When I return home from a holiday I always like to start planning my next break so now would be a good time to mention what I consider the biggest perk of being an ex-pat – travel. The island of Borneo is full of incredible places and exotic holiday destinations are now just a short flight away. Our list of places to visit changed somewhat when I got pregnant, and now we have a baby I will be crossing off some of the more adventurous and remote locations, but there is certainly plenty to see: whether it’s lazing on a beach with a fresh coconut; luxuriating in a world-class hotel (for a fraction of the prices of western hotels); or just plain old sightseeing.
Since we moved to Brunei I have had the chance to visit some truly amazing places, some of which I plan to share on this blog. But I’m not here to gloat. We’ve also had some ‘interesting’ experiences. I have recently watched a few television series based in Europe – Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon’s trip to Italy and Michael Portillo’s European Railway Journey. These programmes both showcased the amazing culture, landscapes and food that Europe has to offer, and made me want to get straight on to a plane to the Mediterranean. Although South-East Asia may seem more exotic, after a while one place starts to look like another (maybe a slight exaggeration but bear with me). Want to lie on that beautiful white sand beach? Well you can’t venture out within sight of the midday sun, and there’s a good chance you’ll get covered in extremely painful sandfly bites. If you do find a beach with umbrellas and no sandflies then you probably won’t be able to get on it for tourists. Want to try some authentic street food? That’s fine if you want food poisoning! (Again, a slight exaggeration as some places are perfectly sanitary but do you want to take the risk? I have several times been interrupted mid-mouthful by the antics of a rat – once in a cheap café and once in a not-so-cheap hotel.) Want to see some culture? We travelled half an hour’s taxi ride across Kuching to see the cat museum. When we got there the taxi driver ignored our request to leave us there and insisted on waiting for us. We were there about fifteen minutes. What we wouldn’t give for a good museum to wander round on a rainy day.
This is of course a rather cynical view, from someone who has spent too long wandering around with a guide book in hand trying to see the sights when there aren’t any. We have had some great experiences: seeing millions of bats emerge from Mulu caves and visiting an orang-utan sanctuary in Kota Kinabalu; listening to live music at Miri Jazz Festival; learning to scuba dive in Sabah; wallowing around in a wide variety of swimming pools, cocktail in hand; seeing some truly unique buildings; and of course trying the local cuisine, albeit in the safety of a hotel or established restaurant. Holidays here are a lot cheaper than their European counterparts and we can afford to stay in some beautiful hotels as a result – I was most put out when we stayed in London last year at a fairly pricey hotel and ended up with a bog-standard hotel room for more than we paid to stay in the Shangri-La in Malaysia. When we lived in the UK we rarely holidayed in Europe because we couldn’t afford it. And with so many places still to see here and only a year left on our contract, I am sure that in years to come, when we are back living in the UK, I will be dreaming of a holiday in Malaysia. But for now I am looking for somewhere child-friendly, safe and free of mosquitoes – wish me luck!