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Published: February 2nd 2020
After spending the holidays with families on the East Coast and West Coast, and putting in a couple weeks of work, we decided to escape again. Finding decent airfares to Bangkok, looking at a map of the area, decided on Borneo, a place we had almost visited a couple of years, but did not. So, we decided now was the time! Some quick email exchanges with Top Peak Travel who provided some excellent suggestions and a workable itinerary. And we were off!
A couple of days in Bangkok, we stayed in our usual area near the river, and enjoyed exploring Chinatown getting ready for the Chinese New year celebrations. Talking to another couple at breakfast, they told us of a wonderful performance they had seen the night before Siam Niramit. We managed to purchase tickets for that night and thoroughly enjoyed the very professional performance of 4 acts with amazing stage sets. It was some what like a mini cirque du soleil with about 50+ actors describing their cultural history. The front stage, all of a sudden becoming a flowing river, was impressive.
The next night in celebration of my birthday, we enjoyed a beautiful
dinner river cruise on a converted wooden rice barge. Cruising up and down the river watching the sun set, and then the beautiful lights on the Temples. I never tire of this view!
Arriving in Sandakan, on the North East corner of Sabah, one of 2 Malaysian states on the island. The 3rd
largest island in the world, it comprises 3 countries – Malaysia, Kalamantan Indonesia, and Brunei. Sandakan, established in the late 1800s, was destroyed and occupied during WW2. Now, mostly commercial fishing and a gateway to the Marine reserves in the Sula Sea.
We chose it as the jumping off point for Turtle Island, a small island about an hour north of Sandakan, that is a turtle hatchery that allows visitors. The island was beautiful with crystal clear water, white sandy beach and perhaps 15 of us, enjoying it. Just seeing the beautiful island, might have been sufficient for the trip, but seeing the turtles lay their eggs on the beach was amazing!
At night, the turtles come ashore to dig a nest and lay their eggs, anywhere between 75 and 140 at a time. Once the turtle began
laying the eggs, they allowed us to watch the process. The eggs are collected as she is laying the eggs. To increase their chances of surviving, they are moved to a protected hatchery site, where they are placed in a recreated hole in the sand. We learned, eggs placed on the sunny exposure have a greater chance of females, shadier side – producing more males. Then @ 60 days later, they hatch and are brought down to the water and released. It was fascinating to watch these tiny little creatures struggle to make their way to the waterline. We posted a short video of it on Facebook.
The next morning we are back on Borneo and go to Sepilok where we visit the Orangutan Rehabilitation Center, a beautifully constructed facility with an extensive boardwalk throughout the rain forest. The outdoor nursery accepts orphaned and injured orangutans. It was great fun to watch the young ones play on the ropes as they learned to swing, socialize and get use to heights. Later we go to the feeding platform, but the monkeys quickly overtake it this morning.
Right next door is the Sun Bear Conservation Center,
the smallest of the world’s bear (although they still looked pretty big), known for the golden bracelet of fur around their neck. They are listed as the world’s second most endangered bear.
We did a night walk at the forestry center, with the highlight seeing a flying fox.
The next day we drive to Kinabatangan River, in Bilit, where we stay 2 nights at a lodge along the river. The long chocolatey river stretches 400 miles thru Sabah. We enjoyed 3 river cruises, seeing Orangutans in the wild (not near as cute), lots of Proboscis monkeys (the ones with the giant nose), pretty interesting looking animals, Silver leaf langurs (look like a cat), long tail and pig tail macaques (monkeys, some of them hanging out at the lodge, too). And just when we commented we doubted there were any crocodile, we come across a massive 10 ft one sunbathing on the shore. He moved incredibly fast back into the water as we approached. Some birds – hornbills, white chested eagle, but not as many as we had expected.
The next day, it is a 4 hour drive, further into the rain
forest, to Danum Valley where we stay for 2 nights. Much has been said about all the deforestation due to the Palm oil industry. And on this drive, we do see lots of large areas of Palm oil plants. But the reality, this area was originally logged for the timber as early as the 1880’s by the British, and then replanted for rubber trees. And the government today is doing their best to encourage better agricultural practices. We are told they have substantially reduced the palm oil price to lessen the financial benefits to palm oil. And are encouraging more tourism to offset the industry. The lodges we have seen, are older, but beautifully maintained.
In the afternoon, we take a 2 hour hike in the rain forest, some of it secondary growth, but still incredibly dense vegetation and enormous trees. The canopy overtop blocks out most of the sun, and the majority of the rain as the showers start. We only see a couple of insects, but I am sure there are more there. Fortunately we did not see any of the snakes, Donny our guide described, but I did find one really gross leach on me at
the end. We are absolutely soaked from the heat, but it is such a restorative walk.
We take an evening open air night drive, and see 6 Pygmy elephants, including one baby, not far from our lodge. They are about 2/3rd
s of the size of an Asian elephant, so still quite large. The area around here, does look like Jurassic Park, and when the male elephant roars, even more so. That was magical!!
Today, it is raining hard, hence the long blog…. We leave tomorrow for Latah Datu for one night (where they should have internet and we will post the blog). Then, on to our last forest reserve at Gunung Mulu for another 2 nights.
This morning, for our final breakfast, the staff surprises us serving breakfast at the top of the 6 floor observation tower. We can not believe they have carried everything up the six flights of stairs. Incredible to sit up there looking out over the forest canopy and enjoying all the rainforest sounds. Definitely a great memory. And the benefit of travelling during low season, as there are only 2 other gentleman staying in the 20 room
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