Tag Archives: River

Travel Guide: Kuching x2

I left Malaysia in the spring of 2015. I hadn’t been back until four girlfriends and I decided to take a quick weekend trip to Kuching, a wonderful town in Sarawak, one of the two Malaysian states on Borneo.

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I visited the area once before (though my photos are way better this time, thanks to a fancy camera) and was excited to go back. Other than booking flights and a hotel, the entirety of our planning took place in the airport.

Friends: What are we doing in Kuching?
Me: Seeing the orangutans.
Friends: Anything else?
Me: Eating. Drinking tuak.
Friends: Cool. Anything else?
Me: Last time, I visited the Annah Rais Longhouse. Really enjoyed it and would go back, but I really don’t mind. It’s a nice town to wander through.
Friends: Sounds good.

And that was that!

As promised and planned, Semenggoh Nature Reserve was the highlight of our trip. We arrived in time for the morning feeding, which begins around nine. I love rainforests (or any forests) and enjoyed the walk to the reserve’s feeding platform.

The purpose of Semenggoh is to teach rescued or orphaned orangutans how to live in the wild, so the orangutans really only come to the reserve for a meal when there’s no food in the forest. They mostly stay away during fruiting season. My last visit was in October and we saw groups of orangutans during both feeding times, but this time around wasn’t as lucky. We did see the resident crocodiles, though!

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We also saw some really cool pitcher plants, which are really fun to look at because a) they’re carnivorous and b) they come in a surprisingly wide array of sizes. We didn’t know it at the time, but we were going to learn more about them later in the day.

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One friend and I decided to leave the reserve on foot, doubling back on the one kilometer path we’d followed on the way in. The rest of the gang went ahead in a car and I thought we’d meet at the gate to decide what to do for the rest of the morning. Since we hadn’t seen any orangutans, we agreed to return to Semenggoh for the afternoon feeding but that was as far as we’d planned.

When my friend and I got to the bottom, however, our other friends were nowhere in sight. We asked the guard if he’d seen them and he gestured vaguely down the road, telling us they’d walked. One look at the two-lane shoulder-less highway convinced us otherwise. We waited 15 minutes and then, as if answering an unspoken cry, a man in a small purple car pulled up and asked if we needed a ride.

We looked at each other. Yes, we did. We got into the car and asked him to take us to the closest town in the direction of Kuching. The hornbill statue indicated that we’d arrived in Padawan and the man in the purple car, who may or may not have been a taxi/Grab, drove off.

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We went immediately to the closest hawker for bowls of soup and noodles and cups of strong coffee. After lunch, we saw a sign for a pitcher plant museum, so of course we went!

Padawan was also home to a wonderful market. I love markets in all forms and we leisurely wandered through it, wishing we could buy some vegetables and take them home. I was less enthralled with the fish and meat, but that’s local life.

The market was also exciting because the lady selling jewelry told us she’d seen our friends! They’d been looking for a short one and tall one, they told her, and that certainly described us. And truly, how likely was it that two groups of white women wandering through a wet market in a tiny town in Borneo didn’t know each other? The woman knew they were heading back to Semenggoh and we went off to join them. The woman didn’t know, however, how we should get back. There was no bus, she told us, and while I had my phone, I didn’t intend to turn it on to call a Grab.

Luckily, my friend talks to literally anybody and after we stood on a corner for a few minutes and tried making eye contact and looking friendly and in need of help, she walked up to a man and asked how to get a taxi. Someone else overheard and told us he’d give us a ride. We followed him to his white truck and hopped in. We looked at each other. All I could think was, “Oh gosh, her husband will kill me if she doesn’t get back!” How I stayed alive in that scenario, I’m not quite sure.

But the man was lovely and pointed out several landmarks along the way. He took us exactly where we needed to be and even agreed to take our money after we asked twice. After all, we would have paid a taxi! We were greeted by our friends and a really cute lizard!

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We saw another neat lizard later on . . .

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. . . and then were back in forest looking for orangutans. In Malay, “orang utan” means “people of the forest” and that’s exactly what they are. Watching the orangutans is breathtaking because it’s like watching evolution. It’s watching yourself in a different form. Watching the orangutans play and interact leaves no doubt that we are very close relatives and that they have been around for a long time. Visiting the orangutans at Semenggoh was, and remains, the single most amazing experience I’ve had in Southeast Asia.

We took a very long bus ride back to Kuching and agreed that we probably should have turned on the cellular data and taken a Grab, mostly because we were all hot and tired by that point. The walk along the water from the bus station, however, which we repeated in the opposite direction the next morning, was really lovely and I was not sorry to end the afternoon there. Orangutans and boats, all in one day!

In addition to being located on the Sarawak River, which I like very much, Kuching is home to brightly colored buildings and a few cat statues (because “kuching” is the Malay word for “cat”) . . .

. . . and a great array of street art. I liked that very much, too!

Our wandering through the street art district took us to a few lovely cafés and one of the proprietors suggested we check out the Textile Museum. We did, and were pleasantly surprised at the range of artifacts on display. Since we decided to have an easy coffee morning and not visit a longhouse, the textiles provided us with a glimpse of traditional life that I think is important for any trip to Sarawak.

And, of course, there were temples. We only stopped into one and it was lovely and colorful, which is really the best way I can describe the city of Kuching itself.

All in all, it was a great weekend. Kuching is a quick hour and twenty minutes from Singapore and there are cheap flights that leave after work. It was fun to be back in Malaysia both because of what I remembered (accurately and inaccurately) and what I’d forgotten. It’s fun to experience a bit of your own past every now and then.

But most importantly, this trip to Kuching was a great break from real life with a wonderful group of women. Thanks, ladies!

Travel Guide: Luang Prabang

UNESCO World Heritage city Luang Prabang was the third city that my friend Kyle and I visited during our week in Laos. We spent two nights in Vientiane, another two nights in Vang Vieng, and the final three nights here in Luang Prabang, which was definitely my favorite of the three cities we visited. It was serene and beautiful with good cafés and a bar that served a delicious spicy cocktail. It was truly a wonderful way to end an amazing week full of good conversation and exciting travelling experiences.

To get there, we took the most beautiful bus ride that I have ever experienced. It was over seven hours long, a bit crowded, and not as ventilated as we would have liked but I am so glad we were able to see so much of Laos during our travels. The country is very rural, very agricultural, and absolutely stunning. The higher we climbed into mountains and the more we were able to see, the more humbled I felt for being so privileged to be where I was, seeing what I was seeing.

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Like much of former French Indochina, Luang Prabang maintains colonial charm with a distinctly Asian vibe. Mopeds and bikes are the preferred means of transport for locals and many tourists, and tuk tuks and songthaews are easy to come by to get around. Also located on the Mekong River and surrounded by mountains, Luang Prabang is beautiful as well as historic.

 

Kyle and I spent much of our time in Luang Prabang exploring the delicious Asian and French foods, coffees, and other sorts of beverages that the city had to offer. We walked through a very busy night market selling souvenirs of all sorts, as well as various fruit juices and snacks. Mostly, though, we just enjoyed being in the quiet outdoors, particularly welcome after the more raucous town of Vang Vieng.

By far my favorite experience in Luang Prabang was our trip to Tat Kuang Si, which I’ve seen described as Laos’ “most spectacular waterfall”. I haven’t seen all the Laotian waterfalls, but this one certainly deserved the top-shelf adjective. Even young monks were playing in the water!

 

Unsurprisingly, this waterfall came with a story:

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I have to thank an Israeli tourist who we met, too, for making this a particularly memorable experience. Moral of the story: My Hebrew used to be a lot better! I understood everything she said but responded mostly in English. She, of course, understood perfectly and responded mostly in Hebrew. Small world just gets smaller the more of it I experience.

As a UNESCO World Heritage city, we expected Luang Prabang to have a range of temples to explore, in addition to its incredible natural beauty. We were not disappointed.

 

On our final night in Laos, Kyle and I climbed Phu Si Hill at the recommended time (shortly before sunset) to get a look at the entire city:

 

We passed various Buddhas and temples on the walk down the hill, which was a nice reminder of the values of this beautiful country:

 

I am so glad to have had such a relaxing, rejuvenating week in Laos with such a good friend. It was really wonderful to explore this country with Kyle, and to get his perspective and ideas on what we were doing, seeing, and experiencing. We had great conversations throughout, which was the best overall part of the week. I’d happily return to Laos at any time – let me know if you’d like to come with me!

Travel Guide: Vang Vieng

The beautiful party town of Vang Vieng was the second city that my friend Kyle (here’s his website) and I visited during our week-long sojourn in Laos. You can read about our first few days in Vientiane, the Laotian capital city, here. You can also read about our experience in Luang Prabang, definitely my favorite, here.

We traveled from Vientiane to Vang Vieng in a very air-conditioned bus. Kyle was quite pleased with that situation, but I was freezing. The ride took about four and a half hours. It rained for the majority of the trip and I enjoyed watching the clouds move outside the window. The landscape didn’t change too much as we climbed into the beautiful, misty mountains. We passed rice paddies, cows, some goats, and lots of dogs and chickens.

Like Vientiane, Vang Vieng is situated along the Mekong River. The town is quite small, beautifully located in the midst of mountains, and very easy to walk around. We spent both afternoons alternating between food, drinks, and walking and I do believe we saw everything there was to see.

As usual, we wandered past some beautiful Buddhist temples. No matter how much travelling I do in Southeast Asia, they never get old.

For our first night in Vang Vieng, we found a neat bar located along the Mekong River where the best available seats were hammocks! We stayed there for a while and watched the sun go down over the water. It was a very serene experience, despite the mosquitos.

We spent the next morning with a guide we booked through Green Discovery who took us on a short trek first through rice paddies and then through several caves, which were really neat. I’ve explored caves before, but never caves as dark and deep as these. We wore headlamps that the guide had us turn off at one point so we could experience complete darkness. Bats were the primary inhabitants of at least one cave, and another extended so far through the mountain that we had to turn back because we ran out of time to go through it. At the end of the trek, we loaded ourselves into inner tubes to float through yet another cave while clinging to a rope for dear life. Very cool experience!

While walking through town, we saw a number of signs in Hebrew (fun for me) and Korean (fun for Kyle). Low tourist season meant that it was relatively quiet, even considering the drinking, drugs, and partying culture that has given Vang Vieng a certain reputation. Unsurprisingly, the town was full of backpackers looking to have a good time. If our own experiences out and about are any indication, I can assure you that they did! If you’re ever in Vang Vieng, I highly recommend a trip to Sakura Bar, even if you’re going just for the top-notch people watching. We spent a few hours and very little money there and were highly entertained.

Neither of us were completely prepared for the seven and some hours on a rather poorly air-conditioned, much more crowded bus the next morning, but it was completely worth it to reach the UNESCO World Heritage city of Luang Prabang. Stay tuned!