I co-led school trips to Borneo several times. The northern part of the island of Borneo belongs to Malaysia and the southern part to Indonesia. The main aims of these trips was to learn about Borneo culture, to climb Mount Kinabalu (the highest mountain in south-east Asia), to visit nature reserves with turtles and orang-utans and to learn how to windsurf. These trips were such fun!

Cherating Club Med

Love it or hate it, Club Med is the ultimate all-inclusive resort. Club Med Cherating, on the east coast of peninsular Malaysia, was my first experience of Club Med, and Catherine's second since she's already been to the one in the Maldives. We were at Cherating for just five nights in early October 98, three weeks before it closed for the winter. This was good news and bad news.

The good news was that the place was half empty, especially the beaches, which rarely had more than half a dozen people and sometimes just the two of us - most people seemed to prefer to hang out near the pool. The bad news was that the weather wasn't that great - quite hot, overcast most of the time and more humid than earlier in the year. Also (VERY bad news, this) there were a lot of tiny stinging jellyfish, which we assume to be a seasonal problem. Actually it's probably more of a Colardelle problem, for Catherine seems to be very allergic to the stings of the tiny jellyfish LARVAE, something that did not seem to affect me or any other guests at the hotel (except for one unlucky gentleman who was covered in spots like Catherine).

We flew to Kuala Lumpur from Hong Kong then switched to smaller plane to reach Kuantan. By the time we boarded our coach for the last hour of the journey it was night, so we saw nothing of interest. Dozens of "kind organizers" (gentils organisateurs or "GO"s) were waiting to greet us and managed to hide their annoyance that we had kept them waiting several hours due to flight delays. We downed our welcome drink and were taken down never-ending corridors through the wooden buildings that house the guest rooms. Cherating has a capacity for about 800 guests but was less than half full. Our room was nice enough, overlooking the ocean, but with a noisy air con that kept us from sleeping until we got it repaired. We weren't served any food on arrival but were pretty hungry so we headed over to the bar for a pizza - it was the worst we ever ate (or refused to eat, in this case).

Next day we explored the resort. Club Med always has lots of activities included in the price - this one has archery, trapeze, squash, tennis, basketball, volleyball, badminton, pool, windsurfing, sailing, gymnasium, shows (see photo), daytrips and more. We spent so much time on the beach, however, that the only sport we tried (I tried, actually) was archery which was fun but painful on the fingers - the archery coach forgot to mention that they have special gloves available. I wanted to do windsurfing but didn't ask until the last day and they told me the tide was too low.

So the best things for us were the beaches and the food. Cherating has three beaches - a very long, straight, boring one runs in front of the resort, and two smaller ones can be accessed with a fifteen minute walk through the rainforest or with a tractor-pulled train. One of these is used for water sports like sailing and windsurfing, the other is small and backed by high cliffs - it became our favourite spot. The water was incredibly warm, without much wave action, but we think the jellyfish larvae in the water must have been responsible for the massive allergic reaction that had Catherine covered with a hundred itchy blisters within days of our arrival. We're not absolutely sure the jellyfish larvae were responsible, though we could certainly feel many small stings when we brushed against them in the water. The resort manager said it was probably due to sand flies - he recommended that we wash very carefully before going to bed, especially between our toes, for the sand flies lodge there then they crawl under your skin at night. Whatever it was, we only saw one other person with an allergic reaction like Catherine's. It was bad enough that we wouldn't want to go back there at that time of the year.

The other highlight for us was the food. It was a self-service buffet that didn't change much from day to day but there were so many dished to choose from - more than a hundred. There are about 90 GOs at Cherating and most of them sit with the guests at mealtimes and try to encourage social intercourse. Sometimes wild monkeys would come into the restaurant, stealing sugar packets off the tables until the staff chased them away. Apparently there are also wild boar, squirrels, turtles (in the spring), boas, pythons, small sharks, etc but we didn't see much any of these We could hear some birds in the rainforest, though and the whole resort felt like it was surrounded by dense rainforest, and that it was far away from anywhere, which was nice.

We had too little time to do a day trip such as the one to Chini Lake with its lotus flowers and villagers who can teach you how to shoot straight with a blow-pipe. Our only "escape" from the resort was on the Club Med's luxury yacht which took us to Snake Island for a few hours. Snake Island has no snakes and was a bit of a disappointment - not much good for swimming or snorkeling though the water was a little clearer than at the resort. As in much of south-east Asia, the coral reefs have suffered greatly from the fishermen's use of dynamite to kill fish - most of the reefs are now covered with silt. We went back under sail for part of the way but the overcast skies didn't provide enough wind to take us faster than a few knots.

If we ever go back to Cherating it will be earlier in the year, for drier, sunnier weather and (hopefully) NO MORE BITES!