Monkeying around in Borneo (Day 197 - 200 by Chris)


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Asia » Malaysia » Sarawak » Kuching
March 31st 2016
Published: April 13th 2016
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Thursday 31st March 2016

Today we are leaving Indonesia after using up every day of our 30-day visa. We had a flight booked to take us to Malaysian Borneo where we wanted to see the Orangutans. We were heading to Kuching which is based in Sarawak but the cheapest way to get there and the best flight combination meant we would have to fly to Kota Kinabalu which is in the Saba part of Malaysian Borneo (following me??). We would stay one night in Kota Kinabalu and catch and early flight the next morning to Kuching.

The taxi ride to Bali airport only took 1 hour despite the horrific traffic Bali has. We checked in our bags and made our way through security and made our way over to the immigration desk. I got stamped out of Indonesia without an issue, however the guy checking Gemma’s passport raised a concern with the guy who stamped my passport and asked us to come to the office. They explained that we had overstayed by 1 day. I argued this, but was proven wrong. I stupidly miscalculated the duration we could stay due to the passport stamp stating that we are entitled to 30 days from arrival and as we arrived on the 1st March I stupidly thought that means we can leave on the 31st as this is exactly 30 days after 1st. That’s not how it works… The guys at immigration were fine though and said we had to pay a £15 fine each which in retrospect isn’t bad. Gemma had visions of prison, but we were given a slap on the wrist and told that we can return to Indonesia whenever we want in the future, so no harm done.

The Air Asia flight was one of the longest we’ve taken so far hopping between countries, but still not a long haul. After 2.5 hours we arrived in Kota Kinabalu having witnessed some stunning views on the way in over the jungle of central Borneo. We passed through immigration and into Malaysia and flagged a taxi to take us the 5 minutes to ‘Yaho Hotel’ which we had chosen based on the proximity to the airport. We had another Air Asia flight booked the following morning at 8am to take us to Kuching, so chose a hotel close to the airport so that we could check in, eat in the hotel restaurant and get an early night before our 5:30am wake up. When we checked into the hotel though, we were told by the lady on reception that the restaurant was closed. This was annoying as it was the only reason we booked this hotel over others. We were pointed in the direction of a food court down the street, but either we were given the wrong directions, or it didn’t exist as there was no food court in sight. We flagged down a taxi and told him to take us to a mall that I’d seen on a map knowing that there must be somewhere to eat inside the mall. Happily, there was a restaurant just next to the entrance and after having a pasta based mean and a Belgian beer we headed back to the hotel to get some sleep.

Friday 1st April 2016

When we arrived at the airport at 6am we were once of the first passengers to enter the departures area as the airport had just opened and we were the first flight out, such is the size of the airport. We managed to find a café which sold door wedge slices of toast and then boarded the flight. The flight was smooth and only took 1hr 20min and we were even serenaded by one of the flight crew which was a nice surprise.

We arrived in Kuching at 9:30am and headed straight to our hostel, ‘Singgahsana Lodge’ which was based in the centre of town. Thankfully, despite our early arrival we were allowed to check into our 10 bed dorm. In doing this so early, it meant that we had the whole day ahead of us to explore. The main reason we came to Kuching rather than flying straight to the Philippines was to see the Orangutans. Kuching has a nature reserve called Semmengoh, which is based a 1-hour bus ride from the town centre. Here they have a reserve for Orangutans, some of which have been homed here as a result of being orphaned, injured or some that have been born here. It’s a non-exploitative reserve where the only interaction the workers have is to place food in areas that visitors might spot the orangutans. There are times during the year where visitors don’t see the orangutans as the jungle where they live are rich in fruit so they have no need to come to the park area. Luckily for us we had arrived in the season where wild fruit was not in ample supply and there was an expectation that an orangutan or two would turn up. As we got off the bus, we walked the 1km from the road entrance into the nature reserve. Within 5 minutes of being there, a park ranger came over to us and pointed up to the top of a tree. We had heard branches cracking, but hadn’t seen anything. He pointed out an orangutan that he estimated was about 7 years old and was happily swinging through the tree tops waiting for food to be placed beside a tree. We couldn’t believe our luck of being here for such a short space of time and seeing one already. At this point we could have left Malaysia more than happy with our spot. As the next couple of hours passed by we were so lucky to have spotted 7 including an infant who was quite mischievous playing around the trees with its mother. It was an amazing sight and they were not interested in the visitors at all which was great to see. The last thing I wanted to see was the orangutans being brought to a platform for tourists to take photos, and thankfully there was no such thing. The orangutans spent most of their time up in the trees and that was where we wanted to see them.

The final bus back to town left at 4pm sharp and the ranger announced this to the 10 or so visitors that were still hanging around at about 3:45. Unfortunately his announcement coincided with the appearance of the infant and having asked whether it was possible to take a taxi (he told us we could phone one from the entrance gate) we decided to stay and share a taxi with an English couple we got chatting to.

At about 4:30pm as the orangutans were heading back into the jungle we started our walk back to the main entrance. When we got there with Adam and Emma (the couple we’d met) the ticket counter was closed and there was no option to call for a taxi. We stood around for a few minutes before coming to the conclusion that we’d never find a taxi here as it was in the middle of nowhere. We decided to start walking to a town which was approx. 4km away with the hope of finding a taxi there. As we started our walk, we soon realised that we were actually walking along the grass verge of an ‘A’ road and there were lots of cars and motor bikes whizzing by all honking their horns. We saw a few taxis which were unwilling to stop and after 20 minutes began to worry about getting back to Kuching. Just as the funny side to our situation was wearing off, a car pulled up behind us and a young women asked if we wanted a lift. She was our savior and we couldn’t thank her enough. It turns out she is a trainee doctor who had studied at Newcastle University and was more than happy to have met 4 English people to chat to as she had only moved to Kuching on a work placement a week previously. She drove us back to Kuching and wanted to take us to an ice-cream parlour and we were happy to oblige. We offered to buy her ice cream which came in 3 different size pots. Beginner, medium and champion. Everyone but me had the medium and I soon found out that my ego was getting me into trouble. The brain freeze was dangerous and the amount of sugar in the syrup was giving me the shakes. It was a nice afternoon chatting with a local person who just went to cement that the Malaysian people are some of the friendliest that we’ve met.

After our local friend had headed home, Gemma, Emma, Adam and I headed to a bar to have some beers and some food. We spent the remainder of the night chatting to them and hearing all about their love for New Zealand which is where they met and have spent the past 2 years living and working. They told us how they are now spending 6 weeks in Asia before going to work on a farm in Australia to get a 2 year visa. It was nice chatting to people of a similar age and culture and was like chatting with friends from home over some beers. After the night was over we agreed to meet the next day and then headed to bed.

Saturday 2nd April 2016

We met with Emma and Adam for lunch and then headed to a market that they wanted to visit. We decided to walk which took 45 minutes until we reached a bridge that was like a motorway and impassable. After paying for a taxi to drive us across, we then spent the next hour walking around the market which was not what we expected. As with most markets in Asia we’ve visited we expected this to be selling clothes and art work etc, however this place was a fruit and veg market. It was quite odd walking around a market with local people buying their weekly shopping. After half an hour we decided to head back to central Kuching and find a pub.

We found a bar with a beer garden and sat down to enjoy some cold beers. As we were chatting a car pulled up and a bride walked out with her new husband and some of the other people in the bar started cheering. It turned out that we had unwittingly gatecrashed a wedding reception. The wedding party didn’t seem to be bothered by this and the official photographer even got us in the group picture. They were such good fun and very drunk in no time at all. We later left and went to another bar with a stage which had some local children performing some songs and dances. All good fun. After some dinner and a few more drinks, we bid farewell to Emma and Adam who were heading to the Cameron Highlands the following day.

Monday 3rd April 2016

We had one last day in Malaysia and decided we would visit a national park which was only a 1 hour taxi drive outside of Kuching. When we arrived we had to pay for a boat to transport us down a river to the national park entrance. As we planned this last minute, we only had 3 hours before the final bot heading back to the main road departed, so after signing into the national park we set off on one of the short trails.

The national park was called ‘Bako’ and was home to quite a few animals such as proboscis monkeys, Long-tailed macaques, common water monitors lizards, plantain squirrels and wild boar to name a few. We set off on a trek that would take 1 hour each way and would take us through some jungle and finish at a beach. During the walk, which was a very sweaty, but full of beautiful scenery, the only wildlife we spotted was a small lizard. When we reached the beach though we spotted a proboscis monkey up in a tree going about his business. We felt extremely lucky as we read that they are only visible during early mornings. After a while of watching it sit in a tree we decided to walk back to the pier. When we arrived at the pier we saw a family of long tailed macaques playing around in a tree. There were 2 adults and 5 infants and the kids were play fighting, pulling each other’s tails and generally swinging through the trees and jumping off into a huge puddle.

We caught the boat back to the main road having had a great few hours and then accepted an old man up on his offer to drive us back to town along with 5 other people we had met. It was a very cheap lift, but we barely made it as the van was over 20 years old and didn’t cope well in anything other than 4th gear, so much so that he occasionally ignored red lights. When we did arrive back in Kuching though we got some dinner and went back to the hostel to pack our bags ready for our flight the following morning. Our flight would take us back to Kota Kinabalu where we would catch a connecting flight to Manila. The pickup time for the morning though was 4am so we had to get an early night.

Our second stint in Malaysia was as good as our first. We saw some amazing scenery, animals and met some very friendly locals. There is so much more to Malaysia yet to see and we would recommend everyone to visit as the country has so much to offer. We are quite confident that Malaysia has been our favourite destination so far….

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