Borneo

Borneo: From the Sublime to the Mundane

His steely eyes stared back at me intently. Was it curiosity I saw in them? Uncertainty? Irritation? Maybe he was still waking up, adjusting to the light of the sun as it burned away the mist lurking over the murky river.

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It was almost unsettling how human he seemed in that moment. A macaque monkey hanging out on the banks of the mighty Sungai Kinabatangan river, eating his breakfast of leaves and scrutinizing the rag-tag group of travelers floating just feet away in a wooden boat. In that mesmerizing moment, I wouldn’t have been shocked to hear him admonish us for disturbing his morning bliss. “Yah, what d’you want? I’m trying to eat my breakfast in peace, man. Time to move along.”

But of course he didn’t. And of course we did – move along, that is. Continue reading

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Risk is a Relative Thing

IMG_5950“Loosen your vice grip on the steering wheel,” I willed myself, as I scanned the ever-twisting mountain road ahead for pot holes (countless potholes), as well as other potential dangers, like oncoming drivers who seemed to get a thrill out of passing on blind spots. I averted my eyes occasionally to check the speedometer. Don’t drive faster than 70km/hour on a spare tire? That was the rule, right? Or was it 50? We weren’t sure. Continue reading

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We hit rock bottom with Steven Seagal

Maximum-ConvictionThe day started off on a positive note. We arrived at the bus station on time, purchased our tickets and picked our seats. A tour bus rep sauntered over and provided a detailed overview of the day ahead, including all the ins and outs of the border crossings on our trip from Brunei to Sabah, Malaysia (many, many border crossings, resulting in 10 new passport stamps). To put things in context, this kind of informative overview is never provided here…  as in N.E.V.E.R. When you get on a bus, train or boat, you sit quietly and hope for the best.

The bus rep estimated (optimistically, it turned out) that the trip would take about 7.5 hours. Continue reading

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Making friends in Brunei

No we didn’t meet the Sultan. But I guess we could have as I inadvertently timed our trip at the end of Ramadan and the beginning of Hari Raya festivities (the only time the Sultan opens up his palace to his subjects and visitors).

We did one better — we hung with a local family from Kuala Belait. Even for the geography buffs reading who can point out where Brunei is on the map and even its capital Bandar Seri Begawan, I bet you don’t know where we stayed.

When I first envisioned going to the island of Borneo, I didn’t give much thought to visiting the Sultanate of Brunei. Continue reading

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A New Malaysia

What do orangutans, longhouses and foosball have in common?

Your answer might be, “Uh, nothing.”

My answer: They can all be found in Kuching, Malaysian Borneo.

The name of the city, Kuching, is thought to derive from the Malay word kucing, meaning cat

The name of the city, Kuching, is thought to derive from the Malay word kucing, meaning cat

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Duality

“Travel is glamorous only in retrospect.”   – Paul Theroux

My eyes scanned the quote as I sat at the funky bar of the uber- cool rooftop lounge at the Singgahsana Guesthouse in Kuching, Borneo, chatting with an academic from Denmark whose area of study is travel and tourism, with a focus on “independent” travelers such as us. (Anders looked upon us with some fascination as apparently extended travels with children as young as ours – and three of them to boot – are not that common, at least not according to his research.)

Chilling with a Tiger beer at the Singghasana Guesthouse bar

Chilling with a Tiger beer at the Singghasana Guesthouse bar

Continue reading

Categories: Borneo, Malaysia | 4 Comments

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