Malaysia

In September 2017, I took a three week side trip from Europe to Malaysia. A friend suggested the trip and it seem like a good way to chase the fading European sunshine.

I often joke that Malaysia was one of the best parts of my European travels.

I flew from France to Kuala Lumpur by way of Oman. I had a few days to rest in KL and get used to the time change before my friend showed up from Penang.

Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur is a big modern city with good public transit and a few sites to see, such as the Petronas Twin Towers.

That being said, it is like most other big busy cities, with one exception.

Batu Caves

Huge caves used as a place of worship near Kuala Lumpur.

Batu Caves near Kuala Lumpur

From Kuala Lumpur we went to Miri, a tiny little town in Sabah. The plan was to see bats in the Mulu Caves, but we were warned off by a few backpackers and the lady who ran the hostel.   Instead, we headed to Kota Kintabalu on route to a jungle camp in the “Tip of Borneo”.

Before leaving Miri we headed off for a day hike in the sticky, damp, moist, soggy, steamy, muggy jungle. Did I mention it was humid?

A view from the Mountains in Lambir Hills National Park

Kota Kintabalu

The largest city in Sabah, it is only a tenth the population of Kuala Lumpur. Again, a city like most other cities. I did find this bit of graffiti that tickled my fancy.  Mostly because I had just flown in from Paris a week earlier.

Tip of Borneo

We flew to Kota Kintabalu from Miri. This is the only concrete item we had for our trip to the jungle camp. We got a phone number of the owner from another backpacker. We were told to leave a message because they don’t have cell service in the jungle. The owner text back saying come to Kudat, we can pick you up there. Good enough.

To get to Kudat from Kota Kintabalu we had to take a ‘taxi’. They are minivans all parked in one lot with little signs saying where they are going. They all take turns filling up and leaving when they are full. And, I do mean full of people, luggage and, also, packages to deliver.  We were the first two, a Belgian couple showed up and then a local family of four. About 10 minutes and we were on our way to Kudat.

About an hour and a half into the three hour drive, the heat and motion of the van had moved conversation to dozing, when BANG! I being unable to sleep in cars, saw a Styrofoam container fly off the pickup truck ahead of us and hit the front right quarter panel of the van.

I couldn’t follow the conversation but was later filled in. The driver of the pickup was saying all the damage was there before and drove off.  The driver’s hands were shaking, of course and to his luck, the head of the family in the back seat was a Commander of a military gunboat that patrols the coast looking for pirates and such.  We offered our contact info but got the impression the Commanders word would go a long way in dealing with the local in the pickup truck.

Side note: I took the opportunity to ask the gunboat commander about the murders and kidnappings that had been happening in the “Eastern Sabah Security Zone”.  He quickly told me “No, problem. Very safe.”  I nodded my head, thinking it was braggadocio. I later found out he was being completely honest. Six months earlier, the coastal military, possibly including my new friend, had kill four and captured the fifth of a gang of brothers conducting the kidnapping for profit.  From that point on, no more kidnappings had occurred.  In my reading, I also realized we were staying in the ESSZONE. Oops.

Back to travel, the rest of the ride to Kudat was uneventful. We found our contact and headed in to the jungle. It was paradise.

In the morning, wake up in your jungle hut.

Tampat Do Aman - Hut

Clean up, have breakfast at the little jungle cafe (amazing) and catch the pickup truck to the beach. Maybe for some snorkeling and swimming. Maybe a walk down the beach to see what you find.

Borne Beach

Maybe walk the other way down the beach to the Tip of Borneo.Tip of Borneo

Tip of Borneo

After the days activity, you head back to the beach cafe for dinner and to watch the sunset.

Sunset near the tip of Borneo

After sunset, drink a little beer. Maybe play some cards with your new friends.  A truck ride back to camp and bed, only to wake up and do it again. Truly paradise.

Kuching

From the Northern tip if Boreno, it was South to Kuching AKA “Cat City”.  I didn’t see many actual cats in Kuching, so I wondering why the name. There were statues and murals of cats, but no cats.  Asking the locals, they said Kuching was named after a cat.  Nobody could tell me more than that. None the less, it was a nice place and I would return.

A day trip from Kuching to the Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre was a highlight of my trip.

Male Orangutan The Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre

Male Orangutan The Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre Mother and child orangutan

Another day trip from Kuching, to Bako National Park, provide another highlight of the trip.  Our troupe hiked through the jungle, braved crocodile infested waters and visited with a few species of monkeys.

Cobra Rock in Bako National Park

Jungle vista in Bako National Park

Macaque monkey on the beach in Bako National Park

Proboscis Monkey in Bako National Park

Crocodile waters sign near Bako National Park in MalaysiaAlso, a wild pig.

From Kuching, it was back to KL and then on to Paris for more European adventures!

Poland, The Czech Republic and Ukraine

This post is a little out of order, as I wrote about Normandy, France previously. I travelled in Normandy for a few weeks in July 2017 and then, again, at the end of August. In between my Normandy adventures, I was in The Czech Republic, Poland, Ireland, Poland again, and Ukraine.

Prague, Czech Republic

Prague was cool, but it really didn’t blow my hair back. I was surprised because I had been hearing how amazing this city was from fellow travellers.  Now, I’m not saying I didn’t like it. It was very pretty.

Vltava river in Prague

Vltava river in Prague

Vltava river in Prague

Prague is very pretty.  I was super stoked to finally see the astronomical clock, as I have been wanting to see it for years.

But. Well…yeah.

Prague astronomical clock

Curious as to why so many people raved about Prague, I started asking what it was they loved about it.  The answer was almost always, “It’s a great place to party! The beer is so cheap!” Absolutely, it is! But Krakow and Budapest are better, to party in my opinion.

So, I would dig a little more and ask if they liked it better than other places with cheap beer.  They would always say they hadn’t been. I now understood why, in their opinion, Prague is the best place in the world.

Pilsen, Czech Republic

While I was in Prague, I took a day trip to Pilsen (or Plzeň) the birthplace of Pilsner beer.  100% this was worth every penny. The was first created in he Pilsner Urquell brewery there. Of course I did the tour!

Perhaps the best thing about the tour, is that you can drink the unfiltered beer directly from the barrels.  Yes, it is better. Top five favourite beers I’ve drank. Up there with Cantillon Gueuze and Kriek (#1) (at the brewery), Guinness (at the brewery), Tripel Karmeliet (#1). I have many more beers listed here: https://untappd.com/user/matt604

Krakow, Poland

I completely understand why Rick Steves said Krakow is the next Prague. It’s way cooler! ?

It was INCREDIBLY hot when I was there in August. How hot? This hot.

It was also incredibly beautiful.

Being there in the Summer was amazing. The little AirBnB I was staying in was a block away from a market all the farmers bring their wares to sell.  Because everything was so fresh and in season, I ended up cooking and eating local stuff.

Of course, cooking and eating is thirsty work. I had to wash it down with local drink.  Polish beer was very good, but I wanted to try the famous Polish vodka.  I picked up a little bottle and had a taste.

However, something seemed off… I’ve drank enough Vodka to know how it’s supposed to taste and smell.  This smelt weird and burned my throat different than it should.  My Spidey senses tingled. Perhaps it was the Vodka making me tingle. Either way, I did a little searching found tons of online articles on fake vodka. Even reports of people dying from drinking it! (Oh no!) The articles said if it smells like nail polish remover, don’t drink it. When I read that, it dawned on me that was the smell I was trying to place.  Needless to say, I didn’t finish the bottle.

Kyiv, Ukraine

From Krakow, I headed to Kiyv by way of Dublin and Warsaw.

Kiyv floored me. I wasn’t sure what to expect. From what we hear in North America, I had preconceptions, all of which were immediately smashed.  Kiyv is one of the coolest cities I visited on this trip. The architecture really surprised me; it’s heavily European in places, reminiscent of Paris, Communist Brutalist, traditional Ukrainian with many, many more architectural influences. It is one of the prettiest cities I visited.

Kiyv at night

Of course, a city that celebrated it’s 1,500 anniversary, 35 years ago, has a rich history. It was strange walking through the city seeing the places it’s history was unfolding only a few years earlier.

Something that impressed me, is that Ukrainians don’t seem to shy away from unpleasant parts of history, as can be see in monuments around the city, such as this one.

As I have mentioned previously, I was a child of the 1980s and a North American during the Cold War. Seeing CCCP era things really gets that little kid inside fired up. So, seeing this almost blew my socks and shorts off!

As did this.

The coolest CCCP thing I saw was much, much smaller.

CCCP Rocket

This little beauty was tucked away in a back corner of the old farm house my good friend’s father-in-law is renovating.  As far as I can tell it’s at least as old as I am, and possibly goes back to the space race (?).

Actually, thinking about seeing this is really getting the little kid in me excited. I should probably calm him down with a beer.

But before I go, I have to one last note from Kiyv.  I had an amazing tour guide in my buddy. Of course, being a good person, he knows a bunch of good people in Kiyv. As everyone knows, when good people meet, there are good times to be had and, usually, no small amount of drinking.

When the sun comes up, and you have another day of sightseeing, you can’t let a thing like a little hangover slow you down. Fear not! The Ukrainians have you covered. Kvass!

It’s a slightly (1%) alcoholic beverage made from Rye. You can find it around town from little street vendors for not too much.  It’s also VERY refreshing on a hot Kiyv summer day, regardless of your previous nights debauchery!