Poring Canopy Walkway in Sabah, Borneo

4/28/11

One of the popular things to do in Kota Kinabalu is to drive about three hours to get to the Poring Hot Springs. There are pools for people to swim in the hot water coming from the springs. Another attraction at Poring Hot Springs is the canopy walkway. It's a very short and easy hike to the walkway and an even shorter walk across the bridges. If you're afraid of heights, this is probably not for you. 
If you want to walk across the canopy walkway, be prepared to pay a camera fee. Photobucket
Our guide told us that the original canopy walkway was being repaired because a tree fell across one of the bridges, 
so the one we walked on was built to be used while the original one is repaired. 
Past the gate to enter the canopy walkway is a trail that takes you to the Kipungit Water Fall.
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Besides the canopy walkway and the hot springs, there are trails and gardens to enjoy at Poring Hot Springs.

If you bought a ticket to Mt. Kinabalu Park, bring your ticket stub to Poring Hot Springs and the entrance fee will be waived. Entrance to the canopy walkway costs RM3 for locals and RM5 for tourists. 

It was a pretty short trip (I think we were here for about two hours) to Poring Hot Springs and nothing really to write home about. I was annoyed that we were charged for our cameras in addition to paying for the canopy walkway admission. There is a Rafflesia Research Centre on site so if you come, hopefully you'll get a chance to see the Rafflesia in bloom

Mt. Kinabalu Park in Sabah, Borneo

4/27/11

Mt. Kinabalu is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is located in the Mt. Kinabalu Park in Sabah. A lot of people come to KK to climb Mt. Kinabalu. From what I've read, the climb doesn't require special climbing equipment and you just need to be in good health. It can be hiked in two or three days. 

Our trip to KK was kind of last minute and we didn't really look into climbing to the top, so instead we just went to Mt. Kinabalu Park for a nature walk and to see the botanical garden. As we walked around, we could feel the temperature was cooler in some areas. The different climate zones are part of the reason why there is so much biodiversity at Mt. Kinabalu Park.
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This berry from a tree our guide called a kerosene plant has oil inside that can be lit on fire.
A view of Mt. Kinabalu.


Mt. Kinabalu Park is about two hours away by car from Kota Kinabalu. For more information on getting there and accommodations, click here

Rafflesia: The World's Largest Flower

4/25/11

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but a Rafflesia by any other name would still smell like rotting flesh. 

While in Sabah over the weekend, we had a chance to see the world's ugliest largest flower in bloom. The Rafflesia is Sabah's national flower and seeing it in bloom is a popular tourist attraction in Borneo. The flower smells horrible, but the scent is intended to attract insects which help with the flower's pollination.  

The particular species we saw is called Rafflesia keithii, named after Henry George Keith, a former conservator of forests in Sabah. Keith's wife, Agnes Newton Keith, was an American author who wrote several books on Sabah. The title of her first book Land Below The Wind has become Sabah's unofficial motto.
Locals charge tourists to see Rafflesia flowers in bloom on their property.
To give you an idea of this flower's size, Jeff is standing a few feet away in the photo. This bloom was probably about two feet in diameter. Some species of the Rafflesia can get up to three feet in diameter.

The Rafflesia was named after Sir Stamford Raffles and is actually a type of parasite. The flowers typically have five petals, but the one we saw had six. The blooms last only a few days, so it was pretty good timing that we got a chance to see it.

If you are going to Sabah and want to check out a Rafflesia for yourself, try the Rafflesia Information Centre at the Crocker Range National Park. More information can be found here and here

Easter Weekend in Borneo

"Borneo? Where's that?"

This seemed to be the common response when we told people where we'd be spending the long weekend. Borneo is the third largest island in the world (also the third highest) and is made up of parts of Indonesia and Malaysia, as well as Brunei. We stayed in the town of Kota Kinabalu, or KK, in the Malaysian state of Sabah. 

Our weekend was relaxing and we really enjoyed KK. Hiking at the base of Mt. Kinabalu, a game of Scrabble overlooking Likas Bay, shopping at the markets in town, seeing the world's largest flower in bloom and attempting to beat the house at the hotel's buffet were some of the highlights of our trip. More posts to come later this week. 

Beer Making Class at Red Dot Brewery

4/24/11

When we lived in San Jose, Jeff would spend every other Saturday in the kitchen making batches of home brew. As his beer making skills improved, his collection of equipment grew and started to find new homes in other rooms of the house. Before our house had a chance to turn into a full-blown speakeasy with people coming in and out for kegs and growlers of home brew, we moved to Singapore and sold all of the equipment to one of Jeff's friends. 

Jeff couldn't go without his favorite past time for very long, and eventually found Home Brew, a small business in Singapore selling home brew equipment and ingredients. The accumulation of beer making equipment is happening again, with the corners of our dining room slowly being filled with boxes of glass bottles and a mash tun (a stainless steel container used in the beer making process). The sweet smell of boiling wort has become a semi-monthly Saturday tradition once more. 

We recently attended an all grain beer making class held by head brewer and owner of Red Dot Brewery, Ernest Ng. The class covered the basics of all grain brewing, as well as some of the chemistry involved and how to correct potential brewing mistakes. Even Jeff, the experienced home brewer, learned a thing or two. Below, we break down the process involved in making a batch of beer from basic ingredients. 
First, we smelled and tasted the basic ingredients that go into beer: hops, malted grains, water, and yeast.
Next, we crushed the malted grains in a grain crusher that was powered by an old drill. It's much easier than doing it by hand (we've tried). The crushed grains were then added to hot water in a mash tun at a carefully calculated temperature. The grains need to steep in the mash tun for one hour to extract all the sugars for fermentation. This is called mashing. 
Mashing results in sweet wort, which is boiled for another hour. During this hour, hops are added at different intervals, depending on the desired flavor and bitterness. 
After the 60 minute boil is finished and hops have been added, the wort is then quickly chilled and transferred to a container called a fermenter. In this photo, the people helping the class used a pump system to push the wort through an ice bath into a fermenter. When we brew, we use something called a copper coil wort chiller. Yeast is added to the wort and left to ferment (fermentation takes less time in higher temperatures). After all that is done, you've got yourself some beer. Now you just need to carbonate it. 
After class, Ernest showed us around his brewery, which he designed himself. Jeff and Ernest talked for a long time about what it takes to make a brewery successful. Owning a brewery is one of Jeff's dreams.
If you're interested in home brewing, there are two home brew supply stores in Singapore: Home Brew and iBrew. If you would like to know more about home brewing and how to get started, feel free to contact Jeff by leaving a comment below or emailing him. Cheers! 

All Aboard: Riding the Train from Tanjong Pagar Rail Station to Johor Bahru

4/17/11

Not only are they a dying form of transportation, trains and railway stations are also time machines, taking passengers back to a simpler, slower time. As I set foot inside Tanjong Pagar Rail Station a few days ago, I forgot about the glass and steel buildings in the CBD, the crowded malls and congested streets of Singapore. Train service out of this station will end on July 1, 2011, so I decided to take a train ride to Johor Bahru before it would be too late. 

After July 1, the Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad (KTMB) will no longer run trains out of Tanjong Pagar Rail Station to Malaysia. Passengers seeking to ride the rails from Singapore to Johor Bahru and beyond will have to begin their journey at Woodlands Train Checkpoint (WTCP). Tanjong Pagar Rail Station, as well as Bukit Timah Rail Station, have been gazetted and will be conserved. The land where the train tracks now lay seems to be fair game and will probably be developed at warp speed, as land is scarce on this little island. 
The train cars show their age.
All trains leaving Tanjong Pagar Rail Station must stop at WTCP so passengers can clear immigration and customs.
Crossing the causeway by train.
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Waiting at the JB station to board the train back to Tanjong Pagar.
This is no Orient Express. The trains are old and a bit grimy, but comfortable. The faint aroma of years of cigarette smoke lingers in the cars.
Everyone stops to catch a glimpse, before there is nothing left to see.
If you want to come experience Tanjong Pagar Rail Station without riding a train, come have a meal from one of the many food vendors on the platform. 

If you're in Singapore and are able to take a train ride from Tanjong Pagar Rail Station, I encourage you to do so. The tickets are only a couple bucks and can be purchased within 24 hours of departure time from the ticket counter at the station. Return tickets from JB can only be purchased on the Malaysian side of the border; just look for the ticket counter at the JB station and pay a few ringgit. 

The trip itself takes less than an hour, but you get to see a side of Singapore that is quickly fading. The train goes through the jungle that once covered all of Singapore, passes by squatters living in KTMB buildings, and takes you through the back of neighborhoods. Making this journey is a great way to see a different side of Singapore. 

Don't forget your passport and grab a window seat to enjoy the view. It will be gone very soon.

Staying in Putrajaya, Malaysia

4/12/11

The city of Putrajaya refers to itself the administrative capital of Malaysia. This should have been a huge red flag that it would be a boring place to stay while in town for the Grand Prix. But with only a few weeks until the race and no hotel reservations made, our options had run out. We were either going to stay in Putrajaya at what felt like the only hotel in town, or blow our rent and stay in an enormous suite at the Pan Pacific. Putrajaya it was. 
On the train to Putrajaya.
It only cost RM5.50 to get from LCC Terminal to Putrajaya's train station.
Some hotels rooms have Bibles; in Malaysia, the rooms point you towards Mecca.

I didn't take any photos of the hotel grounds for some reason. It was a huge, recently constructed complex. The sprawling estate felt empty and sad, a continuation of the same dreary vibe we got as the city bus drove through town. We arrived in the morning and the hotel was desolate, yet we were told that our room wasn't ready. This was the first of many WTF moments of the weekend. I fell asleep on a couch in the lobby while Jeff quietly typed away on his laptop until our room was ready a few hours later.
Jeff and I decided to rent bikes from the hotel one morning to ride around the city. Putrajaya's development as the federal administration center of Malaysia began in 1995, but the buildings look as though they were completed months ago. The infrastructure of Putrajaya is impressive; there are wide streets and immaculate sidewalks lined with street lamps, bus stops and garbage cans. Everything is spotless. In fact, during our bike ride through town, the only people we saw on the streets were street cleaners and landscapers. 
Seri Gemilang Bridge over the manmade Putrajaya Lake.
The Palace of Justice in Putrajaya.

We were looking for a place to buy a cold drink on our bike ride and couldn't find anything, not even a vending machine or a 7-11. Maybe we didn't ride far enough. I later learned that Putrajaya has one mall, as well as a bazaar-style market. We didn't have time to check these out because we were at the race track most of the day. I also wanted to ride to the Putra Mosque, but we had to turn our bikes around and head back to the hotel.

Jeff says the reason why no one was in town is because everyone was celebrating the King of Johor's birthday, but I have a feeling the town would have felt just as eerie even with people in it.

2011 Formula One Petronas Malaysia Grand Prix (or, what we did last weekend)

4/11/11

This past weekend, we went up to KL for the 2011 Formula One Petronas Malaysia Grand Prix at Sepang Circuit. It was a lot less flashy than the Singapore Grand Prix we went to last year, but still lots of fun. Jeff is a huge F1 fan (and Vettel supporter) and is taking full advantage of the F1 races in such close proximity to us. Unlike Singapore's circuit which takes place on the streets of downtown Singapore, the Sepang Circuit is an actual race track which made viewing the race a bit more comfortable. 

Grey clouds loomed over the track all weekend and the teams were anticipating rain to fall about 10 minutes into the race. Except for a small sprinkling of rain right before the race on Sunday was about to start, Mother Nature held off on the rain storm until Monday morning. I guess she's a race fan, too.
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Satay for lunch. 
 The circuit. We sat on the right end of the main grandstand, facing pit lane.
 We found ourselves in this line often during the weekend.
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F1 races are deafeningly loud. Ear plugs are a must!
 Sebastian Vettel, the winner of the Malaysia Grand Prix and Jeff's favorite driver.
Fans on the hills of Sepang Circuit. Singapore Noodle is in here somewhere...

We're definitely looking forward to the Singapore Grand Prix later this year, especially since Linkin Park is scheduled to perform. The one thing we missed at the Malaysia Grand Prix were the concerts every night of the race. There was not as much emphasis on the entertainment at Malaysia GP like there was at Singapore's race. Last year we saw Adam Lambert and Daughtry perform. Although we aren't huge fans of them, seeing live performances is something we always enjoy.

We bought tickets for the Singapore Grand Prix as soon as they went on sale. Are you going? 
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