Unallocated time is my greatest asset (Kuching, Borneo, Malaysia)

Malaysia's flag
Asia » Malaysia » Sarawak » Kuching
May 23rd 2009
Published: May 24th 2009
Edit Blog Post

(Day 414 on the road)Of all the things at my disposal on my travels, time is one of my greatest asset. Unlike many other travellers I have met so far, I have no real plan for my journey, most of the time not knowing where I will be tomorrow. I feel that this is the best way to travel, as it leaves me very flexible in terms of where I go and at what time, but also for when things go wrong (as they invariably do) or simply don't work out. I frequently meet travellers who plan their trip in great detail and are then frustrated if, say, their chosen bus is fully booked or leaves at a time that they consider inconvenient. But if you have nothing more than a very rough plan of the things you want to see and if you have plenty of times on your hands like I am fortunate to have, becoming disappointed is a lot less likely. In short, I consider unallocated time to be one of my greatest assets on my travels.

But back to my experiences of the last two weeks. In Kuching, I was going to meet up again with my old travel-buddy Karen in roughly two weeks time to explore Borneo together. My plan until then was to spend a few days in Kuching and then head off to some of the national parks in north-western Borneo. In the end however, I found such a great hostel (Tracks B&B with its great owner Robin, the friendliest place I have stayed in in a very long time) that I spent almost the entire two weeks in Kuching, save for a few day trips to the surrounding countryside (Orang Utan centre, caves, crocodile farm) and a three-day stay in the Bako National Park.

After crazy Jakarta, relaxed Kuching felt like a walk in the park. It is located by a picturesque river and has a certain charm to it, with some nice architecture and rather funky restaurants and bars. As with most other parts of Malaysia, it also boasts a vibrant mix of cultures, with the indigenous Iban people, Malay, Chinese and Indians being the majority of the population. The only "bad" point about Kuching was the scorching heat. Being considerably further north (and thus further from the equator) than Jakarta, I had hoped for somewhat lower temperatures, but to say it in the words of my French travel companion Celine: "It is 'orribly 'ot and 'umid, I 'ate it!"

As I had quite a few days in the city I spent a considerable amount of time walking its streets and visiting its many museums. Certainly the oddest one of those was the Cat Museum (one of the few in the world), which is, as the name suggest, completely dedicated to all things related to these fluffy creatures (statues, posters, advertisements, paintings, porcelain, you name it). The other museums were also nicely done, though the Islamic museum felt a bit like a propaganda exercise rather than an informative place. By chance I also met quite a few times with Ernesto Kalum, the enigmatic owner of the Borneo Headhunters tattoo studio. I witnessed him making a traditional tattoo (no machines involved, all done by hand), which was a fantastic experience.

After a few days of relaxing in Kuching and making use of the fastest Internet connection I have had for about a month, I went out to the Semengoh Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre. In Kuching, I had met Celine from France and Zalina from Malaysia, and we went out to see the Orang Utans together. Funny enough, one of the apes we saw was also called Salina (and she was carrying a small baby of three months, which was incredibly cute as it was clinging onto its mother). So all of a sudden I found myself in the company of three females, all with the same name. Weird. Viewing the animals was great, and especially observing Salina with her baby close-up was a very satisfying experience. Have a look at the HD video I took if you are interested!

Celine and I also did a day trip to some of the huge caves in the area. Especially the aptly named Fairy Cave with its enormous main hall left a lasting impression on us. The much smaller wind cave however had its own charm, as large parts of the cave were left completely undeveloped, and we spent a good deal of time exploring its hidden corners, often having to crouch on all fours to get through the narrow openings. In the end, we were happy to have found our way out again.

The highlight of the stay was however a visit to Bako National Park. Only about an hour from downtown Kuching, the landscape could not be more different. It is an incredibly beautiful coastal jungle park that is only accessible by boat and which has only a limited number of accommodation and one small restaurant for everybody. So during the day, everybody is out hiking in the jungle, and in the late afternoon everybody comes back to the restaurant to have food ans share their adventures of the day. Celine and I spent three days of hiking there, which included a great trek to a secluded waterfall (Tajor) and a hike to a beautiful sheltered beach (Kecil beach). We also witnessed the most unreal sunset at the beach near the park headquarters; looking at the colours in the pictures I took you might think I have edited them in Photoshop to enhance it, but they are the real colours of the real sunset. Amazing.

And then it was time to meet up with Karen again, the sixth time since we first met in China climbing Hua Shan in June 2008, almost one year ago. From Kuching, we will be adventuring north-east to seek out all the natural wonders (Malaysian) Borneo has to offer us.

Next stop: Batang Rejang River Area (Borneo, Malaysia).

To view my photos, have a look at pictures.beiske.com. And to read the full account of my journey, have a look at the complete book about my trip at Amazon (and most other online book shops).


25th May 2009

wow,love the pictures Ben! wht a perfect picture sunset,and nice beach also. good photographer *wink wink*
2nd June 2009

Pfff... I don t speak english as you write ! :-) Yes ????
2nd February 2010

Iban tattoo experience in Borneo
Hi Ben, My name is Chiara, I'm a tattoo artist from Adelaide and I've stumbled upon your blog in a very random fashion! (As one usually does with these things.) So if you've got a few minutes I'll try to explain my story and hopefully you may be able to point me in the right direction! I've been tattooing professionally for four years now, I own a private custom design tattoo studio and am feeling very blessed for the journey that this career path has taken me on and continues to lead me through. I have a view of tattooing that differs markedly from that of the other artists that i have encountered, or heard about. This has led me to feel that there has been a large and important element- ritual and spiritual connection- of the meaning of "getting a tattoo" lost in the culture i find myself in, and have been working towards identifying and restoring that practice. This choice has been something purely intuitive, which has opened my eyes to a far bigger world than cherry creek flash on a biker's wall! In trying to learn more about the ritual, protective, healing, life marking side of tattooing, I read an article about Dayak people and their rich tattoo culture. Long story short, I am hoping to be in Kuching in September this year, in the hopes of learning th e other half of that which i have already been taught in tattooing... two months is only a very small amount of time, but it is all I have for now. This information is dying fast, and I feel that with people all over the world that 'come' from all over the world, it is up to all of us to try and absorb as much of the ancient knowing from as many places as possible, in order to help eachother survive as whole, real beings. Today I did the google thing, as i have done many times on the subject of tattoos in Borneo, and found an interview of Ernesto, and subsequently a link to his site. I can say i'm pretty excited that there is someone like him in Kuching, as that will make this journey a lot more accessible. I was a little concerned that he may have a bit of rockstar mentality going on... which I've found to be the case with many 'big' artists. But then i scrolled down and found your video! Is that you getting tattooed, or were you just watching? Either way, after reading your blog on your time in Kuching, and noticing that you mentioned Ernesto as well as seeing the photo of you both at Tracks, I'm feeling very much like this trip is going to be amazing! As it turns out, I'm not sure what I was hoping to achieve by sending this large rambly note your way, but I do feel that i couldn't just pass through and not contact you. I hope you're having a blissful time in Aotearoa, and that I hear from you soon! Peace, Chiara
20th September 2010

hey Ben
how are you?where about now? hope you will come back to kuching one day! keep going.
13th August 2011

I enjoyed reading your blog. I am from kuching and i really hope i can do what you just did someday in the future!

Tot: 0.76s; Tpl: 0.018s; cc: 12; qc: 30; dbt: 0.0224s; 1; m:saturn w:www (; sld: 1; ; mem: 1.4mb