Sabah – Kota Kinabalu

At kuala Lumpur airport we got a flight to Kota Kinabalu. From the airport there are public buses (5RM) to town. Kota Kinabalu or simply called KK is the capital of Sabah,  located in the Island of Borneo on the west coast.

Borneo is all about it’s green lush rainforests, wild jungles, wild animals, high  mountains and countless caves, but for me Sabah was mostly about it’s paradisiac beaches, small towns, villages, markets and the food. We missed intentionally all the sanctuaries, jungle trails and natural reserves, because we did it all in the other part of borneo – Sarawak.  Sarawak is less touristic, unspoiled and cheaper for those kind of activities.

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We arrived at night and I got instantly impressed with all the night markets, lights, smells and  busy vibe. During the day time KK is still picturesque (not as much as Kuching), but still has its own beauty. The best way to know KK is by foot, so walk around and allow you to lose yourself in the city.

I really love markets and KK doesn’t disappoint, at least in number 🙂 The Central MarketPasar Besar – its a great place to explore KK’s culture, it has countless vegetables and fruit stalls and an area that sells homed delicacies and even fresh tabaco. Markets are the life and blood of a city, so they are always a nice place to go if you want to feel it and the local culture. Sellers aren’t pushy at all so you can just wonder around seeing all the different stalls. Behind this one they have a Fish Market the Pasar Ikan’.  Nearby there’s the Pasar Filipino, that is basically a Salted Fish Market, and a small Fruit and vegetables Market.

Just because I’m already talking about markets, why not to carry on?! 🙂

The Gaya Street Market opens on Sunday mornings and finishes by 1p.m. is full of souvenirs, crafts, trinkets, clothings and lots of live animals for sale what is very upsetting. Its bustling crowded so the key is to get there early, but don’t expect anything extraordinary. The food and natural medicine products are interesting but that’s about it.

The Handicraft Market has a few workers seating outside sewing, inside all the stalls are selling the same, so nothing special.

The night market, sets up at around 5 pm or so and is located beside the handicraft Market and beneath Le MĂ©ridien hotel, and it has two main sections – one where they sell fresh ingredients, and another where you can eat. The food stalls are more focussed on seafood that anything else. Obviously we don’t eat seafood but we eat seaweed 🙂  They’re not like the dried ones I’m used to buy at the supermarket these have a soft and succulent texture and are called sea grapes, sea caviar or Latok. Despite the seaweed that I found extremely ‘exotic’ they have other plant based dishes and delicious treats like fresh fruit and juice, fried bananas,  pancakes filled with peanut butter and sweet donuts.

KK Waterfront, it’s a very sophisticated part of KK  and nice for a walk to the mall’s ocean front mostly during sunset, where boats are docked for the night. Tanjung Aru Beach, its a great place to walk along the beach and to observe the sunset too, (bus from of City Hall or Wawasan Plaza (4RM))

The City Mosque, is picturesque on the outside, again mostly during the sunset but sometimes they don’t allow non religious people in, but that’s fine because there’s nothing much to see there. Just admire the building and the beautiful lake around it, sometimes looks like the mosque is floating on water. If you are at KK for a short period, give this one a miss.

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Because we didn’t want to do any organised tour we rented a motorbike at ‘gogo’ for 45RM, we ride up the north cost, visiting a few villages and beaches. Its was a lovely day, without plan, so we drove with the wind and stopped as many times as we wanted.

Borneo is truly incredible, If you’re in Southeast Asia, don’t forget to visit!

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

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Tunku Abdul Rahman marine Park _ Sabah _ island of Borneo

You are absolutely right when you think about Borneo’s lush rainforests, wild jungles, orangutang, probiotic monkeys, mountains and caves, but Sabah has even more to offer, from its amazing reefs, marine wildlife, paradisiac beaches to the pristine waters.

From Kota Kinabalu you can easily access the Tunku Abdul Rahman marine Park, that  is composed by 5 islands: Sapi, Mamutik, Manukan, Gaya and Sulug. I will leave the feedback for the ones I have been to.

DSCF6799You have two ways to reach the islands, you can get a boat trespassing  the central market (Pasar Besar) where you will find a small smelly jetty, used mostly by locals (and me 😊) or at Jesselton Point Ferry Terminal. Both have the same prices. Before embarque make sure you have plenty of water, fruit and snacks with you.

🏝Pulau Manukan (10RM conservation fee)

Can be a bit crowded near the place you pay the entry fee, just walk a bit and you will find an empty beach. We tried to do snorkelling but the visibility was poor that day, but we still had a great lazy day, laying down, swimming on the warm water and trekking thought the nature trails . It has touristic facilities, an extensive shore and many monitor lizards.

🏝Pulau Mamutik (10RM conservation fee)

Mamutik is the smallest one, and my favourite. After paying the entry fee, just walk a bit to find an empty paradisiac beach with clear cristal waters great to do some snorkelling.

🏝Pulau Gaya

Its really peaceful and less crowded than the others and it’s covered in tropical forest. In the island there are small water villages, with mosques, schools and simple shops built on stilts.

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

 

 

 

Cameron Highlands_ what to do & where to eat

We got the bus from Ipoh to the cameron Highlands (18RM). It’s a beautiful journey but very hard for those who get sick easily, so get ready.

We decided to stay at Tanah Rata just because it has more affordable options of restaurants and hotels. Tanah Rata is no doubt the most convenient place but don’t expect a particularly charming place.

In town there are many shops/hotels offering tours, but we decided to go on our own. We looked at the different options like renting a bike or a scooter, but that turned out to be difficult. So we sticked with the last option available hitchhiking đŸ‘đŸŒ and I’m so glad we did, the people we meet were so nice and gave us lots of great tips. Hitchhiking was perfectly safe.

During the time we spend there we visited the Boh and the Bonet tea plantation were we did some trekking. The surrounding landscape covered in tea is beautiful. You can visit both for free.

If you like to hike there are many great jungle treks with streams and waterfalls to be found. You can also hike to the Peak of Brinchang Mountain and explore Mossy Forest. The views are breathtaking.

EAT:

There are some options available however don’t expect any food heaven 🙂

At Tanah Rata there are plenty of  indian restaurantes so banana leaf meals and dosas for all 😀 I specially recommend the Sri Brinchang and the restaurant Kumar both have some variety of vegan dishes and the food is quite tasty.

They also have a small evening market with a few local specialities, like the Apam Balik (pancakes with peanuts).

Nearby Brinchang we found a local not-for-profit vegan restaurant, and a great vegan buffet restaurant near the night market – Fu Guang Vegetarian.

The Night Market at Brinchang its good for cheap local food. They also have a weekend market selling fresh fruit and vegetables.

You can’t miss Cameron Highlands mostly if you like to hike, the other attractions probably don’t worth the time and money 🙂

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

IPOH Old Town and New Town

We traveled from Kuala Perlis to Ipho (state capital of Perak) by bus (29RM) and arrived at the terminal Amanjaya at 22pm so there wasn’t any transports (despite the taxi) to take us to Ipoh’s old town. So we stayed for the night at a nearby ‘hotel’. In the next morning we got a bus (2.5RM) and we were instantly surprised with this lovely town, that  has definitely some similarities to George Town (in Penang), one of my favourite cities in Malaysia.

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We stayed for 2 days what was enough to visit and feel the city but not enough to visit the surrounding areas.

Ipoh has a special vibe, great historic buildings, lots of street art and really great food. So, should be a mandatory stop for any itinerary in Malaysia.

Ipoh old town doesn’t look to have many tourists or even many locals walking around, despite being laid back, it’s also creative, trendy and full of things to see and try, like the famous White Coffee.

 

Ipoh centre is split in two, the old town on the west and the new town on the east side of the Kinta River .

In the old town you can do the Heritage Trail (4 miles) and the Street Art walk, for both you can grab a free map, and just lose yourself… The street art  makes it even more interesting to explore the historical city, and it’s fairly easy to find it. Most of the murals belong to the famous street artist Ernest Zacharevic and some other locals.

You can’t miss the Kong Heng square market, an old building full of vine covered ruins occupied now by modern stalls.

Ipoh’s Little India with it’s colourful shops, spices, music and eateries, and the new town on the East side of the river.

The New Town has the best eateries and some more street art, so make sure you don’t miss the Mural Art Lane, that is completely covered in murals showing the Malaysian culture.

Ipoh it’s definitely a must.. have fun 😀

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha 

 

Don’t mess with Melaka

We landed in Kuala Lumpur and went straight away by bus to Melaka what takes approximately 2 hours, and we felt in love with this small appealing and pleasant town.

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Melaka was colonised by the the Dutch, Portuguese and British. The city has a rich history and to tells it proudly with it’s 14 museums 🙂 You can say that fusion is a good word to use when talking about Melaka, once you can find in this charming city  Christian churches, chinese and hindu  temples, mosques and red-brick buildings.

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Melaka is a UNESCO world heritage site and an exciting place to discover. You can easily walk to every point of interest, and if you want to go further you can always rent a bike. The city has great views, artistic buildings and streets. Although not to the extent of Penang there is a lot of street art to be found in the side street nearby the River.

The Dutch Square is the tourist centre, it’s buildings are painted red but more surprising than that are the colourful and noisy trishaws decorated with famous cartoon characters.

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The Jonker Street,  is the main tourist street which can be very crowded. The Ruins of St Paul’s Church are at the top of St Paul’s Hill.

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Melaka has a large and thriving Chinatown that deserves a visit. The Cheng Hoon Teng Temple is the oldest functioning Chinese temple in Malaysia and a must see.

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Melaka is a great place to seat and watch the world go by,  either by the river, or at one of the great many eateries. Food was one of my favourite parts of Melaka  so if you are interested check out the link –   🍡 đŸŒ±a vegan in Melaka đŸŒ±đŸĄ

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

South Vietnam

My journey started at Ho Chi Minh City  (aka Saigon) and from there I explored the south of this diverse country. To visit Vietnam you need to apply to your Visa beforehand, there is no possibility to get a Visa once you are at the border or the airport.

Ho Chi Minh City has a pulsate and chaotic energy. The traffic is something beyond explanation, but despite that it’s full of life and the best way to explore the city is losing yourself in the street.

This is what I recommend to visit:

  • Jade Emperor Pagoda
  • Phuoc An Hoi Quan Pagoda
  • Binh Tay Market
  • Ben Thanh Market
  • Botanic Gardens
  • Cho Lon area

Once in HCMC don’t miss the coffee, it’s a true delight.

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Mekong delta has many places to explore, and it’s incredible beautiful and exotic with it’s water floating world. You need time to explore all it’s beauty and it’s innumerable rivers, canals and streams that cross the landscape.

I need to say that’s very possible to visit the Mekong Delta without a tour and is actually quite easy. You just need to ask around and combine different ways of transport, bus, ferry and  motorbikes.

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You have so many options to choose from, that taking a decision is pretty difficult mostly when you don’t have much time, so I will leave a small list of the best places I visit:

  • Ben Tre  it’s very picturesque and less tourist than My Tho. This area is famous for its keo dua (coconut candy)
  • Ha Tien – it’s beautiful, has a nice riverside market, lots of caves to visit some of which have been turned into temples. Thach dong cave pagoda deserves a visit.
  • Tra Vinh – for me is one of the charming  towns in the Mekong Delta
  • Minh Long – has the Cai Be floating market that is always busy, carrying all the characteristics of the locals’ life.
  • Sam Mountain– has a strong Chinese influence and its full of pagodas and temple the Cavern Pagoda it’s a nice one to visit.
  • Can Tho – is the largest city in the region you can visit the floating markets, Phong Dien, Cai Rang  and take a boat along the  canals.  Phung Hiep is the biggest and busiest floating market in the Mekong Delta it opens at 4.00 am closes at 11.00 am.

Asian Markets are always my first choice to eat, and Vietnam wasn’t an exception, I especially enjoyed the rice paper wrapped spring rolls, fruit and smoothies.

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

Singapore on a budget

Singapore is a city-state in Southeast Asia, with a tropical climate, great food, busy vibe  where its always something happening I stumble in many cultural activities like concerts, performances, multimedia and water projections, so try to be aware and look at all the billboards and posters that came across to you. As you know Singapore is not the cheapest place to visit when you have a tight budge, but it’s possible, and definitely worths a visit even if short. 

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I travel by bus from Malacca to Singapore (24RM), took 4hours to the border, then we left  the bus twice to show our passports. If you do the same be prepared to run… because the second time you leave the bus, they will give you 20 minutes, so take all your belongings with you and if you lose the bus don’t worry  you just need to wait an hour for the next one.

Once in singapore it’s easy to travel around, they have a good and easy public transport system and almost everyone speaks english 🙂 when using the bus just make sure you have always the correct amount because they don’t give change.

Here is a list of my favourite places, that you should visit and tips to save money:

Places to explore:

  • Marina Bay – very cosmopolitan, great views, includes The Merlion Square
  • Botanic gardens – is a Unesco World Heritage Site, It’s more natural than Gardens by the Bay which seems to be more man-made (although very beautiful in its way) – free entry – they have frequent concerts from the Singapore Symphony Orchestra come early and bring a picnic.
  • Gardens by the Bay –  this futuristic garden deserves a visit during the day light and another visit during the night between 7.45pm and 8.45 pm, when the trees twinkle and glow with music – free entry
  • Marina Bay Sands – great views 
  • Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, great place near The Merlion Square. Has always lots going on (some are free). The shape on the outside was inspired on the famous durian fruit.
  • Baba House – (Peranakan home) located near Chinatown has a free hour-long tour but booking is required

  • Sri Mariamman Temple –  oldest Hindu temple –free entry

  • Thian Hock Keng  – Singapore’s oldest Chinese temple –free entry
  • Clark Quay – busy night life

  • Southern Ridges trail – great walking trails through 10km of  forest and canopy walks.

  • China town
  • Little india
  • Arab district (great walk early morning before the crowds arrive) don’t miss the Haji Lane – it’s  heaven for art and culture lovers. 
  • Orchard Road

Museums:

  • Art Museum (free on Fridays after 6pm), incredible good
  • Peranakan museum (1/2 price after 7pm – $5)
  • Asian Civilisation Museum (1/2 price after 7pm – $5)
  • National Museum ($10) – check the website for free guided tours – offered daily

If you have time:

  • Movie Mob –  free outdoor movie with drive-in concept and picnic events.  Happens around Singapore (check their page)
  • Haw Par Villa (founder of Tiger Balm) outdoor exhibitions of  Chinese mythology and legends. – free entry
  • East Coast Park – 15km stretch of beach (can get busy during the weekend)

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Accommodation:  it will be your biggest expense in Singapore, so you must do your research with time and book before your arrival. Backpacking is by far the cheapest option you can get something for $20-30 p/night. If you want more privacy and be in contact with local people airbnb would be a good option.

Eating:  hawker centres are by far the cheapest and best option you have to taste Singapore’s multi-cultural food. I have tried many different ones and they were all a complete delight for every foodie,a main can cost  from $3-7. Remember that  in Singapore you can drink tap water it is safe and clean.

I hope you don’t miss Singapore from your travel list.

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

🍜 More about vegan food in Singapore 🍜

Borneo

🚌 Sarawak – island of Borneo

🚌 Sabah – island of Borneo (soon)  +  Tunku Abdul Rahman marine Park

Sarawak – island of Borneo

Sarawak Borneo will amaze you with its culture and natural beauty. The Island of Borneo has probably one of the most richest and diverse ecosystems I ever seen, but unfortunately many of its forests have been lost for oil palm, putting wildlife and people in danger.

I started my trip in the capital Kuching and I used bus, boat, motorbike, bicycle, and mini vans to travel, this are the places I visited :

🚌 Kuching  / Santubong peninsula / Bako National Park / Semenggoh Nature Reserve/ Bau / Kubah National Park

Explore Kuching and it’s old colonial charm by foot, loosing yourself in its magnificent streets from china town, indian neighbourhood and the river front. I highly recommend you to visit the museums they are really good, look up for street art and don’t miss the sunset in the river front.

To visit the other side of the river, get one of the local boats (1RM each side), go for a walk,  enjoy the view and try a traditional Kek Lapis (layer cake).

In Kuching you can rent a motor bike in the city for 40RM a day to explore the the small villages around including Santubong Peninsula, a nice  quite town with great views and beaches.

I went to the Matang wildlife centre but I don’t recommend it at all, they may do a good job at rescuing and helping the animals but they are all in small cages, I found it quite depressing.

We got the red bus nÂș1 stopped in front of the open market in Kuching to Bako National Park (3.50RM) the park entry is 20 RM, and the boat 40RM both ways (runs from 8 to 15h). You defenetly need to spend at least a day there and do a couple of trails. The park as beautiful mangrove swamp, luxurious rainforest, streams, waterfalls, and if you’re lucky (like me ) you may see proboscis monkeys in their native habitats. This park has an incredible biodiversity, which includes almost every vegetation type in Borneo.

We went to Semenggoh Nature Reserve to see semi-wild orangutans in their natural habitat for that we got a bus from Kuching (4RM) at 7:20 from the open market stop. Once in the reserve you need to walk to the feeding point, the entry is 10RM. Be aware that you may not be lucky enough to see them.  They have 2 hour-long feedings, 9am to 10am and from 3pm to 4pm.

Next stop was Bau, the bus from Kuching  takes an hour,  the bus is an old one so expect a sweaty journey (4.5RM). Bau is a small clean and organised town, has a good market, food court and a Chinese temple that deserves a visit.

Once in Bau we realised that was difficult to find public transports to take us to the different caves so we started walking and hitch-hiked. Hitchhiking was safe and we meet really nice and interesting people. We visited the fairy cave (5RM), a really nice and impressive open mountain cave, no light needed. then we took another lift to the wind cave Nature reserve (5RM) for this one you need a torch, there is plenty to see and lots and lots of bats.

If you plan to come buck to Kuching by bus, the last one departs at 3:20, but never trust the bus schedules 🙂 they often leave early.

To go from Kuching to Kubah National Park, get the bus K21 (4RM) and its an hour ride.The entry is 20RM. The park is gorgeous with lots of hills, ups and downs, I personally found it quite tiering, so get your legs ready. The park offers several trails from one hour to several hours, you can’t buy food or water in the park, so bring something. I did  a couple of trails including the trail to the waterfall where you can get refreshed  and visited the frog pond. The last bus the kuching is at 1:30 but if it doesn’t appear you will have mini bus passing and you can ask them to stop (5RM)

Sarawak is not known for its beaches, I went to Damai beach but I don’t recommend it at all.

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

đŸŒ±Â Information and testimony about being a vegan in Sarawak – A vegan in Sarawak 

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