We were picked up from our hostel at 9am to do the Jumbo tour (jumbo in this case refers to elephants). As the tour was running ahead of schedule, the driver chucked in a visit to the Batu Caves as we left the city. Most of Kuala Lumpur is quite flat, and then occasionally you get a random mountain with sheer sides sticking out of the ground. The Batu Caves are in one of these mountains, you climb 272 steps to get into the cave, which houses a Hindu temple, as well as some pigeons and monkeys. There was some big Hindu festival on, so there were heaps of people dressed in yellow carrying offerings up the steps; some people climbed the stairs on their knees as a penance.
We then began our tour and headed off to a park somewhere to see a waterfall. We wandered up and down the riverside looking for the waterfall until we came to the conclusion that the bumpy water we could see, was the waterfall. It had massive falls of about 20-30cm!! The locals seemed to love it though and were all swimming, BBQing and camping in the area. We were supposed to spend an hour at the waterfall, but after 20 minutes we’d seen it, so the guide took us to the next stop: Deerland.
Deerland was essentially a mini zoo. The main focus was a paddock full of deer and we got to feed them. As you followed the path, there were a number of small cages containing various different types of birds, there were some enclosures with hamsters and guinea-pigs, there was even one enclosure with what looked like a domestic cat (it was actually a Bengal Cat which is a wild, aggressive breed of cat). We also saw two snakes, we got a chance to hold the albino Burmese python, which was quite cool.
After Deerland we went to a roadside ‘cafe’ for some lunch, before the main attraction: Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary.
Mark and I were both a little nervous about whether we would be seeing happy or sad elephants. The Deerland deer were sad because they had small enclosures and didn’t appear to be well looked after; the OrangUtan in Sepilok were happy because they were really well treated and weren’t in any way confined. It turned out that the elephants were sad, mostly. When we got there the elephants were on concrete enclosures, some of them were rocking from side to side like crazy people. We fed them some bananas to try to cheer them up. After a little while there was an elephant show…this was actually quite good and the elephants seemed a bit happier. The staff rode the elephants into the river where they got a bath. Each elephant rolled over lazily in the water while their trainer gave them a good scrub…they really seemed to enjoy it. After bath time, they did wander up onto a podium where we were told a bit about each of them, and were then given the opportunity to feed them some papaya, they really enjoyed that! So while they seemed to be physically treated ok, I do wonder how they are treated in general, and of they are allowed to wander free anywhere. I hope so, because elephants are so lovely!
That concluded our tour and we were driven back to KL, where we wandered around Central Market for a bit, Mark got a Dr. Fish foot massage and I bought some presents for myself.
In the evening Mark headed out to catch up with his friend Sherman, while I continued to browse central market an Chinatown market, as well as stuffing my face full of yummy food, and watching a street performance of Malaysian dancing.
Day 22 – Kuala Lumpur
We had another early start, to get tickets for the Petronas Towers we needed to be at the ticket office around 8:30am. Tours up the towers leave about every 15 minutes, starting at 9am. By the time we got our tickets the next available tour was at 12:15!! So we bought our tickets before exploring the mall and aquarium.
The aquarium was reasonably small, but nonetheless cool. The underwater tunnel was great, I always love watching fishes and turtles swim!!
The mall was pretty amazing. Absolutely enormous and there were six floors. Each floor had 4 wings. Among the fancy stores were Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada, Chanel etc. The stores which caught my attention were places like Zara and Mango – and of course I took the chance to shop it up!!
At 12 we headed to the towers were the elevator zipped us up to the 41st floor to have a look at the SkyBridge. The SkyBridge is about halfway up the towers and connects the two. The interesting aspect was that it is suspended between the two buildings, but is not actually fixed, allowing it to sway in very high winds without causing any damage. You can actually feel outside air flowing in at the joins!
Soon enough it was time to continue upwards to the 86th floor… 370 metres above ground level (the towers themselves are 452.9metres high). The view was pretty good!! It was pretty interesting to see the overview of KL, residential areas were all very ‘flat’, small buildings, where the non-residential areas were full of huge tall buildings!
After our tower visit, we returned to the mall for lunch in one of the food courts, and more shopping. Before we knew it, it was 5pm!! A little tired and carrying a stack of bags, we headed back to the hostel with the plan of following the lonely planet suggested walking tour of Chinatown. As we got off the monorail, we decided just to chill at the hostel for a bit as it was bucketing with rain!
So after some emails and Facebook, when the sky had stopped leaking we popped out for a bit. We had dinner, enjoyed some foot massages and watched a martial arts demonstration (it was kids from a local school, but was still quite fun to watch)
Day 23: Kuala Lumpur
While we intended to have a bit of a sleep in on our last day, we both woke up around 6am and couldn’t get back to sleep, so we got up, had some brekky, packed our bags, then stored them in the luggage room for the day before heading out for some more sightseeing.
We started off by following the lonely planets suggested walking tour of Chinatown, it was a bit challenging when half the streets don’t have street signs, but either way we had a nice wander.
With the day really starting to heat up, we jumped on a monorail and headed in the direction of the current ‘trendy’mall: Pavilion. We checked out some of my favourites: H&M, Zara, Mango, Guess, Pull & Bear as well as a few other stores…including Jimmy Choo!!! I’m pretty sure I couldn’t even come close to affording those shoes, even when they were 50% off!!
The malls here really are phenomenal, and I’m glad that there are maps available, because you really do need them!!
We found a food hall to eat some yummy noodles and satays as all this shopping makes you hungry.
We checked out another neighbouring mall, as well as a purely IT mall. I was a bit disappointed as I couldn’t find any random gadgets. Had I wanted a mobile phone, tablet or laptop though, I would have been in heaven! 6 floors to choose from!!
Another thing worth commenting on, is that since it is so close to Chinese New Year, all the streets as well as shops and restaurants are decorated with flowers and lanterns and everything Chinese it’s quite cool, but perhaps a little full on. The entrance to Pavilion Mall was no exception and the entrance was lined with the animals from the Chinese years. As far as I understand, I am year of the dog.
Late afternoon we were both pretty knackered, so we headed to the hostel to spend the last few hours before our flight home, catching up on emails and facebook. We have an overnight flight and will be back home on Tuesday afternoon.
It’s been a fantastic holiday, we have seen and done so much, and even crammed in some girly shopping. As fun as it’s been, I am looking forward to heading home and catching up with my family and my puppy dog. I am also looking forward to breathing smog free air!!
After a bit of a sleep in, we wandered into the city to follow the walking tour suggested in the Lonely Planet. Mostly it was just to wander through all the main streets of the city, some of the sights mentioned in the book no longer existed and other were interesting to see. Kuching means ‘Cat’ in Malay, so part of our morning entertainment was taking photos of all the random cat statues around the city.
Kuching is a fairly small city, and while it was nice to wander, there isn’t a great deal to see. We did make a few food stops on our wanderings, we enjoyed some pork buns, roti canai, mangosteen, and some random fruit juice.
At 4pm we were collected from our hostel for a wildlife cruise down the Santubong River. We were hoping to see Irrawaddy Dolphins, Crocodiles, Proboscis Monkeys and Fireflies. I wasn’t too fussed that we didn’t see any crocodiles, but was a bit disappointed that we didn’t spot any Irrawaddy Dolphins.
On a more positive note we did see some wild proboscis monkeys swinging through the trees. Also because of the lack of wildlife the tour people took us to a water village (stilt houses) to look around and meet the people. They were all such lovely, welcoming people and the kids were just adorable, following us through the village. I find it quite surprising to see the conditions in which some people still live. This village’s only fresh water is what they collect from the rain into their tanks and they wash themselves outdoors with little buckets of water; their power is from local generators; yet they have WiFi. It is good to see some aspects of their traditional lifestyle maintained, but disappointing how many aspects have been changed by western society. I did appreciate being allowed into their village and as I mentioned the people were all so welcoming.
By the time we had wandered from one end of the village to the other, it was time to hop back on the boat. As we headed back we looked for Crocodiles, but saw none. The tour ended with us seeing lots of fireflies in the mangroves, flicking their lights on and off. Fireflies are cool!!
When we got back to Kuching we headed out for a late dinner, all day I had tried unsuccessfully to find a place to cook me up some Wan Tan Mee (it’s a noodle dish with dumplings and fried pork – super tasty), we headed to the food stall across the street and asked the lady of she made Wan Tan Mee…when she said “Yes” I whooped with joy! And she laughed! Even though we didn’t see dolphins, the wildlife cruise was lovely, and my day ended perfectly with a big bowl of Wan Tan Mee….happy Duckie!
More random info: I mentioned last time that Malaysia is broken up into states. Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo. I learned today that Peninsular Malaysia is not one chunk, but 11 states. I know nothing about these states though.
Day 20 – Kuching
We had hoped to participate in a cooking class, but we could only find two classes. One was not running because the entire company was going to Thailand for a holiday; the other needed a minimum of 4 people in order to run a class. So rather than learning to cook Malaysia food, we slept in.
Just after showering and getting ready to start the day, the rain started. I don’t just mean a bit of rain, I mean the kind of rain that floods the streets in minutes and it so heavy and loud that you struggle to have a conversation. So we spent the time sitting around the hostel reading our books and checking our emails.
Around midday the rain eased off and we ventured out for a brief wander to get some coffee, buy some bits and bobs and have lunch before walking very quickly through the drizzle back to the hostel to catch our taxi to the airport.
Due to roadworks, traffic was ridiculously slow and we started to wonder if we would make it on time…a 30min trip tool over an hour! Thankfully we arrived with time to spare, that calmed my nerves a little.
The flight was pretty standard, we arrived in Kuala Lumpur and were in the city in no time.
Our evening was pretty simple, check in, go get dinner and wander the markets of Chinatown checking out all the Prada handbags and Rolex watches!
Day 15 – Gunung Mulu National Park
After a bit of a sleep in we wandered into Kota Kinabalu town centre to check out the Sunday market…it was overcrowded, there was nothing original and it was pretty awful seeing all the puppies and kittens crammed into cages (also scary how many people were taking photos of all the cute animals). So after walking through the market we wandered off to the mall, where Mark got a funky new pair of shorts. By then I was rather peckish so we stopped in at a cafe for some lunch and drinks.
Before we knew it, it was time to get back to the hostel to catch a taxi to the airport.
Waiting in the departure lounge we were surprised at the lack of people on the area. Boarding the plane we soon discovered we were the only two passengers! The air hostesses were pretty cool: “Are you familiar with aircraft safety procedures?” We said yes, “so is it ok if I don’t go through them with you?” And again a yes from us! They also have us a few extra packets of peanuts. Yum.
Descending into the Gunung Mulu National Park was pretty beautiful, dense, lush green vegetation with mountains sticking up at random.
We got off the plane, went through ‘immigration’ and caught a shuttle bus to the national park headquarters to register in the park and check in to our accommodation – pretty awesome to have to walk across a suspension bridge to access the place!
We have a lovely little bungalow that is surrounded by jungle and accessed via timber walkways – at night the animal sounds are almost deafening, but nonetheless cool.
Upon check-in we had to organise all the tours and activities straight away, and we designed a pretty fun few days.
As the sun began to sink in the sky, we managed to cram in two non-guided activities.
Firstly we headed up the Tree Top Tower to see of there was any wildlife to watch – we could see movement in the trees from a flock of birds, but not a great deal else.
Secondly we continued further down the track to see the ‘Bat Exodus’. Along the trail we saw some awesome miniature squirrels. They were probably about 15cm long from head to tail. They are such funny little creatures, dashing from spot to spot with their tails in the air as if they are being chased, then stopping suddenly and chilling out for a bit. We also saw a number of little lizards, butterflies, and Mark’s favourite, a stick insect. We had seen this particular stick insect at the butterfly farm in Penang – they look like a 20-25cm long twig, apart from the two little arms, it’s nearly impossible to say that it isn’t a twig!
At the end of the trail was the by observation area. Between 4 – 6pm the bats exit the caves in search of food. We were quite some distance from the exit point, but you could see swarms of bats buzzing around the cave exit, then suddenly a stream of hundreds would leave the cave in one go and form a river-like stream across the sky. A few seconds later another stream of hundreds more bats would cross the sky. Sometimes the swarms would fly in circles and it looked like there was a black donut in the sky. Pretty amazing/interesting to see.
Around 6pm the bats appeared to all have made their exit, so we walked back to the national park headquarters for some dinner, and then a chilled out evening in our bungalow, reading books.
Day 16 – Gunung Mulu National Park
We started the day with a guided canopy walk. Our guide Francesca taught us a little bit about the area, as well as showing us more of the wildlife.
Along the walk we saw a vibrant green viper, a bright orange kingsfisher, various different insects and birds and my favourite, more Pygmy Squirrels (so the squirrels we had seen earlier weren’t baby squirrels, they were duly grown Pygmy squirrels…so cute!) I tried valiantly to get a photo of a squirrel but I am yet to find out if I was successful, those little guys dart about so quickly!
The canopy walk was suspension bridges about 20-30metres above the jungle floor. It was lovely an peaceful up amongst the trees, unfortunately though we didn’t really see any new or different animals.
One thing I learned during the walk that I found interesting was that the area is named Mulu by mistake. When people came to discover the area they recorded the name of the area as M. Ulu. Ulu means “up river” and mountains was marked on the map as M. so it was “mountains up river”. By the time the notes and maps made it back to the map makers in England, the text was not as legible as when it was written and the area was named on the map as “Mulu”.
After our morning tour we had some time to fluff around, so we checked out emails, read our books and had some lunch.
At 2pm we set off on our afternoon tour to Lang Cave and Deer Cave with our guide Esther and 4 other tourists (including a loud, annoying American). We walked the 45minutes to the cave entrance and had a 20minute breather before heading in.
We started with Langs Cave, which is actually a portion of Deer Cave. We walked a loop of Langs Cave before going out and entering Deer Cave. Deer Cave was so called because many deer used to come and drink the water that passed through the cave as it was nice and salty from all the bat guano and bird droppings. Deer cave is the largest cave passage in the world.It was quite wide an had very high ceilings, large portions of the ceiling in specific areas are solid black with millions upon millions of bats. Both Langs and Deer caves had the usual suspects: stalactites and stalagmites, but I didn’t think any of the formations I saw were particularly amazing.
Apart from the astounding size of the caverns, the highlights of Deer Cave were the entry point where the wide mouth of the cave opened out to the lush green rainforest (which of course was experiencing a downpour) and towards the back of the cave there was an area called “Garden of Eden”, as well as an Adam shower and an Eve shower. The Adam and Eve showers were like enormous stalactites that were hollow, allowing all the rain from outside to flow through as a shower – they looked pretty awesome, but I don’t think the photos show the water pouring through them. The Garden of Eden was a beautiful lush green, untouched section of the rainforest that could be seen through an opening in the cave.
It was pretty awesome to see the two caves and it will be interesting to see how the other caves in the area differ.
Leaving the cave was pretty unexciting as it meant a walk back to the bungalow in torrential rain. We walked as fast as our little legs could carry us, but still returned soaked through all layers..we wrung out our shoes, socks, shorts etc and headed indoors to get dry.
Day 17 – Gunung Mulu National Park
After nearly 11hours of sleep we got up and organised ourselves for our tour-free morning. We checked all our gear from the previous day…it was all still wet. With the humidity here it takes days for things to dry, which is a little frustrating when you need things like shoes.
So we decided to do the walk out to Paku Waterfall, we registered departure time and expected return time with the main office and got ourselves sorted. We decided to wear sandals so that our shoes would have a bit more time to dry before the afternoon caving a tour, and I put on my wet shorts…thankfully they weren’t soaking, just a bit damp. Within half an hour of walking they were already dry. (Quote of the day: “what is rainforest? Damp underpants”)
After walking for around 1.5km on the boardwalk, we split off into the waterfall track which was 1.3km. The track was narrow and at times quite muddy, the worst part is the walk was that every few seconds you would walk through yet another spiderweb. Our faces, arms and legs were covered with fine cobwebs and it felt awful!!!
After walking for about 30mins we got to the waterfall and it was…. unimpressive. We took a few photos and then headed back to base camp for some lunch before the afternoon tour.
On the afternoon tour we had a group of 8 people including the guide: two guys from Sweden, a Brit, a Yank and a chik from Bulgaria. We caught a longboat upriver to the cave entrance where we put on our helmets and switched on our lights. Like Deer and Langs caves, Racer Cave was a series of enormous caverns. It had some narrow parts where we had to squeeze through, but it wasn’t a teeny, squashy rabbit warren like I have experienced in other caves. There were a few rope climbs to be done, a few rock climbs too, but it was mostly walking inside the cave. The cave hosted bats, birds, spiders, crickets and millions of other bugs. I’m not sure how far into the cave we ventured, perhaps a kilometre…it probably took us around 2hrs going into the cave and roughly an hour to return. It was heaps of fun!!
We finished our day with a tour called “The Night Shift”, which as you can imagine was a night tour. We hoped to see lots of cool nocturnal creatures, but unfortunately they can all hear us coming from a mile away and opt not to stick around for a visit. So what we did see was a huge variety of spiders, stick insects and snails. We also saw a number if different types of geckos – those little guys are so cute!!
By the end of the tour we were pretty knackered from such a full day…so it was time to head back to the bungalow and catch a few zzz’s.
Day 18 – Gunung Mulu National Park / Kuching
Our start to the day involved packing our bags and storing them on the luggage room before doing our last cave tour.
Our tour was a bit bigger this time and two longboats took us upriver, first to visit a local village to check out their way of life and possibly buy some handicrafts. As most of the handicrafts are made from plant materials and wouldn’t be allowed to be brought back into Australia, we didn’t look too closely at what they had to offer.
The next stop was a bit further upriver, Cave of the Winds. It had more stalagmites and stalactites than the previous caves and many of the walls were textured with a white substance they call “moon milk”. At the end of the cave was a a chamber called “Kings Chamber” and using your imagination you could various things in the formations, such as a king, the titanic, a dragon and a hand dangling from the ceiling. After a good look around we headed yet further up the river to Clearwater Cave. We had to climb 200 steps to get to the entrance of the cave, and once we did, we realised it was actually two caves. The entrance on the right was Ladies Cave, which we visited first, on the left was Clearwater Cave.
Ladies Cave was so called because the shadow of one of the stalagmites looks like the Virgin Mary. The cave was really lovely, many beautiful shapes. In the centre was a section where the ceiling had collapsed and you could look outside to the lush green rainforest above (and hopefully not get drips of water in your eyes as you look up!)
Clearwater Cave was fairly similar to both Wind Cave and Ladies Cave, just a greater variety of different shapes and formations, as well as a crystal clear river running through it.
After visiting the caves, we descended the 200 steps and changed into our togs for a swim in the river. It looks like a nice swimming hole, rather than a river, but at one end there is actually quite a strong flow of water as it exits the cave river to meet with the normal river. You weren’t able to determine that this flow existed until you were actually swimming, as it was under water, and felt the strong current. As you can imagine, the water from a cave river was rather fresh! While I found it quite refreshing, I didn’t stay in for very long.
After our swim we headed back to National Park headquarters for some lunch, before our flight to Kuching (southern Borneo).
The flight to Kuching had HEAPS more people on it than the flight to Mulu. There were a grand total of 14 passengers! The flight was 1.5hours and went pretty quickly.
When we got to Kuching we checked into our hostel and found places around the room to hang out all our wet gear from the rainy rainforest. Then we put our shoes back on (you have to take your shoes off indoors everywhere you go) and headed out to explore.
Kuching is fairly small it seems…we wandered down one of the main streets, along the waterfront to the end point and back again. Stopping for some dinner on the way – I had a very tasty Sarawak Laksa.
Random info: Malaysia appears to broken into states, the top part of Borneo is Sabah, the lower part, where we are now, is Sarawak and the other chunk is peninsular Malaysia (not sure if it has another name). Interestingly you need to go through immigration when travelling between the states.
We had a crazy early 4:30am alarm set in order to catch our 7am flight to Sandakan. The flight was a quick 45minutes and provided a GREAT view of Mt Kinabalu. Looking at the track up the side of the mountain, I was pretty horrified to realise exactly what I had walked up, and am astounded I even made it!
Arriving in Sandakan we took a taxi to the hostel where we attempted to check in, but as our room wasn’t ready, we just put our bags into storage before catching a taxi out to The Sepilok Orang-Utan Rehabilitation Centre.
We quickly bought tickets and headed in for feeding time, headed in the same direction next to the track was an Orang-Utan, as I attempted to film it, my camera battery went flat! I was pretty annoyed with myself that I hadn’t checked the battery and the spare I had was locked away in a locker! So I was relying on Mark to take some pictures while I enjoyed the monkeys.
A person came out to the feeding platform and dumped a basket of fruit out for the Orang-Utans. A handful of Orang-Utan slowly but surely swung and climbed along the ropes onto the platform and started munging on all the tasty fruit. Some sat on the platform picking and choosing what to eat, where others swung in, grabbed some fruit and swung out. One of the smaller ones grabbed his fruit and then dangled from the rope to eat it. Two bigger Orang-Utans grabbed their fruit and then climbed up to a slightly higher platform to sit down and cuddle/play.
It was surprising to see just how flexible these guys are…often dangling from a rope with their hands and feet on the rope and their butt towards the ground in a little V shape. Also it was interesting to see their body shapes and their muscles…you can really see how their DNA is 96.4% the same as ours. They are like hyper-mobile furry little people!
As the Orang-Utans finished up with the fruit, their place was quickly taken with sneaky little Macaque’s. These are the guys you see everywhere, who like to steal people food and bags. One of the Macaque’s turned up before the Orang-Utans was done, and it was very entertaining to see him sneak around one side of the tree to steal some food and get swiped at by the Orang-Utan, so he would sneak around the other side of the tree and get swiped at again. He kept going back and forth, but did manage to steal some fruit…very entertaining to watch.
Soon enough, feeding time was over and we wandered back to the reception centre to have some lunch of our own and wait for the next feeding time.
We had some tasty lunch, went for a wander and adopted an Orang-Utan. There is a UK company that works together with the SORC in rehabilitating the Orang-Utans. Usually it’s baby Orang-Utans whose mothers have been poached and the babies have been found in poor health, so they are brought back to the centre where they are cared for and taught by other Orang-Utans (with human assistance) how to live in the wild, and over a number of years are slowly released back into the wild. The adopt-an-Orang-Utan money goes towards things like Vets, Vaccinations etc. So I adopted a baby Orang-Utan called Chikita, ad every 6 months will receive photos and an update on how she is doing, as well as updates on how things are going at the centre in general.
After lunch time there was the afternoon feeding..this time I had a fully-charged camera battery. The afternoon feeding was much quieter than the morning, both in the tourist population and the Orang-Utan population. It was not as good for taking photos, but it was much more relaxed and pleasant. Being ‘amongst’ the Orang-Utans for a day really was fantastic, they are such beautiful animals!!
Day 11 – Sandakan
We booked a day trip for a wildlife cruise down the Kinabatangan River – something we had heard a great deal about from other tourists. We were collected from our hostel at around 11:30am and had a 2.5hour bus trip to get to the river, this also meant a 2.5hour bus trip back to the hostel in the evening. Word of advice – if you plan to go to the Kinabatangan, it would be better to do one of the overnight packages, rather than a day trip. Once at the river there was an hour to spend waiting for the cruise to start, so we found a nice peaceful spot to sit by the river and appreciate the serenity of the jungle/river environment.
The Cruise!!! About 10 of us were loaded into a long speed boat and we headed up the river with the aim of spotting wildlife. We looked and looked but didn’t see anything, then every now and then our boat driver would pull across to the riverbank to spot things he had seen..like a Pied Hornbill, a Monitor Lizard, a Macaque monkey, a Rhinocerous Hornbill. No idea how he could spot these things in transit, but we were grateful that he could! As the sun lowered in the sky, things became more interesting. There were three main highlights…
3. The Proboscis monkeys started to arise from their naps and head into the tops of the trees
2. We saw a wild Orang-Utan swinging through the trees. We were VERY lucky to see this, as they are such shy creatures, it is very rare to see them on these cruises.
1. A herd of Pygmy elephants came down to the riverside to much on some plants and play around. Again we were incredibly lucky to witness this, and unlike the Orang-Utan who swung off quite quickly because of our presence, the phlumps didn’t mind us at all. So for a solid chunk of time we just got to sit and watch and take photos at a distance of 5-10metres away. It was absolutely FANTASTIC!!!!!
Unfortunately though we had to leave at some point, so the boat driver started the engine and took us back to the starting point for a buffet dinner, and then our driver collected us, to bring us back to Sandakan.
So 5 hours worth of driving for a 2 hour wildlife cruise (all up we left at 11:30am and arrived back at the hostel at 10:30pm)…it was worth it for us and we saw some amazing things, but as I mentioned, it would be better as an overnight package.
Day 12 – Sandakan
Another early-ish start for a day trip out to Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary. I am in two-minds about the sanctuary, it is much more commercial and less natural than the Orang-Utan sanctuary, but at the same time, the monkeys still come to feeding time of their own free will and are not restricted to the sanctuary in any way.
One of the weirdest aspects, was that you had to drive through a palm oil plantation to get to the sanctuary. What happened was hat there were two brothers that own 1000acres of land and they were developing it into a plantation, when they came across the monkeys, they decided the reserve a portion of the land as a sanctuary for them, rather than destroy their habitat and kill them…good choice!
So as with the Orang-Utans, we attended two feeding times, but here there were two separate platforms, they were about 5km apart. The first platform wasn’t very nice as there was about a 5metre section of dry dirt and dead trees were they came to feed, where the second platform was very much on the edge of the jungle, so they could sit in the trees as they ate.
The proboscis monkeys are a bit funny looking, the male has a big, bulbous nose and basically a permanent erection, and the female also has a long-ish nose, but it’s upturned. The babies are SUPER CUTE!!!
At this sanctuary we got within 30cm of the alpha male who was just chilling out on the deck of the viewing platform, which was kind of crazy. He wasn’t at all fussed by our presence, and just let people get up close for photos while he watched us carefully.
So having had two full days of monkeys and some amazing wildlife sightings we felt happy that we had seen some amazing things and it was time to leave Sandakan for another new experience.
Travellers Tip – If you are headed to the Sandakan region to see the monkeys and the river, stay in Sepilok as it is more central to all the activities (it would have saved us 45 minutes of transit time each direction every day)
We got up early and our driver from previous day, Durai, picked us up to take us to airport, he gave us a copy of the daily newspaper (English version of course) and took us out to catch our flight.
Flight was at 10:05am, when we checked in we were surprised to see boarding time as 09:05…so we headed straight to the gate AND there was no plane…so we sat in the boarding lounge till about 09:55, boarded quickly and off we went (we think perhaps the early “boarding” time was to ensure dawdlers make it to the gate in time)
The flight was 2h 45m so I read a bit, ate some jelly beans and had a nap.
On arrival in Kota Kinabalu we checked into hostel before grabbing some lunch and doing a quick explore. Apart from shops and the night markets, there didn’t seem to be many suggested sights. So we went to check out The Atkinson Clock Tower, which was quite nice but not exactly amazing. Then we headed up to the Signal Hill Observatory – this was basically a viewing platform to give a view over the city. It was quite nice too, but as it’s not all that high, you see a lot of buildings but can’t see past them to the coastline.
The way up to signal hill we walked up the road as we hadn’t seen a track marked on the map, but heading back down we spotted a track and quite happily started wandering through mini jungle. Suddenly there were all these monkey squawks and monkeys all over the track…there was a really big one on the railing and it started advancing towards us. I of course was scared stupid and could be found cowering behind Mark, clinging to his backpack…we quickly retreated and walked back along the road.
After our monkey fright we headed to the city where we wandered around, checked out some shops, had a drink, then grabbed some dinner from the night market and ran back to the hostel through the rain to pack for our hike.
I am of course crazy nervous about attempting a 2 day hike up a mountain on a tropical island that is leech ridden, not to mention the variation in temperature, it is 30 degrees in KK and will be 0 at the peak of the mountain….can someone remind me why I agreed to this?
Day 6 – Mt Kinabalu
At 6am the alarm buzzed and we quickly showered, dressed and had brekky; it had been pouring with rain all night and didn’t look like stopping, so we were pretty nervous about the hike. Despite the rain our driver turned up on time and we headed off to Mt Kinabalu, collecting a few people along the way.
The drive took around 1.5hours, on arrival to Kinabalu Park we had to sign in and get hiking permits, and meet our guide Iging. Our driver then took us a little further up the hill to the starting point, Timpohon Gate (1,866 metres). We hoisted our backpacks and off we went – the walk started with a gorgeous little waterfall – kodak moment! Before we knew it we were already at the 0.5kms mark and I thought we were making great time. The rain had mostly subsided and was a light drizzle, which cleared up after a couple of kms. The further we walked the steeper the track got, and the greater distance it seemed to be between 0.5km distance markers. At 2km we stopped briefly at a little hut to eat a muesli bar…which a squirrel promptly started to eye off and was tried (unsuccessfully)to figure out a way to steal it from me! At 4km we stopped a little longer to eat the packed lunch our tour company had provided. From 4km-6km the track got steeper and the rain came back, luckily it was not quite the torrential downpour that it could have been, but it certainly was a bit heavier than drizzle and required us to wear our raincoats.
Feeling soggy and bedraggled, after walking 6km in 5 hours we finally arrived at Pendant Hut (3,280 metres). Here we took off our damp clothing and put on some dry, warm clothes and attended our safety briefing for the Low’s Peak Circuit, Via Ferrata we would be doing the next day. They basically explained where the path the via Ferrata would take, where the meeting point would be and what time we had to be there, how the equipment worked etc.
After the briefing we headed down to a neighbouring hut, Laban Rata, for our buffet dinner (only people who were booked in to complete a Via Ferrata were staying in Pendant Hut). We ate as much as we could pack into our bellies, had great chats to fellow travellers and watched a beautiful sunset out the window.
Heading back to our own hut we put on head torches and trundled up the little track, by 7:15pm everyone was in bed and it was time for lights out. We were all pretty tired, and nervous about the 2am wake-up call.
Day 7 – Mt Kinabalu
Though we were woken up at 1:50am, I don’t think anyone actually really slept much. We all got up, dressed (only cold showers there, and when it’s only 5 degrees outside, no one is keen to get close to the showers!), we ate our toast with jam for brekky and then we were on our way up to the summit with our guide. The 2.75km walk up sheer rock faces at night with a headlamp was actually the least strenuous part of the whole hike for me and strangely enough I was quite chipper all morning!
Well, chipper until we got to the summit (4,095 metres) and had to sit in the freeing cold for around 40 minutes waiting for the sun to rise.
So the highest point of Mt Kinabalu is called Low’s Peak it is 4,095metres above sea level and 8.75km from our starting point. The summit is all granite, without any signs of greenery (I’d say without signs of life, but there were rats trying to get into our backpacks to steal food while we were all huddled around waiting for the sunrise), the rock faces are quite sheer in places, and jutting out in various different directions, creating all sorts of weird and wonderful shapes.
Finally the sun started to rise and we saw some lovely, vibrant yellows, oranges and reds. It was interesting to see what the summit actually looked like (obviously a head torch doesn’t give you a great overview), and it was beautiful to see the sun’s rays highlighting the cloud bank below.
All too soon (well, not really too soon, because it was so cold I was shaking all over – even in thermals, a down jacket, a rain coat, beanie and gloves) it was time to head down to our meeting point (7.5km marker) for the Via Ferrata.
There were six of us doing the Low’s Peak and we were split into two groups of three. Mark and I were teamed up with a Canadian lady called Hana, and our guide for this part was a guy called James. We geared up with harnesses and helmets and were then all attached to each other with rope.
If I didn’t already explain, Via Ferrata is Italian for ‘Iron Road’ – this meant that there was a steel cable running down and across the mountain face which we connected to with caribiners and rope. While attached to the cable, we sometimes climbed steel ladders, hopped along footpegs, crossed suspension bridges and balanced on tightropes.
Hana found the whole experience rather terrifying, so we didn’t move particularly quickly through the circuit…but man was it fun!!!! I hung from my harness without holding the cable, dangling precariously over cliff edges and LOVED IT!!!!! To top it off the whole day to that point had been perfect weather, dry and sunny with good visisbility.
The Via Ferrata took us 5 hours and by the time we got to Pendant hut to have second breakfast before starting the walk down to the base, we were KNACKERED!!!!!!! We ate a few bits of toast and begrudgingly put our hiking shoes back on to start the 6km descent back to Timpohon Gate.
Just as we we’re leaving Pendant Hut, the rain started, and not just a drizzle this time. So we walked as fast as we possibly could, the longer we walked the more water covered the track – the track was at least 10cm under water in places. I think my trousers were soaked right through by the time we had walked 2kms and my shoes and socks were squelchy after 4km. By 4km I was in so much pain I thought my legs were going to collapse out from under me, scared that if I stopped I would not be able to continue, I keep trudging along with less and less muscle control each step I took. Finally after 3hours of walking down in the wet and cold, soaked through all layers of clothing, we finally made it, 14 hours of walking with minimal breaks and minimal food and I was completely shattered!
Our driver was at the bottom of the mountain ready to take us back to our hostel, and had thankfully collected our certificate of achievement for us. The drive seemed to take forever and I spent a great deal of it shivering as all my clothes were wet and I didn’t have dry ones to put on. Once we reached the hostel we struggled to walk in and up the stairs, but did manage. the first thing we did was have long hot showers and put on dry clothes…it was an AMAZING relief! Since I was such a wreck Mark was nice enough to go get some take-away dinner, which I scoffed down and went straight to bed – I think I was snoring within seconds of my head hitting the pillow (and I do believe Mark will testify to that!)
Day 8 – Kota Kinabalu
After a good solid 11hour sleep, we very painfully got our stiff and sore bodies out of bed, we had some brekky and made a big pile of all our stinky clothes to take to the nearest laundromat. After our laundry drop-off we slowly and cautiously wandered out to Jesselton Jetty where we caught a ferry out to Manukan Island for some snorkelling ad lazing on the beach in the sun. The ferry trip was only a quick 15 minutes and the Island was quite pretty and appeared to have some pretty fishes . We got ourselves some snorkelling gear and beach mats, and found a shady spot to set up camp in the shade of some trees.
Masks and snorkels in, we jumped into the water, even though I whinged about it being cold, the temperature actually wasn’t too bad. There was some coral and some pretty fishes – though everything appeared to only be in shades of grey (at this point I realised just how spoiled we are in Tassie with our clean water, white beaches and brightly coloured sea life). After being in the water for only a few minutes, I felt a sting, then another and another…in a flash I was outta there!!! I had a number of little red welts on my body from jellyfish stings, so I went and had a rinse off under a shower and decided to spend my time sunbaking/napping instead of snorkelling. We lazed on the beach for a few hours,had some fresh fruit, went for a little wander, and then it was time to head back to KK, where we caught up on some emails in the hostel before heading out for dinner and to check out the night markets. It turned out that night markets aren’t really open on a Sunday, so it became an early night.
Day 9 – Kota Kinabalu
Still feeling very stiff and sore we dragged our tired, sore bodies out of bed for a 9:20am pick-up to go on a tour we had booked to the Mari Mari cultural village 25km out of town. The village was one they had created to demonstrate how the tribes of Sabah used to live. We learned a bit about three headhunter tribes and two non-headhunter tribes. We were shown how to make rice wine, vests out of bark, rope out of bark, how to start fire, use/shoot blow darts and other similar things, as well as being given henna tattoos. We were also shown some traditional dancing and given the opportunity to join in with the bamboo dancing (you dance between sticks of bamboo that are being slammed together – kind of scary!) I really enjoyed the cultural village and it was a relaxing and informative way to spend half a day. When we got back to KK we organised flights and accommodation for the remainder of our holiday, we got our bags packed and headed back to the night markets to get some food and check out the handicrafts.
I finished off the evening by blogging – next blog will be from a new location!
On December 29th, I got up at 3:50am and headed to the airport for Mark and I to catch our first flight of the day. We had a few hours stopover in Melbourne, then a short stopover in Kuala Lumpur before finally arriving in George Town, Penang, Malaysia. By the time we got to bed we had been up for 18 hours and we were knackered!!!
Day 1 – Penang
After a slow start (tired & with a headache) we set of to stroll the streets…
In our wanderings we checked put the mosque, Khoo Kongsi (an old clan house), Little China, Little India, the Clan Jetties, (many clans each had their own jetty, each jetty had a series of stilt houses along either side, and it was very interesting that you could see difference between the house styles of each of the different clans), the end point of the day was a stroll along the esplanade, where we stopped for some dinner as the sun went down. The highlight of the day was following the murals of Ernest Zacharevic…spread out around city are his murals, many of which depict a scene but include an actual item. Eg. Kids riding a bike – kids are painted on the wall an the bike is attached to the wall. Very cool…we managed to see 7 out of 10 of his murals.
Day 2 – Penang
Sleeping in a dorm room with no windows, it becomes difficult to have any concept of time, after 12 hrs sleep we suddenly realised it was 10am and we quickly got up.
The aim of the day was to see the Botanical gardens, walk to Penang hill, then walk to Kek Lok Si temple…however, that plan didn’t quite happen.
After shower and brekky, we headed out the hostel, only to turn straight back and collect our raincoats. in a light drizzle we wandered down the the bus station to get a bus to the botanical gardens. We waited about 45 minutes for the bus to turn up, the bus ride also took about 45mins, so around lunchtime we got the Gardens. The atmosphere there was lovely…tropical plants, lush and green with a bit of a fog. There were some monkeys to be seen…but some annoying teenagers were feeding them junk food, so they were getting a bit agro (with agro monkeys on the loose, we didn’t hang around too long to get pics). That was about where the gardens stopped being lovely…we headed to the upper end to see the waterfall..no waterfall to be found, tried the cactus house, it was locked up, orchid house, bromelliad house etc all locked up!
So we went to grab some lunch, but there were no food stalls…we did find some fruit & ice cream though, so that became our lunch. Then we were aiming to travel to the next destination. It was too wet to attempt the walk to Penang Hill, so we started looking for transport, we hadn’t seen any buses, so aimed for a taxi & for about 20mins we couldn’t find a taxi either.
Eventually we were successful, and caught a taxi (we’re pretty sure he actually wasn’t a registered taxi driver, but just someone driving for money) to Kek Lok Si temple.
The path up to the temple was full of hawkers. Near the top it splits into two parts Kek Lok Si & the big Kuan Yin statue.
We decided to start with the statue, it looked quite cool, but couldn’t actually get close to it. Opted to get ‘inclined stairs’ up to statue & thought there’d be a walk down, but there wasn’t & we had to walk long way down road. By this stage they were closing up, but being so far out of city we were determined to also see Kek Lok Si Pagoda, so we ran back up the stairs & were he last ones in before they closed the doors.
The pagoda was beautiful & had lovely little surrounding gardens with a water & turtle theme. Feeling as though we were about to be locked into the temple complex, we ran to very top of pagoda, quickly took pictures & ran back down. The nice people let us out, but the main passage out of the complex was locked…so we had to revert to using the road…a long, windy, roundabout way back to town. From there we managed to cram into a bus like sardines in a tin & we were stuck in traffic jams the whole way back to the city (apparently George Town is a very popular destination for New Years!)
Back in George Town we headed to the Esplanade, where we had dinner and watched New Years entertainment down on the esplanade. The funniest part was when the New years countdown timer broke and stopped counting at 6!!!
Day 3 – Penang
We got up and were yet again faced with some drizzle, but not letting this dampen our spirits (as well as our clothes) we wandered to the bus terminal and caught a bus to Penang Hill. From the base of Penang Hill we caught a funicular train thing up the super steep hillside. From the top it was still a little drizzly and hazy, but it didn’t take long to clear and and there were beautiful views of Penang to be enjoyed!
At the top we wandered around & checked out some gardens, monkeys, temples, had good lunch. At ‘monkey cup’ garden we saw all sorts of carnivorous plants, we got to see a Venus fly trap eat a fly. We also got to see a giant millipede, some weird leaf frog & enormous scorpions. Mark was game enough to hold the millipede and scorpion!!!
Monkey Cup is so called because of the pitcher plants that collect liquid…the perfect size for monkeys to drink from!
We headed back to George Town around 5ish, where we wandered around Main Street to find the last pieces of artwork. Then we pulled up some chairs to enjoy happy hour cocktails were buy one get one free…only we assumed if I got one, Mark would get one free….so we both ordered a cocktail and then we each received 2 cocktails!!! 4 between the 2 of us…oops!
After cocktails we wandered off to get some dinner. After dinner we discussed some more of our travel plans before heading to bed.
Day 4 – Penang
For our final day we planned to head a bit further out of the city, so we hired a driver for the day. We started with a visit to the Butterfly Farm. I was not overly interested in seeing the Butterfly Farm, but it kept cropping up as recommended thing to do, and I am glad we did. There were so many beautiful butterflies, and we learned a great deal about a variety of insects. It was such a lovely way to spend a morning. While the morning was slow paced and reflective, the middle of the day was a bit more adventurous. We headed to the popular beach destination of Batu Ferringgi, where strolled along the beach enjoying the sunshine before taking off attached to a parachute, behind a speedboat! we each had a go at Parasailing, which was heaps of fun and provided a great view! Mark chose to have his feet dipped in the water along the way, and ended up with damp shorts, I was a little less keen and kept my toes nice and dry.
After this adventure we enjoyed some lunch, before seeing a few pretty buildings on our way back to George Town – the Floating Mosque, the Thai Temple with a really big reclining buddha and a beautiful decorative Burmese Temple.
We spent the afternoon of our final day in Penang eating fruit and drinking beer on the porch of the hostel.