We looked into the costs of shipping Nessie over to Malaysia Borneo but it was too expensive considering we are not going to island hop toward East Timor– so we bought cheap flights with AIR ASIA and flew to Kuching. Return flight for 2 people costs : 662Rm.We have made a fair few mistakes with this part of the trip and will highlight them so that you have a better chance of getting the most out of your visit.
OCT. 24th. Kuching.
B&B INN - 35Rm per night inc. hot water shared bathroom, breakfast and a very reliable left luggage system. Excellent.
We arrived at the B&B Inn and settled into our immaculate rooms before taking a walk into town.
Kuching is the capital of Sarawak and is a very pleasant town indeed with a wide river, some old architecture and great shopping opportunities– you could easily spend a lot of time here.
OCT. 25th. Semenggoh Wildlife Centre, Istana, Cat Museum, Sarawak Museums and a Tambang Ride.
The Kuching market area is undergoing some building work and as a result the bus stop system is a complete c**k-up and that’s being polite! After 40 minutes of chasing our tails seeking the ever changing bus stop for the number 6, we finally secured a ride out to see the Orang Utans at Semenggoh.
ORANG UTAN means people of the forest, they are the largest tree dwelling mammals in the world and there are only 3,000 remaining in the Sarawak and Sabah regions. Semenggoh is home to 23 of these animals although the 653 hectare area is really only suitable for up to 18. Food is laid out twice a day to supplement their natural diet of jungle fruits but they will only appear if it is dry weather and if the jungle fruits have not ripened. We were very lucky -not only did 5 apes appear but a mother and baby also popped into the feeding area. We spent an hour spellbound at the antics of them all, and just as we thought it couldn’t get any better, we saw the trees in the distance bending over– something very big was coming through the jungle toward us. Ritchie. He is a 26 year old dominant male who resembled King Kong as he approached with his fabulous long orange hair swinging as he made his way to the platform. It had to be the most amazing experience either of us has ever had. We returned to town on a kampong bus and set off to visit the Cat Museum. Rather stupidly we thought that a nice ride across the river in a traditional tambang would take us closer to the museum. WRONG. We walked for what seemed like miles before we flagged down a local to ask where we were– would you believe it, the guy was actually driving his friend to work at the museum, so we got a lift. Jammy sods! We returned to the centre of town to visit the Sarawak museum which displays some great tribal artefacts before ending the day with a yummy Laksa sarawak– noodle and prawn dish.
BORNEO & BRUNEI
A BACKPACKING TRIP
DID YOU KNOW?
build a new nest every night!
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OCT. 26th Bako National Park. 4bed room –42Rm with shared cold water bathroom. Okay.
We are up early to catch the bus out to Bako and a short ride later we are dropped off at the jetty. The tide was out so we were told we could either wait an hour or get dropped off on the beach and walk 20 minutes to the Park H.Q.– we chose the walk. It was a great way to approach the park just don’t expect a sandy beach. We had phoned ahead the day before to book an overnight room but with check-in still 2 hours away we leave our bags in the locker room and take a walk toward the trails. Bako is home to the proboscis monkey– there are only 1,000 left. You have to walk along the mangrove boardwalk to reach the start of the jungle trails– we took the Telok Paku trail, one of the shortest and easiest. Just after the 100m marker you will see a sandy track leading off to your left, stop there and look up- I guarantee that if you are quiet you will see a group of proboscis that seem to hang around that spot. These monkeys are amazing. They look like old men wearing grey trousers and a red rucksack, they sit belching in between stuffing as many leaves as they can into their mouths in the shortest time possible. We carried onto the beach where we spotted a group of macaque monkeys one of whom spent the whole time stroking his unfeasibly long beard before returning to H.Q and settling into our room for the night. There is a canteen which serves noodles, chicken and veg. -fill your plate with any combination for 5Rm but the soft drinks are expensive.
We got up at dawn in the hope of catching the monkeys coming to feed on the mangroves but it 7am before we spotted any action– a very young proboscis came to feed. Rose had gone back up to marker 100m to see if any of the gang were up there and sure enough they all were -so it was just a case of waiting for them to come out of the jungle and onto the mangroves. By 8am a small group started to come down, giving us a great opportunity to see these fantastic animals up close. We watched the young monkey walk back toward the jungle as the group arrived. He cut a sorry figure– we’re unsure if he is orphaned, sick or just unsocial! Be sure to sit very still. We had to leave to catch the boat back to town where we head to the Sunday market for a bit of shopping and a market stall meal before settling into the B&B again.
OCT. 28th Kapit. New Rejang Inn– 55Rm en suite hot water, A/C and T.V ( ask reception to put on HBO or STAR movies channel)
Another early day where we have to be at the jetty for 8am to catch the first boat to Sibu– 45Rm p.p. You face a choice– expensive car rental, a bus trip taking 7 hours and is a rattler or just over 5 hours on a boat. We spent 2 hours out at sea and the rest going up river on a very comfortable boat with A/C and a television. It was a bit like a flight but there’s not much to see other than logging stations. We recommend sitting upstairs which allows you to access the outside deck easily.
We arrived just in time to catch the last boat to Kapit– 25Rm p.p for 1st class, it’s a much smaller boat—be sure that your seat number ends with an A if you pay for 1st class as it’s a higher cabin which means the floor stays dry! It’s a 3 hour trip.The trip from Sibu to Kapit was much more interesting but by the time we arrive we are knackered. We booked into the Rejang and have an early night.
Kapit sits on the banks of the mighty Rejang River, a river that leads you into the heart of Borneo a tribal area full of long houses, jungle and the Iban people– a tribe that is renowned for their friendliness. Kapit is only accessible by river and is a great place to see traditional tribal tattooed men and women. We hung around the market area people watching and soaking up the atmosphere. It was at this point that our trip started to go a bit pear shaped– you see we had hoped to visit a traditional longhouse with some elderly residents so we could ask about the meanings of the tattoos and long lobed ears. To explain– there are 2 men ‘working’ the town as guides, Paul (a school teacher who hangs around the market) and Joshua who can be found at the Rejang Inn. They try to sell you a traditional longhouse visit for 95Rm p.p. So here’s the problem– there is no such thing anymore, unless you plan a 5 day expedition through the jungle to god knows where!! It’s the 21st century folks -longhouses have wriggly tin roofs now, electric and some even have telephones, the residents are usually wearing jeans and t-shirts or, at best, sarong and t-shirt and you will be very lucky to see tattoos, hanging skulls or drooping earlobes. That’s the reality and we, like so many tourists, were expecting the dream. We met tourists that had gone on one of these tours and were VERY disappointed. As it happened, we bumped into Yong, a Chinese /Malay tourist who invited us to join him on a visit to a local longhouse. We jumped on a kampong bus for 1.50Rm and arrived at a very pretty modern-ish longhouse with friendly residents and Yong able to translate for us. It was an enjoyable visit and we had saved ourselves 190Rm!!! Our advice would be to spend the day wandering around the market, buy lunch at one of the stalls, get chatting to people and ask about longhouses and visit the museum to see the superb photographs of the different tribes living on the Rejang banks.
These are some of the longhouses in the area;
Rumah Bundong– 10km’s out of town and reputed to have skulls hanging in the corridor.
Rumah Garie, Sungai Kain, Baleh– has some good weaving.
Rumah Jandok Sg. Yong
We’re not trying to put anyone out of business but I ask you– would you rather get there by making a genuine connection to one of the residents and spend some of your money on that community OR would you rather get there with a guide, who gets all the money and you are just another face?
TOP TIP– Go to the night market food stalls, near the food stall hall and eat at the ABANG BQS– it’s a roti stall. And you MUST breakfast at the fabulous Un Tong Chinese bakery opposite the fruit market– you can’t miss it, it’s the only one, the queues can be big for these delicious fresh from the oven rolls, grab a table and try them all-if you can.
Our favourite was the ‘follow me’ bun– it’s to die for!!
OCT. 30th Belaga. Belaga Hotel– 30Rm ensuite hot water and A/C. So-so.
We are still seeking the dream and decide, in hindsight rather foolishly, to leave Kapit early in the hope of finding tribal nirvana in Belaga. So we caught the once daily boat up river– 35Rm p.p. The river narrows, you pass lots of longhouses, see traditional life on the river banks and shoot the rapids. The journey took 5 hours with lots of stops at longhouse communities where the boat literally noses onto the mud banks for people to hop on and off. We sat inside and shortly after leaving Kapit, much to our dismay the doors were closed and we were left trying to peer out of the rather murky scratched windows. I know it sounds mad, but if you get the chance throw your bag on a chair then hop on top, beside the flag pole is the best spot -pay for your seat inside but sit up top until you are past Pelagus so you get prime view of the rapids. It was on this boat that we saw our first person to wear traditional tribal earrings, and if you sit on top with the locals there’s a very strong chance of a longhouse invite.
The boat trip is not to be missed.
We were met at the jetty by Andreas, he runs the Malaysia Airways office in town and he wanted to sell us a longhouse trip.
We didn’t want to get sucked into that again so we politely said no thanks. On the other side of the river, on top of the hill, is the chiefs burial ground– Yong translated for us and we sourced a boatman who could take us over and, best of all -because he was related to one of the chiefs he could ‘invite’ us into the site. At the last minute Dave and I decided not to go and took a wander around the local area instead, visiting the local church with it’s old burial poles. When we returned we were shocked to discover that Andreas had set upon Yong accusing him of being an unregistered guide and refusing to believe he was just another tourist. It was a nasty incident which left a bad taste with all of us. By now we are a small group of 7 so we all sat and debated what to do. We felt that if we were to attempt to do anything independently we would be risking the wrath of Andreas and things may get sticky-but we had been told of a Penan tribe longhouse within 2km’s walk thru the jungle. We make the collective decision that it’s just not worth it. We were later approached by Daniel who also runs a guided tours company, he worked out a tour for us that involved visiting longhouses up river toward the dam where the local people would sing and dance for us. We asked what the locals got in return? ‘A few coins’ was his answer. We wanted a genuine encounter with the local people not a performing circus act where the guide got rich and the locals got nothing out of it. Our decision was made– we were catching the 4wd jeep out of town first thing in the morning. The only other way out of town is on a twin otter plane that lands in a small clearance area of the jungle, but the service has been temporarily stopped due to company take over.
We knew we had made the right decision when the next morning we met a couple that had done a tour with Daniel and came back disappointed.
OCT. 31st Niah caves. 4 bed hostel room at Park H.Q - 42Rm en suite hot water. Very good.
The logging road that links Belaga to the highway was only built 7 years ago and has had very little maintenance since. We saw hornbills, snakes and a waterfront longhouse on the way and really enjoyed the drive. It was 3 hours later that we were deposited on the highway. We had intended on catching an express bus toward Niah but, being foreigners, we were instantly spotted by a local who offered to drive us there for 15Rm p.p so the 4 of us jumped in and spent the next 40 minutes debating whether the axle was attached to the body of the car whilst listening to a Smokies greatest hits C.D !
We booked in and set off toward the caves –you have to take a very short boat trip across the river to get into the park and we were warned on several occasions that the last boat left at 7.30pm. If you miss this boat don’t be tempted on a short swim as the river has crocodiles, one of whom ate a local in the past few years!!
Niah caves is one of the worlds largest caves where archaeologists have discovered human remains dating back 40,000 years and where thousands of bats live along side swiftlets. It’s the swiftlet nests that provide the vital ingredient for birds nest soup and throughout the caves you can see a huge bamboo pole and rope system that allows only the very brave to climb up to the cave roof to harvest the nests. We were unbelievably lucky to stumble upon a local harvesting and he told us he gets paid 1,000Rm per kg- that’s approx. 146 pounds!! The nests are taken away and soaked in water over night before someone plucks out the feathers and what is left is poured into a mould then sold for 6,000Rm per kg. What is it?? Bird saliva!!!!
The caves were superb and well worth the visit especially if you time it right to watch the changeover where the swiftlets return at dusk and the bats head out for the night. Work on 4 hours for a round trip from H.Q and back and remember to take a torch.
NOV. 1st Miri. King Hua Aircon Inn– 50Rm ensuite hot water, A/C and T.V - ask reception to put your chosen channel on.
When it comes to leaving the park you are a bit of a captured audience, so we stuck to our principles and walked the 1.4km’s to the main road where we managed to hitch a lift into town on the back of a pickup. From there we secured a local to drive us to the highway so we could catch the express bus to Miri. This was our first experience of the express buses and the bus was a wreck - within 5km’s of gear crunching and coasting we had broken down, fortunately a mechanic was on board and the gear box was duly repaired allowing us to continue our trip and pick up passengers from another broken down bus. We arrived in town and headed for the Jalan Triangle area where we found a choice of hotels.
Miri is a great place to shop and eat. We highly recommend the Shanghai Seafood Centre on Jalan Yu Seng Selatan for it’s fantastic chicken with dried chilli and ginger. P.S ask to see the 5 legged frog!
Cat Museum shaped like a U.F.O
We all know that woosies are aliens. Don’t we??
HEADHUNTER TROPHIES at the
SEMENGGOH SUPER STARS– Delima and baby.
A close up photo of a large male proboscis monkey.
Not the type of beach landing that Dave’s used to!
MODERN IBAN LONGHOUSE IN KAPIT EXPRESS BOATS FOR THE REJANG RIVER
SUPERB BOAT TRIP FROM KAPIT to BELAGA ‘the heart of Borneo’
FRIENDLY LOCAL RESIDENTS NEAR THE CHURCH IN BELAGA
OUR DRIVER VERY CAREFULLY CHECKING THE ‘ROAD’ BEFORE DRIVING ON.
A LOCAL MAN COLLECTING
He’s maybe a primate but he’s got no mates! BLESS