Jus Rol’ing with it…

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A lot of my friends ask me how do I find so much to write about on my blog? Well 95% of it is just what I get up to and a sort of online diary… but just like we have bad hair days there are no news days (or weeks) where I feel like I have nothing to share, but this is where PR companies help, I get loads of requests emailed to me in a week to try something new and blog about it, most of which I don’t have time with or just don’t think it’s suited to me but occasionally I have matches and Jus Rol were one of these!

I love food so before Christmas when Jus Rol sent me vouchers for free pastry and asked in return I just share with you my festive recipe using the pastry I was all over it… BUT of course I set myself up for a fall, using the pastry to make a beef Wellington which tasted delicious but didn’t look particularly great and would be a pain to blog about so I ate the free pastry and enjoyed Xmas ;)

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After Christmas I got a gentle email from the PR of Jus Rol asking how it went and I realised I didn’t have a story to blog about!!! I do have a conscious and felt indebted for the £5 of pastry they kindly sent but it’s not worth my time to write about the failure of a beef Wellington… So this past week I tried again, I had one Jus Rol ready rolled puff pastry packet left so went to their website and searched their amazing recipe archive for inspiration for dinner.

The first dish I attempted was their recipe for a roasted vegetable and goats cheese tart – (recipe here) it was so delicious, quick to make and impressed my dinner guest Becky a lot, she even commented on how easy it was to make… simply roast the vegetables, roll out the pastry and cut into rectangles, spread some tomato paste, top with vegetables and cheese, baste the edges with egg and put in the oven for 15-18 minutes, BOOM then you are ready to tuck in! IMG_6546.JPGIMG_6545.JPGIMG_6538Vegetable tarts eaten we decided we should not let the leftover pastry go to waste so we tried out another recipe from the Jus Rol website, Easy Apple Puff Tarts – Recipe Here.  This was even easier than the main, simply slice an apple and place it on the pastry, then baste the edges with some egg & sprinkle with caster sugar, place in oven for 12-14 minutes and enjoy.  They were also delicious BUT our pièce de résistance was when we had the genius idea of substituting the apple with a couple of mini Cadbury creme eggs… resulting in a gooey sweet tart that resembled a warm pain au chocolate…. delicious! 

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To all my future dinner guests who may be served something up similar to above or any other of the amazing dishes from the Jus Rol recipe archive, sorry for ruining the illusion that I probably slaved for hours in my kitchen preparing the home-made meal, but just you wait until you try it ;)IMG_6539.JPG

 

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Haché Balham

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Don’t pity me too much but I’ve been a burger widow these past few months… McD and his team have been very busy creating London’s latest Haché Burger connoisseurs site in Balham. My neglect is of course to the benefit of you Londoners; so I haven’t complained to him too much ;)

This past Wednesday night friends & family of Haché were invited down to check out the finished restaurant and enjoying the first burgers from the restaurant’s kitchen!

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Obviously dating the operations dude you expect me to be a little bias but they must be doing something right, this is their 5th prime London site and all growth has been organic, but don’t just take my word for it, look the restaurants up on tripadvisor – there are hundreds of unbiased positive reviews!

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Having only really seen the restaurant as an empty shell prior to work starting I was blown away by the transformation… If you’ve visited a Haché before they’ve kept their key style but this new restaurant feels lighter and a little more ‘cool’ – most definitely there best site yet!

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Berry Casey, Haché’s founder/owner kicked the evening off with a witty and relaxed speech before officially announcing the restaurant and kitchen open!

McD had generously invited enough of my friends to fill a booth – well a restaurant actually but let’s just concentrate where I was seated as that’s where the pictures of the food came from ;)

We started the evening by sharing a couple of starters of nachos and grilled halloumi whilst we waited for everyone to make up their mind on which burger they were to order!

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The burger choice is pretty impressive at Haché, the standard beef patty can come straight or you can choose from an amazing selection of toppings like reblochon, chorizo & peanut butter to name just a few! If beef isn’t your ‘thing’ there is chicken, lamb, pork or duck and if meat isn’t your ‘thing’ then the vegetarian falafel burgers or goats cheese burger are still winners in my eyes! All these burgers can come in either a ciabatta or brioche bun, or if you prefer, no bun at all!

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Of course after we had all finished stuffing our faces with starters and burgers it was only right to conclude this indulgent evening with desserts so between the 8 of us we ordered a few to share; moist chocolate brownie, decadent banoffee pie and a timeless tart aux pommes as well as ordering their absolute winner of an Oreo milkshake!

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Everyone full on food and bubbles they all hurried home to bed leaving me with McD and the staff whilst they cleared up! The night was a success and I wish Balham’s new Haché all the luck in the world… I also wish my diet all the luck in the world as I was back at the restaurant eating dinner on their second night when they opened exclusively to a few Balham residents and again on Saturday and Sunday!!

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AA#10: 5 things to do in Hong Kong

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So this is the last post of my Asian Adventure, and aptly I end where I begun, back as a tourist in Hong Kong… If you missed any of my Asian Adventure blog posts you find them all here by clicking this link ;)  I started and ended in Hong Kong because it was free thanks to my BA air miles, but it’s always worth starting there if you plan a trip to Asia as it’s a great hub airport offering lots of cheap flights to and around Asia!

We had 5 full days in Hong Kong to end our trip on, which in my opinion is more than enough time to see the city as a tourist… it felt like we managed to cram a lot in during our time in Hong Kong; catching up with old friends, indulging in 5 star hotels, shopping at the many markets as well as visiting most of the tourist traps.  It is a great city to just walk around and immerse yourself in but if you ever plan to visit Hong Kong here are my experiences of some of the more famous sights you might find on a Hong Kong to do list.

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(1) THE VICTORIA PEAK

Probably one of the most famous views of the city of Hong Kong is from the top of Victoria Peak and every guidebook will tell you to take the Victoria Peak Tram there, which is what McD, Abs, Sophie & I did.  The tram ride itself is short and steep BUT at peak (excuse the pun) times the queue is long and tedious, we waited for what felt like an hour to get on to an overcrowded tram and when we reached the top the queue back down looked worse so we resorted to hailing a taxi to go back down, although be aware they do not like to use their meters as they expect everyone to be a tourist so haggle and agree the price before you get in if you do decided to take the taxi option down from the peak.

I don’t recommend paying up for the sky terrace either, I honestly don’t think the view is worth the money, instead if you pop next door to The Peak Galleria, they have a large FREE outdoor terrace which is not as crowded but still with equally as good views of the city; both the header photo & photos below were taken from there!

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(2) TIAN TAN BUDDAH

Another tourist hot spot in Hong Kong is the Big Buddah, a large bronze statue erected in 1993, lucky for me I got to visit and climb the 268 steps with my bad knee ;)  You can get to the Big Buddah by cable car, bus or ferry the quickest and most direct route is probably the cable car, which we took… word of advice the glass bottom upgrade is not really worth it for the view BUT it does allow you to queue jump a bit if the cable car queue is busy.

After the cable car you walk through a purpose-built souvenir and restaurant parade… priced for the tourist market!  Once we reached the Big Buddah I hobbled up the steps to the top so we could admire the statue in closer detail and check out the beautiful sweeping views.  It was a pretty impressive structure with glorious views on a good clear day… but if your time is limited in Hong Kong I wouldn’t suggest this as a must see attraction as there really isn’t any history to it and it takes up a good few hours of your day.

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(3) OZONE SKY BAR

OZONE is certainly one of the highest bars in the world, and at the time of writing most definitely the highest Bar in Asia.  Located at the very top (118th Floor) of the International Commerce Centre, within the Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong Hotel it offers impressive views of the city.  McD’s friend Stevie introduced us to this bar during our stay, unfortunately the weather wasn’t playing and we literally had our heads in the very wet clouds when we fist visited, although the quirky modern interior still made this a fun place to enjoy a drink.

Not wanting to miss a good view I dragged McD back to the bar on our last day for an afternoon drink, and I am so glad we did otherwise I wouldn’t have been privy to such a beautiful view of the city (see photo below.)  Drinks are expensive but I was happy to pay up for a delicious cocktail in a beautifully / quirky designed lounge bar with equally as impressive vistas.

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(4) STAR FERRY

Hong Kong harbour separates the mainland (Kowloon) with Hong Kong Island, the MTR is the most efficient way to get around but a far more pleasant way to get to and from the mainland is catching the Star Ferry, the cost is cheap and the crossing allows you great water views of the Hong Kong Island and Kowloon skylines.

Whilst McD and I were enjoying our cocktails at the Ozone bar (mentioned directly above) see below for a little time-lapse video I filmed of the star ferries crossing the harbour to and from Hong Kong Island.

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(5) TIM HO WAN RESTAURANT

There is this great little place you may have heard of called Tim Ho Wan, famous for being the ‘cheapest Michelin star restaurant in the world.’  Now McD and I aren’t real foodies, but we do love food so visiting an establishment with such an accolade was pretty high on our Hong Kong bucket list.  Finding it was a little tricky, there are several Tim Ho Wan’s in the city, probably the easiest being in Hong Kong Central station itself, but we made it our mission to find the original and only Michelin star awarded restaurant, Tim Ho Wan (Tai Kwok T sui.)

To be honest once you find the street you will know which restaurant it is by the hoards of people waiting outside for their number to be called to enter.  This was a lost in translation moment when we arrived as the lady in charge of the door didn’t appear (or most probably want) to speak english… she simply scrawled a number on a piece of scrap paper and handed us a menu – thankfully with English on it!  We didn’t have a clue what number was being called though as the numbers were shouted in Chinese but we noticed she kept a pad visible in which she was marking off each time the number was called so we kept an eye on her pad whilst waiting for our turn to be called.IMG_5720

IMG_5722Whilst waiting to be seated we marked off on the menu what we wanted to eat, from my research food journalists and bloggers who had visited before suggested a must to try were the baked pork buns, steamed egg cake and any of the vermicelli stuffed rolls, as well as these we ticked dumplings, turnip cakes and steamed vegetables… hoping this would be enough dishes to satisfy our lunchtime hunger.

Eventually we were called into the dining room, it was basic and crowded.  The server took our menu order and showed us to our seats.  I instantly regretted not marking a drink on the menu, we were given complimentary tea at the table but grabbing a server to ask for water seemed an impossible task so I just put up with the tea.  Our food came out in dribs and drabs along with a bill which we correctly assumed we took to the counter to settle once we had finished. IMG_5725

IMG_5733IMG_5727This experience has totally made me re-think the hype over Michelin star restaurants.  The food was delicious, but no better in my humble opinion than the dim sum McD and I ate on our last night in Borneo.  The service and interior were most definitely not what I imagined a Michelin starred establishment to be but maybe I am just being ethnocentric with my opinions????

Nonetheless I would most definitely recommend you going to one of Tim Ho Wan’s restaurants just to try the pork buns, I have never tasted anything like them, they were the real winner for me; juicy pork filling in a crispy baked bun case with a delicious sweet crust!  The total bill came to 119HKD, that’s just over £10… most definitely the cheapest Michelin star meal I have ever eaten as well as the cheapest meal of McD and my entire trip… BONUS!

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AA#9 HK – An Expat Perspective

IMG_5680Arriving in Hong Kong for the second time on our Asian Adventure was bitter-sweet, bitter because the end of our holiday is nigh, but sweet because we had 5 days in an amazing city catching up with some fabulous people.  One of McD’s oldest friends now lives in HK, and in a ‘we really live in a small world’ moment we realised I knew him also as he was at the same university and uni halls as me, although we were friends in uni different life courses meant we didn’t stay in contact so now in Hong Kong I got to reconnect and meet his beautiful wife & children!

Before we could re-connect obviously we needed to get from the airport to our hotel, which was harder than you could imagine, in typical Debbie Does fashion I managed to trip up an escalator just minutes away from our hotel… it was so embarrassing, but I must commend the Pacific Place Mall employees as within seconds of it happening they had me a wheel chair, first aid kit and even an escort to take us to our hotel.  Can you believe I climbed a mountain and swam with sharks but it was a walk up an escalator in a mall which screwed my knee up and caused me to be limp and be in pain for the entire time I was in Hong Kong.  IMG_5681

IMG_5665Our first night in Hong Kong was hosted by Ash’s oldest friend Stevie and his gorgeous wife, Zoe… they wanted to show us the real ex-pat part of town so we were taken to the area in Hong Kong Island called the mid levels, where a lot of the expats live.  The way Zoe described the restaurant scene there it seemed similar to London, with cool pop-ups opening all the time, no table bookings – queuing only, fun interiors and good food… one of these which she wanted an excuse to visit was a Chinese Kitchen called Ho Lee Fook, apparently meaning ‘good fortune for your mouth’ ;)

The decor was so kitsch and fun but the real winner was the food… it was delicious chinese food like I have never tasted, amazing dumplings, meat & vegetables, we really couldn’t have gone anywhere better for our first night in Hong Kong, really recommend this restaurant if you are ever in the area!

IMG_5669IMG_5664IMG_5679IMG_5666A massive meal and few bottles of wine later we went on to experience more of what the mid levels offered, Zoe suggested we check out a Hong Kong institution, Al’s Diner, a late night bar offering infamous jelly shots… we obliged and after the first shot it was decided another was needed, this is definitely not a place you go for a ‘quiet drink’ ;)

IMG_5676IMG_5667After the desire for jelly shots subsided we headed across the road to another expat favourite Insomnia… where you can dance the night away to live music.  I don’t remember too much apart from my limp’tastic dancing but McD reminds me it was time to go home after Zoe and I hogged the microphone too long from the live band!

It was so lovely to catch up with Stevie and meet his beautiful family, they are really living the expat dream… good city job, lovely beach house minutes away from the city with live in housekeeper… that’s a norm in HK!!!  If I were 10 years younger I would be seriously considering relocating, but alas I am not so it’s nice to know we have the next best thing… friends living there we can impose on any time ;)IMG_5674IMG_5675

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AA#8 Hong Kong Island

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I wouldn’t normally dedicate a whole blog post to a hotel BUT this happens to be my absolute favourite hotel in the world so if you ever get the opportunity to visit the Shangri La Island Hong Kong, DO IT!  Ideally situated near the Admiralty metro station (one stop away from HK Central) and right next to the Pacific Place Mall – it’s location is as ideal spot as any for a tourist or business visitor.  Just to confirm there is nothing to disclose here… I choose to stay and book this hotel purely on my past experience and never have I been approached by the hotel to write a review.

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The reason this hotel stands out more the many others I have visited in my lifetime is its attention to detail, for example before you even get to your room you are greeted by the most hospitable of staff who give you the opinion they will do absolutely anything for you, no matter how small or big.  Then you enter the lifts, furnished with a plump blue and gold carpet which must be changed daily so in case you were to not remember what day of the week it is, they let you know with their monogrammed carpet!

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Whenever I stay at a Shangri La I always try to upgrade to a club room, this usually means amazing views and access to a club lounge with complimentary drinks, cocktail hours and endless canapes… and the one in at this hotel is particularly impressive with its sky-high views across Hong Kong and Kowloon.

Having stayed a few times before and usually electing for a harbour view room I decided this time I will try the cheaper but still luxuriously priced Victoria Peak view room, mainly because you can appreciate the Harbour view from the Horizon Club lounge but I have never been privy to the Peak view from the hotel.

The peak view is absolutely stunning from the hotel, just look at the photos below of our room, what really won me and McD over though was the amazing sunsets over Victoria Peak McD and I could enjoy from our bedroom everyday – see header photo above!

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The beautiful views are not restricted to the windows; the hotel, Horizon club and restaurants are all magnificently but tastefully decorated.  The high standard of decoration really makes you feel you are getting your money’s worth when staying at this hotel.

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IMG_5739.JPGIMG_5622.JPGOf course like with any hotel the breakfast is just as important as the bedroom, and the Shangri La Island Hong Kong even impresses here!!!!  There is an international restaurant with standard breakfast buffet open to the whole hotel but if you are staying in the Horizon Club you can take breakfast on the 56th floor in their Tatler and Michelin loved restaurant, Petrus.  The breakfast offering definitely live up to the gourmet surroundings, amazing spreads of breads, pastries, meats, cheeses and fruits as well as a full a la carte breakfast menu, our favourites we enjoyed during our stay were the Dim Sum, soft poached egg with steamed cod & Soft Scrambled egg with Boston Lobster.

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IMG_5632Of course I am not saying this is best hotel in Hong Kong or the world but I have stayed at this hotel several times now and I have never had a bad experience here, in fact each time I learn to love it more and more… if you ever get a chance to visit this hotel, do it!  I really don’t think you’ll regret it!

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AA#7 Oslob, Philippines

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So as lovely as our hotel was (see this post) Cebu island had many attractions enticing the tourists away from the resort, one such excursion I was so glad to have done was a trip to Oslob on the south-east tip of the island.  The main reason for the excursion was to go Whale Shark swimming, yes McD signed us both up for a swim with sharks… obviously I was a little nervous but McD acted like a kid on christmas day, he couldn’t wait to get in the water and swim with a whale shark!

The drive from our hotel was approximately 2 and a 1/2 hours so we woke up very early so we could arrive in Oslob just after sunrise, the best time to see the Whale Sharks apparently.  The beach you depart to see the whale sharks from is pretty small and shingly, it’s not at all commercial.  A pavilion had been erected where the welcome talks and introduction held and after a 5/10 minute lecture in there we were given life jackets and taken to a boat which takes us out to see the whale sharks.

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The boats were more like canoes, and were rowed out by a couple of guides to approximately 50 meters off the beach where the Whale Sharks were feeding, although the animals are not caged I assume they continue to come back so regularly for the easy food.  Our guides tied up to another boat and gave us 30 minutes to snorkel and watch these amazing creatures.

The whale sharks although massive, swam so peacefully… the water wasn’t particularly clear when we visited so I got a fright when I first jumped in and then a few seconds later a shark head appeared feet from me!  My instant reaction was to get out and go back to shore, but you soon realise they are completely unfazed by the humans around them.  It was still quite a frightening experience being in the water with massive whale sharks, especially seeing one the length of two double-decker busses swim underneath me, I just couldn’t get out of my head how their tail could knock me out so easily if they wanted it to… with these irrational thoughts going around my head I took my pruned body out of the water and enjoyed my last 10 minutes of our time watching these magnificent creatures from the safety of the boat leaving McD and the others to study them longer underwater.

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DCIM100GOPROWhen we arrived back at shore we gave back the life jackets and snorkel equipment and then headed to one of the kitsch beach cafes for mango smoothies and breakfast of squid, pork, chicken, rice and noodles, the squid was delicious… hands down the cheapest and best breakfast of the holiday!

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IMG_5516Before our journey back to the hotel we had one final stop in Oslob, a waterfall called Tumalog Falls, the road down to the falls is blocked so you can either walk down, or use the more common method of getting down which is paying one of the scooter drivers at the top to scoot you down, and then back up.  The whole landscape felt very tropical, if Jurassic park existed I could imagine it would have looked like something similar.

The Tumalog Falls are stunningly beautiful, the waterfall cascades into a serene blue pool, I half wish I had brought a towel so I could have done more than dunk my feet but our guide warned us that getting under the waterfall is actually quite dangerous as many rocks fall with the water.  There were hardly any tourists around when we visited so having this special place all to ourselves was pretty awe-inspiring, most definitely a highlight of my trip :)

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The long drive back was not so enjoyable, although I had the amazing memories of the day to keep me entertained.  We arrived back at the hotel in the afternoon in time for a few hours of beach sunbathing to end the perfect day!  Some of the gang we were out with had planned to visit the cock-fighting that evening, it’s the national sport of the Philippines, and I am sure would have been an eye-opening cultural experience, but it just wasn’t for me, I was happy to go back to my room to pack and leave with the waterfall as my lasting fond memory of Cebu.IMG_5518.JPG

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AA#6 Cebu, Philippines

IMG_5469The next stage on my Asian Adventure was the Philippine Island of Cebu.  This was the sole reason for our trip, we came to Cebu and stayed at the Shangri La Mactan Resort & Spa just so we could attend the wedding of a beautiful couple called Charone (Charina + Jorone.)  I was so excited when we found out they were getting married in a Shangri La resort and hotel, I have never had a bad stay at their hotels, the amenities and services are always 5 star!

We arrived and went straight to our room, we had splurged on the horizon club so we could enjoy a little more space and fantastic views of the island (see header photo.)  Our bedroom (below) was disappointing as it felt like it was a little tired and uninspiring… but that didn’t dampen our spirits, how much time did we actually want to spend in the room anyway, we had a beautiful resort and island to explore!

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You could easily be sucked in so much by the beauty and relaxation that the resort offers that you could forget to explore Cebu island itself, which would be a shame as it is so beautiful with some amazing attractions.  But I can understand why people come to this resort and never leave; the beautiful landscaping includes two swimming pools and a private beach… more on the beach later in this post but first check out some of the holiday snaps I took during my stay at the Shangri La Mactan Resort & Spa:IMG_5479

IMG_5462IMG_5458IMG_5459IMG_5468IMG_5467IMG_5460As you can see from above the grounds of the hotel were so dreamy and picturesque but the real bonus for staying at this resort was the sea life, just off the private beach was a whole other world waiting to be explored.  I have never seen so many fish… amongst the beautiful schools of tropical fish I even managed to find Nemo (a clownfish) hiding in some coral, there were even some scary fish present too like the poisonous stonefish, but the lifeguards assured me if I leave them alone they will leave me alone.  Thanks to McD’s GoPro I was able to share it with you all too ;)

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Of course the main event was the beautiful Charone wedding we attended, I have a few snaps to share, but not really going to do a big blog post on the event, it is their special day to share, all I have to say on it was it was perfect and most definitely the best tropical beach wedding I have been to ;)  Oh and do you remember the outfits I mentioned we made for the wedding, well they went down a treat, see the photo below!

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AA#5 Kota Kinabalu

IMG_5426The day after our Mt Kinabalu Hike we woke up with extremely sore legs, but with only one day left in Borneo we couldn’t just rest relax we had to see as much as Kota Kinabalu (KK) had to offer before we fly on to our next destination on our Asian Adventure.  Our last day in Borneo was actually McD and my 2 year anniversary (look back at this post for that love story <3) and I really don’t think we could have spent a more fitting day together.

Top on my list for Borneo was to see an Orangutan, I was told the best place to see them in Borneo was at the rehabilitation centre in Sepilok, but that’s a 5 hour drive from KK and I didnt fancy a 10 hour round trip given we only had 1 day left in the country, luckily for me there was also an Orangutan sanctuary in Kota Kinabalu at the Rasa Ria ShangriLa resort.  Finding information on price, times, etc was pretty hard on the internet so I just called the centre who told me spaces are limited so they advise you call and reserve a place, feeding times are at 10am or 2pm and last for around an hour and costs 65 MYR (approx £12).

IMG_5428IMG_5423IMG_5430We arrived at the Rasa Ria orangutan sanctuary 30 minutes early so enjoyed a coffee and admired how beautiful the Shangrila resort was (if you are looking for a luxury resort in Borneo this is most definitely the place to stay!)  At the sanctuary before you can go in and see the orangutans you watch a short video on the centre and what they do and have a few words from the park rangers.  You are then guided up to a platform set up in the rainforest and wait, you are never guaranteed to see an orangutan as they are free to come and go as they wish but coming and feeding time gives you the best chances of spotting one as they know there is always somewhere to go to get fed.

At the time of going there were 4 orangutans in the sanctuary, all were 4 years old… this sanctuary cares for the young orangutans, once they are older they get taken to Sepilok and released in the jungle there.  We waited 5-10 minutes before an orangutan came swinging in from the rain forest, we were only fortunate to see one, but it still made my day… I must have taken around 200 photos of it!  McD even managed to get a slow motion video of it swinging along the rope, it is so adorable I attached the YouTube clip below for you al to see too!

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After the orangutan visit we headed back into the centre of KK for some pampering and lunch, our next destination was for a wedding so I needed to get a mani-pedi, so convinced McD to get one too, I think he is converted, the foot massage won him over ;) It was then time for a spot of lunch so for his name sake we ate at McDonalds, and cheers’d to my besties Rach & Bethan who we both owe for us being together ;)

IMG_5431IMG_5429For our last evening in KK we arranged to meet up with Bee & Michael, we were all shattered so didn’t want a big night but having complained to them about the lack of fun places to eat in KK they insisted we go to their favourite dim sum place, Emperor’s Delight and I am so glad we did… the soup dumplings were amazing, highly recommend eating here!!!

After the boys got through a case of beer over dinner we moved on to El Centro, a fun bar in the centre of KK… a few mojitos later and winning a pub quiz McD and I had to say goodbye as we had a plane to catch, but it was a lovely evening with new friends and a perfect end to our anniversary… NEXT STOP THE PHILIPPINES!

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AA#4 Mount Kinabalu Day 2

DCIM100GOPROAfter the stresses of day 1 of the hike I was so excited to try and get some sleep, but my headache dulled by the ibuprofen wouldn’t let me sleep and I stayed awake worrying about the final climb ahead.  At 2am McD and I got up, dressed and had some breakfast before meeting our guide at 2.30am to resume the climb.

The first part of the climb from base camp is just a lot of stairs in the dark, following everyone else who has woken up early so they can get up to the peak in time to watch sunrise also.  At first my headache and breathing was ok and I found myself keeping up with the other hikers but after a km or so I started to flag, the breathing getting shallower and dizziness returned.

IMG_5398IMG_5399IMG_5400After the stairs we were greeted by a rope which pretty much guided you to the summit, the mountain gets pretty steep nearer to the peak so the guide warned us to stay close to the rope at all times.  At some points it was so steep we were actually having to use the rope to pull us up, this was when I started to question the health and safety standards of Malaysia and Borneo ;)

When we reached the final check point we were well on course to making the peak for sunrise but my body decided that was enough, I literally went to a crawling pace covering 50 meters in what felt like an hour, seeing sun start to break around 100 meters below the peak McD suggested we stop to let me rest and savour the sunset, I am glad we did as it was probably one of the most beautiful sunrises I have ever seen.

IMG_5402IMG_5401IMG_5403IMG_5404Rested and re-energised by the magnificent sunrise we continued onwards at my snail pace to the summit… Michael and Bee were taking in the summit and about to descend when we finally arrived so they managed to catch my last few steps to the peak on their camera… These photo’s aren’t particular flattering but remember I just climbed a mountain guys!!!  I was pretty much speechless when I reached the top, I was at the point of breaking down with relief I had made it and panic that I still had to get down.

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IMG_5409Walking down was far more enjoyable for me, the views were stunning in the sunlight and with each meter we descended the more I started to feel better.  McD set up his go pro on time-lapse most of the way down, so I even have little video of our journey back down to share with you all :)
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McD was my rock on this hike, without his patience, support and encouragement I very much doubt I would have completed it, it was such a fantastic achievement and I am so happy I did it and even more happier I got to share it with someone I love so much.  If you ever find yourselves in Borneo I really do recommend you give this hike a go, even if like me you suffer with a little altitude sickness, it is all still well worth it.  But don’t take my word for it, they say a picture tells a thousand words so take a look at these 4 stunning photos Michael took whilst we were all on the mountain… I found them on his Facebook page, how lucky are McD and I chance meeting someone so talented that could capture our adventure so perfectly?!

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AA#3 Mount Kinabalu Day 1

IMG_5368Pretty much every person I spoke to about my plans to go to Borneo told me I had to climb Mount Kinabalu, South-East Asia’s highest peak and the 20th most prominent mountain in the world.  Although it’s possible to climb up and down the mountain in a day if you are super fit it’s recommended most people take 2 days to climb the mountain, allowing you to take your time with the climb, acclimatise at base camp and enjoy a superb sunset and sunrise.

I organised this part of the trip before I arrived in Borneo using the tour operator Amazing Borneo, they are professional and look after you very well (but you do pay for this, the 2 day 1 night climb cost us approximately £300 each!)  If you are on a budget it’s possible to organise it yourselves much cheaper but having only a short time in Borneo it was a lot easier for McD and I to pay up and let Amazing Borneo handle our climbing permits, transfers to and from the hotel, food & accommodation on the mountain as well as a mountain guide for us both!

IMG_5369IMG_5370IMG_5371We arrived at the start of our trek around 8.30am where we were introduced to our mountain guide Mohd Fazile Musitin, he gave us a packed lunch, sorted us out with some extra equipment (poles – they really are needed) and briefed us on the route.  The first day you walk 6km and ascend 1,423m to base camp, nestled at 3,289m above sea level.  We were told to take it slow and steady (the motto of the hike) and make use of the regular huts placed every km for toilet breaks and rest stops.

I was instantly sucked into a false sense of security when we set off as we got to walk down a few steps and then along a relatively flat path until we arrived at a beautiful waterfall called Carson Fall, named after the first Park Ranger of Kinabalu Park.  After the waterfall the real climb begins, you slowly walk many stairs and rocky paths through the rainforest and beyond.  As you get higher your view gets obscured by the passing clouds you are walk through and the vegetation changes as the altitude and growing condition change as you walk further up the trail.  The walk is pretty scenic, your eyes are captivated by the mountain’s ever-changing beauty the whole time.

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But no matter how mesmerising and beautiful the mountain was my body would not let me forget the lack of oxygen, as we got closer to base camp I was starting to struggle more and more with the altitude, needing more breaks due to breathlessness and dizziness, my headache got worse the higher we climbed, literally putting me to crawling pace for the last 1km of the trek.

Along the trail we met some lovely people as we stopped at the rest huts to re-energize. Pretty early on we met Bee & Michael (photo below), an awesome couple with great stories of their nomadic travels, little rest stops meeting fantastic people like this really helped take my mind off my headache and how far was left to go!

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After 6 hours of climbing we finally arrived at base camp, never have I been so excited to see somewhere to rest and lay my head down, who knew a bunk bed and a sleeping bag could make me so happy, I mean if at that point you were to offer me a luxury Hermés Birkin handbag or a bunk bed & sleeping bag for 6 hours I would have chosen the bed no questions asked!

The view from base camp was stunning, as the sun set the clouds rolled in and formed an endless sea of white fluff around us…  I took some painkillers so I could stay awake long enough to eat some dinner and watch sunset before going to bed by 8pm ready to wake up at 2am for the final ascent to the peak.

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So you think I thought day 1 was tough, wait until you read how much fun and how well I did on day 2… but I will save that for my next post!  I will however leave you with my favourite photo of the sunset at base camp, it was one that Michael Bainbridge’s took (his name is linked to his photography Facebook page, go check them out he is one talented travel photographer!)

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