
What is celebrating Hari Raya without wearing new clothes? For Malays, we have our own traditional clothing worn during Hari Raya, which is Baju Melayu (for men) and Baju Kurung (for women). You can find these two traditional clothings in many different colours and designs. Visit shopping malls during the month before Hari Raya and you will see all the trendy designs. If you wait right till the last day of Ramadan to shop for your clothes, you may even get them at deep discounts.

HARI RAYA MALL DECORATIONS
Hari Raya is a great time to head down to the nearest shopping centre and witness the most amazing mall decorations. Shining lights, decorative walls and attractive scenery will get you in the festive mood! In fact, the malls in Malaysia will often try to out-do each other with their mall decorations and festive activities so shopping in Malaysia is definitely not dull!

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Merrily down the Merbok River

Mention the word “Kedah,” and the first picture that comes to mind would be its green paddy fields that stretch as far as the eye can see. And normally when talking about its tourist attractions, people would just recommend the popular island resort of Langkawi. Aside from beautiful Langkawi, Kedah has many other gorgeous gems to be discovered. If you’re a nature lover, it is time to explore something further afield — the Merbok River Mangrove Forest Reserve — and opens up your eyes and minds to the abundance of nature!

The Merbok River basin is an exciting upcoming destination with several sites of worldwide importance, not least among which is the greater Lembah Bujang area known for its historic and archeological value. We hear that it will soon stake its claim as a UNESCO-recognised site of cultural and natural heritage!

So before you go merrily on your way down the Merbok River, here’s a quick guide to getting a day’s worth of explorations down this important river:

  1. River Cruise 

Spanning over 4,000 hectares, the mangrove forest reserve that flanks the Merbok River is a rich habitat for a myriad of flora and fauna. From the Semeling Jetty, you can take a river cruise along the Merbok River and discover its winding estuaries and dense mangrove forest.

Bring along a high-powered pair of binoculars so you can catch sight of monitor lizards, little herons, Brahminy kites, sea eagles, and kingfishers a little more closely.

Historically, Merbok River was an important trading route for the early spice, goods and clothes merchants during the 1st to 14th century. As your boat meanders up the river surrounded on both sides by dense mangrove swamps, you can easily imagine how busy this piece of the waterway was and even re-live the exciting days of yore!

  1. Mangrove-Planting

The mangrove forest plays an important ecological role to our environment. It protects shorelines from rough waters and winds, helps to prevent erosion with their tangled root systems, acts as a filtration system to keep the area clean, and is a protective habitat for numerous species of marine life.

To drive this point home even further, visitors to Merbok River can do your bit for the environment by arranging a mangrove tree-planting session during your river cruise.

Bring along some mangroves tree seedlings for planting purposes at low tide. It won’t be an easy task wading through the sticky and muddy riverbank, but you can take heart that your effort will help Mother Nature do her work better!

  1. Oyster Farming and Tasting

In this traditional land of noodles in fish broth, curries, and rice, who would have imagined seeing oysters on the menu! But, yes, one can feast on these aphrodisiac delicacies harvested straight from the Merbok River.

The European way may be to take it raw and undressed (the oyster, not the diner), but here, it’s garnished with lemon, shallots and sambal, the Malaysian version of a hot sauce.

Aside from sampling the oysters, you’ll also learn about how the mangrove area provides the ideal environment for oyster farming as well as for aquaculture in general. The oysters are cultivated with great care and consideration for the environment. Visitors to the farm can learn in great detail about the farming process and even help to gently agitate the cages (to prevent the shells from fusing).

  1. Excavation Adventure

Fancy being an archeologist for a day? Well, at the Sungai Batu Archeological Complex, you can pick up some tools and start digging!

Sungai Batu or Batu River, which flows nearby into Merbok River has an on-going archeology project where visitors can gain hands-on experience about the field of archeology while learning about the history that’s literally being unearthed there.

The Sungai Batu Archeological Complex, claimed to be Southeast Asia’s oldest civilization (older even than Borobudur and Angkor Wat), is said to be the lost world of Kedah Tua (Ancient Kedah), a kingdom complete with iron ore mines, smelting factory, a port, palace, burial sites and a thriving city!

Volunteers can work on some of the excavated sites, of which there are nearly 100, digging, cleaning, and reconstructing pottery, and even take part in brick making and iron smelting just like in the old days.

  1. Soap and Toothpaste Making

Another fun activity to engage in at Sungai Merbok is the natural soap and toothpaste making a session. The villagers conduct hands-on workshops on how to turn natural ingredients like coconut oil and charcoal into cleansing products to be used on a daily basis. The final results yield soaps that are natural, chemical-free, and safe for both the skin and environment, as well as black charcoal toothpaste that’s a healthier version to those available at supermarkets!

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