A Travellerspoint blog

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On the nature trail in Kuching (Borneo)

sunny 35 °C
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From the Cameron Highlands I headed down to Kuala Lumpur to catch a flight the next day to the Malaysian city of Kuching in Sarawak on the island of Borneo. I bough my ticket here on a bit of a whim after checking the AirAsia website - the flight was about £20 return!

In KL I met up with Fiedel (who I met in Tanah Rata) for food and drinks.
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The following day I took the short flight from KL to Kuching. My flight was very interesting as I was sat next to a Malaysian environmental conversationalist who lived in Kuching. we spoke about my travels and as we got closer to Kuching, she told me about the palm oil plantations around the city that concern her and the work that she does with the local community to try and promote conservation. She also told me about her brother who is a tour guide in Kuching and so we swapped details.

The palm oil plantations seemed to go on forever...

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My flight landed in the afternoon where I caught a taxi into the city centre and checked into Malibu Lifestyle hostel, which was really great value and I absolutely loved! I ate across the road at a simple cafe and had one of the most amazing meals mostly (I think) down to the MSG which made my tongue tingle, but still it was delicious!
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My first full day in Kuching I teamed up with some of the other people staying at my hostel, Jason (American), Ingrid (German) and Antonio (Spanish). We walked around the town, dropping by the tourist information centre to pick up some bus timetables and park opening times.
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From the information we were given, we decided to catch the afternoon bus to Semengoh Orangutan Reserve to catch the 3pm feeding time... Unfortunately we missed the bus, but a taxi there between us was only a few ringgit more.
At the entrance to the reserve we were warned by the wardens that since it was fruiting season in Sarawak, the possibility of actually seeing an Orangutan was extremely low as they were able to feed themselves and stay away from the wardens. We were told that nobody at the reserve had even seen the troop in over a week... still, we thought it was worth a shot and so paid the RM10 entrance.

We walked through the reserve along the main road towards the feeding area, where the wardens place food twice daily in the hope the Orangs will break their camouflage in the jungle to visit. We waited here with a large crowd of mainly domestic tourists for around 20 minutes before one of the wardens broke through the crowd to announce that the troop had been spotted just a short distance away. He told us that the walk was through thick jungle and the probability of leeches and ticks was very high. In hindsight, this seemed like a scare tactic to make sure the families with young (and noisy) children wouldn't come, as I didn't see a single leech or tick along the frequently used path...

Walking through the reserve

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Spying the first female

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Seeing Richie the HUGE male with his long feathered arms

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That evening, Jason, Ingrid and I went to a local bar 'SpeakEazy' where the owners were so friendly; plying us with free shots and tasty hot snacks. We played a few games, first scrabble but after a few beers we our brains were fried and we turned to Jenga!

Free shot anyone?


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The next day I chilled out around Kuching with Jason. The day started very well, with a bowl of Sarawak's version of Laksa. Laksa in Malaysia varies so considerably between districts and towns, I was surprised. In the UK, I enjoy 'Laksa' dishes, they usually always taste the same, a soup-like pale-yellow coconut broth with chicken and prawns, flavoured with lemongrass/ginger/tumeric... I think... My first Laksa, in Penang, was pretty far from this I assumed back in England we had just made up our version of 'Laksa'; a strong fish broth with bitter tasting leaves, fermented fish and prawns, I must admit I didn't enjoy it. However, the Sarawak laksa.... where do I begin? Just cue the photo....

Rice noodles with a thick tasty coconut curry sauce seasoned with fish sauce, lime leaves, lemongrass and ginger, shredded chicken and fresh prawns, with a spicy sauce and fresh lime to season with... For me, Malaysia in a meal.


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After breakfast, we visited the Sarawak museum (and it's eclectic collection of horrifically-bad taxidermy!) where we were acousted by a group of similarly aged Malays who asked to film us in for short interview and to practice their English.

Walking through the streets


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Soon to be superstar...


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The taxidermy was.... questionable


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From here we walked almost the entirety of the city centre, through parks and cemeteries, and eventually to a creepy abandoned observatory sky deck building (which we managed to sneak into!) and then snaking our way back to the hostel. Really.... what would I have done without my 3G and google maps?!
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Almost back at the hostel we stumbled upon a bizarre youth event, mainly because of the blaring music and loads of skateboarders outside. It was an event hosted by AZAM Youth Central, a Sarawak-wide Youth promoter, and we stumbled upon some friends from the management of the SpeakEazy bar again, who convinced us (well me as Jason was camera-shy) to do an official interview for their site about how myself as a tourist viewed Malaysia and specifically Sarawak. It was good fun, but I don't think they actually used it as I never heard from them and I follow him now on facebook... The event was cool, some live bands and an open mic competition, a team CosPlay competition and loads of craft stalls and geeky things for sale. We stayed for about an hour at the centre. Since we saw them that day, we had to end the night in the SpeakEazy bar again...
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Kuching town hall at night


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When we finally got back to the hostel, the hostel owner let us know that in the nearby National Park 2 'Raffelsia' flowers were reported to have bloomed, which is a rare occurrence considering they are only in flower for 2-3 days after a budding time of close to a year. Raffelsia are one of the World's largest flowers, and the Malaysian variety in Sarawak is apparently the largest of them all. The owner said he had a couple who had already arranged a taxi and guide to the park for the following day and so we would get a cheap price if we tagged along. Jason and I did and we had a great day with David and Jackie an older couple from the UK.

Once we arrived at the park we teamed up with some Chinese tourists and followed the guide to the newly opened flower in the jungle...


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The flower produces a smell like rotting flesh to attract insects for pollination, although I could barely smell anything and this one had only just opened that morning


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The flowers actually have no stems, leaves or true roots, and are in fact parasites of a species of jungle vines, meaning they can appear anywhere amongst the vines and are generally hard to find.
The second flower had been open 2 days and it was a deeper colour with a slightly stronger smell, but still nothing to shout about - especially compared to what I had heard about the supposedly horrendous odour.
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After finding the 2 flowers our guide left us, and so as a group of the 4 of us, we decided to explore the rest of the National Park (Gunung Gading).
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We actually then found one more flower by ourselves!

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On the way back we stopped briefly at quite a large cave system know affectionately as the 'fairy caves' due to the moss covered stalagmites that make it look a little magical!
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Defo starting to look a bit browner here anyway!


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The following day Jason and I had arranged to go Kayaking on the Semadang River. I had heard that this was 'THE' thing to do in Kuching as apparently the river flows gently and is shaded by the trees lining it. there is a good chance of spotting animals along the river, especially hornbills which I was dying to see!

The day started early as we travelled by jeep to the drop off point at a tiny village.

Early morning start

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The chocolate brown Semadang river

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We joined a group with 2 canadians and our 2 tour guides who took pictures throughout the whole trip which they gave us on a CD at the end!

About to set off


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There were a lot of other groups that set off from the same point so we started very bunched up, luckily for us our group was set on having a leisurely day and we quickly got left behind (and in peace!)


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Happy kayaking!


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I took my 99p binoculars, but despite my best efforts, I didn't see a thing! A few myna birds was about it! Although the jungle lining the river was so dense that I probably wouldn't have seen anything anyway! We headed towards a mini waterfall where the water was a lot clearer and had a brief chill and swim.
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After this we stopped for lunch at a tiny Bidayuh village. The Bidayuh people are indigenous to Sarawak and still live similar lifestyles to centuries ago. The founder of the kayak company I went on the tour with was apparently a Bidayuh entrepreneur and gives most of his profits back into his old village. The one we visited also benefited from the kayak tours as they get paid for showing us around, but they told us that their main source of income is the growing of native fruits and spices to sell at market. All profits are shared between the villagers as the gardens are communal.

The village's communal garden was either side of the footpath between the houses.


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Drying black pepper and cocoa (which tasted awful!)


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I had no idea pineapples grew like this! Only one pineapple per bush means they take up so much space and as usually sold at a loss compared to more 'compact' fruit.


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From here, we continued downstream, through some rapids and back to the jeep.
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Our guides Mackenzie and Luke!


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As if I hadn't done enough in Kuching already... the next day I went with Antonio to Bako national park with the hope of seeing the famous Proboscis monkeys that are indigenous to Borneo. Unfortunately, my reputation of being late now spans all the way into Asia and we missed the bus that would've taken us there for RM2!! Luckily a minibus was only RM10 (£2) each and actually overtook the bus on the way! After arriving at the bus stop, we found that we then had to get a boat over to the park which was lovely.

The 'harbour'!


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Landing on the beach of the nature reserve


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Pretty much as soon as we arrived on the beach we saw our first proboscis monkeys, a pair, just strolling along the sand. I didn't even have time to get my camera out! We followed them carefully as the climbed into the trees at the edge of the beach and watched them for a while.

Spot the monkey....


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There were also a lot of other animals that were easy to spot, including a semi-tame bearded pig which hangs around the cafe area waiting for snacks! We were told to watch ourself though as his tusks can be quite painful if he charged!

Pig bum


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Just a 2 min walk from the cafe here we saw another proboscis monkey, this one a little closer.

A little more obvious...


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We continued walking deeper into the park to see what we could find...
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The petrified forest was really cool


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Silver langurs


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Antonio trying to see where to go since there was a fallen tree blocking the path...


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Not the nicest thing to encounter... it really was the size of a head! Scary!!


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Baby monkey!


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We then stumbled across a large troop of proboscis monkeys high in the trees, and again those 99p binoculars came into their own. I tried to get photos, but they were just too high. The sounds they made we equally beautiful and hilarious, a really diverse vocabulary. We sat and watched them for a long time. Until.... and I know, I should be better at this by now, learnt from my mistakes etc... we realised we missed the last boat back to the bus stop... this wasn't too bad, apart from we now had to pay for a 'private' boat back which cost us RM50 each! This should help me learn my lesson on being late... But after sitting and watching Proboscis monkeys play in the trees for about 3 hours, I think it was worth it!
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After most of my original hostel buddies had now left, I spend the next day alone and so decided to rent a scooter and explore some of the local villages by myself. I basically looked at a map and used my 3G google maps to get lost and then found again! I had an amazing day driving through some really remote villages, where everyone would wave to me and want me to stop to tell me how pale my skin was! I originally drove to the Sarawak cultural village (basically a museum) because I had heard it was good, but once I leant the price to get in I couldn't justify it. That's when I just started driving around, going down tiny streets on google maps to see what I could find. The villages I found probably had twice the culture of the tourist attraction, plus, they were free. I stopped for roti at what was basically a house not a cafe then explored the mangroves and delta system of the Sarawak river.

My scooter!


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The visitors centre for the 'cultural village'


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Watching crabs dig holes


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I did consider doing the trek up here, but it was a bit hot...


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The culture of this village was definitely more 'real'


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Exploring the mangroves


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When I got home I was pretty exhausted after a full day out in the sun, but I met a German girl at the hostel and we went to a cool bar in the old town.
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For my final day in Kuching I returned to the Laksa restaurant (again... I basically came here everyday!). This morning it was very busy and so I stumbled across what I think must be Malaysian etiquette and would explain why I got a lot of my meals paid for me in Malaysia! I shared a table with a stranger and sat at the opposite corner to him. We didn't talk at all, but when my food was delivered he insisted on paying! After this we spoke a little, but then he politely said goodbye and left to go to work. I think there most be some kind of etiquette that says that any man on a table must pay for the meal... he had no ulterior motive... just wanted to pay!

I still had my bike until the afternoon since I rented for 2 days, and so I drove to the opposite side of Kuching to visit the cat museum (which was awful!) and the neighbourhoods over that way.

The best thing from the cat museum (which was on top of a hill) was the view!


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Kucing in Bahasa means cat, so the city of Kuching is known as the 'cat-city', and there are actually a lot of cat tributes around the town, as well as the cat museum.
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Further down the river that afternoon I stumbled across a traditional boat race! I sat and watched for a long time, the atmosphere was amazing, and although I couldn't understand the commentary that echoed out over the tannoys, it sounded exciting!
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I loved my week in Kuching, it was definitely my animal capital of travelling - even though I didn't see a hornbill! The food was fantastic too and I didn't once have a bad meal. The malaysian culture here is so different to the mainland where Islam is the majority religion. Most people here were either non-religious (or practised animism) or weak Christians. So the dress of most people was casual, women wore shorts and I didn't get the same attention for what I wore as I did on the mainland. Borneo is somewhere I would definitely come back to. The city is large and modern, but just outside of this is enough culture and nature to keep you entertained for years!

Posted by Libbytes 04:20 Archived in Malaysia Tagged borneo kuching sarawak orangutan Comments (0)

Spending time in KL

semi-overcast 34 °C
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I flew back to KL from Kuching and checked into Sunshine Bedz, which was a cheap backpacker hostel very close to the centre. By this point in the trip my preconceptions of backpacker accommodation was beginning to fade. It's true that there were a lot of young travellers who come away to booze and party... but there are always other more rounded people at these hostels too. And let's not forget, that I do love a good party too... I didn't have to wait long for one either!

The first day started normal enough. I met a British girl named Claire who I made friends with very quickly and easily. We visited the famous KL malls, Timesquare, Pavillion and the Electronics mall. Luckily they are almost as interesting even when you don't spend money! One had a rollercoaster inside it!
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Timesquare Mall

We ate in the main street food area on Jalan Alor, where I discovered my favourite Kari Mee noodles yet! I think I ate here every day after that!! Then in the evening the owner of the hostel, Patrick, convinced a group of us to go out. We ended up very drunk in an Irish bar!
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I don't know where these straws came from, or what we were doing with them!
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No surprises that I got up very late the following day, and the weather was very overcast. I decided to walk down to see the Petronas towers and gardens - only after more kari mee of course...
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Chatting to some locals!
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Locals cooling down in the park

That night ended much the same, with the same gang heading out to the local bars and clubs for too many drinks...
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KL is an incredible city. So far, nothing like the rest of Malaysia I have visited. It's a bustling modern metropolitan, with malls more impressive than any in Europe I've been to. There was also a lot more travellers here, which was good really as I got to make some good friendships and let my hair down a little!

Posted by Libbytes 09:45 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Making friends in Melaka

sunny 30 °C
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The previous night out lead once again to a late morning, but I eventually made it to the impressive bus station in KL to catch a bus South to Melaka. On the bus I got chatting to a Chinese/Malaysian girl named Viny. She studied in KL and was on the way home to see her family. When we arrived at Melaka, I planned to get a taxi to my hostel. Viny checked in on me before she left and was shocked by how much the taxi driver was going to charge me (I remember thinking it was a reasonable price). So after a brief argument between Viny and the taxi guy, Viny dragged me away and got her Mum and Dad (who were picking her up from the station) to give me a lift to my hostel!

In the car the family began to frantically question me! How long had I been travelling? Was I scared being alone? Did I like Malaysia? Did I like Malaysian food? It was like an interrogation (but friendly). I said I loved Malaysian food and that it was actually my favourite food, especially Rendang. At this point, the Mum almost yelled to stop the car so she could open the boot and get my out some chicken rendang she had made that morning that was packed in lots of little Tupperware boxes. Apparently the family was on their way to a party and she was taking the rendang as a gift, but could spare one box. I took it gladly!

The family dropped me off outside my hostel and Viny added me on Facebook; we still keep in touch! I checked in and tried to eat the rendang the family gave me, but it was so spicy with chilis my mouth was on fire and I only managed half!! Haha

That evening I headed out to the town centre where there was a bustling street market. There was also a lot of street food, my favourites being the dim sum, potato puffs and crispy won tons. I got a gold anklet made for me here too!
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These pop-up cards were incredible, I wish I'd bought one...
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Market taxis!!

The following day I hired a bike and explored the town's waterways, china town, little India, to the townhall and beachfront.
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I stopped to eat another Rendang at a little restaurant - this one was mild enough to eat all of!
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One of the craziest things about the waterways of Melaka were the amount of monitor lizards just mooching about. They were everywhere. it was quite scary at first, because they look like crocodiles in the water and are very big. But I got daring towards the end of the day and managed to get quite close for some good photos.
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That evening I began to head back out to the street market when I stumbled upon a Chinese parade with dragons and lanterns. I followed the group of people who were singing and playing drums. However, my camera couldn't cope with the low light, so I only managed a few blurred photos.
After stalking the group from a distance for a few minutes I was eventually spotted and dragged into the group and given my own lantern! They were celebrating the 'Moon Festival'. My guide became Stella, who was probably about my age.
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The group continued to march through the town until we got to a small clan house? Inside there was some traditional competitions, one of which was who could peel a Pomelo (or chinese grapefruit) the fastest! The families really got in to it and it was very enjoyable to be part of! We then ate moon cake and they gave me some to take away.
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You're supposed to then eat the fruit, but it was so sour!

It was a great evening! In fact the whole of my time in malaysia so far I have met engaging locals who are so genuine and kind. Whether it be the Chinese Malays or the Muslim Malays, Malaysian culture seems to merge them together and the outcome is a relaxed and peaceful atmosphere.

Posted by Libbytes 10:06 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Side Track to Singapore

semi-overcast 31 °C
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From Melaka I took a small detour out of Malaysia and into Singapore. I was quite excited about visiting Singapore City, especially to see all the amazing buildings like the Marina Bay Sands building and the iconic skyline. I got up early to catch the bus which drives you through the border where you get a visa. It's quite annoying because you have to get off the bus with your main bag, up into the building, officially leave Malaysia. Then come out of the building, back on to the bus for about 200m, then off again to go back into the same building to enter Singapore. it was the same on the way out too!! Very stressful and a lot of queueing!

I eventually arrived at Footprints hostel in Singapore which was in the little India area quite far from the main Singapore City centre. After I arrived I ate at a local Indian restaurant (it was delicious) then headed to the bus station to get into the centre. Unfortunately I timed all the buses wrong so ended up walking through the city a long way to the centre....
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Delicious Food!
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I made sure I walked through some of the malls to cool myself down in the aircon! This one was impressive!
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It even had an ice rink!
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My first sight of Marina bay Sands through the window of the mall!

I paid to go up to the sky deck of the MBS building, the weather was quite muggy and overcast, so I decided to wait up there until nightfall where I would get a great view of the cities night skyline. Luckily there were snacks and drinks up there to keep me going!
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The 'Gardens by the Bay'
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It was the Singapore grad prix the next weekend, and you could see the city preparing for it, it was really exciting!
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Very jealous of these guys...
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The view from the deck was amazing, but I think I took my share of photos, so I descended back to ground level!

The view here, looking back up at MBS was almost as spectacular though... maybe even better!!
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The DNA double helix bridge was great!
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I sat and watched the light show for a while...

I got back to my hostel very tired with a bad headache, I just slept from about 8pm all the way through till 10am! haha

The next day I decided to visit the Gardens by the bay, which looked so spectacular from the sky deck. They really were amazing, and still growing and developing. it's basically a massive tropical garden, in the centre there are artificial trees which support the vegetation with lifts inside them and bridges between them. It's beautiful!
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The love bridge into the gardens
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On my way back to the bay I walked past loads of people seemingly randomly sleeping under a bridge! I don't know if they were workers nearby or motorbike taxis?? Very bizarre haha
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Singapore was great to see, but I didn't really connect with it, and it was far too expensive for my measily backpacking budget, so that afternoon I caught a bus back into Malaysia via Johor Bahru and then on to Kuantan.

Posted by Libbytes 04:40 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Raining in Kuantan

storm 35 °C
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I arrived in Kuantan late at night and the weather was already starting to get bad. I checked into Kuantan Backpackers where, once again on my trip, I had the dorm to myself!

In the morning, the rain cleared a little so I headed to the town. But the rain had made it super humid, it was tough going.
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Kuantan Mosque
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I stopped at a small restaurant and truely discovered roti canai. Although I had had this dish elsewhere in Malaysia, here it was an institution! Everyone was eating it and the cafe was full! it's basically a small oily pancake with a spicy curry to dip it into. You have it for breakfast!
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Delicious roti canai here!
From here I walked across the estuary and thought about finding somewhere cooler...
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Kuantan's hollywood sign!
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I made a kitty friend!
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he followed me for AAAAGGGGEEESSS haha
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Yep... this was a real shop

Eventually I succumbed to the heat and headed back to the hostel for an hour in the aircon. Once cool enough to head back outside, I jumped on to a bus to Teluk Chempedak beach, supposedly a beautiful beach not far away.

Pretty much as soon as I got there, the heavens opened and a massive thunderstorm began which lasted a few hours. It was cool at first to watch the lightning, but then that novelty faded and I visited the local McDonald's for some shelter!
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The beach had potential... but the rain ruined it
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Yep, maccies in Malaysia is the same, except you can get Milo (chocolate milk) as your drink!

Kuantan was a nice sleepy town. Unfortunately the weather meant I didn't make the most out of the local beach here. But it also meant I could relax in the hostel and catch up on some film watching (that evening I watched all the hungergame films) and some blogging. Overall it was a pleasant town.

Posted by Libbytes 05:03 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Kayaking in Kuala Terengganu

sunny 37 °C
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My plan after Kuantan (mainly because of the weather) was to get a bus all the way to Kuala Besut to grab a boat to the Perhentian Islands. Unfortunately, I missed the bus in the morning that would allow me to do that. As an alternative, I decided to simply get a bit closer to them and travel to Kuala Terrengganu which is essentially an island itself connected by many bridges to the mainland.

Whilst at the bus station looking for the next bus to KT I met a nice lady called Sue who informed me that the bus station I was at was a long distance station, the correct one for big buses to Kuala Besut and KT, but not for the quick local buses. So she and her husband drove me in their car to the local bus station across the town where she was going to work - another example of the kindness and friendliness of Malaysian people!

I eventually got a bus to KT and then a taxi (as I didn't fancy the walk in the humidity) to Awi's yellow house hostel. This place was amazing! it's a small number of wooden huts on stilts over the mangroves connected by a wooden deck. The little houses were basic (and I mean, basic) but beautiful. Awi was also a great guy and on the first day arriving told me about the local night market and let me hire a bike for free.
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I'm not sure what this was, but it was tasty
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My little hut - which was an upgrade from the first night which leaked
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View from hut
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Bathroom
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Bedroom

The following day Awi left me use the kayak at the house for free and I spent all day exploring, I basically kayaked around the island. By the end of the day my arms were burning from the effort and my face from the sun!
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Starting out on the kayak - looking fresh
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Towards the end of the day - looking pretty sweaty!
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At one point I had to stop because of the heat, the sun was baking. This was literally the only shade I could find... one lone palm tree! But I beached myself under it to reapply my sun cream!
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Mangroves were beautiful, I saw some otters playing here too but didn't get any good snaps
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Two very contrasting mosques (and a hollywood sign again!)

That night I used the bike to travel over to the China town to eat, when I got there, there was a festival going on celebrating Paranakan culture (chinese-malay or Nyonya). I can't believe how lucky I had been in Malaysia with the amount of festivals or events I stumbled accross. This one was particularly good and I spent all night here!
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Tasty snacks from here!
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Night market
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Street dancers doing martial art
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Some old ladies - everyone was taking pics of them and I don't know why, but took one anyway haha
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More traditional dancing
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Yep that says KT annual yo-yo tournament...
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The yo-yo stuff was amazing! Really! All synchronised to music too - the crowd was going wild for it!
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Beautiful fabrics

On the way back to my hostel I did get heckled and called-at by some young Malaysian boys, which kind of ruined the night for me as they were very rude. But I remembered that this was an incredibly small blib in my otherwise amazing Malaysian cultural experience so far. The day in KT was great apart from this!

Posted by Libbytes 05:17 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

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