After waiting patiently in Kuching for two days, for a cheaper flight to Miri, we arrived at Miri airport (still in Malaysia). Our guesthouse had sent someone to collect us from the airport for 20 ringgit, and from the minute we got into the car to the minute we closed the door to our room behind us, we had a barrage of information thrown at us from every direction. About anything we could possibly need to know, and some we didn't! I highly recommend Dillenia Guesthouse! Mrs Lee was basically acting as a travel agent for every one of her guests, as well as giving the personal touch to every aspect of staying in her guesthouse. This lady deserves a medal, and looking at her collection of certificates from Trip Advisor, she can't be far off! We ended up taking a day trip to Niah Caves, at Niah National Park, in a private taxi with another couple at the Guesthouse.
Niah Caves were INCREDIBLE! Just amazing!!!! After entering the park and buying a ticket, we crossed the river by boat for an extra 1 ringgit each. We then looked around the museum, and started a long walk on very slippery, sometimes broken boardwalks over crocodile infested mangroves towards the caves. I'm so glad Mrs Lee warned us against wearing flip-flops. It was a tough walk, and it took maybe 45 minutes to reach the first cave, and I've never felt so tiny and insignificant in all my life (but not in a bad way). At one point we were standing in a cave where 44,000 year old human remains were found (the earliest modern human remains in SE Asia) staring at an opening in the cave roof made by water, watching the rain plummet through the hole in a shaft of sunlight, in slow motion from about 50m above (turns out that watching rain fall from that high up makes it look really slow!), and wondering what someone would have made of that incredible sight 44,000 years ago, if the hole was even there then. My mind just can't compute 44,000 years, and yet these caves have seen that amount of time and more. I felt so tiny, as the caves were so gargantuan. The colours inside were mind blowing, it makes you wonder why the moss and ferns would try so hard to be seen when there's so little light anyway, but they do. They were neon. Even the rocks were turquoise from rust, and the ground was red. The bugs in these caves were flourishing, and clearly had been for a long time as they were huge. The bats seemed completely at ease too, as so few tourists venture this way and disturb them. I might've cried a little (ahem!) as it was just all so overwhelmingly beautiful, but I don't think Rich noticed so got away with it. Rich's camera battery died before we reached the "Painting Caves" (with ancient paintings on the cave walls and ceilings), but he got some incredible photos before it did. The whole day was exhausting, and I wish we'd taken more food than just a packet of cheesy "Super Rings" between us, but I'd do it again in a heartbeat. I could've spent days in these caves, walking between them and just talking it all in.
The next morning we were off again, in transport arranged by Mrs Lee, to country number eight. Our visit to Miri was short but sweet, as we were excited to see Brunei. Brunei wasn't on our original list of countries, but neither was Malaysia, and as we were passing it seemed rude not to stop in and say hello.
The fifth richest country in the world, and so not exactly a haven for backpackers, Brunei have the right idea when it comes to helping out the less privileged members of society. They put it in the news;
Being given help with getting a home is a privilege, and I think us Brits should celebrate the fact that we help out so many families like this too, not just ignore it or whinge about it. I know the scale is different at home, but I'm so proud to come from a country where help is so readily available, having seen the state of some "homes" around the world, and think we should all be as proud.
I found this article when I was looking for news about the Sultan's birthday celebrations, which are happening today. His birthday was actually last month, during Ramadan, so he postponed the celebrations. Well, you would, wouldn't you? Nearly everywhere we've been there's been some kind of event happening. It feels like the whole world is celebrating, and we're invited to all of it. It's awesome! We'll be heading to the city centre this evening to see the parade, by water taxi. Yep, the only way to get there from our hotel is via a maniac with a speedboat engine strapped to his little wooden dinghy. But the wind on your skin cools you down at least, as the sun here feels deadly. I can almost smell my skin burning as soon as the sunlight touches it. I can understand now why Arabs wear all those layers in the desert.
We've only spent one night here so far, but I like it. Sharia law is being introduced here in stages (very strict Islamic law, where the punishment for stealing is having your hands chopped off), but it feels pretty welcoming to me as a tourist. I'm doing my best to stay covered up, except not my hair, but it doesn't seem to be a problem for westerners not to cover their hair. Plus it's safer to keep my skin out the sun anyway. The people seem kind, caring and generous; the girl at the front desk lent us B$5 to get to town and use an ATM, as we had no cash to pay for the water taxi when we first arrived, and we've been invited to someone's home already for a "hari raya". People in town all seem happy to give directions, however obvious they already are! And everyone smiles back. Big thumbs up for Brunei!