Back in Kuala Lumpur

The last time I was in Kuala Lumpur I absolutely loved it, and my second visit confirms that feeling. Since my last hostel is still rife with bedbugs according to reviews I chose a different one in a different location this time. I was bitten over 150 times at that place so I’m taking no chances.

I’m in Chinatown, an area full of colour and life, and only a short bus ride to the shopping area and Petronas towers. What’s more, the Purple Line bus to these places is free, and goes from directly outside my hostel!

I think KL is my favourite Asian city so far – it’s modern and efficient but bursting with vibrancy and a melting pot for different cultures.

I’ve talked before about how nice it is when you can become a local somewhere, even just for a few days, and I became a local at the Indian curry house around the corner. Yes, I found the only Indian restaurant in China Town. I liked the old owner the minute I stepped in. I couldn’t read the menu so he suggested a few things. “Roti? Roti banana? It’s good”. “I need vegetables” I replied, “can I have roti with vegetables?” “Yes yes” he replied, and brought me roti banana anyway. I kind of liked him for that, and it was good as he said.

I had roti banana three nights in a row. Essentially it’s a banana pancake but I was able to fool myself into believing it was a proper meal because it was served in a proper restaurant. My final meal was tonight. The lovely man at the till said “see you again!” and when I told him I’m flying to Hong Kong tomorrow he held his hand out to shake mine, and the owner came and shook my hand too. Moments like this really make me feel really welcome and I walked away with a smile on my face.


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100 Days on the Road

This week I celebrated my 100th day on the road, and what better way than to relax on a tropical beach and forget about all the planning I need to do for the next few weeks of my journey.


All the worry about quitting a decent job seems completely insignificant now. All those discussions with friends about how to deal with the desperate urge to travel, the sleepless nights, the waiting for the perfect time… then the realisation that there’s never a perfect time. As soon as I realised that my decision was made.

Trekking through remote villages in Burma
Laughing with the kids in a remote village in Burma, Feb 2013

Since then, amongst other things, I have learnt to meditate in a monastery, explored ancient temples by bike, trekked through remote villages, watched rituals and ceremonies at shrines, taught kids English, renovated a hostel, seen orangutans and proboscis monkeys in the wild, read 33 books, and made friends I’ll never forget.

Seeing the cherry blossoms in Japan
Seeing the cherry blossoms in Japan

It hasn’t all been plain sailing though – I got ‘Burma belly’ from dodgy mayo, wasted money on a flight I didn’t need, had my backpack left behind in another country by an airline, and suffered the occasional moments of fatigue and loneliness. All part of the journey though, and not unexpected – just minor bumps in the road.

Climbing up a temple to watch the sun set in Bagan, Burma
Climbing up a temple to watch the sunset in Bagan, Burma

The great times clearly outweigh the not-so-great times, so here’s to another 100 days and more! What have been the highlights and challenges of your travels so far?


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Kuching and Kota Kinabalu

I’ve spent the last few days in the two capital cities of Malaysian Borneo: Kuching and Kota Kinabalu. Kuching is the capital of Sarawak, the southern state, and Kota Kinabalu (often called KK) is the capital of Sabah in the North.

Although there wasn’t a lot to do in Kuching I felt more at home there. This may have something to do with the hostel which was relaxed and friendly – I stayed there twice actually, once in a 10 bed dorm before visiting Bako National Park, then when I returned and asked for the 10 bed dorm the lovely staff member gave me a room all to myself for the same price because they weren’t very busy and he was happy I’d come back. He even welcomed me by name even though I hadn’t pre-arranged to return. It’s that special level of care and attention that can really make you feel at home.


Kuching doesn’t really feel like a city; traffic isn’t too busy and there’s a laid back vibe about the place which I liked. It’s set on the banks of a river which you can cross to visit the Orchid garden in the daytime or the Malay village in the evening, a place full of food courts where you can try the delicious local dish Laksa. It costs just pennies to cross the river so is definitely worth doing.


There are a few museums too, all free to enter, and a modern shopping centre if that’s your thing. Although there are a handful of bars catering more to Westerners Kuching still feels very much Malaysian and the food courts all around make it easy and accessible to get good cheap local food.


Kota Kinabalu in contrast is busier with a more oppressive heat, and full of restaurants for tourists, the busiest being the Italian restaurants a few roads back from the waterfront.

KK does have an upside though – the biggest night market I’ve seen so far on my travels. As you walk past the fruit stalls and the dried foods, a haze appears in front of you – it’s smoke from all the grilling and frying of seafood and curries which waft down the alley as you saunter past the mosque blaring out the call to prayer. Kids play in the street with home-made kites and sit huddled together watching the planes go overhead. I actually forgot where I was for a moment walking down that alleyway.




Both cities are a great base from which to explore Borneo – Kuching is near many national parks and Kota Kinabulu is a good starting point for climbing Mt Kinabalu, or travelling on to Sandakan.


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Bako National Park, Sarawak: The Trails

I’ve just returned from a 3 day trip to Bako National Park in Sarawak and still can’t quite believe how breathtaking the scenery is there.


The journey into Bako starts with a scenic boat ride up the estuary, past small villages on the water’s edge and into a wide expanse before landing on the beach.


I couldn’t believe my eyes when we reached the beach. I wasn’t expecting such a grand entrance, in fact I had absolutely no idea what to expect, but it definitely delivered the wow factor.



The area around Park HQ was teeming with long-tailed macaques when I arrived. They’re quite cheeky and not shy at all which makes for some entertaining viewing.



Proboscis monkeys (with the big floppy noses) also hang around HQ but they’re much more shy so I wasn’t able to get a photo sadly. I was often in their company on my walks; they watched me from high up in the trees.




In two and a half days I managed to do almost all of the trails that are accessible from HQ, so here’s a little summary of each one.


Tajor Waterfall and Beach

Not so much a waterfall, more like a pool with trickling water at this time of year (May). A beautiful clearing nonetheless, almost like a mirage after the trek through the trees and twisting tree root covered paths.


A little further on is a steep climb down to the beach. A little challenging but the rocky beach is a retreat and a nice spot for lunch.

T. Rhu Trail

On the way to or from Tajor Waterfall is T.Rhu, a trail leading to the North coast with a rewarding view at the end.


There’s no obvious way to get down to sea level but it can be enjoyed from a platform of flat rock, or a purpose-built viewing platform a little higher up.


T.Pandan Kecil to Kecil Beach


It’s one of many trails here with steep ups and downs but it leads to the best sunbathing beach here, and a pretty amazing viewpoint along the way.


T.Paku to Paku Beach

I liked Paku beach more than Kecil beach – it felt like a film set; the sort of beach someone might find themselves shipwrecked on in the movies. It was alive with Proboscis monkeys when I arrived and rather cute hermit crabs which scuttle around all over the park.


Lintang Trail

The Lingtang trail is a loop inland and takes you past huge boulders and mysterious caves, but if you’re pushed for time this isn’t the best trail, though I’d already been trekking for 5 hours in the blazing sunshine by the time I reached this trail so the exhaustion may be clouding my judgement. The views from certain parts are pretty special.


Tanjung Sapi Trail

This is one of the shortest trails and goes steeply up to a viewpoint of the landing beach.


Teluk Delima Trail

Another short trail, this shares some of the Lintang but then splits off towards the mangroves and the beach.


It’s fun climbing over the mangled roots and trudging through the wet sand.


Bako is a really fantastic area of Sarawak to explore. The routes are very well marked so you can’t get lost, and even though many visitors come for a day or two you rarely see anyone once you get past the beginning of all the trails. On a seven hour trek taking in three trails I only saw two people in the whole day, so you get the sense that you’re exploring but knowing that you’re safe.

How to get to Bako National Park: Take the red number 1 ‘rapid kuching’ bus from the centre of Kuching or by the waterfront. It’s 3.50RM and takes around an hour to reach the park entrance. You then have to take a boat – find someone to share with otherwise it’s 94RM return if you’re on your own. I found two other people to share with and paid 65RM, the max per boat is 5 people.


Will you be adding Bako to your itinerary?


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Orangutans in Borneo: The Semenggoh Wildlife Centre

There’s a quiet solitude as I sit on the steps of the Semenggoh Wildlife Centre’s ticket booth waiting for opening time. I caught an early bus and am the only one here, enjoying the silence.


The shutter eventually opens and a friendly face welcomes me. He hands me a ticket, we exchange pleasantries and he shows me which way to walk. “It’s 1.3km. If you see any orangutans please keep back, they’re vicious” he announced, holding up a photo of a nasty injury sustained by one of the keepers.


“Umm ok, thanks” I say, wondering what I’m thanking him for exactly. I walk the road slowly, taking in the atmosphere. I can’t quite believe I’m in Borneo, a place I’ve only ever seen on BBC documentaries about tribes or jungles or endangered wildlife, a place I imagined to be almost impenetrable. Surely I’d need a machete to explore Borneo? Well no, not quite.


But looking out at the sea of trees in all directions makes me feel excited about my new adventure. I know very little about the island and where to go, and will simply ask people for recommendations. The one thing I do know is that I want to see orangutans.

A crowd gathers around the bridge overlooking a feeding post and suddenly there’s a rustle in the trees behind us. “Move away! Get back! Now! Get back!” shout the keepers waving their arms like crazy. The big male is coming and we need to make some space for him to cross the road.


The orangutans here aren’t in an enclosure, they’re free to roam around wherever they please. The wildlife centre was once a rehabilitation centre but now they just provide a safe haven for orangutans that have been released back into the wild.

Another one appears and I manage to escape the crowds to get a better view. She grips the branch and effortlessly climbs down to collect her share of bananas. I try not to make eye contact just in case. It’s quite a majestic sight and I’m split between wanting to photograph and wanting to just watch.


Up above there’s another rustle of leaves and a smaller orangutan appears, swinging from the rope to cross the road and reach the pile of bananas the other side. It’s quite entertaining watching how he gets across.

A mother and baby emerge from the bushes and again we’re urged to move back and give them space. I’m cursing myself for having brought a camera with no zoom. Don’t get me wrong, I love my 35mm fixed lens, but for wildlife photography it’s inept and I watch people wielding SLRs with huge lenses enviously. The weight of my SLR would have got me down of course, which is why I chose the camera I did but I could have got some really stunning photos today.

Terribly bad quality photo of a great moment
Terribly bad quality photo of a great moment

I felt that the keepers had a deep respect for the animals and it didn’t feel like a tourist scheme – entry was only 10MYR ($3.30) and after an hour of feeding time we were thanked for coming and asked to leave so that the orangutans could have some space and not get too used to humans. Tomorrow, I go to Bako National Park and I’m very excited!


How to get to Semenggoh Wildlife Centre from Kuching: Catch the green K6 bus from town (near the big mosque) – 3MYR each way, 45 min journey. Feeding times are 9am and 3pm so catch the bus around 7am for the morning feed or 1pm for the afternoon feed.


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Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur

It’s a hot, sticky morning and all around me is the scent of Jasmine incense and citrus. I’m in Batu Caves, a series of caves and Hindu temples within the limestone rock on the North side of Kuala Lumpur.


All the guides say it’s a steep climb of 272 steps, but if they think it’s steep they obviously haven’t climped Mt Popa in Burma. Both Popa and Mandalay Hill prepared me well for all future temple climbs.

It’s refreshing and exciting to arrive to the colours, sounds and scents of the Hindu ceremonies, as I’ve only seen Buddhist ones on my trip so far. As the drum is beaten rhythmically to the melodies of a pipe-like instrument, new born babies are blessed as people pray to the Gods.



People disperse as quickly as they assemble and I’m left wondering what it’s all about – who is the man giving out the blessings? What is the white powder he’s handing out to people or placing on their forehead with his thumb? Why are the babies’ heads covered in yellow paste? Which God is everyone facing in awe? It reminds me that the more I discover the less I realise I know, and I set about downloading more books to my Kindle.

When I climb the steps I enter a huge cavern lined with limestone stalactites, with small shrines dotted around the larger temples. There’s a spectacular shaft of light at the other end and I’m drawn to it.


The light shines down on another temple burning oil which causes the whisps of smoke to snake up and reflect the light around the cave. When I look up I feel like I’m in another world.


This magical little excursion cost me all of 2 Ringgit – the equivalent of 42 pence, or 64 cents (US).

Practical Information: I got the train from KL Sentral to Batu Caves (1 Ringgit each way, roughly 20-30 minutes each way). The main cave is free to enter.


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