After our Kinabalu climb it would be fair to say our legs were suffering (a lot). We decided we wanted to chill out on one of the Islands off Kota Kinabalu and do nothing for the next day. The weather was very cloudy and grey. Despite this, we managed to sunburn rather badly (Amelia more so than I despite her asian skin!). By 2pm we were already a bright shade of red and wondering how an earth we managed to burn so much considering we hadn’t even seen the sun! Let that be a lesson I guess. We were definitely fitting the stereotype of ‘Brits Abroad’ with our lobster skin quite nicely.
Note – Since arriving in Korea, Australians and South Africans have delighted in telling us how ‘Brits Abroad’ are pretty much seen as a joke amongst the rest of the Western World and Southern Hemisphere (except for North Americans who all seem to think we’re related to the Queen and are genuinely surprised to learn that we don’t all live in castles, well, some of them anyway!). They laugh about how we are all bright red, and look ridiculous in our choice of attire when on holiday. Apparently you can spot us from a mile off!
I couldn’t possibly relate to what they are saying at all…
Anyway, after our day on the beach we hauled ourselves out of bed for a (very) early morning flight from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan. From Sandakan, we headed first to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, and then onto a 3 day 2 night stay in the jungle upstream in the Kinabatangan River. I found myself feeling nervous about our stay in the jungle as I passionately hate spiders and all forms of creepy crawlies. Once again, Amelia can be held responsible for persuading / pressuring me into agreeing to do this trip. This trip to Borneo was turning into my idea of hell!
The Orangutan sanctuary was awesome. We planned our visit to coincide with the feeding time which is when we’d have the best chance to see the Orangutans close up. The sanctuary opened in 1964 and its purpose is to re-integrate Orangutans into the wild. The whole place was fantastic and we delighted in seeing the Orangutans when several of them showed up for their food. They were the cutest things. The first two we saw sat next to one another with a protective arm around each other to eat before deciding to have a hug. Another one decided to jump onto the decking to say hello to the visitors before it was quickly swept up by one of the sanctuary wardens and taken away. The orangutan then decided to hug the warden as it was taken away. Definitely one of the best jobs in the world. Those of you that know me well will know that I am by no means an animal lover, but there could be no denying that the Orangutans really were quite something. I know it’s wrong and immoral, but Amelia and I would really like to have one as a pet!
After this we headed to Uncle Tans. If any of you go to Borneo and don’t mind ‘roughing it’ a little, I would totally recommend these guys to you.
We were staying upstream on the Kinabatangan River. The whole experience was magnificent. We were staying as high upstream as tourists possibly can, many miles away from the more ‘up-market’ tourist operators. Our accommodation was basic, it was a wooden cabin with a mattress and mosquito net, that was it. We didn’t even have a door. We were surrounded by flood-water and lord knows what else!
Prior to entering the jungle we had accepted that we would smell pretty badly when the time came for us re-join civilisation again. The first night I didn’t sleep well at all, I could hear things crawling around and was absolutely petrified at the idea of a tarantula or venomous snake climbing through the Mosquito net or a saltwater crocodile popping in to say hello. Fortunately my fears were ill-founded and nothing of the like happened. The second night I felt much happier (and safer) and slept like a baby. The food was brilliant (it would have been good even for a top hotel). We were very surprised by this given where we were. There were more staff than customers.
There were 11 of us in our group – 4 Swedes, 3 Aussies, 2 Russians (with a disturbing fascination for snakes and spiders) and the two of us Brits. There must have been 20 staff – they all had an excellent command of English, were great fun, loved their jobs (they lived in the jungle year-round) and they loved football. I took part in a 6-a-side game of jungle football with them and scored two! Afterwards I was peer-pressured into bathing in the crocodile-infested river. They even persuaded me to jump in. I’m not ashamed to admit that I panicked like a little girl and jumped straight back out. At least I can now claim to have swam in crocodile infested waters, albeit for the best part of 5 seconds!
Most of our trips were either by boat or a leisurely stroll through the jungle. The guides were excellent at locating the wildlife (I have no idea how they spotted some of them!). We were lucky in that we got to see lots of wildlife. During the 3 days we saw crocodiles (although I only saw the one), hundreds of different monkeys (proboscis, Macaque, Orangutan and another very rare red-furred monkey I forget the name of), snakes, eagles, giant lizards, flying foxes, frogs, and some beautiful birds. As I said before I’m no wildlife lover, but it was wonderful to see all of these animals in their natural habitats. It’s pure luck as to what animals you get to see, and how close you can get to them. Elephants, rhinoceros and numerous other animals can sometimes be spotted, but we were not quite so lucky. We weren’t complaining though. Even if we had of seen very little wildlife, it would have still been worth it. We had great company, the setting was beautiful and it was exciting to be staying in the jungle.
The only real downside was the mosquitos – Having never been bitten by mosquitos before, we were both eaten alive. Amelia revealed the top of her back for less than half an hour during one of the jungle walks, I counted 18 bites that she had accumulated in such a short space of time – she’d also doused herself in mosquito spray. The next morning I counted around 30 on my ankles and feet alone. Ouch.
When we came to leave we almost felt sad. We’d had a great few days. We caught a taxi to the crocodile farm which we ended up regretting hugely. I don’t really want to talk about it, it was that horrific. We weren’t expecting to see such a place given that we had visited the Orangutan sanctuary a mere 10 minute drive away only 3 days previously. It was shocking. Maybe I will write about it another time perhaps, but not now.
Upon making a swift exit from that place, we headed to the Sandakan War Memorial Park. We had been told to visit here by a very enthusiastic and friendly taxi driver who was very excited to find out we were from England. During our time in Malaysia I was touched to see how much affection the locals still held for British people and how highly they regarded British and also Australian people in Borneo. To this day they remain enormously grateful for the sacrifices made by our countries to liberate them from Japanese Rule during the Second World War. If only the French were the same…
The Memorial Park was built on the site of the former POW camp for British and Australian Forces captured by the Japanese. This was where the infamous death marches started to Renau. Feel free to Wikipedia ‘Death Marches’ if you are interested to know more, it was harrowing. Amelia isn’t normally interested in these kind of places, but even she was fascinated / horrified by what she saw and read. The museum was very interesting and helps to serve as a lasting reminder of the horrors of the Second World War, and in particular the atrocities committed by the Japanese. I’ve mentioned it before, but I have encountered a heck of a lot of anti-Japanese sentiment in Asia, and for good reason. Once again, google / Wikipedia it if you want to read more. My final comment, otherwise I’m going to end up giving a history lesson – I believe it is of paramount importance that we must never forget what happened both in Europe, Asia and North Africa. Ever.
Anyway, after our jungle adventure we were eager to live in relative luxury again. What did we do? We checked into the nicest, most expensive hotel in Sandakan. When I say expensive, we got a 4th floor double room with sea-view on the sea-front for just under 40 pounds. Not bad at all. It was bloody nice as well. A welcome change to the jungle!
Sandakan itself seemed relatively off the beaten path, we saw barely any westerners and everybodys eyes seemed to be focussed upon us. Kids would shout hello at us and want their photo taken, even groups of 40-year-old men huddled together on street corners were smiling and waving hello. We’ve got used to being stared at in Korea, but I sometimes wonder what people are thinking behind those stares. In Borneo, that never crossed my mind once – they just seemed amazingly friendly, kind and genuine people.
It was also incredibly cheap (except for imports of course). You could buy a huge home-made birthday cake for for about 1.50 GBP, an equivalent in Korea or England would be ten times the price. You may be wondering why I remember the cakes in particular, but maybe we had a slice or two so it has stuck in my mind!
We had a lovely meal on the sea-front, great food. Drinks and the meal combined for two people. 18 Ringgit or 4 Pounds. It was pretty sweet.
We headed back to our hotel and watched BBC News 24 on our 32 inch HD Plasma screen. We watched the week’s news events (Uprisings in Tunisia) and treasured not having to endure the shambolic CNN. Being away from home has certainly made me appreciate the BBC a lot more. Especially when we have to watch CNN every morning and night as that is the only English TV channel we have. Eurgh, yes it’s as awful as it sounds.
It was time to leave Borneo the next morning and we found ourselves wishing we were staying for longer. Borneo was quite simply amazing.
Everything about it had gone perfectly. The people were unbelievable, I cannot begin to describe how friendly everybody was. Tourists rave about the people wherever they go, but Borneo was something else. Amelia described it as the friendliest place she has visited. In my mind that is quite an accolade considering she has travelled extensively to many different countries across Asia, Europe and South America. Nobody tried to rip us off either!
Even the other tourists and westerners we met were awesome. It was a diverse crowd, younger people and old. Granted it wasn’t peak season, but people were not visiting for the purpose of getting drunk and lying on a beach (although you can if you want) like people do in other parts of South East Asia, it was a different crowd of travellers. Borneo is a bit harder to get too for most travellers so they may skip past it, it’s their loss if they do. What a place.
We only had a week in Borneo. This was nowhere near sufficient to explore it properly. We only scratched the surface. We are drawing up plans for a big trip when we finish in Korea. Hopefully we will re-visit it then.
Upon departing Borneo we headed across to the Thai / Malay border. We spent time on Langkawi (Malaysian) and Koh Lipe (Thai) Islands. Both are beautiful, but it was like being on the Costa Del Sol. The only difference being that there was more Europeans than Brits and we were in a more tropical location. After a few days of lying on the beach and being lazy, we got bored. We had a week left of holiday, and we didn’t want to spend any longer on a beach surrounded by grossly obese westerners. We wanted to explore somewhere new and exciting. Within 24 hours of this discussion we would be flying to Jakarta. Air Asia – we love you.
Next Stop – Indonesia