Tag: malaysia

Go ride a bike!

I’ve taken bike rides in Laos, Cambodia, Christchurch, NZ; and Bangkok, Thailand – sometimes as a  guided day tour, mostly just hiring or borrowing bikes and doing my own thing. I’ve now also taken a bike tour in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and despite being caught in a tropical downpour it was fun. I’d not been on a bike for sometime so my nether regions where very aware of the saddle by the end of my time 🙂

As a guest of KL tourism I had a guide to myself, but groups of travellers can also have a guide – if booked beforehand – or you can just grab a map and enjoy the day stopping and  starting as it suits – which is ideal especially for photographers – and of course it’s quick getting from place to places. The bikes have baskets (on the ‘women’s’ bikes) and a bell to warn pedestrians of your approach.

Many of the connections between footpaths and roads need you to get off as footpaths are often raised – I believe the council is looking at smoothing the way where possible. It was not a car-free time when I took the tour, but my guide was very aware of the traffic and car-drivers seemed considerate of us. I enjoyed the garden area in particular as it was mostly vehicle-free.

Beginning and ending at Merdeka Square, with bike route signs along  the way,  the  ride showcased some of the city’s attractions such as the Perdana Botanical Park, KL Bird Park, the National Mosque, Merdeka Square and a number of other monuments and museums.

use IMG_0248Mederka Square
 is full of  historical sites and I believe you could spend a day here alone. It has buildings which date from the late 1800s This was where the British flag was lowered in 1957 and the Malayan flag raised for the first time – signalling the end of British rule and the beginning of  the country being a sovereign nation member of the Commonwealth.

Before the ride I visited the interesting, and free, Kuala Lumpur City Gallery (just opposite the bike hire place and home to ARCH ) which is a beautiful Mogul-India inspired building and the amazing miniature model of the city certainly helps get your bearings.

Cycling is being promoted by the city council to encourage visitors and residents to explore this captivating city. In January, Mayor Datuk Seri Ahmad Phesal Talib led more than 300 cyclists along closed public roads to give them a taste of what they could enjoy under their own steam. The ride followed the launch of “Kuala Lumpur by Cycle” in February last year (2013) and now KL has monthly Car-Free Days during which 6 kilometres  city roads are closed to traffic for two hours on the first Sunday of every month. A cycling track on roads along the Gombak River is also planned so watch for more cycle routes.

“This is a very imaginative idea,” says Zalina Ahmad, director of Tourism Malaysia in New Zealand. “Cycling is a healthy and environmentally friendly way to get around and this will give people the opportunity to explore KL. Cycling is one of the best ways to get to know a city.”

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So if you are eco-friendly or just want an enjoyable way to get around this often ignored city go ride a bike and visit KLs oldest parks and heritage buildings. Just remember no matter the season, in Asia make sure you have sunblock, umbrellas and waterproof gear in your bag at all times – and a plastic bag for your camera!

Other great ways to explore this city are:

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Horse and Carriage ride

FREE Dataran Mederka Heritage Guided Tour (Mon, Wed, Sat)

FREE Little India Walking Guided Tour (Saturday)

And, soon I’ll bog about my day of travel on the jump on jump off bus 

While in KL I stayed at the Berjaya Times Square hotel … Read about my experiences there and the Theme Park

Malaysia Airlines’ has daily flights from Kuala Lumpur to Auckland (and every other part of the world)  For information about visiting Malaysia  – and do a search in my Malaysia category on this blog page for many more stories about my favourite Asian country.

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ANZAC Day In Malaysia.

I had not realised ANZAC DAY is observed in Malaysia. One site it will happen at is the Sandakan Memorial Park  where i attended the 2013 Memorial Day  event .. remembering the men who died on the death marches there – more deaths than any other such ‘march’.

More history I wasn’t aware of, perhaps as no New Zealanders were in involved, (unless they were in the British Army which was captured in Singapore and this is not known) was the Sandakan Death Marches – a series of forced marches in Borneo from Sandakan to Ranau.

I also learn in 1942 and 1943, Australian and British POWs, captured by Japan during the Battle of Singapore in 1942 were shipped to North Borneo to build a military airstrip and their own prisoner-of-war camps at Sandakan. As on the well-known Burma Death Railway, prisoners were forced to work, were often beaten and got very little food or medical attention. By the end of the war only five Australians, and one British soldiers survived, all of whom had escaped. It’s widely considered to be the single worst atrocity suffered by Australian servicemen during the Second World War and many Australians attend this emotional day and follow ‘in the footsteps of heroes.’

ANZAC DAY is commemorated with dawn services on 25th April annually. The initials mean  Australian and New Zealand Army Corps which was formed in Egypt and fought in Gallipoli. Nowadays the term has come to mean all New Zealanders & Australian defence personnel. There is a call in NZ to include the men and women who fought on both side in the 1800 NZ Land Wars.


Sandakan Memorial Service
Sandakan Memorial Service 15th August 2013

It’s all about jazz! Borneo Jazz Festival

Shortly I’m off to my favourite Asian country – Malaysia – in time to be at the Borneo Jazz Festival (9/11 May) in Miri, Sarawak. (Staying at the Park City Everly Hotel)

The Borneo Jazz Festival was suggested around 2006 as a way to  increase visitor arrivals to Miri and the northern region of Sarawak. I’m expecting a fun-filled and entertaining musical experience while also exploring Miri – I have only had 2 days there and as I had a cold I didn’t get to explore as I would usually. I’m also looking forward to Sarawak Laksa for breakfast!

All About Jazz  said “The Miri International Jazz Festival [now called the Borneo Jazz Festival] in Sarawak province Malaysia, on the island of Borneo, can lay claim to being the only jazz festival on the South China Sea. A long line of tankers and cargo ships stretches across the horizon like buttons sewn on a vast blue cloth and attests to Miri’s century-old history as an oil town. Located in the lush grounds of the Park City Everly Hotel, the stage facing the sea was the scene for two days of music, drawing artists from Thailand, Indonesia, the USA, Brazil, Holland and Switzerland. Now in its fifth year, the festival is the cultural jewel in the crown of the Sarawak Tourism Board, whose stated aim is to use the festival as a magnet to draw tourists to the province.” Read more on the All About Jazz website.)

Miri is the birthplace of Malaysia’s petroleum industry – oil was discovered in the early 1900s – and it remains the major industry of this city. With a population around 300,000 people, it is also a resort city and is near to the Sultanate of Brunei and Sabah.

The city is surrounded by four world-class national parks which is Gunung Mulu National Park (UNESCO World Heritage Site, home to the world’s largest caves), Niah National Park (Historical and archaeological site), Lambir Hills National Park (diverse species of flora and fauna) and Loagan Bunut National Park (largest natural lake) – I hope to see at least one of them!

Jazz lovers from around the world will no doubt have a great time enjoying renowned jazz performances by the international jazz artistes and here are some of the performers:

Among the bands that will be performing will be Iriao, the eight-piece ethno-jazz band from Georgia. Iriao’s repertoire is based on Georgian authentic folk instrumental and polyphonic music, which has been recognised by UNESCO as being a masterpiece of oral immaterial heritage. However the band is not aiming to modernize the unique polyphonic Georgian music but to saturate and adorn it with Jazz elements. This is the first time that a Georgian band will be performing at the Borneo Jazz.

Another interesting line-up is Vocal Sampling, an all-male a cappella musical group from Cuba who are expected to be a hit at this year’s festival as they are a well-known band and crowd pleaser. Their album “Cambio de Tiempo” was nominated for 3 Latin Grammy Awards.

Other favourite Jazz bands listed for this years’ event will be Brassballett from Germany – the first and only show worldwide where musicians are dancers at the same time. They will perform a choreographed show on stage whilst playing their instruments.  Mario Canonge – a great virtuoso and showman playing creole jazz with West Indies rhythms from Martinique/France. YK Band from Indonesia who will feature Jazz with hints of Borneo flavour. Anthony Strong – hailed as “England’s new jazz superstar” from UK. He became No 1 on iTunes and No 2 jazz charts in the USA.

Local artist Diana Liu, the Sarawakian born artist plays pop, jazz, bossa nova, gospel and funk/soul and will represent Malaysia.

Will you be part of the crowd this year?


Magical Malaysia – top diving and fishing spots.

The only place I have ever scuba dived was on Pulau Perhentian (off the coast near Kota Bharu) and I was not surprised last night when it was described as having ‘breathtaking beauty and superb underwater attractions”. I’ve stayed on both Besar and Kecil islands and know even snorkelling right off the beach is magical with great corals and fish to see: I’ve even seen a sea snake and turtles as well as experiencing a late monsoon storm which was exhilarating!

perhentians 2
Pulau Besar


At the event, for Visit Malaysia 2014, at the Crab Shack on Wellington’s wonderful waterfront was to introduce kiwis to the fishing and diving in Malaysia. I also heard briefly about a Shoe Festival that I need to know more about!

But back to Malaysia’s diverse fishing experiences. (Appears they have lots of fishing comps too)

It seems Malaysia has world-class game (sea) fishing as well as freshwater fishing in both lakes and rivers.  The freshwater catch include things like ‘giant snakehead’ which can be ferocious and fearless, and a catfish which is seems can swallow a monkey for dinner!

The deep-sea fishing includes the Black Marlin which they encourage people to catch and release. There’s also blue marlin, yellow fin tuna, various snappers and trevallies, and one called a Whoo which is reputed to be the fastest fish in the sea.

Sounds like for you fishers that there’s something for you all. As for me I’ll just frequent the fish markets and eat there – try the stalls at Kota Kinabalu where you pick your fish and they’ll cook it for you – yum yum yummy!

Talking about food … the food at the Crab Shack was fabulous too.

Cycling in KL … spinning your wheels by night or day!


I’ve taken bike rides in Laos, Cambodia and Thailand – some as a day tour, mostly just hiring or borrowing a bike and doing my own thing. this is one I’d like to do too.

Night cycling around Kuala Lumpur is being promoted by the council to encourage visitors and residents to explore this captivating city. In January, Mayor Datuk Seri Ahmad Phesal Talib led more than 300 cyclists on a 5.4km route along closed public roads around KL to give them a taste of what they could enjoy under their own steam.

Starting and ending at Merdeka Square, the 45-minute night ride showcased some of the city’s attractions such as the Perdana Botanical Park, KL Bird Park, the National Mosque, Merdeka Square and a number of other monuments and museums.

The night ride follows the launch of “Kuala Lumpur by Cycle” in February last year and KL’s first Car-Free Day recently. Under the programme, a 6km stretch of city roads will be closed to traffic for two hours on the first Sunday of every month. A cycling track on roads along the Gombak River is also planned.

“This is a very imaginative idea,” says Zalina Ahmad, director of Tourism Malaysia in New Zealand. “Cycling is a healthy and environmentally friendly way to get around and this will give people the opportunity to explore KL at night, without the bustling crowds the city attracts during the day. Cycling is one of the best ways to get to know a city and fewer cars on the roads is better for everyone.”

And, of course, you can do it all again in the daylight for a totally different but no less magical experience!

Malaysia Airlines’ introduction of daily flights from Kuala Lumpur to Auckland in March will make it even easier to get to Malaysia and start exploring.

For information about visiting Malaysia go to http://www.tourism.gov.my/en/intl and do a search in my Malaysia category on the this blog page for many more stories about the country.

A night and whisky with the Borneo Headhunters

A frisson of fear runs through me as I step into the canoe on the man-made lake as I leave for a night with the Borneo Headhunters – the Iban tribe in their Nanga Mengka longhouse.

Ironically, it’s a man-made lake, Batang Ai, created for power generation, that I’m travelling on to stay with a displaced tribe whose region was drowned and who now have generator power for about 3 hours each evening.  Dry season means the lake is low with dead trees poking above the water and the banks showing the usual level. Our boat has very little freeway and it feels as if it could easily tip over and I have fears for my camera!

my boat arrives
my boat arrives
drowned trees and farms
drowned trees and farms

The boat is full with supplies and we too have bought many vegetables and meat for our hosts. I also have bought my gifts for the 37 families.  Using a recommendation from my guide I have 37 kilo bags of salt, one of the essential commodities they need to buy, and 80 lollipops, along with some colourful kiwi-pens, from New Zealand, for the children of the 37 homes within this longhouse.

Our boatman nearly slips as he climbs the steep bank to get up to the homes on stilts.  We pass a carved wooden figure that guards the complex and I’m soon introduced to the family I’m staying with. They have turns as being the host family and I’m staying with the 73-year old chief – a role he’s held for 30 years.  Although it’s a hereditary role, if his son does not want it, an election will be held among the men.

we arrive at the longhouse
we arrive at the longhouse
We approach the longhouse
We approach the longhouse




The human heads that this tribe had acquired over many generations of head-hunting were buried within their old longhouse when their valley was flooded: there are none in this new home.  Interestingly they still build canoes for the lake in the same way as they used on the river and I watched as they were adzing a new one that had been ordered, one of their ways of earning cash. It usually takes about 4 weeks working full-time but this time many men and women are occupied with it to get cash for the longhouse.



With our language differences, it’s not easy to communicate with this extended family and I had dreaded the welcome and the accompanying drink. They make a wine and then distil it to make a 20% proof ‘whisky’. As I am allergic to all alcohol I had learnt the word pantang which means forbidden, a term they will respect without me seeming rude in refusing it. I had also told my guide and think he had forewarned them and it was not a problem.

home-made whisky
home-made whisky

The only problem was me trying to emulate the dance they welcomed me with. I felt, and no doubt looked like, a clumsy elephant among the graceful hornbills they were dancing as. Only about half of the families joined in the welcome which finished when the whisky’ bottle was empty.

a celebration meal is prepared with the food we bought
a celebration meal is prepared with the food we bought


My bed, in the long communal corridor room that the ‘doors’ lead off, is a blow-up mattress and I cut my liquids in the hopes I don’t have to go to the toilet in the night – it didn’t work and I hear the roosters at 3, 4, 5, and 6am. I know the time as they have three chiming clocks: one is stuck at 6.29 but the pendulum is still rotating left them right.  The other two are about 30 seconds out of sync with each other so 2am produces 4 chimes and 6am, 12!

My bed in the communal area .. opposite the Chiefs dood
My bed in the communal area .. opposite the Chiefs door

Another noise I heard from 9pm until 5am is a very regular noise, rather like a cicada. It chirped every 60 seconds or so, and in the morning I ask Wayne, my guide, who is also Iban so can translate for me.  The longhouse is in a fuss about it. Seems the same noise had been  heard a few nights earlier and some of the men had gone outside to find and find it. Nothing was found and they were left wondering, was it a ‘bird, a frog, cicada’ or the top choice, ‘a spirit-bird’?

IMG_4296Morning saw me successfully having a lesson with the blow pipe and manage to hit the target each time and then we went for a BBQ picnic lunch of traditional foods  at one of their local farms.

I do hope they get enough money hosting people as it seems some of the families don’t really want to engage with visitors and being the only one made it hard for me too.  On the noticeboard I see this is their peak month for visitors, I’m the only overnight guest, with 38 day-trippers during this July.

Leaving the longhouse, on a Sunday, I’m asked if we can take three children back for their schooling where they stay Sunday to Friday. Of course I willingly agree to that – it means the transport for them and a few mothers is free, the fuel being paid for by my trip and I suspect this may be of most value to them all. Earlier in the morning others had left, leaving behind crying younger siblings and a couple crying themselves.

As I’m dropped off at the Hilton as they go on to main jetty, my guide tells me ‘Heather your trip has helped a lot of people today.’  Maybe, but it feels obscene to be going from poverty to luxury. From the locals tiny global footprint to the guests here, like me, with a huge print on the earth.

This experience reminded me of  the hard work behind survival in remote places and how it depends on a strong sense of community and self-sufficiency  but it’s now a community  quite dependent on tourism – and children who send money back from their city jobs.  As with all traditions worldwide many of these will die out too despite the help to try to keep them alive. We also cannot expect people to stay living in poor conditions while all around them, and the tourists, have hot water, power and a far easier life

It’s easier to get to my favourite Asian country – Malaysia

As readers of my blog and book know, Malaysia is my favourite SE Asian country so had to pass on this tidbit about flights from New Zealand, just in time for the Visit Malaysia Year 2014 year, with Malaysia Airlines’  flights daily from Kuala Lumpur to Auckland starting March next year. (Check out all my blogs under the category “Malaysia” on the right – i have lot more to write too after my recent visit to Sabah and Sarawak)

The press release  reads:

“Zalina Ahmad, director of Tourism Malaysia in New Zealand, says 2014 is a year in which New Zealanders can expect an extremely hospitable welcome from all Malaysians and find a huge array of things to do.

“Malaysia is well known for its food and shopping, but New Zealanders can just about think of anything they would like to see and do and they will find it Malaysia,” she says

For active Kiwis there is the whole gambit of water sports, including international tournaments in sailing and fishing, world class diving locations and white water rafting, a myriad of golf courses, extreme 4WD and mountain biking tracks, Formula One motorsports, motorbike racing and car rallying and jungle trekking.

For families there are fun parks and theme parks like Legoland and Hello Kitty World, Kuching’s Cat City and opportunities to stay in traditional Malaysian long houses and explore the differing aspects of the many cultures that make the country so colourful.

Malaysia covers not only the main peninsular with world renowned beach resorts like Langkawi, but also Borneo with the states of Sabah and Sarawak.  Some of Malaysia’s beaches are considered the best in the world.

“The announcement by Malaysian Airlines is the beginning of what will be an exciting year,” Zalina Ahmad says. “For New Zealanders who have thought about a holiday in Malaysia, Visit Malaysia Year 2014 will certainly be the time to make that dream come true.”

For information about visiting Malaysia go to http://www.tourism.gov.my/en/intl ”


So like the Nike advert .. just do it … and I’m sure you’ll love it just as I do.

PS: I have an e-book on its way about Borneo Malaysia which will be available late January 2014

Borneo orchids: Orchid Park, Kuching, Sarwak

Sarawak’s State Flower, the Normah Orchid (Phalaenopsis Bellina) is among the wide collection of Borneo Orchids found in these gardens which has a collection of 75,000 plants.

I arrived by bus while on a city tour but you can easily get there by using one of the small wooden taxi boats on the Kuching Waterfront (opposite the Astana and Fort Margherita).

When I was there a group of school pupils were also there so they were happy to have some international visitors to interview and photograph.  As I understand it, all Malay students must attend a club on Saturday with Scouts and the Red Crescent being the most popular.

Since I was there in late June (2013) the garden has had a name change – it’s now the Orchid Park – with new plans for extension including  building a mist-house or cool-house for  orchids from mild climates.

With the impressive State Legislative Assembly (DUN) complex in the background the setting is lovely and is the venue for the annual Kuching Orchid Show.

For more about this lovely city see other blogs I have written or visit their tourism website.

Enjoy these photos from my brief visit.

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Ugly animals, endangered monkeys, and a national park in Sarawak, Malaysia

“That is the ugliest animal I have ever seen’ says Nikki,my traveling mate for a few days.

With its streamlined body, long head and nose, skinny deer-like legs (3 toes front, 2 at rear) and a bristly beard along both sides of their snout, I think the Bornean bearded pig is amazing! Very laid back, ignoring the photographers and travellers in the Bako National Park it seems most efficient at digging for roots and worms in the bush and lawns, however they also hangout on the beach, browsing for food at low tide.


The pigs, and the naughty macaque, are the first animals we see as we arrive at the Sarawak Forest Dept. HQ to book into our basic accommodation.

We’ve just travelled 20-k from Kuching to Bako Village and then, under a sign warning of crocodiles, took a boat for the final 30 minutes.IMG_3666

During the boat ride we’re told ‘low tide wet landing, high tide dry landing’ and as we arrive at high tide use the jetty, not the beach, to land at this ‘smallest, oldest, and  most visited’ of the states national parks. It spreads 27 sq k between the Sarawak and Bako rivers on the Muara Tebas peninsula with a coastline lined by steep cliffs, small bays and beaches.

Apparently Sarawak has the most number of national parks, totally protected, wildlife sanctuaries and nature reserves of all Malaysian States  and makes up about 8% of the land. (see more on the Forestry Sarawak website)

Recommended to me by Ian Ord on either my Twitter or Facebook pages it seems the rich variety of wildlife are best seen close to the HQ which is why so many travellers come just for the day. I recommend you stay for at least one night – although my next trip will be for at least two nights: it was wonderfully  peaceful when the ‘day-trippers’ left and we did a night hike with a forestry guide.



On the evening walk we saw a Culago (flying squirrel) which was great, and despite not having closed shoes, and watching the ground, I was not attacked by the terrible fire ants. We also saw swifts and their prized nests – with young in the nests they hardly fitted in.

All around park are the long-tailed macaques, compulsive thieves so be careful for both you and them – it may seem funny that they steal cans of drinks but its not good for them. It also means they become aggressive and will grab your bag if they think you could have goodies in it. Monkeys, despite looking cute, can be very violent so please don’t feed them.

The naughty macaque!
The naughty macaque!

Another park favourite for me were the silver leaf monkeys (silvery lutung) is sometimes called the David Beckham monkey because of  its hairstyle. The silvery lutung is a medium sized monkey with a long tail, the grey-tips on its dark brown or black fur, giving it a uniform silvery appearance: the young are cute red-heads!  A crest of fur runs along the top of the head, and the hair on the cheeks is long while their hands and feet are hairless, with dark coloured skin, and have opposable thumbs and toes – this means  they can hold things using thumbs and fingers.

the cute babies are red for a few months
the cute lutung babies are red for a few months
cute hairstyle on the silver-leaf monkey
the ‘Beckham’ hairstyle on the silver-leaf monkey say many locals
great swimming spot
great swimming spot

We  walked a few of the many trails and at 34 degrees with 93% humidity it was wonderful to arrive at a beautiful, nearly deserted, beach where Nikki and I plunged into the cooler water. Magic.

Proboscis monkeys of course are the stars here. With their long, straight, pale tail flowing behind them they leap almost clumsily from tree to tree. They eat young shoots of indigestible foliage which is then broken down in their two stomachs. Male vanity and the need to dominate means their nose can grow to such a pendulous length they have to hold it up, or push aside to eat! It also seems the head of the harem is always on duty with his penis erect for much of the time leading to many postcards of him ‘showing his red chilli.’

Other males, lower in rank, hang out in male groups until their noses grow bigger and they have the chance to challenge the leader and so become head of the harem.

Proboscis monkey
Proboscis monkey – this one is waiting for his nose to grow!

They have few predators in their natural environment – they are preyed on by crocodiles but people are its biggest threat. With the loss of lost vast areas of natural habitats to due to deforestation they appear to have been pushed into smaller, and more isolated, pockets of bush. It is listed by the IUCN as endangered in its natural environment and could face extinction: evidently very few are in captivity as they do not respond well to those conditions.


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Green viper stare: Bako NP, Sarawak, East Malaysia

A green viper stares at  me in Bako National Park, Sarawak, East Malaysia. Luckily his tummy was full and I’m too big for him 🙂

This is just a heads up for my next blog which will be about this great park!