Why Tanjung Aru Beach in Malaysia has the most phenomenal sunset in the world

Tanjung Aru Beach in Kota Kinabalu, the most phenomenal sunset in the world (or at least SE Asia)? Here me out. I have good reason for this gushing statement that puts this humble location on a pedestal.

One must think of Tanjung Aru Beach in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, as a backdrop to your own fabulous photo shoot. This is where people go to embody Tyra Banks and strike a pose.

Every evening hundreds of tourists gather on the shores of this city beach in north Borneo, not just simply to take photographs of the fabulous sunset, no. The women here take it to a whole other level.

Beach shorts  and flip flops? Bah! The unofficial dresscode here is flowing maxi dresses in bright colours, statement jewelery and cute sandals.

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I was at Tanjung Aru Beach in November during a two month trip around SE Asia. I had been there all day and hadn’t seen a single soul until about 4pm when the area started coming to life. It began with kite, fruit and toy sellers setting up stalls, the cooks at the market firing up their barbecues and then the people trickled in.

I noticed some women pass by me wearing high wedges and glamorous dresses and I thought, that’s a bit much for the beach – I mean it’s Malaysia not the Cote d’Azur. Next thing I knew a whole flock of women had strutted onto the sands and were posing like peacocks. I had never seen anything like it. Suddenly the people became more awe-inspiring than the sunset! lol!

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By the time the sky turned yellow the whole beach was packed with hundreds of women contorted into all kinds of positions determined to get that perfect shot to show all their friends back home, so I had to get in amongst it! I took pictures of them and they took pictures of me. We smized, gave blue steel and worked it for the cameras – Tyra Banks would have been proud of us all 😉

I literally vogued my way through the crowds all the way along the beach.

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The sunset beach photo was obviously not something these girls did spontaneously. Evidence that this was a well thought-out operation included groups of girls wearing matching dresses, the well-rehearsed poses they did and yes, some even brought along professional photographers!

So you see. It’s not just the sunset that makes for an amazing view. It’s how the people react to it that takes it from something beautiful to something extraordinary. I swear. Never again will I take a beach sunset lightly.

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I decided to try out a few of the popular poses myself!

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One must finger frame the sun.

 

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One must do a yoga-style pose.

 

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And by the time the best moment of the sunset had arrived the posers disappeared as quickly as they had arrived.

Songkran water festival in Thailand is just one month away!

 

Check out my feature on how to survive Songkran – one of the world’s craziest parties.

I wrote this one for Jetstar Asia inflight magazine for all those people heading to the festival and in need of travel hacks to make sure they have the most bodacious time ever! 🙂 Go to the feature by clicking below.

Click here

Snow picnics and frolics – embrace the winter in Germany

First of all I feel I must apologise for not having an awesome picture of a snow picnic! 🙁

You see guys, it happened like this. We were on our way to the zoo – we were stuck for something to do and thought, why not – but there was a traffic jam on the highway into Frankfurt so we got off at the B8 to Königstein in search for a place to stop for coffee.

We went towards Große Feldberg, which is the highest of the Taunus Mountains at 878m, and as we drove higher up into the mountain we noticed the snow get thicker on the ground until 15 minutes later we were surrounded by this magical winter wonderland!

Mario in the snow

We took a walk. The snow was the deepest I (who has never done a ski season) had ever experienced. It was up to my shins. Awesome. The animals had to wait. Frolicking in the snow became the flavour of the day. I even made a video. Check it out 🙂

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view from the feldberg

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A snow picnic spot…or what?!

My well planned day trip in Gran Canaria was an epic fail! Here’s what happened…

The night before the ‘ill fated trip’ I checked the map of and found a route through the pretty towns of Arucas and Firgas and on to the highlight, which was a picnic in the forest beside the famous natural sight that is Roque Nublo. All of this is the north of the island, which is famous for its gorgeous mountainous terrain.

I woke up early and packed a picnic, warm clothes, yoga mats, blankets, a frisbee and some books. I had everything I thought we could possibly need. We set off in our hire car in good time and I knew my itinerary was going to please the whole family but there was something I didn’t take into consideration – those sheer drops along the mountain roads are certainly not for the faint-hearted and made for some tense moments, bad moods and arguments.

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See look a the map. My idea was to take the highway from Maspalomas along the east side of the island up to Arucas, bypassing the long drive up through the mountains that lie in the middle of the island. The mountain route takes 3 hours but the highway takes about one hour so I thought, lets get to Arucas and then travel down through the mountains. See how lovely Arucas is. Everyone was so happy…

Arucas cathedral

The beautiful cathedral next to the car park leads onto the historic streets, which are lined with coffee shops and boutiques.

Arucas street scene

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arucas cultural centre

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arucas tower rum

Oh, and guess what? Arucas has a rum factory that does free tours and tastings. We tried about 10 different rums. The one aged 14 years put that smile on my face. My favourite, and the bottle we bought, was the toffee rum. I am so excited to splash that over some good quality vanilla ice cream. Yeah baby!

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Rum tasting before lunch!? We had little choice because factory is open from 9am to 2pm (click here for more information)

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arucas rum barrels

My thoughts were ‘I’m on to a winner here’ as we walked around with the tour. It was short and sweet, like the rum!

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Lots of Spanish celebrities have been there and have put their mark on the aging barrels. It was so cool to see.

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arucas rum mario and me

I hadn’t even tasted the rum yet and I was feeling pretty awesome!

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I did a check. The whole family was happy and ready to move onto Firgas. We only needed a short half hour stay here because the main sight is the Paseo de Gran Canaria. It’s an artistic monument that pays tribute to the different towns of Gran Canaria with plaques lining a water feature.

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Further up are plaques on the ground representing all of the islands that make up the Canaries.

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The next stop was what I was most looking forward to. The drive past Tejeda into the pine forests next to Roque Nublo where we would have our picnic and chill out for the rest of the day. As we drove higher my ears popped and the landscape gradually looked more green. We were so high we could see for miles. I thought it was breathtaking.

We made it to Tejeda…

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Pretty isn’t it? In the distance you can see Roque Nublo. It looks like a finger pointing towards the sky.

The drive to this point is impressive. Narrow mountain roads lined with blossoming almond trees. A treat. True wanderlust but when you look straight down all you can see is cliff edge and a sheer drop into the wilderness…

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The aim was to go higher but the whole family was NOT in agreement. It was too scary so I took the decision to picnic here and then head home afterwards.

You know those moments that are not funny at the time but you laugh at them afterwards? This was one of them. We thought the quickest route back was southwards on the mountain road past the famous Roque. I should have thought we would have to go all the way before going down. OMG, I was clenching my bum cheeks too. The road was super windy and right on the edge of the mountain and it went on for at least an hour. I thank goodness that my boyfriend Mario is a very skilled driver but, if those mountain roads put you or anyone you  know in a panic, don’t travel from Tejeda south towards Maspalomas, unless of course you want tears at bedtime!

The 13 emotional stages of learning to snowboard

Okay so everyone and their neighbour has tried skiing or snowboarding at least once in their life but I’m of the ilk that runs and hides at the mere mention of cold weather or, dare I say it, snow.

Since moving to Germany I’ve been gung ho about getting into the culture and one of the major pasttimes when winter draws in on mainland Europe is skiing and snowboarding so I bit the bullet and, armed with The Snowboard Academy’s YouTube video and my gorgeousexpertsnowboarder boyfriend Mario, I hit the Allrounder Mountain Resort and ski hall, in Neuss, with gusto.

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The whole experience was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster so I thought I’d tell you about the 13 stages I went through.

ShockOMG that’s a pretty big investment into potentially breaking my neck!

So you need a board, boots, helmet, googles, gloves, pants, trousers and a jacket. If you buy it all you’re looking at a 2,000-euro hit on your bank account before you even go anywhere. This is why in my 35 years on this planet I’ve avoided the slopes. In the end I borrowed the hardware from Mario and bought a full set of clothes for 45 euros in the Aldi supermarket sale! In fact I’m so shocked at the discovery that Aldi does snow gear I’m posting a link.

Guilt – “You’re not taking this seriously enough.”

So apperently I couldn’t just start learning straight away. Mario devised an exercise routine of daily 35-minute jogs, and a four-times-a-week weight training routine to strengthen my legs, abs and back. He’s hardcore when it comes to fitness so I made the executive decision to cut it all by half and do what exercises I could remember. When I proudly reported back my progress the injured look on his face made me up my cardio by two additional morning jogs and squeeze in another weights workout.

Doubt – I was rubbish at skateboarding and rollerblading…

I was the kid who bugged my parents for months until they got me a Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles skateboard, which I rode once, fell over and then decided that using my sister’s expensive make-up to make myself look like a clown was much safer. The skateboard now rests in the discarded toy graveyard with the inline skates, icecream maker and science set.

Arrogance – It’s just sliding down a hill on a plank!

The YouTube video made it look so easy! The cute male instructor told his student to do something and the student simply did it. Didn’t fall, didn’t cry and didn’t thump the snow in frustration. I, on the other hand, spent most of the time on my arse, holding back my tears and trying not to freak out.

Suspicion – so this isn’t a joke?

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One of my pals told me that her husband stuffed his pants with a jumper, on his second day of learning, because his bum hurt so much after falling on it so many times. I thought I’d pre-empt this world of pain and created some self-made protection padding by stuffing a wooly scarf down my pants. Mario laughed a lot. Wait a minute…

Shock – why did you just push me?!

We were hanging out in the livingroom talking about the snowboarding stance when a friend told me to stand in front of her and then she pushed me! Following that she announced that the leg I put forward to steady myself was my front foot for riding. I ride with my left leg at the front.

Panic – something is going to break!

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Look at my smile..so fake! I was strapped into my boots so tight I couldn’t move my legs below the knees. How was I supposed to move around? My feet were pointing off to the left and I was facing forward so my back hurt too. I was convinced I couldn’t cope in this position for more than 10 minutes.

Shame – I’m the old git who can’t do it.

I was feeling fine on the learning slope with all the other newbies until this five-year-old girl came for her lesson and started doing slalom runs down the slope. I, on the otherhand, was mastering the technique of getting up. From my back I dug the heel side of the board into the snow, bent my knees and tried to push myself up with my hands. I couldn’t master it and just lay there like an upturned beetle. Mario had to haul me up after every time I fell – I’m a lucky girl 😉

Disbelief – how the hell does anyone do this!

I had to learn to brake first, which meant knees bent, back straight, heels down and toes up. Not forgetting arms out and head up. This is a ridiculously awkward position when you’re feet are pointing slightly to the left and bound to a board and I know about awkward positions. I do yoga.

Pure and utter fear – I’m never letting go of you!

The bigger we are the harder we fall so I gripped onto Mario in the same way a cat would if you tried to give it a bath. It took a while to calm down and do anything without holding his hand. In fact, I write this post with aching hands because I was holding on to him so hard for so long.

Acceptance – I’m going to fall. A lot.

Once I fell a few times I got used to the idea of spending most the day landing on my bum (thank goodness for the DIY padding) and after that I felt more confident.

Enlightenment – and then it happened!

With the board perpendicular to the slope, I had to slide forward and brake and then repeat all the way down. All I could manage was slide forward and fall until my fourth descent when something clicked and when I did the brake stance, I actually stopped. My body and brain were finally working together!

Determination – I’m not giving up.

I could brake so my next step was to concentrate on moving. Sliding to the right or left meant putting my weight on the desired direction and pointing that way with the corresponding arm while braking slightly to control my speed. I did this over and over again and after four hours of trying to snowboard I got it. So after lesson one I could stand, brake and go forwards down the slope.

After lesson two I’ll hit the real slopes.

8 things to put your mind at rest before your first base jump

Let my base jump adventure convince you to give it a go.

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  1. You don’t even have to jump.

It’s not like you actually have to jump up and then plummet down. You just have to look straight ahead into the horizon and take a step forward.

I was standing 140-feet up on the ledge of a building at Bodyflight extreme sports centre in Bedford, England, and jump instructor, Martin, kept on whispering calmly into my ear: “Go on do it. Just step forward off the ledge. It’s easy, don’t look down just look ahead at the beautiful horizon and step off the ledge. You don’t even need to jump.” 

2. You can do it the easy way.

Some people jump off mountains and buildings and land with a parachute, but that is not the only way.

I used a base jumping simulator. It is kind of the same. It gives all the thrill of jumping without the hassle of releasing a parachute. Instead you’re attached to a wire which slows your fall after 80 per cent of the drop.

3. The reason you’re terrified is totally natural.

Your brain will tell you not to do it. That’s it’s job. It is supposed to protect you from potentially harmful things. What your brain doesn’t know is that it is safe and you won’t die. Keep telling yourself it’s safe. Take your time, mabybe watch other people jump first and go then for it.

I think I stood on the ledge of the building for 20 minutes before something inside me clicked and I leaped off. I didn’t count to three or consciously do it. I kind of unthinkingly/spontaneously did it in the same way you might get out of bed on a cold morning.

4. Your perception will be all messed up.

Everything looks scary from 100 feet above ground.

Below, 140 feet down, I could see the twinkling lights that highlighted the landing platform and beyond that there was wasteland. Skips, metal poles and overgrowth, from the building next door were strewn on the ground and from the angle I was looking it looked as if I would land in a skip or skewer myself on a pole.

5. There are bigger things to be afraid of.

It’s never going to be as safe as sitting at home, but after of lifetime of sitting at home and not really living your life, the scary thing will be having regret and not being able to do anything about it.

I was first in line of six base jumpers – none of whom, I might add, were rushing to go first. I wanted to change my mind but I couldn’t go back because I didn’t want to look back on this moment in my life and feel annoyed at myself for no going for it. I had enough regrets already. Also, if I went back I would have had to climb down two ladders and I hate climbing ladders. Choosing between climbing down the ladders or jumping was easy. I jumped.

6. It is as scary as you think it is but that’s the whole point!

Do it to face your fears and boost your confidence because every great thing you desire in life lies on the other side of fear.

I was pretty sure my screams could be heard across Bedfordshire. I fell with my mouth gaping open and my eyes wide with fear but then the wire set in and slowed me down so I landed gently on the platform.

7. You get a lot of love afterwards!

You won’t be alone. There will be people at both ends to offer you support. And which group would you rather be in, the group getting a slap on the back for going through with it or the group that everyone looks at with pity because fear held them back?.

I was shaking and giggling nervously. Martin came over and held me by my shoulders, looked me in the eyes and told me I was safe. I started whooping and hugging anyone who came near me.

8. There’s no drug like it on the planet.

You are going to feel on top of the world once your feet are firmly on the ground.

I was super high on adrenaline – I felt sharper, more confident, more articulate and pretty invincible – right into the evening. I slept like a baby and woke the next morning feeling like a million dollars.

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Waking up in beautiful Schwangau

Mario dived off the paddle boat for a swim in Schwangau Lake

Mario dived off the paddle boat for a swim in Schwangau Lake

We are just 30 minutes from the Austrian border. Schwangau is home to two famous castles, which are nestled on the mountains next to a clear blue lake. Gorgeous. Wonderful for picnics, biking, boating and, if you can brave the cold water, swimming!
(Mario didn’t take a boat to the middle of the lake, strip totally naked and jump in 😉 )

Europa Park

We wanted to start the trip with some thrills so we drove to the small touristy town of Rust,in Germany, to go to Europa Park, which is one of the biggest theme Parks in Europe.

Being September, the kids are back at school so the wait time for rides was 10 to 20 minutes! The Park has a useful App that gives you Information on queue times, which came in handy!