New Zealand (1), Singapore (86) Malaysia (87) and Brunei Darussalam (88)

New Zealand

Expensive. While travelling I heard a couple of stories about how expensive NZ was. This correlates with my impression of prices at home where I though NZ prices compared to London prices even though I am pretty sure Kiwis don’t earn London wages. One Canadian couple moved to NZ to work and travel for six months and had to leave after three because they ran out of money.

Why do books in New Zealand cost so much?!?

Singapore (86)

Nice. Clean. Lots of shopping. Honest taxi drivers.

Dragon in Singapore harbour

Malaysia (87)

The Malaysia taxi scene isn’t quite as good. My first attempt to catch a cab got me a quote of 20 dingbats. The next was either 15 or 50. The third driver agree to use a meter and the final fare for a short drive was 4.60 (about a pound). Another taxi annoyance is that using the official taxi touts at the Sentral Train Station cost twice as much walking out to the road and flagging one down.

The weather here is something else. The average temperature is often well into the 30s and grown men carry umbrellas around to shelter from the sun. Thankfully when it rains it rains hard and that cools things down for a while afterwards.

I did an overpriced Han Travel day tour to Malaka from KL where the guide rather unfortunately started the commentary with the comment that Malaka is really a two to three day destination. Thankfully he was dead wrong. All of the tourist highlights of Malaka like the ‘old well’ and the ‘run down church from 1710′ can easily be seen in half a day. Met some cool people doing the tour.

Taman Negara national park was the next stop. Another tour but a much better one. Day one was a slow boat ride through the rainforest up the Tembeling River to Taman Negara National Park. Loads or wildlife to see along the way like eagles, wild pigs, lizards, a snake, monkeys, water buffalo and crocodiles. Thankfully we only had to get out and push three times when the boat got stuck on sandbars. The last time we go out and pushed all of the passengers had to walk across a small island while the newly buoyant boat took another charge at the rapids. At night we did a ‘night safari’ where we walked around the resort looking for wildlife. Basically that meant insects but a group two years ago saw a tiger and one last year saw a tapir. Our luck was in and we saw a deer on top of our collection of creepy crawlies. All things considered my day wading through crocodile infested rivers and walking through tiger infested jungles could have gone a lot worse.

Taman Negara National Park, Malaysia

The next morning we did a jungle walk trough cool jungle paths to scenic viewpoints and along treetop walkways. Not an overly hot or exerting experience but I still managed to drink 4 litres of water.

Sweaty Hubbers, Jungle canopy walk, Taman Negara National Park, Malaysia

Later in the day our group took a long boat up the river to visit a local tribe. This was probably the best tribe visit I have ever been on. The first thing they taught us was how to make fire from wood in under two minutes but the best part was when they showed us how to make poison blow darts and let us take target practice at a Scooby Do doll pinned to a tree (yes I hit it). After the shooting we took a tour of the village handing out unhealthy snacks to shy children. As usually happens at these things we all suffered from massive voyeur’s guilt from intruding on their lives and we headed to the river for a swim.

The river we stayed on only floods once a year. But when it rains it REALLY rains because in three or four days the river can rise as much as SEVENTY FOUR METERS! No wonder all of the restaurants are the floating kind.

After the rainforest experience I took my Han Travel organised ‘transfer’ to northern port town called Kuala Besut instead if catching a local bus. I spent the 8.5 hours driving around Malaysia picking people up and dropping them off. By contrast the bus probably got to the port in 3 hours. Oh and it probably cost me more! I would recommend people avoid Han Travel and travel independently in Malaysia.

While travelling I have met two English couples who are migrating permanently to Australia. They all had the feeling that England was going down the drain and Australia offered more. Good luck to them.

After the jungle I went to the Perentian islands for some diving. The island were beautiful and I dived with sharks and baby sharks for the first time in my life which was exciting.

From the Perentian’s I flew to Tamau in Malaysian Borneo via KL. I had started to worry that I was not famous any more as I hadn’t met anyone I know unexpectedly while travelling. I needn’t have worried as Robbie, a friend from London was on my fight to KL.

My first stop in Borneo was Semporna where I dived off Mabul Island. I only had one day so I crammed three dives in and I have to say these were three of the best dives I have ever done. Even the refresher dive off the beach was crammed full of colourful and interesting fish I have never seen before. A small golden travelli swam on the edge of my mask for the entire dive, which apparently means I will have seven years of good luck :)

While on Semporna I have been hanging out with the guy who owns www.malaysia.com. His life is pretty good he lives cheaply in KL, has a Malaysian girlfriend and travels around Malaysia taking pictures and writing stories while the money pours into his website.

One of my dive instructors was Alister Lee who takes excellent underwater photos http://alisterlee.blogspot.com and whose great grandfather was a head-hunter! Head-hunting is a Boeneo tradition where headhunters sneak up on people and slice their heads off before they know you are there so they die with a smile on their face. A good smiling head is useful for burying in the ground to make sure a bridge doesn’t collapse (so much for structural engineering and the laws of physics). Presumably a non-smiling one is just good for decoration in the living room chatting about how much fun you had beheading people when you were younger. The most prolific headhunter was some guy who had 32 heads to his name. He even beheaded his best friend! Talk about someone who you would never go around to their house to watch the rugby! At 32 however his village decided he might be insane so they beat him to death.

Diving, Mabul, Malaysia (Borneo)

After my brief diving adventure I spent a day in Semporna where I was lucky enough to be passing through town on the day of the Semporna Regatta. Highlights included a demonstration by armed water police raiding a fishing boat. Don’t ever do anything illegal on the water in Malaysia because they have cops on jetskis with machine guns! Other highlights included dragon boat races, tug of war rowing races and a display of brightly decorated boats that parade along the waterways with the most beautiful being crowned the winner.

Regatta Lepa, Semporna, Malaysia

Bus journeys in Malaysia often show a movie to keep you entertained. The criteria for these movies seems pretty simple. They must contain loads of graphic violence (but no sex) preferably with lots of flashy explosions. Also, the movies should be relatively unheard of. The quality of these movies seem to exist in a quality category just below that of ‘straight to dvd’ called ‘straight to bus’.

Next stop was the oddly named Sepilok Orang-utan Rehabilitation Centre. This place really interested me partly because I think orang-utans are magnificent but also because I wanted to know what drove them to drink. Perhaps it is because they are ginger.

Palms. Malaysia is covered from top to bottom in palms. They grow them for the palm oil which is used in a large percentage of foods you can buy in the supermarket. The first problem with having a country that almost exclusively grows palms is that it means that your country don’t grow a lot of other foods to feed your population. The other issue is that if the palms get attacked by a parasite that kills them that will wipe out you entire agriculture industry in one go. So then you have no palms and nothing you can eat. Oh yeah and they probably cut down rainforest to create the palm plantations. So there you have it a short paragraph on the shortcomings of palm cultivation exclusivity. In summary. Palms, bad for monkeys and all eggs in one basket risk.

Brunei Darussalam

Brunei Darussalam

I also visited Brunei Darussalam (88) where I had the good fortune to stumble into the very odd De Royalle Cafe for dinner. The entire menu is on differently sized laminated flip cards with one food item per card with each menu item on a separate card. When questioned further about items on the menu the waitress (gorgeous) and the owner (who had the wacky idea for the flip cards) had no idea what was in each dish. My favourite menu item was Jane’s Healthy Zip which contained icecream, chocolate and milk. It turns out that the owner isn’t as mad as he seems and is in fact a famous local reporter.

Got talking to some expats about one of the princes, who is attending a local school. Every day at lunch a limousine turns up with his lunch in a hamper. It also turns out that not all of the school is air conditioned so the entire schools schedule was rearranged so that all of his classes are in air conditioned rooms. In addition the principal was booted out of his office and it was turned into a private space for the prince with satellite tv and gaming consoles etc.

Brunei’s history goes a bit like this. They were just about to become part of Malaysia and then they discovered oil so they changed their mind and went on an audacious spending spree that still hasn’t stopped.

85 percent of people in Brunei ‘work’ in the civil service where ‘work’ practices are quite relaxed.

It feels like Brunei is a country of have nothings (imported labour) haves (people connected to the government and civil servants) and the SUPER MEGA HAVES (royals).

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