From September 14 to October 3 2011 The Intrepids, a travel group of Humber Valley United Church, Toronto, Ontario is making a trek calling at Hong Kong; Kota Kinabalu, (Kinabalu National Park, Borneo) Malaysia; Kuching (Belum Rain Forest, Borneo) Malaysia; Kuala Lumpur (Malacca), Malaysia; Singapore and Bali (Ubud) with more Hong Kong for some at the end.

Excellent information about our stops are at WikiTravel Malaysia (overview) ; and for the stops below:
Kota Kinabalu         Hyatt Regency Hotel                       Kinabalu National Park
Kuching                  Pullman Hotel
Belum Rainforest     Belum Rainforest Resort
Kuala Lumpur         Renaissance Hotel 
Malacca                  Renaissance Hotel
Singapore               Orchard Hotel
Bali                         Nusa Dua Beach Hotel & Spa         Ubud
Hong Kong

Tuesday/Wednesday, September 13/14 - Getting There

Tuesday:It was a bit of a scramble getting ready, with things like the purchase of a new car distracting our attention!  But when the limo came to get us at 9:45pm, we were set to go.  We got to the airport well before the 3-hour mark for our 1:40 am flight, but there was already a long line of people, many of whom had several large boxes to take along.  Eventually, the plane was loaded and we left on time.

Photos 13 Sep

Wednesday, September 14
Sometime during the 15-hour flight we crossed the date line, so Wednesday more or less disappeared.  We had a very nice dinner at about 3am, then all returned to our dozing.  Unfortunately an hour or so later I awoke with severe nausea.  No airsick bag to be found!  So I headed for the kitchen area where 2 lovely young ladies plied me with hot water and lemons and brought me plastic bags to be sick in.  They gave Larry moist towelettes for my head and neck and I was able ( with difficulty ) to take a gravol.  In a half hour or so I was fine, thank goodness and slept for the next few hours.  These Cathay Pacific seats are pretty confortable, though sitting up isn’t my favourite sleeping position. Before we finished the flight, we had a “snack” of chicken noodle soup and then a hearty breakfast.  So we were well-fed, but 15 hours is just too long in the air non-stop!

Photos 14 Sep

Thursday, September 15 - Kota Kinabalu

Kota Kinabalu.  It was a relief to arrive at the Hong Kong airport at about 4:30am.  We easily made our way through the airport and 2 security checkpoints only to find that our gate was in an outlying terminal building and the buses weren’t running yet.  We were too weary to make out way back to the main concourse, so didn’t get coffee until about 7:15.  The rest of the Intrepids trickled in and we all boarded the Dragon Air plane for Kota Kinabalu.  It was about a 2 ½ hour flight and we had another breakfast.  At the airport in K.K. there was a very long line-up for immigration.  After about an hour everyone but Janet and Barry had appeared.  When they still hadn’t appeared after another 15 minutes, the search party was sent out.  Seemed there’d been an error on one of their forms and they were sent to the back of the line!  Eventually they got through, we all found our luggage, our guide and our bus and were on our way.  We checked into the Hyatt Regency and immediately slept for 2 hours or more.
The Intrepids gathered near the pool for drinks and a view of the sunset or the harbor.  Then we took the bus to a floating restaurant for a seafood dinner and some lively traditional dancing displays from various Borneo tribes.  Some of our group joined in the dancing and the blow pipe demo.  E-M was celebrating her 65th birthday so got to wear a sparkly tiara for the evening.  Finally back to the hotel and time for bed.

Photos 15 Sep

Friday, September 16 (Malaysian Independence Day) – Kota Kinabalu

Kota Kinabalu. After a great night’s sleep, we were among the first at the breakfast buffet. Nice spread and attentive service. After breakfast we strolled along the harbour-front and past a vast market area, enjoying watching the local commerce. It was already getting hot! I went for an early swim. I had the pool to myself.
Then we met up with the group for a city tour with our guide, Walter. We visited the former government building, which is a hanging building structure. Apparently its cables are unable to support the weight of modern office equipment so most of the offices have moved elsewhere. It’s a very interesting –looking place though. We all posed in some Orangutan photo-op things, and our wonderful driver repaired the bus’s AC which was on the futz. From there, we proceeded to the City Mosque, a beautiful building, surrounded by a pool of water. It has a blue dome and minarets and is truly impressive. Our next stop was a Chinese Hindu Temple, also very beautiful. There were some lovely gardens around it. The rest of the group also saw some smaller shrines but we had lost track and didn’t find them. Final stop of the morning was at a very interesting museum. We saw local tribal costumes and saw how they were made, as well as touring a traditional village.
Since this is Borneo – head-hunters land – the village included a “skull hut”. Our guide explained that the head-hunting originated with the villagers defending themselves against pirates. Apparently a head also formed part of most bridal prices. Back at the hotel, we enjoyed a delicious thin-crust, garlic-free, pizza. We checked in with the Intrepids lounging by the pool, but we were on a mission to find a source of potassium and had heard that the nearby shopping centre had everything. We wandered there for an hour or so – very crowded. A wide variety of shops, mostly small, from tailors to food stalls, Body Shop and Guardian Drugs. A huge “superstore” that was like a dollar store on steroids. Then it was time to relax and cool off for a while. Dinner was a Chinese meal, with unusual food and lots of good conversation and laughter. Back at the hotel, some folks went to the café for dessert, some to the bar, and others to their rooms to prepare for tomorrow’s early departure.
At about 10:15 we heard fireworks from our hotel room and realized that we had a perfect view from our window. It was a great show, that brought people onto the street below to watch. Super ending for Independence Day.

Photos 16 Sep

Saturday, September 17 – Kota Kinabalu, Kinabalu National Park

Kinabalu National Park. This was a big exercise day! We started with another great breakfast at the hotel, then boarded the bus for the trip to Mount Kinabalu. It’s about a 3-hour drive over very rough roads. Our first stop was a market area, for a bit of retail therapy. Really nice handicrafts.
At a roadside stop we had the opportunity to hike into the forest and see a Rafflesia plant in bloom. It is the largest “flower” in the world, according to our guide, but apparently, in reality it is a type of fungus. Not pretty, but impressive. The bloom lasts just about 5 days, with day 3 being prime. We saw one that was on day 3 so we were lucky. We saw another that was several days beyond that and it had subsided into brown sludge. The walk into the forest to see it was interesting though it felt somewhat risky. We crossed a couple of streams on bridges of bamboo poles, climbed downhill from slippery rock onto slipping rock and so on. But along the way were other flowers, and the peace of the forest (jungle) itself. Oh – and insects. Got a bite or two, so hoping they were benign.
Next was the Park area, where we had a look at the hot pools/bathes that were very crowded. It’s a long holiday weekend and everyone had their kids for an outing. (National Malaysia BD). It was fun to watch but didn’t appeal for ourselves. Several members of the group headed for the butterfly garden and the rest of us began the climb to the canopy walk. It was hot and humid and the climb was long and steep. We were pretty wrung out by the time we got to the beginning of the walkway. It was great to be up among the treetops and see the forest jungle from that perspective. We were a bit nervous about it, but everyone made it safely and enjoyed it.
Back down on solid ground we were more than happy to get on the bus and head to a restaurant for la late lunch. It was yet another Chinese meal, but tasty. The setting was beautiful, on the side of one of the lovely mountains, surrounded by tall, stately pines of various types and flower gardens with brilliant colour. Very peaceful and lovely.
As we drove along we could see many terraced fields. This is a vegetable farming area, where crops like cabbage thrive. So there were vegetable markets and handicraft markets along the road. Our views of Mount Kinabalu itself were mostly obscured by cloud, but we did get glimpses of the peaks now and then. Our last stop of the day was at the Botanical Gardens, a National Park, where we toured an enclosed area featuring many of the species of orchid that abound here. Some were nearly too tiny to see but many were very visible and lovely. We nearly missed it because the doors closed just a couple minutes before we arrived. However, Sally-Jo convinced the attendant to let us in briefly. Glad we didn’t miss it!
Then back to KK, to refresh ourselves at the hotel before going to dinner. (Happily we checked the window of our room at exactly the right moment to witness a gorgeous southern hemisphere sunset.) The restaurant was small and we ordered individually, so 22 people pretty much overwhelmed the small staff. Food was tasty, we got beer and it was nice, but it was late and we were very tired and happy to finish our meal and head to the hotel.

Photos 17 Sep

Sunday, September 18 – Kuching, Malaysia (Borneo)

Kuching, Malaysia.  Up pretty early for one last breakfast in KK (waffles for us today) and then our bus delivered us to the KK airport. At the airport we met an Australian couple with their new friend Koko, a huge-sie stuffed orangutan they bought (…to fill their empty nest). We all posed for photos then and when Koko was reposing in the overhead bin of our flight to Kuching.
On arrival there we were met by our new guide and driver and whisked off to the Pullman Hotel. After settling in we met to head out to Semenggoh Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. We were warned that this is not a zoo. The 25 or so animals are free to come and go and it is hoped they’ll return to the wild. However, food is put out for them twice a day and usually at least some come and enjoy it.
As it turned out, 9 of them Came! We watched them for about an hour before they all disappeared back into the forest. It was just amazing to watch them swinging through the trees and clambering along ropes. One pelted a covered bridge with coconut shells and other food debris. Another, carrying a baby clambered down and crossed through the area where people were standing, causing a scramble out of her way. Photos were difficult because of the lighting unfortunately.
We stopped at a pottery shop on the way back where people picked up souvenirs ( Larry and Jane couldn’t resist carved headhunters (with carved heads on their belts)).
Back at the hotel most of us went for a swim and drink by the pool. Dinner was Chinese (again!) but much more tasty and interesting than we’ve been having. Gail, Doris and I had our own special dishes, free of garlic, crab and MSG. Lots of variety and all good. At the next table a Chinese family was celebrating a birthday. They had an elaborate cake, with candles and sang Happy Birthday in English. We joined in the singing and I took over one of our CANADA buttons as a birthday gift. They sent back a plateful of small slices of cake for us. We were each given 2 cans of Tiger beer with dinner, but few people drank both. As a result, we left the restaurant with many cans of beer in purses and pockets.
Back at the hotel, some of the mini-bar fridges are not connected so we may need to round up some ice tomorrow (or carry them to our next stop). (There are rumours of a “Hall Party” tomorrow, an Intrepid tradition.)

Photos 18 Sep

Monday, September 19 – Kuching, Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia

Kuching, Sarawak.  We took off fairly early to get to the Sarawak Culture Village in good time. It was an interesting drive through lush vegetation and new housing estates. At the village, we toured several traditional homes – a long house on stilts, a Chinese farmhouse, a round building used for community and defence purposes. We had an opportunity to try a blow gun and some people did very well. People were practicing traditional crafts such as weaving and cooking, and we heard traditional music and dance. The village is in a lovely setting and it was pleasant walking around, though it became very hot. The morning ended with entertainment in the theatre – music and dancing for a series of the different tribes of Borneo, and a terrific comedy act by 2 young “warriors”. Then we had a large “lunch” before heading back into Kuching. We visited the Cat Museum ( Kuching is called the cat city – kucing without the h means cat in their language ) which was amusing, a Chinese temple, where Kenny explained some traditions to us and returned to the hotel. Since it was raining, we didn’t meet at the pool for a party as planned. Instead, the Wilkes had everyone to their room and we had a “hall party”. Our dinner was at a vast seafood place very near the hotel. Then we were “bad” and stopped at the dessert bar at the hotel for more that we didn’t need.

Photos 19 Sep

Tuesday, September 20 – Transit: Kuching to Belum Rainforest

Kuching to Belum Rainforest.  Travel day from Kuching, Borneo to the Belum Rainforest Resort at the north end of Peninsular Malaysia. We left the hotel by bus at 10am (with an almost immediate U-turn back to the hotel to empty a forgotten safe – not ours ). We had an uneventful flight to Kuala Lampur (KL) Airport, where we were met by our new guide, Rthyuan. He informed us that we had a 6-hour drive ahead of us and that we needed water, snacks, etc. We hit 2 airport stores for those necessities and were on the road about 3:30pm. Rthyuan pointed out the vast plantations of oil palms and explained their importance for vegetable oil production. He described the rubber industry and also the mining of tin. Both were key factors in the development of this area. Some mountains appeared to be chopped in half verticaly, where open mining occurred.
We stopped for a brief stretch and more stacks about halfway, then again for beer and wine in the last town before the Thai border, called Gerik.
On arrival at the lodge around 9:30, dinner was waiting for us. We enjoyed that and then fell into our beds. This is an eco-resort, much of it open-air. Very comfortable, but basic – though it does have free internet access which the 4/5 star hotels can’t seem to manage. We were just too tired to use it then but it was handy later.

Photos 20 Sep

Wednesday, September 21 – Belum Rainforest, Malaysia (near Thailand border)

Belum Rainforest.  We ARE Intrepid! Today was our big trek – bigger even than the canopy walk. Last night Cathy announce that we’d be doing reduced version of the excursion and many of us were disappointed. So it turned out, what we did was plenty.
At 10 o’clock we walked down to the docks and boarded 4 motorboats. We all got into our life-jackets and off we went down (or up?) the lake at high speed. We saw very few signs of life (except, of course, the trees of the rainforest) for the next 45 minutes. At one point there was a loud thump and our boat pitched wildly and stalled. Scary! Both Larry and I immediately looked for a hole in the bottom, but there was none and the driver got us going very quickly.
We beached the boats and started along a trail by the lake, climbing over logs and boulders, eventually coming to a long bridge (5 people at a time max) and then a large shelter. After a brief rest, we started climbing. After some time we came to an area with restrooms and large picnic shelters. We decided to leave our extra belongings there with the drivers while we continued climbing. At that point it became quite treacherous, steep and slippery. We forded the stream a few times on rather unsteady rocks. A few people slipped and got “soakers” and one person fell right into the stream. The rope handholds were slack and difficult. That all added to the fun! I think the several people who acquired leeches on their arms or legs didn’t that added to the fun, but Rthyuan was ready for it. He dripped citronella on the leech ‘till it dropped off, then put tobacco on the wound to stop the bleeding. Very effective and I’m told, painless.
Eventually we reached the lower falls, where several of us decided to stop, but quite a few continued to the upper falls. Very beautiful sight, in spectacular surroundings. After a while there, we climbed back down to the picnic shelters for lunch. By then we likely would have eaten anything, but what we got was delicious. Salmon sandwiches – crustless and 3 for each of us! A large piece of fried chicken, lots of bananas and apples and water. A feast!
Then the climb back down to the boats and the fast ride back. We were ready to hit the showers by then for sure! I suspect most of us had a nap before we gathered on the terrace for BYOB happy hour. Dinner was another delicious meal, and then we all dispersed to our rooms. What a great day!

Photos 21 Sep

Thursday, September 22 – Transit to Kuala Lumpur

Transit to Kuala Lumpur.  Another travel day, from Belum to Kuala Lumpur by bus. Beautiful scenery. We stopped to look at the Ubadiah Mosque and the Sultan Palace, both spectacular and part of the Sultan’s properties ( each province has a Sultan, like a king, head of state with no political power). Our lunch stop was at a service centre on the main highway – totally unlike any service centre in North America. There were many fruit stalls, other small food stall, coffee shops, and Both Baskin-Robbins and Dunkin Donuts. The washrooms were vast, clean and open-air. Very nice. Our highway planners could learn a lot from this.
At the Renaissance Hotel in K-L our check-in was smooth, rooms very nice and prices for everything much higher than we’ve seen. For instance in the room there is an electric kettle , but a 1-serving container of instant coffee is 12 Ringets or about $4.
We all met at a huge pool and enjoyed a refreshing swim. Many of our rooms look out toward the spectacular Petronas Twin Towers. Our evening meal was definitely the best yet, at Bijan. Beautifully presented –no lazy susan – and very testy. Attentive staff and beautiful décor.

Photos 22 Sep

Friday, September 23 – Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur.  Fabulous multi-national buffet for breakfast. Something for everyone, for sure. At 9 we set out for our city tour. It is a great city, with lots to see and do. At the King’s Palace, Istana Negara, we could only look through the fence since it’s only open 2 days a year for the public – Eid and the King’s birthday. We were able to pose with the guards. While Margo and I stood on each side of a mounted guard, the horse suddenly swung around and bit her. Luckily, it was through her blouse, so no direct contact with her skin. Shortly after, an Asian tourist was also bitten by the same horse. His companions immediately applied a traditional salve to his bite and gave some to Margo too.
Another stop was the National Monument, a dramatic, huge bronze statue in a beautiful setting. We walked and drove through a wonderful park, Perdana Botanical Garden, referred to as the “Green Lung of KL”. At the National Museum, Muzium Negara, we saw great exhibits representing the geological, social, military and political history of Malaysia.
At Dataran Square, Dataran Merdeka, we saw where the Independence Ceremonies took place at midnight Aug 31, 1957. We also admired the Royal Selangor Club (cricket) adjoining the square and the historic clocktower in the Sultan Abdul Samed Building across from it.
We saw many other sites as we drove – the National Mosque, the Jamek Mosque, the Petronus Twin Towers, the KL Railway Station, Menara KL Telecom tower. We ended at the Central Market, where we lunched at Old China Café. The surroundings there were very interesting – old furniture and screens, many lovely statues and other artwork. The food was excellent too – Chinese/Malay fusion. We then had about an hour to shop our way through the Market area. Nearly everyone bought something or other, big or small. Then back to the hotel for a rest and a swim in their great pool.
After a quick look at the Cocoa Boutique, we proceeded to the Saloma Theatre Restaurant for a (so-so) buffet dinner and a lively, colourful performance of several traditional Malaysian dances. The costumes were spectacular but the dancing was not near as good as we had seen on Borneo.

Photos 23 Sep

Saturday, September 24 – Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur.  This was a day on our own in KL. Different groups set off for different adventures. Some visited the Birds and Butterflies at Perdana Botanical Gardens, then moved on to Chinatown via the Central Market. Many of the rest of us, including Larry an me, walked to the Petronus Towers and explored the vast shopping mall there. We had intended to extend our explorations further afield but there was so much to see there we didn’t. Others took the subway to different points of interest. Everyone ended up at the pool sometime in the afternoon and a few also enjoyed massages at the hotel spa.
By 6:30 we were gathered in the lobby, dressed in our best (including, for some, beautiful new silk batik blouses) and ready to travel across town to dinner at the home of Dave and Cathy’s cousin Jeffery. His house is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen and very comfortable at the same time. Antiques, works of art, colour, exotic flowers and plants a lovely swimming pool. Breath-taking! He and Simon engaged a chef, Edwin, to prepare and serve a 14-course dinner! Each course was uniquely and beautifully presented. Our garlic-free versions were equally enticing. And lots of wine and beer and liquor. Great conversation. Our driver and Rithzuan had gone to the house with the bus earlier in the day to be sure they knew exactly where it was and where to park as it was a very tight but luxurious neighbourhood. So it was all as smooth as silk and a great experience. Bravo to all!!
Back at the hotel we discovered that our water had not been delivered (the room had not been made u today, so no water), nor was our launry back. We phoned the desk and the water arrived. The laundry came the next morning before we left so all was well. 

Photos 24 Sep

Sunday, September 25 – Kuala Lumpur to Melaka

Kuala Lumpur to Melaka.  We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast before boarding our bus for the drive to Melaka (Malacca). The tropical scenery is becoming very familiar so there was little new along the way, but Rithzuan entertained us with stories about golfing and higher education. His first job was as a caddy and he did well at that and got into the tour guide business as a result of his contacts. His eldest brother went to U of Texas at El Paso on a scholarship and didn’t come back to Malaysia for about 20 years. Meanwhile he travelled all over North America. He also explained to us that the arrows on our hotel ceilings are nothing to do with emergency exits – they point to Mecca.
When we arrived in Melaka we left the bus and walked through the busy crowded streets admiring the crafts, stopped at a Chinese Temple and went to a café for lunch and a beer. A bit of shopping went on. Then on up the hill to the St. Paul Church ruins from Portuguese times (16th century) and back to the bus. We checked into the Renaissance Hotel and headed for the pool. We are all always hot and sweaty and so welcome a dip in cool water.
Dinner at a nearby restaurant (Flavours – Nyonya Style) was very good. Lots of interesting dishes and a really interesting local dessert.
Afterward a group went in search of the night market, but found nothing to attract our attention. Frankly, it didn’t feel too safe out there and Larry and I got separated from the rest, so it was a great relief to get back to the hotel. 

Photos 25 Sep

Monday, September 26 – Malacca to Singapore

Malacca to Singapore.  The Renaissance Hotel in Malacca was not up to the standards of the other places we’ve stayed, but we had a pretty good breakfast. Then onto the bus for the trip to Singapore. We realized that it’s forbidden to take alcohol into Singapore, so at our lunch stop we had to ask Ruslan to unload some suitcases to take out the beer. We added it to the mix on the table at lunch. We had so much fun at lunch! It was a karaoke place and it turns out that Rithzuan is a terrific singer - particularly doing Loi8is Armstrong singing Wonderful World. So we sang and laughed and enjoyed a very tasty lunch. Unfortunately, when we came out we found that some vandal had keyed the back of the bus -- it seems to happen everywhere.
Crossing the border from Malaysia to Singapore went smoothly but was complex. First we went through the exit process for Malaysia, which meant our passports were carefully examined and stamped. Then back onto the bus for a couple of kilometres across a bridge to the Singapore entry point. There we had to take all our belongings from the bus. First we went through immigration, again a matter careful examination of our passports – hats off. Then onward to customs, where our bags went through security screening and so did we, just like at an airport. No problems for any of us, so back to the bus.
Singapore is an eye-popper! Very densely settled with a wide variety of architecture. A huge ferris wheel at the casino complex. Lots of traffic – every car has a transponder which tracks charges for every kilometer travelled on some streets. We also got several looks at the vast container port – the biggest one in the world and still expanding. Wouldn’t want to have to get something out of one of those bottom containers!
The hotel proved to be lovely, but sadly we had to say farewell to Rithzuan and Ruslan. They were a really terrific team and we had a great time touring with them. Once we checked in, we unpacked and headed for the pool. Only 8 of us were there, so others must have headed out to explore. We did a bit of that after a swim and a drink at the bar ( thought about a Singapore Sling but found they were made with gin!!!). Then a light supper in our room using some of the food we’ve been carrying.

Photos 26 Sep

Tuesday, September 27 – Singapore

Singapore.  We met our guide, Lawrence Ho, at 9:30 and set off on a city tour. We passed many landmarks such as Raffles Hotel, the “chopsticks” ware memorial, the one remaining hill in Singapore (the others have all been used for fill to extend the island but this one still has a war-time bunker in the middle), many temples, mosques and churches. There is not state religion, and everyone is judged on merit. There are no homeless and government policies ensure that everyone saves for retirement (20% by each + 20% by employer). Living is expensive and earnings are high.
[The overall impression of Singapore is rich, rich, rich. Skyscrapers are everywhere, streets are immaculate, cars are modern and never dirty while the people all look young and prosperous. The guide pointed out that the cost of car ownership is really high as the high taxes the cheapest car would be over $80,000 US and apartments are $5,000-$15,000 per month. High-end name brand stores are everywhere.]
We spent a while at the fascinating National Museum of Singapore, then a brief stop at the Asian Civilization Museum to get a feel for the Singapore River. Last on the tour was a “bum boat” ride around the harbour. Most of us decided not to go back to the hotel and ate in the harbour area. Then we walked back to the hotel getting a closer look at some landmarks. It was a long, hot walk, necessitating a stop at Coldstone Creamery for ice cream.
A refreshing swim revived us for the evening’s outing. That started with the Night Safari and the animal show and ended with dinner at Newton Circus. That’s quite the place! Hawkers competing for your dinner business, many people pushing and competing for table space. The food and beer were pretty good. Finally back to the hotel and rest.

Photos 27 Sep

Wednesday, September 28 – Singapore to Bali, Indonesia

Singapore to Bali.  Our last travel day as a large group. So we enjoyed breakfast and then hauled our ever-heavier luggage to the curb for loading into our bus. The trip to Changi Airport took about a half hour, so we had a last view of many parts of the Singapore island.
At Changi, Mr. Ho said goodbye and suggested that we check out the butterfly garden in the airport. Several people did that, others pooled their remaining Singapore coins to buy chocolate bars and some of us just settled in to read until time to board. It’s a lovely airport, bright and clean, quiet and efficient. Everyone is very polite and it was very smooth. Going through screening the attendant asked me to open my bag and told me what he was looking for. So easy – I could just show him. At most airports it’s forbidden to help find whatever the problem object is and the security attendants waste time looking through everything. Singapore is certainly an orderly place! Mr. Ho told us about innovations to prevent peeing in elevators and to protect the privacy of flat residents near the LRT lines. He explained the use of microchips to track library books and hospital equipment.
On take-off we could see many ships in the harbour, this being one of the largest ports in the world.
In Singapore English and Mandarin were chosen as the main languages for schools, since that gives a clear edge for international relations and trade.
The flight was uneventful and although the airport in Bali was chaotic, we eventually made our way out. An agent had met us with our entry visas, saving us the trouble of lining up for them. Our guide led us to the bus, and a young woman presented each of us with a lei of frangipani.
On the way to the hotel we saw a interesting, old, crowded town. We were told that most of the population here is Hindu and that is reflected in beautiful temples and statues along the way. The resort hotel is quite amazing! It is sprawled across a huge property with pool, ponds, a long white beach, lawns pavilions, and beautifully-decorated, comfortable rooms. From our balcony we could see what appeared to be preparations for a wedding on the lawn.
Our dinner was served on the lawn near the beach and was delicious and impeccably served.
Afterward most of us strolled along the beach walk and talked about what we plan to do for our four days here. 

Photos 28 Sep

Thursday, September 29 - Bali, Indonesia

Bali.  A leisure day – lots of time on the beach and around the pool. What a beautiful place this it! A long walk along the beach past several hotels and seeing a couple of crude temples on the islands. Later – drinks and dinner outside near the beach ( dark early near , but south of the equator).

Photos 29 Sep

Friday, September 30 - Bali, Indonesia

Bali.  Celebrating Sally-Jo’s birthday today. Early start for our excursion to Ubud. Amazing how crowded the roads are here. Every tiny space among the buses, vans and cars is filled with motor scooters. They whip in and out among the other vehicles. All the vehicles here are narrower, so we’re really packed into the seats on our bus. We also keep hitting our heads on low-hanging bits.
Our first stop was a handicraft market, with lots of very nice stuff at reasonable prices. That was where Larry and I discovered that we each thought the other had brought a credit card. We had only a small amount of cash. That reined us in!
The next stop was a silversmith’s with very lovely jewelry. I couldn’t go in for long because they were burning incense but I stayed long enough to admire the workmanship.
At a Hindu temple we donned temple sarongs and West gave us a tour explaining that it was nearly 1000 years old and giving us a brief explanation of the various shrines and associated practices.
Next on the itinerary was a woodcarving shop where the same family has been working for 75 years. They use many kinds of wood, local and imported for neighbouring islands, to carve a wide variety of things: large and small, simple and complex.
Last stop before the drive back was a small restaurant where we burned some cash from Maria-Angelica and had a drink.
[Janice ill and skipped dinner; Larry Substituting]
In the evening everyone was taken out to a nearby Balinese restaurant which specialized in Indonesian Rijstaffel style. It was quite different and very impressive. While hot and varied hors d’oeuvres were served, we were entertained by a band playing very sycophantic xylophone and drum music and tiny Balinese ladies in native costume performed traditional Balinese dances. There was following a performance by a young boy doing a warrior dance.
The main course was delicious, often spicy hot but very delicious. The evening was topped off with a birthday cake for Sally-Jo and much singing. We all shared in the cake.

Photos 30 Sep

Saturday, October 1 – Bali, Indonesia

Bali.  A dozen of us went snorkeling this morning. It was quite the adventure. A mini-van delivered us to the harbour in two loads; we signed away our first-born and boarded two small boats. Most of us had done a fair amount of snorkeling before and were fine, but a few who were less-experienced found it harder as conditions were less than ideal.
We did not get the kind of instruction and assistance we would have in North America. At least one person stayed on the boat. When it came to getting back to and into the boats it was far more challenging!
It took 2 strong men to heave me in [Larry included] and I landed on my back in the bottom of the boat with my feet waving in the air. I’m told it was quite a sight!
There were some fish, though not great schools of them, but interesting coral formations. We think the tide turned while we were out, because suddenly there were strong currents sweeping us away from the boats. So swimming back was a real challenge and we arrived tired. Then there were no ladders or platforms to climb out, just a curved slippery bulge in the boat and no hand-holds.
We also got a great kick out of watching the para-sailors, the banana boaters, and the people on “flying mattresses” -- all going in every direction across the crowded harbour. Para-sailors were taking off landing on the sand among vendors’ huts.
Eventually we landed, hosed off a bit and all piled into 1 load in the minivan (2 trips took us) to return to our peaceful, lovely hotel. There’s such a contrast between this resort area at Nusa Dua and everything else we’ve seen on the island.

Our farewell dinner at Jimbaran Bay was a real seafood feast! Our tables were set in the sand near the surf and cold drinks were served from a sailboat near our tables. The sail read "Exotic Intrepids Group". We watched the sunset and the kids playing in the surf. Many of us took off our shoes and stood at the edge of the ocean. The moon was a thin crescent above and we could see some stars.
There were two dance shows – one at the restaurant next store and one at ours. The food was abundant and good – we actually thought the platters were for sharing but they were individual! Prawns, mussels, lobster, calamari, scallops, steamed spinach, rice and lots of fruit. Wow!
Margo shared her poetic account of the trip. We stood in the sand sang: “Go Now In Peace”. Myna B asked for the personalized sail and carried it home.
On the bus, Sally-Jo thanked Cathy for all her work putting together this trip and read a poem to her from our poet laureate (how many travel groups have one of those!). Cathy thanked West and our driver. We all trouped into one of the bars to here the rest of Margo’s travelogue poem then dispersed.

Photos 1 Oct

Sunday, October 2 – Bali to Hong Kong

Bali to Hong Kong.  We slept in, so were at breakfast with some of our group. Then we wandered the grounds for a couple of hours, packed up and got on the bus, after lingering farewells with the 13 who were going on to Ubud.
Plunging into the absolute chaos that is Denpasar Airport, we were most grateful for the services of our agent. We learned that there was an exit tax of 150,000 Rupiah ($16), payable in local currency, so had to line up to change money. Next we lined up to check in for our flight. Then our agent processed our exit tax for us, bypassing that line-up. Next was the immigration line, then security. We were then free to roam the concourse for an hour or so. We, the Watts and the Wilkins had a drink and snack with our left over funds. Then through one last security check and we were into the boarding area, when we finally lined up to board our flight.
On board, few were told that a typhoon hit the Philippines yesterday causing a list of problems and that we might hit some part of it as we crossed the South China Sea. The flight was delayed by air traffic control who didn’t like the flight plan apparently. Eventually we took off somewhat behind schedule. We hit a few patches of turbulence but otherwise the flight to Hong Kong was uneventful.
We hopped ito a cab to our hotel, saying goodbye to Glenda, Barb, Dave, Margo and Mike. Our cab was so speedy we thought we might have gotten to our Kowloon hotel before they got to the airport one! Nice hotel, good to be on the “Club Floor” where we’re pampered royally.

Photos 2 Oct

Monday, October 3 – Hong Kong

Hong Kong.  After breakfast and poring over some brochures, our first order of business was to book a city tour. We’d gotten a notice in our room of the typhoon watch, Level 3, but weren’t sure what it meant. Turned out that some things shut down at that level, such as the cable cars, so those attractions are off the table. On the advice of the travel adviser at the hotel, we walked to the nearest metro station and bough Octopus cards, good on all public transit and in some stores ( eg 711). Then we walked to the Star Ferry terminal and rode the ferry to the HK side, walked around, then took the ferry back to Kowloon. The return trip was a bit rough (typhoon??).
After picnicking in our room, we caught the 1pm city tour. Our guide, Luna, was lively and good. She took us first to a Chinese Temple, where she explained the method of worship and the significance of what we saw. We took the tram to the Peak. What a line up!! Luckily, tours get priority. The view was somewhat obscured by mist; it was chilly and windy, but still a great experience.
The Aberdeen Fishing Village was quite astounding and perhaps the high point. We boarded a sampan and cruised past some huge private yachts and the world’s biggest floating restaurant, before coming to the “village” itself – dozens of fishing boats anchored in the harbour with families living aboard. I’m not sure why, maybe taxes, but some never come ashore.
Our last stop was the Stanley Market, and since it was raining a little and chilly we didn’t enjoy it much. Back at the hotel we ate a burger (a great one) in the coffee shop and called it a day. 

Photos 3 Oct

Tuesday, October 4 – Hong Kong

Hong Kong.  Totally on our own in Hong Kong today so we needed to get oriented! At breakfast our waiter enquired about our plans. We told him that if the cable cars were running, we’d like to see the Giant Buddha, so he offered to find out. When he confirmed that they were running, he gave us ver clear directions, so off we went on the subway – smooth as silk. It’s a great system, easy to understand and navigate. It took close to an hour, but we got there. Then we plunged into confusion – do we have to buy tickets at the entrance to the line-up or can we join it with not tickets?? What are all these weird other options like Crystal Carriage, Fishing Villages? Yikes! Do we need cash for yet another ticket? And do we have enough HK$. An hour or so in line with no answers, eventually at the next ticket booth we had to exchange the tickets we’d bought for other ones and found that for what we wanted to do that was all we needed. Phew! It was a short wait for the cable car (much longer for those who took the “Crystal Option” (i.e. glass floor in gondola) and then magnificent views for about 30 minutes as we made our way to the peak on Lantau Island. For the last 8 minutes or so we could see the Buddha looming.
It’s quite beautiful, and huge. We walked through the village – which bore some resemblance to a midway – and looked up at the Buddha from the foot of the path (which we didn’t climb) then toured the temple adjacent to it. By then it was time for a late lunch so we got a submarine sandwich (yes a regular “Subway”) and some gelato.
Then we caught a bus back to the subway station – a precipitous ride. We took the subway to Central Hong Kong and then walked to the big escalator, which we rode up a many levels to Soho. By then we needed to stop for a drink before we walked on overhead walkways back to the Star ferry terminal, onto a boat and back to Kowloon.
We walked to our hotel (Marco Polo Gateway) through the vast Harbour City shopping centre. We ran into a couple from Leads England whom we’d met yesterday on our tour. They’d been to old HK and found it a big contrast to where we were standing in Harbour City then a bit of down time.
We had a drink and snacks in the Club Lounge of the hotel (nice to be pampered), then strolled to the waterfront to watch the symphony of lights. It’s interesting, but not spectacular. Fun to be out with the crowds, though. We wandered around the streets and through the complex, looking for somewhere to get a very light snack, and finally settled on a little café. Then back to our room for our last night. A Really good day!

Photos 4 Oct

Wednesday, October 5 - Hong Kong and Home

Hong Kong and Home.  With just a few hours left to explore Hong Kong, we headed out to see how much we could deplete our Octopus cards.
First, of course, was a ride on the Star Ferry to Central Hong Kong. From there we found our way to the tram lines on Queen/Hennessey and hopped aboard. We rode to Victoria Park, then got on the subway back to Kowloon Park near our hotel. We roamed around there, enjoying some singing and dancing [ I think it was a "flash" event. ] and watching the birds ( Flamingos ), then back to our hotel to pack.
We were ready and out the door in plenty of time and with little traffic, got to the airport in time for a quick meal before our flight was called.
Although we booked an aisle and middle seat, we ended up in 2 aisles, with an empty seat between us. [ Yesssss!!!! ] Bonus!, Lots more comfortable for a 15 hour flight!

Photos 5 Oct