Saturday, April 09, 2016

Monkeying around in Borneo - Kuching

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.

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.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Monkeying around in Borneo - Kuching