Post 27 Deja Vu Dubai!

We arrived in Dubai at 7am (2am Japan time.) Excellent flight.. especially the incredible Japanese breakfast.

Chris stuck to croissants! In Dubai we were staying for 2 night’s in an Air BnB on the Palm belonging to Danna and Mike. Mike was our tour guide on day one, and we had booked another day with him to keep us awake! So we arrived at the apartment, did a quick change into shorts and set off, firstly to a bird watching area on the river, where there was a good variety of birds, including lots of flamingoes.

Then we headed to Abu Dhabi, another Emirate. En route we stopped at the Last exit services. Everything in Dubai must be different! This was a highway food stop with a difference. The main building, and all the food outlets were themed on Mad Max films. (Post apocalyptic fantasy which involved a lot of vehicle modification and cut throat survival!) It was eye opening!

The ladies washroom!!

Abu Dhabi is wealthier than Dubai, with more oil, and it was more elegant, with a less frenetic feel.

We first visited a heritage museum explaing how just 60 years ago this area was inhabited by fishermen and desert nomads!

A bit different now!

Then to the Emperor’s Palace Hotel.. originally built as a palace, and now one of the most beautiful deluxe hotels in the world. Real palm trees adorn the corridoors.. I’m wondering if there is room on the landing at home?!

We lived the life having “gold” coffee in the golden lounge! Sprinkled with 23 carat gold.

The skyscrapers are beautiful, and very individual. Apparently these 3 were used in a stunt in the film Fast and Furious!

The most glorious stop was the mosque. Built within the last 20 years, it was enormous, and astonishingly beautiful. Almost everything you see in the pictures is marble, including the inlays on the floor, walls and pillars, or glass. The chandeliers are huge and sparkle in the light. Breathtaking.

We ended the day with snacks at an ethiopian restaurant near the BnB!

Next day we explored alone using taxis and the metro. Uber worked well. We visited the falconry museum to discover the ancient use of falcons and the bond between man and bird. Alongside is the falcon souk, selling…. falcons! Along with every accessory you can imagine! They are highly prized and therefore well looked after.

Then back to the old town, and a snack at our favourite cafe from last time – The Arabian Tea House. Fab!

A walk through the souk,

then the metro to Ibn Batutta Mall where you could be forgiven for thinking you were in a different country, as each area is geographically themed!

Our day ended with a Middle Eastern buffet at Amaseena restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. Awesome array of traditional food, with chef Rani to explain what each one contained and how it was cooked. Delicious.

Now we are at the airport, waiting for our flight home and wondering where the last 3 months has gone!!

Post 25 Captivating Kyoto

Kyoto is a huge city…definitely not ideal for a camper, so we came in by train… the bullet train. A journey that takes 65 minutes using the local train, took 18! It was fast! And smooth.

We planned 2 days in Kyoto, and wanted to see as much as we could using public transport and our feet. We used 3 self guided walking tours which took us to hidden paths we would have missed. Kyoto was the imperial capital of Japan for over 1000 years, so not surprisingly there are many temples, shrines, castles etc. but they are quite far apart. This would be a challenge! Poor Chris! I get an adrenaline charge in busy cities… whereas I think after a while he would rather be in a field birdwatching!

The one or two day bus and subway passes are good value, but we also used the JR trains which were quick and comfortable.

Day one.

Exiting the station, the bus queues were huge, but efficient marshalling, and some squashing, meant we were soon on our way to stop one. From here we would walk through parks, and some of the oldest streets in Kyoto, still with wooden frames and paper screens.

The biggest treats were that it was warm and sunny, and the cherry blossom had erupted almost overnight. Glorious, but it meant everywhere was extra busy!

There were small temples everywhere, but we had our main goals. Firstly, overlooking the mountains, the amazing Kiyomizu-dera buddhist temple complex, first built in 763, but this renovation was from 1633. The colours were gorgeous, and the highlight is a huge temple, with a veranda hanging out over the side of the mountain.

Some renovation was in progress… we loved the bamboo scaffolding!

Then onto the impressive Chion-in temple complex with the largest gateway in Japan! The timbers were an incredible size.

Next to the lovely Shoren-in temple, with giant, ancient camphor trees guarding it’s entrance. The main hall had beautiful sliding screens with 16th and 17th century paintings.

Next a side step to Nanzenji Zen Temple, rebuilt 1570-1600. This was a lovely oasis with a pretty, zen garden, and gorgeous tiger screen paintings in the Hojo hall.

Now a walk along the 2 km Philosophers path, alongside a canal and lined with cherry blossom and spring shrubs. Gorgeous.

At the top of the hill, (every temple seemed to be at the top of hills …we will have climbed Everest by the end of this trip!), our final stop at Ginkakuji Zen Temple and dwelling house. High above the city, the garden winds it’s way up the hillside. We love the way the rooms are divided with sliding panels so they can be reconfigured in so many shapes and sizes. The 17th century screen paintings were beautiful but we couldn’t photograph them.

Onto a very busy bus to the town centre to find food! A recommended restaurant serving acclaimed Kobe beef wanted over £100 for a steak! Er… no thank you! So we found a great sushi restaurant with conveyer belt!

Then train back to our little camper before we do it all again tomorrow!

Day two, earlier start to try to beat the crowds. We were at our first shrine – Fushimi Inari Taisha – by 8.45. It was still busy!

This is a special place at the foot of Mt Inari. It has been a shrine to the guardian god of abundant rice crops and good business since 711. The shrine buildings are vermillion, the colour of our life force, and which can counteract spells. There are many statues of foxes, guardians of the rice harvest. Since ancient times, worshippers have built shrines up the mountain, and added Torils – huge red gates, so that now the Toril walkway stretches over a mile up the mountain… so up we went. Every one is inscribed with it’s donor and their wishes or thanksgiving message. It was quite moving to witness such belief.

Next, we found a tiny shrine to the frog spirit,

and then headed to the wonderful Nijo-jo castle, built in 1603 by the Shogun leader who unified Japan. It was also the place where the Shogun returned Japan to Imperial rule in 1867.

It was full of paintings, and special wooden Nightingale floors.. the nails squeak like birds singing when you walk. It is said that this was so that no-one could creep up on the Shogun unnoticed!

The ceilings were ornate.. themore decorative your ceiling, the higher your status!

The gardens were lovely and we had some great street food here – duck slices and Octopus balls!

Finally, a train to Arashiyama to see the impressive wooden bridge,

and the Tenryu-ji temple. We hardly left the train station when I foolishly pointed out a poster for a model railway exhibition! Quick diversion to see a very good layout of Kyoto, complete with bullet train… with one slightly bizarre addition!

Back on track, the Tenryuji temple is most famous for it’s garden, one of the oldest in Japan, laid out in the 14th century and little altered. It was gorgeous. The exit leads into an amazing bamboo forest, on an epic scale.

Finally, train back to Mairaba to collect the car. We needed to eat. Tripadvisor showed a cafe, so we headed down a dark street without much hope. Suddenly there it was. A small, very local restaurant! No English. They came and said ‘Sashimi tempura’. We nodded, unsure of what it would be like. It arrived, beautifully presented, tasted delicious and cost less than £10 each including tea and water… and an ice cream at the end. A perfect end to a great day!

PS ..you have to love a city that has cherry blossom handrails on it’s escalators!

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Post 24 Bimbling with Benji!

We collected our little Nissan campervan from Japan campers, named it Benji, and set off on our adventures. The first part involved crossing Tokyo! Luckily, once you learn the rules, most drivers here stick to them…except for speed limits, although these are very low at times.

Our plan is to try to see some quieter parts of Japan, as well as ‘must see’ sights.

There aren’t many campsites, but luckily Japan has a system of Michi no eki, roadside service stations which usually have good toilets and shops, and are free to stay overnight. In fact you see many Japanese couples and families doing just that…. sometimes in the back of quite small cars!

The cherry blossom season is much heralded here. Estimated start dates are published and vary massively from the warmer south, to much later in the north. We might just catch the start in Kyoto, our furthest point south.

We started by visiting….Ikea! We wanted a duvet and some little home comforts!

Then off to the Izo peninsula. There are some small tourist towns, but also some great scenery. We recommend the cliff walk and bridge at the Jogasaki coast, and the New York garden at one end of the walk.

Great strawberry ice cream!

Then we did the amazing 7 waterfalls walk inland from Kawazu. This involved driving an amazing double loop road up the mountain!

Find the main carpark by the tourist information, and get the bus to the top of the hill and walk back!

We crossed the peninsula to some small villages with great rock formations – Dogashima, and a lovely sunset.

Tripadvisor led us to a hidden, very local restaurant, where we had a sensational meal for £14 each, on gorgeous tree trunk slice tables!

A night by a small port, then off up the coast to catch a ferry across the bay from Toi to Shimizu. This cut off a big corner, and provided us with our first view of Mt Fuji. It is huge. Jawdropping!

Then a very long drive up into the mountains where we stop at Takayama with a preserved centre, showing wooden townhouses as they would have been in old Japan. Another great local restaurant where we cooked our own food!

It is cold up here. SO glad we bought the duvet.

Next day the sun is out. We visit the fabulous Hida-no-sato museum of authentic old village buildings rescued when a valley was flooded for a reservoir. Each building is set out with different village activities, and shows how the buildings are constructed.

Then onto 2 real villages, in situ. Shirakawa-go and, our favourite, Suganuma. The thatched roofed dwellings, called Gassho-Zukuri houses, are common here. The boards of straw are winter insulation.

Now onto the Noto peninsula at the North of Honshu. Some great walks at Ganmon rock, including tips on what every rocky shore hiker should be wearing.

Also an 8km stretch of drive-along beach (but the tide was in!), and a visit to the pretty fishing port of Wajima. Everything seemed closed! We eventually found a small restaurant but everything he served had gluten based noodles. The owner/chef was so sorry. ‘Wait a moment’ he said. He then phoned several restaurants, before beaming at us, leaving his restaurant(and customers), and walking us to an open restaurant on the next block!! That is so typical of the helpfulness here.

One other treasure here was Kiriko Kaikan, a museum of floats carried in local festivals. The photos do not convey their size and beauty. The largest are 20 metres high and take 150 people to carry them!

Finally we headed to see some terraced rice paddies at Senmaida.

They have been in use for hundreds of years, and enjoyed a late afternoon walk in this peaceful setting, knowing that directly across the sea is North Korea!!

Post 23 Tokyo, Japan and lots of food!

Japan. Population 129,000,000. Made up of 6,582 islands, but 4 main ones. The largest is Honshu where most major cities are located, including the capital Tokyo.

A land with a history of Shoguns, Samurai and Emperors, intermixed with bullet trains, and futuristic architecture and technology at every turn. I fell in Love with it in the toilets at the airport!! All mod cons. Spotlessly clean. Heated loo seat. Auto loo paper dispenser, Bottom washer, drier and even a music button to press to mask any embarrassing noises.

We knew weather would be potentially chilly here. It is freezing! Sadly our 2 days in Tokyo were accompanied by rain, and even snow flurries! It didn’t stop us enjoying our time here!

Tokyo was massively damaged by the massive Kanto earthquake in 1923, and again by US firebombing in WW2. An amazing, modern phoenix has risen from the ashes, with wonderful ancient buildings and parks interspersed between.

We arrived by train and negotiated the busy streets of Shinguku to find our hotel, Tokyustay. We knew the rooms would be small, but it was great. Small but perfectly formed…. AND it had a super bathroom with the high tech loo.

It took us a while to work this gadget out…it is a hairdrier!

We bought a 2 day metrocard for £8 each and set off to see as much as possible! (That shouldn’t surprise you by now!).

The metro is amazing. So many lines coded by letter and numbers. Each station can have 7 or 8 a entrances up to 1 mile apart so you can walk underground in heated spotlessly clean corridoors, often with nice restaurants and shops. Great when it is cold and rainy above.

First stop Asakusa , an area of temples, shrines and old style shops, giving a feel of what Tokyo would have been like. The Senso-ji temple was beautiful, as was the gateway, decorated with giant straw sandals!!

After this, we
decided a bowl of soup would be nice for lunch and popped into a Ramen bar. Wow…what a bowl of soup. Delicious.

After lunch we headed to the Imperial Palace gardens. The fortifications around the palace are huge. First built in the 15th century, double moats, massive walls and double gates at right angles to each other were designed to slow up invaders!
The Palace itself was closed as the Emperor still lives there! Sadly the cherry blossom is only just coming out. Next week will be great.

Finally back to the hotel and then out for some dinner and a look in the amazing shops. You can buy anything here… especially if it has a plug or a cable attached!

We ventured out to find a restaurant. Everywhere was full! Eventually we got the last 2 seats at a recommended Tempura bar. Wow! We watched the fish and vegetables being prepared and then dipped in the lightest of batter. Meals are served on trays with little accompanying dishes of Miso soup, pickles, rice, sauces.

Every mouthful was delicious. We already ♥ Japan!!

Next day it rained hard! We caught the metro and wandered around the huge fish market. It seems we were a bit late for the tuna!

Next a metro to Ueno, a huge park containing a lot of the National museums and art galleries. We spent a few hours in the main museum, marvelling at the beautiful artwork, costumes and scrolls, some over 1000 years old.

500 year old silk screen.

This funeral sculpture is ver 2000 years old.

This scroll is 600 years old and sets out laws buddhist monks should live by.

Samurai armour!

This embroidery is amazing.

It obviously rains a lot in Tokyo. Everyone has an umbrella, every shop and building has umbrella racks or umbrella bags for them, and the museum had 5 racks with numbered locks to put your brolly in and lock it up!

Finally down to Shibayo, the site of a famous 7 way crossing. We were there at a ‘quiet ‘ time. Hundreds (sometimes thousands) of people wait patiently for the green man, then all cross at once in different directions! Organised mayhem, but fun to watch!

In the evening we headed to Teppan baby, a rather lively local restaurant which specialised in Okonomiyaki… a cabbage, meat and egg pancake, with a choice of ‘extra’ toppings, cooked on a huge hot plate in front of you. Every time someone left the restaurant, all the chefs and waiting staff would shout the equivalent of Goodbye and Thank you, and bow! Great fun and yummy too!


Then back to pack, because tomorrow we collect our campervan… gulp!

Post 22 South Korea and the Winter Paralympics.

We arrived at Incheon airport near Seoul, early on a rainy morning. Then off to the car hire desk to collect our car. Fingers crossed the driving would be better than in most countries we had visited! It was!

We drove the 140 miles to our Hotel, where many other athlete’s families were staying. It was a beautiful Hotel, with stunning grounds and gardens, although they were carpeted with snow on arrival. So far so good. Then the cracks started to appear. This huge luxurious hotel didnt have a public Tv. We hadn’t gone to the medals ceremony as Jen and Menna would not be attending due to a 4am start the next morning, so we all wanted to watch together. Eventually I persuaded them to bring 6 chairs to our room!

Next day.. Downhill race. The venue was a 30 minute drive from the Hotel. We set off at 7.00 so that we could ‘bag’ the front seats and hang all the GB flags up, with Menna’s family, and James Whitley’s family.

We were a vociferous bunch, but we enthusiastically supported the whole British team and became known as Skiing’s GB barmy army!

David had come out without Jen knowing, so we put him in the car boot and gave Jen a huge surprise.

He then surprised us all by wearing a super Union flag Onesie for every race! He became a star in his own right!

David being interviewed by the announcer.

As regards the racing, well it got off to a sticky start with Menna crashing out in the downhill at 90 kph. How would that affect confidence?

We needn’t have worried. The next day saw Jen using all her powers of persuasion, and they visibly sped up as Menna’s confidence return, to win a Bronze in Super G. As it was mother’s day, and Menna’s parents anniversary, Mair, David and I got to go down and surprise them while they were being interviewed for Channel 4. So I was seen across the nation, crying my eyes out!!

This is the face of a girl who realises she is a Paralympic medallist

David and Dan went out to explore the nightlife and returned rather the worse for wear after lots of bars and a karaoke club. I was tempted to included the shaky video of David belting out ‘Dancing Queen’, but common sense prevailed!

Day 3 was Super combined. One run downhill and one slalom. Super skiing got them silver behind Henrietta Farkasova, who was claiming her 3rd Gold.

Day 4 was giant slalom..and they did it again. Another silver. Incredible. The girls were allowed out for a celebratory meal.

Interspersed with skiing were the medals ceremonies. The atmosphere was electric and I sobbed unashamedly at these girls who had both fought back from injuries, and were now exceeding expectations.

Back at the Hotel, things went from bad to worse in the restaurant. They closed at 8.30, ran out of food, and the meals were often cold! Grrrrrr.

A three day gap, where the weather went from a high of 19 degrees, to a high of 3 degrees!! A nightmare for the snow conditions!

We found a beautiful temple a few mils from the hotel. First built in 600 AD it is still a monastery today.

It had a stunning Origami display too. Yes these are made out of folded paper!

We also watched and supported the snowboarders and went to a great ice hockey match by speedy train!

Then it was Sunday. The last day of competition – the Slalom. There were some slalom specialists racing too, and of course, the unassailable Farkasova.

We watched with bated breath to see the girls ski superbly in their first run to be 1.66 secs behind Farkasova and just 0.04 ahead of Millie.

The scene was set for an entertaining final run. And it delivered. Millie skied well which put pressure on Menna and Jen. They skied a blinder and overtook Millie. Lastly Farkasova … and we think the pressure of going for her 5th gold was too much. She tensed up and was slower. Gold for Menna and Jen! Unbelievable. Only our second ever gold since the Winter Paralympics began, and also Menna and Jen become the most decorated GB winter paralympians.

What a moment. We went wild.

With Millies three medals and Menna’s four, GB reached their target of 7 medals.

Ade Adepitan from channel 4 had come to sit with us for the race, between Menna’s mum Mair and me. We held hands through every race!

This medals ceremony was on the ski run, and we were all so emotional and proud as the GB flags were hauled high and the National Anthem rang out. We all sang loudly!

Menna and Jen were being interviewed by everyone, but we sneaked some great photos, then dashed back to the Hotel to change for the closing ceremony.

A missed exit and 4km traffic jams meant the journey to the stadium was very stressful, bit we made it.

A real spectacle, capped by Menna and Jen being the flagbearers for Team GB.

Then just time to see them for hugs and kisses before we parted. They fly home early Monday, while we fly to Japan!!

The flight home with British Airways was a big party. The crew had hung bunting, played the National Anthem, had special champagne labels made, and recruited some extra staff to help with trolley service!! David and Dan look rather fetching.

They even have new pilots!!

They had a heroes welcome at Heathrow, with Peter and Tracy joining them for a reception in the evening.

What an amazing Paralympic Games.

1 x bronze 2 x silver 1 x GOLD.

Huge congratulations to Menna and Jen… and I think I can stop taking the blood pressure tablets now! All the mums were nervous wrecks!

What a trip… what a result. So proud to be able to share in it, especially after having cancer 7 years ago.

Now onto the last part of our trip. Japan!

Post 19 Vietnam. Hanoi here we come…almost!

Another adventure. The vietnam blog is in 3 parts covering 10 days in this amazing country.

Our rescheduled flight was 10 minutes late so a Kuala Lumpur we had just 40 minutes to get from domestic arrivals to a different gate in international departures, and board our flight! Luckily, our baggage was checked through to Hanoi. We made the flight…phew! 3 and a half hours later we are the last ones standing at the empty luggage carousel… no cases!

Malaysia airlines soon verified they were still in KL. We only had the clothes we were wearing! They promised they would reach our hotel by midnight!

We headed to the charming La Selva hotel. Friendliest place ever, right in the old quarter of Hanoi, a tangled network of old streets, crowded with houses and shops and piggybacked cables! Delhi all over again, and I love it. The traffic is almost as crazy, but there are many more motorbikes than cars or push bikes. 7 million people and 5 million motorbikes!! “When you want to cross, just step out and keep walking” was the advice we were given. Unbelievably, it worked. We walked around the central lake, visiting the temple dedicated to a giant turtle who was the guardian of a special sword that saved the city. Every temple is full of offerings of food because of the Tet holiday. Chinese New Year. In Vietnam, everyones birthday is New years day. Their age is counted from the New years day after they were born.

Then through the gardens into the French quarter, where the opera house was a copy of the one in Paris.

French colonial architecture is apparent everywhere, especially in government owned buildings. The french influence is also clear when you see much more wine on the menu than elsewhere in Asia!

At 6.30 we had a date with the Hanoi street food tour! A 3 hour walk around the old quarter, sampling typical street food. It is so busy. Everyone seems to sit on the pavement and eat. Vietnam must have a monopoly on small, plastic childrens stools.

We aren’t sure how the places we visited would score on a food hygeine assessment, but the foods were delicious, including egg coffee!

At 00.30 am our cases were delivered… which was lucky because we needed to repack! The next morning we were collected by a driver and guide for a 2 day trip to rural Vietnam at Ninh binh. En route we saw some beautiful hand embroidery, and a very unusual way of differentiating mens and ladies loos!

In this lovely area, we visited one of the most important temple complexes in Vietnam, the Bai Dinh temples and pagoda, with a huge happy buddha statue, and a pagoda that can be seen for miles around. It was all built in 2004, but it seemed ancient. It was built on an epic scale. 500 golden buddhas line the parallel stairways. I imagine we felt rather like people in georgian England getting the chance to see a newly built mansion and marvelling at its size and beauty.

Onto a river trip through the lovely Karst limestone scenery, and into caves… in a small boat rowed by a diminutive lady, using only her feet!!!

Then to a very rural homestay in a lovely garden. A vast dinner with our guides.

Everyone is so welcoming and friendly. Especially the house geckos, who chirrup every so often! A HUGE breakfast… they just kept bringing more food – we had to politely say no to the beef noodle soup AFTER the omelettes, salad, bread and fruit!!!

Then an early morning boat trip in bamboo boats through a tranquil National Park. Lots of birds, and as we were proudly told.. this was where they filmed King Kong. They pointed out the location of various scenes, ” you know…skull island” ” you know… fight with giant lizard”. We nodded sagely and didn’t let on we hadn’t seen it!

Gosh… is it 12 noon, must be time for another huge meal! Then a visit to 2 temples dedicated to 2 kings who saved Vietnam from the Chinese. Finally we return to our hotel in Hanoi, where they greet us like long lost friends.

Our last day in Hanoi started with a guided walk with 2 charming University students, Kim and Kelly. They volunteer with the Hanoi Kids scheme which provides free tours in exchange for english conversation practise. Brilliant scheme.

We went past Ho chi Minh’s tomb. Queues stretched in every direction to file past the tomb of their hero ‘Uncle Ho’. Apparently, even 48 years after his death, people wait 3 – 4 hours to see his embalmed body. That is fame! We walked past beautiful french colonial buildings, now government offices and embassies, and visited the pagoda on the lake.

Finally, the awe inspiring Temple of Literature and Academy, first built in the 10th century and dedicated to Confucious, it is the oldest University in Vietnam.

We loved the old bookcarriers – an early uncomfortable rucksack!

Historically, students had to bring their own tent which they sat in to do exams, so they couldn’t cheat!

Nowadays, students come here to pray for exam success, and to take graduation photos. In so many Asian countries, education is seen as a very necessary privilege. Typically school is 5.5 days a week, with lessons from 7.30 – 12 00 and 3.00 – 6.00. A lot of children do extra classes in the evenings.

We treated ourselves to a super lunch at Cao duc, then mooched around Hanoi, before an early night, due to an early morning flight to Hue.

Some random images of Hanoi including some very narrow houses, dating from the days when taxes were based on just the width of your plot! !

Post 18 Beautiful, bountiful Borneo!

When I was 7 years old, my father bought me a huge book about countries and peoples of the world. It fascinated me, and I am sure fuelled my wanderlust, as I wanted to visit everywhere in the book! Borneo was presented as one of the most remote and mysterious destinations. A land of Orangutang, strange proboscis monkeys and head hunters. Now I would finally visit! Flying into Kuching in Sarawak you could see this was real tropical jungle! Close to the equator geographically, Borneo is an island which partly belongs to Indonesia, partly to Malaysia and also the kingdom of Brunei. The Malaysia bit is further divided into Sabah, and Sarawak where we stayed!

Kuching is a small but growing city on the riverside, with a lovely relaxed atmosphere. The area is a happily cohabiting mix of extremely friendly local tribespeople, Malays, old time chinese and some expats. We walked into town everyday to explore the rainbow interiors of the fabric shops.

This is the home of Batik printing. Prices were ridiculously low, so some fabric may have sneaked into my case!

There are historic temples, bedecked with lanterns and offerings for the chinese New Year.

The old court house and fort from British colonial days, a beautiful mosque,

an Orchid garden,

a magnificent new government building

and a brand new wiggly bridge.

The promenade is lined with pop up food stalls, and at night the whole area is illuminated.

The big action happens outside town. Through tripadvisor I found lovely Jihey, a local driver guide, and he took us on our outings! We visited the Semenngoh National Park, one of the few areas Orangutang remain in the wild. Their natural habitat is being decimated for Palm oil plantations. We were so lucky and privileged that several animals came down near the watching area.

Then on to two incredible cave systems. A rather strenuous and precarious climb up to the fairy cave was rewarded by suddenly arriving in a vast cavern, full of ferns and great limestone formations.

The wind cave was a 1 kilometre network of boardwalks through an unlit cave system where it seemed everywhere you looked were thousands of bats. 12 different species apparently. If you shone a torch on them, they swooped around you. Luckily we like bats!

There were also tiny cup nests made by the cave dwelling swiftlets. Some with eggs or chicks.

The cups are held together with saliva, and this is the sought after ingredient for birds nest soup. It was a truly remarkable place.

Ooh… did I mention the spider?

The next day we visited the Sarawak cultural village. Houses, typical of each tribal area, have been reconstructed here.

Many tribespeople still live in communal longhouses, and we were astonished to learn that one tribe continue to live a nomadic existence and hunt with blowpipes. We were able to try a blowpipe.

It was surprisingly accurate, even with me blowing it! The longhouses would contain a headroom… containing the heads of any enemies they had killed. Thankfully not a current practice.

We watched a beautiful cultural show. Not usually my thing, but the costumes and dance moves were so expressive.

Our last day was spent doing some hot and steamy jungle hiking in Bako National park, on an offshore island.

Featherworm patterns in the sand!

This is one of the only places in the world to see the proboscis monkey. Just as we were giving up hope, we encountered 3.

Another privilege. I also got to paddle in the South China sea!

Our final afternoon was spent at Bumbu’s cooking school…actually the covered yard behind a rather dusty antique shop. Any health and safety jobsworths would have had a fit, but basic hygiene was promoted at all times. We were introduced to local tribal cuisine and taken to the jungle market where everything was picked or collected locally. Every unusual vegetable or fruit was explained to us, and we selected our ingredients, including Mirin, a forest fern!

Back at base we chopped, and crushed and pounded ingredients and made marinades and sauces for our dinner. We wove pandan leaves into baskets and made coconut custard to put in them.

Great fun and educational too, and a super dinner to enjoy at the end.

Our other dinners in Borneo were eaten on the roof of a multi storey carpark!! We were dubious at first, but on reaching floor 6 we entered the bustling, garishly neon lit wonderland of Top Spot. All around the edge were stalls filled with fresh fish, shellfish and vegetables.

The centre was crammed with plastic tables and chairs that were filling up at an alarming rate. Stall 25 had been recommended. How to choose? Eventually we had squid in their special batter, huge freshwater prawns grilled with garlic, mixed oriental vegetables and sweet and sour chicken. All delicious.

With a large beer for Chris and fresh juice for me, the bill was under £9 per person!

Now we ❤Borneo too! We even found a great sunhat for Chris.. although not very practical on the plane!

We were expecting a taxi at 4.15 am for a very early flight to KualaLumpur and a 2 hour wait for our connection to Hanoi in Vietnam. Just before bedtime I got a message. Our flight is cancelled. We are on the 7.00 instead, giving us just 45 minutes to change planes. Aaagh.. see what happened in our next blog!

Post 16 A tiny dot in the Indian Ocean. The Cocos and Keeling Islands!

1800 miles from Perth, these islands are just over halfway between Sri Lanka and Perth. They are 2 coral atolls formed on top of long extinct volcanoes, and their height is just 10 feet above sea level!

They were a British colony, and their location meant they were ideal for an RAF base in WW2. Chris’ dad was sent here in April 1945 to maintain the radar system on uninhabited Horsburgh island. He wrote over 200 letters home to his wife, which Chris has in 2 shoeboxes!

He described the islands as paradise, and Chris has always wanted to visit. So here we are!

The islands are low lying, with many palm trees and jungle shrubs.

Only 2 islands are inhabited. West island by 150 people, mainly of Australian descent, and Home island where about 500 Cocos Malay people live. This is a muslim island. Everyone lives very harmoniously together. Just 2 flights per week, if weather permits, must carry every essential they could need. Coral and sand are not a good medium for growing food!

On our first morning, the owner of our cottage, The Birds Nest took us 5 miles across the lagoon by boat to Horsburgh. A real Robinson Crusoe island and very special for Chris.

The buildings are all gone, and the jungle has reclaimed most of the land. A few rusty gun parts remain!

We hiked to the ‘lagoon’. Birds were quite unafraid of us. This is a beautiful white swift.

All around the lagoon were magnificent weathered stumps and branches of ironwood trees.

There were hermit crabs everywhere. Each time I picked up a nice shell….there was a crab inside!

Chris picked a coconut, and drank from it, just as his dad did 72 years ago.

He cut it open with a vicious looking knife provided by Geof!

In the evening we took the ferry to Home Island, where the Malays live, and had a super supper. Coming back across the lagoon in the darkness was magical. Such beautiful stars.

Day 2 was a lazy day. We wanted to snorkel at Trannies Beach, but had no transport. Our caretaker just said ‘ take my car’! No-one locks their house doors here, and you leave your keys in the ignition whenever you park! We saw a variety of fish, and a black tipped reef shark. We were the only people there!

The pace of life here is S-L-O-WWWWWWW! I couldn’t stand it for long! Opening hours are strange… the shop shuts at 3pm. There are several cafes, but each one opens just a few times a week. Our dinner was at Maxis by the sea! Gorgeous sunset and a great pumpkin curry!

Post 10 The Maldives

Chris and I love islands. This trip was originally designed to visit as many islands as possible. When we realised that the Maldives are just a 80 minute flight from Cochin, we thought we ought to go and see this unique and remarkable set of islands. Facts and figures. Over 1100 islands make up the Maldives. 800 are uninhabited, 200 are ‘Local’ islands, and 110 are resorts. The islands are either coral atolls which formed on sinking ancient volcanoes, or reclaimed land. The Maldives is a strict muslim country, with some alleged dodgy human rights practices, but an excellent education system with 98% literacy. Alcohol is banned except on private resort islands. Women should cover knees and shoulders – except on resort islands, or on designated beaches on local islands! When we looked at costs, resort islands cost between £350 and £3,500 PER NIGHT!, so we chose to stay on an island inhabited by local people, in a guest house. Local people have only recently been permitted to offer accommodation, and it is a great budget option. However… do research your island. Some are noisier/ dirtier / less tolerant than others. Distance from the airport is crucial too…some are a 7 hour boat ride away.

We chose Thulusdhoo. A great choice. 30 minutes by speedboat from the airport at the capital, Male. The local people were very friendly and tolerant. It was clean and quiet! Of course there was no alcohol, but Chris held up well!

Our guest house – Canopus retreat, was right on a beautiful beach, and was of a high standard. We ate out on the sand every day. There were some very cute cats. The key things you want on the Maldives (so I’m told) are a house reef with lagoon for snorkelling, an underwater cliff for diving and a surf break. Thulusdhoo has all 3! The blue colours in the water are stunning… nearly as good as Tresco in the Scilly isles, our favourite place ever! Now those of you that know me will be aware that there are a few things I don’t get on with. Watersports is one of them! Sitting still is another. I survived the 4 nights. I read 3 books, walked round the island a few times and loved meeting local people and seeing their culture. We played Rummikub, and had a super aromatherapy massage. Excellent pizza at Contagious pizza. Lovely American owners who are ‘living the dream’. We did a boat trip, saw lots of beautiful fish and had dolphins swimming past the hotel. Now lets get busy again please! (But how is this for a title?!) The bad points… well, I know it is a cliche, but towels on sunbeds were an issue! There were only 6 really comfortable sunbeds. One couple literally tied their towels around 2 sunbeds and left them there, night and day, even when they were away from the hotel! There were many suggestions as to how to move the towels. Take them in to Hotel lost property was the best (and politest!) But no-one did!ĺ The Maldives are truly a very beautiful place, but with a mean height above sea level of 1.5 metres, global warming means their future is seriously under threat. We are very glad to have experienced this remarkable area, especially meeting local people rather than in a resort. We are now back in lovely Sri Lanka for 1 night before our flight to Australia! This time we are alone…no Tissa to hold our hand! I booked an air bnb near the airport – Villa Domenikuu. £24 for the night, and they arranged a cheap taxi to and from airport. It is amazing! Such a very friendly family…. and, completely by chance, he is a friend of Tissa Tissa had delivered the suitcase we left with him, AND the hat Chris had left in a hotel. Tissa had collected it! What service! Then went to the excellent Lords restaurant in Negombo beach by TukTuk! Zooming around these crazy streets in an open sided 3 wheeler is certainly an experience! It was great fun. Our last Sri lankan meal was superb. As was our last breakfast, with delicious Sri Lankan pastries. We are very sad to be leaving. PS. We also love Sri Lanka airways. Lovely staff, nice food and even in economy you get a foot rest, movies, games and a pillow! The female stewards wear gorgeous outfits – turquoise, printed with peacock feathers… there are wild peacocks everywhere here, they are the national bird of Sri Lanka. However the little logo for air India wins my favourite boarding pass award. He makes me smile every time I look at him. X

Post 9 Kerala – ‘God’s Own Country’ in South India!

We landed at 10pm, were met by a representative and our new driver. As we drove to our hotel in Cochin they explained that Kerala is very different from Delhi. Less crowded, cleaner, and a 95% literacy rate compared to 65% in Delhi. Interestingly, it has been governed by a communist local government for years. However, they do have a lot of strikes, and one was scheduled for the next day affecting all tourist transport, protesting against a hike in fuel costs. Petrol is 69p per litre! We may not be able to leave!

Next morning our walking tour of Cochin is delayed to 11.00. A charming local guide, Peter James showed us the huge Chinese fishing nets, working on a cantilever system. Fresh fish abounds and is a key part of Keralan cooking.

He explained that Cochin was a key port on the Spice trading routes, first settled by Chinese, then Portuguese, then Dutch, then British. The Portuguese brought Catholicism, the Dutch were Protestant, and the British Anglican. In the state of Kerala they are 25% Christian, 25% Muslim, 40% Hindi 5% Buddhist, 5% the rest. It is a state where they live pretty harmoniously, and where women’s rights and respect are taken much more seriously than in other parts of India.

So on our tour we saw the oldest Christian church in India, plus the oldest synagogue in India!

Cochin is also where the 2nd BBC Marigold Hotel Documentary was made. One shop is taking full advantage!

The Cochin palace museum contained some amazingly rich painting from the 16th Century. We couldn’t photograph the best bits!

A lot of men here wear a skirt like garment called a Mundu. It can be pulled up short, dropped long, or flapped to aerate the nether regions!

Cochin is a charming, delightful place, and indeed a big contrast to the chaos of Delhi. But then we were given permission to leave for our 4 hour drive up into the mountains! Twisty and turny but remakably quiet due to the strike! We reached tea country and the Thekkady hills. Our best hotel of the trip so far, the Cardomom County, awaited. Amazing buffets … we tried so many delicious new Indian dishes.

Next day, a bird/animal safari in the Perygar reserve. The posters all show tigers… but chances are almost zero. And so they proved. (We were secretly a bit relieved…the tour was a combination of a tiny, completely open jeep, plus a brilliant guided walk! Neither ideal for meeting a tiger! We did see loads of new birds, monkeys galore leaping through the trees, and my favourite… Mongoose. Plus these gorgeous flowers frequented by humming birds and sunbirds.

Then, back in town a superb demonstration of Keralan martial arts – Kalaripayattu. Look closely at the fire picture.

Another great dinner buffet.. then next day a fascinating tour of a farm for Kerala’s king products…Spices. Did you know that peppercorn plants have no flowers… they have reproductive leaves which need to be washed by rain. Then back to the coast for a lovely 24 hour trip on a houseboat through the Alleppy backwaters. Chris has found a good way to get a cheap haircut!

We didn’t realise we had a whole houseboat.. with driver and house boy… just for us! He was a great cook…. included in the price was lunch…. afternoon tea with hot banana fritters! Dinner… and a huge breakfast! We feel guilty eating it, but it offends the cook if you leave it!

We travelled 40 kms through the backwaters seeing massive of birdlife and a way of life that has gone on for centuries. We tied up for the night by a tiny house in the middle of nowhere. Many houses like this one have no road access at all. No running water. The river is used for everything! We even saw people cleaning chicken and vegetables prior to cooking. Teeth cleaning, washing of self, clothes and dishes.

The small boats were for fishermen, and also they dived to the bottom and collected the mud for making pottery.

(Paul, Pam, Sue,Alan – I even chilled very happily! I reckon I could do a canal boat ….. for a weekend… with lots to look at…. and some nice stops!)

Finally, our last day in India was at the Marari Sands hotel at an unspoilt beach facing west across the Indian Ocean to Africa!

More great food… who were all those people who said we would lose weight in India… we have put it on!

We were anxious about coming to India.. health, security, poverty. We are so glad we came. We loved everything about it.

India is an amazing, vibrant, colourful place. It has its problems, but there is great optimism.

We would come back in an instant.

Tomorrow a new adventure beckons. 😀 xxx