Dungun, Kuala Terengganu

img_8388Monday morning was sad. We loved KL and didn’t want to leave. But what awaited us was turtles, beach, pool and relaxing. Now I’m not a beach or sunshine person, so I had my reservations. Literally I was wrong about everything. After a quick 50 minute flight with AirAsia aka zero leg room airlines we landed at Kuala Terengganu airport. Like in KL, they have a taxi counter and they understood what we meant with our rambled variations of Tanjong Jara Resort, we paid our money and hopped in a taxi. About 30 minutes in and after making phone calls, the driver tells us there is a problem with his car, but not to worry because his friend would pick us up and take us the rest of the way. My reaction? “I’m going to die. This is like Taken, but worse”. Liam Neeson wouldn’t save us this time. Luckily he pulled in to a busy petrol station and his friend arrived in a licensed taxi, he apologised a lot and off we sped. Literally. Whilst they have nice big smooth roads, people still drive like maniacs. I’m not certain if there were speed limits or not. But we got there alive so it was fine.

img_8257On arrival at Tanjong Jara, they chime the gong to signify your arrival. Out we stepped into the heat and humidity, our suitcases whisked away and we were seated in the open air lobby and handed some rose lemonade and sweets (plus cold towels because DAMN it was hot). Our room was ready on arrival so we were taken for a tour of the resort (swanky) and led to our rooms. Basically the best place I’ve stayed. img_8288Whilst we had a twin room comprising of two single beds, we also had an extra day bed, a walk in wardrobe and a bathroom bigger than my flat’s lounge. Two sinks and a shower big enough for about ten people. Not too shabby. Worn out from our early start and travels, we headed straight to the beach to chill for the afternoon. Now, one thing you should know about the resort. Where it sits geographically means that whilst it’s nice and hot (and humid), it is also prone to rain. I spotted the signs and headed back to the room. Lisa was less lucky and got a bit wet.

img_8287That night we went to their restaurant for our first dinner with Chef Ann. She comes over and chats to you about the menu and asks what you like and don’t like to recommend dishes. My prawns in a spicy coconut sauce was lovely, with crispy spring rolls on the side and a portion of fluffy rice. Add some yummy cocktails into the mix and we were very happy. After dinner was the main event – our first turtle release (and struggling to get into hammocks)! So, the reason we visited this resort is because Emma (Lisa’s sister that joined us in KL) was volunteering for the Lang Tengah Turtle Watch programme which is based on the resort’s beach. img_8307Local men comb the beaches at night and rescue any eggs from poachers looking to eat or sell the eggs, and the volunteers monitor them and release them when they are ready to go. After a very professional talk from Emma about the programme and why we need to look after turtles, we headed down the beach in the dark to the special track they had built to help the turtle on their way. I don’t think there is anything better than a bucket of turtles making their way down to the sea. img_8311Due to magic (magnetite) in their brains, when turtles are released their internal GPS sets to their location so when they come back to breed in 20-50 years time, they will come back to that exact beach. It’s all very exciting. So high on turtle fun times, we headed back for a well earned sleep.

img_8325Tuesday was spent chilling by the pool, drinking beer. The pool was beautiful, our second infinity pool of the holiday but this time looking out over the beach. Warm water made swimming around completely bearable. Then the rain came. And BOY did it rain. We didn’t duck for cover quick enough so we were drenched fairly quickly. So we did what all responsible adults do in that situation. whatsapp-image-2016-10-22-at-13-02-49Shove our bags onto the sun loungers and covered them in towels, then dive bombed into the empty pool. The rain storm cooled the air down, so being in the warm water was really nice. After an hour of playing in the rain, it calmed down enough to run back to our room and take shelter on our patio. A second dinner with Chef Ann rounded off our chilled day – this time spicy black pepper beef, chicken satay and of course more spring rolls. Catching the end of happy hour, we grabbed some cocktails and headed back to our room for a game of ludo that we acquired from the front desk.whatsapp-image-2016-10-22-at-13-02-40

Wednesday was spent in a similar vein, except this time I ventured out alone after breakfast and was the first person on the beach. I think I finally understand what relaxing is. Hiding my sunburnt shoulders under my t-shirt, I ventured into the sea as we had plans to go snorkelling, and I’m a bit on the scaredy cat side when it comes to the ocean. And swimming. p1030130And open water. And sharks. I admit, there are no sharks where we were, but having watched The Shallows a few days before heading out left me a bit nervous. But it was perfectly pleasant, listening to the sounds of the waves, under my sun umbrella and reading my book. I could have stayed there forever. img_8386The afternoon drew us up to the pool where we booked our snorkelling trip (more on that below). We also ventured out to see Emma in her turtle hut and were rewarded by being allowed – after copious amounts of hand sanitiser – to hold teeny tiny newly hatched green turtles. Worth every minute we spent on a plane. They are so strong! Riding high on turtle love, we ventured outside of the resort and walked up the road to CB Wee – a local Chinese restaurant. For £9 between three of us we go: black pepper beef, chicken and cashews, mixed veg, fried rice, noodles, four iced teas and a beer. And, scandalously, the black pepper beef that cost £1 was so much better than the expensive stuff at the hotel. Well worth the short walk. Later that night as we snuggled up in bed, the heavens opened and we didn’t sleep until about 3am due to the torrential rain, thunder and the lightning that hit so close by the room shook.

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img_8406We grumpily awoke on Thursday and after a quick breakfast and issues with contact lenses, we hopped in the mini bus and headed down to our boat that took us on the 45 minute ride to Tenggol island. It was beautiful. We pull into the bay and wade through the shallows to the beach. After dumping our things at the cafe, we donned our snorkels and waded out. Now, at this point, I was scared. I’ve tried snorkelling before and kept hyperventilating and freaking out, so that combined with my dislike of swimming, swimming in the sea, swimming in open water, swimming in deep water and fish – I was reluctant. whatsapp-image-2016-10-22-at-13-05-15But I also knew I’d regret it if I didn’t. So whilst we were knee deep and before we reached the coral aka the point of no putting your feet down, I plunged my face in the water and taught myself to breathe. Turns out it’s much easier when the snorkel is attached to the mask and there’s interesting things to look at. And I was off. Highlights: watching grown women be super excited by clown fish and being sad I’d only seen one reef shark, to then have two swim a foot away from my face.img_8332 After an hour of swimming, we headed back to shore for our lunch and a chill out. Then it was back on the boat to go out into deeper water to go on the hunt for a Hawksbill Turtle that is known to live around there. Sadly, we didn’t see it (because Emma was there) but I swam in super deep water and only panicked about a shark attack once, so I think that’s a win. img_8412After a long boat ride home, a hot shower and a dry change of clothing, we headed out to conservative Dungun for the night market. Very different to the night markets of Laos, this basically centred around food. Plastic bags of chicken satay, spring rolls and coconut rice wrapped in leaves that was sticky and gooey and delicious. Sadly we could not stay long as we had another turtle release to get back for! After the turtle release, we decided it was only right to end our trip with happy hour cocktails on our porch.

img_8324Our final day saw us not having to leave until later afternoon, so we chilled by the pool and listened to Emma’s turtle speech before heading back to Terengganu. In KL we stayed at the airport hotel – slightly less luxurious than we were used to. A dinner from 7/11 of crisps and beer was our final meal in Malaysia. Early the next morning we awoke and headed home. On the plane I was a proper old lady and had to use not one, but two blankets. Because I’m so old now.img_8425

So concluded our trip. In conclusion, Malaysia is beautiful. Super easy to navigate, pretty much everyone speaks good English, and it’s dirt cheap. I definitely want to go back and explore Kuala Lumpur more, and everyone told us repeatedly to visit Penang for the street food so that’s high up on the list for the next adventure!

For more of my pictures, check out my Twitter and Instagram. Some photo cred for above for Lisa – you can find her on Instagram and see her views on the trip on Twitter and her blog!

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Elephant Sloe Gin

p1030157I got my sloe gin with my Elephant gin – bloody love this month’s Craft Gin Club delivery. After the joy that is Elephant gin (and you can read more about that here), I’m excited to try their sloe gin. After ripping off the plastic wrapping (thank god for long nails) I unpop the cork and the smell is sweet and syrupy. A slight sourness comes through so the smell isn’t overwhelming. Slightly Christmassy. p1030160Initially dark in colour, when held up to the light it’s a rich amber.

In the glass the juniper smell is strong, then I notice the label says “compared with other sloe gins, relatively low sugar content paired with higher alcohol volume” – it’s 35% which is higher than the average 15-30% (although EU laws say it must be a minimum of 25%). p1030158On the tongue when straight it’s very syrupy and sweet, with a strong kick of gin. Mixed with a touch of water it mellows out and produces a rich berry flavour. The juniper isn’t strong when you drink it, tasting slightly more of Chambord as a fruity mixer. Watered down slightly it doesn’t even have a taste of alcohol about it, but I am now obsessed with the idea of it being Christmas.

p1030162I don’t usually drink sloe gin with tonic, so instead I’m mixing it into a sloe gin fizz (one of my favourite cocktails in case you’re wondering). 50ml of sloe gin, 25 ml of lemon juice, a teaspoon of caster sugar and topped up with soda water. Nom nom. It’s soft and gentle, the flavours don’t overpowering anything else in the cocktail. Admittedly the recipe I followed called for an extra shot of gin, and perhaps this would have given it that little extra punch it perhaps needs (for my taste buds anyway). The bitterness of the gin and lemon juice is perfectly balanced with the sweetness from the sugar. Perfectly quaffable. I love sloe gin. p1030159

A 50cl bottle of Elephant Sloe gin is £31.95 on Masters of Malt (at time of publishing). I’d invest, now the winter and the dark nights are drawing in

Elephant gin are on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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Kuala Lumpur – part two

p1010875After our first few days in Kuala Lumpur, we awoke early on Saturday morning with Emma’s arrival and a morning spent chilling by the pool. Eventually we got ourselves ready for the day and headed to The Loaf for breakfast/brunch/lunch. Great juices and eggs benedict on a two inch thick piece of toast was rather scrummy. p1010880With full bellies we jumped on the train to Masjid Jamek – the oldest mosque in the city…to find it was closed to the public and surrounded by building work. So instead of going in we wandered around to the confluence of the rivers Gombek and Klang – Kuala Lumpur literally means “muddy estuary”.img_8208 Crossing this took us to Freedom Square, home of the I <3 KL sign. Fun to take photos with, then head into the City Gallery for a £1 entry fee. Downstairs has a small but interesting display on KL’s history and formation, but the winner is upstairs for an awesome multimedia display with a 3D map of the city. p1010885Outside the gallery in the square is a bloody great flagpole and buildings ranging in style from Persian to Tudor. It’s super easy to wander from here to the Old Market and China Town from here. China Town brings the delights of fake designer goods, cheap clothes and street food.

img_8211Unfortunately we were poor on time so we jumped on the train and headed to the Petronas Towers. Bloody hell they are big. Surprisingly hard to find the entrance though. Hidden within a shopping mall up some stairs, along a corridor, round a corner and down an escalator you find a very unassuming lobby. img_8158It’s highly recommended to prebook as tickets on the day sell out fast (it’s around £17 per person). They are super efficient, you get a coloured lanyard and are ushered up to the skybridge on the 41st floor. Given 10 minutes to admire the view (you’re pretty high up) and take a few (hundred) selfies, you get put back in the lift and taken up to the 83rd floor. Then, because that’s not high enough, up you go again to the 86th floor. It’s proper high. Through the binoculars you can clearly see the img_8162huge gold statue outside the Batu Caves. It’s insane. You really are very high up. At the bottom of the towers is a large park with fountains – I highly recommend sitting here after dark. Not only do the towers look stunning at night, but the fountains also turn into a coloured light show. img_8189We sat here until our empty stomachs forced us to move – dinner in the food hall of the mall. After dinner we retired to the roof top bar (standard).

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p1010988Sunday came with a very early start as Jo headed back to Hanoi (not that any of us were awake to see her go) and the remaining three of us headed to the Bird Park – the world’s largest free flying aviary. It was very hot. We went the scenic route via running across an eight lane road, crossing a bridge at the National Museum and visiting mini Stonehenge in the Astronomy Centre. p1010994The Bird Park is huge, and beware of bird’s pooing on you. You won’t be able to get it off all day. Even when a kind lady offers you baby wipes. p1030017Basically, there’s lots of fancy birds in aviaries and walking loose in the ground are peacocks and storks. I forgot I really don’t like birds. But it was a nice afternoon, and the walk through the botanical gardens (via the deer park with a lack of deer) is worth the heat. p1030062Being sweaty and sticky and tired, we jumped in a taxi back to the hotel and drove past Masjid Negara (National Mosque). Whilst we completely failed on this holiday to actually visit a mosque, the calls to prayer sounded out as we drove past. p1030019With a few hours to go until Emma’s overnight train, and our morning departure, we took one last opportunity to have a splash in the pool before eating a mountain of sushi. Fresh salmon and prawn nigiri, chicken satay, vegetable tempura and more filled our bellies before saying goodbye to Emma and enjoying one final cocktail on the roof top bar ahead of Monday’s flight to Kuala Terengganu and our beach resort!

 

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Kuala Lumpur – part one

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Sunset over Dubai

img_8002In August 2016, Lisa and I booked a trip to Malaysia. For September 2016. Nothing screams forward planning like panic booking. But we were very excited – until we realised we were getting six planes in 10 days (specifically three planes in 24 hours on the way home). Flying from Gatwick on 14 September we headed to our first destination – Kuala Lumpur. Can I just quickly shout out to Emirates, brilliant amounts of leg room and a good free bar – except they don’t have prosecco. Food, not too shabby. Although incredibly slow service. We were sat at the back of the plane and it took FOREVER to get any food. It was also easier to walk to them to get another drink than to wait for them to answer the call button. They also have all the films – including a whole folder of Disney classics. We were in HEAVEN watching Tangled. We made friends with the boy next to us (not optional as I kept making him move so I could have a wee) who was moving to KL for six months for university, and he stuck with us on our way through Dubai airport security, when he promptly ditched us. 90 minutes later we were on plane number two. Plane 2 was less fun as we were tired, and we decided to watch How to be Single. I watched it so you don’t have to. But I did get a very strong gin and tonic, so it wasn’t all bad. Until some bint of a hostess poked me really hard to wake me up. She got a death stare and quickly moved on.

Fish curry @ PappeRich
Fish curry @ PappeRich

img_8042But finally, at 9am KL time (2am London time aka 16 hours after leaving London) we landed. After adding some stamps to our passports and getting our fingerprints scanned by immigration, we jumped in a taxi to our hotel. We love Aloft KL Sentral. Our room was instantly ready which was great as essentially our first day was a write off. We went to NuSentral, the shopping mall joined to our hotel, for some ramen to pick us up, then we slept all afternoon. Luckily, the imminent arrival of Jo meant we dragged our asses up to our rooftop pool. It was hard that first day, sitting by the infinity pool on the 33rd floor looking over the insane view getting drinks delivered to us. So after a good swim and a chill out (and an upgrade to a room with a free mini bar as our air-con didn’t work) we popped round the corner to a restaurant outside the mall – PappaRich.

Gateway to India
Gateway to India

img_8056With a serving style similar to Argos (and used throughout Malaysia we later learnt), whilst perusing the menu you write your order numbers on a piece of paper and hand it to a waiter. Then you wait. As I learnt last year on my Asian Adventure, food comes when it comes. Doesn’t matter if it’s a starter or not. Two curries (one mutton and one fish) and a steamed chicken and rice later we were happy as can be. So after a little trip to 7-11 for some water, we ended up wandering around Little India, an area by our hotel. Incredible smells coming from all directions, we ended up at the Gateway to India – an archway given to Malaysia by India as a sign of their friendship and a pretty awesome fountain decorated with elephants and coloured lights. After quick rooftop mojito we were out for the count in our comfy comfy beds.

img_8064The next day bought an early start as we got up and headed out to the Batu Caves (train tickets £1 return each from Kl Sentral). Note: check the train times before you set off. We waited over 30 minutes for our train, but at least the platforms had air conditioning. After a slow trundle through the city, we arrived at the caves and walked through the avenue of vendors selling various tourist crap (and my first squat toilet experience of the trip). img_8068On arrival you’re greeted by some very large statues, a lot of tourists and a helluva lot of monkeys. At the bottom of the steps stands the world’s largest statute of Lord Murugan, and a lot of workmen asking everyone to carry either some gravel or bricks to the top – I like the mentality of everyone pitching in and helping, but I didn’t enjoy adding a bucket of gravel to the walk up 272 steps in the heat. The Batu Caves are one of the holiest shrines for Hindus outside of India, so make sure you have your knees and shoulders covered (clothing is available at the bottom of the steps). img_8079Do NOT open your bag on the way up the steps, the monkeys will take any chance they get to steal your food, drink or indeed anything they can put their hands on. It gets HOT here, so go early in the morning and prepare to be a sweaty mess. Once at the top you get a pretty good view and the caves are really incredible to see. The caves are open at the top so the natural daylight (and leftover rain water) come pouring in and there are mini temples within the caves.

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Grumpy sweaty face

On our way down we took a detour into the government owned and maintained Dark Cave. This series of caves are used for education and research – with one cave reserved for the more adventurous (this requires pre-booking). Instead we opted for the 45 minute walk in the cave that is open to the public. Our guide taught us about the huge number of bats that live there and how to identify if bats are insect or fruit eaters and the trapdoor spider, one of the world’s rarest – although we didn’t see any of these. Or any snakes. But what we did get to do was wear a hard hat and carry a torch so we had a great time.

 

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Hard hat yo!

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After descending the steps we paid a whole £1 to enter the Ramayana Cave. Totally worth it. This was insane. Not so much in the naturally beautiful way but because it it filled with dioramas of Hindu gods. img_8105Although in this cave climbing the steep winding staircase takes you to a naturally occurring shrine (if you’re not Hindu I’m going to go ahead and say it isn’t worth the effort, it’s a rock). So after Lisa got herself a new monkey friend, we decided to head back to the city (after waiting 30 minutes for the train and riding in a women only carriage). After our super long hot day, we gratefully plunged into our rooftop pool. img_8129We had every intention of going out for dinner. Then we had a few drinks and decided bbq food on the roof in our bikinis was a better idea (one lemongrass and ginger quail, one Texas BBQ beef and one spicy chicken). All utterly delicious and washed down with numerous drinks. We LOVE rooftop bars. And so ended our first proper day.img_8119

 

 

Coming next: failing to go to mosques, I <3 KL, China Town, Petronas Towers and being pooed on by a smug bird…