Tag Archives: proboscis

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).

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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Scorpion the size of my hand – this picture is actually upside down to make it easier to look at
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Spiky tree
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Tarantula
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Poisonous frog
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Kingfisher
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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.

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Low tide
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Ants or termites?
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Horned spider

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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.

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Luck on a river safari….Sukau, Borneo, Malaysia

Sabah is the eastern most state of Malaysian Borneo. It is set up very well for package tour groups. Lots of companies offering transport, lodging and attractions for exorbitant prices. Since that is not really our style, we had a bit more of a challenge to figure everything out in the cheapest possible way from Semporna to Sukau.

We eventually found a reasonably priced bus from Semporna to “the junction”, which is a fancy name for an intersection with a couple of signs and a covered bench. The buses in East Malaysia are not the fancy three-across reclining ones like we encountered around KL and Singapore. They aren’t the worst though and the only hiccup on our 4 hour trip was the family of seven (yes, five children) attempting to buy just the two seats behind us (yes, only two). This resulted in a long delay when a large group boarded the bus an hour into our trip. The children were exiled to the aisle, slightly reminiscent of our hell-on-wheels Myanmar journey, except the person with their head on Riki’s seat was a cute, polite little girl, not a smelly, dirty, rude man.

When we were dropped at “the junction”, we walked in the appointed direction to find a minibus to Sakau. Except there was no minibus, at least according the man at the covered bench, who conveniently could take us the 45 minutes to “town”. Our driver loaded us into the most rickety little sedan I’ve encountered and sped off through 40 some kilometers of palm oil plantations.

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Sukau has a small slice of protected forest that boasts easy to spot wildlife along the Lower Kinabatangan River. The reason wildlife is easy to spot along the river: the palm oil plantations have pushed all the animals into a narrow strip of land. They congregate along the water, making boat trips popular up and down the river. We were there to spot the elusive orang utan (man of the forest). And if that failed, our backup was to hit up Sepilok Nature Reserve, where they have an orang utan rehabilitation center with a popular feeding program.

But we were incredibly lucky. On our first afternoon boat trip, we spotted an orang utan with her baby high in the trees along the river.

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Mother orang utan and baby
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Close up of the baby orang utan

We also saw many black hornbills, a small eagle, two types of macaque (long and pig tailed), AND the funny-nosed Proboscis monkey. These were my favorite, as they were very active and the females have cute pointy noses, while the males have fat, floppy ones. There are two types of Proboscis monkey groups – a male with his harem of “wives” and the bachelors. We only encountered the first group type, but were able to make out one of the shy males.

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Pig tailed macaque
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Lower Kinabatangan River
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Proboscis monkey – males have long, droopy noses but are very shy and we didn’t get a good photo
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Definitely a female Proboscis – between the pointy nose and the nursing baby, its a dead giveaway

 

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Black hornbill

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Eagle of some sort

Returning from our afternoon boat trip, we saw a small fishing boat on the side of the river with a man making a rather funny gesture. His hands were fanned and wiggling by his ears. This could only mean one thing – pygmy elephant. What luck!

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Pygmy means small, but other than his ears, this guy was pretty big
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Pygmy elephant

The fact that it is lucky to see one is very sad. According to our guide, there used to be many, many more animals along the river. The palm oil plantations have taken over and the wildlife has died or migrated elsewhere.

Later that evening, we went on a night cruise. Its much harder to spot anything at night, but our guide had a strong flashlight and wasn’t afraid to blind the wildlife. We saw some nesting swiftlets, who attach small nests to the side of the rock right over the water – a rather precarious situation.

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Swiftlets

We also saw the eyes of a baby crocodile. a puffy faced owl and some sleeping Proboscis monkeys. It was much tamer than our eventful afternoon.

The next day, we hit the water at 6 am for our combo river cruise and short trek. The monkeys must have been hiding, but we spotted another puffy faced owl and a crested serpent eagle, as well as a few other birds.

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“Puffy faced owl” though it must have another name
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Python
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Big monitor lizard
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Another python
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Lots of sticks and logs in the water
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The ferry

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As we entered the small creek leading to the start of our trek, we realized a large tree had fallen across the water and completely blocked the way.

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We backtracked and found another path, which connected to the other one. I was about to write the morning off, thinking we had used up all of our luck the day before – the guide was getting excited about common butterflies and cicada shells – when Riki spotted a lone orang utan headed our way. You know its good when the guide, who does this everyday, whips out his phone and starts taking photos. The orang utan made its way right over our path and stopped to eat some leaves about 10 meters above us. It made the most incredible sound – best described as a kiss squeak/grunt – which Riki has been mimicking ever since.

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Little orange bugs
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Green lizard
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Orang utan – means “man of the forest”
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Thorns

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Water hyacinth perhaps?
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Cicada shell

And our luck had not run out. On our final afternoon boat trip, we were spotting monkeys left and right along a small river. A mama kingfisher was guarding her nest, and when we got too close she flew off, revealing tiny chirping mouths.

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Other boats

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Macaque
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Baby macaque

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Another baby macaque
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Mother Kingfisher

 

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Baby Kingfishers

 

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But the climax of the day, and the final animal on our Sakau checklist was yet to come. While taking endless photos of monkeys grooming and playing right along the shore, we heard a loud crash just across the creek. Another loud crash and we saw the tail of a giant crocodile come down hard on the water, breaking a large branch.

We followed slowly as this 4-5m croc swam across the river with a bloody carcass, which our guide said was probably a monkey caught drinking at the water’s edge. Can’t get much cooler than that.

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Giant crocodile
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Back of the crocodile’s head – the pink part is the carcass

Despite seeing the orang utans in the wild, we decided to continue on to the rehabilitation center to see some more. We took a shuttle with a neighboring lodge to Sepilok, while stopping on the way at the only ATM in the area (and everybody and their mom was there to use it).

 

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Snake neck crane
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Kingfisher

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We got a bit too close for this guy

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