Saturday, 29 December 2012

Pos Malaysia (Postal Services) - Hours of Operation

I generally find the postal system and services in Malaysia to be very efficient, reliable and very reasonably priced.  As an example, the cost of sending mail from the UK internationally by something like registered post is exorbitant compared to charges in Malaysia.

From 1 January 2013 'Pos Malaysia' is amending its operating hours for counter operations and delivery services.  The announcement regarding the changes can be found here.  The hours of operation for Penang can be found here, along with operating hours in other states.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Sale: Gotic Collections - Island Plaza, Penang

Just a quick post to advise that the KL based teak wood furniture specialists are currently visiting Penang with a sale of teak wood furniture.  I looked at their furniture on the last day of the sale when they had their last sale here and some of it was very nice indeed with some unique styles.

The sale is again at Island Plaza on Tanjung Tokong Road near to Jalan Fettes, Penang and will run until 13th January.  Worth a look if you are interested in furniture of this type of just looking for some ideas.

Drive to Penang / Malaysia from Thailand (Hat Yai / Dannok)

Further to the below post regarding driving into Thailand from Malaysia, this post covers the relatively simpler process of driving back into Malaysia from Thailand.

Upon returning you will inevitably approach down Highway 4 (closer to the border the road is also named Thanon Phet Kasem) which runs through the border town of Dannok and goes right up to the border.  At times this crossing can be very busy with public holidays, Sundays and between the hours of 4-7pm on weekdays seemingly being the times to avoid.  But, as with anything like this, there is a degree of 'pot-luck'.  Sundays will often be VERY busy and chaotic because of the many coach trips that will be returning to the different states in Malaysia.  On the days when it's not busy the whole crossing can be done in 15-20 minutes.  Hit it on Sunday and other busy times and it can take up to two hours with long traffic queues and even longer queues at Immigration.

As you approach Dannok, about 1 km before the border, the road will be closed off ahead and this will detour you through a Customs checkpoint, mostly used for trucks.  It's the same checkpoint as when you entered Thailand.  Merely turn left, follow the signs for your type of vehicle, follow the path to the right and then turn left back onto the road.  There is only the one route to go so you won't get lost.

Now, there are numerous ways in which you CAN (and many people do) do this crossing in terms of how, when and where to park your car but I will describe the process which is, as I understand, the official way and the way which will not create you potential problems.

The things you should have readily to hand are:

1) Passport
2) Thai Immigration Departure Card
3) Carnet Form (Simplified Car Import / Export authority)
4) Copy Vehicle Registration document

In terms of a mental / written checklist, there are 5 things you need to do when exiting Thailand at the border:

a) Return the Carnet form (authorising export of your vehicle), this is VERY important

Then park up your car and:

b) Clear Thai Immigration

Get back in your car and:

c) Clear Thai Customs
d) Clear Malaysian Immigration
e) Clear Malaysian Customs

The process is somewhat simpler than entering Thailand but can still be confusing if you don't know what to expect.

Firstly, it's best to clear your vehicle export.  As you drive into the crossing you will see a number of Thai Immigration kiosks on your left and in front.  To the right of these (kiosks numbered 7, 8 & 9), but behind and after them there is a kiosk marked 'Customs Form Return'.  If the border is very quiet you can often stop at this kiosk or just behind and to the left of it.  It's important to do this as Customs MAY wish to see the vehicle, whether they do or not is a different matter.  Take your Carnet form to the kiosk (it's advisable to also take your copy vehicle registration form and passport).   The Customs officer will rarely wish to check your vehicle and will merely take the form from you.  You should be asked to sign the form when your return it AND sign in a book regarding form return.  Make sure you do both.  Once done, you are clear to proceed to the next steps.

Again, this crossing can be very chaotic at busy times so in my view it's safer to head to the car park before clearing Thai Immigration though many just leave their vehicle where they parked up to return the 'Carnet'.  If you wish to use the proper car park, after returning the Carnet form, drive through past the kiosk and about 50 metres after look for the large car park on the right (this is the same car park used when you enter Thailand).  Take care as you need to cross the path of vehicles entering Thailand and many drivers, especially those of motorbikes, seem to exercise little caution when driving in, probably being as confused as everyone else!  Park up the car and walk back around to the Thai Immigration counters (obviously you need to use the 'Departure' kiosks which are next to the Customs Vehicle Export kiosk you just visited, not the 'Arrival' kiosks for those entering Thailand - believe me, I am told people have done it!).  Furthermore, if the border is crazy busy, I have also driven into this car park before handing in the 'Carnet' form, there should be no problem as the car is not far away if they demand to see it, but if it's THAT hectic, they will almost certainly not be interested.

As you face the passport kiosks from the Thailand direction there is a group of them to the left which have a metal barrier around.  These are intended for foot and coach passengers.  Those to the right (kiosks 7, 8 and 9 again), along the roadway sections, are intended for car / motorbike drivers and their passengers.  At Immigration you merely need to show your passport and return the Immigration 'Departure' card which you will have retained upon entering Thailand.  However, if you are entering Malaysia from Thailand as a visitor (e.g. you are a Thai resident or resident of elsewhere entering Malaysia) you will need to complete a Thai Immigration 'Arrival / Departure Card which can be found at the desks in front of the Immigration kiosks or can be had from the Thai Immigration office to the left of the Immigration kiosks.  Once you (and any passengers) have cleared Immigration, return to the car park to get your vehicle.

You can now drive your vehicle back to the crossing and turn right to head for Thai Customs.  Again, take care when crossing traffic entering the border. Drive slowly through the customs checkpoint as you may actually get stopped here.  They may well wish to check the luggage compartment of your vehicle and/or scan any baggage you have.  At busy times getting stopped is less likely as it just jams up the crossing.

After this you drive straight ahead and approach Malaysian Immigration.  This IS a 'drive through'.  As you approach the Malaysian side you will see the traffic filtered into 2 or 3 lanes.  Again, follow any signage for your type of vehicle and approach the kiosks (cars just drive ahead, whereas trucks and mini-buses are filtered off to the left).  When you see one empty with a green light, just drive up to the kiosk.  There is no need for the driver or passengers to disembark unless asked (you may be asked so that they can (electronically) take fingerprints at the kiosk.  Merely hand your passport and those of any passengers to the Immigration officer and follow instructions.

Directly after the Immigration kiosk (and I mean right next to it) there is a further kiosk.  Here you must stop and pay the toll charge for the section of highway you will use next (RM 3.60), if you have a Touch n Go card you can swipe the reader just under the cashier's window to pay.  After this kiosk you drive ahead and proceed slowly through the Malaysian Customs and follow any instructions there. You may or may not get stopped.

That's all there is to it, as I said, all very simple IF you know what to expect.  However, if I stress just one thing in this post it is this:

Remember to return your 'Carnet' (Simplified Vehicle Import/Export) form AND sign the book at the Thai Customs 'Form Return' (vehicle export)  kiosk BEFORE leaving the Thai side of the border crossing!!

If you need fuel there are three filling stations with a few km of the border crossing and I normally stop at the second which is a Petronas.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Drive from Penang / Malaysia to Thailand (Hat Yai / Dannok)

I have now made a number of trips by car to Hat Yai in Thailand which, for those unfamiliar with the geography here, is about a 3 hour drive from Penang.  Having done the trip a few times I thought it might be useful to post a thread which details the border crossing layout and procedures as it will hopefully make the trip a little less daunting for those contemplating doing it for the first time.

Actually the process at the border is very simple and straightforward, IF you know what to do, but the crossing itself on the Thai side is quite chaotic, with what little signage there is not being very clear, to such an extent that it would be very easy to drive through without either having checked in at Immigration or obtaining a 'Carnet' (temporary vehicle import certificate) unless you happen to get flagged down, which, especially at busy times, will be a rarity.  Searching through the internet turns up several 'hits' which talk about the border crossing but in many cases the actual detail is either incorrect, very limited or outdated.

To cross the border into Thailand via Bukit Kayu Hitam (the border crossing closest to Dannok and Hat Yai) it's a very simple drive from Penang or elsewhere in Malaysia.  From Penang, merely drive straight over the Penang Bridge and keep going, following the signs for Alor Star / Setar.  You then keep on the 'E1' and continue to follow the signs for Alor Star / Setar and then 'Bukit Kayu Hitam' until you reach the border.  As you get close to the border though you will see a sign saying 'Bkt Kayu Hitam - turn left', don't.  Just drive straight ahead to the border.  Many of the main highways in Malaysia are toll roads and the charges for the main stretch from Butterworth to near Changlun is about RM13 with a RM 1.60 charge for a short section closer to the border.  I find it much easier to use a 'Touch and Go' card for the tolls and for bridge charges coming into Penang (see post here).

You may also wish to consider getting an extension on your car insurance to cover you 'comprehensive' for when you are in Thailand.  Most insurers will do this on an 'accommodative' (per trip) basis for a minimal charge and some may even provide annual cover if your trips will be frequent.  It is obviously worth checking with insurers to see if they provide annual Thailand cover when renewing car insurance if you intend to travel frequently.  If you purchased your vehicle insurance through a car dealership most of them can also provide the extensions to your cover for Thailand.  Be mindful that most insurers need at least 7 days notice to approve the extension to your cover.

Petrol is about double the price in Thailand compared to Malaysia so I always fill up before going and, doing little mileage once there, I have enough to keep me going until I return across the border and fill up at one of the three filling stations just after the border (Petronas normally).  If you need to fill up before crossing the border there is a large Caltex service station a few km before the border which also has reasonable WCs if you need them.

Things you will need to take when crossing the border:

1) A copy of your car registration document showing you as the owner of the car (make sure it's a current copy showing your correct address and the paid-up road tax for the year in question), I took the original too (see below)

2) Your driving licence (I use my Malaysian one) but there must be an English translation if your driving licence is not in English

3) Passport

4 ) Visa if you have / need one  (many visitors don't as Thai Immigration (land borders) grant 14 days on arrival to visitors from many countries). It's advisable to check if you're not sure if you need a visa or not and there are many sites containing information about Thai Visa requirements, including this one here.

It's also useful to have a pen handy!

In order of completion there are 5 things you need to do when driving into Thailand from Malaysia:

a) Clear Malaysian Immigration
b) Clear Malaysian Customs

Then, park up your car before the Thai checkpoints and

c) Clear Thai Immigration
d) Obtain a Thai 'Carnet' (the international simplified agreement that allows duty free import of a vehicle for up to 12 months) from Customs

Then return to your vehicle and:

e) Clear Thai Customs

The above is a summary and should be used as a checklist, make sure you have done ALL five before you drive into Thailand as at least two (c & d) would be easy to omit if you aren't aware of requirements and /or how the border controls work.  This may sound strange but if you have this mental (or written!) checklist you will be sure not to inadvertently drive through and forget something, and it's too late on the way back!!

Thai Compulsory Insurance

Before getting in to the detail, one of things you will also need in Thailand is compulsory 3rd party insurance cover, beyond that of your Malaysian insurance.  This insurance is available either before or after the border but there is something VERY, VERY important about this insurance that the vast majority of websites and forums fail to mention.  The compulsory insurance that the agents sell, and that the vast majority of people purchase (according to the agents themselves), is 3rd party BUT covers people only (e.g. anyone that you might injur) it DOES NOT provide 3rd party cover for damage to other vehicles.  This is very important as I suspect that some people buy this cover and happily drive off believing they are covered for most eventualities in Thailand.  Wrong!

If you want only the compulsory cover it costs RM 15 for the minimum which is 9 days cover or, if you plan to make several trips over a 12 month period, you can buy annual cover for RM 105.  Some internet sites make reference to you being given a disc when you purchase this insurance which you need to affix to your windscreen, however, this only applies to those purchasing the 12 month cover.  Now, if you also wish to insure against any damage your vehicle may cause to other vehicles or property this '3rd Party Damage' cover can also be purchased from the same agents for RM 50 for a single visit (7 days) or RM 360 for annual cover, these costs being over and above that of compulsory cover.  So, annual 3rd party cover for both people and vehicles / property will cost RM 465.

As mentioned above, some visitors from Malaysia go further and extend their domestic (and often fully comprehensive) insurance to cover themselves in Thailand and I am also reliably informed that as another option, comprehensive cover can also be purchased, again from the same agents, for around RM 800 for one year (whether this can be purchased on a per-trip basis I am not sure) and I plan to explore the cost / benefits of doing this v extending domestic Malaysian cover.  For the occasional trip it's probably not worth it but it may actually make claims and processing much easier if you have an incident in Thailand than trying to organise repairs and make claims from a Malaysian provider whilst in Thailand.  I will update this post in due course with the findings.

A couple of kilometres before the crossing on the Malaysian side there is a rest compound called 'CTC', it is not far after a large 'Caltex' gas station on the left which is itself just a few km after the traffic light controlled crossroads at Changlun (signposted 'Kodiang' (left) and 'Sintok' (right)).  It has a vertical blue and red sign on the road-side with the letters 'CTC' in red at the top.  CTC has a large off road car park and there are a number of stores located there.  CTC also has toilets but personally I would stop at either the Petronas or Caltex stations before CTC for toilets as they are of a higher standard.  The insurance is purchased from the small travel shop within the covered eating area. You can also get it at several locations in Changlun well before the border. The CTC shop and some of the other places you can buy insurance will sell you and complete a Tha Immigration 'Arrival/Departure' card for a small fee (RM 1.50) but the process is so simple I didn't bother.

You will need to show your copy registration document when you purchase the insurance cover.  I do stress that is essential to get this document.  You will most likely need the form in order to obtain your 'Carnet' (I say most likely as lately people are not getting asked for it) from Thai Customs.  I also encountered three police roadblocks in Hat Yai recently and, while I was waived through two of them, I was stopped and asked to show my Thai insurance at the last, they may of course also ask to see your 'Carnet' vehicle import form along with the vehicle registration and your driving licence.

The insurance document can also be purchased at kiosks just after the border (you basically walk through and buy it after clearing Immigration and before returning to obtain your 'Carnet') as there are many money changers which display signs for 'Malay/Thai Insurance Card'.  As I mentioned, it seems that most times of late you do not need to produce this insurance to get your 'Carnet' so many drive through, stop and then buy the the 3rd party cover BUT parking can be 'dodgy' to say the least as the section of road just after the border is a busy part of town and traffic can be quite hectic.   If you purchase it on the Thai side the cost is the same and, that close to the border, they will accept either Thai Baht (THB) or Malaysian Ringgit (MYR).

Border Crossing

Now, on to the crossing.  This is where you will need to ensure you have your passport and vehicle registration handy.

The first part of the process is to clear Malaysian Immigration.  This is very simple and straightforward.  It is essentially a 'drive through' process.  As you approach the border you will see signs directing cars, busses and trucks through different channels.  Following the cars route you will come to a number of kiosks set out in line ahead and its simply a case of queuing and waiting for the green light which indicates a free kiosk.  Drive up to the kiosk and hand your passport(s) to the Immigration Officer, there is no need to get out of the car.

After Immigration, you drive straight ahead a short distance to Malaysian Customs.  Again, another series of staggered kiosks.  As you drive through, have your drivers window down and be prepared to show the registration document.  At times they won't check, especially if they can see that you have it available.

Before reaching the Thai side of the border there is a large and well stocked duty free shop on the left where you can park (for free if just shopping there).  There is also a money changer inside and the rates are very good, slightly better than Thailand I find.  As to prices, from what I've seen, most whisky and gins are more expensive at the duty free than in Thailand, whereas some liquors such as Kahlua are considerably cheaper than Thailand. Shortly after the Duty Free Compound you will come to the controls on the Thai side of the border.

Now, this is the potentially tricky part that could catch first timers out.  Thai Immigration and the related booths are NOT 'drive through', albeit this is not immediately clear and, given the slight state of confusion at border crossings with vehicles and people milling around, it could be easy to just 'go with the flow' and drive through the Thai controls without checking in at Immigration or clearing the temporary import of your vehicle.  The role of the officers is to stop and check vehicles / people when they see a need, NOT to ensure that you have done all that you need to and have all the required paperwork to enter Thailand.  The onus is on you to ensure you complete each stage of the required process and the important thing to remember now is:

After clearing Malaysian Customs, drive ahead BUT be on the lookout for the entrance to a large car park on the left which is BEFORE the various Thai kiosks.  Turn into that car park and park your vehicle.

As you walk back out the car park you will see the numerous Thai Immigration kiosks.  At the kiosk you will need a two-part Thai Immigration Arrival/Departure card.  If you don't have one there may be some at the desks (some of which also have pens) before the Immigration kiosks or, if not, just to the left of the Immigration kiosks there is an office marked 'Visas on Arrival'.  They will give you a card.  Fill this in (both parts) before you get to the Immigration kiosk.  Don't forget the check boxes on the rear of the card.  Also, be sure to retain the 'Departure' portion of the card that they will stamp and hand back to you with your passport, Thai Immigration will need this when you depart, as will any hotel you check into, to verify you are still legally in Thailand.

After Immigration you will need to locate the Customs Vehicle Import kiosk to get your 'Carnet'.  DO NOT forget to do this!  At the passport controls you will see just one section (to the right) where vehicles can drive through.  There are passport controls located here also.  Directly after the passport booths on the drive through section there are two Customs booths adjacent to each other.  This is where you get the 'carnet'.  First you go to the desk kiosk which is on the right, produce your copy registration document and your passport (you may also be asked for your Thai 3rd Party Insurance). You will then be provided with the 'Carnet' form which you then take to the very next window where you will be asked to sign it in two places (there are example forms and the Customs officer will tell you where to sign).  This document covers your vehicle's temporary importation which you must retain for when you leave the country.  At times, people get told to sign the form and leave it at the booth until you drive your vehicle through but, to avoid jams, it seems this rarely happens now.  Whatever happens, DON'T forget it!  I have heard some people say that if you are using a copy of your registration document to obtain the Carnet, it must be a copy which has been certified by the police in Malaysia as a genuine copy.  I have never encountered this problem (having also done subsequent trips) but I did take the original document with me just in case (it's a long way to go back if a Customs official decides an uncertified copy is not good enough.

After this, simply go back to the car, drive out the car park and turn hard left, near the Immigration kiosks and this will funnel you down through Thai Customs.  This IS a drive through and most people are merely waived through, remember to collect your 'Carnet' form if they have retained it.

After that you are through and pretty much clear.  Just keep going on the road straight ahead.  It is a little confusing as about 1/2 a mile down the road there is another Thai Customs checkpoint, mainly for trucks.  You can't miss this as the road straight ahead is barriered off.  At the barrier you merely turn right, drive into the 'pound', follow the signs for your type of vehicle, turn left then left again, then right, back out on to the road you turned off (albeit some way further on of course).  Again, you are unlikely to get stopped here.

So, that's it.  Fairly easy really but easier still if you know what to do before you get to the border and the have a rough idea of the sequence / layout.   Hopefully this will be of help to others.  I have not posted images as at most border crossings photography is frowned upon.  Details of the return border crossing process can be found here.

When driving in Thailand I would suggest keeping your driving licence, copy vehicle registration, Thai Insurance and Carnet readily available in the vehicle as these are the things you will most likely get asked for if stopped by the police or other government department road-check.

There is a useful site here which covers some general information about driving in Thailand.  There are of course many others including a Wiki entry that is great for explaining Thai road signs.  Many may well also be unfamiliar with Thai traffic lights, it's good to be familiar with the meaning of these as you will encounter signals quite quickly after the border:

NB (Jan 2014): Previously, the 'policy' with regard to 'Via Waiver' entry (e.g. entry stamps given at the border for those without visas if they are from countries that qualify) was that if you enter Thailand by air you got 30 days but if you entered by land you got only 14.  Since the end of 2013 however, visitors from G7 countries will be granted 'Permission to enter' for 30 days whether entering by land or air.

NB (Mar 2014): It seems that the insurance certificates or 'discs' referred to above, which are affixed to your vehicle windscreen when purchasing annual Thai compulsory insurance, are no longer issued and you will get the certificate only.  I was advised about this when I recently renewed my 12 month cover.

NB:Please not that one reader has advised me that he had used the online service to pay for his annual car road tax online.  The trouble is, if you do this, you do not get your registration document updated with the details of that particular road tax purchase.  The reader had some difficulty at the border when applying for the Carnet because, despite having a valid car tax displayed, they were reluctant to accept that the registration document was valid.  So if you're contemplating trips to Thailand, renew your car tax at the post office!

Friday, 14 December 2012

Event: Asia New Star Model Search - Regional Final

Pick of Penang was both delighted and honoured to be invited by Iconic Model Management (event organiser) to be the official photographer throughout this prestigious event, the final of which was held on 12 December 2012, and which will see the two Penang winners fly off to represent Malaysia at the SE Asia Grand Final in Seoul, South Korea in January 2013.

The stunning Amber Chia

Held at one of Pick of Penang's 'Top Picks', the G Hotel, it was a very extravagant event with much by way glitter and entertainment, the central focus of course being the 15 regional finalists (sadly one had to withdraw because of sickness) who were judged by a panel which included my friend, and Asia's top super-model, Amber Chia.....

Raulen Lee

the lovely Raluen Lee, International Director of the Korea Model Association, together with Amee Philips (owner of sponsor Amee Philips Jewellery), Jane See (winner of Asia Model Festival Award 2011) and Sofia Yeng (first runner up - AMFA 2011). DJ for the event was another good friend DJ Chan (DJ at Nueve, Precinct 10, Penang) with the MC role undertaken by Iconic's very own Nelson Lo.

I also had the pleasure to judge and present the awards for Mr and Miss Photogenic. The winners were chosen based on shots I had taken of all the contestants at two locations in G Hotel (an event sponsor) some weeks before.  The awards were won respectively by...

Sampson Chew

Sampson Chew and......

Ginny Chan

the lovely Ginny Chan.

Venice Low

I was also happy as I got to shoot a lot more of a model I really really like here, the lovely Venice Low. A very beautiful model with a wonderful bubbly personality who looks stunning regardless of the mode of dress.  She is very photogenic and can be shot with ease, a real pleasure to work with.

Cherish Ng

I also got to meet and shoot a relative newcomer, the delightful Cherish Ng, an up and coming model who I have a feeling will do well.  Again she has a wonderful personality (and for many photographers and clients it's no personality, no work) and is extremely photogenic. Again, a pleasure to work with.

Final mention must of course goes to the event winners......

Binson Ang with Amber Chia

Binson Ang and......

Windy Chong with Raulen Lee

Windy Chong.

Congratulations to you both!!!  

Binson Ang
Windy Chong

All of the contestants did a great job and it was a pleasure to work with them all, especially Ginny Chan, Jess Tan, Venice Low, Apple Lee, Windy Chong, Cherish Ng and Binson Ang who either are, or through this event have become, good friends.  They can be seen in both the album link above and the Facebook Voting Page hosted at Iconic.  The models can also be contacted through Iconic Model Management through the link above.

The event was of course one with primarily a visual appeal so, rather than endless paragraphs of description, the best thing I think is to provide a link to the album of pictures for the event which can be found here.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Event: Penang Island Jazz Festival (final night)

A quick post to provide a link to the album (yet to be organised and captioned) from the final night of the superb Penang Island Jazz Festival.  Sadly the rain started bang on cue at 6:30pm and never stopped all night but again it did not prevent people from staying to enjoy the event.

Another superb line up of performers provided an excellent night's entertainment and for me the highlights of the final night were the solo guitarist Martin Taylor, pictured above, the Francesca Han Trio (led by the beautiful and very talented pianist / composer) and 'Butterscotch' (see post below for other links).

A truly outstanding event and I look forward immensely to the 10th Anniversary festival which will be held through Thursday 28th November and Sunday 1 December 2013.  Hopefully we will be blessed with better weather next time round.

Understanding your TNB electric bill

I am posting this primarily for the information of expatriates who rent or own properties here who do not yet speak Bahasa Malay and maybe unaware of this useful guidance page from TNB (electricity supplier) about how to understand your bill, providing a translation of each section of the bill into English.

The site provides a wealth of useful information in addition to the specific page above which shows how to understand both the new and old style of TNB billing.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Reminder: Asia New Star Model Search (Northern Region)

A great event with which Pick of Penang is happy to be associated.  Be sure to call and get your reservations for the 12th!!

Pizza delivery - Domino's (all over Malaysia)

Mostly I tend to eat local feed here but once in a while either a craving, or the mere convenience, of a 'take-away' beckons and one of the things I do enjoy is a good, and I stress GOOD, pizza.  For eating in a restaurant I find the pizzas at Hard Rock Hotel and Michaelangelo's in Gurney Plaza hard to beat but that's not so much use when you want a take away, especially if you want it delivered.  To fulfil that need I have found that Domino's, with branches all over Malaysia (and in many other countries of course), to be excellent in terms of the variety, the quality of the pizzas (and sundry 'side orders'), price, ease of ordering and delivery.  You could of course call at your local Domino's to eat in or collect, 'phoning your order ahead before hand in the latter case if you prefer, but at times even collecting is too much hassle.  Domino's have this all sewn up.

As mentioned, you can telephone your order if you wish and that's fine if you want to AND if you have a menu to hand, but for me, by far the preferred option is ordering online.  All you need to do is register your details at the above site, the details being retained for future orders.  Once registered you need to merely browse through the extensive range of products and, in terms of pizza, select your base(s) and toppings, add what you want to your cart and 'proceed to checkout' where you can either pay online or indicate that you will pay cash on delivery.  For the vast majority of areas delivery is free (subject of course to there being a local Domino's branch) and, if you live within a certain delivery radius, they guarantee to get your pizza to you within 1 hour of ordering, often my deliveries take less than 30 minutes.  The other thing that is useful is that you can even track the progress of your order from the site as it goes through.  In addition to the website link above they have a Facebook Page here.

I have ordered a number of times now and the pizzas without fail have been tasty, fresh and delivered hot, often well before the target time.  Domino's - great pizzas, great prices and an excellent delivery service!  Give them a try!

Traffic Summonses - Online and SMS checking

While one would hope that the vast majority of drivers drive safely and attentively enough to avoid getting a summons (ticket) there are two site here in Malaysia that you can register on and use to check whether you have in fact received a ticket that you are not aware of, albeit if you have kept your registration document / details up to date any summons will invariably arrive by post.  In most cases of course drivers will have been stopped by the police or at a JPJ checkpoint and will be aware anyway but in some cases, such as speeding a red-light traffic violations, drivers may not be aware that they have incurred a summons.  The two sites in question are:

2) Rilek

The first one is where you can sign also up for PDRM alerts for any summons you may get, say from a speed camera or 'silent' speed trap.

In addition, there is an SMS service service too.  To use it you need to send a message to 15888 or 32728 which merely says:

POLIS SAMAN #####  (the ##### being your vehicle registration number).

The reply is instant and you hope it will say "Tiada Saman". Each reply costs 20 sen.

If you do have a summons and you want the details you can send the same SMS and after your vehicle number just insert you email address. Details will be mailed to you.

Useful services which hopefully most drivers will not need to use.  On the subject on keeping your registration document and details up to date, this is a legal requirement so, if you move home etc, make sure you notify JPJ (Road Transport Dept.) of the new particulars.

Filling up the car / bike

This is just a snippet of information which will largely be of interest to new arrivals here in Malaysia and also to visitors who may choose to hire cars and / or motorbikes.

When filling up with petrol (gasoline) many from the West, particularly Europe, and the Middle East will be more accustomed, when there is no pump attendant, to filling up first and going to the kiosk to pay after.  Here it's different and on a few occasions I've seen motorists standing at the pump clearly confused as to why they cannot draw fuel.  Quite simply, in the vast majority of cases (e.g. unless paying the attendant which some filling stations have) you pay at the kiosk BEFORE you fill up, the cashier crediting either the precise amount to the pump you are parked at or taking a sum off you, returning the change after you've filled up.  I find with a small car like a Toyota Vios or a Honda City RM 50 will be enough to take the tank to almost full from it being close to empty.

It's a system that I actually like as, once paid, you can put the pump nozzle into your filler tube, lock the trigger up and it will automatically click 'off' once the credited amount has been drawn, leaving you to just get back in the car and drive off, no embarrassment of forgetting pay!!!

Most people will of course become familiar with this information after filling up once but this post may make the first visit to the pumps less confusing.

Website: Online Store - Superbuy (Top Pick)

Recently I really struggled to get hold of two 'tech' items here in Penang, despite visiting all the larger retail outlets.  In Europe I would often order goods online and a number of sellers, such as Amazon, have justifiably good reputations when it comes to online selling.

In Penang I have never really had the need to order anything online as I could always find what I needed locally.  In two cases though (a cheap and cheerful modem [not a wifi gateway] and some Sanyo Eneloops AA batteries [the only rechargeable batteries I will use in high end equipment such as camera flash-guns) sourcing them locally was impossible.  Following a few searches I came across the Superbuy site and decided to give them a try.  I have to say that after two successful purchases I am very impressed.  Once registered, online shopping there is easy, they carry a wide range of goods, prices are very good and courier delivery to Penang very reasonable (RM 10 and 7 in respect of the two, albeit small, items I purchased).  If the goods are in stock delivery is very fast, normally within 2 working days.  If the goods are not in stock I found that in my case it took less that a week to deliver.  Importantly their communication is also good as you receive not only an e-mail order confirmation but also an indication when your goods both will dispatch and when they have been dispatched.  They also follow up with a customer satisfaction email.

I can thoroughly recommend Superbuy and as a result of my experience in dealing with them I'm happy to award them a 'Top Pick'.

Event: 9th Penang Island Jazz Festival

Despite the best efforts of the rain, from both the monsoon season and the fall-out from the typhoon currently in the Taiwan area, a very large crowd persevered to enjoy the first of the main-stage 'Jazz by the Beach' nights at the Bay View Beach Resort Hotel, Batu Ferringhi.

Starting around 6:30pm and going on until midnight it really was a superb event.  Prior to the main event I managed to catch a couple of the fringe acts who played at the Bay View Beach Hotel and Hard Rock Hotel.  First up was 'Froya', an excellent up and coming KL based band and this was followed by 'Black Lightbulb', another KL based jazz, blues and R&B band.  Both were really superb and great to see if you get chance.  I suspect we will be seeing a lot more of both.

The main event was truly excellent.  A really varied line up of artists playing a wide range of music much of which was very different to that which many folks would associate with the the jazz genre.  Highlights for me were 'Mezzotono', an Italian acapella ensemble; Madelein Bell, a powerful and talented female vocalist based in Amsterdam who was backed by the 'Hans Vroomans Trio' and the absolutely superb German based band 'Art of Fusion', a central feature of their act being the rather unique 'air-drums' pictured above.

At RM 68 per ticket this event is really good value and a full range of merchandise together with CDs from the various performers is on sale (I bought the 'Rhizomism' CD by 'Art of Fusion' - excellent - also available from iTunes) and if you missed last night's performances there is still chance to catch tonight's with a superb line up featuring 'Martin Taylor', 'Butterscotch' and 'Estudiantina Ensemble'. Ample food and drink is also on sale.

I will expand this article over the next few days with shots of each of the acts that performed but in the meantime an initial album (yet to be captioned) can be found here.  Pick of Penang will be back to the Bay View for the final night tonight.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Asia New Star Model Search - Penang Finalists

Pick of Penang is delighted to have been invited recently by Iconic Model Management to be the official photographer for the Penang activities surrounding the Asia New Star Model Search.  This is a prestigious event which is ongoing throughout SE Asia, the finalists going on to the final in Seoul, South Korea, early next year.

Penang plays host to the Malaysia (Northern Region) leg of the event and over the last few weeks the contestants have been whittled down to 16 finalists (8 male / 8 female) who will go forward to the regional grand final at the luxurious and stylish 'G Hotel' in Penang (still a Pick of Penang 'Top Pick') on Wednesday 12 December with the event starting around 7pm.  The event has a number of sponsors including the Amber Chia Academy nationally and the '1st Avenue' mall and 'G Hotel' locally.  One of the judges will be my chum, the delightful and stunning Asia super-model, Amber Chia.

As part of the process Pick of Penang recently did a shoot of the 16 regional finalists for event publicity, one group of shots will also be used by the models themselves to garner support through Facebook with awards to be given to the two finalists (male / female) who prove to be most popular (the most 'Likes') through this extremely popular social network channel.  This particular album can be found here.  Those interested in actually voting for your model or models of choice can also do so here.  In addition, there is another album here which contains a number of shots from the Penang semi-final which took place at 1st Avenue recently.  Pick of Penang will of course be covering the regional final at G Hotel and an album will be published in due course.

Good luck to all the contestants, several of whom who have become good friends since I came to live in Penang, and congratulations in advance to all the staff at Amber Chia Academy / Iconic Model Management (Penang), especially Kelvin Khoo, Nelson Loh, Venice Chong and Nix Dominic Loh, for what I know will be an excellent final at the G Hotel.

Event: 9th Penang Island Jazz Festival

A reminder for those that may have missed it but the Penang Jazz Festival starts today.  4 days of great bands and great fun.  Full details available from the website.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Removal of site from links

This is an abridged version of an original post which has been amended solely because I am concerned about the quality and standards of this site and do not wish to see it cluttered with a 'tit-for-tat' response, the catalyst for which was the antics of one particular 'official' on an internet forum.  Some points however do still need to be made.

Historically I had been a very active member, and indeed strong supporter and promoter, of an entirely unofficial MM2H visa forum website.  Recently however the site has lost its attraction for me, largely because when I have directed readers there to obtain information, I have often had them contact me subsequently saying that information is very, VERY hard to find there, given that the answers are often spread across multiple threads and that there is often a need to wade through pages and pages of 'discussion' (which at times gets decidedly off-topic) in order to find the parts of the puzzle that are of interest to you.  There have also been instances where some of the information posted members has been speculative, misleading and or just plain wrong.   In addition, many of the posts made these days seem to be of questionable (at best) relevance to MM2H and the forum has become very 'cliquey' in nature IMO.  There have also been two recent admin changes; the removal of private messaging between members and dispensing with the facility to post 'reciprocal links', where members could post links to their own site (such as the one here) provided a reciprocal links to that forum was posted.  A few other more specific issues have also concerned me of late.

Users of forums fall into many 'categories' and you often get those who see such forums as 'theirs', their own personal chat channel, then there are those who are mischievous and meddlesome with regard to what other members do and others who seem to be on a mission to up their post count.  As can happen with any forum, personalities get involved and people can clash.  There's also at times a somewhat childish attitude towards initiatives that do not emanate from that forum.  One example is the somewhat sarcastic comment from a member towards the title of the social meetings (and very successful they are too!!!!) organised by The Expat Group.  Known as 'Mingles' the title attracted a snide dig, but is it any more absurd as a title for a social meet and greet than the forum's own 'Makan Meet-Ups'?  It's just a name, it doesn't matter, but it's the mentality that surrounds the vilification of things like this that increasingly grates on you after time, an attitude that is frankly somewhat pathetic.  The regularity of posts where the forum is seemingly being used as a substitute for a web search engine, with the posting of inane questions about all manner of topics (not related to the visa) for others to respond to (and where a simple search on Google would turn up the result in a few seconds), is also tiring.  Lazy, upping the post post count?  Who knows?  But it all adds to the detritus you need to sift through to find what you need.

The Site Admins (SA) there often make reference to the fact that the views of all members are to be respected.  That's fine and all very honourable.  In my experience though that 'respect' seems to be somewhat selectively applied.  Criticise SA though (or have it viewed that you might be by having the temerity to answer them back) and their 'respect' can promptly take second place to what I can only describe as temper-tantrum fuelled responses which get very personal, very quickly.

In a recent incident involving this 'user', following an entirely civil and respectful response to one SA, in a very bizarre turn, another SA quickly became quite obnoxious and confrontational, using (or is it abusing?) member information, to selectively spew a bunch of statistics, rather patronisingly seeming to imply that information helpfully post to their site in the past had required little typing on their site as it was a 'cut and paste' from here (where of course the articles write themselves!).  You would have thought a forum like this would be encouraging member contribution, especially that which provides information that might be of use to others.  Not so it seems.  It's all well and good promoting 'respect' but people need to practice what they preach!!

My main concern with this incident is the whole principle of the thing.  In my view this, and I stress I do consider it an abuse, of member information to which only SAs are privy was wholly uncalled for and entirely inappropriate. Should SAs wish to post such information, members should be asked BEFORE posting it.  Offering to to remove the information AFTER it has been posted is too late.  That the quoting of the stream of stats in this case actually proved nothing (given that the stats were not used in a comparative way against benchmark inputs from the general membership) is actually irrelevant, albeit at the time somewhat frustrating.  But then expecting that everyone who quotes stats has the brains to do so intelligently is probably asking too much.  Interestingly, three other members of that forum who I know personally also expressed concern at what they consider to be such an inappropriate use of member information.  Indeed, had the SA not behaved in such an appalling manner I would have likely simply ceased to be an active member of the forum, as it is the SA chose to become somewhat objectionable, getting all personal, and when that happens it should be expected that people might take exception to it and air their concerns in a manner and through a channel which is not subject to their censorship.

Equally disturbing to me of late was what I consider to be the 'hounding' of one member from the forums, a member who has contributed much to the site.  The 'incident' sparked off when one thread degenerated into to rather unpleasant exchanges between members about US foreign policy. What on EARTH has that got to do with MM2H?  One member, a US citizen, perhaps understandably, took some exception to this and voiced his arguments accordingly.  The result was some rather heated exchanges and as a result the US member has made it clear he no longer feels welcome at the site or inclined to post there.  I must admit I found this episode particularly distasteful (I have been told some other details about it that are even more distasteful) and another member that I have met up with socially since voiced the precise same concerns. This particular incident actually marked a significant turning point in my view of the site some time back.

So, the cards started to stack up.  To me, the respect that the SAs on that forum allude to is VERY selectively applied at times and I find the attitude and treatment some that people receive to be quite distasteful.  I would stress that many of the members there are in fact decent folks, helpful people (some of whom I know personally) who have provided a wealth of useful information, as I hope I have done in return. It's also clear that a sizeable part of the membership post very rarely to the site  - I couldn't help wondering why?  It's clearer now!  The somewhat cliquey nature of the forum also doesn't help.

As a topic, the visa and associated matters have a shelf life in terms of interest.  Once you have it there's little point in researching or discussing it further IMO.  Beyond the visa itself the forum is not a particularly useful site about life in Malaysia either, particularly with some of the drivel that some members seem happy to spout off about (vociferous and opinionated does not equal expert!!). It has spawned all manner of 'child-boards' and it IS now clearly about more than the visa but quite what that 'more' is remains unclear, there is a lack of direction and clarity, and for information about life in Malaysia there are sites that are far, far better. Most of the non-visa topics discussed on the forum (a lot of which do not even pertain to Malaysia) are of no interest to me at all and I have got nothing of use from the site for a long time.  I also have no interest in, or a need for, the social meetings or a recently started support group.

All of the above, the recent changes to the forum, the level of difficulty encountered when trying to find information, the wandering direction of it all and of course SA attitude and their particular brand of 'respect' has caused me to review my membership of the site and in doing so I concluded that it's a site with which I am no longer happy to be associated with and I feel that the advantages of membership are now greatly outweighed by the disadvantages.  As such I no longer feel happy to promote the site and it has been removed from my links.  As a 'Q&A' style of MM2H information source the site is there to use but I will leave it to readers to find the site themselves if they so wish.

There are other forums out there that also cover Malaysia / Far East / SE Asia and previously I was happy to maintain links to those sites and even refer people to their sites in articles.  Problem is it's not reciprocal.  The vast majority of sites and blogs that I come across are more than happy to contain links to other informative sites and promote them, providing as much assistance to readers as possible.  Not so with forums it seems and these sites are without doubt the most defensive of their 'turf'.  Is it revenue based?  Is it because the sites get so little activity that they are petrified that readers might be directed towards other informative sites and lose interest in theirs?  Who knows.  For site /blog owners with a significant readership the referrals from forums have a zero impact on site traffic, 1-2 hits a week versus 2-3,000 per day from other sources, so the reason to post on forums is certainly not to generate traffic, just to help others.  Forum admins / owners seem to favour protecting their turf over helping others though.  Thus, while I'd been happy to promote these sites it needs to work both ways but it doesn't.  So I took the decision to delete the links to these sites.  Fair's fair :)  However, I remain happy to maintain links to the sites that seem to operate an a more altruistic basis.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Restaurant: Passage through India - Hillside, Tg Tokong

Must admit I was quite sad when Karaikudi, a great Indian restaurant, closed down their Tanjung Bungah establishment which was located at 'Hillside', quite close to my home, leaving only their Georgetown premises open.  Karaikudi food I always found very good and reasonably priced and the restaurant being so local was great.

In keeping with the 'every cloud has a silver lining' idiom however, it IS pleasing to see that the recently vacated premises is being taken over by the 'Passage thru India' (PTI) chain, a company that is also very highly regarded for the quality of the food and the surroundings in its Malaysia-wide restaurants.

The refurb' still seems to be at the early stages but hopefully it will not be too long before the new restaurant opens.  Not only am I looking forward to having a PTI restaurant to try I'm also looking forward to being able to go for a good Indian meal on a Friday or Saturday night, without the need to venture into Georgetown, and when I fancy a change from the still excellent 'Sri Ananda Bahwan'

NB: This restaurant is now open - full review to follow.

Boon Siew Honda introduces the PCX 150cc

It's great to hear that Boon Siew Honda are releasing the superb 150 cc Honda PCX to their model line up in Malaysia.  This is a VERY popular bike in many parts of the world and can be seen in abundance on the roads in Thailand where it is a very popular rental bike.

The PCX boasts numerous hi-tec features including a 'programmed fuel injection' efficient engine and Honda's 'idling stop' function which allows the engine to cut off when at a stand-still, thereby conserving fuel, bursting back into life as soon as the throttle is opened. It also boasts the 'combined braking system' (where one leaver pull will apply the correct amount of front and back brake to help prevent rider-error lock ups), 14" aluminium wheels with tubeless tyres and a side-stand engine-cut switch which will prevent the bike from starting if the stand is down.  The fuel tank is 5.9 litres and the PCX also has a 25 litre luggage compartment which can accommodate a full face helmet or two open face.  From experience they are very comfortable to ride and the upgrade to the 150cc engine from the previous 125cc is a great benefit.  The only things I might consider adding to the bike would be a new, taller, screen, such as an Ermax or Givi (example here) and a Givi 340 top box.

An important factor for buyers of course is the fact that it IS Honda with the reputation for reliability.  The bike will be available in black metallic, grey metallic and a special edition red and white and is priced from RM 10,688 OTR with insurance and 2 years warranty.  The Honda PCX product detail page is here and there is quite a comprehensive review of the bike here.  Further press coverage of the bike can be found here and here along with a product video in Bahasa Malay here.  Finally, there is also a quite useful user comparison between the 125cc PCX and the only bike (other than the SYM VTS) that I was considering, the 135cc Yamaha Nouvo Elegance (now called the LC) here.

The Honda PCX 150, a very welcome addition to the Malaysian bike scene. 

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Gym: Jatomi Fitness - Gurney Plaza (Top Pick)

A Jatomi gym entrance
The purpose of this post is to provide a more complete update about Jatomi Fitness, the new gym which was scheduled to open in Gurney Plaza in February 2013 (and which I first wrote about here.  I recently attended the fact finding and sign-up roadshow which will run from now until the gym opens.  However, at the time of writing, special offers are available to the first 500 to sign up on their 'Founder Member' scheme, which is covered more fully below.

A typical Jatomi gym members lounge
First impressions from the roadshow are very impressive.  Before getting in to the detail about equipment, facilities, programmes and membership rates it's worth touching on the subject of Jatomi's reliability and financial standing.  This is particularly important for those looking at paying their memberships 12 months in advance as we all know what can happen with gyms pulling the plug and closing, at times with very little, if any notice.

A suspension equipment training area
Jatomi is not likely to be a cause for concern in this regard.  It is a large operation with around 40 gyms in Eastern Europe and is set to expand its operations considerably in both Malaysia and the wider SE Asia area, already having two other gyms here, in KL and Petaling Jaya.  From what I can gather the financial backing for the company is also sound.  On that basis I'm quite confident that 12 month memberships are not a risky proposition with Jatomi.

Jatomi's state of the art running machines

The new gym in Gurney Plaza is now scheduled to open in February 2013 and the membership rates are quite reasonable at around RM 150 per month.  However, the first 500 members to sign can avail themselves of a special deal in that the normal RM 100 admin fee is waived and, for those happy to pay by credit card for 12 months membership in advance, you will benefit from a 25% (ongoing) discount on membership rates bringing the monthly membership cost down to an even more reasonable RM 100 per month.  At the time of writing these Founder Member deals were still available.

The equipment and facilities for the gym really do look superb.  State of the art modern equipment will be used, an example being the running machines that automatically adjust to your running speed without the need for frantic button pressing to adjust tempo up or down.  There will be a wide variety of cardio machines which will satisfy all your needs in that regard with regular group, instructor led, exercises in a specially equipped and separate exercise area.

Sprint track and free-weights.
Weight training machines and free-weights will also be start of the art, again in well laid out training areas and there will also be a section of the gym set aside for body weight training using suspension training equipment developed by the US Navy SEALs.  The gym will also benefit from a sprint track.

Member facilities are also impressive with a lounge area that will also incorporate locking mobile phone charging stations and well fitted changing rooms and shower areas. What is pleasing to see is that the gym will utilise a wristband access strip which is used for gym entry, lockers, docking station lock/unlock and anything else which might require a 'key' to grant access.  So, no more pesky card to carry around and continually pull out of your pocket, wallet or purse.  I was also happy to be told that is Jatomi's policy that all trainers are appropriately qualified or, if they are employed on the basis of their (significant) experience but lack formal qualification, they must acquire the qualifications required through a recognised training body with months of employment.

An 'RPM' training area.

Jatomi will also offer a number of special fitness programmes including 'Move Fit', a free structured group cardio based exercise programme with groups of up to 10 students with regular 30 minute (but intense) instructor led routines and 'Eat Fit' a paid-for programme focussing on incorporating advanced dietary awareness into your training, backed up with extensive online resources.

Well fitted and equipped changing rooms.

There will also be a wide range of other fitness programmes including the Less Mills 'Body Pump', 'Sh'bam', 'RPM', 'Body Combat' and 'Body Balance' regimes together with various 'Freelance' options such as yoga, pilates, zumba and belly dancing.

I was very impressed with Jatomi, their staff and their plans for the gym which I now eagerly await the opening of.  On the basis of what I have seen and heard so far the gym has been awarded a 'Top Pick' from me and, if you are looking for a gym now or in the future, Jatomi would be very well worth checking out.  You can also check the Jatomi Facebook Page for updates.

NB: Images are from another Jatomi site and are for the purposes of illustration only.

NB: On 22 January 2013 Jatomi issued a communiqué following much rumour and speculation about the opening of the gym.  It states that, in light of a company re-structuring, there have been some delays and the gym is now scheduled to open in June 2013!  There are those who will feel this has not been well handled and whilst I agree to a point, it seems Jatomi are now trying to put things right.  I contacted Jatomi to try and confirm that the size, layout, equipment and facilities would be the same or better than that which formed the basis of the contract that members signed up to. I also raised the issue of compensation for founder members.

To his credit, James Balfour (one of the original founders of Jatomi) and who has now taken over with personal responsibility for this region sent a very prompt and courteous reply in which he makes the following points:  The club is being re-designed, all of the facilities that were advertised will remain, there will also be some new and more innovative work out solutions. Currently the sale of memberships is on hold until the contractors begin building the club in March and the club will open in June. All founding members will have an additional 6 months membership added to their term as compensation. If members would like a refund,  James will personally sign the cheques.  He also apologised for the recent developments and uncertainty and asked all founder members to be patient, accepting that this was not easy to do.

Hopefully this will now be the end of a period of uncertainty and indeed anxiety for some who were clearly worried about the money they have paid over to Jatomi.  Time will will tell.  It's now up to Jatomi to deliver on the promises.

Restaurant: The Boatman - Batu Ferringhi (Top Pick)

I am indebted to my friends Jonathan and Sandy here for highlighting what I have found to be a real little gem of a restaurant which is tucked away in the centre of Batu Ferringhi, not far from the Ferringhi Garden Restaurant.

The restaurant is called 'The Boatman' and places like this are such a treat to come across.  It is in a good location, has seating both inside and out and serves a wide variety oriental and western food for lunch and dinner and also serves a good selection of breakfast treats, including a full English with real bacon for those that crave it.  Opening at 9am I have had breakfast there a few times now, with orange juice and lashings of fresh hot coffee, a great way to start the day.

Chilli Chicken
For me though, it's the lunch and dinner menu that makes the restaurant really stand out.  Dining there recently we had a superb fried rice with mixed vegetable, red chilli chicken, curried fish fillet, stir fried mixed vegetable and prawns with asparagus and each dish was superb with everything being freshly prepared and cooked.  They also have a good desert menu and I have to say that my firm favourite is the pancakes, either honey, lemon or banana. Served with ice cream they are a fine and satisfying way to round off a great meal.  However, when you consider that this meal, together with 2 large bottles of Tiger and an ever so healthy carrot juice came to only around RM 100 it really does become very good value, but good value with great quality.

Vegetable Fried Rice
I have now eaten there many times and the people that accompany me (all local) are always impressed with the food, the restaurant and the friendliness and helpfulness of the owner May and her staff.  I am sure none of the dishes there would disappoint and some of those I have tried, in addition to the above, that I would highly recommend include the beef rendang, sczechuan style stir fry pork (or chicken), kailan with oyster sauce, and the bean sprouts with salted fish.  There are many other dishes on the menu that I have yet to try and I am sure that many of these too will become firm favourites, esp when you consider that most are priced between RM 12-18.

Fish Fillet Curry

The Boatman is about 100m past the Ferringhi Garden Restaurant on the right hand side as you drive or walk through Batu Ferringhi, away from Georgetown.  It is open daily (except Monday) from 09:00 to 2:30 pm and then from 6:00pm to 11:00pm.  At times, especially if you are looking to seat several diners at the busier weekends for example, it might be advisable to call ahead and reserve a table: +60 16 448 6369 / +60 12 483 3157.  They can also be contacted by email.

Honey Pancakes

The Boatman really is a cracking little restaurant serving great food at great prices which is well worth a visit and it earns a very well justified 'Top Pick'.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Gyms in Penang - New Options

Readers will see from my previous (and recently updated) post that the gym I am currently a member of, Fitness First (Island Plaza, Tg Tokong), will cease trading as of 30 November.  At the moment it's unclear what will happen to the gym and staff.  Will it close completely, or will another buyer take it over?  I hope for the sake of all the members who want to remain with Fitness First that a suitable buyer can be found.  There are rumours of course, and rumours of revised deals and membership rates but we have still to hear anything official.

Aside from its facilities, three things that attracted me to Fitness First were:

1) It being within walking distance of my apartment.
2) It being in the same block as 'Cold Storage', allowing me to top-up with provisions
3) There being a wider social scene there, with Starbucks and the like on site at Island Plaza

But, times change.  While major renovation took place Starbucks packed up and moved on - strike one.   In fact in many ways Island Plaza has become a bit of a ghost town with little foot traffic.  Additionally, I'm also now all set to my new (and permanent) apartment which will mean no more walking to a gym for me - strike two.  Given that whatever my choice of gym is for the future will entail driving, I figure it's time to look for one that maybe ticks more boxes for me.

Previously I looked at 'Celebrity Fitness' in Gurney Plaza now also, and as per yet another amended post, closed down.  I also looked more recently at 'Absolute Fitness' at the 'Heritage Club'.  This place is OK but I dislike the layout where cardio/ machines and weights are on separate levels requiring hikes up and down stairs depending upon your routine, which at times cannot always be carved up on the basis of convenience to equipment placement.  There are also fitness centres at the G Hotel and also at Gurney Hotel but for me, these lack the range of equipment and the style I like.  So, where to go???

Xtreme Fitness - Level 3, Straits Quay Convention Centre
Luckily there are two new gyms in Penang, one open already and the other coming soon.  First up is Xtreme Fitness at Straits Quay.  Their site can be found here.  It's a brand new gym with some excellent modern equipment and is open 24 hours!  A range of membership options exists at around about RM 120-140 per month, possibly less depending on promotions.  It's a nice facility that also offers a range of classes and is well placed for those that also run at Straits Quay, as I do, allowing you to shower and change in gym facilities on non-training days (or of course on training days if you like to combine outdoor runs with in-gym training).  Car parking is also readily available and costs just RM1 per visit.  The only problem for me is that the gym is ALL there is here.  The gym.  There is no one-stop shop for me at Straits Quay, allowing me to do other things at the same time, except maybe lunch or dinner.  It's still an option but at the moment I'm more struck on the final contender.

Jatomi Fitness - Level 7, Gurney Plaza
Enter 'Jatomi Fitness'.  Now this DOES look appealing.  A brand new gym which will be opening at the old 'Celebrity Fitness' location in Gurney Plaza.  The old gym has been completely gutted so the new one will have a new layout and all new machines and weights.  Previously I was put off 'Celebrity' because of having to drive there but now I will HAVE to drive, that is no deterrent.  What appeals to me about Jatomi is the one-stop shop nature of the Gurney Plaza location.  Indeed, on the occasions that everything coincides, I'd be able to hit the gym, grab some lunch, take in a movie at GSC, do some shopping and top up with provisions at Cold Storage, all under one roof.  Parking is also readily available at Gurney Plaza and is not expensive on the upper floors on weekdays at RM 1 for first 3 hours.  Given that I go to the gym on weekdays, that's just fine.

I've yet to check out Jatomi in full and they will be having a number of promotional events, starting from October 22 at which more information, together with some early bird rates and upgrade offers, will be available.  Once there is more information available I'll post further, together with some pictures of the establishment once open.  The Jatomi main site can also be found here.  So, at the moment, it looks like Jatomi it will be, a decision which, I have to say, has also been partly influenced by my delightful new training buddies ;-)  More to follow........

An update regarding the Jatomi gym can be found here.

NB: On 22 January 2013 Jatomi issued a communiqué following much rumour and speculation about the opening of the gym.  It states that, in light of a company re-structuring, there have been some delays and the gym is now scheduled to open in June 2013!  There are those who will feel this has not been well handled and whilst I agree to a point, it seems Jatomi are now trying to put things right.  I contacted Jatomi to try and confirm that the size, layout, equipment and facilities would be the same or better than that which formed the basis of the contract that members signed up to. I also raised the issue of compensation for founder members.

To his credit, James Balfour (one of the original founders of Jatomi) and who has now taken over with personal responsibility for this region sent a very prompt and courteous reply in which he makes the following points:  The club is being re-designed, all of the facilities that were advertised will remain, there will also be some new and more innovative work out solutions. Currently the sale of memberships is on hold until the contractors begin building the club in March and the club will open in June. All founding members will have an additional 6 months membership added to their term as compensation. If members would like a refund,  James will personally sign the cheques.  He also apologised for the recent developments and uncertainty and asked all founder members to be patient, accepting that this was not easy to do.

Hopefully this will now be the end of a period of uncertainty and indeed anxiety for some who were clearly worried about the money they have paid over to Jatomi.  Time will will tell.  It's now up to Jatomi to deliver on the promises.