Borneo (and a bit of Malaysia)

We left Brunei and headed for a country were you could buy booze AKA the province of Sabah in Malaysian Borneo. It took two ferries to get to the state capital of Kota Kinabalu stopping on a duty free island along the way. Yay!

We were not massively impressed by the city itself. It was nice enough but more touristy than Kuching. At least this meant that there were less people staring at us though. The hostel where we were staying was very basic and owned by Vincent, a complete alcoholic who tried to hard sell everyone his numerous tours. He got on my nerves a bit, but his manager Norman was nice and they made good coffee.

We spent a few days in Kota Kinabalu wandering around and eating pig lung soup (as bad as it sounds) before heading off to Sepilok and the Orang Utan sanctuary. The place we stayed at in Sepilok was very average and we managed to get into an argument with the manager, who had ´accidentally´ booked us into a more expensive room than we had asked for originally. We did manage to get the better room for the same price as the one we had wanted but not without us threatening to go to another resort and a lot of attitude from the manager.

The Orang Utan sanctuary was cool and it was nice to see them close up but I would have been disappointed if I had come all the way from home just to see them. Four Orang Utans showed up and tons of Macaques which are quite scary with big teeth and no fear of humans. I was standing by the railing trying to take a picture and one scampered up right in front of me, another tried to get into a mans pocket before it was chased off by a keeper with a big stick.

The next day we left for our trip up the Kinabatangan river. We had been warned that the river was flooded and that we might not see too many animals but on the way upstream to the lodge we saw a snake, a monitor lizard, hornbills, proboscis monkeys and a large adult male Orang Utan which was so much cooler than seeing them at the rehabilitation centre. When we got to the lodge we were surprised by how flooded it actually was. The dining room floor is normally 8 feet above the ground and there was about 4 inches spare before the water came in! We had to be ferried from our room to the dining room by boat which was quite exciting. The staff and rooms were amazing compared to the place in Sepilok, even though they were contending with the worst flooding in years.

We still managed to go out for a night walk that evening, even though there was little ground to actually walk on. It was difficult to see much because there were seven of us and by the time the people at the back got to where something had been spotted it was usually gone. David saw a leopard cat and we both got to see a palm civet. I also swear that I saw a pair of glowing eyes in the water. A theory not helped the next day when a little boy at the lodge saw David looking in the water near our room and asked him in a concerned voice whether he had seen a crocodile. There were lots of leeches though and a couple of the boys got bitten, one somewhere that you really wouldn´t fancy having a leech.

The next day we went for an early morning boat ride to an oxbow lake which was utterly stunning but there were only a few storks and hornbills to see. Then after breakfast the rest of the guests who we were with left the lodge and it was just David and I. They had also stopped anyone else from coming because the flooding was so bad that the staff were having to evacuate their rooms near the dining room for the higher guest rooms at the back of the resort (they weren´t unhappy about this though as the guest rooms had air conditioning). It had rained overnight so the water level was creeping ever higher. The board walk to our room which had been a couple of inches above water was now level with it.

So we went off with our guide for a walk by the oxbow lake which was tricky because there really wasn´t anywhere to walk by now. It rained, hard, and really all we saw were leeches. In the boat on the way back to the lodge however we did see another Orang Utan, a couple of silver leaf monkeys and a pig-tailed macaque.

After lunch we were meant to go for another wildlife spotting boat trip but instead our guide took us into the flooded palm oil plantation by the village of Bilit. We travelled up the village road and then into the plantation in our boat where we took shelter at the workers longhouse when it started to rain hard. It rained some more and the boat got sick so we had to get some help from some passing locals. By the time we got back to the lodge the board walk to our room was about two inches underwater, which was fine but I was concerned about where the enormous scorpion we had seen on it earlier had gone as our building would have been it´s only real option.

From the river we returned to Sepilok to catch a bus back to Kota Kinabalu, on the way seeing another Orang Utan. We returned to our alcoholic landlord for a couple of nights before moving to a really nice but cheap hotel down the road where a Dutch girl we had met on the river was staying. It was her birthday so we went out for dinner and drinks with her and another Dutch guy who was also called David. It was a very pleasant night out apart from on the way back we saw about 20 rats around the food market (where we had almost gone to eat) and one even ran over my foot which was disgusting.

For the next few days we visited the islands off Kota Kinabalu with Dutch David. The islands were beautiful and we did lots of sunbathing, swimming and snorkelling. Then we took a flight all the way to Penang to save a bit of time. It was probably the most terrifying flight that I have ever been on. The man sitting next to me was acting very suspiciously and looked incredibly nervous and sweaty. He kept holding his head in his hands, fidgeting and yes indeed he was ticking. However, being British and not liking to make a fuss we buried our heads in the sand which was fortunate as it turned out that he was just an incredibly nervous flyer and was praying (which we think is what the ticking, hand grenade looking device he was holding was to do with). Either that or he was smuggling something, he was certainly quite odd. He cheered up no end when David gave him his copy of the in-flight magazine.

In Penang we stayed with a lovely Indian woman for the night who was really chatty and friendly and then went to a hotel in Georgetown. It was our thirteen year anniversary so we went out for a nice meal and then got up at the crack of dawn the next day to get the speedboat to Langkawi.

Langkawi is a very strange place in comparison to lovely Borneo – so touristy, kind of like a Malaysian Costa del Sol complete with teak-coloured leathery skinned Brits. One of whom was drinking a can of Heineken when we left on our 8am speedboat to Koh Lipe in Thailand. Nice.

So now we are in Thailand and there has been much sand and sea and sun… but that´s another story.

Lots of love Sian (and David) xxx