Tuesday, October 30, 2007


The relatively small island of Pulau Pinang (or just Penang) lies just south of the Malaysian border with Thailand. The whole island is full of colourful temples of pretty much every major religion. That and fish. While here I definitely caught the end of the rainy season and got thoroughly drenched on a daily basis.

The view from the top of Penang hill. Cloudy. Boo-urns.

One of about a bazillion different temples. Mystically surrounded my cloud and mist.

...and chips.

The really like to test the wide-range of colours in the Dulux outdoors paint collection.

Wandering the various different quarters of Georgetown, the shops, the food courts, the water fronts and temples gave me good time planning the next step of my trip, a reunion with AT and CT. Having not seen CT since I left home (however long ago that was) and AT since April, I was getting quite excited to spend 2 weeks with my brothers amidst the sunny beaches of Thailand. Good times around the corner!

King Kong in KL

After returning to KL from Borneo with the official airline of Manchester United (the excitement alone, just seeing the huge images of Christano Ronaldo and Wazza plastered everywhere was almost too much to take), it was time for me to start heading north. It was nice to return to a place that I already vaguely knew, to re-charge the batteries after the hectic schedule of travelling about all the time in Borneo.

Not quite King Kong, but almost as hairy.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus Diving

Known more commonly as scuba diving. Oh how I love my acronyms! I know them all, even laser. Oh yes.

Right, scuba diving! Having always wanted to do it, you could go as far as a life-long ambition, I positively jumped at my first proper opportunity to try it. And what a setting to to my first set of dives! I'd found out about this place called Semporna in the fair east of Borneo, that a reliable source (who shall remain anonymous after his last piece of skeptical travel advice) declared as one of the finest dive sites in the world. In the bay around Semporna are loads of little islands and reefs to go exploring whilst submersed. My island for the day was Sibuan.

The paradise island of Sibuan. Not habited by Malaysians, but sea-gypsies, don't you know.

The first part of the day was learning the basics, more complicated than you may think, but I picked it up nice and quickly (I am an educated fellow after all). Did three dives in total over the day and despite getting a nice wet-suit sun-tan, I can safely say that it was an absolute joy to do. Saw seamlessly unending corals, copious numbers of species of fish and more turtles than you could shake a stick at, although I was stickless. Thoroughly hooked, there will be more of this before I'm done, you can be sure of that.

Our vessel for the day. In between the dives you have to chill on the surface, allowing the build up of excess nitrogen out of your body. It was such a horrible place to hang about.

I didn't have an underwater camera, but still managed to spot the stars of a Pixar film... "Attack of the Killer Sea Enemies" coming summer 2008.

The definition of grace, the turtles just glided through the water.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Jungle Boogie 2: Uncle Tan's

Another recommendation from fellow travelers was that of Uncle Tan's - a jungle homestay in Kinabatangan National Park where you go out and do jungle treks, boat safaris, night boat safaris and other such jungley adventures. Armed with insect repellent, insect repellent and some more insect repellent, off I went.

The only way to get there was an hour long boat ride.

The jungle cabins were pretty straight forward and simple, but having been in jungle environments before I thought I knew what to expect, thankfully I vaguely did. Over the next 3 days our little group went out and spotted a huge amount of wildlife including crocodiles, probiscus monkeys, macaques, wild bearded pigs, lizards and any number of insects and frogs. Sadly no orangs.

You mustn't forget your roots.

A Kingfisher chillin'.

The camp at night time. There were BILLIONS of insects.

After seeing loads of different types in vast amounts, I have concluded that anything is more hilarious when you add monkeys to it. Example: Tennis is fun, but monkey tennis is better. Monkey poker is superior to normal poker. Monkey butlers, monkeys in Hawaiian shirts, monkey cluedo (it was Professor Coco, in the cage, with the lead banana), monkeys welding, monkeys on unicycles juggling, monkeys covered in bees. Basically, take any sort of normal day-to-day act, complicated or mundane, add a/some monkey(s) and then sit back and revel in your own brilliance.

The macaque is a big nuisance, they will stealing anything you leave about and even attempt to get at stuff you would think would be impossible to get at. They'd pinch the socks off your feet given the chance. But they were hilarious to watch so I left them off. I don't have many socks left.

Man of the Forest

Borneo is famously known for being the home of the orang utan. It's quite hard to see them in the wild as they live independent and solitary lifes, only really coming together to mate or when the mother is looking after a bairn (of which they only have 3 or so in a lifetime). A lot of locals will keep them illegally as pets, so when they are reclaimed by the authorities they are generally taken to a rehabilitation centre. In this part of Borneo it's the Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary, I went and checked them out.

Tasty fruits.

At Sepilok they've got about 30 or so orang utans, teaching them skills (nun-chuck skills, computer hacking skills, bow-staff skills) so that they can be re-introduced into the wild. They feed them twice daily at various feeding platforms so that tourists can give them lots of cash and taken pictures of them (cash to the sanctuary, pictures of the apes, wouldn't work well the other way round).

Was a cracking experience to see them all swinging about doing monkey-business, as it were. Sadly the place was crawling with tourists, particularly loud-mouth followers of the stars and stripes. I don't like to stereotype the yanks, but they don't know when to shut up when on holiday (sorry Foresters). Certainly took a touch of the shine off such an amazing spectacle.

Arms were legs and legs were arms with these guys. If it weren't for the head, at times you wouldn't have a clue as to which way round they were.

In Malay, orang utan means "man of the forest". I saw an orang utan once in Amsterdam zoo. He sat there in a rubber tired with his head balanced on his hand looking bored out of his mind. They struck me then as being so human-like in their body language, facial expressions and actions, and the orangs at Sepilok were no different and more positively, not a single one appeared bored. They were so humanoid and absolutely awesome to observe.

Hi Clyde, where's Clint?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Road Trippin' in Borneo

After some thorough planning and sage advice given by fellow travelers and many friends to pass through these parts, I had decided to visit Borneo. Known for it's fantastic array of wildlife, I had to drop by. It is seen as a one of the world's hotspots for large numbers of species of all walks of life, many of which are yet to be discovered; virgin forests I believe the phrase is, so I had to check it out.
The jungles of Borneo.

I flew into a place called Kota Kinabalu and from there made lots of little stops along the road, visiting small towns and seeing some special sights along the way, most of which were part of national parks. Getting around was quite simple, local buses and mini-vans, but what seemed to happen most frequently was for a local to stop and offer me a lift. I didn't really have the intention of hitching, but they stopped anyway; a young police officer, a older doctor and his family, a stall owner, a young boy-racer. All these different walks of life were more than happy to pick up a stranger just to satisfy what came across as only innocent curiosity.

The dominant language here is Malay, but basic English is relatively common also so they would want to practice it more than anything. Mainly the topics of conversation involved Manchester United at some point (sadly...). They love them here! I'm not sure if some of them even know that they are a football team, but it seems to be the "in fashion" to have any sort Man U clothing or decorations about your person. They've never heard of the Toon though...

Kinabalu National Park was the first major stop. Mount Kinabalu stands a foreboding 4100m above sea level and is a pretty major peak to behold, surrounded by rain forest. Although I didn't actually climb it (it takes a couple of days) I did manage to do a number of jungle treks and walks, some of which involved some cool canopy walkways. Pretty magnificent stuff and good fun too.

Trooping along in the tree-tops on the nice and rickety canopy walkway.

Saturday, October 13, 2007


Kuala Lumpar (KL), the capital of Malaysia. This place is mint! After a few days here, I feel I can safely declare that. Lots to do, sights to see, food to eat and bargains to be bartered.

Malaysia just celebrated their 50th national anniversary (on the 31st of August) and they all are pretty proud about it. Having been in British hands for a considerable length of time pre-WWII and then in Japanese occupation throughout the war, it seems they were stoked when then got themselves to themselves in 1957, which is reflected in the huge number of flags on display throughout the country.

The Merdeka Square (or Independence Square) was where the countries independence was declared and nowadays it is surrounded by museum, galleries and monuments celebrating that fact.

KL's iconic Petronas Twin-Towers are, without doubt, the cities most famous landmark, spectacularly lit up at night with an almost fluorescent white light. They also starred in the film "Entrapment" featuring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Sean Connery. It was rubbish, but the towers are great.

View from the 170m high bridge between the 2 towers at the 41st floor. It took a staggering 160,000 tons of concrete for each tower. I could go on about other stats and facts, but will only bore. But did you know that the first western company to invest in war-torn Germany post-WWII was McDonalds? Not really relevant at all here though.

Malaysia: Melaka

It was a simple mission of just hopping on a bus that took me across the border into neighbouring Malaysia. Up the coast about half between Singapore and Malaysia's capital Kuala Lumpar is the town of Melaka, which was my next destination for a couple of days. Melaka has a lot of history to it, involving a lot of major empires owning it at different points in history. The Portuguese, Dutch and British have all had their own time here as it is a very significant point on the map of naval trading routes.

There seemed to be a museum of some kind on every street. The National Museum of Internal Affairs, the National Museum of Taxes, the National Museum of Young Malay Nun-Chunks Warriors. And so on. Above is on of them.

Walking round the place you could see a great of different types of architecture of foreign influence as well as domestic , particulary a huge number of various religious buildings. Ambling down just one street you would pass a number of temples, mosques and churchs. Malaysia is renowned for it's great cultural diversity, the country being made up of 3 main groups of peoples; Malays, Indians and Chinese with all of their associated religions living in relative harmony.

The town square with some Dutch touches.

Melaka was interesting but quite touristy, the locals only too happy to attempt to swindle you out of some dosh. Melaka also means something quite explicit in greek if I'm informed correctly. Thankfully the Greeks didn't name it.

Me, sat in a crazy flower covered taxi bike. Very masculine.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Little India

While staying in Singapore, it was recommended to me that I reside in Little India. It's a part of the city that you can easily loose yourself in; lots of small alley ways, endless shops, loads of people, markets with a million spices. Plus, while here there was a party pretty much every night as the predominantly Muslim population celebrated the end of Ramadam, so the general feel of the place was one of merriment, of which I was made to feel most welcome.

The streets were colourfully decorated for the end of Ramadam.
Another advantage of staying in Little India was the fact that you could get an awesome curry whenever you liked (although you generally had to use your fingers to eat most of it - for some reason there must be a cutlery shortage, Sheffield's not that far is it?), or just some cheeky samosa if you fancied. I reiterate; the food here ROCKS.
One of the temples in Little India.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Singapore - the Lion City

My first taste of south east Asia was the extremely culturally diverse city state of Singapore. It's population of 4.6 million is relative to that of New Zealand's 4.2 million and yet Singapore is only 0.003% of the size. Madness!

This is a city of cleanliness, efficiency, technology and tons of good food. They have a subway system here named after me, I was delighted to find. The MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) is fast, reliable and thoroughly air-conditioned which is greatly appreciated; it certainly kicks the arse of the Underground and even (I hate to say it) the mighty Metro.

Downtown skyline.

Oh yeah, it's BOILING here. Really humid and hot. The kind of heat where as soon as you step out of the shower and you think you're clean you automatically start sweating regardless. Apparently it is actually warmer than usual for this time of year, but to come from the start of spring in New Zealand to this is quite the climate shock. It has taken a few days to get used to it, as well as billions of pints of water, but I'm getting there.

The Merlion is the national symbol of Singapore.

As you travel about the different parts of the city and through the difference quarters, you come across lots of different types of architecture, as well as different races with their associated cultures. From modern day sky scrapers in the downtown/banking area to the original British Colonial buildings. There's a Chinatown, Little India and Arab Quarter amoungst others, all with something new to discover.

So, I've landed on a new continent (taking the running total to 4) and so far it looks pretty good, plus my new life skill of mastering chopsticks is well under way. You get some tasty grub here! I get the feeling I'm really going to get on well with Asia....

Colonial, modern and even futuristic space-age architecture, all thrown in.

One perculiar place, called the Esplanade, reminded me a lot the Sage back home, but only a bit more spikey and wierd. Kind of looked like an armadillo!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007


So, I leave New Zealand tomorrow. How sad, boo-urns etc. I'm not one for sentimental nostalgic crap, so I won't bother. But well done sir, well done.

Things I've managed to achieve while here:
  • Winning more than 2 rounds of "Guess Who".
  • Surviving without any internal organs for over 3 weeks.
  • Dividing by zero.
This photo took a lot of work to take, so appreciate it.

I now travel to Asia for a bit, starting in Singapore where contrary to popular believe chewing gum isn't actually illegal as such, more the owning/selling/buying/chewing of it is. This really is dragging isn't it, isn't it home time yet?

Monday, October 01, 2007

The Bay of Islands, pie here?

Does exactly what it says on the tin really, a canny looking bay full of tons of little islands, not really rocket science is it?! Stayed in a place called Paihia (pronounced pie-here) which was quite touristy which was a shame. The weather was a bit lame while I was there, lot of rain and choppy seas unfortunately. I did a little cruise around the bay endeavouring to find dolphins and the like and to see the famous "hole in the rock". Was all very pretty.

We found a pod of dolphins chilling in the calm waters of the inner bay. Was fun to watch them jump about and lark around. There were about 25 of them all up.

The Hole in the Rock. Again, quite self-explanatory.

Star fish.

The End of the Earth: Cape Reinga

Not strictly the End of the Earth and not strictly even the end of New Zealand (Surville Cliffs, about 25km east is), Cape Reinga still managed to have that sort of vibe. The Maori's believe that when they die, their souls travel up along Ninety Mile Beach (see later) to Cape Reinga and then jump off into the Pacific, flying if they've lived a good life or falling to the ocean if they haven't. So it's seen as quite the spiritual and sacred place aswell as being quite stunning.

Where the Pacific Ocean meets the Tasman Sea the differing currents mix and stir up some strange patterns and effects.

A sign giving directions to different locations around the globe. It was a shame, cos a lot of them had been vandalised.

The view along the coast from Cape Reinga.

On the way back from Cape Reinga, we stopped to do some sand-boarding, which essentially is sliding down massive sand dune on a boogy baord. I rocked at it and was the best on our bus! Hurrah.

The dunes were absolutely massive! You could get to a top speed of about 60km/h if you were good enough. I was.

After sand-boarding the bus did the return leg of the journey along Ninety Mile Beach, a state highway no less! Although not technically 90 miles long (actually only 57 miles roughly) it was still impressive. A land speed record was set here in the early 1900's.


After leaving Rotorua, I headed to Auckland. I didn't really have much planned for Auckland as I'd done all the sights and whatnot previously when Em and I originally passed through, I just had some travel admin to get on top of was all. I did, however, manage to win a pub quiz! $100 bar tab to me and my interllectual team mates! Thank you very much. One of the rounds was entitled "Movie Quotes" so I nailed that one, naturally.

A sculpture that caught my eye, framing the seaside and such.

Right, pub quizes aside. I hired an automobile, more commonly known here as a "car" and headed north. The intention was to see Northland, which contains the Bay of Islands, Cape Reinga, some fancy waterfalls, some really old Kauri Forests amoungst tons of other stuff. After getting thoroughly confused by Aucklands less than obvious road system, I ended heading up the far less populated west coast of Northland.

I little diddy crystal clear lake that I stumbled across. Was surrounded by pine trees and reminded me of France when I was a bairn. The child getting into the boat isn't me. The car I hired didn't receive a name and didn't get a picture taken of it plainly because it was a bit rubbish. It got me from A to B via C I suppose, but we didn't become close. We won't be exchanging Christmas cards.