A Travellerspoint blog

Borneo - Sepilok and Kota Kinabalu

semi-overcast 31 °C

It's time for another map update. You can see the route we took from Guilin to Hong Kong, down to Northern Thailand before travelling further south to Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and finally east to Borneo. Apparently we've travelled 21,692km so far!

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Our four days in Sepilok were very relaxing. The bus from Semporna took about five hours. We stayed at the Forest Edge resort and had our own chalet. It was over our budget but definitely worth it. On Monday we visited the famous orangutan rehabilitation centre. They take care of orphaned, injured or displaced orangutans and rehabilitate them so they can return to the Kabili-Sepilok Forest. They’re wonderful animals and it was a privilege to see them so close in such a spacious environment.

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A sun bear conservation centre has also just opened up next door. Unfortunately the sun bear is almost extinct in Borneo. Again the staff do great work rehabilitating and preparing them for life back in the wild.

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The next day we took a day tour to Sakau. En route we visited the Goamantong Cave. It’s the largest cave in Sabah and home to thousands of bats. If you like cockroaches and bat poo you will definitely enjoy this attraction. You have been warned.

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That afternoon we travelled on a small boat to the Kinbatangan River, home to the Proboscis Monkey.

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We also saw dozens of regular monkeys climbing through trees and playing together as well as parents carrying newborns and grooming them. It was really cute.

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On our final day we went to the Rainforest Discovery Centre and took one of the walking trails.

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The bus to our next stop Kota Kinabalu was going to take eight hours. It was worth paying just a little bit more to fly it in forty five minutes. Thank you Air Asia for the cheap tickets. KK is Sabah’s capital, and it’s a built up town with plenty of shops, restaurants etc. although nothing as grand as Kuala Lumpur.

Many people visit to climb Mount Kinabalu a two day trip involving eight hours of uphill walking, a couple of hours sleep, followed by another four hours of uphill walking in time for sunrise. It’s not a cheap trip and a few people we’ve ran into didn’t have great visibility which kind of defeats the purpose. Another few were sent back down the mountain as it was deemed too dangerous. I'm afraid we weren't feeling adventurous enough but maybe another time! Instead we took a day trip to Kinabalu Park. You can see the mountain in the picture below.

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Our time in Malaysia has now come to an end. Borneo has a lot to offer and I'm really glad we stuck this on the trip last minute. Suze if you're reading thank you for the advice! We are spending the next three weeks in Indonesia. We take a plane in a couple of hours south to Bali. One of my best friends is meeting us there and I can't wait to catch up.

Posted by mattld 23:35 Archived in Malaysia Comments (1)

Borneo - Tawau & Semporna

semi-overcast 30 °C

Our stopover in Tawau was fine, it’s a very small town and there isn’t anything really to attract tourists (aside from the airport hub). Seafood is one of their specialities though so we joined the locals at a seafood market for dinner and were able to try mantis for the first time. They showed us a live mantis when we were ordering, and it looked like something from the movie Alien. It was tasty but I’m not sure I'll try it again as there wasn’t much meat to be had. The prawns were great though and we would have loved to have ordered crab, lobster etc. but it was too expensive. They have a giant prawn as their town statue/symbol which we thought was amusing. We also had the unexpected pleasure of experiencing the best doughnut. Ever. And we don’t normally eat doughnuts. White chocolate apple crumble doughnut with digestive biscuits? I was practically crying eating it.

Moving on to Semporna, being honest with you it's a run down town that suffers from a severe case of waste pollution (and badly needs a lick of paint). The locals dump their food on the street near the market square and I’m not sure how long it’s left there before collection. Put it this way, I haven’t smelt anything like it since Phnom Pehn in Cambodia and that’s saying something (see Cambodia blog entries). Semporna is however home to a dozen islands with a very rich density of coral life. The most famous island is Sipadan and it is generally regarded as one of the top ten dive sites in the world. We booked a 3 night/2 day package and stayed at the Holiday Dive Inn. It was basic and there was no window in the room, but it was quiet and cool and we slept like logs, finally. I signed up for six dives in total. Our first day was spent at Sibuan. Alberto had two dives, his first ever and he loved it. We also got lucky with the weather. For the first time in weeks we had sun for the whole day. Check out the pictures below it was pretty spectacular and a welcomed contrast from the grey of Kuala Lumpur. If you’re in work right now you might want to look away...

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Yes, well I did warn you...

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Our second day was spent at Sipadan. In order to protect the marine life, there are only 120 dive permits issued daily. In high season you may have to book months in advance to visit. Unfortunately one of the reasons we were able to go at such short notice was because a couple of tourists were kidnapped by the Philippines over the past year. It’s a long and awful story but suffice to say we did our research, weighed up the risks, felt safe enough due to military presence and reassurance from others who had visited and everything went according to plan. Mom if you’re reading, don’t be worrying we’re fine!

They really were the best dives I've done to date, and I’ve had dives on the Great Barrier Reef, Koh Tao and Fiji. Imagine being right in the middle of the Disney film Finding Nemo with hundreds of multi-coloured fish, beautiful coral, dozens of turtles, manta rays, etc. all surrounding you. I saw a few small sharks as well (not harmful). Alberto wasn’t able to dive at Sipadan as you require the Padi Openwater cert but he was able to snorkel and saw plenty. If you’re interested in diving I think Sipadan is a must at some stage. Make sure you research everything regarding the terrorism/kidnapping in advance and weigh up the risks. Who knows what may happen in the coming weeks or months. I didn’t pay to take photographs underwater but I’ve taken a few from online to give you an idea of what we saw.

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Pretty cool eh? And that it’s from me today. We took a bus this morning five hours north to Sandakan. We’re staying at a forest lodge for four nights and then we’ll travel south-west to Kota Kinabalu, our final stop in Malaysia.

Posted by mattld 18:27 Archived in Malaysia Comments (3)

Kuala Lumpur

overcast 30 °C

It’s Wednesday afternoon, and I’m writing this entry on a flight heading east to the island of Borneo, the Malaysian side in a region called Sabah. There are two kids screaming behind us and kicking our chairs whenever they feel like it. I’m doing my best to smile politely at their parents. First of all, let me get the negatives out of the way. Our accommodation has been a disaster the past few days.

We booked into the Citrus Hotel, a ‘four star’ at a really good price. We had read a few mixed reviews but as it was so cheap for a hotel we decided to ignore and booked it anyway. The photos looked fine. How bad could it be? Well, it’s located beside the red light district, drag street car racing seems to be all the rage and the windows are so thin it sounds like the Monaco Grand Prix is taking place just outside the hotel room. You would get a better night’s sleep in Beirut! Initially, we tried to ignore it. Then we found it a bit funny. A short while later, we were crying in tears of laughter and discussing how awful our review on Booking.com was going to be. Another couple of hours later however we were still awake and by now we were fuming. At 5am we had to change to another room. The staff looked at me like I had ten heads when I went to complain. Noise aside, there was also a cockroach in our toilet that came in through the vent, stale cigarette smoke wafting through the corridor and a general feeling that you could pick up a nasty illness from the room itself. We badly needed laundry done on arrival but it was so expensive it would have been cheaper getting the Pope to hand wash our boxers. The other room we were offered had been cleaned by a maid with a fetish for bleach. The next day we complained again, got a refund on the two nights we didn’t stay and booked a guesthouse closer to the city centre. It was a big improvement but paper thin walls and noisy staff have resulted in three night’s without a proper sleep.

No sleep = cranky Matt! But you have to take the bad with the good when you’re travelling. We had two full days in Kuala Lumpur, and I’m afraid we spent our first day hiding out in a rather large shopping centre we had discovered the night before. The Pavilion mall is almost the size of a small city. It has air conditioning, western food and a cinema. What more could one want? It’s amazing how much better a proper smoothie and gourmet handburger can make you feel. And a DC Super Hero store is always good for my inner geek.

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On our second day we got back into sightseeing mode and took the ‘hop on hop off bus’ around the city. We visited the national history museum, the Petronas towers (their tallest skyscraper and landmark) and the KL Tower.

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We spent the evening at Little India. The area has the feel of a night bazaar. Indian pop is played loudly throughout the streets and there’s a strong smell of incense in the air. We enjoyed walking through the various stalls, shops and had our dinner there.

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Can someone please get me an invite to an Indian wedding?

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So, the overall verdict on Kuala Lumpur... I'm afraid we won't be in a rush to return. There just isn’t a lot of interesting things to do. The weather hasn’t helped our visual perception as it has been really dull and overcast the past few days, and there’s also been a fire in Indonesia which is causing a pollution style effect. Everything looks drab and grey. Kuala Lumpur is a bit of an ugly sister during the day, but it scrubs up well at night (thanks to the dozens of coloured street lights). I’m the first to admit weather and lack of sleep are probably clouding our judgement. But you can’t ignore the ‘Macau effect’, plenty of rundown areas located metres away from designer brand name shops.

And now to the positives. We loved the cultural diversity spread throughout the city. It’s only one hundred and fifty years old (prior to that it was a jungle) and walking through the streets you’ll see Indian, Chinese and ethnic Malays, and a fair share of westerners. On one side of the road you’ll spot women in hot pants. On another you’ll see them covered from head to toe in burqas. We haven’t seen such a diverse mix on our travels. Secondly, you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to eating. Aside from all the standard stuff, you’ll find Nepalese, Vietnamese, Iranian restaurants etc. We also spotted three O'Briens sandwich bars (disappointingly more expensive than home though and there's not a grain of stuffing)!

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Prices in the city vary greatly but you can always find good cheap Asian food. The Pavilion shopping centre we visited had well over fifty restaurants including an enormous food court. It was a challenge at times deciding what to eat the choice was so good. In conclusion, Kuala Lumpur... don't call us, we'll call you! We stay in a small town known as Tawau tonight before we travel north to the scuba diving haven of Semporna.

Posted by mattld 06:57 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Bangkok

overcast 29 °C

We’ve been in Bangkok for three days now and it’s been fun being back. I've blogged about Bangkok twice before (if you're looking for further information check out my first entry from 2011). There were only two reasons I decided to come back. One was for Alberto as he had never been, and secondly it serves as a hub to move onto Malaysia. It's a chaotic city and most people will only want to visit for a couple of days. On a side note, I must admit I'm finding it a little difficult time wise to keep up with blogging so you may have noticed by now I'm relying more on pictures than words. Thank god I hear you cry. Some of my earlier entries have definitely been on the longer side!

Sightseeing has been a little light as we’ve been enjoying the night time activities instead. Jeanette (aka USA #2) from Xi’an and Shanghai also happened to be here as the same time as us so we’ve been partying it up with her.

On Thursday night we took part in a little compulsory sing-song (as is now tradition)…

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Friday evening was spent at the Khao San Road, Thailand’s version of Temple Bar, only much wilder. You'll spend your evening telling the locals you don't want a Tuk Tuk, lady massage or a ping pong show. And being asked repeatedly if you want laughing gas or a spider to eat.

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The Macerena was in full force again...

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We discovered that Blackberry phones still exist

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The Thais like their drinks large

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Tequila shots bring you good luck and fortune

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There are always fun randomers to chat with

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Getting drunk is compulsory...

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Somehow, we managed to get ourselves out of bed today to visit the Grand Palace. No visit to Bangkok is complete without it. The palace was built in the 18th century during King Rama 1st's reign and is one of the most impressive architectural attractions you can find in Asia.

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That concludes 11 nights in my favourite Asian country. Tomorrow we fly to Kuala Lumpur for the first leg of Malaysia. I'm looking forward to getting back into uncharted territory. Kop Khun Khrap Thailand, we love you long time!

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Lost in translation:

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Posted by mattld 11:04 Archived in Thailand Comments (2)

Chiang Rai

semi-overcast 30 °C

Sawatdee Khrap! We hit the one month mark today, so I thought it would be a good time to share a map of where we’ve been so far. Oooh, a map…

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We originally planned to spend four weeks in China and were considering three in Thailand. As we reached Hong Kong a little sooner than expected, we’ve decided to cut Thailand a little short and instead spend two weeks in Malaysia, specifically in Borneo. We’ve got some diving and trekking plans ahead. Back to now though, we’re just about finished our four night stay in Chiang Rai. What a great place this is! It’s like visiting the Asian version of a small Irish country town. You know the kind, a one kilometre strip of road where all the shops, restaurants etc. are based. And everyone knows everyone. Chiang Rai has only reaffirmed how wonderful the Thai people are. We’ve met some of the friendliest and funniest locals in the past few days.

We spent most of our first afternoon with a second helping of bank issues. We had been living off the Hong Kong cash we converted into Baht on arrival in Chiang Mai and it had finally run out. Permanent TSB (naming and shaming) decided to block us both again, despite telling them twice in advance of the trip where we were going and having conversations/complaints the previous week. Their fraud department prefer not to read notes on a customer’s account it seems and any international activity will trigger an alert. After further complaining we’re up and running again. I’m expecting issues when we arrive in Malaysia but let’s stay positive. Thankfully, when we were on the phone to the bank the weather had the decency to have a massive thunderstorm while we were in our bedroom. Bucketing down!

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That evening we went to the night bazaar where you can get all kinds of yummy Thai food, snacks, desserts etc. for a Euro or two. I’ve also discovered my new favourite fruit, the coconut! Fifty cent = ice cold coconut juice fresh in a coconut and then after they’ll cut it open and you can eat it. I’ve had two already and am craving more.

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On Tuesday we took a full day tour with four other travellers to various sights, the main one being the Golden Triangle, a place where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar (Burma) all cross-intersect with one another via a river. There were a few really interesting stops on the way.

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This is the White Temple. It was built only 17 years ago and is one of Thailand's best known temples.

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For some reason this guy is everywhere at the temple. We don't know why?

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We visited the 'Long Neck' village. The local tribe follow a custom whereby every woman has to wear very heavy metal rings around their neck. Every three years they add another until they reach forty. Naturally, I thought this was a great idea for Alberto. He loves it!

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At the same village we also randomly saw a snake eat its lunch. Look away now if you're particularly fond of frogs.

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We also visited the 'Monkey Cave' and got a chance to feed some monkeys. I felt like the guy from that film Outbreak.

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There was a steep climb up to the cave where there's a small temple. I'm not sure where Alberto was looking either.

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Finally we reached the Golden Triangle! Sarah Palin has a holiday home nearby so she can see Laos and Myanmar from her backyard.

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Today we managed a 15km jungle trek. We sweat a lot, the picture below was taken only 30 minutes in.

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We got to see a waterfall and some nice views.

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The highlight however was our lunch, noodle soup with pork/veggies and an omelette. Wait, wait. We cooked and ate everything using only bamboo, a knife and fresh water from a natural source. Take that carbon footprint.

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The day was finished with a stop at a tea house followed by a relaxing soak in a hot thermal pool. This travelling thing is a tough gig.

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We both loved Chiang Rai and if we had more time we'd have stayed longer to chill out and relax. Tomorrow we fly to the madness of Bangkok. I'm going to spend this evening rehearsing my Tuk Tuk negotiation skills.

Posted by mattld 10:10 Archived in Thailand Comments (2)

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