A Travellerspoint blog

Kuching is Kool

Kuching is the capital of the autonomous state –Sarawak, which is situated in southwest of Borneo. This is my favourite city so far- it’s clean, has interesting little back alleys and streets, cheap nice food and a charming all-round, chilled vibe to it.

One afternoon while Honza worked, I went for a stroll around the city. I walked through India Street- full of fabric shops and stalls with huge buckets selling all kinds of spices- as I passed I got a whiff of a mixture of strong scents. There were also piles and piles of dried fish, of all sizes.

I found myself walking along down by the waterfront. There are huge trees lining the walk; underneath little makeshift stalls selling refreshments to suit any taste. Sitting on one of the numerous benches- it was fun to just watch the people walk past- if they were foreigners I would try guess where they are from before I could hear them talk. While I was sitting there, a couple came up to me and asked in broken English where I got the mangos from (I had a packet beside me). I immediately knew they were from Poland from their accent and so I tried to tell them in broken Czech where I got them- which I think confused them even more! Ha ha!

I had lunch at a great Chinese restaurant- which had a great selection of vegetarian food- real vegetarian (not just excluding the meat). I had an extremely spicy bowl of noodles- oh my word! Korean spiciness was mild compared to this bowl- I suffered from mild case of heartburn!

Later I sat outside at a little table at a quaint coffee shop and had my first, real, authentic, strong, rich cup of coffee since I left Korea. It was heaven! I read a bit; watched a man closing the Chinese temple just down the road, carrying an umbrella- which was a good idea on his behalf, since a few minutes later it started to rain, but not a heavy shower, just a light sprinkle; enough to coat the air with a fresh-after-rain-smell. Then the sun came out, and its rays shone down, through the streets, and hit directly to where I was sitting, right slap bang on my book- perfecto! :-)

Posted by piratejax 01:45 Archived in Malaysia Tagged city_food Comments (0)

Bus ride from hell...

Where is gravity when you need it?...

From Brunei we took a 4 hour bus to Miri- a town with nothing to do but eat and drink! So, coming from no-alcohol-Brunei we took the opportunity to make up for what we lost out on in the past 2 days. It was also the first time I could get a proper mojito! Since in Korea they either didn’t know how to make it, or would bring me vodka and sprite….
Anyways, we stayed at a nice backpackers called “Highlands” with an extremely eccentric lady running the place. The English words that flew out of her mouth were of some distant land-where they leave out the last 2 letters of every word and speak at a speed close to that of light! She was of Chinese descent and had a rather witty and dry sense of humour. I liked her. We choose to stay in the dorm and met some other guys from Switzerland, England and a French dude who was doing some anthropology studies in the area.

We had supper at a really vibey and diverse restaurant. They had so many food chooses- Indian, Filipino, Malay and Western. We went for the Indian chapatti with chickpeas, coriander and other spices. Hmmm!!! :-) And if the food is so cheap here, I cannot imagine what a feast India is going to be! This restaurant, Mings Café, is situated on the corner, and it seemed to be “the spot” to be at. There were all kinds of people here- Malay, Chinese, Filipino, and some hardcore-looking expats (most likely Australian or NZ). The waiters are all Filipino and we all so friendly and chatty. There were some good beats being played- pity there was no dance floor ;-(
We got happy, and then made our way home.

The next day we chilled at the backpackers- catching up on emails, blogs etc. Then we took a taxi to the bus station, and began what will become one of the worst bus rides of my life!!

In the beginning everything was all peachy and comfy and spacious. I had loads of legroom and could spread out quite happily. The scenery was interesting- just jungle with the odd wooden house every now and again. After 4 hours we stopped and picked up some more passengers- dammit! So I had to move to my proper allocated seat- which didn’t have such a great reclining function. Now, the roads here are not all honky dory and flat and smooth and even and wide! Instead it was like I was at some amusement park, which I didn’t sign up for, but was forced to endure! We sat all the way in the back and we experienced every single bump and unevenness the road had to offer. So, for about 14 hours my head was juggled all over the place- lolling to the left, to the right up and down! Sometimes my ass would lift clean up off my seat and I would almost land in Honza’s lap! I was going to bring my lead apron, but carrying that around would’ve been a hassle. But I do need to figure something out for the next bus ride- maybe some rope so I can tie myself to the chair, avoiding any further defying- of-gravity moments!

We will stay in Kuching for a few days- then cross over into INDONESIA! :-)

Posted by piratejax 01:41 Archived in Malaysia Comments (3)

Brunei Darussalam

Raise your hand if you know where this is

If you have no idea where and what Brunei Darussalam is, don’t worry- neither did I a few months ago. Brunei is the smallest country in Southeast Asia, with a population of only 398,000. It is situated in the west of Borneo between 2 of Malaysia’s areas: Sabah to the north and Sarawak in the south. It is a very rich country- due to oil.

From KK we took a 3.5 hour absolutely-freezing-please-turn-the-AC-off boat ride to Labuan (an island) then another boat to Muara- the sea port in Brunei. Whenever I have to go through immigration, I always get nervous- this time was no different. I did have a Brunei visa, but still I was a little apprehensive (especially since the officers looked pretty intimidating). The lady took my passport as I smiled oh-so-sweetly-please-let-me-through… She got up (I was like, dammit!) and went to this other office. She asked me if I had a receipt for the visa, I replied with a squeaky “no”. The guy stared intently at the big purple stamp in my passport and eventually said “it’s ok”. Phew! I was relieved!

From there we shared a taxi with a nice Australian/New Zealand couple. The taxi driver took us to our accommodation at the Pusat Belia in the country’s capital Bandar Seri Begawan. Do you remember your school days? When you went on school trips and you stayed in big dormitories, with signs saying “no drinking” “no chewing gum” “no gambling, “no smoking”…well, this is where we stayed- at a youth hostel. It was the cheapest accommodation in Brunei, and it was perfectly ok! I shared the dorm with 3 girls from Slovakia- so it was cool to just listen to them speak, see if I understand/remember anything.

Since we would only be in Brunei for 2 days, we dropped our bags and immediately left to go walking. Our first stop was the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque. It was built in 1958, costing US$5 million. We had to take our shoes off and put these black Harry Potter cloaks on (I did search the pockets for any wands, but to no avail :-( )
Since it was a modern mosque, it had a modern feel- so rather starchy and, well, modern! There was even an escalator!

Next we visited the Kampung Ayer (Water village) area which was one of the most fascinating things about Brunei!
There are 28 villages in total, with about 20,000 people living there. This place is considered to be one of the biggest water villages in Asia. All of the houses are built up on these wooden planks/poles which support it (well, barely) and there is a main wooden boardwalk allowing you to get access to the village from the city.
We came across many children playing- making a kite or just running around (nice to see kids playing!). From the outside the houses look rundown, old, falling apart and inhabitable- but if you look inside (I only got a tiny peak) it’s a whole different world. I was told that inside the houses are really comfy and spacious.

The thing that got me the most was the utter complete contrast between this village and the city centre- situated less then 500m away.
Standing on the bridge in the water village looking towards the city- you can see this contrast: the huge, rich and shiny mosque stands tall with all its wealth and glory, then a couple of hundred metres away there is this village where people live in slums- a dirty, flea/mosquito infested place. But the people in the slums were always smiling, kids just being kids and having fun with limited toys and the old people just hanging out in doorways. So even though they don’t live in fancy, up market houses- doesn’t mean they are unhappy about life!.

Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB) is an interesting city from the get go. Since Brunei is predominately an Islamic country- the sale of alcohol is banned. (Non-muslims can bring in to alcohol from Malaysia/elsewhere). It’s funny how the moment you are denied something, the more you want it! So I craved an ice cold beer, but fat chance I was going to get it anywhere:-(. Since the price of gas is so cheap (about US 0.50 cents) everyone has a car, so the streets are strangely empty, quiet and hush-hush. Even the cars themselves seem to move silently, with no screeching or hooting. So together with the dark thunder clouds accumulating up ahead- gave the city an ominous sorta feeling. You are fined $1000 if you litter-so the streets are immaculate! I liked BSB, but I always had the feelings of being restricted, limited and controlled-rather like I was in some video game where if I stepped outta line- I would be eliminated!
I was careful to watch my step, to no accidently litter or just go against the “rules” for fear of being arrested (ok, that’s a bit too dramatic ;-)) And I did feel as if I was somewhere in the Middle East, and not in the middle of Borneo, in Southeast Asia!

That night we had supper with a fantastic view of the big sky filling up with dark clouds, as well as overlooking the river. I had a noddle soup- was great! Asian food is most definitely my favourite kinda food! :-)

The next day we visited the Brunei museum. I am not huge fan of museums, but this one kept my attention for a little bit longer than usual. Normally I enter a museum and the first thing I look out for is a bench… ;-) It had info about the traditions and history of Brunei, as well as some environmental and ecologically info.

Now, the funniest thing that we saw was the hundreds of middle aged white people! We were just chilling in the plaza with mango- sticky juice all over our faces, when all of a sudden I started to become aware of something strange and I asked myself “where on earth are all these white folks coming from?” They were everywhere! More whites then locals! Every few minutes a couple would come shuffling past us in their sensible shoes and white socks- usually the man would be dawdling behind with the wife striding up front. We guessed that they were all in some tour together, but it was such a funny sight! An Ozzie feast!

A thing about the dorms, of which I was a little insulted by! There was plastic on all of the mattresses in the girls’ dorm, but not in the guys. Which makes me think that maybe they think that women are "unclean"… Also on the bus- plastic on the seats…hmmm- not cool!

Posted by piratejax 01:36 Archived in Brunei Tagged village city_mosque_water Comments (0)

Mount Kinabalu, 4095m

My greatest personal achievement so far

I did it! I climbed to 4095m! :-) It was the highest mountain I have ever climbed- almost 3 times higher than the previous mountains I have hiked. But it was not a walk in the park, no ways! It was a test of my endurance, determination and perseverance.

Ok, so I will start at the beginning. 2 months ago we tried to organize to climb Mt Kinabalu, but were told that all the huts (below the summit, at about 3200m) were all fully booked. But last week we phoned the offices and were able to secure 2 beds at Waras Hut.
Climbing Mt K isn’t cheap! You have pay for the accommodation, 4 meals, climbing permit, a guide, insurance and entrance to the park. Only one company runs the all the huts on the mountain, so they have a monopoly and so can charge whatever they want.

The day before we climbed (on Saturday) we left KK (Kota Kinabalu) and made our way to the Kinabalu National park, which is at an altitude of 1564m. Spending the night at this altitude helped us acclimatize for the following big day. The place we stayed at was really nice- it stood high up- so we had great views of the surrounding valleys and hills. Since it was raining we chilled indoors and played Scrabble. I had such great letters! I was even able to (for the first time in my life!) use all my letters at once to spell the word “snuggled”. This put me in the lead ;-) But credit must go to Honza for being good competition….and maybe when we play again, he will beat me. (Which will put me undoubtedly to shame….)

We went to bed early- to be fully prepared for the next day. The next morning (Sunday) we got up and went to the Park headquarters, at the base of the mountain. We paid what was needed and met our delightful guide- Ginsos. Ginsos is 54 years old and has been climbing the mountain for 37 years! He goes up twice a week as a guide. He has 10 children and was just about the most contented person I have met in a long time. He had a permanent smile on his face- even at 3000m! His English was very basic, so we couldn’t talk much.

We took a bus to the start of the hike- at Timpohon Gate, 1866m. At 8:45am I begin the grand ascent! Honza, being a regular mountain man, quickly sped away up the mountain, with me leisurely taking it easy. In the beginning it was all about time, and I tried to go as fast as I could. Then I asked myself “what on earth is there to rush for?” I was in no rush, and all I had to do was take one step at a time and rest when I felt like collapsing. Taking numerous 30 second- mini breaks was how I managed to get to the top. The path made its way through jungle/lush agriculture for most of the way up- so at least it was cool. The people coming down also played a huge part in motivating me to keep going. Simple words like “good luck!”, “you can do it!”, “you’re almost there” really helped. So when I came back down- I repaid the kindness I was given to those coming up.

I climbed 6km uphill in 3.5 hours, which I think it not too bad! ;-) The clouds overhead pushed me to keep going- because the last thing I wanted was to get caught in the rain! I met the cocky-but-cool Serbian dude on the way up. He was coming down and told me about his shitty experience on the top: he was unlucky that it rained the entire time he was up there, and even experienced ice rain! I was a little afraid I would experience the same fate….but we had luck on our side and had fantastic weather the entire time :-)

So, at 12:15pm I arrived at Waras Hut- 3244m. I was still able to talk, stand and even smile! :-) We relaxed a bit then Honza suggested we climb a bit higher today- help us to acclimatize. Now I must say that I actually never suffered from altitude sickness, although I did feel a little nauseous at around 2000m but it disappeared quickly. I think the high altitude made me a little crazy, because I said “ok, let’s climb more!” I had just suffered for 3 hours and now I was deliberately going to cause myself even more. What the hell? ;-) So, while our guide took an afternoon nap, we went on. You aren’t allowed to hike without a guide, but we thought we could just do it and apologize later. The first part was relatively east- just ascending up on dirt/rocks etc. But from 3668m it became tricky, but oh-so-fun! :-) We had to climb up the rock face-there were ropes to assist you. I thought we were only going to go to about 3600m…but we just kept on going and going…and about 2 hours later we reached the top! :-) It was the best feeling in the world to look down and see where I just came from, especially since I did it all in one day!!! What we experienced was extremely rare, since people usually share the top with many other hikers. (The normal “procedure” is to wake up at 2am, and start for the summit around 3am to watch the sunrise). We had the entire mountain top all to ourselves! I can’t really articulate what it felt to conquer this mountain- words like “spectacular”, “incredible”, “awe-inspiring”, “unbelievable” just don’t quite explain it. Take a look at the photos to try to get a sense of how utterly special and jaw-dropping it was... I still don’t quite believe it….but the pain my leg is a constant reminder :-)

We stayed at the top for about 1.5 hours. The weather was just perfect: sun shine in the afternoon is uncommon, so we had nature on our side :-) To hide from the wind we took shelter behind the rocks: it was just perfect! What more do I want than to chillax out on a rock, sunshine on my body and feeling on top of the world! :-)

It took us just under 2 hours to get back to 3200m- in time for supper! Hiking can develop a serious appetite, and nothing beats eating after a hard day’s work on a mountain! ;-) It was so cool to sit in the restaurant with no one else knowing that we had just conquered the top!

I have great admiration for some of the hikers who arrived at 7pm, probably hiking all day. It just shows that if you want something, you can get it. Even if it takes all day!
But I think I admire the porters, who lug stuff up the mountain, the most. On the way down I passed many men (and women) carrying dozens of eggs on their backs—even a guy carrying TWO MATTRESSES on his back!! WOAH!! But I guess if you do this several times a month, it becomes second nature.

The next morning we woke to watch the sunrise. Lucky for us we could just stay in our warm beds and look out the window to watch pinks, purples, oranges and yellows being smeared across the morning sky. I am really glad we got to the top the day before; as I don’t think I would’ve been able to do it at 3am! After a great breakfast, we made our descent. Climbing mountains is a super overall- balanced type of exercise: going up it’s all about cardio, and going down it’s about muscle strength training. It took me about 2.5 hours to reach Timpohon gate. We still had to get back to the park’s headquarters- which is about 4 km away. But in true Honza-style, he suggested we take another trail there. It was so cool! For 5.6km we trekked through real jungle! :-) Up and down we traversed- past tall trees with interesting trunks (one was shaped and coloured to resemble a leg muscle) and small waterfalls. I found myself a walking stick, so I felt like a true explorer. My legs were absolutely deadbeat- but to keep my spirits up, I sang to myself and to the birds.

We had lunch at the headquarters- another grand buffet! One of my favourite things at the moment is banana fritters: deep fried pieces of banana-hmmmm so yummy! :-)
We got back to KK in the early evening and our hostel had no water! I hadn’t showered in 3 days, so I did not smell like an English garden. But later, after dinner, we asked the backpackers next door if we could shower there: and in true Malaysian style said yes.

This morning my legs were achy, but I could walk :-). I haven’t done much today- just some hand washing and updating my blog…later we will go have dinner and meet some people for a beer…. I must say I do enjoy this lifestyle- there is nothing I have to do, nowhere I need to be and no time constraint. I feel extremely privileged to be able to travel like…so thanks Korea!! :-)

And one more thing—Borneo hasn’t been affected by the earthquake in Japan, so I am safe :-)

Wow! If you have read up to here- well done and thanks!! :-)

I must give credit to Honza for his photos: they are all the numbered photos of the mountain.

Posted by piratejax 02:49 Archived in Malaysia Tagged mountain_hiking_jungles Comments (0)

Dining at the Night Market

wash your hands before you eat

For the past 2 nights we dined outside at the Night Market, which is a huge area with food stalls selling fruit, vegetables, meat, seafood and other foodstuffs. It opens at around 5pm and places start to close from 10 or 11pm. Every stall basically sells similar food and you can choose from a variety of different seafood, fish or chicken. You start by choosing which kind of food you want, then go take a seat at the long tables with small, backless, plastic chairs while they braai (barbecue) your food. The atmosphere is loud, vibey and different smells waft through from all directions.

The first night we shared a red snapper- really tasty fish. (yes, I am eating seafood-- call PETA, Greenpeace and tell them what I've done ;-) ). Along with your meal you eat steamed sticky rice. When I sat down for the first time I wondered "where are the knives and forks?", then quickly remembered that they eat with their hands here. I thought eating with chopsticks was fun, no ways! Eating with your hands makes me feel like a kid again--sticky hands, sauce around your mouth ;-). (When I eventually return home, I am probably going to have a huge collection of strange eating habits deemed to be rude in the west). On each table there are serviettes and a little plastic kettle where you can clean your hands.
After our meal we shared a huge coconut... next time I'll bring some rum to spice it up!

There were a couple of other travelers at the same table as us: a cocky-but-cool Serbian dude who lit one cigarette with the previous one as he spoke about his past travels; a delightfully-interesting Italian guy who had just come from India and shared some wonderful stories and experiences with me (can't wait!:-) ) , and also a Swiss couple (but I didnt get to talk to them). This is my favourite time- meeting strangers over a meal or a beer; sharing experiences; giving advice and just learning something from each other.

Last night (after an exhaustive day of sun, sand and snorkeling) we made our way back to the Night Market to try our hands at some more delicious cuisine. This time we choose a tuna steak, some shrimp and some squid. (I would prefer to not eat seafood, but its other seafood or chicken, or I die of starvation). Again the braaied food was amazing. And its cheap! For both of us it came to US $9!

Each stall seems to be a family-run affair: you have the sons cooking the meat, the little boys clearing the used plates, the older girls sorting out the money and the mother overseeing everything.

Posted by piratejax 22:04 Archived in Malaysia Tagged food_seafood_fish_eating Comments (0)

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