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Brunei to Sabah

April 8, 2018 – Sunday – Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah

2018 Borneo tour

In front of the Main Atrium - Empire Hotel & Country Club

In front of the Main Atrium – Empire Hotel & Country Club

We start our day visiting the Royal Regalia Museum, which is located right across the street from our hotel in Bandar Seri Begawan. This museum contains all the gifts given to Brunei’s sultan by visiting dignitaries, as well as commemorating his 1992 silver jubilee. There is a huge chariot on display in the lobby (see above banner image) of the museum, which was used to carry the Sultan through the streets. As it turns out, this is the only thing we can photograph, since photography is forbidden throughout the rest of the museum. No great loss, since personally I find this sort of thing rather boring.

We make a quick stop at the gates to Istana Nurui Iman – the Sultan’s palace before continuing on to the Empire Hotel & Country Club, a six-star resort where we have a few hours to spend as we wish. Most of us have lunch and spend time drinking in the opulence of the place before getting back on the bus to head to our afternoon flight to Kota Kinabalu. Sabah, Malaysia.

Malaysia & Borneo local flights

Malaysia & Borneo local flights

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Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei

April 7, 2018 Saturday – Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei

2018 Borneo tour

Woman’s Entrance, Jame Asr Hassanil Bolkiah new mosque

Woman’s Entrance, Jame Asr Hassanil Bolkiah new mosque

We start our full day in Brunei visiting the opulent Jame Asr Hassanil Bolkiah new mosque, where we are allowed to visit the inside of the men’s prayer hall after removing our shoes. The women in our group must also cover their heads and legs, and everyone has to check our bags, although we are allowed to carry a camera with us.

There is a very impressive Royal Entrance to the mosque with fountains, gardens and ornate gates, however the best photo-op I found was the Woman’s Entrance, where the symmetry of the golden domes and minarets is stunning.

We then travel back into Bandar Seri Begawan to see Masjid Omar Ali Saifuddien old mosque. I decide to not go inside, since our time here is limited. I walk out to the decorative cement boat that is situated in the middle of the lake beside this mosque, where I take some very nice photos of the mosque despite the midday Sun beating down on us.

We walk along the Jalan McArthur waterfront promenade to the jetties and board boats which take us across the Brunei River to Kampong Ayer, a Malay stilt village. After our return, we have time for a quick lunch at Franini’s Italian restaurant before boarding the bus to head out of the city. We make a quick stop for some retail therapy at a Starbucks in a mall, where I find some unique souvenirs of Brunei to take home with me before we continue on to see the Wawasan Brunei 2035 craft skills display.

Proboscis monkey in a tree on the Brunei River

Proboscis monkey in a tree on the Brunei River

Boats on the Brunei River take us past Istana Nurui Iman – the Sultan’s palace to see Proboscis monkeys in the mangrove at nearby Pulau Ranggu. We finish the day with another visit to the Jame Asr Hassanil Bolkiah new mosque at night, which is spectacular.

I’m pretty well beat by the end of this marathon day, so after we return to the hotel, I go downstairs to have a quick dinner of Nasi Goreng and then I unwind in my room before bedtime.

 

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Kuala Lumpur to Brunei

April 6, 2018 – Friday – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei

2018 Borneo tour

I have Coconut flour pancakes, savoury stuffed croissants and a cappuccino again for breakfast in the Majestic Hotel in Kuala Lumpur this morning – a yummy way to start the day!

We fly to Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei at noon today, so we are on the bus in front of the hotel by 9:30AM. Traffic is slow, especially at the toll booths along the way to the airport, so it takes us well over an hour to arrive. Initially, our tour guide Susan suggests we should check in as a group, however the group check-in is slow, so we switch back to individual check-ins, which gets our boarding passes and bags checked faster. Clearing Malaysian immigration is a dead slow process, since they fingerprint or take a mugshot of everyone leaving the country – quite strange!

Visas from Malaysia & Brunei in my passport

Visas from Malaysia & Brunei in my passport

Although we had cleared a security checkpoint just before going through immigration, we have to do it all over again before we can enter the gate area. Our flight was scheduled for 12:30PM departure, however it is just after 1PM when we pull away from the gate in a Boeing 737-800 on Royal Brunei Airlines. Lunch is served on this two hour flight – I choose the sweet and sour chicken with rice, which is piping hot, a bit spicy and quite tasty.

After arriving in Brunei, we clear customs and immigration, find our local tour guide, and hit the ATMs for some Brunei Dollars before being transferred to the Radisson Hotel in Bandar Seri Begawan. After a quick cleanup in our rooms, we leave in the bus for a buffet dinner at nearby Tarindak d’Seni, an up-scale restaurant beside the Brunei River that serves traditional Malay food. Some of the entrees are a mystery, but the food is good. After we return to the hotel, I have a shower, and then watch a movie before going to bed.

Malaysia & Borneo local flights

Malaysia & Borneo local flights

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Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

April 5, 2018 – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

2018 Borneo tour

Joe & Charlotte standing in the Sky Box atop the KL Tower

Joe & Charlotte standing in the Sky Box atop the KL Tower

We arrive at the KL Tower when it opens at 9:30AM, so there are no crowds. Our tour guide Susan waves off the photographers who normally take photos of everyone as they enter the elevator area. We go straight up to the Sky Deck, which offers open air viewing. This is much better for photography than the glassed-in deck I visited in 2016 when I was here on a Holland America shore excursion. There are also two Sky Boxes on this level, which are glass-floored boxes that extend out into the open air clear of the tower superstructure.

We make a stop at the Titiwangsa Lake Gardens for some very nice views of the Petronas Towers and the hospital district with the cityscape reflected in the lake. Our next stop is the Petronas Towers mall for lunch in the Signature Food Court on level 3. The food is cheap and good, but I have to eat quickly and get out of there to escape the noise and crowds.

Thean Hou Temple

Thean Hou Temple

We visit the highly ornate Thean Hou Chinese Buddhist temple, which presents us with lots of photo ops. By the time we get back on the bus, it is after 2PM and getting very hot outside. Some of our group are done for the day, however our tour leader Susan wants us to see two more sights before we return to the hotel. She proposes to finish the original tour, which includes a walk-about Chinatown and two more temples, but only for those in the group who want to go.

So we all go to see the Chan See Shu Yuen clan hall, which is very interesting, but only worth about 15 minutes, and then we go to nearby Merdeka Square, where there are lots of colonial era buildings, including an old English-era church and a cricket field. We cross the street and walk a block to the River of Life area, where two rivers meet and where the historic Masjid Jamek (Friday Mosque) is located.

Susan takes the group who want to see more off on their walkabout to Chinatown, while the rest of us (me included) are driven back to the hotel. I have a shower and a rest before we leave in the bus for a dinner and cultural show at Saloma (now called WoW KL) in the club district of the city. The cultural show is a high-energy affair, which highlights the multi-cultural milieu that makes up the country of Malaysia.

Kuala Lumpur (2016 & 2018) – galleryslideshow

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Victoria to Kuala Lumpur

April 2, 2018 – Flying from Victoria, BC, Canada to Los Angeles, CA, USA

2018 Borneo tour

I wake up at home by 6AM. and I’m at Victoria airport by 8AM to check my bag through to LAX aboard WestJet. I calculate the elapsed time from leaving home to arriving at our Kuala Lumpur hotel will be about 33 hours! After we board the flight to Vancouver, there is a miscount of passengers. The flight attendant counts passengers in the aircraft several times, however we finally pull away and take the scenic southern route over Boundary Bay approaching Vancouver Airport from the south and the east.

After arriving in Vancouver, I have to walk a few kilometres – the full length of the airport to get to the USA-bound flights. After taking off my shoes, coat, belt and watch, I’m still hand-searched by the TSA staff before I can pre-clear US Customs and Immigration. The US customs agents ask if I have a bag, but their procedure obviously doesn’t include having bags with passengers anymore…at least the automated kiosks for entry to the USA in this area speeds up some of the pre-clearance entry process!

JoeTourist: California outside the cities &emdash; Mt. Shasta

Mt. Shasta

I have four hours to wait in Vancouver for my flight to LA, so once I find my gate, I have some lunch at Tim Hortons. My flight departs on time at 4:14pm, so now I can relax, since Michele and the tour company will be responsible for coordinating the rest of the flights until we return to LA.

I watch a movie on my iPhone using the in-flight networked entertainment offered by WestJet – Bucket List with Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson. It is a beautiful flight south as we pass by Mount Shasta and other snow-capped mountains in southern Oregon and northern California. The Sun is setting over the hills as we approach LAX.

The LA airport always seems to be out-of-control, where confusion reigns. I arrive in Terminal 2 and have to get to Tom Bradley International next door, but I can’t find any directional signs. I ask at the staff at the Baggage Desk near where I retrieve my bag and they show me the right direction to walk. It isn’t far, but again, once I’m there, I can’t find any signs to indicate where the check-in counters are located. After asking for directions yet again, I find my way to the third floor of the terminal.

Thank goodness I have Premium Economy, so I can use the Business check-in at Cathay Pacific counter. The clerk urges me to make my way to the departure gates as soon as possible, since he says security clearance will get crazy in a couple of hours. That may be, but when I go through security, it is almost at the level of being dehumanizing. The TSA staff are yelling at the passengers, there is no TSA Pre-clearance available, and everyone has to go through a full body scan. Combined with taking off shoes, belts, and coats, it is a dreadful experience. I’m glad to get through it and find my gate.

I grab a cappuccino and a chocolate chip cookie from Starbucks and sit down at the gate to unwind. By 9:30PM, I see some of my tour group arriving. I recognize some people from my previous trip to Arabia, and another clue is the yellow yarn tied to their carry-on bags our tour leader Michele uses to keep track of her group. Those of us who upgraded to the Premium Economy  get to board right after First Class and Marco Polo members. Loading goes smoothly, but our Cathay Pacific flight leaves a bit late at 12:45AM.

April 3 & 4, 2018 – Tuesday & Wednesday – Flying from Los Angeles to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Once our Boeing 777-300ER levels off after leaving Los Angeles, dinner is served. Those of us in Premium Economy are given a menu of four entrees and complementary wine. Our seats are pretty deluxe: they recline more than the regular economy seats, have a recliner-style foot rest, and there is both USB power and regular 120 volt power at each seat. Once dinner is over, the cabin is darkened, we are given lots of pillows, blankets and an overnight kit. I manage to sleep a fair bit for the first 8 hours or so of the flight – a first for me! By my count, the Premium Economy cabin has 36 seats, with slightly over half of them occupied. We have our own bathroom, and since the bulkhead row ahead of me is empty, I move up there after takeoff so I have room to spread out, and I don’t disturb anyone when I get up to move around a bit.

Since we are flying westward across the Pacific, we lose a day as we cross the International Date Line. A couple of hours before our arrival in Hong Kong, the crew serves breakfast. I’m pretty hungry by this time, since our last meal was dinner some 12 hours ago. They serve eggs Benedict with hash browns, spinach and a tomato. It’s pretty good as I wolf it down, but what I really appreciate is the coffee, since I last had a cappuccino from Starbucks in the LA airport some 15-20 hours ago!

We arrive in Hong Kong a bit late – 6:58AM instead of 6:45AM. That may not seem like much, but our connection is very tight, we have to go through an entry check point even though we are transiting to Malaysia, and the gate for our flight is on the other side of this huge airport. Our long walk takes us almost a half hour before we finally find the gate, and a few minutes later they start loading. But wait, they have a surprise for us. We are loaded into a bus and taken even further out on the airport aprons to a waiting Airbus A330, where we have to shlep our carry-on bags up a steep flight of stairs and to the back of the aircraft, where we are all seated. Welcome to Dragon Air, a regional airline owned and operated by Cathay Pacific.

I guess by this point in this endurance contest, we could all be forgiven for being a bit ragged and cranky! I help some of the more senior members of our tour group lift their bags into the overhead bins as we all find our seats. After we are airborne on our four hour flight to Kuala Lumpur, breakfast is served. I’m not in the mood for more eggs, but they have a seafood noodle dish which hits the spot.

Main entrance to the Majestic Hotel tower in Kuala Lumpur

Main entrance to the Majestic Hotel tower in Kuala Lumpur

Our aircraft arrives on time at Kuala Lumpur’s huge airport. We quickly clear Malaysian Customs and Immigration, find our local tour guide Susan and our bus driver Mohammed, who drives us along Malaysia’s beautiful, modern expressways to Kuala Lumpur and our hotel for two nights – the Hotel Majestic. It takes awhile to sort out our rooms, and then I pay the 20 Ringgit room tax in cash at the desk. Malaysia charges this room tax per night at each hotel we stay in for the whole trip. The hotel has an old, classic colonial section and a new tower. We are staying in the tower. I quickly unpack, have a shower and then have a two hour sleep before our group meets downstairs in the hotel for a sumptuous buffet dinner. After that, it’s back to bed for me, since we have a full day tomorrow touring Kuala Lumpur.