A Travellerspoint blog

Borneo Free!

Sukau and the Kinabatangan River

sunny 32 °C

21st January 2011

We need a holiday! These early mornings are not good for us and they seem to be getting earlier! Still more than half asleep and badly in need of coffee we fell in to our punctual taxi and zoomed off to the airport, forgetting that it was a domestic flight and we only needed to be there one hour before departure...We got there so early, in fact, that we had to wait a long while for the check-in desk to open. We stood in the short queue happy in the knowledge that not only had we paid extra for the privilege of carrying heavier bags, but that we’d actually reduced our baggage weight by half! The check-in girl looked bemused by this as well but didn’t say anything about it and we were soon on our way to gate number 5. We were so early that even the passport control staff hadn’t opened the gate! A lady turned up after about 10 minutes and waved us through to the small departure area where we sat down while she turned the TV on for us! We were thankful of the distraction, even though we couldn’t understand a single word being said! We were the only ones there for ages and we began to wonder if we were in the right place! Even the small display screen next to the gate exit was showing a different flight number to ours....
After a long and boring wait, a couple more passengers arrived followed by the coffee counter staff and Stew gave them just long enough to get their jackets off before presenting himself to them in front of the counter and demanding caffeine via the largest Latte they could muster! He shouldn’t have bothered... it was pretty awful stuff! Thankfully it wasn’t too much longer before the small gate was almost full, the sun was up and our flight was being called in pidgin English for the hour long journey to Sandakan.
We landed smoothly at the small airport, retrieved our bags from the carousel and walked outside into bright sunlight and searing heat and found our tour rep, Wan, a pleasant Malaysian man born in Borneo with a pockmarked face, fierce eyes, small pony tail and a penchant for finishing every single sentence with “Yeah? OK?”! After we had introduced ourselves we climbed in a small minibus and waited a few minutes for a family of Aussies who were joining us on the trip to the Sepilok Orang-utan Rehabilitation Centre. We were both looking forward to this so much as this was the main reason for coming here – seeing orang-utans in their own habitat. The journey was only around 40 minutes and we were pulling into the car park, along with a hundred other vehicles, and Wan started telling us what we should expect, what we should and shouldn’t do, and what was in each building before us. First off, we had to go and buy tickets to allow us to use our cameras and video camera in the centre. The ticket office hadn’t opened yet, so we went and had breakfast first – a disgusting coffee and a sandwich – before returning to get our tickets. Once done, we went to see a short video presentation of the centre and the work they do, explaining the circumstances under which the orang-utans entered the rehabilitation centre (either being orphans or removed from people keeping them as pets) and the work they did to help them return to the wild. Depending on the individual, this could take anything from five to ten years and, sadly, some of them never gain the confidence to leave. They are quite happy returning to the centre feeding stations every day to be fed and never stray too far away! The centre itself is on the edge of the jungle and there are 3 feeding stations. The first stage is the nursery, for very young ones where they are under constant supervision and have human contact most of the time. The second stage is further away from the buildings and this is to encourage them to climb and explore the area more freely, and learn to find food instead of being handed it. The final stage is further into the jungle, and this is the one everybody gets to see. A huge platform has been erected about eighty yards away from the station and it is generally full of people watching the orang-utans feed and play – and fight off the marauding Macaques after their bananas! This feeding post is where the orang-utans have the choice of whether to feed from the platform or head into the jungle and into the wild. Not being allowed to take any bags with us, we found an empty locker to store them in before rejoining Wan and heading for the boardwalk. As we entered the walkway Wan explained the reason for not allowing bags into the area. Apparently a little while ago someone dropped their insect repellent and one of the orang-utans picked it up and ate it. Sadly she was a mother with a new born baby and she fed the baby it too. The baby orang-utan died quite quickly but it took ages for the mother to die. So now no bags or insect repellent are allowed inside. We walked down a long boardwalk to the feeding station viewing platform with Wan pointing out the flora and fauna along the way, including a bright green viper sleeping in a tree, lots of macaques and various trees along with their uses for medicine and hunting. There were already lots of people there waiting when we arrived at the viewing platform but we managed to pick two prime spots right at the very front and waited, cameras poised and excitement building, for the orang-utans to arrive. Feeding wasn’t actually until 10am so we had a little wait before we saw two carers climb the ladder holding buckets of fruit. Lots of eyes – not just human eyes – were watching them closely. They belonged to macaques who just stared at the feast in front of them, agonisingly just out of their reach. A couple of them staged an offensive but these were quickly snuffed out by the carers who, amusingly, just started pulling on the rope the macaques were holding onto. The monkeys started hanging on for dear life and quickly retreated back to the safety of the trees! It was great fun to watch and they started getting more and more daring! It was a quite a while before the first orang-utan ventured into view to the oohs and aahs of the expectant audience before them! It seemed to wait until it was joined by another before they both effortlessly and gracefully climbed down the tree trunk and onto the feeding platform, grabbing a handful of bananas and sitting down to eat. They were just so wonderful to look at, with faces that just seemed to constantly smile at you! They were soon joined by a couple more mature looking orang-utans but they all seemed very happy in each other’s company, eating and playing together. It was just fantastic to watch them and there was definitely more than a little bit of showmanship going on too as they started playing on the ropes, hanging upside down while eating bananas, chewing on the fruit and then poking it out of their mouths at us as though they knew they were there to entertain us!
As the feeding went on and the camera shutters clicked, the waiting macaques grew both impatient and bold. Some of the larger ones started moving along the ropes and down the trees towards the fruit even while the orang-utans were feeding. This is not a good move because an orang-utan is immensely strong – 10 times stronger than the average human male and with an arm span of about eight feet! They can rip a human being to pieces, so a small macaque wouldn’t be too much of a problem! Every now and then a macaque would get too close and an orang-utan would lunge for it, but the macaque seemed to know its limitations and kept just enough distance between them.
All too soon, for us anyway, the orang-utans had had their fill and drifted away back into the jungle leaving the way clear for the other monkeys to steal what fruit was left. They descended on the platform like ants and a big male decided he was going to be the only one to eat and started chasing all the others away. Not a single one of them resisted, but what they all did was watch for him to be distracted. A couple of them would creep up behind him and as he turned to chase them away, a couple in front would dive onto the platform, grab what they could and retreat as quickly as they could before he was on them! It was hilarious to watch but we’d seen enough and walked through the crowd to rejoin Wan and make our way back to the minibus to start our exciting journey to Sukau and the Rainforest Lodge.

The shy Proboscis Monkeys keep out of sight from prying eyes!

The shy Proboscis Monkeys keep out of sight from prying eyes!

A bright green Pit Viper sleeps in a tree at Sepilok

A bright green Pit Viper sleeps in a tree at Sepilok

A large macaque sizes up the opposition!

A large macaque sizes up the opposition!

Now Simon says...

Now Simon says...

A playful Orang-utan shows us his table manners...

A playful Orang-utan shows us his table manners...

Buuurrppp - Excuse me!

Buuurrppp - Excuse me!

The record shows, I took the blows, and did it My Way !!

The record shows, I took the blows, and did it My Way !!

Good things come to those who wait...!

Good things come to those who wait...!

Wan asked us if we had any dietary requirements and we told him we didn’t, except that we both hate seafood. His face dropped and he told us that we would be stopping at a seafood restaurant for lunch! Thankfully, he called the restaurant and ask them to change our fish dish to chicken! We had a ride of just over an hour before we arrived at our lunch stop, a large, drab, smelly eatery overlooking the marina. When we pulled into the car park, Wan informed us that there was a fish market downstairs and a local market next door to the restaurant. He also asked us if we had purchased our leech socks for the rainforest yet. We looked at each other and then back at Wan and asked if they were really necessary as we didn’t have any (travelling to different countries makes you very cynical – you always think everyone is out to rip you off!). He said there would be many leeches in the jungle and he highly recommended we get some. We decided we would have a look in the local market after eating our lunch and he gave us an hour before we were to meet back at the van. The doors to the minibus opened and we were nearly knocked out by the pungent stench of fish and seafood coming from the market! It was enough to put us off our lunch, which turned out to be really awful anyway. After having left half our lunch still on our plates we decided we better go in search of some leech socks which we had been told, come in a variety of colours but only one size. We wanted black ones to match our trousers!! We wandered up and down the aisles before finally asking someone where we could get the socks. An old lady pointed to a stall opposite so we went to take a look. They turned out to be what can only described as cheap Christmas stocking fillers in an off white colour with string tied around the top! We asked for different colours but there only seemed to be off-white. We went from stall to stall asking the same question but got either the same answer or a blank, puzzled look! In the end Jen turned on her bartering skills and managed to get 2 pairs of leech socks for £2! With time running out we darted around looking for a suitable day bag and happened across one that fit the bill perfectly. Stew asked the girl at the stall the price and she said 15 Ringgits and Stew hadn’t quite heard her and repeated “15 Ringgits”? She thought Stew was bartering with her and immediately dropped the price to 10 Ringgits - £2! We bit her hand off, paid the money and ran out the door and down to our van in time to set off to the jetty a very short drive up the road. We thought we were going to be joined by other passengers at the jetty, but it turned out we had the big speedboat to ourselves. It was a lovely vessel, with white leather seats throughout, and two big Yamaha 150 outboard motors hanging off the back. Our luggage was carefully dumped on board as Wan handed us a couple of bright orange lifejackets that we were required to wear and we reluctantly put them on before choosing our seats at the open part of the boat at the very back. The engines started up and we gently chugged out of the marina and headed for what seemed like a small island in the distance. We were going at a fairly slow pace and we both wished we could go a bit faster! It wasn’t long before we had passed the police checkpoint, and it was only then that the captain gave it both barrels! The roar grew louder, the bow went up, the stern went down and we were pushed back in our seats as the full power of the engines came to the fore and we were suddenly hurtling through the water, through a gap in between two islands and onto the Kinabatangan river, the engines turning the muddy brown waters to pure white in their wake. Both sides of the river were lined with brilliant green mangroves, and the captain didn’t slow when the river curved left or right. The boat just tipped slightly, smoothly took the bend and then we were back onto the straight. It was exhilarating as the warm air and hot sun hit our faces as we looked at the beautiful jungle zipping past us. It was as though the river was ours as, throughout the entire journey, we saw maybe three other boats in total! After around two and a half hours, the captain started to slow the boat right down, almost to a standstill, and Wan called us to the front. He had spotted an elephant feeding close to the water’s edge and the captain moved the boat right up to the bank. We could see the animal just the other side of some scrub, and then, all of a sudden, the bushes disappeared and there it was standing right in front of us. angry and confrontational. It started thrashing around and turned its back on us ready to kick out at us if we came any closer. It was clearly very uncomfortable with us being so close, so Wan whispered to us to move slowly back into the boat, and remove our brightly coloured lifejackets. We did this and the elephant turned round to face us once again and just started eating the grass and leaves. She seemed to accept that we were not a threat to her and seemed quite happy munching away while our cameras clicked. She was so close that she literally only had to take two more steps to be standing on the bow with us. It was such a fantastic moment – that is the closest we have ever got to an elephant in the wild, and in its own habitat. Even Wan said that in all his time of guiding tours, he had never got that close to a wild Borneo elephant before!

A wild Borneo Pygmy Elephant along the banks of the Kinabatangan River

A wild Borneo Pygmy Elephant along the banks of the Kinabatangan River

That set a good tone for the rest of the trip and we playfully set Wan a target of showing us the big 4 (elephant, orang-utan, crocodile and Proboscis monkey) before we set foot on the Sukau Rainforest Lodge! That was a pretty tough challenge as we only had about half an hour of the trip to go, and he failed miserably, but said he would do his best to have shown us the big four by the end of our stay. We pulled onto the jetty of the lodge and climbed the steps into the restaurant area where we were met by the lodge staff who placed a flower garland round our necks and presented us with a cold, scented towel and cold fruit juice each and showed us to the reception area where we were seated and the rest of the check in procedure was completed. The house rules included listening out for the gong which signalled all meals, no shoes allowed past a certain point and, the most amusing of all, the ‘no sarong, no supper’ rule. We were told there was a sarong for each of us in our rooms and that we would be required to wear it to dinner in the evenings. The young girl booking us in then proceeded to show us how the sarongs are worn by males and females! Jen couldn’t wait to see Stew in a skirt! Stew wasn’t quite sure about that one, but we were soon all booked in and given our key and shown to our room and our luggage was already inside waiting for us. We opened the door and both had a smile from ear to ear as the room was absolutely stunning. It was wooded throughout, with highly polished floors, two huge, thick sliding doors that led through to a dressing area and a large, walk-in shower and a toilet, all sumptuously presented. At the end of the dressing area was a huge glass window that looked out into the small area of untouched jungle which was constantly frequented by some beautifully coloured birds and butterflies. All you could hear was the sound of the jungle and its inhabitants – hornbills, Borneo Gibbons, and all manner of birds, insects and reptiles – crickets, cicada and giant geckos. It was utterly fantastic and you just could not wipe the smiles off our faces for the next half an hour! We only had an hour to settle in before we were off on our first trip – a sunset safari on a small power boat with Wan at the helm.

Sukau Rainforest Lodge

Sukau Rainforest Lodge

The beautiful Sukau Rainforest Lodge

The beautiful Sukau Rainforest Lodge

Once again it was just the three of us, and we set off in bright sunshine and powered along the muddy brown waters of the Kinabatangan River, Wan telling us we were going down a small, quiet stream just off the main river in search of the remaining big three! The amount of detritus in the water was amazing - even whole tree trunks with huge branches sticking up, easily capable of damaging a motorboat, and Wan had to keep his eyes out and manoeuvre the boat around to miss it. After around fifteen minutes we were slowing down and pulling into a gap between mangroves. To enable us to hear and see more without scaring the animals off, Wan switched from the standard outboard motor to an extremely quiet (but underpowered!) electric motor. It was incredibly peaceful and serene, the silence broken only by the screech of a macaque or the booming call of a hornbill, or any one of a hundred birds calling out. Keeping a close eye out for anything to show us, Wan motioned to us to look in a tree where a small family of macaque monkeys were playing and we sat there for a little while watching them. They were all ages and sizes and seemed to play quite happily together. We moved further downstream still in search of the illusive Proboscis monkey and we both studied the trees either side in our desperation to find one! Every time Wan stopped the boat and motioned to us to look up we got excited until he told us it was a hornbill or another macaque or a snake! There were other boats on the same stretch of water full of people looking for the same things and it became quite busy in places. We slowly and silently drifted down the river trying to take in everything around us, our heads turning left and right, straining our eyes to see what was in the trees. Suddenly Wan stopped the engine and said “There” and pointed up and to the left. We held our breaths and looked at the dark shape in the trees ahead as Wan passed us the binoculars. There, sitting quite contentedly, munching on leaves was a large female proboscis monkey. And she had a young one with her! It was just brilliant seeing her in her own home instead of in ours, on a David Attenborough DVD!
Wan explained the difference to us between a male and a female proboscis monkey. First of all, the male is much larger than the female, but the biggest difference is the nose! The female has a short, pointed nose while the male has a huge bulbous one. Apparently the bigger the better in the act of attracting the females! They are just so great to look at but are very clever at hiding themselves away from prying eyes! As soon as she had spotted us watching her, she began to climb higher and into the thicker foliage of the tree out of harm’s way! We moved on and spotted a couple more of them, but they were all quite a distance away. The sun had long gone and the light was just beginning to fade, so we bade farewell to the monkeys and started our journey back, looking forward to our dinner as, by now, our bellies were complaining quite forcefully! Wan put the main engine on low revs and we chugged out of the stream and into the main flow of the river where he put the hammer down and we were soon climbing out of the boat and onto the jetty, heading for our room and the shower before we both changed into our evening skirts!

The shy Proboscis Monkeys keep well away from prying eyes!

The shy Proboscis Monkeys keep well away from prying eyes!

A Female Proboscis monkey shadows her baby up a tree

A Female Proboscis monkey shadows her baby up a tree

A Rhinoceros Hornbill rests on a tree on the Kinabatangan river

A Rhinoceros Hornbill rests on a tree on the Kinabatangan river

The sun starts setting on the Kinabatangan

The sun starts setting on the Kinabatangan

We heard the gong at 7pm and made our way along the boardwalk and down to the river’s edge to the restaurant. To our relief, everyone had made an effort and were all wearing sarongs! It was a beautiful clear night and very warm. What a wonderful place to eat dinner, just listening to the sounds of the night creatures under a million stars. This was going to take some beating! The buffet food was both delicious and plentiful, with a variety of meats, fish, vegetables and rice with plain and curried dishes. We sat and ate, chatting about our day so far and what we had seen and done. However, our day wasn’t quite over yet as we had opted to take the additional night safari too so, with empty plates and full bellies we hurried back to our room to get changed once again, and returned to the jetty at 9pm to board our boat – this time without Wan but with a different guide. On board the boat was a huge, powerful searchlight and we set off at quite a rate with our guide lighting the brown river ahead of us, sweeping the beam from side to side in order to spot the poor, sleeping creatures we were about to awake! Suddenly the engine note dropped and the boat slowed down as we were steered to the shore. “Look, crocodile” our guide said. Neither of us could see it. There was a plop and it was gone. It must have been very small for both of us to miss it. The bright beam continued its sweep across the river as we moved on and once again, we were moving slowly to the one side, the beam focussed on a low tree branch overhanging the water on which were two Black-and-Red Broadbills huddled together, sleeping. They were absolutely beautiful and we slowly moved away from them after taking a couple of snaps, so as not to disturb them any longer. We also got to see a couple of vividly coloured Kingfishers, one of which was so groggy and still half asleep that he sat there while we got to within a couple of feet of him before he suddenly realised what was going on and he took flight as quick as he could. The other Kingfisher we happened upon was much larger and it didn’t take him too long to disappear into the night when the spotlight found him in the trees! That was about all we saw of note, and we were soon speeding back to the lodge after an hour on the water. We bid our guide goodnight and headed into the reception area, grabbing a couple of coffees on the way, and went to our beds exhausted but more than happy with our day’s activities.

A large Kingfisher is woken by our spotlight

A large Kingfisher is woken by our spotlight

Three Black-and-Red Broadbills huddle up for the night

Three Black-and-Red Broadbills huddle up for the night

A brilliantly coloured Kingfisher doesn't escape our spotlight!

A brilliantly coloured Kingfisher doesn't escape our spotlight!

Posted by StewnJen 02:26 Archived in Malaysia Comments (3)

Borneo, Kota Kinabalu...

..and the (concrete) Jungle!

sunny 32 °C

20th January 2011

We awoke to a bright day, showered, dressed and went for our included breakfast of toast with jam and coffee. We were desperate to get some washing done so asked Nora where the launderette was. She laughed and told us it was a laundry service, not one where we washed our own clothes in the machines, but that if we got our stuff there before 11am, they would get it washed and dried the same day. We weren’t sure about that as we were off to Sandakan the next day to start our rainforest tour and couldn’t really afford to be without clothes! But we also felt really dirty and so decided to risk it. We sorted out our clothes and, with Nora pointing the way, headed across the road a little more than a hundred meters to the laundry service. The smiling girl took our clothes from us and we explained in our best foreign English that included sign language and lots of gesticulating that we absolutely one hundred percent without fail needed our clothes back today as we were flying somewhere tomorrow. Six o’clock she said. We asked what time they closed. Six o’clock she said! Alarm bells started ringing in our heads as we left the shop, wondering if we were going to have anything to wear for our jungle tour! Jen heard the calling of the sea, so we walked down to the water’s edge, passing some restaurants and bars along the way and kept them in mind for dinner later on. They certainly looked better than the local ones we’d walked past the night before. To Jen’s chagrin there was no sandy beach to walk along – just a long, wooden jetty that ran into a low concrete wall and into a large car park behind some large, rickety buildings which were throwing out some dreadful smells! We stood a while on the wooden part of the jetty watching a crow. Someone had left behind a plastic bag containing some bread on top of one of the wooden posts on the jetty and the crow just stood there staring at it and looking around, clearly trying to work out how he was going to get in it. To our amazement he grabbed it, and pulled it down to the floor. Again standing there for ages he suddenly picked the closed end up with his beak and tipped the contents out onto the jetty before tucking in! We left our friend to it and went in search of a coffee shop which was just across the road. It turned out to be a coffee house with no coffee! Thankfully there was a Starbucks just across the road so that’s where we headed. At the same time, we spied a big, decent looking shopping mall so went in search of long sleeved t-shirts and a small travel bag for our trip to the rainforests. After hearing stories regarding leeches we thought long sleeved clothing would be a good idea! After a long, long search we found a large, cheap store with a sale on and managed to find some things that fit the bill perfectly, but not a travel bag. We also found something far more important to us at the time – a MacDonalds! We stuffed our faces full to bursting and carried on the search for a bag for a little while longer but gave up in the end, promising ourselves to return later on and have KFC for dinner! All the stores were beginning to shut up shop so we started walking back to our lodgings. On the way back we came up with the idea of taking only one backpack with us to Sandakan (even though we had already paid for the heavier baggage weight!) as the tour was only 5 days long, so started sorting out the things we would need as soon as we got back to our room. We also realised that we would need to stay somewhere overnight when we returned from our rainforest trip and, as we quite liked where we were, thought we’d see if there was a room available for when we returned. There was and so we booked it there and then. We also asked if we could store our luggage until we came back and were told we could and that, as we were returning to their lodge, it would be free of charge! As it was nearing a quarter to six and we were getting nervous about our clothes over the road, we decided to pay them a visit. After all, they couldn’t close the place with us still in it could they?! To our eternal relief they were just finishing folding the last few items and we returned to our room and started sorting out which clothes we would need to take. You have no idea just how good it feels to know you have some clean clothes until you’ve been wearing the same ones on and off for a couple of weeks!
Clothes sorted and packed, important and non-important items separated and packed in separate rucksacks Stew asked Nora to book an early taxi and took the unneeded luggage upstairs to the store room – and stumbled across a lounge with a big TV and a pool table in it! Nobody had bothered to even tell us it existed and it was for anyone’s use! We couldn’t believe it and it was too late to use it then as we were being picked up very early in the morning for our flight to Sandakan! And besides that, Jen had started feeling unwell and complained of a sore throat and blocked nose. Just what we needed! Our taxi would be picking us up at 4:30 in the morning, so we skipped dinner and tried to get as much sleep as we could as the next five days were going to be hectic and physical!

19th January 2011

Alarm went off at 6am and we were checked out and outside by 7am. We were living dangerously as we hadn’t bothered to pre book a taxi last night, but luckily we didn’t have to wait more than a few seconds before one came hurtling around the corner so we flagged him down and piled all our stuff in the boot. The journey to the airport was around 45 minutes and Stew got excited as the F1 circuit at Sapang came into view. He stopped short of asking the taxi driver to take him there instead! We got to the airport with plenty of time to spare and had to wait a while for the check-in desk to open. We stood in the short queue and watched as other travellers ahead of us handed over varying sums of money to the check-in staff and we just knew our baggage was going to be overweight. With our previous experience with Airasia and overweight luggage, we had already removed our sleeping bags from our backpacks and tied them to our hand luggage, but, deep down, we somehow knew it wasn’t going to save us this time! We were right about that! 30 Ringgits later (about £6) and our bags were on their short journey to bagland. We had some time to kill so went for a wander around some of the many shops while we waited for our flight to come up on the board. Luckily it wasn’t too long before we were being called for our two and half hour journey to Kota Kinabalu in Malaysian Borneo. Once boarded and in the air, we settled down and plugged our iPods in our ears and waited while the plane danced to our music. We hit quite a bit of turbulence on the flight, and the seat belt signs were going on and off as often as car indicators and we were both glad to be back on terra firma when the plane had finally come to a halt outside the terminal and we were soon heading on wobbly legs to the baggage reclaim. As it was a domestic flight, we didn’t have to bother with passport control, so headed straight to the taxi counter to get our coupon, and went outside into the sticky heat to stand in line. We had both had the same sort of mental picture of Borneo – trees, jungle, rivers and lots of wild animals roaming free. What we actually got was KFC, Pizza Hut and MacDonalds. It was quite a shock and a massive disappointment to us to be honest. Kota Kinabalu is a busy, buzzing town – a sort of foreign Watford but with sea and heat! Our taxi journey was only around 20 minutes, and we soon arrived at our guest house, Lavender Lodge which looked pretty basic but quite nice from the outside. Inside, however, it was lovely and very clean. We were shown to our small, cosy room where we dumped our bags and went in search – of all things – a launderette! We had read a review on an internet site that there was somewhere opposite where we could do our laundry but we couldn’t find it! We ended up in an awful shopping centre where they were experiencing a power outage and it was really dark and eerie inside. It was more like an indoor market than a proper shopping mall selling mainly local food, crafts, books and the obligatory mobile phone accessories! Outside the shopping area was a square that had nothing but fish restaurants in it and the smell was overwhelming. We walked back to our guest house through one of them and it was the size of a small aircraft hangar with rows of tanks containing live sea creatures that you could choose for your meal. On our walkabout, we hadn’t come across a single restaurant in which we fancied having dinner and began to worry that food was going to become a bit of a problem for us here! We just don’t do seafood! Cod is about as adventurous as we get with fish, and the last thing they had in the tanks was cod! We decided to get out of there before our stomachs rid themselves of what remained of breakfast. Just as we walked out of the eatery, to escape the awful smell, an old friend showed up – rain! We ran across the road and into the sanctuary of our cool guest house just as the clouds dumped their cargo on a hot and humid Kota Kinabalu. As the rain continued to fall, we had no alternative but to take advantage of the free WiFi. We couldn’t decide what to do for dinner so, once the rain had ceased, went for a walk to see what eateries were around. To our dismay, the majority of them were seafood restaurants and none of them looked too appetizing to us anyway, so we took the easy option and popped into the local supermarket and stocked up on biscuits and cakes, went back to the guest house and hit the net once more, filling our empty bellies with absolutely delicious rubbish until we felt tired – and a little sick! Promising ourselves to be more adventurous tomorrow we called it a night and retired to our little room.

Posted by StewnJen 02:23 Archived in Malaysia Comments (1)

Failing flip-flops and flapping feathered friends!

Around and about in KL

sunny 32 °C

17th January 2011

We were up early as Jen was like an excited little schoolgirl, and decided to give the breakfast a go to fill us up for our journey to the KL Bird Park. We shouldn’t have wasted our time! The choice was something like toast, eggs or chicken porridge! We ended up with a snotty egg, stone cold beans (that we thought were baked beans but weren’t!) and cold toast with the strongest cup of coffee you’ve ever tasted! It was disgusting and we decided there and then no more breakfasts here for us!
Resisting the temptation to stick our fingers down our throats we walked to the KL Hop-on Hop-off bus stop, barely 100 yards from our hotel, (with Stew sporting his brand new sandals!), bought our tickets and waited for the bus to arrive which it duly did after about 20 minutes. The rear quarter of the top deck of the bus was open top, so, as it was overcast but very warm, we decided to sit outside for a while. The only problem with that was we couldn’t hear the commentary so went back in. Unfortunately the commentary wasn’t easy to understand and they frequently forgot to turn it back on again after stopping at one of the bus stops and it was also either in front or behind whatever landmark it was supposed to be explaining about! The tour was ok though, and showed a lot of KL that we hadn’t seen or even heard about – places like Little India and the obligatory Chinatown which we could smell a mile away! Every street chef and stall were strutting their culinary stuff and the air was thick with the steam and smoke from a hundred woks! The smell was a blend of seafood, fish and pastries.
Around an hour or so into our journey, the stop for the bird park came into view. Jen wore a smile from ear to ear as we walked through the first gate after getting our tickets, and entered the Parakeet area. They were flying around everywhere and Jen was in her element as we tore off pieces of apple and sweetcorn and fed some of the braver birds by hand. Incredibly, the only bird that landed on Jen’s shoulder was a blue ring-necked Parakeet! He looked just like our bird, Louis, and Jen got all misty eyed for the next half an hour! It was a lovely experience seeing them flying all around us instead of being caged up. They had a huge area in which to fly around and play with plenty of food for them to eat. Stew had to almost drag Jen out of there and into the next area which was host to much larger birds including storks and peacocks. Some of the wingspans on display were enormous! The long-billed storks were making nests and fighting over small branches that they were breaking off the trees and bushes around their areas – it was fascinating to watch. Stew was standing trying to take a photo of one of the storks that was walking around in one of the ponds and felt something pecking his toes. He looked down to see a huge peacock who’d taken a fancy to his feet and he decided to quickly put some distance between himself and the offending creature! They peck hard you know! Another, slightly smaller, peacock was strutting around with his magnificent plumage on full blast and was shaking his stuff at everything that moved in his eye line! It was really funny watching him turn on his charms to a small, white egret that crossed his path and even to a pigeon that was pecking around for food! Neither of them took a blind bit of notice! A little further on was another pond that was full of different sized and coloured Koi Carp jumping and slithering around on top of one another with their mouths agape either gasping for air or waiting for someone to throw some food in!

BA unveiled the replacement for the DC10...

BA unveiled the replacement for the DC10...

A Peacock struts his colourful stuff at the KL Bird Park

A Peacock struts his colourful stuff at the KL Bird Park

Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine!

Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine!

Is my make-up running?!!

Is my make-up running?!!

I thought I was a Robin, but now I'm not so sure..

I thought I was a Robin, but now I'm not so sure..

We didn’t want to miss the Bird Show so hurried through to the amphitheatre and arrived just as the show started. It was a bit cheesy but good fun, with a couple of huge, brightly coloured macaws cycling, scooting, dropping rubbish into a pedal bin, placing wooden shapes into the same shaped holes, counting, flying through hoops and generally showing off! There was also a kestrel that flew around the amphitheatre and swooped down to take some meat held up by a volunteer out of the audience. It was quite impressive and we enjoyed it.

A clever macaw puts shaped blocks in the correct positions in the Bird Show

A clever macaw puts shaped blocks in the correct positions in the Bird Show

A macaw flies through hoops during the Bird Show

A macaw flies through hoops during the Bird Show

It only lasted about 20 minutes and we walked back down towards the parrot enclosure, stopping by the ostriches and emus to feed them. You have to get your fingers out of the way pretty quickly when feeding the ostriches! We got chomped on a few times but as they don’t have teeth it wasn’t too bad. The mozzies bit us more than the ostriches and we came out of there scratching our legs!

Look at my luscious lashes!

Look at my luscious lashes!

We also popped in to the nursery, where there were newly hatched chicks and ducks that you could stroke, running around in little pens, and also a glass case in which eggs were hatching! In some of the eggs you could see little beaks trying to peck their way out, with a few that had actually managed to make it all the way out! From here we entered the parrot enclosure where there were many beautiful birds on show – some caged and some flying free. We came upon a couple of umbrella cockatoos in a cage and one of them just couldn’t get enough tickling! He was so gentle when we fed him some bird pellets and he had a beak more than capable of crushing our fingers! We were soon joined by a sulphur crested cockatoo on the outside of the cage, and he, too, took our food very gently from us. Jen had walked a couple of cages down and had fallen in love with a bright pink galah and was sticking her fingers in the cage trying to get it to sit on her hand which it did. It also loved being tickled and it also gently nibbled Jen’s fingers. When Stew tried to do the same it bit him hard! It obviously didn’t like men!

We clearly bored the Galahs!

We clearly bored the Galahs!

Am I CUTE or what?!!

Am I CUTE or what?!!

Stew had to prise Jen away and we walked down to the far end to the African greys where one of them took a liking to Stew and just sat there while having his head tickled, and another actually shook hands with him! Every time you said “Shake hands” he stuck a foot out of the cage and shook your hand! It was most amusing but he got fed up after a while and disappeared to the back of the cage. Jen decided to feed the lorries and got two small pots – one with milk and one with sunflower seeds. The second the pots were put in her hand she was covered in lorikeets of all colours. They were really beautiful birds and they couldn’t get enough of the milk and seeds. Jen spilt some of the milk on her hand and they were gently licking the milk up!

A beautifully coloured Lorikeet waits for Jen to feed him!

A beautifully coloured Lorikeet waits for Jen to feed him!

Jen with the kids!

Jen with the kids!

It was fun to watch and Jen was just enjoying herself when all of a sudden and with no warning every single bird suddenly screeched and took off in unison and flew to the other end of the enclosure! The keeper looked up and saw an eagle sitting in a tree looking down on them. It obviously had the birds spooked badly because they stayed where they were and wouldn’t come back. Jen wasn’t wasting the opportunity so walked down to them instead and slowly but surely they landed back on her to continue their feed. Once she’d run out of goodies, they flew off and we walked out to find somewhere to feed our own beaks and found the Hornbill Restaurant. We sat out on the balcony where some of the birds come and join you in eating your meal – literally! We were joined by a Hill Mynah bird, some white egrets and a trumpet hornbill. It was a great experience being up close and personal with the birds. One of them actually pinched a chip from the plate of a young boy on the table in front of us after he’d just turned his head to talk to his Dad! We protected our chips and polished off our lunch and made a return visit to the parrots as Jen decided she wanted to have another go at feeding the lorries! Very soon she was covered in reds, greens, yellows and blues and loving every second of it! We hadn’t realised just how long we’d been there and, as it was almost 5pm, decided it was time to go – but not before Stew spied a beautiful, huge Rhinoceros Hornbill sitting on a branch just in front of the balcony of the aptly named Hornbill Restaurant so went to take a few close snaps. What a beautiful bird it is, and he seemed to pose for every photograph, seemingly waiting until the shutter clicked before moving his head to the left or right ready for another shot!

A Rhinoceros Hornbill turns up at the restaurant to pose for photos!

A Rhinoceros Hornbill turns up at the restaurant to pose for photos!

Just before leaving we decided to do the cheesy tourist thing and have our photo taken with some of the park’s finest! These included two bad tempered macaws who wanted to bite Stew’s hand, a kestrel, a hornbill that Jen cuddled the whole time, and another huge bird that we can’t remember what it was!

Stew found he could still attract the birds, even at his age!

Stew found he could still attract the birds, even at his age!

Stew finally dragged Jen out of there at just after 5pm and we waited for our bus to take us back to town. While waiting for the bus to arrive, Stew happened to glance down at his nice new sandals, and noticed they had become flappy flip flops! The sole had departed from one of them and was flapping around with every step. We jumped on our bus and headed back to our hotel room to get the receipt and took the sandals back for a new pair. Our legs and feet were aching like crazy but we made the long walk up the hill to the shopping mall. We were getting quite hungry by now so started looking around for somewhere to eat and were getting fed up with eating the same stuff every day. So, we started down a road we hadn’t walked down before just to see what was down there. It didn’t look as though there was very much at all down there, but crossing the road we noticed an Indian Restaurant that looked like a nice place. There were people in there eating which is always a good sign, so, feeling a little adventurous we opted for a curry each. It was an inspired choice as it was one of the most delicious curries we have ever tasted! We didn’t leave the restaurant until gone 10pm and we waddled back to our hotel full to the brim, aching but contented!

Posted by StewnJen 20:05 Archived in Malaysia Comments (2)

Out of the flying pan..

..and into the dire!

overcast 30 °C

16th January 2011

The priority for today was finding somewhere else to stay, so we were up and out (skipping breakfast) by about 9:30am and went back towards some small hotels we had passed on the way in the taxi yesterday, leaving our stuff in storage at our current guest house. It was still quite a while before we could view the room in the guest house we stopped in last evening so decided to visit a couple of smaller hotels to see how their prices faired against the guest houses. We visited 3 or 4 and were getting fed up with walking fom place to place and so settled on the nicest, cheaper one! We booked the cheapest room which was really small but nice, but that had no windows! Instead, a huge panorama of the New York skyline adorned one wall. We thought it looked pretty cool and, even though you couldn’t even walk up the sides of the bed, decided we would stay here for the duration! Despite the amount of rain we’d had here already, it was still very warm and humid and Stew had only bought his trekking shoes and a pair of trainers, so we went in search of some flip flops. The rain decided to join us once again and had made the walkways very slippery. Spying a Starbucks across the road we dodged the traffic and Stew jumped onto a high, tiled platform between two supporting struts – and his legs went from under him, resulting in him doing the splits and scraping his shin as he clumsily slid across the tiles looking like more like Orville than Torville! He was in a lot of pain and his shin was bleeding, but not as bruised as his pride! We walked over to Starbucks to get a coffee and headed into the mall and out of harms way! Our mission was accomplished in the first shoe shop we came across, and we emerged with a pair of men’s sandals and continued to browse the shops once more. We found a more upmarket shopping mall to peruse to our content (we started in Debenhams!) and were soon quite hungry as we hadn’t eaten all day. The consensus of opinion swung towards Italian and we’d spotted a lovely looking Trattoria on the way to the towers last night. Thinking we’d kill two birds with one stone we headed to the Italian restaurant and it turned out to be a great choice as the food was delicious and the restaurant itself was lovely. Darkness had descended while we were filling our stomachs and we left the Trattoria to walk the short distance to the towers. They really are amazing at night! Goodness knows how much electricity is used to the light them but they look like two diamond pens stuck in the ground! They really are quite beautiful to look at and you cannot help but stare at them and stare at them some more! We stayed and took photos for ages and from all different angles and distances.

KL_towers.jpg

KL_Towers_3.jpg

KL_Towers_2.jpg

The amazing Petronas Towers lit up at night

The amazing Petronas Towers lit up at night

Kuala Lumpur city lit up around the Petronas Towers

Kuala Lumpur city lit up around the Petronas Towers

The KL Tower. Yes another one!

The KL Tower. Yes another one!

15th January 2011

At 5am there was a knock on the door. It was our Tuk-Tuk driver a full half an hour early, wearing a big smile on his face saying Look – I wasn’t late! We sent him back downstairs telling him he was too early, and we finally piled ourselves and our belongings into his little motor and set off on the 25 minute journey to the airport at 5:20am. We got there before the counter had even opened so had to wait a while. Our bags were overweight so we expected to have to pay for excess baggage, but, instead, the representative asked us to take 1Kg of stuff out of our bags and put them in our (already heavy!) hand luggage. Our sleeping bags weigh exactly 1Kg each, so we took them off our backpacks and tied them to our small rucksacks! They seemed happy with that (and so were we!) and we headed for the departure lounge. As we had some rupees left (and we couldn’t change them into Malaysian Ringgits) we decided to try and spend it on a small memento of our visit. Instead, most of it went on a big fat coffee and a couple of muffins! We hit the free WiFi in the airport and checked our emails, as we were still trying to sort out a Borneo tour with a company we’d found on the internet.
The flight was ok but quite bumpy in places and we landed in KL at around 2:30pm their time – an additional 2.5 hours ahead of Sri Lanka making eight in all. They are quite efficient here and our baggage was out in no time, so we went in search of an ATM and a taxi counter. The first ATM we found was broken, the second wouldn’t give us any money and we eventually found one outside. They have a taxi coupon system here, where you pay your fee at a taxi counter in exchange for a voucher and line up outside and wait for the overseer to find your taxi for you. We supposed this was to stop the tourists and drivers ripping each other off! Our driver was a grey haired old bloke who drove like a complete nutter, overtaking absolutely everything in sight, and barging his way into streams of traffic, weaving from lane to lane to make the journey as quick (and nightmarish!) as possible! Our hearts were in our mouths more than once, and it brought more than a few gasps out in us as he drove about a centimetre from the vehicle in front before diving into any other available lane to overtake it! It was a pretty scary journey but we made it to our next home with wet palms, but everything intact. When we entered our guest house, the first thing we were asked to do was to take off our shoes, which was something that was beginning to get on our nerves after doing it everywhere in Sri Lanka, so was not a good start. Our host, Suzy, was really lovely – but, unfortunately, the guest house wasn’t! The room we were shown to was like a prison cell with no windows, bright peach walls and damp patches everywhere. We knew we were sharing a bathroom, but had no idea it would be so grotty! Jen went to take a look and came back with a face that said it all. We had booked to stay here for 4 nights, but decided to stay the one, pay a night’s forfeit and check out the next day. Our host was ok with this so we went in search for something to fill our empty bellies and headed out into the sprawling metropolis of KL. We thought it might be a good idea to take a quick look around nearby for any other guest houses that might have vacancies, and popped into the first one we came upon. We were buzzed in by a very camp Malaysian guy and he told us he would have a room by 2pm tomorrow as someone was checking out. We agreed to come back and view it and we started chatting. He asked us where we were from and when we replied London he said he visits somewhere just outside London now and again and lived there for a while. When we asked him where he said High Barnet (which is where Stew was born) and said he lived in a road called Allan Drive (which was about 200 yards from where Stew used to live)!! It really is a small world!!
After leaving there we looked at a few other places and they all had piles of shoes outside the doors, and were all quite expensive so we thought we would continue our search tomorrow and go fill our empty bellies instead. We went into the local 7-11 (they’re big over here!) to get some money out of the ATM and got about 200 yards up the road before the heavens emptied themselves onto us – a massive downpour that had the road flooded within a couple of minutes! We took refuge in the entrance of an underground car park and, even though we’d borrowed an umbrella, it was still too heavy to go out in! After about 15 minutes it died down a little and we made a slow dash up the hill! The first eatery we came to happened to be a KFC (which are even bigger than McDonalds over here!) which was fine by us and we dived in out of the rain. It wasn’t as good as home but when you’re hungry everything tastes good! Looking out from our seats we could see hundreds of shops and restaurants all around us and decided we’d take a quick look in one of the shopping malls. It was huge! You could quite easily get lost in there, and it would take more than a day to visit every shop and stall! It wasn’t the classiest of places but it more than made up for that in variety. We spent a couple of hours just wandering around before we went for a walk to see the Petronas Towers.

The tip of one of the Petronas Towers.

The tip of one of the Petronas Towers.

It was a long walk and we’d had a long day so decided to take some snaps from afar and to return tomorrow night to get up close and personal with this amazing building. Buoyed by what we’d seen, but fading rapidly, we walked back to base to see if we could get some sleep in cell block H!

Posted by StewnJen 17:53 Archived in Malaysia Comments (1)

Trains, Planes and...Tuk-Tuks

Going Mobile once again.

rain 22 °C

14th January 2011

At 6:15am we were up and downstairs waiting for our Tuk-Tuk and, true to his word, Sena had made us a packed lunch of sandwiches and some fruit. A little late, our driver arrived and we said our goodbyes, knowing we would miss the view, the food and Marley but not the constant rain which had already returned!
We arrived at Ella station only to be told our observation carriage had derailed in Hatton last night so our train would not have one! We were both really disappointed as we were looking forward to the ride. There wasn’t even a first class service, so we knew we were going to have to use elbows and knees to get a seat! Amazingly, though, when the train pulled in, we were shown to a carriage further up the tracks and it was almost empty! We asked the guard showing us to the carriage where our tickets were and he motioned to the guard standing on the train as if to say I have given them to him. We took the best seats, stowed our backpacks and settled down for the journey. Once we were moving, the guard came round and asked for our tickets. We tried to explain to him that we were told he already had them because we didn’t! He disagreed quite forcefully about this and a minor argument ensued with Stew getting more and more hot under the collar! We suggested he call the station from the next stop and sort it out with them as there was nothing we could do and we were certainly not paying for another ticket. As we pulled into our first stop Jen rummaged in her pockets for a tissue and found – to our relief – the tickets! It was in fact a piece of paper like a receipt and Jen had been expecting proper tickets and Stew was absolutely convinced that the guard walking with us down the platform had taken it off him when in fact he’d given it to Jen! We both cut off a thick slice of humble pie and apologised to the guard who was just getting back on the train having phoned Ella station and complained that we had not been given a ticket! Rather embarrassed, we settled back into our seats, but the guard just laughed it off. As the train pulled out once again, Jen broke open her packed breakfast but Stew was still full from the humble pie! Opening the bag, we found that Sena had given us an entire bunch of small bananas – about 10 of them – and we offered them around the carriage to the 4 other passengers on board with us.
The journey was painfully slow and laborious, the driver seemingly being extra careful because of the landslides and floods that were being reported all over the island and it added an extra two hours to the trip. Our carriage slowly filled up with people and it soon became apparent that we had chosen the wrong side to sit on as all the beautiful scenery was on the other side which made the trip even more boring! The iPods and the laptop were exhausted of battery power and it was impossible to sleep. With everything completely numb we finally pulled into Colombo Fort station 11 hours after leaving Ella! We were so pleased we’d finally arrived, and only had a short distance left to travel to Negombo and had decided to get a Tuk-Tuk to take us the rest of the way. However, after being approached by a rickshaw driver and a taxi, and asking the price of the journey – 2000 and 2500 Rupees respectively (about £12 and £15) - it soon became apparent that it was further than we’d anticipated! We looked for a train instead, and there was one leaving soon. We queued up only to be told we had to go to another counter, so Stew ran the length of the station and joined a long queue to get the tickets. Once at the window, Stew was told to go to the next counter! He joined another long queue, and finally got the tickets – 180 Rupees for both of us (about 51 pence each)!
After a wait of only about 15 minutes, and being shown the correct train by a kind guard, we were, once again, standing in the doorway of a packed 3rd class carriage still convinced it was a couple of stops up the track. Some young lads motioned to one seat available for Jen and we said we’d be getting off in a little while. When they asked us where we were going, and we replied Negombo they told us it was two hours away! Our weary hearts sank to our boots and, as if to laugh at us even more, as we stuck our heads out of the door, it started pouring with rain! Where we were standing was packed with people and it was getting more and more of an effort just to stand up and keep our luggage upright, which was getting in the way of everyone by now! Towards the end of the ordeal enough people had left the train for us to sit down with our luggage and our next problem was finding the correct station as it was now pitch black dark outside. A very kind man told us that we would arrive at 7:30pm, giving us some idea of how far we still had to go. As he got off his stop, however, he told us that Negombo was the next station. Finally pulling in to Negombo, navigating our way out of the station and into the road we grabbed the first Tuk-Tuk, without even bartering a price, and he took our bedraggled, weary selves to our guest house for the night. The place was ok, the bed being covered by a huge mosquito net (which was a good job too it turned out!) and we dumped our stuff in the room. As we had only eaten what Sena had provided for us, we went out in search of a decent meal. Walking around the town, it was lit up like a small scale Blackpool, with a number of the larger hotels being illuminated like the piers! Eateries were all around, some looking a little like greasy cafes than restaurants and, after walking the length of the road and back again, chose a nice looking place with quite a few people dining there. We opted for the ‘safe’ option of spag bog and it was pretty disgusting it must be said! Too tired to care, we paid the bill and trudged back to our room (just as it started to rain again!), setting the alarm for yet another ridiculously early start – 4:15am as we were being picked up at 5:30am and heading for the airport to catch our flight to Kuala Lumpur. At last we would be leaving the almost constant Sri Lankan rain behind us!

Posted by StewnJen 15:24 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (0)

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