A mum, dad and their three kids from Tasmania, go on an epic adventure in Borneo for 3 weeks in December
It was a 5.30 start this morning and a huge day of fishing getting home around 9.30pm but I can’t sleep. Together with Christmas presents and Nani’s relentless shopping she will be flying Tiger Airways to KL where we will rejoin and fly through to Melbourne on AirAsia. There are two things I’m panicking about. One is that I’d asked Nani to call Tiger and book a check-in bag for Abbey (Tiger don’t allow this to be done online whereas AirAsia does) for all the extra stuff we’ve accumulated. I find out she hasn’t done it and she wants me to sort it out. She says she couldn’t get to a phone all day today. Hmmm. The second thing I’m really worried about is that I discover that there are in fact two airports in Kuala Lumpur about twenty kilometers apart and I heard that Tiger flies into KLIA whereas AirAsia will depart from LCCT. This means Nani will have to virtually run through KLIA customs (people hurrying through customs is not a good look), get a taxi and whip over to LCCT to catch our international flight out, with no time to spare.
I call a friend in Singapore who works for Tiger and he’s going to see if he can fix something with the baggage, but given that their call centre doesn’t open til 9am tomorrow, and Nani’s flight is 10, it looks slim. On the plus side, he assures me Tiger does fly into LCCT. I’m relieved. I can sleep now, but the taxing day hasn’t done any favors to my chest infection and I double over whenever I cough.
We eat a huge breakfast before saying farewell to Mark and Deb and their wonderful family. Jonathan doesn’t come down to stay goodbye to the boys because he’s a bit teary. I tell Ong Jia Chen the miniature whirlwind that if he eats and sleeps well, I’ll see him again one day when he’s bigger (time doesn’t mean much to four year olds). I tell him that he doesn’t need his mum to feed him anymore.
At KL Sentral buses seem to leave every two to three minutes (basically as soon as they’re full) and only costs some paltry 6RM for adults and half that for kids for the 75 minute trip to LCCT. On the way we pass the Malaysian Sepang Moto GP circuit. We bump into a flustered Nani at the airport after first spotting Abbey. She has had a drama trying to check in her luggage at the wrong terminal. Thinking she could save time by scanning her bags (an operation performed before baggage check-in) while waiting for us she has had an altercation with a bunch of what she describes as Arab men. Apparently they accused her of cutting the queue and made her get to the back, whilst ushering their mates in front of her. The irony is, she was at domestic, and we were flying international and there’s no need to scan bags prior to check in. I find out that an announcement was made on the Tiger flight to wish Abbey a happy 7th birthday and the captain personally met her.
On AirAsia, Abbey lets the flight attendants know it’s her birthday following on from the success she had on the Tiger flight from Singapore. A group of the flight attendants come down and sing happy birthday to her, and one re-sings it in Korean. They present her with a cute little AirAsia bear. Abbey of course is delighted.
Ahead of where I sit, I notice some beautiful marketing from tourism Malaysia on the bulkhead. It’s a huge poster covering most of the space available. A gorgeous looking Asian couple runs down a white tropical beach. Her yellow sun dress flies in the breeze with a full head of jet black flowing hair behind. He is in a white cotton shirt and knee length khaki shorts. Laughing with gay abandonment they run bare footed, hand in hand toward… the camera I suppose. In the corner written in white script, are the words;
Tranquil Nature. With her tranquil waters and clear blue skies, it is the perfect place for that getaway you deserve. Watch the sun rise and set with your loved one, or spend the day frolicking on the beach with your family and friends. It’s not what you do, it’s where you do it. Malaysia. Truly Asia.
I like the award winning Truly Asia campaign and will really miss Malaysia, but there should have been a postscript saying PS – the sun is friggen hot and will sneak up on you and belt the life out of you if you don’t hide in the middle of the day. Sweat will pour off you and you will dehydrate. Any frolicking in the midday sun without a hat or umbrella will be punished by severe sunstroke and heat rash culminating in a visit to hospital involving a drip.
As you can guess, I still feel hot after yesterday’s fishing adventure.
Later, on touch down just after midnight Disney’s Happy Birthday Princess plays over the PA and Abbey proudly and loudly announces that she’s in fact the birthday girl, just in case anyone around us had forgotten. Whilst taxiing toward the terminal, an announcement regarding Australian border security makes no mention of drugs and the death penalty that we’re used to hearing, instead the message is all about animals and plants. I love that about Australia. Let’s protect the great outdoors – our native flora, fauna, agriculture and aquaculture. We don’t give a shit about druggies and we’re definitely too laid back to kill people anyway. I recall that India recently sentenced someone to the death penalty but all their hangmen had gotten old and given up, and they had to track one down and resurrect him from his retirement to bump off a particularly nasty criminal.
We reflect on our travels as we exit Melbourne airport. It’s 1.15am and the air is beautiful and cool. There’s a three hour drive ahead to dad’s farm in western Victoria but no-one is bothered. We consider making up a bunch of Borneo 2011 t-shirts for the Ongs and ourselves as a memento of an epic adventure. We decide we wouldn’t have changed much about our holiday but after backpacking for a month with my family I have wondered a few things though ;
Why is it that when kids take the last biscuit they hand you back the empty packet?
Don’t you love how your kids hand you back your iPhone and the screen looks like they used it to eat takeaway food off of?
Should there be a word for when your spouse takes your iPhone and doesn’t hand it back until the battery is in the red?
A slow start to the day is a good start. After brekky we attempt to book the canopy walk which seems to be really popular and all of the four or five for the day are full. The Ongs will miss out but I book in for tomorrow. I’m a bit worried about accommodation bookings for the rest of our trip as I haven’t made any – partly because i thought i would have a good window in Sarawak to do it before entering Sabah and partly because I thought it would be good to have some flexibility about where we stay and what we do. At heart I’m a planner but aa also intrigued by this notion of going with the flow.
I spend an hour online in the gift shop with a slow connection trying to find accommodation in Kota Kinabalu but because Nani wants a private family room that can fit us all in, these are scarce and booked out. We try three or four places with no luck but we do manage to book our first night in Sandakan. I’ll have to pull my finger out and do some serious organizing but not having 3G due to my SIM disaster I’m a bit crippled.
We go for a swim by crossing the Sungai Melinau river and heading down behind Good Luck Cave’fe (can you believe the play on words?) who have a Sunday special menu. The current is quite strong here but gently sloping and we only get knocked off our feet beyond waist deep. Abbey brings her new friend Olivia from Vancouver and her parents Heather and John who have travelled Asia extensively and rate Borneo one of the best places they’ve been.
Lachie cuts his toe on the river bank after pushing off and swimming across to one of the longboat pontoons. The 2cm gash is bleeding freely so we swim back and I push it shut praying that the river is clean enough to have flushed the wound. I wished I had my first aid kit to irrigate it properly with boiled water but it is big and bulky so I don’t carry it in my day pack. Maybe I should split it in two. Mark sprays the wound with adhesive water proofing and I bandaid it to stop it reopening. I hope he can walk on it because we’re off to the caves again this afternoon.
Nani refuses to eat at Good Luck Cave’fe (hmmm). Mark and I are keen because of the Sunday specials and cheap beer but Nani has her I’m-not-happy-face so wisdom prevails over courage and we head back to HQ for okra and eggplant with a sides of kaya French toast and roti canai.
After a snooze we’re off to the caves with our guide Jenny. Along the way she shows us the kind of tree that pygmy squirrels live in, the we see one – around the same size as a mouse busily feeding on small insects. She identifies the Ipoh tree where the Penan hunters get their poison sap for their blow darts. The blow pipes are armed with a knife so it can act as a spear to finish off wounded prey. She shows us caterpillars – the hairy ones become moths and the smooth ones butterflies. Oddly Nani loves butterflies but has a meltdown screaming if a moth flies near her head. We see inchworms, centipedes, and identify all kinds of frog and bird calls. Strange leaf hoppers sit on the hand rail with freaky looking giant stick insects. Some 50% of planet earths biodiversity is found in the 2% of equatorial rainforest that we are wandering around in.
Lang cave is beautiful. A powerful river flowed through here to carve it out then dripping water created all kinds of beautiful white formations; curtains, abalone shell, icing melting on a cake, jelly fish, and twisted columns. For some reason the ones i love the most are where a stalagmite and a stalactite are almost touching. I feel like rooting for them “keep going! Not far to go!”
Deer cave is named for the sambar deer that used to venture in to lick salt in the largest cavern. That is until hunters started to ambush them there and they stopped coming. Two things hit you at once; the warm ammonia and fecal smell coming out and the sheer scale of it is equally overwhelming. Inside powerful shafts of sunlight penetrate past a rock that forms the silhouette of Abe Lincoln’s face. Where light reaches the cave walls turn green with great hills of warm steaming guano underneath any of the overhead roosting spots. A trickling river runs through it past the Garden of Eden where a hidden valley is located that only 6 adventurers can pass each day.
Swiftlets circle in the mouth of the cave and curtains of water drops fall from the roof while sun glints off both bird and water alike. We are tiny in comparison to the sheer size of this cave and it feels like a “Journey to the centre of the earth” experience. There is something very primordial about this place.
There are thousands of bats – 10 species in this cave alone along whole ecosystems of insects feeding on bat shit, earwigs feeding on dead skin cells, cave crickets feeding on god knows what, and spiders and worms creating silk like webs that dangle from the ceiling. When these are pointed out Nani says “sick”.
I photograph a giant mutant cave cricket and take a large step over a gap in the rocks to get close enough Abbey tries a similar step but doesnt make it and stands calf deep in mushy guano. She isn’t happy but to her credit she doesn’t have a meltdown and I make her wait until as we exit Deer Cave I let her wade in the river to try and clean her leg and shoe. I feel sorry for her but grateful she’s fairly resilient. We notice a dying bat lying on the ground and step around it. I take a snap. As the kids head to wait for the dusk emergence, I sneak back into Lang Cave by myself to get some footage. As I enter I trip the sensor and all the lights come on. Everything is silent and I film a few minutes on my camera.
Back at the observation area the kids play Humburger which is rock paper scissors with some violence to spice it up. After each round the losers have to put their hands down in the centre. Players free a hand by winning. Once both your hands are in the “hamburger” you must wait until a winner has two hands free and gets to pound as hard as they can on the hand-burger.
Lachie, Oscar and Jonathan are the band of brothers. They’ve become quite attached and have developed a new martial art which looks like tiger style to me but the call it nipple cripple style which seems to be the objective.
The bats in time dutifully stream out and circle in donuts and tornadoes and great long black ribbons for self preservation making great entertainment for us in our little amphitheater. A lone bat hawk flaps about eager for a meal.
I record sounds on the way back as I walk alone in the dark jungle intrigued by the moans, barking frogs, pips, and chirps. Bats hurtle deftly down the corridor cut by our path. I’m glad at their presence because they love to eat mosquitos and these are my enemy.
After dinner we head back across the swaying suspension bridge (it positively bucks when we cross) over the Sg. Melinau and drink Heineken with the our new Canadian friends and talk about travels in Asia. The kids entertain themselves playing UNO and after that begin collecting empty beer cans from all over the restaurant and building a massive tower right in front of the screen on the wall. Other patron’s take photos of the tower. I tell them our kids are Aussies and that explains it all.
We repeat the night safari with Nani but the girls don’t go this time so it’s just Mark and his boy jonathan, Lachie, Oscar and I. We are assigned two guides for 45rm so i get the chance to have a really good talk to one heading down the lintang trail in search of adventure. The mafia have retreated to their favored tree to sleep in pairs cuddled up together like fur pom poms in an almost defoliated tree. The guide tells me the proboscis never sleep in the same tree twice to avoid predators which makes it a challenge finding them each day. He say he can tell the species apart by the broken foliage trickling from the canopy in the distance even before he sees the animal.
Tonight we see frogs, and the lone kingfisher again, and stick insects. We find a pool and the guide pulls out some boiled rice and sprinkles some in. Native catfish make a feeding frenzy in our torchlight.
Oscar has decided to skip wearing socks tonight claiming all his were wet and now his feet have blisters. I try and wipe them off with a wet one. His feet is full of sand so he has obviously sanded his skin. Theres not much I can do except bandaid the worst of them and try and do his laces up better to stop the rubbing. He is the pits when it comes to lacing up properly and when we look at him he nearly always has at least one shoe partly unlaced and no amount of reminding or lecturing him has any effect.
Nani provided some entertainment on this walk. Earlier I showed her the viper in the tree near our cabin and she exclaimed “fuck!” and covered her mouth. Having known her for 20 years I can offer the translation as “fuck that’s the most frightening thing I’ve ever seen! fuck why am I here? Fuck I can’t believe I’m staying in a place where so many things want to eat or kill me! fuck, my children are here and they could get seriously hurt! Aaarghhh!”. So she was pretty amped up even before the night walk and then I noticed it. A spider on her shoulder. This after we’d already been wowing over a tarantula in its nest. I told her to keep still that she had an arachnid on her and she froze in a cardiac arrest type stillness while I got mark to photograph it for posterity then flicked it off as gently as possible (the guides were watching).
At one point I flick off my headlamp, sneak up behind and grab her ass – a favorite trick of mine. She jumps and lets out a muffled yelp. Down the trail further she suddenly jumped and starting saying “ouch! Ouch!” and grabbing her ankle, brushing it. The guide says keep moving. She’s standing on a convoy of fire ants. I guess most people have the same reaction – to stop and try and deal with it, but moving forward at least prevents you from being swarmed. The guide cheerfully says it will only hurt (itch was his word) for a half hour and that camphor will help. I feel a bit sorry for Nani now and I let her know I have some back at the cabin. She is right out of her comfort zone and I try and reassure her that since she was born in Sibu just north of here, this is in her blood, but deep down I know she’s an amazon of the concrete jungle.
Later I get swarmed by a giant moth the size of a sparrow. It tries to have sex with my headlamp. I want to check it out but can’t focus that close so I switch off and it goes over to Mark. I tell Nani and she has another mild heart attack. Moths are her feared sworn enemy. When she was a child her mother told her some bullshit story about moth wing dust being able to blind eyes instilling a fear in her I have not been able to put a dent in over the last two decades of trying. She covers her head with her hands to try and protect herself.
The guide asks us to switch off lights. He turns on his UV and a scorpion sitting outside its nasty looking burrow glows in the dark. He offers it the tiny stick he has carried all night. After noticing his stick and the cicada on the end of it I has wondered about this. The scorpion latched on and the guide is trying to lift it out of the undergrowth. There is a tussle which the scorpion manages to win by tearing off the cicada and hunkering down its burrow to enjoy its meal. He won’t be lifted up for tourists to photograph tonight. That would make it one all over the last two nights.
he 5am start today made it the equivalent of 8am AEST so going back to sleep wasn’t going to happen. I had walked Nani to her taxi and she asked me to photograph the drivers I.D in case she went missing. She either has a vivid imagination or an over active sense of caution.
It’s pouring rain which makes the shower drain in our lunch box sized room gurgle. Somehow the storm water downpipe and our shower drain are intimate in ways I’m sure are not healthy (something like brothers and sisters marrying). I pretend I like the gurgling like its a water feature as I lie on the hard mattress and wait for dawn.
The kids are awake around 6 so by 6.30 we can’t hold out any longer. We head down to the common room for the second B of the B&B. When we enter we rouse someone sleeping on the floor. It’s Chris the manager – now that’s commitment to the cause! He gets up and starts pulling out fruit, fresh bread, spreads, cups and plates. He laughs with the kids and teaches them to juggle while I toast their bread. After brekky he plays guitar while the kids play Jenga and scrabble on the floor. 16 Brisbane Grammar year 12 girls on an end of school trip with their minders appear. Time to clear out.
Chris makes Nomad B&B what it is. He’ll probably blow dart my aussie ass for saying this but oddly he reminds me of Rob Schneider and who doesn’t consider Rob a close friend? You can do eeet!
It’s not the most modern nor the cleanest of hostels but judging by former guests texta scrawls on the wall it’s one of the most popular. An Iban by birth Chris sports traditional tattoos by world famous Ernesto the Borneo Headhunter and his hand tapping method. He tees up an appointment for me to get a consultation for some inkwork on my shoulder.
A pet giant snakehead lurks in a fish tank in the common room. Ernesto had tried for 2 years to catch one before landing this one in a lake “somewhere” and repatriating it to become Nomad’s mascot. I ask if I can photograph it by inserting my waterproof camera. Chris says it bit the last person who tried. Snakehead have been described as the mafia of the waterways because they literally mug their prey without warning so I take a happy snap through the glass. The snakehead drifts towards me nonchalantly, eyeball swiveling as he sizes me up. He’s thinking he could take me.
A smaller fish swims around with him. This confuses me as snakehead are renowned for being aggressive and territorial. Chris explains it was put in there as food but it had refused to eat it. Normally it just inhales live fish so fast you can’t even see it happen, but it seems it’s taken this little guy under his wing and decided to befriend him. Chris said he did this with another fish once before. I ask what happened to it and he says the snakehead ate it after 2 months. Must have been a fishy falling out I guess.
I get to Celcom to buy a SIM card and am directed to a reseller because they didn’t have stock. The sun was merciless on our walk to the reseller. I break out the umbrella. After hacking a normal SIM down to a micro with some expert surgery involving a cutter and blade it’s slid into my iPhone. This is where things go pear shaped. We learn the phone is locked. This is after me calling Telstra last week to discuss using an overseas SIM. I jump on the resellers laptop and find a number for Telstra that can be dialed from overseas (not easy). I call and am on hold freaking out because I’m global roaming and I’ve heard the horror stories of the charges people have been extorted. Telstra ask for my IMEI and process the unlock (something they used to charge for) and tell me I will need to sync with iTunes after waiting anywhere from 5-72 hrs. Umm hello? I don’t have my Mac with me?!? Thank god I’ve sent the kids off to look around because this was starting to really stress me out. My head is starting to hurt. I pay for the celcom SIM wondering how the hell I’m going to sync to iTunes and take the kids to buy some sandals because when we arrived Oscar ripped his sandals apart.
We catch a taxi back to Nomad after lunch and on arriving Abbey says she’s lost her shoulder bag – I mean the shoulder bag Nani’s friend had lent her for the trip. You have to be kidding me! I round on her and say “so we have to spend another 24rm to go there and back to retrieve a bag with 10rm and a 6rm pair of socks in it? Huh?!” Then I read her the riot act. All I want is for you just to look after your own stuff!” I’m ticked. My head hurts. The taxi driver takes us back. We go upstairs to the hawker store and I make her ask the staff. No bag. I find the waitress who cleared our table. Nope. Now we’ve spent 24rm retrieving nothing. Hang on. Maybe she left it in the toilet.
We had been to the toilet earlier. A strange experience as there was a bloke sitting in front selling tickets. The boys walked straight past him. I stood and looked at what was going on. Half of the patrons paid, half just walked through. I decided to pay 20sen for Abbey. He gave me a blue ticket. Was there a ticket collector in there like at the movies? I ask for toilet paper when I see the little rolls in front of him. 10sen. I gave Abbey the TP and in she went. I then went in myself. Nobody collected my ticket. The urinal was an amazing baked on yellow color from decades of abuse and the smell might have been similar to the smelling salts they must give boxers who are partially KO’d because it really jolted me and cleared the sinuses. The boys reckoned the toilets were long drops and the floor was all wet in there and there were hoses lying in there for two purposes (use imagination). They thought it was amazing in an amusing “check this out!” kind of way. Fortunately my kids are used to gross stuff and have an appreciation for levels of grossness that deserves an award. What was amazing was that it was the only toilet we had been charged for and it was the worst! No wonder half the people didn’t pay – silent protest?
So we rush back to the box office of the toilet from hell and our ticket seller notices us and hands over the red shoulder bag. I make Abbey use all her money to pay the taxi driver. He must have pitied Abbey and gives me a 3rm discount.
I send the kids to the room to rest instructing them not to open the door for anyone. We decide on a line from their favorite movie Benchwarmers as my password for them to let me in. I wander over the road keen for some man-time to chill out and restore my zen. I knock on the door of the Borneo Head Hunter Tattoo Studio and Robinson lets me in.
I head upstairs to Ernesto’s dimly lit and smoky studio decorated with antique malay artifacts, statues and art. Neither Robinson nor Ernesto wear tops – just shorts. They have long hair and traditional Iban tattoos on their backs, chest and arms. Ernesto is playing a guitar. I meet another Aussie there who is psyching himself up to have a tattoo banged in with a stick the ancient tap tap method for which Ernesto is world famous for. He gets flown around the world by conventions who bring him out to demonstrate his craft. The Aussie from Melbourne teaches English in South Korea.
I start to chill out and we start to discuss what I want. I tell them my life changed after a difficult experience and that I had to fight to get to where I am today after experiencing severe depression. They discuss how Iban would symbolize this. Warriors used markings to commemorate significant events on their journeys. They say that the dragon represents my story of victory but I don’t want a dragon. Then they say the serpent has new life because it sheds its skin. I don’t want a serpent. I have second thoughts. We talk a bit more and they speak in Malay and Robinson starts drawing. I’m not sure what they’ve decided but I’m chilling so let it all happen. I flip through their albums and learn the significance of various patterns. I learn how the dragon is embedded in the pattern (unrecognizable if you don’t know what to look for). I ask if they can omit this element and they’re cool. I eventually find the style I’m looking for and Ernesto said that’s exactly the style they were working up for me. Bingo. It’s based loosely on a stylized crab prized because of its tough armor. The first draft is readied and held to my shoulder. But it’s not yet what I had imagined I wanted. I suggested some modifications and Ernesto and Robinson made some changes. It looks great. The consult has gone an hour and another Aussie arrives. he’s from Healesville but works in Singapore. I ask if his tap tap tats hurt much. He reckons its much better than machine and you bleed less so it heals faster.
It’s time to wrap up. The ESL teacher has waited an hour so i ask for a quote and we make a tentative date. they spread out a bamboo mat. I ask to watch a bit and he asks me to take a few happy snaps. Ernesto dips a long stick with a needle attached into the ink. Robinson seated on the other side stretches the Aussies skin and Ernesto starts tapping. I click a few off and it’s time to go.
After a good one hour man time my zen is restored and I cross the road to make sure the children haven’t become the contraband of a well oiled people trafficking operation and aren’t already en route to Thailand – one of Nani’s concerns about them being out of eyesight. They’re are still there and much password asking and giggling takes place. I doubt much rest took place.
With the kids still bouncy (remember that neither pooh, rabbit, or eeyore appreciated tigger’s bouncing) I had to take them out again despite needing zzz’s myself. I’m looking for shoes for Lachie that he can bash around jungle trails tomorrow. As we ready to head out the heavens open with a downpour and a few flashes of lightning. Everyone outside takes cover. We do too but ours is umbrella and waterproof jackets. We walk in the pelting rain that is so hard it penetrates my umbrella. We slosh through roads now running with water. The air is cooler now and much more pleasant. The kids are loving it. Isn’t it fun walking in the rain? Sometimes it’s good to be reminded to see things as a child.
After trying three or four shopping centers we find shoes. Our pants are soaked from the runoff but i didn’t buy quick dry for nothing. The kids don’t mind. Time to eat.
We ask shop staff and they point “down there” for some good makan. We eat chicken and mushroom handmade noodles and drink iced teh tarik. We finish this off with fried bananas. There were other fried things. We asked about them but language failed. A boy came over and tried to help but he couldn’t remember the English words for them either. I figured one was sweet potato and bought a few of the other small fried mysteries that were about chicken nugget size. The food comes with a plate of red sauce. The bananas were yummy but the sauce turned out to be sweet chilli so it was strange but we kept dipping. I bit into one of the nuggets and there was a nut inside it. A chewy fairly flavorless nut a bit like a chestnut but firmer. It wasn’t til I got to the end of it I detected a faint taste like durian then realized it was something like jack fruit and the seed wasn’t meant to be eaten. Duh. I informed the rest.
We decided to walk along the beautiful paved waterfront along the swollen Kuching river as the light faded. Small hawker stores dotted the banks selling drinks, ice creams, souvenirs and popcorn. Abbey says hi to a group of soldiers. Some say hi, others ignore her. She keeps going and I’m thinking “maybe not a good idea honey”. Then she starts marching alongside them (they weren’t marching).
We wend our way through the old part of town with its rustic old buildings, narrow streets and open drains buying pink and white sticky, soft chewy kway? Queh? The pink turtles steamed on a square of pandan leaf had yellow bean inside and the white golf ball looking ones had sweet shredded coconut.
I have succeeded in wearing out the kids. It was their best day of the trip so far they said. I’m wondering where on earth can I hook up to iTunes.
Well here is the rough draft after much reading, surfing the net, reading forums, asking for advice and listening to podcasts.
At this stage there’s not much that we’re doing that requires us to lock in early, now that we’ve decided against climbing Mt Kinibalu so we can be fairly flexible.
1. Kuching 8 NIGHTS. Nani has a wedding dinner to attend here so we can’t shorten the time here in Sarawak. Having said that, it’s not hard to fill it in. We’ll visit Semmenggoh NP to check out the orang utan rehabilitation. We’ll do this in Sepilok as well, but at Semmenggoh apparently you get closer and on the odd occasion not many turn up so we’re hedging our bets between the two centres. The Sarawak cultural village and museum will be touristy but no doubt be really educational and I love learning new stuff.
Bako NP is an amazing place from all reports with loads of walks and it’s a great place to see the Proboscis monkeys early morning and evening. Apparently they’re quite shy so the kids will have to be in stealth mode. Because there’s so many walks there, and it’s a bit hard to get to (bus and boat) I reckon we’ll stay at least one or two nights in the park, although the accommodation is a bit sketchy from reviews. I’d suggest booking early rather than late, as it starting to book out months in advance.
Tattoos. I’m thinking seriously about getting some tribal ink in Kuching. International award winning Iban tattooist Ernesto Kalum (Borneo headhunter) is there, who’s recognised globally as being a leading tribal tattooist who also uses the traditional method. That’s the needle on the stick and bang with another stick method. I’m fairly sure the traditional method sounds a bit…. slow and maybe more painful than the machine, but the emails I’ve had from his offsider suggests it heals faster than machine – but I might just stick to what I know.
When I’m freshly inked I think we’ll check out the Santubong area north of Kuching and climb the mountain, do some walks, visit the fishing village nearby, grab a couple of kayaks and maybe stay in the Permai tree house for a night with the kids. How cool would that be?
Optionally (because we’ve got around eight nights in Kuching while waiting for a wedding dinner) is to head to Serian for a day trip where apparently there are some really nice waterfalls there.
2. Mulu. 3 NIGHTS. We’ll fly from Kuching to Mulu and stay at the Gunung Mulu NP for a few nights while we visit the famed caves there, dig around in the batshit and watch them fly out at night, look for carnivorous plants that might eat one or two of the kids and millipedes as big as your foot. I might even take the 10 year old and hike the Pinnacles which is a three day two night jungle trek with the last part hoisting yourself up rope ladders, which sounds like a great challenge.
3. Sandakan. 4 NIGHTS. We’ll then fly to Sandakan via KK and check out Sepilok Orang Utan rehab centre and then check in to Uncle Tan’s jungle camp. Apparently spartan but it’s on the Kinibatangan River which is the most densely populated wildlife place in East Malaysia so our chances of seeing elephants, orang utan, and proboscis monkeys will be great.
I’m really keen to do the historic walk in Sandakan and visit the war memorial and tell the kids about the 1400 aussie diggers that were killed on the death marches there by the Japanese in World War II. Only six, who escaped and were looked after by villagers survived. I’m going to pay my respects. Agnes Keith house will be fascinating too. She was an American author, who along with her husband and toddler, survived the brief occupation in a prison camp in Kuching and wrote about her experiences living in Sabah.
4. Mt Kinibalu. 2 NIGHTS. I don’t like the idea of flying everywhere. It’s disjointed from the landscape and gives a false sense of distance and time, so from Sandakan to KK we’ll go by coach. That way we can slow things down, and be forced to wait, watch, anticipate, rest, talk and think about what we’re doing. It will give us a perspective perhaps on the 250km march to Ranau that the diggers did through the jungle, some in barefeet. Stopping at Mt Kinibalu NP we’ll stay from a couple of nights and do some of the great walks in the area and get a good view of SE Asia’s highest peak.
5. Poring Hot Springs 1 NIGHT. After hopefully covering a few kilometers at Mt Kinibalu , we’ll head across to Poring Hot Springs nearby and soak in them and do some walks there and relax for a night. I think the kids will really like it here and we’ll probably stay outside of the park. There are some nice waterfalls to visit as well.
6. Kota Kinibalu 2 NIGHTS. After that we’ll finish up in Kota Kinibalu, the capital of Sabah (it used to be Sandakan before it was bombed to oblivion by the Japanese), where I’m dying to try the Filipino night market barbeque and visit the Tunku Abdul Rahman chain of islands to snorkel, swim and relax on the beaches before jumping on a plane and heading back to KL via Singapore.
We really want to be able to relax and take our time to absorb culture and a sense of place as we move through East Malaysia, so we will consciously resist the sense of “I’ve got to see as much as I can because we’ve spent so much to get here” which can easily suck you in. The harder you push with kids, the less enjoyable things are.
We’ve got relatives in Singapore and since we’re in the area, we thought we’d stop over there on the way back to KL for several nights. I’m not keen on this leg of the trip because I’m not a fan of the concrete jungle, but I’ve drawn up a bit of an itinerary that will hopefully be relaxing and enjoyable with the kids whilst steering clear of Orchard Rd and avoiding affluenza like the plague.
Any thoughts about our itinerary? Anything we could cut out or should maybe add in? I’m still agonizing about booking internal flights because I’m really not sure how long to stay in each place. Once again – a victim of procrastination.
So Nani gets invited by a couple of relatives to this wedding in East Malaysia in December and my inbox announces that AirAsia has a sale. The stars align and we pull the trigger. Now the AirAsia sale is like half price and begins at 3pm. It’s one of those sales, that you know as soon as it begins, the site is going to lock up. But I’ve been doing my research.
I pre-register as a customer the day before. I quit work early and arrive home at 2.45 pm. I’ve pulled up the site and by 2.59pm I’m hitting refresh trying to find those lucky seats. I feel like Charlie and the Chocolate factory stripping wrappers off Wonka bars.
Then my worst fears become reality – the site locks up. It’s not refreshing, my wonka bars aren’t shelling.
But then, a lightbulb moment. What if I try the mobile site? I quickly download the iPhone app, and start over. Amazingly, it works. I find out later that the mobile site, is a different site. No hitches, no glitches. We’re booked to arrive in Kuching via KL on Thursday December 1st – plenty of time to settle in, dust off the jetlag and get ready for the wedding.
Nani comes home to celebratory noises, flips open her netbook and says “Oh SHIT! The wedding is ON the Thursday! And the wedding is in Sibu NOT Kuching!”
This is the part where my brain goes into overload (so many questions and comments to make, all are unhelpful) and I decide to withdraw and do some cave-time. It’s like algebra and calculus had a love child which has just done a number on me. Doesn’t compute. Oh well, it’s her problem. For me and the kids, we’re headed for Kuching!