Malaysia-Brunei-Singapore: The End of the journey
On our way back from Flores and before heading to Malaysia for the last part of our journey, we decided to spend some quality time by the beach in Bali. When we got off the plane we still had no idea where we would go and after an hour of discussions we decided to get a taxi to Sanur, described as a nice and relaxed seaside location not too far from the airport. We managed to find a decent place to stay with a swimming pool but the town was just a tourist magnet without any charm. All restaurants were well overpriced for Indonesian standards and the beach didn't appeal to us much. We only spent two nights and three days there but it felt like an eternity to us. On our last day we had a late evening flight to Kuala Lumpur so we decided to visit the Ulu Watu temple and have dinner on the beach in Jimbaran, not far from the airport. The temple was set in a stunning location on top of a cliff at the very end of the Bukit peninsula.
The place is famous for its big population of cheeky macaques who often steal from inattentive tourists.
We were also lucky to see a Hindu celebration while visiting the place.
Finally we went to Jimbaran to have a very nice seafood dinner on the beach with a magnificent sunset on the sea. It was a very touristy experience (which we nevertheless enjoyed) so we left Indonesia in style - having spent in one meal more than what we usually spent in one day.
We landed in Kuala Lumpur around midnight and we decided to stay at the airport until the morning when we had our next flight to Tawau in the state of Sabbah in the Malaysian part of the island of Borneo. The low cost terminal closes between 1am and about 4am so we decided to sleep on the floor just outside the terminal together with many other tourists in the same situation as us. We finally made it to Tawau and then onto Semporna where we had booked several days of diving with Scuba Junkie. The fishing town of Semporna is not appealing however it is a good base to go diving as it is close to many diving sites and has decent accomodation as well as good and cheap options for food.
Scuba Junkie told us that all the permits had been sold to dive the world famous site of Pulau Sipadan so we booked 3 days of diving around the other islands. In the afternoon, we enquired with another dive shop and they told us that they had availabilities to dive Sipadan on our last day in Semporna however we had to take a 3 days package with them. Having already booked with Scuba Junkie we decided to give it a go with them anyway having been told that the other dive sites were also spectacular anyway but we were a bit upset to find out that the number of spaces for Sipadan were allocated per dive shop and not globally as Scuba Junkie implied in their communication with us.
We did our first day of diving around the island of Mabul.
The day started quite early for us from Semporna and upon arrival in Mabul we wasted a lot of time waiting for divers who were staying on Mabul so in the end we didn't start diving until well into the morning. The visibility and marine life was very poor and we were getting quite frustrated with Scuba Junkie. When we got back to Semporna, we paid them for the 3 dives and went back to the other dive shop, Scuba Sipadan, to negotiate a 2 days package with them, including 3 dives around Matakin island and 3 dives at Sipadan. Our experience with them as well as the sites we dove at were much better. The reef near Matakin was teeming with giant turles, the island postcard perfect and the people very nice.
Diving at Sipadan was also very nice. There was quite a bit of current and we were swimming quickly seeing on the way a lot of giant turles, barracudas and sharks including white tip and grey sharks. Our 34th, 35th and 36th dives were among the best since we started diving in Honduras a few months ago but unfortunately the last ones for a while.
We left Semporna by bus to get to Sepilok where is located one of Borneo's three Oran-Utang rehabilitation's centers. We checked in at Uncle's Tan lodge and headed to the rehabilitation centre for the 3pm feeding. When we got there a bit ahead of the feeding time we were the only tourists here and could already see a mother with a baby, waiting for the feeding. After a little while, the observation platform was packed with tourists and all in all our experience was not so great as although the center is in the middle of the forest, the feeding area was quite built up and there was a zoo-like atmosphere to the whole thing. The primates do however live totally in the wild in a protected area and may or may not turn up for the feeding.
The following day we got transfered by van and boat to the Uncle's Tan jungle lodge near one of river Kinabatangan's tributaries. We were really disappointed to find out that we were about 20-25 in our group. Our jungle experience in Ecuador where we were 5 tourists in a very nice jungle lodge seemed very far away. Lodging at the camp was very basic and we could only shower in an open area with buckets of murky water from the river. We are not very picky about that anyway but the wildlife viewing wasn't exceptional either, which made our experience a bit disappointing. There were however a couple of positive points to that jungle trip: the food was excellent and we managed to spot a slow loris - a very elusive endangered species (pictured below) - during our night walk as well as a civet cat (also pictured below) during our last morning walk.
Sights of birds asleep at night were also fun as well as sights of the hornbill bird, which looked to me as a cousin of the toucan from South and Central America.
We saw the famous "big nose" or proboscis monkey from a distance and had a glimpse of an oran-utang from very far away on our way back to the Sepilok area on our last day.
Kota Kinabalu area
After our 3 days trip in the jungle we arrived in Kota Kinabalu (KK) in the early evening and went to the Filipino night market where we could pick our sea food from the stalls before it being grilled for us. KK is a big Malaysian town, fairly modern with all the amenities you may be looking for. We spent one day shopping in the numerous air-conditioned malls and went to the cinema for the first time in months.
Early morning on the next day we got transfered to the entrance of Mount Kinabalu's national park, where our guide was waiting for us for the 2 days ascent of Asia's highest peak at 4095m above sea level. After a bit of an argument with Charlotte I decided to set off quickly at my own pace knowing that the trail to the mountain lodge at Laban Rata was straightforward to follow.
I got to Laban Rata in just above 2 hours after rushing throuh the ascent and overtaking on the way everyone who started the hike before us. As I was recovering from my effort in the lodge's restaurant I saw Charlotte coming in only about 20 minutes after me in second place.
Judging by her purple face she must have put a lot of effort to try to catch me up but in the end we had a good laugh and we felt a bit foolish to be there that early knowing that we had to spend the whole day and night there before attempting the summit ascent early morning the next day. Based on our performance during the first part of our acent, our guide recommended us not to start the ascent beore 3.30am otherwise we would have to wait at the top in freezing conditions way before sun rise. We then left the base camp last and we reached the top 1h45 later. The cold was unbearable and I could hardly move my fingers to take photos. The views were nice but not amazing.
On the way down, we briefly stopped at Laban rata to have a very filling breakfast and then I decided to run down most of the last 6.5k.
I arrived first at the bottom with Charlotte not far behind. With hindsight we thought we could have done the whole ascent over a very long day without wasting so much time at Laban Rata. If you are fit and that all the beds are booked up in the mountain huts you should consider doing it in one day if you really want to get to the summit which is a questionnable objective on its own...
After the climb, we got straight back to KK and enjoyed an afternoon at the cinema where we watched two movies one after the other and finished the day in a nice Indian restaurant by the (smelly) sea front. We didn't realise until the following morning that our leg muscles were really sore and it took us 4 days to be able to walk effortlessly again! After all, a one day hike to Kinabalu might no have been a good idea.
We left KK by boat to go to the sultanate of Brunei via the small independent Malaysian island of Labuan. Upon arrival at the ferry terminal in Brunei we waited for a bus to Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB), the capital city, but none came and nobody could tell us when it would come. There was no taxi either so we waited a bit more until some guy came and said he was a taxi driver. He drove us into town and we checked in our Russan-like hotel with swimming pool and clean and tasteless marbled rooms. Our first impression was that of a quite modern, clean and empty small country in the middle of the tropics. Very weird. We walked around an empty town for a little while and took photos of the Mosque before heading to the waterfront to try to negotiate a boat ride through the mangrove to see the proboscis (big nose) monkeys at sunset.
We did see the monkeys from pretty close range and went back in town after sunset where we expected to find a lot of activity in the period of ramadan. There was not a soul in town. Almost desert. We even struggled a bit to find a place to eat.
We didn't really know what to do on the next day! We went to the Brunei museum a bit out of town and took another boat ride through the water village with our boatman pointing at every school he knew and saying "school", obviously the only English word he knew. The water village is possibly the largest of its kind with a large community of people living in stilt houses and having their own schools, police and fire brigade all on stilt...
We left BSB to go bak to Malaysia in the state of Sarawak. We arrived in the uninspiring town of Miri where we did nothing at all and waited for our short flight to Mulu national park on the next day.
The accomodation inside the park was fully booked so we checked in a big dormitory just outside of the park entrance and took an afternoon tour to visit the Deer and Lang caves and see the flying foxes (bats) come out of it at dusk. The caves were quite impressive in size but unfortunately we didn't see the bats come out since it was pouring down outside.
On the next day we took a small boat down the river in the jungle and visited a few more caves on the way to the starting point of our trek to the Pinnacles, an impressive limestone formation high up in the hills of the tropical rain forest. We walked the 9k to the camp fairly quickly in really hot and humid weather and spent most of the afternoon waiting around the river for our next day ascent to the Pinnacles.
We started the ascent at 6am and it took us 3.5 hours to climb 2.4km! We made it as a group with several stops on the way but although not particularly difficult, we needed to use ropes and ladders towards the top and the humidity was hardly bearable. Once at the top we could admire the view of the rock formation just on time before the mist covered it all.
We turned back and made it back to the camp in about the same amount of time. In the end, we walked for about 7h to see a few rocks for less than 15 minutes and we feel like these Pinnacles were just a dream and that we actually never went there. At the camp, we once again cooled down in the cold river water and spent another night there before going back to the airport for our flight to Kuching.
The flight was cancelled. We were initially quite annoyed but in the end we spent the night for free at the Royal Mulu Resort where we had a room bigger than our flat, a big swimming pool and a huge all you can eat buffet for dinner and breakfast with a lot of western food, which we had been craving for for a while. Thank you Malaysian Airlines!
The atmosphere in Kuching was again hot and humid. It is not an unpleasant town with a mix of mostly Chinese and Indian people but there isn't much to do. On the first day we spent quite some time at the Sarawak park office to register for the visit of Bako National Park over the next two days. We then walked around town and enjoyed the cheap food in open markets.
Upon arrival by boat in Bako NP on a peninsula North of Kuching we saw a lot of Proboscis monkeys from very close range.
At last we managed o get good photos from them and we were able to observe them for a while. We then spent the rest of the day walking in the jungle for a 5h trek in hot and humid weather. We didn't see much wildlife but the vegetation was nice and we met two french guys, Manu and Ben with whom we got on well. After dinner I decided to go on an organised night walk while Chalotte, Manu and Ben decided to stay at the camp. It was very interesting. We saw a few pit vipers, phasms, frogs, geckos, flying lemur and a massive scorpion that was easily spoted using an UV light.
On the next day we saw a lot of silver leaf monkeys,macaques and proboscis monkeys around the park head quarter before heading towards a beautiful beach.
On the way we spotted a big pit viper to which I got dangerously close to get a nice shot.
We then took a boat to connect to another beach and walked back to the head quarter to be transfered back to Kuching.
In the evening we went to an excellent food court (Top Spot) with fresh seafood to order from the stalls. It was then cooked to your taste. We had a well deserved fantastic dinner.
For our last day in Malaysia we went to the Semengogh Orangutan rehabilitation centre. It rained all night and drizzled in the morning so we weren't that hopefull to see the Orangutans. When we got there the park rangers were desperately calling them around feeding time and after a long while we could see branches moving high up in the trees from a distance. They were coming. It was trully awesome experience to see them coming and moving from branches to branches. It didn't look like a staged performance as we felt in Sepilok and we enjoyed the moment far more.
In the afternoon we went on a boat trip in the mangrove where we saw a few proboscis monkeys again as well as crocodiles eyes and firelflies. Nothing spectacular except for the amazing sunset on the river. Our last on in Malaysia for a while.
After checking in our hotel we headed for lunch in the little India area for a nice set menu.
We then left our aching laptop in an electronic shop to try to recover the hard drive and all the photos from our trip.
After that we just walked around town for a few hours and marvelled at the mix of cultures and architecture in this modern Asian capital.
We later found out that our hard drive could not be saved.
We spent most of the next day at the Zoo with its impressive collection of animals who are semi-wild. We could walk around the zoo with monkeys in the trees above without any kind of fence or protection.
In the evening we enjoyed once more one of the numerous food courts with some excellent Chinese food. Singapore is a great place for cheap and tasty food or very expensive and fine one too.
We spent our last day visiting the area around Marina Bay with it's luxury hotel on top of which lies a park and a swimming pool in a structure which looks like a giant boat. We were also amazed to see a roller skating track as well as venetian gondolas inside.
After one last cheap Thai food dinner we packed our bags again and went to the airport to catch our flight to Nice in France via Dubai as if we were just coming back to our normal life from a short holidays...
More comments to come in a later post to analyse this amazing year and how we coped (not so well I tell you!) with coming back to Europe....................................
Thanks for following us. I hope it will inspire some of you to take the plunge and discover the world as we did for the past 11 months.