We seem to be getting up early virtually every morning on this tour. It’s not relaxing, however we are having lots of new experiences. Before we go to the Kuching airport to fly to Kuala Lumpur, we drive to the Sarawak Cultural Village. The various tribes found in Sarawak each have their cultural displays in their own houses arranged in a circle around the lake on the grounds: Bidayuh, Iban, Penan, Orang Ulu, Melanau and Melayu. There is also a Chinese farm house – which is the Cina tribe.
We also see a cultural show in an air-conditioned theatre, which is professionally produced and performed, unlike the other dancing in longhouses we experienced previously in the various villages we visited. We wrap up our visit by having a pre-arranged lunch in the air-conditioned restaurant before leaving for the one hour drive to the airport. We say goodbye to our guide Lemon, his assistant and driver as we navigate through the airport to find our gate.
Our guide Susan meets us at the Kuala Lumpur airport and Mohammed drives us to what is perhaps our favourite hotel on this trip, the Hotel Majestic. All the staff are great here, it is a very fancy hotel, and the breakfast and dinner buffets in the restaurant are excellent. It is after 8:30PM when we arrive at the hotel, so we go directly to the buffet for our farewell dinner, leaving our bags to Susan and the hotel bell staff to sort out and put in our rooms.
I am up at 5:45AM, put my bag out at 6:30AM and have breakfast with the group.The tropical rainstorm lasted all night and only let up as we leave in the boat to board our bus waiting for us at the jetty on the other side of the lake. We have a long day ahead of us, driving over a road that is full of construction and bumps.
This afternoon, we stop at the Kampung Annah Rais, a Bidayuh longhouse – actually a series of houses strung together with bamboo boardwalks. There are 160 families and about 3,000 people in this community. The place is very quiet, since most residents are at work or away at school. They have a skull house, which contains about a dozen very old skulls from headhunting days long ago. Interesting note from our guide Lemon, although the Bidayuh were headhunters, they were not cannibals.
After arriving back in Kuching, we are again staying at the Waterfront Hotel. There is some time for us to explore Kuching on our own in the late afternoon and evening. The hotel is adjacent to the Harmony Arch in old Chinatown, the old courthouse and jail, and the Kuching waterfront on the Sarawak River.
After breakfast this morning at the resort, some of us take the canopy tour: hiking up a hill behind the resort to walk among the treetops to discover the canopy layer of the rainforest on a 120 metre-long (425-foot-long) walkway, suspended 56 metres (165 feet) above the jungle floor (see banner image above). We all find it challenging in the morning heat, and we see no animals or birds. We check each other over for leeches and ants before returning to the resort.
Later in the morning, we take a longboat trip upriver to visit the 34-family Mengkak Longhouse of Iban tribe. First, everyone toasts with their rice wine called tuak, then we watch them perform the Hornbill dance in costumes, have some lunch in the longhouse, and then return to the resort in the afternoon. They appear to be well-pleased by our gifts of exercise books and pencils for the children. Some work their way through us shaking hands and bowing as they return to their quarters after the chief distributes the gifts to each family. The tribe is protected by a carved wooden statue of Agum, which is setup right above the longboat docks at the entrance to the longhouse.
By the time we are taken back to the resort in the longboats, I’m pretty well wasted by the oppressive heat and humidity of the day. I retreat to my air-conditioned room, have a shower and go to the bar for a beer before returning back to my room, since the patio at the bar is far too hot. After I recover a bit, I sit outside on the covered deck with one of our group. We discuss our travels as we watch a thunderstorm break over the lake and enjoy the sounds and smells of the ensuing tropical rainstorm.
Although the Aiman Batang Ai Resort is quite elegant and large, it is showing its age. I would estimate that the facility is about 40 years old by the age of the original plumbing and other fixtures in the rooms and common areas. The staff work hard, but a facility this big is hard to keep operational, when the “works” are aging. It appears to me they have about half the rooms mothballed.
2021 Update: Sadly, the Aiman Batang Ai Resort is now closed.
We start the day with the fascinating, colourful, and very busy city fish market (see above banner image). I shoot video with my GoPro camera to capture the action, and take close-ups of the seafood to capture the colours and patterns. We then take boats to see the four Malay stilt villages located across the harbour from the city in the South China Sea.
We drive to the Masjid Negeri Sabah state mosque, which has a certain understated elegance. The Puh Toh Tze Buddhist temple is next, where there is a huge statue of Guan Yin in front, in addition to the traditional temple. There is also a giant drum and bell to presumably call the faithful to worship.
We wait for sunset to light up the Masjid Bandaraya Kota Kinabalu city mosque located on Likas Bay. That doesn’t happen since there are too many clouds on the horizon, however the mosque is lit by the very pretty golden hour light, which I capture in the time lapse high definition video I shoot with my GoPro Hero action camera.
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.
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.
We visit the Khasab Castle, originally built by the Portuguese in the 17th century, but now a museum to showcase Omani history and culture. Traditional boats and other historical artifacts unique to the Musandam region are featured. After withdrawing some Omani Riyals from a bank machine, I take a few photos of Kasab’s lovely Friday Mosque: As Sultan Qaboos Mosque. There is a small souq in the town square, with mostly livestock, fodder, and a few food items for sale under the tents. Next, we drive to the nearby Oudah village, located in Wadi Oudah. There are some petroglyphs in the rocks at Tawi village at end of the road.
After spending the morning seeing some sights around Khasab, we take a noon Oman Air flight to Muscat, Oman’s capital city. As the flight takes off in a northerly direction, it circles over Khasab and the harbour before turning south, flying over the wadis we drove through yesterday on our way up the mountains to Jebel Harim.
As the flight climbs out of Khasab, I have a good opportunity to take some aerial photos, especially of the harbour, coastline, and the dams in the wadis, which are obviously for flood control, since Khasab and the suburbs are all built in the valley floor on low ground. Shortly after leaving Khasab I don’t see much, since it is cloudy the whole way.
It takes about an hour to arrive in Muscat, where we meet our Omani guide Yacoob and our driver. They take us to the City Season Hotel, where we have the afternoon to ourselves.
I don’t have anything planned for today’s port of call, however the daily program says there is a free activity where everyone will be driven by bus to Wabao village. The Captain of the Paul Gauguin and the village chief will exchange gifts at a welcome ceremony. So a hundred or so of my fellow passengers (and me) pile into buses and make the 20-minute journey down the road. We encounter cute children dressed for the occasion, who sing us a few songs. The captain and the chief make brief speeches, and then there is some food for those who decide to stay. The rest of us return to the ship, or are dropped off at a snorkel area called Yenjele Beach. The beach looked divine, but I stayed on the bus and returned to the ship for lunch, and have a snooze in a sofa in a shady spot on the pool deck.
I meet some interesting people at dinner in L’Etoile this evening. Two couples are dedicated eclipse chasers, and are from the same university town in New Hampshire. One elderly couple are SCUBA divers, with the wife having done over 1,000 dives, and her husband having done over 1,500 dives! She no longer dives, but her husband continues. The husband of the other couple was an engineer with AT&T before it was broken up, after which he retired and went into the telephone standards industry. I also meet a Brit living on the Isle of Man who arrives at the table a bit late. He is a live wire, and apparently spends his retirement kite surfing at various locales around the world. He really likes going to South America, where he asserts the best kite surfing in the world can be found.