Even disguised in her Santa hat and bikini, we suspect that regular readers will recognise Mette Baillie of Freja Designer Dressmaking (whose exquisite bespoke wedding dresses
we are huge fans of!). When we heard that Mette and her husband, Duncan would be spending Christmas in Malaysia, scuba-diving alongside turtles and trekking the rainforest to see orangutans, we were A – extremely envious and B – convinced that this would be an inspiring read for those of you looking for honeymoon ideas. Here Mette explains why she’s more than a little in love with Malaysia…
“Our two weeks in Malaysia started with a couple of days in Kuala Lumpur. Like other big Asian cities, it has lots to see and do – it is less sterile than Singapore, not as crazy as Bangkok, and less crowded than Hong Kong. It’s a massive city but still with breathing spaces all around. Highlights include the iconic Petrona’s Towers or twin towers, which you can go to the top of for incredible views of the city, while the first few floors has amazing shopping, with all the top European labels. The city also has beautiful, small botanic gardens, which are free to visit and provide a lovely chill-out space, and a view of the orchids, birds of prey and many of the other flowers we know as the exotics in our floral shops.
“We also went to the textile museum (my choice… but you probably guessed that!). It’s quite compact and tells of all the weave, dye and embroidery techniques used to produce traditional costumes from many Asian regions.
“Before leaving for Kuala Lumpur we had booked a “Food-walk” through Urban Adventures – I can highly recommend it. You meet a group and a guide who will take you on a walk and tell you lots about the city and the cultures, and you stop by food places and get a taste of the food in the different places along the way… haha, I could barely walk back to the hotel, I was so full!
“We started off in “Little India” – there are two of these in the city, old established Indian communities from all the way back when the British brought the Indians to Malaysia to build the railway systems. We were shown different ingredients, like banana pods used as a thickening agent in food, and how to eat by hand without getting any food in your palm of your hand. Then we passed through a lot of Malaysian food stalls and made our way to the Chinese part of the city and had a huge selection of delicious noodle dishes. The mix of food and cultural information suited me very well and it was a great day!
“After a few days in Kuala Lumpur we flew to Tawau – internal flights in Asia are really cheap, so getting around is not a problem. You can use the usual reputable airlines, or a budget airline called Air-Asia, which is similar to EasyJet or Ryanair.
“Tawau is in the Eastern side of Borneo, and we then travelled by bus to the sea town of Semporna, a two hour journey. From Semporna, it’s a 45 min boat ride to Mabul. Borneo Divers on Mabul has lovely little twin houses. You get one with a double bed and bathroom, safe and air con – there is not much else, it’s pretty basic but is all you need. There is a swimming pool right outside the door and a long jetty leads out to the dive centre. From the dive centre you can go straight into the water to the house reef and snorkel or dive. In the resort is a big house where traditional Malaysian meals are served in buffet style. The food is amazing!
“There are loads of places in Semporna to learn to dive and to stay at. We had pre-arranged to go direct to the island of Mabul, which is the closest island to the famous Sipadan dive site. The island Sipadan is placed exactly on the border between Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, which unfortunately causes a bit of political unrest in the area. Borneo Divers is the original dive company diving Sipadan, since the mid 80s, but lots of other companies do it now. Sipadan is listed as one of the top 10 dive sites in the world and it didn’t disappoint.
“The things you can see on your dives are green turtles (they hatch both on Mabul and Sipadan is a recognised hatchery centre), hawksbill turtles, white tip reef sharks, lots of hard and soft corals, nudibranchs, clownfish, stone fish, angel fish, lion fish, big schools of jack fish and barracuda, and many, many more. And the occasional whale shark and hammerheads too.
“The dive centre on the resort is a recognised PADI centre, with all the equipment for hire if you don’t have your own. You can also book courses to better your skills and gain more qualifications as a diver. If you don’t dive, there isn’t too much to do on the island – it doesn’t really have nightlife as such, but it’s lovely and peaceful if you like to just read your book and relax in the sun (there is absolutely plenty of that!).
“If you don’t dive and would like to learn, I strongly suggest you do the “PADI open water
” at home before going on holiday. That way you don’t waste your holiday spending time in a class room and you are ready to go in the water on your arrival. Diving is my thing and I absolutely love it. My husband and I have very different interests and hobbies, but we both really enjoy diving and it has been something we have done together since we met.
“After we had spent five days on Mabul we sailed back to Semporna, headed back to Tawau airport and flew to Sandakan, which is only a short flight. We stayed for a night in Sandakan and then we had booked a guide to take us to Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. Placed on the edge of the rainforest, Sepilok is an amazing place. There is a huge amount of work being carried out to preserve the rain forest and the endangered species living there.
“I was so excited to see the orangutans. Sepilok has a programme where they take the orphaned or ill orangutans and keep them in a nursery until they are four years old, to teach them the early stages of orangutan life. Then they let them into the “main” jungle, to learn from the older orangutans. Once they are independent, at around 10 years old, they are let back out into the “real” rainforest to live a normal orangutan life. It was a wonderful experience to meet them, they are so adorable and so human like – 96.4% of their genetics are the same as ours.
“At Sepilok they also have a sun bear conservation centre, and they are also so cute. We spent all morning with the guide, and he knew a lot about all the animals and their behaviour, it was great to just be able to ask away, and we felt we gained a lot from having a guide, but you are free to go without a guide. There are wooded paths raised up above the forest grounds.
“We had a lovely lunch and a little snooze in the hammock by our room, in one of the hotels attached to the conservation centre. We then went back to see the orangutans and sun bears again in the afternoon. “Orang” means “man” and “utan” means forest. So it really is “man-of-the-forest”, which just makes so much sense.
“In the evening, our guide was back to take us on a jungle walk in the dark. We very quietly walked through the jungle with torches and he pointed out so many things, to mention just a few, a scorpion, a tortoise, owls, wild pigs, fruit bats, a leopard cat, and the most exciting for me was a mouse deer. It was quite an experience being in the dark with a torch and all the “jungle noise” – we could never have done this without the guide.
“I can’t recommend Malaysia enough – we had an amazing time!”
Lock up my credit card, I have a major holiday crush! Anyone feeling tempted by an adventure honeymoon? Christina x
Mette’s Malaysia hit list
Kuala Lumpur highlights
– Petronas Twin Towers
, Perdana Botanical Garden
and National Textile Museum
– Kuala Lumpur has a great transport system with underground trains and monorail and pre-paid taxis. It’s super easy to use and cheap.
Cuisine meets culture
– We booked our food-walk with Urban Adventures
A room with a view
– In Kuala Lumpur we stayed at the Concorde
. We had a premier room (which gave us access to a nicer breakfast buffet, laundry, use of the swimming pool and gym). It was very central and we could actually see the Petronas Towers from the room.
Under the sea
– We stayed at Borneo Divers
and spent approx. £1,300 for two people staying five nights including four days diving with 4 dives a day, all boat transfers from Semporna and transfer to and from the airport to Semporna. All air for diving, all food and all non alcoholic drinks was included. Other places to stay and dive from in the area include Kapalai
and Scuba- junkie
A must visit for animal lovers
– Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre
. We stayed at Four Points Sandakan
the night before and then in one of the hotels attached to the conservation centre.
– At the time of writing, the British Government travel advice
is not to go to the north east of Borneo due to political unrest, which hopefully is pretty temporary but check before you travel.