Tag Archives: Sarawak

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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Quick stops in Sarawak….Miri & Sibu, Borneo, Malaysia

Our border crossing from Brunei into Sarawak, Malaysia was as breezy as could be. Besides stopping us to ask if we had been to Korea, we were barely questioned and our luggage never even had to leave the bus. Presumably, this is because Brunei is so strict about what comes into its borders (ie our customs form for a bottle of rum) and Malaysia must assume we couldn’t possibly have gotten anything past Brunei security on the way in.

Our next two stops in Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia were Miri and Sibu – stopovers on the journey across the island to the much larger Kuching, and our final stop in Asia. Yes, that’s it. At this point we had just two weeks left. Our plan was to slowly make our way to Kuching, but this was not to be for a few reasons. One, these towns had little to offer in the way of attractions and two, well, we’re just plain tired of moving around. And three, it just rained and rained and rained.

So our first stop, Miri was supposed to be a party city, so we booked two nights ahead of time. We probably didn’t need both. We did find some interesting handicraft stores and a bookstore with bargain books in English. Otherwise, we avoided our hostel room, which was the size of a queen bed plus three feet on one side so the door could open (not exagerating – too small to even photograph how small it was). The bed hit three walls and there was no window. We decided the party reference we had heard must refer to the two or three bars along one of the main roads that serve up expensive imported beer. We did find a “historic” area that was run down and covered in advertisements and banners.  Here are the 8 pictures Riki took.

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Yoda
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Cool patterns everywhere
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Symbol of the area – a hornbill

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This guy was the size of my hand
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Seahorse

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An 8 hour bus ride later and we arrived in Sibu, which was worse. This is a jumping off point for people going upriver a few hours by boat to some villages with traditional longhouses. But we didn’t know that was the only reason people stayed in Sibu. When we arrived in Sibu we took the public bus to the city center and walked around looking for a cheap place to stay. We had looked online for options, found little information and decided to wing it, like we have in so many other instances. The first 5 or 6 places we looked were so bare and grim that is was confusing. Not a single worthy place to stay – and we are used to basic. And then Riki figured it out – its strictly a port town for sailors. These places were meant for hourly guests – not overnighters like ourselves.  Brothels as we later read in the guide book.  So we sucked it up and walked into a much more expensive place (about $20) and found a huge room with tons of windows and a spotless floor. It even had a separate shower that didn’t spray the toilet – a rarity over here. All this walking around, we did in the pouring rain, with our big bags.

We did our usual exploratory walk around town that night and came to the conclusion that we didn’t want to stay any longer. It took some research, but we found a boat to Kuching the next day. We left in a hurry, but not before trying konpia – Sibu’s version of the bagel. Our hotel receptionist walked us a few minutes through some hectic streets to a shop where they were freshly made. Probably the best part of our stay. A great replacement for our normal fare – chicken and rice.  There are no pictures from Sibu – a first.

Our 5 hour ferry ride to Kuching was rainy the whole way, but the boat had movies and we were grateful for the change of pace from bumpy buses.