The Random Writings of Rachel

Pangkor Laut Resort Experience - 5-Star Resort

For this year's anniversary, we decided to do something completely different--to stay close to home and splurge on a nice hotel rather than traveling somewhere far distant and staying in budget hostels or a rented room in somebody's home. A coworker had mentioned Pangkor Laut Resort to Angel some months ago. Finding out that the resort was an easy 3-hour drive from home and that that everyone who had been there seemed to recommend Pangkor Laut very highly, we were very intrigued.


However, we were sold when we discovered "The Resident's Package" -- an all-inclusive deal, which included 2 nights lodging, 3 meals a day for 2 people, and the cost of the boat ride to the resort and back. This package is available to Malaysian citizens and...expats who legally reside in the country! Hurray! Our 3-day, 2-night trip came out to a complete total, food, lodging, transport, including tax and service charges and everything, of 2000RM, or about $450 USD at the current exchange rate. Yes, it was a big splurge and not cheap by any means, but also probably not too much more expensive than a slightly longer budget vacation for two--by the time you add up flights, meals, housing, and activities cost. I was surprised that you could have a 5-star resort experience at that price, as I've always thought such vacations were more in the realm of possibility for millionaires than for the rest of us. :)

The Boat

The 5-star experience really begins from the boat ride, or more accurately, from the lounge where you check in to the resort and await the beginning of your boat journey. We were a bit on the late side, as we'd gotten a little lost trying to find the jetty (make sure you have driving directions ahead of time!), so I rushed in to the lounge while Angel parked the car, and was immediately greeted with a cool, perfumed towel to wash my hands with after the journey and a glass of sparkling juice. Whoa--what kind of world did I just step into?



Check-in only took a few minutes, we handed over our passports so that they could confirm we had residents' visas and they took our luggage away, gave us a map of the resort, and said the boat would be leaving shortly.


I have taken many boat rides in Malaysia. I love boats. I think it's just the funnest thing to be out on the water, zooming away at high speeds. But this boat ride was unlike any other boat ride I've ever been on in this country. The Pangkor Laut difference was instantly obvious. The boat itself was absolutely pristine. The cushions on the seats had no stains and weren't damp. The life jackets were dry, and not spotted with mildew nor smelly. I was already hugely impressed! (This is an interesting episode of "Budget Travelers go Luxury" already, isn't it?)

The day was a little bit stormy, and the water was choppy, so our boat ride was a bouncy one. Neither of us are in the least prone to seasickness, but those who are might want to be prepared before going out in the boat on a day when the sea is a little bit rough. When we arrived at the island's pier, we didn't even have to grab our own luggage, we were ushered straight to the reception and given more perfumed hand towels and more glasses of sparkling juice.

The Room

The staff member who met with us to give us our resort briefing and tour upon check-in was Filipino and spoke some Spanish, and throughout the introduction to the resort, he was joking with Angel about the similarities between Filipino and Mexican culture and they were speaking Spanish part of the time. He gave us our portable wifi box and sat down with the resort map, circling the Sea Villa that we would be staying in.


At that point, we both froze, and were utterly confused. "Sea Villa?" Angel asked, "But we didn't reserve a Sea Villa...I think we reserved a Hill Villa." Hill Villas were the most inexpensive tier of accommodation--we had both thought the Sea Villas, which stand on stilts over the water, were very cool, but this trip was already a splurge for us, so we'd gone ahead with reserving the most budget-friendly room. Our guide asked cheekily, "Oh, you don't want the Sea Villa?" and we were quick to assure him that we did, very much. The room upgrade was a very nice surprise, but the surprise wasn't over until we walked into our room. Normal check-in time was 3 p.m., it was about 1:30 by this time and they said our room was already prepared, so we went in right away.


As he unlocked the door for us, the guide said, "Of course, I already know why you are here today," and we walked in to see a bed covered with dozens of rose petals and roses and a pillow that said "Happy Anniversary!" We'd made a note on our reservation that this was a trip for our 6th anniversary--but I was amazed and how far above and beyond they'd gone with that information!






The wooden villa was beautiful in every way--it included a jacuzzi tub, a huge bathroom, a balcony, a plate of fruit, an elephant-shaped towel holding a rose...basically every cool thing you can think of.

Activities

There are many add-on, payable activities and excursions possible at Pangkor Laut Resort. Being in character as budget travelers at a luxury resort, we opted to stick to all the no-added-charge things to do. Besides that, we were not staying long, so we didn't even have time enough to experience all the free things available during our 3 days. I think you would need a longer stay to even consider spa services or boat excursions.





We were not short on things to do! Our favorite place to hang out was Emerald Bay. The water and setting was absolutely gorgeous--whenever we were here in the morning, the whole beach was completely deserted. Even when we spent the afternoon there, it never felt crowded, although there were several other guests enjoying sunbathing. The staff said that usually Emerald Bay is quite calm, but we were there on a relatively windy/stormy afternoon, and Angel loved the 2-3 foot waves. The beach staff had fins you could borrow (for free), and he tried a little body surfing. I, who usually abstain from all actual swimming, even got out into the bay over my head and got tumbled by quite a few waves as Angel tried to teach me how to swim with them and 'ride' them without a board. There were also swings and hammocks on the beach, which I loved very much.



We also tackled the 2.4 km Jungle trail from Emerald Bay back the the area around the Spa Village. Given that it's currently rainy season, the trail was very muddy. Most of the trail wasn't difficult to traverse, but we started from the Emerald Bay side, and right at the beginning, we were faced with a very steep hill that we had to get over and then go down from. That part was tough, and I was very glad the whole trail wasn't that steep! We were very muddy by the end of the trail--we enjoy hiking and incorporate it into every vacation, but I was also glad that the resort has a shuttle service to take you to Emerald Bay by the road, because that hike makes getting to the beach much more arduous.


We meant to visit the infinity pool and the fitness center as well, but spent so much time at Emerald Bay that we didn't manage to spend much time at either, although we did visit the fitness center, where Angel said, while looking at the treadmills, "Man, there's no tv for the treadmills..." The treadmills face large windows looking out over a pristine ocean. There's palm trees and flowers and you can see Pangkor Island across the water. I looked at Angel and said, "Seriously? A tv? I don't think these treadmills need a tv."

On our last day, after we checked out of the room, it started to rain, which squashed my dreams of running around playing photographer, but we went to the TV lounge, which was completely empty, and watched a bit of Transformers (so Angel did get his TV after all) until it was time to head to our boat to leave.

The Wildlife



Being in Malaysia, I often say that nature never seems far away. This is very true at Pangkor Laut Resort. This hornbill was just chilling a few feet away from our table while we ate lunch on the first day. The waiter warned us not to leave our food if we still wanted it since the bird would probably try to grab a bite if we left the table.


Fruit bats hung around in the trees during the day and fly around in the evening. The resort staff warned us to keep our villa locked at all times due to mischievous monkeys, but I actually didn't see a monkey the entire stay. We were also informed ahead of time that mosquitos can be a problem, especially in the evening or during cooler, rainy seasons, and came prepared with lemongrass repellent. Angel has always been very attractive to mosquitos and was bothered by them on the hike and in the evening. I came away with a couple bites on my legs but the mosquitos didn't seem to bother me nearly as much even though I wasn't nearly as copious with repellent as he was. I guess they're attracted to his personality.

The Food

Our package included two lunches, two dinners, and two breakfasts. We were told we could opt to take our two lunches either on the first day and second day, or else second and third day. We opted to start our vacation with lunch, and for our first meal we dined at:

The Royal Bay Beach Club

Our waiter informed us that under the Resident's Package, your meal includes any main dish along with either an appetizer or a dessert. This was a pleasant surprise, as Angel had been expecting that perhaps the meals 'included' in the package price were limited. We're the sort of people who, on vacation, split one entree for a meal or survive on snacks from 7/11, so eating two-course meals three times a day was a big difference (also, probably a good thing that we spent the rest of the time swimming and hiking or we might have come home with bigger bellies!) haha!




At this first restaurant, I had chicken meatball and veggie soup and a quesadilla and Angel ordered a hamburger and chocolate ice cream. It was a very enjoyable start to our trip, to sit overlooking the pool and the ocean, and enjoy the cool breeze.

Feast Village

For our first dinner, we made reservations at Feast Village. We are so not used to fancy restaurants at all, so I was in awe of the cloth napkins (and a waiter who puts in the napkin in your lap with a flourish) and the seaside seating. We both ordered sirloin steaks for our main dish, and I got the brownie arancia for dessert while Angel got ice cream.



I'll be honest--the steak was not particularly good. I'm American, and we do steaks very well in America, which is one of the reasons why I haven't ordered a steak in 2.5 years because I know steaks are not really a strong point in this part of the world. It was still yummy and filling and I ate the whole thing with pleasure--it's just...I've had much better steaks on the other side of the globe. The brownie was absolutely the highlight of the meal for me, as it had a hint of orange flavor. My most favorite version of chocolate is dark chocolate with orange, so this is my idea of the most perfect brownie under heaven.




This is the same restaurant where the resort's breakfast is served, buffet-style, and Angel and I were delighted with the amazing selection of foods--freshly made roti canai, omelets, and fruit juice. Bars for soup noodles and nasi lemak with all the toppings. There was also all manner of Western breakfast selections--yogurt with toppings, cereals, breads, waffles, pancakes, and pastries.

Chapman's Bar




This lunch restaurant faces Emerald Bay, and we ate here on our second day. Angel again opted for a burger and ice cream (predictable!) while I ordered a salad and beef curry with chapati--everything was perfectly delicious. I should mention, that the prices at all the restaurants at the resort seem very high--particularly to those of us used to delicious Malaysian food at very low prices in our hometown. Most of the entrees are in the $15-25 range each if we're talking USD, which I recognize is probably reasonable for a 5-star resort on a remote island--but is still pricey for us. If we hadn't been on the Resident's Package we probably would have gone the route of splitting entrees and bringing along snacks in our backpacks. As it was, with the package, we didn't worry about prices at all and just enjoyed the meals immensely.

Uncle Lim's Kitchen





This is more of a traditional Chinese restaurant, where the dishes are served family style and accompanied with white rice. Under our package, we were surprised to find we could order 3 mains and 2 desserts--we got the Calamansi Chicken, Sizzling Beef, and Bok Choy with beef. All of them were absolutely delicious. Seafood is probably the much more popoular realm of dishes at this restaurant, as that's what it's famous for, but I don't eat seafood at all and I was very pleased that they had so many non-seafood options! For dessert, I got the banana fritter (a traditional dessert here, one that I have fond feelings for since my early teen years), and Angel got the mango pudding. We each thought our own dessert was delicious, although I don't like mangos at all and Angel does not like the idea of a fried banana. To each their own!

The Straits



This is a bit of a cheat, because we didn't really get to try The Straits restaurant--at least not their dinner meal. But when we were going to breakfast on the second day, the staff told us that they were opening up the Straits for seating during breakfast, and we were able to eat our meal in a cozy, private nook inside the very elegant restaurant. They had a breakfast bar set up inside the restaurant, but you could also walk back over to Feast Village to grab anything you wanted from the buffet. I was very happy that we got to try out this venue although not their menu in particular, the location was very nice!

The Service

Absolutely fantastic. Granted, it's not like I have high expectations of customer service--but the fact that a resort can sell you on a package costing 900RM a night and make you feel like you got a good deal really says something about the experience they provide.

It feels like the staff hardly let you do anything for yourself--they always open up the door of the shuttle for you to board or get off, they hand you an umbrella instead of making you walk 10 feet to go get one for yourself. I was carrying a bowl of soup to my table for breakfast, and a waiter came and carried it back to the table for me. Even the example of opening up The Straits restaurant for breakfast seating is an example of great service--this was Saturday morning at about 9 a.m., and the normal breakfast restaurant was busy, although by no means full. The resort could have squeezed everybody into the one restaurant, I did spot a number of open tables, but opening up the second restaurant gave guests a quieter and more special breakfast experience than we would have had if we were all seated in the one restaurant. A pretty awesome choice as far as customer service is concerned. We felt like we could hardly say thank you enough for all the top-notch service we received.

I put together a short video of some of our favorite parts of the island--watch if you want to hear my odd/constantly excited narration voice:


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Budget travel is much more my comfort zone, but in spite of the price, I have no reservations whatsoever about recommending this resort to anyone. We had so much fun and made memories that we'll get to cherish for all the years to come!

Minimalist Christmas Decor for Apartment Living

Warning: This post will involve taping things to walls. Time may pass and the world may change but Rachel remains the same.


Since moving abroad, our home size has shrunk tremendously, but we've adjusted to living in small-but-efficient apartments and have become comfortable with the limited amounts of storage space they offer. Seasonal decor is just one of those things that isn't very practical to invest in and store all year long when your storage space is limited.


Every year, I make some sort of advent calendar involving surprise activities or little treats--this time I made a different calendar than ever before (usually I just tape it to the wall). I raided my Mom's stash of paper bags and came up with this:


I also spent a total of 16 RM (less than $4), investing in a garland and sparkly blue ornaments to spruce up the top of the bookshelf and to me, it looks like festive perfection.


I made a banner and, yep, taped it to the wall. It's too long, so really hard to take a photo of.


More of the countdown! All the bags are sealed with tape and tamper-proof so that Angel won't get any ideas...


Now this is really cool. My sisters complain every year about how their neglectful parents don't even own a Christmas tree for them to set up. This year, the teenagers took matters into their own hands, expanding on the wall-tree I made for them last year, went out to buy ribbon and lights, and created this 8 ft. beauty on the wall. More ornaments will be added, they wanted to give each family member the opportunity to design their own balls decorated with gold glitter.


I'm pretty excited about how we have made our apartments a little more festive without spending much money or acquiring too many things that have to sit in storage most of the year. Sure, we'd love actual 3D Christmas trees, I mean, nothing beats the real thing--but some seasons of life require fewer luxuries like those than others. How do you decorate when you don't have a lot of space to work with?

Reflections on Six Years Married


 (A few more shots from the annual photoshoot)

My Angel. I have never, and will never, try to convince the world that you're the sweetest and most amazing husband of all time. You're not, and I don't expect you to be. You are just you--funny, opinionated, and incessantly weird. Sometimes you accidentally lock me in the house when you leave for work and then I can't escape so I have to call my parents to get the spare set of keys and come and let me out. Other times, you're overwhelmed by my grand creative plans and my brain which never stops turning--but along the way, I've lost count of the times you've held me and said, "There's no one like you. No one who thinks the way you do. I can't believe how unique you are. Keep up the good work." Thanks for always being there--for being my friend this year when I skipped with joy through Tokyo Disneyland, when I spouted cutting words of wrath against systems of injustice in our world, and when I have cried for weeks straight after the loss of our baby girl. 

I'm so glad that all those years ago you met a scrawny, awkward teenager and saw your perfect wife. We've had our hardest times yet this year, and I don't know whether next year will be easier or harder. All those other girls can keep their amazing husbands, because what you are is mine. Let's keep adventuring. After all, I vowed on our wedding day that I would never leave you alone. And you know now just how much I meant it. ;)

Onwards to year 7.



{I wanted some crackers so we stopped at the grocery store on the way home from taking anniversary pictures. And Angel's favorite thing is taking photos in elevators so obviously we had to do that too.}

One Dress, One Suit, Six Years.

2010-2015

All combined into one high-tech collage. Crazy how advanced technology is these days. I'll leave you to guess what years they are from top left all the way around clockwise, since they're entirely out of order. No fair if you look back at blog posts from past years to get the answer right/see the larger photos. 



2016
Photo credit to sister Rebekah, it's the second year she's taken anniversary photos for us!

A getaway was much desired after this year, and I'm so happy we booked 2 nights at a REAL HOTEL on another island not too far from home, but just far enough. I've banned laptops from coming along with us on the trip, but I'll probably instagram a bit along the way. Year six is the year for the "candy" gift, which is the easiest year ever since Angel's favorite thing is Kit-Kats.

I love our annual 'photoshoot'--when we got married, we had a professional photographer, in the years since, twice we have propped up our camera and started the self-timer, and 4 times we've had one of my siblings take the photo. It's so practical to have so many siblings.

What traditions do you have for anniversaries? 

Wedding Day Cold Feet, Mothers, and Roman Philosophers

I have a story to tell you that has to do with my search for an inspirational quote. I'm not really the inspirational quote type. I like a few authors that are very quotable...Lemony Snicket...C.S. Lewis...but I don't fall in love with quotes on a regular basis.

However, back in college I'd read a line in one of my literature texts that had really meant a lot to me. My early semesters in college were a tough time emotionally--living in the USA for the first time as an almost-adult and being far away from family and friends and trying to fit in to a completely foreign culture was tough at that age. I distinctly remembered reading this quote and it impacted me so much that I remembered having written about the quote to my mom in the daily emails I sent her.

Problem was, I couldn't exactly remember the quote. I knew it was written in the context of soldiers or warriors, and it was something about even if they had fallen in battle, they wouldn't give up and lie still--they would fight on their knees. Basically, it's the Monty Python idea--get all your limbs chopped off and still scream "I'll bite you to death!" As I've been facing this recent season of loss and emotional turmoil and feeling like I'm fighting a vicious battle merely to hold onto my joy and my sense of self, I've been drawn back to the quote, which to me, describes tenacity and courage and never giving up even when giving up would be so, so much easier.


But I didn't remember the quote word-for-word, which made it impossible to find. I searched "fight on their knees" to no avail on Google, because it came up with a whole bunch of references to prayer. Not what I was looking for. I searched my email to see if I'd saved the email I sent Mom. Nope, not there. Finally, I asked Mom to search her email. You see--Mom is my most avid blog follower. She has always loved my writing, and I know that even when I sent her daily emails during my early years of college, she saved most of them in her "Rachel" folder.

I guessed that I'd sent her the email sometime around 2009-2010, so that narrowed it down a bit, and she started looking. Funny thing was her stumbling across other old emails long-forgotten, including an email from Dec. 1, 2010 where I wrote, "I'm really reconsidering marrying Angel. I'm trying to think of reasons for and against getting married and at the moment the only reason I can think of for getting married is that it would be too inconvenient to uninvite everyone from the wedding."

Poor Angel. No wonder he's always said he was nervous that I'd get up to the altar and say "I don't." Ever since I said "I do," he's been perfectly content. I vaguely remember getting cold feet a few days before the wedding, but I don't think Angel had done anything at all, it was just probably a side effect of being 19 and making lifelong commitments. I do remember him giving me a hug that week and saying "Just...please...don't break up with me." Good thing Mom was not overly worried by the emails I was sending her.

Anyways--after getting sidetracked by emails that make me laugh as we quickly approach our 6th anniversary, we actually found the email with the quote! I'd sent it during the second semester of my sophomore year, and I'd originally read the quote in Michel de Montaigne's "Of Cannibals." Strange text to find an inspiring quote in. However--armed with the exact wording, I was able to do research and discover that it appears 16th century Montaigne was actually borrowing from 1st century Seneca (the philosopher)! Very much the same line appears in De Providentia by Seneca. It was originally written in Latin, which I don't read, so I looked up a few different translations. The context is basically a conversation about whether bad things happen to wise people/the response of wise people to what normal people would consider tragedy and hardship (you probably remember from your college philosophy class, that, generally speaking, wise=good in their usual view of the world).

I used a different translation to draw the quote above, but here's my favorite translation of the surrounding paragraph:

"A complete bliss can't withstand any stress,
but injustice and offenses can't frustrate him
who was constantly in harm's way.
He's nothing daunted and never the prey of
no matter what kind of crisis
And when he falls, he fights on his knees."

I'm not much of a philosopher, but you can probably tell from the preceding paragraph about my search for the source of this quote that I am a bit of a nerd. I'm also still grieving, still recovering--but though I may be wounded, I won't give up the fight.

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Did you get cold feet before your wedding and the commitment of a lifetime? Have you ever had to go on a search to find the source of a quote you almost-remembered but not quite? What do you think of Seneca and these words of his?