Monday, 14 August 2017

Exploring Borneo

Our first stop was My Nature Resort in Sandakan, just 20mins from airport. It was beautiful. We relaxed by the pool, had cocktails on the veranda and at 6.30pm as the sun was setting, we watched huge red flying squirrels soar from one tree to another to begin their night of hunting. They're the size and weight of cats and can soar hundreds of metres. We were really lucky to see them.

The next morning we went to Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. Most of the orangutans there had been found as people's pets somewhere in Asia, and the idea of the centre is to slowly rehabilitate them into the wild. We saw a few of the the littluns at the nursery then onto the outdoor feeding platform where a mother and baby, along with a cheeky male stopped to grab a bite to eat. We also saw some of the rescued Sun Bears which are apparently the smallest species of bear.

That afternoon, we got a boat over Abai Lodge to have lunch, then on to Kilamantan River Lodge where we stayed for two nights. During our stay we took a boat out for a few river cruises and were lucky enough to see salt water crocodiles, long and short tailed macaws, proboscis monkeys, red leaf monkeys, wild orangutans, kingfishers, hornbills and a snake.

Saltwater crocodiles looks so different to ones I've seen before with spiny, dragon like tails. We were told that they're quite dangerous over here and get the local fisherman every now and then.

The proboscis monkeys were brilliant - making odd moaning noises to one another and wiggling their falic noses. They have two stomachs to process the leaves they eat, which gives them a beer-belly.

The red leaf monkeys were beautiful and bouncing around from tree to tree. They have amazing cheekbones, black faces and kind of a wise expression.

As well as the boat tours, we also took a trip to the Gomantong Caves to learn about the birds nests and see the bats leaving for their night of hunting. I have never seen so much poo. The cave was piled high with bat feaces and every wall was covered with spiders, cockroaches and other bugs. Looking up on one side was a huge black mass of birds and their nests, and on the other was a rippling expanse of over 2 million bats. As dusk came, the bats flew in a swarm up and out the top of the cave. It was cool to see, but I was a bit preoccupied with getting cockroaches in my shoes and bat poop on my head at that point.

We learnt that once the chicks have fledged their nests, they are harvested and sold to the Chinese for large sums of money. 1kg of nest costs between 3000-6000 ringitt. They put it in soups with lots of sugar and the idea is that it prevents aging. Who knows if it's true, but some people are making a lot of money from it!

We met some really cool people on the trip - Sarah and Dela - a couple from Cirencester, as well as a family from Essex.  We have plans to see Sarah and Dela at Japan 2020 Olympics. I hope we do.

The thing that has shocked me most about Borneo is the palm tree plantations. The plantations go on and on as far as the eye can see - and this is all at the expense of the natural rainforests. It's how the people of Borneo make their money, so who am I to say it's wrong. But it just doesn't feel right when so much wildlife lose their homes to palm trees producing oil to fry our chips and burgers in MacDonalds!

We got a blink-and-you-miss-it flight from Sandakan to Tawau then drove a couple of hours over to Semporna. The next morning we were up early again to get a boat over to Mabul where we would be staying for the next few days.

Mabul is a tiny little island just east of Borneo. We were diving with a company called Scuba Junkie which is based right next to the islands sea gypsies who use explosives to fish and leave all their trash in the ocean. Scuba Junkie do a weekly clean up of the surrounding oceans and the explosives have now been banned in the area. It's still not great though.

The diving was incredible. We saw huge Green and Hawksbill Turtles, Stingrays, and Eagle Ray, dancing Frog Fish, Trumpet and Cornet Fish, Moray Eels, and all the other usual suspects on the reef like Bat, Clown, Angel Fish etc. There were also invisible jellyfish which got me three separate times during my dives! 

Both Phil and I have developed a new respect for Nudibranches. Dive masters always bang on about them and we never understood why, but after seeing so many different colours, shapes and sizes on the trip I now kinda like them too.

Our last day of diving was in Sipadan and it was out of this world! We did 4 dives around the island, the best of which was called Barracuda Point.

We saw upwards of 50 turtles, a huge shoal of Barracuda and another whirlwind shoal of Jack Fish we got lost in.

There were also Black Tip, White Tip and Grey Reef Sharks. We swam into the blue at one point and saw a shoal/shiver of Grey Sharks, it was unreal.

My favourite were the huge Bumphead Parrot Fish which look quite scary with their beaks but are completely harmless. All they do is swim and poop which we got caught up in along the way..

I've never been on a trip like it - I feel really lucky to have seen such an array of beautiful birds, mammals and reptiles and fish in the wild!

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

A Weekend in Penang

In hindsight, we probably shouldn't have gone to Penang. Phil had just had his appendix out and neither of us were really feeling it. But the flights were booked so we thought - why not.

Penang is a short flight from Singapore, in north-west Malaysia. It's famed for it's street art and local food and lots of colleagues had recommended it. 

We spent the first day walking around the city looking at all the street art which was excellent. We had a nice lunch and then were a at a bit of a loss of what to do next.  

The following day we wandered around, had some food and waited for our return flight. 

I'm sure Penang is lovely if you're in the right mood, but we certainly weren't. I would say it's a great place to stop by if you are on your way from A to B, but I wouldn't suggest going there for longer than a day.

I'm being super negative. The art was really very good - here's a few of my favourites:

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Cruising Ha Long Bay

A couple of friends from the UK were touring Vietnam so Phil and I took a long-weekend to join them in Ha Long Bay.

There are numerous tour packages to choose from offering different levels of luxury, activities and duration of trip. Luckily we didn't have to worry about making the decision as it had already been made for us by our friends who had gone for Garden Bay Cruises.

We got picked up from Hanoi and driven over to the harbour. The Garden Bay boat was relatively small with just a handful of other people and us.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner was served for us on the boat and in between we kayaked around the limestone pillars, explored caves, went squid fishing, drunk G&Ts, did some tai chi on the deck and sunbathed.

It really was a flying visit and we could have done with another day to properly switch off from work and relax, but it was well worth it and great to see a little bit of Hanoi before our return flight to Singapore as well.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Boracay International Dragon Boat Festival

Various Singapore international dragon boat teams joined forces as the 'Singapore Barabarians' in the 11th Boracay International Dragon Boat festival, racing against 35 other teams from across the world over a long-weekend in paradise.

Although we paddled alongside other DB teams most weekends in Singapore, the teams never really interact much. One of the reasons why BIDBF was so incredible was that we had the opportunity to get to know loads of new people from the British, American Dragons, AustCham and the Spanish Armada teams.

As is now tradition, the opening ceremony takes the format of a sort of talent contest, with teams performing a choreographed dance on stage. There's no obligation to participate but of course Phil and I were got stuck in, and consequently found ourselves dancing around with coconuts and being launched into the air with a Filipino flag in front of hundreds of people on the first night. The whole experience from practising after work before the trip, through until the performance itself was so much fun and the effort paid off when we were ultimately crowned first place!

We weren't needed for training until lunchtime the next day so we managed to squeeze in a dive with a few other DBers. We did a 28m plane wreck and reef dive which was pretty cool then raced over for a quick test paddle with the rest of the team.

The next day was race day. Up before the sun and on the beach getting nervous for the first 500m heat. I was put up front as pacer for a couple of races and also drummed in another which was a great experience...but also quite scary feeling like I was about to be thrown off the front of the boat by the force of the paddlers!

Paddling in the sea is incomparable to our regular mirky Kallang river training. All the teams were out in the shallows cheering the racers, the sun was shining and the sea was crystal clear. Everytime a wave came in the boats were at risk of capsizing and I'm pretty sure it happened to the Singapore Barbarians more than any other team!

The second day was 250m race day and a hell of a lot easier and quicker than day one at 500m. The mens and mixed boats didn't place but some of the women brought in some medals.

The whole weekend was fantastic. We ate like kings with fresh meat and fish from the market (thanks to our Filipino Captain) and partied till the wee hours every evening. The locals, the other DB teams, the ocean, beach and food made my time there feel like paradise!

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Melbourne and Sydney

I recently went to Australia for the first time and had an absolute blast - it must be one of the best places I've ever visited and a trip I'll remember for ever. 

Saying that.. it didn't start off too well. If you're a Brit, the first thing you should know is that a visa is required to enter Australia. You don't want to make the same mistake I made by turning up at the airport, running to get a visa, and getting back to check-in to find it was closed and I couldn't board my flight.

It was a bummer, but I eventually managed to get a flight 24 hours later and arrived in sunny Melbourne. We spent the day walking around the Laneways laughing at all the tourists taking edgy shots of each other in Flinders Lane.. and then joining in.

Flinders Lane

Flinders Lane

We went to Kew for a friend's BBQ then headed to the recommended bar in Fitzroy called 'Naked for Satan' to watch the sunset, finishing the night at 'Black Cat' for cocktails and live music.

Melbourne sunset

The next day we started our road trip in St Kilda (with a delicious brunch at Dr Jekyll) then got onto the Great Ocean Road. We stopped in Apollo Bay for some grub at La Bimba then went on to the Twelve Apostles. The scenery along the GOR is stunning!

Great Ocean Road

Twelve Apostles

The next day we drove over to Philip Island. Seeing the Nobbies was yet another moment where we were blown away by the beauty of Australia. Endless blue and lots of little penguins. 

The Nobbies

We had organised a tour with a guide as the sun set, to witness all the penguins coming back from fishing. We sat on the beach with our night vision binoculars and watched them all waddle up towards us. I'd highly recommend it to anyone as it's super cute. 

We were back on the road again early the next day and made our way over to Yarra Valley to taste all the local wines and visit a friend who lives in the Dandenongs.

Yarra Valley

Yarra Valley

We were stayed in an air bnb right on the top of the hill overlooking the valley and as the sun rose the next day, I walked out onto the front lawn to see two kangeroos grazing in front of the house. 

That was the end of our Victoria trip and I remember thinking that anywhere else would be hard pressed to beat it... but we then caught a flight over to Sydney and I feel in love all over again.

We hopped on and off ferries, saw the cannon fire at Fort Denison, tried to by trendy in Manly, had drinks at the Opera Bar, had a cheese fondue in Martin's Place, went up the sky tower, wandered around Paddington Market, sunbathed at Bondi Beach and met friends at Octupus for dinner. 

Fort Denison


Sydney Opera House

Bondi Beach

Great trip and I can't wait to go back!