Posted by: glenswatman | April 11, 2007

200604 Malaysia Brunei

SATURDAY 1 APRIL – Up again just after 6am.  We leave
the bulk of our luggage at the guest house and walk to
the bus stop.  The town is just waking up and lots of
people are out eating breakfast.  We have concluded
that the Malaysians are like Hobbits and either eat 6
meals a day or eat all the time!  Catch the 7am bus to
the wharf for Bako RM 2 (30p) then walk down the
street to the wharf itself.  Boats cost RM 40 (GBP6)
for up to 5 people but no one else is waiting.  Settle
in a nearby cafe for drinks and within an hour an
American guy arrives to share the boat with us.  When
we arrive at the National Park it is low tide and we
have to take our shoes off and wade ashore with bags
on our heads.  There’s a RM 10 (GBP 1.50) pp park
admission fee and we can’t get into our room until
after 2pm so the ranger recommends we leave our bags
and do the Lintang circular walk.  Setting off along
the board walk a bearded pig hurtles through the
bushes towards us.  It’s some sort of wild boar and
very big and ugly.  On one of the trees we spot a wild
squirrel and once along the tree a sleeping flying
lemur in the tree but it looks much like a dried up
leaf.  The track is in the jungle and the trail climbs
upwards over tree roots and seems to go on forever.
We sweat profusely in the humidity and it’s hard
going.  Once we stop climbing we traverse an area with
lots of rocks and streams known as kerangas but don’t
see the pitcher plants which are a highlight of the
trail.  Cross Joe at the halfway point and he reports
much the same in the opposite direction but in fact
there are more streams and chance to strip off and
wade in a pool.  However there is less shade and it’s
really draining.  We get to the turn off for the beach
and head out along the boardwalk but return when we
realise just how far downhill it is and that we would
have to return the same way.  We even give up on the
last beach as the tide is out and it looks to be all
mudflats.  The final stretch of the walk is through
muddy mangrove swamp but with no further animal
sightings until we get back to HQ where the macaques
are everywhere.  Check in to our dormitory where beds
are RM 15 or RM 42 (GBP 6.40) to book the whole 4
bedded room which we have done.  It’s a very basic
room with nothing but the beds and a fan with the
bathroom and common room along the verandah.  Late
afternoon we return to the boardwalk which looks very
different with the tide now in.  Just before the trail
heads up the hill we see the rare proboscis monkey,
the male has a big nose.  Steve tracks it up into the
jungle but they stay high in the branches.  On the way
back we get a heavy downpour so duck into the
information centre to see it out.  There is a canteen
serving evening meals and everyone seems to congregate
there.  It’s very cheap RM 7 (GBP 1.10) for both our
meals and tasty too.  We linger over a drink and get
chatting to Tony and Julie, both English but now
living in Australia.
SUNDAY 2 APRIL – We get little sleep, even with two
mattresses on top of each other the beds are
uncomfortable and the pillow filled with rocks!
Anyway Steve gets up first to check out the wildlife
and the only thing he sees is a proboscis monkey on
his way back, it’s right outside our room so I get up
to look at it.  After breakfast we see a whip snake
which looks like a thin piece of green grass dangling?
from a tree.  Our final sighting is a flying lemur and
although much clearer than the one we saw yesterday it
still doesn’t move.  So all in all we have enjoyed
Bako for the wildlife but not for the hiking.  We
share Tony and Julie’s boat back then they head off on
their pre booked tour whilst we wait for the local
bus.  They chose the tour and were happy to pay RM 900
for it until they quizzed us and found we had paid RM
200 for our comparable 1 night in Kuching, 1 night
Bako, visit to Bako and Semenggok, admittedly without
guide and using buses but a huge saving all the same.
The bus is packed to capacity and we notice that the
driver often doesn’t give tickets and pockets the
fares so he must be on a nice little earner.  When we
alight at the market we are tempted by a food hawker
stall cooking a kind of pancake then topping it with
coconut and chopped nuts, at RM 1 (15p) it’s a bargain
and delicious once it cools sufficiently for us to eat
– a bit messy getting it out of the plastic bag
though.  We walk back through China town noticing
different smells, unfortunately Asia is still a smelly
country and most of them are not pleasant.  Toilets
are especially bad smelling either strongly of moth
balls or worse of urine.  Back at the B&B we catch on
the washing and have a brief rest before walking out
to visit the free Sarawak and Islamic museums where we
find a few things of interest but nothing outstanding.
 We plan to eat at Hornbills BBQ & steamboat
restaurant and arrive early so pause for a drink
nearby.  Julie & Tony have said they may join us.
Once the restaurant opens at 5.30pm we are the first
guests and get a seat under the balcony and out of the
rain.  It soon fills up with locals who must know that
the RM 16 (GBP 2.50) meal of all you can eat meats,
seafood and accompaniments followed by ice-cream is
good.  On your table is a BBQ plate with sections and
a bowl in the middle.  We observe and learn that you
fill the bowl with water, spread butter over the hot
plates then collect your food.  A fridge is full off
different marinated beef, lamb, chicken and another
fish.  We fill plates with these and collect veggies
from another section.  We are just about managing to
get started when Tony & Julie arrive.  Spend the next
couple of hours improving our techniques and having a
really good feed.  Having arrived with no tour plan
Tony and Julie like what we are planning to do and ask
to join us for the next few days.  We walk back to our
room via the busy waterfront.
MONDAY 3 APRIL –  Yet another early start for us to
share a taxi with Tony & Julie RM 15 (GBP 2.30) to the
express wharf where we board the 8.30pm express boat
to Sibu.  RM 45 (GBP 7.00) buys us a first class
ticket (RM40 for 2nd) entitling us to sit upstairs in
airline style seats.  First we head up the river then
across the South China sea before turning into the
Rejang River (the longest river in Malaysia) towards
Sibu making 2 stops en route.  Logging industry is
apparent with barges towing logs downstream and mills
on both banks.  Arrive just before 2pm giving us time
for a meal in the canteen before taking the 2.30pm
express boat to Kapit RM 25 (GBP 3.75) 1st class.
This time
first class is actually worse than second as the front
of the boat is cramped and the window above our heads
so we look like meer cats as we bob up to look out.
This boat is longer and narrower than the other but
you can sit out on the roof if you can tolerate the
burning sun.  Make lots of stops at small villages and
logging camps en route.  There are many loose logs in
the river and we often bump over them.  Long house
communities predominate, where the whole village live
in one long house, but the old wooden ones have been
replaced by concrete style motel rooms.  Many of the
men on our boat are carrying rifles, presumably for
hunting.  We have now realised that any quoted journey
times here should have 50% added to become more
accurate as we don’t arrive in Kapit until 6pm.  This
is a remote logging town with no access by road but
surprising it is quite a big place with lots of roads
and cars.  Many hotels are full as people have come
down from the logging camps for a cool off.  We get a
room in the Kapit Rejang Inn RM 40 (GBP 6.00), rather
frayed around the edges but with bathroom, air con and
TV.  We meet Julie & Tony and have our meal up at the
market, selecting dishes from different stalls.  After
a drink outside a bar we head back to bed but to
little sleep as the karaoke bars are in full swing
until the early hours.
TUESDAY 4 APRIL – We get a lie in until 7am then head
up to the Residents Office to get our permit enabling
us to travel further up the river.  They like to keep
a check on who is going into the more remote areas and
rightly so.  At the weekend a headmaster fell off the
boat at the rapids and has not been seen since, also
two local children fell into the river nearby and
disappeared.  With the formalities quickly completed
we have time for a quick breakfast before catching the
9.15am express boat.  This is a small version of the
other two, it seems that these torpedo style boats get
smaller the further you proceed up river so goodness
knows what we will be in next.  RM 30 (GBP 4.50) is
the fare to Belaga and the boat is packed with many
small children and babies on board.  Our driver
negotiates the dangerous Pelagus Rapids without loss
of life and we proceed up river again past many
villages and longhouses making numerous stops often to
drop people off in places with no sign of habitation.
The cabin gets more fetid as the morning progress and
the air con seems unable to dissipate the smell of
dirty nappies, sweat and food.  Steve and Tony try
sitting up on the roof but the sun is far too fierce.
I eventually have to use the toilet and find a hole in
the floor with the river water washing through.  I
balance precariously with toilet roll in hand and
trousers clustered around my knees.  At this point we
hit a bumpy part of the river and the door flies open.
 I try to slam it shut quickly and get my bag trapped
in the door leaving large gap.  Needless to say by the
time I emerge I am pretty wet and minus a toilet roll.
 Arrive at Belaga at 2pm and clambering up the jetty
we are approached by John who wants us to do trip with
him.  He is very insistent and gets a bit cross when
we say that the B&B in Kuching recommended we went to
see Daniel.  He then starts bad mouthing Daniel but we
walk off to Daniel’s Corner and meet the man himself
who is from the orang uli trip.  We chat about our
options of trips from Belaga, Steve and Tony are keen
to head into the jungle.  With moral support for each
other Julie and I agree that we will all go on an
overnight camping trip leaving at 5pm.  We will go on
a small wooden boat up river as far as the rapids then
climb out and walk into the jungle to a camp.  Daniel
assures us there is a cabin on stilts where we can
sleep and a guide and cook will stay with us and cook
our evening meal.  We agree on RM 150 (GBP85) for the
4 of us but find that each time we recap on what is
being offered it changes a bit.  We head into town to
pick up a few supplies and meet back at Daniels but
it’s nearly 5.30pm before he is ready to leave.  He
says we are taking 2 dogs with us to guard the camp
and ward of snakes – wish we were taking 200.  When we
get to the wharf and see the boat I notice that there
are only 2 bedding mattresses on board.  Daniel seems
to have overlooked the fact that there are 4 of us but
does send a man out to buy 2 more.  On the boat there
are the 4 of us, the boat man, Daniel our guide and
cook so it’s quite cramped.  Heading up river we pass
a longhouse with lots of kids playing mud fights on
the river bank. After that we just see an occasional
hut before reaching the rapids.  We pull ashore at a
log strewn beach and begin our treck.  The track is
narrow and light is fading fast.  We have to walk
along many narrow moss covered slippery planks and I
am very nervous about it.  We are following the river
upstream and get glimpses of more rapids.  Arrive at
camp which is as described, a cabin on stilts for us
and another for the locals plus table and cooking
area.  We spread out our mattresses and dig out
torches.  It’s dark so the lantern is much
appreciated as we sit at the table chatting.  We are
on the river bank with a muddy beach below.  The men
throw a line in to fish (this must be the fishing part
of the trip) but catch nothing.  Daniel joins us for a
beer before leaving and taking the dogs with him (not
part of the plan).  The two men busy themselves
cooking and put fish into leaves to steam above the
fire.  We start with rice cooked in river water and
wild boar soup – tasty but rather chewy meat.  Somehow
the men seem to get the biggest fish whilst we get a
couple of small mackerel.  I’m glad that I picked up
some crisps and biscuits at the store. The toilet is
down the track and consists of bamboo fencing around a
drop toilet and this is covered by bamboo slats that
you stand on.  It looks a bit saggy and in danger of
collapsing so we favour squatting behind the hut.  We
retire to bed around 9.30pm but get little sleep.  The
mattresses are sweaty and rustle each time you move
and being only a couple of inches thick they don’t
stop you resting on the floor boards.  We chat and
giggle and between us get snatches of sleep but on the
plus side there are no mosquitoes, snakes or other
creatures around, a downside for Tony and Steve as
they were hoping to see wildlife.
WEDNESDAY 5 APRIL – We have to get up before light to
pack our things but at least it is bright enough for
us to see the track.  However it is much more slippy
and I get quite stressed going over the planks.  As it
turns out I am the only one not to fall but at least
the others fell on the track and not off the bridges.
The boat man is waiting for us and we get safely back
to Belaga and return to Daniel’s for showers.  The
toilets are smelly and the shower is just a bucket of
water and a bowl but both a most welcome.  After a
quick breakfast we leave at 8am in a 4wd truck RM40
(GBP6.00) to the main road.  The road is mixed surface
with some parts a quagmire of mud where we slip and
slide, luckily this point us not where there is a
sheer drop at the side of us.  We head up and over
many hills through areas where logging has left nasty
scars.  After 2 1/2 hour we arrive at the main
Bintulu-Miri road and part company with Julie & Tony
who continue to Bintulu to fly to Sabah.  We wait for
the bus towards Miri along with a lady and her baby.
A friend of the lady pulls up in a car and offers her
a lift then comes over to offer us one as well.  We
accept and set off huddled in the back.  We are going
to Niah caves so get dropped off at the nearest point
on the main road.  We are immediately approached by
someone offering to drive us to the Park Headquarters
but decline his price and end up getting a ride there
for RM 15 (GBP 2.30).  Although prices here are cheap
to us we have found that people almost always ask us
about double what they would charge locals so are
expecting to be knocked down a bit.  At the park HQ we
pay our RM 10 (GBP 1.60) pp admission and book a 4
berth hostel room to ourselves for RM 42 (GBP 6.50).
Although the same set up and prices as Bako the hostel
is far better.  It’s almost new and each individual
wooden chalet has an indoor common room with lounge
seating, dining area and kitchen and 4 individual
rooms each with 4 beds and en-suite bathroom.  It’s
the best accommodation we have had since arriving in
Sarawak.  At 1.30pm we set out on the caves walk and
begin by taking a sampan across the river RM 1 (15p)
for a 20 foot crossing.  It’s boardwalk all the way
and in the process of renovation but mostly old,
slippy and wobbly.   After about 3km we reach Traders
Cave where people used to live for 2 months whilst
trading the birds nests.  Continuing right through
this we reach the Great Cave where archeologists have
found human remains over 40,000 years old.  As we
enter the cave the heavens open up.  It’s an enormous
cave with lots of bamboo poles hanging from the high
ceiling for the bird nest collectors.  The swift’s
nests are harvested and then the spit is separated
from the nesting and feathers and this is what is used
to make the exclusive soup.  Collection can only be
done from August until 1st April so today we are the
only people in the cave.  The cave is also home to
thousands of bats and the stench is terrible and gets
worse as we head deeper into the cave.  At the back of
the cave we head up some steps connecting boardwalks
and more steps as we venture deeper.  Everywhere is
covered in bat guano and quite slippy.  There is no
natural light so we have to use our torches.  In parts
of the cave there are holes in the roof and
spectacular waterfalls appear.  When this happens over
the boardwalk we have to put our umbrella up and cling
on to the bat poo encrusted handrail to prevent us
slipping off. We proceed for well over 1km until we
emerge at a rear entrance to then continue outside
until we reach the painted cave.  This cave has a few
rock pictures but they are not as impressive as ones
we have seen in Australia.  We have to retrace our
steps and are again awed by the beauty of the Great
Cave.  Walking back in the outdoors we see lots of
snails on the handrail.  Make a quick stop at the
museum before returning to our room for a very early
THURSDAY 6 APRIL – After breakfast in the canteen we
meet up, as arranged, with the man who brought us in
yesterday and take a ride in his car back to the bus
stop. There’s a coach waiting and it’s quite luxurious
with comfy reclining seats and lots of legroom plus
the ubiquitous over cool air conditioning, noisy music
videos and passengers playing with mobile phones.  RM
10 (GBP 1.60) gets us to Miri where we think the bus
stop is in town.  However we begin walking and can’t
tie anything in with the map.  We reach a petrol
station and ask directions and a customer tells us top
hop in his car and he will take us to the Tourist Info
centre.  It seems the express bus stop is about 4km
out of town but the Info Centre is within walking
distance of everything. We get what info we need then
make our way to Highlands Hostel on the waterfront.
It’s run by David a Kiwi who is a pilot for Malaysian
Airlines.  We find the place easily with Willy in
charge and Joanna helping him.  The guest house is
very modern and clean but they don’t have en-suite
rooms so I’m not over keen to stay.  They offer use of
the washing machine and dryer at RM 5 (80p) load and
Internet RM 5 (GBP 80p) hour so we make use of both.
Meanwhile Steve learns that Joanna is a football
fanatic and he sits with her watching sport on TV.
The washing takes longer than expected and Joanna
insists we go out for lunch and pick it up later.  We
eat at an Indian restaurant and check out other hotels
but they are not as nice as Highlands and when Joanna
explains that we will probably be the only guests we
decide to stay.  We take the fan room at RM 40 (GBP 6)
and settle ourselves in to watch DVD’s in the
afternoon.  David arrives in the evening and takes us
for a drink at the Wheels pub below.  He tells us that
although the travel agents tells us flights to Bario
are booked he thinks he can get us onto one on
Saturday and will let us know tomorrow.  We are now
ahead of schedule so reckon another day at Highlands
would be no hardship.  Steve stays up late watching TV
with Joanna whilst I read in bed.
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FRIDAY 7 APRIL – Surprisingly we both wake up quite
early then chill out until nearly dinner time.  We
walk towards the fish market where we see fish so
fresh that it is still wriggling.  Next to it is an
impressive Chinese temple.  End up having lunch at Ma
Bakers where you select pies and pastries including
egg custards.  Take a long walk back through a
different area of the city and get back just before a
downpour.  An American lady called Pascal has arrived
at the back packers having just had 6 days in Bario so
we pick up info from her.  Once the rain stops we head
out to a nearby dentist and manage to get fitted in
straight away. We both need clean and polishes and
Steve also has 1 filling and a tooth build up.  The
total bill a very reasonable RM 320 (GBP 50). This
time when we get back the new guests are Aussie couple
Pauline and John from Albany WA, both in their 50’s
and with a lot of travel in common with ourselves.
They are booked to go to Bario tomorrow so we will
share a taxi to the airport. Our night is disturb
first by Willy coming back drunk and then by drunks in
the street outside fighting at 4.30am.
SATURDAY 8 APRIL – The taxi takes us to Miri airport
RM 18 (GBP 2.80) where we are on standby for the 10.05
flight to Bario, John & Pauline are confirmed on the
later 11.00 flight.  The plane holds 17 people and
there are more than that in the queue but many seem to
just be checking in freight.  Everything is
meticulously weighed and our chances of getting a seat
seem to be dropping with every heavy parcel. With
minutes before check in closure the baggage handle
tells me we can go.  I race to the Malaysia Airlines
office to buy 2 tickets, RM 83 (GBP 13) each. Our
check in baggage is weighed as are we with our hand
baggage.  We then turn to the board to see which gate
the plane is going from and it shows the gate number
but says closed. Clutching our hand baggage we race
towards the security area and make it to the departure
lounge just 2 minutes before the scheduled take off
time.  Luckily they have decided to board the Mulu
plane first so we actually make it with a good 5
minutes to spare! It’s a small twin otter plane, very
compact and bijou.  Aussie girls Sam and Sarah whom we
met in Bako NP are also on board so we chat to them.
Surprisingly there are a few empty seats on the plane
so baggage must have made up the rest of the weight.
Bario can only be accessed by air so anything needed
by the community is sent up from Miri.  The valley was
discovered in the 1940’s when British soldier Tom
Harrison parachuted in to check out the advancement of
the Japanese.  He discovered the valley with numerous
villages of Kelabit people and altered their course in
history.  Today English is widely spoken and they are
a well educated trip who practice the Christian
religion.  The old custom of putting brass weights in
the ear lobes to make them long is dying out but an
old lady on our plane has a rather splendid example of
them.  We fly over jungle with river muddied by
logging operations.  Around Mulu only 10% of the
original jungle remains.  Within an hour we are
circling over a valley and dropping down to the small
airstrip.  We collect our bags from a trolley and
amble into the one and only building to book our
flight back out for Monday.  Lots of locals are there
to great people and offer accommodation.  David from
Highlands has recommended Reddish’s place and it’s not
long before we are hooked up with Stephen who drives
for him.  With his Danish girlfriend Tina we climb
into his 4wd just as it starts to rain.  The unmade
bumpy road quickly turns to mud and Stephen stops to
pick up some local lads and give them a lift in the
back of the truck.  We arrive at Bariew Backpackers to
find that Reddish is away but Canadian Stewart and his
local Kelabit wife Rose are holding the fort.  The
house is full of character with lots of extensions.
It reminds us of the inside of Steve’s Nan’s pre fab
home in Wolverhampton.  Our room has a double bed and
there are 2 sit down toilets and a shower room in
another part of the house.  RM 55 (GBP 8.50) per
person with full board.  Even without the rain it’s
noticeable how much cooler and cleaner the air is up
here in the highlands.  We drop our bags off and join
Stephen and Tina for a ride up to one of the villages.
 The "road" has canals on both sides and goes between
paddy fields with water buffalo wading through them.
Each home has it’s own bridge and
all have their own style, the main road bridges are
covered and have bench seats on each side.
In the village there is a very long modern school
building and an equally long one for the dormitories.
At the far end is an old traditional wooden long house
on stilts and Stephen takes us inside.  In the centre
there are separate bedroom areas for each family,
running along the bag is a large communal lounge area
with a back door to each family bedroom.  By the back
doors there are family photos and many show the
children receiving university degrees, others have the
elders with the long ears.  The front balcony is for
kitchens with open wood fires.  A few old ladies are
sat out and they invite us to sit down but Stephen is
meeting the next plane and we must move on.  We return
just as the heavens open up again but sit down to a
lovely lunch of battered small pieces of fish, Bario
rice, jungle ferns stir fried in garlic and hot dog
style sausages.  Stephen returns soon after but
without John & Pauline, because of the storm the plane
could not land and has turned back to go to Marudi.
We spend the afternoon chatting and learning more
about this strange but friendly community.  There is
still no electricity and power is either solar or from
a community generator that runs from 6.30pm – 9.30pm.
At great expense a hydro electric dam was created but
failed after 2 days – the villages could not agree who
was to get the limited power and they all tried to tap
into it!  Water comes from the mountain streams and
telephones were only installed 4 years ago.  Luckily
they were as word filters through the village that
Captain David (from Highlands) is willing to fly an
extra flight up in the afternoon.  He is one of the
most experienced pilots and knows Bario like the back
of his hand.  We forgot to wish John a Happy Birthday
this morning so arrange for Stephen to be stood at the
airport with a banner saying it.  When they finally
arrive they have lots to tell about the aborted
flight.  After a delicious evening meal Pauline and I
walk to the shop nearby and buy cake, birthday candles
and a spirit called Arak to celebrate John’s birthday.
SUNDAY 9 APRIL – Along with fellow guest Rachel we
breakfast on noodles and rice fritters with jam.
Steve and I set out to walk to church.  Everyone who
goes past calls out a greeting to us and usually wants
to know where we have come from or hails the standard
Bario greeting of "where are you going?"  We arrive at
church to find the warm up act with gospel style
singing.  Villages arrive in dribs and drabs often
wearing very smart clothing but with wellington boots
on.  By 10am the church is full and a group of female
dancers and male singers troop in.  We watch until a
priest begins his sermon.  Stewart has suggested
walking up to the hydro electric dam area, the paths
are very muddy and it’s interesting trying to cross
the swollen river.  By the 4th river crossing we have
to give up as we are in danger of getting rather wet.
We retrace our steps back to Bariew but continue to
check out Nancy’s back packers behind it.  This one is
very new and open plan and although Sam & Sarah say it
is nice we prefer the character of our place.  Make it
back just before another downpour.  We’re pretty tired
and enjoy a siesta then an afternoon relaxing.
Evening meal is again good, this time rounded off with
Bario rice pudding made with coconut milk.  Even in
this remote area the people are football fanatics so
Steve is able to go to the nearby shop where there is
a TV lounge outside adjoining the bar area and next to
the garage where they have karaoke – all very
primitive but fun to be with the locals.  Luckily
Liverpool are the first match as the generator goes
off just after the start of the Manchester match.
MONDAY 10 APRIL – After a rainy night and disturbance
by a number of roosters we don’t need an alarm to get
us up.  Stewart assures us they are having an unusual
amount of rain at the moment and the climate here is
generally perfect.  Stephen takes us to the airport
for our 10.15am flight.  John & Pauline come along and
we sit in the adjoining cafe and chat to the two
pilots who have just flown the plane in.  Everything
is very relaxed with no security whatsoever.  Once he
has finished his drink the pilot asks if we are ready
to leave and walk out to the plane with him.  I grab a
seat right at the front and during take off whilst
Captain Roger is piloting the plane Captain Adhan asks
for my camera and takes lots of photos from his prime
position.  The return flight is via Maruda and we fly
over the Brunei border and see a distinct line where
the Brunei jungle is untouched but the Sarawak one has
been devastated.  Alighting in Marudi we are greeting
by hot and humid weather.  Hanging around the
departure area we count up more than the 17 people the
plane holds.  It comes as little surprise that someone
has to come on to the plane to see who shouldn’t be
there – and it’s us.  Bario forgot to book us all the
way through to Miri. Captain David is meeting both us,
Sarah & Sam to take us to Brunei and when I explain
this they agree to bump other people.  It’s pouring
with rain in Miri and staff bring umbrellas out to
shelter us as we walk to the terminal.  David is there
pick us up and we return to Highlands to collect
another guest Ali, an Indian who now lives in Belgium.
 David stops to show us the Taoist temple as we were
at the wrong one the other day.  This one is huge and
very impressive although the Chubb safe in front of
alter looks a bit out of place.  It’s interesting at
the border with our selection of passports, David with
his New Zealand one and us on British don’t need visas
but the other all have to pay to get them.  Through
into BRUNEI our next stop is at Seria to view a
monument to the billionth barrel of oil produced.  Our
first impression of the country is that there are some
very nice buildings, the roads are better than Sarawak
but they do seem to have a litter problem.  Currency
is the Brunei dollar $2.75 = GBP1.  Arrive in the
capital Bandar Seri Begawan around 5.30pm, drop Ali at
the back packers and the girls at their hotel. We have
accommodation through Global freeloaders and Paul our
host is picking us up at the shopping centre where
David drops us.  He has other guests staying and when
he arrives at 6pm he also picks up French Pierre and a
Japanese couple Nari and Tomoko.  He takes us to his
home, a large detached house previously used by Royal
Brunei airline pilots.  He’s a forensic scientist
working for the government and shares the house with
another chap who is away most of the time. We are
given a bedroom with
double bed, air con and fan and it looks very spacious
and comfortable.  Having dropped off our things we
pile back into the car, a large Toyota Prada with 3
rows of seats.  The night markets at Gadong have lots
of food stalls and most items are priced at B$1 (40p).
We amble round looking at all the different foods
before making our selections, unfortunately there is
nowhere there to eat but Paul has a plan.  He drives
us to a nearby restaurant in Gadong and once we
have ordered drinks and a plate of satay they are
happy for us to eat our take away.  The satay is
delicious, camel, beef and chicken – one of the great
things about being with a local is that they know the
best places to eat. There’s a supermarket nearby and
Paul’s suggests we may all want to go in as it sells
goods from all over the world.  We are amazed at many
items from Britain and Australia and pick up items
including Kellogg’s Corn Flakes for our breakfast, but
we could have had Muller yoghurt from Market Drayton!
We then return to the city which
is like a cross between Blackpool illuminations and
Christmas with coloured lights everywhere. Jame’Asr
Hassan Al Bolkiah Mosque is floodlit and looks
fantastic, the car park is full as today is the last
of 12 nights of prayer leading up to Mohammad’s
birthday.  Omar Ali Saifuddien mosque is also
impressive as is the royal Palace, the world’s
biggest.  The Empire Hotel was one of Prince Jefri’s
follies, built with absolutely no expense spared.
Today it would have to be fully occupied for 50 years
to recoup the outlay.  It’s an amazing place to wander
round and not that expensive to stay with a superior
room on special offer at B$200 (GBP80).  We are very
weary when we get back to Paul’s. So our
first impression of Brunei is good and it’s been
hearing our fellow travelers experiences, especially
the Japanese who have been traveling continuously for
9 years on a tandem.
Hospitality Club host name pvoliew
TUESDAY 11 APRIL – We both have a very good nights
sleep in our comfortable bed.  We want to catch the
festivities in town so get up at 6.30am for Paul to
take us in to town.  Pierre has a stomach upset and
postpones his plans to leave, preferring to stay at
Paul’s near a clean user friendly toilet.  Along with
Nari and Tomoko we are dropped off in the centre of
town and make our way towards the mosque.  The Sultan
is in the park in front of it and this is packed.  We
mingle amongst the locals then find a policemen to ask
for more information about the procession.  We can’t
find Nari and Tomoko and shortly afterwards get thrown
out by a different policeman as this area is for
devout Muslims only.  Sitting opposite the park we are
right beside the canons and have to cover our ears
when the 21 gun salute goes off.  Beside the park
there are dozens of black limousines lined up, there
must be more Daimlers and Jaguars here than in
England.  We can see the procession beginning to leave
the far end of the park but are too late to get near
enough the front to see the Sultan.  As we turn back
we bump into Nari and Tomoko, they got thrown out
before us as Nari was wearing shorts.  Together we
head around the far side of the park and get stopped
by a radio presenter and asked if we will follow her
into the studio to do an interview on air.  Both
Tomoko and I talk for a short while and get a prime
view over the area where the Sultan earlier stood.
Leaving the studio we take photos of the mosque in
daylight then cross over on a bridge to the Kampung
Ayer made up of 28 water villages housing up to 30,000
people.  In addition to the family homes there are
mosques, schools, long houses, shops a hospital and
fire station all with fresh water and electricity
supply.  Exploring the area is fascinating and the
inhabitants very friendly and chatty.  Your cannot
reach all the areas by foot so we succumb to the calls
of the water taxis and charter one for a B$10
(GBP3/50) half hour tour.  On return we continue our
walk to the mosque then retrace our steps.  Steve
leans over to chat to a couple of children in a window
and suddenly hears a splash.  He looks down to see our
camera quickly sinking in the muddy water.  A local
realises what has happened and jumps in to try and
retrieve it along with Nari who quickly slips off his
shoes.  The water is only knee deep but very muddy and
it’s a few minutes before the camera is found.  Nari
brings it up to us and we pour clean fresh water over
it straight away.  The villager will accept nothing
more than our thanks for jumping in.  A very small
hole in Steve’s pocket has grown bigger and the camera
just happened to drop through it at the very moment
when he was leaning out over the water to talk to the
children.  We take out the battery and SD memory card
and wipe them with a tissue then walk to town with the
camera drying in the sun.  At the camera shop we learn
that the memory card and battery should be OK but
there is little hope for the camera but it’s worth
leaving for a few days just to try.  We split up to
wander round and find ourselves outside a packed
Indian restaurant.  There are no white people or women
inside and we are just about to walk on when the owner
calls us in and seats us at a table.  The food is
tasty and cheap, roti 50c (17p) and curries at B$2 and
B$3 (GBP 70p and 1.05).  It’s a really hot day so we
spend the time waiting for Paul in the air conditioned
shopping centre along with dozens of young people
gathered in groups chatting.  Paul picks us all up at
1pm to visit the mosque but it’s closed from 12.00
until 2.00 and we are not that worried when we learn
that inside is actually quite plain.  He insists we
all go for a meal even though we have all already
eaten – it seems that eating is the number one pass
time in this part of the world and almost no one eats
at home.  We visit a few camera shops to check prices
before returning to Paul’s for a rest.  Pierre is
still sick but sitting up watching DVD’s so I join
him.  In the evening we all head out for another meal,
Pierre makes us laugh when he takes a photo of his
plate of plain boiled rice and captions it "the food
in Brunei is really tasty".  Meanwhile we are eating
meals with freshly made hand pulled noodles – one
advantage of being with a local is that they know the
best and cheapest places to get good food. 
WEDNESDAY 12 APRIL – Paul leaves early to take Pierre
to catch the ferry then returns at 9.30am to pick up
us and the Japanese and drop us at the Brunei museum
and them at the handicraft museum.  Nothing seems to
be too much trouble for him.  The Brunei Museums is
moderately interesting to us and the nearby Technology
Museum a bit better with recreated water village
houses.  We return to the main road to await the bus
and a car immediately pulls up.  The driver offers us
a lift to the city as the buses are very irregular.
He’s meeting his wife and going past the Regalia
Museum, our next stop.  Everyone in Brunei seems very
friendly and we feel quite safe.  All the museums are
free of charge so we don’t mind popping in to many to
see what they are like.  You have to remove your shoes
on entry and walking along the marble floors it feels
like you are in the palace.  Along with the history of
the Sultan there are displays showing gifts received
from other countries and royal carriages.   It’s
surprisingly very good and we spend ages wandering
around, especially as it’s nice and cool inside.  Our
camera that went swimming is not working so we go to
the shopping mall to pick up our E-mails, B1 (35p)
hour, and learn that to have any chance of making a
travel insurance claim for it (in spite of the
circumstances), we must obtain a police report.  At
the Police Station we are seen by a female Inspector.
She spends well over an hour dealing with us.  When we
ask her why someone of her rank is handling our case
she explains that she is not busy and she speaks the
best English.  Paul picks us all up at 6pm and before
going for something to eat we go to a camera shop that
sells almost the same camera as the one we damaged.
This means we can use the existing 2 batteries and
also don’t have to learn how to use a new one.  It’s
the next model on from ours with a few extra features
and we negotiate the price down from B$520 to B$500
(GBP175).  Paul recommends a Chinese restaurant where
the fish dishes are a specialty.  Steve enjoys the
fish soup, I’m tempted by the deer in black bean
sauce.  Including rice most items on the menu are B$5
THURSDAY 13 APRIL – Nari & Tomoko are cycling off
today and we have a ferry to catch.  Paul is taking us
to the city to catch the bus to the port.
Unfortunately Paul’s car seems to have battery
problems and won’t start.  Nari & Tomoko have no such
problem when heading off on their heavily laden
tandem.  3 gardeners have already arrived and are busy
cutting the lawn with hand held trimmers and raking up
the grass.  Luckily they have come in a car so they
try connecting jump leads but still Paul’s car won’t
start.  He asks the gardener to take us to the bus
stop and himself to a garage.  On the main road we
don’t wait long for a #38 bus B1 (35p) but this only
gets us to Muara town.  The driver tells us to get our
ticket stamped on the back then use it on the #33 bus
to the port.  It’s a long wait and we arrive at the
ferry terminal to find people urging us to run.  We
race to the booth to present our passports and buy the
ticket B$15 (GBP 5.25) then have to get my purse out
again at the next desk to pay the B1 (35p) departure
desk.  Everyone is telling us to hurry but it’s not
easy when laden down with back packs.  The ferry
should have left 5 minutes ago but waits long enough
for us to scurry over the gang plank.  It’s a high
speed catamaran and makes the crossing the Labuan
Island in SABAH in just 1 hour.  We are met by Global
freeloaders host Megat and his friend Mahid.  We were
going to stay at his place but his house mates family
are visiting.  The lads take us around town to check
out accommodation and it’s all pretty average.  We’ve
read that you can get good discounts at the Manikar
Beach Resort at the northern end of the island.  Megat
calls and learns that rooms are half price.  We ask
directions to the bus station but Mahid insists on
driving us.  They are both teaching English at the
local college and seem non too worried about being
absent for a few hours.  Arriving at the resort we see
lots of scaffolding and painting taking place.  It’s
extremely quiet and we have to sit down and have a
drink whilst waiting for the receptionist to be found.
 They have single rooms at RM 80 (GBP12) and doubles
for RM 100 (GBP15) and I ask to see both and also if
they one with a sea view.  In Malaysia a single means
one bed and this can be a single, double or king sized
whilst a double room has two beds.  In fact the single
room is huge and has a king bed and large balcony
overlooking the ocean.  As with most places here there
is no on going maintenance so many things in the room
and hotel are broken or falling apart.  The
receptionist also says the price is discounted because
there is no hot water at the moment and no breakfast
included.  Still it’s a nice room and there’s a big
infinity swimming pool behind a pleasant beach so a
good place to relax for a couple of days.  The lads
leave after arranging to pick us up on Saturday
morning.  The bar man now becomes the bell boy and
guides us to our room.  I ask if there are many guests
staying, he says "not so many, less than 10 and most
of those left this morning"!  We settle in, the TV
doesn’t pick up satellite channels but the fridge and
kettle work and the bed is extremely comfortable.  I
know because we both have a long siesta.  Late
afternoon we walk along the beach and find the sea to
be the hottest we have ever known.  There’s a small
cafי at the end of the beach but it’s only open for
breakfast.  The swimming pool we have to ourselves, as
soon as I wade in a man comes out with a case and
begins taking water samples, suspect it is also
lacking in maintenance so make sure to keep my head
out of the water.  The weather is changing fast, storm
clouds gather and thunder rumbles closer.  Back in the
room the heavens open up and we get spectacular
thunder and lightening viewed from our balcony.  Take
our evening meal in the restaurant with just one other
couple.  The food is quite expensive and not very
good, English style fish and chips is a few crinkle
cut chips and fish shapes made out of fish cake
mixture!  I’m off my food at the moment and after a
few mouthfuls cannot swallow any more – Steve makes
sure it doesn’t go to waste.  Both asleep by 8.30pm.
FRIDAY 14 APRIL – I’ve had a really good night’s sleep
but still feel weary and aching.  We walk to the
nearby shop to pick up something for breakfast, I can
walk no further so return and leave Steve to explore
more.  I try to eat the rich tea biscuits and don’t
have a sort throat but just can’t seem to swallow
anything and nothing tastes right.  Steve returns and
has his breakfast then heads down to the pool whilst I
go back to sleep.  I manage about an hour by the pool
mid morning before another sleep.  I eat little for
lunch and sleep most of the afternoon with a short
break by the pool but begin to feel better by evening.
 Maybe we have been trying to do too much too fast
since we arrived and it is finally catching up with
us?  Certainly the humidity and heat are draining.  In
the evening we find "Inspector Gadget" on the TV and
having done lots of reading we decide to watch it for
a laugh.  Part way through it cuts off for the Muslim
call to prayer. 
SATURDAY 15 APRIL – We’re both feeling better after
our rest and are ready when Megat and Mahid arrive
suggesting a tour of the island.  They take us to the
Peace Park where the Japanese surrendered and then to
the war cemetery.  It’s immaculately kept and a man is
going round polishing the brass on all the head
stones.  He says it takes him a month to do them all
and he returns every 3 months.  We take the lads for
an early lunch in Bandar Labuan before catching the
1pm ferry RM 34 (GBP5.10) to Kota Kinabalu on the
mainland of Sabah.  Hospitality Club "Jacks" meets us
in his 4wd and whisks us off to his home at Grace
Ville, an apartment complex with tennis courts and
swimming pool.  He shares it with his Thai girlfriend,
who is away, and has a spare bedroom for us to use.
It’s the nicest host accommodation we have been
offered so far, in fact each was has been better than
the last.    He says to make ourselves at home and use
the Astra TV and computer so all our needs seem to be
taken care of.  He’s a bit younger than us and works
for Shell oil often traveling abroad on business.
Food soon becomes the topic of conversation and he
suggests a Chinese restaurant that cooks food herbal
style.  As with Paul’s tours we end up down back
streets where tourists don’t venture but get a
delicious meal in simple surroundings.  He takes us
for a quick tour of the sights before returning home.
Steve doesn’t need asking twice when offered the TV
remote control and soon has British football to watch
– until the early hours.  I begin dong my diary on the
computer and Jacks spends his time on his mobile
phones – definitely a sign of the times!
Hospitality Club host "blackjacks"
SUNDAY 16 APRIL – Jacks oversleeps and misses his
planned 8.30am Catholic church service.  We’ve been up
awhile and had cereal for our breakfast so he takes us
into the city and drops us by the market for a couple
of hours whilst he goes off to eat.  There’s a wide
array of stalls, lots with live animals for sale –
mice, guinea pigs, rabbits, kittens, dogs and fish all
in cramped conditions.  A sign advertises "foot
massage for health, reflexology services by trained
blind masseuse RM 15 (GBP 2.30) for 30 minutes.  I
settle down in a chair and soon the sole of my foot is
been poked and prodded very firmly.  At times it is
almost painful but the end result is good and I leave
with a spring in my step.  Meet up with Jacks and head
for a drink and for me a piece of chocolate cake.
Next stop is Tanjung Aru Beach, very close to the city
but a nice spot for swimming and with Prince Phillip
Park behind it.  Nearby we stop for more food, this
time noodle meals at a Chinese restaurant before
returning home.  Jacks goes out for the afternoon to
visit his mother whilst Steve settles down to TV and I
use the computer.  We planned a late swim in the pool
but rain stops play. 

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