Sunday, May 29, 2011

Brunei, an oil country in the jungle

Brunei is known worldwide through the wealth of his sultan, apart from that, it's even difficult to put it on the map! So for your information, Brunei is made of 2 bits of territory on the Malaysian part of the gigantic island of Borneo.
So far, everyone has been curious of knowing why we went to Brunei, there is nothing to see in particular, but I just wanted to find out if Brunei was a sort of Dubai in the jungle, why it had kept such a low profile and just how was life overthere!
Ok, it is also allowing me to add a new country on the world traveler map and I might have a change of reaching 20% coverage by the end of this year...

So here is what made Brunei a unique place:

- Its capital has an un-pronounceable name:  Bandar Seri Begawan, shorten into BSB

- An entertaining immigration: we are asked about the chassis number and the engine number of our wonderful proton, we get a stamp in our passport that I believe is fairly rare (unless you work for Shell which seems to own half of the country...) and after going through the actual immigration we have to go through an old and unused one that they have forgotten to destroy but that the road still goes through...

- A huge sand beach where our French visitors are amazed to discover water approaching 30C.  If you manage to ignore the sand flies, it's perfect!

- Road signs and indications are either non-existant or not useful at all: Getting into BSB city centre is a real challenge! There are no good map available of Brunei (not like we would have bought one, but ...), so the lonely planet is all we have! After getting off the motorway and never managing to get back on again, we discover that the steering wheel of the Proton does not offer a lot of flexibility when attempting to make a U turn and getting stuck on the pavement on the other side has a high probability of occurrence! 

- There is indeed very little to see in the town, the mosque at night is the highlight! It's actually pretty during daytime as well

- Finding a bar is absolutely impossible and believe me, we tried! After dinner in a Chinese restaurant which did not offer any beer (surprising for a Chinese restaurant), we are back to our bar quest. (don't think we are alcoholic when reading this post, it just seems like that the more forbidden it is, the more you want/need a beer). Our brief holiday in Qatar has told us that 5* hotels are usually the place for bars so we head to the Radisson, it looks dead inside but anyway, I ask the security man if there is a bar, he looks at me like he doesn't  know the word and turns back to the concierge to ask: no, no bar at the Radisson. We finish the night playing pool at the bar of our hotel drinking water, watching the group of Chinese men on the next table drinking Jack Daniels that they take out of their own cooler! We have obviously missed the trick here...

- Finally, the highlight of our trip to Brunei: a morning on a boat taking us to see Proboscis monkeys and the lively floating village! We get to see the big nose monkeys a bit better than near KK.  On the river, we also get a glimpse of the sultan palace, it looks tiny indeed...

Finally we get to the floating village at lunch time when kids are going home from schools, boats are used as buses, we discover a much more exciting life on water than in downtown BSB. Everything is organised on water, the clinic, firestation, mosque...

Here we go, that's the end of our visit to Brunei, I'm glad we went and got to discover the specificities of this tiny (and rich) country!
PS: Thanks to Dad's special request, you should now be able to click on the photos if you want to see them in bigger size!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

This month's photo

Once again, I have followed the example of a friend of mine, known as "the blog master" or C for the one who can guess her identity...
I'm now a member of '"this month's photo" group. Every month, there is a new theme and at 12pm Paris time on the 15th of the month, all members post their photo.
This month theme in French is "En Mai, fais ce qu'il te plait" (the group language is French). The word for word translation is : In May, do what pleases you
But the real idiom for May seems to be: Never cast a cloud until May is out

Anyway, so far in this month of May, I have done what I wanted (as always...) and I'm planning to continue until the end of the month...
This month is all about celebrating my sister's wedding, going back to Borneo to discover another National park (post to follow) and in between enjoying Saturdays afternoon around the pool...

If you want to see what the other bloggers did about it, here are the links:
A&G, Alice, Anne, blogoth67, Caro, Caro[line], Caroline, Céliano, Céline, Céline in Paris, Chouchou, Clara, Claude, Cynthia, Doremi, Doréus, Dorydee, Ennairam, Fabienne, François, Frankonorsk, Frédéric, Genki, Gilsoub, Godnat, Grignette, Guillaume, Jo Ann, Krn, La Madame, Laëtitia, Benjamin et Jérôme, L'azimutée, Les Caribous-bou-bou, Lululiberty, M, Mandy, Marie, Marion, M'dame Jo, 4 petits suisses dans un bol de riz, Nathalie, Nicopompus & SeriesEater, Nolwenn, Olivier, Onee-Chan, Sébastien, Shandara, Sophie,Stéphane, Stephane08, Tambour Major, Tania, Thib, Titem, Un jour-Montreal, Véronique, Virginie, Viviane et 100driiine.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Mt Kinabalu, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia, 4095 m

After diving 40m deep in LL, this was the 2nd objective of the trip:
climbing Mt Kinabalu, the roof of SE Asia.

If you remember the post from last summer about the Rinjani, I suffered... So this time I had decided to train! I climbed stairs in the condo a few times (nowhere near close as the number of times i should have had...) and then a month before the climb, in a last minute panic, I got a personal trainer to torture me at 5.30am, I was officially going nuts, it was time to climb this mountain!

Day 1 (the easiest!)
At 3pm we get picked up in KK for a 3H drive up to the park headquarters, we have already climbed 1800m! Easy!!!!
We stay over night at Rose cabine, where it appears evident that we are the only ones actually climbing the Kinabalu, everyone else is just going for walks in the park... Hmmm...
After an evening of playing rocks (K, the queen of games was in charge of the entertainement part of the trip), trying to order packed lunch for the day after, fighting spiders and giving up on trying to understand the staff of this hotel, we have our last night before THE climb.

Day 2: 1800 to 3200m
7.30am we are waiting for our chauffeur, 8am, it becomes obvious that he has forgotten us...
Some complaining on the phone and finally he is here, we get to the headquarters, we register, we get passes (like at work!), another 10 mn drive and this time we are starting! It is 8.45am.
There are 6.2 km from start to where we will be sleeping and 1400m vertically!
Practically all made of steps...

We stop every km on average at huts where we can get water (that we can treat with different tablets we have bought) but we keep a good pace!
We have a deadline of 3pm at the top for the briefing for the via ferrata (story of day 3) and we actually make it at 1.40pm!! Very impressive, isn't?
The highlights of the climb were:
- Our guide protecting himself from the sun with a pink umbrella
- Tiny Asian ladies climbing like they are heading to hell in pretty flipflop...
- 10 years old kids working as porters (we were so glad we didn't hire any, we would have financed child labour!)
- Really cute squirrels who know that huts are were they are the most likely to get food
- Last very important point, apparently getting up at 5.30am to meet with a personal trainer has some advantages, I did not suffer too much!
Arriving at our house for the night, we have a hot shower (luxury) and we get the briefing for the via ferrata. It looks fairly straight forward, even K (who has vertigo) is up for it!
At 4.45pm we go for dinner (that's even earlier than in England...) and by 7.30pm we are in bed (and I think that this is earlier than chickens bed time...)

Day 3: 3200 to 4095 back down to 1800 and then to 0m
Alarm clock was set on 2am but stupid Chinese people (this is not racist, it only applies to the group who slept in the same place as us) thought getting up at 1 was useful and they also enjoyed jumping on the  wooden floor of the shaky house!!!! (I still won't forgive them, at least they suffered more than me on the way up ahahah evil laugh)
Apologies for this lack of self-control!
Back to the climb, a light breakfast in our stomachs, headlights on the forehead, wrapped up in our skiing gears we start the last 600m (vertically). R is already overtaking everyone but the girls stay behind in the queue which moves at a very slow but very comforting pace. (incredible how busy it can be at 2.30am!) finally R convinces us to overtake everyone and it does indeed make the walk more pleasant when you can escape the farts of the person behind you (this is not even a joke...)
Very soon after overtaking, what we had been expecting happens: altitude sickness. It's about 3600m now and I have a terrible headache. It took 2g of paracetamol to fix it! Air is also getting thinner and the steepness is increasing! There are now ropes helping us to climb.
In an attempt to take a good photo R drops the camera and if it wasn't for a nice tourist with good reflexes, we wouldn't have any pictures to put up on this blog! (by the way even if they don't say camera are shock-proof they can survive a drop and several meters sliding on hard rock. Very impressive!)
We pass the last sign and we now follow the rope on the floor which indicates the way to the top. At 5.15am we (R and I) are number 5 and number 6 to get to the top of Mt Kinabalu. ML and K will follow soon after. Then we freeze for 45 minutes until the sun finally gets up at 6am and then it's totally worth it...
Then, it's time to go down. We stop half way down to the place we stayed over night to gear up for the via ferrata and start the 2nd adventure of the day. This one was easy going comparing to the summit. Our vertigo lady did it with brio!
By 10am we are at our "hotel" for a good breakfast (English type!) and by 11am we are on our way down again. It took us 5h to go up so 3h to go down should be an honest guess. I think it would have honestly been the case if all the water of South East Asia hadn't decided to fall on our head!
We went down 6 km in torrential rain, most of the time ankle deep in water. Gore-tex is waterproof but there is a limit to everything! And the steps which were annoying on the way up are now plain painfull! Knees, and ankles are now in serious pain, hiking boots are ... wet but that doesn't seem a good enough word for the slushhh noise they produce at each step!
Finally after 3h30, we finally make it to the bottom. For info, if you try on one leg like ML who had sprained her ankle it takes 5h!
At the headquarters, we get our certificates for having mastered the highest via ferrata in the world!!!! And with this proud bit of paper, we board our taxi who is taking us back to sea level, direction KK.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Wildlife from KK

There is one day gap in between coming back from LL and going up to Mt Kinabalu. We decide to use it for a wildlife experience.
After 2h in a minibus we get to the starting point of our cruise: Klias river. Once covered with a significant quantity of DEET (my latest discovery in terms of mosquito repellant) we board a small boat and start opening our eyes very wide to spot monkeys, 2 specific types to be exact: David Beckham monkeys (still not sure what they meant by the name... Possibly a funny hair cut but even google doesn't know who they are...) and proboscis monkeys, the ones with the big nose!
We quickly gave up on David Beckham as we didn't know what we were looking for and for the proboscis, it was hard work but we did spot a few. Photos are actually quite good but imagine that they are all pretty much zoom 18, zoomed again on the computer...


There is also a monitor lizard sleeping in a tree...

After dinner we go for a 2nd cruise where we observe fireflies transforming trees into Christmas trees. (apologies this is impossible to take a photo of!)
Here is a google picture if you can't imagine!
And we also spot a baby croc!

Next post will be the famous 4000m!

KK, an interesting asian city

Kota Kinabalu is the biggest city of Sabah (the Malaysian north east part of Borneo), it's very tourist orientated due to the national parks and islands around and with Bangkok it's one of the most pleasant cities of the region. It's also our central point for this holiday, we tried 4 different hotels in the town, from backpackers to 5 stars, I may be ready to write my own lonely planet now!

There are plenty of markets selling dozens of types of rice, a pretty sea front and colourfull fishing boats.

They also have beautiful sea food restaurant where we indulged a couple of times. Once at the famous Filipino Market; we got tiger prawns, squids and fish for a ridiculous price. You get to mix the sauce ourselves and wash your hands on the table using a funny plastic teapot!
The second sea food experience was a bit posher, we picked live animals from aquariums, we got giant oysters, prawns, delicious sea bass in a typical Chinese set up. Beers came with a label indicating table and consumer!

As training for Mt Kinabalu, we climb to an observation point where we could spot a few very nearby islands and a famous clock tower.
On the way back from the Kinabalu, we pay them a visit: a little bit of snorkling, some sleeping on the beach and a lot of people watching!

Final good point of KK, there are good massages salons, well deserved after going up and down 4000m!