Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Mahakam River.

The challenge for river enthusiasts in Borneo, after experimentally testing themselves on the minor rivers, is the Mahakam, the country’s longest river. Rising some one thousand kms in the central mountains it wanders down to the coast near Samarinda where it empties its self into the the Makassar Straights by way of a large delta. The immediate problem is finding a way onto it as the first two hundred kms are heavily trafficked with vast mineral barges and coastal craft while the banks are crowded with stilted villages, shacks, shops, restaurants, cafes and of course mines. Not too  edifying. Coal is loaded onto barges from huge conveyor belts crossing high above the dwellings and poured down into the waiting barges, with of course, the resulting dust and stink. There are bottlenecks on the road along this part of the river where a bridge crossing has been built, unfortunately said bridges tend to collapse periodically leading to sad  loss of life. To avoid this hive of activity requires either a car rental or a bus ride, I chose the latter and up ready and waiting at 5am my guide, the excellent Abdullah, showed up and immediately hailed a passing scooter coaxing me onto the back for the ride to the bus terminal. I got the idea early on that this was not going to be any type of luxury cruise! The bus turned out to be a short, thirty seater, raggedy seats, cargo down the center aisle, doors and windows open for ventilation, every seat taken, crowded with Moms and children, farmers, miners and me. Sure got some interested looks. Off we wheezed casting clouds of fumes through the aforementioned hive of activity. Two hours and we were through and into the countryside, the hills loomed, no jungle, just palm oil plantations, the road twisted and turned, rose and fell, and the passengers started throwing up. Like I said, no luxury cruise this one.

Five hours of that and we reached the river, broad and brown, wide and lazy, and there was my boat. A ces, a glorified canoe with a lawn mower engine, the propellor attached to a long pole sticking out the back. The propellor sits quite high in the water and throws up a spectacular curved wash high in the air as we race along, it’s pretty impressive. In some parts of Asia this is known as a ‘long tail’. Settled into the one seat and roared off upstream where we promptly stopped. Propellor jammed. This has happened before here and there so I wasn’t really perturbed, just take it as it comes. We slowly made our way to the first village, tied up, unjammed the prop’ and set off again, noisily. Many, many villages along the river and judging by the number of satellite dishes these fisherfolk were doing just fine. Floating shops, floating gas (petrol) stations, floating houses, stilted walkways, tons to see. Different too, a Muslim majority village, a Dayak majority village, a Catholic majority  village, a village of immigrants from Sulawesi, another with people from Banjarmasin in South Kalimantan, totally fascinating, each with different languages but they all speak Dayak as well.

We crossed some big lakes, negotiated reed beds and huge banks of weed, almost impenetrable and of course we got stuck periodically. Harry, the driver, didn’t seem too concerned and bashed the cloying weeds with his paddle, freeing us. The problem was that as soon as we stopped clouds of mosquitos descended on us, out with the bug spray which helped a little. Eventually to our village for the night and the accommodation turned out to be a Dayak communal tribal longhouse. We wandered around the lanes and paths, watched the children fishing off a bridge, tried to find a replacement charger for Abdullah’s phone and ate some very good food for dinner.Then it was time to attend a Dayak Tribal Ritual featuring five drummers, a very large Shaman (medicine man?), wearing bells on his feet and a long skirt who danced and chanted, many female attendants and two chickens. There were maybe fifty people gathered in the big hut, mainly women with some sleeping children plus a smattering of men, everyone was Dayak, and me. People have written books about what I observed, suffice it to say I accepted that I was no longer in Hertford, Hereford or Hampshire any more, not even in Marin. It was all very strange and got stranger when two chickens became part of the Ritual. Oh no, I thought, but no, it was ok, they lived another day. I would love to have the words to describe it, the Ritual, but I don’t, probably because I had no idea what was going on, everyone seemed very happy though, much smiling. I think Abdullah told me we were communing with the ancestors, certainly offerings were made to someone/something, stuff was set alight and burned smokily, fruits were placed around in bowls and on plates clearly not to be eaten by me. I took some video on my tiny ipod, maybe it will make it home and I can find someone to shed some light on it. Again, it was all very strange.

Next morning it was back out onto the lakes and rivers, more getting stuck in the reed and weed beds,  more mosquitos, lots of bug spray. We traversed big lakes, made our way down narrow waterways, enjoyed the wildlife, failed to take photos of kingfishers, again, and passed by many, many more floating villages. There were more Bird Hotels. Did I mention these before? Can’t remember. All the villages had their bird hotels, big concrete or wooden structures, quite ugly with small holes in the walls and amplified bird song emanating from speakers on the roof. The birdsong attracts the swiftlets who build their nests within using their saliva, thousands and thousands of them. Their situation, beside the river, provides an abundance of food, mozzies etc. The nests are then harvested with the price at source being $100 per kilo, the nests are then exported to China where they are the basis for Bird Nest Soup, at vast expense. I became quite obsessed with Bird Hotels, eagerly pointing them out to the long suffering Abdullah who would smile, indulgently.

All day on the river, thundering along on the wide open parts, creeping along to observe the banks, more getting stuck in the reeds, it was a fabulous day, exhausting but far, far away from the humdrum. We eventually tied up in a village for the night, a village with no dogs. No dogs? No, no dogs. This I noticed quite soon as it is the sign of a 100% Muslim village. Apparently The Prophet, when on the run from the authorities had his hiding place betrayed by dogs, so no dogs in Muslim villages. Also, no beer. We passed the evening pleasantly enough at the house of one of his friends, the wife made local delicacies, the kids watched cartoons on tv, the menfolk chatted away while I rested on the sofa wondering what to do. It wasn’t as if I could read a book or play music on the headphones, that would be impolite just about anywhere. But I drank lots of tea, enjoyed the delicacies except perhaps the stewed bananas in, I think, rancid condensed milk, whatever it was it was horrid, truly awful. After a couple of hours it was time to go, back on the scooter, back to my concrete box to sleep. Ten o’clock came and there was a great wailing, up and down the street wailing. That’s new thinks I, turned over and tried to sleep again, my concrete box was very hot on account of no window or a fan.

Dawn came, eventually and peering over the edge of the upper floor there was a huge canvas covering the street outside the accommodation, chairs everywhere, people gathering, food being prepared and much sawing of wood and hammering. Odd, it wasn’t there when I went to bed. Abdullah appeared, what is happening says I. “oh didn’t you hear the Morning Prayers, the owner died last night”. Of course I had heard the Morning Prayers but as for understanding them, not a chance. The hammering and sawing came from the local carpenters, building the elderly Gent’s coffin, right there, on the street, he was quite elderly and his demise was not unexpected, but still!

I’m going on a bit sorry, lets wind it up.

Off back downstream in the ces to the jetty, found the car to take us back to Samarinda with a young woman already in the back. Turned out she was the one and only local midwife who delivers babies up and down the river and we were giving her a ride to town. Very charming, no English, but wherever we stopped she would find children she had brought into the world and chat chat chat. Nice. Abdullah insisted that I go to his home and meet his family, oh no, not another social situation where I do not understand a word spoken, all I wanted to do was take a nap. It seemed churlish to refuse so we arrive at his house, slip and slide up the steep path with no steps, fall in through the door and collapse on the sofa. I heard singing and from the back of the house comes Mrs Abdullah, Diana, bearing a cake, with candles all lit followed by many children of all ages singing Happy Birthday, in English. Oh my goodness. I had to blink seriously. It was quite lovely. There were presents. More tea. We always had Birthday Tea back in Marin but I didn’t make a big deal out of my birthday, I just mentioned it when Abdullah, at some point, asked me how old I was. There I was in far away Samarinda, having Birthday Tea, it was all a bit much and I was quite overcome. What could I do in return, fix the family computer of course, hahaha, they were all thrilled.

I have been off the Internet for over ten days hence the lack of communication. I was a plane, car and boat ride away on a coral island, an atoll, complete with reef and lagoon and little to no connectivity. It was a miracle to find in these days of mass tourism, only a handful of other wanderers were there, less actually.

It was called Maratua.

Floating village shop.

Floating village shop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Floating gas station.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Child fishing for dinner.

Child fishing for dinner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Statues outside Tribal Longhouse.

Statues outside Tribal Longhouse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Very bad lighting but this is the Shaman.

Very bad lighting but this is the Shaman.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stuck in the reeds.

Stuck in the reeds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coffin making.

Coffin making.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fishing on the river.

Fishing on the river.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clouds and river.

Clouds and river.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bird Hotels.

Bird Hotels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

More Bird Hotels.

More Bird Hotels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mending nets.

Mending nets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A very peculiar looking bird.

A very peculiar looking bird.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is a Marabou stork and seemed to be almost domesticated, in a way.

It is a Marabou stork and seemed to be almost domesticated, in a way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy people.

Happy people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fishing.

Fishing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eagle.

Eagle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A rare black long tailed monkey.

A rare black long tailed monkey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I seem to have mislaid the Birthday photos. I will upload a couple when I find them.

Camp Leakey and The Tanjung Puting National Park.

Chug chug chug, I’m on a very, very slow boat, or klotok, on a very muddy river (the Kumai) in Central Kalimantan, Borneo and you know, it’s just about perfect. We headed out of the port at Kumai and even after a few chugs we saw Fresh Water dolphins and a couple of Monitor Lizards. A little bit further and we turned off into a tributary, slow moving and very muddy, the entrance to the Tanjung Puting National Park. The mud is caused by illegal mining, mining for coal, zircon, gold and the rainforest is completely decimated. There is nothing left after the illegal logging was done and its now all palm oil and rubber plantations. No jungle sounds, no, birds, no butterflies, none of the usual whistling and hooting, no odd screeches. Even so it is still rather exotic, river, Borneo, klotok, I’m excited.

    Two hours of slow progress into the interior there was evidence perhaps that the illegal logging had been stopped or at least  paused, there are trees, tall trees, stretching way, way away. Straight away there were two bands of Proboscis monkeys swinging along the riverbank, two large males, both with multiple wives. Finally I snapped a photo of a male, longer nose than the females, bigger too, plus I learned something new, with so many wives they are always erm ‘ready’!  I laughed again and again, they leapt from branch to branch, high up and sometimes fell, plummeting down only to reach out casually with a hairy arm to save themselves. Why did I laugh? Just pure joy I suppose. On up the river and the sounds are back, whistles, hoots and that high pitched buzzing that you only hear here, in the jungle. 

   We stopped at a Ranger Station to watch the Orangutans be given their evening feed. Just a short fifteen minute treck through the trees and to a roped off area where there were, people. A number of people deep in the forest but where had they come from. Seems they had a big, group klotok, twelve I think, all Aussies, with an Orangutan expert in tow . The lenses on the cameras were something to behold, carried by youths who handed them over with the click of the fingers, the noise of the high speed shutters, irritating. Yes we saw Orangutans, quite a few in fact and it was fantastic. Before this chapter closes here is something. I casually mentioned to the guide that I wondered why they were called Orangutans, I got the look, the stupid tourist look. Orang in Malay means people, Utan means forest, therefore ‘people of the forest’ or Orangutan. That ends the four different spelling options. It’s a Malay word that we have somehow kept. Good for the Malays, good for us.

    We have parked for the night, beside the river, tied to a fallen tree. It’s pitch dark and I can’t see a thing. My bed is a mattress on the deck with a mozzie net. I’ll sleep well.

    Well I didn’t, not really. Too many crashes, growls, grunts and splashes kept waking me up but finally it was dawn at around five so I got up. We spent the day on the river, heading down another tributary where the water changed color dramatically, from the muddy brown of the mining detritus to the almost black of forest vegetation.  Tall trees either side and us, puttering along on the klotok which is basically a small houseboat, primitive but utilitarian. There was a stop at a feeding station and like yesterday there where suddenly people where there had been none before. I met a Scottish couple, from Och on the Black Isle. No, I didn’t mention how appropriate was its name. He was from Lewis with the broad lilt of the Western Isles, she, Michelle was from Inverness but had been in Edinburgh for years and years. We had a nice chat, trashing the new tram (actually now its open it is quite good) and lamenting that Central Kalimantan is dry etc etc. A couple from Denver and another from LA, plus miscellaneous Spaniards. It seems that during the High Season here, June and July, the majority of the 60 or so klotoks available for rent in Kumai are taken by the Spanish and no one can tell me why. Anyone? (L?) Bit of a long way from Spain I’d have thought. Oops, I’ve wandered off, sorry. There were no Orangutans to be seen at the feeding station and we all trudged back to the river through an area reduced by slash and burn, just ferns grew. At the jetty on the river and at the Ranger station, two guys and a desk outside a hut, there were clouds of black butterflies, nowhere else, just where there were humans. Odd.

    To Camp Leakey then and when we pulled into the shore there was a Mom and baby just sitting on the fence, all nonchalant, as if greeting us. An unrelated male was fast asleep in the gazebo on the jetty. It was quite a miracle, but I think I have said enough about the Orangs though haven’t I? The river though, and the rainforest where, for me, the stars of the day. At one point I tried reading a book but couldn’t, I kept looking up and out, seeing the legend that is this green and verdant living thing. It can’t last, it really can’t and what kind of a tragedy that is and will be. One of the crew on the boat used to be an illegal logger and I got a few stories, via translation, that I found depressing. One cubic measure (20 centimeters) of the Iron Wood tree sells for $75.00, an Iron Wood sapling grows one foot every ten years, the loggers  bribe the authorities so well that they build railways in the forest to ship the logs out. The local farmers are similarly destructive, slashing and burning vast areas for just one season’s crop, then they move on. I don’t have Internet access here but isn’t it well known that an area of the forest the size of a football field is destroyed every second? I told the guys on the boat, ‘enjoy it while its here’. 

    Ok, rant over, no more tree hugging tonight,  Birkenstocks back in the closet, pinko liberal flag furled, I’m going to have a beer and celebrate night number two on the edge of the Heart of Borneo.  

Sometimes the trees seemed full of wildlife.

Sometimes the trees seemed full of wildlife.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The muddy river and the Rainforest.

The muddy river and the Rainforest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The black river and the rainforest.

The black river and the rainforest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The black river meets the muddy river.

The black river meets the muddy river.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not sure how this one got uploaded! I hope its ok.

Not sure how this one got uploaded! I hope its ok.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A male. What a handsome fella.

A male. What a handsome fella.

 

 

 

 

 

 

She is kind of cute too.

She is kind of cute too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A closer look.

A closer look.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grubs up!

Grubs up!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Around the dinner table.

Around the dinner table.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adoring and adorable.

Adoring and adorable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even more adoring and adorable.

Even more adoring and adorable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don't know what to say.

I don’t know what to say.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is one of the dozens of bird hotels (swifts) in Kumai where the birds build their nests for Bird Nest Soup. Interesting I thought.

This is one of the dozens of bird hotels (swifts) in Kumai where the birds build their nests for Bird Nest Soup. Interesting I thought.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I resolved before leaving that not only would I ‘live blog’ my trip but I would also take lots of photos. I did, but I have so many pictures that sorting the highlights has been difficult. I may do some more sorting and post more. I haven’t even looked at my phone yet! The photos on it I mean.

 

 

Pontianak and the Equator.

I’m not sure what it is but I have a problem remembering where I am. Today I am in Pangkalanbun, yesterday I was in Pontianak and its not as if these names spring to mind upon waking in the morning. Certainly there is that moment every morning when I pinch myself and think, I’m in Borneo, but pinpointing exactly where can be challenging, even pronouncing it is difficult. But, Pangkalanbun is where I am right now and I had better get used to it. I arrived today as I mentioned, from Pontianak, in Eastern Kalimantan where I spent a few days absorbing the fact that everything is quite different here. I wondered why all the flights left so early in the morning until I worked it out, of course they leave early to avoid the regular afternoon thunderstorms and torrential rain. Up then at 5.00am, a six thirty ride to the airport and an 8am flight. No disrespect intended but why is there always a Prayer Room adjacent to the gate? The Trigana Air prop’ plane didn’t exactly inspire confidence but we made it here after a couple of stops at what appeared to be no more than jungle airstrips. The aircrew must have thought me slightly odd as I kept asking, on landing ‘Pangkalanbun?’. No, Sir, sit. OK. Eventually we were in the right place and I was ushered off the plane and arrived in Pankalanbun.

Pontianak was interesting, a big city with terrible traffic and more scooters than even Saigon, yes, really. As in Sabah everyone goes out to eat in the evening so the perpetual scooter madness never lets up, the evening rush hour turns into the dinner rush and everyone wears a helmet, even over their hijabs and the ladies sit side saddle when riding pillion. Curiously people wear their jackets reversed, ie in front, with their arms down the sleeves. I don’t remember seeing that anywhere else. Looking at the guidebook it seems there is one thing, and one thing only to do in Pontianak and that is to visit the Equator Monument. The city sits on the line and is one of the few cities in the World that does that, so, first port of call, The Equator. My hotel allocated me a taxi driver cum guide who turned out to be the genial Baim (Baeem) and he was very attentive and spoke some English.

The Monument was quite interesting, old photos of scientists celebrating the Monument’s creation, hard boiled eggs in bowls that could be stood up on their ends on the marble floor, a large monument capped by a large arrow pointing in the direction of the line. Unfortunately there was nowhere nearby to prove that in a flushing loo the water goes straight down rather than spin clockwise as it does in the Northern Hemisphere. This because the only conveniences present featured what my niece, Ms Sophie, euphemistically and charmingly calls ‘long drops’. The big disappointment was that actually this was not the Equator at all, it’s moved. Its gone one hundred meters south for reasons I could not fathom, it was all explained on a leaflet but I came away a little disillusioned. It was everything a geography nerd could hope for, almost. One thing that does catch the eye in Pontianak is the position of the satellite dishes, they all point straight up, as in vertical. Of course, the satellites are all in position over the Equator. But there is a problem, the dishes fill up with water when it rains so there is a frequent message on the tv to the effect that normal service will resume when it stops raining. I thought that was lovely.

The serious Baim struggled a bit to find other interesting things to do. We went looking for black orchids at an Aloe Vera farm but came away empty handed. We went shopping but that was very tiresome. We did drink tea on a somewhat dubious looking river craft. There were no tables or chairs so we sat on the deck as the boat puttered along the riverbank. At dusk we puttered which was the time the local residents came down to the river to bathe, sure, very interesting, but I felt a little like an intruder. Another similarity to India, kites, thousands of them bouncing and gliding about in the fading light, flown not only by the kids but also the adults, whole boatloads of kite flyers on the river. Following that expedition we went around the town visiting Baim’s family. First to see his wife and children in their house beside a busy street, twelve year old daughter, eight year old son and very shy wife. Yes, it was suitably….what? oh I don’t know, but it was worth it to raise a smile from both the wide eyed young ones. Then to a house by the river, reached by making our way across narrow planks above the water (vertigo again) where his parents lived with his sister and her four kids. All the neighbors came out and visited for one reason or another but mostly to stare at this Anglo in their midst. Tea was made and passed round. Lots of mirth, hilarity and fun, shouts from nearby houses, people came back from the river after their baths in various stages of their toilet, washing was done and hung out for the following day. All this took place in what I will call ‘local houses’, raised on stilts above the river, each reached by a maze of planks across which people rode their scooters, bicycles, carried groceries, carried on with life. Evening Prayers started from all the neighboring Mosques, chanted by children, and everyone around me joined in. It struck me that I was a long way from home.

Today I booked a klotok, a boat, that will take me up the nearby river Arut to Camp Leakey, two days away. The camp in the Tanjung Puting Reserve, is run by a lady called Birute Galdikas who is one of the three Leakey Angels, the other two being Jane Goodall and Dian Fossy. Ringing any bells? DR Galdikas runs the biggest Orangutan rehabilitation center in the world and I am on my way.

I’ll let you know how it goes in a few days. There will be no Internet access, obviously.

School's out in Pontianak.

School’s out in Pontianak.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top of the Equator Monument.

Top of the Equator Monument.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inside the Monument.

Inside the Monument.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Outside the Monument at zero degrees.

Outside the Monument at zero degrees.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tea on the boat.

Tea on the boat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The walkway maze.

The walkway maze.

 

Cats and Cakes in Kuching, Sarawak.

What’s it like in Borneo you might ask? First let me say I’m amazed that two friends have been here, Judy, Susie, and I never knew. It’s so far away from everything, there’s this little brain cell constantly saying ‘when are we going back?’ I’m further from the great Eurasian/Americas landmasses than I have ever been and its both liberating and just a bit unsettling. ( Ok, forget Hawaii) The people too, perhaps sensing their remoteness, are very different, good natured, interested in why I’m here, and proudly individualistic. There are sights on the street that stop me in my tracks, long haired youths with the crown dyed blond, young women wearing their colorful hijabs with black patent leather stilettos and was that really an ankle tattoo?  Every other door on the street is a cafe or restaurant and they all appear to be packed all day and late into the evening. I’m sure it, like many other places, could be described as a Foodie Heaven, but lets just say these people sure do enjoy their food.

    Big, did I mention its big, it’s one third bigger than France, it’s about the same size as Texas and you know what they say about Texas. Borneo is third biggest island in the world after Greenland and New Guinea. Getting about is challenging because they have this rainforest, the oldest in the world, not to mention impenetrable mountains and vast rivers. In the south in Kalimantan there are no roads through the interior and most of the getting about is got about on rivers, something to look forward to.  

     There are many endearing features: 

They use British power plugs, you know, those big ones with three prongs. Always a bit of a mystery to those coming from far away but, God bless her, Julia gave me a compatible adaptor for Christmas and I delight in it every day, it just works, plus it is small and light.         

     Again, the car registration plates start with SAB, well of course, it’s Sabah.

    Markets and more markets, a Sunday market right outside my hotel, a nightly one outside the Le Meridian hotel, malls but not your usual glitzy nightmares, no, these are full of booths selling everything you can imagine, and, the young Muslim women who staff many of them shut up shop regularly and head off to pray. Quite enchanting. 

Talking of young Muslim women there was a bit of a sensation in the local press over the Chinese New Year Holiday. It seems that supermarket managers scheduled aforementioned young women to work on the booze counters. A complete no, no, so they complained to the local paper and a mild uproar ensued. Of course they had the backing of the local populace and won their point. No more working on the booze counters. Good for them.

    Banks, did I say banks, they are as prevalent as coffee shops  in Seattle. Some intersections have four, one on each corner and there are queues outside them all. Why? I don’t know, it’s not a tax free haven though I think it might be a cash economy, maybe it’s all the restaurants and cafes. To accentuate that I just read in today’s Borneo Express that the average Sabah native eats six large meals every day. Six! They all appear Sylph like, it must be the climate. 

Part 2.

I have moved on, from Sabah to Sarawak another of the Malaysian States on the Island of Borneo and time has passed, sorry about that. But really there is not a lot to comment on about Sarawak. I’m sure it is probably rude and offensive but it is surely one of the World’s greatest backwaters. Absolutely nothing happens here and it is a fabulous place to visit if that is what you like. Here in the capital, Kuching, there is a wonderful river, the Sarawak, threading its way through the center of town crossed by sampan passenger ferries, a one way trip costs a dime (7P). It’s wonderful to sit on the riverbank for hours and watch them colorfully crisscrossing back and forth, like I said, not much happens here. I did take myself off to the coast for a few days hoping to see the World’s largest flower, the Rafflesia, but alas, none were flowering. Again not much happened out near Lundu (I liked the name), there was a huge beach with barely a soul on it, fishing boats out on the South China Sea, King tides due to the full moon, it rained, but all in all, there was nothing to do. I caught the bus back here to Kuching.

Before you think badly of me, and of Sarawak, I will tell you this. Such as it is known at all, anywhere, it is known for its cats and its cakes. Yes, really! Kuching’s nickname is City of Cats derived from the Malay word for cats, kucing. There is a tall cat obelisk just up the street from my hotel surrounded by large white cats. In the middle of a traffic island in the city center is a huge statue featuring many cats and outside China Town, another, huge solitary cat. People have cat sounds as their cell phone ring tone. There are smaller cat effigies in the public parks for kids to play on and around and of course real cats abound though what is done to their tails I don’t know, they all seem to have a small knot instead. It’s not all boring then! Then there are the cakes or Kek Lapis. A specialty of Sarawak this type of layer cake appears everywhere and people buy it by the crate load. Very colorful, each layer different, they take up to six hours to bake mostly in people’s homes. So many different flavors in one bite and the stall holders proudly give away free samples. Visitors from the mainland buy it in bulk to take home.

Sarawak has its appeal and while writing this I have decided to stay an extra few days and go look for that elusive flower.

Street scene. Kuching.

Street scene. Kuching.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the Sarawak River. Kuching.

On the Sarawak River. Kuching.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

City Hall. Kuching.

City Hall. Kuching.

 

 

 

 

 

 

River scene.

River scene.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The famous cake.

The famous cake.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The famous cats.

The famous cats.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The cat obelisk.

The cat obelisk.

 

 

 

On the River at Kinabatangan. Sabah. Borneo.

It was a bit of a shock arriving at the bus stop by the river in Kota Kinabatangan as there was no sign of habitation let alone some sort of hotel. We all peered around, the bus left, and we seven shouldered our bags, shrugged and made as if to move off. But where? There was a shout from the river and we all stepped carefully down the ramp to the dock to embark in a boat which then shot off into the stream. An unconventional start to the adventure. Up the ramp on the other side and we had arrived at the Nature Lodge Kinabatangan, beside the river with the same name. Oh my oh my, this was Borneo as one would imagine it, ha, there wasn’t even Internet access so it was digital detox time, even for a few days.

After the sunset river cruise on the second day our guide, Aljun, came running down the boardwalk outside the huts crying ‘Guys, guys, come and see this’, so we did and high in the canopy right over my hut there was an orang utang nest. We had spent two days looking along the river bank for orangs and although we saw more wonders than I could have imagined, there were no orangs. There it was right above us, we gaggled around staring up and could see movement, hairy movement and it was all quite thrilling. Dinner and the others went off on a night hike, I had a couple of beers, read my book and went to bed in readiness for the 5.00am start on the boat. 4.00am – Bang Bang Bang on my door, Bang Bang Bang on my roof, the hut shook as something made its way along the boardwalk. Shall we say I was anxious, I mean these animals are taller than I am, they have seven times the strength of the average human, they are huge and hairy, it wasn’t as if I was going to invite him in for tea! What to do, what to do? I quaked somewhat, nervously peered out of the window, saw my neighbors door open a fraction and saw them peer out flashlights in hand, then it closed again. I kept thinking of that scene in Close Encounters. The banging stopped, ok, good, he’s gone back up to his nest to sleep but the night was shot, no more sleeping for me, so got ready for the day and crept out half an hour later looking around in the dark thinking am I doing the right thing. All was well however and I made it unscathed to the coffee/tea area soon to be joined by the others. It was a great relief to hear that Louise and Rooney, my neighbors, were as anxious as I, downright terrified might be more apt. Out onto the river for the sunrise, back for breakfast, sat down and Aljun comes racing in ‘Guys, guys, Orang Utang!”. Plates and tea abandoned we all ran along the boardwalk and there he was, high in the canopy, swinging along from branch to branch, brachiationing (?), making the most tremendous noise and he was huge, gargantuan, enormous and extremely hairy. So glad I didn’t invite him in for tea.

After returning to the breakfast table, throwing things into our bags and gathering on the dock our jungle trip ended, but what an end, what an end.

The Nature Lodge is a quite well organized operation, they have a bus which picks people up every day at the airport at about noon and then goes around the adjoining town, Sandakan, then Sepilok and anywhere else nearby arriving at the Lodge at about three thirty. Guests are then there, as a group for three days and two nights. The group before us was larger, fourteen I think, the group after us was twelve maybe, we were only seven. A lovely Chinese couple, I asked the wife her name “call me Flower, my husband is Mountain”, ok, easy. There were Rooney and Louise who both live and work in Shanghai, a Swiss doctor, and Julia, yes, another one, who was actually Yulia, from Poland and is a lecturer at a Chinese University. So actually everyone lived in China except two of us. Odd that. By the end we had bonded rather well, much ribaldry, teasing and laughs.

The day started at 5.00am with the sunrise boat ride and our guide, the eagle eyed Aljun, would help us into the boat, well, mostly me, and we would streak off either up or down stream until he spotted something, throttle back the powerful outboard motor and either point, or shout excitedly. The sights we saw were worthy of a BBC documentary. A fish eagle catching a fish, Kingfishers which were extremely shy, big lizards from the Komodo Dragon family, Probiscus and many other species of monkey, Crocodiles, extraordinary Hornbills, snake birds. To say that the riverbanks teemed with life would be an understatement, in fact we all got a bit blasé about monkeys, there were just so many of them playing in the trees that we all stopped taking photos of them. Photos were in fact a bit of a challenge, I was tempted just to sit back and enjoy the spectacle but sometimes it was just too special and the memory had to be captured but either I’m not quick enough or the wildlife was too quick and of course, the leaves were a problem!

Concluding, let me say this, if you know me at all the experience of high speed motor boats, on a muddy river in Borneo, at sunrise, the jungle on the banks shrouded with early morning fog, the bow wave occasionally spraying me, pink scarf streaming behind was beyond happiness.

It was truly, truly amazing .

Thank you.

A Probiscus monkey.

A Probiscus monkey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another one.

Another one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quite a nice nose.

Quite a nice nose.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Big Lizard.

Big Lizard.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hunting.

Hunting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scary monsters.

Scary monsters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shudder!

Shudder!

 

 

 

 

 

 

"welcome to my world"

“welcome to my world”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Outrage!

Outrage!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Snake bird. So called due to its shape.

Snake bird. So called due to its shape.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Hornbill.

A Hornbill.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crocodile. A big one.

Crocodile. A big one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shudder. Again.

Shudder. Again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just too cute.

Just too cute.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A very colorful Hornbill.

A very colorful Hornbill.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Those ears!

Those ears!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Indulge me please. That is a Kingfisher.

Indulge me please. That is a Kingfisher.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Snake bird drying its wings. Yes, it is a member of the Cormorant family.

Snake bird drying its wings. Yes, it is a member of the Cormorant family.

 

 

 

 

 

 

There he is, up in the trees. An Orangutang.

There he is, up in the trees. An Orangutang.

First Introduction to the Rainforest.

Borneo lives up to its reputation. It is truly remarkable. I’m staying in a somewhat primitive eco type resort, basic huts, a couple of hammocks, no AC, beside the muddy river Kinabatangan Wildlife abounds, there are birds everywhere, mostly totally unfamiliar, the jungle reaches the river edge and the night noises, loud. But I’m ahead of myself. Backup.

It was on Monday that I caught a bus from Kota Kinabalu (KK) over the mountains to Sandakan. A great trip despite being six hours, I gazed out of the window the whole way. We inched up the big mountain, Kinabalu, and the view as we passed over the top back down to the Sea below was breathtaking. From then on it was mountains, mountains, mountains, all jungle covered, I was transfixed. There were tea plantations at the summit producing the famous Sabah tea. Resorts and country retreats for the locals, expensive looking restaurants, Range Rovers beside the road. On we went to the first pit stop where my Swiss traveling companion and I ordered a plate of what everyone else was eating, and good it was, though what it was I have no idea. As we continued I began to get nervous as people all around were throwing up and praise be, someone told the bus crew to turn off the ghastly movie we were being shown on the big screen at full volume. Then we were dropped off, at a cross roads, basically nowhere, but I had been advised that there would be taxi pirates nearby and sure enough, over the other side, there they were, all waving. The two-mile ride to the hotel at Sepilok was about a dollar, checked in and went out in search of wildlife. Sandikan is a world famous wildlife-viewing destination so hopes were high but everything appeared to be closed for the evening, I did however see a chicken.

Undeterred, the next morning I was up and ready early, breakfast and off, to the Sandikan Orang-Utan Rehabilitation Center. Arrived far too early, of course, but eventually bought a ticket, put all my stuff in a locker, provided free for visitors so the orangs don’t take it off you, and headed on down the path. There was a nursery area for very young oranges where they played and learned basic orang behaviour, climbing, swinging about in trees, ( New word: brachiation. To travel from branch to branch), eating and the like and then on to the main event, feeding time in the rainforest. A bigger viewing area than at the Shangri La, there were about one hundred a fifty present, three orangs came and ate and it was all very true to form until……everybody left. There were about ten of us left and the orangs decided to turn the tables and come on down to the viewing area. No one seemed quite sure what to do, there were ‘do not touch’ signs everywhere, so we were kind of herded around the area by a couple of Rangers, keeping our distance but at the same time not wanting to miss anything. Up and down the roof supports, over the roof, posing on top of signs, they really seemed to be enjoying themselves until of course the inevitable happened, one of them pee’d, all over the Irish girl who was telling us about the leeches that landed on her from the top of a tree. Just the luck of the Irish I guess.

I saw Sun Bears, tiny little things that I never knew existed. They are on the endangered list mainly due to the horrid things that the Chinese do to their bile. Quite disgusting. From there it was a short ride to the Discovery Center, which I had read about and had almost to myself. There was much in the way of flora and fauna, elegant exhibits, an arboretum, a lake with boats but I had come for the star attraction, the aerial walkway in the canopy of the rainforest. Confession time, I have a fear of heights, I suffer from vertigo, so yes, I was a tad nervous. Up the ramp, and up and up until there I was, level with the tops of the trees, the view was astounding. I felt like a jungle animal high in the treetops, I could see for miles and miles (Sal!), and there was nobody else around, not a soul. The walkway was not long, less than a half mile but it was so not human that I was inclined to tiptoe so I didn’t disturb anything. There were benches every hundred yards or so and I sat on many, just looking out over the forest and marveling. I discovered that if I sat long enough I could detect movement, quite what I have no idea, but there were hairy things, things with long tails, big eyes, colorful things, screechy things, and all around was every shade of green you could possibly imagine and then more on top of that. Absolutely fabulous.

Off back after that to my hotel, dinner, more curry and rice, a couple of beers and bed. Before I leave this scene just one more thing. Both mornings I was woken by a sort of cooing sound from outside my door which turned out to be made by three of the ladies who worked at the hotel. They would arrive early and set out their food and drinks for the day in the shade of my hut and, sitting in a circle on the ground would gossip and pass the time of day, quietly, and in Malay. I was charmed by the whole thing, it was quite lovely.

From Sepilok it was off to the River at Kota Kinabatangan, boat rides at dawn and dusk, some very unique experiences, some great people and more than enough for the next blog post and maybe the one after that……

The road over the mountains.

The road over the mountains.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the nursery.

In the nursery.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Food time.

Food time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

More please?

More please?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you.

Thank you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mmm, digesting.

Mmm, digesting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I've got a good idea. Lets go scare the tourists!

I’ve got a good idea.
Lets go scare the tourists!

 

 

 

 

 

 

'That blond one over there looks a bit frightened"

‘That blond one over there looks a bit frightened”

 

 

 

 

 

 

'I'm really going to scare him now"

‘I’m really going to scare him now”

 

 

 

 

 

 

'Ha Ha, he's really scared now"

‘Ha Ha, he’s really scared now”

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Just look at him, he's terrified"

“Just look at him, he’s terrified”

 

 

 

 

 

 

"That's ok, I really quite like you"

“That’s ok, I really quite like you”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Out over the canopy.

Out over the canopy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

With apologies to FaceBookers and Instagramers.

 

First Borneo Days.

All Sunday afternoon activities have come to a sudden halt, the heavens have opened, its pouring with rain and everyone has either gone home or is sheltering in a restaurant. That’s the problem here in Kota Kinabalu, there is constantly so much to do, and everyone is out doing it, whether it be eating or snacking at the endless cafes and restaurants, shopping at the many, many markets, admiring the view over the South China Sea or just hanging out, the choices are endless. Hence, a rather long interval since the last blog entry, sorry.

I have done some of the required touristy things, which as a newcomer I suppose I must do and the first was a ride on the North Borneo Railway. Left behind by the British it runs down the coast for about thirty miles and is powered by a steam locomotive built in England in the 1950s. Breakfast was provided on arrival in one of the original refurbished railway carriages and was served by people in contemporary dress, sure a bit corny, but not too tacky. Chuffing through the jungle was a good introduction to Borneo, the World’s third largest island, and only motivated me to go explore some more. I got to ride in the cab for a little while, no nanny state here! We reached the end of the line, the locomotive spun round on a turntable, re connected, and off we went again. Lunch, served in Tiffin cans, again a bit corny but wildly practical. A Tiffin can is a kind of lunch box, but much more exotic and in widespread use, here, there and all over India, especially. Other passengers included Brits, obviously, Germans, French, a Hungarian lady and two Americans, one from Detroit even and that was just my carriage. OK it was a train ride and I really like trains but it was just a little bit over the top, just a little, though you would have to be an arch cynic to decry it.

There is a splendid lady, Nora, who runs the reception desk at my hotel, always full of ideas and places to go. Next then was an Orangutan rehabilitation center. (note: orang-utan, orangutang or orang-utang) Set in the grounds of the very, very up market Shangri La Hotel about forty five minutes out of town it was a bit of an expensive taxi ride there and back and as an introduction to the wildlife wonders of Borneo it worked. Of course I got totally lost amongst the lavishness of the hotel, gazing around rather overwhelmed at the opulence and had to return to reception for a map, no, there were no signposts. There was a patriotic video to start things off, highlights included the fact that ten percent of the world’s orchids are to be found on the local mountain ( Mt Kinabalu) and that there is more bio diversity to be found in one square mile of the Borneo rain forest than in all of North America and Europe combined. All right then. Off on a steep path into the rain forest until we came to a wooden deck, three levels, with a small platform about twenty feet away. The excitement built as we observed branches moving high in the canopy and then, there they were, two young male Orangs not twenty feet away. Cameras whirred and clicked, iPads blocked the view (again), children cried, not sure why, some just stood and gazed, I know I did because, not being a pushy kind, I was relegated to the back. The Orangs ate and interest dwindled, people sauntered away and I could finally take a photo or two.

It wasn’t the greatest experience but a great intro and tomorrow I am off to a wildlife reserve about six hours on the bus away. I’ll let you know how it goes.

You are never far from the sea in KK and wandering around it flashes into view at the end of the street from time to time. Next then was to get out on to the water. I took a boat ride to one of the many islands lying off shore. You know me, on a speed boat bouncing over the waves, the light shimmering on the water, the view changing constantly, the colors, the wind, yep, heaven. It was just the six of us on the island, there was diving, canoeing, snorkeling etc available but I was content just to sit on the sand and look around. It was fairly hot but interestingly because of the position, five degrees north of the equator I could feel myself burning after a few minutes despite a liberal slathering of sunscreen and spent considerable time in the shade.

Talking of geography, I watched the sunset one evening and realized after it had set that forty-five minutes later that same sun rose, in Seattle. Mind boggling.

Train. In Borneo.

Train. In Borneo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tiffin cans.

Tiffin cans.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chuffing along.

Chuffing along.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pith helmet. The works.

Pith helmet. The works.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Orangutans.

Orangutans.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More of same.

More of same.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meal time.

Meal time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Again.

Again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the table.

At the table.

 

 

Two weeks in Thailand. The photos.

The sad sunken temples of Sanghkhlaburi.

The sad sunken temples of Sanghkhlaburi.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunset. Sangkhlaburi.

Sunset. Sangkhlaburi.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The local people have these swirls on their faces which act as sunscreen. Unique amongst indigenous peoples.

The local people have these swirls on their faces which act as sunscreen. Unique amongst indigenous peoples.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The sunscreen story may or may not be true. But its a nice one.

The sunscreen story may or may not be true. But its a nice one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Mon Bridge in Sangkhlaburi. Named after the Mon People who dwell on the other side of the water.

The Mon Bridge in Sangkhlaburi. Named after the Mon People who dwell on the other side of the water.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Temple roof.

Temple roof.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I thought I timed this one quite well. (see monk in the distance)

I thought I timed this one quite well. (see monk in the distance)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Temple detail.

Temple detail.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunset. River Kwai. With mountains.

Sunset. River Kwai. With mountains.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"The Death Railway"

“The Death Railway”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the Bridge on the River Kwai.

On the Bridge on the River Kwai.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the bridge.

On the bridge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bridge on the River Kwai, from the river bank.

The Bridge on the River Kwai, from the river bank.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another view.

Another view.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Lost Blog. Choeung Ek.

This was written after a visit to the Killing Fields outside Phnom Penh in November. I lost my enthusiasm for a while.

Please heed the warning below if you are easily shocked.

Kep, on the coast of Cambodia, is surely something of an oasis. Most people seem to visit to just sleep whether it be in one of the hotels, guest houses, bungalows, or just swing in a hammock all day in one of the many, many thatched shacks that line the shore and beaches. The little town fills up over the weekend with visitors from Phnom Penh but for the rest of the week it is almost deserted. So much has happened, and not happened, since I arrived there that I might miss an important point or two. Right now I am in a local bus making my way down the Mekong Delta in Viet Nam to Can Tho, so yes, I’ve got some stories to tell since leaving Angkor and Siem Reap.

I shirked the twelve hour bus ride south to the coast and took a plane. Only a forty five minute flight, quite inexpensive, and a lot less boring than the long bus ride. From Sihanoukville I got a ride along the coast to Kep and a happy return to the Lodge. Not too much has changed, lots of dogs, monkeys, geckos, bats, amazing views and a feeling of isolation from the world at large. The Swiss owner is still there but seems to have a spouse problem, caused perhaps by having too many! They put me up in one of their newer rooms, a complimentary upgrade for a returning customer, it featured a balcony with a hammock, a mozzie net around the bed, hot water in the shower and the best view over the tree tops to the sea below. I had some fun with the webcam over the tiny pool adopting poses for the folk back home to see. I ate regular meals, took a tuk tuk into the town, lay on the new beach (they have imported the sand), made friends with some  girls who owned a barbecue stall who fed me fish, and generally took a time out from the world for a whole week. It was quite blissful.

And then, and then, and then……..

I went back to Phnom Penh from Kep, got my visa for Viet Nam, saw a few sites and headed off down the Mekong. Hmm, that’s a whole lot in one brief sentence. Actually I went to Cheoung Ek and have yet to recover. Well, this was my third visit to P.P. and I got a kick in the pants from my sister in law (Vicky) so I went. In a tuk tuk, of course. They were doing something to the road, driver stopped and bought me one of face masks everyone wears around here. I felt very local. Relieved also in the clouds of dust. It was very hot. We got there. I bought a ticket and was given headphones for the audio tour. The following two hours or so were some of my worst. I have been trying to find the words for the last two weeks, they won’t come. Horrifying, horrible, heartbreaking. Maybe you have seen a movie, the Killing Fields. I have not. On the way back to town I was texting my distress back home and the wife, Jules, said comforting things and soothing words, as always. But it’s still there and I went.

Then off down the Mekong to Viet Nam. I was dropped of in a kind of a one horse town in the Delta, Chao Doc. No hotel, no nothing that I could see. There was a guy with a bicycle that had a little trailer on the back on top of which was what looked like a large tea tray with a hole in the middle. I sat on it, feet through the hole, clutching bags, and off he peddled. Well, this is a riot thinks I. Finally we came to what might be called downtown. There was a hotel, kind of. But it was only for one night so who cares. There didn’t appear to be any food around so I did what the locals all seemed to be doing, sitting on plastic lawn chairs in the dust, drinking beer and watching the traffic. One way to spend an evening I suppose.

Following are some very gruesome, graphic and upsetting photos. Please, if you are easily distressed or easily disturbed,

DO NOT GO FURTHER. I AM NOT KIDDING.

Many mass graves.

Many mass graves.

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Time Passed. Quickly.

Sorry about that, the long interval I mean. I have been busy and so much has happened I can’t even think where or when to start. My creative juices, such as they are, dried up after a trip to Cheoung Ek, aka The Killing Fields, outside Phnom Penh which was such a shattering blow to my psyche that I completely dried up. I still cannot find the right words but from what I hear the movie of the same name conveys the emotions quite well. I cannot recommend it as I have not seen it but it might be on TV and there is always Netflix.

I will attach my last blog to the end of this one. It may be confusing as it will be a sort of flash back, but you might be interested.

Onward then with the journey, which I might add is continuing. I am currently at 40,000 feet over Dushanbe and Samarkand (hello again).

To Can Tho I went, an interesting little town deep in the Mekong Delta. I thought I would be bored but no, it was great. Exotic springs to mind and I was so slowed down by then that I sat, quite happily, watching the river traffic, dodging monsoon storms and drinking tea for hours and hours. There were of course tourist attractions, the dawn floating market, the enormous bridge, and the Christmas carols. Yes Christmas carols. Seems the whole country goes crazy for the Holiday, carols blast out from bars and restaurants, Santas ride around on scooters, there are trees (plastic), decorations everywhere, Christmas cards are sold on the street from impromptu stalls, it was all a bit baffling in what I thought was a Buddhist Country.

A boat then to the island of Phu Quok which turned out to be the best place for my final week. Extremely relaxed, no hassle anywhere, great food, lovely people and a beach with warm water. I met a couple from Linz, Austria on the boat ride over and we all stayed at the same eco hotel. Tim and Danielle (from Koh Samet) turned up coincidently and many an evening was spent at the beach bar.

Too soon it was time to go back to Saigon, do my Christmas shopping and make my way to Seattle for Christmas with the family. They kind of insisted that I should attend so I did. They are family after all so they have rights. I had been dreading my last night in the East for weeks, kind of a chapter closing, but my friends Ursi and Robert, from Austria, were also in town and they invited me for dinner. It was their seventh ‘Toothbrush Day’ so celebrations were in order. Toothbrush Day? I was perplexed. It marked the day seven years before that Ursi had put her toothbrush in Robert’s tooth mug. How charming is that! What a lovely couple, it was so sad to say goodbye the next day, but we are in touch on the Facebook and somehow I will get myself to Linz one day, maybe on another Toothbrush Day.

Long, long airplane ride to Seattle and arriving realized I was in Saigon clothes and this was Seattle, in December, I got some very funny looks. Huge build up to Christmas, shopping, wrapping, cooking, all the usual stuff but interesting to spend the first one at the house of one of my children. I guess the baton has been passed on. That’s ok. I won’t go into all the family fun but suffice it to say it was absolutely fabulous. Twenty five around the table, crackers, hats, tons of food, flaming puddings, gifts, a one year old who started walking, leftovers, nice wine, some rum and cokes. Marvelous time.

Then it was all a bit busy for the resumption my journey. To Marin to sort a few things out, fix computers, see friends etc. Then back to Seattle for the cheap flight to Frankfurt, and Edinburgh to stay with my Sister Sally. Another great time, I love Edinburgh, cold though, very, very cold. More great times with old school friend in York, to London to stay with an old room mate, more fun, it snowed. I had a lovely lunch beside the River Thames with my Sister in Law Vicky and her husband Terry. Then to my Mother’s in Winchester for a week before getting on this plane back to Bangkok. Thanks you everyone back there, you were all so generous, friendly and accommodating. I will miss you all.

Now you are up to date and I am halfway from Paris to Bangkok and over Islamabad. I did get a bit anxious before a sleep that our route was taking us over Eastern Ukraine and Crimea, but when I woke up, still alive, I saw that we had taken a huge swoop to the South. Something of a relief. What’s next? A few days in Bangkok to recover from this marathon then to Sangkhlaburi, up near the border with Myanmar to see Luca, Juli, Amalie and Paolina where they have been working at an orphanage since September and our stay at Koh Samet. Apparently I shall be teaching English. I’m looking forward to that.

Does this make any sense at 40,000 feet? I hope so. I’m going to go to sleep again so see you in Bangkok.

I arrived at 6.00am, the height of the rush hour and the legendary traffic jams did not disappoint. I was greeted with many smiles and welcome backs at the hotel and of course the hand clasping, which I now know to be called a wai, plus I am almost brave enough to say ‘sah wah dee kap, Hi or hello.

Onward then to who knows where or what but I have a plan for the next few weeks so stay tuned and lets hope the jet lag doesn’t last too long.

NB. A meeting of the Editorial Staff voted for the last blog post to be posted separately. I will abide by their decision!

A lady selling drinks to stall holders at the Floating Market. Can Tho.

A lady selling drinks to stall holders at the Floating Market. Can Tho.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Floating Market. Can Tho

Floating Market. Can Tho

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everyone was very busy.

Everyone was very busy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not sure what happened here but the colours went berserk at sunset on Phu Quok.

Not sure what happened here but the colours went berserk at sunset on Phu Quok.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Christmas Tree in Saigon. Just a little over the top.

A Christmas Tree in Saigon. Just a little over the top.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Traffic. Saigon.

Traffic. Saigon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shopping at the Main Market. Saigon.

Shopping at the Main Market. Saigon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Toothbrush Day Dinner.

Toothbrush Day Dinner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The sun set on 2014. Happy 2015.

The sun set on 2014. Happy 2015.