Category Archives: Malaysia

Posts made in Malaysia!

Malaysian Borneo – Kuching

We’ve spent the last few days rounding off our Borneo trip in the southern city of Kuching capital of the Malyasian state of Sarawak. Whilst described by our guide book as a laid back sort of place we found it quite busy and unwelcoming. Nevertheless Kuching’s proximity to lots of surrounding wildlife makes it worth the ideal base for a trip into the surrounding national parks.

The Semenggoh Orang-utan Sanctuary is only 25km outside the town and is easy enough to get to by public bus. It was much less touristy than the other Sanctuary we visited in Sabah with only a handful of tourists around for the afternoon feeding session. This protected area of jungle is where orphaned and injured Orang-utans are rehabilitated and, hopefully, released into the wild.

It was a swelteringly hot day when we visited and the rangers were unsure whether any of the Orang-utans would venture down to the feeding platform where a bucketful of fruit was awaiting them. Indeed it took a while as the Orang-utans seemed wary of the watching tourists (some people can’t keep quiet!) but one-by-one they came down the ropes to the platforms and retreated with some fruit to a safe distance.

They are amazing animals to watch, so graceful and human like in their emotions and movements – except when holding onto the rope with their feet!

We could see the trees swaying as the Orang-utans swung their way through the jungle and eventually there were at least six of them within view, including some very young ones.

We could have stayed all day, but we had to catch the last bus back to the city where after an Indian evening meal we strolled by the river past the impressive state parliament building, which is probably the nicest area of the city.

We were planning to go out to the nearby Bako national park but decided not to as there wasn’t any overnight accommodation available – plan ahead on weekends! Never mind we have seen plenty of wildlife in Borneo and to be honest we have had our fill of jungle! Instead we visited the Sarawak museum where we learnt about the tribal cultures of the state, including the infamous head-hunting.

Carried out for over 500 years I am thankful this practice declined in 1841 when Sarawak became an independent state under governance of Sir James Brooke. Heads were ‘collected’, worshipped, and revered – much of the rituals are a mystery but it is known that women and children’s heads were favoured!

This evening we flew back to Kuala Lumpur and again we find ourselves spending a night in the airport as we have a very early (06:50) flight to Siem Reap in Cambodia, which is close to the famous Temples of Angkor.

So our Borneo adventure is over, it has been a thoroughly enjoyable experience with jungles, mountains (the pain was worth it!), cities (Brunei was the best), and some amazing wildlife. I guess I expected Borneo to be mainly about nature, but it has been a bit of an eye opener as to how developed it is there. I hope the remaining native forests and there amazing inhabitants can be saved from the spreading cities and palm plantations so they can be enjoyed by future generations. I’m going to try to avoid palm oil products from now on – easier said than done, but every little helps!

There are some Orang-utan centric photos from Kuching and around here.

Malaysian Borneo – Sabah

We’ve spent the last week or so in the Malaysian Borneo state of Sabah, a so called natural theme park. We flew into the small town of Sandakan near the Eastern edge of the state, and as we came into land we could only see jungle stretching as far as the eye could Borneo looked as I had imagined with dense jungle stretching as far as the eye could see. From the airport we took a taxi about 25km west to the small area of Sepilok, where we stayed overnight at the Uncle Tan’s hostel. We had booked onto a 3 day 2 night wildlife safari with Uncle Tan’s along the Kinabatangan River starting the next day and so having had a restless night at Kuala Lumpur airport we relaxed for the rest of the day.

Our tour started at the Sepilok Orang-utan Sanctuary, which rehabilitates orphaned babies back into the wild. The apes are not kept in cages but the sanctuary is setup in a protected area of jungle, of course the Orang-utans are very used to human contact so we were able to get very close to them.

The Orang-utans are very hard to spot as they gracefully swing through the jungle canopy, unlike monkeys which jump and screech their way through the jungle. However at feeding time three Orang-utans came out of the jungle to the platform where park rangers had laid of food for them.

The rangers stayed nearby to guard the food from the cheeky long-tailed Macaques that were looking for a free feed – as soon as the Orang-utans were finished the rangers moved away and the platform was invaded!

The sanctuary has an interesting information centre where we learnt about the work they undertake as well as the Orang-utans, which, as is easy to see from their mannerisms, share 96% of the genes of humans. Orang-utans are only found in Borneo and the Indonesian island of Sumatra, sadly their existence is threatened by the destruction of their habitats to make way for palm tree plantations to supply palm oil. On our travels through Borneo we were sad to see that there are many palm tree forests. It was a touristy experience at the sanctuary but nevertheless enjoyable and interesting, and we were happy to support the good work they are doing there.

During the wildlife tour we stayed in a jungle camp somewhere in the Borneo jungle on the banks of the muddy brown Kinabatangan River. To get to the camp it was an hour and a half bumpy minibus ride from Sandakan to the river and then an hour cruise upstream in an open motorboat – we were literally in the middle of nowhere. Unfortunately during our journey to the camp the heavens opened and we got soaked, the only time in the three days!

We were glad to get into the shelter of the camp and were pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t as basic as we had expected, it was basic but they had electricity and running water which offered a few home comforts! The camp is staffed by 20-30 locals who are all really friendly and good fun – especially the affable chef Lan. Considering the facilities and difficulties of the jungle the food was varied and excellent – river crab curry anyone?!

The river is something of a sanctuary for the animals that as a result of the logging and palm-oil industries have been forced to seek refuge along the rivers flood plains. The camp was the perfect base from which to embark on river cruises to get close to some of Borneo’s wildlife, and there were three cruises a day to give us the maximum chance of seeing it – dawn, dusk, and night with a spot light – in the day the heat of the sun makes the animals quite docile.

All the cruises were different and we saw different animals each time. Our first tour was at night and we found Kingfishers sleeping on branches, a baby crocodile, and this owl staring down at us from the branches overhanging the river.

The misty dawn cruise was a good time to see the rivers birdlife, including kingfishers, egrets, hornbills, and sea eagles soaring over the river. We also saw a group of Gibbons, apes that are in the same family as Orang-utans, swinging through the trees. On all the cruises there were plenty of Macaques to entertain us with their monkey antics. The zoom lens came in handy 🙂

The best cruise though was in the late afternoon with the setting sun providing a lovely light over the jungle. Sadly, despite a through search, we didn’t see an Orang-utan but we did find a group of Proboscis Monkeys – big nosed monkeys that are unique to Borneo. The alpha male, the bigger nose the better apparently, sat high up in the tree on the lookout for predators whilst his group hung out in the branches below.

The sunset over the river and jungle was great!

As well as the cruises we did some jungle trekking, one in the day and another at night. The day trek just got us hot and sweaty and up close to lots of bugs – millipedes, centipedes, spiders, scorpions, and fire ants – Lisa liked to hold most of these, but I preferred not too! The night trek around the camp perimeter was better as we found frogs, bats, and sleeping birds that would let us get very close to them (they can’t see in the dark so were forced to sit still and ignore us).

We slept in basic wooden huts on mattresses covered with a mosquito net, sleeping wasn’t easy with the sounds of the jungle – we knew there were rats, snakes, spiders, etc crawling all around us!

After two nights and three days in the sweaty jungle (without a shower) we were ready for civilisation again! It was a really good tour, and we met a nice group of fellow travellers, and I would definitely recommend a trip on the Kinabatangan River if you come to Borneo.

After the tour, and a much needed shower, we took a bus from Sepilok about four hours west to the base of Mt. Kinabula, which at 4095m is South East Asias tallest mountain. We stayed in a nice hostel near the entrance to the national park that surrounds the mountain and were pleased that it was quite a bit cooler as we were at 1500m – we had a great night’s sleep.

Many people come to Borneo just to climb the mountain and the limited daily permits for the summit trail get booked up way in advance, therefore we expected that we would not be able to do the climb. However never trust the Lonely Planet as on enquiry at the park office we were soon booked in to do the climb the following day! We did a warm up trek on the 6km Liwagu trail through the jungle at the base of mountain, nice until some horsefly type things ravaged us and I lost of camera lens cap in a fast flowing stream!

Next morning we met up with our guide, Frederick (or maybe Patrick it seemed to change!), around 7:30am and a French guy, Boris, who asked if he could join our group to split the guide fees (no problem – climbing the mountain isn’t cheap!). We then drove up to the start of the summit trail and set off carrying as many warm clothes as we could find – we had to buy two second hand jackets for 5 quid each as we only have summer clothes with us! The trail is just over 8.5km to the summit but with over 2000m to ascend it is a steep climb, almost every step is uphill, on some of the biggest steps I have seen – not so bad on the way up but a killer on the way down.

Of course we hadn’t done any training for the climb so it was tough going but we slowly plodded our way up, stopping regularly for breaks at the shelters along the trail. The world record to climb and descend the mountain is 2 hours 37 mins (respect!) but it took us four sweaty hours to reach the climbers hostel, Laban Rata, which is 6km along the trail at 3273m.

This place was a real luxury (how we would of loved this during our ascent of Kilimanjaro!) with a restaurant, showers, and enough beds to sleep 150 people. Not cheap at nearly 100 quid a night, but then the only way to supply the hostel is a by the impressive porters who undertake the trail with some very heavy loads!

We arrived at the hostel around 1pm and were due to set off for the summit at 2:30am, so we spent the afternoon preparing for the climb ahead by eating and sleeping. We managed to get a good four hours of sleep and the adrenaline was pumping as we set off into the dark following Frederick on the trail to the summit. It wasn’t as cold as we expected (5-10 degrees) and it was a lovely clear night’s sky with giving us a great view of the stars and the long line of climbers head-torches on the trail ahead of us. As we got above the tree line we could see the lights of the settlements below, most notably the large city of Kota Kinabula 100km away on the coast.

The final kilometre was scramble up the granite dome of the summit using a rope as a route marker and support. We arrived at the summit at 4:45am about 30 minutes before the first rays of light of the day.

Now sitting still and open to a chilly breeze the cold kicked in, the five quid jackets were well worth the investment, and predictably worst affected were Lisa’s feet! It wasn’t too bad though and the rising sun distracted us as we witnessed a breathtaking sunrise over Borneo.

After about an hour at the top our feet were pretty numb and we started the descent.

Of course climbing the mountain is only half of the challenge and what goes up must come down. With the light we could now see how steep the trail was and it was arguably harder going down than coming up!

After negotiating the summit ropes we were back down at the hostel having breakfast (it felt more like lunch and noodles felt right for a change!) by 8am. Then came the nasty bit, 6km and a 2000m decent over those knee jarring steps. The first 3km were ok but the last 3km were a real chore and the going was slow!

It took us four hours to get to the bottom of the trail from the hostel, tired but nevertheless very happy to have completed the Mt. Kinabula challenge!

After a decent buffet lunch at the park gate we took a bus to Kota Kinabula (the main town in Sabah) and after a welcome shower literally crashed out – it had been a long long day of walking!
Next morning we found our legs had ceased up and we could barely walk! A couple of days of R&R was in order so on the advice of some fellow backpackers headed to the ‘tip of Borneo’ about 3 hours drive in a shared taxi north of Kota Kinabula, near the town of Kudat.

We stayed in a traditional Borneo longhouse owned by a British expat, Howard from Stratford-upon-Avon(!), near the beach. A basic hut, which is normally shared by many families but in this case is a backpacker retreat!

With little to do except relax on the beautiful beaches and take in the view (we could see the Philippines) it was the perfect place to rest our legs and enjoy the sunshine with a book and the sunsets were glorious.

Now we are back in Kota Kinabula feeling rested although still finding it hard to walk down steps, but ready for the next adventure – which is a ferry ride tomorrow to Brunei, the only country that exists only on Borneo. After that we’ll head into the southern state of Sarawak where we’ll head back into the jungle and hopefully find us an Orang-utan!

There are lots and lots of photos from our Borneo adventures here.

Malaysia’s Peninsular

We arrived in Kuala Lumpur (KL), Malaysia’s capital city late on April 10th, having flown in from Bali. The airport is an hour’s bus ride from the city, about 70km, but we could see its bright lights and skyscrapers well before we arrived at our hostel in the Chinatown district. It was a rather shabby hostel, the staff kept us (and others) waiting ages to check-in and, as we were to find out, they seem to prefer rooms without windows in Malaysia! But hey it’s cheap so you get on with it!

I have visited KL before in 2006 staying in the gleaming business district. Chinatown (and nearby Little India) are a contrast to this with chaotic markets and scruffy alleyways – so it was a different face of the city that I saw on this visit. Our first day didn’t start off to well as we went to the Vietnam embassy to get a visa only to find it shut, so instead spent the morning gazing up at the skyscrapers in the so called Golden Triangle district. Probably the most iconic building is the Petronas Towers, which serves as the headquarters of the national oil company and was at one time the world’s tallest building.

There are many shopping malls in this area, including a very posh KLCC under the Petrona’s Towers, which was way over our budget so we didn’t hand around too long opting instead for the cheapness of Chinatown. You can buy pretty much anything at the markets there, and they seemed to be doing a roaring trade in ‘authentic’ designer gear. There’s a nice colonial era Central Market building where the souvenirs are better quality, and I spent quite a while following Lisa around in there – including waiting while she had a fishy pedicure!

To understand the city a bit better we took a free ‘Heritage Walking Tour’ around some of the older parts of the city. Our guide, Victor, was a volunteer who wanted to improve his English, which was pretty good although as there were only four of us on the tour I found the portable microphone and speaker a little over the top!

Nevertheless he took us to some interesting places, including the Masjid Negara (National Mosque) which with its 18-point star symbolises the 13 states of Malaysia and five pillars of Islam, which is the country’s main religion. It was a bit hot wearing a fetching purple over gown in the baking heat!

Later we visited a Chinese Buddhist temple and also some back alley Indian tea stands where we sampled the local brew – ‘Teh Tarik’, which translates as three layer tea (black tea, condensed milk, and coconut sugar). It was fun to watch them mix the tea by pouring the boiling hot liquid between two cups to allow it to cool to drinking temperature.

At another stall we tried a popular fruit snack, Guava, which is served with sour plum powder to make it sweet and refreshing. We also took in a cultural dance performance with some brightly dressed dancers, and Lisa was ‘encouraged’ to join in.

After the tour we took a city train to the north-west of the city where we visited the Batu Caves, which are a sacred Hindu temple. The temple cave is accessed by scaling 272 steps, which are guarded by a 43m high golden Murga statue – very impressive.

To be honest the caves were a bit scruffy and uninspiring, however the views back over the city made the sweaty trek up the steps worth it. Even better was the vegetarian Indian meal we had after we came back down again. Malaysia has a large Indian and Chinese population, introduced by the British in colonial times, and the resulting mix of cuisines is fantastic – Roti Canai, Indian style flaky flat bread served with curry sauces, has become a daily favourite!

Later we returned to the city and browsed the cheap electronics on offer at the Low Yat Plaza before relaxing on the grass at Merdeka Square as the sun went down. This picturesque square is surrounded by colonial government buildings (Malaysia was taken over by the Portuguese in 1511, the Dutch in 1641, and then the British in 1795) and is the place where Malaysia’s independence (Merdeka) was proclaimed in 1957.

After three days in KL we took a four hour bus ride (buses are big and comfy in Malaysia) to the peaceful Cameron Highlands, which with its green rolling hills was a welcome change from the bustling streets of the city. Given the altitude it rarely rises over 21 degrees here and the temperature was much more pleasant than sweltering KL. We stayed at ‘Daniels Travellers Lodge’ in the town of Tanah Rata that whilst being very basic had a nice vibe, and we were surprised to find that the receptionist was a scouser!

The Cameron Highlands are one of Malaysia’s main agricultural areas with a range of fruits and veggies being grown here. The area is especially famous for its tea and strawberry plantations, which we spent a day touring. The green tea plantations in the misty valleys, which spanned as far as the eye could see, were particularly scenic.

We visited the Scottish owned BOH tea estate where we were learnt about the tea production process. We enjoyed a nice cup of their tea overlooking the plantation, although we didn’t go for the Scones and Jam which are popular here! Later we drove up to the highest point in the Highlands at Gunung Brinchang for a supposedly fantastic view, but sadly the valleys below were covered in cloud so we didn’t see anything. We also did a short trek through the ‘Mossy Forest’, as the name suggests a rainforest covered with moss, where we saw some rare orchids and got covered in mud!

In the afternoon we had a strawberry ice cream at a strawberry farm and visited a butterfly and reptile farm where we got to see lots of nasty looking creepy crawlies (spiders, beetles, scorpions, etc) and some large and very colourful butterflies.

After two nights in the Highlands we arranged a minibus to take us to the North East coast of the Malaysian peninsular to visit the Perhenthian Islands. It was an unpleasant five hour drive as our driver drove like a madman, despite repeated requests for him to slow down, and it was something of a relief when we finally arrived in the port town of Kuala Besut. It was a hair raising day as we then took a 30 min speed boat ride to Pulau Perhentian Kecil, the smaller of the two Perhentian islands, where we stayed in a simple beach hut at the tranquil Coral Bay.

Thankfully there are no cars on the islands and with little to do other than to sit back with a book and swim in the tranquil bay we spent a very relaxing four days there. The snorkelling was excellent; as the name suggest right off the beach there is a coral reef teeming with tropical marine life. Although the best snorkelling was on a boat trip we took around the islands during which we stopped off at five snorkelling places including Shark Point and Romantic beach. As well as the abundant colourful fish in the clear waters we saw Black Tip Reef Sharks, Turtles, Clown Fish (Nemo), and some Eagle Rays – a really enjoyable trip.

The islands aren’t that big and it was only a 10 minute walk from Coral Bay across the island to Long Beach, which is livelier but in our opinion not as nice. The advantage of Coral Bay is that it faces west and therefore the sunsets over the bay are great.

After four days we took a speed boat back to the mainland and then a short taxi ride to the town of Jertih where we caught an overnight bus south to the city of Melaka. We had to kill four hours in Jertih, not easy as there isn’t much there except a big Mosque and some basic shops, nevertheless the locals were friendly and seemed to enjoy talking to us


We slept well in the comfy reclining seats on the bus and the nine hours to reach Melaka, which is 150km south of KL, passed quickly. With its Portuguese and Dutch colonial architecture it felt, in places, quite European and we really liked Melaka. We stayed in the quirky ‘Tony’s Guesthouse’, where we met the affable owner, Tony, who is really friendly and helpful guy.

Melaka has world heritage status and it is easy to see why with some really impressive historical buildings, such as the Dutch built Christ Church and Stadthuys (town hall) standing in the bright red ‘Dutch Square’ (it was originally white, but the British painted it red – no one is sure why).

Melaka isn’t a very big city and it is easy to walk around, although the midday-sun was pretty fierce so we hired a cyclo to take us to the ruins of the A’Famosa Fort, which was built by the Dutch and destroyed by the British. From there we walked up to the St. Pauls church that stands on top of a hill overlooking the city and offers good views across it.

Melaka is great for food and yet again our favourite was the Indian cuisine, we thoroughly enjoyed a feast of vegetarian curries and biriyani served up on banana leaf.

After a quick visit to the Malaysia Independence Museum (a bit too much info!) we cooled down inthe air-con of a shopping mall. In the evening we went to the Jonker Street night market in Chinatown where we sampled the local delicacy of Pineapple Tart and did some trinket shopping. It was most amusing to watch the old Chinese people doing Karaoke on a big stage in front of a big audience at the end of the street – luckily for you this photo doesn’t capture the wailing!

This morning we visited a replica of an 15th century Portuguese Ship that is now the Malaysian maritime museum and then relaxed in a cafe along the cities canal – it almost felt like we were in Amsterdam.

This afternoon we took a bus to KL airport from where we will fly to Malaysian Borneo early tomorrow morning (yep I’m killing time at the airport by writing this!). Malaysia has been great so far, with its population being a mix of people from different backgrounds and religions it’s an interesting cultural mix – the food in particular is fantastic! Whilst I suspect Borneo is more about wildlife than culture we are glad that we are not leaving Malaysia yet.

There are some photos from the last week or so here.

Kuala Lumpur

Arrived in KL early this morning, was actually woken up by the train conductor bloke as everyone else had got off the train – luckily it was the last stop!!!  It was too early to check into my hostel so I did something naughty – I treated myself to a Starbucks latte!  Usually I avoid the monopoly companies – but I fancied a latte, and it was good!  It cost the same as the meal I had last night – tandoori chicken, well nice!  Malaysias pretty cheap, except in Starbucks it seems!

After checking into my hostel (which seems pretty decent) I had a roam around KL.  First impressions are that its a very modern city, lots of tall shiny buildings and shopping malls!  Also it seems quite westernised – pretty much all the signs/adverts are in English, and the roads are not the chaos of some of the other cities I’ve been too – they actually stop at red lights here!!!!

I visited the Petronas towns, which were the tallest buildings in the world from 1997 to 2003.  I can confirm they are very tall!  Unfortunately you can’t go up them, the bottom 5 floors are a shopping mall – so I went in there and bought some flip flops.  Had to do it my old ones are falling apart, although I’m gutted, it’s like saying goodbye to an old friend!

Here’s a photo of the towers:

Petronas Towers

I then went down to Little India for some lunch – again a big India/Chinese population here.  Nice biryani this time!  Unfortunately it then started to thunder and lightning!  Its done that every day I’ve been in Malaysia!  So to I decided to shelter from the rain and watch the new James Bond film Casino Royal at the cinema.  The film was all in English with subtitles in Malaysian and Chinese I think.  The cinema was full though – me being the only white bloke!  Enjoyed the film, that Craig whatshisname bloke is much better than poncy Brosnan!  The Malaysians were getting right into it – and a big ooooh went up when the new DB7 came on – guess they don’t get many of those here!

Thanks for the messages about Cornwallis – the fort literature stated Sir Francis Light named the fort after the Governor-General in Bengal, Charles Cornwallis – if your interested!

Another day in KL tomorrow, then off to Singapore on the train in the late afternoon.  Only 3 more days in Asia left! 🙁

Georgetown

Just a quick post as I’ve got to go and catch a train (again!) to Kuala Lumpur.  Been having a look round Georgetown today – its a nice place, very relaxed.  Went to see Fort Cornwallis built by the British in 1786 after we took possession of the Island.  A few union jacks on display as well as some cannons (although the Fort was never in a battle).  They even had the ‘Rule Britannia’ music playing (Russ you’d love it!)  and folks dressed in British army uniforms from the time!  Here’s me with a big gun:

Shep and a big gun

There’s also a monument to celebrate Queen Victorias 20 year jubilee.  Also visited a couple of temples, one Chinese and one Indian – unfortunately I’m a bit templed so wasn’t too amazed by what was inside!

Had a nice curry last night – for those who know the curries of Manchester’s Northern Quarter it was like that.  Basically rice and pick a few spoonfuls of different curries  – all good.

Anyway its time to play the waiting game again…..