Wherever I go I always seem to end up stumbling into quirky looking bars with that vague feeling of “hipster”. They call at me from the street, it’s not my fault. In Kuching this week I found this great little one that’s been open for 10 months now. Speakeasy unsurprisingly is a very easygoing place with a modest (so far) selection of beer and wine but the perfect environment to chill out anytime of day. Indie music, friendly staff and an array of board games, it was a lucky find after a hard morning of starring at orangutans.
Mac the owner would be thrilled to welcome you into the mix of locals and tourists. Drop by at 61, Jalan Ewe Hai, 93000 Kuching, Sarawak.
Kuching (in Malaysian Borneo) means cat in Malay so it makes sense that this city should have something historical or cultural to do with cats. After five days in Sarawak’s capital the most I’ve gathered is that there once used to be a lot of cats here so they called it cat. There’s also a lot of cat folklore and superstition here as there is throughout Asia so maybe that’s got something to do with it. Kuching has however used its namesake as an excuse to develop a weird and wonderful museum dedicated to our feline friend.
Kuching City Hall
Kuching Cat Museum
An easy enough bus ride from the town centre the cat museum is set in Kuching’s impressive city hall. It’s totally random and a bit out of way but completely worth it for something different. And it’s free!
This is truly one of the most bizarre museums I have ever been to. I didn’t learn a thing about how Kuching is connected with cats but I did get to feast my eyes on every historical and cultural cat reference known to mankind, literally. A must for budding cat ladies.
Some interesting cat superstitions…
Movie posters: If you can name it, it’s there…
And a whole bunch of other stuff…
From artistic genius to the tacky and downright creepy, you won’t be disappointed.
I climbed the highest mountain in South East Asia yesterday. I can’t feel my legs. 4,095m up in the sky, all the pain was worth it.
Mountain shadow – sunrise at the summit
I wasn’t always sure I’d get the chance to climb Kinabalu due to different things I’d heard about cost and availability but when I stayed at the lovely North Borneo Cabin in Kota Kinabalu the owner told me about the deal at Jungle Jack’s and so I jumped at the chance and left the next day.
Jungle Jack’s is just outside the National Park. Jack is an absolute diamond and completely runs the show. We were provided with steaming hot showers, kitchen and food supplies as well as dinner in a local restaurant. Cute dogs for company – always an added bonus. 420 ringgit (£110) included 3 nights accommodation (the second night is spent in a lodge on the mountain), all food, entrance to the park and trekking guides – bargain.
After 6 months on the road and next to no exercise I wasn’t sure how my body was going to respond to climbing over 8km and 2,000m. It was tough but worth every step. The first 6km to the lodge for the night weren’t too bad especially as you can take your time. No rush to get to the lodge where you have dinner and get some kip before an early start for the summit at 1.30am the next day. Despite getting up at such an unearthly hour this was by far the most fun part as you literally get to scramble up rock faces, pull yourself along cliff edges with rope and battle through ice cold winds in the dark. Adrenaline is a fine wonder.
I cannot describe how cold it was at the summit. We just about managed to stick around for half an hour to make the most of the incredible colour changing skies as the sun came up. It didn’t take long to get back to the lodge for a rest and second breakfast before we faced what I hadn’t realised would be the most challenging part. The decent was horrible. The first few kilometres weren’t so bad as you’re still running off the high of your achievement. But the last 3 nearly killed me. I felt like my legs were detached from my body and simply refusing to work. Even though I’m still walking like an old lady I wouldn’t change it for the world.
I’m still determined to blog about the more bizarre or unexpected elements of travel and this place certainly qualifies. I was recommended by a friend to go here for a taste of something different from Singapore (you’ll discover its gardens, sky scrapers and endless shopping malls with no help). When you’re done with the city’s futuristic delights, head to Haw Par Villa.
With more Chinese mythology than you can shake a stick at, this unusual attraction was created by the Burmese-Chinese entrepreneur brothers Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par responsible for the world renowned Tiger Balm company. I’ve made my way through my fair share of this magic cream on the many mosquito bites I’ve acquired on the road, so I couldn’t help but wonder what a “theme park” also known as Tiger Balm Gardens would entail. The answer – not what you think.
The park comprises a series of hilarious gaudy statues and dioramas teaching traditional Chinese values providing an insight into Buddhist and Confucianist beliefs as well as a lazy stroll in an unique environment and a good giggle. Theme Park it may not be in the traditional sense, but it’s certainly a fun and free way to wile away a couple of hours in outside the box Singapore.
Top tip: look for the old lady’s nipple.
I thought I had Melaka in Malaysia pretty much all figured out before I arrived but my first day still managed to surprise me. I’m staying at Jalan Jalan which is a great social hostel. Lee who works there runs regular lunch and dinner clubs for people to head out for food in more interesting locations, so yesterday I had lunch in a Sikh temple.
Having washed our feet and donned scarves to cover our heads and shoulders we entered the main prayer room complete with chanting guru and paid a small donation that goes towards the Sikh concept of langar – a free kitchen where people of any ethnicity or religion are served food for free. We sat down at one of the many silver benches and were greeted by the canteen volunteers with helpings of poppadoms, chapatis, rice and a selection of delicious vegetarian curries. Equality is a principal central to Sikhism and so after eating we washed up and cleaned the tables in order to share in this wonderful ideal.
I wasn’t planning spending so long in Kuala Lumpur but when I heard that Malaysia’s biggest Hindu festival was kicking off I couldn’t resist. I wanted to see cool stuff! Self mutilation through multiple body piercings in devotion to one of their gods? Yes please.
Batu Caves by night
I went twice to Batu Caves where over one million Malay Indians and other visitors come together to celebrate Thaipusam every year. The first time a taxi driver had told me the best time to go was the night before the main day (Tuesday 3rd) so off I went with my lovely Canadian friends and we were overwhelmed by the crowd, the noise, the smells and true to form, Hindu devotees expressing their faith and seeking penance from the deity Lord Murugan through outrageous 30kg floats (kavadis) attached to their bodies, body piercings, shaved heads and silver bowls of milk, honey or sandalwood carried atop their heads up the 272 steps to the biggest Hindu shrine outside of India. Many of the locals actually start their celebrations at the Hindu temple Sri Maha Mariamann which was 200m from my hostel in China Town. They walk 15km from there carrying a lit up silver chariot all the way to Batu Caves as a further sign of their piety.
Carrying the kavadi
Back piercings – bells of devotion
Even the babbas get their heads shaved
Devotees dressed for the occasion with gifts for the deity
Taking it in at Thaipusam
The second time I went was on the official day of Thaipusam to seek even greater sights of religious devotion. It was worth going back to see the festivities in full swing by daylight. The whole place was packed and covered with market stalls selling all sorts of Indian food and clothing with traditional music booming from every corner.
Batu Caves by day
One point something million creates a lot of rubbish…
Hooks in the skin
Kadavi pierced into the body
I was lucky to be in Malaysia for this significant date in the Hindu calendar. It was truly impressive. However I was told by a local Indian Malay staying in my hostel that the event used to be even more extreme five years ago, but now it’s become more controlled and politicised. It was certainly a commercial event; big names and companies were there for promotional gain. He also told me that he personally doesn’t like going anymore for this reason and that he finds it too difficult with the crowds to connect spiritually with the deity. I asked him if he ever thinks that the people who pull out all the stops with their kavadis and piercings ever do it just to show off and he said: “Girl, you hit the nail on the head”.
Today whilst blogging away in the lovely ‘new leaf book café’ (a little hideaway that supports education in the local area) in Siem Reap, I met the creator of a new website that aims to provide travellers with more personalised and authentic experiences abroad. Check out the website: www.lokaltravel.com. It’s great to meet people who are trying to support the type of tourism that helps us to connect with and support the local communities that we visit.
new leaf book cafe
There’s a good reason Angkor Wat is so popular and rightly dubbed the eighth wonder of the world. It is awe-inspiring in every way: from size, to detail, to monkeys, to flooded forests, to monstrous trees that take over ancient walls – the whole site is a lot more than just a very old, large, religious building. I understand that when travelling around Asia you are going to encounter a lot of temples, but even if you’re feeling a bit templed out, Cambodia’s main tourist draw will not fail to impress.
Many backpackers opt for the one day pass ($20) but I knew I would want to see more so opted for three days ($40). I spread out the experience out over four days so as not to encounter too much temple fatigue. By amazing coincidence my first evening trying to catch one of the awesome but elusive sunsets outside Angkor Wat I bumped into a friend from home who I’d travelled in Peru with last summer so we arranged to spend the next day together touring the small loop by tuk-tuk which includes all the main temples. Then after a day off chilling out in Siem Reap I awoke the next morning at 4.30 and hopped on a motorbike taxi in hope of experiencing a decent sun-rise which paid off massively! I spent the rest of the morning absorbing the immensity of the main temple’s towers and stone carvings and touring around the bigger loop to experience further variety of what Asia’s biggest religious site has to offer.
Angkor Wat at sunrise
Angkor Wat certainly delivered more than I ever imagined and was by no means a let down. If you are remotely into temples, make sure you get at least a three day pass. It doesn’t mean you have to spend every hour of every day templing, but you will get so much more out of the experience if you can take the time to do it at your leisure.
When I arrived in Luang Prabang, I did not think it would entail bareback elephant riding! One of the most popular excursions you can do from here is catching a tuk-tuk to the two nearby waterfalls, one of which offers a range of elephant based activities (the other has a lovely bear sanctuary too). We foolishly thought “elephant bathing” would be a dip in the waterfall with one of the gorgeous creatures to give it a sponge down with the supervision of a trainer. Nope. Having paid my 120,000 kip (about £9), the mahout beckoned us over to a raised platform where he told me to sit on the elephant’s head! Once on board our nelly plodded us down to the pool for an exhilarating session of diving in and out of the cool water. We definitely got more than we bargained for but with an excellent result; I was left with a massive smile plastered on my face for the rest of the day.
I’ve been enjoying these little tasty treats in Luang Prabang, Laos. Just one of the many culinary delights to experience here, these little mouthfuls of coconut joy are cooked up street style by a row of lovely ladies who mix together coconut milk, rice flour and sugar and fry them gently in a special pan. They’re served up in cute bamboo leaf bowls to be consumed whilst soaking up the atmosphere of the night market around you.
Kha nom khok (coconut balls)
Cooking up a batch of coconut treats