Into the Jungle at Kinabantangen River

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Our Jungle trip are about to start, waiting at the cafeteria in Sepilok, looking around to see if we can figure out who our travel companion will be. As this is in the middle of the feeding time, most of the visitors in the cafeteria is probably there for a similar reason as us. Mr Aji arrives and we are 8 adults + 1 child that will camp together for the following days. Looks like a nice group, but there is one obstacle, the weather forecast! For the following 3 days it is mostly promising rain. Should we cancel and wait for better weather or go and hope for the best???

We are optimistic, and on our way to the village of Sakau the weather is nice. We arrive to our accommodation, which is simple but we didn’t expect anything else, and are ready for our first river cruise. And just in case – bringing a raincoat! On this first afternoon river cruise we are heading downstream to look for crocodiles. None seen, but we are passing close to the first family of Proboscis Monkeys. Mr Aji, our guide, can mimic their sound, and the monkeys actually answers him. During this boat trip we then pass several groups of  macaques and a few more families of Proboscis,we also spot a wild pig, one or two species of the hornbills birds and some silver leaf monkeys. No elephants, no crocodiles and no orang-utan.

It has been raining quite heavily, but we have been so busy looking in between the trees to spot the animals that we have hardly noticed how wet we actually have been.

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Rainy weather

After dinner it is time for night tracking. Due to all the raining we actually pass this part of the programme. The rest of the group join, but it seemed that they didn’t explore much except some huge insects. Raining all through the night, but stopped just in time for our morning walk. No boat trip this time, but 1,5 hours very muddy and slippery walk. We heard and could smell some monkeys, but did not see any, and we climbed over some elephant dropping that had been there a while as it grow mushroom in it. After this the breakfast tasted great!

When it was time for our afternoon boat trip, the weather had become better and it had stopped raining. Today we went upstream, and very soon we spotted our first crocodile. Laying on the ground long enough for us to have a good look. Soon after we spotted crocodile number two and number three.

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Rhinocort Hornbill

We also spotted 6 out of total 8 hornbills birds that lives in Borneo, the most beautiful is the Rhinocort Hornbills, but this one we had a very close view on at In Pulau Pangkor some years ago

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Clearing the way on the small river

We are now going into the very narrow part of the river, but some trees have falling down so we can not continue. But we did see some more of the Proboscis monkey.

Back on the main river Mr Aji spot an orang-utan. The rest of us just see a tree, but after a while we see something dark moving around. We are told just to be patient and wait, in half an hour the orang-utan will go to sleep, before that it must build the nest for the night, and have dinner. And the tree next to the one were the orang-utan is hiding right now contain delicious fruit.

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We spotted some brown shadow in tree

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Now it is no doubt, we see a silverback and this is a grand old lady or man

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Finally it turnaround and we see it is a grand old man

We are waiting, and now something is moving, we see the back of grey-silver orang-utan, and then it turned around and we see that it is a male. Just as we were told, he is moving to the other tree for eating, then building the nest and at five o’clock he is sleeping! Amazing.

Next morning we stop half-way on our way back to Sepilok for our last walk, this time not inside the Jungle but on the big road. We see red leaf monkey and also the pig tale macaques.

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Orangutan night nests

And we se lot of orang-utan night nest up in tree, many of them recently build, but we are not able to spot any wild orang-utan, even though we are almost certain at least one is hiding in one of the big tree in front of us. We wait and wait, but no one shows up.

All in all we have spotted quite many wild animals, 6 different monkeys, 6 out of 8 hornbills birds, wild pig, crocodile, other birds, butterflies and various insects. What we missed was the gibbon, the pygme elephant and the leopard ( and probably a lot of different birds).

And in media we can follow the discussion of building a bridge over Sakau river.

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Car ferry at Sakau instead of bridge

And after 3 days in a rainy and muddy jungle we were in desperate need of laundry, specially for our shows. Luckily we had a self-service place in our neighbourhood. And from the hours spend there we can tell that on a Saturday afternoon in Sandakan it is the young men and boys that are handling the family laundrys.

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Back in KK

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2170 km later we are back in KK and TH hotel. 382 ringit spend on 166 litre of petrol during 31 days.

After this road trip we did not have any more adventures Idea for how to spend our remaining days in Borneo so we made it simple. Enjoying the dance performances in Imago shopping mall and the sunset spotting outside the fish market. And as the finale watching the movie Kong: Skull Island (and after that I have stopped eating squid).

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Sunset in Kota Kinabalu

And the car are dropped off at the car rental office at the airport.

From our notes………

Petrol 1: one of the challenges was to calculate how long the petrol would last as all the long distances we drove up the mountains had no petrol station at all. We made it a routine that whenever we passed a petrol station we filled up the gas tank.

Petrol 2: first pay, then fill up the thank. Not always easy to know the exact amount – and going on a long ride you need to have the gas tank full (some petrol station accepts credit card and there it was no problem, fill it up first, then pay)

Parking1: first you park, then you pay. Simple, if you only could find out where to pay. In the parking house, the automat paying machine is not necessarily placed on each floor or close to the exit.

Parking 2: In Sandakan we had parked on the Street, and received a parking fee on our return. But how and where should we pay the 0.80 ringit? Parking guides were walking around we were told, wearing green vest. We never saw any. Then you could also pay at any of the parking kiosk inside city, we never found a kiosk that were open. After several days we gave up and the receptionist at our hotel promised to handle this for us.

Parking 3: Stop the car, and it is considered parked! But when we tried to do the same, less than 5 minutes later we had a parking ticket (and yes, it was not a good parking close to a corner, but at least we did not stop the car in the middle of the road as so many others) of 100 ringit, then we had to figure out how to get to the police station to pay for it

GPS map: most of the time it works well, only a few road junction and roundabouts not updated. But you need internet coverage – and on many of the places in the more remote areas internet coverage was lacking

Printed road map: works also off-line, but the infrastructure is developing faster than the road map industry, and our map was printed 2007 and at least 3 of the roads ( rather big roads) we used did not exist on our map.

Tipping: after tipping at a restaurant in Keningau, first our waitress smiled and said thank you. On our way the rest of the serving staff said thank you and on the outside the chief smiled and said thank you while chopping vegetables and meat.

Labuan – paradise or not?

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We stayed one night at Beaufort, just to be able to plan and prepare for how to go and where to stay on Labuan. The ferries are going approximately every hour and it is not necessary to book ahead. We start early, arriving on the quay jut in time for the ferry to leave. But we needed a ticket and that took some time? First of all there was no rules or marking of where to park the car, so we tried just to park as long to the side as possible. Then we were looking for the tickets. The ticket booth inside was only for passenger going with smaller boats, and we were told that the ticket were sold outside.. But where? We couldn’t see any open ticket service any place. After som help, we find it, but it was turned away from where the cars entered, so no good logistics here. Then we needed to find where to pay our departure tax, inside the first ticket office. And then we could enter the ferry.

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Car Ferry at departure

Safety first it says in big letter, then so many signs about what you are not allowed to do. No smoking, turn of the engine, no passenger in the cars. Reality? Everyone smokes, including staff, passenger sitting inside the car with engine on during the entire trip (2,5 hours).

Approaching Labuan, it does not really look like expected for a tropical white beach island. We had read that it was a financial centre, and was expecting high buildings, but not all the big boats.

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First impression of Labuan

This is also a Duty Free island, so before heading to our resort, we stopped to buy some drinks. This costed us a parking ticket! Yes, we had parked to close to the corner, but after so many weeks I Sabah, seeing so many cars parked just in the middle of the road, we thought our parking was quite good. Now we had to find the police station first, in order to pay or parking ticket.

Finally reaching our resort we receive some good news. We are given a front view room, and even if the resort itself (Palm Beach Resort) is slightly outdated, the room(s) are huge with a really big balcony. Surprise number two, the restaurant serves quite good food. This will be a nice end to our Sabah experience!

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Great food at Palm Beach Resort

We have to take a swim in the ocean, even though there are warnings was both jelly fish and string ray. The water is so hot, probably more than 30 degrees. There is a nice beach bar as well, but we are heading towards the pool, and a nice drink in the pool bar. The next day we only relax in the pool, but at night we see that we have got quite many insects bite from sand flies. Strange, it was only the first day we were at the beach. Next day we decided to only be in the pool, not on the beach or at the sunbeams. Still we have got many, many more insects bits from sand flies, so for the rest of our stay we have to relax and enjoy the resort from our balcony instead.

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Night view from our balcony

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Our resort

And every morning we were served a splendid laksa soup by Peter, the egg and noodle chief. He told us that he used his grandfathers secret recipe, and the soup was just fantastic. Some nights he also served his Laksa soup on the beach, still really good. Labuan had many beaches, but after the attack of sand flies we were not very keen on going swimming on any of those. But a nice place to spot the sunset.

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Sunday afternoon at a public beach

Leaving Labuan and back on the mainland it was sign for how to get to the “survival island” known from television. But we had had enough of sand flies for a while, so not attempted. What we did try to manage, was a river cruise on Klias wetland. But all the tour company was only approaching groups / package tour from KK, so when we were arriving in the morning they were all closed, except one tour organisation. But they charged an extremely high price so we said no thanks. Instead it was lunch in Papar and watching Papars old railway bridge.

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The old Railway Bridge in Papar

Keningau – the friendliest place in Sabah?

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Leaving Kudat we had a lot of option on where to go. First option was to go to Kota Belud, to visit the Sunday market, alternatively continue on the coastal road to Kota Kinabalu or beyond. But as we were getting close to the Kota Marudu junction the weather was so nice that we decided to go to Poring again, driving towards a beautiful mountain view. This time we almost could see the famous mountain. As usual we were more or less alone on the road, and could stop for anyone photo moments we want. Road condition very good and it felt that we reached Poring in no time.

Going to the Rafflesia farm, but this time they had no flowers blooming. After lunch in Ranau, it was time to decide next step.

We decided to go towards Tambuan and thereafter decide if we go to KK or to Beaufort (or any other place). Easy going also to Tambuan so we continued our adventure. But now the road condition started to be worse. So many places up the hill were the road has wiped away. Again, if there is a traffic sign warning about bad road condition, take it seriously. When driving around in Sabah we have for many roads been the only car, with one exception. Everywhere we drive, no matter how small the road is, we always meet the red pickup car from the electrical company, so also this time, and it felt safe knowing that the “help” will be close if needed. Approaching Keningau, the first we saw was a nice hotel at the roundabout, so we decided to finally stop. The room was nice and the hotel personal very helpful so our planned one night stop-over became several days.

In Keningau they had very nice handicrafts, so if you want to buy some basket or rotting, this is the place. They also had a Sunday Market with really cheap fruit. For the first time on this trip we could buy some delicious rambutan fruits, that we bring with us for a picnic inside Crocker Range Park. This park is much bigger than the more popular Kinabalu Park, but much less visited. As usual we could bring the car inside the park, so after we finished our fruit picnic, we drove around. At the visitor centre it was a nice display of the different tracks to go, and since they had a Rafflesia spot only a few hundred meters away we decided to go for a short walk. We had plenty of waters in the car, but since we were only going a few hundred meter we didn’t bring any. Luckily we changed our shoes from sandals to trainers. And off we are, after a few step the path continue straight as well as to the left. We continue straight, going downwards and further down. Then we see a sign “ welcome to Crocker trail”. As this trail only was 2,2 km long we continued. The trail were well maintained, with signs every 100 meter, but as we have reached the bottom, the following 6-700 meters were straight uphill again. It took us around 1,5 hours to complete this “short” trail ( without any water), ending on the highest point, and just getting downhill again to were we parked the car was tuff. And the Rafflesia spot we missed, as it were on the path we didn’t choose.

The next day it was time to leave, and we decided to continue to Beaufort, but wanted to go by the new Kimanis road over the mountain . Very steep, up to 19% on some parts. We were glad we had a relatively large car wit a strong engine. The view was fantastic. When we have started on the road to Beaufort, we see a sign “Ferry Memnok”, so we changed plans again and decided to take the ferry to Labuan, for some relaxing beach days.

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Beaufort, view from our hotel room

Kudat and the Tip of Borneo

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We had looked forward to this drive, finally being able to some nice view along the coast. This will also the most challenging one when it comes to petrol management, as the next petrol station is in Pita, 4,5 hours away with a humpy road quality. And in Sabah you must pay before you fill up with petrol, so it can be a bit challenging to ensure your gas tank is full.

The first hour run very smooth, but a bit boring as we have driven here quite many times already. After the right turned into the Pita road, we are the only car for hours. Road condition is extremely good (remember we had very low expectations), could be due to all Palm oil plantation, because when we are closer to Pitas there is no more Palm oil plantation, only Jungle and huge pot holes in the road. When there is a warning about bad road condition you should take it seriously. 600 meter takes more than 10 minutes to pass. We are never worried that the car will not make it, we are still more or less the only car, so we can use all the road space for navigating around the pot holes, more worrying is if the petrol will last. The last two hours we have had no internet coverage on the phone (no updated gps map), our printed map is too old and the road we are on hardly exist so when we ends up in a junction we had to go by our guts feeling for the correct choice. No problem, we made it to the petrol station with at least a few decilitre petrol left.

After a short brake at a very breezy seafood restaurant we could start driving on the costal road. The rest of the way to Kudat was easy, and we had no problem finding Ria hotel in the middle of this small coastal town. After a nice breakfast at the coffee shop next to our hotel, we went exploring all the beaches in the area. Starting with the one close to town, Bak Bak Beach, quite nice, but empty, and I have no idea how to actually get into the water to swim.

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How do you reached the water at Bak Bak beach?

Continue up to the tip of Borneo for more pristine and empty beaches, and at the tip itself look into the Sulu Sea at the right and the South Chinese Sea to the left. Combine this with a nice breeze and it couldn’t be better. Well maybe some more clear sea so we could go snorkelling, but you can’t get it all. At least we could swim here, and for the following days we tried several of the beaches around the tip, always being alone. Our favourite was the Kelambu Beach wit its two bays.

Kudat is a very small town, but it has an esplanade that is nice to visit for some sea food. Even if we have visited better restaurants, no doubt that the food were fresh, as the were fishing outside, while the owner controlled it all from his hammock. Also the small coffee shops are nice to visit for some snack.

Sepilok

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To visit the Orangutang Rehabilitation centre in Sepilok, was one of the reason going here, so the first afternoon we are heading there. Actually we are only going to see how long time it takes us to drive there, since this is our meeting point for Mr Ajis Expeditipn. But when we arrived, we realised it was 5 minutes until the afternoon feeding starts, so why not pay it a visit. Coming late to the feeding platform was great, as we were followed by 3 orangoutangs heading the same way, towards the visitors platform. None of these were particular interested in the feeding itself, as long as it was much more fun hanging around on the visitors space. As one of them was quite aggressive, the rangers had to move all of us visitors several time. It was no doubt who was in charge this day!

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Hungry? Or just on their way for some action

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Should I go or Should I stay?

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Not so interested to get out on the feedin platform

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This one is in charge – all visitors have to move away

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Mother with child at feeding platform

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At least one that enjoy the feeding

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Enjoying the bananas

 

We continued to the outdoor nursery, which was a play ground for the young ones. They had rangers looking after them, but they only interacted when the orangutang get on the ground, then they needed to start climbing up in the tree or the platform again, as an orangutang living only on the ground will not survive. We as visitors was kept inside while the small ones outside had no boundaries, they could go to the nearby Jungle whenever they wanted. Could probably spend several more hours following their playing and movements.

On our way back these two fellows had a party on the leftovers.

Across the Street was the rehabilitating centre of the Malaysian Sunbear. I think this centre was run by the university, and the rehabilitation means the sunbear lives here until the age of 4 when their maximum weight is achieved and they can survive in the Jungle on their own. The area was very nice build, with canopy walkways giving a Jungle feelings. And the sunbears? Of course they were adorable……

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Malaysian Sun Bear at rehabilitation centre in Sepilok

Sandakan

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Our way to Sandakan starts at Sabah Tea Plantation. Great view, a very big Tea pot but unfortunately very dry ( and old?) scones. We had our first history lesson regarding the death march between Sandakan and Ranau, 2500 Australian and Brittish war prisoner walked the 260km only 6 survived. All the different POW stop along the way are clearly marked with this sign.

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Marking of Special spot related to Death March

The Memorial Park in Sandakan give the full story of this episode, well worth visiting!  image

 

 

 

 

 

We had not really decided if we should go straight to Sandakan or try to go to the Kinabatangen River. As we did not know if we could do this independently or needed to buy it as a package tour we decided to go to Sandakan first. And after two cool days in the Mountain area it would be nice with at least one night in a dry hotel room. According to Google maps it should take 3,5 hours to from Sabah Tea to Sandakan and it took us……..exactly that time ( Thanks to not too much traffic, decent road quality and some aggressive driving) including some stops to achieve more photograph moments.

In Sandakan we stayed at the very friendly Sanbay hotel, about 1,5km outside town. Our first mission was to go looking for a tour agency to book our Kinabantangen jungle experience. Tripadvisor had some recent (good reviews) of Mr. Aji’s Expedition, and a few e-mails later we were settled for departure 4 days later.
Sandakan is not very big, and not particular beautiful or charming. It has a water front area, but with all the trash laying around the area also included rats. We were inside the big fish market, looking at all the big fish on display, quite nice until you see all the rats rundning around. Also when visiting the sea village, it looks nice as long as you dont look down……


Sandakan offer very fresh seafood, and we had an excellent dining at the Sim-Sim sea village. First we did not really know how to find the restaurant, but following some Asian tourist that seemed to know where they were heading and the did not look like residents of the sea village itself. The food was delicious, for 45 ringit we had prawns, squids, vegetables, rice, Tea and water. A benefit of eating seafood in Malaysia, is that every restaurant always have a place to wash your hands, and after eating the prawns, plenty of water and soap was essential. We also found a small restaurant in the sea village close to our hotel. Here we had a very good noodle soup with plenty of fresh seafood.

One spot you can miss, is the English Tea House. The location looked so nice up on a hill next to the Agnes Keith house, being in a Garden playing a game of crocket if you like, but the Afternoon Tea the served contains a very small pot of tea, hardly enough to serve one person, with dry scones, only one kind of marmalade, no whipped cream, huge disappointment!

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