The best Muar food & the best Muar hostel

The best Muar food & the best Muar hostel

Muar food is the best!

Have you been to Muar?   Have you even heard of a town called Muar and did you know that its in Malaysia?  And have you tasted the food in Muar?

If you haven’t heard of this town which lies on the west coast of Malaysia about an hour south of Melaka then you aren’t alone.

Many foreign tourists and travelers bypass Muar as they travel between Melaka and Singapore but in my opinion they’re missing out.  Muar is famous for its food and in this article I’m going to tell you the top 5 foods to try in Muar: plus I’ll tell you where is the best place to stay.

Check out the position of Muar on the map below – it’s that small town on the coast below Melaka.

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Muar food: Where is Muar on the map?

Map of Muar

 

I spent a few days in Muar in January when I was volunteering at a hostel in Melaka. Myself and another volunteer – she was Linda from the Netherlands – caught a local bus one morning from Melaka Sentral. We were off to stay at a hostel that Linda had discovered on a previous trip – WakaLily’s Hostel – and which was a new hostel just outside the town.

First stop – coffee

 

Lily had offered to collect us once we had arrived at the bus station and would drive us to her hostel, so whilst we waited for her we went inside one of the famous coffee shops in Muar – the Kopi 434 Cafe.  This cosy coffee shop is decorated with warm wood panels inside and it’s famous for its coffee as well as the food and its atmosphere.

If you ask for a coffee (or a kopi) in Malaysia you will be served a coffee with sweet (condensed) milk. If you want a black coffee you need to ask for a kopi 0 – or coffee zero.  Every state in Malaysia is famous for its own type of coffee and they are often roasted with margarine or butter and sugar for extra flavour.

Image. Kopi 434 Muar, Muar food

Kopi 434 Cafe

Once we had finished our coffee, Lily duly arrived and whisked us off to her hostel.

WakaLily’s Hostel

 

Waka Lily’s Hostel is, as I said, a new hostel and Lily and her business partner CJ have worked hard to make it welcoming, functional and comfortable.

The hostel is beautifully decorated with an artist’s attention to colour and detail and with many homely touches.  Colourful cushions and rugs are scattered around.  There are small tables, displays of books and ornaments and even a guitar for the musically inclined to play.  The dormitory with its bunk beds has enormous floor to ceiling windows, air conditioning (always a good thing in the Malaysian heat and humidity) and it has the BEST duvets to snuggle under.

If you have never stayed in a hostel you really should give one a go. You can read more about staying in hostels via this link, although many hostels, including WakaLily’s offer private rooms if the thought of sleeping in close proximity to strangers freaks you out.

Think of it as a personal challenge, who knows, you might actually find that you enjoy it, not to mention making new friends and expanding your comfort zone.

WakaLily's Hostel, Muar

WakaLily’s Hostel, Muar

A bonus at this hostel is the kitchen where guests are welcome to cook their own food or re-heat takeaways, and it’s nice that there is just one huge area to mix and socialise.  On the main road outside the hostel there are some small traditional warungs (local, cheerful restaurants) where the choice for breakfast is overwhelming and usually extremely cheap.

Bathrooms at WakaLily’s include showers which have piping hot water (believe me that is not necessarily standard in South East Asia), and you will be given a towel on arrival too – another nice touch that is not necessarily standard across all hostels.

If you want to reserve a bed (or a private room) at WakaLily’s, click on this link for the most up-to-date prices

If you are still nervous about staying in hostels and you want to check out the etiquette of how to behave, plus arm yourself with the no-no’s try this link – Hostel Tips and how NOT to behave in a  hostel

WakaLily's Hostel, Muar

WakaLily’s Hostel, Muar

WakaLily’s is part of the Warm Showers network – a system which offers discounted or sometimes even free accommodation for people who are travelling or touring by bicycle.  I had never heard of this scheme before I got to Malaysia but cycling is big here and many cyclists stop by and stay for a night or two here.

For Linda and I, one of the best bits about this particular hostel is that Lily loves to socialise and she is keen to show guests around Muar.

On our first evening we were joined by Jacky (who is a friend of Lily’s) and along with another guest from Switzerland (Etienne),  we set out on our mission to eat our body weight in Muar food – and this theme seemed to continue throughout the next few days.

Due to the food induced coma I forgot to take detailed notes during my stay and so Lily has very kindly put together the following Top Five list of Muar food for you.  I have added in my own comments and memories plus I have given you more information about what to see and do around the town.

Best of Muar food

Otak-otak

This has to be Muar’s most famous delicacy.  I had tried it previously in both Melaka and Georgetown and I wasn’t a fan, but I had never tried the otak-otak in Muar!

Otak-otak is grilled spicy fish paste wrapped in atap leaves and it’s synonymous with Muar’s food scene.

The little parcels are small yet rich so you don’t need many for a quick snack as you wander around.  Basically otak-otak can be found easily in the town but especially along the street in Avenue 4, at the MCA Bentayan Food Court Centre and at Otak-otak Cheng Boi, No.28, Jalan Bentayan (8am to 4pm)

 

You can try your hand at some Malaysian recipes in the following book which you can order from Amazon:

 

Otak Otak

Otak-otak

One nice touch in the centre of Muar is that many of the main streets are colour coded.  Entire streets have been painted either yellow, red, blue or green.  Shop fronts, shutters and walls are a uniform colour which is actually quite pleasing to the eye and is very helpful when you are trying to find your way around.

Dodge down some of the alleyways and you will also find some good street art dotted around. There is not a lot, but enough to make it interesting to poke around the small back lanes – not that I need much encouraging to wander down any little street that looks different to the rest.

Mee Bandung

Mee Bandung is said to be the traditional creation of Muarians and it is pure heaven. Mee Bandung consists of noodles and eggs in a soup base of chilli, onion, spices, shrimp paste and dried shrimp.

Mee Bandung is one such dish that demonstrates the subtleties of Malaysian flavours.  The ingredients are similar to many other recipes yet the dish tastes distinctly different.

You can find the best Mee bandung (in Lily’s opinion) at Restaurant Mee Bandung Abu Bakar Hanipah, Jalan Abdullah or you could try Mee Bandung Muar, Tanjung Agas (open 10am to 4pm).  If you are outside the city centre then head about 1.5km north from WakaLily Hostel to Warung Sup Kambing, Batu 3 1/2, Parit Bunga  (between 2.15 and 6pm)

 

How about this cookbook from a Malaysian family kitchen?

Malaysia: Recipes from a Family Kitchen
List Price: £25.00
Price: £22.95
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bicycle statue outside Muar

You can hire a bicycle from WakaLily’s Hostel and explore the surrounding countryside or pedal yourself into the town centre. My friend Linda had done this on her previous visit and she told me that she had spent a lovely time cycling alongside lush green rice fields and exploring the town and the beach area.

Pork satay

Satay is common throughout Malaysia and Indonesia but pork satay is rare in Malaysia. So if you like Malaysian style satay, don’t miss the chance to try it while you are in Muar.

Small pieces of pork are barbequed on little wooden skewers and eaten with a creamy, rich, peanut based sauce.  The coals (or wood) give the meat a slightly smoky flavour and the satay sauce is streets ahead any commercial sauce outside of S E Asia.

You can find the unusual pork satay at Ah Kow Satay & Yong Kee Coffee Shop, Avenue 4

 

Authentic Recipes from Malaysia
List Price: £11.99
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Muar sunset

 

 

 

I have already shown you that Muar is on the coast; the Melaka Straits to be exact, and many Muarians take to the beachfront to walk, jog, bicycle or simply to sit and chat as they watch the sun go down.

Lily kindly took me to the beach promenade on my last evening.  We drove past the beautiful mosque set in parkland and we wandered along the seafront where we were treated to a magical sight.  The tide was very low and just covered the sand which set up all sorts of reflections in gold and amber with trees atmospherically silhouetted against the horizon. There was hardly a breath of wind as hundreds of people did their best to capture the scene with mobile phones and cameras.

As the sun went down the Iman began to call from the mosque and sounds of the call to prayer (the isak) which is hauntingly beautiful in Malaysia, gently floated across the park and seemed to roll softly around us and on out to sea.

Sup Kambing (mutton soup)

I never actually tried this dish but Lily assures me that it is good.  I guess it is soup made from lamb but when I return I will be sure to track it down at the Muar Soup House, 47, Jalan Sisi.  Lily sent me the following link to give you an idea of this dish! Click here

 

typical breakfast spread in a warung

What is a warung?

A warung is best described as a rustic cafe or small corner shop in S E Asia but they are especially found in Indonesia and Malaysia. Food is generally traditional and home-cooked by mum, dad or various aunties and you nearly always get an authentic experience eating at one.

More often than not they are simple and rustic but don’t let the appearances of many of them put you off.  These owners generally know their signature dishes inside out and usually have secret twists to their recipes that have been handed down through the generations,

Oyster omelette

Oh Chien – Nanyang style Teo Chew oyster omelette

The best place to try this is in Avenue 4

This is another dish that I didn’t actually have time to try, but you can watch a short video here which explains how it is made –             Click here for the video link

 

Like many towns in Malaysia, Muar is predominantly laid out on a grid system which can be pretty confusing if there are no dominant landmarks, such as a hill or a river on which to focus (Muar does have a river and a very pretty one at that), but as I am the world’s best at getting myself continuously lost any help and guidance is very welcome, and those coloured streets that I mentioned earlier in the article certainly help with that!

Bonus dish: Beef noodles

Tangkak Beef Noodle @Restaurant Kuang Fei

Whilst not in Muar town, if you visit Ledang Waterfall, I recommend that you stop off at Tangkak town to try this beef noodle dish.

Continue reading to find out more about our day out from Muar.

Muar's beef noodles

Ledang Waterfall

 

Myself, Linda and our Swiss friend Etienne jumped on a local bus and headed off towards the Ledang Waterfall.

After the bus had dropped us off on the main road we had to walk up through the rubber and palm oil plantations towards the National Park. We hiked up the steps and along little paths until we reached the top.  As far as waterfalls goes it certainly wasn’t one of the most spectacular but the setting and the views were perfect….and being cooler it was a respite from the heat and humidity.

walking through the palm oil plantations

The water was freezing where it had tumbled down from the high mountain peaks behind us so whilst myself and Linda were more than happy to half sit on a rock and allow the water to cool us as it passed, Etienne bravely plunged right in.

The best bit about the Ledang Waterfall was the fact that we almost had it to ourselves.  At one stage a large group of men trekked past – all studiously averting their eyes (Linda and I had put bikinis on as there were so few people around), but otherwise there were only a handful of local people and they were quite a long way below us.

I should clarify here, that being rural Malaysia, most people bathe in clothes although it is not mandatory. Unlike the muddy brown water in most of Asia’s rivers the water here was crystal clear and as we were alone in our part of the river (except for the guys that hiked past) we were in our bikinis.

We spent a few hours splashing around and building up an appetite so on Lily’s recommendation – with the sole purpose of a late lunch of the town’s famous beef noodles – we got off the bus on our way back to Muar at the small town called Tangkak.

Linda and Etienne at the waterfall

We were not disappointed.  Lunch was fantastic although one thing that I had learnt by now was to be suspicious of any dish in Malaysia which offered a ‘special’ upgrade.

Often this up-selling doesn’t mean that you get more succulent cuts of meat – it usually means that you get ‘spare parts’ which Asians are so especially fond of.

Lungs, intestines, kidney, brains and all the other ‘spare parts’ are just not my thing.

If you do visit Melaka or you are heading through Malaysia to or from Singapore do take the time to visit Muar and try the food –  you can order your Lonely Planet Guide Book at this link 

You can be sure of a warm welcome from Lily and CJ and you can be sure of some great tasting food.

 

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Spare parts!

And finally, here are two more cookery book recommendations for you:

 

Self empowerment: First steps to understanding

Self empowerment: First steps to understanding

In this introductory guide to self empowerment I’m going to show you the basics and demonstrate how with some simple changes to your attitude you can lead a more positive and satisfactory life.

Self empowerment means to know what is best for oneself and to act accordingly but there are many layers. I will help you to peel back some of those layers and discover how self empowerment comes with raised self esteem and self confidence plus a more positive outlook and therefore…..happiness.

What are you waiting for?  Read on.

                                                                           It is never too late to be who you might have been.                                                          George Eliot

What is self empowerment?

Definition of empowerment – from the Oxford English Dictionary

  • Authority or power given to someone to do something.
  • The process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one’s life and claiming one’s rights.

 

This post contains affiliate links and/or references to our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on or make a purchase using these links

Scarlet Jones Travels is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com

 

What are the benefits of self empowerment?

Self empowerment is closely linked to mindfulness.  Practicing mindfulness will automatically enhance your self empowerment….. which in turn is linked to self confidence and self esteem – all of which can only be a good thing.

 

6 key points of empowerment

(There are many more but these 6 form the basis of a good starting point)

  • Become aware of your own capabilities and you will understand why and how you react like you do
  • Begin to make more positive choices and take responsibility for those choices.
  • Don’t allow your circumstances to define who you are, what you do or how you feel or react.
  • Replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts and see change happen
  • You will develop a heightened sense of awareness and view others objectively
  • You will feel less stress and anxiety and you will be able to deal with dramas and conflict far better.

The crazy thing is about each of the above statements is that if a friend were to ask you for advice you could very probably explain to them why they should adopt these attitudes but they are actually some of the hardest of beliefs to take on board for ourselves.

The good news is that once you do make the decision to actively employ them and follow through, they quickly gather momentum and you will notice changes happening around you.

There are many more routes to self empowerment but these six are a good starting point.  For more information on how you can conquer your anxiety and boost your self confidence click here.

Read each of the key points in more detail below and find out how you can begin to take back control of your life.

self empowerment quote No one can make you feel inferior

 

Become aware of your own capabilities and you will understand why and how you react like you do                                                 Your self-worth is determined by you. You don’t have to depend on someone telling you who you are:  Beyonce 

With support you can understand how events in your past have helped you to form your opinion of yourself now.  Learned behaviours and coping mechanisms that you put into place during childhood may no longer be serving you well.  It is time to move on.  Acknowledge them and understand why you react to certain stimuli and then you will be in a position to react differently the next time.  When your emotions no longer control you, when you no longer allow your emotions to control you; then you are taking the first steps to self empowerment.

 

Begin to make more positive choices and take responsibility for those choices.                                                                                    Trust yourself. There is no one else on earth that is better suited to determining your ideal and making it happen than you:  S.D. Buffington

Maybe you have made a decision in the past that didn’t quite work out as you had planned.  In some cases these experiences can cause us to lose our direction and our self belief.  We believe that we make bad decisions and that can prevent us from moving on.

One way to change your beliefs can be to learn how to tune in to your intuition and your instincts.  You can practise looking for signs and listening to your inner voice – to your intuition or your gut reaction.  Call it what you will, you can learn how to do this and you will find that your self belief grows

 

Don’t allow your circumstances to define who you are, what you do or how you feel or react.                                                             You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down:  Toni Morrison 

There is a well-established school of thought that states that in order to move on we first need to tackle our demons.  Some therapies advocate delving back into our past and focusing on the issues that are now bringing up our anxiety.  This can certainly be beneficial but it’s not always necessary.

You don’t always need to over-analyse past events but you do need to understand that you have a choice about how you react to them.

If you can move from the role of victim to understanding that you are a survivor that is the first step. Survivors are kick-ass.  They do not cower in the corner.  Survivors acknowledge that shit happened but sometimes it’s not necessary to over-analyse why the shit happened.

Shit happened, you got through it and now it’s time to move on.

You can be taught to believe in yourself with positive mantras.  You can learn how to move from a negative mindset to a positive place and with practice you can banish the dark thoughts and beliefs before they gather and take hold in your mind.

You will feel as if a weight has been lifted from your shoulders.  You will walk taller.  You are on the road to self empowerment.

If you are ready for a week long challenge that could start you on this process to making simple changes to your life then click on this link for your free guide: – 7 days to a more confident YOU!

self empowerment quote Happiness is not by chance

 

Replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts and see change happen                                                                                            ‘Folks are usually about as happy as they make up their minds to be’ – Abraham Lincoln 

Yes I know, this one just sounds too simplistic right?  But believe me, it really does work. February is usually a tough month for me but this year I made a conscious decision to approach it differently.

Every time a memory that would make me sad popped into my mind I instantly pushed it away and instead focused on the very instance that I was in at that time. I made an effort to find something positive, beautiful or interesting and I continuously reminded myself of how grateful I was to be there in that place at that time of day.

Every time a feeling of guilt tried to creep into my head I would stamp on it, remind myself that I had made the best decision at the time for a very good reason and that I could not take responsibility for other people’s feelings….I would focus on my breathing…and then refocus on the place that I was at right then and there.

I would make a conscious effort to focus on what was right under my nose from the warm sun on my skin, the people that I could watch going about their ordinary business to the nature that was thriving around me.

This technique takes effort but it is worth it.

What really surprised was not that I was simply banishing the negative thoughts but my whole mood lifted to such an extent that my social life blew up.  I was asked what my secret was because I was radiant, I was glowing, I was inspiring others.  But truly in an effort to get myself through February I simply replaced the negatives with positives.

I can recommend a really good book at this point called The Art of Happiness written by the Dalai Lama and Howard C Cutler.  I dip in and out of this book whenever I need reminding of humanity’s ability to cope.  Click on this link to order your copy today.

 

You will develop a heightened sense of awareness and view others objectively                                                                                      ‘If we learn to open our hearts, anyone, even the people who drive us crazy, can be our teacher,’ Pema Chodron

Stop for a moment and look around you. What opinions do you have of the people that you see?  On what basis are you making those judgments?  Are they learned behaviours from past experiences or are you projecting your own insecurities onto them?

Whatever the reason you are judging people without knowing them.

Learn to become less judgemental and to put all of your prejudices aside and as you begin to understand how you react to somebody else’s irritating behaviour or cutting comments you benefit in two ways.

Your may amend your own behaviours when you understand how others may perceive them and you will not allow the behaviours of others to impact upon your emotions in a negative way.

You will become more receptive and open and this will attract people to you.  We are social animals and as we connect with others this benefits both us and them.

 

You will feel less stress and anxiety and you will be able to deal with dramas and conflict far better.                                                   If the problem can be solved why worry? If the problem can’t be solved worrying will do you no good – Gautama Buddha 

Do I need to add anything else to the above point?  I think that the accompanying quote covers it.  No ifs, no buts.  You simply need to teach yourself how to stop worrying, but don’t worry – I have that one covered too.

By popular demand I am going to bring you a quick course which is all about learning to believe in yourself.  Make sure that you don’t miss out on the launch by signing up to receive emails – click here: ‘7 days to a more confident YOU!’ or follow me on

 

The 6 points above are just a starting point.  My work as a self esteem mentor is taking me along a fabulous life changing journey.  I have almost completed my training as a Master Mindfulness Practitioner and I now meditate regularly.  I am passionate about supporting others on their own journey of self discovery and acceptance.  The golden rule in everything is that first you need to accept and understand yourself and then everything else that you hope for will begin to fall into place.

As your confidence in your own abilities grow then your problems will no longer look quite so daunting.  You will become a warrior and any new dramas which come along are simply proof that you can cope and will demonstrate how much you have grown and moved on.

If you have any questions or comments on this article I would love to hear from you – either in the comment section below or in a private message if you prefer.

Don’t miss future updates and don’t miss the chance to your own self empowerment.

Pin the image below to save this article for future reference

self empowerment Pinterest
What to do in Brunei

What to do in Brunei

I spent three nights in Brunei as I travelled across the north of Borneo island from one part of Malaysia to the other.  This article can be used as an itinerary for what to do in Brunei as well as giving you information on the best place to stay and why.  Personally I recommend that you stay on the edge of the capital city which is called Bandar Seri Begawan unless you are heading for one of Brunei’s beaches.  Three nights will give you enough time not to rush around but the main sites of interest can be seen in one day if you are very quick.

The article will also help answer the following:

  • Is Brunei expensive?
  • Is it true that you collect up to 10 passport stamps as you enter and exit the country overland?
  • People say that Brunei is boring. Is this true?
  • Do they have Sharia law in Brunei and are women forced to cover their hair?
  • Is Brunei worth a visit?

Brunei certainly won’t suit everybody but in my opinion Brunei IS worth a visit, especially if you are travelling around other S E Asian countries; if only so that you can experience a different culture and way of life.

 

Where is Brunei?

Brunei is on the north coast of the island of Borneo.  It is sandwiched between and divided by the huge Malaysian state of Sarawak, with a second Malaysian state, Sabah to taking up the north east corner.

The larger part of the island is taken up by some Indonesian states – see map below.

 

Map showing the position of Brunei in Borneo

Map showing the position of Brunei in Borneo

This post contains affiliate links and/or references to our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on or make a purchase using these links

Scarlet Jones Travels is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com

I liked Brunei although I only had time to explore the capital city which is called Bandar Seri Begawan and with a population of just 150,000 people it is very laid back – more so even than Vientiane in Laos – and that place was extremely laid back.

Things to do in Brunei - the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque

The Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque

The wealth of Brunei has come relatively recently in history from gas and oil reserves. The ruling Sultans have placed ever more emphasis on religion and they align themselves more with the Arab oil rich countries than the surrounding Asian countries but whilst the ‘new money’ has meant a spending spree on public buildings and infrastructure, Brunei somehow lacks the glitz of say Dubai or Bahrain.

It’s a little bit shabby and tired around the edges despite the huge cars on the roads and the mosques which creak under their heavy gold domes, but the people on the streets are friendly, the food is great and I think it’s definitely worth at least a couple of days of your time here.

The prosperity of the country has meant that many Bruneians don’t have to worry too much about hard work – although that’s not to say that there are no entrepreneurs, creative people and business men and women here.  Far from it for whilst foreigners from the Indian sub continent and other Asian countries supply much of the manual labour there are lots of new businesses springing up.  I was told many times by many people that the Bruneians major pastime is eating and this certainly seems true judging by the number of places to eat – although Brunei still has a long way to go in this regard if it is to beat Malaysia.

colourful produce at the Tamu Klanggeh Market

Tamu Klanggeh Market

 

Is Brunei expensive?

Yes….and no.  It depends!

The entrance to virtually all attractions is free and buses and water taxis are cheap. Conventional taxis are expensive and they are actually quite difficult to find on the streets but the city is compact enough to walk around if you can stand the heat and the humidity.

I was waiting on the local bus stop outside my hostel waiting to go to the main bus station when a man stopped and offered me a lift (I accepted) and on other occasions when I was walking around, people often stopped to ask if they could drop me anywhere.  If you are going to accept lifts from total strangers or hitch-hike please smarten up your instincts beforehand and don’t take any risks but I think that on balance Brunei is one of the safer places to be.

 

The water taxis

There are seemingly hundreds of water taxis buzzing around the river-front.  They criss-cross the river to take locals and tourists across to Kampung Ayer where 30,000 people live in the largest stilt village in the world.  These boats will also take you upriver to the small piers and the outlying suburbs or you can negotiate with the cheerful guys for a private trip into the jungle where you have a good chance of spotting proboscis monkeys or crocodiles; but bargain hard.

one of the best things to do in Brunei - wandering around Kampung Ayer

one of the best things to do in Brunei – wandering around Kampung Ayer

Food prices vary from cheap and cheerful in the markets and in the small cafes to expensive meals in the high-end restaurants; especially those aimed at tourists and ex-pats, and hotels and accommodation are higher priced than many other S E Asian countries (they are on a par with Singapore) but there is a new, very affordable kid on the block if you are open-minded about staying in a hostel.

The Lonely Planet Guide book for Brunei also covers Malaysia and Singapore – order your copy here

Where to stay in Brunei

I cannot recommend the AE Backpackers Hostel highly enough on many levels.

This is a new hostel just a 30 minute walk from the main city attractions.  The beds are in dormitories but no expense has been spared.  The staff are keen to welcome you and make you feel at home and will give you loads of information about the area, plus the place is kept spotlessly clean.  When I was there, Andy the owner actually gave me a lift into town on two occasions as he was driving that way and one evening he treated myself and some other guests to a satay meal.

You can find out more and book your stay at the AE Backpackers Hostel via this link.

Where to stay in Brunei? Why the AE Backpackers Hostel of course

Where to stay in Brunei? Why the AE Backpackers Hostel of course

A bonus is that the area around the AE Backpackers Hostel is full of places to eat and drink during the evening; unlike the city centre which closes down.  The hostel is also just a short walk from one of the water taxi piers and the bus stop is just outside.

If a hostel is not your thing (but why not give it a go, you might be a convert), you can get the latest up to date prices and accommodation in Brunei via this link to Agoda

 

I have heard Brunei is boring. Is that true?

It depends what you are looking for.  It actually seemed quite lonely to me because there are not that many people on the streets and at night the city centre is dead.  People tend to drive everywhere (partly to avoid the searing heat but also because fuel costs are so low) and they tend to eat out at the clusters of food outlets in the suburbs. It all feels very tranquil and calm, even on a Sunday morning when all the food stalls and the market open up alongside the Independence Field and the families come out for picnics and to let the children play and ride their bicycles.

 

Brunei culture

There are several things to do in the immediate city centre – all walkable – and if you have a car you can wander further afield and really delve into Brunei culture.

In one day I walked between and visited:

The Royal Regalia Museum – this museum is actually very interesting.  It contains information and artefacts depicting life as a Royal as well as a large collection of the sort of gifts that one Head of State or a Government will give to another.  You do have to wonder about some of these – imagine trying to buy a gift for an aunt or a brother who has everything, and then add political messages into the mix. You almost feel sorry for the recipient – maybe they should agree to stop swapping gifts and suggest visiting dignitaries sponsor a clouded leopard or donate to a hospice instead!

Inside the Royal Regalia Museum in Brunei

Inside the Royal Regalia Museum in Brunei

The Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque – This is the enormous mosque in the city centre and despite its large golden domes I reckon it is beaten in the beauty stakes by the older mosque the ……which is just a 15 minute walk from the AE Backpackers Hostel.  But it’s still worth a visit and the grounds on the river bank are pretty (if bland).  Just avoid prayer time and dress respectfully – although you will be given a robe to wear when you enter.

The Old Custom House (now the Tourist Office) – This squat building is a reminder of colonial times and might, or might not, contain an art exhibition while you’re in town.

The riverfront promenade – There is a long walkway around much of the riverside which is good to stroll along and people watch.  You can hail a water taxi from here and the guys will certainly do their best to attract your attention.  I saw an annual boat race when I was in Brunei.  The long racing rowing boats blasted through the choppy waters and the water taxis dodged around them.  There were rumours that the Sultan might attend the race but if he were there I didn’t see him.

Boat race on the river with Kampung Ayer in the background

Boat race on the river with Kampung Ayer in the background

Tamu Klanggeh Market – This traditional fruit and vegetable market operates next to a little spur on the river.  Fresh produce is piled high on the stone tables and there is the usual bevy of cheap and cheerful food stalls at this bustling hive of activity.

The Chinese Temple – this large temple is the oldest in the city with its red pillars adding a splash of colour to the mostly bland beige and white of the rest of the city.  In fact, the colourless-ness of the city (I’m not sure if that is a real word but you understand what i mean) is possibly why Brunei might have a reputation if being boring. Everything attempts to be clean and white and sparkly – but instead it mostly manages to look tired and bland.

The Chinese Temple in Brunei

The Chinese Temple in Brunei

Kampung Ayer – On my second day in town I took a water taxi over to Kampung Ayer and spend a nice couple of hours wandering around the largest stilt village in the world.  Now this is worth a visit.  You could wander along the wooden board-walks for ages, getting lost down dead ends and snooping into homes, mosques, schools and fire stations. Just beware underfoot – of piles of cat poo on the boards and also rotten or even missing boards outside some of the less well-maintained homes.

I had to slow right down and tread very gingerly in some places; not sure if I would plummet into the murky river water below, but when you get tired of wandering around, simply find a jetty or an open space and a water taxi man will be sure to find you.

Jame Asr Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Mosque – This mosque just 15 minutes walk from AE Backpackers was my favourite.  There are fountains and flowering shrubs and trees in the gardens and the tiles on the minarets are also pretty.  As usual, you will be asked to wear a robe if you are a non-Muslim but somebody will probably also show you around and answer any questions that you might have.  There is even an escalator up into the mosque – so the Sultan doesn’t have to walk up the stairs like the commoners!

the impressive entrance at the Jame Asr Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Mosque

the impressive entrance at the Jame Asr Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Mosque

Do they have Sharia law in Brunei and are women forced to cover their hair?

Yes, there is Sharia law but as you are not going to break any rules this will not affect you!  Also there is no requirement for non-Muslims women to cover their hair.  Alcohol is not on sale although you can import a small amount of alcohol for personal consumption – but as there is no shortage of different teas, coffees, juices or soft drinks available why bother?

Dress conservatively (cover your shoulders and knees and you will have no problems) and you will find that people are quick to smile and to ask where you are from.  There is no rule that says that you can’t wear shorts or a strappy top but as this would be offensive to the majority of the people who live here why would you?

Is it true that you collect up to 10 passport stamps as you enter and exit Brunei overland?

Brunei has a very interesting geographical outline on the map.  The country is split in two by the Sarawak state of Malaysia.  If you want to travel overland between the two Malaysian states on Borneo (Sarawak and Sabah) you will collect 10 passport stamps. (I could have downloaded a professional looking map off the internet but this is more the reality of my travel life)

The bus route across Brunei

the bus went from the teaspoon to the orange peg to the pink peg to the memory stick to the lighter

I travelled from west to east.

  • I crossed Borneo from the town of Mira in the state of Sarawak heading onwards to Kota Kinabalu in the state of Sabah. I exited Sarawak and I entered Brunei – stamp #1 & #2.

At this point I stayed for 2 nights in Brunei – pick up my bus route on the map at the teaspoon.

  • I exited by bus from Brunei and back into the bit of Sarawak that divides the country – stamps #3 & #4 (orange peg)
  • I exited Sarawak and crossed back into the eastern side of Brunei – stamps #5 & #6 (yellow peg)
  • I exited Brunei for the final time and crossed into the thin sliver of Sarawak that runs along the eastern border – stamps #7 & #8 (the black memory stick points here)
  • Despite both states being Malaysian there is a degree of autonomy in Borneo and to cross between Sarawak and Sabah gets you another 2 stamps #9 & #10 (and finally the lighter marks the exit)

You can fly in and out and you can cut out some of the borders by taking a ferry around the sea route but I love bus travel and it was fun to be popping off and on the bus with the local people at every immigration check.  We were all quite friendly after the 7 hour trip.  Look out for the local guy Danny at the bus station in Brunei who will help you with tickets and travel information about the border crossings.

colourful Dani will help you with the bus details

colourful Danny will help you with the bus details

 

To sum up: What to do in Brunei? Is it worth a visit?

Yes, I think so if you are exploring Borneo although I’m not sure it justifies a flight in and out just for itself.  There are other things to do outside the city centre, apparently the Brunei beaches are a great place to go and see the sunset, an (allegedly) tired theme park and access to the pristine rainforest but little else and it’s difficult to get around unless you have a car.

another view of the Jame Asr Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Mosque

another view of the Jame Asr Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Mosque

On a plus point, the wealth provided by the oil money so far has ensured that the loggers have not ravaged the rain forest to plant the palm oil cash crop as they have in neighbouring Malaysia.  The rainforest is largely untouched apart from where the highway was blasted through it and is apparently some of the best in the world but the Bruneians don’t seem to have much of an interested in promoting it to tourists either.

Get your Lonely Planet guide to Brunei, Malaysia (and Singapore) here and drop on by.  I adored both of the Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah and would one hundred percent recommend either or both of those for an extended stay.

Read my other S E Asia guides, such as the perfect itinerary of Myanmar or the best things to see and do in Melaka and drop me an email or reply in the comments below if you have any questions on Brunei or anywhere else that I have travelled.

If you would like me to accompany you and tour Borneo and/or mainland Malaysia let me know.  I know that I will return and I can take some of the hassle out of your journey and show you some of its gems.

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Online Harassment & Cyber Stalking: charged with stalking but it continues

Online Harassment & Cyber Stalking: charged with stalking but it continues

Online Harassment & Cyber Stalking: charged with stalking but it continues

All bloggers love receiving comments.  It’s their life blood.  There’s that thrill that most creative people crave and the buzz when their work is acknowledged or their audience grows.  Creative people NEED to entertain in whatever medium they have chosen to work.  Sadly online harassment and cyber stalking can be an unwelcome side-product of a life online.  And often, despite being charged with stalking the harassment can continue.

I am a blogger and one day when I was checking my new contacts I felt sick to my stomach.  A name from my past had popped up on the screen in front of me.

A man who had been convicted of stalking and harassment and who had been charged with a LIFETIME non-molestation order by a British court and ordered to stay away from me and who was in addition banned from attempting to make any contact with me had signed up to follow my blog.

Online harassment

Now he hadn’t just typed my blog name Scarlet Jones Travels into his browser.  He had specifically signed up to receive my free guide ‘Things to know before you travel’ which meant that he would now be sent an email every time I posted an article.

That’s not simply stalking.  That’s also harassment.

Why would anybody do something like this after being charged with stalking in a court for his crime?  Research comes up with some possible reasons.

  • It could be because he is arrogant and believes himself to be above the law.
  • I have a totally awesome blog and he doesn’t want to miss a single post.
  • Maybe he is a narcissist and has no empathy or consideration for anybody except himself.
  • Perhaps because he is controlling and manipulative and he is determined that he WILL have the last word.
  • He is a bully who wants me to know that he is still watching me and keeping tabs on me.
  • And/or he hates to think that I can cope without him and I am getting on with my life (yes, I was once married to this man for twenty five years!)

Who knows what goes on in a mind like this, but I could go on all day listing possible reasons as to why he thinks he can stick two fingers up at the British judicial system.

Living with the Dominator

Pat Craven has written an absolutely AWESOME book called ‘Living with the Dominator‘ which explains all about emotional abuse far better than I can.  Pat outlines varies character types and the reasons why some people feel the need to bully, control and manipulate.  In my opinion, everybody should read this in order to understand the insidious creeping strangulating problem that is domestic violence.  You may be lucky and not experience an abusive relationship first-hand but one in four women do.

Could you recognise the signs?  We keep them well hidden you know.

Previously this man who signed up to follow my articles had actually taken the trouble to track down some of the people who had commented on my blog and he sent them nasty and inappropriate emails. He had taken the trouble to contact friends and business associates that I have collaborated with and he had advised them that they shouldn’t be working with me.

Why?

Because I left him!

What to do about cyber stalking?

I am in the business of blogging.  Blogs are public.

I am not able to remove his name nor am I unable to block him from my ‘follow’ list.  He has to unsubscribe himself.  Fat chance of that! (Refer to the same list of possible reasons above)

The funny thing is that when this man was questioned by the police he claimed that I was the one who continued to make contact with him. Hmmm….NO!!  (Note: women will also stalk and harass.  This is not just a male thing)

Whilst I love to engage with my audience, the delivery of my blog articles is fully automated.  I have more than 10,000 followers across my social media sites but I can’t imagine why my stalker is sitting at home and getting excited every time a blog update from me pops into his inbox. Apparently I have ruined his life so why would he be interested in mine?

Other blogger friends have their trolls who follow them and who give them problems too.  What makes my situation different is that my stalker has served a sentence of two hundred hours community service for his crime of harassment and stalking.  Yet still he continues.

I feel NOTHING for him.

And I don’t care about his life.  I don’t care in the same way that I don’t care what the uncle of Joe Blogs who lives in Kansas is doing.

online harassment - a better life

They say that the best revenge is a good success.  I am not out for revenge (I truly DON’T care) but as my arrogant, narcissistic stalker will no doubt be reading this as may your own arrogant narcissistic stalker, I want to point out that I am getting on with my life.

I am living a nomadic lifestyle and working via my laptop I am supporting other survivors of cyber bullying and emotional abuse – the sort that destroys one’s self esteem.  I help survivors believe in themselves again via the Smash the Pumpkin Project.

  • I will not stop blogging
  • I will not close down my business
  • I will not stop writing

I will live MY life MY way

  • I will continue to inspire and to encourage others
  • I will continue to bring you articles about my travels
  • I will believe in myself and not in the crap that I was fed during the time that I was with this man

Stalking Awareness now has its own campaign week allocated to it in the national social calendar along with Quit Smoking and the National Walk to School Week. Domestic violence and especially emotional abuse has been running as a storyline in the British radio drama, the Archers which has raised awareness and the domestic violence laws in the UK have recently been improved..

There is much more understanding about the effects of coercive control and things are slowly improving in favour of the victim survivor.

We, the survivors, are not the ones who should be adapting our behaviours.  We should not have to change our names, or move home or relocate to a different continent.

We can however take steps to protect ourselves – you could carry a personal alarm – this small one fits in the palm of your hand– and you should always be aware of your surroundings.

Can you identify with the issues in this article?

If you are reading this and you are a rational human being do you think that it is fair to subject a person to unwanted and uninvited attention?

Can’t you accept that no means no?  I don’t love you anymore actually means I DO NOT love you anymore. Or maybe you subscribe to the school of thought that says that women invite rape because of how they are dressed or maybe you think that it’s fun to pull the legs off a daddy-long-legs?

And what does your current partner think of your obsession if you have one?  Are they happy with the situation – or perhaps you have also manipulated them and undermined their self confidence?  Are they aware that you have a criminal record for HARASSMENT?  That should be a red flag in anybody’s book.  Leopards don’t change their spots nor can you teach an old dog new tricks.

  • I started blogging as a means of communicating my situation to friends and family when I was too stressed to tell them what was happening in my life.
  • I started travelling because I had always wanted to experience new cultures and traditions and to know what it was like to feel free.
  • I continue blogging because of you, my audience, you who contact me by email, Facebook, personal message or who enter your comments at the end of my blog articles. You – my reader – who asks me what the chicken buses are like in South America or what fried crickets taste like.
  • I continue travelling because I love the lifestyle and the freedom. I no longer have to think up excuses about why I forgot to record Coronation Street or explain why………..!

(And on a travel related note I can fit most of my life into my Osprey Rucksack which I LOVE and fits me so well I don’t feel restricted or confined in an emergency – I can’t recommend this bag highly enough) – you can find out for yourself at this link

online harassment - getting on with life

If you have been affected by online harassment or any of the issues raised in this article; maybe somebody you know has been charged with stalking and won’t stop, then do drop me an email or comment in the box below.

If you are that person who is carrying out the online harassment and stalking – then stop it right now.  For your own sake and for those around you.  Get a life and be happy.

And if you are a survivor of domestic abuse and as a consequence you have low self-confidence or low self-esteem, I will be able to help you with that.

The Smash the Pumpkin Project is a system of support and empowerment which is especially relevant to anybody who is a survivor of domestic abuse (although not exclusively for survivors of domestic abuse – it’s suitable for just about anybody who likes a challenge).   You can now sign up and trial the first month – a donation will be appreciated if you like and benefit from your experience.

Click on the box below to get more details about the course or contact me by email at info@scarletjonestravels.com if you want further information.

The Smash the Pumpkin Project

The Smash the Pumpkin Project

Smash the myths; live your dreams

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Inspirational people – Lee is helping kids in Sumatra

Inspirational people – Lee is helping kids in Sumatra

 

Not everybody’s dream list contains big travel plans, lots of money or a flash car.   I met a British guy in Melaka who is helping kids in Sumatra, Indonesia and who would be happy with an electric sewing machine!!

It was Christmas Day morning and I was walking along Harmony Street in Melaka, Malaysia when I spotted some bags for sale.

They were hanging up outside a hostel that I had passed many times but I had never noticed them before, and I crossed the road to take a closer look.

The bags were all different and appeared to be made from pieces of old denim jeans.  As I was looking at the bags I noticed a quiet bespectacled guy working at an old treadle Singer sewing machine in the shade in front of the hostel.

When he stood to shake my hand and introduced himself as Lee from England I couldn’t help notice that Lee was struggling a bit to get to his feet.

Anyway we got talking – subsequently Lee invited me for a coffee so that we could chat a bit more and then later for a lunch of redang chicken at his home.

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This is Lee’s inspirational story.

 

Why are you making and selling bags?

 Lee told me that he makes and sells bags so that he can send the funds out to a grassroots project in Indonesia.

The project (the Dian Bersinar Foundation) does volunteer work in Medan, Sumatra and helps to educate and support pre-school children and their families in one of the poorest communities in this Indonesia city.

How did you discover the charity project in Medan? 

Lee said that he had been travelling for many years and was introduced to the charity project In Sumatra by friends that he met.  He stayed for a while so that he could volunteer with them, and now, because he still travels a lot, he supports the group by sending funds over to them.  The money goes towards a small living wage for the teachers, building rent, food (the school tries to provide food or fruit when it can) and school supplies.

The project is a crèche/playgroup for pre-school children and is a safe place for the children to stay whilst their parents are out at work.  It gives educational support to the youngsters – but the group also aims to educate the parents too.

The hope is that by the time the children are of school age, the parents will already be in the mindset that an education is important and won’t consider keeping the kids from school or send them to work or out onto the streets to beg.

The project is also about enriching the lives of these disadvantaged children, for example by giving them a day out to the swimming pool – fun things that they would otherwise probably never get to experience.

 

How poor are the children? Are they street kids? 

They are not quite street kids.  Most of the parents do work, but they are usually working in the lowest of jobs.  Many of the kids are dropped off by their cycle tri-shaw driver fathers. They are actually charged a small fee for attending the project – otherwise they would simply not attend and miss too many days on a whim.

This small fee ensures a level of commitment from the parents and is hopefully building in a sense of value and responsibility.

 

You have been travelling since 2008.  What set you off on that road? 

‘It’s a cliché but I had a life changing moment.  I was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy and suddenly things in the commercial world weren’t so important any more.  In my previous life I was a construction project manager – my speciality was carpentry but I sold up and I began to travel.

As the disease has progressed I have become less mobile but I am determined not to give in to it.  Working with the charity in Medan is one of my hobbies and my passion’.

And now you are settled in Malaysia? 

Lee told me no, although he does spend the winters here in Melaka.  Usually he heads off about mid-April.  Currently Lee has a van stored in Georgia and maybe he will travel onwards to Kazakhstan before returning to Melaka or maybe go back to Medan in November.

 

Do you sell the bags while you travel? 

It can be quite difficult to sell the bags on the road but in his spare time, if Lee has suitable fabric, he will get out his machine and make some bags on a little table outside his van.

 

Where do you get the fabric for the bags? 

Mostly the fabric is donated, but Lee is always on the lookout for unusual or local fabrics.  He will make bags to order in any shape, size or fabric as well as making IPad and electronic gadget cases.

Lee told me once how he was admiring a guy’s trousers and a couple of days later the man came back and donated them to him so that he could turn them into yet more bags for charity.

 

What other ways can you raise funds? 

Lee told me that he would like to set up an online shop so that he can sell the bags via the internet, but in order to do that he will need to increase his stock.  Currently working with an old traditional (non-electric) Singer sewing machine, Lee reckons that he could greatly increase production if he had an electric machine.

The more funds that Lee can raise then the more children will benefit from the charity project in Medan.

Can anybody volunteer in Medan with the project? 

The charity used to accept volunteers when it was in its original location alongside the train tracks and when it was accepting older school-aged children.  Then, several volunteers lived in Medan and helped the children with their English classes and supported the teaching staff.

Once the project was forced to move buildings it meant that only pre-school children could be supported, although if anybody in Medan is interested in helping, the project would be more than willing to use any skills that people have.

 

How else can people help? 

Share this message and like the Lee’s Facebook page – click here for the link. If you are in Melaka search for Lee (in Harmony Street) and buy one of his bags if you like them.

Lee told me that he also wants to set up a separate fundraising campaign so that he can buy an electric sewing machine that he can use when he is based in Melaka.

 

Summary: Lee is helping kids in Sumatra

You can usually find Lee working in Jalan Toking Besi (Harmony Street) in Melaka, during the winter months at least.

You can follow Lee and his Bags for Kids Project as well as the Foundation via the following Facebook pages:

Bags for Kids, Indonesia

The Dian Bersinar Foundation

Have YOU ever done any volunteer work?

Small things can make a huge difference to another person.

You may not have much money yourself but you will have a talent or a skill or just the time to give to others.

We don’t need to receive money as payment to feel valued.

As well as the benefits to others, volunteer work can boost your feelings of self worth and help you to feel valued.

Even a one-off Random Act of Kindness can make a huge difference to the recipient.  Try it today.

 

More bags = more funds = happier healthy children that are lifted out of poverty.

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