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Cruising the Rajang

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Jul 11th, 2009, 03:55 AM
  #1
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Cruising the Rajang

The First Five Days

Here is my attempt at describing the latest Pandaw cruise.

Apologies for the grammar in places, some of it was written in real time, other bits in the evening and some next day and the tenses reveal this.

Day 1

We are not due to travel with Dogster until the end of September, but already we seem to be falling under his influence; more mini dramas in one day than in one week of our normal travels that have now gone on for over 26 years.

We elected to fly Air Asia, well we are not averse to saving money, but the main reason was it was the only airline, or the only combination of airlines, that could get us from Chiang Mai to Kuching in one day. Any other way we would have had to spend a night in Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur; neither are favoured destinations.

We made it as far as KL without any real dramas. We booked in on the Web yesterday for both flights. At Chiang Mai that was a waste of time, as we had to join the normal queue anyway, but it was still very quick. We were off on time safely ensconced in seats 1A and 1B and an uneventful flight.

The low cost terminal at KL is a bit of a disaster. They are currently screening everyone for the dreaded flu, which involves filling in a form and then herding everyone together for scanning; if you weren’t suffering from something previously then you would be by the time you got through the screening.

Immigration was very quick for both of us, but overall it was a long process and quite a number of people were turned back. There was no indication of which belt our luggage would be on and naturally, it was on the one that was furthest away.

The Web check in did help in KL, but it would have been a lot better if there had been signs to the baggage drop that was hidden away at one end of the hall.

The departures area is fairly Spartan, the toilets were disgusting and the one ATM machine was out of order. Then came the dreadful announcement, “Air Asia regrets ….”

Eventually our flight was called. There was the normal scrum and when we did get on board out seats had been hijacked by some early arrivals. Clearly the message that Air Asia now allocates seats has not got round. However, they were evicted and we settled down. Then a very agitated former passenger arrived, having discovered that he had lost his Passport. After a thorough search it was found under the Poolsuk’s seat cushion.

The doors were almost closed when a young lad slipped into seat 1C. He almost certainly had no right to it, but I wasn’t going to argue. He was a musician and a nice enough lad despite having his hair in spikes that looked as though they hadn’t been washed for some time. Again not a problem, but every time he turned his head I was in danger of losing an eye unfortunately my right one which is the only one working at the moment, the left having a cataract.

Despite his hair, or maybe because of it, he chatted up the Stewardess in a mixture of English and Malay and appeared to have himself a date for later in the evening.

The flight was a scheduled hour and a half but they turned up the wick and we took less. Air Asia are pledged to pay out if they are more than two hours late and clearly they were determined not to exceed the magic three hours. We landed and the cornering during taxing would have done Mr Button proud, but we made it with two minutes to spare! Curses!

We had another flu form to fill in and then another Immigration inspection, but unlike some reports I have read, we did not have to complete another arrival form.

Fortunately there were plenty of ATMs around. Unfortunately the first I tried announced “Card unreadable” and ejected my card. So I put it in the other way round. It promptly declared “Machine temporary out of Order” and retained my card! Shades of Turkey where my card went down on our first day and we were left to live on our wits for four weeks.

Poolsuk was not having this! She peered at the slot and announced that she could see my card. Luggage was opened, eyelash tweezers produced and with all the skill of a keyhole surgeon she extracted the card! We moved to another ATM which, thoroughly cowered, coughed up some Ringgits.

The taxi was not a problem, a nice ride to the Hilton and from what we could see a nice little town.

The Hilton was very welcoming. Having determined our preferences for beds, the clerk announced that we could have breakfast for an extra payment. Oh no we couldn’t! Breakfast was included in the price, as evidenced by the confirmation. He shook his head in wonder, “How did you get it for such a price?” The marvel of Internet bookings.

The witching hour was approaching and Poolsuk was hungry. Our inevitable rule is never to eat or drink in a hotel if anything else is available. Plenty more was available, a whole street of bars and restaurants. We found one we liked and rolled in. With drinks ordered, Poolsuk pondered the menu at length before ordering a seafood pizza. Ah pizzas were off, it was after midnight. Prawn noodles were produced instead and pronounced more than acceptable. I settled for a Tiger sandwich. That is a pint of Tiger between two other pints.

It is now 1:25 (12:25 at home). Time for bed. Tomorrow, after our complimentary breakfast, we head off to explore Kuching, with Kathie’s report printed out and awarded the status of the Bible.

Just one other small hiccup! Knowing what plugs Pandaw uses I packed all necessary adaptors. The Hilton uses United Kingdom plugs! Oh well I guess we will find an adaptor tomorrow or the hotel will have one.

As I type, another reminder of the Dog, under the glass top of the desk is a notice “Fire Drill every Tuesday at 10:00 a.m.” We will be booked out before then.

Day 2,

So far and it is already mid afternoon, there have been no happenings of the Dogster type. Maybe the purification rite I carried out last night has been successful.

We enjoyed a sleep in and a late breakfast and then around 10:00 went for a walk. We started with the main Cat sculpture; it is unlikely to make the National Gallery, unlikely even to make the Tate Modern. If anything, I was reminded of Tiger Balm Gardens.

The riverfront is a delightful area to walk and was being well used by the local populace, particularly as it is Sunday. We walked down as far as the old Colonial Courthouse where we spent quite a lot of time.

There is a new museum there, very small, devoted to women who have helped develop Sarawak. Having stated the lady’s name and date of birth the next item is “Husband’s name and title”. I wonder if the corresponding museum devoted to men has a similar entry; I suspect not!

Surprisingly two of my country women are featured, more surprisingly I was at University with one of them!

Then we walked through the market area and found ourselves in India Street where in my ignorance I had thought to find an Indian restaurant. No such luck although most things are for sale there. One street vendor tried desperately to sell me Viagra; the price quoted confirmed that they must have been Chinese copies.

We then found another nice old Colonial building which housed the Lebanese Restaurant and we made a note to try it out. Only later did we realise that it was the back of the Courthouse.

Another stroll, a couple of temples and suddenly we were back at the Tua Pek Tong. A quick look at that, sufficient for Poolsuk to pay her respects and we were back at the Hilton by 2:30.

We started out again at 4:00 headed for the Botanical Gardens and the Dewan Suarah observation tower. The tower offers wonderful panoramic views (eat your heart out Eiffel) and we would have liked to have stayed for sunset, but it is in an isolated location and we were on foot.

Accordingly we walked on heading for the Sunday Market. We stopped oat the start of Jalan Nanas to check our navigation and a passing taxi driver stopped and came across to offer advice. He confirmed our position but informed us that the Sunday Market was already closed. So, we decided to walk on to the Magenta for dinner. It was early, but we had skipped lunch.

We arrived just before six and they were still closed but quickly opened for us. For some reason we had both presumed that the food would be Malaysian, so were surprised to be offered mainly Western food. We each ordered a main dish and ordered two side dishes to share. It was far too much food and despite missing lunch we had to admit defeat.

Around 7:30 we started to walk home, taking the long route to and then along the river. When we arrived at the river, although it was barely 8:00, the waterfront was virtually deserted. On reaching the hotel I had intended crossing the road for a couple of beers, but the road was being resealed and there were expanses of soft hot bitumen between us and the bar. Discretion was the better part of valour.

My feet are telling me that I have walked too far today – Poolsuk will have to carry me tomorrow. My camera is telling me that I have two annoying specks on my sensor and I didn’t bring a cleaning set with me. A task for tomorrow. At least I now have the correct plug adaptor.

Day 3,

Once again I found it difficult to sleep. I watched the clock tick away and having decided to get up at 6:30. I woke at 7:45.

The big surprise was that neither my feet nor my legs were aching. Outside the rain lashed down and we decided to spend the morning at museums and to try for the fort and the Astana in the afternoon.

Advice from the Concierge was that the taxi fare to the museum would be between 15 and 20 Ringgits. Our first taxi quoted 10 and Poolsuk was so surprised that she accepted it. It was a very short ride and we were there before ten. It is an interesting little museum, but not worth more than a couple of hours.

Then, despite the rain, we walked into the Botanical Gardens to inspect the rather sorry Hero’s Monument.

Walking back through the museum area we paid a quick visit to the art museum and then continued on to the Riverfront and the Chinese Museum, which was quite interesting but not worth more than thirty minutes.

The rain continued to fall, so it was back to the Hilton for a rest.

Just after three it cleared up and we took a sampan across to Astana, a ride that should have cost 40 sen each, but no change was offered from 1 Ringgit; not that it signified as there was nothing we could have done with 20 sen.

Unfortunately the gardens of the Astana were closed and we were left to walk through the grounds of the new State Parliament, still under construction, to the fort. Just before reaching it we found a memorial and presumably the graves of Brooke’s two English wives.

The fort was under repair but we wandered round and enjoyed some good views. The sign read “Photographs with permission only” but as there was no one but the workmen there we snapped away happily. We then walked down to another pier and took a sampan back to town. The sampans look as though they are being propelled by a single rower standing in the prow and using two long oars. In fact there is a lawn motor engine doing the work. It is started by pulling a rope and stopped by untwisting two wires.

We had a quick look at the shops fronting the riverside and we were back to the hotel by 5:00.

We went across to the Bar we had used on Saturday evening and this time we got our Pizza but also learned that it would be the last as they were closing down at midnight.

Day 4,

We were up at 6:00 and had an early breakfast and at 8:00 we met four of our future cruising companions and headed off to see the Orang-utans.

They were interesting and extremely appealing, although I can’t see how they or their descendents will ever be able to return fully to the wild when they are regularly fed by humans in front of many more humans.

On the way back we stopped at the inevitable tourist trap, in this case a pottery, but there were no sales.

For lunch we wandered down to the Lebanese Restaurant we had noted on Sunday and I had chicken cooked in bamboo. It was quite nice but nothing at all like what I expected. I had thought of something similar to rice cooked in bamboo but this was a soup.

A walk after that confirmed that the Indian Mosque is no more and then we stopped at Standard Chartered Bank to get some money and Poolsuk tried unsuccessfully to change some old one Ringgit coins left over from when we lived in KL for a few months.

We then had a quiet afternoon ahead of our sunset cruise.

The cruise was a great success, most enjoyable and informative. The crew was multi talented; one particular young lady took tickets, distributed food and drinks, collected the plates, danced in three of the “floor shows” and was last sighted doing the washing up. Clearly it was a family affair.

The scenery was very interesting, particularly a view of the Chief Minister’s house; he does not stint himself.

We ate at a very popular restaurant facing the river where the food confirmed my belief that, except for satay, Malaysian cuisine is uninteresting when compared to that of Thailand or China.

We had another early night as an early start is scheduled for Wednesday.

Day 5,

We were up at 6:00 once more after a much better night. Now, on the point of leaving, we have discovered that the best way to sleep is to turn the air conditioning off.

We had no problems with checking out, there were no demands that breakfasts be paid for, not even an enquiry as to whether we had used the mini bar – we must look too canny for that.

Yet another helpful taxi driver got us to the airport and a painless check in. We sailed through security and once seated opposite the boarding gate Poolsuk opened her bag and dragged out a full bottle of water; so much for security.

It is quite a nice little airport, something that I was too tired to appreciate on Saturday evening.

Ah! The Air Asia fitness programme has kicked in. They have moved us from Gate 1 to Gate 9. That doesn’t sound much but it is the best that they could manage as there are only nine gates. Combined with their policy of not using air bridges this comprises their “Keep our passengers fit” campaign.

We are gradually adding to our numbers, another pair of cruise companions have been identified. Like most of us, so far, they are repeat guests.

We are being stalked by teams of nurses, all looking for the dreaded swine flu virus – a particularly nasty name in Islamic Malaysia. Over the past couple of days I have had all of the symptoms, but not at the same time. Like in the hotel, the air conditioning in the airport is vicious, “We have air conditioning for your comfort and you will know it!” It would probably be quite appropriate if I was dressed for a European winter rather than for the tropics.

Apologies to Air Asia, they moved us from gate 1 to an air bridge that they could use to cater for a lady in a wheelchair.

We had a short comfortable flight to Sibu, about twelve of us arrived around the same time and there was a coach there to transfer us to the boat and it was very pleasant to find some familiar faces among the crew.

Lunch followed almost immediately, then there was a welcome dance on the wharf and a short escorted walk around town ending with climbing a seven storey Pagoda built in 1897.

Then, for the first but not the last time, plans started changing and instead of staying moored overnight and heading upstream in the morning, as out itinerary showed, we cast off and headed downstream; mooring around 7:30. We found later that there were three different itineraries in circulation, which didn’t really matter as we followed none of them.

Dinner was Foochow and was perhaps a little ambitious for a new crew on a new boat.
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Jul 11th, 2009, 07:05 AM
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Great start, Tangata! I've been looking forward to your report. Oh, how I would have loved to take that inaugural cruise!

Kuching is such a charming place. I'd love to return. I'm glad my report was helpful.
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Jul 11th, 2009, 08:24 AM
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Lovely stuff, looking forward to more!

"three different itineraries in circulation, which didn’t really matter as we followed none of them" - LOL
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Jul 11th, 2009, 10:54 AM
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Those of us, like me, who don't know what Foochow is can check this site:

www.foochow.org

which won't help at all. lol. No matter.

Great stuff Tang: more, more, more. Please tell about when you got drunk and fell down the stairs and into the vat of foochow.
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Jul 11th, 2009, 06:37 PM
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Can't wait to hear about the cruise but this has raised my interest in Kuching and I will now go look around for Kathie's report. Keep going!
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Jul 11th, 2009, 07:39 PM
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I'll be hanging on your every word. I'm planning to go on this cruise next year.
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Jul 11th, 2009, 09:09 PM
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Femi it will be MUCH BETTER next year when you go.

OK Here is Day 6 to Day 10.

Day 6.

We cast off shortly before 6:00 and I was on deck shortly afterwards to admire the sunrise, probably the best that we experienced.

We continued downstream during breakfast though running late and then moored at Sangai for the transfer through the Kut canal, built in 1790, to Delat.

What followed was near disaster; no not a near disaster, a total disaster. As we discovered later, the incorrect boats were sent. It would have been sensible to abort at that stage but we pressed on. We boarded an open boat sitting two across in armchairs, borrowed from outside our cabins. It was an uncomfortable trip which lasted almost three hours with repetitive scenery.

On arrival we found very little to entertain us other than a Sacrificial Burial Pole, some sacred Ficus trees and a market.

When the time came to return, Poolsuk and I opted for a smaller and apparently faster boat. Not a good decision. With a crowd of long noses sitting on a single row of armchairs it was very unstable, it was also very slow and we were passed by all but one of the other boats.

Unfortunately one of the passengers in our boat was unable to connect the alarming movement of the boat with the movement of the passengers and moved around constantly, taking photographs and attempting to chat to people sitting in the stern. The rest of us shifted continually, trying to maintain equilibrium; technically we were definitely in a state of unstable equilibrium. i.e. A ball balanced on top of an unturned bowl.

During one of these balancing manoeuvres, two legs of a woman’s chair dropped into a gap between the floorboards and her chair went over to 30° leaving her half out of the boat. Her husband, who was much smaller than her, heroically wrestled her back into the boat. She refused to take part in any further excursions involving small boats.

The result of the trip as far as I was concerned was some serious sunburn after over five hours exposure to the sun. Both arms suffered in particular as they were dreadfully exposed as we gripped the gunwales for dear life.

Nobody, including the Skipper, was amused and those following after us can rest assured that they will not be exposed to this particular outing.

As we lunched we turned upstream. Late in the afternoon we went ashore at Kampong Bungan Kecil to see the production of Sago. Following the morning’s outing, many elected to remain on board but it was a short trip and the boats were much better. Being in the building where they barbecue the Sago is a foretaste of hell.

There was a short talk before dinner from one of our two Guides covering etiquette in Longhouses. After dinner there was a film that lasted until almost midnight but the more sensible of us retired to the Sundeck and the Bar.

Day 7.

We both had a good sleep; there were only three starters for early exercises on the Sundeck. Naturally I was not amongst them.

Whilst we cruised during the morning there were talks on Tattoos and “Long Ears”, but I was happy to just sit and watch the river go by.

In the afternoon we were invited to an Iban longhouse. This involved a drive in a collection of old, uncomfortable, non air-conditioned vans. Not a pleasant experience.

En-route we stopped to have a demonstration of rubber tapping and then of pressing the sheets of raw rubber through a mangle. Great stuff; I suspect that we were all old enough to have seen a mangle used for more conventional applications. Our next stop was at a village hall, not the advertised longhouse, where we were treated to rice wine and dancing.

Then it was back to Kanowit to see Fort Emma which unfortunately was locked. The Caretaker was contacted and arrived to explain that he couldn’t open for us as he didn’t have the key. He added that that didn’t matter, as there was nothing to see anyway.

That night we had a “Pandaw” dinner featuring dishes from Burma, Vietnam, Cambodia, India and Malaysia. It was not well received; in general the food had not met the standards we expect on Pandaw and service had been dreadfully slow.

After dinner there was a Tuak tasting – more rice wine - on the Sundeck. Any spilt on the deck resulted in the instant removal of the paintwork.

At least it guaranteed a good nights sleep!

Day 8.

For some reason there were few present at 7:00 when breakfast was served.

Despite being underway by 6:00, it was after twelve when we arrived at Kapit, three hours late.

Confusion piled on confusion but it was clear to the guests, if not to the Company, that there was no point in visiting a market at 1:00 p.m. when the last produce had been sold at 10:00 a.m. This had all the indications of being a Dogster day!

Finally some common sense surfaced and lunch was announced for 1:00. We were now moored upstream of the town alongside a jungle, why we could not moor alongside a pier was not clear. Whilst lunch continued, the jungle was being cleared and steps were being cut into the hillside. At the same time a longboat was produced and moored alongside.

Something was going to happen, but what?

Shortly before 3:00, the hottest time of the day, there was a rather vague announcement and we assembled. Two options were available, the boat or the steps. The general understanding was that the boat was going to the Longhouse and the walkers to town. Accordingly we joined the boat, a hot steel shell, but we were not to be in it for long. We reversed down the river to a pier and got off. From there we walked to Fort Silvia, now a museum. There the walkers joined us.

It was a small interesting museum not requiring more than thirty or forty minutes.

Then we created a couple of problems of our own. Poolsuk saw me walk out the door of the Museum and decided that I had gone off and joined a group going to the Market. I had merely been checking that she was not outside waiting for me and having determined that she wasn’t I headed back into the Museum looking for her.

A half hour passed and vans were there and people were ready to move and I still hadn’t found her. I phoned her to discover that she was at the Market. We were also heading that way, in a dilapidated van that boasted both an air conditioner and a fan, though neither worked. Arriving at the Tattoo factory next to the market we stopped for “a look round”. To no one's surprise the Tattoo factory was shut. Three of us didn’t bother to get out of the van and after five minutes in a hot box the driver decided that the fan did work.

Rumour had it that it was 1 ½ hour drive to the Longhouse. This didn’t appeal, but when I suggested that I might walk back to the boat a fellow guest told me that he considered that the route was unusable due to a damaged bridge.

Then Poolsuk sent me a text! She was back at the Museum! No options remaining, I had to walk back to collect her. Arriving there I saw three other people in front of us clearly walking back to the boat. We followed. The bridge was not too bad by Asian standards, although I can understand someone used to UK health and safety requirements being appalled by it.

It was then 16:43 when we got back to the boat and according to the itinerary we should have been enjoying a refreshing swim ahead of returning to the ship. Needless to say that didn’t happen.

Dinner that evening the “Head Hunter” dinner did nothing towards earning redemption! The film that evening was “The Sleeping Dictionary” which was enjoyable if historically inaccurate – or more accurately historically hysterical!

Day 9.

We were both up early as at 8:00 we were to take a speed boat up to the rapids. Really how gullible can we be!

At 7:50 the speed boat arrived and tied up. At 8:10 the announcement was made to gather together and join the speed boat. At 8:11 the speed boat cast off and headed downstream. The rumour was that it had gone to get some fuel! Later it emerged that that had demanded an exorbitant increase to the agreed price.

The next rumour was that we were taking Pandaw upstream and that the Skipper, who was enjoying a sleep in, had been roused and informed. He was not happy! He is basically a deep water sailor, ex QE II, not a river man and he was worried about his unprotected propellers. So he should be; every other vessel we have seen had shrouded propellers.

At 9:00 the Owner deserted the sinking ship and returned to Sibu on an air conditioned speed boat.

At 9:40 we got underway it is all unknown to the Skipper, he joined the boat two days before us and therefore did not take part in the one dry run that they did. One would have thought that his presence would have been beneficial! One suspects that more than one dry run would have been useful.

Eventually we arrived at the confluence of the Rajang and the Baleh which we were scheduled to sail up. There we stopped and moored and a speedboat came alongside to take us up to the rapids. The problem with a speedboat is that the windows are Perspex, dirty and covered with spray, so nothing can be seen. Some of us stayed at the front in the non air-conditioned section where we could see out of the doors, but not very much.

Arriving at the rapids we took turns to file out onto the "deck" and take photographs – we did not get to set foot ashore, the Resort which we were scheduled to visit for lunch was declared closed for maintenance and the promised jungle trek, for which some had prepared special anti leech clothing, never eventuated.

We turned downstream and rejoined Pandaw. I felt like the dear old Duke of York having walked to the to the top of the hill then walked down again.

No mention was made of taking Pandaw up the Baleh as scheduled. (The Skipper told me later that he considered that it was running far too fast to navigate.)

The alternative promised speedboat ride up the Baleh did not eventuate; the reason given being that the speedboat coxswain did not know the Baleh and would not allow another driver to take over.

So, as lunch was served, we headed back down the Rajang. We had four days to go, what were we going to do between here and Sibu?

I feel that many of the troubles we had experienced to then were because, unlike in Burma or on the Mekong, there is no Tender or “Country Boat” with us and we are reliant on hiring suitable local craft, of which there are very few, indeed in our experience none.

The plan at the moment is to stop at a village and see if the Headman will allow us to visit – all a little hit or miss.

People are still commenting on my scarlet arms, today being the first day I have worn a short sleeved shirt, but they are improving.

At 15:25 we arrived at a village!

We took a short walk through the village of Nanga Yong , providing, as is quite proper, as much entertainment as we received. One nice young man looked and me and said, “You’re tall!” He then added “You’re thick!”

Then, thanks largely to the efforts of our two Guides, a jungle walk was organized. As I could feel the heat of the sun on my uncovered sunburn I returned to the ship, or more precisely the Bar, but Poolsuk joined the walk, which included a visit to a pineapple farm and enjoyed it.

At 7:00 some school children came on board and performed some dances. They were very good, particularly as it was not arranged previously and they were given about an hours notice.

Dinner was named for Brooke and was western, a welcome change.

Nobody went to the movie but the Sun Deck was popular and the free drinks are always popular.

Day 10.

Once again we sailed about six and by breakfast time we were in Song.

On schedule (a miracle) we boarded three longboats and headed up the Katibas River. Roofs had been fitted to give protection from the sun. Unfortunately they made viewing and photography difficult. However they were a great improvement to the boats used on the first day and with longitudinal seating a great deal more stable. My new pride and joy, a Sony Alfa DSLR, came into its own as its tilting screen enabled me to take photographs without twisting into impossible positions.

First stop was to view the tapping of “Ijok” or palm juice wine. On stepping ashore we were told to apply insect repellent – an announcement on board would have been of more use. However I didn’t encounter any insects.

The Ijok was quite pleasant, even at ten in the morning. It is not like the palm toddy common in Thailand.

Next we were due at a Longhouse, but again we were stymied. This time through no fault of the organisers, there had been a death in the Longhouse and as indicated by a white banner flying at the landing stage, casual visitors were not wanted. So we had to content ourselves with cruising further up river.

We were back in time for lunch and cruised downriver passing Sibu, which was starting to feel like home, around 4:30.

There was a very pleasant sunset followed by a rather uninspiring Malaysian dinner after which some of us gathered on the Sun Deck to polish off some wine kindly provided by our favourite Travel Agent and ferried in for us by some fellow guests. (Contact details of Travel Agent on request!)
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Jul 11th, 2009, 09:45 PM
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Oh, this has made me laugh. How fabulous - I'm glad it was you and not me. lol. I think it is PURE Dogster. I can just see this all happening.. but such a spectacular comedy of errors! Excellent work there, Paul Strachan. lol. I bet he was smiling.

I'll quiz you when you finish. Great stuff, tang.
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Jul 12th, 2009, 10:46 AM
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LOL! Loving the report. Thanks for bravely going forth. On the plus side, things probably will be smoother next year. On the downside, that also means less adventure. I think I'll be able to live with that. Obviously some things are more fun to read about than experience

While wandering through the market place during an outing from the Road to Mandalay I was told to mind my head as I was 'very long'. True enough my head did poke up above all the tin roof tops. Glad I was saved from any other commentary!
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Jul 12th, 2009, 12:30 PM
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I must take back my previous comment. I hereby amend it to : Oh, how glad I am that you - not me - took that inaugural cruise! What a comedy of errors!

I'm loving your report!

By the way, do you all get gift certificates good for a more polished Pandaw cruise?
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Jul 12th, 2009, 08:10 PM
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NO! No gift certificate and they have discontinued the 10% discount for old customers.

So here are the last few days, things got better as professionalism kicked in.

Day 11.

We sailed very early but we slept in until 8:00. We sailed westward towards the sea which could be smelt as we approached it.

Our first stop of the day was at Rajang Village or Tanjung Manis where we were welcomed by two Headmen, some dancers and music and a pier that made boarding and alighting very easy.

The welcome was very warm, as was the weather. We visited a small factory, really a cottage industry, making fish crackers and similar items, a bakery specializing in Melanau biscuits and the local weaving factory which specialises in hand woven fabrics, some in designs reserved for the Malaysian Royal families. Genuinely hand woven the results are dazzling and expensive.

It was a long hot walk but quite rewarding. Two older passengers who found the return walk daunting were mounted on the pillions of two motorcycles and arrived back in style.

On returning to Pandaw we were visited by many of the town people who enjoyed their short time aboard.

We then sailed to Sarikei where we transferred to buses for a visit to a pepper plantation but once again things went awry as the rain lashed down and we had to abort. Returning to Sarikei and in the dry once more, we had a short walk around town before dinner.

Day 12.

We were up at six for coffee and off at 8:00 with the Chef for an interesting walk around the “wet” market. It was becoming increasingly clear that we were in for a very hot day.

At 10:00 we went off to a pepper plantation with a short stop at a Chinese pastry shop. The plantation was very small which is evidently the norm as they are all family businesses and produce other crops as well as after 15 years the soil must be rested from pepper.

Then we went on to our last Longhouse (my first), so new that it was unfinished. It offered rattan weavings for sale but I don’t think that there was much interest.

We were back on board by 1:00 for a late lunch. It was an awkward scramble from the pier down to the deck due to the tide, a gate in the railing of the upper deck would have been useful.

A round up Question and Answer session conducted by Louis and Andreas our two excellent Guides was held in the afternoon. The rain came down once more drenching the Sundeck and revealing a number of holes in the awning but, unlike earlier versions of Pandaw, there was no water in the cabins.

At four the much awaited Durian arrived and was ceremoniously presented on the Sundeck. It was not hailed with universal approval!

However those of us who enjoy Durian had a Ball!

I may be biased, but I thought it inferior to the Thailand fruit, but as it is very early in the season judgement may have to be held in abeyance.

As we cruised upriver the highest building in Sibu was visible above the trees but constantly changed its apparent position as the river twisted and turned.

We found a quiet spot and dropped the anchor for the last time. Shortly afterwards the Singapore registered CS Enterprise, apparently a deepwater tug, passed us at hailing distance whilst its klaxon saluted the newest arrival on the River.

Our final evening Briefing was preceded by a war dance performed by Adreas. Dinner followed and then a last gathering on the Sundeck for a round of drinks.

Day 13.
I was up at six once more for coffee and had breakfast at 7:00.

Then there was nothing to do until 11:00 except to farewell those leaving before us. Not a final farewell in a number of cases as at least four of our companions will be joining us in India.

Our turn to leave came at 11:00. As we were the only ones to leave at that time, a car was provided and we were at the airport and checked in by 11:30. Unfortunately Immigration were not manning their desks and we had to wait until 12:00 to be checked out and to pass through Security and into the air conditioned area.

Although our flight was a few minutes late leaving, we made up time and landed on schedule. As we suspected, our flight home had been rescheduled which means that we have time for breakfast. In fact with the rescheduling we could have spent the night in Kuala Lumpur, but our hotel was already booked.

We had some difficulty in finding the transfer to the main terminal, but once there we easily located the Concorde’s Shuttle Service. The Concorde is showing its age, but is comfortable enough. Having to pay 11.00 Ringgits plus plus for a small glass of beer was a bit of a shock after having a free supply for ten days!

Day 14.

Not much to tell! Breakfast was not as good as on board Pandaw. The transfer to the terminal was painless at 35 Ringgits.

Booking in was a bit of a shambles. Along with most people we did not realize that we were meant to have our check-in luggage x-rayed before checking in. However we were through in plenty of time to do some duty free shopping.

The flight home was fine until we began the descent when the Pilot announced that we had been directed to adopt a holding pattern for thirty minutes and for thirty minutes we traced a racetrack in the sky! Nobody, least of all the airline, was amused.

We were met by what seems now to be the standard bunch of medics but nobody admitted to being sick! We were all given forms to fill in but nobody did and there was nobody collecting them. I still have mine.

If no one else was, the dogs were happy to see us back.
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Jul 12th, 2009, 08:32 PM
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Well, I hope you brought back some Sarawak pepper so you have something to show for your cruise! I do hope your India cruise is a bit smoother.

Thanks for the detailed report.
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Jul 12th, 2009, 08:36 PM
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All of the above was written whilst travelling, quite a bit whilst waiting for something to happen.

I have put together the following comments after having a few days to return to reality.

KU CHING

A magic place well worth three days. A lovely mix of architecture and the new Parliament Building is stunning.

The Orang-utans were marvellous, so nearly human.

THE BOAT

The Pandaws are lovely boats and this one was fine although the finish is not as good as I recall from the earlier boats. This may reflect a difference in Burmese and Vietnamese construction or it may be that supervision was not as good as in the past. It could also be that it was just done in too much of a hurry – a comment that could probably apply to the entire project. One other possible factor is that there is no Teak used in this boat.

We thought it was a little noisier than other Pandaws in that noises in one cabin could be heard in the next – though not intrusively.

We did feel the loss of the saloon but the forward deck that partially replaces it was a nice place to sit.

There is a potential problem with the propellers, indeed I think it is only a matter of time before they damage one on a floating log of which there are hundreds. But that should not upset the guests too much.

There have been changes to the design that are improvements, e.g. cabin doors are now two sets of sliding doors, glass on the inside and louvred and screened on the outside. There was no repetition of rain coming into the cabins as used to happened occasionally.

The lecture room on the lower deck is comfortably furnished but does not give any views of the river.

THE FOOD

Generally the meals were not up to the standard we are used to on Pandaw and service was very slow particularly at breakfast. The practice of having a Chef in the dining room cooking to order has been replaced by taking orders to the kitchen. There were more options and service could have been slower because of this.

Lunches and dinners were generally not as good as we were used to and the selection of fruits was not as wide as elsewhere, but this might be a reflection of what is available locally. The local markets have large amounts of imported fruits, little of which we ever saw.

Generally for dinner the food was Asian with dishes being shared, which not everyone liked. Lunches offered a lot of choices but it was seldom that I had to make a decision, normally there would only be one choice that I would consider.

One Guest who was in the catering business held the view that the standard of meals was not the Chef’s fault but was due to a lack of budget. I wondered if the problem was a lack of produce in the local markets, particularly as we tended to get to towns after the market had closed!

The local beer and spirits were free and included imported beer. Wine was very expensive.

THE RIVER

I can’t help thinking that they have got it slightly wrong. It just isn’t comparable with the Chindwin, the Irrawaddy or the Mekong.

There are few spots of interest, history is pretty limited or there are few reminders of it. The Brooke Forts are not impressive, more fortified Police posts. To highlight a coal loading jetty pretty much sums up what is available.

I believe that the bit we first visited below Sibu will not feature in future trips and it should not, but it is difficult to find enough attractions above Sibu, particularly if the Boat cannot go up the Balch River (which seems to have other names) or above the confluence on the Rajang.

The Skipper did tell me that he considered the current on the Balch to be too strong, which may not always be the case.

Our second visit to the delta below Sibu was excellent value.

THE STAFF

It was nice to see some old friends amongst the staff and they all tried very hard to see that we enjoyed ourselves.

We will be meeting some of them again in India.

WOULD WE RECOMMEND IT?

Yes we would. It is certainly going to get better as they iron out some of the snags and get used to things. Indeed it did get considerably better after the first few days due to the professionalism of the staff.

Compared to some horror stories of maiden voyages this was paradise; the toilets worked, the hot water worked (everyone thought the shower pressure marvellous) and we didn’t have to be towed into port.

Nor did we run aground, although some thought that a pity as it is pretty much expected with Pandaw!

However, to me the Rajang will never have the charm of the Chindwin or of the Upper Irrawaddy, nor is it as interesting as the Mekong.

AIR ASIA

We were very happy with them, but consider that pre booking a “Hot Seat” is a must. Early boarding is great but being first off is wonderful!

We had five flights with them and had booked seats 1A and 1B for all flights and for four flights 1C was unoccupied.

Some of our cruise companions used them from Australia and were very satisfied.

MALAYSIA

We liked it very much. We were very impressed by how the different ethnic and religious groups mixed together in mutual respect and with great tolerance for each others beliefs.
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Jul 12th, 2009, 08:47 PM
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Great story, tang. Stumble-bum cruises. lol. I'm sure they'll sort everything out. I really enjoyed reading it - it's a pleasure to read of someone else's adventures. And I laughed!

Leaving aside the glitches [which is kinda hard to do] the excursions don't seem wildly interesting to me. Maybe once they get the tribal dancing up and running it'll be better. How would you characterise the other passengers? Were people stoic, amazed, outraged? Or did you all just laugh?

I'd imagine that the first half of India cruise will be pretty together. It's the second week in uncharted territory that'll go awry.
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Jul 13th, 2009, 05:27 AM
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Great report. Thanks for taking the time to post it. Do you have any opinion on cabin selection? i.e. a preferred location for a cabin?
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Jul 17th, 2009, 07:34 PM
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Very amusing blow-by-blow account, Tangata. As someone said, better you than us as guinea pigs, but these disasters are so entertaining in the retelling. Sort of like the African Queen, sans leeches. And Strachan left the boat? Hmm.
I'd also be interested to know more about your fellow passengers and their reactions.
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Jul 17th, 2009, 10:26 PM
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Femi,

First of all, all of the cabins are the same except for 201, 202, 301 and 302 which have forward facing windows. However there is also a disadvantage with this arrangement as in 201 and 202 the windows overlook the foredeck which is often used by the crew, particularly when the anchor is being raised or lowered or when mooring. Cabins 301 and 302 overlook the deck which partially replaces the Saloon and which is very popular with passengers. So although the windows may be nice to have they may affect your privacy.

The closer to the stern you are the more likely that you will hear the engines. This may not be a problem, unless the itinerary calls for cruising at night. We have never had a cabin aft of the companionway so I can’t really comment on how troublesome the noise can be.

Lowering and raising the anchor is inevitably noisy and will be heard anywhere on the boat but would be marginally worse in the forward cabins. I wouldn’t find this a concern unless cruising at night meant that your sleep might be interrupted by them dropping the hook, but a light sleeper in any cabin could be woken. We were in cabin 303 and didn’t find it a problem.

If you enjoy sitting outside your cabin then the closer you are to the companionway the more you will be disturbed by passing passengers. There is also a lot of traffic forward of the companionway on the top deck as people visit the foredeck.

Top deck or lower deck? On the Rajang the price was the same. It is probably a little quieter on the upper deck, but we didn’t find noise a great problem. If the banks are high you get a better view over them which could be significant on the Irrawaddy. On balance I would prefer the top deck but I wouldn’t pay extra for it.

Port or Starboard? The old POSH. There is no difference on the Rajang as it twists and turns and you retrace your steps so your cabin will be on the sunny side for half the time anyway. This could be different on the Ganges, where we have booked a cabin on the Starboard side which we think will be on the shady side for an upstream journey. We shall see if that is an advantage. SUPD? (Starboard Up Port Down)

LAlesie,

Disasters are also quite entertaining when happening, provided someone else has to sort them out. I regret the sunburn which affected my enjoyment for the next few days, but I should have put on some lotion. If we had been told how long we were to be in open boats I certainly would have.

Paul did leave the floundering if not sinking ship; I suspect he was off to India to try and sort out the rumoured problems there.

We had a good bunch of passengers, 42 in all including Paul and three hangers on. The majority were Australians and Brits in pretty much equal numbers, three Kiwis, one Thai, two Swiss and another two Swiss living in the US, one other from the US but living in Thailand and one Canadian living in Malaysia.

The majority were experienced in river cruising and understood the change in Itinerary. I think the main concern was with the food. I don’t wish to imply that it was poor or bad, but it didn’t match the standards we have had before on Pandaw.

I know at least one guest is writing to Paul outlining his concerns, but in a constructive way. It certainly isn’t stopping him from joining us on the maiden cruise up the Ganges; I believe there will be at least eight of us doing both cruises.
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Jul 18th, 2009, 02:59 AM
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What a great read Tangata - I think you and the Dogster are going to get on very well. I can only hope for the sake of those of us who can't be on the Indian trip that you have a voyage of similar adventure - then we should have two great reports to read!
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Jul 18th, 2009, 06:33 AM
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Mary--I think we should send Mitch04, the journalist, to record what really happens on that Ganges cruise...
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Jul 18th, 2009, 06:54 AM
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For all we know the esteemed Dogster is a housebound spinster with a very active imagination!
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