A Travellerspoint blog

March 2015

Labuanbajo, Flores, Indonesia

Magical Komodo National Park

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By the time we got to KL airport the boys would already be in the sky somewhere on their way home. We had a brilliant couple of weeks with them but now it was time for a new adventure in Indonesia. We should have shares in AirAsia the amount of times we seem to have flown with them recently. We arrived at Bali airport in the evening and had pre-booked a hotel near the airport as we were flying to Labuanbajo the next morning.

Although it was a brief overnight stop in Bali, it was one I was looking forward to because I had booked a hotel room with a bath. All that know me well, know that there's nothing more I love than a bath... I literally can't remember the last time I got to have one. For £10 a night Anika Melati Hotel was worth every penny; bath, air con, a proper thick duvet, spa, pool and a short walk to the airport. We'll definitely be back.

The next morning we were off to the airport again. I'm pretty sure it was the first time I'd been in a propeller aeroplane (or at least that I can remember) and as we were walking up to it I couldn't help but think it looked like a toy plane... let's hope for a safe landing.

We'd already arranged our accommodation and activities in Labuanbajo because we'd emailed quite a few dive shops to enquire about their rates and activities in the Komodo National Park. We headed straight to Manta Rhei Dive Shop and were met by Jules who got us immediately kitted up with our dive gear for the next few days... I was so excited to be under the water again. The dive shop also had a resident dog named puffer (I assume named after the puffer fish). We were staying in their homestay for free because we were diving with them for two days. Whilst we were waiting to be shown to our homestay we had an oxtail soup lunch and found a coffee shop with internet (and air con!). Once shown to our room we were quite pleased; our own room and ensuite plus an entire house to ourselves.

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Labuanbajo is the main hub for people to access the Komodo National Park from. It's relatively small with a main street filled with dive shops and Italian restaurants (don't ask me why, but all food there was either Indonesian or Italian). There's a small working fishing harbour where you can see them bringing in the days catch and a local market near the pier. If we'd had enough time we could have hired a motorbike to explore the bat caves, waterfalls and spider web rice terraces near to Labuanbajo, but unfortunately we didn't.

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Our first day diving Komodo National Park was incredible. The sun was shining, our boat had comfy bean bags for us to lounge in, breakfast on top deck and a breathtaking landscape. The National Park is a series of islands, which at the time of our visit were lush green mounds popping out of the sea in every direction. I can think of no better way to spend a morning.

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The first dive, Tarawa Basar, was a beautiful bright coral bed with tonnes of tropical fish. We saw a crocodile flathead fish as soon as we entered the water and 3 hawksbill turtles munching on the coral. They were so close you could touch them (but obviously this isn't allowed). Then our dive guide, Rennee, tapped her tank to get our attention and there, right in front of us, was a 3 metre manta ray gliding gracefully straight towards Jason...all J could do was hope that there was no collision and enjoy the moment.

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Could the diving in the park get any better when on our first dive encounter we saw hawksbill turtles, black and white tip sharks, a crocodile flathead fish, giant sweetlips, a black velutinid and a majestic manta ray?! Oh yes, Batu Balong was a beautiful reef garden and coral wall that was jam packed with tropical fish (you name it, it was there); white tip sharks, sweetlips, lionfish, pufferfish, bat fish, moray eels, parrot fish, snappers, wrasse, unicorn fish, sea snakes, the list goes on... All I could do was float around and marvel at the coloured coral and abundance of sea life. Jason was also thrilled because he managed to find himself a pink metal scuba stick with attached wristband; a lot of divers carry them so you can point at objects, tap your tanks for attention and anchor into the sea bed whilst observing in stronger currents.

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Rather than doing a third dive in the day we opted to get off the boat at Rinca Island to see the komodo dragons. We'd seen quite a few monitor lizards on our travels, which were frankly too big for my liking anyway, so the prospect of seeing the deadly komodo dragons made me apprehensive. I'd researched beforehand and knew that the dragons were extremely dangerous creatures, so was surprised when our guide met us off the boat with only a stick as self defence (I was hoping for a machete/gun combo). I'd even put my shoes on because didn't fancy the idea of having flip flops if I needed to run away (I am Safety Soph after all).

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Komodo dragons can only be found on Komodo, Rinca and Flores, and there are only about 4000 worldwide. The park ranger informed us that they don't feed them because they don't want them to relate food to humans; however it's strange how a lot of the dragons congregate around the staff kitchen (sceptical). Nevertheless, it gave us a great opportunity to see them up close.

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One had just finished a feast and we could see its leftovers around its chops...I think it made him look particularly menacing. Their tongues poke in and out of their mouths as they sense what's around them and I was just hoping it wasn't me as their next meal.

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The guide took us on a short walk around the island and explained a little more about the dragons and the park. I quizzed him about 'death by dragons', 'guides attacked by dragons', 'tourist injuries by dragons'... let's just say I didn't feel anymore reassured. There was a nice viewing spot at the top of the island where we enjoyed the views and sea breeze, but unfortunately we didn't get the brochure photo of the view with the dragon in the foreground, just me instead.

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The 2 hour boat ride back to Labuanbajo was bliss. We had afternoon tea and cakes served on the top deck and took a snooze in the sun as we sailed back to the mainland. The dive company really treat you well and their boat seemed to be one of the best in the harbour. In the evening we enjoyed a lovely Italian meal by the waterfront and had an early night ready for our early start diving the next day.

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The diving the next day was equally spectacular. Pengah Kecil and Siabah dive sites were beautiful and filled with sea life, however the highlight of our day was Manta Point. I think this was up there with the thresher shark dive we'd done in Malapascua, Philippines. As we submerged into the water there was instantly a huge 4 metre manta ray beneath us at a cleaning station. As we drifted along the sea bed there was another three circling each other, then another two, then another... and another! I lost count how many we saw. It took all of my energy to deflate and grip onto the sea bed against the current so that I could watch these magnificent creatures. They are so graceful against the current... I on the otherhand was struggling to keep my balance. Jason's new pink stick came in handy as he could dig it into the sandy floor and balance himself against the strong currents. Even if you don't scuba dive you can get a really good view of the rays on snorkelling trips as the water is only 5-10 metres deep. At one point one of them swiftly changed direction and glided straight over our heads... incredible! I'm running out of superlative to describe the whole experience.

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When we got back there was just enough time to see a sunset over Labuanbajo from a rooftop bar with a large Bintang beer... Magical!

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If there's ever a holiday where you want to see natural beauty, unworldly creatures, paradise beaches, great food and beautiful local people... you should book a holiday to Komodo National Park. There's so much more we wanted to see and I definitely want to go back again!

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Note: we need to invest in a red filter for our underwater camera because you lose colour in deep water and our photographs don't capture just how bright it was down there.

Posted by bloorsontour 03:28 Archived in Indonesia Comments (2)

Farewell Tom, Rich, Sam - it was a blast

Kuala Lumpur for the last time (for a while anyway)

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We arrived back in Kuala Lumpur for our last time (me and Soph have lost count of the number of trips to and from the airport here). It was clear that Tom, Rich and Sam were turning their attention to the week ahead and so a quiet, early night was in order. We called in at the Central Market for lastminute souvenir shopping before going for a cracking curry around the corner from the hostel. The hostel rooftop bar would be our final destination on what had been a fun few weeks.

The trip had run its course and I think everyone was happy, or at least ok with returning to our respective "normalities". The hard part was the thought of when we would get to see each other again. Tom said " I guess I won't see you for a couple of years..." Hopefully that won't be the case, it seems like a very long time, but then we've been away for 10months already and that time has flown by. I feel that all of my good friends and I are happy seeing each other when we can, without expectations. There's little upkeep and it's always good when we do meet up. Tom did however promise to strike me if I develop the upward inflections of our colonial brethren... Fair enough.

So, LadsonTour had ended and it was back to me and Ginge on the road - not such a bad prospect! We were both sad to say goodbye indefinitely, but were really pleased that the 3 of them made the effort (and expense) of coming to see us. It meant a lot and made the organisation required more than worth it! Thanks a lot you 3. You're welcome anytime!

P.S. we'll definitely be back visiting the uk in the next 2 years.

Posted by bloorsontour 22:07 Archived in Malaysia Comments (2)

Langkawi, Malaysia

Sun, sea, sand, jet ski, birthday, gin...

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At last, some beach time! We were all looking forward to relaxing on the white sand and Sam was extremely keen to rock his beach body. A taxi took us straight to our hotel, which we'd already booked on our previous visit to Langkawi a few weeks ago.

Within a couple of minutes we'd been introduced to our neighbours, Annie and Jamie, who bought us all out a can of Skol beer from their fridge as a welcome drink. They couldn't have timed it any better. We sat out enjoying our beers and chatted to our new neighbours, who turned out to be real characters. There was some debate amongst us over their age but I reckon they were in their 70s, they'd travelled all over the world, both had the tanned leathered skin of sun worshippers, and Jamie looked like a roadie from the Rolling Stones (long, perfectly blond sleeked hair). There was a lot of man love for Jamie!

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The evening was getting on a bit and we'd missed sunset, so instead went straight out for some food at the restaurant we'd loved on our last visit to the island. We bought a bottle of Tanquarey gin for the table and enjoyed a feast of prawn fritters, rotis, beef rendang, chicken curry and prawn curry... the evening got off to a very good start!

We then walked along to the beach and enjoyed a few drinks on the bean bags. It was a very civilised evening of wine and good chat... that was until sand wrestling got underway... Boys will be boys! Rich rugby tackled Jason to the ground, but unfortunately Jason retaliated and turned him into a sand monster. J had managed to get sand in his ears, eyes, beard, I'm sure all sorts of crevasses... I was trying to brush it off him and Tom was dowsing him in water to help (although that appeared to make Rich's eyes worse). I think it was all taken in good humour...

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The next day was a lazy day of sunbathing, swimming, eating, sunbathing, drinking, snoozing... very relaxing. There's not much else to report from the day, but we did have a nice evening at Jam Rock (a new bar on the beach with sunset views). We enjoyed a few cocktails, watched the sun go down, listened to an acoustic set (with King Kong as backing dancer) and ordered some bbq food. The food looked really good and we were looking forward to a feast. Unfortunately I think there were some teething problems; Tom had to send back his raw fish, Sam's steak was tough, mine and Jason's food was cold and missing items and it all arrived at odd times. We politely complained and eventually our food came back a lot better. We certainly couldn't complain about the setting, a perfect wooden beach bar (still partly under construction), nice vibe and chilled atmosphere. Satisfied with our food we got up to pay and were told by a friendly Malaysian guy that we didn't need to pay for any of our food and 'sorry' for the problems... Winner! Although it was a bit tight on Rich because he paid for his BBQ burger up front, which was very average and he didn't complain, so ended up being the only one to pay for food that night.

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Happy Birthday Richard! Me, Jason and Tom got up early and went for a morning swim in the sea, a really lovely start to my day! We gave Tom a few pointers on his swimming; relax the arm stroke out of the water and slow down the kick; and guess what...he looked a professional. We then met Sam and Rich for a massive breakfast at one of the bigger hotels near to our rooms. We only paid £2 for an all you can eat breakfast and it even included baked beans... amazing! I'm sure the establishment were keeping an eye on Sam as he worked his way through all the banana loaf that was on offer.

The day was of Rich's choice; boat trip, swimming, motorbikes, snorkelling? He, alongside the others, decided on a day of sunbathing and bat & ball. After a morning of sunbathing we thought Rich might want his first Birthday beer of the day so went to a Mexican restaurant for their happy hour and we all wore Mexican party hats to get Rich in the Birthday spirit (I think Jason could get away with being a Mexican... don't you?)

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We also treated ourselves to a bottle of wine, picnic style in plastic cups, on the beach.

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I don't know what it is with the boys, but they love bat & ball... they even went on a lengthy hunt to find a shop that sold them. I've never played tennis with Sam, but Jason tells me that he's got a vicious slice and this seems to be the case with bat & ball as he broke the bat. Sam you're very competitive. There are some cracking action shots.

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I'd had a lot of sun time and feared I was looking like Rudolph the red nosed reindeer, so left the boys to their game and got ready for a night out. We went back to the same restaurant in the evening as it was 'bring your own' and splashed out on a bottle of bubbly for the birthday boy. It was to be another evening of drinking... my liver needs more time than this to recover. We went to a couple of bars and then on to the only club on the island, Sun Bar. It was the strangest place but seemingly very popular as it was busy, it gave us a chance to have a Birthday boogie anyway.

It was quite late when we got up the next day and we were all in the mood for another Mexican fix to help us with our hangovers. The portions are massive and I'm a particular fan of their chimichanga and lemon & mint drinks. I think it was just what the doctor ordered. The only other thing we got up to was sunbathing, bat & ball and general beaching around.

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In the evening we went to a seafood restaurant that was jam packed with customers, so we had high hopes for our food. We should have known to walk out straight away when it took so long to organise a table and then when the waitress took no interest in taking our order. I quite like the loud shouting and hectic food haunts in Asia, however I think some people found the screaming in their vicinity a bit too much. The boys debated whether or not to try a lobster, but in the end went for shared crispy squid starters, with Sam having crab as a main dish and Tom and Rich ordering fish. We waited...and waited... and waited for our order. We watched other people give up and leave the restaurant in frustration at waiting. We hung on in there and eventually, after 90 minutes, got some of our food delivered to the table. We all felt really bad for Sam, he was really looking forward to his seafood meal for the evening and his plate of crabs were virtually inedible; just scraps of claws with no meat in them. In the end he gave up and shared the fish from our orders, which were too huge for person to manage themselves anyway. I'd just like to say now that me and Jason had a lovely meal at this place, but I think the mood had been hampered by poor service and others inadequate meals. It then got worse when we bought it to the waitresses' attention and said we wanted the service charge taking off the bill. There were lots of debating, lots of staring and in the end shouts of frustration from the waitresses that they would have to foot our bill to the owner. By the end of the meal we just wanted to get out of there and me and Jason retired to our bed. I guess you can say "you win some, you lose some"...

It was our last day in Langkawi and the main activity of the day was jet skiing! Eek! Jason and his mum did it a few weeks ago and the video of them looked so much fun... well this time it was my turn. Luckily I was partnered with Sam, as Toms experience was 'wet' to say the least. I'm sorry Sam, I know I was timid, but I was so scared of the power the jet ski had and you seemingly drive it with very little control at very high speed. I think Sam may also have suffered from a burst ear drum from my screaming the entire time. How I stayed on the jet ski is a mystery, Sam went full pelt through the waves and all I could do was cling on for dear life. It was such good fun, better than any ride at Alton Towers, and I'd recommend it to anyone. As for Tom's experience...we all jested him when he tied swimming goggle bands around his sunglasses before getting on the jet ski, but he definitely needed them with Rich's driving. I couldn't stop laughing at his cob when we returned to the shore "Rich did me a over...I can't believe he chucked me off the back of it"... he was soaked but at least he still had his sunglasses on his head. As for Rich, he was beaming from ear to ear.

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There was just time for one last meal at the Malaysian 'bring your own' restaurant... and yes, it was another table full of food. I must admit this time there was a bit of confusion with our order and the restaurant service was a little lax, but you can't grumble at what you get for your money... the food is delicious and our bottle of gin went down a treat. Rather too well for some...Rich had to retire early to sleep it off while I enjoyed a few prosecco cocktails in a bar. There was one last giggle from Langkawi...that was Rich locking out Sam and Tom from their room and then being unable to open the door to let them back in...I was in fits of giggles (maybe the prosecco bubbles had gone to my head).

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Note: there was a lot of drinking, but it's a must when staying on a duty free island!

Posted by bloorsontour 00:40 Archived in Malaysia Comments (1)

Georgetown, Penang

Food, cocktails and street art (take 2: lads on tour)

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Georgetown was our last stop before hitting the beaches of Langkawi. The weather was blistering hot and the pace was slow.

We checked into Wassup Hostel, ready for our first night of sharing one room... it was cosy. I thought Sophie would be thrilled at the prospect of spending the night with 4 strapping lads, but she confided that this was not the case, with her concerns being based on smells and Rich's sleep walking tendencies.

After we'd settled in, we headed out, decided to get some food and so we took them to the Eastern and Oriental Hotel where we'd enjoyed a nice meal with mum a few weeks ago. It was all very civilised... although not the best food of our trip the tiffin was pretty good again.
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Next up we recommended a visit to the Blue Mansion. We hoped that they would get the same tour guy we did, who was excellent. Instead they reported getting a Ting Tong from Little Britain lookalike and they could only understand 50% of what she said. It was nice and handy for the cocktail bar afterwards anyway... The pedant in one may highlight an issue with the "happy hour" at this place; it actually spans 5 hours... We made the most of things and for Sophie four margarita's seemed to have taken effect (Sophie claims to have only had 3...). We went in search of food but got distracted by various bits of Chinese new year celebrations and called in at a temple, at which point Sophie began fluttering around the courtyard like an oversized and somewhat dazed butterfly. She was a hit with some costumed Chinese men with weapons, being plucked ahead of the queue for a photo.
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Eventually we found a curry house for a much needed feed. As you can see from the picture, it was all a little too late to rescue Sophie and after a few laps of the nearby streets, we left the boys to a few more cocktails. Soph was apologetic, but she'd provided plenty of entertainment for the evening!
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We ventured out for brunch after a lie in and stumbled upon an excellent little place: (Jawi House Cafe & Gallery). Tom and Sam spent the rest of the day arguing about how good their respective dishes were and why each was the best. Naturally, neither conceded, but it was definitely a sign of a good meal. There was even a good pudding selection, which is pretty unheard of in Asia. The pineapple and coconut tart was good and there was an incredibly bouncy chocolate cake, but the prize went to a type of set rice pudding with a coconut and palm sugar sauce. It's hard to explain, but it was a taste and texture sensation!
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After a long lie in and an extended feeding session, it was time to see George Town's historic centre. Well, after a bit of shopping... Sophie got herself a ribena ice on a stick, Tom deliberated for a few hours and then bought Catherine a photo, Rich and Sam treated themselves to a vintage poster (Rich opting for the vintage beer one).
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So, Georgetown... I'd found most of the art (or rather Sophie had given a cracking guided tour) on our last trip, so I gave a whistle stop tour of the big names. The highlights being Sam and Rich's attempts at a Bruce Lee flying kick, Tom and Sam on a swing and Tom and Sam pretending to be part of the basketball scene.
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Next up, we decided to take a trishaw though an area, so far unseen and get dropped off at the cocktail bar to start our evening. Unfortunately we chose a couple of bandits! We agreed that 30mins would be enough as we'd seen a lot on foot already. After a little over 10 mins (I knew this as I checked when we set off and it was 6pm give or take a minute) they announced that time was up. We had a stand off, I told them that we'd be reporting them to the tourist police and took a mugshot. Mine and Sam's driver looked a little sheepish, with the other guy the apparent ring leader. We ended up paying something like £4 instead of £5, which I hoped would not lead to having a trishaw Mafia after us, but would mean they hadn't completely won!
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We kept Sophie in check on the cocktail front, ordered some food to be washed down and put the world to rights for a few hours. Being Chinese new year, there was a big celebration on the Esplanade. It was an assault on the senses (mainly the ears)! Sam described as "machine gun fire of words", endless, repeated, high pitched, screaches of words! The lion dancing was impressive and it was certainly an authentic experience. We were glad of a little quiet once it was all over.
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Our time in Georgetown was short, but on the day of our leaving, we had time for one last meal at Jawi house. It didn't dissapoint and we left for our flight feeling pretty content with our time (I think?).

Posted by bloorsontour 05:44 Archived in Malaysia Comments (2)

Lake Toba, North Sumatra

Samosir: Volcanic Island

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It proved to be quite an uncomfortable overnight journey from Bukit Lawang to Lake Toba; in a car in upright seats, bumpy roads and the occasional snore from Jason. We arrived in Parapat in the early hours of the morning, nothing was open, it was pitch black and rather cold. Eventually a little cafe opened and we all had a nasi goreng (fried rice) breakfast, which seemed to cheer us all up no end.

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The ferry across Lake Toba was a traditional wooden boat and brightly painted. Unfortunately there was an annoying tout pestering us (which is not good when you're talking to a group suffering from lack of sleep). We each kindly told him "thank you for your information, but we're going to view other accommodation and then decide which one we want to stay in"...he wouldn't take this for an answer. I was struggling to keep my cool and had to turn away. Luckily he gave up and we were able to enjoy the beautiful lake view and catch a quick nap on the boat.

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If you look on a map the island of Samosir looks incredible; it was formed from a volcano eruption and the lake now lies in the middle of its caldera. Lake Toba is huge and Samosir Island sits in the middle of it and is the size of Singapore. Most people stay in a village area called Tuk Tuk; with plenty of restaurants and souvenir shops to keep you occupied on an otherwise very sleepy island.

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We ended up getting rooms at Liberta Guesthouse. Me and Jason viewed our room, which was empty at the time of our arrival, and based on our lovely wooden bungalow with hot water agreed to spend two nights here (at £4 a night we couldn't believe what we were getting for our money).

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Unfortunately the boys didn't agree... When their room became available they nicknamed it the "crack den"... Oh dear! They had a wooden hut with cold water and squat toilet, Rich's mattress was on the floor and an ant problem. They were only paying £1 each a night. Liberta's Guesthouse itself was really nice; on the lake, nice little seating area for breakfast and friendly staff. I think mine and Jason's standards have definitely lowered as we've stayed in a lot worse accommodation than their hut for more money... nevermind, they survived the ordeal with only a few mosquito bites.

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I made every attempt to stay awake for the day. We enjoyed breakfast at Liberta's and then took to the lake for a dip. I paddled out a little way but got a bit panicked by the plants floating in the lake. I tried really hard to keep my eyes open but had to give in and had a little afternoon nap. We all ended up catching 40 winks and then reconvened for a walk around Tuk Tuk in the evening.

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Tuk Tuk's quite pleasant; although there's not a lot going on, it is still very picturesque and laid back. We wandered around for a little while, taking in the views and working up a hunger. Weirdly, there were signs for magic mushrooms everywhere, but don't you worry, me being straight laced, I told the boys that I'd be extremely disappointed in them if they tried them and instead veered them in the direction of normal food instead.

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We found a restaurant with cheap beer and bbq'd fish where we spent the rest of the night eating and drinking. We had beer galore, a huge fresh fish, nasi goreng and the best chilli/lime sambol ever!!!! We need to try out this recipe at home. As if all that food wasn't enough we then called in at another restaurant for homemade donuts and coconut cookies... delicious!

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We'd planned to have one full day on Samosir and so chose to explore it on a motorbike. I pulled the short straw and had to drive around on my own bike...I quite enjoyed it really. Jason had Rich on the back of his bike because he can't ride a bike, not even a push bike, but surpringly asked if he could practice on a scooter... Jason's face was a picture at his request... Don't worry, the boys managed to persuade him out of practising on a motorbike and he remained a passenger for the whole day.Don't you think Sam looks like a Lego man in his motorbike helmet?! Haha, it was the only one left.

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We drove through traditional villages and admired their batak architecture.

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The boys stopped for a swim next door to the water buffalo's watering hole. I didn't fancy sharing a bath with a buffalo so instead took some photographs from the beach. The water is volcanically heated and the boys said it was warm and occasionally they felt bubbles underneath their feet.

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We had nasi goreng for lunch and coconut by the lake.

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And took in the views of the lake and its volcano.

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We only had time for one whole day at the lake, if we'd had an extra day we might have done a fishing trip or hike to a waterfall, but to be honest it's a very sleepy place and you can get a sense of the island in just a few hours.

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Just before we flew out of Medan we had one evening free to experience a little of what Medan had to offer. When you drive into the city it's a crazy busy, heavily polluted, sprawl of run down streets and I wasn't looking forward to venturing out from our hotel room to get some food. Everyone we crossed shouted "hello mister" or stared at us for an uncomfortable amount of time as we walked past them. We'd managed to find a cafe just a short walk away from our hotel and sat in their dirty plastic seats on the edge of a very busy road. We made out a few words from the menu, like "ayam" (chicken) and "nasi" (rice) and when our order came had a table full of delicious freshly made food. One of my favourites was the stuffed sheets of pastry/roti mix that had been deep fried and then dipped in chili sauce (the boys even ordered seconds). As if the food wasn't enough to make us all smile, we then had a very interesting form of entertainment from a local girl... I can't quite describe the concoction of songs or dance moves or facial expressions, but even the locals seemed to find the whole performance very amusing. From dreading an evening in Medan I ended up quite enjoying my myself and found all of the locals to be extremely friendly.

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Posted by bloorsontour 00:56 Archived in Indonesia Comments (5)

Bukit Lawang, North Sumatra

Sophie's Relatives

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I had managed to convince everyone that a short flight to North Sumatra was the best plan to see some jungle. Me and Soph couldn't have left Southeast Asia without seeing the orangutans (insert Sophie being ginger joke) and Bukit Lawang had been highly recommended for such a venture. It would have all been quite easy were it not for Rich...

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Arriving 48hrs late would have meant that we could meet at the airport and fly together from KL. To add to Rich's misery both of his flights from London and then Dubai were delayed. At last contact from him before leaving KL; we expected him to miss our flight and arrive on the one 2 hrs after ours. All we would have to do is delay our prearranged taxi at Medan airport by a couple of hours and wait around a bit...

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In the end Rich joined us around 58hrs late, after we had waited in Medan airport for 5 hrs. Our driver, Harry, was amazing about it and never lost his smile! Given the ordeal that Rich had been through, we were all very nice to him, not once asking for an apology for how we'd all been put out, or asking him to pay our coffee shop bill... That's what good friends we are!

We had a 4 hour drive to Bukit Lawang, which was pretty bumpy. Rich got some sleep, nearly headbutting the windscreen and gear stick several times as he bobbed away. Harry drove steadily whilst surrounded by mayhem! I'm not sure any of us were looking forward to our return to Medan in a few days time...

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Arriving in Bukit Lawang, I think we all had a big sigh of contentment. Even Rich may have thought the journey was close to worthwhile. We were led down from the car, over a footbridge with a gurgling river flowing below. The place felt instantly relaxing and we were given nice rooms right on the river, before being ushered to the restaurant for a few beer Bintangs and a feed. A great way to destress!

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Soph and I left the "lads" looking fairly sleepy, but in the knowledge that a party seemed to be getting going somewhere across the river... Naturally they couldn't resist. Apparently it was entertaining despite being a bit of a grill (a party with only men present).

We decided to give ourselves a day off to catch up on a bit of sleep before starting the trek. Our day consisted of swimming in the river (having first forded part of it, which was quite a challenge), floating in the rapids, watching Rich "calmly" battle the rapids; telling us how fun it was despite the occasional look of extreme panic, Bintang stops and plenty of eating...

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Sam was a little concerned about muscle deflation whilst away from a gym. He decided that the best way to combat this was to order most of the menu for each meal, partnering with Tom to justify the order. To be fair, Tom tried to compete and ate his fair share so as not to be outdone.

We did manage to fit in an afternoon cave walk. This proved a little more arduous than anticipated with plenty of climbing around. There were lots of bats that got a little close for some people's comfort (Rich was like a coiled spring, ready to go at moment). It was a fun little excursion and a bit of preparation for the day ahead...

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Our trek was described by our guide Thomas as a little grueling given the heat, humidity and gradients. We set off not knowing quite what to expect. Within a few minutes, we were dripping with sweat, but within half an hour we were too busy watching the wildlife to worry about any of that. Our first encounter was a load of longtail Macaques with babies.

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Next up was Sandra, the Orangutan! We had expected to trek for hours before spotting some orange way up in a tree. No, it would be much be much easier than that!

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We were just getting close to Sandra when Thomas called us to follow... We had heard gibbons, but knew that we'd be lucky to see them. Me and Soph had heard them elsewhere on our travels, but they can be fairly elusive...

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They were pretty high in the tree, but we could clearly see their graceful acrobatics and they stuck around for a good while. We had been lucky!

It seems that the orangutans around Bukit Lawang are semi-wild. Happy to disappear into the jungle for days, but knowing that there will be free meals on hand from the guides wanting to provide the best experience for their tourists. Sandra had gotten a little jealous of the attention we'd been giving the gibbons and followed us in the branches above. She took a pee on me to make sure she had my attention - "oh Sandra..."

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Eventually the gibbons moved on and we left Sandra to search for more orangutans. We learned that baby orangutans are cared for until they are around 6yrs old. The next "man of the forest" that we met was 7 and very mischievous! Grace wouldn't have been a word to describe him; erratic, energetic and a little scary may be better...

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Sophie had a stick launched at her and we all ducked as he swung overhead. We hadn't expected such a close encounter!

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The Thomas leaf monkeys were entertaining little characters.

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There were plenty of other orangutans, each with their own personalities.

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We even met Mina, the much fabled "aggressive" orangutan. A few of the guides reported being bitten by her in the past. She definitely had a mean attitude and walked along the ground, unafraid. The guides distracted her with food and she was pretty hilarious, refusing to look at them and holding an outstretched hand which ignored anything she didn't fancy, but took any carrot that was offered. Thomas informed us that Mina was responsible for an increase in employment as every group needed an extra guide for when they encountered her... They carved out a path around her and we all filed quickly past and continued on for 10 mins before our guides decided it was safe. We then waited the guides on Mina duty to catch up. Rich was just about to answer the call of nature when Mina came walking up the hill and we had to quickly move on again... There was definitely something a little menacing about Mina.

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The last part of the walk was pretty grueling, going up and down with a fair amount of climbing. We were very glad to reach camp and find a crystal clear river to bathe in. It was stunning and whilst we wallowed around in the water, we watched monkeys and a big monitor lizard on the opposite bank. Candra, Sam's favourite guide, even brought over coffee and biscuits - it had been a great day!

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This wasn't to be the end of the entertainment though... Thomas informed us that he had to go, but that we would be left in the capable hands of Ollo and chef Ali. The food was plentiful and delicious; even Sam was defeated by the quantity. Afterwards we were told that there'd be "thinking games" and then "laughing games"... We were a little sceptical about the laughing part, particularly as we would be alcohol free for the evening.

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Ollo was a pretty infectious character and it was a comfortable, relaxed atmosphere as he challenged us to "move one matchstick to...". After a few of these, it was " time to laugh". Its a little hard to describe what happened next, but all 5 of us were in stitches from the start as Ollo and Ali demonstrated the first game. We have a few drinking games for the future... The day definitely goes down as one of our best on our trip so far!

Sleeping conditions were rustic to say the least and the toilet was a pit, with its main fault being a complete lack of privacy. Sophie had me on guard duty whenever there was business to be attended to...

We all seemed fairly fresh the next day and by the time we had taken another good feed, crossed the river, jumped into a waterfall pool and received a "massage" from the falling water, we were good to go. It turned out that our day would be considerably easier than the previous. We had time for a bit of sunbathing and swimming and another mamouth meal. When it was time to leave, we climbed into our inner tube raft and floated back to Bukit Lawang in about 40 mins. It was a great end to the trip, with Ollo singing away and beaming back at us for most of the journey. There was one obstacle remaining: fording the river. Sam lost it a little at this point, being a little top-heavy to carefully pick his way across the river...

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All that was left was to have a last few Bintangs and thank our amazing guides and hosts (in no particular order): Thomas, Candra, Bendy, Ollo, Ali, Tuwes, Lilik and Harry. They had made a good experience unforgetable!

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As we sat waiting for our overnight car to Lake Toba, we found out that 3 members of Thomas' family had been involved in a fatal motorbike accident whilst we were in the jungle. On the trek Thomas had told us about the effect of flash floods in 2003 when nearly 300 people from the village died and about how he had lost his mother. The people we had met seemed very happy and lived good lives. It would be hard to say that many people rushing around their lives at home are better off, but when it comes to the value placed on a life, we are certainly much more fortunate.

Posted by bloorsontour 21:26 Archived in Indonesia Comments (2)

Lads on Tour: KL

The lads are 'ere, well two thirds of them anyway...

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Our two weeks travelling with friends, Sam, Tom and Rich, didn't quite get off to the best of starts. Rich hadn't made it onto the plane. I honestly couldn't believe it. His passport was close to expiry and so they wouldn't let him fly. Whilst we were all catching up with each other in KL, he was somewhere in Liverpool trying to get an emergency passport to allow him to travel within the next 48 hours from the UK... would he make it out to us?!

We'd not seen our friends for over 9 months and so there was a lot of catching up to do over some obligatory beers. We were staying at Reggae Mansion Hostel and they had a nice bar upstairs for us to enjoy their happy hour in. It was good to get some of the gossip from back home.

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Tom and Sam needed some catching up on sleep after their long flight, but after that were keen to explore KL. By now it felt like me and Jason had spent a lot of time in Kuala Lumpur and so knew a few of the sights they'd want to see. It was Chinese New Year when they arrived so thought we'd head for a wander around Chinatown, only to be disappointed that there was no sign off any celebrations there. That said, I still think Tom and Sam enjoyed wandering around the area soaking up a little of a night market atmosphere. Of course there was one thing on their minds... Food! We had a lovely meal at an Indian restaurant in Little India; a table full of naan beads, curries, mango lassis and rice. We then spent our evening back at the hostel bar playing card games with a g&t (or two).

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The next morning we went to the famous Petronas Towers. Tom's an architect and was keen to see them up close in the day light. The area surrounding these mirrored towers is nice to walk around, with a park, aquarium and shopping mall close by. We'd only seen them by night light previously from a distance so it was good to actually see them up close from a different perspective.

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We'd read that you could get a cracking landscape view of Kuala Lumpur from Tittiwangsa Lake. We jumped in a taxi and had a nice stroll around the lake, taking in the views and stopping for a drink. The lake appeared to be a stop for local families to take their children on bike rides around the lake, we were the only tourists there and I felt like we'd dropped on a gem of a spot as the views of the city were so good.

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We thought we'd be in time to visit Masjid Jamek mosque back in KL, but unfortunately it was a Friday and they don't allow tourist visitors' entry on Fridays. That was a shame as we made sure we'd timed it for after afternoon prayers... maybe if we get chance we could visit it on our return trip at the end of their two week holiday. Instead we went for a curry...yes again! We stumbled across a little cafe that served a brilliant lamb biriyani and the best garlic butter naan I've ever had.

We were pretty sure that Sam and Tom would enjoy to spend an evening at the Heli Lounge with a cocktail watching the sun go down over KL. We'd done it previously with Jason's mum but enjoyed it that much that we wanted to go back again. It was just as good. After this we went to Bukit Bintang to enjoy some Chinese food. The area had a great atmosphere, really bustling with some buskers nearby. It's just a shame that the road isn't shut off from cars as they squeeze their way between the rows of restaurant chairs. After many beers and satay chicken skewers we found a bar based on a recommendation Sam had had from a friend. It was really nice, outside of our backpacker budget, so Tom and Sam kindly treated us all to a bottle of Bombay Sapphire gin for the table... let's just say it went down very well! It was soon 4am and I was ready for my bed; but the boys made time for a final early morning curry stop before bed!

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We had a plane to catch the next morning. Rich was supposed to be flying in 48 hours later than scheduled and meet us at the airport... however... both of his flights had been delayed! His bad luck continues. Luckily there were a few flights leaving for Medan from Kuala Lumpur that day, we just hope he would be able to get a last minute seat on one of them...

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Posted by bloorsontour 23:16 Archived in Malaysia Comments (1)

Pangkor, Malaysia

A few days on a very quiet island...

sunny 31 °C

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We'd got 6 days free before Jason's friends arrived in Kuala Lumpur. We'd debated scuba diving, trekking, visiting a different Malaysian city...in the end we opted to go to the beach for a few days of chilling and catching up on blog writing.

It was easy enough to grab a bus from KL to Lumut and then catch a ferry to Pulau Pangkor on the West cost of Malaysia. It wasn't too far for us to travel and didn't eat into our days. The ferry drops you off at the village side of the island where there's a little industrial harbour producing a lot of dried fish. The island looks really cute with brightly coloured piers, wooden boats and luscious green surroundings... I had high hopes for this tiny island way of life. We caught a bright pink taxi and got dropped off at Teluk Nipah where all of the tourist guesthouses and hotels are. We hadn't organised anywhere to stay and so needed to do the dreaded search of hotels. I wasn't feeling that great (I'd caught a cold) and so opted for the first place we went in...we only lasted one night here... there wasn't anything particularly wrong, it just wasn't that pleasant either. We instead moved next door to Omback Inn where we stayed for the next 4 nights.
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Pulau Pangkor definitely wasn't our favourite island. All those initial high hopes at the cute little harbour soon diminished. We hired a motor bike to explore the island ourselves, but unfortunately we'd seen most of the island after about a one hour round circuit. You can only travel around the island on a circuit road as the middle is dense jungle. A lot of the beaches are filled with litter or dirty from the local fish drying industries. In fact the best beach was right by us anyway so for the next 3 days we didn't move from Coral Beach.
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Coral Beach was pleasant and very picturesque. A cove of palm fringed beach with emerald green water (the colour caused by the limestone in the rocks). Jason got plenty of swimming practice in, able to swim to an offshore island and to a small lagoon. I tried sea swimming with him a couple of times, but I get panicked by what may be lurking underneath me... I'm determined to get better at it! There's plenty of wildlife around too, with numerous eagles and hornbills by the beach and resident monkeys at our bungalow.
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Teluk Nipah was a strange tourist area. On week days there was nobody there and many of the little food cafes close. There's no evening scene and everything shuts at 10ish. We had a lot of early nights and couldn't complain that it wasn't relaxing. Our evenings consisted of afternoon drinks on our own chalet balcony, going to a little cafe, ordering some fresh seafood and a beer and then heading home for an early night (probably just what we needed before the boys were due to arrive).
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I'm afraid to say that all we did for 4 days was beach, eat and sleep.
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We headed back to KL after our time on Pulau Pangkor. When we got back to Kuala Lumpur we had one evening to ourselves before Jason's friends arrived the next day. We treated ourselves to a cinema evening at the Pavilion in Kuala Lumpur and watched 'The Imitation Game'; a brilliant film and a very enjoyable evening. I now feel well and truely rested and ready for two weeks with 4 boys as company.

Posted by bloorsontour 22:46 Archived in Malaysia Comments (1)

Kuala Lumpur 2, Malaysia

Afternoon tea

We caught yet another plane from Langkawi to Kuala Lumpur and arrived at our hotel late at night. Debbie had promised us a lie in in the morning...did we get it?...no! She was up and raring to go again.

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It was generally a leisurely day in KL; grabbing some breakfast at a cafe in Central Market, browsing around some shops and then making our way to the Grand Hyatt for afternoon tea.

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Afternoon tea was an early birthday present for me from Jason's mum. We had a glass of bubbly, sandwiches and so many cakes that none of us could finish them all. The setting was perfect; a modern restaurant with glass walls on the 34th floor overlooking the Petronas Towers at the Grand Hyatt Hotel. I had a touch of nerves when I caught a glimpse of the Heli Lounge that we had previously had cocktails at at the start of the two week holiday; a vertigo induced panic at the thought of me sitting that high up with no barrier to protect us.

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After all those cakes there was just enough time for us to go back to the hotel for a rest and for Debbie to pack before we saw her off at the airport. It was really strange for us to say goodbye, we'd been looking forward to these two weeks holiday together and it had flown by. We felt really sad that evening as we caught the bus back from the airport without Jason's mum. We'd spent two weeks together, sharing quality time and creating lasting memories, something which is hard to do back in the UK when we all have hectic lives. We loved every second. Thanks for being our honorary Bloor on Tour.

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Apologies for the lack of photographs. We forgot to take our camera out and so only have a few pics from our phone.

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Posted by bloorsontour 02:26 Archived in Malaysia Comments (1)

Langkawi, Malaysia

Nuts on a jetski

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We had scheduled in some R&R time at the end of mum's trip and Langkawi was a perfect place for it. With flights back to KL costing £9, it was great knowing there'd be no days lost to travel.

We planned to stay somewhere luxurious, but realised that Langkawi is a pretty pricy place... The best resorts charge £400+ per night. In the end we were torn between the Sheraton and a more boutique place called La Pari Pari. We opted for the latter given the reviews and the fact that we could walk to all of the bars, restaurants and shops. You couldn't fail to be relaxed there; having the pool and garden to ourselves most days.

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We were a little peckish from our flight so headed to a Mexican place intent on ordering a few snacks... Sophie decided otherwise, so we got a table full of food instead! It blew our usual food budget, but tasted so good it was worth it!
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We'd been discussing swimming, snorkelling and diving and how mum didn't feel very confident in water, so with our own pool, Soph and I set to work... We had her snorkelling around, working on her front crawl and breast stroke and generally floating around. Mum seemed pleased with her progress - keep practising!

In the evening we decided to watch the sun go down on some beanbags on the beach with a nice glass of wine (mum's treat). Mum looked very relaxed and properly in holiday mode. It was a perfect evening, topped off by a barracuda and a curry at a little fish restaurant.

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The next day, we hit the road on motorbikes to see what the island had to offer. Mum was on the back of me... She stood up on the footrest with all her weight before swinging her leg over. Luckily I'd been prepared or we'd have been on the floor outside the rental shop! She perfected getting on after that...

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First we headed to a waterfall but were told it was 10mins by foot from the road and pretty dry. We gave it a miss and headed to the cable car, which it turned out wasn't running because of the wind. We gave up on the sights for a bit and hit the beach. We found an almost deserted beach on the north coast with nice water and a swing...

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Further up the coast was one of the best golf courses I've ever seen (the Els or Datai golf club). Naturally I enquired... No dress code, even my vest was acceptable, but £130 a round. I would have loved a game, but couldn't justify that amount so, with regret, we moved on... The scenery was fantastic, rugged and mountainous, thick jungle, white beaches and turquoise water. This was where all of the posh resorts were nestled. After a while of riding around, we gave our posteriors a rest and hit another beach. Soph had made us spicy tuna sandwiches. Just after they'd been devoured, we came across Scarborough Fish and Chips. Soph had been craving fish and chips for a while, shame we'd just eaten!

Having failed to catch the view from the cable car earlier in the day, we decided to drive the winding road to the top of the highest point on the island - Gunung Raya. It was a fun ride with macaques all over the place. At the top is a hotel with a 360° viewing tower. We took in the views with a few cups of local tea, before heading back to our hotel to freshen up before a feed. We fancied some seafood and settled on a small Chinese run place. We went for a Mantis shrimp, a snapper and lots of veg, noodles, rice. It was very tasty, another great day!

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Not content with beach relaxation for the day, we rented a jet ski, which proved to be hilarious! It was so powerful and mum was nuts! She turned to me and said "I don't feel in control, you drive". I said she was fine, so she grinned, floored it and carried on squeeling. Feeling that I couldn't let mum show me up, I went for it on my second go... This ended with with mum jumping out of her seat on a tight turn and taking me off into the water with her! It was very funny until I realised that I'd lost my Ray Bans sunglasses... It would be cheap knock-off ones from here on in... If you're ever wondering whether or not to rent a jet ski- do it - they're so much fun!

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We found a really nice restaurant for our evening meal, Melayu. The food was some of the best we'd had all trip and the place was nice, cool and modern. We thought they'd missed a '0' off the prices as it was a tenth of our hotel prices... £10 for 3 of us with drinks, starters and all sorts of curries. Amazing!

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We weren't flying back to KL until the evening so had a full day of relaxing around the pool. Mum seemed pretty content, so we spent an afternoon planning and booking flights for Tom, Rich and Sam who'd be joining us in a week. We did nip out for a spot of duty free shopping and a last sunset cocktail though...

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Posted by bloorsontour 21:20 Archived in Malaysia Comments (2)

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