27.08.2014 - 04.09.2014 35 °C
From the Cameron Highlands I headed down to Kuala Lumpur to catch a flight the next day to the Malaysian city of Kuching in Sarawak on the island of Borneo. I bough my ticket here on a bit of a whim after checking the AirAsia website - the flight was about £20 return!
In KL I met up with Fiedel (who I met in Tanah Rata) for food and drinks.
The following day I took the short flight from KL to Kuching. My flight was very interesting as I was sat next to a Malaysian environmental conversationalist who lived in Kuching. we spoke about my travels and as we got closer to Kuching, she told me about the palm oil plantations around the city that concern her and the work that she does with the local community to try and promote conservation. She also told me about her brother who is a tour guide in Kuching and so we swapped details.
The palm oil plantations seemed to go on forever...
My flight landed in the afternoon where I caught a taxi into the city centre and checked into Malibu Lifestyle hostel, which was really great value and I absolutely loved! I ate across the road at a simple cafe and had one of the most amazing meals mostly (I think) down to the MSG which made my tongue tingle, but still it was delicious!
My first full day in Kuching I teamed up with some of the other people staying at my hostel, Jason (American), Ingrid (German) and Antonio (Spanish). We walked around the town, dropping by the tourist information centre to pick up some bus timetables and park opening times.
From the information we were given, we decided to catch the afternoon bus to Semengoh Orangutan Reserve to catch the 3pm feeding time... Unfortunately we missed the bus, but a taxi there between us was only a few ringgit more.
At the entrance to the reserve we were warned by the wardens that since it was fruiting season in Sarawak, the possibility of actually seeing an Orangutan was extremely low as they were able to feed themselves and stay away from the wardens. We were told that nobody at the reserve had even seen the troop in over a week... still, we thought it was worth a shot and so paid the RM10 entrance.
We walked through the reserve along the main road towards the feeding area, where the wardens place food twice daily in the hope the Orangs will break their camouflage in the jungle to visit. We waited here with a large crowd of mainly domestic tourists for around 20 minutes before one of the wardens broke through the crowd to announce that the troop had been spotted just a short distance away. He told us that the walk was through thick jungle and the probability of leeches and ticks was very high. In hindsight, this seemed like a scare tactic to make sure the families with young (and noisy) children wouldn't come, as I didn't see a single leech or tick along the frequently used path...
Walking through the reserve
Spying the first female
Seeing Richie the HUGE male with his long feathered arms
That evening, Jason, Ingrid and I went to a local bar 'SpeakEazy' where the owners were so friendly; plying us with free shots and tasty hot snacks. We played a few games, first scrabble but after a few beers we our brains were fried and we turned to Jenga!
Free shot anyone?
The next day I chilled out around Kuching with Jason. The day started very well, with a bowl of Sarawak's version of Laksa. Laksa in Malaysia varies so considerably between districts and towns, I was surprised. In the UK, I enjoy 'Laksa' dishes, they usually always taste the same, a soup-like pale-yellow coconut broth with chicken and prawns, flavoured with lemongrass/ginger/tumeric... I think... My first Laksa, in Penang, was pretty far from this I assumed back in England we had just made up our version of 'Laksa'; a strong fish broth with bitter tasting leaves, fermented fish and prawns, I must admit I didn't enjoy it. However, the Sarawak laksa.... where do I begin? Just cue the photo....
Rice noodles with a thick tasty coconut curry sauce seasoned with fish sauce, lime leaves, lemongrass and ginger, shredded chicken and fresh prawns, with a spicy sauce and fresh lime to season with... For me, Malaysia in a meal.
After breakfast, we visited the Sarawak museum (and it's eclectic collection of horrifically-bad taxidermy!) where we were acousted by a group of similarly aged Malays who asked to film us in for short interview and to practice their English.
Walking through the streets
Soon to be superstar...
The taxidermy was.... questionable
From here we walked almost the entirety of the city centre, through parks and cemeteries, and eventually to a creepy abandoned observatory sky deck building (which we managed to sneak into!) and then snaking our way back to the hostel. Really.... what would I have done without my 3G and google maps?!
Almost back at the hostel we stumbled upon a bizarre youth event, mainly because of the blaring music and loads of skateboarders outside. It was an event hosted by AZAM Youth Central, a Sarawak-wide Youth promoter, and we stumbled upon some friends from the management of the SpeakEazy bar again, who convinced us (well me as Jason was camera-shy) to do an official interview for their site about how myself as a tourist viewed Malaysia and specifically Sarawak. It was good fun, but I don't think they actually used it as I never heard from them and I follow him now on facebook... The event was cool, some live bands and an open mic competition, a team CosPlay competition and loads of craft stalls and geeky things for sale. We stayed for about an hour at the centre. Since we saw them that day, we had to end the night in the SpeakEazy bar again...
Kuching town hall at night
When we finally got back to the hostel, the hostel owner let us know that in the nearby National Park 2 'Raffelsia' flowers were reported to have bloomed, which is a rare occurrence considering they are only in flower for 2-3 days after a budding time of close to a year. Raffelsia are one of the World's largest flowers, and the Malaysian variety in Sarawak is apparently the largest of them all. The owner said he had a couple who had already arranged a taxi and guide to the park for the following day and so we would get a cheap price if we tagged along. Jason and I did and we had a great day with David and Jackie an older couple from the UK.
Once we arrived at the park we teamed up with some Chinese tourists and followed the guide to the newly opened flower in the jungle...
The flower produces a smell like rotting flesh to attract insects for pollination, although I could barely smell anything and this one had only just opened that morning
The flowers actually have no stems, leaves or true roots, and are in fact parasites of a species of jungle vines, meaning they can appear anywhere amongst the vines and are generally hard to find.
The second flower had been open 2 days and it was a deeper colour with a slightly stronger smell, but still nothing to shout about - especially compared to what I had heard about the supposedly horrendous odour.
After finding the 2 flowers our guide left us, and so as a group of the 4 of us, we decided to explore the rest of the National Park (Gunung Gading).
We actually then found one more flower by ourselves!
On the way back we stopped briefly at quite a large cave system know affectionately as the 'fairy caves' due to the moss covered stalagmites that make it look a little magical!
Defo starting to look a bit browner here anyway!
The following day Jason and I had arranged to go Kayaking on the Semadang River. I had heard that this was 'THE' thing to do in Kuching as apparently the river flows gently and is shaded by the trees lining it. there is a good chance of spotting animals along the river, especially hornbills which I was dying to see!
The day started early as we travelled by jeep to the drop off point at a tiny village.
Early morning start
The chocolate brown Semadang river
We joined a group with 2 canadians and our 2 tour guides who took pictures throughout the whole trip which they gave us on a CD at the end!
About to set off
There were a lot of other groups that set off from the same point so we started very bunched up, luckily for us our group was set on having a leisurely day and we quickly got left behind (and in peace!)
I took my 99p binoculars, but despite my best efforts, I didn't see a thing! A few myna birds was about it! Although the jungle lining the river was so dense that I probably wouldn't have seen anything anyway! We headed towards a mini waterfall where the water was a lot clearer and had a brief chill and swim.
After this we stopped for lunch at a tiny Bidayuh village. The Bidayuh people are indigenous to Sarawak and still live similar lifestyles to centuries ago. The founder of the kayak company I went on the tour with was apparently a Bidayuh entrepreneur and gives most of his profits back into his old village. The one we visited also benefited from the kayak tours as they get paid for showing us around, but they told us that their main source of income is the growing of native fruits and spices to sell at market. All profits are shared between the villagers as the gardens are communal.
The village's communal garden was either side of the footpath between the houses.
Drying black pepper and cocoa (which tasted awful!)
I had no idea pineapples grew like this! Only one pineapple per bush means they take up so much space and as usually sold at a loss compared to more 'compact' fruit.
From here, we continued downstream, through some rapids and back to the jeep.
Our guides Mackenzie and Luke!
As if I hadn't done enough in Kuching already... the next day I went with Antonio to Bako national park with the hope of seeing the famous Proboscis monkeys that are indigenous to Borneo. Unfortunately, my reputation of being late now spans all the way into Asia and we missed the bus that would've taken us there for RM2!! Luckily a minibus was only RM10 (£2) each and actually overtook the bus on the way! After arriving at the bus stop, we found that we then had to get a boat over to the park which was lovely.
Landing on the beach of the nature reserve
Pretty much as soon as we arrived on the beach we saw our first proboscis monkeys, a pair, just strolling along the sand. I didn't even have time to get my camera out! We followed them carefully as the climbed into the trees at the edge of the beach and watched them for a while.
Spot the monkey....
There were also a lot of other animals that were easy to spot, including a semi-tame bearded pig which hangs around the cafe area waiting for snacks! We were told to watch ourself though as his tusks can be quite painful if he charged!
Just a 2 min walk from the cafe here we saw another proboscis monkey, this one a little closer.
A little more obvious...
We continued walking deeper into the park to see what we could find...
The petrified forest was really cool
Antonio trying to see where to go since there was a fallen tree blocking the path...
Not the nicest thing to encounter... it really was the size of a head! Scary!!
We then stumbled across a large troop of proboscis monkeys high in the trees, and again those 99p binoculars came into their own. I tried to get photos, but they were just too high. The sounds they made we equally beautiful and hilarious, a really diverse vocabulary. We sat and watched them for a long time. Until.... and I know, I should be better at this by now, learnt from my mistakes etc... we realised we missed the last boat back to the bus stop... this wasn't too bad, apart from we now had to pay for a 'private' boat back which cost us RM50 each! This should help me learn my lesson on being late... But after sitting and watching Proboscis monkeys play in the trees for about 3 hours, I think it was worth it!
After most of my original hostel buddies had now left, I spend the next day alone and so decided to rent a scooter and explore some of the local villages by myself. I basically looked at a map and used my 3G google maps to get lost and then found again! I had an amazing day driving through some really remote villages, where everyone would wave to me and want me to stop to tell me how pale my skin was! I originally drove to the Sarawak cultural village (basically a museum) because I had heard it was good, but once I leant the price to get in I couldn't justify it. That's when I just started driving around, going down tiny streets on google maps to see what I could find. The villages I found probably had twice the culture of the tourist attraction, plus, they were free. I stopped for roti at what was basically a house not a cafe then explored the mangroves and delta system of the Sarawak river.
The visitors centre for the 'cultural village'
Watching crabs dig holes
I did consider doing the trek up here, but it was a bit hot...
The culture of this village was definitely more 'real'
Exploring the mangroves
When I got home I was pretty exhausted after a full day out in the sun, but I met a German girl at the hostel and we went to a cool bar in the old town.
For my final day in Kuching I returned to the Laksa restaurant (again... I basically came here everyday!). This morning it was very busy and so I stumbled across what I think must be Malaysian etiquette and would explain why I got a lot of my meals paid for me in Malaysia! I shared a table with a stranger and sat at the opposite corner to him. We didn't talk at all, but when my food was delivered he insisted on paying! After this we spoke a little, but then he politely said goodbye and left to go to work. I think there most be some kind of etiquette that says that any man on a table must pay for the meal... he had no ulterior motive... just wanted to pay!
I still had my bike until the afternoon since I rented for 2 days, and so I drove to the opposite side of Kuching to visit the cat museum (which was awful!) and the neighbourhoods over that way.
The best thing from the cat museum (which was on top of a hill) was the view!
Kucing in Bahasa means cat, so the city of Kuching is known as the 'cat-city', and there are actually a lot of cat tributes around the town, as well as the cat museum.
Further down the river that afternoon I stumbled across a traditional boat race! I sat and watched for a long time, the atmosphere was amazing, and although I couldn't understand the commentary that echoed out over the tannoys, it sounded exciting!
I loved my week in Kuching, it was definitely my animal capital of travelling - even though I didn't see a hornbill! The food was fantastic too and I didn't once have a bad meal. The malaysian culture here is so different to the mainland where Islam is the majority religion. Most people here were either non-religious (or practised animism) or weak Christians. So the dress of most people was casual, women wore shorts and I didn't get the same attention for what I wore as I did on the mainland. Borneo is somewhere I would definitely come back to. The city is large and modern, but just outside of this is enough culture and nature to keep you entertained for years!