First to Borneo…
After a second month-long stay in Bali we are all too soon saying goodbye to friends again, and flying off, this time, to Sabah, the more easterly state of Malaysian Borneo for 6 days. This was a fairly last minute plan, partly because the flights were ridiculously cheap and partly to see if Borneo lives up to the exotic jungle destination it’s cracked up to be!
Adventures on the Kinabantangan river, Sabah
Having seen orang-utans in Sumatra, now we would see them in Borneo, the only other place in the world where orang-utans survive in the wild. Hopefully we will see other wildlife too! The epilogue in the book we’re reading together ‘Running Wild’, written in 2005, about orang-utans being hunted and losing their jungle to palm plantations, suggests that they could be almost extinct by 2014 given their reducing
numbers. Thankfully recent research shows that number were not quite so low as estimated at that time but nonetheless, they remain critically endangered and their numbers continue to be reduced.
We fly into Kota Kinabalu, Sabah’s capital city. We’d have liked to have visited Brunei too – the tiny Kingdom tucked in between Sabah and Sarawak, the other Malaysian state within Borneo and only a couple of hours drive from Kota Kinabalu, but we’re short on time and short on passport space …
and we also have onward flights booked for a change, in fact we’re feeling positively organised being booked ahead at least 3 weeks and even with some almost clear plans beyond that!
On arrival, we find our rented apartment and head out for supper and shopping at a nearby shopping centre! Lara gets a special late birthday treat, making up for a birthday pressie that broke before it came out of the packet!
Not too excited about getting this Barbie and outfits as a late birthday pressie!
We have one day in Kota Kinabalu! There is the possibility of a river cruise to see proboscis monkeys and hoards of fireflies, but when I read about the dreadful pollution and noisy tour groups from certain countries, I’m put off. I still wonder if this was a mistake, as I’ve since met others who’ve had a great time. Next time I’d probably bite the bullet and go!
Instead, we start at the baby orang-utan sanctuary, located next to and funded by the sumptuous Rasa Ria Shangri-La resort, 40km from the city. We learn about why the orang-utans are so endangered and then head out through the walkways into the jungle to see the youngsters’ feeding time and a fabulous ‘performance’ of high jinx. There are about 6 babies currently located in the sanctuary – we see three or four of them. They stay here for up to six years before being relocated and readied for release if at all possible, often via Sepilok Sanctuary for further rehab with older orang-utans. They are very cute although the crowded viewing platform spoils it a bit compared to our remote, quieter experience in Sumatra.
Baby Orang-utans at Rasa Ria.
Martin tried to sneak up on this little monkey at Rasa Ria to take a picture of his outrageous bum but the monkey spots him and shows his teeth!!
From Rasa Ria, we head off to visit the Mari Mari cultural village for the afternoon and learn about all the different indigenous Borneo tribes and customs. We wander through the different reconstructions of village long-houses and meet different tribes-people in traditional dress. In arts of the country these houses and traditions do still exist but less and less! We make and try rice wine, attempt to make fire, cook, shoot darts with iron-wood blowpipes, get henna tattoos and watch some dancing. We try a kind of trampolining competition with a woven trampoline built within the floor of a long-house, in competitors jettison one another up into the rafters and the highest jumper wins! Meeting another fiercer tribe, Ben gets to be our leader for a traditional rather scary welcome and then we see a dancing show where the kids have a go at traditional bamboo stick dancing – a bit like French skipping but with hard bamboo sticks!
Learning lots at Mari Mari Cultural village.
The next day we get up ridiculously early and take a quick flight over the stunning peak of Mount Kinabalu (much easier way to enjoy it than climbing!) to Sandakan.
Stunning Mount Kinabalu. Easier to enjoy it by air than on foot! Perhaps we’ll return and climb it one day!
Taxis are pricey at the airport so, reminding ourselves that we are proper travellers capable of using public transport, we march into the street and down the side of the dual carriageway to the local bus stop where we board a nice local bus into town for about $2 for all 6 of us. To be honest this is the best way to travel and meet people as well as getting some local knowledge. We take taxis far to often, yielding to the small moany child/heavy bag/hot weather effect – today they do well, apart from lazy Lara, who is good at making a fuss about her bag and often finds someone to carry it for her!!
Big brother helps out Lazy Lara with her bag!
We have got a good last minute deal on a hotel through Agoda, in the main town of Sandakan, rather than a jungle resort at Sepilok and it turns out to be an unexpected treat – the ‘Nak’ is a boutique hotel with a lovely restaurant and coffee shop on the roof where we can relax whilst organising our adventures in Sepilok and beyond.
Amazing sunset, food, and a chance to relax, work and play on the Nak hotel rooftop garden cafe.
We really want to get to Turtle island for an overnight trip where there is a turtle sanctuary and visitors can be involved in the nightly activities, collecting eggs and releasing babies into the sea, but my efforts to book it have been unsuccessful thus far. The lovely girls in reception at the Nak, who help me organise everything, confirm that the accommodation on the island is fully booked out both nights. Really disappointing:(
We head off in the afternoon to the WW2 Sandakan Memorial Park which was once a Japanese POW camp for Allied servicemen. There is a museum full of photos and chilling stories of the atrocities committed against the prisoners and also the local community who had a significant resistance movement …we read stories of local heros and the small handful of survivors who escaped. Most of the POWs were eventually taken on long marches through jungle and mountains to more distant camps as the end of the war neared and he majority died on what became known as the death marches. Another opportunity to learn about WW2 events on this side of the world that is almost too much for Ben to take as he reads more of the info boards and stories than the girls do.
Beautiful and moving Sandakan Memorial Park on the sight of the WW2 POW camp.
Next day we head out to Sepilok Orang-utan sanctuary, much bigger than Rasa Ria but very ‘organised’ for tourists and in pouring rain with perhaps 100+ tourists on a viewing platform, it feels like a bit of a circus. We are grateful for the other opportunities we’ve had to see these amazing creatures in Sumatra and Rasa Ria and we only stay here a few minutes. The orang-utans seem pretty non-plussed by the rain too and they sit around quietly munching on the food left by the rangers, occassionally glancing at the human show, perhaps they think is put on for them each day!. We do get to learn a little more in the Visitors Centre. Sepilok was established in 1964 largely due to pressure from Barbara Harrison, an early pioneer in caring for orphaned orang-utans, funded by the Sabah government, it’s mission is to receive, nurture and eventually return orphaned, injured or displaced orang-utans back to the wild. It attracts 100,000 visitors a year so no wonder it feels touristy! Tragically, these creatures are still hunted and killed or captured and continue to be displaced as jungles are burned and replaced with palm plantations.
We learn a little about them .Urang-utan literally means ‘man’ and ‘forest’
What happens at Sepilok, aside from the tourist stuff!
We head next to the brand new and much quieter Sun Bear conservation park, which literally opened two days ago. We are able to see several of these gorgeous but endangered bears sniffing around and climbing trees. They are just wonderful!
Next we are heading off to into the deeper jungle for a night and morning of amazing river and jungle safaris, sleeping in a small camp on the banks of the Kinabatangan river. We’re hit with torrential rain but the kids do a rain dance and we manage to get out in a boat with a terrific guide who helps us spot proboscis monkeys, fabulous birds, snakes, crocs but sadly not the more elusive, and yes of course, endangered Pygmy elephants!!
Kinabatangan River trip – ok, so we don’t get to see the magnificent proboscis monkeys this close. I took the monkey pic from the local Sabah tourism leaflet. We see them leaping in the trees, however, in the pouring rain. They are amazing, and we could only have seen them close up at the Proboscis monkey ‘sanctuary’ but we choose to boycott this since we read it’s no better than an overpriced enclosure run by a palm plantation owner who effectively displaced the monkeys from the forest that was burned to create his plantation, where they are badly fed and badly cared for!
Ben had to endure his second leach in 6 weeks whilst Dad stops to take some video before helping remove it!
And we see some great wildlife, especially during our night time trip!
Wonderful blue eared kingfisher spotted on the riverbank during our night safari – we get so close and the little bird just sits quietly eyeing us!
Gold ringed cat snake that we get up close and personal with too, on our night river safari. Its amazing what the guides can spot in the branches along the riverbank! After Martin took these close up shots, we read that the cat snake is poisonous and can be unpredictable in temperament if you get too close! After we’ve spotted these little wonders along the banks we see crocs circling us on the way back to base!
It’s our last day In Sandakan, Oma and the kids and I head to the botanical gardens and the Rainforest Discovery Centre with several high walkways through the canopy of the forest. We take a spectacular walk, having it all to ourselves and even though we don’t get to spot much wildlife, its awesome! We do learn a lot in the museum about all the amazing wildlife in Borneo, sad to see so much is under threat and we discover this amazing fruit, labelled Stercullia Megistophylla, I don’t think it even has an English name. They look like a giant red banana but a bit of Googling tells me the pods open to reveal rows of large black juicy looking seeds inside – the translation literally means ‘faeces’ and ‘large leaf’ which doesn’t seem fair for something so splendid but apparently it’s rather pungent!
Amazing fruit in the botanic gardens at Sepilok. Has anyone seen it or heard of an English name for it?
And then to Kuala Lumpur…
And then we board yet another flight to Kuala Lumpur where we enjoy two days in the city, meeting up with our friends the Pearces who by chance booked a trip to KL and Sri Lanka at the same time as us!
A fun weekend in KL!
We were wowed by some of the shopping malls, especially at Petronas and the awesome fountains outside Petronas with amazing musical show each night at 8pm!
Enjoying the KL Aquarium, although as aquariums go, it was disappointing to see some creatures living in cramped, miserable cages.
Old and new KL – the little that remains of the old is more how I remember this city from my last visit in 1992, today its shiny, efficient and modern!
The magnificent Petronas Towers, standing at 452m were tallest in the world from 1998 to 2004.
It’s suddenly our last night with Oma – she will be heading to Thailand whilst we are heading off to Sri Lanka. Zoe and I have a lovely last supper with her at TGI Fridays whilst Martin works and Ben and Lara are busy packing, Minecrafting and sleeping! And then she gets up at an obscenely early hour to wave us goodbye. We’ll next meet back in the UK in August. We all shed a few tears, then we’re whisked away to the airport where the sadness of saying goodbye to Oma is lessened by meeting the Pearces for our flight to Colombo together!!
Bye bye Oma, we’ve travelled together for about 6 weeks and now she’ll be heading off to Thailand, Australia, New Zealand and Fiji!