Darwin

Liesel managed to sleep on the flight to Darwin, but I just couldn’t get comfortable enough. It was a shorter flight than anticipated though: I’d forgotten about the 90 minute time difference between here and Singapore. Bonus! Ah, but arriving at 5am isn’t so good. We’d booked a hire care for 8am, that being the earliest available on the online booking form dropdown list, but a member of staff arrived soon after 6.30, so we weren’t hanging around for too long. Double bonus!! Passing time, walking around the airport, I did find a coffee shop and so I was able to caffeine myself up a bit. Triple bonus!!!

Mick’s earworm today is courtesy of one of his old Biology teachers. Martin Hyman was trying to explain the origin of species by natural selection. I’m sure it was interesting, but the only thing that stuck was his frequent recital of ‘♫ Charlie is my Darwin, my Darwin, my Darwin♪’.

We weren’t able to check in to our Airbnb until 2pm and we both just wanted to sleeeep. Instead, we drove to East Point, away from the city centre.

Crocodile danger

This is crocodile country and we were on full alert. As I told Liesel, if we encounter a croc in the wild, as with bears in Alaska, you don’t have to run faster than the predator, you just have to run faster than your companion!

Hello wallaby

The wallabies were cute but very wary of people, and quite right too. I tried to creep a little closer, but 100 feet seems to be the limit of their comfort zone.

I said hello to the horses as well, but they walked away in a huff as I had no food for them.

What a big bug
Probably a different big bug, to be honest

There were big bugs flying around, really big, and interesting but very reluctant to sit still while I studied them. We later decided they were dragonflies: big, fat, Aussie dragonflies.

The Darwin Military Museum is here too, we walked by some of the buildings. I had a quick look at the beach, but didn’t venture down on this occasion. The one fisherman seemed to be having a good time. But this is saltwater crocodile country. You wouldn’t catch me out there with only a thin, flexible stick as a weapon. By which, I mean, that even if I enjoyed fishing, that is one place I wouldn’t do it from.

Gone fishin’

It was good to see so many people using the off-road track too, walking, running or cycling. I exchanged a few ‘hello’s and ‘g’day’s. I spent too long making sure those apostrophes are in the right place.

Very pretty but like most Aussie things, probably out to get ya
A gorgeous, gnarly, old, white gum tree

What a lovely spot, such a contrast to the h&b of Singapore.

Possibly a termite mound, maybe a hoax

There were a few of these, too. In the publicity photos from Northern Territory Tourist Board, the termite mounds are all about eight feet tall. This might be a small one, but I didn’t want to poke it and have hundreds of angry termites gnashing at my be-sandalled feet.

The water pipeline here in Darwin is much more visually appealing than the oil pipeline in Alaska.

Big water pipe

A message came through: we could go to our Airbnb early if we coughed up some cash for the airconditioner being turned on. That’s a deal! And what a welcome!

Welcome, Liesel and Mick, with your antics

After a quick nap, we went shopping. Let me rephrase that. Liesel went shopping while I went for a walk around town. It was hot, yes, but nowhere near as humid as we’ve become accustomed to. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not.

The Bicentennial Park area was cordoned off as they are implementing a Smart Lighting Upgrade. But I did find the site of the ANZAC Day Dawn Service, by the War Memorial.

ANZAC Centenary Memorial Garden Polar Sundial 2015
Lest we forget
Ibis aka bin chicken

The sky is blue, really, gorgeous, cerulean, azure, aquamarine blue. It’s been painted by a child, you can tell by the fluffy white clouds.

Blue sky, wide sky

Darwin Memorial Uniting Church was decorated from the same palette of colours.

Darwin Memorial Uniting Church

For our first home-cooked meal in quite a while, Liesel provided veggie burgers. Very nice, very tasty, thank you! At the end of a long day, an early night in bed was called for and I was in the land of nod before reading a whole sentence in my book.

The Dawn Service would have been lovely, and moving, to attend, but we missed it. Sadly, we missed the Parade too but later on, we did see many sailors and other military personnel in town. I was saluted by a passer-by who mistook my sunhat and Hawaiian shirt for a naval uniform. Or, maybe she was just drunk.

Crocosaurus Cove seemed like a good place to visit: we’d be able to see real crocs and not have to run for our lives.

The middle section of a crocodile

We walked under a glass canopy and suddenly realised we were looking up at a crocodile. Well, a bit of a crocodile. It was huge. We knew they can be big but this one was ginormous, we couldn’t see either end, from below.

This hand belongs to a real, normal-size grown-up human. The croc’s claw is bigger than that.

A bit more croc and a human for scale

We still feel amphibious about animals being kept in captivity. All of the crocs here have a story, though. Some were injured, and some were just in the wrong place for too long and would probably have been killed for taking too many cattle or something. William, aka Houdini and Kate, aka Bess, have been a successfully mating couple for 20 years, which is unusual in reptilian circles, apparently. Since meeting Bess, Houdini has been happy here and has stopped trying to escape, the trait that gave him his first name. Yes, I mistakenly used the word ‘amphibious’ instead of ‘ambivalent’ just now, but I left it to see if anybody else notices.

A whole crocodile

A human has a bite force of 380 newtons, enough to bite through an apple, appropriately. Tyrannosaurus rex had a bite force of 18,200 newtons, probably enough to bite through an apple tree. A saltie, a saltwater crocodile has a bite force of 33,800 newtons. A demonstration of this force featured a large lump of ice being snapped by a mechanical crocodile jaw. Very loud and very violent.

Bite Force, big crunch
Lots of smaller crocs in this pool

For a fee, you can get in the water with a crocodile. Yes, you have to pay them, not the other way around. Too scary for Liesel and me, but we did enjoy watching one victim for a while. And, to be fair, she seemed to be enjoying the experience, being separated from the croc by a whole inch of toughened plastic.

Crocodile with girl in a plastic cylinder

On the other hand…

Beware Trespassers

During the day, there are several demonstrations by knowledgable staff. While one person feeds a crocodile from the other end of a long pole, a second person watches closely for signs of anger or antagonism from the animal. Growls, ear flaps opening, all are signs that it’s time to beat a hasty retreat.

Feeding a crocodile

The food seems to be mainly chickens with their feathers still attached. Loose feathers floating about: this is the real reason why Liesel and I didn’t want to get in the water.

There are other animals here too, fishes, stingrays, snakes, other lizards, some lifelike models. You can handle a blue-tongued lizard, although this one had a pink tongue. You can handle snakes too.

Black-headed python

Again, it was great to see these creatures here and while it would be exciting to see them out in the wild, we don’t really want to. Or do we? What a conundrum.

Fierce snake not being fierce

The fierce snake, inland or western taipan is the most venomous snake in the world. The advice? Don’t get bitten!

Keep an Aussie reptile as a pet
Send more tourists!

We drove to Mindil Beach: we can’t hide from the Sun all day. It was time for a brisk walk on the beach and then to enjoy the sunset. We were delighted to encounter the Thursday night market here too, so much food to choose from, lots of arts and crafts to admire. And while it’s good to see any market being popular, we found it hard to cope with so many people here on this occasion.

Road Kill – for the carnivores
Lucky Cow – for the vegetarians

The good news is, the big dragonflies were in abundance here too, and a bit more cooperative this time.

Elusive dragonfly

An hour and a half until sunset and of course we had to try for a selfie. The bright Sun would be good in the background. Or its reflection in the water.

Selfie of the day

We walked to one end of the beach and I walked all the way to the other end while Liesel went back to the market. The blurb says this beach is 500m long: I think it’s longer than that, it certainly took more than ten minutes to walk its length, and I wasn’t slacking. The Sun was bright and hot, but I toasted both sides of my body nicely so I’m not asymmetrical.

Looking north along Mindil Beach
Looking south along Mindil Beach

The countdown to sunset was on. With about half an hour to go, hundreds of people descended on to the beach.

Half an hour before sunset

Liesel sat down near the top of the beach while I went down nearly to the water’s edge, hoping for the best photo opportunity.

Where’s Liesel?

The sunset was gorgeous, as you’d expect, looking west, with no clouds on the horizon. There were a couple of small boats on the water: one of them would be a nice silhouette against the face of the Sun.

Yes, I adjusted the settings on the camera, and the pictures have been cropped but otherwise, there is no trickery here.

What a big audience
The boat’s so close…

Show’s over for another day

If you enjoyed seeing these pictures and spontaneously broke into a round of applause, you are not alone. The crowd on the beach clapped the Sun as it disappeared below the horizon and if I weren’t so British and restrained and refined, I may well have joined in.

Our final full day in Darwin wasn’t as active. We took advantage of a rest day, as we’ll be on the road for the next few weeks.

Another quick walk at East Point and in the city centre was very pleasant. Not so much wildlife this time, in either venue.

East Point beach, hot, deserty, deserted
Poster designed by René Magritte on a recent trip
Rainbow crosswalk in Darwin

For a brief few moments in the 1990s, Sarah and I were related to Charles Darwin. Sarah directly and me by marriage. Still, quite exciting news. Which was immediately followed up with “Oh no, not Charles Darwin, it was Charles somebody else”.

As I write, it’s the anniversary of my Mum’s departure from this beautiful Earth. One lazy Sunday afternoon in the mid to late 1960s, my sister Pauline, Mum and I were watching a grainy old black and white TV set. Dad was in bed having his regular Sunday afternoon nap. There was a programme on about pineapple growers in Darwin. Mum and Pauline decided that that’s what they were going to do: move to Darwin and grow pineapples. “Can I come, too?” I remember asking. Neither Pauline nor I can remember the response. I was reminded of this incident when we saw pineapples being sold at the sunset market yesterday.

Pineapples from Darwin, for Darwin

I’m just sorry Mum never had the chance to visit Darwin. Never mind the pineapples, she would have loved the cuddly dragonflies.

Cute dragonfly on the fridge

Farewell, Singapore

One more walk around Singapore and we realised that Easter weekend had completely passed us by. We’ve seen signs here wishing us a Happy Chinese New Year (February) and one place offering Moms a free massage for Mothers Day (a few weeks ago). But other than Hot Cross Buns, I don’t think we’ve seen anything for Easter. Normally, I would be craving chocolate, not necessarily eggs, but on this occasion, I’m just enjoying the luxury that is proper bread, sourdough, French baguettes, and proper, nonprocessed cheese.

The Seed, at the School of the Arts

I picked up some coffees to take back and was pleased that the splashing I felt on my arm wasn’t errant coffee from the cup: it was beginning to rain. It didn’t amount to much in the end, but it gave me an excuse to stay in, write, do some administrative tasks and listen to some much-missed radio shows.

The very colourful doors

Our final day in Singapore began with a return to the perfect place for our breakfast. Twenty-Eight Café is just down the road which is perfect, but also of course, 28 is a perfect number. We were joined by a couple of sparrows who picked crumbs up off the floor. Every now and then, they’d notice they’d drifted too far apart and run back to be with each other. Young love, eh?!

I said to Liesel, if it rains today, I’ll heat my hat.

We Grabbed a cab to the Botanic Gardens, entering through a different gate this time.

Bull frog (stoned)

We (well, I) were (was) very excited to see a monitor lizard walking along the path like he owned the place. I described his gait on Twitter as that of a 1980s lager lout. But he wasn’t at all aggressive, just looking for some tasty morsels.

My mate the Monitor Lizard

We felt a bit sorry for him: his long tail was dragging along the ground and I’m sure tarmac isn’t as comfortable as grass is.

There’s not enough real plantlife in the Botanic Gardens, so someone donated this sculpture.

Fifty Wings, by James Surls
Clocks confirming the 7-hour time difference between London and Singapore

We walked to the Orchid Garden and had to pay a small fee for this section. We got rid of a lot of our Singapore coins but the clerk noticed the one Malaysian coin that had slipped into the pile by mistake. Our punishment was: the heavens opened. A real tropical rainstorm, so we stayed under cover with all the other wimpy rain-ophobes.

Purple

We had a nice little walk and the thunder should have warned us that another cloudburst was imminent. We got caught in it so we walked hastily back to shelter.

Pretty

Our second foray into the orchids was longer and more successful. There are some gorgeous plants here, very pretty. I think it’s the law that hybrids are given embarrassing names. William Catherine is a pretty flower, yes, but probably called WC for short.

Red (I’m still not a botanist, in case you couldn’t tell)

The next downpour saw us retreat to the restaurant where we treated ourselves to coffee and treacle tart in Liesel’s case, chocolate cake in mine. And then, as it was still raining, more coffee.

Underneath the arches
Selfie of the day
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Dangerous weather

Back at the apartment, we finished packing and I looked out of the window one more time. The view really isn’t much to write home about, and it led me to think that it’s a sign. Rain and a rotten view. Maybe it is time to move on.

Our view: plants OK, buildings not so much

We finished off our last few snacks, apple, cashews, tomatoes, wasabi covered peas that should be classified as a biological weapon.

It had indeed rained, quite hard. So I put my hat into the microwave oven as promised, and it dried out beautifully.

The cab ride to Changi Airport was longer than expected, and the driver was only the second female driver we’d hired.

Not too sure about the handcuffs on the back of the seat, though

She told us about the new Jewel venue at the airport, a huge entertainment and shopping centre.

Kinetic Rain

Shiseido Forest Valley Waterfall

Unfortunately, my visit to the Butterfly Garden was fruitless. It was after sunset and the butterflies were all tucked up in bed. On the other hand, at Terminal 3, I found an Indian Vegetarian place where I enjoyed a dosa masala. I felt bad for Liesel who’d chosen to stay at Terminal 1: she ended up with a rather ordinary sandwich.

Actually, the next time we visit Singapore, we might just spend a couple of weeks at the airport. Especially with the new lounge experience, coming soon.

New lounge experience coming soon, woop-de-doo

No, it’s been really good here, both times, and when you consider that Singapore and Malaysia were just ‘a quick side-trip’ from Australia, that we hadn’t even contemplated when we first left home, I think we’ve been very lucky.

I heart Singapore

Return to Singapore

Our lovely hostess drove us to the airport after breakfast which we ate outdoors, trying to ignore the smell and the haze caused by at least one bonfire.

Eggs, bread and more curry puffs
A wave of haze

Sadly, I think the ubiquitous rubbish-burning fires of Malaysia will be amongst our longest-lasting memories.

Two flights and a taxi ride later, we arrived at our next Singaporean apartment, in the heart of the city. As we passed by some now familiar landmarks, there was a sense of ‘coming home’. Even though this has never been home. Maybe it’s just more ‘comfortable’ than Malaysia. A strange sensation, nonetheless. No Morality Police here.

Street art just along the road

I went for a walk but what I didn’t tell Liesel was where I was really going, in case my plan went wrong.

Our place looks better from the outside
Welcome back, Mick, said Buddha

On my return, Liesel did ask “Who are you? And what have you done with my husband?” Yes, I’d been to a barbershop, had a trim and a shave. I’d retained the face fungus for a few days longer than usual to help combat sunburn to the south of the face while on the island.

It was a delight being able to cross the roads safely. Yes, I’ll have a whinge about the pedestrain crossing lights taking too long to change and then not giving people enough time to cross the road. But at least, there are pedestrian crossings here.

Balloon dog taking a dump (sculpture), Cathay Hotel

For the first time in over a week, we were able to wash our clothes. The shirts could stand up on their own after several days wear and tear, but we managed to origami them into the washing machine.

It’s funny how history repeats itself. Last time we arrived in Singapore, one of our first ports of call was the Apple Store, where Jyoti purchased a brand new iPhone. We had to go there this time too: Liesel’s USB-Lightning cable is no longer working reliably and there’s a definite kink in it. The new cable works very well.

We spent much of the day walking around shops, streets, malls, keeping to the shade where possible, making use of shops’ airconditioning especially where it spills out onto the streets. Liesel’s research led us to a place called Wild Honey where we ate well and appreciated the Troggs’ philosophy printed on the napkins.

Wild Thing
Aubergine bacon and scrambled eggs

Yes, it looks like bacon and they even call it ‘bacon’, but it’s very thin slices of aubergine and is, to me, much nicer than actual pig’s bum!

The AC is great but it does mean that every time we go back outside, our glasses mist up. Interestingly, we’ve not seen anyone else suffering this fate, so maybe there’s a local anti-misting coating you can buy for spectacles.

We still enjoy looking at the architecture here, a nice mix of old and new. Many buildings have these French doors on the first floor, some white, like these, and some very colourful ones.

Information
Professional photobombers: invisible until you look at the picture later on
A front door just like ours at home
Singaporeans are no good at Curling because they’ve got no handles on their stones
Had to buy this snack, obvs

As I slowly dragged myself up from the depths and weirdness of cheese-induced dreams, I thought the airconditioner in the bedroom was too loud and about to explode. But no, the noise was from outside: torrential rain. We had planned to go out for lunch, not least because this place gets cleaned twice a week and today was one of those days. The cleaner knocked on the door and we asked her to wait for another ten minutes, while we made ourselves presentable.

Glorious peacock (sculpture)

We walked to Fifth Dimension, an Indian-Chinese fusion restaurant, back in Little India, where we’d been with Jyoti a few weeks ago.

On the way there, we saw a peacock (above) and a cow riding a bicycle. Hah, that grabbed your attention, didn’t it!

Cow riding a bicycle

The meal was great, all three members of staff were very friendly, tending to all our needs, mainly because we were the only customers.

Very nice, very tasty

We wandered slowly back by many Indian shops, food, clothes, all looking very neat and tidy – unlike the alleyways that run behind the shops, definitely not for the squeamish. There were a couple of cows sitting up on the roof of the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple.

Cows sitting on the roof
More street art
Tiger, tiger

On our way to the National Library, we were pleased to read that Banana is now back home, but poor old Milky is still missing. I think more people should provide updates on their ‘missing pets’ notices.

Banana is back home

It would be nice to give this happy Buddha a new home, but we’d never fit him and his earlobes into our bags.

Laughing Buddha
Free bicycle parking for very tall people

Again, we stayed in the shade as much as possible, and this sort of decoration makes it doubly worthwhile.

Art in the street
Let’s all learn to dance in the rain

In the Design Centre, Liesel declined my challenge of a game of ping-pong on the hexagonal table, so I think that means I win by default.

Hexagonal table tennis table
Very pleased to see Blur have a new record out
Freedom for Pooping!

In the Library, we found a couple of books to read out loud for our grandchildren, but it was much harder to find a quiet spot in which to do so.

Children’s play area in the National Library

The children were having a wonderfully noisy time in their play area while over in a separate room, it was Tamil story time with singing and dancing!

There’s an exhibition of photographs depicting Old Singapore. In one picture, there’s a cow pulling an ice cream wagon.

Some old bloke on an old photo
Always been a busy, hustling and bustling place

One thing I think we missed in Malaysia because it was just so hard to wander around was seeing strange and unusual works of art. There’s all sorts of strange things here in Singapore, though. Big balloon dogs. Stainless steel birds in the Carlton Hotel, a home from home. A big, 5-metre tall naked red man. A cyclist made from PVC pipes (not straws) giving the appearance of motion. More birds.

Birds on a Tree, 2011, Lucida October Contemporary Art
Red Memory – Smile, by Chen Wen Ling
If this smile doesn’t lift your spirits…
Disguise 3, by Kang Duk Bong
A flock of birds

After visiting yet another shopping mall (there’s a lot to choose from), we walked back via Fort Canning Park. That was a shock to the system.

Singapore is flat, mainly. But in the park, on a hill, we walked up scores of steps. We were hoping to see the sea, but there are just too many trees and tall buildings in the way. At the top of the hill, there is not only a fort but also a lighthouse. I wondered if it can still be seen from mariners out at sea? No, it can’t. It was closed in 1958 and a much brighter light placed on top of the tall Fullerton Building, now a hotel.

Heritage tree
Fort Canning Lighthouse

After walking around and through the park, we set off home. There’s a long, long stairway to climb, but that’s OK, we’re in no hurry. What we didn’t realise until we got there, though, was that these steps belonged to an exclusive and very posh community of ex-pats. We followed some in-mates in when they opened the gate to the compound and proceeded to follow the steps, in a generally upwards direction.

A couple of the paths were dead-ends, just leading to individual houses or apartments. The people playing in the pools took no notice of us as we nonchalantly ambled by, so presumably the panic we felt, at the possibility of not being able to find a way out, didn’t show.

We went inside one of the buildings, and the sign by the lift indicated a car park a few floors below. I suspect we wouldn’t have been able to operate the lift without a special keycard, so we walked down the fire escape stairs until we found the car park. Yes, I’m sure we feature on plenty of CCTV security footage but we just wanted to get out and get home!

As suspected, we were able to walk up the ramp to exit the car park and we didn’t even have to duck under the barrier: the gap was big enough to walk by and back onto the road. The security guy in his little hut was totally oblivious, didn’t even realise we were there. And, best of all, we’d come out just over the road from our own apartment. Phew, I think we got away with it! Security at that place isn’t that hot. On foot, you need a keycard to open the gates. In a car, you have to use a card or at least get the guard to lift the barrier. But if you want to get in illegitimately, just walk past the exit barrier to the car park, walk down the ramp, then climb the fire escape stairs. Not that I’m advocating anything illegal, but there really is a big hole in their security arrangements.

Again, we had a simple supper and didn’t venture out after dark.

Frankie says…

Relax!! What a relaxing final few days on the island. Laid back, feet up, doing the bare minimum, chilling out.

We haven’t walked nearly as far as we expected to each day, which means my body is craving exercise. It’s also not giving in to sleep very willingly. Hello insomnia, my old friend.

Once, I got up in the middle of the night to go for a quick walk, up and down the beach. It was still warm, pleasantly so, and quiet. Just the sound of waves gently caressing the shore and the odd cricket in the distance. But no boat engines, no music from the restaurant, no people, no children’s squeaky shoes, very quiet.

An empty bikini

I spent some time looking for the owner of this garment, to no avail.

Plus, I tried to take some nocturnal photographs. As we’re quite close to the equator, the constellation Orion appears to be lying down. In theory, we can see the whole sky from here, but the view was obstructed by the Island Resort’s bunglows, the trees, a few clouds and the other islands.

Orion (you might have to let your eyes adjust to the darkness: give it 20 minutes or so)

One delightful sight was the Moon setting behind the smaller of the two main islands, peeking out from behind Snoopy.

What a marvellous night for a moondance

Other attempts at artistic shots weren’t very successful. In fact, I immediately deleted all the rubbish pictures.

I heard a rustle in the bush, immediately turned on the flash and took a picture. Whatever it was, was faster than me. Probably just the cat that occasionally frequents the restaurant.

Our friends from the north have now moved onto their next destination. I say ‘from the north’ but although she’s originally from Yorkshire, they currently live in Brighton.

We made significant progress with the books we’re reading. Some authors need an editor though. Interesting story, but you told me most of it twice. We had mixed success with our puzzles too.

Cloud made from the finest meringue

To keep body and soul together, we had to eat, so we walked all the way to the dining area twice a day. There are two routes to choose from, the short way and the slightly longer way which takes you by the beach. Most times, we sat at the same table. It was just too hard deciding where to sit, otherwise. Even harder, though, was deciding what to eat. Western or Malaysian? We tried to alternate but I think Western won overall as the breakfast was heavily biased in that direction. The rotis were fantastic, though not as nice as Jyoti’s rotis.

We always enjoy watching the other people and listening to them. Little Squeaky Shoes is still here and I’m sure he’s really trying to run away from his footwear.

On one of our short walks, we did spot a rare sight. It’s always hot and sunny here but the country is pretty much run for/by the oil company Petronas. So imagine our delight when we spotted this solar panel on the island. Just the one.

Malaysia’s token solar panel

We never did get around to snorkelling. But we did go fish-spotting from the jetties and piers. Another opportunity to play with my phone camera.

We kept our legs away from these fishes

It was of course very hard to identify the species, but we did see parrot fish and zebra fish plus shoals of little fishes, maybe sardines. One was bigger, it looks like a pike or something.

A ball of little fish
Long pike-like thing

This crab was trying to climb the plastic pipe. Three steps forward and two steps back every time a wave came in.

Very persistent crab

Mind you, he’s brighter than these black crabs, who were trying to climb the stairs.

Crabs are as good at climbing stairs as Daleks are

Sometimes the nerd in me takes over. I had to check that my phone was still tagging the photos with their geographical location. In most cases, yes, but this one gave me latitude and longitude instead, to a remarkable degree of accuracy.

Google slightly overdoing the accuracy of its coordinates

By my calculations, that’s an accuracy of less than one millimetre! Amazing!

After our final evening meal, we were treated to a light show. There was a storm over on the mainland, and we could see lightning in the clouds. Another fantastic opportunity to take some exciting photos. Don’t worry: I have deleted at least 99% of the 1300 photos I took over about an hour, around the time of sunset.

The storm begins
The storm’s getting exciting now

I did take a video from the dining area too. Instead of rolls or claps of thunder accompanying the lightning, all you can hear is squeaky shoes walking up and down.

This long time exposure also shows the boat embarrassed by its own relatively insignificant display of lights. A green light to starboard, a red light to port, flashing every second or so.

A long exposure

Our final Perhentian breakfast gave us all the energy we needed to pack. The boat was due to leave at noon and while waiting, I walked to the end of the jetty for more fish photos.

The swordfish making sure we didn’t eat too much breakfast

Sadly, there was nothing as big as the swordfish in the sea. But there were zebra fish amongst others.

Zebra fish
Where’s Liesel?

The sand on the beach is lovely, and there are bags of it all over the place. The instructions say ‘Store in a cool dry place’. Well, this island is never cool, not even in the middle of the night. And the beach isn’t necessarily dry: the sea can be quite damp at times.

Store in cool dry place

But what makes the sandbags more interesting is that at least one lizard lives amongst them. I saw one yesterday, over a foot long, quite colourful, but very shy with humans. And with me.

Tuna Express, our ride

The main shock to the system on arriving back at Kuala Besut and disembarking from the boat was seeing cars, traffic, roads, people covered from top to toe in thick clothing: such an anticlimax after our lazy week in paradise. But, the evening meal fixed everything.

We are now resident in a ‘Transit Motel’ right next to the airport in Kota Bharu. The journey was two hours, first by boat and then with another mad taxi driver. He held out his hand for a tip, so I shook it instead.

Our hostess is a lovely lady, she cooked us the most delicious meal we’ve had in Malaysia. Next time, we’ll definitely go down the route of home cooking! They offered us dinner and breakfast at a cost of 40 ringgits, we couldn’t say no. We had a coconut curry with okra, aubergine, corn etc with rice and an omelette with onions and greens, followed by curry puffs, pineapple and watermelon juice.

Curry puffs

I’m embarrassed to say we don’t know her name, but our hostess told us about her family. She has 7 brothers and 4 sisters. Her husband has 10 siblings. When her oldest daughter got married, they had 2000 guests, all family and friends. Her second daughter says that she doesn’t want that big a party!

Pulau Perhentian Besar

To the Island

We left Kota Bharu after breakfast. One of the door staff and I had a nice chat about the place and he very politely didn’t laugh too much about brexit. As Liesel and I were about to climb into the people carrier, he asked for a photo of the three of us together. We didn’t need a picture of him.

We picked up a few more people from a couple of other hotels, and the mad driver drove us all the way to Besut in Terengganu, the next state south of Kelantan. I say mad, but there are probably more appropriate words. Such as Reckless. He used his phone while driving. He overtook several vehicles when there was no need and not really enough space. He put his seatbelt on as we approached a police station then took it off again after we’d passed. What an adventure.

The boat ride to the Perhentians’ Big Island took about 40 minutes. The pilot was very good, it was a nice, comfortable, non-scary ride. Still an adventure, but in a more positive way.

We passed by the other, smaller, inhabited island and were disappointed to see plumes of smoke. Yes, even here, the disposal method of choice is to burn the rubbish.

On the smaller island too, by the shorefront, there’s a mosque. On stilts. And close by is a telecom tower. I know it would be an eyesore if the tower were located on top of the hill, but there might be more reliable phone coverage too.

A boat not similar to the one we travelled on
Not a selfie, Mick and Liesel

Unfortunately, at high tide, the top end of the jetty is under water, so we had to wade up to the beach. Still, my feet needed a wash, so no problem.

Partially submerged jetty

There are advantages to being aged. The compulsory conservation fee is reduced for the over-60s.

There was another couple on the boat, and I think they’re from t’north of England, but so far, we haven’t asked.

Tuna Bay Island Resort

We’re at an island resort for a week with limited mod cons. The electric supply comes from a diesel-powered generator, which is less than 100% reliable. So, lights, the AC, everything can turn off with no notice. There is no phone signal anywhere, as far as we can determine. And the wifi, when it works, is only available in the kitchen, restaurant and dining area. Tap water is not safe to drink, so we’re using an embarrassing number of plastic bottles.

There’s a tree growing in the dining area

Our room is very cosy. And usually cooler than the bathroom. The other door doesn’t lead to Narnia but, if the neighbours choose to let us in, we can enter their room. No fridge, no cooking facilities. Very basic but that’s ok, a nice contrast to a luxury hotel. Our room looks out over the garden which is mostly sand covered with just a few plants growing there. The staff are very welcoming, friendly and helpful.

There are not enough sunbeds on the beach for everyone, and it was a little disappointing to see the old European trick of leaving your towle behind, staking your claim, and then disappearing for hours at a time.. Disappointing? Well, not really, we’re not that bothered. On the first day, we just pitched up in the shade of a tree and sat/leaned on the (almost too) hot rocks.

Sunset behind the other island

What’s That Noshing on my Laig?

The sea is remarkably clear here: even when it’s too deep to touch, you can still see the bottom. You can also see fishes swimming by.

I felt something knock against my leg, and again lower down then a third time by my ankle. I wasn’t scared, but I was concerned that we hadn’t been warned about the man-eating fish in these parts. At first, Liesel didn’t believe me: she thought I was making it up, playing silly peoples.

Then she felt the fangs of a fish just below her knee. Now she believes me. She is the proud owner of a rare fish hickey.

Liesel’s fish hickey plus knee-surgery scar 🔞

We swam out to a pontoon from where we could look into deeper water. Shoals of littles fishes drifted by and a single parrot fish. We’ll have a proper look later in the week, with snorkelling equipment.

The current is quite strong here, look away for moment and you drift a long way along the beach.

Walking in the Sand

I walked along the beach with bare feet but next time, with Liesel, we wore sandals. The sand’s ok, if a little hot in places, but the coral can be quite sharp.

The big surprise for me was seeing so many butterflies near the beach, some quite pretty ones too.

Make a bridge out of some old pipes…. go….
Stairway to… the top

One of the trees bore unusual fruit which I later identified as pandanus tectorius, or hala.

Pandanus tectorius

We went for a walk along the beach, past some jetties, fishing boats, by some rocks and we found a nice secluded beach where the jungle really did meet the sea.

Jungle, meet the sea; sea, meet the jungle

Despite the name, Shark Point, we didn’t see any sharks. In fact, the only fish we saw here were very small ones.

Fake turtles (unless and antil we see real ones)

The water was lovely and clear, we stayed in for a while, enjoying the alternating warm and cold currents. On the way back, we saw a couple of big birds circling high up, riding the thermals. Too far away to identify, but they may have been sea eagles. Oh, and a few crabs scuttled sideways into the sea.

6° north of the equator, midday: what a short shadow

As I was walking along the soft, white, sandy beach, I acquired an ear-worm which was quite welcome for a while but it can go now, thank you very much. Listen to it here, if you dare.

Little mermaid
The oldest swinger in town

The Girl with the Pocket Watch Tattoo

As Liesel and I discussed, it’s very hard not to sound pervy when you comment on how nice it is to see so much flesh on display here. It’s warm, and sunny, we’re by the beach, you don’t need to wear much. But some poor people are covered top to toe, and we feel sorry for them. We saw one young lady sporting a couple of tattoos. Liesel pointed out that one was a picture of a pocket watch, hanging from a chain. Well, thank goodness for that. Last night, when I saw her, from across the dining room, I thought it was something totally different. Thank goodness I didn’t go up to her and express my admiration for her sperm tattoo.

Local fishing boats

Jungle Trecking

We thought it was right and proper to go for a hike in the jungle. It’s a small island, so we knew we couldn’t get lost.

Jungle trecking

What we hadn’t really anticipated was how heavy a few bottles of water can be when you’re carrying them up a steep path, stepping over many, many tree roots and water pipes. And it was hot and humid and the sweat was pouring off us. All that’s ok. But then the mosquitoes arrived and we’d left the bug dope behind. Mosquitoes here carry dengue fever as well as malaria, so we erred on the side of caution. In any case, there was no birdsong, minimal insect noise, and really, this wasn’t fun. But the good news is, walking back, we did find the local massage parlour. I wonder if they’ll take you on when you’re all hot and sweaty?

Wheelbarrows

We haven’t seen so many wheelbarrows since we were in Dublin’s fair city, where the girls are so pretty, almost a year ago now. They’re fairly ubiquitous here at Tuna Bay Island Resort. Our luggage was brought from the boat onto land in a wheelbarrow, wheeled along the narrow jetty, even through the water, as the tide was in. All the housemaids, or cleaners, use wheelbarrows to carry their paraphernalia. It all makes sense, they’re weatherproof and easy to use. Where there are steps, they’ve built ramps in some cases. Quite a steep ramp and then, when you get near the top, the gradient increases sharply. Not the most wheelchair or buggy friendly of places.

And the award for “the most challenging ramp” goes to…

Inside Outside, Leave me Alone

When we’re not outside enjoying the sunshine and the beach, or even in the dining area, dining, we can probably be found in our slightly cooler room, reading books or attempting to solve puzzles. We have a wide variety, sudoku, cryptic crosswords, kenken, futoshiki, kakuro, slitherlink, killer sudoku and more. It’s a brilliant way to keep the Sun-baked brain active. The only downside to having limited wifi is, we can’t stream as many radio programmes as we’d like, and we’re limited to downloading podcasts, which are great, but there are very few music-filled ones.

People

Every day, some people leave and new ones arrive. It’s interesting to see the new people, like the first day of a new school year. There are lots of Europeans and oh yes, you can easily detect the Americans, they’ll be the loud ones shouting at each other. There are lots of families here too, which is great. There’s another child wearing a pair of squeaky shoes. We always know where he is.

One day, our friends from the north suggested we more our sunbeds because dead, sharp leaves were falling from the tree. Well, I thought, at least it’s not coconuts. A while later, a couple of members of staff came by and asked us to move. We did. One of them climbed the tree, straight up, no messing, and pulled off a couple of large, dead branches. They landed on the ground with a bit of a thud.

Looking up at a palm tree

Some other bark and debris fell down. And the ants all landed on me. Only little ones, but they had quite a bite to them. Like a girl, I ran screaming into the sea to wash them off. Sometimes, you just can’t be nonchalant.

Sunday Morning

Sunday morning at ten o’clock and it’s time for Mass. No, not Mass. Massage. That’s right. For the first time ever, I had a massage on the beach, under the shade of a tree. I thought it might be too hot outside but the breeze was nice and refreshing. The mssage lasted for two hours, which I wasn’t expecting. Also, it was the first time I’d been massaged by a male, a masseur. His hands were rough, I think he must be a builder in his spare time. It’s hard to remain totally sand-free on a slightly windy beach, but the exfoliation was limited in its scope. As soon as we’d finished, his attention was immediately taken by the next client. I found Liesel on a sunbed: yes, they’re easier to come by now than they were on the first day.

The days pass slowly, we agree that we’re glad to be here only a week, though. It’s time to enjoy some longer walks again.

Eerie blue light at around sunset

Kota Bharu (Part 2)

Admin is a fact of life, even in exotic locations. We took a couple of days out, messing about with the phone, booking flights and accommodation for later on, processing a pile of paperwork and discarding most of it. This post completes our stay in Kota Bharu but the next one may be delayed: we have limited wifi, restricted 4G, dodgy electric supply and who knows what other resources may be lacking? But that’s in the future, here is the recent past.

The State Museum’s new exhibit is now open. It’s a time tunnel comparing Kota Bharu old and new, then and now. Unusually for a museum exhibit, this one had more photographs than actual items to look at.

Billion Shopping Mall, then and now

One thing I did like was the old, well-used typewriter, with a very wide carriage.

Very old typewriter

This painting adorned one wall but there was no descriptive label.

An old Malay karaoke, I’m guessing

A couple of men were walking around the museum with a handful of labels but they’d either forgotten the sticky tape, or they really didn’t know which label belonged to which item. I could have told them, obviously, but not while keeping a straight face.

The ploughing equipment was all made from wood. The plough itself, also wood, is pulled by a buffalo.

Ploughing implements

Believe it or not, this small cave is a mock-up of the real Gua Cha, the site of a 10,000 year old settlement. We didn’t know if we were allowed in, but as I approached, the lights came on, and we were totally awed by the 10,000 year old technology.

Gua Cha

We’d missed out on seeing a local, wayang, shadow puppet show, so it was interesting to see examples of the puppets here.

Wayang shadow puppets

Very simple design, you don’t need much detail if you’re just projecting shadows onto the screen.

We walked to a local market and stopped for a coffee in Muhiba Restoran and Kafe. The temperature was 34° but it felt like 41° according to the weather app. I think we’d have guessed a higher number, just comparing it to what we experienced at Uluru.

The market was huge. We liked the fabrics that were on display, all very colourful.

Beautiful designs

We weren’t so keen on the food stalls. The fruit and veg was a bit smelly, the fish stalls a bit stinky. We turned a corner and walked into a wall of stench. We saw the meat being hacked and cut up and I’ve never seen so much blood. We reversed PDQ trying not to let our abject disgust show on our now even more pasty white faces. We didn’t need to walk in and witness an abattoir. Definitely a lowlight of our travels.

But the hanging cloth was pretty, hiding a grubby little alleyway.

Hanging cloths

We walked back to the hotel, still expressing disbelief at each other: how can people even eat meat? How can people bear to work in that sort of place? And a hundred and one other variations on “yuck, that was horrible”.

Very grateful that we didn’t have nightmares.

I woke up early but feeling lethargic and yet itchy for exercise. We had breakfast just in time, before they closed up shop at 10.30. The Kelentan River isn’t that far away and I decided to go for a quick walk in that direction. The temperature was lower than yesterday, and it was overcast, so, slightly less uncomfortable.

Crossing the roads is a fine art. You learn to select the narrower ones, with only two lanes instead of four. One-way streets should be easy, but motorcyclists use the footpaths willy-nilly, so they’re not bothered about going the wrong way up a one-way street either. You still have to look in both directions before crossing your fingers, closing your eyes and running across.

The trouble is, when you open your eyes again, you see this sort of rubbish. Literally.

Rubbish

Plastic drinks bottles are all over the place. It’s very sad to see but as Stephen said the other day, the Malays and the Chinese just don’t care about nature or the environment.

Sorry to say, Kota Bharu isn’t as interesting a town to wander around as some others, at least, not the area close to our hotel. The other day when we drove across the bridge, the river looked like melted milk chocolate. Today, it was more the colour of Caramac, and I can say now that it tasted of neither.

Kelantan River

I looked around and spotted a BBC. No, I am not referring to the Brexit Broadcasting Corporation. There was a big black cloud over there so I took the hint, and began traipsing back to the hotel.

Royal Pier Clock Tower

Some of the street art is fabulous. Here is a depiction of the local martial art, silat, some top spinners and a dragon being trained.

Street art

There’s not a lot of greenery here in Kota Bharu. The small patch of grass I did find to walk on was, let’s say, scratchy. It was like walking on upturned wire brushes. Thank goodness at least I had my sandals on. But I did smile at the attempt to replicate the Batman logo on this decorative arch.

Not really Batman
Clock Tower on Clock Tower Roundabout
Our hotel from beyond the football field

On my return to the hotel, I went to the gym. No, that’s not a typo. I used the hotel’s gym, aiming to complete my 10,000 steps on the treadmill. 2 km, 23 minutes later, mission accomplished. My heart rate increased of course, but never to the point of discomfort: that sense of breathlessness that sometimes occurs at the slightest hint of exercise. I felt I could have carried on all day, but walking on a treadmill is a bit boring, to be honest.

From the treadmill, I could see what we think are the only other two white people in residence right now. He was wearing a one-piece swinsuit, she was wearing a very teeny bikini. Even I know it’s not appropriate in this particular place to flash that much flesh.

The shower was very welcome and I feel much better now, thanks. It’s still warm, even with the AC on in the room, but hopefully the sense of lethargy and weariness has been hit on the head, for now.

We’ve realised that another thing that makes it hard to wander round this town is seeing the poverty. The Grab cab fares are ridiculously low by our standards, and restaurant prices are too. I’ve been tipping, but I’m not sure that’s common here in Malaysia. I hope I’m not giving off vibes, flaunting my wealth: but the alternative is to not tip when I’m expected to, then I’m a stingy westerner.

In the afternoon, we went to the Community Centre for some local entertainment. Our friend Roselan was the MC. In the audience was a young German couple and that’s about it. But the entertainment was very good.

The drumming was fun and they even let Liesel have a go. She’s got rhythm, that girl.

Big drums, big sound

When I first heard the oboe, I thought the player must have a bag of wind, similar to bagpipes, but it seems he was circular breathing, like didgeridoo players do. There was never a pause in the flow of music.

Oboeplayerneverpauses

The local, Kelantanese martial art, silat, is similar to tai chi. During the display, the two players move slowly and with purpose, but as time went on and the music became faster and more insistent, they engaged in combat. It made us jump back when they moved in our direction.

Silat display

A long, long time ago, Sarah and I acquired a board game and I’d forgotten its name. The wooden board had several holes in it, a large one at each end and a series of six or seven smaller ones along each of the long sides. We had small sea-shells as playing pieces. Unfortunately, the instructions weren’t explicit enough, and we could never make up a good game. So how exciting to, finally, be able to play the game called congkak here in Malaysia. I think our (long gone) game was called Sungka, from the Philippines.

A couple of young muslim women showed us how to play, then invited the German girl to take over and later on, I started playing. We used marbles rather than sea-shells but at last, I think I know what I’m doing!

Congkak game

Top spinning is something I thought I’d find easy. Not these tops. They’re wooden, the rope is wound tight, looped round your wrist and you fling the top, it spins for a long time. Hah.

Someone good at spinning tops

Once a top is spinning in the correct area, a second player tries to knock it over with his own top. Hence the name, Striking Tops. I had several attempts but never succeeded in spinning a top, but it was good fun trying.

Someone no good at spinning tops

More fun than the other activity I was invited to join. Dancing. I can’t dance. I can pick up a rhythm, tap my foot, drum on a table, but I can not dance. The video is embarrassing. Everyone else is totally out of step with me.

Mick can’t dance, either

It was a fun afternoon. We looked at the artists painting lovely flowers, but we resisted the temptation to buy.

We managed to see and speak to Martha on this, her third birthday. The theme this year is Unicorns. She is fascinated by them and we can’t wait to see her in real life, dressed up as a unicorn, cuddling a toy unicorn, having riding lessons on a real unicorn.

We made one more trip to the Aeon shopping mall, to buy some supplies for next week. I would have picked eight discs, but we don’t have a record player and the island we’re going to isn’t a desert island. We dined in Vivo. Next, we’ll eat out of petri dishes, in Vitro.

Breakfast at the hotel has been good. I’ve avoided some items because I don’t know what they are. There’s a rice dish, nasi kerabu, which is a gorgeous colour blue. But I didn’t know if it was blueberries (OK) or squid ink (not OK) giving it that colour. So we looked it up.

Nasi kerabu is a Malay rice dish, a type of nasi ulam, in which blue-coloured rice is eaten with dried fish or fried chicken, crackers, pickles and other salads. The blue color of the rice comes from the petals of …. whaaaattt? Who knew such a plant existed. And how lucky that it was found in the first place.

Kota Bharu (Part 1)

Kota Bharu means “New Castle” so quite rightly, it’s located in the northeast of the country. We booked a taxi to drive us to our hotel. Yes, a hotel because there is no Airbnb coverage in this area.

And how excited were we to find we’re in the Executive Wing of the Hotel. Until, that is, studying the emergency evacuation plan, we find that the whole whole place is the Executive Wing.

Prayer mat and anti-theft sign

Kota Bharu is 93% Muslim with a smattering of Chinese and Thai people. And the main employment seems to be Standing Around, although, to be fair, one hotel in a northern town isn’t a scientific sample. One man opened the door for us, one man carried our bags up to the room. Every time we left or reentered the hotel, someone would open the door for us. I could do that job.

Street food: you just rock up to the vendor, say what you want, pay for it, wait for it, take it away and eat it, right? Oh no, not at this hotel. As well as its five in-house restaurants, they’re selling various kinds of street food for a few evenings. We only wanted ice-cream, easy. We went to the payment counter where we ticked the relevant box on the order form. The clerk took this form, picked up a yellow ticket (the ice-cream roll one) and told us how much it would cost. We paid. He then asked for a name which he wrote on both the order form and on our yellow ticket. What a palaver. We presented the ticket to the young lady at the ice-cream stall. While we waited for the ice-cream to be made, we were being looked at. We were the only white people here, staff and customers included. The ice-cream was freshly made. Young lady number 2 poured some cream into the freezing pan. Like a frying pan, only instead of frying stuff, it froze it. She added strawberries, blueberries and a few slices of banana. She chopped the whole lot together with a straight blade and as it cooled, it began to stick to the bottom of the pan. When it was completely mixed and frozen, she scraped it off the bottom and it rolled up into coils. Ice-cream rolls. This was placed into a pot, where young lady number 1 added more fruit and an Oreo biscuit, a couple of chocolate roll biscuits and, unfortunately, some marshmallows.

Ice-cream rolls

What a great dessert that was, well worth waiting for. And more expensive than our first course had been, at a Roti Canai place just round the corner from the hotel.

Roti Canai shack

It doesn’t look much from the outside but this little shack delivered the best roti with a couple of dipping sauces that we could have asked for, and just a two-minute walk away. The roti are made by a couple of young guys and it seems they employ their Mums too: one was peeling the onions and the other was peeling bananas.

We’re on the seventh floor of the hotel and the view from our window, and in any direction is nothing special. But at least we haven’t seen any bonfires or bin fires on the streets, yet.

Sunset behind a Tolworth Tower lookalike

Breakfast was huge, almost too much choice, so we just kept going until we stopped. Eggs, toast, fresh fruit, cereal, pastries, tea, coffee, juice, not to mention the Asian food. There were many young ladies working, topping up the pans and pots of food, clearing the tables, cooking the eggs and doing a great job, smiling and happy to be there. They were, unnecessarily, being kept in check by two 1920s gangsters in very important black suits, two sizes too big.

We walked out into the heat of the day to the visitor information place, where we met Roselan. We didn’t realise it was him at first, but he is featured in the Lonely Planet Guide.

It was indeed hot, after the coolness of Fraser’s Hill, so we decided it would be a museum day.

Two of the green domes above the bazaar

As I was taking a picture of the bazaar, Liesel thought I would be arrested for taking a picture of the police station. Well, I wasn’t, and I wasn’t. But I was careful not to brandish my camera at anything or anyone remotely official.

First, nearly next door to the information office, was the State Museum. It was closed for a few days while they install a new exhibit. The lady who told us this was sitting at a desk, outside. That’s a job I couldn’t do.

Let’s try the Customs and Cermonies Museum. It was a cheap entry fee, RM2 for locals and RM4 for ‘foreigners’. Well, from my point of view, you’re the foreigners, but I didn’t say that out loud.

Royal barge

The Royal Barge is made of teak, dates from the 1900s, accommodates up to ten people and still looks usable. Some of the other vessels had big holes.

It seems that in olden times, they’d use any excuse to have a big celebration: birthday, engagement, marriage, circumcision, birth, funeral, even being 7 months pregnant. The original 24-hour party people.

Royal carriage

This carriage was used during the 52nd birthday celebrations of His Royal Highness Sultan Ismail Petra.

Can you imagine a fight between two bulls which, if they’re fairly equally matched, can last forty minutes or more? That’s Malay bull fighting. The arena, or ‘bong’, is the size of a football field. We can see the Sultan Muhammad IV Stadium from our hotel. It has floodlights and the field is marked out for football, soccer, so I hope that’s all we see, if anything.

Levitation is easy (when you’re a cardboard cutout)

The spiral staircases are a work of art in their own right.

Spiral staircase just like the one at home
Treasure chest half full of old coins
A happy couple at their nuptials

The Royal Museum really does celebrate the royal family. Many, many portraits, going back several generations.

There was a family tree but in Arabic, I think, so I couldn’t read the text. But, if it follows the conventions of a western family tree, someone gave birth to 25 children and a few generations later, someone had 24.

This plaque gives a brief history. It’s interesting to see there’s been some form of monarchy in the region for over 2000 years. Also interesting to see that the King of Malaysia, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, is elected every five years from all eligible Sultans.

Royal history
Yang di-Pertuan Agong XV, Sultan Muhammad V, December 2016-December 2021

We live in more enlightened times now, and I like to think that no more elephant’s tusks will be taken and decorated in this way.

The tusk was prettier on the elephant

These vases are very decorative too, and it was a relief to leave the room without tripping over and falling onto them.

The Five Vases (not the 1960s pop group)

There is a finite amount of time you can spend walking slowly round a museum, or two, so we decided to go to a big shopping centre, just a Grab cab ride away.

My phone’s been complaining about running out of storage recently. 128 GB seemed a lot when I bought the phone. So I’ve been diligently deleting duplicate photos, rubbish photos, excess videos, trying to recover storage space. But I decided the best solution would be to buy an SD card and move lots of stuff onto it.

Needless to say, I purchased the wrong thing today. I need a microSD card, not just an SD card.

But the shopping mall provides plenty of entertainment. You are expected to leapfrog over a bollard if you want to use the escalator.

Bollards to escalators

Neither Liesel nor I came a cropper, thank goodness. We stopped for a coffee and I was delighted with my jalapeño bagel with cream cheese, the first since Alaska, I think.

After another (too) big breakfast, as arranged, Roselan picked us up for a quick tour. I thought he’d be driving, himself, but instead, Suri drove us. Roselan’s English is obviously better than our Malay. He even throws in colloquialisms such as “lovely, jubbly” and “alright, love?”

We passed by some rice fields, highly irrigated, but Roselan says he prefers Thai rice, it’s softer.

The first temple, Wat Phothivihan, features The Reclining Buddha.

Reclining Buddha

Its Thai style is different to Buddhas we’ve seen in other places, even here in Malaysia.

A bird in the hand…

Underneath is a crypt, a gathering point for remembering lost souls. The ashes are stored in jars, each one set into a numbered shrine. Some are bare, some are very well attired with incense, flowers, other artefacts. It was a moving place, yet celebratory.

One ‘locker’ in particular, for that is what they look like, stood out. He was a young man, the photo was from his graduation ceremony. I wondered whether he was a mathematician? Why else choose number 1024, 2¹⁰, surrounded by empty, unused tombs?

Amongst the many other statues, we did like the Buddha being protected by snakes.

Naga snake Buddha

And we like the big belly bloke too, even if the birds don’t. He’s still laughing.

Laughing Buddha

Wat Machimmaram has a big Buddha sitting on the roof. He has the largest known dharma wheel on his chest. Apparently, you can climb up inside, but today the doors were locked, and I’d forgotten to bring boltcutters.

Sitting Buddha

We don’t know how many tiles are needed to make a Buddha, but this really was a labour of love.

Place piles of tiles with smiles

Most temples have smaller shrines in the grounds, and this was no exception. Any one of them would be worth visiting in its own right. Conversely, some of the artwork was quite disturbing, images you wouldn’t normally associate with Buddhism and its message of peace and harmony.

Massacre
Torture
If I were going to ride an elephant, I’d sit on it backwards, too

These temples are in Tumpat, a small town just south of the Thai border. So of course, we had to go and at least look at Thailand, even if we’re not visiting on this occasion.

The market by the river is a Duty Free Zone, and there’s a thriving trade.

Under my umb-er-ella, ella, ella

Roselan took us right through the customs office, he knows the right people, right up to the barbed wire that prevented us from jumping into the Golok river and swimming across. Looking down, Liesel spotted this lizard.

Lizard

On the Thai side, there is an equivalent market. Ferries operate every half hour or so. There’s a fishery just along the river bank but luckily, the wind was in the right direction.

Waving at Thailand

And so onto the third temple of the day. Wat Maisuwankiri. It was here that we found a tiger, standing guard.

Tiger

We’ve reclined, we’ve sat, now we’re standing. And this Buddha is a female, just to add to the confusion.

Standing Buddha

There’s a lot to see inside too: I think we saved the best until last.

Dining chairs just like ours at home

One thing we didn’t need to see was the preserved body of a former abbot. We told ourselves it was a waxwork model. Yes, what we saw was wax, we missed the actual dead body.

Part of a load-bearing pillar

Outside, the famous dragon boat is protected by the largest, longest dragon we’ve ever come across. The dragon boat’s dragon head made me smile, bringing back memories of the Ice Dragon from Noggin the Nog stories.

Here be dragons

The donation box was designed to accept coins but I forced a bent banknote into it. I thought about my lost loved ones and lit incense sticks for my Mum and Dad and Sarah.

Another Naga snake Buddha

All of the temples we visited were populated by the saddest looking stray dogs you could imagine. Some had had babies, they may have had rabies and they definitely had scabies. They just wandered around the grounds, looking sad, looking for food, but otherwise, not interested in the world. We needn’t have worried about leaving our sandals outside the temples: these dogs had no interest in walking off with them.

Although Roselan had said at each point to take as long as we needed, we judged it just right. He dropped us off at the hotel at 12:30, perfect timing for his midday prayers at 1:20pm.

We’d driven over the bridge again, across the Kelantan River that gives the state its name. Or vice versa. The runny chocolate milkshake, that’s what it looked like, was flowing slowly. It usually floods up to the level of the bridge during the monsoon season, but sometimes, the floods are even higher.

Kelantan River

Hard to believe, then, that people live in houses, or shacks, right down by the water’s edge.

I volunteered to go back to the shopping mall alone to (try to) buy the correct memory card for my phone. And as a bonus, for the first time in a while, I took a photo inside a toilet. Another little rule to live by.

Flush, flush, flush again

And yes, I found a 128GB microSDXYZ bla bla bla card. There was also was a rare opportunity to see a rhinoceros in the wild. Well, an electric rhinoceros in a shopping centre.

Rhinoceros and beautiful family

This lady said it was OK to take the photos of her and her children, so what a shame they’re not very good pictures. Other motorised sit-upons were available too and I’m sorry Liesel missed out on the rides.