Hilton Kota Kinabalu ticks all the boxes for me

Flying into KK or Kota Kinabalu as its officially called, we, my friend Judy and I were picked up by Ben who was to be our guide – many thanks to Sabah Tourism Board for helping host us for 3 days and organising my itinerary. Ben was an ideal, and professional guide, and of course our driver, Wilfred (who incidentally, we find out, grows vanilla) was a safe and considerate driver.

First stop the was the Sabah State Museum, where we walked through the heritage village, in and out of many traditional houses and watched women making jewellery and arts and crafts. Inside the museum we enjoyed, in particular, costumes of years gone by and a photographic exhibition. We also made a note to ourselves to read more by Agnes Keith whose first book about ‘North Borneo’ as it was then, has become a tagline for Sabah – Land Below the Wind while another of her books, Three Came Home inspired a film of the same name.

Checking into the Hilton Kota Kinabalu, that evening we had early dinner with Jeremy, the marketing manager from the Hilton: he didn’t need to do any ‘marketing’ as the hotel and the Rooftop Poolside Bar and Grill spoke for itself. I had an Angus beef steak which was thick, tender and cooked perfectly, exactly as I’d requested – rare. Judy had salmon and said it too was faultless.

While up there we met the chef as well as the cooks and wait staff. Breakfast was in the Urban Kitchen on the ground floor and, as always, although I loved the wide variety of global food, I particularly enjoy being able to have Asian dishes for breakfast. The Urban Kitchen has an international buffet every night as well as having a special menu – for instance, Monday Malaysian, and Saturday Local Seafood Market. The Rooftop also specialises in the local seafood.

The Hilton Kota Kinabalu – really central, and which accommodated us for three nights in luxury – has been open since mid-March 2017 and, going by our experience, it’s living up to the names international reputation. Its spacious, luxurious rooms are all you could wish for – including in my room, a large rain or ‘deluge’ shower and big TV. It also had many power points and USB plugs, essential for travellers, and the bedside lights were fantastic – often one of the worst features in hotel rooms!

I also loved the welcoming lobby with its huge chandelier and especially the variety of little seating areas and magazines. Off the lobby was a quiet and well stocked library which impressed me.

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The Hilton staff were impeccable. I asked one of the wait staff ‘why are the Hilton staff so friendly?’ He responded. ‘I don’t know, maybe it’s just typical Malay, ma’am’. It’s true the Malay are friendly and helpful, but the staff here seem to really enjoy their various roles. Of course, Sabah, with the highest number of tourists in Malaysia, is not called ‘friendly state’ by accident.

This is about the third Hilton I’ve stayed at – it certainly was the best, by a long shot – and this, as followers of my blogs will know, is truthful and is exactly how I’d have written this had I not been hosted.

Silk Road, Temple and maritime history in Quanzhou, Fujian, China

Quanzhou city, southeast Fujian Province, and east of Taiwan, has been called the starting point of the Maritime Silk Road and is a city with a long history and rich culture, it also has many religions. As a trading port people came to Quanzhou from many places and Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Taoism can be seen there.

Over the last couple of centuries, Quanzhou was also a migration source of many Chinese now living in South East Asia. Evidently some 6 million people, whose ancestors were from the area, now live abroad – mostly in Southeast Asian countries: a tenth live in Hong Kong.

The climate is warm and humid, comfortable for year-round travel, making it a popular tourist destination – mostly Chinese – and during my week in the province I saw only one western couple, and woman from Taiwan. Because of this, I have ever been photographed so much, nor been in so many selfies with people I don’t know!

As well as the rock carving of  Lao Jun (this link is to an earlier blog) we visited Kaiyuan Temple, the largest Buddhist temple in Fujian Province, and which is a major historic and cultural site and under state protection.  With a history of over 1,300 years, the buildings in the temple are of course magnificent.

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The Grand Prayer Hall has 86 huge stone pillars, while the most famous attractions are two pagodas standing west and east of the temple. They are China’s highest stone pagodas (about 40 metres) and are a good example of Chinese stone architecture.

Quanzhou Maritime Museum, is evidently China’s only museum dedicated to the history of the counties overseas exploration. The exhibition hall, designed like a huge ship, was set up in 1959 and exhibits the components of a Song Dynasty (960-1127) ship discovered in the seaport of Quanzhou. The East Lake exhibition hall (1991) shows the history of overseas exploration, religious stone sculptures, and the folk culture of the area.

NOTE: I travelled in this region as part of a cultural delegation from its sister city Wellington, New Zealand. See more here – www.wellingtonxiamen.com and check #Xiamen for photos on Instagram.

Arras, France & Wellington, New Zealand are connected by tunnels!

IMG_3441Just around the corner from my Wellington, apartment is New Zealand’s national war museum and carillon (1932) and tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

For much of my time in the city it’ been covered with scaffolding and red material – making it very easy to spot my place when I flew in or out of Wellington Airport. Restored and quake-proofed, that has now been removed and by April 25th 2015 (ANZAC day) a new park will spread out in front of it – completing the dreams of the earlier designers.

Pukeahu National War Memorial Park will soon be built on the Mt Cook Hill (Pukeahu) where a ‘cut and cover trench’ has been created and it’s on top of this ‘tunnel’ that the green space and parade ground will be created. See more photos here 

A historical area of Wellington, the hill was a major military space and the Army Reserves, and the Navy still have a presence here: many  1800 artefacts were found during the excavation.

Arras Tunnel opened 5 weeks ahead of schedule (29th Sept. 2015) and I attended the official opening and, along with  many other Wellingtonians, walked through its 130 metres.

The name comes from the 1916 wartime work of some 300 New Zealand miners in the French town of the same name. Some 4,300 metres of tunnels were dug, but  it wasn’t until the 1990s that the tunnels  were rediscovered.

A museum, La Carriere Wellington, providing access to the tunnels opened in Arras in 2008. So  Wellington New Zealand and Arras, France are really connected by tunnels!

 

Butterflies galore in Dunedin

I didn’t expect to find butterflies galore in Dunedin New Zealand. However the Otago Museum has them in abundance in their Discovery World Tropical Forest, and delight all who see them – including me.

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Free museums in Kuching, Sarawak – well worth visiting

Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo, maintains several museums – all free to visit.

The Sarawak Museum, the oldest of its kind in Borneo, exhibits collections on the natural history of Sarawak: the beautiful building was opened in 1891 by the White Rajah, Charles Brooke. (Note: A film is soon to be made of his life which I’m sure will be fascinating)

Four museums in this area
Four museums in this area

Over the road by an elegant footbridge is the Dewan Tun Abdul Razak otherwise known as ‘the new museum’ and it’s an exhibition venue and has the offices of the Sarawak Museum Department.

Located behind ‘new’ museum is the Sarawak Islamic Museum which I had found hard to find – but well worth going to a few days later.

Other museums in Kuching include the Chinese History Museum, on the waterfront, and which is well worth visiting, the Kuching Cat Museum,( see my blog about it)  and the Sarawak Textile Museum – opposite the Post Office and China Street. I found it a peaceful and informative place so well recommend it.

Chinese History Museum
Chinese History Museum

Another museum I just loved was the Art Gallery (beside the Sarawak Museum). Its beautifully and sympathetically restored – a great background to the local art work: I wish I had returned for a second visit.

See the Sarawak Tourism Board for more.

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Cat city … Kuching, the capital of Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo

Once part of the Sultanate of Brunei some 200 years ago, Kuching then became the capital of the White Rajahs of Sarawak and now this capital city, Kuching, is often called “Cat City” and has many cat statues as public art.

The 'big cat' is dressed according to the season or festival, these are its Gawai clothes - the Iban harvest festival
The ‘big cat’ is dressed according to the season or festival, these are its Gawai clothes – the Iban harvest festival

The meaning of ‘Kuching’ seems to be lost in history. Some say it’s from the Malay word kucing, meaning cat, (Note in Malay the letter c is pronounced as ch as in church) and many locals call it “Cat City”.

The guide on my city tour bus says it could come from the Chinese word for port (cochin) or, “most likely, from the Malay name mata kucing (cat’s-eye) for the longan fruit. He continues “There was a small tributary of the Sarawak river called Sungei Kuching so some others say it was from this stream that Kuching got its name.” So take your pick.

Cat city seems to be the most common usage and the city has not only many cat souvenirs for sale, and  statues of cats,  but also a cat museum. This  is on top of a 60 metre high hill which gives great views over the city. (The museum is on the ground floor of the  Kuching North City Hall.)

The Cat Museum  has four main galleries  and evidently has more than 4,000 cat artifacts including paintings  and the media group I was with were mixed in their reactions to the collection – from bemused, to thrilled, to amused. Its well worth a visit, and like all the museums in Sarawak, it’s free to visit although a small fee is charged for cameras.

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For more about Kuching, see the many other blogs I’ve written, or the Sarawak Tourism Boards’ official website

 

 

“Look Heather, the cat is naked” says one of the drivers who knows I’ve walked often to this statue for photos!

Money, Olympics, cable cars & a museum in the world’s top 50!

top 50 museums

 Wellington, the best little capital in the world, has some great and eclectic  museums  

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Visitors to Wellington (and locals) have a variety of museums to choose from – so if you are visiting briefly or on a cruise ship passing through, check out these very different places you could visit – but of course you absolutely must see Te Papa too. 

Capital of cool wins more kudos in the art world – top 40

Coolest little capital (as named by Lonely Planet) is home to top 40 museum

One of the world’s most popular arts publications has ranked Te Papa in its top 40 museums, above institutions like New York’s Guggenheim and the Getty Centre in Los Angeles.

The Art Newspaper, based in London, has just released its annual rankings of the world’s art museums. Te Papa’s 1.3 million visitors has earned it the 33rd highest visited in the world, and the highest ranked facility in Australasia. Exhibitions such as European Masters, Art from the Stadel Museum, E Tu Ake: Standing Strong and Brian Brake: Lens on the World attracted visitors from around the country and contributed to this success.

“This ranking cements Te Papa’s reputation as a key drawcard for domestic and international visitors to Wellington City”, says Te Papa chief executive Michael Houlihan.

Top five worldwide

  • The Louvre, Paris – 8,880,000
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York – 6,004,254
  • British Museum, London – 5,848,534
  • National Gallery, London – 5,253,216
  • Tate Modern, London – 4,802,287

For more information about the rankings, go to http://www.theartnewspaper.com/

Temporary art on the wall of New Zealand's national art gallery (Wellington)

Clapham Clocks – time for all

           Clapham Clock Museum – there’s time for all in this museum!

 Whangarei, Northland, NZ is the site for this museum with a difference. It’s the biggest museum in the southern hemisphere devoted to clocks (I didn’t ask where large ones are in the Northern hemisphere – do you know? If so, add to the comments for the help of others interested in the topic)

This was the first place I visited during my Northland road trip in February 2012 and arrived just in time before it closed at 5pm and was fortunate to still get a guided tour around the 1400+ clocks: from a 1830 monastery clock; another  from Germany in 1810 that has Scottish trumpeters on it, to another that has a dog’s tail as the pendulum, and Kiwiana hand carved pieces – this place has them all.

As I walked around, hearing about some of the fascinating pieces, the guide turned off many of the clocks, putting them to bed so to say: a way of prolonging their life I suspect. This is a museum with a  difference – not one I’ve seen ever and would well-recommend it … and especially take the free guided tour …  hearing the history of the collection and some of the clocks adds meaning to the visit.

The Mr Clapham who the museum is named after, left some 400 clocks to the local council when he died: since then the museum has been built and another 1000 time-pieces have been added to the collection. Dating from 1700, these clocks record not just the time, but record  social history from all over the world.

The museum is open 9am to 5pm, seven days a week.

Coming to New Zealand? Grab a  rental car from  Rental Cars New Zealand, look up  Destination Northland  and create your own Northland road trip.

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Have a short break in Auckland

Fancy a short break in Auckland? I’ve just had one, and before I get those stories written, here’s a brief overview of my few days before the stories are written.  I’m happy to recommend all the choices I made. Bookmark this page so you get to hear about them in more detail very soon – some in the print media, and some online on this blogs pages.

My little holiday started with a train trip on the Overlander, a 12-hour journey from Wellington to Auckland. What fabulous scenery is hiding from those who usually drive up there!  Paul Theroux says ‘trains are the only way to travel’ – it certainly was relaxing.

My choice of accommodation was the Quadrant Hotel  in central Auckland. With four stars, green goals and very handy (often walking distance) to many of the places I wanted to visit. For the others, it is also close to the Britomart transport hub and wharf.

So, as well as the train and hotel, what else will I be writing about?  Well, Kelly Tarlton and the Auckland Zoo are ’must-sees’ for kids and adults alike.  Also, the zoo has its fabulous new Te Wao Nui opening in September (2011) so make sure you bookmark this page as that’s the first story I will be writing. The Auckland Museum is a traditional museum with interesting flourishes – it seems it’s also the only place in Auckland where you can experience a Maori cultural performance daily.

Local Maori also host guided walks (Tamaki Hikoi) and I had a Prince show me around the volcano that the museum sits on the rim of (well, not exactly A prince, but Prince by name!) This was the perfect way to start an Auckland trip with family and local tribal history – it sort of set the scene!

So, there’ s a taster of what’s to come . . . in the meantime check out the links above and come back here soon.

Editors are of course welcome to contact me for stories about any, or all, of these topics.