PACIFIC DOUBLE CROSSING
Last November found us on the world’s longest non-stop flight (our fourth time on QANTAS’ 17 hour Dallas-Sydney run) for a visit to Carole’s family. Afterwards, it was time to see Marvin’s family in the San Francisco Bay area. The 13 hour QANTAS flight from Sydney to California seemed short, in comparison to our flight to Sydney!
The lure of Space-A travel beckoned and, after our San Francisco visit, we headed to nearby Travis AFB in search of a tempting offer of a free military flight! After two nights at the comfortable Westwind Inn at Travis AFB, we were off on a KC-10 to Hickam AFB. Within a matter of hours after our Hawaii arrival, we were on a C-17 to Kadena AB (Japan) and, again (within a matter of hours), we were on a third plane (a C-12) to Yokota AB. What incredible luck! Everything dovetailed perfectly.
That’s three Pacific crossings in a matter of two weeks!
Clean, orderly and safe Singapore is our favorite destination in all Asia! It had been more than two years since our last visit and we love this amazing, ever-changing city/country. Warm tropical days and nights, and a diverse blend of many cultures offer an exciting frenzy of activity. New skyscrapers, long highway tunnels, lush flower-lined streets, cruise ships coming and going, wonderful museums (especially the marvelous National Museum) – all are quite dazzling. And getting around by the efficient public transport system (buses and MRT subway) was a breeze.
Eating is always a fantastic experience in Singapore. One day began with a Malay breakfast in the Arab/Malay quarter as a nearby mosque called the faithful to prayer, followed by a spicy lunch at an eatery in Little India (another favorite area of ours). And we could not resist the taste of sizzling satays at the Lau Pa Sat outdoor market (yet another favorite) for dinner one evening.
Now off to nearby Malaysia…
MALAYSIA (“TRULY ASIA”) – 1
Just across the Straits of Johor lies Malaysia which we have explored before. It was time for a return visit – on this occasion to “parts unknown”, beginning with a luxury bus from Singapore (having previously traveled this route by train), over the Causeway and up the Malay Peninsula to Kuala Lumpur (KL), Malaysia’s capital.
While both Singapore and KL are exciting and exotic destinations with a frenzy of new construction (e.g., dazzling hotels and gorgeous shopping malls), there are obvious differences. Singapore, being more regulated, is cleaner and more orderly while KL is more chaotic, offering the unexpected. KL is certainly more economical (hotels and food, in particular, cost much less than in Singapore). A visit to a skilled reflexologist soothed our tired feet after a day of sightseeing in KL – this ancient Chinese science brought us great comfort. And Carole’s skills in Indonesian (close to Malay, the national language) made this a stimulating experience.
MALAYSIA – 2
For somewhere different to discover in Malaysia, we set our sights on the State of Sabah, East Malaysia (on the island of Borneo). After a 2.5 hour flight from KL by Air Asia, with a breathtaking descent over the tiny islands and azure waters of the South China Sea, we arrived at Kota Kinabalu (KK), the state capital.
Formerly called Jesselton in British North Borneo during the “colonial” era, KK proved to be an exotic and interesting destination. While the city itself lacked beauty, friends highly recommended we come here. KK was our first experience with Uber, which our hotel receptionist arranged – a mode of inexpensive travel which turned out to be comfortable, reliable and a fraction of the cost of conventional taxis.
First stop was at the wonderful Sabah Museum which gave us a thorough background of this region’s history, culture and customs. Of particular interest were the Heritage Village with traditional houses, the Ethnographic section with exquisite costumes, and the History Gallery, detailing the state’s history from the 12th Century on, including British, American (yes!), Spanish, Dutch colonization and Japanese occupation.
With its seaside location, a “must-do” was enjoying a delicious fresh fish dinner for “pocket change” at the night barbecue market. In fact, everything here is very low cost – what a treat!
A two hour trip back in time, via the rails of the former North Borneo Railway (now Sabah Railway) took us to the town of Beaufort, south of KK. Spectacular jungle scenery, with dramatic mountains in the background, were a feast for the eyes. During the World War II Japanese Occupation, Beaufort was the scene of numerous cruel atrocities, with thousands losing their lives. At the same time, many heroes of the Malay resistance fought bravely against the enemy in the area. Today, Beaufort is a small, bustling commercial center, dominated by a large mosque. This made for a fascinating day excursion from KK.
On a sunny and hot morning, we joined the throngs for speed boat trips to the many nearby islands of TAR National Park. Bedlam on Jesselton Jetty caused us to be directed to the wrong boat and we arrived at a different island from the one we chose (and paid for). Never mind – an extra island visit for free as we were later put on an ongoing boat to our original destination – all great fun and not a worry. Once on the island of our choosing, we strolled on the beach of the South China Sea followed by a delicious waterside lunch at an attractive resort. While the boat rides took us over turquoise waters, unfortunately there was so much debris (e.g. thousands of plastic bottles and garbage) floating on top – how sad this was all in the National Park area.
Since we were so close, we decided our next destination would be Brunei, a country we had not previously visited.
BRUNEI DARUSSALAM (“The Abode of Peace”)
We passed up a quick flight to Brunei by taking high-speed ferries from KK (Malaysia) to Muara, a northern port of Brunei, also on the island of Borneo. What a delight to spend four hours skimming over the South China Sea! Our first sight of this country was the many ocean oil drilling platforms and enormous oil tankers – obviously the source of wealth of Brunei. Upon arrival in this country, we took a local bus, bringing us some 30 km through beautiful lush countryside, past palatial estates, modern high-rise buildings and shopping malls, to the small capital of Bandar Seri Begawan (“Bandar”). Unlike neighboring Malaysia, Brunei is spotlessly clean and exudes wealth – local traffic consisted of Lamborghinis, Lotuses and BMWs on modern roads and highways. Brunei is prosperous!
Indeed, its national leader, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, is one of the world’s richest men. As Sultan for almost 50 years, he has brought this small country into a “clean and green” Singapore-like state. There is a lot to see here and after checking into a lovely hotel in an upscale neighborhood, we picked four attractions, – all “must see” recommendations by friends who have been here.
In Bandar, two magnificent and opulent mosques (full of marble, 24 kt gold leaf and Austrian crystal chandeliers) were tops – we removed our shoes and Carole donned a black robe before entering the Jame’Asr and Sultan Omar Mosques – all quite stunning. The Royal Regalia Museum, detailing the life of the present Sultan and with an endless display of official uniforms, gifts and clothes, was “over the top” – Marvin said it was more than he could absorb in a single visit! Finally, we negotiated a water taxi for a tour around the Kampung Ayer (“Water Village”) where almost 6,000 residents live in buildings on stilts over the water – they have schools, police, a mosque and even a fire station there.
We are glad to have had the chance to visit surprising Brunei and also meet its delightful, warm and welcoming people. It turned out to be a most unexpectedly fascinating experience!
SINGAPORE – 2
We flew back to Singapore from Brunei in anticipation of onward Space-A travel to return to the US. When the military flight was delayed a day, we were thrilled that we had bonus time in our “home away from home” in Asia.
It was back to the “candy store” (Marvin’s favorite electronics center) for more browsing there – wires, nuts and bolts for ham radio man Marvin, and for Carole, a good deal (after hard bargaining) on some very small opera binoculars. Then, it was on to something different (there is always something new, as least to us, that we have not discovered or visited).
This time it was the Singapore Flyer, a huge Ferris wheel with enormous, glass-enclosed and air-conditioned cars. We chose to do a regular 30 minute ride, giving us fantastic panoramic views over this incredible city. One can even enjoy lunch, dinner, champagne and hors d’oeuvres, and afternoon tea in special cars! The ride was very smooth because unlike normal ferris wheels which sway and move, the individual cars ride on rubber tires on one side. Carole deemed the experience “fantastic”.
Afterwards, we discovered nearby yet another fabulous shopping mall (there are so many) where we enjoyed a delicious lunch at a casual Turkish eatery. We had a most interesting conversation with one of the owners (from Azerbaijan) about life there compared with his new life in Singapore which is certainly one of the most diverse places in the world.
And even more adventures to come…
AROUND THE WORLD IN 42 DAYS
After over month of quality family time, Space-A travel, fun and adventure, it was time to head home. These return trips often are adventures in themselves – and so this was! Our “Plan A” was to catch military flights across the Pacific (as we did when we came to Asia) to the USA, but we found the whole military Air Mobility Command (AMC) system nearly closed for the Xmas holidays. No worries, as brilliant Carole (a former travel agent) came up with an unexpected and interesting “Plan B” – a great air fare on Qatar Airways from Singapore (via Doha, Qatar) to Atlanta.
So, we did not head back over the Pacific, but completed a round-the-world trip to bring us back to the USA. To make this trip even more enjoyable, our Atlanta family opened its arms (and doors) to our weary old bodies after a nearly 40 hour marathon journey.
We crossed the Pacific three times, the Indian and Atlantic Oceans once; began our odyssey with family in Sydney and San Francisco, and concluded it with family in the USA. In between, we traveled Space-A to Japan and Singapore, from there we traveled commercially to Malaysia, Brunei, Qatar and the US, enjoying many great adventures.
Our odyssey began as a journey with a purpose: to see family and friends in Sydney and San Francisco. Both were fulfilling and memorable.
Then random travel (our favorite way to go) began! Easy hopscotching from California to Singapore (our favorite city in Asia) by Space-A opened the door to unexpected experiences off the beaten track (at least for us). Sabah in East Malaysia (on the island of Borneo) was fascinating, then fast ferries took us to the tiny neighboring country of Brunei. We found the people of East Malaysia and Brunei well-educated, warm, welcoming and very friendly. And while some spoke good English, Carole enjoyed speaking Malay and Indonesian (good exercise for her brain!) and the locals appreciated it. The low cost and ease of travel in Southeast Asia made for an economical, thoroughly enjoyable (and delicious!) holiday in the region. We traveled by plane, train, bus, fast ferry – and Uber! We are very comfortable in this part of the world.
Our marathon return journey home by air to the USA was fascinating and scenic. Daytime flights, over the vast desert sands of the northeast Arabian Peninsula, were spectacular, followed by bird’s eye views over Iran and the snowy Caucasus Mountains, the stunning Caspian and Black Seas, northern Europe, Iceland and Greenland – all something to behold.
What a very different Great Adventure!
If anyone has questions or wishes to see our slideshow, please email us.
Col Marv Feldman, USAF (Ret)
And Carole Feldman
(All photos courtesy of Marv and Carole Feldman)