In 1980, two newly-married adventurers set out to explore Central America, ending up spending eight months away from home. Thirty five years later, could they survive a five month trip to Singapore, Malaysia, Borneo and Australia? Read on ......
Monday, 30th January 2017
2.30pm Grey blue sky. Skeleton trees. Sombre brown fields. Pebble dash of rain on the windscreen .Half empty coach ; Polish driver with perfect English; most of the travellers have the strained look of the newly arrived. Overheard mobile phone call reveals at least one Eastern European . Ah to be leaving England! Now that winter has us in its grip........
Tuesday, 31st January
So, there we were, just about to step on the plane, when we fiound ourselves in a taxi heading for Hillingdon Hospital instead!
Doug had been complaining about a pain in his hand which seemed to be getting worse. A hard lump had appeared and the base of his thumb was swollen, so discovering that paramedics could only be consulted for 'life-threatening' conditions, the very helpful BA staff recommended the local hospital and assured us of a place on the next flight to Singapore. Three hours in A & E, an X-ray and verdict of 'arthritis', probably exaserbated by a recent fall, left us a little shamefaced- still, better to be reassured, and the triage nurse was so nice.
Spent the night in a Mercure Hotel which was functional, spacious and comfortable.
Wednesday 1st February
Into London to while away a few pleasant hours at Tate Britain. Then back to Heathrow.. Back to the extremely helpful BA staff who booked our 'hand luggage' in to protect our previous duty free purchase and stop it being confiscated. Our flight to Singapore was nearly three hours later than the previous night's flight & quite full ; only 3 seats left, so we were lucky to get on!
Thursday 2nd Feb
The next morning, in the spirit of comparison and us being the 'culture vultures' that we are, we walked to The National Museum and seemed to have the whole place to ourselves......
.... But the best thing was we also had the guides' enthusiasm and evident love of the paintings. They approached us at every opportunity to tells us more about the artist and the work, pointing out little details we might have missed. Their enthusiasm fuelled our appreciation and we lingered longer than we had intended.
We did take time out to sample a Singapore Sling at Raffles before returning to see the rest. By then we had left it too late to go to the Gardens by the Bay (and it had started to drizzle). However, we did have a great light show of the Gardens, from the rooftop of the Marina Bay shopping mall! Then there was the adventure of the 'return journey'
We thought it would be easy; just reverse the procedure of the inward journey - yes?
Not quite. We made sure we caught the bus from the other side of the road then sat back for at least half an hour in the knowledge that we didn't have to pay attention and look out for our stop until that length of time. Strangely enough, our alerts were a series of roads named after familiar places in Dorset! Roads such as Boscome, Bournemouth, Branksome and Parkstone. When we couldn't see any of these, alarm bells started and we asked the driver, only to discover we were heading in the wrong direction! Alighting rather shamefacedly, and now over an hour from our hotel, we finally found the correct bus.
Friday 3rd February
We got up early and set off for the Gardens by the Bay. Took the bus to Dakota and then the MRT (tube) to the Bay front. Then it was a short walk to the park itself. It was a bright, sunny day and the giant tree-like structures dominated the skyline.
Choosing the 'Clouds Forest' option, we ascended by lift to the top. The information notices explained the delicate and rare eco system of the 'Cloud Forests' and the plant life that changes as we descend to each new level.
The whole park is self sustaining and is a wonderful example of what can be achieved in a city environment. Set within the beautiful foliage, plants and the widest variety of orchids I've ever seen, are fantastic wood carvings of exotic birds, fish and wild animals. A sobering exhibition of what the future holds for us if we don't take some drastic action now, concludes the exhibition.
Our bus to Melaka/Malacca (both spellings are in use.) was at 2pm from our hotel and while we waited, got chatting to a Muslim member of the staff on the subject of the new American president- 'That Mr Donald, he is not a nice man' - Couldn't disagree with that, although 'Mr Donald' sounded too nice for him. I could think of other names!
The bus was very spacious; wide, reclining seats and air conditioned. Less than an hour into the journey and we reached the border. Everyone had to get out, queue and have their passports stamped. Then two minutes later we had to get off the bus again, this time with all our bags, for entry into Malaysia. After that it was a three hour ride to Melaka followed by a taxi to Hotel Puri
After a freshen up and some unpacking we went in search of food in the famous Jonker Walk Night Market just round the corner from our hotel as it happens. No shortage of food hawker stalls here. We sampled a variety of Japanese crab/fish balls, colourful dim sum, corn pots, fried oysters and chicken and pork satay,
After a half an hour walk to the shopping mall and a fruitless search for the local SIM card (a case of not knowing what was a good deal and the local youths selling the cards showing no enthusiasm to make a sale!) we left empty handed. Back to the hotel for a freshen up and rest. Dinner at Kocik Kitchen; highly recommended, very basic decor but delicious and at £10 for two, a bargain.
Decided to call in to Sid's Pub on the way back as it just so happened to have a live Chelsea v Arsenal match showing plus the chance of a 6 Nations Rugby match to follow.; the pint of Guinness and a G&T costing almost the same as our dinner! I watched the tourist boats cruising up and down the river rather than the match which was 3-1 to Chelsea by the way, but that was enough excitement for one day and we decided to give the rugby a miss.
Sunday 5th Feb
After a leisurely breakfast ....
we set off on another walking tour ending up at the living museum - a 1920's house in a preserved Malayan village - Kampung Morten which is actually right in the heart of Melaka. It is a very pleasant walk along the river.
.....passing the highly painted buildings....
...and pretty riverside dwellings.
We were welcomed into Villa Santosa by an elderly lady, (a family member) who ordered us from room to room, pointing out photographs of her family, and (rather unnecessarily) 'the dining room' or 'the kitchen'. She repeated herself rather a lot but we nodded sagely and went where we were told, rang the two hundred year old gong for good luck and sat and had our photo taken on the 'marriage chairs'
Just like Fleet but with surprisingly delicious food!
Arrived in Mersing with plenty of time to kill. Ten minute walk to the jetty and suddenly we're transported back to our youth; two old dudes in a sea of youthful backpackers. 'Oh well,' as one 26 year old said, 'age is only a number.'
It was getting dark as the ferry pulled into Tekek.
Short ride to our next two nights accommodation- Swiss Cottage Resort. There are only 15 rooms scattered close to the beach. Our chalet is literally steps from the lapping sea. As we were late arriving, we walk to a Chinese restaurant close by.
Fell asleep to the gentle washing of the waves on the beach ......
Wednesday 8th Feb
Thursday 9th Feb
Decided we must get some exercise today so after breakfast and packing up our small bags, we dump them at the reception. They are quickly moved to the back of the room out of the monkeys' reach! The monkeys are around today and will steal anything left in sight.
We set off to walk along the coast to a place known locally as ABC about 5k away. Unfortunately, today is much hotter than yesterday and it is tough going in the heat. By the time we return a few hours later we resemble a couple of boiled lobsters and sink into the cushioned chairs at the reception centre and have a chat with the young manager, Jennifer! Then it's off to the jetty to board the ferry to Mersing. We reach Mersing at 7.30, grab some food and make our way to the hotel, a purely functional place, very cheap but clean and comfortable.