A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Grete Howard

Majete Wildlife Reserve - Chimwenya Private Game Reserve


View Southern Africa 2024 on Grete Howard's travel map.

The first thing we notice when we get up this morning, is the fact that the elephants have brought down a couple of large trees at some stage during the night, right outside our room.

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Thawale Lodge Waterhole

One of the things I really love about this lodge is the waterhole with ringside seats where I can sit and wait for the wildlife to come to me.

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This morning our first visitor is a Hammerkop.

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Impala

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Nyala with wonky horns

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This is what regular horns look like on the magnificent fully grown male nyalas

TrailCam

As we are moving on to another lodge today, David retrieves the TrailCam from the tree where it has been since yesterday afternoon, overlooking the waterhole.

This time we have captured a herd of elephants in the evening sun.

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Some Waterbuck also enjoying the waterhole

There was also one sole elephant coming in after dark. That would be the one we heard after we went to bed last night.

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That's probably the one that tore the trees down.

Breakfast

We take breakfast at a more reasonable time today, rather than grabbing a quick cookie at 05:30 and not eating a proper meal until we get back from the morning game drive much, much later.

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Fruit salad with granola and yogurt

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A plate of butternut muffins, still warm from the oven, are brought out. It would be rude not to, right? They are nicely crispy on the outside and soft in the middle, albeit a little samey throughout, and a rather dense consistemcy.

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My eggs on toast

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David's Full English

One of the unusual questions we have received here is whether we want our fried eggs soft, hard or medium.

On the road again

Before we even get out of the park, we see a pair of Bataleur Eagles with a nest.

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I can't make out what he is eating, but it is - or was - furry

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You can clearly see the chick here

Knobthorn Tree

Jim points out the Knob Acacia, which gets its name from the knobbly bark.

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Its leaves are a favourite with giraffes, the tree is resistant to drought and termites, and its wood is often used to make drums amongst other things (drums are popular as a non-violent way to scare elephants away from villages).

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As we make our way back towards Blantyre, I do my usual drive-by-shooting (take photos from a moving car), as well as Jim stopping to explain about things we see along the way. This is one of the many reasons why I prefer to have a driver-guide rather than self-drive.

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Sodom Apple (so named as it was referred to growing in the biblical area of Sodom) contain a toxic milky sap that is extremely bitter, as well as a having a complex mix of chemicals, some of which are poisonous to humans and livestock.

Brick Making

Mud is dug out of the ground, shaped into bricks by hand using a rudimentary mould, and air-dried before being fired in a huge kiln.

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Digging for mud

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Bricks laid out to dry

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Brick oven

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Laundry

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Fishing

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Pushing a wheelbarrow full of animal fodder

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Sesame seeds drying

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Open-air church service under a tree

Marula Tree

This incredibly versatile tree (think Amarula, the delicious liqueur made from its soft fruit) is central in a number of traditional African medicines (as well as a multitude of other uses). People will cut a piece of bark off the tree to make a potion to treat illnesses such as dysentery, malaria, diabetes, fever, and even snake bites. Each time a section of the bark is removed, the tree attempts to repair itself, creating these strange growth formations.

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This large old specimen has been cut down, and the soft wood will be used for carving (such as wooden spoons), furniture, or panelling.

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Sadly this old baobab tree has also been cut down, much to Jim's dismay

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Bicycle taxi

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Planting rice. Because of the proximity to the Shire River, the soil around here is wet enough for rice to be grown at any time of year.

Dyeratu Village

The name means “ready to eat before travel”, as can be seen by the produce sold alongside the road.

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Kids selling small fruits known as buffalo thorn

Pigeon Houses

These come in many shapes and sizes and are used to keep feral pigeons for human consumption. Inside the house are bars for the birds to sit on – just like you’d find in a canary cage – and superstition says that if you tie two calabashes together underneath, every pigeon will lay two eggs.

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Madziabango Village

Today is Saturday, which means their huge, colourful, weekly market takes place.

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Dried maize used as animal fodder

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Manioc plants

Lunch at Blantyre Mall

We stop at a fast food restaurant called Krazy at the popular modern shopping mall in Blantyre. Jim drops us off right at the entrance, then argues with the security guard who eventually – and reluctantly – removes some bollards for Jim to be able to park in a bay close to the restaurant.

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Jim and David both have cheeseburgers, whereas I have a chicken sandwich. The chicken is crispy and tasty and the roll is fresh and soft

Since Jim was here last a couple of weeks ago, they have introduced charges for the car park, with a barrier at the entrance where you collect your ticket. Jim struggles to remember where he put said ticket, and while he searches every pocket for it, he chats up the lady attendant. Jim has a winning way with people and a kind word for everyone he meets.

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We head back out of Blantyre in the opposite direction to whence we came from - with more drive-by-shooting, of course.

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Local public transport - cheaper than the alternative closed-in minibuses

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Caster oil tree

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Sugar cane

Chimwenya Private Game Reserve

As usual, there is a book for signing Jim, the vehicle, and us in.

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Game Haven

From the entrance, a grand avenue leads up to the main building of the lodge.

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Our room isn’t ready yet when we arrive, so we sit outside overlooking the gardens and order a couple of cappuccinos. The weather is surprisingly cold, and we are both wishing we’d worn something warm. I joke that the room will be ready as soon the coffees arrive – and guess what? Before we’ve even had a chance to take a sip out of the drink, the receptionist comes along with our keys.

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Our room

We don’t just have 'a room’, we are given a lovely chalet (and the nearest one to the main building, at that!) with a large lounge area, a spacious bedroom, and a terrace outside overlooking the game park.

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Game Drive

This vehicle is easier to get into than the one in Majete, in that the door has been removed so I don’t have to climb quite so high.

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Chimwenya is a small fenced, game reserve with a lodge and a golf course within its grounds. There are no predators in the reserve, so the animals are not as skittish as they can be in other parks.

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Animals found within the park

The first animal we see is the park’s one and only giraffe, known as Miss G.

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Southern Fiscal Shrike

Plains Zebra

Down by the small lake, a small number of zebra graze in the late afternoon sun.

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Helmeted Guineafowl

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Eland

Historically, these large animals (the largest antelope in Africa) have been hunted for their delicious meat, and will usually run off as soon as they spot a human or vehicle. Here, however, where there are no predators, they have no fear and graze happily as we stop the car alongside them.

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The park is beautiful, bathed in sunshine

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One of the paths leading through the reserve

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A young Waterbuck trying to hide behind the reeds

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David and Jim in the vehicle

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Chicory plant - apparently good for skin burn

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Red Billed Quelia

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Cabanis Bunting

Impala

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I love how they skip and jump when they run – they can leap up to ten feet high and cover a distance of 30 feet. It’s very impressive to watch (but not today).

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They are affectionately known as ‘McDonalds’ as a result of the distinct M on their rump.

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Blue Wildebeest

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On the golf course

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With a Hammerkop underneath

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I guess they help keep the grass on the golf course trimmed

Stephen (the safari driver) delivers us directly to our room at the end of the game drive. We pop outside the back of our chalet to take some photos of the park from here, and discover a giant spider on the terrace.

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Me on the terrace

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David photographing me on the terrace - note the wildebeest in the background

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Giant Orb Spider

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It's really colourful

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Trying to get photos from every angle

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David's hand for size comparison - the spider is about the size of his palm!

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Wildebeest seen from our chalet

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I love the long shadows

Dinner

Much to David’s delight, this lodge has his favourite South African cider.

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My starter - vegetable spring rolls with a minty yogurt dip. The rolls are crispy but without much taste. Jim offers me a VERY hot chilli sauce to remedy that!

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David chooses a very thick cream of mushroom soup

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David's main course of penne pasta with carrots and courgettes in a spicy tomato, herb and garlic sauce. Not very spicy, according to David

I opt for a local dish – Chicken Khwasu Khwasu – crispy fried chicken served with vegetables (sauteed mustard leaves - very nice), nsima (the staple food in Malawi, a thick porridge made out of maize flour and water), and a tomato relish.

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The traditional way of eating this dish is with your hands, tearing the nsima apart, and dipping it in the relish/vegetables. I find it unbearable hot to handle (I have been accused of having wimpy fingers that are very sensitive to heat), but I battle on. The chicken is easy with a very tasty skin!

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Baked Amarula Cheesecake to finish - very rich, but I cannot taste the Amarula

By the time I get into bed, I am so cold that I am shivering, but I soon warm up under the thick covers

Thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this amazing Great Africa Trip 2024.

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Posted by Grete Howard 08:52 Archived in Malawi Tagged wildlife market village safari malawi spider zebra eagle bricks baobab burger laundry cider impala waterbuck waterhole wildebeest shrike blantyre cappuccino fast_food brick_making amarula majete game_drive game_reserve private_tour savanna golf_course undiscovered_destinations hammerkop guineafowl drive_by_shooting savanna_cider church_service thawale nyala majete_wildlife_reserve thawale_lodge bespoke_itinerary bespoke-travel wildlife_reserve bataleur knobthorn knob_acacia sodom_apple marula_tree bicycle_taxi dyeratu buffalo_thorn pigeon_houses madziabango saturday_market weekly_market manioc dried_maize krazy chicken_burger chimwenya chimwenya_private_game_reserve private_game_reserve game_haven chicory quelia savanna_dry khwasu_khwasu Comments (2)

Majete Wildlife Reserve


View Southern Africa 2024 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Morning Game Drive

Following information about Samuel - our driver-guide - received last night about a lion sighting, he heads towards the airfield. We do see lion tracks, but no lion.

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Cheetah

What we do see soon after, however, is a male cheetah walking along the road, blending extremely well into the undergrowth.

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This is the son of Nora, one of the original four cheetahs introduced to the park from South Africa in 2019. Her two cubs have been seen hanging around in this area, while mum has moved further south within the park. The adult cub wanders down to a tree where he marks his territory before sniffing and hanging around the tree for a while.

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He then looks at us as he sprints across the road.

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Such a magical moment, and we are the only ones to experience it. Samuel is on the radio to the other cars, but before they have a chance to get here, the magnificent animal has disappeared into the bush once more.

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Rhino Tracks

Samuel spots tracks in the sand belonging to the elusive rhino and gets very excited. He explains that a team of trackers is employed purely to keep an eye on where the rhinos go. They have to find one rhino every day and submit a photo.

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The way this stick has been cut diagonally as if by a knife, confirms that a rhino has indeed passed by here.

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Samuel also points out a burrow in the ground. He is able to pinpoint the type of animal that has used this crevice from the type of roots left over. This one belongs to a porcupine. I would love to see a porcupine, but sadly they are nocturnal, so not likely to show their face at this time of day.

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Impala

In the cold mornings (it is winter here in the Southern Hemisphere, of course), many of the animals keep warm by having their hairs stand on end to make their coat thicker, as you can see on this impala.

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Hippos

Down at the Shire River, a number of hippos are grazing, and some are even out of the water. large_d037ebe0-4446-11ef-8b15-e1feba798a7e.jpglarge_d0b420c0-4446-11ef-8806-2dd6b724d667.jpglarge_d04a8980-4446-11ef-8806-2dd6b724d667.jpg

There are a few crocodiles too.

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A Pied Kingfisher hovers above the water before diving in for his breakfast.

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An African Darter arrives after a fishing expedition and proceeds to dry his wings as he sits on a rock near the river.

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As we make our way through the bush, we spot other birds and animals.

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Little Bee Eater

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Yellow Baboon

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Collared Palm Thrush

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Another Impala

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Marabou Stork

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Waterbuck

The management of Majete Wildlife Reserve was taken over by African Parks in 2003. Prior to this, Majete was an unknown reserve where almost all its wildlife had been hunted out – only a few antelope remained. Samuel shows us remains of a settlement in this area, a huge grinding stone that was too heavy to be transported when the villagers were relocated to make room for the wildlife reserve.

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Juvenile Bateleur Eagle flying

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I am particularly excited about seeing this Böhm's Bee Eater - it is one of many birds on my wish list.

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Nyala

Breakfast

We go straight to breakfast on our return to the lodge.

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My egg and bacon

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David's full English breakfast

TrailCam

Last night we put a motion-activated TrailCam up just outside our room, but when we check out the memory card, we are disappointed to find that all we captured in the night was a domestic cat!

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Waterhole

We spend the rest of the morning watching the animals at the waterhole located just beyond the restaurant, and we are certainly not short of visitors.

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I spend some time chasing this Arnot's Chat around the bushes

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Fork Tailed Drongo

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Impala

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Impala at the waterhole

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Warthog arriving

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Nyala arriving

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Then something spooks them

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They return

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A tender moment

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Suckling

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Waterbuck

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Lunch

I barely have time to stop for lunch which is served while we are busy photographing the animals:

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Chicken wrap - while the wrap itself is quite hard to cut, the filling of minced chicken is warm and tasty, and the salad has a refreshing balsamic dressing

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Banoffee Swiss Roll to finish - much of a nothingness, really

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Kuche Kuche local beer

TrailCam

Being disappointed with the images from the traincam last night, David removes it from outside our room and with the help of a member of staff, places it on a tree overlooking the waterhole.

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I return to my position by the waterhole after lunch.

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Yellow Baboon

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I think they look just like hairy spiders in this position

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It's not until mum stands up that I realise she has a baby hanging under her belly. Lucky it didn't drown!

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And then the elephants arrive

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Afternoon Game Drive

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Our chariot awaits, this time with a crate to help me climb in

The first wildlife we see on this drive is this Bateleur Eagle in a small pond

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Fork Tailed Drongo

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A young Waterbuck, part of a small creche involving several youngsters, while mum sits in the shade watching her offspring eat.

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Shire River

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We see this huge Verreaux's Eagle Owl on a branch, but whatever we do, we cannot get it to look around. Even driving to the other side of the tree, he is still looking away.

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Eventually, he turns his head so that we can see the face. Samuel explains that their hearing is extremely fine-tuned as a result of one ear facing upwards and the other opening downwards towards the ground.

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A bushbuck on the other side of the river

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Yellow Baboons preening each other

Lion

Samuel gets a call on the radio to say that a lion has been spotted, and we race to the place only to find it has gone back into the bush. We can still make out his outline, however.

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Lots of roaring takes place, apparently a ‘conversation’ between this lion and another one on the opposite side of the river. We hang around for some time, but the big cat seems quite content where he is. It is getting dark now, so we go for sundowners overlooking the river.

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View of Kapichira Power Station from our picnic site

Just as we are finishing our drinks and snacks, a call comes on the radio to say the lion has made it out of the undergrowth and crossed the road in front of some of the waiting tourists. “I know where it will come out” Samuel states with confidence. He is right.

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Along with a couple of other trucks, we follow the lion as he wanders left to right, and right to left, with guides shining powerful spotlights on him (avoiding his eyes as best as they can - they don't want to temporarily blind the poor thing)

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Eventually, we leave him alone and head back to the camp. A Side Striped Jackal flits from one side of the road to the other, far too fast for me to photograph. Samuel stops, however, for this millipede on the side of the road.

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When threatened, the worm-like bug curls up and turns red from cyanide production. Their main predator, the nocturnal civet, will shake the millepede to try and expel some of the poison before eating.

Thawale Lodge

Back at camp, we discover fresh elephant prints on the path leading to our room.

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Dinner

To start we are served a very hot, very thick, and very tasty tomato soup.

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This is followed by a T-bone steak, which is far too tough for my liking – I am struggling to even cut the meat with a steak knife. The vegetables are cold, but at least they are not overcooked. The sauce is nice and tasty, however.

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Dessert is a Milk Tart, with a crusty and tasty base. A bit like a custard tart.

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After dinner, we retire to our room to indulge in a little Duty-Free Tia Maria alongside a cappuccino (we brought some sachets along with us from England), while listening to the rustling caused by elephants gracing outside our room.

Thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for making this Great Africa Trip 2024 possible.

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Posted by Grete Howard 09:01 Archived in Malawi Tagged elephants breakfast africa safari malawi lunch birding chat cheetah lion hippo baboon impala owl millipede waterhole drongo bird_watching majete game_drive darter undiscovered_destinations thrush bee_eater wildlife_photography night_drive full_english thawale nyala majete_wildlife_reserve lion_footprints rhino_tracks bateleur thawale_lodge trailcam domestic_cat Comments (2)

Blantyre - Majete Wildlife Reserve


View Southern Africa 2024 on Grete Howard's travel map.

After a good night's sleep in a very comfortable bed, we head to the restaurant to get set up for the day with some food.

Breakfast

I enjoy some muesli with a very pink strawberry yogurt, while David has cereals.

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David follows this with a full English breakfast.

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I ask for just a fried egg, but when it arrives it is accompanied by a sausage.

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St Michael and All Angels Church

Although not on the original itinerary, Jim is showing us a few of the sites here in Blantyre before we head out of the city.

The Presbyterian church was constructed between 1888 and 1891 from locally made bricks, having been designed by a local reverend with no architectural training, and with no detailed drawings produced beforehand.

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I am fascinated and impressed by the rounded bricks on the pillars at the entrance – apparently, 84 different styles of brick were used in the construction.

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More rounded bricks

The church has been closed for worship since the cyclone that devastated the area last year (2023) made it unsafe, but the caretaker kindly opens it for us to take a look inside. He assures us it is safe for us to enter.

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Mandala House

With claims of being the first ‘proper’ building in Blantyre, the house is now part museum, part gift shop, part café, and a National Monument.

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The art gallery features numerous carvings, weaving, and other arts and crafts.

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Built in 1882, the building served as a manager’s house for the African Lakes Corporation.

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Until the end of the 19th century, it served as the centre of commerce for the ALC, whose head office was located in Glasgow.

Among their many ventures was one of the first banks in the Federation of Nyasaland (now Malawi) and Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). This is the original vault door, which was transported from Glasgow.

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We are shown around the building by Godfrey, one of the workers there.

In the craft shop, we find a puzzle ball made of a very light wood which we buy – not just because it looks cool, but also to use it for self-massage on my painful sacroiliac.

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The Old Boma

Jim merely drives past this protected building which was once the town hall where they collected taxes from locals.

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I am initially amused to find a rather rudimentary sign for the Royal Norwegian Embassy beside this dilapidated building, until I realise this is not where the embassy is housed, but rather that they have sponsored it.

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From the built-up area of Blantyre, we head out of town on the M1 – a long straight road with little traffic.

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From the top of the escarpment, we have good views of tea estates, the valley below, and the Shire River.

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Shire River is not only the largest river in Malawi, but it is also the only outlet for Lake Malawi and eventually flows into the Zambezi River in Mozambique.

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It seems life in Malawi is mostly carried out alongside the roads, with shops selling everything from food and clothes to household items. I do my usual ‘drive-by-shooting’ (ie. take photos through the car windows as we drive by).

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Collecting firewood for cooking

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Brick making

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Woven 'baskets' used to protect trees from hungry goats

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Charcoal

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Fruit for sale

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BBQ corn

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Shoes

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Bicycle taxis - more affordable than motorcycles

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They have padded seats and an extra handlebar for passengers to hold on to.

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Houses built for the families who were displaced by last year's cyclone

Later we cross the aforementioned Shire River (locally pronounced “sha-ree”) to reach our destination for the day.

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Majete Wildlife Reserve

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Since it was taken over by African Parks in 2003, the reserve has been restocked with animals from elsewhere in Africa, and fenced to try and keep poachers out.

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At the entrance, Jim goes off to sign us in, and gives David a book to complete our details.

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Not long after we enter the park, we spot our first animal – a South African Giraffe. Jim admits that this is the first time he has seen a giraffe in this park. We feel honoured.

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Thawale Tented Camp

Our accommodation is close to the entrance of the park, and we are greeted at the gate with hot wet towels.

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The staff grab our luggage, while we are being guided to the main restaurant area, which overlooks a waterhole. We see elephants, warthogs, waterbuck, and Nyala while we enjoy our welcome drinks.

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The waterhole from the restaurant

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A young elephant strolls by

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Waterbuck drinking at the waterhole

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Male nyala

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Female nyala

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Warthogs

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Welcome drinks

Our Room

The accommodation is in tents on a concrete platform, and we are given the tent nearest the restaurant which has a ramp rather than steps leading up to it.

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Inside is a huge double bed, a desk, fan, storage facilities, and an en suite bathroom.

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The large terrace has a couple of chairs where we can sit and admire the wildlife walking past. I like it very much.

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View from the bed

Lunch

The public area is on two levels, with the restaurant on the lower part, on a concrete platform with a sandy floor, overlooking the waterhole. The bar is up a few steps and is more traditional, with a concrete floor.

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We try the local beer Kuche Kuche, which is quite weak and rather palatable.

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Fish and chips – crispy coating, tasty and light, not at all greasy. Nice chips too.

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Followed by ice cream.

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We sit on the balcony of our room for a while, watching the birds and animals.

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Red Headed Weaver (female)

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Waterbuck

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Nyala

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White Tailed Skink

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Turtle in the waterhole

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Ring Necked Doves

Afternoon Game Drive

Game drives are taken in open sides tiered vehicles that are not very easy to climb into for someone with bad knees, but I manage. Just.

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The game drives are arranged through the lodge, rather than through the tour company as we are used to from Tanzania. Our driver-guide here in Majete is Samuel, who is very knowledgeable, and a great tracker, but not always easy to understand.

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The first animal we see this afternoon is a Yellow Baboon (a new species to us) eating the sap from a tree that has suffered elephant damage.

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Impala

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White Crowned Lapwing (Lifer)

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Greater Kudu

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Female Kudu suffering from mange

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Yellow Breasted Apalis trying its best to hide behind a branch (another lifer)

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Nile Crocodile beside the Shire River

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African Pied Wagtail

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Hippo popping up to say "hello"

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Is this my best side?

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African Darter

The light is fading rapidly now, making photography very hit-and-miss.

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Warthog

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Yellow Baboon

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Böhm's Bee Eater (lifer) which Samuel shines his powerful spotlight on

Sundowners

As the days (and weeks) roll on, we realise that this is a custom practiced in all the parks in Southern Africa (or at least the ones we visit) – stopping somewhere (hopefully safe) out in the bush to enjoy a beverage of your choice and some snacks as the sun goes down. This is not something we are used to from East Africa, but I think it makes a nice relaxing finish to the safari rather than rushing out of the park gate before it gets dark (as we usually do in Tanzania)

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Snacks and drinks on a table with a tablecloth on a lookout point over Shire River

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David quickly gets into this new custom

This is then followed by a ‘Night Drive’ with a spotlight to get back to the lodge.

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Great Spotted Genet seen in the bushes

Dinner

After a quick freshen-up, we wander down to the restaurant and order a bottle of South African Pinotage (one of our favourite wines) to go with dinner.

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Delicious butternut squash soup served with nice soft freshly baked bread

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Beef stir fry with rice - the meat is tender, although the dish could do with being a little hotter

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Tasty and moist chocolate cake to finish

Thankfully the portions are not too big so we don’t end up going to bed uncomfortably full.

Thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this Great Africa Trip.

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Posted by Grete Howard 08:41 Archived in Malawi Tagged animals birds wildlife church elephant africa safari malawi crocodile birding hippo baboon impala waterbuck weaver doves kudu warthog waterhole blantyre brick_making bird_watching sundowners game_drives majete tented_camp firewood darter undiscovered_destinations art_gallery lapwing wildlife_photography wildlife_park the_leslie full_english st_michaels_and_all_angels_chur mandala_house the_old_boma norwegian_embassy puzzle_ball shire_river bbq_corn majete_wildlife_park safari_park thawale thawale_tented_camp nyala kuche_kuche apalis pinotage Comments (2)

The Start of the Great Africa Trip 2024


View Southern Africa 2024 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Heathrow

On arrival at the pre-check for the check-in counter, as soon as I mention “Special Assistance”, we are taken to a new lane with no-one waiting. From there we walk to the Special Assistance area, which to me is a ridiculous system – it should be the first thing you encounter as you enter the airport, not something you can only access after you’ve checked in. Having said that, there are telephones in the car park where you can call for someone to come and collect you in a wheelchair – providing it is after 05:00 (you cannot be disabled outside the office hours).

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The porter, a delightful Indian girl, is happy to oblige when I ask if we can stop at the Duty Free. As David wanders around trying to find some suitable alcohol, a very attractive young assistant approaches me to ask if she can help me, so I ask if they stock Tia Maria or Baileys. She confirms that, unfortunately, they don’t have Tia Maria, but they do stock Baileys. Imagine my surprise when David returns, having purchased Morgan’s Spiced and a bottle of Tia Maria.

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From the airside Special Assistance Holding Area, a buggy takes us to the gate. Unlike the buggy driver who collected me at Heathrow when we landed back last time, this chap is very charming and helpful, even taking photos of us before we set off to the gate.

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Ethiopian Airlines ET 701 from London Heathrow to Addis Ababa

A few weeks ago, I placed a bid to purchase what they call a Neighbour-Free Seat on this flight, ie making sure the seat next to me is kept unoccupied. A couple of days ago we received an email to say my bid was successful.

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As the flight is almost full, it is nice to be able to spread out over the three seats for the two of us.

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Before we have even taken off, a chorus of crying children (I can hear at least five of them) begin their cacophony. As soon as one starts, it sets the others off. At one stage, one of them shrieks like a banshee – the most ear-piercing high-pitched noise I have ever heard. How can such a penetrating sound emanate from such a small thing?

In-Flight Meal

The choice is between chicken or beef, and I choose beef while David has the chicken.

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Mine is served as a pie with the beef in a rich sauce, pastry topping, and mash alongside. Apart from the fact that the green beans are overcooked, the meal is really quite pleasant.

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To start we have a salad which is refreshing, and my dessert is a fruit salad, whereas David gets a cake to finish after his chicken.

After some red wine to accompany the meal, I feel sleepy, and even though I have a numb bum and the fact that the flight is unbearably hot, I manage to doze off to sleep.

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Approaching Addis Ababa

Addis Ababa

Ethiopia’s capital airport is huge, and the Special Assistance system works in mysterious ways. From the plane, I am pushed to a holding area in a corridor and left there.

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Later, another porter arrives and takes me through a long, long corridor and down a lift, to what looks like a storage area in the basement, where I am held for another 20 minutes or so. The area is in absolute chaos, with assistance passengers trying to negotiate a security screening while passengers arriving from flights via a bus scramble past and up an escalator. Many are confused about where to go, and try to enter the security area.

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When I am finally beckoned through, everything has to come off: shoes, money belt, watch. The other side of the passenger scanner offers three seats, all of which are taken, so I end up standing around waiting for the wheelchair to be given security clearance. From here, it is back up in the lift, and through the very busy terminal to another holding area.

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As the departure time gets closer and closer, a fellow passenger starts to panic, worrying that we are going to get left behind. I know it happens (recently at Bristol Airport, six Special Assistance passengers were forgotten when the plane took off). Finally, around 15 minutes before the published departure time, we are taken down onto the tarmac and into the special lift truck to enter the plane.

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Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 881 from Addis Ababa to Blantyre

Yet again we were successful with the upgrade to the No-Neighbour Seat, so we can spread out.

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In-Flight Meal

David chooses fish, while I have the chicken – which proves to be impossible to cut – the plastic knives provided just bend as I press them into the meat – so I just eat the bread roll and cheese plus the custardy dessert.

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Blantyre

The Special Assistance here is very efficient, bypassing the passport control (the porter takes my passport and hands it in, getting it back almost immediately), and he also picks up our luggage while we wait for David to come through.

Jim, our guide for the Malawi and Zambia portion of this trip, is waiting just outside the customs area and whisks us to the waiting vehicle.

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Jim with the Welcome sign

Meanwhile, David pops back into the terminal again to change some money into the local currency. At around 2,500 Kwacha to the British Pound, we end up with a huge wad of money.

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The Leslie

With a distinctly colonial feel, our first hotel in Malawi is more than adequate. The receptionist is concerned when she sees my stick, as our room is up a small flight of steps. She needn’t have worried, I am more than capable of climbing up, and it is worth it when we get to our cozy room.

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The courtyard and reception

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The room is on two levels, with a deceptively steep step between the bedroom part and the kitchen area.

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There is an enclosed outside patio area with a couple of chairs and a table.

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After dumping our bags and quickly freshening up, we meet Jim in the bar for a briefing. The lounge is incredibly hot, with the AC set at 30 °C.

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Having gone through the itinerary, and discussed the various options along the way, Jim leaves us to go back to our room with a couple of Diet Cokes to go with our Duty Free rum on the terrace.

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Dinner

Red wine by the glass comes chilled (!) in individual 250ml carafes.

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My beefburger with cheese sauce

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David's beef lasagne

And so it is back to the room for an early bed, having travelled all through the night to get here.

Thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this incredible private bespoke trip.

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Posted by Grete Howard 08:34 Archived in Malawi Tagged africa safari malawi heathrow currency wheelchair blantyre adventure_travel duty_free upgrade undiscovered_destinations ethiopian_airlines captain_morgan tia_maria special_assistance private_trip bespoke_trip addis_ababa_airport neighbour_free_seat the_leslie money_charge Comments (2)

Kuwait - Home


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As we go for breakfast, we ask the receptionist to order a taxi for us, and for the porters to bring the cases from the room. By the time we get down to the lobby, the bags are already in the taxi.

Kuwait Airport

Just inside the door is a small information desk, where we ask for a wheelchair. We are asked to “sit down”, and two minutes later a chair and porter arrive, and take us to the check-in area, through immigration and security to the gate area.

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At the gate

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sign in the airport toilets

Several wheelchairs board the aircraft first, and the service we receive here from the porters and staff is second to none.

Kuwait Airlines flight to London

The aircraft is spacious, with plenty of legroom – not once do my knees touch the seat in front of me. I spend the time (it’s a six-hour, 40-minute flight) watching a film (Shotgun Wedding – good fun), snoozing, and eating – we are served pepper chicken with cream sauce and mashed potato (very nice, quite peppery).

Heathrow

A wheelchair is waiting for me at the door, which takes me up to a waiting buggy at the top of the ramp. David is not allowed to accompany me on the buggy (which he always has previously), despite there being an empty seat next to me. The buggy takes me to a holding area next to immigration, where there are lots of unhappy people having waited for over an hour for a wheelchair to take them through. The American lady next to me has a taxi waiting outside, which is racking up extra costs on the meter as well as parking charges. Seeing that the queue for Special Passengers going through immigration is not that long, rather than hang around waiting for a chair, I walk. There are only half a dozen or so wheelchairs in front of me in the queue, so it should go reasonably quickly (my arthritis does not like me standing still for any period of time).

Not so. First, a Middle Eastern family with what looks like the grandmother in a wheelchair is stopped at the desk, and they take an age to go through. Next a paramedic with a patient is let through (quite rightly), and the Immigration Holding Centre for those who have been taken aside for extra questioning is right down this end too, so they also jump the queue. Then one of the officials goes to lunch / coffee / toilet or whatever, leaving just one desk open. After a lot of grumbling by the waiting passengers, another two positions are opened, which thankfully speeds things up.

When it is my turn, the immigration officer is all smiles and friendliness, takes my passport, scans it, and hands it back. Ten seconds.

Meanwhile, David is wondering what has happened to me, having already collected the luggage. He doesn’t want to ring me, as phones are strictly prohibited in the immigration area. We finally meet up and make our way to the car park. No car (we have booked meet-and-greet parking). After what seems like an eternity, David calls them, only to be told that the car has been here all along – at the other end of the car park. All that remains is to drive home.

And so ends our amazing eight-week Grand South East Asia trip, arranged by Undiscovered Destinations.

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Posted by Grete Howard 11:00 Archived in Kuwait Tagged kuwait heathrow undiscovered_destinations grand_south_east_asia_tour kuwait_airport kuwait_airlines Comments (2)

Kuwait City Sightseeing


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A WhatsApp message wakes me at 01:30 from Walid, the guide we have booked through Viator for a sightseeing tour of Kuwait today (not arranged through Undiscovered Destinations like the rest of the trip) asking if we can do the tour at 08:30, rather than 13:00 as previously arranged. I explained to Walid when I booked the tour, that I specifically wanted an afternoon trip so that we could finish at Al Shaheed Park at dusk, as they have a water fountain display after dark which I’d be interested in photographing. Feeling too tired and more than a little travel-weary at this stage, I capitulate and agree to leave earlier than originally agreed.

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The original message back in September

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The message in the early hours of this morning

I go back to sleep feeling a little peeved.

As soon as we leave the room and head for the lift this morning, I notice a glorious sunrise over the city from the lift lobby and rush back in to get my camera. Breakfast can wait.

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In the breakfast restaurant, I notice a glass screen wrapping around the entrance to the gents’ toilets and remark that you’d never get a wheelchair around that corner. With both my parents being wheelchair users towards the end of their lives, and now me needing one at certain times, I have become increasingly observant to the fact that most buildings are not easily accessible for anyone with limited mobility.

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City Sightseeing

We wait in the lobby for Walid to arrive, and are disappointed when he doesn’t even bother to get out of his car to greet us, just sending a WhatsApp message “I’m here”.

While not as messy as it has been, my cold sore is still concerning me, so I ask Walid just to drive around for me to take photos from the car, rather than risk exposing my mouth to the strong sunshine here in the Middle East.

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The inside of Walid’s car is shockingly messy, and I am quite appalled when he asks if we mind if he vapes in the car. Despite me answering “I’d rather you didn’t”, he leans out of the window when stopped at junctions to take a quick drag.

The city is modern, and the buildings are close together, making it quite hard to get a good picture of a cityscape on more than a couple of occasions.

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From across the bay

Instead, I concentrate on photographing architectural details, closing in on patterns, shapes, and reflections.

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After a couple of hours, I am fed up with Walid, his messy car, and his vaping, and as I feel I have photographed more than enough architectural detail, I ask that we go back to the hotel, where we chill for the rest of the day. Walid is the only guide we have not tipped on this trip.

Dinner

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Penne Pasta with Cajun Chicken and Cream Sauce

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Moroccan Lamb Shank

The sightseeing tour of Kuwait was a disappointing finish to an otherwise superb trip, but it is rather telling that the excursion here is one of only two that were not arranged through Undiscovered Destinations.

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Posted by Grete Howard 10:25 Archived in Kuwait Tagged kuwait viator undiscovered_destinations grand_tour_of_south_east_asia grand_majestic_hotel Comments (3)

Kuala Lumpur - Kuwait

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Although our flight from Kuala Lumpur to Kuwait is not until 01:40 in the morning, we need to leave the hotel at around 21:30 the night before to get to the airport on time. Thankfully there is not as much traffic this evening as there was when we arrived a couple of days ago.

Kuala Lumpur International Airport

At the Kuwait Airlines check-in area, a long queue has formed, waiting for the counters to open. Yoga, who has been our guide here in Kualala Lumpur, asks for a wheelchair. “Not until after check-in” he is told. Really? I am not allowed to be disabled until then? That’s a first for us! He is also refused priority check-in, which is normally offered throughout the world for less-abled passengers. Another first.

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Yoga tells me to go and sit down, while he and David join the queue. After their lack of customer service, when the lady at check-in insists that she wants to see me, Yoga insists that she has to walk to where I am sitting. We finally manage to get a wheelchair with a porter, who takes us to a holding area, a dull room tucked away far from the departure gate. I feel a little uncomfortable and concerned that we might be left there and forgotten, especially when there is a change of shift, and nobody arrives to replace the staff who are leaving.

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We aren’t forgotten, however, and someone comes to collect us and takes us through security to the gate, and along with another disabled lady from London, we are the first to board. At least that is something. The stewardess who meets me at the door of the plane seems surly. She is the first crew member who has not offered to help me up the step into the plane, or with the overhead bags. Not that I necessarily require assistance, but the lack of care is very noticeable.

The seat configuration is 2-4-2, and once everyone is settled into their seats, another stewardess comes over and asks if I would like to move to the back, where I have a complete row of four seats to myself. OK, my confidence in Kuwait Airlines’ customer service has been restored. David is also happy, of course, as it means he now gets two seats to himself. It’s a nine-hour flight, so I am thankful for the extra legroom and being able to spread out.

Overnight flights, also known as Red Eye Flights, are great in that we both manage to get plenty of sleep in, making the time go so much quicker. Dinner is chicken biriyani, which is pleasant, and breakfast, served soon before we land in Kuwait, consists of a choice of omelette or a waffle. I choose the latter, which is absolutely delicious.

Just after we touch down on the ground in Kuwait, the power goes on in the plane. Even the stewardess claims thst is the first time it has happened on all her flights.

Kuwait

Welcome to our country number 147. A porter pushes me in a wheelchair to the Visa Hall, where they convert our e-visas to paper visas. So much for being paper-free. Our fingerprints and photographs are taken, and we are on our way immediately, unlike the number of overseas workers from the Indian subcontinent who are waiting around in the hall.

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Once through security where our bags are X-rayed, we grab a taxi and head to our hotel. The taxi driver appears not to recognise the name Grand Majestic Hotel, or maybe his English is not very good (it is probably still way better than my Arabic, and after all, we are the guests in their country), so I show him our booking and he heads in the general direction of the address shown on the paperwork. David spots the hotel and points it out to the driver.

Grand Majestic Hotel

While there is a comfortable lobby on the ground floor, the reception (and restaurant) is on the 17th floor. Check-in is smooth and quick, and we are shown to our room on the 8th floor.

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The lobby

We wander back up again to the 17th floor, to grab something to eat.

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Hummus, tabuleh, fuul medames, labneh - some of favourite Middle Eastern dishes

Feeling pretty exhausted from the nearly eight weeks of travelling (and the overnight flight, of course), we spend the rest of the day chilling in the airconditioned room. When it starts to get dark, I get my tripod out and take some pictures of Kuwait City from our room.

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Dinner

The dining room is bright, and the menu features Indian, Middle Eastern, and International dishes, and the portions are absolutely enormous!

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David's chicken curry with accompaniments

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My chicken shawarma comes with fries, coleslaw, ketchup, mayonnaise, pickled vegetables, and olives.

Thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for putting together this amazing itinerary, including some destinations that they don't normally cover (such as Kuwait)

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Posted by Grete Howard 09:52 Archived in Kuwait Tagged kuala_lumpur malaysia kuwait klia wheelchair undiscovered_destinations grand_south_east_asia_tour grand_majestic_hotel Comments (3)

Kuala Lumpur - Thien Hon Temple, Batu Caves, Petronas Towers


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After a great sleep, I wake to a glorious sunrise over Kuala Lumpur this morning.

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Breakfast here at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel is a grand affair, with so much choice from the buffet.

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Individual little butter dishes

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I try some local food followed by French Toast.

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From our room, we look over the plaza in front of the Petronas Towers Shopping Centre, where a number of people dressed in pink create the Cancer Awareness sign for a publicity campaign.

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Thean Hou Temple

Yoga, our local guide, arranges for the driver (Peter) to drop me off at a rear entrance on a hill at the top of the temple so that I don’t have to climb all the steps from street level.

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The rear entrance

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Fortune telling offered by the rear entrance

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Numerous steps at the front entrance

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The temple, completed in 1987, was built by Hainanese living in Malaysia and is dedicated to the Chinese Sea Goddess Mazu.

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Light offerings

Featuring elements of Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism, Thean Hou is one of the largest temples in South East Asia.

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Details of the intricate ceiling

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The temple is popular with wedding couples

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Great views over the city from the top

Royal Palace

The Istana Negara is the official residence of the supreme King of Malaysia, who relocated to Kuala Lumpur in 2011 upon the completion of this palace.

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The palace complex boasts a total of 22 domes and is a fusion of traditional Malay and Islamic architecture

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One of the guards at the palace

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A change of guards arrive

Batu Caves

The caves themselves are amongst the oldest in the world, estimated to have been organically formed some 400 million years ago in an area of high limestone outcropping. Although having previously been used as a shelter by the local tribe, the cave was not ‘discovered’ until some time in the 1870s by Chinese settlers who were collecting guano.

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The actual temple, which is nestled in the heart of the cave, was built in 1920 and is a popular attraction for devotees and tourists alike. Realising that I am unable, and David unwilling, to climb the 272 steps to reach the cave, Yoga suggests we just enjoy the atmosphere around the temle instead, where there are a number of other shrines.

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The original steps were wooden, later replaced by concrete as the wood wore out. In 2018 the 272 steps were painted, each set of steps painted in a different range of colours.

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In front of the temple stands the 42.7 metre (140ft) high golden statue of the Hindu God, Lord Murugan. Dating from 2006, it is the tallest statue in Malaysia, and the third tallest Hindu statue in the world. The cave complex is one of the most popular Hindu shrines outside India.

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Cheeky monkeys roam the area, hoping to be fed by visitors, and bird feeding is positively encouraged.

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With my cold sore still angry and pussing, I wear a mask to protect myself from the sun.

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Taking a rest from exploring, we stop in an Indian restaurant in the grounds of the temple where Yoga treats us to some chilled fresh coconut.

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National Mosque – Masjid Negara

This enormous mosque, completed in 1965 in honour of Malaysia’s independence from Britain some eight years earlier, can hold up to 15,000 devotees for its Friday prayers. The 73-metre high minaret is shaped like a folded-up umbrella, as a nod to the tropical climate here in Malaysia.

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The umbrella theme continues in the dome (you can just about make it out in this photo), which is created to look like a half-open umbrella, and it has 16 folds to represent the 11 states of Malaysia (before Sahah and Sarawak were added), plus the five pillars of Islam.

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Reflecting pools and fountains are spread throughout the compound. The mosque is a bold and modern approach in reinforced concrete with a contemporary expression of Islamic art and ornamentation, symbolic of the aspirations of a then newly independent nation.

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The mosque was the largest in Malaysia until the completion in 1988 of the Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Mosque in Shah Alam.

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Walkie Talkie Building

From the grounds of the mosque, we spot the Walkie Talkie Building, which at 679 metres, is set to be the 2nd tallest skyscraper in the world upon completion (after Burj Khalifa in Dubai).

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Independence Square

Historically important, this is the place where the British Flag was lowered and the Malaysian flag was raised for the very first time at midnight on 31st August 1957. Many important buildings surround the square, but many workmen and filmmakers mingle around, with scaffolding and marques being erected, and one of the main roads closed off, rendering parts of the square inaccessible to accommodate a pro-Palistian demonstration.

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Sultan Abdul Samad Building

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The Royal Selangor Club was known as The Spotted Dogs Club in colonial times for all the dalmatians tied up outside when the wives met for coffee while the men were working.

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Modern skyscrapers behind

We continue our whistle-stop exploration of the city by car.

The very ornate Kuala Lumpur Railway Station

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KTMB Corporate Headquarters

Jamek Mosque

Built in 1909, the mosque remains the city's central house of worship for the Muslim community.

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It gets rather lost nestled between the much taller modern buildings.

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Kuala Lumpur means 'confluence of muddy rivers'. After dark, mist is created over the river, lit by a blue light.

Street murals

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A brief story of Chinese tin miners who were the founding fathers of Kuala Lumpur

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Sri Mahamariamman Hindu Temple

Founded in 1873, Sri Mahamariamman is the oldest Hindu Temple in Malaysia and features an impressive five-tiered gopuram (tower).

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The dramatic 22.9m tall gate tower is richly decorated with depictions of Hindu gods sculpted by artisans from southern India.

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Murukku

Yoga, who is himself Indian and a Hindu, brings us a bag of typical Indian snacks, popular at Diwali. They are crunchy and savoury and not at all spicy as I expected.

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Petronas Twin Towers

We drive slowly through Chinatown without stopping, before arriving at the Petronal Twin Towers near our hotel. We have tickets to scale the towers later this afternoon, so meanwhile we wander around the most expensive shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur, found within the lower part of the Petronas building.

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The famous towers

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Lunch
With plenty of time to spare, we stop at the huge food court within the shopping complex.

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There are so many choices, so many different cuisines, but nearly all of them are large portions, so we finally choose a couple of wraps.

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Chicken shawarma (mine)

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Felafel wrap (David's)

At our allocated time, we head for the entrance to the Tower Experience.

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It is all very well organised (commercialised), with small groups being allowed to enter every few minutes so as not to crowd each place. With lots of standing around and very slow walking, I struggle big time with my arthritis, so I give up after the first bridge and return to the ground where I find a comfortable seat. My camera goes with David, so the images below are a combination of mine and his.

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The following information is taken from their website:

Petronas Towers is the world’s tallest twin building.

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The design of each tower floor plate is based on simple Islamic geometric forms of two interlocking squares, creating the shape of an eight-pointed star. Architecturally, these forms represent the important Islamic principles of unity, harmony, stability, and rationality.

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Each tower is 88 storeys high, measuring 452 metres, and weighs 300,000 tonnes which is equivalent to about 42,857 adult elephants.

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The construction of the Twin Towers took 6 years and cost over RM 6 billion (USD $1.6 billion, or £1.2 billion) to complete.

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The towers have a ground-breaking 120 metres of solid foundation underneath their massive concrete footings.

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The Twin Towers include 29 double-decker high-speed passenger lifts, six heavy-duty service lifts, and four executive lifts. Each passenger lift can carry up to 52 people total, while the executive lifts can carry about ten. The speeds of these elevators vary between 3.5m/s and 6.0 m/s, depending on the zones they are servicing.

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The observation deck in Petronas Twin Towers is at Level 86, the 2nd highest level of both towers. The deck allows visitors to enjoy the spectacular cityscape view from 370 meters.

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Weighing 750 tons, the double-decker skybridge acts as the connector between the two towers on the Level 41 and 42. Interestingly, the skybridge is not fully attached to the main building - engineers deliberately designed the skybridge this way to make allowances for small movements during high winds and other unpleasant weather. This prevents the bridge from breaking away from the towers. The bridge is 170m above the ground and 58.4m long.

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Once David has completed the tour to the top and returned to ground level, we walk the short distance back to our hotel, where we chill and watch the pro-Palestine demonstration on the plaza below.

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Dinner

With my back and sacroiliac joint giving me a lot of pain, we decide to order room service this evening. A porter arrives with a small table on wheels covered with a white tablecloth, starched napkins, and an orchid in a vase.

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My prawn laksa with a flask of sauce to pour over the food in the bowl, and a spicy dip.

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David’s lasagne is kept warm in an oven underneath the table – I have never seen that before!

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And so ends our time in Kuala Lumpur, the penultimate destination on this Grand Tour of South East Asia, expertly arranged by Undiscovered Destinations.

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Posted by Grete Howard 13:48 Archived in Malaysia Tagged kuala_lumpur batu_caves monkeys mosque caves malaysia pigeons royal_palace southeast_asia chinese_temple petronas_towers national_mosque hindu_temple thean_hou_temple undiscovered_destinations room_servce independence_square masjid_negara grand_tour_of_south_east_asia mandarin_oriental_hotel istana_negara lord_murugan murugan kuala_lumpur_railway_station jamek_mosque tewmple sri_mahamariamman pwetronas_twin_towers sij pro-palestine_demonstration Comments (3)

Brunei - Kuala Lumpur


View South East Asia Grand Tour 2023 on Grete Howard's travel map.

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We have an early start this morning: up at 05:30, breakfast at 06:30, and leave at 07:30. After a whistlestop visit, we are leaving Brunei today, heading for Kuala Lumpur.

My cold sore is still looking grotesque this morning, and feeling very sore. I am so over this now, but what can I do other than keep applying the cream?

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Air Asia flight from Brunei to Kuala Lumpur

At the departure airport, Farez (our local guide) goes in to look for a wheelchair, but having no joy he comes back out again, and while he goes to park the car, David and I walk to the Priority Check-In lane at Air Asia. Farez tells me to sit down, “David will sort it”. After Farez checks up why it is taking so long, eventually, someone arrives with a wheelchair. Air Asia is the only airline where we have had to pay (ca £20) for the ‘pleasure’ of a wheelchair – an absolutely disgraceful way to treat less abled passengers!

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I sleep for most of the 2½ hour flight. At Kuala Lumpur Airport, the wheelchair waiting for me is tiny, and constructed so that the wheels touch my bum when moving; so they put out a call for a larger chair, which necessitates a long wait. All the passengers and crew have left the aircraft, and when the captain passes, he stops to find out if we have a problem. A nice touch. Eventually, a larger wheelchair arrives and we are able to make our way through immigration and security quickly and easily thanks to the online visa application.

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Mandarin Oriental Hotel

As we pull up in front of the hotel, I comment on all the luxury cars parked outside, and Yoga - our guide here in KL - quips “It’s the sort of hotel that not everyone can afford to stay in”.

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The latest Bentley

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A red Ferrari

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The Reception at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel

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The lobby

The large ground-floor lobby area is certainly spectacular, with some eclectic lights and lots of fresh flowers.

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The lift is all silver and mirrors, with many different textures and patterns.

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Before we left home, I joined the hotel's loyalty program, which meant we have been upgraded to a corner mini-suite with views of the famous Petronas Twin Towers to one side, and KLCC Park in the other direction.

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We can see 1½ of the towers from our room

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KLCC (Kuala Lumpur City Centre) Park

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Skyscrapers beyond

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There's a lot of construction work going on in the city

We chill in the room for a while, with one of the complimentary drinks, and open the ‘gift’ that was brought up with our luggage. The porter spends ages chatting with us, and offers to help us “with anything we might need”. He is very sweet.

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Very refreshing apple and calamansi (a small lime) juice

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This looks interesting...

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What is it....?

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It's a fragrant candle

The Sky Bar at Traders Hotel

I spent a long time as part of the planning stage, trying to find a place to take night shots from that offers a good view of the Petronas Twin Towers. Eventually, I discovered that Traders Hotel has a bar on the top floor which should have unobstructed views of the towers. Their website suggests that booking a table is necessary, so I do that online. I request a table in the window at 17:00 so that I can be there before nightfall to make the most of the blue hour just after sunset when the lights have come on in the buildings and the sky still has some colour in it. The fact that they are offering a Happy Hour between 17:00 and 18:00 helps me decide.

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We can see Traders Hotel from our bedroom window

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The Sky Bar

Getting to Traders Hotel is easy, they have a free transfer buggy for their guests, which stops at the plaza outside the Petronas Towers. The two passengers that get on after we do, are asked if they are staying in Traders Hotel, and are kicked off the buggy when they admit they are not; whereas we are not even questioned. I feel a little bit of discrimination going on there, as they look to be of local origin, and are probably in their 20s, whereas I guess we might appear to be more the sort of tourists that would stay in the hotel. I feel a little uncomfortable about that, but not enough to own up to not being residents of Traders.

The Sky Bar is on the 33rd floor of the hotel and is nothing like I imagined from the pictures on their website. The room is dominated by a pool, with a couple of people sitting on benches in the window in dressing gowns. There are some tables and chairs, but apart from one person swimming, there are no other patrons.

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The barman is totally disinterested when we approach the bar, barely looking up, and looks like a huge question mark when I tell him I have a reservation. I show him my printed-out booking confirmation and he asks: “Where would you like to sit?” I notice that none of the tables have a RESERVED sign on them, so we choose one of their ‘cabanas’ in the window, which are not exactly luxurious, being just huge pouffes surrounding a central area with a table.

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The view is great, though.

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KLCC Park and the shopping plaza which makes up the bottom of the Petronas Towers.

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Excellent view of the towers.

Ordering food and drinks is done via a QR code on the table, which means we don’t have to go to the bar, nor try to attract the disinterested barman’s attention. I like being in control!

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There are QR codes on every table, plus free wifi, of course

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David perusing the cocktail menu

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Somersby Cider and Pina Colada

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Mai Tai

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Sex on the Beach and Cider (David is always excited when he finds cider on the menu when we travel)

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I, meanwhile, work my way through the cocktail list: Frosty Gingher

With a few drinks under our belt, we think we’d better have something to eat.

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David has Wagyu Burger, whereas I fancy Chicken Popcorn

As we wait for the light to go down, we watch the dancing fountains in the park below.

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While there are windows next to the seating area to shelter diners from wind and rain, the top part of the wall is open to the elements, so I am able to take pictures without getting reflections from the glass.

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No lights on in the buildings yet

It doesn't take long, however, before it is almost dark and the buildings look beautiful with all the lights on inside.

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Satisfied that I have achieved what I set out to do here at Traders Hotel, we catch the buggy back to the plaza and watch the nightly light show across the water in the park, known as the Lake Symphony.

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We get a good view of the light show from our room too, as well as the city by night.

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And so ends our first day in Kuala Lumpur, a small part of the Grand South East Asia Tour, arranged by Undiscovered Destinations.

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Posted by Grete Howard 08:48 Archived in Malaysia Tagged kuala_lumpur fountains flight light_show klcc ferrari cocktails klia brunei wheelchair petronas_twin_towers petronas_towers bentley air_asia upgrade undiscovered_destinations night_photography traders_hotel cold_sore brunei_airport mandarin_oriental_hotel the_sky_bar pool_bar dancing_fountains lake_symphony Comments (5)

Brunei


View South East Asia Grand Tour 2023 on Grete Howard's travel map.

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I enjoy a very naughty breakfast of waffles with sugar, cinnamon, and maple syrup this morning. Sugar overload!

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Today we have a sightseeing tour of Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital and largest city of Brunei. Originally known as Brunei Town, in 1970 it was renamed Bandar Seri Begawan, which means 'honourable leader' as homage to the Sultan’s late father, Omar Ali Saifuddien

I am grateful the sun is not out today, as my cold sore is quite raw this morning, extremely unsightly, and rather painful, so I put on a mask when leaving the hotel.

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Brunei is an independent Islamic sultanate on the northern coast of the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia.

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Kota Batu

Believed to be an ancient burial site from the 14th - 17th century, Kota Batu is an important archaeological site. The name translates as ‘city of stone’, as a result of the rock structures found here, which would have served as walls of a fortress. It is believed that this site was the capital city of Brunei, and the site also played an important role as a center of government, trade, and settlement in Brunei during that time. While the park is of great importance as a hub for archaeological research, there is not that much to see for visitors.

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Mausoleum of Sultan Bolkiah

Bolkiah was the fifth Sultan of Brunei, who reigned from 1485 following the abdication of his father, until his death in 1524. This era is said to be the golden age of Brunei, with Bolkiah expanding Brunei’s territory to include present-day Sarawak and Sabah in Borneo, and Manila and Sulu Archipelago in the Philippines.

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Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien Bridge

Commonly known as the Temburong Bridge (or SOAS Bridge from the initials), the 26-km bridge is the longest in Southeast Asia, connecting the district of Temburong with the rest of Brunei.

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Before the bridge was completed in 2020, the eastern half was separated from the rest of the country, and to reach the capital, they would either have to take a boat across the bay or a two-hour drive via Malaysia involving two complicated border crossings.

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Mangroves

Using a traditional longboat, we explore the mangroves that surround the capital.

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The mangroves play an important part in protecting the city, by stopping the tidal waves from reaching the built-up areas.

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The virgin rainforest is also home to many birds and animals – I tend to forget that this is part of Borneo.

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Chinese Egret, a new species to us

Proboscis Monkeys

As I pick up my long 400mm lens to point at the monkeys in the tree, all I can see is grey. The lens it totally steamed up, and however much I try to wipe it off, it makes no difference.

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It turns out, the condensation is on the inside of the lens, not the outside.

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That is rather worrying (for any long-term damage), and there is absolutely nothing I can do about it now. I use my 24-105mm lens to take some photos, but as the monkeys are a very long way away, by the time I have cropped the images to the point where I can distinguish the monkeys from the rest of the tree, the quality is so-so.

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Royal Tomb

The area around this old tomb is said to be haunted, and local people fear coming out here at night, as there have been a number of strange occurrences.

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Kampong Ayer

We return to the city to see the world’s largest settlement on stilts, housing close to 12,000 people in an area of 10 km² (less than four square miles) spread across 30 villages connected by 30 km of wooden walkways.

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As a major historical and cultural heritage of Brunei, Kampong Ayer is believed to have been inhabited for at least 1000 years, and in the 1500s it was a bustling port, known as Venice of the East. Over the last few decades, the population based in these water villages has decreased, with many people preferring to move to land-based accommodation. The diminishing population, added to the busy modern lifestyle, is threatening the survival of the customs and traditions practiced in Kampong Ayer. While it would be a shame to lose this cultural heritage, I can fully understand people wanting to move with the times and make life easier for themselves.

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The houses here at Kampong Ayer are mostly built of wood in the traditional Malay style, but we also see a brand new housing estate!

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Most of the houses, even the old traditional ones, have running water, and electricity, with fast wifi and air conditioning.

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There are mosques, schools, a police station, and a fire station.

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Mosque

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Fire Station

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Police Station

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School

The secondary school in Kampong Ayer, Awang Semaun Secondary School, is the only school of its kind where its buildings are built on water.

Fires are a common occurrence, unfortunately, mostly as a result of faulty wiring, and with so many wooden buildings in close proximity to each other, the fire spreads easily and quickly.

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Bandar Seri Begawan

The central district of the city is modern and luxurious as many of the buildings have been reconstructed after the city suffered serious damage during WWII. Around 180,000 of the country’s 500,000 population live in the city. I have to confess that I knew very little about this small kingdom prior to this trip, including that it didn’t gain its independence from United Kingdom until 1984.

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Now rich from oil (Brunei has the second-highest Human Development Index among the Southeast Asian nations, after Singapore). Crude oil and natural gas production account for about 90% of its GDP

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I ask Farez, our guide about living standards, and he tells me he still considers Brunei to be a Third World Country.

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Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque

Back on dry land, we visit the most famous mosque in the city, alongside a replica of the boat Sultan Bolkiah used when he colonised Borneo and the Philippines.

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The mosque, which was built in 1958, has 28 real gold domes to celebrate him as the 28th Sultan. Up to 5,000 people can pray inside the mosque on any one day, and the construction features a number of tunnels under the city that are frequently used by the current Sultan to journey through town.

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While Brunei is a Muslim country, other religions are also tolerated.

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St Andrew's Church

We see a huge Land Monitor crossing the road. Farez explains how they are a real nuisance, having killed three of his cats over the last year or so.

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Jami Asri Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque

Named after the 29th and current Sultan, the mosque was inaugurated in 1994. The tiles used in the construction of this extravagant building came from the Middle East, the marble was sourced in Italy, and the wood was transported from the Philippines, with the stained glass imported from Britain! It is said to be the Sultan’s favourite mosque, and he is often found here on a Friday, praying and shaking hands with the people. Known for his compassion and generosity, the Sultan is approachable and will often help everyday citizens in trouble if asked.

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The Istana Nurul Imam Palace

Behind this ornate fence, is the royal residence, the world’s largest residential palace as per Guinness World Records. The palace contains 1,788 rooms, with 257 bathrooms, a banquet hall that can be expanded to accommodate up to 5,000 guests, and a mosque that can hold 1,500 people praying. The palace also includes a 110-car garage, an air-conditioned stable for the Sultan's 200 polo ponies, and five swimming pools. In total, the buildings contain 2,152,782 square feet (200,000 m²) of floor space. Istana Nurul Iman has 564 chandeliers, 51,000 light bulbs, 44 stairwells, and 18 elevators. Outside the queen has her own garden, there is a polo ground and football field, plus a private airfield, where the Sultan is often seen flying his own helicopter. Over 1,000 are employed within the palace.

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You can see an aerial image of the property in this article.

Malay Technology Museum

This museum is not at all what I expected it to be – I thought it was going to be all about technology, but what the museum does, in fact, is focusing on the traditional lifestyle and artisanship of Brunei’s ethnic groups through recreations of tribal villages and cottage-style industries.

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Royal Regalia Museum

A visual representation of the immense wealth of the Sultanate, the museum is home to heirlooms and regalia such as crown jewels, ceremonial gowns, golden chariots, olden-day symbolic weapons, and shields.

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Dinner

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On my recommendation, David orders the Pulled Beef Panini, BBC Sauce, Jalapenos, American Cheddar, Mustard Mayo, with chips

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My Penne with Pesto, Cream, Garlic and Chicken

We both have Banoffee Bread Pudding for dessert, I have vanilla ice cream, David chooses coffee

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Thank you Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this incredible Grand Tour of South East Asia

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Posted by Grete Howard 10:40 Archived in Brunei Tagged mosque church museum haunted water_village royal_palace mausoleum egret waffles mangroves monitor brunei sultanate proboscis_monkey bandar_seri_begawan kampong_ayer undiscovered_destinations grand_tour_of_south_east_asia cold_sore kota_batu sultan_bolkiah sultan_haji_omar_ali_saifuddien tempurong_bridge soas_bridge steamed_up_lens royal_tomb stilt_village sultan_omar_al_saifudding_mosqu st_andrews_church land_monitor jami_asri_hassanil_mosque istans_nurul_imam_palace malay_technology_museum royal_regalia_museum Comments (3)

Manila - Brunei


View South East Asia Grand Tour 2023 on Grete Howard's travel map.

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Cold sore

My cold sore has really developed this morning, becoming crusty with lots of pus. Nice (insert sarascm font here).

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Breakfast

For our last day here in the Philippines at the Bay Leaf Hotel, I have a breakfast salad, whereas David chooses egg on toast plus pancakes.

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Egg on toast

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Breakfast Salad

Airport Transfer

Our driver, a chap we haven’t met before, called Alan, turns up to take us to the airport, Terminal Two. My recollection is that we are flying from Terminal One, so Alan checks with the office. We are indeed flying from Terminal One. Just as well I have a good memory, otherwise, it would have been a lot of hassle once we reach the (wrong) terminal.

In order to enter the airport building we need to show our passports and flight tickets, then we encounter a pre-check-in check where they want to see the passports, tickets, onward flight itinerary, the flight ticket to London, my British Settled Status documents (this is only the second time I have ever been asked for that), details about why I have requested Special Assistance, what is wrong with my leg/back, and when it happened (I am pretty sure that would be illegal to ask in this country). When we finally reach the check-in desks, they ask for all the same information, plus the hotel reservations in Brunei. Thankfully, I am very organised and have this all to hand in a chronologically organised folder.

I ask for an aisle seat on the right-hand side of the plane, and she books me one on the left-hand side. I manage to get it swapped fairly easily, and the porter pushes me to immigration via a shortcut. There are long, long queues for security, but the porter jumps the queue to get nearer the front. One of my carry-on bags is picked to be checked, and I have to take everything out. They also check my boarding card and passport.

We continue through long corridors and down lifts. My boarding card says Gate 7, but there has been a gate change, so we re-route to Gate 5. Here there is another X-ray for the bags and security screening for humans, plus they check our passports and boarding cards. On the move again, we have to go down another long corridor, but in order to be allowed to continue, boarding cards must be shown. Once we get to the gate, the porter has to find someone with a key to unlock the door for us to get in.

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The waiting area at the gate

Once on board, we take our seats, and find, much to our delight, that we have been upgraded to Economy Plus, which offers ca 4” extra legroom, plus free food and drink.

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As we take off, audio of an Islamic 'prayer for the traveller' is played, with subtitles in English. That's a first! The complimentary food is chicken and mushrooms with pasta and vegetables.

Brunei Airport

A delightful husband-and-wife team of porters are there ready to push me around (so to speak) when we land in Brunei. They wheel me straight through immigration and collect the luggage to meet our local guide Farez in the main hall. We are urged to check in online tonight for our flight to Kuala Lumpur in two days’ time, as Air Asia apparently charges for you to check in at the airport (that sounds like some of the low-cost airlines operating out of the UK), and also purchase extra hand luggage beforehand as they are apparently very strict, according to the husband and wife team.

Hotel Radisson

We receive a warm welcome from the receptionist, with the paperwork already completed and on the desk ready waiting for us. The room is modern and fairly big, with a chaise lounge and a writing desk. Welcome to country number 147.

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As suggested, we sort out the stuff for the upcoming flight before going to dinner in the hotel restaurant.

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Dinner

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Pulled Beef Panini, BBQ Sauce, Jalapenos, American Cheddar, Mustard Mayo - absolutely delicious with just the right amount of spiciness

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David's fish and chips

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Dessert: Banoffee Bread and Butter Pudding with Coffee Ice Cream and two spoons

In the room next to the restaurant, there is a very loud awards dinner taking place, with lots of laughing and clapping. They also have a karaoke session, but just with the singing, no accompanying music. It is painful to listen to, so we are glad to go back to the room.

This incredible Grand Tour of South East Asia was organised by Undiscovered Destinations.

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Posted by Grete Howard 10:45 Archived in Brunei Tagged manila brunei airport_security undiscovered_destinations upgraded bayleaf_hotel manila_airport economy_plus radisson_brunei airport_travsfer misty_aircraft_cabin Comments (3)

Bohol - Manila


View South East Asia Grand Tour 2023 on Grete Howard's travel map.

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Today marks just one week left of our eight-week Grand Tour of South East Asia.

I wake up with a huge cold sore this morning. I have felt it coming on for a few days – it was presumably triggered by spending all day in the sun when we did our island hopping boat trip in El Nido.

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Our favourite waitress is on this morning, and knowing how much I love it, she brings me a large plate of mango.

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We take one last look at the beach here at Bohol Beach Club before leaving

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Bohol Panglao Airport

Our pick-up is 15 minutes early this morning, so by the time we get to Bohol Panglao Airport, the check-in counter is not open yet.

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When it finally opens, the assistant attaches a PRIORITY sticker to our luggage.

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At the gate, a three-piece live band turns up to entertain the passengers – it seems a little extravagant!

Philippine Airlines flight from Bohol to Manila

I’ve never seen an aircraft quite so foggy before, we can hardly see a foot in front of our faces. It isn’t smoke, of course, but mist to stabilise the temperature in the aircraft as the doors are open while boarding.

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Despite being only a 1½ hour flight, we are served a hot drink (or water) and a snack pack of spicy peas and mango, and half an hour later, a crew member comes around with a tray of cookies.

Manila Airport

As a result of the PRIORITY stickers, our bags arrive among the first on the carousel. The airport terminal has been decorated for Christmas during the time since we were here about a week ago. They certainly start the Christmas celebrations early here in the Philippines.

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Pharmacy

We stop on the way from the aircraft to the hotel to try and get something for my cold sore. The pharmacist is thankfully able to override the fact that the cream is meant to be available on prescription only, so at least I have something to hopefully give me some relief.

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Bay Leaf Hotel

We are back in the same hotel, and the same room for our last night in the Philippines, which can only mean one thing: Churros!

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Dinner

Later we try out the Raffaele Restaurant in the hotel, which is almost empty.

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David's Pizza with Beef, Garlic, Chilli, and Cheese

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I have Pasta with Prosciutto and Truffle

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We share an enormous Tiramisu for dessert

Thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this amazing trip to South East Asia

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Posted by Grete Howard 12:17 Archived in Philippines Tagged beach manila pizza bohol panglao pharmacy philippine_airlines tiramisu cold_sore bohol_beach_club panglao_airport bohol_panglao_airport manila_airport chrictmas_decorations Comments (3)

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