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!

1 comment:

  1. hey, bump into your blog while finding info on bintulu - niah - miri.

    i would like to know how did you guys travel from bintulu to gua niah and then to miri. did you guys stayed in gua niah?

    i still can't figure out the transportation.

    bringing mum over. your help will be much appreciated.