Travels with myself – 3 Thailand

9th June 2006 – Victoriana
Afternoon tea may not be the first thing that springs to mind on a trip in Thailand. But that was to be the highlight of the afternoon.

The first stop was at the Mrigadayavan Palace just outside Hua Hin. The Palace was built for King Rama VI as it was a cooler, seaside locatio n and more pleasant in summer than Bangkok. Built of teak and completed in 1924, it is, apparently, typical Thai-Victorian. It had recently been restored and contains furniture and other items belonging to King Rama VI and his family.  The king died in 1925 but his only child, a daughter, Princess Bejaratana was still alive when I made my visit. (She died in 2011).

Then we drove into the town for a quick tour including the railway station of which the people are very proud. After spending a short while in town and looking at some of the stores I ventured into yet another Starbucks for a frappuccino and to cool down in the air conditioning.




Our final visit was to the Sofitel hotel for afternoon tea of cakes and earl grey. The hotel has a beautiful garden filled with topiary animals.








Despite a heavy downpour, I managed to have my daily swim. Later I made my way to the main lobby, where we were to join in the celebrations for the King’s 60th anniversary.  All guests were asked to attend and the lobby was crammed full of both guests and staff.  As requested I was wearing something yellow – my pashmina.  There was a huge portrait of him in the lobby and a big screen on which we began to watch the proceedings from Bangkok.  We were all given a yellow candle to hold and these were lit  as the ceremony proceeded.  Crowds of thousands in Bangkok were also holding lit candles. It was quite a spectacle. However at the end of the ceremony none of us were sure as to whether we had actually seen the king and queen.  No-one seemed certain that they were actually present! It shall remain a mystery. Afterwards there was a great rush to the dining room and I met up with another couple of Saga guests and spent a lovely evening in the ar shampoo restaurant until 10.

10th June 2006
Today I mostly spent relaxing including having a pedicure from which I emerged with bright red toenails and feeling very relaxed. The highlight of the evening was settling down to watch the World Cup in the bar.  It had barely got started when the channel disappeared and there was total uproar!  Eventually it came back on and I watched the game with a couple of other Saga guests.

11th June 2006
I was up at 6 a.m. and we were on the coach by 7:30. We first visited a coconut farm where they make sugar from coconut flour, coconut milk and coconut oil. They also have a substantial souvenir shop!  Then it was on board a long tail boat to ride to the floating market. The ride was at great speed, until we had to slow down to turn the corners. As we got near the market the waterways got busier and there was something of a traffic jam just before we got off the boat. There was both an indoor and outdoor market selling everything from beautiful silk and silk clothes to fruit vegetables being sold from boats sailing up and down the waterways at the edge of the market. It was fascinating and I bought some spices. Then we set off to a craft centre where they made beautiful furniture and where we could watch the craftsman at work. Finally we were off to the Rose Garden Hotel for an excellent buffet lunch followed by a show of cultural activities, dancing, stick fighting, Thai boxing accompanied by different types of music.

I decided to have a change of scenery at dinner time and ate at the Rim Talay restaurant which was just by the beach. There was no inside seating so it was a bit warm but the food, which happened to be Italian, was very good.

Travels with myself – 3 Thailand

8th June 2006 – Off to Cha-Am
We left Bangkok promptly at 9 am for Cha-am, a district on the Western coast of Thailand about 100 miles to the south. It was a weekday morning so the traffic was still heavy, although thankfully nothing like the nightmare that was previous evening! The city buildings got smaller and changed to very poor looking housing which then disappeared as we reached the countryside. Saga provided yet another guide to accompany me on this journey and she explained a little about the land around us as we went along. We passed salt farms and rice fields. Farmers are able to grow several crops of rice in a year. She pointed to a range of hills to the west of us and said that they marked the border between Thailand and Myanmar and said that the history of Thailand was filled with Burmese invasions.

We arrived at the Cha-Am resort to be met by Kai who would be the Saga Rep for the rest of my stay. It seemed huge resort which I’m not used to and I was going to have to wait until the next day for the conducted tour. Still, I had a lovely large room with a balcony. I found a nearby restaurant (apparently there are several) called the Bua Chompoo and had lunch, then unpacked, had a quick nap, looked at all the visits and activities on offer and filled out a tentative schedule. Then I went out to sample the swimming pool. I remember that it was an unusual shaped pool with lots of vegetation at the far end and, as I noted in my diary, it was “gorgeous” with ” warmish, inviting” water. Happily it was quiet too and so it was very easy to spend the afternoon swimming lazily up and down. I never go on holidays which simply involve sitting around a pool or on the beach but I did always set myself the aim of swimming a few lengths every day whether or not I was going out on a trip. I also visited the beach which was beautiful too and almost deserted.

Later I had a walk around the grounds to find the Sukuna restaurant and then retired ready for the next morning’s team talk.

9th June 2006 – Saga friendliness
Over the years I’ve found that hotels which Saga uses regularly, usually have a lounge where you can go and get teas and coffees, chat to other Saga guests and meet for information about the day’s activities. This is where we had a meet and greet followed by a tour of the complex. Most of my fellow guests are also women like myself, either on their own or in twos. After touring the complex we were taken for a short walk to the local village where they were selling some beautiful clothes. Then it was back for lunch in a third restaurant, this time serving Italian food.

After lunch and a spell by the pool, I was invited by two ladies from the Midlands to join them for a walk along the beach. Now, this is the thing with Saga holidays. In Borneo, although I met some friendly people on the trips this never extended to invitations to share meals or indeed join in any non-trip related activity. In fact, I think I only ate one meal in the hotel when I was not alone. This doesn’t really bother me but sometimes it is nice to be able to sit and chat over a meal – or to have someone invite you to walk along the beach with them. As it happened, these two ladies and I became friends and, although we haven’t met again on holiday, I still exchange Christmas cards with one of them and we update each other on where we have been that year. If I ever arrived on my own in the restaurant, they would always invite me to join them at their table. It was something I really appreciated. Later on we went on some independent outings together.

Tonight we returned to the Bua Chompoo. Their buffet was not just themed night by night but there was food from China, India, Vietnam, Japan and Thailand served each night. It was pleasant to also meet some of the other guests afterwards for a drink in the lobby. This was typical of the friendliness that I became used to on just about all of my subsequent Saga holidays

Then it was time for bed and for looking forward to our first chance to explore.


I loved this pool.  It had a resident frog who lived in the vegetation down at the far end, who serenaded us every day.  And every day, I offered to kiss him and turn him into a prince.  But he always told me to **** off and leave him alone. He was thoroughly fed up with being patronised by women who thought they could improve upon his chosen lifestyle! So, I won’t try that again.



Travels with myself – 3 Thailand


6th June 2006 – Bangkok in all its glory and chaos
My first guided tour started at 9 a.m. We were visiting the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew).

This year, I’m pleased to say, was the start of my use of digital photography so I haven’t had to search for holiday snaps amongst my boxes of photographs.  They are all neatly stored in folders on a hard drive.

The palace and temple area was absolutely amazing, with seemingly dozens of buildings covered in gold and patterned with statues and shrines. We were able to enter the temple to see the Emerald Buddha. The statue of the Buddha itself is carved from a single piece of dark green jade (not emerald) and this temple is regarded as the holiest Buddhist temple in Thailand.  We were also allowed to visit parts of the Grand Palace. However, although the king no longer lives there, it is still used for ceremonial occasions and preparations for the King’s 60th anniversary were in full swing and there were many places we weren’t allowed to visit. I’m going to let the photos speak for themselves.


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It was so hot that it was a bit of a relief to get back on the bus!  Our next visit was to the Royal Lapidary where we were shown how gemstones develop and how they are collected and made into jewellery. Of course it was also a purchasing opportunity and I bought a beautiful amethyst ring which I have since sadly lost.

I restricted myself to a light lunch in anticipation of a swim to cool down but then it proceeded to pour with rain all afternoon so I fell asleep instead.

It was still raining when we left for an evening soiree on the river. Thanks to the preparations for the King’s anniversary celebrations going on throughout the town, we had a nightmare journey.  The whole of Bangkok seemed to have ground to a halt and it took us almost an hour and a half to do our journey, much of which time was spent just standing still. At one point our guide jumped out of the taxi and ran to the riverside to make sure that the boat didn’t leave without us! When we arrived, thank goodness, it had stopped raining. The boat left straight away and we enjoyed a gin fizz and a three-course buffet and afterwards we sat on deck to enjoy the calm and warm evening while we travelled up and down the river. Yet again part of the river was closed for rehearsals for the celebrations.

It had been a short but enjoyable introduction to Bangkok but I was looking forward to arriving at my next stop where I was to spend my three weeks for the price of two.  What was in store at Cha-Am?

Travels with myself – 3 Thailand

In all honesty this holiday was chosen because Saga’s offer was 3 weeks for the price of 2 rather than any burning desire to visit Thailand! But the itinerary looked interesting and a 3-day extension in Bangkok at the start of the holiday was affordable.

2nd June 2006 – Déjà vu
It was exactly a year since my holidays in Borneo. I was no better at packing and had my usual last minute panic. What happened to the super organiser, who could get a husband and three children ready to travel, including packing all suitcases, repacking the car when said husband gave up on it halfway through (saying that we would never get everything in) and setting off to drive to a channel port after waiting for him to complete work tasks that he couldn’t bear to leave behind? I was still trying to zip up the flight bag when my daughter arrived to take me to the station.

At this time Saga was still providing a service whereby you could take a car free of charge from King’s Cross to the airport or an airport hotel, so I was transported to the Heathrow Holiday Inn in a comfortable Mercedes. The evening was made even better because I had a free dinner with two glasses of wine courtesy of some privilege points which I had amassed through working visits to the north east.

3rd – 4th June 2006
After a very early arrival at Terminal 3, I was pulled over at security and had to empty my bag, after which the security officer went to check something about me which was a bit nerve-racking! It can’t have been too serious as I was allowed to proceed.  I’m one of those people who has to keep their mouth firmly shut at these times.  I’m always tempted to say something flippant but totally inappropriate!

When I’m flying, I do enjoy watching the route, so it was interesting to see that we flew via Germany, the Ukraine, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Myanmar before arriving just after 6 a.m. in Bangkok. I passed easily through immigration, luggage collection and customs but then couldn’t find anyone to meet me – I had gone to the wrong end of the arrivals hall. Eventually I did find that the Saga Rep and we took a taxi for the journey to the Montien Riverside Hotel, where I was handed over to the hotel-based Saga Rep. My room was on the 14th floor and had two views of the Chao Phraya River.

Exploring the hotel (I discovered that it was hosting an international darts competition during my stay!), having a meeting with Saga Rep Tom, (who booked me onto two visits) and taking short naps through the day, helped me to stay awake until Michael Parkinson finally sent me to sleep at around 10 p.m.

5th June 2006 – Bangkok
Today was the day when I was to explore Bangkok on my own. Tom had told me about the hotel shuttle which would take me to the SkyTrain. There were five other people on the shuttle who all seemed to know what they were doing but as soon as we arrived at the station they all disappeared and I was left floudering wondering what to do. A kind woman who saw me looking lost, helped me to buy a ticket and showed me where the platform was. Bangkok is a very crowded and high-rise city. I didn’t see a single patch of green on the journey.

The MBK shopping centre was right at the end of the line and, thankfully,  just across the road from the station. I was so relieved to have arrived safely that all my sense of adventure deserted me and I went in a Starbucks and had a coffee. I spent the morning looking around and bought some clothes for my grandchildren.  It was just a purse for me this time – I resisted the urge to buy another handbag.  The one thing which spoilt my enjoyment was the number of decidedly dodgy-looking men around, usually with a young Thai girl on their arm.

I did read discover my sense of adventure sufficiently to have my lunch in the Thai bakery. I arrived back and plenty of time for the bus at the railway station but left at the wrong eggs it and couldn’t find my bearings. Another helpful person pointed me in the right direction.  I waited and waited for the shuttle and was beginning to think that I would have to get a taxi.  The only trouble was that most of the taxis were just little motor scooters.  the passengers just hopped on the back and off they went!  But not me.  I didn’ fancy my chances on the back of a scooter, so I continued to wait and, at last, the bus turned up.  There was time to shake off the dust of the city and have a swim.  I chatted to an American woman who had, coincidentally, lived in North Yorkshire for some years.  I often seem to turn up an example of “What a small world!” when I am away.

After a day of adventurous living on my own, I was looking forward to an organised trip the next day – to the former royal palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.

Travels with myself – 2 Borneo

11th June 2005
Today we were taken to visit a local village, stopping on the way to buy gifts of tea and coffee and pencils and books for the children. One of the houses we saw had been originally built on stilts but walls had been built around the basement to form a ground floor resulting in a two storey house. We were taken to visit the lady of the house who had a new baby only 18 days old. The next house was still on stilts so we had to go upstairs to visit. There was a new baby here too, just 4 months old, plus a tiny girl of about 3 and a little boy of around 5. A small chicken was sitting on a shelf in the corner. We exchanged pleasantries with the people in each house, cooed over the babies and handed over our gifts. I also feel rather uncomfortable on these visits. They seem rather intrusive and I wonder if they are of benefit either the residents or the visitors.

It was extremely hot as we walked back to the bus. The same children that we had met when we arrived found us as we left so they came in for all the rest of our pencils and notebooks. How canny were they!

12th June 2005
Today was mostly noteworthy for the arrival of my pottery saucer which turned out fairly well and still sits on my window sill supporting a plant pot. Plus a major eating faux pas, during dinner when I was sampling the sushi and took a large dollop of what I took to be mashed avocado plus a small helping of pickle. I was wary of the pickle which turned out to be alright, but of course the “avocado” was actually wassabi and when I took a mouthful, it burned its way right down to my stomach. Phew! I could have breathed fire !!

13th June 2005
Today I ventured out on my own by bus to Kota Kinabalu Centre Point, a large shopping mall. It was just beginning to spot with rain as we arrived which was a sign of things to come! I did some shopping – you can never have too many handbags. I think I’d been around every shop at least twice when I found the basement and a store selling CDs where I bought a CD of Chinese orchestral music. Back on the bus at 4pm, we travelled back through a huge downpour which followed us all the way back to the Nexus.

After I made it back to my room there were some huge claps of thunder right overhead and lightning lit up the sky. I decided to film the downpour and, just as I opened my window, a huge lizard ran across the path into the pond opposite. Luckily it came out again and sat on the grass as I was filming. I had to stay inside the room to prevent the camera from stopping due to the condensation. The downpour went on for well over an hour and a half before it started to ease.

When the rain finally stopped, I went to the Penyu restaurant for a last dinner. It was Arabian night. I went to pay my bill,which was very much as I had calculated. I paid $18 in travellers cheques. The local currency, which is the Ringgit, is worth only about 14 p.

14th June 2005
I had my last breakfast at the Penyu and then a last bask by the pool before going to pack and trying to cram everything into my case, carry on and the new handbag. After lunch by the pool my bags were collected and then it was time to hand my key back. What a wonderful 10 days it had been! What a very special day I had visiting the beautiful orang-outans.

As I mentioned at the start of this holiday I then flew to Brunei. I don’t intend to say anything about that leg of my holiday as I don’t want to do anything to promote that country. Except I should say that the people who looked after me there were incredibly kind.

Travels with myself – 2 Borneo

The other day I saw an item on the TV which said that being creative was good for the mood. People were out on the cliff tops somewhere sketcing and painting but, as I’m nowhere near any clifftops and am just about able to hold a pencil in my hand again, that won’t be an option for me for a while. However, I think I can be creative by picking up my story again. I’m dictating rather than typing which throws up some weird interpretations of my voice and causes me to have to go back and correct lots of mistakes but I can’t leave my holiday halfway through so here goes :–

10th June 2005 – This was the day I came for!
My alarms worked (I’d set more than one to be on the safe side) and I was up at 4:00am. I arrived at reception to find that there were only three of us on this trip. We were handed a breakfast box each and off we went. Our flight from Kota Kinabalu took off at 7:00am and we arrived at Sandakan less than an hour later. Then the Sepilok Centre was another half an hour’s drive.

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My ticket to enter Sepilok!


We watched a film about the rescue and rehabilitation work of the Sepilok Centre which was very moving and frankly distressing, as it is human greed and demand for products like palm oil which is exploiting both the local people and the wildlife which lives in the dwindling forests.

The orangutans we were hoping to see have graduated out of the nursery (where they cared for all the time) into the nearby forest but they aren’t yet quite independent and so food is provided twice a day at the feeding platform.

It was just a short walk along a wooden walkway to the feeding platform. When we arrived there were already two orangutans waiting and playing together, rolling about in a ball. More and more arrived before the rangers came out with bananas and sugar cane (sometimes they bring milk). You could see the trees moving in the distance and the ropes which hung between them would begin to vibrate and then you’d see the orangs swinging along hand over hand. For an hour or more they came and went and fed, played, rested. I counted 10 individuals altogether. Some were youngsters obviously staying close to the feeding platform for most of the day but others looked much more adult; some of them even beginning to get the flanges which grow on the side of the faces of adult males. Some of them carried off their sugarcane and the bunches of bananas into the forest, dangling upside down or holding the food by their feet. It was wonderful to watch and I used my time videoing the activity, which accounts for my lack of still photos, most of which are not so good anyway.

After an hour or so most of the food was eaten and we were feeling very hot and sweaty so our group decided to leave and walked back for a final look at the exhibition centre. This is what I’d come to Borneo to see. I’ve been longing to see these relatives of ours since I was a small child and so it was just one of the most magical days not just of the holiday but of my life.

Then, in a complete change of scenery and ambience we were taken to lunch at the “English Tea House and Restaurant”. The menu included fish and chips, roast fillet of beef and bread and butter pudding. Tea followed in fine china cups. Apparently this was a government building in pre independence days. There was a magnificent view of Sandakan Bay and its offshore islands.

After lunch we were taken on a tour of the city; first to a village built on stilts in the sea, then in another twist an Anglican church, which has a new set of stained glass windows, then a Buddhist temple and finally we ended the day in a more sombre mood, visiting the Australian memorial park. This park commemorates the Australian POWs who were held in a camp here before being marched across Borneo. Of over 1000 who passed through here, there were only 6 who survived the war. The flight back over miles and miles of wasteland where there should have been forest was also food for thought.

Nevertheless the day was absolutely worthwhile.

Stuff that life throws at you

My trip to Borneo must have seemed to have come to an abrupt halt. However it’s my life at the moment which has come to an unexpected pause.

A nasty fall means that I was incarcerated in hospital for the whole of the week before Easter. I am ever grateful to National Health Service as I have had a complex operation on a broken elbow and arm followed by care in the hospital for a week. I am now being looked after temporarily in a care home while a “package of care” is put in place in order that I can return home.

I am going home tomorrow and will be visited 4 times a day by carers who will help me dress and shower, prepare meals and help me to get ready for bed in the evening for a period of about 6 weeks.

This is free, despite the fact that I have not paid anything more into my National Insurance since I was 60. God bless our NHS and Kirklees Council!!

Travels with myself – 2 Borneo

9th June 2005 – Into the mangroves
The morning trip was to a mangrove river where we saw a village built on stilts, in the water.  Some homes were so old that more and more extra stilts had been added.  Even with these repairs, some of them were sloping into the water at one side.  People were travelling about in boats.  It was customary, in the past, to live entirely on boats rather than in houses.  People who live on one particular side of the river have to travel to the other side to buy clean water.  We saw men fishing from the small boats and Gilbert told us that they also farm fish.

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We went away from the village, into the narrower stretches of the river, where the mangrove trees were growing further and further out into the water.  We saw herons and kingfishers flash by – much too fast for my camera!

It was an interesting trip and it was pleasant to speed along and feel the breeze as it was a hot and sticky day.  The rest of the day was spent relaxing and chatting (84-year old Margaret is looking forward to going to Chile next year!).

It was going to be an early start the next morning and the day around which this entire holiday centred!





Travels with myself – 2 Borneo

8th June 2005 – Visiting temples and preparing for the afterlife
It was one of those days when it was tough getting out of bed but you know you ought to because you’ll enjoy it if you do! I managed to make it to the bus for our 8:30am start; even remembered my bottle of water. We stopped first at a rice paddy farm, where a new crop was just beginning to grow, but we retreated to the bus very quickly when our feet and legs were attacked by red ants!

We then visited a Buddhist temple, where Gilbert explained a little about the religion. We stayed to say our own prayers, lit candles and joss sticks and we burnt small items which would travel on ahead to heaven to await us. At the same place was a Chinese pagoda, where you could climb up 9 storeys to look at the view. I made it up to the 4th storey.

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At the Buddhist Temple

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Near the Chinese Pagoda

Mount Kinabalu was hidden in clouds – we had been so lucky the previous day.

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Still, having missed the water buffalo the previous day through sleeping on the bus, I did see quite a lot of them on our way back.

We arrived back just in time for lunch and I had a trip to the Noble House Chinese Restaurant on the resort for a lunch of scallop dumplings, prawns in spinach parcels, deep fried turnip and mango pudding. Not surprisingly, I fell asleep back at my room before ending the afternoon beach and the pool.

Holidays do seem to involve an inordinate amount of eating, so it was no time at all before I was heading back to the Penyu Restaurant. It was Italian night. They liked to ring the changes! And the food was delicious.

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In the bar afterwards I had a Singapore Sling and a non-alcoholic Honey Swing

…..Another day, another dinner!!

Travels with myself – 2 Borneo

7th June 2005 – Climb every mountain!
I said in Monday’s diary entry that the good thing about not touring is having a quiet day. But the good thing about most Saga holidays is that there aren’t too many quiet days and sure enough, today was a hectic combination of tramping, tripping and climbing up the lower slopes of Mount Kinabalu.

Mount Kinabalu is the highest mountain in Malaysia.  It is protected as part of the Kinabalu National Park, a World Heritage Centre.  At its peak, (known as Low’s Peak after Hugh Low who made the first recorded ascent), the mountain is 13,435 feet above sea level.  As we set off, our guide, Gilbert, pointed out that the peak was visible from the resort, which he said was very unusual, as it is usually shrouded in cloud.

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Again, we were a small group; just Gilbert the guide, a driver, two other guests and me.  On the way, we stopped at a small village with craft, fruit and vegetable stalls.  I bought two handbags (cannot resist a nice bag, only one for me).  I didn’t barter – I’m not very good at that.  But the stall holder dropped the prices, without asking, from 48RM + 18Rm to 45RM (around £8.50) for both.

We arrived in the national park after about a two-hour journey.  Last night’s downpour had brought down trees (one was in the process of being moved out of the road) and there were torrents and mudslides running off the mountain.  Despite this and remaining clouds, it was very mild and much better for walking than the heat we had been experiencing.

We walked through the jungle at the foot of the mountain.  There were paths but they were rocky, uneven and muddy. Gilbert pointed out some of the many species of orchids which grow there, some so tiny that you could hardly see them.  If only I’d had my notebook to write down some of the names; if only I’d taken more stills with my camera and not tried to film it all on video!  We did, however, see the world’s most expensive orchid which, we were told, was worth $10,000!  It was behind bars as, apparently (an unsurprisingly), many attempts had been made to steal it!

Worn out from the foray into the forest, I fell asleep on the bus back to the resort and missed seeing buffalo in the fields.  I spent the rest of the day relaxing and then, when I went back to my room to change, I found the mother and father of all cockroaches on my bathroom floor.  I sprayed it with everything I could find.  I think the hairspray finally finished it and I squished it with my waste bin.  Ugh!  I couldn’t bear to pick it up and left it there and went off to the cyber cafe and then for dinner.  I spent a jolly evening in the upstairs bar, chatting Jenny whom I had met the previous day by the pool.  Fortifide by three “Golden Kisses”, I returned to my room and found the monster gone!!  “My god”, I thought, “something even bigger has come along and eaten it”!!!!  Then I noticed that my bed had been turned down and realised that the person who did that must have been brave enough to remove it.  In the days before Wi-Fi and WhatsApp, I made one of my rationed calls back home to my daughter. (She was the one who always kept me talking and contributed to a big phone bill on my return home).  She was going off to hear her brother’s band play at the Virgin record store in Leeds.

Later on in the holiday I met some other Saga guests who actually climbed to the summit of Mount Kinabalu.  They climbed almost to the summit on the first day (far higher than I had), camped overnight and summited at dawn in time to see the sunrise.  An great thing to do and another example of choices to be made on (almost) the same holiday.  Good old Saga!