Hey everyone! This is Fredi, one of Lee’s good friends, who has already completed several trips with him. About a year ago, we went on another journey together, and Lee asked me whether I’d be willing to contribute to his blog. And as you can see, I agreed, which is why will tell you a bit about my high- and lowlights of our travels. I hope you enjoy and will subsequently also be looking forward to hearing more about it from Lee’s perspective.
Last year’s trip took us to Asia, more precisely to Singapore, where we started off, followed by the Malaysian part of Borneo, Taiwan (Republic of China), and finally Hong Kong. All in all, our goal was to use our limited time to still properly experience a wide variety of countries, as well as their landscapes, wildlife, and history, and I would say we were quite successful in doing so. Since you will definitely read more about this specific trip in the future, I decided to focus on one personal highlight and one personal ‘lowlight’ each per location. Nonetheless, there are instances where I could not help it, but write a little bit more.
As I mentioned, our first stop was in Singapore. In this city-state, chewing gums are not allowed. I had last heard about this when I was a kid, so I had completely forgotten about it when I was packing my bags. On the contrary, I even made sure to pack plenty of the chewing gums I liked, in order to always have some available, if needed. Now, when we were in Dubai during our layover, we somehow started to talk about chewing gums, when Lee pointed out that I was not allowed to ‘import’ them into Singapore. After getting to terms with this fact, I reluctantly threw away my whole pile of chewing gums, so that we could enter Singapore without any issues.
We did so successfully and quickly made our way to the hotel, which was nice in general, apart from the fact that our room did not have any windows. This was something that we were not used to at all, but it turned out not to be unusual in other locations we went to, and one tends to get accustomed to it quite quickly.
The window-less room was not a huge issue either since we spent a lot of time discovering the city and being out and about anyways. One of the trips we undertook led us to spend a whole day in the world-renowned Singapore Zoo. It did not disappoint at all: The zoo was really nicely done and I found it very interesting to discover, as it showcased some animals that we in Switzerland are not really used to or have hard times accommodating in zoos. Furthermore, and very importantly, I got the impression that the zoo managed to ensure that the animals were doing well and had opportunities to hide away from the visitors if needed. After having spent the day in the zoo, we decided to also pay a visit to its night ‘exposition’, called night safari: After sunset, the zoo opens another section where animals, that are active at night or at dusk, live and thrive. This completely different look at a zoo and its animals is something truly interesting that I would definitely recommend to anyone visiting Singapore!
Our second leg took us to the Malaysian part of Borneo. On this island, which offers a large biodiversity and a lot of endemic species, we were hoping to be able to discover nature and parts of the rainforest as it had been prior to colonialization. In order to do so, we had planned our stops to be rather close or even inside national parks or natural reserves. And both stories I would like to tell you about from Borneo revolve around national parks. First, Bako National Park: It is located just north of Kuching, which is where we arrived when getting to Borneo. The city itself was not very special, but since the national park was highly praised, we decided to stay in the city and make a daytrip to the national park. Unfortunately though, on the day we were planning to go to the national park, Lee did not feel good at all (luckily, he recovered and was fully fit again the next day), and I was quite tired also so that we started into the day very slowly. And after lunch, when I finally decided to go to the national park on my own, it turned out to be too late. Since the actual national park can only be reached by boat from an entry area, and no more boats were leaving that day, I was not able to actually visit the national park, but was instead just in this entry area, and waiting for a bus to take me back to the city. So, the next time I’m close to a national park, I will have to look up the opening times better, and also just go earlier. Lesson learnt!
Luckily, we had also planned to visit Gunung Mulu National Park in Borneo, and this was an absolute highlight. Firstly, there is only accommodation for a limited amount of visitors in its vicinity, which means that mass tourism is currently not an issue. Secondly, the infrastructure is very good: Not only are there good paths and walkways for tourists to discover, but the national park also offers guided tours at night, into caves and even through the tree canopies. It is actually difficult to point out which tour was best out of all of these, but the whole national park is a definite must in my opinion, and the guides and staff are very friendly, kind, welcoming and will help you find the perfect tours suited to your needs and wishes.
About halfway through our trip, we took an airplane to Taiwan, also known as Republic of China. For the first time on this journey, we visited an area that had not been colonised by the British, and it showed: There, English was not spoken as naturally as it had been in the other two countries. So, simple things like using a washing machine or ordering in a restaurant became less easy-going. Nonetheless, I liked it to learn a bit of Mandarin and still try to somehow communicate, and if we did not manage, there were always helpful people around that could translate.
After our first stop in Taiwan, Taipei City (which is very nice, especially if you like Buddhist Temples), we made our way to Taroko Gorge National Park. However, since we had plenty of time to get there, I convinced Lee to get off a few train stops before our actual destination to visit a ‘normal’ city. I don’t even remember its name, but what I know is that it was not necessarily worth it, especially considering the consequences of this short layover. First, the city itself did not really offer a lot, although it was at least interesting to see a smaller not-at-all-touristic city, and secondly, it meant that we arrived rather late to Taroko Gorge National Park Train Station. Consequently, we had missed the last bus that took us to our Bed and Breakfast, and we had to somehow ask the station staff for help. However, this time, they did not speak English, and there was no one around to translate either. Instead, we had to resort to modern technology and somehow still managed to tell them about our issue, which they luckily managed to resolve by ordering us a taxi.
After that, the stay in Taroko National Park was beautiful and it offers a lot of animals, plants and breath-taking views that can be taken in through various hikes, which can quite easily be reached by bus. I would definitely recommend you to visit and do a few of them!
Our last stop was Hong Kong, which had been in the news the weeks prior due to mass protests against the government. However, we were almost not affected by the protests during our stay apart from three episodes: Upon our arrival, the airport was occupied by peacefully sitting protesters, distributing flyers, and a few days later, our flight home was delayed because of protests in the airport departure area, and once in the evening we saw a small group of protesters in an MRT station.
Regardless, I did not find Hong Kong very appealing. Especially since we did not know a lot about what to do there, we focused on the official tourism website that recommended areas and leisure parks, which we were not too keen on, but did not mention the old town, which we heard afterwards would be quite picturesque. Moreover, we were also a bit unlucky with the weather when we visited Victoria Peak, from where there is supposedly a very nice view over the city, but it was quite cloudy when we were there. At least we made sure to eat good and delicious food when we were in Hong Kong!
In conclusion, I really liked what we did on our trip although there are obviously things I would do differently the next time. However, I was quite happy with our choices of locations and would actually recommend all of them if you have not been there before.
Now I really hope that you enjoyed my short report and are looking forward to hearing more from Lee soon!