We started our time in Malaysia in a place called Melaka, a very interesting and picturesque city. The hostel we stayed in was really good and cheap at last! The guy who ran it was lovely and even invited us to a birthday party where there was delicious cake. The man who ran the shop in front of the hostel was really nice too and told us a different place to eat each night. Other than all this eating we didn´t do a great deal in Melaka apart from mooch around and visit a wooden replica of the old (15th century) Sultans Palace.
After three very relaxing days we caught the bus to Kuala Lumpur which was a bit of a shock to the system after laid back Melaka. I can´t say that I particularly liked the city which was dirty and noisy. The total lack of pavements was quite exciting at points and what pavements there were got used by the mopeds and as parking spaces so there was no escape from the relentless traffic. Our hotel was nice but unfortunately there was a karaoke bar right behind our room so we had to put up with terrible singing into the small hours. Needless to say there were many fantasies about bashing the tuneless bastards over the head with their microphones. Fortunately we were staying next to a huge shopping centre (they really know how to shop round these parts), so we went to the cinema a couple of times for a bit of respite from the city and the heat.
We did go to see the Petronas and KL Towers (about the only things in Kuala Lumpur which are actually clean). However by far my favourite moment in Kuala Lumpur was at the entrance to the Bukit Nanas Forest Reserve (a lovely bit of forest right in the middle of the city) where we saw a cat and a monkey. The cat was doing a poo and the monkey lifting up its tail to have a look. A very curious sight.
Thankfully, we left Kuala Lumpur behind to head to Malaysian Borneo and the state of Sarawak. Kuching is the state capital and a blessed haven of relative calm, with pavements and actual pedestrian crossings! We spent a week here at a nice, if quiet, hostel where we met some interesting people and even had a half decent night out with a couple from Norfolk.
On the second day in Kuching We decided to have an adventure and catch a couple of local buses to the nearby Wind Cave. The buses were interesting and involved much staring from the locals – we did feel like a little bit of a freak show. The caves were really good though, but then we had to wait on the main road for the bus back. There was more staring and hellos and one chap almost fell off his moped because he was gawping at the freaky westerners so much. I do think it is mostly harmless though. It just feels odd to us because we aren´t used to being looked at so intently. There really are some lovely and friendly people here as was proven when a lady and her daughter offered us a lift to the bus stop in town just as it started to rain.
We also went to visit Bako National Park deciding to take a guide to make the experience less stressful, but it turns out it would have been very easy to do alone. Our guide was not the most knowledgeable of folk as we kept asking him what things were and he kept replying “don´t know”. We did see some proboscis monkeys, bearded pigs and a viper (don´t ask me what kind… I don´t know!). The walk was quite hard as it was so hot and sweaty. I puked in da jungle because I had taken my malaria pills without eating anything and then an old lady took a tumble in front of us and ended up with a face full of soil, all of which David found highly amusing.
Next stop was Santubong and a lovely guest house where the owners had two dogs which were great fun to play with. There was also a nice couple in their early fifties staying, who travel for six months a year – sounds like a goal. We went to the highly touristy Sarawak Cultural Village and saw some dancing and blowpipe action. And then while we were walking to the local beach we saw six Asian otters – apparently quite a rare sight.
Then we flew to Miri and stayed in another gorgeous place in the middle of the countryside. The hostel was run by an English chap and his Malaysian wife. Mike (the owner) was very interesting and knowledgeable about the local area and he had Marmite! He took us to the Lambir Hills to see a waterfall and then to the amazing Niah Caves. Enormous caverns where they collect the swifts nests which are used to make birds-nest soup. A crazy pursuit where men climb up ropes and bamboo poles hundreds of feet to the roof of the cave to collect what is essentially bird spit. There were loads of bats too and miles and miles of steps but it was well worth the effort… and the smell!
Unfortunately we decided that we didn´t have the funds to visit any of the more remote areas of Sarawak which is a shame but it is another thing to add to the ever-growing list of places to return to. Instead we decided to go directly to Brunei which involved a long and convoluted bus journey comprising four different buses. While we were waiting for the first bus we were offered some oranges by a guy in a car, our western cynicism told us he was up to no good and just after money but the look of confused disappointment on the chaps face when we declined his offer made us think he was just being friendly.
Brunei is a strange place. It´s a dry country (selling booze is illegal), much to David’s total and utter disgust. There are some huge houses on the outskirts of Bandar Seri Begawan (the hard-to-pronounce capital) but the city centre isn´t much different to the places in Malaysia which we have seen. There is a beautiful mosque and a village of stilted houses across the river. We visited the Royal Regalia Museum where the Sultan keeps all the gifts he gets from other countries when they visit Brunei. Britain’s contribution was a rubbish looking green vase type thing. Very disappointing. But at least it was slightly original. You can seen too many ceremonial daggers.
Tomorrow we head to the port to catch two boats to Kota Kinabalu in Sabah. Not long now until we get to see the Orang Utans!
Love Sian (and David) xxx