Tag Archives: monkey

Last City of Asia & Bako National Park, Part 1….Kuching, Malaysia

Spoiler: Monkey pictures near the bottom

Because of our swift progress through Sarawak, we ended up having a little over a week to spend in Kuching. A 5 hour boat trip in the rain from Sibu left us at a ferry terminal far outside the main city. With no bus option and no information on further transport, besides the conveniently located taxis. This has been my biggest pet peeve about Borneo, the lack of adequate public transportation or the lack of info about it. In Kuala Lumpur, Malacca and Penang, the buses had schedules, routes and posted fares. Buses could be booked online for long distances and everything was straight forward. The complete opposite appears to be the case over here. We have a tough time even figuring out if there is even a bus, and if there is, when it runs and where to get it. In Kota Kinabalu, there is bus to the airport, but it stops at 8 pm and appears to be privately run (not sure about this as we couldn’t take it because our flights were too late). In the state of Sabah, we found outrageous price ranges for the same journey and no particular schedule. We’ve waited an hour along the side of the road, in the blazing heat because we had no other option. And then there’s just the lack of options. Everyone must drive because the public transit is failing, or maybe the public transit is failing because everyone drives. We’ve never been so clueless about how to get around, as even the locals don’t always know the system. Anyway, I ramble.

Long story short – we had to take an expensive taxi from the ferry terminal to town (I didn’t even get to rant about how the taxis refuse to use meters and you have to just negotiate ahead of time, though they often refuse to as everything is “fixed price” or so they say). We split it with an Australian woman though from our boat, who was just as outraged at the system.

Kuching is in Sarawak, which belonged to the Sultan of Brunei 200 years ago. It was then ceded to a British explorer whose family ruled until the Japanese took over in 1941. It was part of the Japanese empire for a little over 3 years before being returned to the British and then ultimately becoming independent as part of Malaysia in 1963. Kuching is one of the most multi-racial places in Malaysia – with many Chinese descendants, as well as Indian and native Malays. The signs are in many languages, usually Mandarin (but also other Chinese dialects), Malay and English, but also some Arabic, as Islam is the primary religion here.

That first evening, we walked to the waterfront in search of food. This being Friday, we expected people out and shops open. Well, that was not the case. Saturday evening proved to be more lively, but everything on Friday was pretty much closed by the time we got there (8 pm). Saturday we walked to the Sarawak Museum, where they have amusing taxidermied animals, as well as good displays of local architecture and cultural exhibits. There’s a giant hairball (basketball size) that came out of the stomach of a crocodile, as well as a watch. (Sorry – no pictures allowed) The animals on Borneo are biologically diverse as it’s an island with a variety of isolated habitats where evolution took a different course, if you believe in that. Kuching is the gateway to some good national parks we intended to check out.

Saturday afternoon we boarded a bus for the weekend market, which we had heard was huge and a cheaper place to buy souvenirs and food. It was pretty big, but compared to Bangkok’s, it was tiny. We walked around for less than half an hour before settling in the market’s food court to eat and watch a band play some country songs we recognized (see Instagram video).

That evening we went to the waterfront to watch a street performer’s competition we had seen signs for. We sat down at 7:15 for the 7:30 show, next to one of the performers. He chatted us up and explained the selection process and what it was like to perform around town. There are not a lot of bars and the restaurants are not really set up for music, so gigs tend to be few and far between, or only for established bands. They went first (though not for another hour, as there appeared to be something wrong with the sound system), were very good and we stayed for a few more acts, including a very talented kid who had dance moves like I’ve never seen before (another Instagram video).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Sunday we went to a megamall, to see Pitch Perfect 2. We laughed at completely different times than the rest of the audience, but oddly, it made us a bit nostalgic for America. The mall was more crowded than the streets downtown, as there was a rattanball tournament and a car show going on that day.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
These guys had some crazy moves

You can’t go more than a few minutes without seeing a mall in all the major cities we’ve been to in Malaysia. And yet, we can’t seem to find many decently fitting clothes – our body types and styles are not exactly their target audience (head scarves and short sleeved button downs not exactly being our thing). The malls are air conditioned and packed with every amenity you could need, which I suppose is because it’s really hot and rains so much. We don’t mind though, as all our rain gear is finally getting used.

Probably the most popular place to visit near Kuching is Bako National Park. It is a 40 minute bus trip to the coast, where you check in and buy a boat ticket for the 15 minute journey to the park’s headquarters. We opted to stay overnight as we heard the evening is the best time to see animals, and the night walk is good. There are many trails you can do, but half the park is currently closed, so we were limited to just the short ones. We first went to one of the beaches, where we walked up through rainforest to a flat rock, grassy topography like I’ve never seen before and then to a cliff overlooking the beach, where we met three German girls we had seen at the street performer’s competition. They were delighted that we were Americans as they had not brought enough money for the trip and only had US dollars on them. Though we don’t have much use for dollars either, we had plenty of ringgit with us. We saw three kinds of monkeys that afternoon – the mischievous long-tailed macaques, who hang around the headquarters to steal food from tourists, the silvered langurs, who tried to pee on us, and three groups of Proboscis monkeys.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Tide was way low where we got the boat to go to the park
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Note monkeys above my head
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Langur monkey – the first time we saw this type
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Baby langur
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
This mom tried to pee on me
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Kind of like the pug version of monkeys
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
A lot of the trail was just hiking over tree roots
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Small pitcher plant
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
My hand would have fit inside this one, up to my wrist

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Cool rocks overlooking the beach
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
End of the trail
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The German girls took our photo

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Spiky tree covered in ants
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
More spikes
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Hermit crab, but far from water

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Dew
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Proboscis monkey
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Its pretty dark in the rain forest
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
There are some boardwalks, which were precariously maintained at times

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Male Proboscis up close – note the droopy nose.  They make a strange call like a snore
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Borneo bearded pig near the park’s headquarters
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Young macaque
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Infant macaque
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Another male Proboscis

We signed up for the night trek that evening, silently hoping we would spot some rare mammals, like the flying lemurs. No such luck, but we saw tons of insects and a few birds.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Scorpion the size of my hand – this picture is actually upside down to make it easier to look at
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Spiky tree
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Tarantula
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Poisonous frog
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Kingfisher
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
There are a lot more bug pictures, but I’ll spare you.

The next day, we woke early and did a 3.5 hour loop trail that went by mangroves, up a steep climb in the rainforest, to another grassy zone. There are 7 separate ecosystems here and its tough to distinguish between them, but the contrast between rainforest and the highest ecosystem is very discernible. We saw few animals and were incredibly hot and tired by the time we returned to headquarters for our boat back.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Low tide
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Ants or termites?
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Horned spider

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Looking for saltwater crocodiles (we didn’t see any)

The rest of the day we spent relaxing at our hostel, enjoying the hot shower and air conditioning after two days of being drenched in sweat. I felt sorry for the other people on the bus, as we were quite fragrant.

Part 2 of Kuching, complete with city pictures, coming soon.

Advertisements

Secret Agent Island….Phang Nga, Thailand

Our last stop in southern Thailand is Phang Nga, not to be confused with the locale of the Vietnamese caves we so greatly admired – Phong Nha.

It was a torturous 86 kms from Krabi to Phang Nga. In the States, that could probably be done in about an hour, with smooth roads the whole way. Not so here. We first had to take a minibus to a travel agent’s station, where we were dumped in with a hundred other tourists going to a dozen different locations. And waited for an indeterminate amount of time. Everyone else had stickers on their shirts, but not us. As we were the only ones headed to Phang Nga, we were eventually squashed into a very hot and cramped minibus with others going past Phang Nga to Phuket. Riki’s prickly heat was not amused. We stopped after 30 minutes so the crazy driver, who sped up around turns, could eat lunch. No one else ate. Then we were back on the road and deposited at the local bus station after almost 3 hours.

Phang Nga is not known for hosting many tourists. And it shows. Our air-conditioned hotel was not really up to the standards for its Bangkok price of over $15. We opted for a/c to cool the prickly heat and planned on a luxurious few days in the chill enjoying our hot water, mini fridge and TV. Well, the hot water didn’t work, the fridge was less than luke warm and the TV only had a two channels in English (Nat Geo – which only has fishing shows and a strange movie channel with an intense delay between picture and sound). But we weren’t here for the hotel room.

We were here to take a whole day boat trip to see some amazing and gorgeous islands, that have been inhabited for thousands of years.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Very old cave paintings

Our boat trip was a bit dampered by three rambunctious boys in our boat, but the scenery more than made up for their antics. To sum it up: Rule #1 of parenthood should be: never buy your children noise makers (especially on a 10 passenger boat).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Our boat

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We visited the James Bond Island, where The Man With the Golden Gun was shot.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Classic pose
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Another classic pose

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

At the end, we stopped at a village where the only thing on dry ground is the mosque and the cemetary. The rest is unfortunately, tourist shops and a cool floating “stadium.” They also had massive cats, no dogs.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Floating stadium
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Just think about trying to learn a bike when this is your only road, 20 feet above water/mud with no railing.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I also discovered sticky rice with mango, coconut milk and little seeds. Why I never tried this before is beyond me. I ate as many as I could. We also discovered a million dollar idea – popsicles dipped in unflavored gellatin to keep them from melting. Genius. And delicious.

We visited the Heaven and Hell cave, which has some gory scenes outside and an awesome dragon walkway/entrance. Unfortunately, the lights weren’t on and we couldn’t go into the cave very far.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Screw threw her belly – definitely not a heaven image

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

At the same location is a nice view of the area, or so we heard. Our ascent to the viewpoint was hindered by a horde (flock, gaggle, herd, etc) of mean monkeys, who bite, or so we were told. I had to leave my little bag of snacks at the entrance, or risk being bitten by these aggressive guys. Riki was too afraid to take out his camera and attract their attention, but we were 30 feet from the top with a Thai man and his sister, when we realized there would be no passing these red-faced creatures. Riki’s fear of heights kicked in, and rightfully so, as the concrete stair seemed unsupported with a rather short guardrail. We raced back down, single file, with me practically stepping on Riki’s feet trying to avoid the monkey who was at my elbow. We did get a photo at the bottom, before collecting my bag and walking back to town.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Calm little guy after chasing us down the steps
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
One of these is real. And mean.

Other news – our last day was the Princess’ birthday. Everyone was wearing purple (her birthday color) and we heard there were blood donor centers and free haircuts. Riki got a free haircut, but it was using my second grader scissors in our bathroom where the sink drains to the floor and the drain is across the room, so every time you walk in, you step in toothpaste. Genius.

Next stop: Phuket Airport for a quick flight to Jakarta, Indonesia.

 

Lots of rocks @ Angkor Wat….Siem Reap, Cambodia

 We left Banlung in a standard minibus, cramped and speeding down the road, in hopes of meeting our connection in Stung Trang, which should have been waiting on the side of the road for us. Well it wasn’t waiting, but it showed up a few minutes after we pulled over at a deserted intersection. We switched to the empty minibus, expecting the worst, to be put in a packed vehicle for the next 6-8 hours. But we were wrong and the rest of our trip to Siem Reap involved only 5 other people and few stops. Riki was even able to lie down in the back seat and nap. A far cry from our normal bus trips. We even arrived after only 5 hours.

We checked into our guesthouse, a recommendation from an American from Kansas we met at the crater lake in Banlung. A steal at $7 a night, but pretty much deserted as far as we could tell. That night we walked to the central market and tried to get our bearings. We had heard so many different opinions about what to do here and the order to do it in that we were a bit overwhelmed and hoped to meet some people who could offer more insight. We were delighted to find 50 cent draft beers and an American/Swiss couple who had done a quick one day tour of the temples, a bit too speedy for our liking.

The next day, we wandered Siem Reap and bought provisions for the upcoming marathon of temple-viewing. We had heard food near the temples was expensive and it was best to bring your own. Fortunately, we found a bakery and a giant grocery store (not a common sight here). Riki was even able to stock up on Goldfish, and if you know Riki, that is heaven on earth for him.

There are a few options for tickets to see the temples. You can get a one day ($20), three day ($40), or seven day pass (all of which involve getting your picture taken and printed on a paper card). They also all allow you to buy the day before, at 5 pm and enter for free to see the sunset, not counting as one of your days. We hired a tuk-tuk and for an astronomical $7 he agreed to take us to pick up our tickets, watch the sunset at Angkor Wat and bring us back. Angkor Wat is not highly frequented for its sunsets. Most people go there for the sunrise, as you can get a good silhouette as the sun rises behind the temples. So when we arrived at Angkor Wat, the tuk-tuk driver was a little confused why we wanted to stay there the whole time and not continue on to the hill where most people watch the sunset. But this turned out to be the first of a long list of good decisions we made this week. There were not very many people and the crowd thinned rapidly as the tour groups were ushered to the sunset hill. We were too late to climb the tower, but we wandered through the massive complex until we were forced to leave because it was closing. Dilly-dallying the whole way, we managed to be some of the last few to leave and Riki was able to snap some shots with little to no people in them (a rare thing we discovered).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
When we first arrived….Angkor Wat
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
I broke out the extra camera for the first time, fortunately for you, none of my pictures are included in these posts as we “forgot” to upload them to the computer.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
As Angkor was closing and we were being herded out the door.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The next morning at 5 am, we took our rented bikes ($2 each) and rode about 40 minutes into the park. It was pretty chilly and very dark, though the bikes had lights that were supposed to turn on when you started going fast enough. Riki’s worked and mine worked occassionally if you kicked it hard enough or went over the right kind of bump. Though commonly just called Angkor, the archaeological park is home to many many temples, some huge, most not. The Khmer kings a thousand plus years ago would each build a new capital, but not that far from the old ones. The temple part was the only part built of stone. The surrounding city was built of wood and thus did not stand the test of time. Consequently, the remaining stone temples are a bit spread out, with lots of walls, gates and towers remaining. It is possible to reach some on bikes comfortably, but the rest are a bit far and require a tuk-tuk, private car, or as we discovered, an e-bike.

The first temple we reached was Bayon, about 45 minutes before sunrise. The place was deserted and we clamored with our flashlights into the maze of stone. We had counted on being alone and only saw a quiet couple appear just as the sun was rising over the many giant stone faces of Bayon. The sun slowly changed the faces from purple to orange as it rose higher in the sky.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Morning mist

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Like many of the temples we were to encounter, this one had never been fully completed. For almost an hour I followed the guide we had bought and read about the incredible bas-reliefs depicted in every corner of the temple. Incredible chiseled images of war and day-to-day life lined the walls, some twenty feet tall. And then, just as other people started showing up, having already seen the sun rise at Angkor, I was studying a particularly gruesome image of people being eaten by alligators and a tiger engulfing a man and engorging his claws into his stomach, I was startled by a movement to my right. An agile monkey (as if they aren’t all agile) scampered up the wall and sat right above the scene I was studying.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Alligator
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Tiger eating a man

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And there were a lot more, coincidentally arriving just as the tour buses arrived from Angkor Wat. And that was our cue to move on. This was our second good decision. The temple complexes have become even more popular, with so many tourists that it can be overwhelming, especially when visiting a place that was meant to be pretty serene. Our itinerary became based on avoiding the crowds as much as possible, something I highly advise to future visitors.

Our second stop was Baphoun, just north of Bayon. It is a largely restored 11th century pyramid with a 16th century giant reclining Buddha at its west wall. Apparently, the very top tower was dismantled to make this Buddha, as they couldn’t find any of the top pieces when it was being restored. Many of the temples have been restored in the past hundred years or so when a French group re-discovered the area and started putting resources together to reassemble the temples. Some temples have been left largely in their dilapidated conditions, either because of lack of funds or just to show the state they were discovered in.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Playing tour guide….or getting in the way of the shot. Depends who you ask.

The tour groups started showing up and we high-tailed it a little further north to the Terrace of the Leper King. This 20 foot tall terrace flanked the entrance to a Royal Palace and had two sets of carved walls, one inner and one outer. I overheard a guide tell his group it was because they wanted to expand the terrace, so they just built another wall further out and filled in the gap. It was later excavated so you can walk between the two walls and see both sets of carvings.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We decided not to hire a guide for any of our three days and bought a book ahead of time to read up and be our own guides (see pic above). This didn’t keep me from following around the English speaking guides I came across though. I love the elephants with the supporting tusks and the five-headed horse. The Terrace of the Elephants, flanking the other side of the entrance, surprisingly had less awesome elephant carvings than that of the Leper King terrace.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Next stop, Preah Pithu Group, oddly named Temples T, U, V, X and Y. These were a bit off the main route, almost deserted and really cool. I don’t think much is known about them, otherwise they would have better names.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Lots of lichen

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We continued east, to guess what, the East Gate, or Victory Gate. Here, we got off our bikes and walked them up the dirt wall to the path at the top, where we rode south to the next gate, the Gate of the Dead. Apparently, if you came back from fighting your enemies and had won, you could come through the Victory Gate. If you had lost, you had to hang your head and come through the Gate of the Dead. Both were pretty incredible and remarkably similar for having such different purposes, in my opinion.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Just outside the gates of Angkor Thom (which houses the aforementioned temples), we stopped briefly at two temples that have undergone extensive reconstruction. Thommanom was redone in the 1960’s and has interesting concrete ceilings.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ta Keo is being re-done by a Chinese organization. We didn’t even climb up this one. The reconstruction had too much smooth concrete, which made it unappealing to us.

This next one was my favorite temple of the day, though second favorite experience (after the sunrise at Bayon). North of Ta Keo along a sandy overgrown path is Ta Nei. It is not on the main route and is largely in its natural decay. The central area is cluttered with piles of stones and the outside is not much different. We sat and ate our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and encountered a guy and his guide looking for a lost brown wallet, no luck unfortunately. Probably one of the worst temples to lose something that would just blend right in or get stuck between the rubble.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Giant tree we ate under
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Ta Nei inner area – all rubble
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Lunch spot

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ta Prohm is known for being the place that Tombraider was filmed and it is HUGE. We arrived and immediately encountered dozens of tour groups. Having looked forward to this one because of its overgrowth and protruding trees, I gave it my best shot and sped for the far side, hoping it would be less crowded. It wasn’t and I made an executive decision that we would have to come back the next day before the crowds arrived. At this point, I had lost Riki (very easy when he is off photographing things). I headed for our meeting point and sketched until he came to the same realization as I had and returned, overwhelmed by all the people getting in the way of his pictures. Third good decision.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Too many tourists

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Right down the road is Banteay Kdei. There were far fewer people, lots of lichen and is much smaller. A good one to end on as the view from across the road is nice out over the Srah Srang – a huge royal bath.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Entry

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We returned almost 12 hours after we had left, exhausted and not sunburned. We took the next day off to do some shopping and catch up on some blogging. We also did some more research on the temples and rented e-bikes ($10/day), which are essentially electronic scooters with pedals that you aren’t supposed to use because it wastes more battery. Seemed backwards to me, but it was cheaper and less hassle than having a tuk-tuk driver hurrying us along all day. Fourth good decision.