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Nov 28, 2009

Belukar Semang, Pengkalan Hulu

Post Hari Raya Haji, we decided to take a long drive into Tasek and came across these nature's miracles. Perfect picnic spots, you call it. With these sceneries, what else can you wish for.

Nov 26, 2009

Restoran Huang Chao, Pengkalan Hulu

In the good old town of Pengkalan Hulu (Kroh)...

A new restaurant has come to sprout...

Ah Seng, an old ex classmate and his brother have decided to go all foodie with his brother..

What are friends for if you dont back one another up...and so we were there last week..

And mind it, the opinion is totally unprejudiced.. for the food was really good. A bubbling claypot of tofu and vegetables...

Mixed vege.. generously done..

Greens... how i like them.. lightly sauteed in garlic.

Big prawns in belacan sauce.. my favourite dish for the night..

Chicken is black soya sauce and dried red chillies..sauce was super moorish..

Good job Ah Seng ah!

Nov 24, 2009

Best Malay food stall in Pengkalan Hulu

Stay tuned for the bestest of Malay kampung food in Pengkalan Hulu. I am not kidding. Their ikan panggangs, rendangs and masak lemak-the best in the world! And im not getting paid to say this either!!! The most richest, aromatic using the best ingredients, they know their stuff! Im compiling pictures and info. Just a hint, it is at the medan selera near the bus station and right across the road from the bakery, look out for the lunch time crowd and a nice old gentleman, a retired policeman at the cashiers!

Sep 23, 2009

Restaurant Cheun Fong, Pengkalan Hulu

One of the few remaining original wooden shophouses in Pengkalan Hulu, weatherbeaten but still standing. The British requirement for high ceilings are evident in these old buildings but i always wondered why the attics though.

See the Siamese shop next door, well.. it was my kindergarten nearly 35 years ago. The old teacher still resides there, by the way.

Food preparations vary according to locations, period, that especially is Chinese food. While in KL for a mixed vege you might get a stir fry of cauliflower, broccoli, young corn, carrots, lettuce and some good quality seafood... in a small town you might just have to settle for a combination of basic mustard greens and chinese lettuce with occasional sad looking prawns past it's freshness dates camouflaged in heavily starched and MSG sauce, yes, rather dreary. And ask for Hokkein mee expecting to satisfy your craving for those big noodles version loaded with lard, crispy porkskin, seafood and work hei (fiery 'breath' of the wok that gives your food the smoky flavour) only to end up with the usual yellow mee off the packet version with a few miserable chicken or pork pieces thrown in lacking in all the good seasonings and special sauces yet having to pay premium price.

And no thanks to economic downturn when food serving portions (even KFC reduced its chicken piece sizes) started getting smaller and finally compromise on quality as well, I've had my share of bad experiences and i sort of gave up expecting too much after a while. Till i discovered there was some hope after all, in the form of this understated Chinese coffee shop called Restoran Chuen Fong located at the only traffic light junction in Pengkalan Hulu town, a stone throw away from Hotel Hilltowne.

Ah... finally .. a Hokkein mee worthy of its name.

Here is a chicken only version, but you can opt for the more luxurious pork and seafood version except i was abstaining from pork that day but sumptuous nevertheless. Load it up with their special belacan sauce, super kick lor. Make sure you ask for it.

Of course, you can't order Hokkein Mee and not have Kungfu Chow... that's the Cantonese Kuay Teow (fried noodles) swimming in egg sauce. As you can see, it is real egg sauce and not the watered down starchy version of some 'cheating' food outlets who thinks a customer can't make out the difference between an egg sauce and a tapioca sauce.

And some people,not me coz i really can't understand our Asian fixation on rice, but e.g. my kid and you know who you are can't survive without their daily intake of that starchy stuff. Yes, fried rice it is then. A small serving will do. The rice is done perfectly.

And what else to wash it all down, the oil and the cholestrol, but the good old Chinese Tea. There is also a good black soybean drink that i usually order, it is rich and refreshing. My tummy is satiated.

Note : The restaurant opens for business after 11am and closes at 11pm. Prices are very reasonable. The only minuspoint, the cook sometimes goes on leave for a few days every month.

Sep 8, 2009

Kediaman Abu Nur, Pengkalan Hulu

A hunt for a catfish farm into the suburbs of Kg Simpang Pulai in Pengkalan Hulu led instead to this establishment tucked amongst the streams and hills, Kediaman Abu Nur.

The building was impressive and i thought probably Abu Nur was a pioneer in this historical town. And then i spotted a lone young girl sitting over an hedge and asked her if she knew of the fish farm.. she said, "i dont know, you could ask my guardian." No one else was in sight. I wondered what she meant by her guardian. Then i decided to ask around and realised it was an orphanage that doubled as an old folks home. A quick search on net actually found website. A Muslim based organisation, it was founded in 2002 on a two acre land and is now home for about 20 young girls.

(pic: ummahaid)

May 5, 2009

Pengkalan Hulu, Golf Course

Ok, i dont play golf but 30 years ago, it was a grand meadow overlooking an army camp. It was an open land where you could take long walks and school cross country runs used to go over it. Beautiful. But now it has been cordoned off into a golf course. Nine holes apparently is a big deal. Anyway here are some early morn pics. But i guess it may attract low profiled golfers who want a time out from busy cities.

May 2, 2009

Old Folks of Kroh

He is 80. A retired police (forest) officer. He was a sergeant major in PPH. He came to this town a few decades ago and settled here. Never married. Lives alone. He eats only strict vegetarian diet, mainly juices. He meditates. He prays. He says he is a Brahmin. In his younger days, he taught bhajans and prayers to neighbourhood children including my aunts. After his retirement, he did little odd jobs e.g. grass-cutting even at midnight. He used to cover himself in thick clothing, with a head-torch and go about his business. He used to cycle 20 miles daily to Baling , uphill and downhill, to buy fresh milk and supply to locals. Now he is too frail to cycle so he drags this little ice-box with him 6.30am to the local bus station and catches the first bus to a town half an hour away.

From the main road, he walks 3 miles in to a Pejabat Pertanian to buy the milk. Then he walks another 3 miles back to the main road and waits at the bus stop to catch the bus back home. If he misses the bus, he has to wait another 2 hours. Back home, he loads the ice box on his old bicycle and pushes the bicycle around town to distribute to his loyal, old time customers. Hot sun or rain doesn't stop him. By the time he is finished, it is around 10pm. Nearly fifteen hours of work, all for a mere $15 profit a day. Why he does it we don't know but he does it with passion and mindful presence. And he is contented with his simple life and he is an inspiration.

Please meet good ole Uncle Karunagaran!

Kroh Bites

Another Kroh's best.

This is the best Kuih Siput or Biskut Siput (Shellfish) ever, not the bland-but-for-the-MSG, overpriced version you find in petrol kiosks along Malaysian highways. .

I (and very soon everyone at home too) was having this reguarly for 3 months before i tracked down the elusive person who was supplying this.

A nice Malay lady with her young children meticulously and painstakingly roll teeny weeny bits of spiced dough over a siput mould into hot oil in their humble wooden house in Kg. Selarong. For livelihood, she makes kuehs and cycles all over town to distribute them to small shops and restaurants.

This product, especially, sells like hot cakes. It is perfectly spiced, not oily at all, a great comfort snack and everyone (secretly and selfishly) wants it to stay that way.. hence the poor lady might not see commercialisation too soon.

Only warning is, be careful, once you start munching on these spicy little buggers, there is no stopping. Highly highly addictive

Now this is Biskut Tiram. Tiram means oyster. I discovered this gem of a snack in the same Malay grocery shop in my small neighbourhood i normally go to pick up one or two urgent stuff. Apparently a policeman's wife enjoys making these titbits for sale. But for RM1 for a 150gm packet, i wonder what's her profit margin coz the snack is made of stringy pastry like dough rolled and fried which itself is a tedious job and then coated with milk powder (now at least RM8.60 per 300gm) mixed with icing sugar, that is. Maybe she just loves sharing. copyrights reserved.

Interesting Residents

For city dwellers used to skyscrapers and endless traffic of vehicles on the road, Pengkalan Hulu is sure a sight! Cows , goats, chickens even iguanas or two, occasionaly foxes, snakes and myriad of birds chirping busily away amist people carrying out their living.. it sure is a respite to have nature nearby instead.

Like this brave young bull who decided to walk up 6 inches away from my windscreen and looked directly into my camera lenses. Very curious creature.

Mr Loba Loba seemed an apt nickname for him, i dont know why.

Guess what he is eyeing? A ripe aromatic temptation of a fresh fallen durian and the only thing that was keeping him away was the car i had parked in between!

Jan 29, 2009

Visit Pengkalan Hulu

Got time, want a quiet weekend retreat, away from traffic jams, carbon monoxide, rush hour crowd... ? Want to get up to a view of a serene lake and hills? Contemplate? Close to nature, lake, water falls, hot springs and a cool climate?? Plus throw in a visit to Thailand 7 miles away for great shopping. In a budget? Think no further. Head to Pengkalan Hulu. Want guided tour, best place to stay, customised holiday experience? Email me at

Best Nasi Lemak in Pengkalan Hulu (the world)

This makcik sells the best nasi lemak in Kroh. Her stall next to the Surau in Kg Baru is packed with students between 6.30-7.30 and then followed by office workers who pack by dozens for colleagues at work. By 9.30 everything sells out. Her secret is in her sambal that she cooks for 3 hours till the oil breaks out and caramelises.

Looks humble enough, eh, dont judge a book by its cover, so they say. Only 60 cents, but after this, no other nasi lemak will live up to it again. Prejudices asid, it is the best nasi lemak in the world!

copyrights reserved.

Jan 26, 2009

My hometown

Most of us grow up and leave our hometown in search of better life. Then we get busy with life and rarely find the time to think about it.

But there always come a certain point in your life, much later, when you mellow down and start smelling the roses as they say or earlier, you begin to long to reconnect with your past. The wonders of childhood, of your favourite playspots, the old house where you grew up, the familiar scenes…the familiar face...the memories…

Well, I just entered that stage, a bit prematurely I guess. In last year, I frequently think of my hometown. How as a child I loved getting up in the morning and standing at the window and see the sun rising over the hills. I can still see the many hues of the sunrise in my mind and its simple wonders that filled my child’s heart.

My hometown is a small hilly border town perched at the edges of one of Asia’s oldest mountain ranges. It was called Kroh before a late Sultan changed it to Pengkalan Hulu. But most of us still prefer to call it Kroh. Some say it got its name from its muddy lake where once elephants bathed themselves. Kroh is a actually a valley surrounded by a circle of hills. The temperature is much cooler compared to nearby towns being i think about 300m above sea level. It was still surrounded by virgin forest 50 years ago.

My grandfather used to talk about his encounters with tigers and I have personally seen a herd of forest deers crossing the hilly roads, one baby deer even stopped to stare at me for a while before it vanished over the cliff. It was one the most memorable moments of my life. Elephants still periodically visit local orchards.

It is mentioned in one old scripture that Malaya (as it was known then) was once a part of an ancient Indian empire (that stretched all the way to Indonesia). This whole land was reserved as a huge park for recreational activities for the royal family and kinsmen. It was also spiritual retreat for revered sages and yogis in search of enlightenment. Perhaps that’s why there is still so much of peaceful vibes in this land till today.

There are two ways to Kroh i.e. via Baling from the west or Gerik from the east. The old roads used to be winding and narrow, originally cliff trails with plunging slopes on one side, a journey not for the faint hearted.

It is uphill drive all the way and I used to love looking at the forest trees as I pass by and occasional monkeys jumping around. It is a rejuvenating to the soul, the greenery and the fresh air. The stillness of age old trees, as though they are just waiting and observing...their leaves waving almost like welcoming your was almost an ethereal experience. These tree had existed for decades and most probably seen my great grandparents grow up and pass on. They had witnessed the days of yonder when only bullock carts and horses used to past the trails.

Now the forests are gradually being stripped away by progress..the hills cut through to straighten the roads to accommodate modernisation. In my heart, sometimes, I fear the day I will no longer see them, like losing your heritage.

There are many wonderful spots to visit in this small town. First there are the caves that purportedly lead you through secret passageways right into the famous Baling mountain, now famous for trekkers. Imagine ancient civilization using these same pathways and you trailing their footsteps. That would a great experience.

There are waterfalls tucked away in the nest of jungles for the adventurous one.
There are also natural hot springs where I used to enjoy many picnics with my friends, classmates in our primary school days when our hearts were filled with innocence and wonder. We used to pack nasi lemak, sardine sandwiches, kacang and air sirap and cycle all the way to Air Panas from Kroh town and spend blissful days romping between the then 2 hot water pools and the flowing river nearby. The extremes of cold and hot temperature made your skin tingle and hot plate of authentic nasi lemak never tasted any better.

Yes, talking about food, Kroh has the best ice-kacang they say…all 11 ingredient altogether for half of the price of the pittance they sometimes serve you in city stalls. Also the best nasi lemak was the one served in Sekolah Kebangsaan Kroh canteen during the 70s. Even after you finish eating, the smell of belacan sambal lingers on your fingertips.

Now there is a lakeside restaurant on the elephant made lake gardens in the middle of the town is famous for its view and some local fare. Nice to sit there in late evenings and watch the sun set beyond the hills over the Tun Saban school.

Seven miles to the north, you will find Betong, a Thailand border town. Whenever someone asked me where my border town was, I used to tell them, if I opened my front door, I will be in Perak, my back door leads me to Kedah and my side door takes me to Thailand!! It amused me to see the confusion in the faces.

Kroh also boasts one of Peraks largest golf course (nine hole) now where once used to be the biggest military camp. This was once a great meadow where we did our cross country running and cow and buffalos grazed lazily. I remember growing up hearing helicopters and caribous roaring in the background. But things have quietened down these days.

During school days, I would cycle to school in the morning dew, my hair and my uniform will be damp by the time I reached school. Being a hilly town, the air was extremely wet and cold in the mornings. Oil frozen in the bottles, the water was icy and you breath formed vapors as you spoke. Those days with no water heaters, bathing was like 5 cedoks (buckets) of icy water quickly emptied over yourself before you run out of the bathroom shivering in your towel. My late grandfather used to tease that i 'mandi kerbau' meaning taking shower in haste without actually cleaning urself.

No carbon dioxide jamming your nostrils, no traffic jams and none of the usual havocs of big city. Cool fresh air all the way and the sun's heat only came up after 10am. I remember never having to use the fan in the house. Roosters waking you up before dawn and birds chirping at ur windows. Some people say it is a great place to spend retirement provided over commercialisation doesnt kill its beauty.

Who knows, if I’m lucky I’ll do just that when I reach my sixties. The land where my great grandparents and my grandparents spent their entire lifetimes. There surely must be something special there. Because somehow I don’t feel they ever actually left. Maybe that’s what that pulls us to our hometown, the lingering presence of our forefathers, the memories of childhood when everything was simple and a sense of belonging..the link to our past, present and future.