A Travellerspoint blog

The Sultan in Seconds

sunny 29 °C
View The Restless Ape on FlatCapped's travel map.

I had only one aim for the very short time I was to be in Brunei, ever since a girl from New Zealand had told me about it in Malaysia, and that was to meet the Sultan of Brunei. By a miraculous stroke of luck I would be there on the one day a year the palace is opened to celebrate the end of Ramadan, and everyone is invited to meet the Sultan and other royalty.

After catching a bus I walked up to the palace dressed in my best clothes, which as I am living out of a back pack consist of blue shirt, brown linen trousers and my very worn walking trainers which are luckily brown also and hardly noticeable next to the linen trousers. Immediately the guard insisted I tuck my shirt in and luckily I had already guessed correctly I would need my sleeves rolled down. I even styled my now out of control hair in some fashion or another.

You are welcomed with a plate and thanked for coming before you are set loose to eat and drink as much as you want from various food counters. My eating time was limited though because even that this relatively early time in the morning the queue to meet the Sultan was massive. Separated into a male and female line people snaked around the palace courtyard and after over two hours of queuing in sweltering heat I made it to the first check point, watching nervously as people were turned away for such cardinal sins as attempting to meet the Sultan with sandals on or casual t-shirts. I successfully passed the test after reluctantly agreeing to do my top shirt button up, I'm sure they were trying to make us as hot and uncomfortable as possible, I may look smart when I meet the sultan but I'll probably smell to high heaven.

A short distance after the check point we all got to sit which with the big fans aimed at us, was quite a relief. This sitting part of the procedure lasted over an hour and appeared to be one of the least disorganised systems ever. Leaving the seating area through another queuing line lead to a seating area in a grand gold hall, this was much more interesting room to wait in but by this point the hour I spent waiting here was almost as tedious. The room had beautiful clear glass chandeliers running along the centre of the sloping ceiling and at each end a fountain with ornate trees and vases. From this room we were lead an hour later to a queue snaking around the inner courtyard of the palace with grand but dated wooden panels on the balcony under which we moved for the small gift of shade. After a left turn and a few steps along a red carpet I was shuffling toward the open door of the room He was in.

Entering the room I realised I didn't know what we were supposed to do, watching the others I gathered it to be a simple shake of the hand with everyone along the line, starting with the Sultan and then I think Princes and various aides. The hand shakes were light and so I inadvertently, probably quite rudely, crushed the poor sultans hand and after shaking 3 hands my mind was invaded by the piercing gaze of the biggest pair of eyes I had ever seen. One of the men, in blue attire, appeared to have eyes double the size of normal mens and they appeared to have no eye lids, just two big white eyes piercing through everything. Fearfully shaking the gaze I moved along 3 or so more limp hand shakes before exiting the room a couple of seconds after entering it, although had i not broken that scary gaze I fear I would have been turned to an ornate gold statue to decorate the vastness of the palace.

My un-gilded legs carried me down the road, gift from the sultan in hand, to make my scheduled flight to Thailand.

Posted by FlatCapped 13:23 Archived in Brunei Comments (0)

Twin Towers, Twin Islands

sunny 29 °C
View The Restless Ape on FlatCapped's travel map.

Malaysia's first offering to us was Malacca. Now although the town had an interesting reconstructed Sultans Palace which was built using no nails, trust me this is hard to fathom when you walk around it, it offers nothing more than a days interest and our hostel room had bed bugs so we left this former capital swiftly.

A long trip saw us up into the Cameron Highlands, here they are famous for Strawberry and Tea plantations so offer home made scones, strawberries and cream accompanied by a pot of tea, could things seem any more English? The tea plantations were amazing to see and tour around the processing factory, I can tell you they make some very nice iced tea. Luckily the height of the Cameron Highlands provide a relief from the humidity but they seemed to tell us it is cold when it gets to 15 degrees, thats shorts weather to me.

The view from the highest peak of the Cameron Highlands was stunnning, with a short walk through the Moss forest uncovering various plants such as the carnivorous Pitcher Plant. I'd seen this on the Attenborough Planet Earth series so this was cool to see and inspect. On the way back from the forrest we stopped at an insect centre and held various bugs and beetles, all of unreal sizes or shapes.

Kuala Lumpur was a lot more urban as Im sure you can imagine, though a local bus will ddeliver you to the Batu Caves where you can see no end of scavaging monkeys and various shrines around the caves. Dominating the view however is the riddiculously large gold statue stood to the side of the steep steps leading you up. from the top of the steps, your back to the cave you can view the distant Kuala Lumpur skyline. The iconic image of the skyline is the Petronas Towers, and on collection of a ticket you can recieve a tour to the skydeck around half way up these twin towers (the tallest twin towers in the world).

Air Asia delivered us safely accross the South China Sea to Kota Kinabalu on the Borneo part of the country where after visiting the museums we left for Sandakan. From Sandakan we hoped to visit Turtle Island, Seilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre and possibly do a jungle river boat ride. The cmpany providing the Turtle Island Tour was booked up for the next month and the river boat ride was extortionate so we had to settle for just the Orang Utna Centre. On the edge of protected Rainforest the Centre rehabilitates orphaned Orang Utans and eventually releases them backinto the wild. The Centre has two feedings a day which visitors can witness from a seperate platform, the morning one was attended by only two Orang Utans so Kyla and I hung around for the afternoon viewing and were rewarded with around 10 of all sizes as well as a small Bronze Back snake near to our vantage point.

I sit now, back in Kota Kinabalu after having spent the day snorkelling and getting stung by an unseen and so unknown sea bound creature. Tomorrow we leave on a ferry for Brunei where in my next installment I may tell of a fortunate meeting with the Sultan, one of the richest men in the world.

Posted by FlatCapped 17:31 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Moon Cakes below Singapore Slings

overcast 28 °C
View The Restless Ape on FlatCapped's travel map.

We arrived in Singapore Airport which is in fact the best airport I have ever been to, we arrived late and had booked a night at a hostel but this airport was so good I wished we were staying here till the morning. With regret we left for The Hive Backpacker Hostel.

After a good nights sleep in a fridge like room, something I would come to truly apreciate, and free breakfast, we headed into central Singapore, here we took in the usual sights as well as trying to take in just how many huge shopping malls they had with refreshingly strong air con. The cities streets were already looking ready for the Singapore GP with bbarriers and floodlights everywhere around the harbour. Near to the route is the Norman Foster designed Supreme court but its age makes it hard to spot ammongst all the new striking architecture, in my opinion its design hasnt aged that well.

Haw Par Villa is tourist attraction that is just a short bus ride away however even a bus rie this short does not make it worth the trouble, I can only describe it as a old, run down, faded theme park/fair ground in appearance. In fairness it was interestingly bad, but it is not something Singapore should brag about. Another thing Singapore brags about is its fountain, the largest in the world no less, however not run down like the Haw Par Villa, it only becomes the largest in the world between 8 and 10 at night, the small fountain in the middle does offer the opportunity to recieve good luck as some small compensation, so with three circuits with my right hand in its torrent, I walked away, well... feeling lucky.

The next day, waking up feeling the luck pulsing through me, we headed into town. leaving Borders book shop we were stopped by a young lady performing research and for our troubles Kyla and I got to choose a scratch card and try for a prize, one of the two we chose was the top prize, now that is lucky. Coincidence?.. I think not! There was only one catch, we had to pretend to be married, go in to an office and listen to some crazy time share pitch and after 90min then we would get our prize. Perhaps this luck wasnt all it was cracked up to be. We exited rather swiftly!

As well as the hype of the F1 Singapore was also hosting their second Art Biennalle however it was charging a stupid entrannce fee, I therefore chose to boycot the show and liberated a catalogue etc instead. The National Art Gallery was nice though and in one of the presentation room has an amazing contemporary stained glass window well worth seeing. Various festival celebrations were taking place in areas such as Little India and on our last night we watched a parade through China Town with long Dragon Puppets and lanterns. We also tasted a local tradition, Moon Cakes, these were not very nice, and sat on a confusing fennce between sweet and savoury. I definately rate Singapore Slings above Moon Cakes.

Posted by FlatCapped 16:58 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Bali Nights

sunny 29 °C
View The Restless Ape on FlatCapped's travel map.

  • * This has nothing to do with Bali but I was remiss enough to leave it from my account of Melbourne. Whilst in the cultural area of the city I was interviewed for television on my opinions of a small collection of contemporary art works from South America. I was critical of the piece which the interviewer seemed most interested in and frowned at my comments however I was later to be vindicated when reading a review of the show by an art critic who agreed completely with my criticisms. **

Im unsure why I just remembered to tell that tale but now I shall get on with describing more current events.

I had hoped to think of a way to pose the riddle which had troubled me for the 4 nights I stayed in Ubud, however with no way of displaying the sound to you, not even a poor impression from my self, it would be impossible to communicate the sound which was heard very loudly around the room each night. My initial thought had been a bird and a few nights in I had even located the source as being in the roof above the room however much as I tried I failed to spot the illusive creature. The night of my departure chatting with the owner at breakfast I had resigned myself to never knowing the creature behind the sound, until... there it was. The sound brought the reaction of mock anger from our host and excitement from myself. "What is it?" I asked, "A Gecko, they call the mosquitos to eat them." was the reply. What.... I couldnt believe it, I was sure it could have only been a bird. But then I had been wrong before, in Peru we heard a noise whilst in our tent and I debated with Vrad, standing firm that it was a frogs call until I was assured by someone living in the area that it was in fact a Peruvian Dove. David Attenborough I am not. Even Bill Oddie would make better guesses than mine.

Other sounds you can hear in Bali; the most common "No, Thank You", second "Yes, Transport?", third "Tomorrow?"

Ubud was the setting for most of my real Bali experiences, on the second day there we headed out to visit various temples such as the Elephant Cave Temple, a temple which included areas carved out of the rock face (Gunung Kawi), we drove up to see lake Batur and Mount Batur which was smoking but the highlight for me, the Rice Terraces. In these areas of Bali the rice terraces are worked entirely by hand, wading knee deep in muddy water planting the rice. Most other rice terraces are now worked by tractors as I found out talking to a Japanese lady on the tour as well as the guide. It was amazing to see this dying traditional work being kept alive there. This scene definitely deserves a picture and i shall do my best to get a picture added for this.

Within the centre of Ubud there is the Monkey Forest for which I went prepared. I wore no glasses, took off the bone carving I bought in New Zealand and, of all things, went with no hat. These were all precautions as the monkeys are known to be mischievous and steal things from people. As soon as we walked in the gate I knew this was a wise move as, no more than a single step in and a monkey grabbed my hand looking for bananas. Walking around the forest, to the temples within, monkeys climbing the steps, we ventured down into a denser area of trees and over a bridge where there were monkeys swimming and playing in the water. Each monkey behaved differently with one larger one going around stealing all the bananas people had brought in but never eating them.

Ubud is the main place to go to see traditional Balinese arts, crafts and dance so after visiting a gallery displaying the history of Balinese Visual Art we took in a show in the evening called The Spirit of Bali. In keeping with the days gallery visit the show displayed various traditional dances from Bali's history, to the rhythms of live traditional music, culminating in an incredible dance using a tiger/dog/dragon puppet.

After leaving Ubud, we relaxed in the fishing cove of Padang Bai and I tasted some great local dishes with fresh fish. Quantas Airline, contrary to recent form, has now safely transported us to Singapore but not before my great time in Bali was irritated by a terrible International Departures system. Anyone flying out of there please have your 150,000 rupiahs each ready if you want to board your plane.

Posted by FlatCapped 18:08 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Looking Up?

sunny 26 °C
View The Restless Ape on FlatCapped's travel map.

Woke up in the airport, it had been 19 degrees in the middle of the night so the days were destined to be hotter. After a brief phone call, arrangments were made and off to the hostel we went, only to find that contrary to my previous experiences in Australia, the guy on the desk was really friendly and laid back and the quality of the hostel was very good for the price. Things are looking up for Australia now I'm in Cairns.

The Botanic Gardens in Cairns, always a nice and inexpensive way to spend the day, were quite a walk away but provided a small rainforest type area including salt water lakes with croc warnings, apparently one was seen the other day but he must have been sleeping whilst i was there. Maybe a hundred meters from the north of the botanics is a brilliant art gallery space called the Tank Gallery which consists of 5 large concrete tanks used to store petrol during WWII. they are of course empty now and provide a really intereting exhibition space as well as theatre and workshop spaces.

Whilst in Cairns it was Kylas birthday and so i brought her breakfast in bed... well cereal and a spoon. We visited the Rainforest Dome which is on the top floor of the Casino, in hear you can see Wallabies and free roaming lizards and birds as well as crocs (not free roaming) The ticket for this place lets you come and go for 5 days so another place of value in Australia, maybe my opinions will be all changed by the time i leave this large island. That night we enjoyed a champagne sunset cruise as it was a special occasion and whilst following that and a meal up with some drinks I ran into someone from Peterborough of all places... no, I was not drunk, it was not Kyla. It was Rachel and Donna who it turns out are on a 6 week trip.

As you can imagine a few drinks were sunk that evening and unfortunately too early the next morning we had to walk down to the harbour for a boat ride over to the Great Barrier Reef. Now the wind was up this morning, apparently 34 knotts though I imagine that means as little to you as it does to me, or did, untill I felt the sway or this huge boat. Waves crashed over the side and kids flew around the corridors until we safely made it to Green Island. Leaping onto the safety of dry land I steadied my sea legs before taking a ride on a glass bottomed boat over some outcrops of reef that I would be unable to swim to. The glass bottomed boat ride was great but nothing compared to the actual snorkeling. One of the best things I have done on this trip, I swam along with large fish, hovered around correl and watched small colourfull fish doing their various things and even swam along next to a surgeon fish, before he and I left in opppostie directions.

Having done what I had come to Cairns to do, the plane was booked and we left for Darwin, now this is where Australia once again turned into the Australia I had come to know. All the hostels here were irritatingly expensive after our Cairns experienc eof value. The only saving grace for Darwin would be that I had arrived in time for the Darwin Festival in which there are free events on such as an outdoor showing of a classic Australian film; The Man From Snowy River. this was presented at a really nice Deckchair Cinema and the entire evening had a ggreat vibe with the composer of the original film score present in the audience and prior to the showing a rather bizzare Australian Whip Cracker. Over in the Darwin Botanic Gardens they had an outdoor Night Art Gallery and had lit everything with lanterns.

Every evening here has had a nice atmosphere and a cultural focus but I am eager to move on to South East Asia, get back to the sort of travelling I was doing in South America and get back to the value for money these sort of countries thankfully provide.

Posted by FlatCapped 10:38 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

(Entries 11 - 15 of 36) « Page 1 2 [3] 4 5 6 7 8 »