Angela’s Holiday and Sue’s Birthday
As I sit here writing this blog my sister Angela is winging her way back to the UK. By the time I’ve posted the blog I’m sure she will have forgotten her holiday but we did have a great time. Angela arrived Sunday 27th April – 3 days after the lightening strike. Bill had spent hours trying to get enough of the boat systems working so we would be able to limp out of the marina to see a bit of the area. We spent the first couple of days in Danga bay marina in Malaysia. Although it’s easy for us to pop back and forwards to Singapore, (but you get a total of 4 stamps in your passport each time!) it’s difficult and costly to get the boat in and out so the boat remained in Malaysia. On Monday Angela and I hit the malls and she was soon leading me astray.
The rally had organised a tour of the Johor area on Tuesday so we decided to join it. The coach left at 7am and took a nice drive through the countryside to a tropical fruit farm where they showed us many different varieties of fruit, some of which I hadn’t even heard of.
After a short presentation on how their honey is produced in a very welcome cool air-conditioned room we were shown to the restaurant where the staff had prepared a smorgasbord of fruit platters for us to try. Our favourite was dragon fruit, which I’d often seen in the supermarket, now I’ll be more willing to buy some. We also tried deep fried breadfruit, which looked like parsnips but tasted like chips before moving onto a local village for lunch. On arrival the villagers provided us with a display of martial arts accompanied by some loud banging of drums. The ladies had prepared some beautiful food so, after visiting the handicraft stalls we got back in the coach with very full stomachs! With palm trees stretching as far as one could see our next stop was a visit to a factory where huge bundles of palm nuts are turned into oil. As we got out of the coach the smell was awful, Angela and I had a quick look at what they were doing then retreated to the coach. We continued on to the ruins of a 16th century fort and though little remained, there was a nice museum and amazing views of Singapore from the raised area the fort was built on.
Our last stop was a crocodile farm where we watched the owner call and feed dozens of crocs. Ang and I thought there were too many to each pen climbing over each other to get to the smelly chicken that was being thrown their way. A walkway had been constructed over the pens so you could look down on the reptiles though we lost count of how many there were however 500 wouldn’t have been an over estimate… they really didn’t have very much room. All in all it was a long day but a good first outing. I would have liked to show more photos but my new camera has eaten them and won’t give them back, the outing photos are from Jacqui on Jackster.
Wednesday we stayed on the boat so Angela could start her sun bathing and all packed our bags ready for Singapore. Thursday 1st May saw us starting our journey from Johor Bahru (JB) to cross the border to Singapore. As I said the boat was in Malaysia and since Singapore gained its independence in 1965 it’s now a separate country with borders and bureaucracy to cross. The trip started with a bus from the marina to JB Sentral where you walk through C.I.Q. to the Malaysian border control, much like airport departure gates. As we were walking through the elevated glass sided halls the taxis were visible as they queued underneath us to get through passport control. We’ve done the journey in a taxi and a bus and I think the bus is quicker, even though there’s a lot of walking. After we had been stamped out of Malaysia we went down the escalator into no mans land and the buses. For the princely sum of MYR1.30 (about 25p) you get on a bus and cross the causeway bridge. The buses are always packed to the gunnels and the last one in is given a push so the driver can shut the door. Fortunately although there’s a 50kph speed limit you’re lucky if the traffic moves at 10kph so it’s quite safe. On the Singapore side you have to go up the escalator, over the top of the taxis again, have your passport stamped and down the escalator on the other side into Singapore and back onto the bus, although not necessarily the same one, and your MYR1.30 carries you to the first Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) station where you can get to most parts of Singapore on this over/underground metro system. The whole process can take several hours. We took the MRT to Lavender and walked to our hotel.
The Arton was clean and modern but the rooms were tiny, they had everything you needed though and the beds were comfy. The hotel was on the edge of Little India so having dropped our bags we took a little walk. I thought for once we weren’t going to do any thing to do with boats – WRONG.
Little India is also next to Sim Lim towers where they have lots of electronic shops but as it was the 1st May bank holiday in Singapore most of the shops were closed. Bill just had to make do with a bit of window-shopping. The deal was for every 5 minutes in Sim Lim towers Ang and I could have half an hour in the proper shops so 30 minutes of wandering gave us 3 hours in Orchard road.
The whole road consists of mall after mall. We found a good one and started shopping; shoes were bought!
The top floor was a huge food court so we had dinner there before heading back to the hotel.
The next morning was my birthday and we started it off wantonly with chocolate waffles in a local food market. As time was limited we had decided the best way to see the city was a morning coach tour. The guide was very informative giving us lots of interesting explanations as we were driving along.
The first stop was the famous Merlion park where the symbol of Singapore stood. The statue has the head of a lion, a fish like body, stands 8.6 metres high, weighs in at 70 tonnes and is one of Singapore’s most well known icons. The Merlion is representative of Singapore’s humble beginnings as a fishing village.
It’s set against the backdrop of sky scrappers in Singapore’s CBD.
Overlooking the park were the triple towers of the Marina Bay Sands hotel where room prices start at S$340 (£170) a night and that doesn’t include breakfast.
We got back in the coach and continued on our drive through China town to the Thian Hock Keng temple. Singapore’s oldest and most important Hokkien temple was a haven of tranquillity. Built between 1839 and 1842 it was once the favourite landing point of Chinese sailors before reclamation pushed the sea almost a kilometre down the road. Upon completion of the temple southbound immigrants who had just landed or northbound immigrants heading back to China would always stop by the temple facing the waterfront to pray for calm waves and a safe journey; It stuck a chord some how.
The carvings in the ceiling were amazing. Angela and I were given some josh sticks to say a prayer with and light, which we did for Mum.
Our next stop was a chocolate shop (who picked this tour?) where the assistants were waiting to hand out samples to encourage us to buy their wares; we didn’t disappoint them. Pride of place in the window was a chocolate lion; lucky he didn’t lose that paw.
We drove around more of the city before heading up to the viewpoint on Mount Faber. Although it’s only 105 metres high it’s one of the highest points in Singapore giving a fabulous 360º panoramic view. In 1857 it was decided to build a fort for fear of revolt among the local Indian sepoys. Defence work was carried out and granite gun emplacements were completed halfway up the hill but Mount Faber never became a fort and instead an observatory was built there in 1905.
To the south the famous Sentosa island could be seen with it’s designer apartments but to the north was just mile after mile of the high risers of inner city living all under the watchful gaze of another Merlion statue.
We were taken back to our hotel in time to change and get back on the MRT in time for tea at the Tiffin tearooms in the famous Raffles Hotel, for my birthday treat. As it was my birthday they gave us a very nice table right next to the harp.
There was a 3 tiered cake tray already on the table with 3 of each sandwich on the bottom tier and 3 of each cake on the top two tiers. The waiter directed us to a buffet table, which had some hot items, as well as more cakes, and a table with a selection of fruit. After finishing the first lot of sandwiches they brought more. As we hadn’t eaten lunch we made a big dent in their buffet.
All the time the harpist was playing beautiful music before striking up with Happy Birthday when the staff brought out a surprise cake with a candle and Happy Birthday Sue on it. I was over whelmed and speechless (not a natural condition for me(Bill added that bit)) but I soon recovered and blew my candle out.
It was a delicious chocolate cake although we couldn’t work out what the filling was but it tasted divine. I was going to save the chocolate name for the boys who both love white chocolate but I appear to have mislaid it – sorry boys!
I even had my 4 cards to open at the table (courtesy of Ang who had brought them with her).
Angela and I decided to explore the hotel a bit although a lot of areas are for residents only. This was the amazing hallway. Then we found the bathroom and took a selfie through the mirror, it was beautifully decorated.
After we had eaten all the sandwiches, pastries, fruit and cakes we could manage and drank numerous cups of tea we rounded off the afternoon by adjourning to the iconic Long Bar for – What else? A genuine Singapore sling (although Angela and I choose a tropical cocktail version because they sounded nicer).
One of the places we had driven past in the morning was Suntec City where it’s said ‘you can buy everything under the sun’. As it was just around the corner we made our way there. It consists of 5 buildings the proportion of 4 fingers against ‘the thumb’ which was behind me. In the centre of this open “palm” lies the Fountain of Wealth which has featured in the Guiness Book of Records as the world’s largest fountain. It is said if you walk around the fountain 3 times you will come into money so of course we just had to do that.
The fountain was quite beautiful; the water jets were rotating in an interesting and continually varying pattern as we walked around them.
We continued to the night market in Chinatown where stepping out of the MRT we immediately entered an area that was more about the vibe than the shops. Restored shophouses looked down on a mixture of retro stalls selling mostly cheap tat.
One shop that caught Bill’s eye was the TinTin shop so, having been a fan as a young boy, he wanted his photo taken with Captain Haddock before admiring the stacks of TinTin memorabilia. Along a bit there were lots of delicious looking street food stalls but sadly, still stuffed from our tea, we didn’t get to try anything.
It was an easy several hours spent looking around and enjoying the atmosphere before it was time to be making our way back to MRT station but, on our way back I spotted these. If you’ve ever wondered where to buy those awful cat ornaments with the waving arms, well here they are. S$10 is about £5. If I’d paid £5 for 3 I think I’d have been robbed! The next morning I allowed Bill the time to go back to look at Sim Lim towers while Angela and I went back to Orchard road for more shopping. More shoes were bought but not by me this time then that afternoon we headed back to the causeway bridge to repeat the customs journey back into Malaysia.
Sunday 4th May we started Camomile’s engine and slowly motored down the Johor straits to the sea. Bill anchored the boat at the entrance ready for our early morning start the next day motoring around the south of Singapore island. Angela coped well with her first night at anchor and also without the air-conditioning unit, which can only run when we have power in a marina. We had sundowners watching the many ships passing through the Singapore straits against the sun set.
The sun was just coming up when we weighed anchor the next morning giving us a beautiful sunrise to watch. There were many ships of all sizes anchored and this local fishing boat was busy taking photos of us taking photos of them.
Tug and tows are the bane of our lives in these waters,they don’t have AIS and they rarely display the correct lights at night. It can be quite unnerving coming across one in the dark as they chug along with barges the size of a small island following.
It was interesting to see the CBD from the deck of the boat although we couldn’t get very close and Singapore is patrolled by many small police boats which are constantly watching for any one entering Singapore waters illegally. They are quite obsessive about it.
It took all day to motor the length of the island before clearing Singapore waters and anchoring off the Malaysian peninsular on the eastern side. Tuesday 6th was another early start because we had to motor all the way to the first island to make sure we had a calm anchorage. Since Mum died last year Angela has had a difficult time and I’ve been nagging her to come and stay with us so I could show her some deserted islands and catch a glimpse of the life we lead. After the lightening strike I didn’t think we were going to get there but we had made it. Fortunately the one instrument left partially working was the depth gauge, without it we wouldn’t have been able to leave the marina so someone up there was helping us. The sails came out for some of the journey and we had a good tide most of the day but the engine stayed on. Bill had rigged up the emergency tiller pilot to the Hydrovane so he didn’t have to hand steer all the way as the autopilot was another victim of the lightning. We used my new Samsung tab for Navigation, not ideal but better than nothing. So we limped along to Pulau Sibu, our first deserted island, although it had a village on it and a big resort around the corner. The next morning we went ashore and had a drink in a little café looking over the beach before walking through the village. There were palm trees everywhere and cows roaming freely. The little houses looked very well kept but the heat of the sun was very strong. The three of us walked back along the beach but it was really hot so we retreated back to the boat. (Sorry no pictures we left our camera behind!) In the afternoon Bill moved the boat to the next island and anchored on the south side of the island. It was such a good decision because that night a storm blew up. Although the wind instruments weren’t working Bill felt we had 50kts winds blowing over us and put more and more anchor chain out, hoping the anchor would hold. Luckily Angela didn’t seem worried about it and was busy watching the lightening. With winds coming from the north we were well protected. The storm lasted for several hours before the winds subsided and the sea returned to normal. By the morning everything had returned to normal. We learnt a few days later that it had caused quite a bit of damage and was only the 5th bad storm they had had like that in the last eight years, lucky us!
Thursday 8th May we finally found a little deserted island. With the dinghy loaded with deckchairs, etc we took the dinghy over to it and were the first footsteps in the sand.
Angela started a shell hunt of which we found several nice ones. It was lovely and peaceful. As we were walking along the beach a beautiful butterfly fluttered past; was Mum watching us playing?
I put my snorkel and fins on to discover a wonderful world just a short distance off the beach. Not so many fish but lots of coral, Angela decided she didn’t want to have a go, chicken!
The water was beautifully warm and we just laid in it with the waves lapping over us. Paradise. In the distance we could see One Tree island, that is it’s name on the chart and sure enough it had one tree on it.
As the tide was out we clambered over the rocks at the end of the beach to find another beautiful beach round the corner, again, deserted. I love the silence of these places, just the birds calling and the lapping of the waves, stunning. On our way back to the boat Bill motored very slowly over the coral so Ang could look down onto it from the safety of the dinghy. Continuing on later that day to Pulau Besar which had a really nice yachtie friendly resort. The restaurant was available to non-residents so we ate out that evening. The owner had just bought a catamaran and wanting to make a good impression on the yatching fraternity offered us a drink on the house. That’s the way to do it! Free is cruiser price.
Angela and I went to the loo later in the evening, I wouldn’t normally mention this but the bathrooms were the most ornate I had ever seen. All marble with gold patterns, simply amazing.
The view from the restaurant was superb looking out across the boats. Two other rally boats turned up the next day. Ang decided she wanted to spend the afternoon sunbathing on the beach. As I was battling with a nasty cold I decided not to join her. When she returned she realised why we don’t sit on the beaches here because she was covered in sand fly bites all up the backs of her legs, hundreds of them.
That evening when we went ashore for dinner again and made sure we were sprayed for mossies too. As we were at the bar with the other four that evening we all got another round of drinks on the house. This is why we get ‘stuck’ in places like this. Photos courtsey of Janice on Zoa
The original plan for Angela’s holiday was to spend a week in the islands and then put her on a bus back to Singapore on Tuesday 13th but with the boat in the state it was we needed to get back to the JB area to get it sorted. So Saturday 10th we motored over to Mersing on the main land to pick up some supplies before motoring back to Pulau Sibu, the first island for an overnight stop before a very early start the next day for the 2 day motor back to Puteri harbour.
Sunday 11th was Angela’s last night at anchor and we all watched a beautiful sunset. On the Monday we arrived back at Puteri harbour and put the air conditioning back on. Angela had one more day so we spent it shopping, of course.
In the evening we joined a group of people from the marina and went to the night market in the next village. I like shopping in these markets but I think Angela was horrifed, she’s used the pristine shelves of the English supermarkets.
4am Wednesday 14th May saw us all getting into a taxi for the trip back across the causeway, to Singapore airport, to home for Angela. Tears were shed but I think she had a nice time and nice rest. Byebye Ang see you soon. x