Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Malaysia Borneo, the land of orangutans and the most amazing sky

For us, uninformed and unprepaired, Borneo was one big surprise. The first thing you notice about Borneo is the most amazing sky you have ever seen. It is the most beautiful mixture of all shades of blue with different types of clouds in different layers and everytime you look up you think wow this is really something special. The second thing we realized pretty quickly was that Borneo is much more developed that we would expect and very modern and very very expensive (although the public transport between cities and touristic places is an absolute disaster that would deserve some improvement).

The only two things we have planned for Borneo was to climb the famous Mount Kinabalu in the northern Sabah and to visit the Bako national park in the sourthern Sarawak state of Malaysian Borneo. We didn't do either of that. And honestly the price of the Mount Kinabalu climb was pretty much the only reason to change our minds about the climb. And we actually skipped the Bako park for financial reasons as well but would have probably done that if we haven't seen it all already in the most amazing Kinabatangan jungle. And finally, we had some vague ideas about Borneo having some cool jungles but in reality, the landscape and the wildlife is much more beautiful and more much exciting than we would have ever imagined on one hand and much more alarming and sad on the other.

We arrived to Kota Kinabalu, the capital of the Sabah state and experienced the hottest and the most humid weather of our travels. Surprisingly only an hour drive from Kota Kinabalu in the Kinabalu national park we got to be really cold for the first time since we started travelling as we were caught in a heavy tropical rain in the middle of a national park and there was just no escape to that (and to the blood sucking leeches either). Now, being in Kuching in the Sarawak state, we got a room with an air-con for the first time and 25 degrees inside temperature feels like it's absolutely freezing in comparison to the crazy hot weather outside (oh yeah dreading to come home to the 25 degree summer :).

I probably wouldn't be the biggest fan of Kota Kinabalu town itself, it felt like a small version of Kuala Lumpur, chinese and touristy and noisy and hot but I think Davy loved it with its cheap t-shirts and sport bars with live football matches. But it has its own charm (mainly in comparison to Kuching which is quite boooring I have to say) and its Sunday market was a great adventure. Staying up late and getting up early and actually living on the main Gaya street, we saw the market being set up as early as at half 2 in the morning and it is a perfect mixture of stalls with anything thinkable to be sold from fresh fruit to gardening tools, fish, the cuttest puppies being locked in tiny cages in the crazy heat to the usual touristy t-shirts and souvenirs.

Being on Borneo, we decided to invest into a proper jungle adventure and considering what everything was included in our 3 days/2nights package it was actually quite cheap and definitely worth of spending money (free pick-up, accommodation in a lovely ensuite jungle hut, 3 meals per day, 4 river cruises, 2 night and 1 day jungle treks all with an experienced local guide for 450 ringgits each which is around 110 euro). The jungle we went to see and where we got to spend the two nights was along the Kinabatangan river and as another surprise apparently next to the Lahad Datu region where a civil war is happening!

Other tourists in our group contacted their embassies before coming to Borneo and were told it is not safe to come here to Borneo at all but by talking to local people and checking the news here, it seems that there is no real danger unless being in the Lahad Datu itself and being very unlucky at the same time! Again, before coming to the Kinabatangan jungle, we didn't really have a clue what animals to expect to see and that's why the reality really surprised us.

We got to see an amazing array of monkeys, including long-tailed macaques, pig-tailed macaques, a wild orangutan in his tree nest and two monkey species living only on Borneo, the cute nocturnal slow Loris and the funny looking Proboscis monkeys with their huge noses and huge pot bellies. Then we got to see crocodiles which were just massive and you loose your desire to jump into the river for a small dip quite quickly. And lots of different birds like kingfishers and hornbills and other bird and bugs and geckos and a small snake and stuff.