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Day 4 – Gruelling Course at Awana Genting Highlands Golf & Country Resort

Our first activity before breakfast was to trek into the dipterocarp montane forest. Andi Kus & I preferred to take photos of life that enfolded around us & we stayed well behind the troupe as they marched pass us. Minute plants caught my attention & as giant fungi looked out of place, the jungle began to tell us a story of symbiosis. Moss that is found only at a certain height above sea level was seen here. Ferns that begin with a tight curl, unravel themselves in splendour the deeper you go into the forest. Every life form supports the ecosystem & make up the food chain. We are to take nothing but pictures, leave nothing behind but footprints. That’s not always the case with me. I left a scent & took 5 leeches back with me. Andi Kus didn’t get a single bite even though he was beside me taking the same shots! Now how is that possible??? *shudder!*

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Moss

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Moss on semi dead wood

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The leeches paled in comparison to what followed after breakfast. An obstacle course called ”˜Tears of the Sun,’ designed to test your endurance & team spirit, was part of surviving the My Selangor Story 2011 tour. Zul, our team trainer called out Ridha to lead the bloggers into a Bollywood dance as the theme song ”˜Jai Ho,’ from Slumdog Millionaire came on the superb sound system. Then everyone had to get out of a knotted circle to run to the starting line of the tremendously challenging course…..

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Hills & ditches, everyone got wet. Climbing over wooden fences, inclining & declining wooden slopes only to be dropped vertically into the ditch again. Crossing every pool of water caused everyone to depend on one another. By the time they reached their 5th ditch, each one learnt to make the best of it by…….dancing & acting! Watch the video! The superb showmanship by medical student, Shaleh had me in stitches. At the end of the obstacle course, the differences in culture, ethnicity & countries bore no more obstacles to friendship & camaraderie. In the name of cohesion, we danced to celebrate the completion of the most gruelling task, not in the course but in trusting our lives with another on the journey.

Watch the video of bloggers in action!

We got ready & clean to go for the closing lunch reception that the wonderful sponsors at Awana Genting Highlands Golf & Country Resort prepared for us. The General Manager, Ruddin Salim expressed that it was a pleasure to have us but I feel that the pleasure was ours to be invited for the journey. Najib reiterated that he never says goodbye but when will I see you again. The presence of the GM, Assistant GM & all the Fun & Adventure marshals & trainers who made us feel belonged & welcome was more than just the hospitality that came with their jobs. It came forth because of the love they have for the work that they do. I want to thank & appreciate all the physical effort of Zul & his team for working through the night to set up the course & trail for us & the group after us. His tireless work make him the best in a class of his own. Thank you for making it mean so much to us!

We savoured yet another lavish spread of buffet lunch at Rajawali Coffee House in Awana Genting Highlands Golf & Country Resort just before the bus departed for Day 4 of our journey at Holiday Inn Kuala Lumpur Glenmarie Resort for a sumptuous offer…

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Rajawali Coffee House

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Main dishes!

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Mousses & soufflé!

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Cakes!

 

Day 3 – Seafood & Gluttons in The Mountains at Awana Genting Highlands, My Selangor Story 2011

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Dinner was lavish. Seafood was brought in & the spread was more than what we could stomach for a week. The restaurant is called Pasar Ikan Bakar, translated to mean Grilled Fish Market. Decorated with low tables & Thai triangular-backed cushioned mattresses on colourful hand-woven straw mats, it was one big, cosy dining area. When we were told of a night walk, we thought we’d better stuff ourselves. It was difficult to hold back given the choicest foods in the spread! We became gluttons at sight of the seafood!

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Calamari/squid, fresh prawns & flower crabs on a bed of shaved ice!!!

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Cosy settings at Pasar Ikan Bakar

We even had the in-house band entertain us with songs throughout dinner which I thought was utterly fabulous! The singer had a wonderful voice & it filled the place with an ambience that’s indescribably good! Maybe my protruding tummy at the end of the meal & the triangular backs of these mattresses caused me to be at ease at all times. It felt so good to have someone serenading you over your meal, just like in a hotel except that I was in the middle of the jungle in Genting Highlands. Bliss! With bloggers like Andi Kus & Shaleh, I couldn’t stop laughing the whole night. Goofing around was never this fun until I met them! I don’t think there is another jungle lodge that’s as elaborately comfy & vibrant as this place!

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Andi Kus & Shaleh with muka-muka masing-masing!

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Posting the yummy seafood for you to see again!

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Salad bar!

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We even have pickled nutmeg & such!

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A fruit rojak bar!

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A sambal counter!!!

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The in-house band entertaining us!

This wasn’t all, Amelia Tan, the organiser gave a rendition of the same song in the most soulful manner, enough to melt any man’s heart. The video is on my Day 5’s posting.

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I had two helpings of this portion!

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We were served supper too!

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Spoilt silly for choices.

This is definitely the place for companies to bring their employees for team building. Where else can you get such great food to bring out the devotion in your staff? After being fed supper, we all turned in. In the stillness of the night, the symphony of frogs croaking sent me rolling onto my mattress & planning yet another escape route for the obstacle course the next day…….

Pasar Ikan Bakar is at Awana Genting Highlands Golf & Country Resort and is open every Friday, Saturday & Sunday. For bookings, call +60361013015 Ext: 53020 or 7605 between 9am – 5pm.

Note: Thank you for reading this far! This is a contest entry so please vote for me HERE! <—- Just click on the hearts! The more hearts, the better!

The next day, the gruelling challenge begins…..

Day 3 – The Soil Beneath The Clouds at Awana Genting Highlands Golf & Country Resort – My Selangor Story 2011

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At the entrance of Golden Palm Tree Resort & Spa for the farewell.

Bidding farewell to such a wondrous place in Selangor seemed a bit morose, with all the feasting & the merry-making over the last 2 nights. It was also our dreaded time to face the oncoming unknown challenges in the jungles of Genting Highlands. The General Manager, Mr. Pascal Prigent, saw us off in style & sat with us to have a group shot for the record! Thank you for having us rock your resort & terrorise your bell-hops with requests to go to London, Mars & Venus. It made my stay ever more universal. ?

Like an entourage accompanying the mission, we bade farewell to the resort management, got onto the bus & possibly slept all the way to Awana Genting Highlands (minus the zippy washroom stopover) to make up for the eventuality of any (gruelling) exercises. We were briefed of the day’s itinerary the night before & anticipate it, we did not. Added to the challenge of not knowing the itinerary prior to the tour, the mention of an obstacle course was enough to unnerve the (un)fit, (un)prepared, (un)abled & (under)trained in us. *Gulp*….I wouldn’t like the thought of my hip falling out of socket in any of the challenges & to think that in my hey days, I was training to be a part of the Eco Challenge team & rock climbing was a weekly affair….then.

We had a grand welcome with all the managers lined up to greet us like VIP! It was great! We were ushered into the lounge where the launch of My Selangor Story 2011 for Awana Genting Highlands Golf & Country Resort took place. YB Elizabeth Wong was present again to grace the event & the Senior Vice President of PR Communications Genting Malaysia Berhad, Dato’ Anthony Loke, gave us an introduction of the property that Awana Genting Longhouse is a part of. The area had been gazetted as an IBA – Important Bird Area as of last year, marking the recognition of birds that live in the area requiring protection & conservation of their habitat. This is great news for me as a birder as I come up to this area to photograph birds & protection might hopefully gain them in numbers thus, increasing our chances of spotting them. He also cited the uniqueness of the longhouse experience, one that can only be had in Sarawak. He stressed that conservation to the surroundings have produced great interest amongst photographers who then participated in a contest to have their entries made into a coffee table book! The flora & fauna will be showcased in the book that is about to be launched soon. I’ve known about the conservation efforts in Cameron Highlands & Fraser’s Hill but this is the first time I’m hearing about the efforts in Genting Highlands. If indeed, this will be of great interest to bird & nature photographers to make more frequent trips up to document the fauna & spreading the awareness of species. I will organise my group to explore & expedite the appreciation of the place once I find out what there is to be done! It was evident that Dato’ Anthony showed a deep appreciation for the environment that built his career, even more, his love for the life that it contains. He spoke without a formal written speech & was probably assisted by only points in his note. As it’s paramount for the property on its stewardship, the steward would be the one to steer the wheels in motion for the rest in his charge. It made me forget that I was dreading the drill factor in the first place & made me want to go out to meet nature right there & then!

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Dato’ Anthony Loke during his speech.

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A basket of Phalaenopsis sp Orchid was presented to YB Elizabeth Wong for gracing the occasion!

After a video demonstration from the resort of what to expect of this journey at Awana Genting Highlands Golf & Country Resort, tea & snacks were served to prep us up for the abseil challenge. Najib, the founder of Fun & Adventure company that arranges the outdoor & team building activities for Awana Genting Highlands Golf & Country Resort, briefed us about the do’s & don’t’s when entering the jungle. He introduced Mohd Zul Fahmie, as the person in charge of leading us through the challenges that followed. With an amazing portfolio as an outdoor & obstacle course trainer, what we were to experience with Zul would be forever imprinted in our minds……and bodies (ouch!). He reiterated that there are several practices that they adhere to when entering the jungle & that is, not to call on each other’s names (how do we call for help then??). We were told not to take anything that does not belong to us & to generously donate blood to those who require it……aka leeches. Yikes! I will detail all that we did in the next posting.

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The hike up to the Abseiling grounds had such a pleasant sight. Beautifully landscaped pond with fringing jungle.

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The side of the Longhouse.

Everyone put on their harness as they had to be secured to Figure of 8 with a carabiner. Hiking up the hill to the top, many had to conquer their fear of heights. Once they got the hang of coming down with the support of the rope & the belayer, many of them went back uphill to descend down the rope again!

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We were put on the greatest challenge of our lives. Don’t miss my next post.

After dinner, we proceeded to walk a few hundred metres to a trail. It was dark. We were told to form two lines according to our two groupings. And we were to sit on the ground. Zul briefed us of the activity to follow. We were to do this trail BLINDFOLDED & SOLO. I had turned my GPS on, tucked away in my cargo pants pocket & was prepared in the event that I do get lost in the jungle, at least I would know how to navigate my way back. Not that the organisers would let us get lost, but as a sense of safety & precaution built into me, I would always carry at least 2 GPS devices when I go anywhere near a jungle. (There was a time that both failed on me but that’s another story!) All our escape plans that we had secretly formed had to be abandoned upon them telling us we were to go solo & the trail would be 2 hours long. And to think that so many trusted my escape plans in the first place! Aha! I can’t tell you what we had planned lest you make us go through it once again! Hahaha!

Assisted by a rope tied on sticks that formed the route, we were blindfolded & had to place our trust into the marshals hands. The wait in complete silence except for the sound of crickets & nocturnal squeaks accompanied us as the marshal took us to the route one by one. We were getting used to the darkness. Unbeknown to us, Tian Chad was assigned to take our photos & what a hilarious moment it must have been for him to see us crawl/duck walk/bent over & groping in the dark!!! As soon as I saw the pictures below, I was rolling on the floor laughing my heart out.

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All Blind Trail pictures are courtesy of Tian Chad.

I was one of the first few who got taken to the trail. I felt my nose & ears being tickled by some feather-like substance & had to learn to use my other senses to feel my way through. Along the way, I was anticipating drops in the terrain or uneven ground when suddenly, a hand grabbed my forearm & a voice said, “Lebih baik kamu jalan di sebelah tali,” (Best if you could walk on this side of the rope) which I retorted, “Kenapa???” (Why???) and the voice said, “Nanti kamu jatuh kalau kamu berada di sebelah itu. Saya bagi you tips. I help you!” (You will fall otherwise. I’m giving you tips. I’m helping you!) And the hand released its grasp. Ohmygawd! I got helped! So straight away I climbed over the rope & continued with one outstretched hand, groping in the dark. Almost towards the end, somebody bumped into me & I realised it was Helga. And Siti was behind him. We got led to where we sat down to remove our blindfolds & found the first few bloggers sitting & sniggering away! We’ve been had! It wasn’t 2 hours but 20 minutes!

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Upon downloading the tracks from my GPS unit, this is the screenshot of the trail that we took, coloured in dark orange above.

Watch this video!

The marshals & organiser had planned for a birthday surprise for Nigel Low, who had to be tricked to do the trail last. By then, we got ready & sang him a birthday song when he removed his blindfold! Many happy returns, Nigel!

We spent the night in 4 dormitories within the longhouse. Very basic accommodation with mattresses on the floor, pillows & thick woollen blankets for everyone. I guess team building starts with sharing your space with everyone else. Bathrooms & toilets were outside of the longhouse. We had to sleep early as there would be a 6:30am wake up call next morning to accept our challenges ahead.

Note: This is a contest entry & I would appreciate your vote for me HERE! <—- Thanks again!

Up in Awana, gluttony took on a new meaning. Read about the storm the chefs cooked up here!

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The Awana Genting Longhouse – communal living with nature!

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Ascending the stairs to the Longhouse.

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Comfortable mattresses & pillows.

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Communal area outside the dormitories in the Longhouse.

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Awana Genting Longhouse dormitories.

 


Day 2 – Wining & Dining at Golden Palm Tree, My Selangor Story 2011

As every discerning traveller needs to refuel, the Pummkin needs to be fed well to perform the activities to follow. Breakfast started with getting to know one another through food. The Malaysian way has always been about thinking & talking about the next meal while you are having your present meal. At the heart of Golden Palm Tree, lies the buffet spread that spills over from Bila Bila to Buloh Bar. I had my fill of fresh salad & cherry tomatoes topped off with 2 tubs of yoghurt with berries before having my bacon, bangers & eggs. The spread & variety were good but somehow, something was lacking but I couldn’t place a finger on it.

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Part of my diet consists of yoghurt, fruits, salad & bread……before my indulgence in bacon, bangers & egg!

Our assigned dining area for lunch & dinner was at the alfresco rotunda, Sepoi Sepoi cafe at the beachfront, serving a delectable array of Malaysian snacks, noodles & local delights. I managed to savour 3 kinds of dishes, mainly the Hainanese Steamed Chicken Rice, the Mee Goreng Mamak Style & the all-time favourite Nasi Lemak. The portion was huge & chefs were at hand to whip-up the dishes as you order them. A great stopover for anyone returning from Smiley Beach to get into the lobby, which is at the base of the ‘trunk of the palm tree.’

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Mee Goreng Mamak, Nasi Lemak & Hainanese Steamed Chicken Rice!

Celebration Dinner.

The most pleasant surprise came in the form of an invitation from Golden Palm Tree’s management to join the Malaysian Night dinner that evening, which was to be held at the grand ballroom with a capacity of 1,400 pax. A cultural performance of tribal dance entertained the diners with their Bornean Bamboo Trap & was skilfully executed by natives from Sabah & Sarawak. The dancers went on to invite guests onto the stage to teach them how to dance to the beat of the drums, averting the bamboo stick knocks. Foreign guests were so thrilled with this participation & soon the crowd was cheering them on.

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The terrace of the ballroom was decked with a row of hawker stalls. The buffet spread that lined these stalls were filled with trays of Malaysian cuisine ranging from Beef Rendang to barbecued seafood. There were a bevy of chefs standing by a wok of stir-fried shellfish that made my mouth water just by looking at the varied kinds of clams in there, a wok filled with curry chicken & a wok filled with fried chicken. There were about 20 different kinds of dishes synonymous with Malaysian cooking & there was a bar counter serving alcoholic beverages in the form of beer, red & white whine. I had one glass of white wine to go with the seafood that was generously dished out by the chef. What pleased me further was the dessert island counter decorated with trays of sugary bakes, chocolate mouse, puddings, jellies, tarts & puffs! I had to convince myself that dieting starts (again) the week after MSS 2011! Heaven! And separate counters for ice-cream & other delightful servings of sweets. I like this version of Malaysian Night but I don’t know how my waistline (or the absence of it) would be able to take it after a week.

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Terrace outside the ballroom.

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The wok of mussels.

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My plate of clams, prawns & mussels!

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The selection of goodies for after-dinner!

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Trays of jellies, puffs, mousse & tarts!

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Goblets of sago

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More tarts!

Though there were 24 bloggers in total plus another dozen from the official support crew & organiser, the ballroom was one big party of happy guests celebrating a triumphant year with the most lavish dinner buffet ever. For a luxury resort, anything less would not live up to its name. We were entertained by the spontaneity of those who were called to the stage to happily jive away. If this Malaysian Night is not a regular feature yet, then it would go very well becoming one. The management could even suggest a batik themed night to go with it & have professional photographers take pictures of them to be printed on the spot & presented to them as a souvenir. The resort could very well start selling some exquisite batik dresses & shirts to complement the gala night. After all, people who go on holiday are prepared to spend & what better way to spend on than to buy wearables? You might even want to hire make-up artists for the night to make them look like a princess for the evening! You may even spark their spouse’s interest to give their relationship a boost & have them come back for this specific event annually. If they are having the time of their lives, wouldn’t you feel good to have been a part of it? It would be a night to remember for the chefs who will delight in seeing empty trays, waiters who will get tipped & managers who will receive the compliments first. It would be a night of wine & dine for the whole resort to celebrate in, only at Golden Palm Tree……

Note: If you think my post deserves a mention, please vote for me HERE. Your hearts given will ensure that I stay in practice to pitch my skills & test my endurance in bringing you the adventure! If you want to read about what I did that warranted for so much food, the day’s activities are detailed here.

Our next destination was a challenge. See what we went up to the mountains for on the 3rd day….

Day 2 – High Tide, Low Tide & My Ride – My Selangor Story 2011

Rising to a high tide is awesome! Apart from hearing the sound of water beneath my villa, it was also indicative of how much time we could spend in the water. The ripples generated by the wind was another visual clue that I ought to be in the water as soon as I can! Got ready in record time, slathered a layer of sunblock, put on my fun visor & I was ready to rock & roll. It would be a great day to be outdoors.

Right after we breakfast, the congregation of bloggers marched to the Smiley Beach for some fun in the sun & for me to launch the windsurf. Dragging the board out to waist deep water, I only managed to sail within the confines of the buoyed perimeters as it was rather choppy & I was out of practice for over a year. Nevertheless, it was very fun to fall into the water each time the sail did not want to cooperate with me & the wind! The other bloggers took on a more physical challenge by taking the sailboat or the kayak out. Rowing in tandem, they had a field day manoevring the kayak before aggregating for a game of beach volleyball. I didn’t take as many pictures as I would have liked to simply because I spent most of my time in the water or on the board but I kid you not. It was more times in the water than on the windsurf board. Such is life!

As we weren’t the only guests, many people turned up to hire bicycles for a ride about the village & it was quite chaotic to get onto some other activity within the place. Cycling was something that we eventually got to do in the afternoon. At 2pm. I was already thinking about bringing my collapsible umbrella out, to the horror of others who then suggested I should have an umbrella holder on the bike. Hahaha! If only that was possible for my mini collapsible brolly! I may love the sun, but I don’t like the effect that it brings so I try to stay covered up whenever I’m outside.

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Photo of Watersports Centre at Smiley Beach courtesy of Golden Palm Tree.

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At Smiley Beach

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Dwi Andi & Ridha on the board posing for the camera!

So we set off on a journey around the village roads to satisfy the adventurous in us, hoping to see wildlife but the only thing that went wild was us. The cycling leader told us to stay in a single file but almost everyone defied that because it was more fun to group up & terrorise other road users! I was expecting to see cows & chickens but the route we took was purportedly ”˜the beginner’s track,’ which lasted approximately half an hour. The squeaking of the bike as I cycled was such a funny noise to hear. Given so, having withstood the salty breeze & splashes, the bikes were fairly well maintained. I chose one with a front basket for me to place my bag & other gadgets in it. I kept hollering to Nigel who was in front of me to ask him if he can hear this funny squeak but he turned around & said, “Mine’s squeaking too!” @_@

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Bloggers cycling

It would have been more fun if we had a purpose or if there’s a specific object to acquire like food! I know of a ”˜keropok’ (crackers) shop in the village that sells great tasting crackers & what a boon it would be to the economy if all 24 of us went there & bought 3 packets each to have something to boast about when we get back. I was expecting to see some cottage industries or maybe even farming methods in the remote of Bagan Lalang but I had to keep up with the group who was going too fast for the tour. I wish I had brought my umbrella then, even if I were to get lost, I would be identifiable by looking ridiculous on the road. Surely there were streams which we could explore? Perhaps get down to look for shrimps & such. I’ve made up my mind to bring MY BICYCLE & a troupe of likeminded friends with theirs to come back & look for that cow, chicken & keropok.

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Returning to the watersports centre, we were greeted with ice-lollies & ice-cream, treated by Tourism Selangor! What a refreshing appetiser! Thank you, Tourism Selangor, for the little stuff that matters. We embarked straight away on the Low Tide Tour, an activity where you walk in the tidal flats to discover life within, very much like the exercises I do with my students at tidal zones too. So Rosie, our nature guide, gave us a run down on what we could expect to see. Going barefoot, we trotted to the mud flats where the sea was but had gone out with the tide, we found ourselves walking in to the underside of the resort! Rosie taught us how to find ”˜pephahat,’ (bamboo mussel), which are buried in the mud. Any attempt to take the animal out was forbidden as we were there to observe & conserve. A myriad of snails were seen actively crawling about & the army of Soldier Crabs were invading our territory. I was delighted to stalk them! What did they look like? Well, watch the video to find out!

I would have loved to do the other nature tours such as the Mangrove Tour but time was limited & we had prepare ourselves for dinner at the ballroom! More on food in my next blogpost!

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Please vote for me HERE! <= Just give me as many hearts as you think it’s worth once you get in!

And whats special about wining & dining in this resort??? Read all about it here.

Living It Up At The Golden Palm Tree – My Selangor Story 2011

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The palm tree layout of the resort.

Upon arrival, the stunning facade of the entrance to a 1km stretch of villas straight out into the sea conferred me a grand reception. The spacious lobby was designed to accept a huge number of guests lounging around in the breezy, circular structure with a conical roof that forms as the ”˜base’ of the palm tree layout of the resort’s property. From the inside, the conical ceiling was formed by bamboo sticks creating an optical illusion to the beholder. Another part of the lobby’s ceiling hangs the chandelier giving a warm glow to the place.

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Golden Palm Tree was influenced by Polynesian & Maldivian-style villas built on ”˜stilts’ (large concrete pillars) with high, thatched roof, the interior is quite a treat with holiday makers who like space. I can safely attest to this having been to Maldives 3 times, staying in one of the most expensive resorts in the atoll.

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The warm & inviting lobby lounge!

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Bamboo ceiling.

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Chandeliered ceiling.

We were given our key card & meal card & was briefed on the mode of transport to get to our rooms. The buggies operating in 5-minute intervals were great as we soon got acquainted with every bell-hop who ferried us up & down the ”˜trunk’ of the palm tree, I began to make requests to go to ”˜London, to see the Queen,’ or to ”˜Mars’ & ”˜Venus’ to the delight of the bell-hop who entertained me by bringing me to ”˜London,’ ”˜Mars’ or ”˜Venus’ which is just down the lane to the heart of the palm tree or back to the lobby. As we were told of the itinerary for the following day, I sort of got my mind set on the watersports & cycling! I couldn’t wait to get to my room to see what these villas were like!

The villa that was assigned to me was at the 5th branch of the palm tree by the sea. With two bedrooms within the villa, I was to share a room with a blogger who had to pull out due to health reason while Zarah & Olyvia took the other bedroom with twin beds. The Canary Palm Villa not only has two rooms, it also has two bathrooms, two verandahs & a lounge, fully equipped with amenities such as a mini bar, TV, hair dryer, coffee & tea making facilities, safe deposit box & bathroom essentials. My room has a bathtub like what I have at home (but bigger & not cluttered with rubber duckies & whales) & a shower cubicle, everything designed to let me enjoy being in the bath for one whole hour. This probably also set me on a dreamy mode for the rest of my stay here as I imagined what it would be like if I was here with Prince Charming instead. I also wondered if I were here alone, would I find my Prince Charming?

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My princely villa! I had the bed all to myself!

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Photo courtesy of Golden Palm Tree.

At the heart of the palm tree is where the Bila Bila Restaurant sits & where we had our daily breakfast. Aptly named, Bila Bila means ”˜anytime’ or ”˜whenever’ in Malay, denoting the availability of all day & all night dining for the guests of Golden Palm Tree. Situated right by the Infinity Pool, Bila Bila serves international & local fare, even poolside food & snacks. Catering to the tastebuds of the East & West, Golden Palm Tree receives a majority of guests from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong & Caucasians from western countries who loved hanging out by the pool. I only want to be in it. ?

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Infinity Pool

In the two nights that I spent here, I had imagined what it would be like for couples wanting a quiet & romantic getaway. Though we didn’t get to experience the rest of the other F&B outlets, I thought the ambience throughout the resort at night was awesome but the resort management ought to do something about mood-control in the day time. If I were to spend the kind of money to lavish on a romantic getaway, the last thing I want to experience is a noisy crowd who doesn’t know how to respect the peace & tranquil of place. Perhaps the management could come out with a notice to guests on proper behaviour & decibel levels upon check-in so that they would read & sign to commit to respect the peace & privacy of other guests wishing to laze by the pool or anywhere else. I was having my moment in the pool at the edge that drops off to a ledge by the sea & was jolted by the shouts of other foreign guests while they laughed out loud posing for their snapshots. While this may be acceptable for guest of other hotels by any other standards, it wasn’t by mine & neither should it be for Golden Palm Tree if it is to be pitched as a reputable, luxurious resort. I shudder to think if this behaviour would be tolerated in the ultra romantic settings of Perahu. Preferably, a separate pool be built for those wishing to have a quieter setting, leaving the infinity pool by the Buloh Bar to those who want to freak out into some fancies in the sun.

Guest services were prompt & though my only contact with the resort staff was kept to having my luggage delivered & picked up as well as asking for directions to the Smiley Beach, I was pleased with the level of services rendered.

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Night scene at trunk of Golden Palm Tree with buggy zipping by, captured by a slow shutter speed.

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One of the palm branching out to sea!

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Evening by the infinity pool.

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Sunset just outside the verandah of my bedroom!

If you are thinking of taking your loved one for a short romantic getaway, Golden Palm Tree might just be what you need. Prepare to wine & dine in the sunset or take any of the tours provided by the resort. This resort is all about living it up & living it well.

As I prepare to write about the culinary efforts & the activities I had experienced in my following blogpost, please cast your vote for me HERE!

Read about my 2nd day’s activities here!

Day 1 – Setting The Mood for My Selangor Story 2011 Tour

The anticipation didn’t wear off on the day of the launch. It magnified the moment I managed to shut my luggage. Packing for a ”˜blind trip’ was a mixture of anxiety & angst with a dash of ingenuity generated by the fear of not being equipped for the journey. What the 5 days beheld, we weren’t told but bringing a pair of sneakers was compulsory. So I brought everything. Setting my GPS for Holiday Inn Kuala Lumpur Glenmarie Resort, I arrived at the hotel at 3:30pm.

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Map of Holiday Inn Glenmarie from my Garmin Roadtrip.

All thanks to our generous sponsors, the press conference to kick off the event was held at The Mix restaurant & bar, within the property of Holiday Inn Kuala Lumpur Glenmarie Resort. The chefs were on hand to ensure the layout of the trays of canapés would look as appetising as they were. The beautiful Marketing Communications Manager, Sagina Manandhar, greeted us with all smiles & welcome, making me feel that my holiday has just started from that point on! It’s amazing how the hospitality of one person can set the mood for the rest of one’s stay but we were not to stay there yet.

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Raw Salmon with Caviar Canapés & Turkey with Tomato & Diced Mango Canapés!

The General Manager, Mr. Anil Pathak, arrived to usher in & welcome YB Elizabeth Wong, the EXCO for Tourism, Environment & Consumer Affairs for Selangor. An introduction speech was made by Amelia Tan, the Organiser of My Selangor Story 2011 from Horizon Communications, who was the brainchild behind the event since the first inception in 2010. She called on Dian Azura, who was last year’s grand prize winner, to give her take on what My Selangor Story had been for her. Immediately after winning the title, she was offered the position of a Social Media Specialist for Tourism Selangor, a 1-year contract in which she tweets & updates the organisation’s Facebook page with her resourcefulness in bringing events come to life. Her engagement with social media had proven to be successful by the number of followers Tourism Selangor had acquired. In a span of a few short months, the number had grown to 3,177 to date, inspired a lot more people to explore & experience Selangor no matter what time of year it is! She detailed how one’s passion for travel should not be quenched & that everyone should follow their dream & attain to get somewhere, wherever that may be. She reiterated that winning last year’s contest was just the start of her adventure.

And aptly so, when YB Elizabeth Wong took to the rostrum, she echoed the same sentiments telling us how she used to blog ever so often before taking office as an EXCO. Being extremely pleased to see a great number of our neighbours from Indonesia & Singapore flown in specially for this occasion with VIP treatment by Firefly, she extended a warm welcome to them & told them to make use of the 5 days to experience as much as they could. How I wished Firefly could fly me from the Sg Besi old airport to Subang Skypark just so that I can experience the VIP service from them! It’s always a pleasure to fly a different class! Setting the event for the 2nd year running, she thanked Amelia for her team’s monumental effort in bringing people together, Tourism Selangor, our tourism board, for extending logistic support & all the sponsors who had graciously given to the event.

The Golden Palm Tree Resort & Spa located in Sepang Gold Goast, Bagan Lalang, is our official resort & spa whilst Resorts World Genting is our official resort. Holiday Inn Kuala Lumpur Glenmarie Resort is our official hotel & The Mix is our official restaurant. Pentax is our prizes sponsor apart from being the official camera for the duration of the tour as they would be supplying us each with a camera to shoot with. The official airline is of course, Firefly, who will fly everyone home when the tour is over. We wouldn’t be complete without phone & data coverage kindly sponsored by The Cube, who provided us with pre-registered SIM cards.

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The officials, organisers & sponsors of the event.

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Travel bloggers roaring to go!

Soon after the YB Elizabeth launched the event, we had to board the coach for the journey to our first resort destination to begin our tour! What did I do in a 5 star resort? Find out in my next instalment, still on Day 1 – My Selangor Story 2011…..

 

Next,  see how I lived it up at Golden Palm Tree Resort!

And please remember to vote for me HERE! <— THANK YOU!

Our sponsors:-

Organiser Official Tourism Board Official Airline

Official Hotel Official Resort & Spa Official Resort

I'm on The Cube, are you? Official RestaurantOfficial Camera

My Selangor Story 2011 – A Story Worth Telling

My travels have never been short of dramatic & in my profession, I’ve seen things & encountered things that sometimes baffle even the scientists I work with. When you work in an environment that requires 110% of your alertness, you will begin to notice the life around you. And holding two complementary professions means that I get to be at many places & write about them at the same time.

If I’m not teaching my students to dive, I am out there filming my next blockbuster……..and that’s to film the amazing coral reefs & everything that moves therein. If I’m not filming my blockbuster, I’d be stalking birds & bugs in the jungle. If I’m not in the jungle, I’d be pestering the fishermen to find me the elusive Sea Apple (sea cucumber) or documenting culture wherever my assignments take me. I’m guided by my sense of adventure, moved by my emotions for the living, inspired by the love of God & activated by the cameras & gadgets that I hold in my bag.

If I can as much as show you, the stuff that magazines ask me to write about, or scientists pay me to discover, I would show you the splendour of Selangor through my lenses & the excitement through my expressions in my blog. Will you vote me into the 30 to be a part of My Selangor Story 2011???

To vote, please go to this link & give as many hearts as your heart desires! Thank you! http://bit.ly/nVzspS

Footnote:- If the music in my blog is drowning out the video, the embedded player is on the top right column of the sidebars. Just press stop…..or play again if you like!

Trail Through Fishing Village & Quaint Town of Tanjung Sepat

Gathering a bunch of my friends to take this trail of faith (many did not know how to get there & was relying on me leading the convoy), 22 people in 8 cars embarked on an adventure to shoot anything & everything along the journey to the quaint town of Tanjung Sepat in Selangor. We stopped in Banting to have a cup of butter coffee, a classic favourite of the locals located near the taxi station.

Getting to the town was an adventure in itself. We came by an irrigation canal filled with lotus lillies & everyone got down to attempt to take pictures. The town was famous for its fisheries, Hainan Pao (steamed buns) & locally produced coffee.
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The fishing jetty here is popularly known as ”˜The Lover’s Bridge.’

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Tanjung Sepat Famous Pao.

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Locally produced Kwo Zha B coffee.

After a scrumptious lunch by the Lover’s Bridge, we headed to Bakau Gruv Resort to see the mangrove swamp & the beautiful surroundings. The resort belongs to the late Professor who used to teach at University Malaya before he succumbed to his condition last year. He is succeeded by his son. We were granted permission to roam around the place & take pictures of nature.

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Mating butterfies.

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The view at Bakau Gruv Resort.

Before long, we found ourselves on the road again, heading towards Batu Laut fishing jetty. The sun casted a nice glow as it set over the river bank.

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Batu Laut Fishing Jetty.

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Panoramic view of the jetty along the bank of the river.

Selangor has so much to offer. The shutterbugs only called it a day after the last of their battery power had drained & looking forward to another trip some time in the near future, prompted those who had no cameras to get one & those who had cameras to get better lenses! We vowed to return, with an empty stomach to savour all the local delights that Selangor has to offer on the trail through Banting to the quaint town of Tanjung Sepat……

Racing For Birds in Frasers Hill

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Under the invitation of Travel Malaysia & Tourism Malaysia in Singapore, I attended the Bird Race two weekends ago in the company of avid birders & photographers comprising of 38 teams in a quest to spot & name the most number of species in the 1 & 1/2 day race up in Fraser’s Hill, Pahang. The event was celebrated with the presence of officials & councillors amidst vendors adding to the festivity with sale of bird identification books, embroidered patches, shirts, binoculars, digiscopes & headgear. I met someone whom I had been communicating with for the passed 4 years in the forums & later joined his group for the race that soon floored me.

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Panoramic shot using the inbuilt function on the Samsung NX100. Vendors at The International Bird Race 2011

The race started at noon & we proceeded to the usual birding spots to count the species & also procure ”˜photographic evidence.’ Jason, Andrew, Ron & Alven were using digiscopes, short name for digital camera-mounted-spotting scopes. They hail from the land below the wind, Sabah, our neighbouring state in Borneo, and they were bent on locating the Silver Breasted Broadbill, the Orange Breasted Trogon & Silver Eared Mesia, which are non-existent or scarce in their terrain. Playing the good host, I brought them to midway between Hemmant Trail & Bishop Trail, when I got plagued with a broken clamp on my tripod, a non-functioning Aperture Priority on my Olympus E1, slow buffering rates & tripod giving way. Upon Andrew’s suggestion, I shortened the third section of my tripod to make it two sections for all three legs, rendering a shorter tripod, a bent back & a craned neck. I was subjected to sitting on my birding chair & crossing the tripod legs over mine in order to get a better balance & stability to shoot any birds that land ahead of me. The picture below depicts how camouflage & proper equipment can make a big difference in the success of bird photography. Unfortunately, I haven’t got any NX lenses for birding. I am contemplating on getting an adapter to affix my current lens onto the NX100 but will be limited to manual focus only.

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The Sabahan birder team & the armchair birder!

Spotted the Female Large Niltava giving me her sexy pose near her place of residence. The Male came out while I was fiddling with my camera, hopped onto a milestone & stared squarely at me about 2 metres away. Before I could direct the lens at him, he fled. Sigh. Presenting you, his partner……

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Female Niltava.

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Niltava feeding on a worm.

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Cuckoo Dove perched after feeding!

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Chestnut Capped Laughing Thrush feeding on moth.

Nesting sites & nests are almost a highly prized commodity worthy of secrecy & protection. Alven & I ventured to the spot where a Silver Breasted Broadbill’s nest was spotted & we virtually parked ourselves about 7 metres away from it. This specie is very clever, weaving & building a hanging nest from a suspended branch over a ravine where no humans could get to, nor wild animals apart from snakes. At 15 minute intervals, the parents would return singularly to feed the chicks in the nest. Each time people ventured to where we were, I swung into a pose & Alven had to pretend that he was shooting me instead to detract them from sighting the nest. Here, I managed to catch a glimpse of the chick but only see it properly in the pictures.

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The mummy (female) returning to feed chicks. Note the ”˜necklace’ she’s wearing.

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And the slightly larger male’s turn to feed chicks.

To get a proper shot of them, we had to stay put for over 2 hours. Even with my camera troubles, these record sightings of them are worth it. I can’t wait to get my hands on an NX lens for birding. With newer technology, I am sure to have the chance to improve on my shots. The Sabahans came out as 3rd Runner-Up in the pro category & received books & hamper plus cash vouchers & I got to take home a piece of my work, not in bird photography but in an expression of colours on fabric!

The batik painting that I completed in about 4 hours in between meals & shooting nature, sparked off a new hobby & reignited my passion for painting since I laid my brushes to rest after school.

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My next purchase would have to be a sturdier, carbon fibre tripod to support my equipment. The never-ending buying of gears is part & parcel of a lifelong pursuit of nice pictures. Until then, I’d have to be happy with being under-my-tripod-on-a-chair to track birds that fleet over with no fear of the camo-clad, clandestine meets with the feathered-kind.

Unique Handmade Camera Bag With Love!

When I was browsing the net for something cute, I stumbled upon a site that showcases a photographer’s passion of handmade, unique, camera bags made out of leather & fabrics! Robyn Porteen is an award-winning photographer who started designing these bags for photographers who want unique bags other than that is in the market today. I couldn’t resist adding it to my collection & since she had only one of this design, I am so proud to say I own a Porteen Bag! I ordered it online & it came 10 days later! Thank you, Robyn!

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It arrived in a ribbon-wrapped parcel within a box.

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Ta-da! My new camera bag by PorteenGear.com!

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It carries a tag bearing the same name too!

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On waxed canvas, the construction of the bag sees the webbing strap sewn on the sides for better reinforcement.

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The inside is partitioned into 3 parts, separated by foam dividers.

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It has a zippered compartment & came with a small pouch too!

For something so nice, it’s really worth the price. Most of the fabrics used are sourced personally & usually tasteful. I like all her designs but you can opt to design your own too. Visit her blog at www.porteengear.com & proceed to her Etsy shop to select your own special bag! She does smaller & bigger camera bags as well as camera straps. Now my Little Wonder has a new cosy enclosure to go travelling in! I ordered a leather case for it too. Hopefully it would arrive before my trip. 🙂

Unboxing My Little Wonder

Having gone from film camera to digital prosumer to 4 grades of DSLRs, I have lots to comment about the usability & practicality of such systems. My passion for different hobbies (photography-driven) has motivated me to acquire different camera bags to accommodate the needs of each excursion. At times, I have to carry two cameras or run the risk of losing that photographic opportunity. I’ve swapped the heavy DSLRs for the smaller hybrid system just to maximise my efficiency on the field. If you are into motorsports or any sport that requires speed shooting, then I would recommend that you stick with DSLR-usage. If you are a foodie, a blogger, a traveller, a journalist or an enthusiastic photographer who uploads photos for the enjoyment of watching your friends comment on them, then all you need is to understand how the functions work to your benefit.

When Samsung contacted me about the Samsung NX series to complement my travel lifestyle, I took on the challenge to let the camera bring out the best of my travel shots. It’s equally important that it’s not only what you shoot with that makes the picture but how you use the little wonder that makes the difference. I will experiment with this marvel & teach you how to make memories!

Unboxing my Little Wonder was half the fun:-

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Ta-daaaaa!!! My Little Wonder! Personalisation begins the moment I include the NX100 into my travel kit! Surely it deserves a unique bag! Maybe even a case but let’s see how the camera fairs outdoors.

Some of the shots I’ve taken from NX100 are so stunning! Combining 3 exposures shot in Bracketing mode, I got an HDR photo that brought out the tones & contrast. Here’s one shot at a park:-

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To establish the functionality that would fulfill my shooting style, familiarisation with the modes is paramount to prevent myself from fiddling too much. The settings are adjustable on the lens via the iFunction button which is pushed by the left thumb with the left forefinger swiveling the lens ring to get the appropriate values. The ISO, White Balance & Exposure Values were literally at my fingertips! I went to Mid Valley to test the camera with the various lighting conditions & subjects on display. Just as well, the promoters of Pirates of the Caribbean have made the ship into a spectacle, an almost life-sized ship at the centre of a shopping complex! Here, I snapped the stern of the ship & everything else using the Samsung NX 20 – 50mm kit lens:-

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20mm, F3.5, 1/30s, ISO 800.        

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20mm, F8.0, 1/40s. ISO 800. – A bit of rustic charm in Jack Sparrow’s paraphernalia….

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28mm, F4.0, 1/13s, ISO 800 – The food was so life-like in the pictures! A definite boon for food bloggers!

I like it already! Photography should have minimal post-processing on the computer when you get the shots right. Next, I will explore the filters & Scene modes to get some artistic shots & I might do a field trip or a walkabout event soon. If you would like to maximise the potential of crafting your creativity, come explore the Samsung NX series with me!

Transforming My Travel Expressions!

As a photojournalist, my primary concern is to get photo right. Getting the shot may be one in a million chance when I am covering an event or a festival, obtaining the essence of the jubilant moment. This takes precedence over the time-consuming step of using Photoshop to crop things out or to adjust the cloudy skies. I’ve had pictures that looked great from ground up but not from heavens down. Why? The contrast factor & the metering that can’t measure it as accurately as I would like. When I started processing some of them, I thought it would be great if these could be HDR-ed, High Dynamic Range imaging. HDR photos are produced by using three different exposures of the same photo, which you take using the ”˜bracketing’ mode on your camera, however, when I took my travel photos, I never thought of HDR. What can I do with one image? After searching on the internet, I found a fantastic program for Mac-users to achieve HDR pictures with just ONE image. That’s right. If you have ever wanted to experiment on HDR for your great looking photos, get the HDRtist Pro. No complicated steps, no hard-to-comprehend instructions that deter you from even trying.

The HDRtist Pro is a great fun & easier method to add mood to my travel pictures. Let me show you what I did to my photo of Gunung Batur in Kintamani, Bali.

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This is an unmodified, straight off the camera shot I took at the caldera of Kintamani. HDRtist Pro helped me to achieve a high dynamic range of this photo with just one click of a button & no hassles with different shots even though it could & would be better with 3 photos of different exposures combined. This is a screenshot of the process. It renders the picture into a combination of a tonal range that is the closest to the original.

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After cropping part of the land & the result is a pleasing transformation of Gunung Batur by the lake of Kintamani!

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I wanted to experiment with another photo & the results were stunning. Here is a padi field in the countryside of Ubud, central Bali where the pace here is easy as arty people congregate to find inspiration for their next masterpiece or to take some home. I stayed in a guesthouse called Kunang-Kunang & woke up to sounds of ducks in the morning!

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This photo looked quite ordinary after looking at what I did with HDRtist Pro. Once again, I applied the magic motion of a few sliders on the Adjustments tab here:-

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…..and was greeted with a picture that I could not recognise was the place I woke up to for 4 days!

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If you are a blogger, a photographer, an enthusiast, an illustrator or just someone who wants to tell a story through your photos, get HDRtist Pro to enhance your expression. For a fraction of what you would pay for Photoshop, you can get a superb application with great results every time, transforming your pictures into art.

Footnote:- I will experiment on Funtastic Photos after this & give you a run-down on what I think soon!

Loopbag Backpacks for Laptops

Travelling & going on expeditions subject bags to rigorous testing, not to mention, the hazard of having your items damaged by the infamous airport baggage-handlers. Checking in your laptop is definitely NOT an option but carrying it need not be burdensome. Before I continue my journey to showcase the most exciting part of my exploration of Exmouth, Western Australia, I would like to recommend a laptop bag for you. Being a chronic bag-user, when it comes to computer bags, price is the 2nd last factor to determine my choice. Choosing to invest in a functional & well-cushioned bag to protect your investment safeguards your RM5K – RM7K Macbook Pro especially when you tend to subject it to knocks & bounces as you move around. It doesn’t make sense to put it in a bag that’s not made well for it. Being functional means a bag would have to have 3 main criteria, COMFORT, CAPACITY, CARRY-IT-OFF Factor. I have bought & used many kinds of computer bags, from Samsonite to Crumpler. Here’s one that I favour the most, the Loopbag Backpack.

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Comfort
Straps are broad, ergonomic & cushioned with nylon – patented shock-absorbing padding. It sits on the small of your back & not weigh your shoulders down. Bag is firm & well-padded. Stays close to your back unlike certain backpacks that hang away.

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Loopbagbag 13-inch Laptop Backpack Anth Lilac Olive

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Loopbagbag 13-inch Laptop Backpack Sand Azure Lime

Capacity
The 14” Loopbag Backpack can carry the 13” Macbook, power adaptor, multiple cables, Mighty Mouse, collapsible umbrella (in the event you park outside the building you are entering & it pours), a mini speaker, iPod Classic & headphones, 2.5” external hard disk, documents, computer cable-lock, snacks & computer stand. Not bad for a bag that looks so compact! Zips & bag material are water resistant (Loopbag Vanguard) too. The award winning design of the bag, enables you to unzip the top flap all the way to the bottom of the back, giving you easy access to all your peripherals.

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Loopbagbag 13-inch Laptop Backpack Sand Orange purple

Carry-It-Off Factor.
Some laptop backpacks look as if you are gearing for war. Some look dysfunctional while some look too business-like so if your wardrobe consists of mainly beachwear, pareos, sundresses, bikinis & boardshorts like mine, then you would need a bag that looks good no matter what you decide to put on, even If on days, you wear a power suit (carrying your laptop in a backpack that screams the laptop manufacturer or the sponsor of the lucky draw just wouldn’t cut it) the award-winning Loopbag backpack is the laptop bag for you. Comes in stylish black & red trim, olive & lilac, sand & orange, sand & azure, whatever your style, Loopbag complements it!

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There are messenger bags & iPad bags too:-


Loopbag Transit iPad Case Anth | Anth | Green


Loopbag 13-inch Laptop Messenger Sand Orange Purple

A Secret Wonder – Coral Bay, Western Australia

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Coral Bay is 155km south of Exmouth & one glance at the azure sea would tell you that this pristine marine park has more to offer than what meets the eye. Famed for its caravan parks & a handful of resorts in this little suburb by the sea, Coral Bay holds the world’s best kept secret in hosting the most diverse structures of coral colonies in the region! Who would have known that this sleepy suburb is the base to reach pristine dive sites? Colonies of corals that built mazes & fish condominiums, tiered mounts that mould into exotic framework piling into the foundations of the sea, this must be one of the best dives I’ve done (and I have done in excess of 2,500 dives in my life all over South East Asia) & truly, I am torn as to whether I should disclose the location or let it remain a secret & maintaining its pristine conditions by reducing human impact on the area.

Every diver in our presence was floored by the awesome structures that formed the maze leading out to a gigantic creek with sandy bottom. The only thing that possibly frustrated me was that the light wasn’t where it was supposed to shine & casted shadows in places where I needed corals to be lit. It was a challenging time for photography (though nothing could beat my Rottnest experience!) & to find the right angle just so that I can show you the majestic formation but alas, these pictures were all I managed as the sun was setting.

Presenting you a dot in the ocean, a speckle in the map but a world of beauty beyond what you & I can ever envision!

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Bearing in mind that corals are actually animals with male & female reproductive organs, the reef is made up of millions of colonies that build structures as they grow. To have a magnificent ecosystem that looks equally astounding is something that only God can create.

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We were taken to a sparsely populated reef before getting into the thick of things. It’s an absolute wonder that the marine life thrives in every reef due to the protected status! There are absolute fearless fish to contend with!

Harlequin Sweetlips at the cleaning station!

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Mantle of a Giant Clam

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Looks can be deceiving. This reef even has a Picasso Triggerfish!

Completing two dives on a day out was exhilarating to say the least. The awesome wonder took my breath away, both underwater & above. Visit Australia if you are planning your journey!

P.S. This blogpost will appear on Amazing Journey with a flash gallery of more photos than what’s posted here. Pummkin’s Pitch has a mixture of my personal journey & adventures but Amazing Journey categorises my travels by destination & product reviews with an occasional sponsored post or two.