Singapore

There is definitely a buzz about Singapore.  It’s got that busy-bee vibe.  The busses are packed full of sweaty commuters whose shirts are wetter than a seal’s belly.  Dotted about the malls are yoga-mat carrying chicks oozing cool while sipping on iced matcha tea.

We are gave ourselves two full days to explore the main sights, which included allowing my mum and her like-minded cronies several hours of shopping on Arab Street looking for dress material.  The men sat around asking when we could go get a beer.

We explored the city by foot.  I wanted to see as much Colonial Architecture as possible because it’s so much prettier than all the glass boxes thrown up around the city.

Obligatory nod to Raffles.

On our second day we hopped on the metro to get to Singapore Zoo. As a bit of a London Gal I am well versed in Tube Etiquette: I always let people off before I try to get on and will do that passive aggressive head-shake thing if some tourist does the opposite, then I always take my bag or rucksack off my shoulder when standing in the aisles and I never, ever, EVER start a conversation or even make eye-contact with my fellow travellers.  Americans, if you’re reading this and planning a trip to London please take note.  Not to single you out but some of the worst offending has come from your fellow countrymen.  Anyway,  I was mortified when an old man on the Singapore Metro told me off for munching on some dried mango.  Apparently eating is not allowed on the Metro.

Mango Meme

Sidebar: Did you know that chewing gum is also banned in Singapore.  Hubs did that thing where he didn’t believe me and so asked a chap in the supermarket where the gum was.  It got a bit awkward. Enough Said.

The zoo is huge, which is great for the animals because they aren’t couped up in tiny cages and also a little ironic given that most of Singapore’s people live in tiny apartments.  They had the cutest, sweetest, cheekiest Orangutans I’ve ever met.

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Just hanging around, enjoying lunch
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TOO CUTE!
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Sweet Kisses.

It took a good few hours to walk around the zoo and even then we missed a few of the animals (I’ve seen enough vicious Macaques in the last 5 months to never want to see another one again in my life).  A few other favourites:

I loved these two elephants.  I wish I’d made a video because they were DANCING, in time! They were totally adorable.

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Making friends.

 

 

Spooky Caves

OK.  I won’t lie.  I’ve been a little lax with my blogging duties.  This post was meant to be out in time for Halloween, ya’ know cos of the spookiness, but my parents were visiting, we went out of town, the weather was too good for writing, the dog ate my blog- take your pick of poor excuses for my being late!

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The Caves

Apparently, in Hebrew, my name means “princess”.  I don’t know any Hebrew so I can’t be certain but the internet Gods have confirmed it.  The word “princess” has sometimes been levied against me in a negative way, which is totally uncool. Like, when I return some food to a restaurant kitchen because it’s cold I get called a princess.  Or because I like to fly Business Class and stay in 5* hotels when I travel.  I mean, if you can, why the heck not, am I right?! Anyway, just to prove that I can live without luxury (more to myself than anyone else) I agreed to stay in a very basic B&B, Mulu Village when Hubs and I went to Mulu National Park.

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Mulu Village. A traditional longhouse converted into a delightful B&B.

You can walk, fly or longboat your way into Mulu.  You can’t drive in.  There is one road, which is about 1.5 miles long which basically runs from the tiny airport to the Marriott Hotel (yes I gave up the chance to stay at the Marriott in favour of its next door neighbour).

On our first day we did the Canopy Walk, which is a 480m walkway suspended 20m high up in the forest.  What I wasn’t quite prepared for was just how much the walkway would wobble as I cautiously stepped along it.  Not for the faint-hearted.  The view and sounds were incredible. We had a helpful Guide who was also trained in witchcraft homeopathy and so we stopped a lot to discuss the benefits, and also perils, of various plants, including some funky mushrooms.  Basically what I took from the tour was that, if you ever get lost in the jungle, don’t eat anything.

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The T-shirt says it all.

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Crazy ‘shrooms.

Afterwards we took another tour to the Deer Caves, which include the world’s largest cave passage or so they thought until Vietnam turned up a bigger one. I learned the difference between stalactites (mineral formations which hang down from the ceiling of the cave) and stalagmites (formations which grow upwards from the cave floor).

Stalactite
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Stalagmite

We were part of a pretty big tour group, which included a bunch of kids and so when one of them pointed out the biggest spider I have ever seen in my life I had to play it cool and act like it was no big thing when in reality I was breaking out into a sweat and very close to using one of those brats to squash the hell out of that thing.

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Hunter Spider.

The caves are home to two to three million bats and everybody goes to the Showcaves hoping to catch a glimpse of the Bat Exodus.  At dusk i.e. dinnertime millions of bats fly out of the caves in a spiral formation. It was one of the most fascinating sights I’ve ever seen.  Some of those bats know they won’t make it because of predator hawks and they sacrifice themselves for the good of the group.  That’s some hardcore family loving.  I’ve never seen anything like it.

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The corkscrew formation is used to avoid predators.

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Back at the ranch the electricity was turned on (it was powered by a generator so understandably we only got a few hours the morning and in the evenings) and so I took a freezing-cold shower, in the worlds smallest bathroom.  We were exhausted enough to be in bed by 9PM and to fall asleep quite easily despite the chugging sounds of the generator.  Next day I was rudely awakened by the neighbour’s rooster screaming at us at 5AM.  It was a hot night and so I’d thrown the covers off and allowed myself to be bitten eight, yes eight, times on my legs by wretched mosquitoes even though I sprayed myself, the room, the bed, my clothes etc. with 50% deet spray the night before.

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Delicate Beauty

The B&B is run by a really lovely couple, Brenda and James.  James comes from a jungle tribe.  They provided us with some really great insight into the history of James’s tribe and the development of the National Park.  Sadly they’ve been embroiled in litigation with the Malaysian Government for over a decade as the Government basically took over the land to create the national park (which is very lucrative, I’m sure) and refused to compensate our good hosts and other local people.  This means the Government provides no support to them which is why they don’t have electricity nor running water.  (The Government sponsored Marriott hotel does have those benefits).  I was so sorry to hear of their poor treatment and really glad to have supported their business and so, even though I struggled without the luxuries I’m used to, I’d definitely urge you to stay at their longhouse if you ever go to Mulu, which you absolutely should.  It’s beautiful.

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Our kind host, Brenda.

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Dark Caves on Rainy Days

Hubs and I have had a hectic few weeks and soon I will be catching you up on all of our adventure travels over that time starting with our day in KL.  We decided to take the longer route home to London by transiting through KL; this meant arriving in KL mid-morning and out to London at 3AM.  When booking our flights we figured we’d see the sights, eat out loads, drink some beers, dance the night away and we’d hardly know it was midnight or “check-in time”.  Or so we thought. Maybe we still think we’re in our twenties I don’t know but oh man, were we wrong…

We were keen to see the Batu Caves, which are some 13km north of KL.  The cheapest train in the world (I think it was 2MYR = £0.30 / $0.47) gets you there in about half an hour.  We would have got to the Caves sooner had we not got side-tracked by Cafe Coffee Day, a chain which I thought was restricted to India but turns out it’s not and this absolutely demanded a pit-stop. So one Cafe Frappe (skimmed, no cream and easy on the chocolate sauce please and thank-you very much) later, having missed the train by seconds, we had a bit of a wait in the humid train station.  Safe to say we weren’t the only weary travellers in town:

Exploring is hard work.
Exploring is hard work.

The caves are dedicated to Lord Subramaniam, or this guy:

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Hubs gets photo bombed.
close up Lord S
Impressive, no?

That’s 272 steps you have to climb to get to the caves.  This necessitates weaving your way through a bunch of hungry and EVIL looking macaques who prey on passing tourists.  It’s a savage existence.

Caution: Will rip your hand off for nuts and probably land you with Rabies at the same time.
Caution: Will rip your hand off for nuts and probably land you with Rabies at the same time.

Before being allowed to climb the steps I was made to wear a sarong to cover the three inches of my legs which were visible and apparently likely to cause offence.  Personally, having visited several temples around India and seen some pretty scantily clad women praying (hello, see-through sari), I think this is a bit of a scam for taking 5 MYR from every girl venturing up the steps but that’s just my view.

sarong is too ugly to be allowed into this photograph.
sarong is too ugly to be allowed into this photograph.

We made it to the top of the steps, only stopping a couple times so I could catch my breath. Asthma is the worst.  The first thing that really hit me walking into the caves was the stench.   Then I noticed all the bats, just a few metres above our heads.  Then I wondered whether the bats and the vile stench were connected.  Probably.  Also it was hot.  Sweaty, sticky kinda’ hot. We looked around at the pretty shrines and admired the views but there was no getting away from the bat-vomit stink and so we headed back down.  Weaving our way through those treacherous monkeys once more.

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light

After seeing the caves we had lunch and walked around the city, which is architecturally quite interesting.  It’s pretty big too.   Unfortunately it was raining hard which dampened our spirits somewhat and also means my photographs didn’t come out great.  There was a particularly gruelling hour while we searched for a semi-clean public loo as I may have overdone it on the “need to keep hydrated when it’s hot” thing.  We strolled through some markets but Hubs isn’t a very good shopping buddy and so we nested ourselves in a nearby bar until dinnertime- when we moved to another bar/restaurant.  Our plans for a big night ended at around 9PM (so-long, twenties) when we caught a cab to the airport hoping we could check-in early.  Only we couldn’t. So we found a couple seats and plonked our tired bodies down until the miserable hag at the check-in desk let us through.

Water Fools

Who doesn’t love a national holiday?! Certainly not the good people of Brunei who seem to have them every other week.  You’ve also got to love the Sultan for spreading about the birthday cheer as a good many days off have been held in that very honour.  Altogether now; “for he’s a jolly good fellow…”

With another long weekend on the horizon you and Hubs decide to head to Miri, a small town in Sarawak, Malaysia. It’s a 2 – 4 hour drive (depending on the queue at the border), close to plenty of attractions and most importantly of all; there are numerous restaurants and bars where they serve liquor.

Regrettably (for us) it seems a few others had the same idea and so as Hubs drives up to the crossing you find yourself at the wrong end of a 3.5 km long queue.  It’s a tad tedious but you’ve done this before and this time you pee’d before you left (unlike some of the men at the roadside) and you brought snacks.  The absolute worst thing about queuing is having to endure queue-jumpers and there are plenty of them about.  They brazenly drive up the wrong side of the road and squeeze their monstrous pick-up trucks into a gap some too-slow driver has unwittingly left between bumpers  A few come close to driving into the roadside trenches when avoiding oncoming vehicles but, alas, none come close enough.  You and Hubs, well mostly you, take to honking the horn every time one of these hateful drivers passes but that’s no deterrent. Next time, you’re taking a paintball gun.

Once in Miri you check into the tired looking hotel, leaving the road rage behind.  You’re planning on spending the weekend eating and drinking but Hubs, as usual, has more active plans.  He’s been going through that Lonely Planet guide again (must put an end to that) and he’s found a nearby National Park, Lambir Hills.  “OH but I haven’t got my trekking boots! WHAT A SHAME!” you say.  That doesn’t put him off,  “We’ll do the short 1K trek- it leads to a waterfall where you can swim!”.  Admittedly the thought of swimming in a natural pool does have some appeal but you try getting out of it anyway “BUT it hasn’t RAINED so the waterfall will be DRY!” Obviously, he didn’t fall for that.

Thankfully the car park is pretty empty so at least you won’t have to endure too many tourists.  Aren’t tourists just the worst? You pick up a map, find out where to start and head off.    wooden bridge

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You pass a small waterfall, definitely not deep enough for swimming and you almost feel smug. But that turns out not to be ‘the one’.

Small waterfall

Annoyingly the mosquitoes in Miri seem to have developed resistance to your bug spray which means several pit stops to add another coat much to the amusement of the locals. Eventually you make it to ‘the one’, Latak Waterfall.  And admittedly it is glorious.  You make Hubs go in first to check how deep the water is.  It’s deeper than it looks.

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 H waving

It’s (yet another) hot day and so you decide to join him, even though you’re not very good at treading water and you didn’t pack the lilo. You take a step into the water.  It’s freezing.  Another step, still freezing.  Hubs comes over and takes you into the deep end.  The water is ice cold.  The current is surprisingly strong.  Despite your hardest efforts to stay in one spot somehow your legs keep getting dragged across the no-swim line. “This is it” you think “This is how it ends for me”.  Admittedly, as ways to die go, you couldn’t ask for a more picturesque spot for the job but you cling on- to Hubs; and somehow you both manage to stay afloat.  You even secretly enjoy it.  Despite what you told him.

Big waterfall

Monkey Business

You’ve got this travelling thing down.  A two hour car journey? Only a few weeks ago you and Hubs drove eight hours to experience the pleasure of being thrown about on a boat (read about that here).  A forty-five minute flight in cramped conditions? Please, you’ve done thirteen hours (in pleb class) sitting next to a guy with snot dribbling down his nose.  A 6K trek through the jungle? OK, so you haven’t quite mastered that but nothing ventured, nothing gained.  Or so you thought.  And the gains? Well you’re off to catch a glimpse of a strong contender for the world’s ugliest monkey competition. You know, if there was such a competition.  The Proboscis Monkey.  Just look at the nose on this guy!

DSC04754At least one thing you’ve got sorted is your kit.  You’ve poached one of Hubs’s old rucksacks, it’s filled with water, bug spray and a Snickers bar (you figure you’ll burn that off, easy). A little trip to TK Maxx was productive: you’ve got dry-fast sportswear and new boots, they’re made for walking.

You register at Reception on arrival to Bako National Park. “Need a Guide?” we are asked.  You think probably, yes but Hubs isn’t having any of it. “Who needs a Guide?” he asks.  “We can follow a map no problem.”  You smile and agree that even you can probably follow a colour coded nature trail although Hubs seems to have (conveniently) forgotten about the disaster that was your 30th birthday where a “light, pleasant walk in the forest” ended in almost-near-death with heavy rains, tears and a lot of shouting.  Oh and those Topshop boots you loved so much; ruined.

It seems sensible to start the trek with the Snickers bar for a bit of energy and off you go!  You circle round Reception (a large-ish wooden hut) a few times.  No signs, colour coded or otherwise, to show you where to start. Hmm.  Ten minutes later you’re sufficiently hot and bothered to put pride to the side and head back towards the lady at Reception to ask where the trails start.  Directions given.  Off you go (again).

You make a pretty solid effort at keeping spirits high despite being almost halfway through the trek and not having spotted a single living thing other than the odd sweaty tourist panting through the jungle, obviously intent on scaring anything away. Hubs suddenly pauses and looks up at the trees.  “What is it? Can you see something?” you eagerly ask, searching the tree tops.  Hubs’s response is a lot of annoyed shushing (of the silent type) and flapping his hands at you like a madman.  “Oh, actually I think it’s just a tree branch”.  He eventually says.  So, no monkey.

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At least you make it to the clifftops and marvel at the views. Also a good spot for some sandwiches.  You could do without the noisy teenagers but there seems to be no escape in life from noisy teenagers.

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Having refuelled you venture back.  You both agree that you’re going to see some monkeys on the return leg.  You’re absolutely sure of it.   You briefly consider leaving out a banana as a honey trap of sorts but that seems a tad desperate not to mention dangerous.  Several false alarms later (more flapping) you do make it back to camp, in one piece, hungry and tired but still having not seen a single Monkey.  There are only two possible conclusions you can draw: either you’ve just been made a victim of a huge con and there are no Monkeys in the forest or, word obviously got round the Monkeys that you were in town and they decided to not show up.  For now, you’ll have to live with Hubs’s poor attempt at imitation.
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Living the dry life.

You’ve been living in a dry country, Brunei for almost four weeks.  Of course that doesn’t mean you’ve been living the dry life for four weeks because the import of alcohol is still allowed. So you went on your first ever booze cruise; you and Hubs went over the border into Malaysia, popped into a nice looking shop not far from Customs and found the place ridden with booze tourists all out in the sun, drinking.  At 10AM.  I guess it’s been more than four weeks for them so no judging here.  Well, maybe a little judging.  Hubs goes for the sixteen pack of canned beer but you’re there for something else and you find it for a bargain £13: Tanqueray Gin. Back at Customs you have to fill in a little orange slip declaring your intoxicating contraband.  There’s a bit of a queue here as one can imagine but it’s worth it.

As good as a beer out on the balcony on a hot day is, and oh my, it is good; it doesn’t quite fill the void of a great British pub or even a rubbish British pub for that matter.  You miss the sad looking furniture, sticky carpets, grumpy bar staff and not to mention the soggy fish ‘n’ chips. Oh for a packet of crisps and a glass of stale wine!

So you get researching online and several clicks later you hear a juicy rumour; In a small hotel, which is a little bit out of the way of town there is a secret bar. A Speakeasy! Not one of those pretentious London bars that popped up a few years ago and you never quite understood the fuss about but a real Speakeasy of the legally forbidden sorts.   You call the hotel for a bit of fact-checking.  Or rather you make Hubs do it: “Oh hi, is The Lounge open?” he asks, “Who are you and where are you calling from??” asks the gnarly Receptionist.  A few moments later he is put through to another woman, a suspicious type but you’re proud to see Hubs stand up to the interrogation and he obviously passed the test because the call ends with him being told that last orders are at 10PM.  Straight to the hotel you go where you’re greeted by yet another surly woman asking what you want “The lounge?” you say.  “Go ask at second floor!” she snaps.

At the second floor two young women are sitting aimlessly at a table in the hallway.  You look over at them and ask for The Lounge.  They point you in the direction of a room at the end of the hall.  Your heart is racing by this point. You walk along the hall, passing a number of guest rooms and arrive at the end of the hall.  You pause and look around as you get the feeling someone is watching you.  Creepy.  Suddenly a door opens and a Chinese man beckons you into his room.  In you go and at once you notice the sticky floor.  Through the cigarette haze you make out tired and old furniture, it’s definitely on the sad side. You find a couple chairs and a woman behind the bar looks up but doesn’t bother taking your order.  No matter as, a few minutes later, a waiter comes over with two chilled beer glasses, filled to the brim.  There’s even fish ‘n’ chips on the menu! Welcome back, Friday nights down the pub!

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Supermarket Sweep.

For some inexplicable reason it is always the case that when you’ve filled your trolley to the brim and carefully select what appears to be the fastest moving queue at the supermarket you inevitably get it wrong.  Even when you move across the world the situation is no better. Somehow, despite racing up and down the row of cashiers, surveying the amount of shopping per belt and the speed with which it is being bagged, you get it wrong.  You end up watching the cashier methodically retrieve every item the old couple before you have managed to heap onto the conveyor belt, study it, find the bar code, scan it, scan doesn’t work, so search again, spectacles on, tap in the number -beep! Onto the next.  It’s a slow process but you have to admire her ability to remain completely unfazed by all the huffing and puffing, and there is some serious huffing and puffing going on at our end of the conveyor belt. Some minutes (which feel like hours) later it’s your turn. You start to think about dinner that night, and lunch the next day and your mouth starts watering.  Then it suddenly strikes you! Despite having made various shopping lists, currently gathering dirt at the bottom of your handbag and having gone through each aisle half a dozen times you’ve somehow managed to forget salt.  Off you run to find the salt aisle.

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A few left turns later you reach the salt only your eye wanders off to its more interesting, sexy friend next door; Cumin. It doesn’t stop with Cumin, all her good chums are hanging around too: Ground Coriander, Mustard Seeds, Garam Masala, Turmeric… You hurriedly gather all the spices your good-little-Indian-girl arms can hold and run back to the till grabbing a small jar of salt on the way. The cashier picked up surprisingly good speed in the three minutes you’ve been gone and Hubs is lingering near the credit card machine but you shout “NO DON’T PAY!” and with that you throw down the bags of spices (and jar of salt) beaming at your spoils.  Dinner just got a whole lot better.

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At home you carefully unpack all the spices. Mouth watering again.  Then you look a little closer at the almost forgotten jar of salt.  “Funny looking salt” you think. You open the jar and pour a little out onto your hand and toss into your mouth.  That is definitely not salt but it does have a familiar taste and almost immediately you go back for more when three little letters on the side of the jar catch your eye: MSG.

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Hubs is going to love my cooking.  It’s going to get enhanced by about five times.

Choppy Waters

There’s nothing like being in a speedboat; with the water frothing at the sides, splashing on your arms and that refreshing breeze.  At least that’s how you imagine it.  When all the excitement is bursting up inside because you- bespectacled, slightly asthmatic and scared of spiders bigger than a 50p piece; you, are about to discover a fantastic island, Manukan Island that has the best snorkelling, and un-touched rainforest and a shiny white beach.  It’s what you were dreaming of the whole way on the 8 hour car journey.  Six border crossing later you’re finally there, stepping onto the boat.

The engine revs.  And splutters.  You don’t let that still your beating heart.  It revs again.  Splutters again. Some shouting ensues.  One man (The Captain?) storms off the boat.  You wait; part sitting/part crouching on the worlds’s narrowest seat, the adrenaline pumping through your veins.  Man returns with huge container of petrol.  Engine revs and off you go! Hurrah! Except the water is a little choppy; no matter.  You hold; then grip the side of the boat and then your husband (he’s a better swimmer than you).  The boat gets faster, the water choppier.  It’s all good though because you can see that speck of an island in the distance and the speed this guy is going you’ll be there in no time.  Only that wasn’t your island.  No matter, another speck of green appears.  This must be it.  The water is getting choppier by the second. The boat jumps around like a kid on a bouncy castle. Still you find the strength to take a quick selfie.  After all, what’s the point of going on an adventure if you can’t boast about it to your nearest and dearest?

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You arrive to the tiny Island.  “Let’s work up a sweat and try one of these nature trails through the jungle” you say.  Flip-flops off. Trainers on.  The walk starts off just fine, it’s a little bit sweaty and a few bugs about but there isn’t a centimetre of your body that isn’t covered in industrial strength mosquito repellant.  You soldier on.  There isn’t really a cleared path but there is a dirt trail of sorts.  Hop over a water pipe (who put that there?!) and into a puddle of muddy water.  Ahead, lie two logs in a perfect ‘X’ “Surely, they’ve fallen that way naturally?” husband says/hopes.  You give him one of your looks.  “You’re right.” He unwillingly admits.  “That was no accident.” Nature trail fail.

No matter because there’s still that un-explored beach. The one littered with tourists.  You find a strip of sand but before you can dip your toe in the water your tummy lurches so you lie down.  You stare up at the clear, blue sky waiting for the queasy feeling in your tummy to pass thinking to yourself “Maybe it’s sea-sickness? Could it be the overbearing heat of the jungle? Or that laksa we had last night?”

Who knows but suffice to say, we caught an early ride back to the mainland. So long Manukan!IMG_2882

The trouble with Resorts.

Hubs and I spent our first couple weeks in Brunei at the 5* Resort, The Empire Hotel and Country Club. As the name suggests it’s a grand old affair with gold-plated columns, elevators and even the wall sockets are gold-plated! The resort it huge.  It’s a little bit Vegas without all the stuff that really makes Vegas, Vegas.  (No booze, no gambling and no scantily clad visitors). There is a gym, cinema and golf course on site as well as 4 or 5 pools although at the moment only 2 of the pools are open.  We got a room with a view of the South China Sea (that’s the blue between the other blue and the green):

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The trouble with Resorts is this: It’s pretty hot.  So you’ll be needing to cool down at the pool.  It’s a 10 minute walk to the pool from your building.  So you stick on a bikini, add a cover up and make your way there; past the promenade of shops with lonely and bored looking Sales Assistants, through the air conditioned main building and eventually you make it down to the pool.  You pick a sunny spot with a clean-looking sun-lounger and throw down your towel before you realise that you left your Ray-Bans in the room.  So you head back.  Back through the chilly main building, where the thermometer seems to have dropped to “Icelandic”, past those really sad Sales Assistants and up/down any number of (gold-plated) lifts and back to your room.  Only when you get there you realise you left the key to your room safely tucked away in the pocket of your Kindle.  A trip back down to the lobby to look for a Bell Boy with a master key. Eventually you make it back to the pool.  Having spent the last 1/2 hour working up a sweat you’re even more excited about that first cool dip. Only in the time you’ve been gone the pool’s been invaded by Chinese teenagers.  So much for the quiet life.

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