What are Mabul Water Bungalows like?

Borneo’s Sipadan is a mecca for scuba divers, and on both our visits there we have stayed at the lovely Mabul Water Bungalows.

The first time we visited was in September 2009, for our son’s 21st birthday and we returned in August 2015 for my husband’s 60th.  The very fact we returned is testimony to the quality of the accommodation and the diving infrastructure.

The resort is super pretty, with walkways connecting all the different parts of the resort: the rooms, the main hotel dining area, the dive centre and then onto the “mainland,” which is actually a tiny island, with a few stalls and another dive resort.Malaysia_Mabul Island_P1070984

Malaysia_Mabul Island_P1070983Every room has a bike, for getting around:

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The island:Malaysia_Mabul Island_P1070989

One of the stalls, that cater mainly to visitors.Malaysia_Mabul Island_P1071013

And back to the Water Bungalows:Malaysia_Mabul Island_P1070871

Malaysia_Mabul Water Bungalows_3185It is all charming, beautifully maintained and staffed with friendly co-operative staff.

There were a couple of changes in the 6 years between our visits, not to the standard of the rooms nor the resort per se, but 2 changes that should definitely be noted.

In 2009, a majority of the guests were European and virtually everyone was a diver.

Fast forward to 2015, and the situation was very different.  The majority of the guests were mainland Chinese, most of whom were not divers, but exuberant (and rather noisy) snorkellers. Unless you dive on the house reef, close to the resort, the obsessively-selfie-taking Chinese (many of whom seem to swim fully clothed and wearing rubber rings and arm bands) are not an issue.  The menu in 2015 seemed to be a little more Chinese than I’d remembered it from 2009, but I guess that’s inevitable.

It’s also popular with Chinese honeymooners…IMG_2205The second change was the presence, very discreetly, of soldiers.  I used to go for a run every evening, up and down the connecting wooden walkways, one of which juts out into the sea, and one night when I went out later than usual, I came across a group of soldiers.

There has been, sad to report, kidnapping incidents – and worse – involving Abu Sayyaf (a terrorist outfit operating out of the southern Philippines) and these soldiers are now stationed at Mabul to protect staff and guests.  They were very discreet, and always friendly, but you have to know that there is a certain element of risk.

The diving was excellent – that is not under the control of the hotel, of course, but their boats, dive-masters, boat crew, dive centre staff were, without exception, friendly and competent.

On the days when you get to dive on Sipadan, the boat leaves very early, but there is always a light self-service breakfast and – oh joy of joys –  good coffee available, even at dawn :IMG_2222There’s even a house moggy to keep you company.

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We had 2 memorable stays there, both for significant birthdays…which is why being charged Ringit 15 for a broken glass was a silly irritant.  When you have spent a lot of money – the resort is not cheap – to be charged for a broken glass…it wasn’t the money, obviously, just – quite frankly – the pettiness.

But that would absolutely not stop us from re-visiting, nor from totally recommending it.

Be sure to check the security situation before you go, and then make your own decision, balancing the fabulous diving with the possible safety issues.IMG_2128I can’t honestly tell you about rates, because they are a function of season and then there are the diving costs to add on.

Here is the link to their website, where you can enquire about rates.

We paid our own way both times and I did not tell anyone there that I blog.

Is the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre worth visiting?

The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre just outside Sandakan, Malaysia is in Sepilok, and is located right next to the orang utan rehabilitation centre, so it makes sense to visit the 2 sanctuaries on the same day.

The Sun Bear Conservation Centre isn’t cheap (for non-Malays) but I’d say it’s absolutely worth a visit.

The centre isn’t huge, but has an excellent raised boardwalk through the trees that allows you to look down on the bears, and even see them in the trees, as we did on our visit there last week.  The staff were excellent, stationed on the boardwalk at strategic viewing points, happy to explain and answer all our questions, all in truly excellent English.

Our first sun bear sighting was hijacked by an orang utan from next door, who swung in from the trees and proceeded to upstage the bears.

While on the walkway, trying to spot bears below us, we watched in fascination as a young orang utan stole a bottle of insect repellant from a visitor’s back pocket and then proceeded to open the bottle, taste it, pour it all out (narrowly avoiding the crowd below) and eventually toss the bottle into the bushes.

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Yes, it was an interesting photo op, (though one does hope the poor orang utan wasn’t sick as a result of his thieving) but as one of the staff explained –  orang utans will do exactly the same thing to your camera if they get hold of it.  Try and eat it and then throw it away in disgust.

You have been warned.

Back to the bears.

They are the smallest bears in the world.  They love coconuts.  And they are being seemingly well cared for and protected in this centre.

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So, to answer my own question in the title of this post…yes, definitely worth visiting.

Sun bears

Website: Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre and this will give you the exact address & the opening times.  For what it’s worth, we went there in the early afternoon, before going on for the 3.30 feeding of the orang utans next door, and the timing was perfect.  Not too many people.

Budget about an hour.

We paid our own way and didn’t tell the people at the centre that I blog.

Indian Summers

How is it possible to be so out of step  – and, perhaps to coin a phrase – so out of thinking step, with pukka critics, with the folks with a day job, who review TV for a living, who get paid to pass judgement?

We just finished watching “Indian Summers” last night, and when Episode 10 was over, the mood was, “Thank the good Lord THAT series is done and dusted”.  But, hey, what’s this?  Everyone else seems to have loved it.

Can it be me?  Am I the one at fault for not liking such a super expensive period production?

Perhaps my critical instincts are not honed enough.

Or, perhaps, more prosaically, me a Brit, married to an Indian and the mother of two gorgeous Anglo Indian children, and living as we do here in India, and my husband having grown up in Simla…perhaps our critical antennae are tuned a little differently.  I say “our” because, for the record, hubby was as underwhelmed as I was.

We were given the boxed set last month, while on holiday in England, and once back in scorching Delhi, we settled down to watch it with great anticipation, naively imagining something as fabulous as “The Jewel in the Crown”, perhaps, or “Heat and Dust”.  I mean, after all, in the aftermath of such a totally gorgeous, glorious, fabulous production such as “Downton Abbey”, here comes a period drama about India in the last days of the Raj…ooh, yes, what could be nicer.  Gorgeous frocks, gorgeous scenery, drama.  We imagined it all.

Not a bit of it.

Frocks first of all, because it’s the easiest thing to deal with.

Why does Ms. Walters wear that same rather peculiar dress, looking more 1960s than 1930s, over and over and over again?

Why does Leena wear the same dark green sari over and over and…

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Now onto that gorgeous scenery.  My sister (who kindly gave us the DVDs) mentioned that it was filmed in Malaysia.  Perhaps if you don’t know India, don’t know Simla, it might have worked, but since we do and we do, it didn’t.  The look, the architecture, the vegetation, the sounds, the tea plantation – none of it looked nor felt Indian.  Sorry, but it just didn’t.  It looked and sounded like tropical Malaysia

Now I am going to have to tread a little carefully in my next comments, in this age of uber PC-ism…but sorry, the Parsi family did not look remotely like a Parsi family.  Ditto those orphans, who looked nothing like Ango-Indians, not even remotely like mixed race children.  It would have been so much more dramatic, I think, to have had children who looked the part.  Especially the oddly feral little boy Adam.  If he had looked pale and half European, I feel he would have been a much more haunting and dramatic presence.  More unsettling.

And, yes, on a point of order : I may be wrong here, but I do not believe in a million years that the Viceroy would have done bad Indian accent, head waggling impersonations.

And as for the slow, oh-so-slow lingering camera angles…that just went on and on and on…my goodness me but they did drag things out.  The action sort of speeded up in the final 2 or 3 episodes, where suddenly all the wandering plot lines were yanked together, but then – blow me down with the proverbial feather –  just when you thought they had dispensed with the slow filming, we have Mr. Dalal running in slow-mo.  And we have long, lingering footage of Mr. Dalal and Alice dancing …it’s OK, we get it.  They love each other and are gazing lovingly at each other across a crowded dance floor.  We.  Get.  It.

So, yes, actually – very disappointed, both in the muddled storyline and the seriously mediocre acting (other than the fabulous Roshan Seth, who dazzles.  And who is the only one in that family who really looks and sounds like a Parsi).

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Who is the hero of the piece?  Ralph Wheelan and/or Mr. Dalal?

Are we actually supposed to like Ralph?  I do hope not, because my only thought was that by marrying a woman whom he thinks is rich but is actually skint, at least this scheming manipulative man would be getting some kind of comeuppence.  What a nasty, two-faced hypocritcal bit of work he is.

Cynthia is just downright unpleasant.  And can anyone tell me why she was at the hanging?  Her role as a glorified innkeeper permitted her that?  I hardly think Dalal pere et fils coming to her all-white club was comeuppance enough for her.

So little did I like her character that I actually thought she was going to go up in flames in the final episode when she drunkenly lights candles – and why the Hindu shrine in her drinking den?

 

Not a fan.  Not at all.

And what’s with the plural “summers” in the title?  Does that mean there is more to come?

 

FYI, here’s what Channel4 said about their own show:

  • Set against the sweeping grandeur of the Himalayas and tea plantations of Northern India, the drama tells the rich and explosive story of the decline of the British Empire and the birth of modern India, from both sides of the experience. But at the heart of the story lie the implications and ramifications of the tangled web of passions, rivalries and clashes that define the lives of those brought together in this summer which will change everything. It’s the summer of 1932. India dreams of Independence, but the British are clinging to power. In the foothills of the Himalayas stands Simla; a little England where every summer the British power-brokers of this nation are posted to govern during the summer months.

    – Written by Channel4