Category Archives: Asia

Hilton Kota Kinabalu ticks all the boxes for me

Flying into KK or Kota Kinabalu as its officially called, we, my friend Judy and I were picked up by Ben who was to be our guide – many thanks to Sabah Tourism Board for helping host us for 3 days and organising my itinerary. Ben was an ideal, and professional guide, and of course our driver, Wilfred (who incidentally, we find out, grows vanilla) was a safe and considerate driver.

First stop the was the Sabah State Museum, where we walked through the heritage village, in and out of many traditional houses and watched women making jewellery and arts and crafts. Inside the museum we enjoyed, in particular, costumes of years gone by and a photographic exhibition. We also made a note to ourselves to read more by Agnes Keith whose first book about ‘North Borneo’ as it was then, has become a tagline for Sabah – Land Below the Wind while another of her books, Three Came Home inspired a film of the same name.

Checking into the Hilton Kota Kinabalu, that evening we had early dinner with Jeremy, the marketing manager from the Hilton: he didn’t need to do any ‘marketing’ as the hotel and the Rooftop Poolside Bar and Grill spoke for itself. I had an Angus beef steak which was thick, tender and cooked perfectly, exactly as I’d requested – rare. Judy had salmon and said it too was faultless.

While up there we met the chef as well as the cooks and wait staff. Breakfast was in the Urban Kitchen on the ground floor and, as always, although I loved the wide variety of global food, I particularly enjoy being able to have Asian dishes for breakfast. The Urban Kitchen has an international buffet every night as well as having a special menu – for instance, Monday Malaysian, and Saturday Local Seafood Market. The Rooftop also specialises in the local seafood.

The Hilton Kota Kinabalu – really central, and which accommodated us for three nights in luxury – has been open since mid-March 2017 and, going by our experience, it’s living up to the names international reputation. Its spacious, luxurious rooms are all you could wish for – including in my room, a large rain or ‘deluge’ shower and big TV. It also had many power points and USB plugs, essential for travellers, and the bedside lights were fantastic – often one of the worst features in hotel rooms!

I also loved the welcoming lobby with its huge chandelier and especially the variety of little seating areas and magazines. Off the lobby was a quiet and well stocked library which impressed me.

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The Hilton staff were impeccable. I asked one of the wait staff ‘why are the Hilton staff so friendly?’ He responded. ‘I don’t know, maybe it’s just typical Malay, ma’am’. It’s true the Malay are friendly and helpful, but the staff here seem to really enjoy their various roles. Of course, Sabah, with the highest number of tourists in Malaysia, is not called ‘friendly state’ by accident.

This is about the third Hilton I’ve stayed at – it certainly was the best, by a long shot – and this, as followers of my blogs will know, is truthful and is exactly how I’d have written this had I not been hosted.

Kinabalu National Park, Sabah, Malaysia

“No, I’m not climbing to the peak” I tell our excellent guide

While in Kinabalu National Park,  (Sabah, Malaysian Borneo) I’m not sure if our guide said “look up there” or I just noticed and photographed the pretty canopy outline then later heard about ‘canopy shyness’. I just know the narrow yet clear gaps between the tree crowns is attractive.

Canopy, or crown, shyness is, I now know after research, is a phenomenon in which some tree species make sure they do not touch each other: forming canopies with channel-like gaps. It’s most common among the same species.

This growth has been discussed in scientific literature since the 1920s and many hypotheses have been put forward as to crown shyness being an adaptive behaviour. Research suggests that it maybe stops the spread of leaf-eating insect larvae, and, or, also possible physical explanations such as light shading sensing by adjacent plants.

A Malaysian scholar, Francis S.P. Ng, studied (1977) the Malay camphor tree and suggested that the growing tips were sensitive to light levels so stopped growing when near other foliage due to the induced shade.

Mt Kinabalu

However, apparently, the most likely theory is that the trees simply do not want to hurt themselves in windy areas!

I wonder – I just know the gaps between the trees provided me with a couple of  striking photos.

Is this a Malay Camphor?


Bako, Sarawak: Malaysian Borneo for your bucket-list

I love Bako National Park.  Sadly, I was unable to stay overnight this time, but I recommend that if you possibly can – do so!  I also recommend you book well in advance to get a bed.

This park, which I believe is the smallest in Malaysia, and certainly the most visited because of the ease of access, from Kuching, Sarawak, is almost a different place when all the day-trippers leave.

At the bottom of this blog is a link to another story, with photos, that I wrote about Bako a few years ago after my first visit.  I’m still in love with the ‘ugliest animal you ever could see’ and of course the severely endangered proboscis monkey – most people have no idea that this monkey is even more endangered than the orangutan – once again, like many animals, in danger because of habitat loss.

A public bus from Kuching will take you to the dock where you can catch a boat to Bako.  Just remember, there are crocodiles in the water!


Here are some photos of those so-called ugly animals – I think ‘how could you not love the Bornean bearded pig’.

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The kiwitravelwriter reluctantly leaving Bako. photo by Chris Lambie
catching the boat to leave – by Chris Lambie (Australia)
arriving at Bako

here’s another blog I wrote, with more photos, about Bako

Drumming at a music festival in the Borneo Jungle

The Rainforest World Music Festival has just celebrated twenty years of family friendly fun:  that’s two decades of unique, worldwide, musical experiences and talents in the heart of the Borneo jungle.

It started over twenty years when a Canadian, Randy Raine-Reusch, a musician and student went to Sarawak to learn their traditional music.  He particularly became enamoured with the Sape, and this instrument has become an enduring, recurring theme of the festival which is held at the living heritage museum  – the Cultural Village  – just out of Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia, Borneo.

A much-loved tradition, that started a few years ago, is the drumming circle led by Drums, and other percussion instruments, are provided for 100 people at each session – and each seat in the circle is highly sought after – and it’s first in first served.

Judy, from Los Angeles, and who was travelling with, was lucky to get a seat – ‘lucky’ as I pushed her into it. 🙂

Emerging thirty minutes later she said she was thrilled to have taken part and also said “I can see the attraction of playing music or singing on a group – the conductor was marvellous and easy to follow I can also see why you wanted me to experience it – it’s wonderful”.  I suspect, had not everybody been asked to give up their seats for others, she could still be sitting there now.  However, the second ‘sitting’ of musicians were just as enthusiastic!

The ‘outer circle’ of people (swaying, dancing, and flag waving) are just as much part of the noise and fun of the drumming circle as those sitting in the front row. So, when you get to this wonderful event make sure you too participate in the drumming circle.

Here’s a video from 2015 when, I too, was in the drumming circle

Diary in these dates: 13th – 15th July 2018 for the twenty-first festival (#rwmf) and your turn to get drumming.

NOTE: this is a great stop-over destination between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres

Some general scenes from the drumming circle:

I’ve always stayed at Damai Beach Resort while at the #RWMF

Not all travel is for fun – NZ army vets return to Malaya for unveiling

While in Kuching a month ago, immediately after the Rainforest World Music Festival, I unexpectedly met Dato Lim Kian Hock. He told me about a group of past New Zealand military personnel who were going to Sarawak for the commemoration, and unveiling, of a plaque honouring their help to Malaya at the end of August.  As my ex-husband (now deceased) was posted in Malaya (as it was then called) during that time, I was interested in what was happening.

He (Dato Lim Kian Hock) is the chair of Sarawak Tourism Federation Heritage Development Committee will be also sharing his wealth of knowledge on World War II and local war-related sites to ‘What About Kuching (WAK) 2017’ this October.

In an email sent to me and the New Zealand participants, he said “We feel blessed to share your happy moments in this historical commemoration and the successful unveiling of your MNZVA commemorative Plaque, your first memorial in the world, consecrated here in Kuching, Sarawak, Borneo on 29th August 2017. The morning shower has even failed to dampen your “combatant” spirit of gallantry” proudly displayed by your colourful parade led by Kaumatua in the Māori tradition. I feel so touched by your singing in Māori verses too and your explanation that the rain drops are the showers of blessing.

Above all, we shared your pride of the hour, when His Excellency the High Commissioner of New Zealand to Malaysia Dr. John Subritzky, officially announced the NZ decision to repatriate the remains of your NZ fallen heroes back home to NZ at Kuching, City of Unity in Borneo. A greater “spiritual rewards” to all your Kiwi veterans especially you all during the Confrontation period. You and your team has thus created a lifelong historical pride to your New Zealand Battalion. We wholeheartedly congratulate you and share this proud accomplishment of yours with all friends in the world.”

Twenty-Seven New Zealand veterans returned to remember their time in the Malaya and to see the commemorative plaque being unveiled at the Heroes Memorial Park. See this YouTube video of edited highlights 

The New Zealand High Commissioner to Malaysia Dr John Subritzky also attended and said it was easy for those not directly involved with the Emergency and the Indonesian Confrontation to forget how difficult and challenging those campaigns were.

He continued, “I want to acknowledge the sacrifices that were made during those conflicts. The veterans who are here today are living embodiment of one of the crucial foundations of this special relationship between New Zealand with Malaysia and Sarawak.”

As well as the Sarawak Tourism Federation (STF) Heritage Development Committee chairman Datu Lim Kian Hock, others present included the NZMVA president David Fenton and members of the Malaysian Infantry Veterans Division and the Malaysian First Infantry Division.  Many thanks to Bill Russell, VP of the MVA, for the use of his photos in this slideshow.

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My lessons from a stolen camera

Home for a week it’s now time for my first blog about my five weeks of travel in Mongolia and Malaysia.

But first, I have to talk about lessons learned.

With a travelling alone, with someone else, or in a group, it’s important to be equally careful despite the circumstances.

I’m not sure I did this while in Mongolia.

Many years ago, I recall my daughter saying, when she joined me to spend a month in Turkey, ‘how on earth do you get around the world on your own without looking at maps or street signs?’ It seems that after nine months of solo travel as soon as I was with her I had abdicated all responsibility for where we were going!

I had not even noticed I’d done so. Perhaps I did something similar at the beginning of this trip.

Flying into Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

In Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, on my last day, I had my camera stolen.

As you photographers know, I didn’t really care about the camera but was, initially, devastated to lose irreplaceable photos. I wasn’t angry at the thief – but could not believe that after all these years of untroubled, no drama, no insurance claims  travel, I had somehow let my guard down. People don’t steal without opportunities and I obviously, somehow, had provided an opportunity to someone.

The next three hours were a comedy as I tried to report the loss to the local police:  not because I thought I’d get my camera back, but knew I needed some sort of evidence for my insurance company. So, two different police stations, a ride in two different police vehicles, and strange three-way conversations between me, a non-english speaking detective, and someone on the phone who spoke a little English!

I’m glad Judy was with me :):)

During this time, we saw one police officer change trousers in the corner of the room, while another put his shoes and socks on; during our second journey in a police jeep, we pulled up while the police officer-driver spoke to a group of people who seemed to be trading out of the back of their cars – and was apparently telling them to move on. They argued back and the loudspeaker conversation lasted a few minutes high excitement for two travellers just trying to report a missing, stolen camera.

I never got a report! The only evidence I have is this – written in my diary by policeman number one under instructions from english-speaker number one! I think is says the time and places things happened – and I’m not sure how the insurance company will accept that as proof.

I could add more about those three hours, but this blog is about lessons learned, so here they are:

  • backup your photos daily – no excuses, tired or not, back them up
  • if for some reason this is not possible, have many memory cards and change them often

Memories of my photos have not disappeared, just the physical copy of them!

I can clearly ‘see’ the photo I took of a horseman driving his horses up a slope. As soon as I had taken the photo I announced ‘OMG, that is the photo of the day.’ And it was. Drama, action, atmosphere, flying dust, great composition. However, the photo I do have of that scene was one taken seconds beforehand in which I put up on Facebook as I wanted to save my ‘fabulous’ one for an article.

Another photo I specifically remember was of the setting sun and wonderful light on the hills around the Chinggis Khan horse statue and camp, ‘I could live with that photo on my wall’, were my thoughts, but of course, because I hadn’t backed up my photos, it too remains in my mind and nowhere else.

So, the only photos I have of my trip to Mongolia are ones I took on my phone and my tablet, as well as a few I’d posted on Facebook and Instagram.

Luckily the woman I was travelling with has shared all her photos with me and, for much of the next month, gave me her camera to use – while she used my small, waterproof one. Naturally, any photos I use of hers I’ll credit to her.

NOTE: these few ARE my photos:)

No posts for a while – I’m on the road again

strange nose – sort of like the proboscis monkey

I know many bloggers and travel writers do blog while on the road – I rarely do! However, I will be posting a photo a day.

Why? Well, I’m always too busy ‘doing’ ‘observing’ ‘photographing’ – as well as eating and generally ‘experiencing’ rather than writing.

As some of you know I will be at music and cultural festivals, I’ll also be exploring and hiking in national parks, snorkeling in warm waters, and, and and – so lots to follow in my daily photos and then the future blogs on this site.

So, if you want to follow my travels in Malaysia, (Sabah, Sarawak Penang, & KL) and Mongolia) follow me on my Traveling Writer Facebook page, and/or my KiwiTravelWriter Instagram page as I plan on posting a photo a day during my adventures over the five weeks I’m on the road. (I’m leaving NZ 30th June and back on 7th August)

Then, if you want to read my blogs after I have digested all I saw and experienced on these travels (And get notified by email as they are published) make sure you sign up for this blog on the top right of this blog page.

Now I will zip up my bags and head off to  the airport – see you back here in August.

Of course you can read any of the some 1300 blogs I’ve written since 2008 – just use the search box by topic, country, year or word.


#Follow me for new photos from Mongolia, Malaysian Borneo, and Penang

It’s only one week until I leave on my next big adventure to Mongolia and Malaysian Borneo! (and the mainland too) I have written a short blog about Mongolia, (see here) a country I’ve never been to, and I plan on posting a photo a day on my kiwi travel writer Instagram and Facebook pages – so #follow me. My blogs will follow once I return to New Zealand after my 5 weeks exploring.

While I have been to many parts of Malaysian Borneo (Sabah and Sarawak) and I’m looking forward to revisiting the Rainforest World Music Festival and Bako National Park, I also expect to discover new things in Kuching – including the fishing village of Kampong Buntal – and which is very close to where I’m staying at Damai Beach Resort during the festival. So, watch this space!

I’m of course hoping to see orangutans, proboscis monkeys, wild pigs, and possibly a crocodile or two. My must-eat food list is too long – and once again I’m hopeful my bathroom scales do not show a huge upward number when I return home. Malaysia has such wonderful food and Malaysians are all foodies, and who will always entice you to try this and that and yet another thing.

I’m spending about five days in Penang, which is considered the food capital of Malaysia, and as it’s been a long time since I was there I’m wondering if some of my favourite places will still exist. Feel free to give me advice about your favourites in the comments at the end of this blog.

In Sabah, the northern region of Malaysian Borneo, I will be snorkelling in new areas -Mabul island, and also Gaya island where I will visit the Marine eco-research Centre. Another new place will be the Sabah Tea garden after a short hike and Kinabalu Park – one of Malaysia’s world heritage sites.

Check out blogs I have already written about Malaysia (use the search button on this blog site) and make sure you follow me for five weeks of daily photos – as many of you will know, Malaysia is my favourite Asian country – and who knows, Mongolia – which is a blank canvas for me – could end up on my favourites list too.

Hope I get to see Richie again – he’s a big boy!
Heather helps plant mangroves


The kiwitravelwriter, arrives on Talang-Taland Island, Sarawak,  photo by Gustino – Sarawak Tourism Board
A fisherman uses a net on Batang Ai, Sabah. Malaysian Borneo


Mongolia – off to the annual cultural festival: Naadam

In 2 weeks’ time I’m off to Mongolia, so have been doing a little research. It seems the Mongol Empire of the 13th and 14th century was the largest land empire that ever existed – stretching from Korea to Hungary and most of Asia (not India or Southeast Asia) and it lasted for over a century.

While I’m there I’ll be attending Naadam – an annual, traditional festival: which, in 2010, was inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of UNESCO.

I’m looking forward to “the 3 games of men” of Mongolian wrestling, horse racing and archery. It seems women now take part in the archery and horse racing games and I’m expecting to get some great photos in this, the biggest festival in the Mongolian calendar.

One of the things that confused me about Mongolia were the terms Outer Mongolia, and Inner Mongolia. Wikipedia tells me that Outer Mongolia ( where I will be) is an independent, landlocked democracy, between China and Russia. Inner Mongolia was, or is, the part of the country closest to China and is not really part of the country known as Mongolia. I have no doubt I will be learning a lot in the 10 days I’m there!

I’ll be based in Ulaanbaatar, where about half of the of the 3 million population live, and expect to be posting on Instagram and Facebook (The Travelling Writer) while there – my blogs will follow once I’m back in New Zealand and had digested all I’ve seen and learnt.