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.