Krazy about Kuching: Top Things to See and Do (mostly) for the Nature-Lover!

When I told friends and family that my next adventure was to Kuching, Sarawark, East Malaysia, Borneo, they inevitably responded with:

“Kuching? But why? What’s in Kuching?”

The answer I gave them then was ORANGUTANS!! But the real answer is SO MUCH MORE!

I don’t know how long I initially intended to spend there, but I ended up staying for almost two weeks – Kuching really captured my heart.

 

A bit of background about Kuching. It’s the capital of Sarawak, an East Malaysian state on the island of Borneo. It’s a quaint little city, with delicious food options (Sarawak Laksa and Kolo Mee being the more famous), and a wonderful, laid-back feel. I definitely did not feel like I was in Malaysia at all, and the locals I met were super friendly. There were also a decent cafes (with WiFi!) and several bars to hang out at, if you fancy a drink. My hostel was also pretty great and had all the necessary information for getting around Kuching. Another thing that makes Kuching so special is that there are several major national parks within an hour or two’s distance from Kuching, so it’s the perfect little base for your trip. Here are some of the highlights of my trip – maybe you’ll be inspired to visit this gem of a city too!

 

Semmengoh Nature Reserve

Despite being top of my list, visiting Semmengoh Nature Reserve was oddly enough, the last major activity I did during my stay in Kuching, but it was a good half-day excursion. Orangutans are rare apes only found in the jungles of Borneo and Sumatra, and this is one of the few places to see semi-wild orangutans at relatively close range.

 

Easy enough to get to by public transport – simply catch 7am from the bus terminal at the Mosque to get there in time for the 9am feeding session. We arrived slightly after 8am and it’s a 15min walk to the feeding area where we got briefed by the keepers before they started calling for the orangutans. We were lucky enough to see a large male (he was massive), a juvenile, and a mother and her newborn infant (only a few days old).  These were semi-wild orangutans, having been released into the wild after years of rehabilitated at the center. It was a pretty amazing sight.

 

The entrance fee is only 10RM for non-Malaysians, and for 200RM you can sponsor / adopt one of the orangutans in rehab. The park is open from 8-10am and 2-4pm, with feedings at 9am and 3pm. There are some trails within the park, but most were closed when I visited.

 

 

Bako National Park

Bako National Park is one of the key attractions to visit if you’re ever in Sarawak or Kuching. The smallest and oldest national park in Sarawak, it’s one of the few places to see proboscis monkeys, bearded pigs, silver leaf languors and other flora and fauna endemic to the region.

Getting to the park on your own is doable – clearly marked public buses leave from Open Air Tower Market from 7am onwards and drop you right at the dock where you have to sign in / pay for the return boat trip (40RM round trip) and conservation fee (20RM). From there, it’s another 30 minutes in the boat before arriving at the National Park.

 

We were lucky enough to spot some proboscis monkeys right away – one even jumped off the tree he was sitting on and went for a swim! Such funny creatures, with their giant noses, pot-bellies and white bums.

 

 

There are plenty of trails in Bako that can be walked with relative ease – ask for a map at the Visitor Center, and they’ll even recommend a few depending on what you’re interested in. Some of the views overlooking the sea stacks and the beach are quite spectacular.

 

 

 

 

I stayed the night at the hostel in the park – accommodation is pretty basic, but there are no other alternatives. Besides, for one night, it was manageable (I met a girl who was staying for FIVE nights, so imagine that). Food and drinks are available at the park for a reasonable price.

 

If you stay the night, there is an option to go on a guided night walk (RM10) to try to spot some creatures that aren’t easily spotted in the day. We weren’t very lucky, and only saw a few spiders, frogs, and stick insects.

 

 

I also got a chance to see the silver leaf languor, the bearded pig (and piglets) and a green pit viper so it was well worth the effort.

 

 

 

 

There are a couple of beaches at Bako, but swimming is strongly discouraged due to the presence of crocodiles, so swim at your own risk.

 

Gunung Gading National Park

 

Home of the elusive, world’s largest flower – the rafflesia. Apparently, it has never been successfully cultivated out of the wild, so your only chance of seeing it is in the wild in one of four countries: Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia. It also takes 8-9 months to bloom, and the bloom lasts a mere 4-5 days before dying, so catching a glimpse of this rare flower is a lucky treat indeed.

 

My hostel staff kindly informed me that there was a rafflesia flower in bloom while I was in Kuching, so obviously I had to go see it. The national park is quite some distance away from the city (about 2hours by public bus) and buses leave from Kuching Sentral (the bus station out of the city) at 7.30am or 10am and cost 12RM, check what time the buses return with the bus drivers.

The rafflesia I got a chance to see wasn’t the biggest, measuring 50cm across (only!), but was such a delightful, curious and strange flower! And no, it did not smell like a corpse. Neither I nor a couple of the other people around at the time could smell anything.

 

Gunung Gading is also worth a visit, even if the rafflesia isn’t in bloom – there is a trail leading to three waterfalls along the way, and then up to the summit. It was raining on the day I was there, so I only went up to the waterfalls, and not to the summit (good thing too – the trail was quite muddy, steep and slippery), but it was a good hike!

 

 

 

Matang Wildlife Center and Kubah National Park

 

Matang Wildlife Center receives some flack and bad publicity on the internet (read: Tripadvisor reviews), so it was a bit of a toss up for me about whether to go or not. I decided to go in the end, because I had company (a guy I met at my hostel was really eager to go) and well…

 

So Matang is a rehabilitation center for wildlife that has been rescued, and houses some pretty rare species of animals that you’d be unlikely to ever set eyes on otherwise – clouded leopard, binturong, Bornean gibbons, porcupines, as well as orangutans, sunbears and hornbills. But obviously, Matang receives far more animals than they have resources to care for, which leads to rather sad conditions for the animals there. This wildlife center does not receive much funding: partially because the state doesn’t have enough resources, and partially because Matang isn’t part of the tourist circuit both because of poor accessibility and bad press.

 

The result of all of this is – some of the animals are kept in cages, sometimes far too small for them, and while we visited, some of the animals did seem distressed and agitated at being kept in such confines. That said, I still think Matang deserves more credit than it’s given – there is some information about the situation of some of the animals before they were rescued and some of them were really heartbreaking. Orangutans that had been kept chained to a toilet bowl, gibbons and sun bears kept as “pets”, a crocodile kept in a box so small that its snout started growing upwards and remains permanently turned up at a horrific angle. Given the conditions that they came from, their situation at Matang, while not ideal, is far better. We also saw few keepers and staff at the wildlife center – I imagine the current staff (and volunteers) are doing the best they can with the resources they have, and I commend them for their work. Read more about volunteering at Matang here.

 

 

So there’s no public transport that goes to Matang Wildlife Center – your best bet is a Grab taxi (about 30ish RM), and go early so you can kinda get the place to yourself (although I doubt it ever gets crowded). Conservation fee is 20RM. After visiting the animal exhibits (we spent about an hour or so), we decided to do the hike over to Kubah National Park.

It was about 2-3hours of sweaty jungle walking, and we did have a minor leech incident at one point, but the trail is clearly marked, and wasn’t too difficult. Leave your information with the rangers – they can call ahead to the rangers at Kubah to tell them to expect your arrival. Bring plenty of water – there’s nowhere to buy water along the way. There’s a fantastic little viewpoint almost at the end of the trail where you have a spectacular view of the sea, rivers and mountains of Sarawak all laid out before you.

 

From Kubah National Park, there are other trails that you can walk (including one to Frog Pond/ Lake) but we didn’t do any of the other trails. There are public buses passing the entrance of Kubah National Park heading back to Kuching (I think the last bus is as 2 or 3pm), or alternatively, a Grab taxi back will set you back about 20RM.

Fairy Cave and Wind Cave in Bau Town

The first “tourist attraction” I visited in Kuching, and it’s an attraction most people skip unless they have a bunch of time. And fair enough, if you’ve visited other caves elsewhere, these may be a bit underwhelming, but it was still a nice journey for me there and back to explore a bit of the more rural bits of Sarawak.

Getting there is not particularly easy – public buses to Bau (pronounced ba-ooh, 2 syllables) Town leave from the Mosque (Masjid) Bus Terminal, but the schedule is erratic and difficult to predict. It takes at least 1.5hrs to get there from Kuching, so leave early because otherwise you won’t be able to make the connecting bus service to the caves, which is what happened to me.

I arrived in Bau Town only to be told that the bus to the caves had just left, and the next one wouldn’t leave me enough time to wander around, and to take a taxi. I couldn’t find any taxis unfortunately, so I started walking (Fairy Cave is about 12km away from Bau Town, Wind Cave maybe about 2-3km) and trying to hitchhike. Got picked up by a lovely gentleman who gave me a ride to Fairy Cave, and ended up driving me back to Bau from Wind Cave as well at the end of my exploring. I hitched a ride from a Chinese family from Fairy Cave to Wind Cave, since they were headed in the same direction.

So the caves themselves:
Fairy Cave – involves a walk up a bunch of stairs (165 of them?) to the entrance of the cave, and a bit of climbing up some dark bits, but the cave itself is big, bright and well lit with tonnes of natural light. I was told you can climb out of the cave to get to “the top” somewhere, but didn’t think it was a good idea to attempt that on my own. If you have a flashlight, you can explore further into the cave (it gets dark pretty quick), but again, I wouldn’t advise doing this alone. Entrance fee: 5RM.

 

 

 

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Quite massive – viewing platform in the middle for scale.

 

Wind Cave – not sure why it’s named as such; should be called Bat Cave or Swiftlet Cave instead. It’s completely dark inside, so a flashlight is a must. Wear a hat, because bats and swiftlets are plentiful and likely to poop on your head. Speaking of which, the whole place smells like guano, a fancy name for bat droppings. Walking in the cave is very easy – simply follow the board walk within the cave and you can’t get lost. What’s more interesting in this cave is the sounds, and if you can manage it – turn off your lights and stand for a couple of minutes in complete darkness listening to the bats and swiftlets. It’s quite eerie. Entrance fee: 5RM

 

I would probably not recommend the caves if you’ve a) been to other caves in your life, b) don’t have private transport and don’t fancy having to wait around ages for buses and possibly not ever get to the caves. Be sure to check the bus timings for buses leaving Bau Town to Kuching – if you’re too late, you may find yourself stranded in Bau for the night.

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If you get stranded, you can check out Tasik Biru, a toxic lake in Bau Town, the result of mining activities. Not sure if you get superpowers from swimming in it.

 

Other Attractions in and around Kuching

Kuching Cat Museum

Housed in a strangely shaped building (not of a cat), this museum has a bunch (over 4000) exhibits on…Cats. Kuching is known as the city of cats (Kuching means cat in Malay), but it isn’t actually true that the city of cats. Locals tell me the name Kuching either comes from the trade of the fruit mata kuching, a longan/lychee-type fruit that used to be grown in that area, or the old word cochin which means port. Anyways. Cats galore in this (free!) museum – fyi, no live cats. There was also a separate exhibit about the history of Kuching, which was interesting to learn more about the local history.

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This is Cat Statue #1 – I think there are 4 in an around Kuching.

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Cats in the cat museum

Mt. Santubong 

Didn’t manage to do this, but it seems really cool. Climbing it is meant to be more difficult / technical than Mt Kinabalu, so how’s that for a challenge. Something to try out when I go back to Kuching.

Museums, temples, cafes and nightlife

There are a bunch of museums, temples and cafes in Kuching downtown area. I didn’t visit any of the museums (apart from the Cat Museum), but some good cafes/ restaurants are Museum Cafe, Kai Joo Cafe, Indah House Kuching, and Borneo Delights. The nightlife is a bit lacking in Kuching, but Carpenter street, or Jalan Green Hill are your best bets for some evening drinks and possibly even hardcore partying (I didn’t attempt this). The Waterfront is also always worth an evening stroll to take in the local vibe, and there may even be some live music performances going on.

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View from the waterfront

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Chinatown, and the gateway to Carpenter Street

And that’s about all I have to say about Kuching, which was quite a lot. Hope this handy-dandy guide has been useful in helping you plan your trip to Kuching, or just convinced you that there is actually something to do in Kuching! I’d love to hear about some of your favorite places in Kuching too, so leave a comment! (:

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Sarawak Laksa – Delicious, but I still prefer Singapore Laksa.

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The Pink Mosque, landmark in so many of my Kuching adventures.

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First Post of 2018?!

Just to announce that I’m off to Borneo this evening!

“Borneo? Why, of all places, Borneo?” is a common reaction I’ve gotten. Specifically, people express incredulity that I’m actually going to Kuching, of all places.

I don’t know what Kuching did to inspire such disbelief in people, but my honest answer is – I don’t know why I’m going to Kuching. I don’t know what there is there (other than Orang Utans), and I don’t know what I will do there, but I do know that a) I haven’t been there before, and b) there’s no real reason not to go.

To be frank though, I kinda hope Kuching doesn’t have much going on. I need some time and space to think. As much as I enjoy being back in Singapore and seeing all my family and friends, it does feel very overwhelming after a while. Which is why I left in the first place, I suppose.

Life in Singapore is too busy. When I’m here, I’m worrying about my mum, and helping around the house. Or spending time with my two nieces who are growing up way too fast. Or catching up with old friends. Or running errands and doing shitty admin stuff like dealing with my bank. Or fretting that I’m not making enough money and that I’m wasting my time enjoying it.

The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time. – Bertrand Russell

But here, I feel like I can’t enjoy my time at all, fearing that I’m wasting it all because I’m not spending it in frantic pursuit of…something, anything.

When I’m travelling, and I tell people I meet that I work for about 3hours a day, and then get to spend the rest of my time travelling / sightseeing / wandering around aimlessly / doing nothing / enjoying like, they almost inevitably enthuse about how incredible it is that I only have to work so little to support my lifestyle. But here? If I told anybody that, they’d probably be confused, and worried about my mental health. “But why don’t you work more? Then you can earn more and buy a car / buy a house / retire earlier.”

What’s the point of that? Why can’t I earn enough and be happy, enjoying myself now? Why put off my current enjoyment for some promised day far in the future, with no guarantee that I’ll be around and in good enough health to enjoy it? Is that selfish of me? Does that make me immature?

I don’t think so. I believe the life I have chosen for myself works for me. It may not work for anyone else, but it’s my life and I should be free to live it as I please. But here, I feel constantly judged, and it is easy to start falling prey to the “wisdom” that is preached here.

Which brings me back to Kuching, Borneo. If nothing else, it’ll be a chance for me to get back to feeling like myself. The person who knows what she wants, and is doing what she needs to to live her best life. It was nice to be back, but now, (as always), I’m ready to get back on the road and see what other adventures the world has to offer!

Catch you guys on the flip side. xx

Gooooooood Morning, Vietnam!

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View on the Kon Tum – Dak To Loop

It’s been about two and a half weeks that I’ve been in Vietnam and while it hasn’t worked out quite like I’d planned, it’s still been one hell of a ride.

So the original plan was for me to meet Stefano, an Italian guy I met in Cambodia, and his Belgian friend Jasper, in Ho Chi Minh City, buy motorbikes (somehow learn how to ride them), and then road-trip all the way up to Hanoi. The first part of that worked out quite week – meeting the boys. The motorbikes, not so much. Firstly, it was hard to find bikes at all in HCMC – for some reason most people were selling in Hanoi, not HCMC. Secondly, I had a go on a motorbike in HCMC and it was quite a terrifying experience because I was terrified of running pedestrians over (the guy brought us to a tiny open space outside a mall on a busy Saturday afternoon and said Okay, practice here). Thirdly, we worked out our journey / itinerary from HCMC to Hanoi, and realized there was a shit ton of stuff to see and do on the way.

Long story short, the two boys bought their bikes, and I decided to take the bus from city to city and meet up with them at various places. Between biking for 5-8 hours a day, sightseeing and having to work 2-4 hours a day, it just didn’t seem like I would have enough time to do everything at once. So this was my happy compromise. TBH, I was pretty disappointed at not being able to bike the length of Vietnam, but well, we can’t always have what we want, eh?

Anyway, so we set off from HCMC – First stop: Mui Ne, a coastal fishing town, famous for its sand dunes, me on my bus and the boys on their bikes.

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First glimpse of Mui Ne

It was a nice little town, and we stayed at a super nice resort for backpacker prices – Mui Ne Hills Budget Hotel. For USD 2, we had a bed in a swanky dorm, and access to not one, but two resort-level swimming pools, and an amazing view. It was a really nice place, especially for the price we paid.

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One of two pools, and a gorgeous sunset to boot.

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Amazing sunset in Mui Ne

We went to check out Fairy Stream, a nice little stream you can walk along, with some pretty cool rock formations to look at along the way. You arrive at a little waterfall at the end, which is a little underwhelming, but it was a refreshing stroll anyway. After that, it was off to the Red Sand Dunes, which just looked like regular sand dunes IMHO. It was a nice walk, but we didn’t rent the 4×4 (which seemed ridiculously expensive) so it was pretty meh.

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Fairy Stream – a refreshing walk

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Slightly disappointing waterfall

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Very average red sand dunes

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My biker friends and me, the selfie-taking pillion rider

Next stop after Mui Ne was Dalat. This was our first foray into the highlands of Vietnam.  At an elevation of 1500m or so, the weather was meant to be much cooler, so we were looking forward to it as a respite from the blistering heat of Mui Ne and HCMC.

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Highlands mountains!

On the recommendation of a fellow traveller, we checked into SoLo DaLat Hostel – for 65k dong (less than 3USD), we got a bed in a dorm, free homemade dinner and breakfast! Definitely the best value we’ve had on our trip so far. Da Lat is actually a really nice city that I enjoyed tremendously. The weather was lovely, if a bit cold at night, but still fantastic for wandering around town and the surroundings at a very comfortable temperature. We decided to skip canyoning (at USD55, it seemed a bit much), but went to chase a couple of waterfalls on our own, with Toni, a Spanish guy, and a Canadian couple. The waterfalls were pretty beautiful, but off limits for swimming, so that was disappointing. Da Lat is also famous for its field of pink grass, but when we arrived, even though it was peak pink grass season, the grass was nowhere as pink as it was made out to be in pictures. The highlight of our time in Da Lat may have been an amazing fresh strawberry smoothie we had at a random strawberry farm along the way. If you’re in Da Lat, I’d also recommend checking out Maze Bar/ Cafe – it’s a labyrinth of rooms and doors and spaces and very trippy, but very fun.

The weather forecast predicted rain along the coast, so we changed our original plan from Da Lat – Nha Trang to Da Lat – Buon Ma Thuot, a city in the highlands that supposedly had some waterfalls to check out. Toni decided to tag along, so the four of us arrived in BMT, a random city where people don’t usually go. It turned out to be a fantastic time – we met a Vietnamese lady with a cafe by our hostel, who happened to teach English, and was thrilled about having foreigners for her students to practice English with.

We ended up hanging out with the students for most of our time in BMT, and they gave us a taste of Vietnamese hospitality, by accompanying us to the waterfall, and coffee museum, and generally being quite delightful.

Kon Tum was up next on the highlands road, a real Vietnamese city where hardly any tourists visited. I had my first taste of proper motorcycling (on an automatic bike, to be fair) on a 100km loop around Kon Tum, and Dak To, places where important battles were fought during the Vietnam War, and home to some ethnic minority villages. It was probably not the easiest route for my virgin motorbiking journey, but boy, the views were stunning. 10/10 would recommend!

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Traditional rong house in an ethnic minority village

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War memorial of the Vietnam war – Kon Tum / Dak To was one of the places where some fierce battles took place to gain control of the Central Highlands.

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Dirt roads and empty fields. More scenic than it looks here.

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Sifting the rice to remove bigger bits of debris.

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The Virgin Mary at the local monastery, depicted here in traditional garb of the ethnic minority, carrying a typical rattan basket.

Our next stop, Hoi An, deserves a post of its own, but I can’t be arsed, so more words and more pictures here. The road between Kon Tum and Hoi An (somewhere in between) is where Stefano crashed into a cow and bruised some ribs, so Hoi An was a lot of taking it easy, and chilling, which was easy to do in a town as lovely as Hoi An.

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When in Hoi An, get a suit made. And get a suit made here! Because this lady, Kim Lien, is super nice and helped us (Stefano of the bruised ribs) tonnes at the hospital, and her suits were spectacular, as you can see here.

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Banh Mi of Anthony Bourdain fame really lived up to the hype. *drool*

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Mi Quang, a traditional dish only found in this region.

Truly a city of lanterns, it was quite a magical place. Lanterns everywhere, and a lot of the architecture preserved from 200 years ago. Definitely deserving of its UNESCO Heritage Site status, its charms are best enjoyed on foot or by bicycle. We were also lucky enough to be there in time for the monthly Lantern Festival, which lent a different feel to the whole place. Probably my one of my favorite places in Vietnam. My pictures are quite meh, so if you want some really gorgeous pictures, check out my photographer friend Jeff’s album.

And that brings us up to speed to Hue, from where I am currently writing this. If Hoi An is the city of lanterns, Hue should be called the city of rain. It apparently has pretty shitty weather all year round, but this lends itself perfectly to the endless consumption of Bun Bo Hue, a hearty beef noodle soup that hits all the right spots on cold, rainy days. We didn’t let the rain dampen our spirits though (okay maybe just a little) – we wandered around the Imperial Citadel on our first afternoon here, which was blissfully empty(ish) thanks to the ceaseless rain. The second day was my second time on a scooter (woohoo!) dealing with the rain, slippery roads and city traffic to visit an abandoned water park, American bunkers from the war, and various temples, tombs and pagodas scattered around the city.

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Slides, amidst an overgrown jungle.

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Abandoned amphitheater

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Unnamed, unidentified American bunkers from the Vietnam war. Our guide was stationed here for 2 months during the war, but this place doesn’t exist on Google Maps.

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Art installation at the war cemetary

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Thien Mu Pagoda, a seven-storied pagoda that is the unofficial symbol of the city of Hue

It’s all been a pretty incredible adventure so far, and while it’s not really what I would have done if I’d been here on my own, I’m glad it’s worked out just the way it has so far. Special shout out to my bike buddies Stefano and Jasper – thanks for making this journey so far pretty damn awesome and for all the bowls of Bun and Pho and Banh Mi we’ve shared!

Stay tuned for the next blog post about… who knows what. Watch this space!

A Month of Meet Ups

A month has gone by, some times quickly, some times fast, but here we are now. In about 12 or so hours, I’ll be on my flight out of here – first stop: Vietnam, and who knows where to after that.

The past month in Singapore has been a pretty wonderful time, meeting up with family and friends. It has been nice to catch up with friends I haven’t seen in a while (but not that long, by my standards) and get to know my favorite nieces again.

I guess that even if I never do end up living in Singapore, I will be back again and again. Because this is where my family is, and these are were (some) of my friends are. And you can travel all over the world, but there’s nothing quite like being amongst people who have seen you at your worst, and still love and care for you like you’re the best thing ever.

So thank you: To all of you who took time out of your very busy schedules (I know how insanely busy Singaporeans are) to hang out with me, and chat, and show that you cared. Much love to all of you featured below, and some of you I didn’t manage to get pictures with. Thank you for making Singapore worth coming back for.

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Also, if you’re wondering why almost every single picture features some sort of food – it’s because in my family (and probably in all of Singapore) food = love. ❤

So that’s that for Singapore. It’s off to Vietnam tomorrow, to celebrate my fourth year on the road! Crazy to think that exactly FOUR YEARS AGO to the date, I boarded a plane with a one way ticket, and no idea what I would do. To be honest, nothing much has changed, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Honestly though, I’ve visited 22 countries (I think), forged countless friendships, and made memories I will treasure for as long as I have my mental faculties. There were ups, and downs, and difficult times, but it has made all the great moments even sweeter. And I think the future can only get better.

Well, I think I still have to pack and shit, so I’ll just end off with…

Happy 4th Anniversary to me! And safe travels everyone!

Working Online Is Great. Until It’s Not.

Every time I have to deal with banks, or Paypal, or any financial institute, I am reminded of how frustrating it can be to work online, or be a “digital nomad”.

DBS Paypal

Current banes of my life.

Begin: Rant about current frustration.

Let’s start with the basic facts:

  1. I am a Singaporean. I basically don’t live in Singapore, but my registered address is my parents’ house in Singapore.
  2. My bank accounts are Singaporean – DBS and Citibank, because I can’t really open up a bank account anywhere else with proof of residency in that country, and besides, I move from country to country so often, what would be the point anyway.
  3. I work online, teaching English on a variety of platforms, and doing copywriting for a company that produces podcasts. I get paid for all of my work in USD, via Paypal.
  4. I’m constantly on the move, and am more often than not, in places where the currency used is USD, or I can withdraw USD from local ATMs to exchange into the local currency.

Here begins my problem.

Obviously, since I earn in USD, and spend in USD, it makes sense for me to keep my money in USD, right? Except… I can’t get money directly out of my Paypal account – I have to withdraw it to a bank account first.

The solution seems easy. Open a Multi-currency account with my Singaporean bank (which allows you to maintain balances in various currencies including USD), and withdraw directly from Paypal in USD to my bank account in USD. Simple, right? Wrong.

That’s exactly what I tried to do today. I opened a Multi Currency Account with DBS and set everything up. Then, I tried to withdraw from Paypal to this new account. Except on the Paypal withdrawal page, something seemed odd.

Withdrawal amount: 200 USD
Converted Amount: 265.78 SGD
Conversion Rate: 1 USD = 1.328925 SGD

Hang on a second. Why is there a currency conversion thing going on?? I’m withdrawing in USD to an account in USD. It can’t be that ridiculous that they’re converting my USD to SGD and then converting it back to USD again to deposit in my account, right? To be sure, I called Paypal.

After much back and forth, this is what I gathered.

Paypal only allows you to to withdraw from Paypal to your bank in the bank’s local currency. It doesn’t matter what currency your bank account is in. If you’re withdrawing to a bank that’s based in Singapore (whether it’s a local bank like DBS or a global bank like Citibank or HSBC), you have to withdraw in SGD.

So basically, to get access to any of the money I’ve earned, all of which is currently in USD, I always have to convert it first to SGD and then back to some other currency such as (usually, and most likely) USD.

Apparently quite a few people have complained about this, but Paypal can’t be arsed to do anything about it. Thanks a lot, Paypal.

Somebody is making money out of this, and it sure as hell isn’t me.

So frustrated. So now I have this stupid Multi-Currency Account which I have to maintain a 3000 SGD balance in, or pay a 7.50 SGD fee per month, which is waived as long as I am under 29. Except I apparently turn 29 on Jan 01, 2018 because they do the math according to birth year instead of birth date. So although I won’t be 29 for another 8 months in January, I’m still going to have to pay the 7.50 SGD fee per month to maintain this utterly useless account. Or pay SGD 30 as an early closure fee to close it.

ARGH.

Okay, rant over. For now. -_-

If any of you guys have any experience with this situation or have any advice on how I don’t have to go through the currency conversion process twice to get access to my money, please let me know.

A Little Bit of Everything.

Been feeling like I want to write something, but there are SO many things to write about, and I can’t pick just one, so this is going to be a little bit about everything.

I never did get around to writing a nice post about my time teaching in Thailand, but to be honest, it was pretty awesome. Sure, things went wrong and were frustrating at times and there was a lot of drama toward the end of the semester, but then again, what job isn’t? For the most part, it was pretty great. My students (most of them) were pretty awesome kids, and it’s a different sort of rewarding teaching kids as opposed to adults.

 

And of course, the wonderful colleagues (most of them) I had made everything so much more bearable. The Namphong Country Bumpkins, Crain & Co, Liudon! Everything was so much better because of these guys. You know how when you’re travelling forever and ever and meet hundreds of people but know there are some people you’ll definitely see again? These are those people.

 

 

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Montri Teachers Crew!

 

 

 

 

 

And our cats, and Tom Yum Mummy (the lady who made the best Tom Yum Noodle Soup in our village) and Fried Dough Lady (who provided me with fried dough for breakfast every morning) and all the other lovely people in our village. It was nice being part of a community again.

 

 

 

 

 

But, the road beckoned and it was off to Cambodia from there. First stop, Siem Reap – took 14 hours on several different buses to get to, that I promptly fell sick once I arrived. Still, it was nice being a tourist again, and meeting interesting people at the hostel!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After all the templing, it was off to Phnom Penh, which I quite enjoyed. The visit to the S21 Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields was absolutely tragic and heartbreaking, and I wondered why not more of this was taught in schools. To think we were right next door when it all happened, and did nothing to stop it. But then again, isn’t that what’s still happening in parts of the world where there’s senseless killing and violence?

 

 

Next stop was Sihanoukville and Koh Rong, where I’d intended to spend a few days relaxing by the beach. The beach on Koh Rong was gorgeous, and I met lots of incredible people, but it was far from relaxing. Great fun, always dancing (even without music, as some of the Koh Rong crew will tell you), plenty of laughs. 10/10 would definitely recommend!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then it was Ho Chi Minh for a day, and back to Singapore where I successfully surprised my family by turning up unannounced, just in time for Deepavali! Woohoooo!

 

 

 

And that brings us the present where I’m just sitting around and slowly trying to get my younger niece to like me (she seems to hate everything and everyone), BUT my flight is booked and the next adventure is in the works!

 

 

 

So. Flight to Vietnam on the 17th of November, as an anniversary gift to myself : FOUR ENTIRE YEARS AGO, on the 17th of November 2013, I boarded a flight to India which marked the start of my travelling, nomadic life. And the next big adventure I’m taking myself on is a month long motorbike / scooter ride from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi! Here’s the kicker: I don’t know how to ride a motorcycle or a scooter!

 

 

The plan is to go to Ho Chi Minh and somehow learn in a few days, and then get going, along with a crazy Italian guy and his Belgian (I think?) friend and hopefully not get too badly scraped up along the way! If nothing else, it’ll make for a great story, and that’s what life is all about, innit?

So. That’s a little bit of everything – Thailand, Cambodia, Singapore and the future! Stay tuned for more rubbish that I’ll write sometime in the upcoming days (or weeks or months or years)!

Almost the End of Thailand – A Rant

Slightly more than five months have gone by, and now it’s time to say goodbye to this place I’ve come to call home, and bid farewell to the random group of strangers I’ve now come to call my friends.

It’s been an interesting ride (as have most things in my life, eh?) and I don’t think I’ve come to love Thailand as much as other people do. Thailand was definitely a breath of fresh air after the madness of India, but it is not without it’s own idiosyncrasies. It’s easy to miss the messiness of daily life if you’re just a tourist, visiting for a few weeks, but living here and working with Thai people, adults and kids alike, has been a completely different experience.

The Thai system is flawed, just like any other, and it takes a good amount of chill-pill to get through the absolutely bewildering things we’re sometimes put through. Just yesterday, we were informed that we would have to grade all of the students Thai-English tests (English tests that was taught in Thai) in addition to invigilating the students while they sat for their exams. On our last three days at the school with the students. I’m not quite sure what’s meant to happen, because the students won’t even be completing their English tests till Friday morning, which essentially gives us 5 hours to grade a whole bunch of tests. And even as I’m writing this, my phone’s going off with more changes to what we’re supposed to do / where we’re supposed to be / etc.

My point is. The Thai system is inefficient, and things often happen / change at the last minute, with barely any notice, or consideration for the parties involved. Like the time the school told us that we’d get a 4 day weekend, and then, the week before, changed their mind and wanted to shorten it to a 3 day weekend. Or the time that they told us that we were expected to go on school visits on the TWO weekends before our last weekend here, and also scheduled an English Camp on our last weekend here.

These may all seem like very petty, insignificant things, but surely it’s not too much to ask for to be told about having to work weekends way in advance – I mean, we’re teachers, but we’re also foreigners who want to have time to explore the country we’re living in. Ugh. Sorry, this is all a bit rant-y, I’m just annoyed and frustrated because I’d meant to use these last three days to do other stuff and I can’t.

And it really quite boils down to not having any respect for other people’s time. And expecting them to be available, to change or abandon their plans, to accommodate last minute requests. To me, it seems like basic courtesy, but I guess to them, it is culturally acceptable. It’s probably not even something that crosses their mind.

I know, I know – as the foreigner, I should adapt myself to their culture and accept anything and everything that goes on here, but my gripe is that I’m not a mere tourist here. Obviously, I add some sort of value here, which is why I’m getting paid to do my job. So, inasmuch as it is reasonable to expect the foreigners to adapt themselves to local customs and culture, isn’t it also reasonable to expect the people who want us here, the school, to make some sort of accommodations to us? I just feel that they’ve got to meet us half way, and we can’t be expected to cater to every whimsical request they make.

Right. So I didn’t mean for this to turn into a long rant about Thailand, but it is what it is. I guess I’ll write another post about the great parts of my time here – it’s always easier to write about the bad stuff and complain than it is to say nice things. I’ll get there.

xx, crunch