Monthly Archives: August 2011

There’s a moral in this tale (Bintulu, Borneo, Malaysia)

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Yesterday we took the four-hour coach journey from Mukah to Bintalu. It’s a Chinese influenced city running alongside the Sangai Kemena river and we manage to negotiate a great price for a lovely room overlooking the water. A great view point for ‘the boy’ to watch the many colourful boats passing by and a TV for mum and dad to catch up on the news (hurricane Irene is the top story and it’s the first we’ve heard of it).

Anyway, this morning we decided to head to Similajau National Park, thirty kilometres east of Bintalu on the coast. Being budget conscious travellers we had hoped to jump on a bus, but alas, the only way there is by taxi. We find a taxi driver outside the boat terminal and negotiate a reasonable price for a return trip.

On first entering the car we were taken aback by the amount of limited window space. On every window huge stickers had been placed, many of which to advise you of safety messages. ‘Don’t forget to buckle up’ was plastered over the passenger side of the windscreen, but surely it’s safer for the driver to be able to see out of the windscreen!!?? The car mirror had a family size calendar hanging from it (always handy when you’re driving!) and numerous lucky charms were hanging from the steering wheel, gear stick and indicators. All the lucky charms in the world would not help this ancient old man be a half decent driver. His foot was pulsing on the accelerator the entire journey, revving the engine in a way that I never knew was possible. We chugged along in the fast lane of the dual carriageway and he was oblivious to the cars that were swerving past us on the inside lane to overtake. When he overtook on a single lane road and continued to drive on the wrong side of the road until we shouted at him to pull in we realised that this guy was a liability. Luckily we survived the return journey, hence the blog update, but the moral of the story is never trust a taxi driver with a car adorned in lucky charms. One day the luck will run out…

Trekking in the jungle

On another more positive note the National park was fantastic (only slightly marred by the thought of having to get back in the same car for the return journey). We went for a trek through the jungle to a viewing point overlooking the sea. With ‘the boy’ in the sling we crossed wooden bridges over salty croc infested rivers, (Interestingly, Borneo is the only place outside of Northern Australia where you find the large estuarine salty crocodiles) listened to the loud unfamiliar noises of the many insects and birds and watched a family of long tailed macaque monkeys swinging in the trees above our heads.

It was a really great experience and ‘the boy’ loved watching the monkeys. That’s the really amazing thing about travelling with a baby.  Everyday he’s experiencing new things and every new pit stop is a new adventure playground to him. As they say in the ad ‘priceless’

Tip of the day:
As well as videos and photographs make sound recordings of the places that you visit so that you can play them back alongside the photos. It will be an amazing record of your baby’s trip.

The shoe’s on the other foot (Mukah, Borneo, Malaysia)

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Between Sibu and Bintalu is a small place called Mukah. The town of Mukah is fairly non descript, but when we found out that there was a small village just outside with a traditional longhouse that you could stay in we were really keen to visit. We booked a room the night before and Ms Diana, the owner, advised us that as she was holiday she would arrange for one of the neighbours to be there to welcome us.

Another day, another coach!

Four hours on a coach and a short taxi ride later we arrive. As soon as we walked across the rickety bridge to the front veranda we knew we had made the right decision to stay here. The house is situated in a small village of circa two hundred people. The houses, all wooden and all on stilts to keep them out of the swampy ground and rivers running below, are painted in lovely muted pastel colours. The only sounds are the local children, chickens, birds and the occasional small boat chugging up the river. Pure tranquillity.

We are shown to our room, given the keys and then left to our own devices. We are astonished that we’re the only people staying here. We have the entire longhouse to ourselves. We really appreciate the trust that Ms Diana has given us, particularly as the ground floor of the house has been turned into a mini museum with historic artefacts, musical instruments and valuables openly accessible. Really interesting but not ideal when you have a one year old crawling, clambering baby on the loose!

Longhouse village

After walking around the village and chatting to some of the local folk (conversations opened again but the fact that we are travelling with a baby) we settle on the veranda to play ball with ‘the boy’. It was then that I noticed six or seven people walking across the bridge towards the back gate of the longhouse. Then more appeared, all with cameras around their necks. It was a tourist coach who had stopped off to visit the longhouse museum.  Fifty pairs of eyes staring at us, but as they removed their shoes at the front door they were more interested in the star attraction ‘the boy’ rather than then museum.  He was yet again pinched on the cheeks, cuddled, photographed and showered with attention.

The view from our veranda

Only a week previously we’d been walking around the longhouse village in the mountains, cameras around our necks, looking at the local families sitting on their veranda’s and now the shoe was on the other foot.  It’s a strange feeling being stared at when you’re going about your own business and it’s certainly going to make me more sensitive to walking around other people’s environments.

The family that gave us the lift into town

Top tip of the day:
We’ve found  ‘the boy’ to be a great ice breaker on our trip and we often find ourselves chatting to other parents after starting a conversation about their baby. We’ve met some really interesting people along the way and people have been very generous.
After chatting to a family with a baby in the longhouse village they offered us a lift into town.

Today was swell (Sibu, Borneo, Malaysia)

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After five enjoyable days in Kuching we catch the early morning ferry to Sibu. We were advised to arrive at the port early due to it being holiday season so we had an early start, leaving the hostel at 6.45am, for a boat departure at 8.30am!

Big mistake of the day was not packing jumpers in our hand luggage. For some strange reason the air conditioning was set on freezing and there was no escaping the blast of icy air that filled the ferry. Even my other half who normally wears shorts during winter months in the UK was shivering. With a five-hour journey ahead of us we had to improvise with things that we had readily available in our bag. The laptop sleeve made a great hat, the sun cover for the buggy was used as a blanket and the cover for the wriggle band became an arm warmer. Needs must and all that!

We had been warned that there was a big swell on the sea and it made me feel very uneasy. We tipped rapidly from side to side and feeling very responsible for ‘the boy’ I had already devised our escape strategy in the event of the boat capsizing. Luckily I didn’t have to put that plan into action but it’s better to be safe than sorry… (Paranoid mum syndrome).

Ladies, please form an orderly queue

The majority of tourists arriving in Sibu make a swift boat transfer and head up the river into the jungle. We wanted to avoid the high-risk malarial areas and therefore decided to stick to the coastal (or as close as) towns/cities.  Judging by the reaction from the locals ‘the boy’ was a novelty in their neighbourhood.  Unlike Kuching where the locals would look, but not touch, in Sibu ‘the boy’ was public property. People would rush across the street to pinch his cheek (apparently pinching the cheek of a white baby gives them good luck) kiss him, touch him or crowd around in big groups to giggle and photograph him.  Being British we’re very aware of personal space so it was a strange phenomenon but ‘the boy’ took it all in his stride and is becoming a very sociable little character.

In the evening we headed to the night market. ‘The boy’ was in the sling and slept as we walked around the stalls deciding on what delicacies we should try. Fried whole chicken heads, pig heads (choose the head and then it’s chopped up as you like) and chicken bum holes (yes that’s right, the arse-holes of chickens!) were ones that we chose to ignore. Instead we opted for dim sum, potato fritters, banana fritters, chicken satay, pork buns and peanut pancakes. All delicious and set us up for a good nights sleep.

Top tip of the day:
Pack a light long sleeved top when travelling on coaches and boats as the air con is often on a low setting. We’ve certainly learnt our lesson and it saves you having to wear a laptop bag on your head!!

City of cats (Kuching, Borneo, Malaysia)

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Kuching, the city of cats and described in the guidebook as ‘a pleasant city, easy to traverse on foot’. Apart from if you’re pushing a buggy, in which case you’ll build up some excellent biceps from lifting it up and down the uneven pavements, shop fronts and many steps.

We’ve decided to base ourselves here for five nights. It gives us a chance to relax (as much as we can with a baby) and visit some of the many attractions in the surrounding areas. The guesthouse we’re staying in is superb. £15 a night including breakfast and one of the co owners kindly borrowed a cot from a family friend so we have some good nights sleep on the horizon.  Hip hip hooray and all that!

Over the course of a few days we visit the cities museums, amble around the river front shops and sample lots of amazing food. The annual food festival was on when we arrived so an evening was spent sampling the many local dishes at amazingly cheap prices.

On Tuesday we visit the Sarawak Cultural village. It’s a really worthwhile day trip with eight replica longhouses built around a lake to represent the different tribal groups of Sarawak.  The boy was a particular hit at the daily show where he was carried onto the stage by one of the female dancers and paraded around to the last dance. An unexpected and welcome baby free 10 minutes…

Stage fright? No not me!!

The highlight of our time in Kuching was the boy’s first birthday. He was of course oblivious to this, but we organised a day trip to see the orangutans (which he enjoyed almost as much as me) and a two-hour drive into the mountains to visit a traditional longhouse village, home to the Bedayu tribe. Although everything takes a lot longer with a baby the rewards when travelling are often greater. The village women were so welcoming and he was a real icebreaker when it came to having a chat with the local folk. We were welcomed to sit on one family’s veranda and ‘the boy’ made himself at home crawling around the wicker mats and making friends with one of the local babies. It was really relaxing until he decided to vomit his recently drunk milk all over the floor.  Nothing that a few baby wipes couldn’t handle but I guess there’s another bad point to baby backpacking – unexpected and unpredictable baby sick!

Yummy cake

The birthday highlight was the cake smashing.  Presented with a yummy cake and free reign over the way he ate it ‘the boy’ sampled his first chocolate and cream sponge and absolutely loved it. After a year of healthy options I hope I haven’t undone all my good work and opened a can of worms!

Top tip of the day:
If you find a location you like schedule in an extra day to use as a play-day for your baby. We found that you can’t always be on the go and a day taking it easy and following your baby’s lead is really valuable for the whole family.

‘The boy’s’ new friend (Tioman Island, Malaysia)

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Result. Two consecutive nights of uninterrupted sleep. This cot is my new best friend and we are fast realising that maybe the bed sharing idea wasn’t a good idea.

my new babysitter

On another note the staff have taken a shine to ‘the boy’. They love to walk him around the beach café and take him off our hands. He’s in sight at all times so I decide we should make the most of it whilst we’re here.

Once the sun has gone down we take a walk to the next beach using the sling and visit the turtle conservation centre where ‘the boy’ got to see and touch a rescued turtle. Shame he won’t remember any of it.

We end the day sharing a few drinks with a lovely couple who we met on the bus from Singapore to Mersing. Travelling with a baby certainly opens conversations with people who you may not otherwise get to meet. We really enjoy finding out about other people’s traveling experiences as it opens your eyes to other places to explore.  It was a great way to finish a great beach break and luckily for us ‘the boy’ slept soundly next to us in his reclined buggy. Always a bonus!

Daddy and 'the boy' enjoy some male bonding time on the beach

Top tip of the day:
So far high chairs have been readily available but they often don’t have straps. ‘The boy’ is becoming more and more adventurous and frequently tries to escape. We’ve found that the baby walking straps that double up as high chair straps are great. They take up very little space in our daypack and we can use them later in the trip once he’s toddling around.

My back garden is a beach (Tioman Island, Malaysia)

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Thirty minutes after jumping in the 4×4 and we’re in Juara. Juara is a quiet beach with a handful of varying beach resorts adorning the sea front.

We’re in luck. We opted for one of the cheapest huts at Juara beach resort and it’s right on the sand. It’s costing us £20 a night including breakfast and comes with AC, a bathroom with hot water, a kettle (essential sterilising equipment) AND BONUS, they have put a cot in the room too. Maybe tonight we’ll get a much-needed good nights sleep.

Look at my lovely new back garden

The beach is beautiful and there’s a huge tree on the sand offering all day shade. It’s the perfect set up with a baby. ‘The boy’ is content playing in the sand next to our sunbeds (shadebeds would be more appropriate!) and LOVES swimming in the sea. It’s actually proving to be very relaxing, more so than we expected. Now this really is the life…

Top tip of the day:
Take it in turns to be on baby watch so that one of you can fully unwind and read or take a walk. It really helped us to re-charge our batteries.

Three in the bed and the little one said roll over…(Tioman Island, Malaysia)

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Four nights in and the trip is going brilliantly apart from one thing. Sleep

I'm alright Jack, I'm sleeping like a baby!

We contemplated taking a travel cot with us but decided that although it was lightweight it took up too much precious space.  We decided that in places where a travel cot was not available we would put him between us in the bed.

Two months ago this would have been fine. ‘The boy’ hardly moved in his sleep and would often wake up in the same spot that he’d gone to sleep 12 hours earlier. Now it’s a different story. Not only does he wriggle constantly, he turns, sits up and flops back down on the bed lying horizontally between us. I’ve either got a pair of legs or bum on top of my face, or I’m woken up by him rolling half way down the bed, in which case I’m conscious that he could catapult himself off.  I’m hoping in time he will improve but we’ll have to see.

Top tip of the day:
‘The boy’ has hardly eaten anything in the last few days. We’ve met other parents of babies and found that this is quite common with the change of temperature, time zone and food. We’ve increased ‘the boy’s’ milk quantities and make sure he gets plenty of water to keep hydrated.