Malaysian Borneo

L9th January
The end of the cruise and the beginning of the adventures in the next country start today.
The ship was docked in HK when we woke up. Having packed last night, we just needed to grab some coffee and a light breakfast before leaving our cabin behind and heading for a Grab to the airport. The day was spent travelling via Kuala Lumpur to Kuching, a city in Sarawak, on Malaysian Borneo (more about that history later). We found a Grab to the accommodation after eventually securing some duty free alcohol. Arriving somewhere late and tired is never fun but once again we seemed to get someone to let us into our apartment. Compared to other apartments and hotel rooms we have during this holiday this accommodation was HUGE. Thankfully it also had a washing machine so we got a couple of loads of washing sorted and out to dry (or in to dry under the ceiling fan).
Time for dinner we wandered downstairs to the waterfront area and enjoyed yet another back to front dinner where our main came out before our huge onion fritter entrée. Probably just as well because we would have made ourselves sick if we ate all those fritters. After dinner we took a short wander along the waterfront, just enough to hit the 10000 steps we are aiming for each day before heading home to a bed that isn’t rolling all over the ocean.

​10th January
We awoke this morning to pouring rain, turning the river that we overlook into a fast flowing mess of brown water. Not a pleasant sight both from the rivers perspective and the rain. That was not in my plans and may mess us about with our MTB and kayak tour for tomorrow. I guess we will find out soon enough. In the meantime I haven’t had a massage this holiday so it’s time to sort that out.
As usual we looked for reviews and found a place offering a good option for massage and sent them a message. They replied quickly and we secured a timeslot that gave us ample time to walk there. In the rain. Through unfamiliar streets. To a place that was out of the way. By the time we got there I was needing the massage more than ever and reluctantly head up the staircase to a poorly signed shop front. I pushed The Newby through the door first, out of fear that we might be in the wrong place but he was greeted by a team of friendly, if slightly curious staff and made comfortable with tea. Soon were relaxing under the soft hands of the therapists. The massage was so good we booked in for another in a couple of days, to relax us again after our tour tomorrow.
All relaxed, we headed to the supermarket and stocked up on some essentials before heading home for a rest and to check the status of the washing, spread all over the apartment trying to dry in the most humid of weather. It’s never a good idea to stay at home when you are on holiday. There’s a good chance you won’t go back to wherever you are. I have this fear so I am always keen to go out again. Armed with the umbrellas we headed to the bridge we could see from the balcony, in the hope that we could cross over and wander along the other side of the river. There is a cake hop and a food hall over there that look like they are worth investigating. Alas, it wasn’t to be, thanks to a thunderstorm. I love thunderstorms, but not when I am standing on a bridge that has loads of metal on it, or when I am holding an umbrella. Luckily it didn’t last long and there are undercover areas along the bridge. 
We abandoned the idea to go too far and headed back the way we came in search of food, cake and gifts. In one of the stores I asked the sales person why there are different flags for sale. In a hushed voiced she explained the political history of Sarawak, from her perspective, stating that she didn’t really support any one side, rather she just sold the flags. It reminded me of when Toan gave us his history lesson on Vietnam last year.  
Further down the road we got another lesson, this time a visual one on cake. I had read about the famous kek lapis of Sarawak and wanted to get some to eat. The pictures show fabulous, colourful layer cake that look delicious. We were lucky to wander past a shop where the kitchen is on the outside and it’s possible to watch the baking process. It is highly labour intensive, with cake trays coming out of the oven so a fresh, thin layer of batter can be added before they are returned to the oven to set that layer, as the next tin is removed. And so the process goes until the kek is built and baked. I get that, it’s mostly straightforward, albeit fiddly and fussy. What I don’t get is how the checked kek is built! Of course I bought kek and of course it had shades of purple. Yummo. 
Eventually we made it back along the riverbank to the same place where we ate last night and found a table to enjoy our dinner at, as we watched the world go by. A very nice, relaxing first day in Sarawak and I am looking forward to being active tomorrow on the bikes and the kayaks. Time for a good night’s sleep. 

11th January
Well it looks like the rain has stopped but the river outside our door is flowing really fast. I don’t know what that means … 
Our tour guide Francis picked us up, with two other tourists already in the vehicle and 5 bikes on a rack at the back. Our fellow tourists are cyclists, one having competed as a downhill MTB rider throughout the world (no pressure) and the other a regular road bike rider. Both in lycra. Meanwhile Mr Bolo and I are in casual clothes, hoping for a bit of a pedal but more of a sightseeing adventure. Someone is going to be disappointed. 
After an hour in the 4wd we arrived at a lake and parked the vehicle in sight of a large hill. Our guide, Francis was superb and managed our varying levels of experience professionally. Here’s what I wrote about the tour, organised by Paradesa Borneo, on Tripadvisor:
We booked the 3 in 1 tour of mountain bikes, caves and kayaking while staying in Kuching. Our booking request was replied to almost immediately and we were accommodated for the very next day! At the time of booking the rain was falling and we were warned that the kayaking may not go ahead. This is the part we really wanted to do.
On the day of the tour we were picked up at our accommodation and joined 2 other people and our guide, Francis. We were transported in a seriously new and comfortable 4wd to Bau where the MTB part started. Kitted out with helmets and 18 speed bikes we headed off to the Wind caves and then an abandoned gold mine. The riding was slippery but not impossible although there was one water crossing where we got very wet shoes and legs! Great fun with loads of concentration needed.
Along the ride we stopped for a drink before tackling some hills and more muddy crossings. I should say that we are both 50 something, mostly unfit peeps but we coped just fine. I walked some parts but rode when I could. At the end of the ride we indulged in a very satisfying lunch and found out that the kayaking part of our trip was cancelled for our own safety. Disappointing but understandable. A refund was promised and has been honoured promptly.
Despite our cancellation we had a BLAST on the ride and can thoroughly recommend it. Not for the faint hearted but also not exclusively for the experienced rider. Four hours that flew past as we bungled through the jungle.

After Francis dropped us back in Kuching we showered, washed our filthy clothes and headed out for a wander to grab some caches. I have said this before but I’ll say it again, Geocaching is an awesome way to find the best and some of the more obscure sites and sights in places that are new to you. We spent way too long trying to find a cache at the scrap metal cats and quickly bagged one at Brook’s Dockyard. Kuching is the City of Cats, with a cat museum (we didn’t go), cat sculptures and cat murals all around the city. I picked up a couple of cat purses for the cat lovers in the office and The Drummer. Brook’s Dockyard is a decrepit looking site that looks unused. But it has a vibrant history that you can read about as you stand there and it is possible to imagine the lively celebration as boats were built and launched from the dock into the river, with women under their parasols and men with their cravats cheering along. 
From the dockyard we wandered through Little India and then through China town ending up once again at the riverbank for dinner. This is becoming a little ritual I could certainly get used to. 

​12th January 
Today we are hoping to see the orang-utans at Semenggoh. We weren’t sure what was the best way to get to the park, so we did some research and are going to grab a Grab there and back. It seems like this is an affordable and less touristy way to go. 
So, off we went in our Grab which was very easy to do. We arrived with loads of time to make it from the car park to the waiting area (there is a mini bus that takes you along the road). We arrived knowing the chances of seeing the orang-utans was slim, because they are wild animals and there is a lot of fruit in the forest during the wet season, so less reason for them to come in search of handouts. Unfortunately it wasn’t our lucky day and they chose to stay away. I have no issue with that and hope they are well and thriving in the jungle. The park however is not keen to have you there once the attempt to lure the orang-utans is over. We were ushered out without time to read the signs, see the crocodile or walk out leisurely. So back to the car park and back in a Grab.
Now, I have one other thing to say about this trip. Don’t believe everything you read. I wrote and posted a review for Tripadvisor for the sanctuary and it was never published. This is really unusual and has never happened to me before. I wasn’t scathing (far from it), I was just honest about the likelihood of seeing the orang-utans. I also looked at Google reviews (before we went) and noticed that most of the positive ones were posted by people who are a “local guide”. I think it’s a case of buyer beware, and I hope it’s a case of there is no guarantee but you haven’t lost much in the way of cost and that goes into orang-utan rehabilitation. 
Anyway, back to the city we went, initially for coffee and a wander through a suburban shopping mall before heading to Reservoir Park for a geocache and a wander (in incredibly high humidity). The caching led us to some bunkers, relics from World War 2 and then around to the aqueduct before we wandered out of the park and followed the sounds of drum to a temple where a lion dance was being performed. With Chinese New Year fast approaching there is an abundance of these awesome dances at the moment. I love them and the loud music, fireworks and acrobatic dancing. It must be incredibly hot in those suits.
Back at the apartment we entertained the thought of a swim in the roof top pool but the water was a wee bit slimy, thanks most likely to excessive amounts of fresh water from the rain diluting the chlorine. Instead we showered and headed out for our second and much needed spa (the legs are aching after yesterday’s ride) before a final dinner in Kuching at The Granary. I’ve really enjoyed Kuching and could see myself coming back here to visit, maybe even live and work. It is a small city, easy to get around, friendly and vibrant. I think having great accommodation helps with feeling “at home” in any place. 

13th January
Another travel day, this time comprising an internal flight away from rainy Kuching to the Kota Kinabalu. Just a short domestic flight with enough time for us to have a coffee and finish the kek lapis in the terminal. The view out the window of the plane was of the coastline almost all the way (we didn’t fly over Brunei). Many dirty, brown rivers were emptying into the clean ocean, creating mushrooms of brown water along the coast.
Kota Kinabalu is a humid place, apparently bustling with activity, based on our Grab trip to the resort. We are staying in a beautiful place that has everything we need on site, so we spent the rest of the day unpacking, exploring the options and then taking a walk to the shops for some snacks. The balcony overlooking the ocean made for an awesome venue for evening drinks and dinner. I think we are going to enjoy this part of Malaysia too. 

​14th January
Today we had a lazy start to the day, enjoying a late-ish breakfast in the lovely dining area. If you clicked on the link to the resort above and saw that great aerial photo, breaky is available in that area right in front of the pool, under the 4 roofs. You can make out the table we sat at. Our room is one of the ones facing that gorgeous blue water. Refreshed after breaky we had a swim in that lovely big pool and then a rest on the lounges, facing them out towards to ocean. There is a tiny beach here but not enticing for a swim, thanks to some rubbish floating in the water.
In the afternoon we decided to grab a Grab and headed to Jessleton pier for a look before taking a huge climb up to a lookout over the city (where we of course nabbed a geocache). This made us hungry and we could hear the sounds of drums so we headed in their direction, hoping there was some event on where we could also get some dinner.
Luckily for us we came across some Chinese New year celebrations and there was a market set up too, so we got to eat some yummy street food and watch a drumming show and an amazing lion dance show. 

15th January 
Today we try a new sport for us, white water rafting.
But first we had to collect the hire car from the airport. The Grab driver was somewhat curious that we wanted to go the arrivals hall and then once we were there we had trouble finding the Europecar desk but eventually, and late, we were in our little proton and off towards Mount Kinabalu. In fact we got a great and clear view of it about an hour into our drive but as we were running late we didn’t stop for a photo. The road was windy but nothing like Taiwan and we were on the correct side of the road, so the driving was not difficult at all.
We arrived at the start of the white water rafting experience just as 2 rafts of people were leaving. Changing quickly into “something appropriate for rafting” we were on our way, ably support by Zil, a local young man. The water was a dirty brown colour from rain the previous evening but the surrounding trees and farms were very picturesque. And the paddling was a breeze thanks to the current pulling us down the river. The rapids were a class 1, so perfect for oldies like us and we thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Not too far into the 7kms we caught the other rafts and we all took the opportunity to have a swim. Back in the raft (no mean feat – “big fish”) we paddled on under suspension bridges that go to small family run rubber and pineapple farms. We even saw a scooter with a rider and a pillion cross one of the pedestrian bridges! All too soon the experience was over and we were having a nice lunch. We would both love to do some more rafting, hopefully a bit of a longer experience now that we have had a taster.
Back in the hire car we headed to Kiulu township and were treated to a fabulous musical performance by some local people employed by Malaysian tourism. #vm2020 #visitmalaysia2020. Seems like this year is a big promo year for the country. Although there seems to be the undercurrent of political division I mentioned earlier. After the delightfully and highly entertaining performance we crossed the river via the suspension bridge, something that is easier to do than crossing via the road bridge thanks to an abandoned car at the start of the crossing! With the luxury of the car at our disposal we stopped in at a cute but largely uninformative museum before making our way back to the resort for a quiet afternoon including a dip in the pool and sunset on the balcony.
To finish off our hire car day we checked out some reviews for places to eat dinner and headed out of town to a place that scored well on google. We didn’t plan it overly well as the sheer volume of evening traffic meant the drive took us an hour to go 20km but eventually we found it. Unfortunately it didn’t live up to its reviews. There is no way anyone has ever “watched the sunset” while eating dinner there! As for the “tasty food”, they obviously don’t serve it on Wednesday evenings. The lady was very glad we bothered to go all that way but I wouldn’t recommend others do. Still, it was a truly authentic Malaysian experience and that is what we were looking for!
​The math on today suggests that the diy approach saved us quite a bit of money. TripAdvisor price for the white water rafting with hotel pickup and lunch was AUD$97/person. Doing it our way was $46 for the hire care, the white water rafting with lunch was $25 each, the car moving and tip was $17 and the museum entry was $3.50 each. That totals $120, a saving of $74 plus the convenience of the car and the flexibility to explore a bit.

16th January
Today is another pool side day to make the most of the resort.
After breaky we got in quick to the loungers under umbrellas, thanks to me getting a little bit sunburned 2 days ago. We spent the morning in and out of the pool and reading and planning tomorrow. As nice as being poolside is, we decided to go for a hit out on the squash court in the afternoon. We have played at home in winter cold and on the most roasting of summer Saturday mornings but this game was our most extreme as far as the weather was concerned. The humidity was huge and we were melting within minutes despite the (pathetic) fan that was rotating on one wall. Mr Bolo struggled more than me and forfeited the match at 4 games to 3. He rallied from 3-1 but just couldn’t see out our usual 9 game match. Winners are grinners! Back to the pool to cool down.
For dinner, thanks to the resort prices, we headed out in a Grab to el Centro for some excellent Mexican food and some Tiger beers. We don’t normally eat non-Asian food in Asian countries (I have made this comment before) but we both felt like something without rice or noodles. The meal and the beers were great and a nice end to our quiet day. We did go back to the resort for ice cream!

17th January
Today we are going snorkelling. Mr Bolo wants to see clown fish (“I’ll wet my pants”) and I want to see seahorses.
Our day started with the purchase of the world’s most expensive 100ml tube of 50+ sunscreen, before we were picked up for a private car trip with Irene (“there will be many Koreans on this trip”). She expertly took us to the dock not far from where we had our dinner the other night when we had the car. The trip was much faster and we were the first people to arrive. Over the next half an hour many more people arrived and as Irene predicted almost all of them were Korean. It seems that Kota Kinabalu is a current hot spot for Koreans as the hotel patrons also seem to be almost entirely Korean. Not that it makes any difference to us, although it does make for some really interesting people watching. For example there was a group of 5 young women who arrived all dressed in neck to ankle (and wrist) swimming costumes. One was exceptionally tall and slim and clad in a two piece skin coloured cossie with just an inch of midriff exposed. Essentially a bikini …
Although we arrived first, we weren’t the first to leave but we did get lucky and land up in a boat with a delightful guide called Abby. We motored a very short distance down the stream past a lazing crocodile (!) and across a shallow bar. Once at sea we travelled to the island, which took almost no time. Once there we basically had the opportunity to do whatever we wanted. The choices included kayaking, snorkelling, resting in hammocks or deck chairs, or buying some extra activities like paragliding. So what we paid for was a day on a private island. Mr Bolo and I really booked it for the snorkelling so we donned the mask and snorkels and headed out into the warm water. We spent the first hour and half in water waist deep and in that time found clown fish dipping in and out of the anemones. We also saw many other colourful fish swim between the sea weed and coral. Speaking of which, there were brain corals and others that were branching and bushy. Given the depth of the water and how close we were to the beach (25m) what we saw was amazing. And Mr Bolo saw his clown fish!
After lunch while we waited to go to the reef for the planned snorkelling we had a little turn in the see-through canoe and tried the stand up paddle boards. Neither was hugely successful but a bit of fun. We also tried to pull off a timed photo on the swing that hangs over the water. Mr Bolo wasn’t able to get his butt up to the seat before the time ticked over but it certainly was entertaining.
Eventually we were off in the tender to the snorkelling spot and into the water to explore the reef. The fish were certainly more prolific but we definitely saw better and many more clown fish back at the beach. Thanks to calf cramps I spent some time in the boat and noticed one of the Korean girls sitting there in her life jacket looking longingly at the water. I asked her why she wasn’t snorkelling and she told me in broken English that she can’t swim. Actually Abby had told us at the beginning of the day that we needed to wear life jackets at all times. To the side I told her that I was a strong swimmer and didn’t want to wear the life jacket. She was fine with that but told us that most of their guests can’t swim. I had already noticed this at the hotel where almost every guest (adult and child alike) was wearing a vest in the water.
I asked the little Korean girl if she wanted to have a go and she indicated that she was scared but would like to, so I got the attention of one of the guides who agreed to take her in. Given that most of the others in the water also weren’t swimming, she was just going to join more of the same. I adjusted her life jacket and helped her with the mask and snorkel, and she nervously went into the water. The guide was excellent with her and she had about 10 minutes in the water, returning to the boat clearly relieved but happy. She was very grateful to me for encouraging her and I have to admit I am so glad she didn’t drown out there. She indicated that she saw the fish and enjoyed it.
Back at the island Mr Bolo and I headed back into the water and found more clown fish and other fish, thoroughly enjoying another great snorkel in warm, shallow water. Eventually I had to get out of the water and ready to head back to the mainland. The weather on the island was blissful but we could see a storm brewing over the mainland and encountered it as we returned. The crocodile was still in the stream, not far from the fishos and keenly watched by a couple of monkeys traversing the power lines. Irene was waiting for us and swiftly returned us to the resort where we returned our soaked towels and washed off the salt and sand. Our only beach swim this holiday and we had it on our last day. And we saw the clown fish!
We decided to head into town again for dinner, going to Little Italy for pizza and lasagne (no alcohol) before taking a Grab back to the hotel, ready to head home to Australia tomorrow.

For a wrap up of the trip and all the extra details have a look here. That’s a wrap.

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