Friday, September 25, 2009

Brunei: Opulant Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB)

BSB was another beautiful relaxed place to visit for a few days. I ate, I took in the sights, made friends, and found the local Wifi at the Coffee Bean. It was a great time!

I also hit the beauty parlour where I was massaged, had my toenails coiffed and painted a bright red, and my underarms were waxed. The beauticians kept calling them 'armpits' having no idea that women in the West think that word is a bit too vulgar sounding, nonetheless, they were very comforting and wayyy cute. They were amazed at how soft and white my 'armpits' were.

Asian women are hilarious and obsessed with whitening products, even deodorants have it. Funny thing is, many men (the whitening product conversation is very common as it is hard to ignored all the products and adverts) always tell me, "We don't get it either, the underarms is the last place we look!" It is also funny to see the Loreal adverts with Beyonce where they have completely lightened her complexion. You only know it is her, because you regconize the ads from the states.

One thing that I missed was the Sultan's Palace, Istana Nurul Iman. The Istana is open to the public only at the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. I was there during Hari Raya (the celebration day when Ramadan finishes). The Sultan and his wife greet their guests, serve celebration food, and hand out presents. Thanks! swine flu!!!!! All this way from Texas, and no Sultan!

Gosh, this mosque gives the Vatican City a run for its $ (or shall I say gold bars)

with my sweet local host, Chan, who showed me around for a day, and I'm very grateful

The best crash pad in BSB: Empire Hotel and Country Club

with its very own human made lagoon & beach

feels pretty natural

Infinity for sure!

ahh, I love it here!

Brunei's own Ambuyat. Sago (a product of Rumbia trees) mixed with water to create this tasteless, glue paste consistency, gooey local eat! Bon Appetit!

with Ambuyat as a local delicacy you are sure to find eats from nearby countries all over BSB. Singapore rice with black pepper chicken

and, Thai Seafood Tom Yum (the best I've tasted so far, even in Thailand) and many Indian restaurants serving biryani & curries. There is even a local KFC, Ayamku Resturant, which is sooo good! Love ayam goreng!

Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque
It stands close to the Sungai Brunei in its own artificial lagoon and is the tallest building in BSB. It can be seen just about from anywhere in BSB. The boat is a stone replica of the royal ceremonial barges used in the 16th century.

Jame'Asr Hassanal Bolkiah Mosque

6 22kt (pure not plated) Gold domes

22kt Chandalier!

Palatial entrance and an escalator at a Mosque?! Gotta love the Sultan!

Mosque at night

Kampung Ayer (Water Village with houses built on stilts, pop 32,000)

Water Taxi (B$ .50 each way)

You arrive and depart by boat

View of Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque

Most houses come equipped with satellite tele, A/C, electricity, internet, indoor plumbing, and there is a car park for those who own a car.

Police Station

Zzz's: BSB. Pusat Belia B$ 20 for 2 nights & 2 days gratis

Miri and the most adorable Chinese family....

I left Sibu at midnight for an overnight bus to Miri. Wow, this bus was the Rolls Royce of all buses! I had the first seat, naturally, more leg room, but the seats were extra cushiony and soooo comfy! There was hardly anyone on board. Most people drive. So, if you are travelling by bus in Borneo use AsiaBus.
Miri is an oil-rich boom town and Malaysia's first oil well was drilled here in 1910. Petroleum has continued to drive the city's economy and development ever since. The Sarawak Shell Berhad and Petronas Carigali are headquartered here. As a result, Miri has a cosmopolitan atmosphere as it hosts many expatriates from all over the world. These expats work in many of the multinational oil and gas giants that are headquartered in Miri. It is a gateway to the national parks, world class diving, and Brunei.
Shungie met me at the bus station and we headed over to a food stall for a hot bowl of laksa and catching up. Shungie is absolutely adorable, he just returned from Russia where he studied to be a doctor. He is back in his hometown of Miri about to start his intership, or as he likes to call it, a government slave, since his salary will only be 800 USD a month for 2 years. Hang in there!
For the next few days he showed the wonderful sites in Sibu. All I can count on one hand! Sorry about Canada Hill, Lol!!! He also clued me in on Chinese-Malaysians ways and most of the stuff we discussed was hilarious, though I can't repeat! Then it seems like I am saying it!
During my stay at his lovely home I was treated like a princess. His family is adorable, his Mom and Grandpa which did not speak English but made every effort to communicate with me, and his 16 yr old sister who spoke English and always doing homework was wayyy cute. His Dad works in Brunei since the 70's (because it is a tax free country) and is not home every night, though I did have a chance to meet him and he graciously offered to give me a ride to Brunei. BSB is only 2 hours away. He was really nice. My time spent in Miri was lovely much in part to Shungie's gold star hospitality, the Wifi at the Coffee Bean, and of course, the mall! Love Watsons! and, Yes, Air con!
Self portrait

Malaysia flag. Thanks for Everything, lil bro!

I feel silly!!! Shungie made me do it. He said everyone takes this photo! This is Miri's first oil well and the technique that was used to pump the liquid black gold back in the day

Miri's first oil tower

Old Lady's Rock!

Shungie and his lil Sis catch crabs on the beach

Shungie's adorable lil sis. She is half my age and taller than me!

Shungie and I LOVE Sarawak Laksa. Ahh, it is so difficult to have a good hair day in Borneo. 50 degrees and 300% humidity!

Zzz's: Shungie's cozy palace, the coolest kid in town and his family was just too adorable...Mom, Dad, even Grandpa...who was 89 but looked at least 20 years younger. I wish I would of taken their photo

Sibu: Farewell Fiona and Goreng this, Goreng that! Ayam & Telur, Yum!

Fiona and I went to the Kutching Airport together. While relaxing at the Starbucks and fiddling around on the Wifi we discussed our travel plans. Fiona would fly to Vientiane and visit Luang Prabang, while she waited for Pedro (as he is still in China enroute to the Laos border...arrival date still unknown) and I would keep on trekking in Malaysia, destination: Sibu! Sibu is the gateway to the Rejang River.

I wanted to visit the longhouses, which are the traditional dwellings of the indigenous people of Borneo (head hunters!). These communal houses are raised above the ground and may contain up to 100 individual family 'apartments' under one long roof. There are 3-day upriver trips available where you can visit and stay with the families.

Upon arrival I was told there were not any boats going upriver. The economy had hit the headhunters! There simply are not enough tourists, they explained, and if I wanted to go I would have to charter the boat myself. I was not interested, I already knew that the price would be very expensive as I was already told my 3-day stay would cost RM500. Ok?!!! The 'normal' price should be about RM200, and certainly no more than RM300 including the boat. "The curse of the beautiful blond hair strikes in Asia, Again!" (USD1=RM3.50) I smiled politely and told them I will get back with them.

It was a million degrees outside and I just wanted comfort and wanted to get away from the 'tourist welcome party.' I found it! My hotel was beautiful, well located, and it only cost RM35 a night. There was Air Con, Wifi, hot water, and cable...Real Cable! With movie channels in English, HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, and some local channels with English subtitles. Which was awesome, since Malaysian soaps tend to be hilarious. I soon forgot about the longhouses.

Let's be real. It is just the jungle! It is 50+ degrees, miserably hot and sticky, and mosquitoes would feast on me. Been there done that! Flashbacks of the Amazon (Which I just visited in April) became almost too vivid in my head and images of the spas I saw enroute to my hotel began to quickly comfort my disappointment about the 'boat situation.'

So, I spent 4 glorious day in Sibu watching tele and napping all day in the air con, daily massage and herbal bath at around 6 or 7 and then I would go to my favorite foodstall where the cutest Chinese family made my delicious Sarawak laksa. My other stall made tasty chicken noodle soup with a fried egg on top and fried chicken.

The first night I forgot my camera and my 'dining alone' arsenal, a book. So, there I sat waiting for my food while everyone stared (I was the only foreigner). At least 50 locals! This was the most popular stall. I was handed a fork and spoon with my laksa and when I asked for chopsticks, everyones' stares got a little more intense. H*k! I was very self conscious, but, Hey! I am not shy, so I just ate, minded my own business, and just stared back! Hello! C'mon folks, you seen people eat laksa before. "Quit trying to make me feel like a freak."... Most of the time it's like this, but here, everybody stared nonstop and little kids pointed at you, adults giggled at you, the young guys tried to make eye contact with you, and the person that served you the food waited for 'your' was crazy!

Funny enough, no one spoke English, therefore, no one ever spoke to me.....just stared....and as I requested night after night, Sarawak Laksa, mee goreng ayam-telur, sup-mee-ayam telur, ayam goreng, and a botched up order of nasi goreng ayam-telur.....where I received a fried egg, 1 chicken wing, and some white rice with diced up vienna sausages on 3 different little plates....I wanted fried rice with chicken and scrambled egg or fried egg on top.....when I freaked out about the vienna sausages, the lady immediately started picking the pieces out with her hands and throwing the bits on the table.....I was shaking my head, and trying to get the other lady to make me what I ate the night before. She was confused, so we cooked my nasi goreng together! But the other food was never picked up from the table, and my bill included everything. When I pointed to the rice/vienna sausage and the fried chicken wing with hair still on the skin, and shook my head, she immediately substracted it off the bill. She was really nice, but this is what makes eating an adventure!

The next day I forgot my camera again, I wanted to take photos for this was the same for the next 3 nights, no camera, but I always had my chick lit book and the best local meals Sibu had to offer! Surprisingly enough, I was always charged the local price.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Last supper in Tibet, One night eating in Beijing, Kuala Lumpur, Kushing, and Borneo's Orang Utans!!!

Omg! All we have been doing since our last night in Lhasa is Eating! Seriously, if eating was an Olympic sport, I would have a million gold medals! Phelps, cry me chlorine tears! Today, we decided to put down the chopsticks, and headed over to the hot and sticky jungle (it is so hard to leave the A/C in this weather) to visit Borneo's own pride and joy, the adorable and sooooo loveable, Orang Utans! Sooo, cute, esp. the new 3 month-old Babeh!

We almost missed them, but they decided to earn their coconuts after all! The Orang Utans live in the wild, but because there is not enough food in the jungle for the them (due to logging) the research center supplements their diet with fruits twice a day. This is when we can come by and catch a glismpse. We were taken to the 'feeding platform' and waited for over 20 minutes. The park guide had a huge fruit basket and kept calling to no avail. Well, they never came, but on the way out we saw 5 of them (about 24 live around this part of the jungle) which included a playful young male, a new mother and her 3 month old Babeh, a lady enjoying (and throwing) her bananas, and a skillful male who showed us how to crack open a coconut and slurp down like a Champ!

About the Cats! Kuching means Cat in Malay....they are everywhere in Sarawak's lovely capital.

Zzz's: Kuala Lumpur, Attapsana Guesthouse 10 USD each

Fancy Ji dinner at our favorite restaurant in Lhasa

Kiss the Ji

Our last dinner in Lhasa, gonna miss it

One night in Beijing enjoying an outdoor B-B-Q

Fiona ate fish-on-a-stick

Nirou B-B-Q skewer. I ate like 10 of these!

Bear's black Chinese twin!

! Fried soft shell crab

Lamb Curry

Zzz's: Kutching. CSing with the very helpful, Ping Pong Chong

Roasted Duck

Malaysia's signature soup, Laksa, Sarawak Style (with prawns, egg, and chicken)

Kuching means Cat in Malay

Kuching Cats! (and Universal Brand, Mcdonald's)

Malay Satays

First meal in Kuala Lumpur!
Malay fried Chicken

Indian Banana Roti

Malaysian Fresh Coconut water

Thai Green Chicken Curry

Thai Tom Yum Seafood Soup

Nasi, of course, everything comes with rice!

Fresh Mango Juice

Thai Green Mango Salad and Fried Fish

Malay Lady Chef!

Malay Cookery

Pretty teacup fountain outside a shopping center

KL's Famous Petronas Towers

Arabian Mezzes

Fried Grouper

Eating out with our lovely host, Barry (Kuching)

Lamb Biryani

Kushing's own delight, Midin, Jungle RiverFern

Prawns in sweet chili sauce

Out for a beer, or 2 at Terminal One

The Feeding Platform

Semmengoh Research Center, Sarawak

Love this!

So cute!

Japanese soup in a tea pot



Sashimi (Yum!)

Prawn Ramen Soup (double-Yum!)