Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Great Adventure: Malaysia and Thailand (Part 3)

Borneo, Malaysia
January 9-17

I wanted to head up towards the northern part of Sarawak in order to explore the Batu Niah Caves, and the most economical way to do that was to take the bus up from Sarawak. Lia and I were originally going to take a boat to Sibu, but since January/February is rainy season on Borneo, the seas were too rough for a boat trip. Instead we ended up taking a bus from Kuching to Sibu, and then on toward Bintulu. In Sibu for lunch, we got roti bread with meat and a sweet roti for dessert.

Bintulu, Sarawak

Bintulu wasn't super interesting. We were kind of just stopping for the night; they had a nice Chinese temple, and there were a lot of bugs in our hotel room. This is also the only time I stayed in a hotel instead of a hostel during the entire trip! (Because we couldn't find a hostel) I wouldn't really recommend staying in Bintulu unless you are just passing through on a way to stay at a long house further up the river, or passing through from/to Kuching/Miri as we were doing.


Lia buying our bus tickets.
Bus travel is amazingly convenient in Malaysia!

Batu Niah, Sarawak

From Bintulu we went to Batu Niah National Park! The park has several caves including a few with old cave paintings. Unfortunately there was some reconstruction of some plankwalks in that section of the cave, so visitors were not allowed. Lia and I still had a great time getting lost in the cave! We had no clue how, but we ended up going in through the exit and leaving through somewhere that wasn't the beginning!

First we took a boat across a river

Then we had to walk a few kilometers into the jungle

Saw some bright red (poisonous?) millipedes on the way

And other interesting caterpillars

Have you ever heard of Bird's Nest soup? The swift is the bird who makes the nests that usually go into this dish. I didn't try any soup, but I did see hundreds of swifts. They lived in the caves at Batu Niah. Not long ago, native people of Sarawak would come to the caves and gather the nests. They actually had built some house structures in the caves and the frames of these remain in one of the caverns.

Frame of a lodging inside the cave

A lot of the rocks were green
possibly because of traces of copper?

The caves were rank with the stench of swift poop. And there wasn't much airflow through the deeper parts; not only was it smelly, but the air was hot and damp. In addition, my flashlight wasn't working, so we only had Lia's flashlight between the two of us in a pitch black cave! This wasn't anything like the caving in Tennessee I had done before. It was a pretty fun side trip, but I was really disappointed that the section with cave paintings was off limits. After an few hours in the cave, we took a bus up to Miri, Sarawak. 

Inside, looking out

Me in a well lit open cavern

Miri, Sarawak

After traveling for hours by bus, Lia and I needed some good Indian food and a drink, so we went to a popular restaurant-bar with choices ranging from Indian to pasta to sandwiches. We met some English travelers and decided to go to another karaoke bar with them. I'll be the first to admit I've become a huge fan of karaoke after all this time over in Asia. In China it's very popular, and it seems like that rings true in Malaysia as well.

Lambir Hills, Sarawak

After a night out in the city it was time to get back out into nature. Lambir Hills National Park had been on my pre-planning list because not only are the waterfalls and trails in the jungle ambundant, but it's relatively close to Miri (the airport from which I would go to Thailand). It's only a short bus ride from Miri, so Lia and I decided we would just spend a long day there and return to Miri for dinner.

Once we saw a map of Lambir Hills trails, we decided on two destinations: the Latak Waterfall and the peak of a mountain (Bukit Pantu). This way we could get a birds eye view of the Bornean jungle AND cool off a bit! The hike to the waterfall was a short thirty minutes. There were some bugs in the air and the humidity was through the roof, so the waterfall was a special treat. After cooling down we began a much longer ascent to the top of the mountain.

Latak Waterfall

The water was refreshing
+ no leeches!

Really crazy plant we saw

Cool pattern on this plant

Let's go! Notice the roots that look like snakes.

Just a small waterfall we found off the trail

Trees towering overhead

The breathtaking view from the peak of Bukit Pantu

We made it, leech and all! And had some nifty self-timer skills!

WARNING: A potential graffic image is next. So after the waterfall we were really excited we hadn't gotten leeches. Later, Lia realized one had crawled on her foot from the forest floor. The ground was covered in damp leaves AKA leech breeding ground. We didn't have any way to get it off so we had to wait until it fell off. It fell off when we got to the summit of Bukit Pantu. Poor Lia. We were both a little freaked out. Especially after I realized the ground was crawling with them. They would get all over our shoes. I had to flick them off my tennis shoes with a stick. One of the grossest things I can imagine. It was kind of like a nightmare. In the end the thing on Lia's foot got pretty large. If you've never seen a leech before, here's a picture!


Bleh! Hopefully I will not see one of these again!

This adventure was actually the last leg of my trip to Malaysia! The day after Lambir Hills I boarded my plane to Phuket, Thailand! Malaysia was a phenomenal adventure. I wrote down the following thoughts on Malaysia on my iPad throughout the trip:

1. Kuala Lumpur had a suberbia of sorts (China's suberbs are really different than America's, and KL seemed more like the US in this aspect)
2. There are so many billboard adverts in KL. Not as many on Borneo thank goodness!
3. Students learn Chinese, Malay, Tamar, and English in school, so there is a lot of English signage, which makes it traveler-friendly
4. This was my first time in a Muslim country before! And guess what, it really made no difference.
5. I LOVED Malaysia's racial diversity! In Sarawak there were much more Chinese-Malaysians than Indian-Malaysians, which I thought was kind of interesting. Didn't really know why this was.
6. Malaysia uses coin money in addition to paper bills- which I find a total bother.
7. Malay people are overall the most friendly people I've ever met. Even taxi drivers would help you out (gave me walking directions without bothering me to take a cab!)
8. The diversity of the fauna and flora is just as exciting as the diversity of people.
9. The jungle is LOUD! Birds, bugs, water dripping everywhere! Sleeping in Bako was difficult.
10. There are a surprising amount of people in Malaysia with tattoos. But tattoos are culturally significant to the Iban people and other Malaysian ethnic groups. (piercings, too)
11. Headhunting culture existed in Malaysia! Not anymore, but the history behind it is interesting.
12. Beer is pretty expensive in Malaysia.
13. Karaoke is such a big deal over here.
14. Public transportation system is a blessing.
15. I've made some great friends from all over the world in just about a week!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Great Adventure: Malaysia and Thailand (Part 2)

Borneo, Malaysia
January 9-17

My first stop on the island of Borneo was Kuching, a city which in the local language means "City of Cats". Kuching is in the southern corner of the Malay state, Sarawak. Malaysian Borneo has two large states, Sabbah and Sarawak. I only had a week on Borneo so I only traveled around Sarawak. My goal coming to Sarawak was mainly to get in touch with some nature and hike in the rainforest. Definitely got to cross those off my bucketlist!
Picture of a river snaking through Sarawak. (Taken from the plane)
A.K.A. Cat City

Cat images filled the city, from statues at street intersections to the coverse of some of the manholes. My impression of Kuching was that it was a pretty quiet city, however I was there during the rainy season and there were not many tourists. It was a bit of a shock coming from bustling KL to sleepy Kuching. The first day I only saw a handful of westerners. In the following days I met more locals and some really fun European travelers.

A colorful housing community around Kuching



This is the largest mosque in Kuching.
A few of the neat things to see in Kuching were the pink mosque, the area by the river, and the Chinese temple. I didn't go to the temple, but it was hard not to spot the mosque. To me it looked like a mix between Aladdin's palace and a barbie dream house. Seriously, who came up with that color scheme? Kuching also has a few museums with exhibitions on local art, Sarawak history, and even death customs from a variety of Asian cultures. 

After an hour long rainstorm on my first day I took the opportunity to take a walk along Kuching's river front. I loved the walkability of the city and the natural beauty of the tropical climate hugging the edges of the city. From my hostel it took about twenty minutes to walk towards the river-front area. The riverfront area had a great view of an old fort, a few fancy government buildings, and some riverhouses. A few people fished off to the side of an old market. The city was almost so quiet it was a little eerie.



Day 2 in Sarawak I left the city to begin my trek in Bako National Park. The park is on an island a short bus and boat ride away. 

Bako National Park

Within a few minutes of docking on the island, I saw a troop of proboscis monkeys! It was really exciting to see this type of monkey, which is native to the island. Apparently I was pretty lucky to see them because they don't always hang out around the shore and base camp. The first afternoon I was there, I went on a little hike by myself to a mangrove swamp. There were a lot of crabs; on the ground, in the trees, everywhere. I also spotted a monitor lizard! Didn't get great shots of them. After over an hour of hiking I had to turn back because the ground was too marshy to continue, and the sun was going down.

Proboscis Monkey- named for the big nose

These wild boars like to hang around the cafeteria and dorms.
The monitor lizard, camo works well with the tree roots.

That night I took a night tour. About 8 visitors were accompanied by a guide, who led us around the forest of Borneo at night. It was amazing how easily he could spot wildlife.  Then again, he definitely knew what to look for. We got to see quite a few creepy crawlers (like a spider as big as your hand!) and some really cool reptiles/amphibians.  At one point it started raining so we went into a cave, where cave birds flew around. One ran into the back of my head. :(  Later, we walked out again and the guide showed us some mushrooms and other fungus that glowed in the dark!

Poisonous snake alert! Green Viper

Some type of tree gecko

A stick bug

A loud little frog

The next day we had a torrential downpour. My roommates and I had planned to hike to Tajor Waterfall, but with all the rain the couple from Spain decided to rest around the dorm and cafeteria. Lia, a girl from England who had been traveling the world for almost a year, and I decided we would brave the rain. When the clouds parted for longer than 10 minutes, we packed our cameras and set out. It turned out to be one of the funniest, most soggy adventures ever! We hadn't gone more than 45 minutes before the rain started again. I managed to get a few pictures from the peak of one of the mountains on the island. My bag got totally soaked, and we were lucky she had a plastic bag to protect cameras/wallets.

The ocean during low tide
Top of the "mountain" The ground had really weird patterns

We hiked through the pouring rain, wading through what turned into rivers, clambering up muddy banks, and trudging through foliage. Someplaces the path was hard to find, sometimes we thought we would have to turn back before finding Tajor Waterfall. In the end, we made it to the top, took a quick picture and a breather, and walked back. The whole hike was about five hours, and right when we arrived back at base camp the boat had arrived to take us back to mainland Borneo! Bako National Park was so worth the trip, and I would love to do it again! There are a lot of trails there with a variety of flora and fauna. I only got a taste of Bako, but it was memorable!

Lia and I made it to the waterfall!

Right at the top. The river was swollen with rainwater

Semengoh Wildlife Preserve

Well, with a rainforest trek checked off my bucketlist, the next thing to do in the Kuching area was go to Semengoh Wildlife Preserve to hopefully see orangutans! January and February isn't a great time to see orangutans at Semengoh because there is plenty of ripe fruit on the trees. They don't need to rely on the fruits provided by the wildlife center. Luckily, I got to see Richie (the dominant male orangutan at Semengoh) and his boo, Selina. Later on that day I spotted another smaller male!

He's a really big guy! (Richie)
Selina eating a jackfruit

We were lucky that he was lazy today


Orangutans are pretty dangerous animals. Look how big the "small" male is compared to the human! Earlier that year one of the females had ripped a man's finger off and bit his leg because he got between her and her baby. We were not allowed to walk around the trails at Semengoh becuase of this incident.  Most of the orangutans here were rescued. They are nutured back to health and then taught how to support themselves on their own. Some of them don't even know what types of food to eat by themselves!

Lia and I decided to travel throughout Sarawak, Malaysia together, so the night before we left we had a karaoke outing with our friends from the hostel. Even the owner of the hostel came out with us for a few songs! The next morning, we headed north!

America, Germany, Germany
Denmark, Me, Finland

England, Germany, Me

So long Kuching! A cool statue of a hornbill in Kuching.