25th December – Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei Darussalam

Christmas Day has arrived and the kids are up about an hour earlier than we’d hoped! Within the first hour Toys r Us appears to have vomited in the lounge. Smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels are festively munched on the sofa by us bleary eyed zombies. Hattie, a vision in pink passes wearing a new vest, adorned in all of her new bead necklaces, a pair of ballet shoes, a Disney princess rucksack, pushing a pram containing her hairdressing dolly (“where are her legs?”), carrying a Hello Dolly handbag and a net full of Disney chocolates. Oscar is over the moon with his Star Wars themed gifts, Minecraft toys and, most of all, his army outfit from Aunty Caca and Aunty Amy, that he puts on and refuses to take off all day! “Attention! At ease”.

Hannah and Ryan have thoughtfully bought me practical gifts for a traveller, suntan lotion, toiletries, a lovely t-shirt and leech socks! (Hannah and I planned to go on a rainforest trek).

The morning passes far too quickly in a blur of flying wrapping paper, strewn presents and happy faces. Han and I start cooking the beef and chickens, our contribution to Christmas dinner at Tracy and Damian’s house. We walk over with the children, I carry the platter of meat which becomes heavier and heavier with each footstep in this tropical heat.

It is so kind of the Lee/Cutters to invite us to join them on Christmas Day. We have such a wonderful time eating, drinking and making merry with them all. Tracy has prepared a fantastic array of every type of vegetable, roasted pork, delicious gravy – even stuffing and pigs in blankets! Proper Christmas food! The ten of us sit down for a fabulous lunch. In a country that doesn’t celebrate Christmas Tracy has even managed to track down crackers! After polishing off a bowl of cinnamon spiced apple crumble with warm custard I collapse on the sofa to play a game of Marino cart followed by headbands. Oscar loves it. We all wear a band like a crown that holds a card with a picture on it. Asking questions with a “yes” or “no” answer we must guess the picture on our crown. Olivia has had a mini Segway that she speedily drifts around the house on, impressively spinning and turning. We all take it in turns risking broken bones in an attempt to unsuccessfully replicate her skills!

I FaceTime home for a festive family catchup. Mum, dad and gram are in the car heading to Ad and Lizzie’s. It’s weird not being with them, traditionally cooking dinner and enjoying their company. I hope they’re not too disappointed by my gifts bought in India way back in my travels.

With Hattie unconscious in her pram we make the short walk home to chill out and watch some Christmas tv before heading to bed exhausted. What a lovely Christmas Day spent in Brunei.

 

24th December – Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei Darussalam

Christmas Eve means last minute shopping. The Lee/Cutters have kindly taken Oscar to the cinema to see the new Peanuts movie so Hannah and I take Hattie with us giving Ryan some study time. We start at Toys R Us, prices are so inflated here, probably 50% more than at home. We buy a few bits and pieces and leave them to be wrapped by the staff while we food shop downstairs. What starts as just a few Christmas essentials soon turns into an extravagant big shop.

Shopping put away we prepare to leave for a party at Kerry and Chris’ house. We are welcomed with very strong margaritas and homemade truffles laced with Cointreau. I sit in the garden chatting to Jennie, who also teaches at ISB and lives here with her family from New Zealand. When the sunsets and the biting bugs make an appearance we relocate to the living room for a few beers followed by Chris’ very strong Harvey wallbanger cocktails. The children have a lovely time playing and running around. When we leave Chris insists I take a cocktail “for the car”, but I’m feeling quite tipsy so politely decline.

Back at home, kids finally tucked up in bed excited for the morning, Ryan, Hannah and I do our Santa thing, last minute wrapping and organising before going to bed.

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23rd December – Papar, Malaysian Borneo/Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei Darussalam

We spend the morning by the pool. Our time split between sunbathing and the pool. At around midday we depart the resort and hit the road for our long journey home. The children are so well behaved, watching films on their iPads on repeat for over six hours!

We begin the immigration fiasco again, crossing through Sabah, out of Malaysia, into Brunei, out of Brunei, into Malaysia and finally back into Brunei. Before the final crossing we stop to pick up some Christmas spirit (literally) at the border. With our full quotas onboard we make our final journey home. I have enjoyed such a lovely holiday with the Heegers and excited now for Christmas!

Once the kids are in bed Ryan, Hannah and I watch tv before bed.

22nd December – Berringis Resort, Papar, Malaysian Borneo

Pool day. Wake late. Breakfast late.

Hannah goes for a well deserved massage and pedicure at the resort spa, Ryan takes Hattie down to the beach and I take Oscar to the pool.

Oscar’s pale skin and blonde hair are quite the attraction to the Malaysians and other holidaymakers, if they’re not trying to touch his and Hattie’s face they are constantly trying to talk to them. Oscar doesn’t like it, and I don’t blame him. He’s having fun running up the stairs and sliding down the slide but as soon as he emerges from under the water he is confronted by a mass of questioning foreign faces, “what’s your name?”. It is a little overwhelming for him. He gets straight out of the little pool, sprints to the big pool, jumps and submerges in escape from the hoards. I keep my eye on him from the comfort of my sun lounger. Eventually my time to get wet comes when Oscar asks me, for the third time, to play in the pool. We play on the waterslide and swim in the pool and hold our breath underwater, Ryan and Hattie arrive from the beach and join in playing too. We spend the morning switching between bathing and sunbathing.

Hannah finally shows her face after an emotional massage and a horrendous pedicure that peels off in the heat of the afternoon sun. We spend a lovely afternoon hanging out at the pool, sipping beer and cocktails and eating junk food until the sun sets.

After showers we stroll down to the beach restaurant for dinner. We are entertained by the staff carolling in Malay accents – I’m particularly fond of the Mariah Carey wannabe hitting the high notes. Tired and a little over sunkissed we head back to our holiday duplex for a few more beers and bed.

21st December – Papar, Malaysian Borneo

After breakfast we drive to the Shang-ri La Rasa Ria Resort, an hour from our hotel. The traffic is abysmal and so it takes closer to two hours. The hotel is lovely and absolutely huge, sprawling the entire length of the picture postcard sandy bay. Ryan books us in for the two o’clock orangutan experience then takes Oscar down to the pool while Hannah and I push a sleeping Hattie around the lobby and into the gift shop. While we look around Hattie wakes up and so we buy some drinks and snacks and go to find Oscar and Ryan at the amazing hotel pool. We have to be at the other end of the resort for 2 so we walk through the manicured lawns to the nature reserve located in a forest next to the beach.

A video presentation is shown explaining about the sanctuary and how the animals are rehabilitated here at Rasa Ria before being sent further north to another facility in Sepilok. We are led on a short trek into the forest to the orangutan feeding platform. Two baby orangutans, not more than 3 years old, are swinging from the ropes. They are so human like, covered in wisps of rusty hair with arms too long and faces too cute. They are give a bucket of fruit and vegetables for their lunch and we watch them dine. Before long a troop of grey monkeys swing up high through the forest canopy nearing the platform, where they congregate and look to be discussing strategic moves. Then in a daring feat they creep along the ropes, dash and grab handfuls of food – cheeky little monkeys. The dominant males fight amongst themselves but the docile orangutans do not seem bothered at all, they have had their fill and are now enjoying a post-lunch tree climb. They are fearless and agile, gripping on tightly with their feet and hands, swinging between branches, using their body weight like a pendulum to gather momentum to reach a protruding branch. The crowd of kids and adults alike enjoy the experience of the up close encounter.

Oscar displays his monkey climbing prowess on our way back down through the forest. We take a walk down to the beach then up to the pools of the Shangri-La. A twisting 2 storey slide loops into the plunge pool below, a wider, less scary slide plops into the children’s pool. Both slides are almost worn out by Oscar and Hattie. They have a whale of a time. Superman doles out fresh watermelon slices to the poolside children and a lifeguard sets up a series of roped tyres for the kids to run out into one of the pools. We swim and play and slide until hunger strikes. We eat close to the pool in one of the resort’s many restaurants. I have seafood Lanksa, a traditional Malay noodle soup, it’s spicy and delicious. After dinner the kids play on splashing about in the pool.

The beach presents a most wonderful sunset filling the cloudy sky with reds, oranges, pinks, purples and blues. As if by magic a full double rainbow appears in an arch above the resort before the sun disappears and darkness falls. We sit under a large umbrella in the beachside bar listening to the live tiki band playing popular tunes.

We walk back through the flame lit resort, through the tastefully Christmas decorated lobby and back to our car for the journey home. Such a lovely day spent on holiday with the Heegers.

20th December – Berringis Resort, Papar, Malaysian Borneo

After a beachside breakfast we hang out poolside. I stupidly forgot my swimmers and Waggy the dog popped Hattie’s water wings a few days ago so Ryan pops out in the car to do a shop. Our pool has a slide which entertains Oscar and Ryan while Hannah and I spend the morning teaching Hattie how to swim. It’s overcast today but when the sun shows it’s face the temperatures soar.

When we’ve had our fill of the pool the Heegers and I set off for Kota Kinabalu city centre, a 25 minute drive from our hotel. We park at a mall, but the standard of the shops doesn’t agree with our tasteful shopping palate. We spotted another mall near the water front so aim in that direction instead. Malaysia is so Christmassy compared with Brunei, Christmas trees festively placed in every available space. We do a bit of shopping, develop an appetite and dine at Hard Rock Cafe, the air conditioning is so cold we ask to be moved outside where we have a lovely view of the water and boats. Oscar is particularly impressed with the visible hull of a sunken ship.

After dinner we shop some more. An amazing acapella male voice choir sing Christmas songs live in the atrium. The kids climb on a soft play climbing wall while Hannah and I Christmas shop. Pushing the pram decorated in a multitude of shopping bags we make our way back to the mall we parked the car in. We get lost in the mall for longer than is comfortable and the staff seem as lost as we are when we ask for directions to J6 where we parked. Eventually we find it and drive back to The Berringis Beach Resort in the dark.

Back at the hotel Ryan makes noodles for the kids and we watch Elf until the little ones fall asleep.

19th December- Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei Darussalam

Today the Heegers and I go on holiday. I rustle up a breakfast for us from what we have left in the kitchen, we feed Waggy, next door’s puppy, load up the car and hit the road bound for the Brunien/Malaysian Borneo border. At immigration our passports are stamped out of Brunei and then a little later into Malaysian Borneo. Less than an hour later we are having our passports stamped again out of Malaysian Borneo and back into Brunei (Brunei is a funny shape), then half an hour more and our passports are stamped out of Brunei and back into Malaysia. At this point I can honestly say that I asked Hannah which country we were currently in and neither of us knew the answer!? Immigration have hilariously used over one whole page for this journey and so it is totally probable that they will use an entire page on the way back!

We stop to eat at a roadside cafe where they give us free banana fritter tasters, we order waffles, cups of buttered sweetcorn, a burger and ice blended smoothies. All of the locals gather around for a photo with us. We eat and drink until we are full and it only costs £1 each!

A little further down the road is another border control. They hand Hannah the stamped passports and we drive off as I realise that my passport was not in the pile but on the dashboard. I have been illegally smuggled into Sabah. We reverse back to the immigration office to obtain my legal entry and set off again. The journey is long, but the kids are really well behaved (thanks to their iPads and downloaded films).

It is dark when we pass through Papar, just short of Kota Kinabalu (aka KK). We arrive at our seaside resort, check in and walk through the resort to our lovely duplex that will be our home for the next four nights. It is perfect, 2 stories and really well presented. We unpack and go for a BBQ dinner at the resort restaurant. Everyone is exhausted and after a couple of glasses of red wine I am ready for bed. No Dexter tonight!