A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: annacronin

Borneo and Beyond

sunny 32 °C

We decided to spend the night in Singapore airport before our early morning flight to Borneo as it was voted ‘the No.1 airport to sleep in’ on some random website we found for backpackers, who, have apparently slept in a lot of airports! Naturally we had to test this theory and as it turns out it is not a bad airport to be in at 3am in the morning, 24hour food, clean toilets and free Wifi!

We landed in Kota Kinabalu and we left Kota Kinabalu having seen little else then ‘Harry Potter and the half blood prince’ and the inside of our hostel. The next day we headed west to Sandakan on a rather nice bus, which, unfortunately had one rather unpleasant kid on it who we believe stole Anna’s Ipod (it was the Ipod shaped bulge in his pockets that gave him away). So we arrived in Sandakan minus an Ipod but excited to see some Orang-Utans.

Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre rescues little and large Orang-Utans from Palm oil plantations and the bad people who want to sell them or keep them as pets, they then train them to go back to the wild. You can walk into the jungle with about 60 other tourists all equipped with huge, much needed zoom cameras, and see them being fed on a feeding platform which are about 50m away (hence the need for the zoom) the whole experience last about 10minutes. It really is great though the centre is solely about rehabilitation and the Orang-Utans definitely come before the tourists and their money. Let’s just say they were not overly impressed when asked if I could hug a baby Orang-Utan!
Later that same day brought the beginning of our 3day safari trip to the heart of Sabah’s jungle. First we drove through miles of palm oil plantations arrived in the jungle, got a boat on the river and landed about 5mins later slightly upstream but on the same side of the river! Our very remote and ‘hard to reach’ camp had a driveway and two cars parked in it………..hmmmmmm. The three day safari programme was fairly straight forward, morning boat ride, early afternoon jungle hike, late afternoon boat ride and evening jungle hike. The first boat trip was great we saw the big nosed Proboscis monkey, lots of Macaque monkeys, some Japanese egrets, eagles and even a crocodile. The second trip was good but then by the fifth boat trip with no new sightings, mild sunstroke and very sore bums from sitting in the boat for too long we were all a bit fed up. The day hike to the Ox bow lake was memorable, we battled through the jungle, up over vines and through swamp land only find not only a lovely lake at the end of it but also a little Aoife covered in about 5 leeches one of which was having lunch on her stomach! Luckily help was at hand in the shape of a lighter but not before we got photographic evidence.

So delighted to get back to civilisation and off our diet of cold rice, cabbage and spicy chicken we decided to go for high tea. It just so happens that Sandakan boasts an English tea house, complete with crocket lawn, fresh scones and English breakfast tea. So without further ado……..we dined!

Over dinner that evening we came to the conclusion that our travels lacked a certain ‘randomness’ and that the only way to solve this was to go somewhere, well, random. And that somewhere was a town called Tawau, right down south on the boarder to Sawawak which boasted the ‘Tawau hills park’. On arrival into the town we discovered two things, firstly that the only service provided to tourists was a bus straight out of the town and secondly that not even the locals had heard of ‘Tawau Hills Park’. We must have looked lost because a lovely lady took us under her wing and into her car, driving us around the town for half an hour in order to find us a bed for the night….. thanks lady!
Its true, things always look better in the morning, the next day we found a mini bus to take us to the park, which as it turns out does actually exist. The park was beautiful and practically abandoned (well, not including the 60 scouts camping in the field next door). We went swimming at the foot of a waterfall, found a particularly smelly hotspring and posed beside the ‘tallest tropical tree in the world’. And of course Aoife got a few more leech attacks!

Our next stop was Semporna, known as the dive capital of Malaysia, where there is little else to do but dive, snorkel or buy dried fish. We dived, we snorkelled but we passed on the dried fish. Just off Semporna there are numerous Islands with coral gardens and amazing marine life. The most famous of these is Sipidan, a reserve where Ruth was lucky enough to dive for the day. While Ruth was working towards her PADI Advanced Driver, braving both deep water and night time dives the rest of us got the boat to Mabul Island where we stayed for a couple of days. Uncle Chang’s was an extremely basic hostel built on stilts that jut out into the water. They feed, water and shelter you for the equivalent of 10euro a day! So naturally we took advantage of the ‘free’ food then spent the rest of the day at the posh resort on the other side of the Island, lounging on their deckchairs and snorkelling…. It’s a hard life.

Our last stop in Borneo was the National Park, home to Mt Kinabalu, the highest mountain in Malaysia, also the most expensive, so we didn’t climb it. Instead we had a movie marathon day while looking at the view of the mountain from our hostel window (it was lashing rain outside so we didn’t feel too guilty). The sun came out the following day and so did we, off to Poring hot springs in the National Park. We decided to go see the Rafflesia but disgusted that they wanted to charge us to see it we decided that a picture of one was adequate. In the park we did a 35m tree top, canopy walk where Anna got caught by the camera police for using her camera without paying the camera tax (this obviously made us all the more determined to take photos and resulted in a very frustrated security man). We then went to a butterfly farm where we saw a Preying Mantis (an insect where the female bites off the male’s head after reproduction) and of course lots of butterflies. Finally we lounged in the sulphur smelling hot springs before heading back to base.

The next day we began our two day bus, taxi, and boat journey to Brunei to go visit the Sultan……….

Anna, Ruth, Aoife, Kate and Kirsten

Posted by annacronin 03:43 Archived in Malaysia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Perhentian Islands/Paradise Islands/Night of the Living Rats

Sun, Sea, Snorkelling and Screams

sunny -33 °C


After our very stressful 2weeks in India ‘slumming’ it we decided we needed a well earned rest so we headed for a tropical island off the coast of Malaysia called the Parhentian islands. What a journey to get there! We took a cab to Calcutta airport, then a flight to Singapore. Once landing there we took the metro to the long distance bus station where we hopped on a night bus to Kota Bharu. At 5am we arrived there and after taking out some Malaysian currency we took a cab to the ferry port where we got a speedboat to the island and then a mini boat to take us to our beach. So thats a cab, a flight, metro, a bus, a cab and two boats-phew! Was it worth it...? FEK YEA!
We got a family room ie 5beds really close to the beach so we were very chuffed with ourselves. We headed straight for the beach for some snorkelling , lazing about and showing off our pasty bodies. Everyone there was about 10 shades darker then us and we couldn’t figure it out why we were various shades of white and pink while all the other tourists were golden brown. We copped after a few days that most of them were coming from south east asia and had probably spent a lot of time on the beach whereas this was the first time in a few years out our arses had seen the sun! We stayed on long beach which pretty much consisted off a few bars, restaurants and lots and lots of diving companies. We were all pretty wrecked when we headed to bed that first night however we were awoken at about 2am when a scream erupted from Kirsten’s corner of the room. She had woken up to find a rat on her legs and once she kicked it off she also found the little present he had left for her in the form of his sh1t! This first nights incident set the bar for the rest of the week where as soon as the room went quiet we could hear them scurrying about and in our stuff. Being independent women and seasoned travellers at this point we of course weren’t particularly bothered by the rats and it was only because the night porter insisted on spending the night in the room that we let him not because we were scared or anything...no no nothing like that at all...see for yourself, a picture speaks a thousand words...
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Rat hunting aside we spent our time snorkelling, diving (ruth), eating and drinking. The snorkelling there is really amazing and we saw loads of tropical fish. Aoife was delighted to discover that Finding Nemos are actual fish and not just madeup ones for the movie (duh!) We also had a close encounter with 2 black finned sharks. Anna was the only one that spotted them because Aoife and Kate didn’t hang around to take a look before hightailing it as far away as possible. On a snorkelling boat trip to lots of islands we were lucky enough to spot a turtle and even rarer the very shy and not often seen Chinese tourist camouflaged in a florescent orange life jacket-wow we were lucky to spot that one!

We had a brilliant night out dancing our socks off and generally acting the maggot. Aoife, Kate and Ruth were on the cheap local vodka and Kirsten and Anna were drinking the cheap local rum. Matching them drink for drink Anna and Kirsten couldn’t figure out while the other three were getting so much drunker then them and generally make bigger tools of themselves then normal. Anna eventually spotted that the rum was only 25% while the vodka was 42%!! Ruth spent the night repeating the phrase “i love dancing” over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over. Aoife and Kate decided to go for a night dip on the way home but being the responsible pair that they are they just went in up to their knees just in cases! No prizes for guessing who had the bigger hangover the following morning. Ruth fairl play to her managed to drag herself out of bed for a morning dive- I wonder is drunk diving illegal..???
After our week of beaching it we headed to Kuala Lumpar for a spot of shopping and sightseeing. What a city! Our hostel was strategically placed across from the Times Square shopping centre, one of the biggest in KL which has a theme park with rollercoaster, a bowling alley and cinema-bleedin’ massiv! We got our shopping on and also did the worst hop on hop off city bus tour in the history of bus tours. The commentary was crap and completely out of sync with where the bus was, so it would be telling you about the Petronas towers when you’re looking at a park. After Aoife fell asleep we decided it was time to get off and perk ourselves up with chips and beer yeh!! We headed out that night for more beer and vodka (Yeh) and a special request was played for Aoife to announce the birth of her first baby awwwww. We tried to play another request for Kate and her recent engagement but the DJ was onto us at that stage so he didn’t make such a fuss.
Because we are getting close to the end of our trip and money is starting to run low we decided to get a bus to Singapore and spend the night in the airport before our flight to Borneo to save on a nights accommodation. We had heard that the airport is one of the best in the world with a swimming pool, cinema and various other things to keep us entertained. UNFORTUNATELY all this lovely stuff is only available when you checkin and because our flight wasn’t til 7AM the next morning we weren’t allowed near any of it. So we pulled an all nighter and spent the night on the internet making use of our laptop, psp and itouch. As you can see from the picture below we were full of beans the next morning ?
NEXT STOP BORNEO..will Kate get to hug that Orang Utan?? Stay tuned...same bat time same bat channel..
Lots of love
Anna, Aoife, Kate, Kirsten and Ruth

Posted by annacronin 07:41 Archived in Malaysia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

India...on a velvet ribbon

Two and half weeks in India where it was over 40 degrees every day!

sunny -40 °C

5 minutes before boarding closed Aoife arrived (cool as a cucumber...ha!) for the 8 hr flight to New Delhi where we would be meeting Kirsten (fresh from Ireland, our newest member). Our 2 week trips back to European luxury had softened us up so arrival in New Delhi (aka black hole of India) was a minor shock. Our hotel was situated down a dark alley with countless homeless men sleeping on rickshaws and dogs riddled with mange...no seri bob we weren’t in europe anymore!! Then there was the 46 degree oven-like heat that had us hiding in A/C estblishments at every possible opportunity..I think our longest walk was 10 mins!
Typhoid Anna and Cyclospora Kate were due in 2 days later so left to our own devices (and jet lag) the 3 muskateers bagged an absolute bargain (once in a lifetime offer, never to be repeated...you get the idea) 2 week (luxury) tour....or so we thought until we had a proper nights sleep and realised we’d been done!! The first of our many India “rip off the tourist” moments...ahhh. To fit in with the discreet female culture we each bought ridiculous, shapeless, cover-all tops in multiple colours...not our proudest fashion moment!
We discovered India’s secret..fantastic cinemas...for 2 euro a go! We visited twice, the second time in an attempt to see a Bollywood..but we managed to choose the only serious Bollywood ever created about terrorist cells...the only words we understood in the entire film.
Day 1 our driver (yes, driver, no his name wasn’t Jeeves..it was Jai..which might be Indian for Jeeves) collected us and we headed across the country to Pushkar (9 hrs covered about 2 inches on the map..big country apparently). Our hotel had a swimming pool..but it was ½ empty/full and had critters floating in it so no swims. The holy lake (the famous attraction on Pushkar) was a completely empty, mud hole with stray dog packs and naked children roaming it. Nice. While we were having a sit down beside the lake, absorbing some holy energy, a holy man came over to sell us some holiness in the form of holy flowers. When we declined we were “moved on” as we weren’t contributing to the holy aura. Time for some food so.
Next stop was Jaipur where our “centrally located hotel” was a 20min drive from town (Our tour got nicknamed the Ryanair tour which was quite accurate). Our driver brought us to an overpriced tourist trap for food (he was on commission). We told him we didn’t like it. Despite this he brought us back there...I’m not sure if we were quite vocal enough or he was just stupid...the latter is more likely, we were pretty vocal. Aoife did entertain us with a stunning solo Hindi dance rendition so the night wasn’t a total flop. The next meal time we chose our own place, a revolving restaurant..where the floor rotated but the walls didn’t so we were all sea sick before starters arrived!! We also declined the option of visiting his friends textile factory but ended up in a textile factory. Hmm. India. So we upped the vocal’ness a bit. We tried the sightseer thing and visited a building that was in the guide book. We closely viewed every architectural wonder, taking much interest in the historical signifigance of the building. There was no room for fun and games in our path to cultural enlightenment. ...hmm.
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Onto Agra, city of the Taj Mahal and...well...not much else. Our “brochure” included a sunset view of the Taj. We were left at the margin of a deserted dump and told to walk in for the view. When men started appearing from behind bushes we ran back. We never saw the sunset. At 6am (yes AM) we headed for the Taj. It was spectacular, and we had a good look at it. Then we got hungry. We are not sightseers.
Our wonderful travel agents had forgotten to send our train tickets but they arrived 5 hrs before our train left. Only problem was that there were 4 seats and 5 of us..on an overnight 18hr train...then we were told WE would have to sort that ‘minor’ problem out. There was also the issue of our next train being 3rd class even though we’d paid extra for 2nd class...but at least there was 5 seats!! Numerous calls (and being hung up on) got us nowhere. Luckily Kate charmed the pants off the train man and got a 5th bed...not that we told the travel agent during the compensation arguments. With few hrs to kill we went to the cinema,Terminator 3, but had to rush out 15mins from the end to catch the train!
Suprisingly our pick up in Varanassi was at the station. They pounced on us in our post-night train stupor and sold us another wonderful (etc...) tour which we fell for again. Bloody Indians. Kate got malaria/typhoid and Dengue fever (actually just a fever but we all had disease paranoia) which was due to the stress of not having a train seat (or so we told the travel agent). We loved Varanassi, we were free of our crazy driver and finally started enjoying India. The girls were all very upset to not see any dead bodies burning on the ghats but the sunrise ‘ryanair’ boat trip was nice.Ryanair as our boat only went ½ way to where we wanted (and where all the other tour boats went). We spent 2 hrs trying to find the elusive Golden Temple and when we found it we weren’t allowed in as apparently we’re not Hindi (what gave it away)?? Only drawback to the place was lack of cinema...
Our final destination was Calcutta. Our 3rd class train there was complete with mini cockroaches so we all plugged our ears with tissue paper..classy...but cockroach free come morning! Aoife led us on a tour to visit the Royal Art Academy..after 2 hrs in the heat and 100%humidity we landed in a sweaty heap outside a governers house where entrance to tourists was denied...apparently no. 29 on page 564 did not corralate with the no. 29 on page 568...different map entirely. Hot, sweaty, disgruntled we decided to get some hair therapy...5euro wash and cut, how could you go wrong. Anna’s blowdry was a 40minute assault where her hair was brushed dry and her scalp scalded by 2 trainees..Kate, Kirsten and myself got the “funky” cut..aka the mullet. A bit of repair work with 1st Aid scissors was required. Never again.
So then we cheered ourselves up with some cinema therapy where we finally saw the end of Terminator (but only coz Kirsten insisted). Monsoon also arrived and we got trapped into our hotel by floods and had to get rickshawed out so we could reach “Kookie Jar”...a vital trip...it just so happened they sold chocolate mousse, praline cake, jam rings and brownies!!
Finally the time came to leave our beloved India, but it had the last laugh. We had cleverly saved some rupees to buy gin before we reached Malaysia (a dry muslim country) (and yes this is forward planning and we were incredibly proud of ourselves!). Only problem was the Duty Free man wouldn’t accept payment of rupees for alcohol. We could buy $30 of chocolate yes, but no alcolhol..customs rules....aaaaaaaaaaaaaagggggggggggghhhhhhhh...goodbye and goodriddance!Happier times ahead...
Love Ruth, Anna, Aoife, Kate and Kirsten! xx

Posted by annacronin 07:34 Archived in India Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Reunited and it feels so good..

sunny 42 °C

After 2months of not seeing each other for some of us (how did we survive) we are now well and truly back together and in each others pockets in sweaty India. We have also recruited a new member to Team Sweaty..take a bow Kristen Elliot, also from Dublin (culchies outnumbered 4 to 1!!) who is joining us for the rest of the trip and is hoping to work in Australia also.

We are in India for the next 2 weeks, the Parhention Islands for 1week, 3 weeks in Borneo and then onto Oz for a dose of reality.

We will update the blog with trekking escapades in Nepal ASAP.

Lots of love

Aoife, Anna, Kate, Kirsten and Ruth


Posted by annacronin 06:16 Archived in India Comments (0)

Gnarly Karnali....

10 days rafting in remote west Nepal!!

sunny 30 °C
View Where the hell are we..?? on annacronin's travel map.

Back in January when Nepal was a hundred years away and the Irish winter had us needing adventure and excitement the suggestion of a 10 day rafting expedition in the far flung reaches of West Nepal seemed like a genius idea...Damien's genius idea..and we all jumped on board!! (except aoife who proclaimed she wasn't a water baby and chose the wimpy Everest bas camp route out...)(wuss)

All too soon it became a reality and suddenly we were paying up and signing declarations that grievous bodily harm was par for the course, risk was inherent, writing details of closest and dearest for "emergency" contacts, and giving every last detail of travel insurance in case an air-lift out was required....hmm...suddenly the spa retreat was looking more appealing. Of course being us we chose the cheapest option, not looking at the fine print..as in the transport aspect of getting to said far-flung reaches of Nepal. the $700 quote had a private mini-van...ours was public buses...and they make CIE look like 1st class limos!

Me and Anna were in Kathmandu and arrangements had been made to pick up Kate and Damien from Mugling (a one-horse back water town a 3 hour drive from us). We were instructed to be at a meeting in the office at 2pm...met the guides (and the TRAINEE kayaker..our rescue!!) for 5 minutes, then close to 4pm were walked 20mins to the bus station....or all our gear and the guides waiting at the edge of a road with no stop signs anywhere?! met a cool french couple too (Claire and Will) who had also been told that there was a meeting and had been there at 2..after 10 mins of "but we were there and didn't see you..etc..." we realised that we'd booked with 2 different companies!So our bus turns up with miraculously 8 empty seats, all gear thrown on top and off we went at 4.30ish...2 hours we stopped in an endless traffic jam...for 9 HOURS!! A landslide apparently...so we got to poor Kate and Damo at 4am instead..9 hours late..not happy bunnies! they'd rung the company owner who had told them that we were only 1/2 hour away at 11pm. Happily re-united and full of confidence that we were now on the way we ran instantly into another jam..another landslide..and another 4 hours...but we'd run out of food and water!!It eventually cleared and the driver took it upon himself to make up the 13 hour delay by driving at breakneck speed and passing out EVERYTHING regardless if the oncoming road was clear! Got to Surket at 8pm that evening and breathed a sigh of relief, until the guides told us only 6 hours left!! Thinking we could get some sleep we settled into our seats and then 6 hour roller coaster began...like driving off-road on unfinished roads with ravine to the left in a bus with NO suspension!! Arrived at the put-in point tired, sore and grumpy, but a few hours later (after delicious curry-chickpea, roti, onion and biscuit breakfast!) were togged out in beautiful blue cags and paddling!

Day 1, 2 and 3 the rapids got progressively bigger..the 3rd day we were faced with some beauties titled "God's House", "Flip and Strip", "Raft Trap", "Contionuous"....amazing fun but pretty hairy! spent a lot of time paddling air or hanging on for dear life!!Every night we camped in the most amazingly remote beaches beside the river, the guides cooked up a feast and we sat beside a campfire chatting under crystal clear starry skies, complete cliche stuff!! 2 nights we had big thunder+lightening storms and rain, and a landslide into a neighbouring river turned our river into the equivalent of mud-soup on day 4-but we still got thrown in regularly; tasted a bit crunchy but otherwise fine! On the 4th day Anna got pretty sick and the guides were so cute, built her a little shelter on the gear raft and gave her drugs..of course being Anna (along with paracetemol effects) she thought she was "fine" after lunch...we soon realised she was lying (the fact she lay hunched up and groaning after the slightest bit of effort was a small hint)..so we threw her back onto the other raft; we weren't going to have dead weight on our cool raft!

The first few days food was incredible then as suplies ran low it got progressively more like scout camp..but on the 4th night we camped beside a village and the locals brought a chicken which a little kid disposed of with a machette and we licked it up. It was a bit chewy which was either because it was a very old chicken or because they left it tied to the raft for about an hour before they killed it and fear doesn't = tender chicken!!! The further we went down the river the bigger the villages and the bolder the kids...on the 5th night we must have had 40 of them in the camp and Anna has an incredible talent at attracting them! We were followed EVERYWHERE...every shower had an audience of at least 10 kids. Of course Anna had to take it to another level and invited them all to join her and use her wash-stuff, then brushed all their hair after....she denies inviting them and says them swarmed her but we know the truth..trying to be the popular one!!They then insisted on doing her hair (and yes they all had nits and yes they used her hairbrush so tonight we have the pleasure of a "just-in-case" de-lousing session!!) They were very cute but privacy just didn't register with them!

The last 2 days were flat with the odd rapid so lots of paddling and swimming...we saw a snake (after the guides told us there were no water-snakes...but there are land snakes that swim..??!! and yes they're poisinous!!), a jakal, lots of monkeys and there were cat paw prints at one campsite that the guides looked a bit suspiciously at and said were leopard tracks but they were pathological liars (see snake story above) and we ignored them! On our day off we were taken trekking..in 40degree heat...one village invited us to teach in the school so we had a go...ended up with the entire school in 1 room, kids hanging out of rafters and us trying to get them to sing "head, shoudlers knees and toes"! We then went across a dodgy steel bridge to another village where we bought a 40 kg pig to cook for dinner (!) and were fed chang (rice wine)+walked back tipsy!! Had a big BBQ for our last night and drank local raksi (Nepali equivalent of Poitin...didn't realise quite how potent it was til we got up to go to bed and found walking a bit trickier! Don't even ask about the drunken squat toilet logistics...)

Was sad to leave the river but had enough of the relaxing paddling (bloody hard work). We hit the end point in Chisapani, changed on the river bank (watched by a horde of local men in y-fronts), carried all the gear up and drank ice-cold Coke..mmmm...and waited for return bus. Me, Anna and the French decided to head straight to Pokhara while Kate and Damo went back to Kathmandu. The guides decided the direct bus would be much better for us than getting the Kathmandu bus and switching in Mugling. They failed to mention that the direct bus went through every village possible and waaaaaaaay off the main highway into the foothills. It was torture..1/2 hour in got a flat tyre, fixed that but spare had a slow leak! Next village 12 goats were loaded into the boot and onto the roof and the bus floor was packed with bags of cabbages, onions and rice (smell got progressively worse). Then the spare tyre had a slow leak so we stopped on the highway and switched tyres with another bus..which was also faulty...so we found a repair place that tried (and failed) to fix it.for 2 hours..then at 3am they woke up another repair man who spent 3 hours fixing it and at 5am we were on the road. Me and Anna both had dodgy tummies and had to repeatedly dash into the darkness to find bushes..only to be caught rotten by oncoming headlights!! At 7.30 we hit a check-point and weren't allowed to pass due to the goat/cabage smuggling racket on board..so U-turn, unload some rice and re-position goats mroe discreetly+change drivers, and 1.5 hours later get across the same check-point and they all celebrate. Our 13 hour trip turned into 24 hours, with goat pee running down the windows (goats on the roof terrified at G-forces of taking bends at 90mph!) Miraculously all 12 goats survived and so did we!! Arrived in Pokhara at 2pm..shattered...the fact our bags that were sent from Kathmandu had disappeared didn't really bother us! They too miraculously appeared a couple of hours later......

Moral of the story...take a plane in Nepal and don't make silly decisions in January....

lots of Love,
Ruth, Anna and Kate (and Aoife up a mountain somewhere who really did get the easy way out in the end!!!)

Posted by annacronin 05:16 Archived in Nepal Tagged boating Comments (1)

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