Kuching is our last stop in Borneo before flying back to Bali for another taste of paradise. Here’s a selection of photos from Borneo that didn’t make it into the blog posts.
After seeing the orang-utans we were keen to see more of Borneo's natural wonders. Malaysian Borneo is made up of two states, Saba which has Kota Kinabalu as it's capital and Sarawak whose capital is Kuching.
Sarawak's history is much more colourful than that of its neighbour. It was a part of the Sultanate of Brunei before it was ceded to British adventurer James Brooke as a reward for helping to bring about a peaceful settlement during an uprising against the Sultan of Brunei. One of Brooke's many actions was to piracy and headhunting, the being a common activity amongst village tribes with skulls displayed outside longhouses to ward off potential attackers. Bizarrely the skulls of women and children were the most highly prized, presumably because these were the most difficult to get hold of.
To get a taste of Sarawak's history we visited the Natural History Museum and the Cultural Village. The museum was full of birds, animals and sea creatures that had been collected and preserved by the British. One of the more interesting exhibits was the longhouse which was an authentic reconstruction of how the villagers used to live complete with human skulls suspended from the roof beams!
The other fascinating if slightly gruesome exhibit was the watch that had stopped the moment it's owner had been swallowed up by a predatory salt-water crocodile. The man's wife raised the alarm when her husband failed to return and when stories began to surface of a man-eating crocodile she began to fear the worst. Her fears were realised when she was invited to be present at the dissection of a huge crocodile that had been caught and killed. When it's belly was slit open, out spilled her husbands remains including his watch!
We booked ourselves onto a day trip to Bako National Park which is home to many of the idigenous species of animals in Sarawak. The park can only be accessed by boat from Kampung Bako, a riverside village, south of the park and, after an hour's ride in a minibus from Kuching, we boarded a boat to take us the rest of the way into the park.
We were warned that there was no guarantee that we would see any animals as they are free to roam in the park. That said, the animals naturally gravitate to where they can source food, which for the proboscis monkeys, is the lowland forest jungle, and the mangrove forest that runs along the shoreline. A rustle of branches in the trees is the first indication you get that you're not alone.
The proboscis monkeys stayed high in the tree-tops as they leapt from tree to tree eating leaves and fruit. Both males and females have large noses with the males being by far the largest. Apparently 'size is everything' in the proboscis monkey world and big noses are considered an asset although they are sometimes so big they can get in the way of eating. The monkeys also have pot-bellies, making them look even more human than the orang-utans we saw in Sabah!
As well as the proboscis monkeys we saw Silver Leaf Monkeys, a Pit Viper and Bornean Bearded Pigs although the latter were not difficult to spot as they spent most of their time around the visitor centre foraging for food of any description!
The vegetation is also pretty hostile, fortunately trails have been cleared through the jungle and we followed the shorter Telok Paku trail from the park centre to the beach. The heat, humidity and uneven terrain make walking a real challenge.
The other highlight of our stay in Kuching was a visit to 'Top Spot' a food court that sits, of all places, on top of a multi-storey car park. The travel agent, who we booked the Bako tour through, recommended 'Number 6, Ling Loong run by Wendy'. I'm happy to report that it didn't disappoint, the food was really good. Perhaps this idea could be put to use in the UK, however given the state of the multi-storey car parks, perhaps not!
Whilst visiting Borneo has been an amazing experience, especially seeing animals in the wild, it makes you realise how precious and fragile the animals and their environments are. In almost every case the animals' main predator is man. In Malaysia, logging has destroying much of the natural habitat. Taking the proboscis monkey as an example, the population in Sarawak is now less than 20% of what it was 30 years ago. Fortunately measures are now in place to protect both the animals and their environments and the guides that we met and talked to are all knowledgeable and passionate about the environment. Let's hope it's not a case of 'Too Little, Too Late'.
After much discussion about where we should go next we've decided to spend another month in Bali before heading back to the UK. Whilst there are lots of other places we would love to visit in the region (Vietnam, The Phillipines, Java, Lombok and Flores to name but a few), we decided that we should leave some of these to a future date.
We also want to end our trip on a high and having already spent two fantastic months in Bali, we wanted another fix before heading home!
Remarkably the journey from Bali to Borneo was our only experience to date of any kind of travel disruption. After taking the early flight to Kuala Lumpur (KL) we had to change planes for the onward leg to Kota Kinabalu (KK). Our scheduled flight was cancelled and we were put back a couple of hours. We then boarded the next flight where we sat for an hour whilst maintenance checks were carried out only to be asked to disembark. Another hour later we finally took off for Borneo and arrived nearly six hours later than scheduled!
There's no way KK can't be described as picturesque. It was bombed twice by the Allies during the second world war. Firstly to slow the Japanese advance and secondly to hasten their retreat. As a consequence the buildings can be best described as functional.
What the town lacks in aesthetic beauty, the surrounding countryside more than makes up for. Just off the coast are the five islands that form the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park and inland is Mount Kinabalu.
Unfortunately for us the weather was lousy for all but one of the days we were there. As a consequence we spent most of our time sampling the culinary delights of the city rather than the natural beauty. As it was we had to make a choice on the one day we had good weather. We went for the other great attraction in the area which was to see the orang-utans in their natural habitat.
Orang-utans share 96% of our DNA and are therefore our closest relatives in the animal kingdom. The most popular place to see them is Sepilok which is a six hour drive from KK, however we met an English couple whilst enjoying lunch and a beer who told us about an orphanage that was based in a small rainforest linked to the Rasa Ria resort an hour north of KK. They described the resort as 'proper 5 star' so we decided to spend the day there and to enjoy a bit of luxury as well as see the orang-utans.
We hired a car and headed up there early. The orang-utan viewing was at 3:00p.m. After breakfast at the hotel and a walk along the beautiful white sand beach, we settled ourselves by one of the swimming pools. The lifeguard provided us with our towels and then asked for our room number. Inspired by Frank Abignale Jr I said 'Room 108' thinking or rather hoping that we'd then be left alone until it was time to see the orang-utans. No such luck! It turned we'd sat ourselves down by the exclusive pool and within minutes the guest relations manager appeared. 'So you're staying in Room 108 and waiting for the room to be made up?' he said. We exchanged glances as if to say 'should we, could we bluff it all the way?' There was no telling what was going to happen next so we decided to confess all expecting to be frog-marched back to reception to wait it out until the afternoon. Luck must have been on our side as rather than ask us to leave, he insisted on us staying and experiencing the hotels' exclusive hospitality. Next thing we knew we were being presented with cold towels, fresh fruit juice and canapés!
At 2:30 p.m., almost reluctantly, we headed off to the nature centre for a briefing before the orang-utan viewing. Any concerns we had that the experience was going to be somewhat contrived were soon set aside. The orphaned orang-utans are rescued after having typically been discovered by local farmers. They are then taken to the orphanage where they are given a full medical, treated for any injuries or diseases and then gradually rehabilitated.
By the time they're able to roam freely in the sanctuary's rainforest they're capable of feeding themselves, therefore there's no guarantee that you'll get to see them at feeding time. The orphanage currently has four orang-utans and we were lucky enough to be visited by 'Katie', a six year old who will soon be transferred to the rehabilitation centre at Sepilok where she'll spend another five or six years before being released into the wild.
We also met Ten-Ten, a two year old orphan whose name refers to the date and month that she was found. The rangers have developed a rehabilitation programme for very young orang-utans that is based on the watch and learn principle that reflects how the animals learn in the wild.
Seeing the orang-utans made our visit to Kota Kinabalu totally worthwhile even though we never made it to the islands. Next stop is Kuching where we hope to see more of Borneo's amazing wildlife.
Our final stop on our tour of Bali was the Bukit Peninsula in the south of the island
Bingin is a relatively untouched village whose beach forms part of the chain of surfing hotspots in southern Bali. With names like Impossibles, Dreamland and Playgrounds it conjures up images of challenging and perfect waves, and after talking to several surfers these names are well deserved. We've yet to try to catch a wave but it's top of the list of things to do if and when we return to Bali
We stayed at the Bingin Family Guesthouse and were well looked after by Susie and Putu. After checking in we enquired about hiring a scooter. Ten minutes later one turned up, delivered by Susie's cousin. No ID, licence or formal agreement required, just keep the bike for as long as you want and pay when you return it. Part of Bingin's charm is the fact that it's still a genuine Balinese village and like all villages everybody knows everybody else's business. Within a day of arriving we'd met all of Susie's immediate and extended family and between them they'd offered us everything from a massage to a tour of the island!
Whilst exploring we stumbled across a Spanish restaurant called El Kabron run by Carlos from Barcelona who'd been bitten so badly by the surfing bug that he'd decided to 'up-sticks' and live in Bali so that he could surf whenever he got the opportunity. The restaurant is perched on the edge of the cliff with an unrestricted view of the Bingin and Impossibles surf breaks. The views and the sunset were spectacular and on this occasion the food was great too although it was slightly surreal eating tapas in a Spanish restaurant in southern Bali!
Bingin is also close to Uluwatu which is a tourist hotspot for two other reasons in addition to its surf. These are it's temple perched on a rocky outcrop and the Kecak Fire Dance. The dance tells the story of Rama and Sita and is Bali's equivalent of Romeo and Juliet although in this version the lovers live happily ever after. It's unique in that it's not accompanied by any musical instruments, no Gamelan for once, instead the chorus of men provide the soundtrack through their chanting which becomes almost trance like
From Bali we fly to Kota Kinabalu in Borneo (taxi to the airport courtesy of Susie's brother). We've stayed in Bali longer than anywhere else on our travels and yet the last two months have flown by. Hopefully we'll get the opportunity to return before we finally start to head for home
After the somewhat depressing and frustrating experiences in Lovina we headed to Pemuteran which borders Bali's National Park. The park was established in the early part of last century, primarily to preserve the habitat of a number of indigenous species including the near extinct Bali Starling. Suffice to say we didn't see it, nor did we see any of the deer, wild boar or leopard cats which inhabit the park. What we did see were lots more macaque monkeys eager to eat anything and everything that tourist are willing to feed them. All we had in the car was some muesli and it was funny to see them examining and smelling it before deciding it was edible. There's just no pleasing some people!
Menjangan Island, just off the coast, forms part of the park and is renowned for its diving and snorkelling. Again we chose the latter and were rewarded with an array of marine life and coral that put Malaysia's Perhentian Islands to shame. We saw some weird and wonderful sights, not least of which were a unicorn fish, a bottle fish, a school of squid and a puffer fish which blew itself up to twice its size when it encountered us!
Another of the highlights of our stay in Permuteran was the traditional dancing and music that provided the after-dinner entertainment on the night we arrived. We were treated to around a dozen different performances each of which was visually stunning and accompanied by traditional music called Gamelan
For us Gamelan has become the soundtrack to Bali, however as the saying goes, you can have too much of a good thing. There seems to be a limited number of 'greatest hits' and these seem to be played in the reception of every hotel that we've stayed at since we got to Bali!
After Pemuteran we drove south, stopping off at the one of the oldest Hindu temples in Bali. It has a vey serene feel about it partly because it's little visited and also because it's looked after by a caretaker who was in his late 70's, helped by his mother who's 110 years old, or at least that's what she told us!
After a drive down the west coast of the island during which we caught glimpses of the sea through towering palm trees which dwarfed the cattle standing amongst them, we finally arrived in Jimbaran
Jimbaran used to be a tiny fishing village with a daily market. In the past 20 years several upscale resorts have been built and these, together with the large private villas that occupy the high ridges overlooking the bay have earned Jimbaran the nickname “Beverley Hills of Bali”!
Eating seafood on the beach in is a quintessential element of a visit to Jimbaran. The beach is home to about fifty grilled seafood restaurants. Choice of restaurant is relatively unimportant as they all offer pretty much the same experience. It was a bit like the fish barbecues on the Perhentian Islands but with lots more people, a group of strolling musicians and a wider menu selection, all of which comes at three times the price!
Close by to Jimbaran is the 'Secret Beach' which, appropriately, we stumbled upon by accident. The road to the beach was pretty nondescript, but turn the corner and you're presented with an amazing view of the seaweed beds sitting under the shallow, calm waters which stretch along the shore. From the hill side you can clearly see how the sea-bed has been sectioned into rectangular plots that resemble a patchwork quilt. Workers live in shoreline shacks and spend much of the time between dawn until dusk up to their waists in sea-water seeding and harvesting the seaweed which grows along lines tethered to the sea-bed. After harvesting the seaweed is laid out to dry before being taken to market to be sold. The seaweed grown on the island produces carrageenan which is used in shampoos and interacts with human carotene to give soft skin and silky hair, so now you know
Away from the seaweed beds there was a bay which was completely deserted other than a small shack selling sea-shells. At the water's edge there were dozens of crystal clear rock-pools, all teeming with small fish, crabs and starfish. We ended up spending ages just sitting, watching and getting lost in the comings and goings of all sorts of marine life
There is definitely something special about the Secret Beach, something that the locals are keen to acknowledge by carving huge figures of the five Paca Pendatha from the Mahabaratha into the side of the rock-face leading down to the beach
Our next stop is the Bukit Peninsula in the south of the island. We visited previously when we had a day trip to see the Rip Curl Padang Padang Cup. This time we'll be there for several days and it'll be interesting to see how different things are without the razzmatazz of a world class surfing event
After chilling out in Sanur for several weeks we thought it was time we saw more of Bali than just its beaches, bars and restaurants!
Feeling more confident on the roads we rented a car for a couple of weeks and left for a tour of the island. We headed up the east coast to a fishing village called Candidasa where we stopped off for lunch. As we arrived at the water's edge one of the outrigger boats had just landed and began unloading it's catch. As the photo shows it was yet another example of the women doing all the heavy lifting and carrying!
Naturally, lunch was fish, cooked in the local style which was delicious, not that surprising given that it had probably been caught fresh that morning
Next stop was Tampak Siring water temple. Water holds a special importance for the Balinese, so much so that the former president built a house here so that he could bathe in the waters to ensure that his mind was clear to help him make the right decisions in terms of governing his people. Every day hundreds make the pilgrimage to the temple to bathe in the water. Each of the thirteen water spouts has different healing properties and the idea is to start at one end and work your way to the other taking the benefits of each spout as you work your way along. Whether it works or not is open to debate but I can confirm that the coldness of the water gives your mind and body a huge wake-up call!
Mount Agung, an active volcano which is the highest point on the island provided the next stop. Like almost everything else on the island it has huge spiritual significance with its southern slopes being home to the 'Mother Temple' of Besakih. Balinese legend has it that Agung was created when the Hindu God Pasupati split Mount Meru (the spiritual axis of the universe) and formed Mount Agung with a fragment from this
The volcano last erupted in 1963. On March 18th of that year it blew so violently that the top 100 metres or more was blown away. Lava spewed over much of eastern Bali and the resulting ash cloud swept across many villages destroying all the crops. Up to 2,000 people are believed to have been killed and tens of thousands of homes were destroyed.
The fact that the temple of Besakih was relatively untouched by the eruption fuelled the local belief that spirits were to blame for the eruption and that it was a sign of further terrible things to come. They were proved right when the nation was plunged into civil crisis two years later in 1965!
Next on the list was the curiously named Git Git waterfall. The water plummets 35 metres and creates a current so strong that life jackets wouldn't go amiss for those brave or foolish enough to swim in its waters. Being the latter we took the opportunity for a swim before being told of the local legend which says that lovers should not swim in it's waters, because it will separate them. The legend doesn't give a time-limit but as yet we're still very much together!
After Git Git we headed to Bedugul which is best known for its cool temperatures, strawberries and the Botanical Gardens. After a late check-in at the unimaginatively named Strawberry Hill hotel we sat down to dinner in front of a log fire before putting our pyjamas on ready for bed, yes it really was that cold!
The next day we headed to the Botanical Gardens, home to the 'Treetops Adventure Park'. After a safety briefing and a practice run we were let loose on the course itself. The courses are graded from green to black with each more challenging both physically and mentally. We started on the orange course before progressing through the others. The courses involved lots of climbing, swinging and crawling, some of which was 12 meters above the ground. At times it felt like a cross between an army assault course and 'I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here'! I'm pleased to say we both managed the red course but declined the opportunity to do the black after watching others younger, fitter and more fearless get part way round and start wishing they'd never begun!
We then drove up to the north coast and spent the night at a 'resort' hotel that had around a hundred rooms of which only about three were occupied. It was a pretty depressing experience staying somewhere that had clearly been the victim of a downward spiral in fortunes to the point that it now has a skeleton staff who seem incapable of performing even the most basic housekeeping functions.
Early morning saw us in Lovina for a pre-dawn boat trip in search of the dolphins. Any thoughts we may have had that this was an exclusive activity were soon dashed as the sun rose and revealed dozens of other boats all doing the same thing. It soon became like something out of a Benny Hill sketch with a flotilla of boats chasing each other along the coast on rumours of a sighting of the elusive dolphin. Sadly we saw no sign of the dolphins. Clearly the intelligence they're credited with is not misplaced as they have the good sense to stay well clear!
Kite flying is another Balinese tradition that is linked to rice-growing. Kites and streamers are flown above the rice fields to deter birds from eating the valuable crop.
Over the years however, kite flying has taken on a competitive edge and there are now two major kite festivals in Bali. One of these takes place over three days in August in Sanur on the west coast of the island. Preparation for the festival starts several weeks in advance, not surprising when you consider the amount of work involved in the design and build of a kite that can be up to ten feet in length and six feet wide
Flying a kite of this size in the strong south-easterly wind takes a great deal of skill and manpower. Launching the kite is a skill in itself as is bringing it safely back to earth once it's flight is over. Teams are made up of up to twenty fliers, all from the same village, each of whom has a role to play in ensuring a successful flight
Marks are awarded for take-off and landing as well as how well the kite performs and is controlled during its flight. Once all the kites are up in the air they make a spectacular sight. Great skill is required to avoid the kites getting tangled with each other and drastic action is required when the kite looks like it's about to come back to earth prematurely which often happens
Although there is a monetary prize, village pride and bragging rights are far more important rewards for success
I managed to join up with the team from Tangi after promising them I'd bring them good luck. Sorry to say this didn't happen. I've already volunteered to come back and try again next year!