Sandakan and Kinabatangan River

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June 23rd 2008
Published: June 23rd 2008
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Getting to Sabah was a marathon 22hour effort! Every single one of our three flights was delayed. The flight from Melbourne to Sydney was delayed by one hour, which meant we had to clear customs, immigration and security at Sydney Airport in 20mins! Luckily we made it onto the plane and settled in for the flight to KL. Our flight to KL arrived about 15minutes late. We were catching a connecting Air Asia flight to Kota Kinabalu (KK) which apparently leaves from the Low Cost Terminal. We assumed that this meant we would walk to another area of the main airport which we thought would be pretty easy since we still had 45minutes, however the lady at information told us we had to take a 20minute taxi to reach the low cost terminal...hmm. So we joined the very long queue for a taxi and arrived at the terminal, thanks to our speeding driver, with about 15minutes to spare only to be told the plane had been delayed by 2 whole hours..ugh. So instead of arriving in KK at 11:55pm, we arrived finally at 1:55am.

The following morning we had a delicious breakfast at our was a traditional Malay brekky called Roti Canai...basically roti bread and various curry sauces to dip the bread in..yummy. After that we went for a quick walk around KK. Its pretty run down, which is surprising given how well off Malaysia is compared to a lot of other countries we have visited.

We then headed to the airport to board yet another Air Asia flight, this time to Sandakan. Surprisingly it left on time and arrived 25minutes early which is fairly impressive given it was only a 45minute flight anyway. Sandakan looks similar to KK, the Malays seem to really like their concrete buildings. Although 'buildings' is a somewhat loose term...they are more like concrete boxes, beautiful. We had lunch at a little local restaurant and tried some real Mi/Nasi Goreng...both yummy. We then headed off on a walk around town and eventually ended up at the tourist information center. The lady that works there was very chatty and helpful. Among other tips, she told us that the annual Sandakan Festival Launch was on that night.

We headed to the festival after dinner. Somehow we got pulled from the crowd by a policeman who moments before had been turning all the Malays away. He took us into the VIP area and showed us to some seats right behind a man who was possibly the president of Sabah and various other dignitaries. From here we had an excellent view of the stage and all the commoners sitting/standing squashed on the lawn.

The festival was really strange. Everything was in Malaysian (obviously) which made it rather boring at times. There were lots of speeches and pop acts performing. Turns out that the group of people that had been on our plane (who refused to put their seats up for landing and who the air hostesses spent quite a while chatting and giggling with) that morning were actually the Malaysian equivalent to the Backstreet boys..hmm. We both made it onto tv and had our photo taken for locals! I think possibly we were the token Caucasian tourists. They also handed out water, drinks and food...what a strange night.

The following morning we caught a taxi to the Uncle Tan base. Uncle Tan is a bit of a Sandakan institution, they operate the tours along the Kinabatangan River which are basic but heaps of fun. We had booked in for the 3 day, 2 night trip prior to leaving home. After we arrived at the base, we jumped in a ute and headed to the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre for feeding time. The is one of 4 orang-utan rehab centres in the world and is run with the support of the Malaysian government and various international charities. The basically teach orphaned and illegal pet orang-utans how to be wild again so that they can be reintroduced into the jungle. We purchased our tickets, handed over our water and headed off down the path to the feeding platform. About maybe 50 meters down the track we both spotted some Pig Tailed Macaques. I was commenting on how gorgeous and cute they looked when the alpha male and a (slightly) smaller female came over for a closer look. The female tried to climb up my leg, which freaked me out a little, but i pushed her away. She then jumped up on the handrail and grabbed my back which scared me to death, so i screamed and ran away. They both followed me the whole way to the path while i clung onto Scott and freaked out about a monkey ambush. The monkeys tried to climb me in Mt. Popa, Burma as well! Why always me!

The feeding was very cute. The orang-utans were beautiful and it was nice to see them so close up. There were about 6 in total watched very closely (to my disgust) my horrible scary macaques. After feeding we watched a video about the center, then headed back to Uncle Tan's base. We had our briefing, ate our delicious lunch and chatted to the other group who had just returned from the camp. They had a wonderful time, but said there were lots of Macaques and other monkeys which worried me a little. I think I had developed a monkey phobia.

After lunch we hopped into the van and headed off toward the river which took about an hour and a half. We then got into boats and set off for camp. Along the way we saw Probiscus (ugly) monkeys, long tailed macaques and lots of birds, the trip along the river lasted about an hour. The camp itself was very basic, but quite comfortable. All the huts had to be covered in chicken mesh to stop the macaques from getting into peoples bags. Turns out they are quite cheeky monkeys..who would have thought hehe.

We had a briefing, ate dinner and headed off on our night safari boat ride. Night time isn't the best for spotting animals, however we saw birds who don't really move when you put the spot light on them (boring), an owl (who did actually move), a crocodile's eyes and monkeys. After about an hour we headed back to camp and got into our beds which were slightly damp due to the humidity..yuck.

The following morning we were woken up at 5:30am, in time for a 6:00am boat ride. We had a excellent trip and spotted probiscus monkeys, macaques, crocodiles, monitor lizards, birds and two orang-utans! There is no guarantee that you will spot an orang-utan as they are endangered and thus quite rare so we were all quite excited. We got out of the boat and headed over to the base of the tree for a closer look. Unfortunately, they didnt move much as they were scared of us, however it was still amazing to see.

Later in the day we went on a jungle 'trek' which was actually a 2hour long stroll through the jungle looking at plants, insects (including a scorpion) and leeches..ew. As it is only the beginning of the dry season, the ground was quite muddy in spots. Scott was nice enough to offer some advice to avoid getting stuck, to which i replied "i never get stuck" and approximately 2 seconds later had extreme difficulty pulling both my feet from the mud and fell over on all fours. It actually took 2 people to pull me out by my very muddy hands which was quite hilarious and i have a feeling i shall never live it down.

After the trek we had about 4hours spare time at the camp which we spent watching the cheeky macaques who were attempting, and at times succeeding, to steal food. They climbed all over the kitchen and eventually discovered a can of sweetened condensed milk next to the window. One of them stuck its arm through the chicken wire, knocked the can over and proceeded to dip its hand in it and lick it off. Another stole an open can of 7-up and carried it, upside down, to the tree. When it got there it tried to catch as much of the 7-up in its hand as possible but didn't seem to realise it would stop pouring out if it turned it right way up, very cute. We had a snack of pancakes, French toast, fruit and biscuits at about 4:30 under the watchful eyes of the macaques. They actually showed amazing team work at one point in time. The alpha male and a female began mating in a tree in the opposite direction to where the food was sitting, everyone was laughing at them while another macaque snuck down and stole a pancake or two...very clever. We also saw about 3 giant monitor lizards making their way through the camp.

After our snack we headed out on an afternoon boat ride and saw heaps of macaques and probiscus monkeys, including an alpha male the size of a small human. We also got completely drenched when it started bucketing down because we didn't bother to bring rain coats. Luckily it wasn't too cold and for a while it actually relieved the humidity a bit.

That night after dinner Scott went on the night walk through the jungle while i went on the boat ride again because i figured there wouldn't be any leeches out there, luckily i was right. Scott had a good time and saw scorpions, spiders, frogs, birds and bats. I saw a crocodile, birds (still boring at night time), sleeping probiscus monkeys, spiders and frogs.

The second night they encourage you to stay up until after the generator is turned off at 12 because you often see leopard cats and civet's. We played cards until about 11:45, when one of our group turned around and spotted a brave civet who had actually climbed up onto the balcony. It was scared away, but soon returned after the staff turned the generator off. We watched it for about 15minuted and then went to bed.

This morning we got to sleep in until 7:45, had breakfast, took group photos, then headed off back to the base. Along the way we were fortunate enough to spot another two orang-utans, this time a mother and her baby. This was a real bonus as we didn't really expect to see any more and it was nice to end the tour on such a high. We both had a wonderful time and would totally recommend it. Unfortunately our photos aren't that amazing because we only have a small camera. This is probably the only time I wish i had one with a massive zoom, but i would much rather carry a small one around the rest of the time!

Tomorrow we are heading to the Sandakan War Memorial which is the Japanese POW camp from WWII. We're still undecided as to when we will actually leave Sandakan and where we will go next.

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4th September 2009

sandakan is nice and wonderful.........................

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