June 28, 2011

Hong Kong reloaded

Three weeks travelling throughout Malaysia gave us a pretty good impression of the country and we have been to all the interesting [ at least for us personally - places, so we had a few days more to kill, so we decided to take a weekend trip to another Asian city. Let's go to Hong Kong. Yay.

I have already been there in 2008 and am a huge fan, so I was all for it. In Australia I roomed with a girl from HK for awhile, while I was up in Queensland fruit picking, so we were quite excited to have a local show us around. We ate Dim Sum and heaps of other chinese food. So good. And went shopping in crazy Monkok for some bargains.

Hong Kong Island
On Sunday we went out to Lantau Island to see the Big Buddha statue and walk around the Po Lin Monastery. I am very fond of temples and I, curiously, love the smell of incenses. Seriously. And I really like the calm athmosphere at the temples. Soothing really. 

Big Buddha, Lantau Island
After Big Buddha we were heading to Tai O, the small fisherman's village on the other side of Lantau. Strolling around and eating something here and there. I thought, Tai O is really perfect for taking photos,  good opportunities all around.

Tai O, Lantau Island

More here as always!

June 22, 2011

one day ....

I just read another fabulous novel, found on the bookshelf of a backpackers, looking already very worn. Already the back cover text caught my attention. It didn't say much, more or less just that the main characters met on one day in their life, part and what would you do if you knew what would happen on the same day in the future? I grabbed it and couldn't stop reading. The book is One Day by David Nicholls.

I loved it. Amazing story, first I thought it would be something like "Before sunrise", but quite the opposite. The book travles through both the main character's lives and revisits them on the same day, July 19th, throughout the years. Dexter and Emma. Emma and Dexter. Some days they spend together, some apart.

And now I just stumbled upon the trailer, so another book made into a blockbuster, starring Anne Hathaway - not sure about her for the leading role - and Jim Sturgess - suits him quite well, I reckon. Lets see how they turned that into a film.

Better dayz - Welcome to the good side of life

Jungle trekking sure is fun, but nothing compares to a great beach life. Travelling is all about having a good time in awesome places, so we headed to the Malaysian East Coast for some beach, sun and underwaterworld watching.... Perhentian Islands it is. 
Perhentian Islands are located an hour of the East Coast of Malaysia and means "a place to stop" in Malay more or less. Earlier in the days it was a stop over island for the traders commuting between Thailand and Malaysia. The islands are still kept pretty basic and back to nature, there is a small (Kecil) and a big (Besar) island, with Kecil being the more laid back to the resorty Besar. The accomodation on Kecil is pretty basic with simple wooden chalets and blends in quite well with the surrounding untouched jungle, there is no electricity, excpet generators during the evening, no roads and no cars. The only way to around it to walk or via water taxi. The islands only permanent inhabitants live in a fishermen's village on Kecil. It's also very well known for the stunning dive sites scattered around the islands, so for us, the perfect location for some sun bathing, snorkeling and kicking back. 
After 8 hrs on the van and a short, speedy boat trip we were on the island. White sandy beahces and crystal blue waters... hello paradise. We chose to stay at Pulau Perhentian Kecil, the smaller but with a more laid back vibe and with more cafes. We landed on Longbeach - the party beach - aka two beach bars, but which are pretty busy at night with all the backpackers and dive instructors. Since we were more in the kick-back vibe we headed over to Coral Bay - the more chilled vibe beach - to check out some accomodation. The thing is, that the chalets on Kecil cannot be booked online nore via the phone, so you just rock up and have a look and like it or not. We went to several places and decided to stay at the Shari-La Resort, in a three bed dorm with shared bathroom. Sure, the double rooms with tv and ensuite were quite schmancy, but as we are the budget travellers, we decided on the dorm with aircon... yay. The walk from Longbeach to Coral Bay is over a small trail and takes about 5 minutes. It's through jungle and we were drenched afterwards, but we spotted several ghuanas on the way.

After settling in we hit the beach and explored the small strip of beach, lined with basic wooden chalets and restaurants. Oh and one dive school next  to the other, of course. In the search for food, we discovered Mama's Cafe - our favorite hang out spot for the next few days. Delicious food and a great athmosphere. Jeffrey and his team made our days - roti canai and yummy western brekky with muesli /w fruits and yoghurt. Yumm.
Our initial four days on the island extended itself for another few days, so that in the end we stayed for a week enjoying the sun, well, the shade more or less, lots of swims in the sea and lazy evenings with good food and chatter. The islands are also famous for its amazing underwaterworld, needless to say we had our snorkels and masks ready. The corals were really close to the beach and we spotted heaps of fish a few strokes into the sea. Truly amazing. Our "home" reef is the home to Nemo, big reef sharks and huge parrot fishes - truly huge compared to the ones I saw in Oz.
One day we went on a snorkeling trip with Mama's crew. We went to five different spots around the islands. We saw hundreds of colorful fishes at Fish Point, two huge turtles at Turtle Point and at Shark Point, well, yes reef sharks. Really stunning. The corals are unfortunately mostly dead and not that colorful compared to the Great Barrier Reef, nevertheless the underwaterworld was quite varsatile. Beautiful. Despite there being a lot of dive school on the island, I have to say I am still a proud surface-skimmer aka snorkeler. :-)
Our nights in the cozy dorm were a bit shaken by the "cockroach event". As I was drifting off to lala-land one night, I thought I felt a little something on my head and as I tried to shake it off, I realised what is was... the giant cockroach, that was resting above the window the other day, just made its way onto my head. FREAK! I wasn't sure whether to scream, cray or hysterically laugh. Jumping up and turing the light on, the room was awake and on the cockroach hunt. No one could have fallen back asleep with this disgusting thing just strolling around. No way. After like an hour we discovered that there were not one, but two of those "lovely" creatures, we caught them in the "infamous" red bowl and out they were. Though... good night sleep goodbye. ;-) 
More impressions from this little paradise here

the world's largest flower

After spending two weeks in Sarawak Borneo, we flew to Kuala Lumpur to start our journey through Peninsular Malaysia. On our last night in Kuching we went out with some local guys we met on our trip to Semban village. Dinner, karaoke and drinks turned into a looong night with us getting back to the hostel at around 2 am, where Chris, the hostel‘s chatty and real friendly owner, waited for us and well, we stayed up and chatted until our taxi to the airport picked us up at 4am. Needless to say, our all nighter followed us the next two days in KL. 
KL is not really worth mentioning, as I personally didn‘t really like it that much. Chinatown is quite buzzling and excting, and we stayed right next door, so that was quite handy for cheap food. The famous twin towers are quite impressive - true, but otherwise one shopping complex after the next. Asians are truly shoppacholic. Seriously. 

The following days we travelled up to the Cameron Highlands, for some jungle trekking and tea plantation gazing. We stayed in Tana Rata, the base for all the trekking tours in the highlands. We found a quite nice guesthouse and a really delicious Indian Malay Restaurant, where we eat everyday ... Thumbs up for roti canai. 
On day one we enjoyed a speacial treat.... a full body massage. Sooo good. The day after we went on a little trekking trip to see the world‘s largest flower - the rafflesia. Quite stunning that flower. Luckily the weather in the highlands is not as humid as in the rest of the country, therefore the flower doesn‘t smell that bad. The smell is that of rotten meat.  Yuck. 

More here

June 09, 2011

the village above the clouds

Being in Borneo, the headhunter country, it‘s quite natural you‘d like to expirence some of their tradtionial culture. In the beginning we were really keen on visiting a traditional longhouse for the annual Gawai Festival (thanksgiving after the rice is harvested), which conveniently just happened to take place end of May. Instead we discovered that there was a small village remotely set in the deep jungle of Sarawak, just an hours drive from Kuching. So, for the last three days and two nights we were visiting Kampung Semban, the village above the clouds. The secluded village lies 1000 feet above sea level and the only way to reach it is via foot. 
The Bidayuh village is known for it’s retained Bidayuh culture and the beauty of it’s natural surroundings, as well as its remaining treasure of five ladies each with brass rings on their legs and arms, the so called Ring Ladies. The eldest is more than 80 years old, while the youngest is more than sixty years old. The rings are put on when they were still babies and were to be worn all the time. During their growth small adjustments were made to reduce the pain. The rings go back generations and are a symbol of beauty, so if they hoped to get married at a marriagable age, they were to wear the rings. They 5 remaining Ring Ladies are the last to wear the traditional rings as all their daughters wouldn‘t want to wear them. 

To reach Kampung Semban you have to take the five-hours’ trek from the dam through jungle trails passing bamboo groves, paddy fields, pepper vines, rubber trees, durian orchards and umpteen bamboo bridges and waterfalls. As we were staying at the village for the Gawai, we weren‘t the only ones going up to the village. It‘s the time of the year, when the families gather, so a lot of the family members living somewhere else were trekking up. It‘s hard to imagine for the villagers to trek up and down just for simple things as scissors, brushes or toothpaste. They have so called porters who carry their orders in woven rattan baskets on their backs, they earn RM1 per kg. 

Needless to say that there is no electricity in the village, the water is supplied from the nearby spring and always cold, the cook in their traditional fireplaces or on the gas stove. They do have generators which run from 6 to 10 each night, so they can watch TV, listen to music... Surprising fact for myself is, that they have pretty good mobile reception up there, so it‘s not uncommon to hear the different annoying ringotnes through out the day. They don‘t have internet though. ;-) The 59 wooden houses all have pipelines for sewage and are quite nicely kept. 
For the trip we had a local guide, David, who took us  to the village. After our four hour very much exhausting up hill trek in 98% humidity - it feels like walking in a sauna really and you look the part as well - we were greeted by Sagen, our local host. We were served hot lemon tea (very sweet as they put lots of sugar in it), which was exactly what our body needed, and welcome porridge. The porridge was local grown tomato, sago, coconut milk and green beans - served hot. Yum. 
As the villagers are farmers and hunters and there is no fridge, the food the cook is very traditional and very basic. They grow their own rice, pepper - fruit and seeds grow in their backyard, the jungle. They hunt for deer, wild pigs and have their own chickens to eat. 
We were shown around the village, how they live and manage, their traditions and of course we were shown their skulls, as well as told about the spiritual ceremonies, despite that they are Christians, they still up hold some of their ancestors traditions.
During our stay we were able to try different types of local food, some very delicious others quite „adventurous“, as I had to politely reject the pig and the deer (skin and everything)... chicken ahoi! For brekky we were offered fried rice with sardines or noodles. Both yum. While we had some walks through the jungle we were shown different jungle medicine and food. We collected some „honey flowers“ which we were served for dinner that night. 
The village men chain smoke, while the ladies chew on some weird things, that make their tongue, lips and teeth red. It‘s some leaf in which they put something like nutmeg and spray lemon powder over it. It tastes like spicy pepper.. Yuk. And you aren‘t supposed to swallow the juice since it sorta makes you high. So, the ladies sit around chewing this disgusting stuff and spitting into little tins all day long. Also very common up there, very very very bad teeth aka rotten teeth. The ladies more than the men, but black teeth... maybe that‘s one sideeffect of the chewing stuff. 
Since the festival was going on, the village was buzzling with noise 24/7. Who would have thought that Justin Bieber was a hit in the jungle?! Full volume until midnight, because of the festival days, the main village generator was running until midnight, so the youth totally took advantage of that. Oh, karaoke was a major draw as well. Nice. Needless to say, that we hardly had a good night sleep as the houses are made of wood and not very noiseproof. In the morning we were woken up by the screaming chickens, once one started every single one followed (all day long as well). During the day heaps of „activities“ - as our guide always pointed out -  were going on,like football matches, tug-o-war etc. Another „bonus“ of the two festival days were, that the villagers were allowed to play the big percussion gong in the ceremony hall - right opposite our house - so once the percussion gong starts, as it can be heard all over the place, people start stopping by to play the gong or the xylophones which went on for ages sometimes. I‘d say, nothing beats being woken up by the gong during the night, played by some drunken boys. ;-) 
On our first morning we had the rooster wake up call at around five. Hurray. We climbed up the summit to watch the sunrise. Really nice view, as you look down at the clouds below, that are nestled in between the valley, looking like cotton. Next to you the pepper fields and above you the buzzling mozzies -trying to eat you alive - not so much fun. 

In our last night two of the Ring Ladies were invited over to have dinner at our homestay and to give us a first hand insight to their traditional singing and dancing. The came in their traditional garb, and with some homemade tuak (liquor, tasted like vinegar to me). Communication with the ladies was not really possible as they don‘t speak english, but rather a unique village dialect, so even for the two local guys, it‘s impossible to understand them unless they speak malay. I have to say, that despite their age, these ladies are truly young at heart, always giggling and laughing and joking around, and they sure do love their liquor. They also performed the eagle dance and invited us to join. I felt like a giant next to this skinny small lady. But fun it was. 

Our host‘s son in law came back after a long day of rice wine drinking and attempted to play the bamboo xylophone, which didn‘t quite sound right. Needless to say, the two ladies pulled his leg and in the end, they all went to show him how to really do it at the ceremony hall. So, there we were - five locals elderly folk, us two German girls plus two local Malay guys, up in the little tower playing the gong or learning the ropes. That was truly awesome. The sound ... wow. During our music session a few different people dropped in and played for a while as well. A very nice evening. 

The next day, we headed back down, but not before stopping at one of the waterfalls to have a little swim. Quite nice. 
We really had a good time up there. The people are really nice and friendly, although it‘s hard to communicate with them. Even as they are living a very remote and simple life, they truly enjoy it and most of them still living there cannot imagine living anywhere else. Unfortunately, the historic village is doomed as the nearby dam is about to be finished within the next two years which will isolate the village from the rest of the world - a lost world, so to speak. The government, of course, is trying to persue them to relocate, but how can a traditional village be relocated when you take away their traditional land, where their forfathers fought battles and sacrifised heads for territorial claim to farm? 

the monkeys are loose... Bako National Park

Just a few k‘s outside of Kuching is a quite nice National Park. It is home to hundreds of differents wildlife species, the more famous are the macaques monkeys and the other monkeys, which name I forget, but they are more refered to as „Dutchmen“ monkeys, due to their huge noses. So, we ventured out there for a three day two night trip. The only way to get to Bako is, to catch the public bus and then you have to ferry up river by small boats. They boat just drops you off on the beach and you make your way up to Park HQ where you have your room key and the lot. The park‘s accomodation is not a lot either, I‘d say it can house more or less 40 people overnight either in chalets, lodges or hostel dorm rooms, all with shared facilities. It‘s quite remote and they have a all day cafeteria there to cater the food. 
On our arrival day, we did some hiking to see some monkeys. And yes, we sure did see the. First you can hear them, up in the trees swining along from one to the other. It took us a while to spot them, but you always have this „I think I‘m being watched feeling“ along the trail. And fair enough, some were watching us from above it seemed. The „Dutchmen“ indeed have huge noses, which wobble up and down when the loudly munch on their leaves. The are orangy in color and seem to wear grey-whitish nappies and the same colored long tail. Funny guys. 

The Dutchmen monkeys

After a quick break we headed towrads the boat jetty as some kiwi guy told me on the bus a few days earlier, that that is the spot to few the macaques monkeys. We just started to walk up the path when a huge crowd came walking or strolling or whatever you call the monkey-walk down towards us. It seemed like a boatload of monkeys were just dropped off at the park. Heaps of them. And not scared of people at all, but not really cheeky either. Thankyouverymuch. Heaps of photos later they all trotted out to the beach to feed on the crabs. Ha. 

During our stay at the park we did some trekking to viewpoints and beaches, saw heaps of monkeys up close along the way. Even a green viper with its baby on a leaf next to the walkway. Another little black snake just „snaked“ ??!? across the pathway behind the canteen. On our second morning, I woke up to Ellen shutting the windo really loudly. All I saw was a grey furball retreating outside on the windowsill. What happened was, the monkey crew ventured to our hostel and one cheeky little fella thought, oh a window open might as well try to clib in. He didn‘t think of the mozzie net in front of it though. Otherwise we would have had a little monkey sitting on our beds that morning. 
More photos here