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Indonesia—a whole new experience!

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

OK that did it! While having dinner + a couple quarts of Bintang served by the great looking  Bintang girl I made the executive decision to put Pontianak, Indonesian Borneo on the bucket list for anyone interested in getting off the beaten tourist track & happen to be in the area ie; SE Asia! See below for reasons.

A quick heads-up on credit cards, to save unnecessary hassles it’s a good idea to make sure that your name on the card is exactly the same as on your passport, managed to talk the nice young lady into using the one I wanted her to but took a bit with the language difficulty.

Just when, after 5 months in SE Asia, one thinks they have they have seen it all & there will be no further surprises, you reach the Tebedu-Entikong, where the last empty page on my passport was used for another full page visa, border between Malaysian Borneo’s Sarawak province & Indonesian Borneo’s West Kalimantan province where—hang on to your horses—you have entered a whole new ball game!

From no motor bikes/scooters in Brunei to less than usual in the Malaysian province  of Sarawak, you are immediately into a whole bunch of motos/scoters & pedal sharing the road, not as bad as Saigon but more than Bangkok. Then add a slew of Mitsubishi public buses, basically a 20-25 passenger minicoach  (equivalent to an E450 Ford) which are seriously overloaded & may or not still have the dual rear wheels in place. The first one we met only had singles in place & was using the motos as a slalom course, speeding down the highway, looking as if it would upset at any moment (& I thought Thailand’s van drivers were crazy—nope perfectly sane in comparison), add in the lousy road conditions & driving can be a challenge, especially after dark as lights seem to be optional.

Other than the crazy drivers (coach bus drivers excepted) & the questionable safety of the public buses it’s a great place to visit with friendly people who although their English is limited, successfully make the effort to communicate. Did have a tad of a disagreement over price with my taxi driver who toured me around this afternoon (tried to change price to piece work from hourly agreed upon) but the hotel staff negotiated an amicable agreement with no hard feelings on either side.

Restaurants in Borneo tend to have tables set up for 6-10 people so if busy you get to sit with others & invariably the others will try out their English on you even if it’s limited to a few words which makes travel in Borneo even more interesting. Oh yeah saw another white face today, makes a total of 3 in 4 days. So definitely a destination if one wants to get away from western tourists.

Have been warned more than once by locals that safety can be a concern in Indonesia but so far I have had no problems or found myself in a situation where I felt uncomfortable. Of course on my last day in Bangkok I walked through a red shirt encampment with no worries nor problems but am keeping alert & staying out of iffy areas here. Staying on the water front but apparently the hotel is owned by the navy so it’s all right.

Another first today as this old farm boy from The Eastern Townships crossed the Equator for the first time, visited the Kadariyah Palace, which is nothing more than an elaborate wooden house (for the time) situated in a working class neighborhood but pretty cool, then the Provincial museum where NO English translation of the exhibits is given (clearly showing the lack of western visitors).

Then tonight after dinner while having a cool one & enjoying the scenery, I was joined by an Indonesian whose hobby was practicing his English language skills, which were quite good, on any foreigner he came across. That along wit the Asian tourists I met at the Equator monument who wanted their picture taken with this farang (or whatever the term is here), not to forget the Bintang girl with the long hair & those fantastic Asian good looks (same as the Bangkok Singha girls)  made me deicide to place it on the bucket list for any traveler to SE Asia looking to get off the beaten track (regular tourists need not bother. Also given the fact that Kota Pontianak is reachable by air, ship or bus from anywhere  makes it an ideal destination !

Brunei cont’d

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

So a nice rain came in the afternoon to cool things off for my boat trip around town, the water village, supposedly the largest in SE Asia, the Sultan’s Palace with it’s 1000+ rooms & 2000 staff is supposedly the biggest in the world (so says the boat driver) then a trip on the river to see the proboscis monkeys & even a couple monitor lizards as an added bonus.

To sum up my Brunei experience, it was a nice relaxing transition from my 2 month break in Bangkok, back into travel mode & glad I took the time to visit this small prosperous country (due to it’s oil) with it’s friendly people where it’s no problem finding English speakers. Prices while a bit dearer than Thailand are not bank breakers & as is true with the rest of Borneo very few tourists. Actually since I left BSB Sunday morning until now Tuesday afternoon in Pontianak Indonesia, I have seen a total of 2 white faces.

Lonely Planet has turned out not to be all that reliable when it comes to travel plans in Borneo as even though mine was printed in Mar 08 it’s badly out of date. Firstly it tells one to go to Kuala Belait, switch buses then cross the border & on to Miri, When all one has to do is catch the Blue Bus which takes you straight to Miri in about 3 hrs which includes the time spent crossing into Malaysia. LP also states that you need to go to the Indonesian Consulate in Kuching for a visa as it can’t be issued on arrival at the Entikong border crossing which as of Jan 12/10 is no longer true, they also list the old address for the Consulate.

Left BSB at 08:15 Sun. & arrived Kuching Malaysia 04:00 Mon where finding out that I could get visa on arrival at the border & as didn’t seem much of interest in town caught the 11:00 bus for the 9 hr ride to Pontianak, where I lucked out & got a nice room right next to the dock my ship to Jakarta leaves from.

One thing I didn’t notice while in Brunei was the complete lack of motor bikes & scooters, it was only upon crossing the border into Malaysia & seeing one that it became apparent that I hadn’t seen any for awhile.

A 10 minute walk from the Grand Kartika Hotel took me to the Pelni agent where I got my ticket to Jakarta for a mere 223,000 Rupiah  about $28.00 CAD for the 36 hr trip taking 2 nights.

Off to find the Equator in the morning a 28 cent city bus trip.

Brunei Darussalam

Saturday, April 24th, 2010

Population of the entire country 375,000 a bit of a change from Bangkok’s 10,000,000+ & it covers an area of only 5765 sq km, making it one of the smallest countries on earth. An interesting bit of trivia, Brunei owns ... [Continue reading this entry]

Almost time to get On The Road Again

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

Ten more days until my Thailand visa expires & it will be time to say so long to Bangkok which has become home for the past couple months. Think will head for Kanchanaburi tomorrow for a couple days as the ... [Continue reading this entry]

Week 5 – The happy ending

Thursday, April 8th, 2010
tefl-006.jpgMade an “A” on Friday’s exam, weekend & Monday evenings TP’s all went well with better grades, still waiting for the results of Mondays final exam but we have been told everyone made it through, ... [Continue reading this entry]

Week 4 – The Week That T&T owns our Soul + an “A”

Saturday, April 3rd, 2010

That’s right the dreaded English grammar exam netted me an A grade even though I messed up the question (I got right the day before on the review) on abstract nouns. This info first thing in the morning of the ... [Continue reading this entry]