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Asia Travel

    Asia Travel

    Languishing on Langkawi

    Location: Langkawi Malaysia

    A week or so before we arrived in Langkawi we met a young women who was concerned when we told her we would be on the island of Langkawi in Malaysia for 26 days. She felt we didn’t understand how little there is to do here.

    Langkawi Malaysia
    Langkawi the Jewel of Kedah

    We laughed about it later. Our favorite places in the world are the places with little to do. We particularly enjoy island-time and take it whenever we can get it. And our time here languishing on Langkawi has served us well both physically and mentally.

    Langkawi Malaysia Cenang Beach
    Cenang Beach

    Although we spent many days doing pretty close to nothing, we also have enjoyed several busy and active days around the island. And after getting to know this small (25 miles long and 12 miles wide) island just off the coast of Malaysia and Thailand, I would argue that there is indeed plenty to do here.

    Sunset Cenang Beach
    Margarita at Sunset, Cenang Beach

    Most people come here for three or four days. Maybe a week. When we told the young man on the beach who peddles the beach chairs we would be here for more than three weeks he was amazed. He said it was unusual. We have also noticed our age bracket here is unusual. Langkawi seems to be an itinerary of the young-backpacker and honeymooners …with a handful of people in their forties and fifties. We haven’t met any other Americans but it seems popular with the Chinese, Koreans, Indians, Malaysians, Germans and Australians.

    Parasail at Cenang Beach
    Parasail is one of many activities at Cenang Beach

    Our languishing on Langkawi days have often been spent at Pantai Cenang, Langkawi’s most popular beach. It’s a two-minute walk to Cenang (pronounced ‘Chenang’) from our Airbnb and we can rent two chairs for the entire day for $5. The water is ridiculously warm and Cenang is the best place to watch the sunset. Although we did none of these things, it’s very popular (and seems relatively cheap) to go parasailing, rent jet-skis, ride on a banana boat, go island hopping or take a mangrove tour.

    Syrian Restaurant on Langkawi
    Yasmine Syrian Restaurant
    The Cliff Restaurant Langkawi
    Fresh caught red snapper at The Cliff Restaurant Langkawi

    Cenang has lots of hotels, restaurants and shopping. We enjoyed fantastic meals at Happy Happy Chinese Seafood and The Cliff Restaurant but probably my favorite meal was at Yasmine Syrian Restaurant. We also enjoyed several small sidewalk food stalls especially the Lebanese Shawarma Kebab sidewalk cafe and the Warung Cafe for breakfast.

    Seafood Restaurant Cenang Beach
    Happy Happy Chinese Seafood offers whole fish cooked to order
    Cable Car Langkawi
    High Above Langkawi on the Cable Car

    We rented a car on three separate days over our 26 day stay, when we felt ready to get out and see more of the island. The rental car cost us $20 a day while gas runs about $2 a gallon. There really isn’t much public transportation but we found Grab (Uber) to be very efficient and super cheap.

    Sky Bridge Langkawi
    A walk across the Sky Bridge in Langkawi will be memorable

    The first day in the rental car we went to the Langkawi Cable Car and rode to the top for spectacular views. It’s relatively expensive by Malaysia standards ($20 pp) but worth it. From the top you can pay an extra $4 pp to walk out on the Sky Bridge. It was foggy when we were there but still a spectacular thing to do. Next we hiked the Seven Wells Waterfall. Free but ouch. It was 600 steps up and boy did I feel that in the morning. But it was worth it. Really beautiful. The waterfall has beautiful pools you can enjoy as part of your languishing in Langkawi efforts. We did not do the Umgawa Zipline, but it seems popular at around $100 pp.

    Seven Wells Waterfall Langkawi
    One of the pools at Seven Wells Waterfall

    Our second day in the car we drove to Temuran Waterfall in the northwest corner of the island. This is Langkawi’s highest waterfall and it was really spectacular. It’s much easier to access (200 steps) and also has a lovely pool at the base of the falls to cool off once you arrive.

    Scarbourgh Fish and Chips
    Scarborough Fish and Chips Langkawi

    Next we stopped to take a peek at the small but beautiful Pantai Tengorak Beach, but because there was a school field trip there we decided to move on. We enjoyed a spectacular fish-and-chips lunch with view at Scarborough Fish and Chips before heading next door to a much bigger and very beautiful beach called Pantai Tanjung Rhu. We spent several hours here. The water like a bathtub.

    Temuran Waterfall Langkawi
    Beautiful Temuran Waterfall is the highest in Langkawi
    Tanjung Rhu Langkawi
    Tanjung Rhu Beach in north Langkawi

    Back in Cenang we enjoyed one evening at the Aseania Resort where twice a week they offer a “Cultural Show and BBQ”. Think Luau. Similar to many such shows we have done around the world (New Zealand, Australia, Easter Island, Spain, Portugal, Hawaii), even though it is touristy it’s always fun, informative and delicious. Even though the sound system could use an upgrade, I was really glad we went. At $15 pp and all you can eat, you can’t beat it.

    Aseania Hotel Langkawi
    Cultural Show at the Aseania Hotel, Cenang Langkawi

    We spent three separate days enjoying day-passes at two beautiful beach resorts. We walked three miles to Resorts World Langkawi at the tip of the peninsula. For $10 we had access all day to their infinity pool, enjoyed pizza and a drink. Two days we walked one mile to Dash Resort. An all-day pass here was $9 and included a drink. It’s a nice way to take a break from the beach and feel a bit pampered. We liked the pool at Dash the best.

    Dash Resort Langkawi
    We loved Dash Resort, Langkawi

    We went to the Thursday-only Langkawi Night Market which is tiny but we grazed our way through and had a full-meal for two for about $7. There is also a nightly food truck area right off the main drag- we weren’t overly impressed with the offerings so we never ate there.

    NIght Market Langkawi
    The Cenang Night Market is every Thursday

    Nearly every morning we did a beach and boardwalk run, taking advantage of the flat and beautiful terrain around Cenang to get back into running shape. I really appreciated having the time to do that.

    Running in Langkawi
    I always felt safe on my runs in Langkawi

    Speaking of running, while we were on Langkawi the island hosted the Malaysia Ironman. What a spectacle that was! It was very difficult to get around during the event as so many roads were closed so we were only able to enjoy the finish line which was very near to our Airbnb. Super fun and exciting to witness an event like this. This is considered the second most difficult Ironman in the world. We saw the top three, all who beat the the course record despite the unusually warm day. It gave me goosebumps to watch them get their medals. What an accomplishment.

    Ironman Malaysia
    Philippe Koutny of Switzerland crossing the finish line takes second place in the Ironman Malaysia event

    The following week we rented a car again for one more day of exploring. We drove around the southern road of the island to the town of Kuah. It’s a big town with lots of shopping and resorts. Not really something we are interested in but we wanted to see it. We then headed north with the intention of going to the Lucky Temple, a Buddhist Temple that accepts visitors. But we couldn’t find it. So next we headed to the Langkawi Cultural Craft Center. I was wishing I had more room in my suitcase for some of the beautiful baskets. I did purchase a beautiful hand painted Kaftan. We spent some time at the beach before heading back to Kuah to the Wednesday Night Market there.

    Cultural Craft Center handpainted kaftan
    My beautiful hand-painted Kaftan
    Kuah NIght Market
    At the Kuah Night Market

    Sunset in Cenang is pretty amazing. Our favorite places to watch sunset was from the rooftop of the El Toro Mexican Restaurant with a margarita in hand, or from the rooftop Flo Lounge on top of the Nadia Hotel. Our favorite beachside bar was Thirstday or we would bring our own scotch down to the beach for a nightcap.

    Sunset Cenang Beach

    Flo Lounge view from the Nadia Hotel

    Speaking of Scotch, the entire island of Langkawi is a Duty Free Zone. I don’t know why but lucky for us. We could buy a case of beer for $15, a liter of gin for $9 and a really nice bottle of Aberlour Scotch for $50. Aberlour 12 year in the USA would sell for about $90.

    Strangely though, few restaurants serve alcohol since the majority of the businesses are Muslim owned. But you can find a drink in hotel and beach bars.

    Scotch at Sunset Langkawi
    Scotch on the beach

    Sometimes we would take a long walk instead of going to the beach. Although the humidity can be tough, there are few cars on the roads and it felt good to get out and just walk around.

    Hiking on Langkawi
    Six mile hike to Resorts World on the Peninsula

    For nightly free entertainment there is never a dull moment down at the beach after sunset. The tiny town really comes alive, and pop up hookah lounges, fire dancers and foot massage studios take over the beach after dark. You can kick back all night in beach bean bag chairs if that’s your thing – definitely fits the languishing on Langkawi theme don’t you think?

    Beach entertainmment at night Cenang Beach
    Fire dancer on the beach after dark, Cenang Beach

    We were on the tail end of Malaysia’s rainy season and during our visit to Langkawi and other parts of Malaysia we witnessed some crazy big tropical storms. But always the sun would return eventually. Other than during the Ironman and the week of the Indian holiday of Diwali, most hotels and restaurants and tourist attractions were lightly populated. High season will begin in November.

    Tropical Storm Cenang Beach
    Storm rolling in makes for a beautiful shot, Cenang Beach

    At the end of our visit, we had hoped to do a guided sunrise hike to the top of Gunung Raya, the highest point on Langkawi. But the weather did not cooperate so we had to cancel. So instead I booked a spa day at Alun Alun Spa in Cenang. It was really nice. I had a manicure, pedicure and a facial. There are many, many places in Cenang hawking foot massage, manicure, full-body massage etc. BUT since I am very particular about hygiene I decided to go to the more expensive and upsacale Alun Alun. I was really glad I did.

    After nearly a month languishing on Langkawi -this tiny island ranks pretty high for me as a great place to both kick back and relax AND find plenty of things to keep busy. We were never bored. It fit our definition of island life pretty well, whether languishing on Langkawi or being on the go.

    Beautiful Langkawi
    A beautiful view of a beautiful island. Thank you Langkawi.

    After forty days in Malaysia it’s time to go. Malaysia now falls fourth in the list of countries we have stayed in the longest (Spain, Thailand, New Zealand are the top three). But Malaysia ties for first place as the least expensive country for our travels – tied with Bulgaria. Coming in third is the Maldives.

    Cenang Beach Langkawi Malaysia
    Cenang Beach with my guy

    Thanks Langkawi. Terima Kasih Malaysia. We have loved our time here.

    Next stop Myanmar!

    Please note WiFi in Myanmar is very poor. We will do our best to continue to post a Travel Blog each Friday and a Book Review each Wednesday. If you like what we are doing here, we would greatly appreciate you showing your love with a share or a pin! Please invite your friends to follow our blog. Thank you!

    Languishing on Langkawi
    Asia Travel

    What to do in Kuala Lumpur

    Beautiful and Cosmopolitan Malaysian City

    Location: Kuala Lumpur Malaysia

    We had six lovely days to leisurely explore the beautiful city of Kuala Lumpur. You could easily see most of this city in three days, but we have the time and enjoy taking our time, which is exactly how we explored KL. If your travels take you near this city, plan some time here. It is worth it. Here are our recommendations on what to do in Kuala Lumpur.

    Sultan Abdul Samad and Merdeka Square

    Sultan Abdul Samad Colonial Era Building Kuala Lumpur

    The Sultan Abdul Samad Building is among Kuala Lumpur’s earliest Moorish-style buildings, it was built in 1897 and named after the reigning sultan of Selangor at the time. Originally used by the British during Colonial times, the building is most beautiful after dark. Across the street the wide green Merdeka Square, also known as Independence Park is a lovely oasis in the middle of the city.

    Eco Park and Hanging Bridges

    Kuala Lumpur Hanging Bridge Canopy Walk Eco Park

    A surprising find right in the middle of the city (and coincidentally right across the street from our hotel). The Kuala Lumpur Eco Park is a hidden jewel. The forested park is home to a number of swinging bridges that take you up into the canopy to view the flora and the skyscrapers beyond.

    Petronas Twin Towers

    Petronas Twin Towers Kuala Lumpur

    These iconic towers were the tallest in the world from 1998 to 2004. They remain the tallest twin towers. The design looks somewhat like a tall tin can, but at night they glow beautifully and can be seen from miles around. We went to go up the towers on a Monday, only to find out they are closed on Mondays. But we have been up many tall towers so we really didn’t mind. Looking at them from below was really enough for us.

    Masjid Wilayah Persekutuan Federal Mosque

    Masjid Wilayah Persekutuan Federal Mosque Kuala Lumpur

    We have visited beautiful mosques all over the world, but our visit to this mosque was the first time we were greeted with such grace and hospitality. This mosque has a design similar to the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. It’s a bit out of town, but we took a Grab (Uber) from the Batu Caves and it only cost a couple of dollars. The Masjid Wilayah Persekutuan Federal Mosque has a visitor program that is so welcoming. They provide women with the appropriate covering before giving a free tour with an English speaking guide. Our guide was named Noor and she was the sweetest person. Since we arrived right before prayers (we didn’t know that) she invited us to sit in and witness the faithful at prayers. It was a wonderful opportunity. She then gave us a lovely tour and insight both into the mosque and her faith. I highly recommend a visit.

    Batu Caves

    Batu Caves and Hindu God Statue Kuala Lumpur

    We have also visited several Hindu Temples in our travels, and are often struck at how different they are from Mosques. Where Islam has no idols, no flashy temples and only worships one god (Allah), Hinduism has many gods, lots of color and idols that the faithful pray to.

    The Batu Caves is a Hindu temple and shrine that attracts thousands of worshippers and tourists, especially during the annual Hindu festival, Thaipusam. 

    A limestone outcrop located just north of Kuala Lumpur, Batu Caves has three main caves featuring temples and Hindu shrines, including the giant statue of the Hindu God at the entrance to the 272 Rainbow Stairs.

    Batu Caves are easily accessible from KL Central Station via train.

    Thean Hou Temple

    Thuen Hue Temple Kuala Lumpur

    Thean Hou Temple is one of the oldest and largest temples in Southeast Asia. Overlooking the city, the six-tiered Buddhist temple is also known as the Temple of the Goddess of Heaven. Built by KL’s Hainanese community in 1894, it is set on a hill and offers wonderful views of the city.

    Supposedly a perfect place to watch the sunrise over Kuala Lumpur, we visited in the late morning and really enjoyed this beautiful place.

    Little India and Chinatown

    Little India Kuala Lumpur

    Kuala Lumpur is a melting pot of ethnicities and cultures and taking a bit of time to wander through Little India and Chinatown provides wonderful insight to these thriving cultures in Malaysia. Both neighborhoods are filled with an abundance of places to eat, excellent shopping as well as people watching. KL’s metro provides easy access to both.

    Off the Eaten Track Food Tour Malaysia

    Food Tour Malaysia Kuala Lumpur

    We are so glad we booked with Food Tour Malaysia, because what we got was by far one of the best food tours we have ever been on. Off the Eaten Track was a wonderful tour not just in Kuala Lumpur proper but at several stops in the suburbs outside the city. I can’t recommend them highly enough. Possibly the best thing we did in all of KL.

    Roof Top Bars

    Heli Lounge and Rooftop Bar Kuala Lumpur

    We read a lot of reviews that talked about the rooftop bars in KL, and even though we are rarely out after dark, we did get to two of the three we wanted to see. The Deep Blue rooftop bar and the Heli Lounge Bar we absolutely recommend for the stunning view. The Heli Lounge is a helicopter pad by day, outdoor bar by night. Crazy. We didn’t get to the rooftop bar at the W Hotel but we sure heard great things about it too.

    Subway and Monorail and Grab

    Kuala Lumpur Metro

    We always get to know the local metros in every city we go to – and are amazed how often we talk to travelers who are afraid to use public transit. KL like almost all other major world cities has a clean, efficient and inexpensive Metro/Subway, train to outlying areas and a short monorail to some neighborhoods not served by the metro. Throughout Asia we also use Grab reliably. Grab is the Asian version of Uber, works just the same but its way cheaper!

    What we missed

    Well we should have gotten to everything given we were in KL for six days, but we did leave behind a few things we wanted to see including Botanical Gardens, the City Mosque, the Jalan Alor Night Market, the Islamic Art Museum and scores of music and live theater options. I guess we will need to come back!

    By the way, we stayed at the amazing Renaissance Kuala Lumpur Hotel and we absolutely loved everything about it. $100 a night in the Executive Suites included breakfast, high-tea and evening cocktails with food. Our room was beautiful and we enjoyed the pool, workout facility and spa. And a block from the metro.

    Thanks for being a great place to visit Kuala Lumpur! We loved you!

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    Asia Travel  --  Food & Drink

    Two Countries, Two Cuisines, Too Delicious

    The Food of Taiwan and Malaysia

    Location: Taiwan and Malaysia

    Taking a cooking class and going on a food tour in every country I visit is a goal I have. And I accomplish it often, but not always. But when I can I always enjoy it and over the past couple of weeks I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing two countries, two cuisines, too delicious – the food of Taiwan and Malaysia.

    Taiwan

    We spent six days in Taipei Taiwan. We weren’t really tuned in to the Taiwanese cuisine, half expecting it to be just like China. But unlike China, Taiwan has been strongly influenced from Japan (with historical influence also from Portugal and Holland) and it’s noticeable in the cuisine. The Chinese influence comes primarily from Eastern China (Fujian). And certainly the fact that Taiwan is an island, the cuisine has a much stronger focus on seafood than much of China.

    Scallion pancake on Food Tour in Taiwan
    Scallion Pancake is one of our favorite foods we discovered in Taipei Taiwan

    GoTuCook

    A search online led me to Chef Calvin at GoTuCook. Thorough out our world travels I’ve taken cooking classes large and small, in cooking schools and home kitchens, from world famous chefs and humble housewives. And usually my favorite experiences are the ones where I have one-on-one time with the instructor in their home. This was my experience with GoTuCook.

    Mushroom and chincken soup in Cooking class in Taipei
    The beginnings of a delicious shiitake mushroom and chicken soup

    We met early in the morning at the Beitou metro station from where we walked to experience the bustling thriving market and the local vendors selling to the local people. I always love this experience with a local who can explain unusual ingredients, answer my questions and enlighten me to this way of life long gone in America.

    At The morning market Beitou Taipei
    Me at the busy Beitou morning market

    Next we headed to Calvin’s apartment, set up perfectfully for cooking classes. I had chosen three dishes I wanted to make ahead of time from a variety of options listed on the GoTuCook website. I chose as a starter Jellyfish Salad and for a soup course a chicken and mushroom soup and for our main course two kinds of pork dumplings.

    Displaying all the dumplings made by hand in Taipei cooking class
    My pretty dumplings ready for the steamer

    I liked both the jellyfish salad (requires an overnight soak of the chewy jellyfish in the fridge before prep) and the fragrant soup with a broth we cooked with chicken feet as well as meaty parts from the blue chicken, but my favorite was the dumplings.

    Chef Calvin of GoTuCook
    My new friend Chef Calvin of GoTuCook

    Making Chinese style steamed dumplings takes some practice. I’ve done similar work in classes before (making empanada in Argentina, pirogi in Poland and dumplings in Vietnam) but it’s still a chore to get your fingers to make the beautiful designs if it’s not a task you do everyday. We made pork with cabbage and spices and pork with corn and different spices. And then we ate!

    Of course we had leftovers and I brought dumplings and jellyfish to my husband who was back at the hotel.

    I really enjoyed this class and plan to tackle dumplings on my own soon. I recommend GoToCook if you visit Taipei.

    Pork bun One sample from Taipei Eats Food Tour
    The pork “burger” was one of the best things we had on our Taipei food tour

    Taipei Eats

    We also took an amazing walking food tour with Taipei Eats where we expanded our Taiwanese cuisine knowledge with Taiwan Pork “burger”, stinky tofu, betel nut, scallion pancake and much more. Taipei Eats was one of the best food tours we have ever done. Our guide was amazing, there was so much food and we learned some interesting facts while meeting local people as well as other travelers from around the world. Such a wonderful experience!

    TStinky Tofu at Taipei Eats Food Tour
    This is probably the one and only time for me with the Stinky Tofu

    Malaysia

    What a country Malaysia is for a foodie. This remarkable country is a melting pot of many cultures, and it shows in everything, especially the food. Malay food is often spicy, and nasi (rice) features often. Eating with your hands is common. Pork is rarely featured in this cuisine because most Malay are Muslim.

    Prepping the chicken at Indian Cooking Class Kuala Lumpur
    Learning Indian cooking in Kuala Lumpur

    On the other hand, many Chinese immigrated here in the 1800’s when this land was a British colony and the Chinese food is abundant, and often includes pork. Noodles, chicken and dumplings are also widely enjoyed.

    And then there is the Indian food, representing the vast number of Indians living in Malaysia. The use of pungent spices and curries, more noodles as well as lots of vegetables make up this delicious cuisine.

    Indigenous Malaysian sweet treat
    Ancient Malay cultures enjoyed this rice flour treat

    No matter what ethnic background, the people in this country love fried foods and fried chicken, seafood, samosa and much more are popular both as street food and in restaurants.

    Off the Eaten Track

    The food tour we took in Kuala Lumpur was very unique and one of the best ever. At the end of the evening we had sampled twenty-four (yes you read that correctly) foods of this diverse and delicious country.

    Chinese Soup at Kuala Lumpur Food Tour
    A very local Chinese Soup with veg, chicken and tofu

    We signed up with Food Tour Malaysia for their Off the Eaten Track tour and were met by our guide Timothy at a subway stop in a suburb of Kuala Lumpur called Petaling Jaya where we began our gluttonous odyssey at an outdoor Malay neighborhood food court that operates 24 hours a day seven days a week. Here we found just locals enjoying the foods they loved. We had Nasi Lemak wrapped in banana leaf; ota ota, a smoked mackerel wrapped in palm leaf; a rich goat and potato soup; fried chicken and fried tempeh. I was full before we left this first stop.

    Amazing Night Market at Kuala Lumpur Food Tour
    My husband Arne recruited to work on the “carrot cake” stir fry – one of our favorite things we had on our Kuala Lumpur food tour

    Next we headed to probably the best night market I have ever been too, also in the suburb of Petaling Jaya. Here we learned about the popular “carrot cake” (not a cake in the sense we are used to, more of a pressed tofu), we had spring roll, noodles, dumplings and sweet Chinese daun pandan filled with peanuts.

    Trying new foods like mackeral in palm leaf at Kuala Lumpur Food Tour
    Mackerel cooked inside a palm leaf

    Next we headed to a very local-only Chinese open air restaurant to sample more noodles cooked over an open fire and a delicious soup with chicken, okra, long beans and potato.

    Chinese sweet treat at Kuala Lumpur Food Tour
    Daun Pandan a sweet Chinese treat

    Our final stop was an outdoor Indian restaurant, and we were the only non-Indians there. And darn it I was so full I couldn’t really enjoy the amazing feast of roti, lentil dal, curry, a giant fried pancake with a coconut curry dip, fried chicken and mango smoothie. Roll me home. What a night it was. If you are ever in Kuala Lumpur, do this tour – but pace yourself!

    Indian Bananan Roti at Kuala Lumpur Food Tour
    Banana Roti a sweet Indian treat

    The Versatile Housewives

    To round off our food frenzy in Kuala Lumpur we spent one morning with Ruth, a cooking instructor who brings the flavors of her native India to visitors in Kuala Lumpur through her business The Versatile Housewives. We learned to make one of India’s most famous dishes, biryani, with a group of local university students in Ruth’s kitchen. Biryani is a rich and flavorful traditional dish, often served at weddings and ceremonies. It can be beef or lamb or chicken. We made a chicken biryani. The flavors of this dish come together by slowly preparing the fresh ingredients of caramelized onions, vegetables and spices like cardamon, cloves and pepper as well as herbs like cilantro and mint. After slowly blending all these flavors with rice and chicken, the biryani is served in a giant bowl and enjoyed communally. Check out Ruth’s website for a great selection of delicious Indian recipes.

    Indian Cooking class Kuala Lumpur
    The beautiful Biryani we made with our instructor Ruth

    No matter where you travel, diving into the culture through food is the most interesting and tastiest way to engage with locals, learn history and culture and broaden your culinary chops. Be brave! Eat the world!

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    Asia Travel

    Visiting Endangered Primates in Borneo

    A Must Do in Malaysia

    Location: Sepilok Borneo Malaysia

    Seeing orangutans, gorilla and chimpanzees in the wild has been a long time goal of mine. Last year I checked off my bucket list seeing sloths and toucans in the wild. This year I’m totally focused on primates – including visiting endangered primates in Borneo.

    And that is what has brought us to the far northeast region of Borneo and the Sepilok Forest – home to the beautiful but endangered orangutans as well as the bizarre and endangered proboscis monkeys.

    Sepilok Borneo Firefly Tour
    On our river tour, Sepilok Borneo

    We spent three days in Sepilok. Flying into the Sandakan airport we traveled by Grab (Uber) thirty minutes to our destination of the Sepilok Forest Edge Resort. I can not recommend this place highly enough. We loved our beautiful little chalet with veranda and outdoor shower (an indoor one as well). The breakfast was outstanding as were the two fantastic dinners we enjoyed in the restaurant. Just $80 per night for two with the breakfast included.

    Sepilok Forest Edge Resort
    Dinner at Sepilok Forest Edge Resort

    We arrived around 3:00pm and unpacked and took a short rest – very short because we had pre-arranged an evening boat tour through the mangroves. The tour was promoted as a Firefly Tour but it was way more than that.

    River Tour Borneo, Malaysia
    Fresh Coconut at sunset

    First we drove about 20 minutes to a teeny village in the mangrove marsh where we were served yummy Cassava fritters and tea before boarding a small wooden boat. Our guides took us through the watery world of mangroves and it reminded me of our time in Bangladesh and even looked a bit like the Amazon and even the Everglades. We stopped to admire some long-tailed macaque monkeys grooming each other high in the trees.

    Sepilok Borneo Firefly Tour
    Sunset in the mangroves

    We stopped on a tiny island where we were served fresh coconut and watched the sunset. Once it was dark we headed back into the mangroves in our boat and the fireflies lit up the night. The trees along the channels looked like lighted Christmas trees and the little bugs made me think of Tinkerbell. Returning to shore we were served a simple and delicious Malaysian meal of curry chicken, sweet and sour tuna, soup, rice and vegetable fritters. All of this cost $55 per person.

    But the fireflies are also endangered, like so much else in this beautiful region. Learn more about the fireflies here.

    Back to Sepilok Forest Edge Resort and a good night’s sleep.

    Next morning we were up early and enjoyed a wonderful breakfast in the open air restaurant before making the 15 minute trek to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center. Entrance fee was $7.50 each.

    Did you know the words orang utan means forest human in Malay? When you watch these animals up close it is remarkable how humanlike their behavior is.

    Sepilok Orangutan Reabilitation Center
    Mama and baby at feeding time

    This is an amazing place working to keep the orangutans from becoming extinct. Over the past two decades the orangutan population in Borneo has dwindled from 200,000 to only 11,000! The main reason this is happening is deforestation. Native forests are being eliminated and in their place mile after mile after mile of palm oil trees are being planted…pushing the orangutans to the brink of existence. Palm oil is used in thousands of products commercially produced. Everything from ice cream to soap. It’s likely you have products in your home right now with palm oil as an ingredient that has come from Borneo.

    Palm Oil deforestation in Borneo
    This is a palm oil nut from a palm oil tree
    Sepilok Orangutan Reabilitation Center
    Young male orangutan getting exercise

    At the Sepilok Orangutan Reabilitation Center two things occur;

    1. Wild orangutans learn to come here to help supplement their diet during two “feeding” times a day. The wild animals, especially nursing mothers, that are unable to find adequate nutrition due to the dwindling native forests come to the reserve and receive fresh fruits and vegetables.
    2. Injured or orphaned orangutans are brought from outside the region to receive medical attention or to learn necessary skills to survive in the wild. All with the goal of releasing these animals back into the wild when they are ready.
    Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center
    Mom and Baby looking healthy and well fed

    We saw dozens of orangutans while we visited the reserve…some just wandering around or swinging through the trees, others during their feeding. The reserve is not a zoo – there are no fences keeping these wild animals in. They come and go as they need.

    Sepilok Orangutan Reabilitation Center
    This young orangutan was strolling along the path at the same time we were

    It was a joyful experience and a dream come true for me!

    We knew almost nothing about the funny looking proboscis (meaning nose) monkeys, but found that they too are suffering from deforestation. So on our final day we headed 30 minutes away to the Labak Bay Proboscis Monkey Reserve. Entry fee $15 each.

    Labok Bay Proboscis Monkey Reserve
    A dominate male proboscis monkey

    The facilities here were not as nice as the orangutan reserve (and twice as expensive) but we still really enjoyed seeing these strange animals with the Jimmy Durante nose. I was astonished at the size of the males and their strength as well as how they can jump like kangaroos. Unlike orangutans who live a pretty solitary life, the proboscis monkeys live a harem kind of hierarchy with one dominant male overseeing multiple females and offspring.

    Labak Bay Proboscis Monkey Reserve
    Looking pensive

    I learned a lot about all of these animals in our three day visit and we also saw macaque monkeys, one wild boar, and giant monitor lizards to round our our wildlife adventure!

    Palm Oil Plantation Monitor Lizards
    Monitor Lizard about five feet long

    An interesting note – monitor lizards are the only native animal thriving in the palm oil plantations. In fact, they are growing incredibly large and due to population explosion of monitor lizards they are more aggressive. A clear sign of an eco-system out of balance.

    Labak Bay Proboscis Monkey Reserve
    The animals come in large family groups from the forest to the center to feed.

    Although there were many tourists, we met no other Americans. It’s a long ways to come from the USA, but if you can it’s worth a visit. I truly enjoyed visiting endangered primates in Borneo.

    Labak Bay Proboscis Monkey Reserve
    Young male – he seems to be contemplating his future

    We look forward to more primate encounters in the months ahead, but we will never forget our amazing time visiting endangered primates in Borneo. Fabulous.

    Want to learn more about what’s going on in Borneo with the wildlife and deforestation? Read here.

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    Visiting Endangered Primates in Borneo
    Asia Travel

    Taipei Taiwan Last Minute

    Location: Taipei Taiwan

    We were supposed to go to Hong Kong, but canceled at the last minute due to the violence going on there. What to do? Where to go? How about Taipei Taiwan last minute? Great decision. What a great place.

    Like Formosa Free Walking Tour
    Lungshan Temple

    I knew nothing about Taipei. I didn’t mean for it to be my second choice. And after spending six days there, I can most assuredly say you should put it in your travel destinations.

    Here are my favorite things we did in beautiful Taipei Taiwan last minute;

    Like It Formosa

    As we do on our first day in most cities we did a “free” walking tour with Like It Formosa. Our tour guide Eleanor was amazing. Her wealth of knowledge about Taipei old and new, ancient history and current events made the three plus hour tour remarkable. I highly recommend Like It Formosa. On the tour we made several stops but my favorites were;

    Like it Formasa Free Walking Tour
    Original painted movie poster, Sanxia Old Street

    Lungshan Temple – this is a favorite of locals – one of the few that survived WWII. This 300 year-old temple is in one of Taipei’s oldest neighborhoods and it is visited by people of multiple faiths including Taoists, Buddhists and Confucians. As a visitor it’s a wonderful place to see local people who bring offerings of flowers, food and other items as they worship here to several gods including a match-making god and a fertility god.

    Sanxia Old Street – partially restored (with additionally restoration underway) this ancient street was built during Taiwan’s period of Japanese rule and displays the baroque-style architecture of the period.

    Like it Formosa Walking Tour
    Chiang Kai Shek Memorial

    Chiang Kai Shek Memorial – a bit shocking in its immensity, it was here we learned on our tour details about this man…someone I would have thought the Taiwanese revered. But Chiang Kai Shek held the country under martial law for decades, and in his life acted more like an Emperor than a President and so the Taiwanese have mixed feelings about the leader of the Republic of China.

    Tower 101 and Neighborhood

    On our second day we wandered the city on our own and enjoyed riding up to the top of the Taipei 101 Tower. We had bought ticket online ahead of time but did not need to as it was not busy at all. The view in this 1200 foot high building is remarkable, and the elevator ride is impressive – one of the fastest elevators in the world.

    Taipei 101 Tower
    The 1200 foot Taipei 101 Tower

    The tower building is also home to a vast shopping mall as well as a wonderful food court in the basement. We enjoyed dinner here walking around and choosing a variety of dishes including the popular oyster omelet, glazed chicken, tempura vegetables and a chocolate pound cake.

    Taipei 101 Tower
    From the 101 Tower Observatory

    We hiked up the arduous 500 steps to Elephant Mountain, a popular and sometimes busy viewpoint of the city. It was a real workout, but we were glad we did it.

    Elephant Mountain
    The view from Elephant Mountain

    Local Markets

    We visited the lively, local Beitou daily market where locals buy and sell everything from bok choi to pigs trotters and papaya to frogs legs. It was busy and loud and colorful and I loved it.

    Beitou Market
    Pig trotters at Beitou Market

    We also visited two of Taipei’s famous night markets…there are dozens of night markets. These serve as gathering places for locals to walk, meet, eat, drink and shop. We loved the Shiling Night Market and spent several hours there grazing our way through dumplings and octopus and more. We also went to the Linjiang Night Market, but it was rainy and wet that night and there were not many people out enjoying it.

    Shiling Night Market
    Shiling Night Market

    Cooking Class

    As I do as often as I possibly can while traveling I spent a day in a cooking class with a local chef. It was outstanding and I learned some fun recipes and enjoyed a great meal at the end with Chef Calvin of GoTuCook. I’ll be writing a full blog about this soon.

    Taiwan Cooking Class
    Cooking with GoTuCooks

    Taipei Eats

    As usual food is a big part of our travels and one of the best things we did during our visit to Taipei was a Night Food Tour with Taipei Eats. Our guide Diego was awesome! And we tasted at least ten different foods and I was about to explode by the end of the night. I highly recommend this tour and ask for Diego. Some of my favorite things were Taiwan Green Guava with salt, Taiwan “burger” which was pork, peanut powder and cilantro in a hot fresh Bao Bun, scallion pancake, soup dumplings, Moon Cake (filled with egg yolk and sweet red beans. We also tried stinky tofu (no thanks) and betel nut (like tobacco – eww) and the specialty of Taiwan pineapple cake. What a wonderful night it was.

    Taipei Eats Food Tour
    Scallion Pancake

    Out of the City

    We spent one day checking out some sights outside of the city. Originally we wanted to do some hiking, but the weather turned wet so we ended up booking a shuttle service with Klook that would take us to several beautiful and interesting places outside of the city throughout the day. I’m really glad we did because we enjoyed most of it. We especially liked;

    Yeolin Geo Park – a UNESCO National Geological site with incredibly strange yet beautiful geological formations on the sea in the north of Taiwan. It was fascinating and if you had the time you could spend many hours in the park.

    Yeolin Geo Parak
    Yeolin Geo Park Formations

    Jioufen – a historic mountain side village literally hangs from the side of the mountain. Jioufen is now pretty much gone over to tourism, but we still enjoyed the beautiful views from the town and walking around the historic old village. We had a remarkable bowl of beef noodle soup to that was worth the price of admission.

    Jioufen
    Jioufen Mountain Village

    We also stopped at Shifen…but were a bit disappointed in this place. First of all it was pouring down ran, but mostly it was crowded with tourists who come to release paper lanterns into the sky for luck. But it was pretty kitschy and not at all authentic and so we didn’t love it. Maybe on a sunny day…

    Shifen
    Shifen Village, note lantern being released in the back

    Taipei Taiwan Last Minute

    We have no regrets about our visit to Taipei. We stayed at the Dandy Hotel near Daan Park, which we loved. The room was small but comfortable, the breakfast was incredible and the staff was excellent. Right next door was the Metro. We used Taipei’s remarkably efficient and inexpensive metro throughout our visit and loved it.

    And finally the Taiwanese people are wonderful. They are proud to be Taiwanese NOT Chinese, although there is a small faction that wants the island nation to return to China and the People’s Republic of China. But everyone we met wants to remain independent with their current government (Republic of China) which has been governing for 70 years despite the fact they still are not recognized by the United Nations.

    Taipei Taiwan last minute. So glad it happened.

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    Asia Travel

    Surprising China – Shanghai to Chongqing

    My Second Visit to a Fascinating Country

    Location: China

    It’s been five years since we visited China the first time. I was curious to see how it may have changed in that time. It’s hard to compare given we didn’t visit the same cities. And yet the changes are clear…in a good way. Surprising China Shanghai to Chongqing.

    Five years ago we visited Beijing and Xian. It was winter and very cold. This time we visited Shanghai and took a Yangtze River cruise from Yichang to Chongqing. It is autumn now, and the end of the rainy season. It was very humid, warm and wet.

    Shanghai skyline
    From the Bund looking across at the new skyline

    Shanghai

    Surprising Shanghai. A gorgeous city. Sparkling clean, efficient and beautiful architecture. More open and spread out than Beijing, Shanghai is for the most part a new city – built as China’s financial center over the past thirty years. If you were here thirty years ago none of this would have been here.

    Yu Garden Shanghai
    The preserved and restored old town called Yu Garden

    Luckily though, the Chinese government saw fit to save bits and pieces of the ancient old town, Yu Garden, and it is preserved in a beautiful and authentic way. It is a very popular part of the city. Nearby is the People’s Park, another beautiful spot in Shanghai where the local people enjoy this large green natural place in the middle of the big city. On weekends People’s Park is where parents set up Marriage Market to find spouses for their unmarried adult children. Parents playing matchmaker is a very Chinese thing, still accepted today.

    Lingering Garden
    Daytrip from Shanghai to Suzhou’s Lingering Garden

    The Bund is the most popular spot in Shanghai, for shopping, dining, strolling and enjoying the amazing view of the Huang Pu River and the remarkably beautiful architectural masterpieces beyond. To really enjoy this area we highly recommend seeing it at night. Starting at 7:00 pm each evening the buildings are all lit up in a spectacular light show not to be missed. The best way to see it in its entirety is to take one of the evening boat tours. It was a highlight of our visit.

    Shanghai at night
    Shanghai sparkles at night

    Another fascinating Shanghai neighborhood is Tianzifang. This former residential neighborhood has been preserved in it’s original form and now houses a remarkable variety of art shops from silk to silver.

    Day Trips from Shanghai

    We enjoyed two separate day trips from Shanghai. You could do these both on one day if you are short on time. Whatever you do, don’t choose one or the other. Both are remarkable and not to be missed.

    Pingjiang Road in Suzhou
    Beautiful ancient Pingjiang Road day trip from Shanghai

    First we visited Suzhou, home of one of the most famous gardens in China, the Lingering Garden. This absolutely beautiful garden was once a family home for a rich merchant. Suzhou is also home to Pingjiang Road, an ancient street and site of the original town which was once a commodities hub where people traded and lived.

    Zujiaojia
    The Water Town of Zujiaojia known as Asian Venice, day trip from Shanghai

    Our second day trip was to the remarkable water town of Zujiaojia, one of my favorite places. The ancient town, now a tourist hub, is well preserved and often called the Asian Venice for it’s dozens of bridges, waterfront merchants and houses and boats that transport people and products. It is a must see for it’s antiquity and tranquility. We particularly enjoyed a lovely tea break at a famous Chinese tea house right on the water.

    Yangtze River Cruise

    Surprising Yangtze. Seeing China’s Yangtze, the third longest river in the world, after the Nile and the Amazon, has been on my bucket list for a long time. Traditional Chinese art often depicts the Yangtze and it’s beautiful gorges shrouded in fog. This is what we set out to see.

    Yangtze River
    The Yangtze River before the dam was built

    Our journey began from the Honggiao train station where we boarded the bullet train to Yichang. During more than seven hours on the train we passed through dozens of big cities. China is remarkable in that even its smallest cities are home to 100,000 people.

    The Yangtze River today, more than 500 feet higher

    From the Yichang train station we drove by car another hour to our boat, the MV Sophia of Victoria Cruises, on the Yangtze. This small river cruise ship can have a maximum of 200 guests, but on our cruise there was about 100 people. Our room was small but comfortable, the food was excellent and the staff was superior.

    Victoria Cruises Yangtze
    MV Sophia on the Yangtze River

    The first day we enjoyed two different excursions with the ship in port in Yichang, just above the famous Three Gorges Dam. Here the Yangtze no longer feels like the Yangtze of old. Above the dam the river is now a reservoir and quite placid.

    We toured the dam, an engineering marvel in itself, although the more remarkable thing to me is how many hundreds of thousands of people were moved from their ancestral villages. The government built entire new cities above the high water line, demolishing ancient towns and moving everyone to new homes, new jobs and new communities. The undertaking is mind-boggling.

    Three Rivers Tribe
    The Three Rivers Tribe site

    In a small effort to preserve the old way of life for tourist purposes, one village below the dam was preserved and named the Three Gorges Tribe site. Although local people no longer live here, locals are employed to represent the ancient way of life. It was very well presented and the natural gorge site itself was stunningly beautiful.

    Wu Gorge Yangtze
    Pagoda high above the river in the Wu Gorge Yangtze

    Seeing the famous Three Gorges as well as a special small boat cruise up the Shennong Creek were the highlights of our time on the Yangtze. I wish I could have seen these places before the dam flooded and raised the water level by 175 meters. An astonishing amount. But seeing it still today was amazing and beautiful. There are few places in China where you can just enjoy unpopulated scenery. Along the Yangtze I was astounded by the gigantic cities that appeared over and over as we cruised upstream. Cities of millions of people. It was the most unexpected of all the things we saw. And yet, there were also stretches of the river where no humans lived. Particularly the stretches of the Wu Gorge and the Qutang Gorge. Absolutely beautiful.

    MV Sophia
    Entertainment on the MV Sophia

    The MV Sofia was a wonderful ship and on two nights we enjoyed fantastic Chinese dance presentations from the remarkably talented crew. Colorful costumes, beautiful music and exquisitely presented dances were an unexpected bonus to our time aboard. On our final night, we also enjoyed a extraordinary final dinner. The food throughout our cruise was nothing short of amazing, but the final dinner was spectacular. A Chinese feast fit for an Emperor.

    Feast on the final night on the MV Sophia

    Our Yangtze River Cruise ended in Chongqing, China’s largest city. Another city that has seen unprecedented growth over the past thirty years. Often called the Foggy City, Chongqing lived up to its name during our short time there. We were escorted to the brand new Chongqing International Airport for our flight to Taiwan.

    Crew presents dessert at the final banquet

    Surprising China Shanghai to Chongqing

    Our two weeks in China gave us an opportunity to see first-hand the changes in this country; efforts being made for the environment including many electric scooters and cars and major recycling and litter control. Additionally China seems to be in a state of constant development and construction as this country of 1.4 billion people works to manage itself.

    My final take-away is that the Chinese people are happy. They are provided housing and jobs and can be entrepreneurial and educated. They care little about politics but are patriotic. They love nature and family and socializing with friends. They are proud, modest, kind and many speak excellent English.

    Final night entertainment on board

    China is a huge country, about the same size as the USA but with 1.4 billion people compared to the USA’s 330 million. It’s hard to wrap your head around it until you see the cities…thousands and thousands of 30 story apartment buildings everywhere you look. Surprising China Shanghai to Chongqing.

    Yangtze River
    Sunset on the Yangtze River

    There is more here I want to see. So we will surely return. Surprising China has more surprises to share.

    Thanks for following our adventures in Asia. Lots more to come! Please pin or share our blog. Thank you! Xiexie. 谢谢

    China
    Asia Travel

    Surprising China – World Heritage Sites Hold a Special Place For Me

    Location: Chinaa

    (Note – this is a repost of a blog from my last visit to China in 2014.  I am currently traveling in China again, but unable to blog until next week.  So please enjoy this post again about Surprising China, and watch for a new Surprising China World Heritage Sites post next Friday!)

    I managed to see two sites on my Asian trip that were bucket list items.  Being in China of course means seeing the Great Wall, easily accessible and visited by most American’s who travel here. It was astonishingly beautiful on the clear and cold, crisp day we stood upon it.  A site even better than you ever imagined it.IMG_6975

    But it takes a bit of an effort to get to Xian, China, the location of the second bucket list item.  Xian is a six-hour train ride from Beijing.  Xian is home of one of the most amazing things I have had a chance to see in my life, the Terra Cotta Warrior Army of the first Emperor Qin Shi Huang.

    How is it that this mind-boggling 2000-year-old relic of ancient Chinese history was only discovered 40 years ago?  The accidental discovery by a local Chinese farmer has transformed this community as well as the understanding of Imperial China.

    The Terracotta Army is a collection of hollow terra cotta sculptures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. It is a form of funerary art buried with the emperor in 210–209 BC and whose purpose was to protect the emperor in his afterlife. The vast discovery includes thousands of warriors from archers to generals and everything in between.

    Seeing it first hand was worth the effort it took to get here.  Photos no way do it justice.

    I’ve always been fascinated to see nineteenth and twentieth century discoveries; items of lost treasures and photo10civilizations where years of exploration or half hazard circumstance have unearthed.  My travels have provided me the opportunity to see some of these treasures first hand; Ephesus in Turkey, Machu Picchu in Peru, the Forum in Rome and Mesa Verde in Colorado are things I have stood next to and asked how?  Additionally I’ve stood with wonder at other sites never lost but yet still flabbergasting in particular Stonehenge in England and Lalibella in Ethiopia.  It’s that feeling of awe and amazement that inspires me to travel.  The Terra Cotta Warriors of Xian gave me the goose bumps I crave.

    My first question is why were they lost to start with?  In the case of the Terra Cotta Warriors, it was done on photo8purpose.  The superstitious Chinese culture, both then and now, have strong beliefs in preparing for the afterlife, while here in this life.  Afterlife preparation of Emperor Qin Shi Huang began years in advance of his death, when he was as young as 13.  Emperors spent as much time preparing to go into battle in the afterlife as they did in this life here on Earth.  Tens of thousands of warriors, each different down to the fingerprints, would go in to the afterlife battle with him.  And that is where the hollow, life size, each unique terra cotta soldiers are going.  For 2000 -years they waited, buried anywhere from 12 to 30 feet underground (depending on rank) for battle.  Until the day a Chinese farmers decided to drill for a well.  His unexpected discovery made him a local and national figure.  But, being this is China, it didn’t make him rich.  He continues to live in Xian and spends most his days signing books for tourists.

     

    The discovery was made in 1974 and by 1976 Xian was welcoming visitors to see the soldiers.  Immediately photo7upon discovery the oxidation began and the pigment on the soldiers began to disappear.  Today the soldiers you see standing just as they were placed 2000 years ago, have no color due to the unfortunate oxidation.  In fact, the lacquer covering the paint can curl in 15 seconds once exposed to the dry air of Xi’an and can flake off in just four minutes.

    The soldiers have been restored piece by piece in a painstaking and remarkable process. The gigantic exhibit at Xian shows the restored soldiers and horses, then progressively a section showing how most of the relics were found in hundreds of pieces, then finally the still covered tomb where additional soldiers wait their turn to see the light of day.  The Chinese government has continued restoration efforts on many additional pieces.  However, it has been determined that thousands more soldiers remain buried.  And that is where they will stay; until research can provide an answer to preserve the colorful paints those soldiers still bare.

    In my fabulous fifties I have an insatiable appetite to see, learn and be inspired.  My travel list is long, but at the top are such sites as Easter Island, Victoria Falls, Camino de Santiago, Angkor Wat, Jordan’s Petra, Melrose Abbey in Scotland and the Pyramids of Egypt.  All places with a rich cultural history and connection to lost civilizations.

    Will I get to all of these?  Damn right I will.  Ask me where I have been we can talk for an hour.  Ask me where I am going we can talk for days.

    Let me inspire you to go. See. Do. Live.  It’s now or never.

    (Note:  Our time in China was made special by the first class service we received from Beijing Champagne International Travel Service

     http://www.tour-beijing.com/about/#.UvwxvP1sj1o.

     I cannot recommend them highly enough.  Our drivers were conscientious and safe.  But our tour guides are what made us enjoy our travels so much.  Lucia was our guide in Xian and Rogin was our guide throughout the rest of the trip.  I would welcome them both into my home; this is how highly I regarded their care and expertise they provided.  We could not have possibly enjoyed our time in China to the full extent without the help from all of these people. If you are going to China check out Champagne and personally request Rogin.  Shi Shi.)