Malaysian Borneo: Sabah and Mt Kinabalu

We arrived in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah and went straight to our hostel to dump our bags then out for local food. This part of Malaysia had a real mix of cuisines, mostly great cheap chinese and indian food. We then tried to plan what we were doing for the next couple of weeks, after a lot of research we decided on four main loctions; mt kinabalu, sepilok, river kinabatangan and sipadan. Before we left Sabah we were so lucky to be able to go a meet up with Nova, who works in Rustic Borneo, We had first met Nova all the way back in Vietnam when we did the Sapa trek. She really helped us plan our Borneo trip. So after chatting with her, we collected our bags….a cheeky pizza hut and went to the bus stop.

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Mt Kinabalu

From about half a mile from Rustic Borneo is a bus stop with  load of different shuttle buses going to a load of destinations just shout out your destination and someone will point you in the right direction. It was about 60ringit and took 3 hours to get to Mt Kinabalu.

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We stayed at a hostel called D’villa Rina Ria Lodge it was a very basic room with bunk beds squashed together but all you needed for a night and the views from the restaurant area were incredible. Danielle also wants me to write that the room was really cold and there were massive spiders in the bathroom….but we were in the mountains!

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Now we couldn’t afford to do the summit trek as its around 300GBP and you have to book it 6 months in advance but there are a load of trails in the park you can do, these were really fun rainforest treks!

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Malaysia – The Perhentians PADI open water ⚓️

All along long beach are several dive shops. In fact the whole beach is just made up of either snorkelling or diving outlets. So why did we pick oh lala? A French run place needless to say, with a friendly female manager called Jan. Really nice, very straight talking and typically French. All the dive shops are pretty much the same price for PADI open water courses (1050 rm + 3%card fee), which included x3 nights accommodation in their rooms.  The only exception was a place called Turtle bay divers…they’re a bit cheaper and don’t have a card fee but they don’t have any accommodation. When you work it all out though it ends up pretty much the same money wise. So the shops with the chalets just take out the hassle of wondering around looking for accommodation: unless you stay in the expensive resorts you can’t book anything before getting to the island.

So we had a look at the accommodation, it’s all very basic. The main reason we went with Oh lala was that they offered us a private room rather than a dorm (for 20rm each rather than 40rm each as we were diving with them), which was nice as we were there for a few days.

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So we started our course in the afternoon on the 5/5/17. We were both nervous… Lara nearly backed out after having researching all the fun injuries one can sustain underwater. Eventually we both agreed to do the first session to try it and could see how we felt after that. Our instructor was a girl called Lucy from Buckinghamshire, we were very lucky she was absolutely lovely and it was just Dani and I in our group so we had lots of support! The first session incorporated skills in the shallows, with our SCUBA kit but just on our knees so we could have come up easily if needed. The hardest part was flooding our masks, at first I had no idea how to clear it and just had a tonne of salt water in my eyes. I finally understood that you can’t clear it while your still holding it off your face so got the hang of it… Dani found it a challenge too as she has a sensitive nose which kept letting in water making her choke whilst under water, not a good move. After a few struggles though we both managed to complete the skill session and then went into a proper dive, maxing at 11m deep! We saw some beautiful coral and fishies at a spot called Batu Nisan.

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The next day we did a tonne of theory in the morning; videos and questions and then quizzes with Lucy. Dani was a pro and got a solid 💯 on everything!

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In the afternoon we had a whole session of skills. So this was mainly on our knees and then some stuff a bit deeper like swimming around without a mask off at around 6m. Again Dani fearing for her life whilst trying to get her mask off, snuffing up yet more water but managing to survive and getting it second time around.

The next day we finished the rest of our theory videos and quizzes with Lucy and did the final exam which we both passed woo!

Then we went on a dive to D’lagoon which is not too far from long beach, still on kecil island. It was a nice dive; more coral and fishies.

Then for our two bigger dives on our last day,  we need to reach 18m to finish the course. The fist dive was to Tanjung basi which was a really cool dive and we saw tonnes of trigger fish and x4 black tip sharks 🦈. The afternoon dive was called Polis wreck which is an artificial wreck where they sunk x3 old police boats 🚣 to create some a new habitat where coral would grow. Here we went to 18m! We saw loads of creatures including three bright yellow box fish which we were told was very unusual for that spot.

So now we are qualified PADI open water divers and can go alone (without an instructor, but with a buddy) and dive… not that we will just yet!

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*TIP , THERE ARE NO CASH POINTS ON THE ISLAND! So to avoid the fees get as much cash out as possible.

 

 

Malaysia – Langkawi

First stop; Langkawi.

For the first two nights we stayed at Melatis VIP female dorm, which was basic but fine. We moved on for the next two nights as we found somewhere a bit cheaper round the corner. It was v basic the guys who ran it were really nice hippies, played their guitars and drank beer with us in the evening (owner in the picture). They also have cheap mopeds to rent here. Tip for Malaysia…unless your arriving late at night and just need somewhere to head straight to, hold off booking anywhere and just head to the backpackers area. You will more often than not find something cheaper than online.

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So what did we do for a few days on our first Malay island. We were staying in Pentai Cenang which has a huge beach with loads of water sports. The first evening we arrived we went exploring, unfortunately the nicest bit of the beach is round a corner and privately owned by expensive resorts, but we were allowed to have a walk.

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In the morning we went to the Langkawi cable car which takes you right up into the clouds. The weather wasn’t great the whole time in Langkawi with big rainstorms but the views were still amazing, and it was great to get of and walk to the bridge where we were literally waking through cloud. Sadly all our photos from this day were lost on Danielle’s camera 😦 but just google Langkawi cable car and you will see the epic views from the top!

That evening we walked to a local night market, there wasnt really anything good to buy but the food was great and it was here we first had these epic pancakes with sweetcorn and penuts, sounds awful but was so gooD!

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In the morning we had a slow day and went to a slightly different beach south of Pentai cenang. This was much nicer and quieter. However we soon got washed out by another tropical storm! It was quite beautiful though sat in our little sun shelter watching, and getting soaked by, the hot rain.

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That night we went out to ‘one love’ bar with some people we met in our hostel. Make sure you drink before or take some with you as the alcohol is not great for a travellers budget!

For our last day we explored the north of the island, going to pensat tongkorak beach and tanjung rhu beach. The first one is a tiny little piece of paradise, if you manage to catch it on a quiet day you’ll feel like your in heaven! When we went it wasn’t too busy but there was one couple enjoying themselves a little too much and it was putting everyone right off!! We were very relieved when they disappeared. The next beach is much bigger and half of it is private, but the views of big ocean space and white sand were lovely to end our little trip to langkawi!

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Before leaving we also went to see the famous eagle at the port, really beautiful at night 🙂

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Next stop… Penang!

South Thailand – Koh Samui 

We flew from Chiang Mai into Surat Thani, got on a bus from outside the airport and then on the ferry to Koh Samui. This was all pretty easy, we had booked our bus/boat combo to koh samui online but there were a few travel desks at the airport offering the same service for 400B. The airport is tiny and we got our bags and were out of customs all in about 20 mins.

At the ferry port in Koh Samui we then got a beemo (local bus) to our hotel near Big Buddha. We paid 100B each which was much cheaper than the 700B the taxis wanted. Just keep walking to the very end of the pier and you’ll see them. Koh Samui was a nice couple of chilled days mostly sat by the pool and a couple of walks along the beach. The hotel pool was lovely but thats about it, we were in a fan room which is a huge error in Thailand. Unless you are a great sleeper or completely broke don’t do it! Also a word of warning, Samui Mermaid where we stayed was right underneath the flight path so it felt like planes were landing in the bed.

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From Koh Samui we got the ferry, from Big Buddha Pier, to Koh Phangan (200B) each. Already the vibe had switched, everyone was drinking on the boat and getting in the full moon mood!

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Our hostel was called Fellinis, a 2 min walk from Haad Rin pier, above a pizza restaurant. The hostel was really small but we met a few nice people :). As it was full moon accommodation was really expensive and hard to book, a lot of places had a 5 night min. So if your planning on going to a full moon book asap!

 

Cambodia 

After our nice stressful bus journey from Vietnam we arrived pretty late to Phnom phen so went straight to sleep at the hostel. When you arrive in Cambodia make sure you have dollars, as unlike Vietnam, you have to pay for the hostel upfront. We stayed at Billabong hostel which had a great pool, and location was fine. Dorm was nice and big with a huge en suite and big singles. Great nights sleep!

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Next day we went to the killing fields about half an hour away, it was $6 entry and audio tour. I would definitely say to get the audio tour, it was so informative. We didn’t know much about the genocide so was good way to learn. So, so sad but worth the visit.

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In the afternoon we went to the Palace but didn’t actually go in as it was $10 but it’s a really nice area to walk around the outside and you still get some good views.

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That was about it for us in the capital city.  So the next day we booked the bus to go to Siem Reap; $10. We stayed in Siem Reap Pub Hostel which was a nice little hostel with a decent pool, really good location right next to pub street and the night markets. Also right next door was a good place for food, it was cheap and the owner was lovely.  The shop after was the cheapest in the area for laundry at $1 per kilo.

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The main thing to do in Siem Reap is obviously Angkor Wat temples. There are 1000 altogether! There’s a couple different options for tickets, we just got the day one which was $37 (they have recently just doubled the ticket price and no one could answer why…one lady told us it’s owned by the Vietnamese Government (not sure how true this is or how that works). Anyway it’s still worth this crazy western price, you’re probably only there once in your life! The day was absolutely plenty for us, but if you’re a temple fanatic look into the 3 day or 1 week tickets as they become a lot cheaper per day if you do this.

So we woke up at 4am to catch the sun rise over the main temple; Angkor wat. This was really stunning, just try and ignore the thousands of other people! Also when you are walking in, looking directly at the temple we went to the left as that’s what someone advised, however, we would recommend going to the right, we feel you get a slightly better view. We then spent the day exploring the hundreds of other temples and came back to the moat around Angkor wat to watch the sun set.

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Getting blessed by the monks 🙂

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Wondering around the temples…make sure your feeling fit!

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In the evening we had a walk around the night markets.  They are great and a fantastic place to buy cultural gifts.  Bartering is a challenge to get on with at times and being very British it makes you squirm a bit.  We’d recommend to start at just less than 1/2 of what they ask.  The ones that thrive off ripping off their customers will wave you off, however the realistic ones will slowly come down. It’s probably best to aim for just over 1/2 to 3/5 of their original price.

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The next day we flew to Bangkok 🙂

North Thailand – Chiang Mai and Elephant Jungle Sanctuary

From Bangkok, we took an over-night sleeper bus to Chiang Mai. We got to chiang mai at 6am. We paid 550 baht each, sadly the transport is a lot more expensive here in Thailand compared to Vietnam but the service was much better! and we got a snack bag too.

From Khao San Road to the bus station (Morchit) we took a local bus which was 15 baht, way cheaper than a tuk tuk. We also had the pleasure of meeting some lovely locals…a Thai gentleman who identified as what looked like a Native American rock god. Donning a Metallica t shit, cowboy boots, a sarong and a animal belt..as Big fan of Metallica he kindly sang for us, while he sipped away on his bottle of vodka. The only English words he knew were ‘ohh yeahhh’.

Once in chiang mai we made it to our hostel: brick house. The best thing about here was the comfy beds, the location was fine,  although impossible to get any food at 7am when we arrived. Thai people seem to be up late and late risers too.

From chiang mai we booked a few trips; firstly two days/one night at the elephant jungle sactuary, this wasn’t cheap but at least the money is justified. We paid around 4,500 each. They picked us up from the hostel in the morning and we drove about 2 hours to get to the sanctuary.  The elephants are all rescued from riding camps and circus’ s. When we arrived we met the elephants, there were about 6/7 at this camp and fed them bananas, sugar cane and wheat.  With the guides we then made up medicine balls consisting of ; salt, whole grain rice, banana, tarrot, which we also fed to the elephants.

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After we had some lunch, we had the best experience of taking the elephants To ‘the spa’. The elephants were lead to a huge mud hole where they slowly walked in and a few started to sit and even lie down so you could smother them in thick, smelly mud! We then walked with them to a little waterfall and washed the mud off.

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Sadly this was the end of day 1 and we drove to where we were staying the night; camp 6, in a little wooden shack with two couples. Here we met young Ronaldo who was learning to test his playing skills. We couldn’t get too close as even at only a few months old he was a lot bigger than us and his barging skills much better! Danielle nearly got sent flying and Chrissy pinned to a tree. Our guide for the evening was an ex monk called jade who cooked us up a great green curry and fed us Thai mojitos.  Thanks to `John` and Ally from Bexleyheath it was tonight that we learnt about Cowspiracy which changed our life! For anyone interested about the effects humans have on the planet go and watch it!!!

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The next day we had a walk around the camp, fed another tribe of elephants and met one of the biggest males. Stunning creature to watch roam around and wash himself in the mud… and also get a little frisky around some of the females 😮 which was an eye opener.

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We followed the elephants slowly through the scrub and back toward the camp where we left them and had a long walk to two waterfalls.  After spending the afternoon hiking we went to see the oldest elephant they owned at the sanctuary who was 74 years old, the only thing that showed her age was her huge size and wrinkly skin.  They had a new born elephant here too who was so cute! He lead his mother and his two flanking boy elephant body guards around the compound. They protected him in the middle of a very tight triangle and almost stepped on anyone close by.

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We then got driven back to the hostel after saying some emotional elephant goodbyes.

That night we took a walk around the nearby night markets and lara bought a watch….for a great price…and Danielle continued her hunt for more baggy trousers.

Next day we took a day trip to Chiang Rai and the golden triangle.

 

Phnom Phen to Siem Reap

On the way we stopped a couple of times for rest breaks (no WC on the bus). There was a huge storm as we were driving with lighting strikes causing fires on our route.

There was this smell of burning plastic on the bus and then we stopped!

Broken down!!!!

A little panic swept over us….but about an hour later, and one very soggy driver we were back on our way. He had to get under the bus in the pouring rain…didn’t quite get that picture but this one is him at the back trying to fix it at first!

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We were exhausted when we arrived in Siem Reap and pissed off as usual as the driver refused to let us off where we asked (he let all the locals get off outside their doors) and drove us to a tuk-tuk station. Anyway in bitterness we decided to walk instead of paying someone which took us about an hour as we got soooo lost! we were staying in siem reap pub hostel which is really nice but hard to find, its down a little muddy dirt track, just about wide enough for the tuk-tuks.