Sabah - Dec 2014
Like others before us, we were inspired to make this trip in order to assess the efforts being made to conserve the habitat and welfare of the native Orang-utan population in Borneo and see what action is being taken to thwart the ever-increasing Oil Palm plantations
While it is possible to view these beautiful animals in the remote Indonesian southern (Kalimantan) portion of Borneo it is substantially more difficult to travel there as compared to the facilities and infrastructure provided in the Malaysian governed provinces of Sarawak and Sabah.............hence we chose the easier path.
In an endeavour to minimise time spent in airport transit lounges I again booked a night flight out of Brisbane and arrived in Singapore at 0530 hrs giving us time to catch our next flight to Kota Kinabalu at 0900 hrs. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that both Singapore as well as Silk Airlines had arranged for me to receive egg free meals; despite earlier advice that this would not be possible.
I wish now to formally register another request for my future airline travel and that is to ensure I am not again seated behind anyone intending to fully recline their seat for the entire journey preventing me from reading, eating, toileting or drinking. I had half the contents of a drink spilled over myself within the first hour of our seven our leg by some lazy inconsiderate bastard who wore ear plugs and a sleep mask.
Our trip coincided with a Changi Airport promotion which gave each of us a S$40 voucher to spend at the airport – came in handy at the duty free shops as well as at the Bar where beer is now over S$14/stubby.
The Jesselton Hotel (www.jesseltonhotel.com) at KK turned out to be a real olde world charmer, including a malfunctioning fridge and poor Wifi connection. It is situated on Jalan Gaya -the street which turns into a market every Sunday. The rooms have plush carpets, teak furniture and best of all the dated orange patterned marble bathroom so typical of grand old Chinese hotels.
This same marble adorned the foyer and the interior of the elevator.
Jesselton was the original name for Kota Kinabalu prior to the independence of the British Crown Colony of North Borneo being granted from Britain in 1963.
Last imperial Governor takes his leave
Tourist Invasion - Dec 2014
KK resembles Penang with a lot of similar colonial buildings and Chinese shopfronts. Despite some serious jetlag, we spent the afternoon walking about the town to Jesselton Point and pier where the myriad of scuba diving charters depart and where the inter island ferries dock.
We eventually settling for a Chinese meal and an early night. We re-arranged our bags and decided to leave the larger of the two at the hotel for our jungle adventures over the next 5 days.
The next morning we caught a short (45min) Air Asia flight at 0730 across to Sandakan. I had specially selected window seats on the port side of the aircraft to give us the best possible chance of viewing Mount Kinabalu – SE Asia’s tallest mountain. It worked and we got quite reasonable glimpses of the mountain through the obliging clouds!
Mt Kinabalu from port side window seats
On arrival and after negotiating a hire car we drove to our accommodation at the Paganakan Dii Resort (www.paganakandii.com) which was a beautiful eco style “Flash packer” resort at Sepilok some 20 kms from Sandakan and only about 5 kms from the world famous Orang-Utan Rehabilitation Centre – we had opted for the air-conditioned wooden bungalows nestled in the Jungle cf the rather Spartan dorm accommodation also being offered.
Our Jungle Resort
Our little renter and the Resort's dining room
Our Jungle Bungalow complete with 'Wok' sink and 'monkey-proof' shower recess
The resort was occupied mainly by Europeans plus the odd Australian. While the accommodation was quite good the bungalows lacked a fridge and the meals being sold there for about $5 were pretty basic backpacker fare of burgers, scrambled eggs, and tasteless curries….you only get what you pay for.
During our stay here we visited the Orang-Utan Rehabilitation Centre which was not as good as we had hoped. While there were plenty of animals to view the viewing deck was 25metres distance from where the apes were being fed - not as close as Maria had hoped. She had rather idealistically hoped to be able to actually touch them – however for the animals and viewing public this would have been just too dangerous.
I should also mention that I took a deal of video footage of these apes and monkeys but unfortunately have not been able to transfer it across to this web blog.
All the animals at the centre had been orphaned or taken off poachers and they required a great deal of time to rehabilitate to be able to look after themselves back in the jungle - a process that can take anything up to 6 years and costed approximately $12 000 per animal.
The next day we had a much closer encounter with a colony of wild Proboscis Monkeys – these chattering devils frequently made impromptu incursions into the viewing decks and noisily chased each other and the apprehensive visitors about.
Proboscis Monkeys noted for their garrulous nature, constant erections and flatulence
We also visited the Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Park which again takes in orphaned, injured or pets. These bears are threatened chiefly for by locals for their meat and also their bile which is used in Chinese medicine. A ranger present declared these the smallest bear mammal in the world and that the Koala was not in fact a bear but a Marsupial - so there; we stood corrected!
The Sun Bears' paws highly prized in Chinese Medicine
Keen to have in house access to cold drinks I had to convert a waste paper basket into a temporary esky with the help; of some plastic bags having parked it in the self draining shower recess - it did the job!
We drove back into Sandakan so as we could visit the excellent memorial dedicated to the 2500 WW2 English and Australian POWs who died on the Death Marches. The memorial forest has been expertly designed and maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and by the RSL. Most who perished are actually buried at a War Cemetery on the island of Labuan off the coast of Brunei.
We then managed a fine seafood lunch down by the wharf in Sandakan. Wok grilled whole snapper, fried rice and steamed vegetables for about $20 – marvellous.
Lunch down at the Sandakan waterfront cafe strip on a very sultry afternoon - the Carlsberg was most welcome
New Year’s Eve 2014 was reluctantly celebrated as an early night after another plate of tasteless curried stew at our resort. Given its magnificent setting and the obliging staff it was a good choice albeit one without much flair as far as the food offerings were concerned.
Our Rental vehicle was retrieved the next morning and so we had a free morning to catch up on the blog and roughly categorise and save our accumulated digital photographs.
We and another Australian couple from Adelaide were scheduled to be picked up by a bus at 1230 to take us to the Nature Lodge (www.naturelodgekinabatangan.com) down on the Kinabatangan River…..but it did not arrive until 1315 hrs. We were advised to get the driver to stop at a supermarket so we could purchase some drinks as the Lodge reputedly did not sell alcohol…..this proved incorrect.
Once again we had chosen to stay at a “Flash packer” level of resort which was roughly half the cost of some of the grander lodges down on this river – the largest in Sabah. The lodge is dedicated to conservation and after a 3 hour bus ride through unrelenting Oil Palm plantations we were all appreciative of their aims and objectives,
The lodge itself is manned by a group of young women alI in their middle 20s – I guess. The lodge’s activities program is run almost on military lines with guests summoned to treks, boat cruises, meals etc by a brass gong. We had again pre-booked a deluxe aircon bungalow for their 3 day 2 night set program and were really looking forward to it.
As can be seen the lodge gets inundated during the wet season when the river floods
Unfortunately, our first boat cruise coincided with a tropical downpour and we all got soaked. People riding in the boats from the flasher lodges had all been issued with ponchos - we were not. However, we did manage to see at least four different kind of monkeys plus a large Orang-Utan.
On returning to our base I immediately purchased two plastic ponchos for use in future jungle outings. Of course it did not rain during our second cruise at 0530 the following morning nor during the 3 hour jungle trek which followed. Our lodge also hired out 'trekking gum boots' as well as 'leach proof stockings' but we did not use them believing our gear would be suffient.
However, we got to try out our ponchos on the next evening cruise and were very grateful for the protection they afforded. During the downpour, the poncho’d clad tourists in other boats resembled boat loads of local women in Hijabs.
While a night trek to view the nocturnal fauna was an optional extra activity, we decided that a further soggy outing was not on.
Unfortunately, the food offerings here are little better than that to be had at our previous resort……a bland fusion of western and Asian dishes made from some pretty average ingredients. Eg lamb chop casserole/chop suey! However, we are here because of the river not the cuisine – so I must desist from moaning too much.
A three hour jungle trek was also included in our stay at the lodge and it involved a trek along the river on a very muddy and slippery path until we reached Ox Bow Lake. Maria plus at least 3 others all managed to lose their footings enroute but still managed to complete the trek with their trekking credentials intact. However, the gumboots and stockings did not prevent the odd leach from dropping off branches and onto unsuspecting necks and arms!
Trekking through the jungle bog
The weather during the next afternoon cruise soon turned nasty and yet again we were confronted with wild gusting showers on the river. We were getting quite apprehensive about our lack of dry clean clothing and so we started to re-cycle our dirty clothes. However, our guide managed to get us up close to a crocodile plus the odd bird and monkey. We also witnessed monkeys utilising one of the man-made rope bridges spanning the river. However, after an hour of seeing very little of size, it was evident that the most of us were more interested in getting home and into dry clothing.
Marque Monkeys utilising the rope ladder across the river
During our time here we have teamed up primarily with an Australian couple (Danielle & Tony Hayes from Adelaide) plus another adventurous Australian couple from Brisbane (Bev Brooks and partner Bevan) who, as 50 year olds, have seemingly travelled in every continent as backpackers – each couple being able to contribute to the others’ travellers’ database. We agreed to exchange email addresses.
We eventually left the river lodge at 0830 hrs for a 2.5hr bus ride back to Sandakan Airport where we caught a short plane ride back to Kota Kinabalu with a sack of wet and dirty clothes in need of a laundry. However, we were a little overwhelmed by the extravagant fit out of the taxi which picked us up from the airport; viz:
After checking back into the Jesselton Hotel and arranging for our washing to be done we set off to explore the town’s night fish market where we had a beautiful whole fish grilled in a banana leaf with loads of mild spices based essentially on tamarind and chilli.
Next morning saw the weekly Sunday market set up right outside our hotel and we had ringside access to this huge tourist orientated market.
In the afternoon we visited the State Museum which had a mixed collection of Dayak head hunting memorabilia (but no actual heads.,, and some excellent accounts of the early British colonial rule through a chartered trading company and also some accounts of the resistance movement that operated during the Japanese occupation in WW2.
That night we dined at a funky little bistro with open air bar facing the street called El Centro on Jalan Haji Saman– not bad.
The next morning saw us caught up in the first of a series of delayed flights which dogged this part of our holiday. Our amended flight details involved a Malaysian Airways flight to Ho Chi Minh city via Kuala Lumpur. The plane was delayed nearly an hour and as a consequence we had to run the entire length of KL airport to get on our connecting flight. We only hoped our luggage would be similarly transferred...we only made it because the connecting flight was also running 30 mins late….very soree indeed!......however, worse was to come once we got to HCM city and had to put up with the disgraceful antics of Jetstar Pacific during our next leg to Hanoi.
The natural wonders of Sabah are worth the making the trip. However, the minor irritations of sweet cardboard tasting bread, no pork meat, bad coffee, restricted to Tiger and Carlsberg beer, total lack of tonic water for our Sapphire Gin and an appreciation for the need of food to be served hot and drinks cold - not both warm as so often happened...left us a little jaundiced.
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