Kuala Lumpur

Chris and I spent a weekend in Kuala Lumpur, taking the bus from Singapore directly to our hotel downtown KL. The city greeted us in the early Saturday hours and after a good rest we tackled the heat. We browsed past colorful market stands decorating the streets and visited the heart of the colonial district – Dataran Merdeka also known as Independence Square. We escaped the heat in various shopping malls in KL, of which there are many! We also visited KL tower which provided stunning views from the 335m observation deck. We wrapped up Sunday with a stop at Batu caves, a Hindu temple situated on a limestone hill with various caves at the end of the 272 step climb. A journey well worth it. All in all, we spent a solid two days in KL and enjoyed our time. It has a very urban feel, as one would expect with 1.6 million inhabitants, and we found many similarities between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

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Borneo – nature’s calm calling

Over the Easter weekend, we decided to visit the Malayan Island Borneo. While taking advantage of the given holidays on Friday and Monday, we left Singapore on Wednesday for only two additional days, having six days in total. On the first and last night we decided to stay in Kuching. In between, we reserved a few nights at Batang Ai Longhouse resort out in the nature, only reachable by boat. But first things first.

Kuching is the capital of the Malayan province Sarawak and lies in the north of Borneo, one of the biggest islands on our planet. The heat while walking along the boardwalk was overwhelming, especially because shade was rare. Since it was early afternoon already, we decided to stop for lunch to escape the tropical circumstances and stopped at James Brooke, right at the waterfront. We enjoyed tasty Curry Lakse and fuelled up on energy for the afternoon and evening. After a few hours of sightseeing, rain seemed to come in so we cut the tour a bit shorter and went back to the hotel. On our way back, we found a beautiful street, filled with small stores and artefacts not only for the eye, but also for the taste buds. So we decided once the rain passes, we will come back here. And that’s what we did. An authentic Lebanese supper rewarded our memory by coming back after the rain and a shisha-smoke completed our experience in a comfortable surrounding (Little Lebanon, not by the waterfront, but by Padang Merdeka). 

Thursday started early in the morning. At 8am we were picked up by a shuttle, which shuttles us 5 hours to a place near the Indonesian border where a boat would take us to our hotel. Well, we expected 5 hours, but our driver had definitely fuel pumping through his arteries. Always safe, but surely in a rush, he passed all types of cars, on all kinds of roads and across all sorts of lines. His wife accompanied him (we think it was his wife, she was never really introduced) and we assumed thanks to her, he was still respecting the laws of physics. We arrived 45 minutes early, so we had plenty of time to wait in a little hut above the lake. It was surrounded by nothing but trees and we already got an idea of what will be expecting us. Perfectly on time, the boat arrived and we got picked up along with some resort employees. After a twenty minute boat ride, we arrived at the jetty of the hotel, revealing why it was granted an entry in a lonely planet tour book. Amazingly green, almost organically worked in longhouses and so authentic that it took our breath away. With a Danish group of women we took part in a nature walk, taking us around the resort, explaining the plants and the surrounding. In Borneo, you find Orangutans especially during fruit season in the trees, the medicine Panadol is won out of a pointy plant, and the lake was created in 1980, when the built a dam to collect the rain water, and so on. In the evening, we enjoyed the jetty down by the lake.

I was quite sure I heard something early in the morning, running around in our bedroom. Something with nails, not heavier than a cat, but definitely bigger than a gecko. When I got up to check, it was gone. Feeling like a boy being afraid of the monster in the closet, I did not close another eye until the alarm went off…
On Friday, we booked a tour to a longhouse of an Iban tribe. If you are interested in what Longhouses are, have a read over here (Borneo longhouses). It is basically a community of families, living under one roof, with a big common room to share. As we booked the trip, we were a bit concerned that our visit would intrude the traditional culture. When we arrived, worry disappeared quickly, but the feeling of  being the tourist with the big camera remained. After a look around the house and even into the family room of the leader of the longhouse, we saw two traditional dances and received a few drinks (rice wine and selfly brewed whiskey). No worries, Maggie did not drink hers, I did that for her. Wowza, strong stuff. 🙂 After that, we handed our gifts to express our gratitude. What happened afterwards showed us how strictly the roles are divided up. We thought the organizational chart on the wall (no joke) was only to impress the tourists, but there was one person who handed out the drinks and two ladies divided up the gifts equally to the waiting children. To conclude, the tribe is very advanced (TV, tablets, telephones, etc.) but still lives and works in a very basic way, which impressed us deeply. Imagine living with twenty families under one roof. Crazy. But imagine also, working everyday in nature and actually knowing what you are eating. Crazy, I know. This visit was over after 2 hours and we left in order to explore the Jungle. Our awesome guides took us an hour through the woods, explaining very detailed about all types of plants and fruits, leading us to a natural waterfall, where we took a swim while they prepared food. Sounds amazing and that’s exactly how it was! Cooked chicken and rice in bamboo and a fresh fish all cooked on a wood fire. Not sure if we could have been treated any better! These guys surely know how to cook and impress two city peeps.
In the evening, I prepared Maggie for the awaiting challenge the next day: Fishin’!

Similar to the night before, I woke up around 6. Scratches on our wooded floor. Or was it in the wall? Nope. Definitely not. Paralysed, I tried to imagine the size of the animal. In my head, it looked like a bear eating exclusively male tourists. But again, after a few seconds, everything was over, the creature had left again without being identified. After a failed attempt at falling back asleep, I notified Maggie at breakfast of our visitor. Having grown up in nature, she surely thought I was crazy.
The day can be explained in a few words: Two guides, one longboat, two tourists, wooded sticks with yarn and a hook, 1 minute after Maggie put the bait in, she caught her first fish, exciting, clapping/applauding, nothing else happened for a while on our side,shortly after lunch, Chris caught his first fish, two stops later within 5 minutes, we caught two more. Our relaxing and calming day can’t really be put into words, but the pride of eating your own fish for supper can: It was huuuge!

Last day in nature started like all the other ones. Scratch scratch. This time, I was not the only one awake. Both strapped down onto the bed by fear, we did not move a bit. The little intruder escaped unknown, so the secret of what it actually was remains unrevealed. Some say it was a cat-like creature, some say it was a squirrel, some others say it was a the ghosts of the Orangutans when the valley was flooded…
After another delicious breakfast and a last peak under the bed, we were ready to say goodbye. It was absolutely amazing: Dear Ai Longhouse Resort staff, you guys rock! Dear nature, you are cool too.

The same driver awaited us where the ferry dropped us off, but this time, his wife did not join him. Instead, another family from the resort joined us on the trip to Kuching. Funny enough, the mother of the clan was the Swiss expert from National Geographic, having written several guide books about the country and still investigating to get to know it better. It was a true pleasure meeting them and to be honest, these 4.5 hours went by extremely quickly.
Back in the city, we went to James Brooke again. Maggie had some amazing fish and chips and I enjoyed the best butter chicken I have ever had. It gave enough energy to explore the city a bit more, before lying down in a comfy hotel bed.

The last day dawned, our flight was going to leave around 10, so we had to get up early. Being woken by the beers from the night before, I turned my head, thinking I heard something. My eyes widened, blood left my head and I was strapped back down to the bed again: scratch scratch.