Bristol vs the world

A travel (and sometimes fashion) blog about exploring Bristol and the rest of the world, one post at a time.

Tag: beach

Bako National Park, Sarawak

Bako beach

I have mixed memories of Bako National Park. On the one hand, it was probably the most beautiful place I’ve been lucky enough to visit. On the other, it did give me a distrust of monkeys – or at least macaques – after one made a leaped onto our table and made off with my much-needed chicken leg dinner.

One thing’s for certain: it knows how to make – and leave – an impression (generally for the right reasons).


Getting to Bako

First thing’s first, you need to get to the Park. Although quicker to grab a taxi or hire a mini-bus with a group, the public buses are by far the cheapest way to get there at RM3.50 one way (around 65p) – and they still only take 35-45 minutes from Kuching (catch it towards the end of Jalan Bazaar/further from the bus station and you’ll save yourself a bit of time). They come once an hour.

However road transport can only take you so far and you’ll be dropped at Kampung Bako. From there, visit the ticketing office to charter a boat to take you on the 30-minute journey to the National Park, past stilt-houses rising out of the water, fishermen, foliage-covered mountains (I told you Bako knows how to make an impression).

Boats cost just under RM50 – about £9 – return. They can fit up to five people so the cheapest thing to do is club up with others on your bus to share one. However your boat driver will ask you for a return journey time so you need to make sure the others on your boat have similar plans for their trip to you. For a bit more flexibility, go it alone (or at least, alone in your group).

Also check the tides before you go – or at least take some waterproof sandals. Although we got dropped off at the National Park’s jetty, the time we wanted to go back happened to be low tide, so the boats couldn’t get up to it. Instead we were picked from the park beach – well, the sea by it. Trousers rolled and bags held above us, we waded back to our boat through the (Singapore bath warm) water and dried our legs in the sun as we were taken back to the bus stop – it may not be glamorous, but it was certainly a memorable way to leave!


To stay or not to stay

If you’re short on time – or not too bothered about undertaking lots of treks – Bako can be done in a day. Get one of the earliest buses from Kuching and ask your boat driver when the latest is that they’ll pick you up.

But I’d highly recommend an overnight stay. The accommodation is basic and the food isn’t anything to write home about (and that’s if it doesn’t get stolen by cheeky macaques). But it really allows you to make the most of your time in the Park. You can relax with a drink in-between walks, watch the sun set over the beach at park HQ or get up early and enjoy one of the trails before the next day’s visitors really get going.

You can also go on their night trails for a small fee, where a guide will point out wildlife you might not see during the day.  We were exhausted and didn’t, but part of me regrets that decision now.

We booked our accommodation online and confirmed our reservation with the Kuching tourist office when we arrived in the city. Despite this, we did have some problems on checking in, the people working at the Park HQ reception seemingly not being able to find our reservation. However they did honor it. So I’d recommended taking a print-out of your reservation and also phoning to confirm – at least then you know a room should be allocated to you, even if they’re not sure quite where you’re supposed to be saying. This all said, it looked like we were the only people having trouble so I don’t think ours was a common experience – don’t let it put you off!


Treks and trails

On arriving at the Park headquarters, you receive a paper map detailing the 17 walks on offer. This includes a list of how long they are and a rough idea of how long they should take to complete one way. I’ll admit it, we had a good chuckle at that at first. 45 minutes to go 1km? Maybe for someone who’s seriously out of shape…

Turns out, the people who put that map together know what they’re talking about. The trails may not be particularly long, but on many of the routes you’ll find yourself clambering over, up and down steep paths laden with tree roots and rocks. You’re also in the middle of a hot, sticky jungle. And let’s not forget that occasionally you might want to stop to look at some of the plants, wildlife or stunning views (or just to catch your breath and have some water – though I highly recommend a Platypus or similar).

Don’t be put off by this though – we’re of average fitness and probably found the heat and humidity the hardest element to deal with, rather than the treks themselves being hugely difficult. If you’re not a confident walker, you could pack a walking pole (I am a huge fan of walking poles). But there were plenty of people do the trails in flip flops and – in some cases – swimming costumes. I wouldn’t recommend following their example, mind.

There are also some slightly easier trails too; the first one we undertook, to Telok Delima, was often along boardwalk and mostly flat. The park guides at reception should be able to offer advice if you’re not sure what will suit your fitness levels.

And the trails may have been tiring, but absolutely worth it. I’ll let the photos in this entry speak for themselves as to why.


Telok Delima trail, Bako

What else is there to do

Not content trekking through mangroves and spectacular jungle or relaxing on stunning, secluded beaches? The Park also has an abundance of wildlife. As well as the macaques, we also saw Proboscis monkeys (best looking animals ever?) and silver leaf monkeys also call the area their home. The Park HQ and nearby beach are home to bearded pigs, who you might see snuffling around the cabins or snoozing in the shade. And then there’s the many other insects and small mammals that you might spot. We saw some groups on trips with guides who were pointing out these animals to them, so if you’re a wildlife buff then this could be a worthwhile investment.

Macaques near Bako Park HQ

Wild boar, Bako

In short…

If you’re visiting Kuching, Bako National Park is a must-visit. It’s hard to describe how visiting here makes you feel. I haven’t made it sound like a hugely relaxing experience and yet, despite the sweat, the stickiness, the tricky trails, it somehow is. Probably something to do with getting to the end of a trek and being greeted by almost-empty beaches surrounded by tropical trees, with views of endless water or mountains rising from the sea. Simply breathtaking. (I told you it left an impression!)

Just make sure you eat your dinner inside – or at least away from the sides of the canteen!

Bako Park HQ beach


Telok Paku trek

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Where to stay Wednesday: Village House, Santubong

dsc_6365From sweaty sightseeing in Singapore to monkeys stealing our dinner post-trekking in Bako National Park, Borneo (more on that later): after a fantastic, but hectic, first week in Asia, we decided a change in pace was in order.

Dominated by the eponymous mountain, the Santubong peninsula is less than an hour from Kuching – the capital of Sarawak, Borneo – by mini bus. But it feels a world away. As we drove, concrete shops and mid-rises gave way to jungle and stilt-houses. The only traffic we encountered was caused by a seemingly constant stream of guests in beautiful outfits going to a wedding, which even mid-morning appeared to already be in full-swing. (Does anyone know the customs of traditional Malay/Borneo weddings? I’d love to read about them). Kuching isn’t particularly fast-paced, especially compared to a lot of Asian cities (or cities in general), but after spending a few days there you really appreciate how peaceful this surrounding countryside is.



Tucked away down a gravel track, the idyllic Village House is the perfect place to stay in the area. We felt at home from the minute we walked into the frangipani-lined courtyard and were handed our ‘Welcome’ iced teas.

Comprising of just 14 bedrooms, this u-shaped hotel is built in traditional stilt-house style around a stunning pool/courtyard area. Underneath the bedrooms you’ll find the small restaurant, and seating and loungers for the pool. There’s also a bar, fancier upstairs ‘dining room’ type area (featuring a stunning wooden-carved table) and a living room full of books, television and dvds and – most importantly – board games. All of the rooms are decorated in traditional Sarawak style, with local craft pieces dotted throughout.


We stayed in a Village Double, the standard private room, which are priced from 250 ringitt (about £50) a night (twins cost the same). Although a bit on the small side, we found it perfectly suited our needs: traditional Malay sarongs provided, enough space to dump our rucksacks, a decently-sized, modern bathroom and – most importantly – a four poster bed. To be honest, we spent most of our time relaxing by the pool anyway.

However if you want something a bit more luxurious or somewhere a bit more private to relax, the two Rajah Rooms have a sitting area, private veranda and mod cons like a television and Nespresso coffee machine. These start from 460 Ringitt a night (about £90).

At the other end of the spectrum, those just wanting a bed can book into the plainer dorm-style rooms, which sleep up to six people in bunkbeds. A night here costs 93 ringitt (just under £20).


Arguably the real stand-out of this hotel is the staff and service. Not only helpful – they’re full of recommendations and there’s a number of trips they can help you to plan such as to the nearby Cultural Village and firefly cruises – they’re also very friendly, stopping to chat and ask about your day. Just little touches, such as bringing your drink to you at the pool, really makes this place feel luxurious. Admittedly so far this is all in a good day’s work – especially by Asian hospitality standards (which are generally amazing). But they really went above and beyond for us: one of the girls stayed late to print our plane boarding passes. Another came in extra-early on our last day to unlock and make sure we got our taxi to the airport, even providing us with sandwiches to take with as we were missing out on breakfast.

Talking of food, if there’s one downside to the Village House, it’s that the eating here is little costly (by Sarawak standards). Also, if you want dinner then you have to make your mind up about it quite early: you have to pre-order by mid-afternoon. Understandable considering the size of the hotel, but perhaps not ideal for the more fleet of foot. You could probably organise to eat elsewhere – I’ve read good things about some seafood restaurants in a nearby village – but you’d have to plan that too unless you had your own car. However everything we ate here was pretty tasty so, so long as you accept that you’re paying the Sarawak version of hotel prices, we didn’t find being confined to the hotel for mealtimes too much of a problem. And breakfast is included in the cost of your stay, so that’s one meal you don’t have to worry about budgeting for.

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If you can bear to drag yourself away from the beautiful hotel, the surrounding area is worth exploring. Although a bit too rocky for sunbathing, the quiet beach – just down a sandy path – is the ideal location to watch the sun set. We also enjoyed walking into Santubong Village itself: an older lady sitting outside a shop, chopping coconuts ready for the next day. Roadside food stalls. Families going for a spin round the roads on their mopeds. John got chatting (sort of) to football-playing children, bonding over Manchester City. Later on, the call to prayer from the local mosque echoed through the village.

Stunning, entrancing, relaxing, we felt utterly spoilt for the entirety of our two nights here. Our only regret is that we didn’t stay longer.

The important details
Pricing: Range from about £20 p/night for a dorm bed to around £90 for the Rajah Rooms. Standard doubles/twins are around £45/£50. Price includes breakfast.
Location: Near Santubong Village, 20 miles from Kuching.
Any other extras?: Welcome drinks. Board games, dvds and books can be borrowed.
Recommended?: Absolutely. This was by far and away our favourite hotel of the trip.
Any reason not to?: If you like to be able to get around easily without a car then you could feel a little claustrophobic – you’ll be relying on wheeled vehicles to get most places from here. Not recommended if you don’t like to ‘stop’; this is strictly a ‘getting away from it all’ kind of hotel. Though if anywhere can convince you to take an unplanned break, it’s here.

Coronado, California

Say Goodbye to Hollywood – Coronado is the new film set of California.

Coronado Beach

Forget self help books – it seems chick lit has been the guiding force in my life. Marian Keyes’ The Other Side of the Story is to blame for me wanting to go into publishing – even when I later found out that the literary agent with a sports car is not exactly a true reflection on the industry. And it was because of The California Club by Belinda Jones that I found myself looking at Coronado for the ‘beach’ portion of our dual-centered holiday to California (the other ‘centre’ was San Francisco – more to come on that!). Partly set on the island, the book made Coronado seem like an idyllic destination for a beach holiday: all sea, sun, and and surfers. And fortunately Jones’ book turned out to be a little (lot) more realistic than Keyes’!*

That said, it seems quite fitting that I first came across Coronado in fiction. There is something a little bit unreal about the ‘island’ (it’s an island in name only, connected to the mainland by a slither of land). The setting is straight from a film set with an almost ‘if Disney were to open a beach resort it would be something like this’ feeling. Pastel coloured houses are adorned by pleated, semicircular American flags. Away from the main road, streets seem almost devoid of cars. Surfers and lifeguards say ‘dude’ and ‘man’.

And that’s just the beginning. Our favourite eatery on the island was Clayton’s Coffee Shop, a diner and relic of the 1950’s (reviewed in more depth here). Our B&B, The Cherokee Lodge, was so-called because of the roses that adorned its perfect garden (also complete with flagpole sporting the Stars & Stripes). Even getting onto the island is an unreal experience. As you ascend to the top of Coronado Bridge, the road almost appears to disappear from underneath the vehicle. During one memorable bus trip one of our fellow bus passengers was so captivated by the experience that he actually stood up in some kind of salutation as we reached the bridge’s peak. Though I suspect he may have been drinking.

But if most of Coronado is a film set then the actors must live in the eye-popping mansions that line the beachfront. One of which boasted an RV that looked like it had more floor space than my house!

The Cherokee Lodge. And the garden’s not even in full bloom yet!

And then there’s the incredible (apparently the second best in the States), where wet sand genuinely sparkles in the right light and plants line the edges, giving it a natural feel. Besides its appearance, there are two reasons that Coronado Beach is unlike many others. Firstly, because – due to its vast width and length – there is plenty of space for everyone, even when we were there in June. We never felt uncomfortably close to anyone around us – definitely nothing like the sardine-tin like beaches you often see representing tourist spots. Though it’s advisable to avoid the area in front of the Hotel del Coronado as the majority of beachfront hotels are situated at this end, making this part of the beach feel more crowded and, well, touristy. A five-ten minute walk away not only provides more space, but also to a taste of (enviable) local life on the island. From surfing schools for pre-teens to families meeting to lunch to groups of friends singing to the accompaniment of an acoustic guitar; these tasters of how locals live life remind you that you’re not actually on a film set. Just be warned – occasionally you’ll find yourself sharing the beach with some of its less desirable inhabitants. One day we can down to the warning ‘Lots of jellyfish: shuffle feet’.

The second reason that Coronado Beach is unique? Every so often you get treated to the sight of an army jet coming into to land, the cockpit so close that you can almost make out the expression on the pilot’s face. Although we knew that half of the island was an army base, we hadn’t expected to get quite so close to the action!

The said, this is about as close to ‘action’ as you’re likely to get on Coronado. Compact and picturesque, it is the perfect location to take in at a leisurely pace, either on foot or by bicycle (bikes can be hired from either end of the island, at Holland’s Bicycles, Bikes and Beyond or the excellently named Wheel Fun Rentals). The marina provides some good photo opportunities, while halfway up Orange Avenue we found Spreckel’s Park the perfect place to stop for a picnic bought for a local supermarket. The park also has a play area to entertain any kids (big or little) you may be travelling with, while in the summer a series of concerts provide a more grown up form of entertainment on Sunday evenings. If you’re really desperate for an adrenalin hit but don’t feel like joining the runners and surfers, then you could always try hunting for the ghost of Kate Morgan, said to have haunted Hotel del Coronado since 1892. Legend has it that nobody’s quite sure whether she committed suicide or was murdered.

Even if ghosts aren’t your thing, the ‘Hotel Del’ is worth investigating (or, if you have the money, staying in) – not only is it a landmark on the island, but its oak-panelled reception and extravagant chandeliers are a sight worth seeing as you imagine the days when the likes of Marilyn Monroe were guests here. Oh, and it’s also one of the settings for The California Club – so if, like me, you were drawn to the island thanks to Belinda Jones, you’ll be able to put a face to the setting and see that it’s as perfect as the book describes!

It’s also worth making a stop in the Babcock Bar for a drink. It might not be cheap – on average a beer is $7, wine sits between $8.50 and $14 for a glass, and cocktails come in at $12.50+, but the Key Lime Pie cocktail in particular is worth saving for and savouring (Graham crackers around the rim of the glass!). Sat with our drinks overlooking the ocean (it’s ground floor, but you can still see the beach), the bar’s ukulele player/singer provided the perfect soundtrack to the evening.

The ‘Hotel Del’ from the beach

All of this sounding a little too laid back? The bright lights of San Diego are within easy reach. You could hire a car to get around the area, but the good public transport systems in both Coronado and San Diego make this unnecessary. Instead, you can get a bus or ferry, both of which will take you into central San Diego. From either drop-off point it is easy to either get further public transport or walk to your final destination. Some suggestions for these can be found here. But fun as San Diego is, I can’t pretend that I didn’t enjoy coming back to the calm and quiet of Coronado, and the feeling of really getting away from the ‘real world’.

Would I fly 11 hours from Britain just to go to Coronado and San Diego? Probably not – it’s just that bit too expensive and a bit far away. But if you’re in California then it’s definitely worth a visit. Situated just two hours from Los Angeles and easily accessible with new direct flight routes from London, it’s a feasible destination to either start or end a roadtrip down Route 101. We also found it to be the perfect compliment to San Francisco on our dual centred holiday, with flights between the two very quick and cheap. (Oh, and for what it’s worth, most Californians told us we’d done the right thing by choosing San Diego and Coronado over Los Angeles. Though seeing as most of these locals were either from San Diego or San Francisco (the latter of which allegedly has a bit of a rivallry with LA) then they might not be the most trustworthy of sources.)

If you want bars, clubs and action, you’re probably better off making Coronado a day trip and staying in central San Diego. But if you want a relaxing, escapist holiday and beautiful beaches then Coronado comes highly recommended.

Coronado Bay Bridge. Photo: Yuni, WikiSpaces, Bridge Notes

*That’s not to say that you shouldn’t read The Other Side of the Story. All of Keyes’ books are pretty awesome. Just, um, take it with a pinch of salt.

Hammamet, Tunisia

An intense MA (me) and year of working (John) meant that by July last year all we wanted to do was lie on a beach for a week. Taking advantage of cheap package prices due to the earlier revolution, we ended up in Hammamet, Tunisia. Incidentally, for anybody concerned about whether the area is safe – please don’t be. In Hammamet, the only way you could tell that a revolution had taken place was through the almost-unreal stories of locals working in the hotel and running shops in the medina.

Although we went with little intention of leaving our sun loungers (something I probably shouldn’t admit on a travel blog…), we did see a little bit more of the country than our hotel. Although Hammamet is predominantly a tourist resort full of all-inclusive hotels, you will find Tunisians enjoying the beach in the town centre. Dating from the 15th century, the medina is also worth a visit – you could of course buy everything in here in your hotel, but where’s the fun in that when you could be haggling – though to be hassled by shop owners wanting to get you into their shops (also, heck out the prices of items in your hotel or online before visiting – the shop owners will start very high!). Our trip was rewarded with two ceramic bowls and two wooden pestles and mortars which now take pride of place in my kitchen.

See the photos on Flickr