2011 South East Asia

2011 South East Asia #8 Malaysia – Borneo, week 2, High up, down below

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Early morning we left Poring Hot Springs and once again we took a taxi, this time to Mount Kinabalu national park main entrance. Today was the day when we should climb, or rather walk up to the base camp on Mount Kinabalu. There we checked in our backpacks and just took the most essential stuff with us. I think we begun our walk up to the base camp around lunch, and 3 hours later we arrived at our destination. Our mountain guide (which is required to walk on Mount Kinabalu) told us that 3 hours is the “mountain guide speed”, the time it takes for a mountain guide to walk up alone without visitors. Normal is that you take 4-6 hours depending on your physical fitness. I guess we did pretty good then because I didn’t feel very fit.

The trek up to base camp provided a lot of nice views, more than enough of changes in the weather and both hot and cold. I’m happy we had rain jackets with us. Still, when we got up everything was soaking wet. We learned that it was possible to pay the mountain guides a little and they would dry your shoes in their cabins. It was about 10-15 degrees up in the base camp and everything was moist so paying for some dry shoes seemed like a good deal. Dinner at the base camp was basic but nice, then we had as much hot tea as we would like. We started to prepare for the final trek to the summit. Our guide would come and get us around 2:30 in the morning so early sleep seemed like a good idea.

About 2:30 the guide arrived at the cabin where we were staying and we could witness a long snake of flash lights struggling up the steep mountain side. Feeling a bit frustrated by the slow movement we asked our guide if there was any way to get passed and he knew a way. So we started on an alternative path alongside the others. Soon we reach the “head of the snake” and passed by them. Now we were surrounded by total darkness, the wind and sometimes the occasional cloud which would drift by. The view from the mountain was great, we could see villages and towns far away as small flickering lights. And then suddenly we’ve reached the summit. And we were the first ones to get there. 4095 meters above the sea-level!

After a few minutes we got company from a Norwegian couple who had been to the other summit first, and then went for this one. Turns out they started after us, and we were among those we started last, but they had walked past us in the darkness and climbed both peaks. Well done! The idea was that we should sit here at the summit and watch the sunrise, but as we waited the wind blew colder and it became cloudier and cloudier until we realized that we won’t see much of the sunrise at all. So we decided to descend and get an early breakfast instead. During the walk down the steepest part I hurt my foot a bit. The last part was not so fun. Back at base camp I stabilized my foot and then it felt okay again. We had some breakfast before we started the long journey down again. It took a bit over 4 hours to walk down again to the entrance to the national park.

I recall riding a minibus back to Kota Kinabalu, checking in to our hotel, the shower, then going out for some steak to eat. But first a massage, that turned out to be a bad idea though since we were extremely sore , specially in the legs and feet. After the massage we went out for food. The first place we went to didn’t have any meat at all, that was a bummer. Then we walked around the corner to a new restaurant and tried our luck there. The waitress promised to ask the chef if they had meat, when she came back she said that she was sorry, specially if we were the guys who asked in the other restaurant. Obviously they shared the kitchen! But we don’t give up so easy. Finally we found a Japanese restaurant that had steak! Victory!

The day after Ove left, he was going back to Thailand and then back home to Sweden. Myself, I took a flight to Tawau on Borneos eastcoast. From there I took the bus to Semporna, a small town that mostly lived of fishing and diving. From Semporna I had to take a 10-15 minute long boat ride to a place called Singamata Reef Resort, located on a reef, as the name suggests. Here I was supposed to spend some time, learning to dive. The first evening I read a lot of diving theory, and the next day I took the test which I passed. Then in the afternoon it was time for my first dive ever. I still remember it, despite being on only 3-5 meters depth and just around the “house reef” as they called it it was amazing! Yes, we spent a lot of time trying to master the art of diving and I think in the end I got the hang of it.

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In the evenings the diving instructors would catch giant prawns and and other seafood that you could buy if you wanted something extra. Very nice indeed. After having a couple of training dives it was finally time to make the final dives and the “just for fun” dives as they called it. This we did around the wonderful island of Sibuan. We did 3 dives around this island and had a lunch break as well giving us some time to explore this little gem. Walking around the island was pretty quick, I think maybe 30-40 minutes, maybe less.

One of the dives was a drift dive, where we floated along with the current. That was a very cool experience! And that same dive we also saw sea turtles passing by. They look very majestic when they swim by you. That evening it was some kind of party at the reef resort and we got hot pot for dinner. Very nice indeed. Feeling happy with my new diving experience and my PADI Open Water certificate I slept very well that night.

My time on Borneo started to run out, my time in South East Asia started to run out and I still had places to see, people to meet, food to eat and beer to drink! So I took the bus from Semporna all the way back to Kota Kinabalu for one last night. I met up with Zera for one final time to have some dinner and sing some karaoke for the last time on Borneo. The next day I stood in the airport ready to board my flight to the final stop on this journey!

2011 South East Asia

2011 South East Asia #7 Malaysia – Borneo, week 1, People, rivers and jungle

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The flight from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Borneo went smooth. But not everything in the world went so smooth. While in the air there was a earthquake outside the coast of the Philippines. It had a magnitude of 6.4 on the Richter scale and there was also a tsunami warning issued. Luckily no tsunami came but I remember seeing this on the news when I had landed. After a smaller stray on the airport in search of an ATM I finally was on my way to my hotel. Turned out I had struck a real deal on the hotel. Turned out to be a 5 star hotel, called Sutera Harbor Resort. At first I thought the taxi took me to the wrong place but it turned out to be the right place. I had a small suite with a fantastic view of the golf course, if you are interested in golf that is. That evening I had dinner at the hotel, I kind of regretted that because it was not a good deal for me. I guess getting good deals on expensive hotels has it’s downsides sometimes. After dinner I texted Zera (whom I met in Thailand some weeks ago) telling her that I had arrived.

The next day I spent the morning and mid-day with doing nothing more or less around the hotel pool. Reading the newspaper, drinking a beer and just enjoying life. In the afternoon Zera called and asked if I wanted to join her and some friends on a trip to a nearby island. Sure, why not I thought. She picked me up at the hotel an hour later or so and off we went. Turns out that tourists pay the double fee on the ferry to the island, so we made a temporary arrangement so I became a Malaysian citizen through marriage. We arrived on a small pier and from there it was just a quick walk to a very nice beach. After a couple of hours there we went out for food on a fancy restaurant, it was one of Zeras friends birthday, but she did not tell me that before hand. After dinner we went out for some drinks in a karaoke bar and NAME HERE asked if I wanted a beer. Sure I said, why not. He asked if a beer tower was okay. “What is that?” I asked. I was soon to find out.

A beer tower is a portable beer keg with a tap more or less. Filled with 4.6 liter of beer. I thought it was for all of us, but it turned out it was just for me. I didn’t want to be rude so I drank it all. Well, the others helped a bit, with one glass each or so. Then we went for a “Chinese McDonalds” as Zera called it. Chinese fast food which was very nice.  It was a good night out, the day after I skipped breakfast and tried to stay in bed as long as possible until I really had to go up since I needed to check out from my hotel. Ove was due to arrive in Borneo the next day and we was to change location to something little more affordable. I found a nice hostel called Borneo Gaya Lodge along Jalan Gaya, or Gaya Street. This place, the street that is, was according to various sites on the internet a popular location for backpackers.

That night Zera brought me out to a pier where there was a lot of small restaurants with very much food. Some of the dishes I remember, like “fish fingers” which was some kind of pepper fruit stuffed with minced fish and cooked. Extremely spicy. Then we had some fried chicken, rice of some kind, some satay-like chicken and some more spicy stuff. All in all, very good, but very hot!

When Ove arrived the day after we mostly chilled and had a couple of beers in a nearby pub, playing pool. I still have some of the tokens from the pool table at home. The next day me and Ove went out to explore the town a bit and to find us some adventure. We had heard there was good white water rafting to be had so we sought out an agency that could book us for some the next day. Eventually we found one more or less right next door to our hostel and we booked for the next day!

The following day we had to get up early. First we had a couple of hours of bus trip, then we changed from bus to a clunky old diesel powered train that ran on very thin tracks through Borneo’s jungle. Finally we arrived at the white water rafting site and got our safety instruction, some testing of the raft and some final instructions before our adventure on the river begun. That was a full day of pure fun! We got to know a danish girl called Nathja, who stayed at a hostel next to ours and we decided to meet after the rafting for some beer. Our guide on the river also wanted to join, bragging about how good beer drinker he was. Who are we to resist such a challenge?

During the evening some guy from Brazil turned up with his didgeridoo, that was totally random but it turned in to an unforgettable evening in the end. The day after me and Ove set out on a quest to find some hiking outfit since we had decided to climb Mount Kinabalu. We booked the climbing same day as we booked the white water rafting. We found a store in a shopping mall that had what we needed, and if we joined their customer club we would get some discount on some items, so we gladly signed up. In the end we managed to reach a premium level as customer and was awarded 5 watches. Probably not the best watches in the world. We gave away those watches to people at the hostel.

Next day we left Kota Kinabalu for a place called Sabah Tea Garden, a tea plantation not to far from Mount Kinabalu national park. To get there we took a taxi, it proved to be a quite long journey that took several hours on snaky roads. Finally we arrived at Sabah Tea Garden, or so we thought. Turned out there was a good 2 kilometer of walking before we actually arrived at the actual place. I didn’t mind, the scenery was nice and we could see Mount Kinabalu looming on the horizon. After checking in to our small cottage named Alfred Dent. Nothing much happen that evening, but in the morning we went up early to see the sunrise that was said to be beautiful. Unlucky for us it rained in the morning. After breakfast we went on a guided tour on the tea factory and in the afternoon we took a small jungle trek up on a nearby peak. It was a good opportunity to see if our trekking outfits would do the job. And they did. During the trek we got to see a gigantic caterpillar and the flower Rafflesia, the worlds largest flower.

The following day we decided to relocate to a place called Poring Hot Springs which was a quite odd place to arrive in. The road just abruptly ended (I’ve heard it’s completed now). Then there was some hotels around the hot springs and not so much else. We checked out the hot springs but didn’t bath in them because the place was crowded. Instead we set out on a small trek again to find a cave that we had seen signs about. Turned out the cave was quite hard to access so we abandoned that idea and went back to have dinner. Before we went to Poring Hot Springs we briefly visited the small town of Ranau in search for internet connection to check some flights, but internet was down for the moment, that happens sometimes.

2011 South East Asia

2011 South East Asia #6 Malaysia – Kuala Lumpur

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The flight from Krabi Airport left sometime around lunch and I landed in “KL” a few hours later. I remember the immigration process was smooth and that I read some signs telling arrivals that hippies was not allowed in Malaysia. Getting from the airport into town was easy. I had booked a hotel not too far from Petrona Towers. First day I was a bit tired so I only took a short walk around the neighborhood after checking in to the hotel. I spent the evening researching the Batu Caves which was my grand plan for the next day.

Getting there was easy, from Sentral I took a komuter train on the red line to the station called Batu Caves. Taking the train there cost me about 2 or 3 Malaysian Ringits, which equals 0.4-0.5€. going there with some kind of travel agency would become very expensive I had learned from my research. When I arrived the first thing I saw was this huge green and gold statue, and then I saw more and more of them. I saw temple like structures everywhere. And a set of stairs that looked both long and steep. Suddenly someone bumped into me, turns out to be a Japanese girl trying to catch everything in one picture. We started talking and decided to keep each other company for a while. This place is full of different Hindu temples, and we’re not even inside the “cave area” yet. At one such temple we witnessed what I guess was the end of a ceremony. I always feel uneasy around religious places like this since I don’t want to be disrespectful to the people worshiping or do something that would be disrespectful to the religion but here it seemed like for a small fee the gods and goddesses could would turn a blind eye to tourists false moves.

There is also something called the Batu Garden in this area. We were about to enter when a guy came out telling us not to, it’s just a restaurant to which you pay an admission fee and you get to see some kind of performance and then there is some shops inside as well. We decided not to go in there then. After having walked around the outside for a while I longed to walk up the stairs and into the caves but the Japanese girl was hesitant since she both was afraid of heights and was claustrophobic so we decided we should split up. Right below the stairs the gigantic golden statue of Murugan (a Hindu diety) is standing, reaching over 42 meters above the ground. And so my ascent begun up the giant stairs. It was really hot despite being a bit cloudy, I was happy I had bought a large bottle of water earlier. Reaching the top of the stairs demanded some sweat but I made it. It was way cooler inside the caves. And filled with even more temples, or shrines is maybe a better description.

It’s a pretty impressive place, Batu Caves, and after having walked around and looked at everything I could I decided it was time to leave. So I headed for the train station again, paid the ticket and went on board the train. There I started talking to a guy named Duncan (from New Zealand) and soon another guy joined us, Marcus, from Australia. It’s funny how you meet people all the time when you travel alone. Anyway, we decided to go back to Sentral together and then go to China Town (or Petaling Street) and check it out. It was about lunch time anyway and there was supposed to be very good food available in China Town. I remember the food indeed was very good, I had some kind of chicken curry and a beer. We had a look around and then decided we should meet up again later in the evening and have some beer. Turns out Marcus and Duncan’s hostels were in the Bukit Bintang area, which kind of is a bit like Kuala Lumpurs equivalent to Khaosan Road in Bangkok.

Hours later we meet up, and even more people from the hostel where we meet joins in. We are a merry bunch now and heads out to town to grab something to eat. We end up in some small restaurant somewhere in Bukit Bintang. Nothing special, just a nice place to hang out. Later in the evening some of us decide to go to Petrona Towers to try to catch the light up building on photo. So here I am in a taxi with a guy from New Zealand, one girl from Hungary and another girl from Germany, 4 people that just met. I like how the backpacking culture brings people together. We arrived at Petrona Towers and I managed to get a decent shot of it. It’s at times like this that I wished I had a better camera and was a better photographer. Well, I have a better camera now than I had back then, but I think I’m still as bad as photographer! 😉

When done taking pictures this funny little guy approaches us and wants to sell us “real Rolex watches”. I doubt Rolex does this kind of street business so I declined the offer. When no one wanted watches he picked up iPhones and Android phones out of his pockets. A versatile man no doubt. When he understood we did not want to buy anything he walked away and brought his business to some other tourists who where there doing the same as us. Taking pictures of the towers. When done we started walking back and passed a shopping mall with a Marvel Comics store in it. It was quite nice to look at all the things in there but I didn’t buy anything.

Around midnight I felt I had had enough for one day so I decided to walk back to my hotel. It was not that far away and it was still warm outside. Walking back I started to think maybe I should move on, go to Borneo instead? Borneo was the main goal of my trip to Malaysia. Said and done, back at the hotel I booked my flight and booked a hotel that seemed nice, with it’s own golf course mind you. The next day I checked out and headed for Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2, the AirAsia terminal for my flight to Borneo.