Aboard an early Air Asia flight I landed in Kuching in Borneo on 17 April. I checked into the Threehouse Hostel, which I highly recommend! Extremely friendly owner, very clean, and a good atmosphere! In the midday heat I embarked on a walk through town.
Kuching doesn’t have much to offer: A nice waterfront, a large mosque, some Chinese temples – and some cat sculptures, for Kuching is Malay for “cat”. One afternoon here was enough time to explore the place…
18.04.-20.04.2013 Bako National Park
I was lucky and met a Canadian mother-daughter duo at my Hostel in Kuching, who I could join for their trip to Bako NP the next day. First, we took a bus to the jetty and then we shared a boat with an American. If you don’t share the fees with others, this trip can be a very expensive experience! Bako welcomed us with a storm and violent rain that just didn’t seem in the mood to stop. As we were soaked anyway after the boat trip, we still wandered off to Telok Paku. During the first hours already, the diversity of the Bako landscape unfolded before us. We saw macaques, long-nosed monkeys, wild boars aaaaaaand a green snake, possibly a viper…
The next day, I tackled the Big Loop on my own, a 6-7 hour trek through diverse nature.
As they were on the way, I went to the beaches Telok Pandan Kecil, Telok Pandan Besar and Telok Tajor, all of them presenting beautiful 🙂
Unfortunately, half the trail was very muddy; I had to balance on slippery trees and be careful not to fall into the mud! Urgh… You can imagine I wasn’t successful throughout… 😉 At the end of my trek I was shattered, and my shoes had transformed to large lumps of mud. But I still enjoyed it! On my last day, I had time to do the trails Tanjong Sapi and Telok Delima. The first one led to an unspectacular viewpoint, the second one to a nice mangrove forest… And off I was again, back to Kuching where I took a night bus (15 hours!) to Miri.
No wonder I arrived in Miri completely shattered! 😉 I suppose I had forgotten that night bus trips usually take only 8-9 hours, which is quite a bit shorter. I had a lot of organising tasks ahead of me (in Borneo, you need to book almost all tours way in advance… annoying!), so I spent the rest of the day in front of a computer screen and skipped the sightseeing in Miri 😉
22.04.-23.04.2013 Mulu Nationalpark
After only one night in Miri, it was time for my flight to Mulu – the shortest flight of my travels so far (a mere 20 minutes). Arriving in Mulu, I got a bed in the cheapest hostel, Mulu River Lodge (35RM), and went right on to the National Park Headquarter to find out what I could make of my short stay here. The result of my investigation: Tours booked for the next day to visit all 4 Show Caves plus the widely acclaimed Canopy Walk. It would be a crammed day! In the morning, we took a boat to Wind Cave and Clearwater Cave. Wind Cave was splendid and had amazing stalactites and stalagmites; however, I didn’t notice any wind 😉 A river flows through Clearwater Cave, and you cross it on a bridge. The cave has several openings in its roof, and incoming sunlight creates a nice atmosphere.
After a quick lunch snack we went on to the Canopy Walk, where we detected some little animals – a pygmy squirrel and a well-camouflaged lizard, among others.
The day ended with a stint to the Long Cave – a relatively small cave adorned by beautiful hues and shapes…
…and to the giant and spectacular Deer Cave – the world’s largest cave accessible to tourists. It’s close to impossible to capture that on a picture… After visiting the cave, you can wait and observe millions of bats leaving the cave at around 6 pm – a nice sight, but seen from afar the bats looked more like a cloud of flies 😉
24.04.-25.04.2013 Kota Kinabalu
After a day in Mulu, I flew back to Miri and continued to Kota Kinabalu (KK). I only planned to stop here briefly for organising purposes; among other things I was keen to get my Mount Kinabalu trek definitely fixed. So this is what I did: I was able to arrange the Kinabalu trek as well as my dives around Sipadan AND my Kinabatangan jungle river cruise. Yayyy! A successful day which I celebrated with other backpackers that night 😉
A seemingly never-ending 6 hour bus trip brought me from KK to Sepilok, a tiny village near Sandakan. For the first time since I started travelling, I was the only guest at my hostel and was served a buffet meal thrice a day! 🙂 There is an orang-utan rehabilitation centre in Sepilok – and of course I went. In the morning, my hostel (Uncle Tan) offered me a free transfer and I went and watched the morning feeding. 4-5 orang-utans showed themselves and it was very special to see the large apes so near.
Unfortunately, the light wasn’t ideal for pictures, so I decided to come back in the afternoon. It was included in the ticket anyway! The second feeding was another nice experience; even more orang-utans came out and climbed around much more! 🙂
28.04.-30.04.2013 Kinabatangan River Cruise
I then went on a 3 days/2 nights jungle river cruise safari on the Kinabatangan River, organised by Uncle Tan. My group was great, for it meant a reunion with two Austrians and an Australian I had met in Kota Kinabalu 🙂 We shared a cabin in the jungle camp and spent most of the time together.
The accommodation was quite simple and almost completely open. There were also rats and mice, and I had forgotten a little sugar sachet in my day bag… which now sports several holes, but it could be worse! J We had a diverse programme during our three day tour: a river cruise at night, revealing kingfishers, bats, sleeping macaques aaaaaand owls 🙂 a river cruise in the morning, hoping to see orang-utans – sadly, we didn’t, but we did see many birds again, and a gibbon!
After breakfast (such an abundant buffet every time!!!), we walked through the jungle and our guide explained some of the plants to us. Highly interesting!
In the afternoon we went on the river again and were able to see a large group of long-nosed monkeys. These monkeys are actually cute in their ugliness!!
After dinner, we had a night walk. First, we mainly saw insects and frogs, and I wasn’t particularly excited about that. It didn’t help that there were many fire ants and we had to be extremely careful not to be bitten. BUT then came the highlight of our jungle safari: Suddenly, our guide got very excited and quickly instructed us to switch off all our torches, only keeping his own switched on. He then illuminated a branch – where we could see a slow loris! A unique experience – such a cute animal, which is hardly ever seen. We were so lucky!!!
As there were no other guests, we were offered a second morning cruise the next day. We didn’t see any orang-utans this time, either, but for the first time in my life I saw a wild otter 🙂 A nice ending to a great jungle safari. I can really recommend Uncle Tan and the team! The guides were highly motivated and there was ample and excellent food!
01.05.-03.05.2013 Mount Kinabalu
Out of the jungle and into a bus bound for Kota Kinabalu, together with the three guys. The three of them went right back, while I got off at the National Park. I had one break day, having a first look at the National Park, getting some information I needed and otherwise enjoying my very pleasant lodge (D’Villa) with a lovely garden and great evening light…
Thoroughly relaxed I started early the next morning to organise myself a (compulsory) guide and climb Mount Kinabalu. I shared my guide with an Australian, and we got along fine. He walked faster than me, but needed a break every few meters; I walked at a constant pace and went on for up to 2 hours without stopping.
The path had many high steps in the beginning, which was rather strenuous. Generally, it was an easy path, though, and after 3.5 hours hiking we reached our lodge for the night at 11:30 am.
What to do then, with our day? We decided to try and climb Mount Kinabalu twice. Let’s go… But the weather was working against us. At first, there was only a little fog and a sprinkle of rain, but the higher we climbed the stronger the rain became. Visibility was no more than 3m, it rained, the rocks were slippery and the ropes were soaked and cold. Shortly after the checkpoint we decided on the sensible option and turned back.
If only we had left 2 hours later – for in the evening the sky cleared and there was an incredible sunset, including a rainbow! 🙂 We had an early night, but sleeping was impossible. There were many Asian groups who were noisy late into the night, only to get up again already at midnight instead of 2 a.m. for more racket, shouting, knocking on doors etc. Arghhhh!!!! I have rarely met such inconsiderate people. After a breakfast snack we were the last group (I, the Australian and a German) to leave for the peak at around 3:30 a.m. After 100m we were stuck in human traffic. Oh man, really… I tried to teach them manners, using “sorry” and “could you make some space please” to squeeze past them. Seriously… they don’t even realise it’s not the done thing to just sit down right on the path and that they should just let faster walkers PASS. My aggression potential towards Asian groups reached a climax that day. We did make it past them all in the end, though, and I could enjoy the rest of the hike in a group of fast walkers. It was awesome! Granite slabs, ropes… I enjoyed everything except for the last 20 minutes, when we climbed the last hill to the peak. That was tough 🙂 But we also managed that and at 5:45 a.m. I was at the peak of the highest mountain in Southeast Asia!!
I must admit I had expected a better sunrise. But it wasn’t too bad, either… I was more impressed with the rocky scenery on the way down, though!
Spectacular views in all directions. I would say that Kinabalu is one of the most photogenic mountains I’ve ever seen! 🙂 Afterwards, we positively gorged ourselves on breakfast. Then we started the long and drawn-out descent in a group of three… That took some time!!! In the end all we wanted was to finally finish, and we were all very exhausted afterwards. Ryan (Australia) and I then directly boarded a bus to Kota Kinabalu. There, I only had a Roti Cheese in my favourite restaurant before going straight to bed! What a looooong day… 🙂
After an event-free organising day in Kota Kinabalu, I flew to Tawau on 5 May. At the airport, I was lucky enough to find three people who shared a taxi to Semporna with me, making the trip even cheaper than it would have been by bus. And definitely quicker! One of my three fellow travellers was Ali from France who coincidentally had booked dives with the same dive centre as I (Uncle Chang… it was an uncle again) and became my dive buddy for the next two days. The hostel in Mabul was really cool – built on stilts directly above clear water.
Large turtles could be observed there just by going out on the pier.
And then the dives… Incredible. On the first day I had two dives at Mabul and one at Kapalai. I especially liked Kapalai! I saw frogfish, crocodile fish, many turtles, groupers, nudibranches and sooo much more.
On the second day we went underwater three times at Sipadan; Barracuda Point, South Point and Drop Off/Turtle Cove. During the first two dives we saw innumerable turtles, sharks, humphead parrotfish, schools of pike, barracudas…
…and during the last dive wildlife was less spectacular (meaning here that we “only” saw 2 sharks and 3 turtles… haha), but the cave was awesome. I’m so into cool underwater topography! I generally enjoyed diving with Uncle Chang very much. As I’ve already mentioned, I had a great dive buddy who shared my level of experience, and cool divemasters, meaning that we could enjoy veeeeery long dives and didn’t have to resurface after 45min already. Top! 🙂 Sipadan was simply amazing. Incredible. Unbelievable. Phenomenal. I understand now why everybody wants to go there and why it is considered one of the world’s best diving spots. It was a more than perfect ending to my time in Borneo! Goodbye Malaysia, selemat tinggal!