The Sultanate of Brunei Darussalam

What is a Sultanate? And where is Brunei? Has anyone heard of it? I feel like every now and then I want to visit a country just because I don’t know anything about it and it may not really be a tourist destination. Timor Leste is on my list for that reason and Brunei was as well. I have to say, I knew very little about it and had only seen a few snapshots of the main mosque prior to my arrival, but I wanted to pay a visit to this tiny nation nonetheless.

Our water taxi driver.

The word sultan comes from Arabic and means strength or authority. It is used for rulers in Islamic nations and can also refer to the leader of an area. A sultanate is the dynasty and lands that a sultan rules. Brunei is short for the Sultanate of Brunei Darussalam, or Nation of Brunei, the Abode of Peace. I didn’t know what to expect when entering this tiny country that takes up less than 2% of the land on the island of Borneo, but I knew it had a lot of money and was predominantly Muslim.
We arrived by boat from Jesselton Pier in Kota Kinabalu via Victoria Island, still part of Malaysia, so that’s where we got stamped out. Thankfully, there was a money exchange office right at the pier upon arrival and taking the bus into the city was a breeze. You could see the difference between Malaysia and Brunei immediately. Brunei is clean, and because of the nation’s wealth, buildings, housing, and other structures looked more grand and new. They recently did become a country in 1984, after all. In that time, they have gone through major change and progress. They are one of the richest countries in the world and derive their wealth from oil, and unlike Malaysia and Indonesia, their oil is not from palms, but from deep under the ocean. There are more ties to the Middle East and often signs are in the local language (Malay) and in Arabic.

Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque

With only 24 hours on our hands, we had to act fast! We checked into our two-bed room at the Joy Guest House, centrally located and just across from the “Water Village.” The woman working there was nice enough to give us free towels and coffee and she helped us make a rough plan for the day. We immediately set out to grab a water taxi down the river to see the mangroves, macaques, and proboscis monkeys. We tried to negotiate a cheaper deal with the driver, but he held firm at $30 BND (about $24 USD). He pointed out crocodiles, monkeys, and some other structures along the riverside. He gave us a tour around the water village, the largest in Asia. It’s home to nearly 20,000 inhabitants who all live in buildings and homes built on stilts above the Brunei River.

Cruising through the water village.

In all, there are 29 small villages connected by walkways. When we arrived to one of the main piers, we met a family outside of their home. We initiated conversation with them and they invited us inside. They told us how they were able to get the lot and purchase the home. They have prime real estate right up front and said they’ve shown their home to many VIPs from all over the world. We didn’t want to keep them for too long so one of the girls led us to another home where they make a local style soup for $1.50 BND, just over $1 USD for dinner.

The family we met at the water village.

A family enjoying dinner was kind enough to share their fresh banana fritters with us, so free dessert. In one of the richest countries in the world, I’d say we did pretty well on our low budget meal!

Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque

We spent the rest of the evening strolling around the downtown area, taking photos of the mosque and some other sites at night. Brunei is mostly a dry country and the night life is quiet. We went back to the hostel at a decent hour and got some rest. In the morning, we ventured out to “Empire Hotel,” a 5+ star resort over looking the South China Sea. We didn’t know it at the time, but the only bus back to the city was at 3:00 pm (and costs $2.00 BND). Our flight was at 4 pm, so that would be too late. Luckily, the city bus driver agreed to pick us up at 12:30, saving us a $25 taxi cab ride! We strolled through the enormous, shiny marble encrusted lobby. The large pillars and long staircases had golden accents and as we made our way to the back doors, we could see the neatly manicured lawns, large crystal clear swimming pools, and flowing fountains with the calm sea behind it all.

The pool is so big, you can kayak in it!

We stopped into the cafe before heading back into town and I ordered the most unusual combo of flavors all whipped into one frozen beverage: butternut toffee, espresso, milk, and peach syrup. If it doesn’t sound too appealing, don’t worry, you didn’t miss much! Once we returned to the downtown area, we finished up the last of our 24 hours with a stroll through the mosque in the daylight, but only once I paid a visit to the local post office. In keeping with my plan on sending my 9 year old niece and nephew something from every country I visit, I had to make sure they got at least a post card.
I was quite satisfied with our visit to Brunei. I only wish I’d had more time. There are some more interesting things to see there like parks, hiking trails, and an oil and gas museum that I really wanted to visit (yeah, I’m a total nerd in case you didn’t know ?). I also did not have time to visit a gym, so I definitely need to go back for that! If you ever get a chance to visit, I would say these are the top four things you must do if you’re short on time:
Pay the $30 water taxi charge and have a boat driver bring you down river and around the water village. You will see wildlife, mosques, a view of the palace, and the water village from the river level.
Stop off at the Kampong Ayer Cultural and Tourism Gallery. We did not have time to see this as it had already closed by the time we arrived, but there’s also a glass-enclosed viewing tower that may be worth a visit.
Stroll through the walkways of Kampong Ayer (Water Village) and observe local life. Make your way to the little family owned restaurant and have some “Soto” (soup) and fresh banana fritters.
Visit the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque and if possible, check it out both during the day and when it’s lit up in the evening. It’s quite stunning with it’s golden dome and bright white walls.

A few spots of interest. The lower red star but the bus sign is the Joy Guest Ho and the one just above it is the bus station.

One thing to skip: taking the local but to the sultan’s palace, Istana Nurul Iman. You can’t get a glimpse of it from the main gate. It is apparently the most expensive “home” of a leader of a nation, and it’s set back and well protected. The sultan opens it up once a year for three days after Ramadan and locals can pay a visit. They even leave with parting gifts. If you’re interested, plan accordingly as Ramadan ends on a different date every year. We thought we’d get a view of this massive structure, but no such luck, just well maintained lawns and roads that lead up to it.
Like so many places I’ve visited and traveled to, I really enjoyed Brunei. It’s predominantly Muslim (and I’m not a follower), but I appreciate the quiet and calm found within the small capital city. I’m sure with more time, one would find their favorite things to do, neat hang outs, and of course, the best gym! I hope to make it back some day.
What “less-traveled” locales have you visited? Where would you like to visit?

For the first time, I’m a bit tired.

Today, my blog is a year old and I still don’t post as often as I’d planned. When I look at it though, I can’t help but to wonder if I’m wasting my time. Nobody reads it. I know because I’ve learned to check the stats, LOL. In the last year, I’ve gained three subscribers. So, if I keep going, and if I live to be 100, let’s say, by the time I die I’ll have 186 subscribers. That’s not really enough to generate any income, as I’d hope may somehow happen one day. How do some bloggers make it big anyway? I’m sure they post more often than I do…

One year, 44 posts, 25 comments, 5 pages. There are some stats on my blog. How about for my travels? 9 months, 2 weeks, 3 days. Countries visited: 10. Flights taken: 14. Trips by boat: I lost count after 4. Bus rides. Haha! I’d never be able to count all of those. Train trips: just 4, in China and Thailand, the longest lasted 31 hours. Countless rides on local and city busses, taxis, motorbikes, grab cars and uber. Tuk-tuks, long tail boats, horse, metro, sky trains, I’ve flown in and out of the most dangerous airport in the world, covered 200 kilometers on foot in the Himalayas alone, and have done a ridiculous amount of steps on the bumpy and uneven streets of Bangkok, on crutches, and I’ve traveled throughout SE Asia now while in recovery from ACL and meniscus surgery. Does it get old? Never! Does it get tiring? Usually not, but I have to say, I’m getting there.

I don’t know how people put their whole family on motor bike!!

Or, maybe I’m already there? But if so, I’m certain it’s only temporary. For the first time in over 9 months, I miss home, and by home I mean San Antonio, Texas, and where my family lives in the New Hampshire/Massachusetts area. (Not my house, per se). I miss my friends, family, my dog, having girlfriends, cooking my own, HEALTHY food, regular gym sessions, a variety of clothing options.

I’m a bit tired of being on the go. Of living on a tight budget and not having the options to be more choosy at times. I’m tired of living out of a day pack. My clothes always smell and I’m often concerned about when and where I can do laundry. The heat in SE Asia is relentless. Temperatures are often in the 90s, and humidity is right up there as well. I sweat profusely, it permeates my clothing, leaving behind a salt line on my black Pureline t-shirt. I’m tired of eating unhealthy. I do my best to choose the most nutritious foods possible, but it’s not always an option. I think it’s safe to say I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been and I’m beyond the “It’s ok, you’re traveling AND injured” phase. I dream about crunchy and crispy salads full of fresh vegetables, lean protein, and slivers of perfectly ripened avocado. Fried eggs not cooked in copious amounts of oil. Ice blended protein shakes the way I used to make them at home and Quest bars, LOL. I want to go to the gym everyday, twice a day and I want my quad to fill in the extra skin on my leg now that it has atrophied so much!

You can’t tell, but I think this is the heaviest I’ve ever been.

I don’t mean to complain, I chose this life, but I can see now I need a break for a little while from being on the go, I need to “settle” somewhere where there is a gym, people I know, and healthy food options. But after all this time, that notion is tough too. I was in Bali, when you look at the map, it’s quite south, about 10 degrees south of the equator in fact. From there, you can take trips to the Komodo Islands but I didn’t have time. Go a little further south east and you’ll get to Timor Leste, a small island that separated from Indonesia and became independent in 1998. From there, it literally looks like you could swim to Australia… And don’t get me going on where you can go from that part of the globe… The Solomon Islands (a must do on MY list), Papúa New Guinea, Micronesia. The list goes on. It never ends. Then there are things you never heard of until you meet a traveler who has recommendations and you now have more to see. In this day and age, people feel the globe is getting smaller because of technology, but when you’re out in this world, you see how big it is and how impossible it becomes to see everything. Some days I feel like I could do this for the rest of my life, and sometimes I want to have my own bed with my dog and a large man in it. It’s hard to have both. There’s some balance with breaks and slow travel, however, and maybe having a “home base” is important. For now, I’m happy to see what I can while I can, but I’m looking forward to my visit home and will reasses my life and travels from there!

What do you do you when you get “tired” while traveling?

How can you NOT want to see these beaches?

Orangutans, Palm Oil, and Saturated Fat

Did you know over 80% of the habitats where orangutans once freely roamed have been destroyed? In the last year alone, over 6,000 of them, the world’s largest arboreal animal, have been killed. Their habitat is diminishing and they are still lost to illegal poaching, but why?
Borneo is the third largest island in the world and the largest in Asia. It is home to one of the oldest rainforests, and there are mangroves, peat swamp and swamp forests, ironwood, and other forests on the island. Many endangered animals such as orangutans, elephants, and rhinos call it home but sadly, numbers are dwindling, along with the other biodiverse wonders of this great island.

Just hanging around…

The main export of Malaysia is “crude oil,” and that oil comes from palm oil trees. Palm plantations can be found throughout Southeast Asia, and Indonesia and Malaysia are the biggest growers. Palm and palm kernel oil is like liquid gold. ​Palm fruit trees grow in areas along the equator and include both palm oil and coconut trees. The oil produced from both the palm kernel and coconut are similar. Palm oil trees produce a fruit that is red and orange in color when ripe and has a thick oily flesh, this oil is high in palmitic fatty acid and is about 50 percent saturated fat. Because of it’s red color, this oil is said to have a higher antioxidant capacity than other oils, and it is sometimes used in margarine spreads and other products. Palm kernel oil, however, is derived from the kernel inside of the oily fruit of the palm oil tree. This oil has a different fatty acid profile and is higher in saturated fat, comparable to that of coconut oil.
​Palm kernel oil has become a popular oil and it is quite ubiquitous- it is found in a variety of products from foods, to cosmetics, and it is even being used as a biofuel.
The roads in Malaysia are lined with palm oil trees. They are in neat rows and stretch deep into the darkening forest. I first noticed them in southern Myanmar, and in Malaysia, you can’t miss them, they are everywhere. I did some research and the results left me uneasy.

Crude oil mill in Southern Myanmar. (Taken from the bus, sorry for the blur)!

Over 3.5 million hectares of land have been cleared to make way for palm oil plantations. Indonesia and Malaysia produce 90% of the world’s oil, so many of the species that inhabit these areas are pushed off or killed as a result of deforestation.

Fields with new palm oil trees.

On the island of Borneo, and likely in some other areas as well, there are a few animal rehabilitation centers. I visited one such place called the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center and got to see these animals, along with “pig-tail” macaques in their natural environment.

Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary Entrance

The center was established to rehabilitate the animals rescued from the pet trade, and since its inception, they have admitted 760 orangutans, of which 81% went through rehab, and 66% were successfully released into wild. Due to a diminishing habitat, orangutans are more vulnerable to illegal poaching for the pet trade. The burning of the land also drives them out of the forest in search of safer places. I was told that Sabah, the northern district in Malaysian Borneo would preserve 60% of it’s land, Indonesia, on the flip side, continues to burn forests at an alarming rate. Subsequently, some of the orangutans have “emigrated” from their home country.
I had an interesting, albeit brief, chat with one of the staff members at the sanctuary about the underlying causes of WHY the orangutans are at the center to begin with. Agriculture on the island is a controversial issue. Malaysia and Indonesia are both developing countries and both the palm oil and rubber plantations bring much needed money and a source of income to the people, but that clearly comes at a huge cost. I for one, don’t have a solution to this situation. Avoid products containing palm oils, yes, but some say it would lead to deforestation for other reasons, like logging, for example. From a health standpoint however, it is good practice to limit palm oil consumption as it is high in saturated fats. In fact, the USDA, the WHO, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Academy for Nutrition and Dietetics, the American Heart Association, the British National Health Service, Dietitians of Canada, and likely many more organizations do not recommend regular intake of palm kernel and coconut oils due to their high content of saturated fat.
I enjoyed my visit to the rehabilitation center. The animals truly have a home there that is free of boundaries. They are fed a “bland diet” (mostly bananas and other fruit) twice a day to encourage foraging on their own and while many of them are friendly (as they were often kept as pets), there’s a strict hands off policy. So many places in SE Asia exploit animals, so I’m grateful for organizations like this that promote their welfare.
I’m not a die hard animal rights activist nor am I an expert when it comes to agriculture. I do, however, know a bit about nutrition. When it comes to saturated fat, I encourage you to limit intake, and because deforestation makes me so sad, I also encourage you to read labels and limit your intake of palm oils.

My face when passing all the oil palms from the bus window.

There are some sustainable plantations out there, but much of them (from what I’ve read) are not properly regulated (because of the ?that palm oil brings in). If you’re so compelled, do your own research. As time goes on and more rainforests are cleared, there will hopefully be more pressure and focus on these issues- before it’s too late. And if you ever get a chance, pay a visit to Sepilok. Your entrance fee of 30 Malaysian Ringgit (about $7 USD) helps keep the sanctuary running.

 

 

Travel Is a Lifestyle

When you’re at home, do you have a routine? You likely do and it probably includes going to work, working out (hopefully!), eating proper meals most of the time, and getting to bed at a decent hour. Although I don’t have a home, I have a routine as well and I do my best have it be something like that. While I don’t have an actual job, I make sure to set aside time to work on my freelance writing, my own blog, and interact with clients. As you may have read, I like to workout whenever and wherever possible, eat healthy food, and I’m not going to lie, I like to go to bed early and watch something mindless on Netflix, just like I used to do back in the United States. Sometimes, I don’t even do that, I just scroll through FB and Instagram to stay connected with my virtual world. That may not be the best thing to do before bed, but in the ever varying world of international travel, FB and Facebook messenger serve as the one constant I do have.

The outdoor pool at Gravity (a fitness center) in Singapore.

I’m now at month 9 of my “Asian Adventure” and still have that wanderlust just as I did in month one, but my knee injury has certainly changed my situation. Additionally, there’s been a recent influx of interest of traveling with me in Asia. My plans have therefore realigned with those of the others coming to see some of this world as well. Flying Solo has it’s perks, you can do what you want when you want, so traveling with a companion is an adjustment. Vacations are great! You go have fun for a set period of time, then you go back home to your life, your grind, and your job that pays you X amount of money to allow you to have fun on that vacation. Since I quit my job and sold my home last year, I’m not on vacation, in fact, it’s quite the opposite. I’m on a tight budget and since I recently paid a portion of my credit card bill used to pay for my surgery, it’s even tighter. I fear with over 6 weeks of upcoming travel with others, my budget may be an issue. My boring “routine” may be an issue as well. When I lived in the U.S. I didn’t live an extravagant lifestyle. I bought what I needed and enjoyed life modestly, but I’ve never been much of a spender, so certain activities are not appealing to me. In Singapore, I had no desire to drink $22 cocktails at C’est La Vie, the bar on the 54th floor of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. While I did want to see the view from the top, a quick elevator ride up quenched my thirst, no $6 water, $7 juice, or $22 cocktail necessary.

The Marina Bay Sands Hotel behind me.

Visiting Singapore was awesome, but what made it great for me was seeing people I already knew, having some semblance of a normal routine, and being able to eat some really healthy and fresh food. I was able to go to the gym daily as my friend works for a large, international company in the industry. We chatted in the evenings in a normal, comfortable apartment complete with refrigerator and a washer and dryer (the things you learn to live without!), and I simply caught up on some work. Furthermore, it was interesting to reconnect with someone from home (Texas in this case), we even had brisket and cabbage slaw one day for lunch! I saw another friend I’d met in Bangkok and although we’re not super close, she’s like my sister from another mister and it was fun to just hang out with a female for a little while and have some girl talk!!

Enjoyed a variety of different Chinese dishes with my friend Amanda.

I’m hoping to find some balance in the next few weeks and through May, in fact, while traveling with others. Having someone to split costs may be helpful, it’s nice having adventure buddies, and who knows, it may influence me to do something I may otherwise choose not to do… Maybe I’ll take a “vacation” for a day and go crazy! ? However it all turns out, I’m super excited to have some of the adventures ahead of me that I do. Borneo, Bali, and Angkor Wat in Cambodia are all bucket list adventures and I’m taking them! I’ll even visit with some old college friends in Jakarta, Indonesia and meet up with my “body guard” from Bangkok in Siem Reap.

Fruity juices on Borneo. At $2.00 a cup, that I can afford!

Travel is a lifestyle, and a varying one at that. Being the regimented person I once was, I still seek some semblance of a normal life, don’t do anything crazy, nor do I do anything I wouldn’t at home. Budgeting is a must, healthy food regularly is necessary, and gym access is a plus. I guess with 9 months in the bag, a major injury sustained, and surgery behind me, I’m doing ok… Here’s to the next leg, or many legs at that! ?
How do you handle long term travel? What is your routine? Must do lifestyle habits? Feel free to leave comments and tips in the box below! Happy travels. ?

From a “Roach Motel” to the Ritz: Flashpackers Saved the Day!

Budget travel at it’s finest!!
How do you plan your travels? Are they based on budget? Location? Weather? Starting my travels first in Mongolia then Nepal was a good choice. Logistically speaking, it was good to get those long legs of travel behind me. Mongolia, geographically, is kind of out in the middle of nowhere and because it’s not a popular destination, flights almost always route through China. It took nearly 24 hours to get to Kathmandu from Ulan Bator, even though it’s not actually that far as the crow flies! As far as the weather is concerned, I couldn’t have planned better. Mongolia in the summer is magical and the temps. in September/October are ideal for trekking in the Himalayas (although, I will say, it was way hotter in Nepal than I expected)!
Mongolia and Nepal also offer fewer amenities to the traveler, and that’s quite ok, so long as, for me anyway, I’m “mentally prepared.” After spending the better part of three months without flushing toilets, toilet paper, heck even western toilets, running water, warm water, air con, and so many other “luxuries” we’ve grown to accept as the norm in the west, I was looking forward to getting to Thailand last November.
I’ve stayed in so many different places since I’ve started my travels, from AirBnB apartments, hostels, Mongolian gers, apartment, hotels, even a few nights in luxury accommodations to some straight up cheap crap holes. But the cheap makes having the nice even nicer. And so was the situation in Melaka, Malaysia. I blindly booked the cheapest place in town. After all the plane tickets I recently bought, paying off a portion of my credit card from my surgery, and upcoming travel plans with others, I wanted to save some money. The place I booked was called the Backpacker’s Freak Hostel and even though the name was really off putting, I booked anyway. For about $4.50 a night, I figured I’d manage. It was in a decent location, central to the shopping malls and other conveniences, and also a short walking distance from Jonker Walk and some other noteworthy historical places.
Although I’d booked a room in a 6 bed dorm (sometimes I prefer that to meet people), I was given a room with a cold, metal framed bunk bed for two. There was one dusty particle board table that showed evidence of wear and tear. It had those elevated crusty bumps, likely from sweaty bottles of water, dripping in the heat and aircon-less small room. It didn’t have any windows and the bed, while not as soft as I prefer, smelled of old man. There was a worn old fleece blanket on the end that I opted not to use, and instead dug out my beach cloth to cover the pillow and mask the smell. I was alone in the room. In fact, I was alone at the hostel. Nobody else was there.

My empty, boring room.

With daily temperatures in the 90s with 85% humidity, a shower is a must, especially after my workouts in the Boon Leong Gym “Museum,” yet one day, when I got home, the water barely trickled out. It felt like I was showering under a water bubbler. The next day was worse, there was no water. And that went on for at least three days… Luckily my new American friends were kind enough to let me shower in their hotel room a couple of times, but my mind was made up, it was time to go! I had found a modern looking Hostel on Booking.com, but I hesitated as it was about $12.50 a night. Now, however, I didn’t care. I wanted air con, a bed that didn’t smell of old man, and water. It didn’t even have to be hot. So, not only does the Flashpackers Hostel have all that, but they have a washer and dryer, clean facilities, comfortable beds, a kitchen area complete with snacks, breakfast, coffee, and tea, and some common areas as well.

    Nice wall artwork.

For $12.50 a night, it felt like the Ritz considering where I’d just spent the last few nights. It was so nice, in fact, I stayed there for hours after I checked in and added an extra night. I was so comfortable there, I did laundry, and even got a fair amount of work done with the help of a hot cup of coffee in the well lit and cool kitchen.

Cozy kitchen area.
Comfortable beds.
Snacks and coffee? I’m in.

I think I learned something that week! Even though I’m rarely bothered by what I come across on the road, it’s definitely nice to have some basic amenities like water! And a comfortable bed, certainly a plus. I may not try too many more low budget accommodations if they are like the “Freak” place, but you never know… We did have nice guest houses along the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal and some were practically free. In any case, Hom is my home in Bangkok and Flashpackers will definitely be my home in Melaka.

http://www.thenomaps.com

Still have my bear!