Singapore

There is definitely a buzz about Singapore.  It’s got that busy-bee vibe.  The busses are packed full of sweaty commuters whose shirts are wetter than a seal’s belly.  Dotted about the malls are yoga-mat carrying chicks oozing cool while sipping on iced matcha tea.

We are gave ourselves two full days to explore the main sights, which included allowing my mum and her like-minded cronies several hours of shopping on Arab Street looking for dress material.  The men sat around asking when we could go get a beer.

We explored the city by foot.  I wanted to see as much Colonial Architecture as possible because it’s so much prettier than all the glass boxes thrown up around the city.

Obligatory nod to Raffles.

On our second day we hopped on the metro to get to Singapore Zoo. As a bit of a London Gal I am well versed in Tube Etiquette: I always let people off before I try to get on and will do that passive aggressive head-shake thing if some tourist does the opposite, then I always take my bag or rucksack off my shoulder when standing in the aisles and I never, ever, EVER start a conversation or even make eye-contact with my fellow travellers.  Americans, if you’re reading this and planning a trip to London please take note.  Not to single you out but some of the worst offending has come from your fellow countrymen.  Anyway,  I was mortified when an old man on the Singapore Metro told me off for munching on some dried mango.  Apparently eating is not allowed on the Metro.

Mango Meme

Sidebar: Did you know that chewing gum is also banned in Singapore.  Hubs did that thing where he didn’t believe me and so asked a chap in the supermarket where the gum was.  It got a bit awkward. Enough Said.

The zoo is huge, which is great for the animals because they aren’t couped up in tiny cages and also a little ironic given that most of Singapore’s people live in tiny apartments.  They had the cutest, sweetest, cheekiest Orangutans I’ve ever met.

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Just hanging around, enjoying lunch
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TOO CUTE!
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Sweet Kisses.

It took a good few hours to walk around the zoo and even then we missed a few of the animals (I’ve seen enough vicious Macaques in the last 5 months to never want to see another one again in my life).  A few other favourites:

I loved these two elephants.  I wish I’d made a video because they were DANCING, in time! They were totally adorable.

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Making friends.

 

 

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Spooky Caves

OK.  I won’t lie.  I’ve been a little lax with my blogging duties.  This post was meant to be out in time for Halloween, ya’ know cos of the spookiness, but my parents were visiting, we went out of town, the weather was too good for writing, the dog ate my blog- take your pick of poor excuses for my being late!

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The Caves

Apparently, in Hebrew, my name means “princess”.  I don’t know any Hebrew so I can’t be certain but the internet Gods have confirmed it.  The word “princess” has sometimes been levied against me in a negative way, which is totally uncool. Like, when I return some food to a restaurant kitchen because it’s cold I get called a princess.  Or because I like to fly Business Class and stay in 5* hotels when I travel.  I mean, if you can, why the heck not, am I right?! Anyway, just to prove that I can live without luxury (more to myself than anyone else) I agreed to stay in a very basic B&B, Mulu Village when Hubs and I went to Mulu National Park.

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Mulu Village. A traditional longhouse converted into a delightful B&B.

You can walk, fly or longboat your way into Mulu.  You can’t drive in.  There is one road, which is about 1.5 miles long which basically runs from the tiny airport to the Marriott Hotel (yes I gave up the chance to stay at the Marriott in favour of its next door neighbour).

On our first day we did the Canopy Walk, which is a 480m walkway suspended 20m high up in the forest.  What I wasn’t quite prepared for was just how much the walkway would wobble as I cautiously stepped along it.  Not for the faint-hearted.  The view and sounds were incredible. We had a helpful Guide who was also trained in witchcraft homeopathy and so we stopped a lot to discuss the benefits, and also perils, of various plants, including some funky mushrooms.  Basically what I took from the tour was that, if you ever get lost in the jungle, don’t eat anything.

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The T-shirt says it all.

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Crazy ‘shrooms.

Afterwards we took another tour to the Deer Caves, which include the world’s largest cave passage or so they thought until Vietnam turned up a bigger one. I learned the difference between stalactites (mineral formations which hang down from the ceiling of the cave) and stalagmites (formations which grow upwards from the cave floor).

Stalactite
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Stalagmite

We were part of a pretty big tour group, which included a bunch of kids and so when one of them pointed out the biggest spider I have ever seen in my life I had to play it cool and act like it was no big thing when in reality I was breaking out into a sweat and very close to using one of those brats to squash the hell out of that thing.

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Hunter Spider.

The caves are home to two to three million bats and everybody goes to the Showcaves hoping to catch a glimpse of the Bat Exodus.  At dusk i.e. dinnertime millions of bats fly out of the caves in a spiral formation. It was one of the most fascinating sights I’ve ever seen.  Some of those bats know they won’t make it because of predator hawks and they sacrifice themselves for the good of the group.  That’s some hardcore family loving.  I’ve never seen anything like it.

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The corkscrew formation is used to avoid predators.

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Back at the ranch the electricity was turned on (it was powered by a generator so understandably we only got a few hours the morning and in the evenings) and so I took a freezing-cold shower, in the worlds smallest bathroom.  We were exhausted enough to be in bed by 9PM and to fall asleep quite easily despite the chugging sounds of the generator.  Next day I was rudely awakened by the neighbour’s rooster screaming at us at 5AM.  It was a hot night and so I’d thrown the covers off and allowed myself to be bitten eight, yes eight, times on my legs by wretched mosquitoes even though I sprayed myself, the room, the bed, my clothes etc. with 50% deet spray the night before.

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Delicate Beauty

The B&B is run by a really lovely couple, Brenda and James.  James comes from a jungle tribe.  They provided us with some really great insight into the history of James’s tribe and the development of the National Park.  Sadly they’ve been embroiled in litigation with the Malaysian Government for over a decade as the Government basically took over the land to create the national park (which is very lucrative, I’m sure) and refused to compensate our good hosts and other local people.  This means the Government provides no support to them which is why they don’t have electricity nor running water.  (The Government sponsored Marriott hotel does have those benefits).  I was so sorry to hear of their poor treatment and really glad to have supported their business and so, even though I struggled without the luxuries I’m used to, I’d definitely urge you to stay at their longhouse if you ever go to Mulu, which you absolutely should.  It’s beautiful.

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Our kind host, Brenda.

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Sky High

A little over a year ago Hubs and I did this:

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Photo credit to Jack Hoyle:http: //www.jackhoylephotography.com

Yep, we PDA’d in front of our nearest and dearest. Oh and made some vows, got very drunk and danced a lot.

They say the first year is the hardest.  We thought we’d raise the stakes and do some other big life-changing stuff at the same time, like moving to the opposite side of the world.  To celebrate having survived the first year, the move and all the packing that was involved in all of that we headed to Langkawi, a tiny island off the coast of Malaysia.

We Hubs splashed out and booked The Westin. The hotel sits on the beach and the gorgeous pool looks out onto some islands in the distance.  There is a bar in the pool which served up (the somewhat sexist) “Bikini Friendly” cocktails of which the skinny Mojito was my favourite.  I had some of the biggest breakfasts of my life- I’m talking eggs, dim sum, pancakes, laksa, kolo mee, home-made yoghurt, fresh fruits, nuts…I could go on but my mouth is watering thinking back to it.  Almost every breakfast was accompanied by a generous amount of fizz owing to a personal rule about never refusing champagne, nor prosecco for that matter.  Perfect way of setting up the day, if you ask me.pool bar

We hired a little car and spent a week driving round the island.  We hired a car and Hubs drove us around the island while I kept the morning buzz going with beers at lunch and rum at dinner.  By far my favourite thing that we did on the island was the cable car ride.  It’s the steepest cable car ride in the world, believe it:

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Sort of looks like the cable car is just going to disappear into the midst of the jungle, don’t you think?!

That’s 708m above sea level! I’m not one for scaring easily but, oh my, it was very, very high! We seemed to hit some strong winds on the way down as the car rocked and swayed.I thought breakfast was going to make a come back but thankfully I held it together.  Hubs laughed his socks off.

The infamous haze was hanging around too, which ruined the views a little.  Super inconsiderate but I guess hazers gonna’ haze:

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For an extra few ringgit you can take a little walk along the Skybridge, which is 700m above sea level.  To say the bridge is impressive is a bit of an understatement.  Suspended from just one pylon it is the longest free span and curved bridge in the world. The views are just spectacular.

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View of the bridge.

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I really recommend Langkawi and especially the cable car ride. I think it may have sneaked into my top 5 favourite destinations of all time!

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5 things I miss about London

We have been living in Brunei for a little over three months now, which means we are halfway through our time here.  It’s fun and all but I won’t deny that there are some things I miss about home (in no particular order):

  1. My Chums.
    Happy, shiny people who I love.  Enough said:

    This was taken at our big fat Indian wedding by our very talented photographer, Jack Hoyle. http://www.jackhoylephotography.com
    This is one my favourite shots of our big fat Indian wedding taken by our very talented photographer, Jack Hoyle. I love how the shot is a little blurry and out of focus as it reflects on the drunk, happy mood so very well!  http://www.jackhoylephotography.com

  2. Fresh Milk.

    Got milk?
    Got milk?

    You can get fresh milk in Brunei but it’s ludicrously expensive and so Hubs and I are having to get used to the taste of UHT.  The other issue I have with milk here is that not all coffee shops stock low-fat or skimmed milk, which has led to some seriously irate mornings when Hubs and I can’t get that caffeine fix.


  3. Walking
    I love walking around London- it’s the best way to explore and get to know the city.  If there’s a choice between getting the tube and walking, I’d probably walk.  In Brunei however, not all roads come with pavements, which means it isn’t even possible to nip to the local grocery store on foot as the nearest one is more than a mile away and would require rising life and death crossing the roads to get there.


  4. Posh Nosh. 
    I am a total foodie.  I love eating out and London has no shortage of options. Brunei, on the other hand, has loads of restaurants where you can get all the fried chicken you want and then some.  There are a couple of really great sushi restaurants and of course the delicious nasi lemak is served everywhere BUT what you won’t find is gourmet cuisine.  gourmet


  5. Boozeries
    Those of you who keep up with my posts will know that the sale of alcohol is forbidden in Brunei although Hubs and I found a speakeasy in a hotel where you can get an ice cold beer.   We keep a pretty well stocked bar at home and, as I’ve said before, drinks out on the balcony are great but could someone just please take me to an over-priced bar and get me a proper drink?

    I'll have three olives in that please
    I’ll have three olives in that please

A Very British Day

A few weeks ago Hubs and I went home to London.  We managed to make it to a very fun wedding reception, hung out with old friends in some pubs and ate out at Nandos a LOT and generally had a very merry time.  We also managed to fit in a visit to see my parents, who live in the West Midlands.  While we were there the weather did something unexpected and threatened to take a turn for the better.  So we decided to capitalise on this, like any good British people would, by planning a picnic.

We headed to Telford to see the world’s first iron bridge, which opened on New Years Day 1781 and has been given UNESCO World Heritage Status.  And for very good reasons.  Pretty much every picture I took turned out stunning:

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There are lots of nature trails perfect for walking through the forest if you can muster up the energy.  We opted for a short walk over and under the bridge.  Just enough to work up an appetite.

I was so impressed by the gorgeous surroundings that I really struggled to stop myself from taking hundreds of photos.

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We found a nice quiet spot for a picnic and settled down with our giant spread (my parents, being Punjabi, only do 5 course meals and nothing shorter).  We were quite impressed that the weather had held up and we were gloating about how great it was that we were outdoors, soaking up the sunshine and getting some fresh air when, out of nowhere, a bee appeared.  We flapped it away.  A few minutes later it was back and it brought friends. Hubs knocked over the olives while frantically trying to shield his cup of diet coke.  The wind blew away my crisps, which seemed to attract the bees even more.  So much for being outdoors. We scoffed our sarnies as quickly as we could and ran back to the car park where an Antiques Market caught our eye, which turned out to be perfect for spending an hour or so browsing.  Hubs bought a huge painting of a spitfire and I got some dinner plates so it looks like we are well and truly settling into our thirties.  Domestic bliss!

Just a couple more of that gorgeous bridge before I go:

My hair was going for something big and crazy that day!

peak of the bridge

Aloo Gajar Sabji

I’ve always been a fan of the simple things in life, especially when it comes to food.  Others can keep their weird and wonderful vegetables- okra, bitter gourd, snake gourd etc. I’m happiest with a carrot.  Add some potato and you’ve got a party-in-your-mouth sort of situation.  So, having been away from mum’s cooking long enough to really miss it I decided to make a punjabi dry curry, “Sabji” with potato “aloo” and carrot “gajar”: “Aloo gajar sabji”.  Here’s how I did it:

Serves 4

Ingredients:

4 Tbs Olive Oil

1 tsp Cumin Seeds

1tsp Coriander Seeds

5 – 6 Garlic Cloves, peeled and finely chopped

2 Large Onions, peeled and diced

4 – 5 Medium Sized Carrots, chopped into 1cm cubes

2 Medium Sized Potatoes, chopped into 2cm cubes

3 tbs Grated Ginger

1 Medium Green Chilli, chopped (or to taste)

1 tbs Salt

1/2 tsp Tumeric

1 tsp Garam Masalla

Coriander to garnish.

Method

Tip: Start by chopping everything so that it is ready for when you need it.

onion garlic

chopped potato

ginger

  1. Heat the oil in a medium-sized pot on medium heat.  Add the coriander seeds and cumin seeds whole.  If you prefer to grind in a mortar and pestle then that works too.  Fry for about a minute until you can smell the spices cooking.spices
  2. Add the garlic and mix up with the spices.  Fry for about 2 – 3 minutes.garlic frying
  3. Once the garlic is nice and golden in colour add in the onions.  Mix it all up and allow the onions to cook on a medium heat, with the lid on for about 10 minutes until golden.
  4. Once the onions are golden in colour add in the grated ginger and chilli and stir well.  Also add the salt and turmeric and mix everything together.  It should have a nice orange colour but careful not to add too much turmeric as you don’t need it to glow in the dark!
  5. Add the potato and mix well.  Put the lid back on for about 10 minutes, stirring every few minutes.  If the mixture starts to stick to the bottom add a tablespoon of boiling water and turn down the heat.  You want the potatoes to be about half-cooked before you add in the carrot.
  6. Once the potatoes are starting to soften add in the carrot and mix everything evenly.  Put the lid back on the pot and allow to cook for about 10 – 15 minutes on a low-medium heat, stirring occasionally. Again be careful not to let it stick to the bottom of the pot.
  7. You’ll know it’s ready when the potatoes and carrots mush easily under your spoon.  Add in the garam masalla and carefully stir into the sabji.
  8. Garnish with coriander and serve hot with chapatis, tortilla wraps or pitta bread.  Greek yoghurt on the side is good too. DSC04788

Dark Caves on Rainy Days

Hubs and I have had a hectic few weeks and soon I will be catching you up on all of our adventure travels over that time starting with our day in KL.  We decided to take the longer route home to London by transiting through KL; this meant arriving in KL mid-morning and out to London at 3AM.  When booking our flights we figured we’d see the sights, eat out loads, drink some beers, dance the night away and we’d hardly know it was midnight or “check-in time”.  Or so we thought. Maybe we still think we’re in our twenties I don’t know but oh man, were we wrong…

We were keen to see the Batu Caves, which are some 13km north of KL.  The cheapest train in the world (I think it was 2MYR = £0.30 / $0.47) gets you there in about half an hour.  We would have got to the Caves sooner had we not got side-tracked by Cafe Coffee Day, a chain which I thought was restricted to India but turns out it’s not and this absolutely demanded a pit-stop. So one Cafe Frappe (skimmed, no cream and easy on the chocolate sauce please and thank-you very much) later, having missed the train by seconds, we had a bit of a wait in the humid train station.  Safe to say we weren’t the only weary travellers in town:

Exploring is hard work.
Exploring is hard work.

The caves are dedicated to Lord Subramaniam, or this guy:

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Hubs gets photo bombed.
close up Lord S
Impressive, no?

That’s 272 steps you have to climb to get to the caves.  This necessitates weaving your way through a bunch of hungry and EVIL looking macaques who prey on passing tourists.  It’s a savage existence.

Caution: Will rip your hand off for nuts and probably land you with Rabies at the same time.
Caution: Will rip your hand off for nuts and probably land you with Rabies at the same time.

Before being allowed to climb the steps I was made to wear a sarong to cover the three inches of my legs which were visible and apparently likely to cause offence.  Personally, having visited several temples around India and seen some pretty scantily clad women praying (hello, see-through sari), I think this is a bit of a scam for taking 5 MYR from every girl venturing up the steps but that’s just my view.

sarong is too ugly to be allowed into this photograph.
sarong is too ugly to be allowed into this photograph.

We made it to the top of the steps, only stopping a couple times so I could catch my breath. Asthma is the worst.  The first thing that really hit me walking into the caves was the stench.   Then I noticed all the bats, just a few metres above our heads.  Then I wondered whether the bats and the vile stench were connected.  Probably.  Also it was hot.  Sweaty, sticky kinda’ hot. We looked around at the pretty shrines and admired the views but there was no getting away from the bat-vomit stink and so we headed back down.  Weaving our way through those treacherous monkeys once more.

light
light

After seeing the caves we had lunch and walked around the city, which is architecturally quite interesting.  It’s pretty big too.   Unfortunately it was raining hard which dampened our spirits somewhat and also means my photographs didn’t come out great.  There was a particularly gruelling hour while we searched for a semi-clean public loo as I may have overdone it on the “need to keep hydrated when it’s hot” thing.  We strolled through some markets but Hubs isn’t a very good shopping buddy and so we nested ourselves in a nearby bar until dinnertime- when we moved to another bar/restaurant.  Our plans for a big night ended at around 9PM (so-long, twenties) when we caught a cab to the airport hoping we could check-in early.  Only we couldn’t. So we found a couple seats and plonked our tired bodies down until the miserable hag at the check-in desk let us through.

Starving in Kuching

Kuching, Malaysia; an old colonial city which is named after the Malay word for cat.  Not sure why.  Situated on Kuching River it has a gorgeous promenade with views of the architecturally interesting (is it a hat?! is it an umbrella?!) New Sarawak State Legislative Building.

State Assembly

You’re in the mood for a bit of old school architecture.  You’ve been longing for a nice breezy walk along the riverbank, making stops for ice cream and beer and trying out new foods, after all that’s what Kuching is known for; the food.  Getting here from Brunei was easy too, a bit of a drive drive, short flight and shorter taxi ride.  So the Hotel (Grand Margherita) isn’t anything to shout about but it’s close to the City Centre and breakfast is included.

Never, ever have you had such terrible luck with breakfasting at an hotel.  On your first morning you arrive to breakfast at 9ish and the hostess (generously) offers you a ‘shared table’ with a family of 3.  One quick look at the mid-tantrum-snot-covered-toddler throwing chicken sausages on the floor and you graciously decline.  So maybe not that graciously but she got the message.  10 minutes later you manage to find your own table.  It’s littered with dirty plates, more chicken sausage and covered in omelette, which you get cleared away.  You delicately place your cardigan over the back of a chair and leave your room key on the table- an international sign to show that the table is taken, or so you thought, When you return with a cup of weak tea, dry toast (having been informed that the butter supply has finished) and a couple of the ubiquitous chicken sausages you find a cheeky old man has commandeered your table.  Unbelievable.  You make it clear that this is your table, that’s your cardigan and your room key and that you’re not looking to share.  The waitress sees the commotion and takes him away.  So then you and Hubs play tag team at keeping the table occupied in case any other usurpers are lurking in the midst.

One bite of the chicken sausage and you understand that wretched toddler’s plight.  A waiter appears with what must be the last mini-butter in the establishment that was obviously tucked away in some deep corner of the fridge, judging by the temperature.  Hubs queued for an omelette; took 20 minutes.  A few mouthfuls later you’ve both had enough and decide that it just isn’t working.  So you leave with an empty stomachs.

You decide to head for the nearest, biggest mall.  There must be food to be eaten there and you’re in luck.  There’s a Starbucks.  Hello, civilisation!

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After your second (but really your first) breakfast of the day you venture round the small city.  there are some pretty sights including an old Courthouse; being a bit of an expert on British Courts you can say with some certainty that it is finer than any County Court in England and Wales.

Law Building

You take a little cruise along the river and pass the State Assembly and an old dockyard left behind by the old white rajahs, in ruins, which somehow makes it more beautiful.

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The next day you get to breakfast just as it’s opening up.  Smartest thing you’ve ever done- not a single person queuing for omelettes.  You embark on a trip to Indiatown.  It’s pretty much boarded up because of Ramadan. So much for buying your mum some pretty silk.  Also means that you’re stuck for lunch and dinner as it seems everyone is celebrating with their loved ones.  Turn out all those lovely food stalls along the promenade are shut too.  Having walked round the city three times and not found a single place open for lunch you and Hubs are getting pretty hangry.  You’re ready to settle for a KFC but even that’s shut.  Unprecedented.  So you walk up to the nearby Chinatown and thank God for the Chinese.

china town

Water Fools

Who doesn’t love a national holiday?! Certainly not the good people of Brunei who seem to have them every other week.  You’ve also got to love the Sultan for spreading about the birthday cheer as a good many days off have been held in that very honour.  Altogether now; “for he’s a jolly good fellow…”

With another long weekend on the horizon you and Hubs decide to head to Miri, a small town in Sarawak, Malaysia. It’s a 2 – 4 hour drive (depending on the queue at the border), close to plenty of attractions and most importantly of all; there are numerous restaurants and bars where they serve liquor.

Regrettably (for us) it seems a few others had the same idea and so as Hubs drives up to the crossing you find yourself at the wrong end of a 3.5 km long queue.  It’s a tad tedious but you’ve done this before and this time you pee’d before you left (unlike some of the men at the roadside) and you brought snacks.  The absolute worst thing about queuing is having to endure queue-jumpers and there are plenty of them about.  They brazenly drive up the wrong side of the road and squeeze their monstrous pick-up trucks into a gap some too-slow driver has unwittingly left between bumpers  A few come close to driving into the roadside trenches when avoiding oncoming vehicles but, alas, none come close enough.  You and Hubs, well mostly you, take to honking the horn every time one of these hateful drivers passes but that’s no deterrent. Next time, you’re taking a paintball gun.

Once in Miri you check into the tired looking hotel, leaving the road rage behind.  You’re planning on spending the weekend eating and drinking but Hubs, as usual, has more active plans.  He’s been going through that Lonely Planet guide again (must put an end to that) and he’s found a nearby National Park, Lambir Hills.  “OH but I haven’t got my trekking boots! WHAT A SHAME!” you say.  That doesn’t put him off,  “We’ll do the short 1K trek- it leads to a waterfall where you can swim!”.  Admittedly the thought of swimming in a natural pool does have some appeal but you try getting out of it anyway “BUT it hasn’t RAINED so the waterfall will be DRY!” Obviously, he didn’t fall for that.

Thankfully the car park is pretty empty so at least you won’t have to endure too many tourists.  Aren’t tourists just the worst? You pick up a map, find out where to start and head off.    wooden bridge

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You pass a small waterfall, definitely not deep enough for swimming and you almost feel smug. But that turns out not to be ‘the one’.

Small waterfall

Annoyingly the mosquitoes in Miri seem to have developed resistance to your bug spray which means several pit stops to add another coat much to the amusement of the locals. Eventually you make it to ‘the one’, Latak Waterfall.  And admittedly it is glorious.  You make Hubs go in first to check how deep the water is.  It’s deeper than it looks.

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 H waving

It’s (yet another) hot day and so you decide to join him, even though you’re not very good at treading water and you didn’t pack the lilo. You take a step into the water.  It’s freezing.  Another step, still freezing.  Hubs comes over and takes you into the deep end.  The water is ice cold.  The current is surprisingly strong.  Despite your hardest efforts to stay in one spot somehow your legs keep getting dragged across the no-swim line. “This is it” you think “This is how it ends for me”.  Admittedly, as ways to die go, you couldn’t ask for a more picturesque spot for the job but you cling on- to Hubs; and somehow you both manage to stay afloat.  You even secretly enjoy it.  Despite what you told him.

Big waterfall