A Travellerspoint blog


Lazy day

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After a great buffet breakfast at the hotel, I ventured out. Nothing much was open being a Sunday morning. I found Carrefour and spent some time in there. I believe supermarkets offer an interesting insight into local life.

I lazed in my room for much of the day, enjoying its cool comfort. I was particularly content with doing that when I could see the lightning and hear the downpour and thunder in the afternoon.


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Borneo's Kiling Fields

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large_5550_13571227702419.jpgWandering minstrels entertain me during breakfast with "Have you ever seen the rain?"
Being normally an extremely heavy sleeper, I was surprised to have slept lightly through the night. I wandered out and found few choices for breakfast. With a long and rough day anticipated, I passed on the satay and opted for a selection of cakes.

After breakfast, I investigated options for getting to Mandor where some 20,000 people were massacred by the Japanese during WWII. From the different bus routings indicated in the Lonely Planet and a good map, I gathered that I should be able to take any bus bound for Nanga Pinoh, Sintang or Ngabang.

I found the bus station and managed to buy a seat to Mandor on the bus bound for Nanga Pinoh. I had enough time to go back to my room to gather my stuff and a 15 minute lie down.

I was wet from the heat and humidity before we boarded, so I was pleased to be in a seat by the door where I could dry off (and stretch my legs out).large_5550_13571227725020.jpgMy bus to Mandor which continued to Nanga Pinoh.Seating was extremely tight. The ride to Mandor took 3h30 including a lunch stop.

I arrived into Mandor and walked to the site of Borneo’s killing field. The gateway took me to large memorial which was locked. There was also a small glassed shed with pictures of those who were killed. A path led to the 10 mass graves which have been concreted and roofed over. Here lies the remains those killed by the Japanese for plotting against them (or suspected of). This is also one of those times when people from different racial backgrounds put aside their differences against a greater external enemy; a lot of the portraits of the dead were Chinese (the usual target of the Japanese during their reign of terror in SE Asia).

I walked back to the main road and in no time I was back on a bus, this time bound for Pontianak.large_5550_13571227722034.jpgThe back of the bus ... errr, there is no back to this bus.The whole thing by local buses from Singakawang to Mandor then Pontianak was very easy, except for the cramped hot conditions.

The bus ride took 3 hours including window repair and a petrol stop at a very crowded station where we had to queue. During the wait, an old couple on the bus unloaded their bike from the roof and rode off as we were close enough to the city. As a nice surprise, the bus terminated in the centre of town rather than Batu Layang on the opposite bank outside of town (which saved me a taxi ride at a rip-off price). I walked into the swanky Santika Hotel dripping in sweat and couldn’t wait to hop into the shower.

For those of you who think that my travels are glamorous and hedonistic, today’s definitely wasn’t it. Travel isn’t all about beauty and pleasure; it’s also about seeing hard reality … including the ones that make me appreciate what I have in life.


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Far-flung Chinese outpost

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large_5550_13571222937258.jpgSingkawang township at dusk.
My travel (pronounced truffle) picked me up at 1300 for the 3 hour (USD7) journey north to Singkawang. With a lunch stop and traffic, it took 4 hours. The scenery comprised forests, rice paddies, coconut groves, Kerala-like canals, homes surrounded by black water canals with people swimming and washing in them, and the brown sea as we neared Singkawang.

I was my first pleasant travel experience as more often, the Toyota Kijang would be packed to the brim making it less comfortable than a bus. Today I had the front seat and there was only one other passenger.

I got dropped off in the centre of town and found a cheap USD11 hotel with air-con, squat toilet and a tank-and-scoop bathroom. Immediately, the receptionist offered me girls. Seeing no success, he offered me gems (with a big sample on his finger).large_5550_13571222932261.jpgSingkawang mosque.Even though Singkawang is more Chinese (Hakka) than Pontianak, I wasn’t offered pork or dogs this time; only girls and gems.

There was enough daylight for me to wander around town briefly. I grabbed dinner in a restaurant; the stove was in the middle of the dining hall and was fuelled by charcoal. Takeaways were wrapped in big oval leaves, the ones that preceded plastic-and-newspaper in Malaysia before being replaced by styrofoam boxes.

The owner was rather chatty. We got talking and he said that his feel was that Indonesians were more patriotic than Malaysians. I agreed with him only to discover that he was referring to Indonesian Chinese’s patriotism to mainland China. Ooops!

Dinner was cheap at USD2 for a mixed vege with meat and seafood. A big beer was expensive at USD3.

I retired early again. There wasn’t much to do for nightlife here. Actually, Singkawang wasn’t so much of a destination in itself. It was an insight into a far-flung Chinese outpost, a glimpse of what Kuching was 40 years ago (or could still be if Sukarno had won the war). Plus the ride through the countryside was nice.


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Life by the river

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large_5550_13571214282834.jpgAt the wharf in Pontianak.
I woke at 0400; the result of retiring too early last night and the early wakeup yesterday. I popped half a sleeping pill and that took me back into dreamland till 0700.

I enquired with the hotel about onward travel to Singkawang. As the bus station here is out-of-town (which requires a separate bus or taxi), a normally a door-to-door service works out cheaper, faster and more convenient. The earliest one they could find for me was at 1300.

So the morning was spent sightseeing across the river on the Siantan side of town. I took the boat across the Kapuas (Borneo's longest river) and visited the Sultan’s palace. He is still in residence but with Indonesia being a republic, he doesn’t have power or much dough; the place is rather run down.

I continued to the mosque and the village adjoining afterwards. In contrast to the centre of Pontianak [Pontianak-travel-guide-869006] which was very Chinese, this side is very Malay. Unlike much of Indonesia which I’ve visited, people do identify themselves as Malay (in other places, they’re proud to be from other races which in Malaysia have become assimilated into Malay culture, eg. Minang, Bugis, Acehnese).


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Ghosts of women who die during pregnancy

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large_5550_13571209644212.jpgRehana and Lilik welcome us into the resto at the border town of Tebedu.
With a 0715 bus departure, I had to wake early to catch a taxi to the bus station called Kuching Sentral which is on the outskirts of town, next to the airport. I hopped into the taxi five minutes before 0600 not knowing that it was only five minutes till the 50% night surcharge was lifted. It was a costly mistake, but I tried to tell myself that I had saved a similar amount by booking the bus ticket online.

As the taxi driver drove like a madman in the dark while the streets were still clear, I reached the station in about a third of the time it would have taken during the day. As it was very early still, I had a coffee and some breakfast of pau (superb!) and curry puff.

I collected my boarding pass and waited for the bus. I boarded a few minutes before the official departure time and found myself to be the only passenger.large_5550_13571209643377.jpgWalking from the Tebedu checkpoint in Malaysia to the Entikong checkpoint in Indonesia.A few others turned up later and we eventually departed 30 minutes later.

Going through the countryside around Kuching, I was reminded by the presence of many churches that the rural population is largely Christian. Being a city-slicker, I tend to forget that.

We collected a few passengers at Serian before eventually getting to the border town of Tebedu 2 hours after departure (seems like quite a long time for a short journey). We had a scheduled breakfast stop here and were welcomed by Rehana and Lilik, two Indonesian dancers (statues) into the restaurant.

After that, we reboarded to be taken to the Malaysian immigration checkpoint. We disembarked and cleared immigration before continuing by foot to the Indonesian side to do get our entry stamp and luggage scanned.large_5550_13571209658829.jpgLocal bus at our lunch stop.The Indonesian officer by the name of Henry asked me something about my feet and heaven … as it was a bit noisy, I shrugged and said I didn’t understand. I then changed some money into Rupiah right under the sign “No currency exchange services and hawkers allowed”.

About 5 hours after we had set-off from Kuching we arrived at a lunch stop. The food didn’t look too appealing so I gave it a miss.

There was no significant big town en route to Pontianak [Pontianak-travel-guide-869006] at all. There were many villages, again largely Christian. Dangdut (thankfully muted), filled the bus for much of the journey.

The areas as we approached Pontianak were very low lying. Many homes were surrounded by black canals, some of which had overflowed to take over their front yard.large_5550_13571209655669.jpgAnother local bus with our bus in the background.While it looked somewhat picturesque, I didn’t think it was the best living environment with malaria and dengue in mind.

Some 9 hours later (including 2 meal breaks) we crossed Equator monument and then the bridge which spanned the mighty Kapuas River to arrive into Pontianak. To Malaysians, this city is named after the ghost of women who die during pregnancy. The name always brings a giggle. But to Indonesians that variety of spirit is known as Kuntilanak.

Hopping into the taxi to my hotel, I was offered girls, pork and dogs. Pontianak is very Chinese (Teochew) city and I it shows; I never get offered anything like this in the other cities!

After checking into my hotel, I went to the ATM at the Bank Danamon (I always think Doraemon, for some reason). There was enough daylight for me to sit on the sidewalk and grab a slushy fruit shake.

After dinner, I christened my sleeping bag liner (bought in Saigon). The typically budget hotel doesn’t change the blankets after each guest and doesn’t provide a top-sheet. In all my years of travel, I’ve just grimaced … but now I have a sleeping bag liner :-)


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