Friday, June 27, 2014

Batang Ai Longhouse Resort- A Quiet Resort on an Island within Borneo Island

Lubuk Antu in Sarawak, a place unfamiliar to most Malaysian, even to many Sarawakians, houses a resort- Batang Ai Longhouse Resort. It is unique as it resides on a small island in the middle of Batang Ai lake, which is formed due the crave of hidroelectric power.

Batang Ai Longhouse Resort is located in Lubuk Antu, Sri Aman, approximately 280 km from Kuching, and 225 km from Sibu. We started our trip from Sibu early morning by car and reached the jetty near Batang Ai Dam in around 4 hours 30 minutes (with a stop at Sarikei). The trip was not too bad as the road condition was good. By the way, Batang Ai means Ai River.

 Map shows the location of Batang Ai Dam, and the route we took from Sibu. Instead of 3 h 7 min, we took around 4 h 30 min. We passed by Bintangor, Sarikei, Saratok, and Betong before we reached our destination.

The only way for us to travel through the huge lake formed by the building of the dam was using a boat prepared by the hotel management. As we visited the hotel during weekday in the middle of May, we were the only visitors of the resort, until joined by another group of several foreign visitors at dusk. We stayed there for a night, enjoying a calm, quiet, and full-with-greenery time, while listening to the orchestra played by nature. Ironically, it was at the middle of a man-made lake.

Panoramic view of Batang Ai National Park at the view point nearby the jetty. Click the photo to enlarge.

The transit boat is the only mean to reach the hotel. It operates only a few trips a day. The boat ride takes 20 minutes to reach the resort from jetty.

Nice view at the jetty.

The dam is located nearby the jetty.

Calm and picturesque view on our way to the resort.

Flooded for more than 25 years, the remaining of the trees can still be seen around the lake.

The resort is well-hidden behind the trees (upper left). The first message from the resort- no swimming in the lake (upper right). The resort welcomes its guests with stairs. Luckily, helpful porters were there to help us with our luggage.

The resort was built using woods. So we can see wooden lobby (upper left), wooden balcony with wooden chairs and coffee tables (upper right), and wooden walkway resembles ruai of a longhouse (lower left). There is a nice swimming pool too.

Panoramic view from the higher platform of the jetty. Click the photo to enlarge.

Panoramic view from the resort. Click the photo to enlarge.

We stayed in a very nice wooden-decorated room. The room was spacious.

As there was no other place for us to go for lunch and dinner, the hotel's restaurant was the only choice we had. The average price for a single meal was at least RM30. We tried several dishes at the restaurant, which most of them were delicious. Fried noodle with udang galah (upper left), Kuching Kway Teow (upper right), Sri Aman Mix (lower left) were good. The enormous freshwater prawn, udang galah surprised us. The complementary western breakfast was acceptable as well. However, Tasmanian wild salmon steak (not shown) was not impressive.

Group photo at the restaurant before lunch.

Photo taken on our way back.

The road connecting Batang Ai Dam to other part of Sarawak.

We found that Batang Ai Lake Recreation Park was beautiful. It is located on the another side of the dam. A short walk around the park promises great view, but beware of hungry mosquitoes.

A view on Batang Ai Lake Recreation Park from the entrance.

Two days one night trip to Batang Ai Longhouse Resort is enough. A prolonged afternoon downpour a few hours after our arrival trapped us in the resort for the first day. Else, we might join some of the activities such as jungle trekking, longhouse visit, or fishing. These activities were offered by the resort with fees, and arrangement needed to be made a few hours earlier. The next morning, we walked around to enjoy the beauty of nature and fresh air. We took the opportunity to swim in the nice pool before we left the resort at around 12 pm.

Frankly, that is definitely not a must-visit place in Sarawak. However, if you fancy about spending an extraordinary quiet night in the middle of an island within Borneo Island, you might consider to stay overnight at the resort. But remember, the resort can be full with visitors during weekends, school holidays, and public holidays. Visit the official website of the hotel for more information. The boat schedule is available in the website as well.

More about our experience in Sarawak are available:

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Food, Accommodation and Transportation in Phuket

What can represent Thai food more than tom yam (or tom yum) and pad Thai (fried plat noodle in Thai style)? We had these typical Thai food during our stay in Phuket. Besides, we tried many other food e.g. mango and sticky rice with jackfruit, fried noodle, fried oyster with egg, beef noodle, BBQ chicken, fried rice with pineapple, Japanese food, and Western food. We would like to share our experience with food in Phuket, place by place.

First night at Phuket, we went to food court at third floor in Patong Promenade, opposite of Jung Ceylon main entrance at Thanon Ratuthit Songroipi. We ordered tom yam goong for extra portion of prawn in the dish, fried oyster with egg, and pad Thai, the rice-noodle as well. Frankly speaking, the food were quite expensive and the taste, not very good. For us, the taste of the tom yam was not strong enough. However, it might be good for those who couldn't  take very spicy food. The fried oyster with egg was disappointing, oysters were much smaller than what we had expected, while the pad Thai, well, the taste was acceptable but a bit too sticky. The price, 130 Bahts for tom yam goong, 110 Bahts for pad Thai, and 650 Bahts for the fried oyster with egg.

Second day, we took seafood tom yam at Chokun Seafood beside Rawai Beach. The tom yam was a bit too sour, but with unexpectedly big potion of squid and prawn. That was the second best tom yam in our whole Phuket trip. How about pad Thai? Much better with enough prawns and spring onion, and the rice-noodle didn't stick together too much. The price, 150 Bahts for tom yam and 80 Bahts for pad Thai.

Tom yam and pad Thai at Patong Promenade (upper row) and Rawai Beach (lower row), different taste and prices.

The Food Court at Patong Promenade (upper left). In fact, the whole area was full with eateries (upper right). Rawai Beach (lower left) could be seen from Chokun Seafood.

At night, we went to Shabu Shi at Jung Ceylon for buffet dinner. All right, it might sound crazy for us to take Japanese-Korean type food in Thailand, but the good comments were luring. The time limit was 1 hour 15 minutes per entry. About the choices, not very much but enough to keep us busy as we need to cook most of the food with a hot pot. The taste, to be frank, average compared to the same class of restaurants in Malaysia, but the price was reasonable (365 Bahts per person). By the way, the restaurant was very crowded and the queue was long at night. So, we need to go to the restaurant early, maybe before 7 pm to avoid the queue. Although it was fully air conditioned, it could be warm and a bit squeezy when the number of customers increased.

Shabu Shi at Jung Ceylon (upper left), with plates of food served through conveyor belt (upper right). Some of the food were raw (lower left) while some were ready to be eaten.

The morning before we departed to Phuket Old Town, we tried the Western breakfast at our hotel. Many reviewers gave their thumbs up, and we couldn't be more agree with them. The food was fresh and the coffee was nice. We tried two different sets of breakfast with the average price of 150 Bahts per set, the food worth the price.

Breakfast at Baan Paradise Hotel.

We took two meals in Phuket Old Town. One at Dibuk Restaurant, at Dibuk Road. The restaurant was bigger than it looked from the outside. It had a little garden inside with remarkable relaxing atmosphere. However, the waitress didn't understand English. We ordered our food by pointing here and there on the menu, but finally still ended up with getting the wrong food. Anyway, the green curry with "heart shape" rice was good to see, but the taste was not strong enough. The curry soup was not concentrated enough and the fried rice had nothing special too. The price, 150 Bahts for the green curry and rice, and 100 Bahts for the fried rice.

We took our afternoon break at Kanda Bakery Restaurant, attracted by the prices- 70 Bahts for tom yam and 40 Bahts for chicken and corn soup. That was the cheapest tom yam for our entire trip. The tom yam was a bit sour but still acceptable, which the chicken and corn soup was nice.

Meals at Phuket Old Town- green curry with rice (upper left), fried rice with chicken and vegetable (upper right), seafood tom yam (lower left), and chicken with corn soup.

Dibuk Restaurant, outside (upper left) and inside (upper right). Kanda Bakery Restaurant was not easy to be found (lower left). However, the Bank of Ayudhaya opposite of the restaurant was prominent.

That night, we went to the night market beside Banzaan Fresh Mart. Surprisingly, we found the best tom yam there. Served with vermicelli, the tom yam had a balance of hot and sour. Although lack in seafood, the taste was the one that we were looking for. We tried the pork rib rice noodle and BBQ chicken at the night market as well. The price, 80 Bahts for pork rib noodle, 100 Bahts for tom yam, and 70 Bahts for the BBQ chicken whole leg. The food again not cheap, but the place was full with people.

Pork rib rice noodle (upper left) and tom yam (upper right), bbq chicken (lower left) and local orange juice were some of the food that we tried in night market at Banzaan Fresh Mart, Patong. All of them were nice.

The night market was full with locals and tourists (upper left). The owners of the stalls served good tom yam (upper right) and pancake (lower right) were always busy. The pancake with coconut tasted good.

Last day in Phuket, we took our breakfast at Dang Restaurant, located at Thanon Ratuthit Songroipi near to Bangla Road, 3 minutes away from our hotel by foot,. We tried fried noodle with vegetable and noodle soup with beef. The fried noodle was nice, but the noodle soup with beef was a bit less tasty. Afternoon, we took our lunch at Banzaan Fresh Mart. There was a food court at the upper level of the fresh market. Several stalls offered cooking service, helping visitors to cook the seafood bought from the lower level, with charges, of course.

Banzaan Fresh Market with the lower level selling fresh vegetables and seafood, and the upper level offering service to cook them. For us, the price for seafood was not cheap.

Fried noodle at Dang Restaurant (upper left), pineapple fried rice (upper right), mango and sticky rice with jackfruit (lower left), and pancake were some other food that we tried. The mango and sticky rice with jackfruit that we bought from Big C were nice. The pancake, although praised by many, was totally not our favourite (tasted like third class roti canai pisang in our country). Big C was located in Jung Ceylon Mall, while pancake could be bought from the street beside Patong Beach, nearby Banana Walk.

Accommodation should not be a problem in Phuket. Hotels and guest houses were plenty. We found about 10 other guest houses on the same street of our hotel Baan Paradise, starting with the rate as low as 300 Bahts per night. Staying in Patong means we stay at the busiest part of Phuket.

The recommended area- a few streets away from Bangla Road, Jung Ceylon Mall, and Patong Beach. For us, we booked our room through Air Asia Room. The rate was the same compared to Well, if you are the adventurous type, you can always do the booking for the first day and search for a cheaper and better one after that.

Back to Baan Paradise Hotel, the location, unbeatable. 10 minutes walk to Patong Beach, 5 minutes to Jung Ceylon Mall and Bangla Road, and 10 minutes to Banzaan Fresh Mart. How about amenities? Bathroom with hot water shower, room completed with tv, mini bar, air conditioner, plus room service, we couldn't complain about this small hotel. One great plus for us- high speed wifi in room. It would be perfect if complementary breakfast was given, and the staff, with more knowledge in tourism.

Baan Paradise Hotel from the outside. The motorbikes in front of the hotel were for rent (upper left). The lobby of the hotel (upper right), the room (lower left), and some of the amenities in the room.

Rooms for rent are everywhere.

To travel around Phuket,  we had several choices- rent a bike, rent a car, carter a car with driver (taxi), bus, tuk-tuk, and of course, we could always depend on our feet. We didn't rent any tuk-tuk during our stay in Phuket. First, it was expensive, with non-standardized fare across the island. How cheap the fare could go was highly depending on your haggling skill. Well, we found that the fare were hard to be lower than 100 Bahts, even with the distance of less than 10 minutes walk. provided very good airport shuttle service. As far as we knew, meter taxi would charge extra 100 Bahts for whatsoever reason. So, the trip from airport to Patong for meter taxi would end up to be 650 - 750 Bahts. So, we preferred to book our limousine through What we needed to do was looking for our name tag outside of the arrival hall (We can ask the airport's staff how and where to look the limousine too. Just tell them that we have our booking through the website).

There were two types of taxis in Phuket- running on meter and without meter. We didn't use any metered taxi. We rented a taxi for 5 hours trip, with the fare of 120 Bahts. The service was good. Our experience, try not to get the service from the travel agents as their would mark up the price. What we did was, we planned our destinations, and then asked the taxi driver for the price for the whole trip. We didn't stop at any of the tourists traps. Instead, we spent most of our time visiting places like Wat Chalong, Big Buddha Temple, Rawai Beach, Phromthep Cape and Kata Viewpoint. We received valuable information by talking to the driver as well (mostly about local food and attractions).

Our half day trip taxi (upper left) with very polite and helpful driver. He insisted to open the back door for us. Our experience on bus trip was unforgettable. Just look at the "bus" (upper right) and you should know the reason. That was our first time getting into a truck which had been named a "bus". A small truck named "tuk-tuk" (lower left) was available all over the place. However, never hoop onto this thing before you know the fare. Motorbikes for rent could be found almost in every corner in Patong area. Well, you need to make sure your international licence is still valid before you ride away with this 250 Bahts-a-day motorbike. You might end up paying 2500 Bahts to the enforcers for riding without licence.

We discovered that some of the tuk-tuks had very powerful sound systems. Well, this might be useful to blast refuse-to-get-out customers away.

During our stay in Phuket, we found that the street was safe, people were polite and helpful, the place was clean, the scenery were good, but with the price was high for almost everything, everywhere. If you are planning for a nice quiet retreat or a long out-of-the-city vacation, you might want to stay away from Patong area. But if you wish to experience a busy beach-life vacation, then Patong might be a place for you. 

[Food and Accommodation and Shopping in Phuket]