Sunday, August 27, 2006

Pulau Kapas -OUCH!

From Cherating we walked out to the road and caught a bus to Marang, the departure point for Pulau Kapas. Following the pattern set recently the town is set back off the main road and reached by a road snaking down to the waterfront. When we got down we realised the whole town was at the Mosque and so had to wait around for someone to come open the ferry ticket office. While we were waiting an Italian family turned up so we chatted to them. Eventually someone came and sold us a ticket to the island and we had time to stock up on Mangosteens before the boat left.

At the island the boat had a bit of difficulty with the jetty and dropped us on the beach instead. Handily the beach right in front of the place we'd chosen to stay, Kapas Beach Chalet. We chose to pay a small amount extra for a beach front chalet. When the guy said beach front he really meant it as we were right on the beach. The place was very nice, simple A-frame chalets again with hammocks and swings set up on the trees in the grounds and on a nice stretch of beach protected from the wind.

Kapas island was very nice. I think probably my preconception of the South East Asian beach was something like this. Several little beaches were accessible directly from one another. At the Northern end of the beaches with accomodation was a track up over the hill with ropes to pull you up and leading to a sheltered little cove on the other side. The water was crystal clear and the island carpeted with jungle. We spent a couple of days, in what is becoming a pattern, sitting reading and walking on the beach. We wanted to go snorkelling but were warned that the jellyfish season was still underway. Something I found out to my cost when scrambling over some rocks. I splashed through an inlet on the other side and bang! Pain on my foot so I instantly jumped out of the water and saw through the stirred up sand a couple of big jellyfish, their orange tentacles trailing out behind them. It stung like buggery. What with that and the monkeys, I may have to have a re-think on my position on wildlife.

When Monkeys ATTACK!

It was just gone 05:00 when the bus let us off at Cherating. We didn't really have a clue where we were so walked down a road signposted for Legends Resort. I asked the gate guard if he could point to where we were on the map in our guidebook. 'Hmmm,' he said, 'that is actually another 4km that way.' The driver had let us off at the first Cherating related sign and not at Cherating village which is where we wanted to be. The guard took pity on us and suggested that we wait in the lobby of the resort for a couple of hours until the buses started running. Given that I could hear the rumble of thunder in the distance we quickly took him up on the offer and sat in the deserted lobby. At this point after an entire day and night travelling I think we probably looked a bit like tramps so the offer was very nice of him. After a half hour of sitting waiting, a receptionist appeared so we related the story to her. Again, she was very nice about it. Out of curiosity we enquired about how much a night at the resort was. She replied, '260 Ringitt.' This was very much above our normal nightly rate so we returned to sitting quietly. After a while though fatigue set in and we decided that we could afford 1 night in a nice place. When we asked to check in she took pity on us and forewent the high-season surcharge so we got RM55 off. Off we went to shower and collapse on the bed.

The room was quite nice, with a pool and a sea view. We had a very chilled out day with some walking on the beach, swimming in the pool and reading on the balcony. We didn't fancy the high restaurant prices so for lunch we walked out to a minimart and bought a ghetto lunch of cup noodles, tuna spread and crackers. For dinner we walked out again to a restaurant on the main road. All in all it was a pleasant day, and we justified the cost of the hotel room by averaging it with the previous day where we'd had no accomodation costs. The next morning we checked out, handed in a letter to the manager praising the kindness of his staff and walked back up to the main road to catch a bus.

We didn't wait too long before catching a local bus to Cherating village, the place we'd wanted to go in the first place. Cherating village is basically just a small road parallel to the beach and reached by a two roads coming from the main road. After a quick drink in one of the cafes we walked to the accomodation we'd chosen, Tanjung Inn. Although a little more expensive than some of the other chalet operations nearby it was worth it. The A-frame chalets are all set around a lake in a beautifully landscaped garden. Another couple of chilled days were spent on the veranda of the chalet, reading, and walking on the beach. In town we stopped a couple of times to take photos of some monkeys. The first time they quite happily and lazily posed for us, but I think they were just lulling us into a false sense of security. The second time we stopped they were in a large bin eating bread rolls or some other discarded monkey delicacy. I snapped one photo, then was going for another of a different monkey when Gemma squealed, 'Tim! Watch out!' I looked down to find a large monkey coming towards me with bared teeth and looking very very angry. I began to scoot back across the road but my new 50p flip flops weren't having any of it. All of a sudden I was prone on the road with the monkey still advancing toward me. I did the only thing I could think of which was growl loudly at the monkey. Fortunately this confused him enough that I was able to get up and make good my escape. I got away with several scrapes on my leg, foot and hand but I think that was preferable to a monkey bite.

Nature's Wrath

Poor Tim. Natures not been very good to him in the last couple of days.

Enjoying ourselves in Cherating the other day, we spotted some cheeky monkeys. Probably the same ones that had helped themselves to a drink from a straw on a table across the way from us in an open sided cafe and the same ones still, who earlier had been up a tree which as we walked under kept shaking a branch and "dropping" his fruit. This time they were helping themselves out of a rubbish bin.

Thinking that this was an ideal photo opportunity we approached and Tim started snapping away. I suddenly noticed that one of them, the big one, wasn't looking very happy, leaning forward and showing his teeth. Now I'm no David Attenborough, but I'm sure that this monkey wasn't smiling to welcome us to his town. My fears were confirmed when in the next 10 seconds I found myself and a local passer by running down the road away from the evil monkey. Suddenly I heard a yell and turned round to see Tim laying in the middle of the road. As he had made a run for it he had tripped over his flip flops. These flip flops were apparently about to make our tetanus jabs worth the vast amounts of money we had paid for them, as the monkey was near to Tim and looked like he was about to attack.

"Agggh. Oh No," I yelled. "Oh My God". (As you can probably tell, I'm not much good in a crisis....)Luckily, Tim is and yelled at the monkey. This worked and the monkey backed off as Tim hobbled away unscathed apart from a few grazes.

My adrenaline was going, but Tim didn't seem bothered at all and in fact appeared quite casual about the whole affair. However, later as we passed the "crime scene" he seemed (as I was) a bit nervous and trotted across the other side of the road with nervous sideways glances at the monkeys which suddenly appeared out of the bushes. He started muttering things like," oh no they are after me now" and when it poured with rain that night he got an evil glint in his eye and said "Ha Ha, the monkeys will be getting wet," so I think the incident did get to him after all! It was quite scary at the time. I know they are smaller than us but I bet they have a nasty bite and this one was big and looked sinister. I can't help but chuckle now though when I think of it!

The next incident was on the Island of Kapas, a beautiful, idyllic little island with crystal clear waters. It's a great place for snorkelling, but unfortunately it is also a great place for jellyfish. We decided against snorkelling as we saw loads of jellyfish just in the shallows. Quite big pink things with really long flowy tentacles. Confirming our decision as a wise one, a girl who was working at our accomodation came back from being in the sea, shouting she had been stung all over. Although the stings aren't fatal we decided we didn't really fancy being stung so decided to just chill out on the beach.

In between chilling out, we decided to go for a walk up the beach. We had done this a few times. Kapas has lots of separate coves and beaches which you get to by walkways or climbing over rocks. It was climbing over these rocks where Tim managed to get injured. Suddenly I heard a yell. I thought Tim had stubbed his toe, but it turned out he had managed to get stung by a jellyfish! There was a small amount of water in between 2 rocks where he had been but there were two jellyfish floating around in it. He said it was really painful and his foot did look really red like it had really bad sunburn. After that he said he was going to sulk and he went back and decided it would be wise not to move from the verandah of our hut on the beach in case anything else happened. As he sat there something from a tree fell on his head!

That night as I laid under the protection of my Mosquitoe net I kept hearing Tim say,"Ooow', 'little buggars". In the morning he complained that ants had kept him awake all night nipping him and when we looked there were a load above his bed and bits of ant stuck over him.

So, all in all I think Tim might have had enough of nature. That might be why we are back in a town now. Maybe he feels safer.

James Bisdee Hellier

James Bisdee Hellier
Originally uploaded by Jeppestown.
This is what Tim is aspiring to in terms of beardiness!

Peninsular Malaysia (again)

Left with a couple of weeks between leaving Sabah and our next big flight from Singapore to Perth we were puzzling over what to do. Sitting relaxing on an island somewhere seemed like a good idea to both of us, the only problem being -what island? We had heard good things about both Palau Perhentian and Pulau Tioman, each being very different but having their individual pros and cons. A puzzling decision. At one point I was heard to remark in a very grumpy tone, 'That's it, I'm going home because I can't decide which tropical island to go lie on.' In the end we compromised on a trip up the East coast of Malaysia, stopping at various points along the way. With that in mind we caught an Air Asia flight from Kota Kinabalu to Johor Bahru on the peninsular.

Our trip gave me a chance to compile the following 'womans magazine style' (so I am told) quiz:
1) You are passing through the baggage scanner and a couple are in front of you loading their bags onto the conveyor, do you:
a) Wait until they have loaded their bags and proceed to load yours.
b) Attempt to push your bag underneath and in front of theirs.

2) You are about to walk through the metal detector and someone is already walking through, do you:
a) Wait until they are through then proceed yourself.
b) Jam yourself and your partner into the gaps either side of the other person and attempt to go through together.

3) You are waiting for a flight and it's number is called, do you:
a) Wait in patiently in the line you joined just before boarding was announced.
b) Elbow and push your way forward into a 2 square centimetre space in front of someone.

4) The plane begins to descend and hits some fairly bad turbulence. The pilot turns on the seatbelt light, do you:
a) Remain seated calmly watching the plane bounce around.
b) Go to the toilet.

5) You are on a minibus journey. The minibus is plastered with no smoking signs, do you:
a) Sit throughout the journey, not smoking.
b) Chain-smoke the entire way.

If you answered mostly a's then you are mostly likely not Chinese. If you answered mostly b's there is a good chance that you are of Chinese ancestry. Actually, I'm sure not every Chinese person is as rude as everyone that particular day seemed, I just got a bit irritated by it all. Normal service is resumed.

Johor Bahru is the town just opposite the island of Singapore and is unsurprisingly a major transit hub. After landing we took a bus to the main bus station and set about trying to get up the coast. We'd decided not to go to Pulau Tioman at this point, despite it being nearby. Instead we wanted to head to Cherating, a beachside village some way up the coast. We managed to find the right man shouting random things at the top of his voice and he took us to his ticket counter. It was there we discovered we could only get a direct bus overnight, or go to Kuantan and change there. Given that it was already afternoon we thought we'd rather get the overnight bus than try and find a local bus from Kuantan late at night, or worse have to stay in Kuantan which our guidebook made out to be a dump.

We didn't really know what to do for the next 9 hours waiting for the bus. We exhausted the joys of the shops in the bus station reasonably quickly, bought a Sudoku book and did that for a while, before giving up and heading to town. A quick taxi ride and we were in the city centre. Stupidly half way there, and too late, I remembered that the bus station had a left luggage office. The idea was that we should eat and then try and get through some more photo uploading at an Internet cafe. The eating was easy enough as we fell straight into a Pizza Hut. The Internet was harder. Although we looked quite hard we could only find one Internet cafe and that was constantly full of people. We ended up browsing in the mall for the airconditioning and drinking cups of tea. This is truly the rock and roll lifestyle we are living. The Internet place didn't get any less busy so in the end we gave up and went back to the bus station for more Sudoku and stale smoke smell.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006


Bizarrely, whilst away, I have had several requests to use, or notifications of use of my flickr photos for various things. It never happened when I was at home. The latest one is a photo from Valencia that has been used in a computer travel guide thingy Schmap. I've added a travel guide picker in the sidebar of the blog (on the right). I think my favourite request has been for a photo to be used in a book about town planning in the Austrian city of Graz. I've never been there.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Back to Kota Kinabalu (Kenny Rogers is the man)

Gemma didn't feel nearly as bad the next morning so we were able to get on a bus to Kota Kinabalu. At the bus station they tried to shepherd us onto a minibus, but I insisted on a big bus. We had a wait until enough passengers to make the drivers trip worthwhile turned up. Maybe we should have gone in the minibus. The suspension on the bus was very bouncy which would have made the ride uncomfortable enough by itself. The bounciness was compounded by the lack of a locking mechanism in the reclining seats, so that every time the bus hit a bump, the seat reclined fully. Not the most comfortable ride I've ever had, but mercifully only 2 hours long.

In town we booked into a different hotel on the same street as the previous 2 places we'd stayed, the Malar. The next day we went in search of lunch. I was craving something that wasn't noodle or rice based, as was Gemma. In the end we landed at Kenny Rogers Roasters in a local mall. The thing that pulled us in there was the mention of jacket potatoes on the menu. Gemma couldn't resist. When our meals turned up she got a faraway look in her eyes and as she forked in mouthfuls of bean covered potato, she was gently rocking back and forward, whispering, 'So fluffy.' I swear that she told me at least 10 times that it was a proper oven potato with no microwaving. To be fair the food choice has been much more limited here than on the Peninsula. Gemma has mainly eaten either rice with soggy leaves or noodles with soggy leaves. I was impressed with my chicken salad, which was chicken breast slices rather than the usual horrible bits of chopped bone that I have been eating here. Kenny Rogers -you're the man -man!

Stuck in Beaufort

We were stuck in Beaufort for an extra day because Gemma was ill. She'd been feeling a little run down but that morning she complained of a sore throat, banging head, achiness and she had a fever. I figured it was probably just a 24 hour virus and was proved right, although the sore throat portion lingered. Gemma spent the day in bed watching films on the TV. Unfortunately the people downstairs kept turning the satellite over in the middle of the film. They were all made for TV rubbish anyway, so I don't think it's a great loss. I spent the day nipping out for drinks, fruit and newspapers. Everyone who served me laughed at me which made me a little paranoid.

Saturday, August 19, 2006


We got a phone call the other day whilst waiting for the train in Tenom, telling us that Lily was in Great Ormond Street hospital. They have discovered that she has 2 holes in her heart. Although the condition is not critical it is serious and will require surgery in the future.

I feel so angry. After everything my sister and Paul have been through with Paige... and now this. It just doesn't seem right. It's awful getting news like that and being so far away. All I want to do right now is give my sister a big hug.


I forgot to mention in the previous post (Choo Choo Train), about the haze that was evident on the way down to Tenom. For part of the journey as we neared Tenom I noticed that the mountains were becoming gradually more indistinct. At times they appeared as little more than shadows through the haze. This is a big problem in Sabah at the minute. Open burning on the Oil Palm plantations in neighbouring Sarawak and Kalimantan is the cause. In Sarawak the haze is so bad that it has reached the level of being a public health hazard. It is more ammunition for the protesters against Palm Oil. I read in the paper that the Indonesian and Malaysian governments are so worried about western protesters that they have set up a 1,000,000 Euro fund to fight them.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Choo Choo Train

After a couple of uneventful days in Kota Kinabalu the yearning to travel by train overtook us. There is a rail line which runs from Kota Kinabalu, South, to Tenom, which was an administrative centre called Fort Birch in the days when Britain 'owned' the place. A steam train runs on a small section of the line from Kota Kinabalu to Papar. Nice as this sounds, it costs RM180 a ticket for the 4 hour return journey (including a meal). We'd read that the best section of the railway is at the other end from Tenom to Beaufort. We decided to go ride that section of the line. We just managed to catch the 8 AM bus to Tenom from KK. We were late checking out because Gemma was searching the room for a scrap of paper that her Mum had left a note on when we left the UK. Gemma had been using it as a bookmark and was quite disturbed by it's disappearance. Thankfully the bus had to turn when leaving the bus station and we were able to flag it down on the main road.

The first lesson they teach at Malaysian coach driver school pertains to the interior temperature of the coach. 'Never,' they are admonished, 'never ever, let the interior temperature rise above -4 degrees centigrade'. This is something that the drivers seem to regard as a sacred duty. This particular coach was even worse as it had lost the twisty airflow controls in many places, leaving huge holes blasting out freezing air. We put our fleeces on but that wasn't enough to prevent the early stages of frostbite setting in. We managed to find some discarded newspaper with which to block up the hole, which did seem to help somewhat.

Other than the arctic temperatures the bus ride was pretty good. It was a case of climbing into and back out of the mountains so we didn't see much Oil Palm. Instead we had just jungle and the odd area of stepped terraces being used to farm rice. In Tenom the sun was shining and everyone was smiling. We ate at a place called 'Double Happy Restoran' because we liked the name. Gemma had some difficulty with requesting a vegetarian meal, but I was able to cut in and sort something out for her. The only Bahasa Malaysian I know being food related. We had a couple of hours to wait before the train was due to leave so we sat under a tree by a park listening to the call to prayer wafting across the green from the onion shaped dome of the mosque, and watching the children scamper around on the grass.

The train departure time duly arrived and just prior to it we went into the waiting area to buy a ticket. The ticket office didn't open for a while and it was baking hot in the station. When I did get to buy our tickets I was very happy that they only cost RM2.75. The departure time passed and time crept on as we waited on the platform clutching our tickets. A succession of men knelt by the engine, pulling faces and scratching their chins. There was obviously a problem with the train. Being of an engineering mind I was able to proffer some advice, 'Hit it with a spanner.' About an hour and a half after the departure time someone obviously took heed of my advice because the train inched forward to the platform. There was a flurry of activity as the women on the platform loaded their enormous bags of pumpkins and other produce onto the front carriages. We walked right off the platform and climbed up into the rear compartment.

The train journey began well. It wasn't at all packed in our back compartment. I wanted to sit in the open doorway of the compartment but was beaten to it by locals. Instead Gemma and I had four seats to ourselves so I sat facing her and both looking out of the window at the view. The railway follows a river through a gorge with jungle on both sides. It's a very lovely and scenic ride. As we pulled along the tracks the occasional branch or root would clip the open window. Almost as soon as we pulled away the commercial activity began. Old ladies staggered up the train selling canned drinks from buckets. Dried marine animals caused much excitement with some hard bargaining for packets Cuttlefish bites and Satay Jellyfish Strips going on around us.

We passed scattered settlements along the way, stopping at some with platforms, others with just tracks into the jungle and bypassing others altogether. This region is a big white water rafting area and at one of the villages the train was boarded by Chinese people who'd obviously been rafting for the day. There were lots of them. The carriage was rammed and we had people join us on our seats, blocking us from getting up to the other side of the train to look at the view as we had been doing. Someone had an MP3 player and speakers and started playing the most godawful canto-pop. It was hard to continue admiring the view and so I sat wondering whether, in the century since the carriage was built, anyone had invented a device capable of measuring such minute widths as the foam in the seats.

In Beaufort a good deal of the passengers spilled directly into waiting coaches. Gemma and I walked into the town centre looking for a hotel. We landed at the aptly named Hotel Beaufort and checked in. We had dinner at a restaurant on the same block as the hotel. Again Gemma had difficulty trying to explain what she wanted and I had to step in. The weird thing is that I just repeated what Gemma had said to baffled expressions and was treated with, 'Ah, vegetables only, OK.' I think it must be an accent thing.

Mount Kinabalu

Mount Kinabalu is big, 4095 metres in fact. A lot of people climb it as it needs no mountaneering skills or equipment. We decided not to climb. The weather had been a bit dodgy for the last couple of days, plus we people had told us that it was a good deal of effort and expense for not much reward. Besides, I was more interested in the flora of the park, much of it endemic, not just to Borneo but to the park itself. It was a good choice not to anyway. The accomodation, as well as being expensive, was booked up, as were the available slots for the climb. This, of course, has been the story of our trip to Sabah.

We met our friendly taxi driver, Francis, in the middle of Ranau and he drove us to the park. He was doing us a cheap deal, but we ended up tipping him anyway. He was a very nice man. In the park we left our bags at the reception and wandered off to the visitors centre. We worked out that we could do a couple of guided tours for a nominal fee. While we were waiting for the first one we tried to get some breakfast but obviously had a bit of a misunderstanding as the woman told us they were closed. Gemma went back in a short while later to ask what time they opened and she replied that they already were. I don't quite know what happened there, but such misunderstandings are not uncommon. Whilst talking to the woman, Gemma noticed a waving from the other room. It was Inger and Henry, a nice Danish couple that we'd met previously on our river cruise. We joined them for breakfast and had a nice chat about what we'd respectedly been up to. We told them that we'd seen their names on the board at Scuba Junkies in Semporna, but not seen them. They told us that the mountain was fully booked, the bad weather preventing people summiting and adding to the problem.

After leaving Henry and Inger who were heading back towards Kota Kinabalu we bought our ticket and joined the first of our two guided walks. This one was through the jungle with a relatively inexperienced, but very nice, guide. She pointed out many different species of plant; Wild Banana, the smallest Orchid, Wild Cinnamon and many more, explaining the traditional use of the plants as she went. If I remember correctly they mainly seem to be used as herbal Viagra or to stop bleeding. The second walk followed straight on and was of the mountain/botanic garden. This is a 5 acre fenced off area in which interesting and endangered plants are transplanted for research, conservation and educational purposes. The guide this time really knew her stuff and pointed out many interesting plants, including the Lady Slipper Orchid, a very rare species, as well as large pitcher plants.

After the informative guided trails we were hoping for a glimpse of Mount Kinabalu but, alas, it was shrouded in cloud, given just the briefest impressions of being there. We started walking up another trail, me with ice cream in hand, and hoping that we'd get a better vantage point and that the cloud would lift a little. Instead it started raining, so we turned around, collected our bags and waited at the roadside for a bus. A taxi driver going to Kota Kinabalu anyway offered us a reduced rate ride for the same cost as a bus would be so we jumped in his cab for the 2 hour journey to the city. The journey was interrupted by driving over something that made one of the rear tires pop. A quick wheel change and we were on our way again, the taxi driver being very apologetic. I don't know why so, as it wasn't his fault at all. This time we booked into the Diamond Inn, on the same street as the hotel we'd first stayed in in Kota Kinabalu. It was about a pound dearer a night, and about a pounds-worth better too.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Semporna to Ranau

There is an early morning direct 'VIP' bus from Semporna to Kota Kinabalu. We decided instead to wake up a bit later and get the local minibus back to Tawau for a night then make the journey back to Kota Kinabalua. We were glad of this decision later (as I will explain). In Tawau we just checked in at the same hotel as last time we'd been there and had a bit of a walk around. We didn't really find anything else out to recommend the town, other than lots of people saying, 'Hello!' to us and giggling. The next morning we caught a bus towards Kota Kinabalu, deciding to stop off at the mountain town of Ranau.

The journey was predictable in the occurence of Palm Oil plantations. Somewhere along the way we slowed to a crawl and everyone stood and gawped through the window as we passed a crashed bus. The whole front of the bus was caved in, with a massive gash down the side. I later read in the newspaper that it was the Semporna to KK direct bus on the day that we would have travelled. Apparently it had crashed into a stationary lorry. There were 13 people injured and no fatalities. I'm quite glad we were lazy and didn't get out of bed to catch it that day.

The Palm Oil plantations disappear as you climb up into the mountains and I was content watching the jungle and hills roll by through the window. Ranau is a smallish town in the mountains, about 20km away from each of Mount Kinabalu National Park and Poring hot springs. The town itself is quite nice. It still has the square box architecture, but it is in little spaced out blocks. And through the reasonably wide gaps between the blocks you get the view of a mountain each way you look. We checked in to a place (Hotel Rafflesia), mentioned in the Rough Guide, for a couple of nights. I'm not really sure why the Rough Guide liked it as it was quite shabby. In the morning we decided that the sky looked a bit cloudy to go to the mountain park so we just had a lazy Sunday reading the newspaper and drinking coffee. We had a long chat with a taxi driver and agreed to see him the next day if we wanted to take a trip out anywhere. We considered the hot springs but had read that on weekends there are so many people that you just get a trickle of lukewarm water. I figured I could get that from our hotel room without paying for a cab so we didn't bother going.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Lizard luck

I forgot to mention that, as of our stay in Tawau, our 100% record for having a Lizard in our room has faltered. Up until that point every single place we've stayed in Singapore, Malaysia or Thailand has had at least one small Lizard in our room. Since then we haven't spotted a single Lizard. I'm quite disappointed as I like Lizards, and much more than the Flys and Ants that they eat. It is a sad thing and I hope not a portent of impending doom.

Saturday, August 12, 2006


After having a quick look around a market, and getting laughed at with some incredulityby the traders, we collected our laundry and walked back to the bus area. We were quickly on a minibus headed to Semporna along with a full compliment of fellow passengers and a vast amount of luggage stacked everywhere. Unfortunately, I have to repeat myself and say again; more Oil Palm plantations along the road. Semporna is only 2 hours away from Tawau which was a blessing as the bus was not the most comfortable I've ever been on. We arrived and checked in to the nearest place we saw for a couple of nights, Lee's Rest House, because it looked clean. We were very pleasantly surprised to find the cheapest room rate we'd had so far in Sabah.

The reason we, and everyone else, had come to Sabah is for one of the worlds top diving/snorkelling spots, Pulau Sipidan. Our guidebook, despite being published only 2 years ago was proving itself to be quite out of date in regard to Sabah. Not only for costs which you expect to go up slightly, although some things have quadrupled in cost since it was written. You used to be able to stay on Sipidan, booking a package with one of several dive operators. In a laudible attempt to preserve the environment of the island, the government ordered the dive shops off the island and restrict visits. Each of the dive operators has a set allocation of permits per day to visit the island. Unfortunately in building some facilities on the island a barge carrying construction materials crashed into and destroyed a large section of the island's fringing reef. Everything we'd read said that Sipidan is the place to go, even for snorkellers who are likely to see sharks, turtles, amazing coral and much more. Unfortunately for us, as seems to be the case in Sabah, you can't just turn up and expect to do stuff. We have learned that preplanning is key to fitting everything in in Sabah. Because of the permit limit we weren't able to book to go to Sipidan without a wait in Semporna, something we didn't really want to do.

Instead we booked on a snorkelling tour with Scuba Junkies to one of the other islands nearby. We chose Scuba Junkies as they were a lot cheaper than the outfit next door and we had a good long chat with a guy doing his Dive Master qualification there. He assured us that the snorkelling on some of the other islands was great. In the morning we turned up at the dive shop, collected our gear and joined the boat. At this point we didn't have a clue what the itinerary was, how many islands we might visit or anything. After an enjoyable ride past a couple of different islands the boat drove up onto the beach of a small island (Mantabuan I believe) and we were told, 'Snorkellers, out you get.' We did, as did a French couple, at which point the boat slammed into reverse and rushed off toward the reef. On the island a little way down the beach we could see a small Sea Gypsy village and their boats, as well as some structures set back off the beach and shored up with sandbags and barbed wire. We worked out where the nearest reef was and, following the French couple, swam out to it. I was enjoying skirting the sides of the reef as the water above it looked to be quite shallow, there were many starfish in the sand leading up to the reef as well as a hole where loads of tiny Anenomefish (Nemos) were clustered around a Coke can. At the reef itself I saw a small Octopus and was trying to get a photo when Gemma pushed and prodded me to look at a starfish. I was a bit grumpy because when I pushed myself back into position against the current the Octopus had gone. We didn't stay in very long and had the sense that the tide was retreating. Ever since an incident in Mauritius when Gemma managed to get stuck on a rock ledge covered in spiny black Urchins she has been a bit scared of getting too close to the reef. The French couple didn't stay in too much longer than us.

We spent the next few hours alternately sitting on the beach near where we'd been dropped off and walking round the island. The tide retreated quite far and in the shallows we watched tiny crabs running around when our shadow dropped over them. Our periods of sitting on the beach were punctuated by visits from soldiers from the small military post behind us. This explained the sandbags and barbed wire. Many said, 'Hello!' and I think most had their pictures taken with us. I have a feeling it was Gemma's photo they wanted most. It didn't, to me, seem to be the worlds worst military posting, a small tropical island where as far as I could see their main duty was singing really bad Karaoke. We chatted to one of the soldiers quite a lot and he explained that they are stationed their for 3 months at a time and he really enjoys it. We were very grateful when he pointed out a shade structure round the corner. We were watching the dive boat all of this time wondering exactly what was going on. There was no way they could land again with the tide being so far out and I was becoming concerned, primarily because our lunches were onboard.

The boat did manage to come through a very small channel and land on the other side of the island. They had also had difficulties with the low tide in the area that they had been diving. As I ravaged my noodles one of the dive masters mentioned that we should've gone snorkelling on this side of the island and said they'd been waving at us from the boat. I sat slightly fuming and wondering why they didn't just point that out when they'd dropped us off. He said that the boat would take us to a good snorkelling point while the last dive was going on. After lunch and once the divers were in position we were dropped off by the boats driver at the spot. Gemma was much happier here because of the depth of the water, she was well out of touching distance of the coral. I enjoyed a slow float over corals looking at the fish. The visibility was good but the water quite cold and I began to get a little cramp in my foot and so swam back to the boat. We were jealous when the French couple came back aboard later saying that they had seen a really big Turtle.

After showering we went back down to the waterfront area for food. Gemma tried to cancel what she had ordered and get something else saying, 'Sorry to be a pain, but I think, can I get the Peppered Fish'. The waitress understood, 'Peppered Fish', which led to 3 meals being brought to us. I couldn't be bothered to try and explain the error so we ate all 3 meals. And didn't bother with the cakes that we'd picked up in a local cake house earlier. One thing you can say about the residents of Sabah is that they like a good cake. Each town we've been to has several cake shops.

Onward to Tawau

Atfer our Orangutan and flying squirrel action at Sepilok we made a promise to ourselves to get up early and out for the bus to Semporna a town several hours to the South. Unfortunately as happens with promises this one got broken. The alarm on our phone went off at 06:15 and was promptly stopped allowing us to sleep on until 08:00. We left the rest house in a bit of a rush for the 2.5km walk to the junction with the main road. As it was early it wasn't too hot, and not for the first time we congratulated ourselves on the foresight of bringing only hand luggage. Another couple, Germans I think, were at the bus stop too, waiting to go to Kota Kinabalu. Somehow we managed to miss the first bus that came past heading our way. I hadn't managed to make out the scrawny marker pen sign on the window until it was too late and the bus was sailing past us. We waited for 2 hours in total, me with my binoculars trained on the road so I wouldn't miss another bus. It was a case of the watched pot (almost) never boiling and at 10:55, exactly 5 minutes before the deadline I had set to chuck it in and get a local us back to Sandakan, I spied the word Tawau in the window of a bus. Not exactly where we wanted to go, but the largest town near Semporna. We flagged down the bus and away we went.

The journey was pretty much more Oil Palm plantations on either side of us. The Oil Palm industry in combination with the logging industry are the blight of the region, and also unfortunately it's main economy. It's one the reasons the Orangutans need Sepilok. Habitat destruction forces the Orangutans into ever decreasing areas of forest (and food resources) and inevitably they raid the plantations. The plantation workers at least now call Sepilok to come relocate the animal rather than shooting it which is what happened in the past. We had a couple of films on but I struggled to hear the very muted sound which led to limited enjoyment of them. This time we had crossed two police checkpoints and were boarded at both. Only one of the policemen asked to see our passports though. At one of the crossings we also had the bus raided by women carrying bags of fruit and popcorn and god knows what else for sale. At a lunch stop we traded our coupons for drinks and crisps, quickly becoming our standard bus meal.

After 4.5 hours we pulled up in Tawau, probably not the worlds nicest city. The architecture is classic South East Asian, square boxes with a finish of 'moldy concrete', (Watch out for that in Dulux's next range.) I can't really think of many good reasons for going to Tawau other than it is on the way to Semporna or Indonesia (via ferry). We trudged through town looking quite out of place looking for a hotel recommended in the Rough Guide. A bloke signalled out of the window that they were full, a situation I wasn't too disappointed about as the place looked decidedly shabbby. A few minutes walk and we found a larger place, Monaco (2000), which clearly had international pretensions but like many South East Asian hotels did not quite live up to them. It was having a promotion so rooms were only RM50 a night, so that made us quite happy. It made up for the gouging we took from the piece-rate laundry round the corner. We had planned to stay 2 nights in order to get our laundry done, but they said it would be ready the next day, something we were quite thankful for. In Sandakan people had randomly been shouting, 'Hello!' at us. This continued apace in Tawau. Gemma did start to get some horrid appraising looks from some of the men on the streets which wasn't so nice.

That evening the heavens opened with a vengeance. We just managed to make it round the corner to a restaurant dodging the worst and deepest of the streams of water. I quite like the rain in South East Asia for it's general intensity and the mood it gives to a town during and afterwards. I don't like the fact that it intensifies the already horrible smell of the drains though.

Friday, August 11, 2006


Before I begin, sorry if bits of this doesn't make sense. I keep trying to write it but am finding it difficult as the internet cafe is really noisy with kids playing computer games. This is mainly why my diary entries aren't very frequent. I need quiet to write.

We are on the Island of Borneo, in the Malaysian part at the top called Sabah. (Borneo is divided between Malaysia and Indonesia). I have wanted to come here for a long time, before it is totally destroyed by the planting of Palm Oil plantations. I haven't been disappointed although the destruction is evident. Palm oil is number 1 for Borneo's economy. If you look at a lot of products in your home; in your kitchen or bathroom, you can bet that the majority of them contain Palm oil. Coming in at a close number 2 for Borneo's economy is eco tourism, the main reason I and I imagine most tourists want to visit. Obviously the two are not compatible. I realise that people have to live and this kind of destruction has happened for many years (including in the UK with our Forests being chopped down to make way for crop fields) ,but it doesn't take away from the sadness I feel when we we travel through the country and all you can see for miles and miles are neat rows of palm trees. Amongst plantations a lone tree stands, a reminder from the days when where the palms stand stood a diverse jungle/forest, housing diverse creatures, many of which are becoming increasingly rare, a statement you hear too much these days.

Everyone knows about the Orangutan(man of the jungle). 20/30 years ago seeing one of these gorgeous creatures was common and taken for granted. Nowadays, although they still live in the wild, people are more likely to see them on the T.V. although it was the T.V which contributed to their plight with films like the Jungle book leading to people wanted them for pets. The plantations have destroyed a lot of the Orangu-tan's natural habitat leaving them with nowhere to get food. This leads them to raiding plantations, which in the past caused them to be killed by the owners. However, now there are laws in place which make sure Sepilok Orangutan sanctury are called to come and relocate the primate to one of the protected areas of Sabah; luckily these do exist so it is not all bad news. Conservation is in place and things are actually looking up, albeit slowly.

It is these protected areas which make Sabah beautiful and worth visiting. We are travelling around Sabah by bus. The towns we have seen so far are not very remarkable, some in fact quite ugly, but they are bearable with the promise of Jungle/tropical paradise not too far away. so we have used the towns as a base to visit these. Our first stop after arriving in Kota Kinabalu (the capital city) was Sandakan from where we booked a boat cruise and overnight stay along the Kinabatangan which flows for 560KM.

We travelled for about an hour across the sea to the mouth of the Kinabatangan. The river was quite wide and we all studied the tall trees on either side in search of wildlife. The two hour trip down the river to the lodge we were staying at produced sightings of birds, Proboscis monkeys (although not very clear) and a small crocodile lazing on the bank, then sliding smugly into the water. (I always think that Crocs look smug). The guide told us not to be disappointed as we are sure to spot more wildlife later. At this point, although I wasn't disappointed, I was a little doubtful as it felt like he was saying that because he had been told to to keep the punters happy. Lines such as "I'm feeling lucky today" , produced cynicism in me as I can imagine him saying that to every group everyday. I don't know when I became such a cynic!

I didn't mind if we didn't see anything though as I just loved cruising down the river. Just knowing that the wildlife is somewhere deep in the jungle doing their jungley things was enough for me. We arrived at the lodge and after being shown our rooms and eating deep fried banana we got on a smaller boat and rode down one of the tributaries off the river. I loved this as I felt closer to the jungle, being closer to the bush and nearer to the water. There were a few other boats going down the tribitury too and going past these boats I felt like part of the wildlife myself as all the passengers sailing past were really gawping at us. During the two hour trip we saw Mangrove snakes, a water monitor, Longtailed Macaques (Monkeys) giant Hornbills, another crocodile and lots of Proboscis monkeys which are endemic to Borneo and are yet another species on the decline. They are really funny and me and Tim fell in love with them. They have really big noses. Apparently the bigger the nose in a Male Proboscis the more his luck is in with the ladies of the Proboscis world! We saw one with a really big nose and a very small willy! All I can say is that it's a good job they go by the nose!

After the wildlife spotting we went back to the lodge for our dinner. During dinner our guide came to our table (all the group sitting together) and in a conspritorial whisper informed us all that another guide had spotted elephants earlier on in the day and for R15 he would take us to find them. Knowing what distance the elephants move and how big and dense the forest is Me Tim and another couple decided not to bother, instead opting to watch a couple of documentaries filmed in the area about Proboscis monkeys and Orangutans. I'm glad we did as they were really interesting. I hadn't realised that Orangutans and clouded leopards lived around where we were too. Tim and I went to bed and never found out whether they saw elephants.

The next day after breakfast we set off in the boat, the 2 hour ride back to Sandakan with a couple who were in our group the day before and another couple who weren't. Nobody really spoke, I suspect because it was the end of the trip and we would be going our separate ways. The guide was optimistic saying 'if we see anything special on our way back like Orangutans we will stop'. Although I smiled along with the rest of them, I wasn't expecting to see Orangutans as I think it is quite rare as is seeing elephants, and I just knew that he knew that too. However, I was looking forward to the boat ride and enjoyed looking out for wildlife.

About 15 minutes into the journey, one of the couples shouted. The guide turned round to them as we all did to see them looking really excited and pointing over at the river bank."Elephants", they cried. It took me a while for it to sink in, but as the boat turned round and went over to the bank low and behold, there were 3 young elephants right on the edge of the river bank. We all looked at each other in amazement and the walls which had between between us instantly fell away.I noticed the guide look at the boat driver and exclaim in disbelief, suggesting that my theories of seeing animals such as these is quite rare. He confirmed this and said that he had only seen them about 10 times and that this was special. As we watched the elephants we could hear crashing about in the trees behind and suddenly where there were 3 elephants there were about 23! We all couldn't stop saying wow! and grinning from ear to ear. The cameras, including the guides were snapping away and we just couldn't believe our luck. Asian elephants are usually rare to see and we were seeing 20 plus of them right near our boat. At one point they could have reached their trunk out and touched us. They were trumpeting and snorting away and 2 of the young bulls were pushing each other with their tusks. They didn't seem bothered by our presence although at one point a matriarch stared right at us as if to say don't come any nearer. It was so special and I found it really moving. I just can't explain the feeling. I had it before when we saw the elephants in South Africa and I can't believe that I was privileged and lucky enough to have experienced it again. What made it even better was that we were the only boat there for a long time before 2 other boats from our lodge joined us. We all felt so lucky and it is certainly a moment that I will treasure.

Continuing the wildlife theme, we headed to Sepilok the next day, home of the famous Orangutan sanctuary. Here Orangutans are rehabilitated back into the wild. The centre is based in the forest and the Orangutans are taught to fend for themselves in the surrounds. There are different feeding platforms, each graduating further into the forest, colerating with the maturity of the Orangutan. The first feeding platform is the only one open to the public and is the one that the youngest Orangutans begin their rehabilitation at (although older Orangutans are welcome to come back when they want.) A warden brings milk and bananas twice a day at the same time. The food is purposefully monotonous to encourage the Orangutans to forage for themselves. Therefore the bananas are only supplementary food.

Tim and I arrived to the platform about 4 minutes before "feeding time" to see Macaques waiting on the platform (these compete for the food with the Orangutans). As we waited I turned round to see a large Orangutan peering through the platform fence behind at us. We were the only ones to notice him. He was so close and he was gorgeous! I was rooted to the spot!He didn't seem to care about us though and then he ducked his head and disappeared under the platform we were standing on, appearing through the other side to climb up to the feeding platform, causing a bit of fear amongst the Macaques!

We watched more Orangutans climbing about and when it was time for "feeding" they all congregated around the warden drinking from a tray of milk before making off with bananas; a bunch in each foot as they swung across the rope (provided from the feeding platform to prevent damage to the surrounding foliage).The Macaques made off with whatever they could grab.

The platform was very busy with people watching and it was sweltering. After, Tim and I visited the information centre, had some lunch and chilled out at the resthouse we were staying at which was owned by the centre and only yards away.

We went to see the Orangutans again for the afternoon feeding and I was glad we had been to the morning one as although there were less people there were also less Orangutans who seemed like they just wanted to get their bananas and be off thankyou very much! ,However, we did spend quite a lot of time watching the remainder older Orangutan repeatedly eat a banana and sick it up!

In the evening Tim and I went on a guided night walk into the forest. It was brilliant being the only ones in there (Me Tim and the guide). We watched a Macaque climb across a branch at the top of a tall tree, silhouetted against the darkening sky and as it got darker, the jungle got noisier, with sounds as loud as a car alarm made by insects only as big as the thumb and frequent crashing branches. I think in the Forest at night the sounds and senses are heightened so much more. The guide told us to watch for flying squirrels and I spent ages looking up one tree where we had seen one briefly, waiting for it to "fly". I was most annoyed when at the moment I decided to look round Tim shouted, "look there it is, it just flew from the tree". Oh really! The flying squirrel was obviously watching me to wait for me to look away! (I'm not paranoid, honest!) He must have taken pity on me though because as we continued looking, my head feeling like it was going to fall off with all the craning of the neck, we all (the guide, me and Tim) saw him glide from one tree to another. It was a cool sight (my powers of description fail me, but it was cool!) He seemed quite majestic. During the walk we saw a sunbird; a really small cute bird hiding under a leaf, spiders, a viper, a big scorpion, and a stick insect. The guide was apologetic that we didn't see more wildlife, but I was just happy being in there and hearing all the sounds. My imagination was running wild and I decided I would love to do a trip trekking through the jungle.

Sepilok and the Man of the Forest

Sandakan itself is not the greatest place to be, but it is the gateway to a number of nearby attractions. Chief among these is the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilition Centre about 25km away. In the morning we checked out of the New Sabah and hopped in one of the taxis that cluster outside. We could have gotten a cheaper bus to the centre but didn't get out of bed in time and we wanted to make it for the first feeding time. Gemma had phoned ahead the previous evening and booked us into the centre's rest house, right next to the gate, so we checked in and went straight into the centre.

The first feeding was actually at 10:00 rather than 09:00 like we thought, so we were able to get down to the feeding platform early. For this feeding this was a good idea as the tour buses from Kota Kinabalu all come for the morning feed so the place gets packed. And it is hot, swelteringly so. The walk to the platform is quite cool, but the platform area itself is like standing in an oven. We were kept amused by the antics of a cheeky group of Macaques and the Orangutans that started arriving. A group of people at the front of our platform were engrossed by the Orangutans on the feeding platform and only Gemma and I saw a large Orangutan pull itself up and look right at us. It then made its way under the platform and pulled itself up to the feeding area. More and more Orangutans came to the platform as did a ranger bearing milk and a bucket of bananas. The supplementary feedings that are given are deliberately monotonous to encourage the Orangutans back into the wild to feed. I think the funniest thing was watching the young Macaques being cheeky to the Orangutans. Again, conditions were not conducive to good photographs.

After looking at the mercifully small exhibition centre we chilled out until the next feed at the rest house, sitting on our balcony and reading. The PM feed was a more chilled out affair as there were a good few less people and less Orangutans present. We sat for quite a while watching an Orangutan vomit up his banana and then eat it again. This was fascinating for some reason which I can't quite explain.

In the evening we took a ranger guided walk back into the centre, basically following the trail to the feeding platform and back out looking for creatures. As well as the ever present Macaques we saw a flying squirrel (gliding in truth), a snake, a tiny bird hiding under a leaf, spiders, a stick insect and a massive great scorpion. The guide apologised for us not seeing so much, but I was happy. Just being in the forest and hearing all the noises get gradually louder as it got darker was good in itself. Some of the noises were as loud as car alarms, despite the noisemakers being insects no larger than a thumb.

Auntie Gemma

I am an Auntie again! My sister had a baby girl on the 3rd August. They have decided to call her Lily with Paige as her middle name in memory of her big sister. It is an emotional time and I wish I could give my sister a big hug.

I have seen photos of Lily and she is gorgeous (although I suppose I am biased) she has loads of hair which neither Paige or Max had when they were born. Joanne and Paul weren't sure what name her, but apparently Lily suits her.

Apparently Max has taken to her and runs over to her cot and stands on tiptoe to look in. He has even offered her "puppy' which is his special toy, so he must love her!

It is difficult being away at times like these. It will make coming home even more special though. I was in Australia when Paige was born and one of my most special memories is arriving home from the airport and seeing her for the first time.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Plan B -Sandakan

Why do the fates conspire against me? Every night before a reasonably long journey, for some reason, something happens that prevents me sleeping properly. This time very oddly it was an insistent hammering on the adjoining door between our room and the next at 3 A.M. The hammering moved to the door to the corridor so I opened it to a Malay girl in her twenties who said, "Sorry," and ran off down the hall. Actually now I think about it, this is the reaction of most women to me in my boxer shorts.

Plan B was a 6 hour bus ride to the town of Sandakan, known as a gateway to wildlife. The bus journey wasn't too bad although quite dull. Not far out of Kota Kinabalu the landscape became utterly dominated by palm oil plantation, on both sides of the road stretching as far as the eye could see. This went on for miles and miles. Eventually we had a lunch stop, but neither me or Gemma really fancied anything so we just stretched our legs in the carpark of the restaurant. When we got to Sandakan we got a taxi to a hotel mentioned in the Rough Guide (Hotel New Sabah) which was pleasingly cheap. Straight out again looking for a place we could book an overnight trip to Turtle Island a nearby haven for nesting Green and Hawksbill Turtles. At this time of year they come onto the beaches each night and lay their eggs as well as the hatchlings making their way to the sea under cover of darkness. Only 20 people are allowed to stay over on the island and hence see the turtles do their thang after dark. Unfortunately many more than 20 people want to go do it, meaning the next available date would have been a week and a half away. Instead we booked a jungle river wildlife spotting trip with overnight stay, with the option of swapping onto Turtle island in the unlikely event of a cancellation coming up. In the evening we went to a restaurant very much bigged up in the Rough Guide, The Supreme Garden Vegetarian (none of your ordinary gardens here!). It was very nice and deserving of its write up. Gemma was amazed with her substitute chicken and cashew nuts.

We weren't due to be picked up for the trip until 11:15 but we were at the pick up point stupid early so sat around in the sunshione. It was at this point, about to take a photo, that I noticed that Gemma's teleconverter was broken, and couldn't be fixed without the use of tools we didn't have. An annoyance when you are about to go wildlife spotting. The previous evening we had managed buy a pair of binoculars to replace those that I lost in South Africa. I also realised that I had lost my sunglasses -the 3rd pair lost or destroyed so far on this trip.

We were picked up by the bus and driven about 5 minutes away to S.I. Tours' jetty, amongst the village stretching out into the sea -all interconnected walkways between houses built over the water on stilts. After a short wait for everyone to arrive we met our guides, boarded our boats and set off speeding across the bay to the mouth of the Kinabatang River. On the journey up the river we only spotted a group of Proboscis Monkeys, which were fairly hidden by the trees and not totally in view. Still I view any spotted wildlife on a trip like this as a bonus and try not to get disappointed when we don't see certain things. I was happy to see many Egrets on the river as well as other birds darting past. We ate lunch at the Abai Jungle Restaurant on the river before continuing to our lodge at Sukai. There are a few lodges nestled on the riverbank here, and all fairly tastefully done, blending in reasonably well with the surrounding jungle. After a cold towel and drink we were given our key and warned the room was 'Basic'. It was fine though, and better than a lot of the places we've stayed so far.

After a fried banana snack we got into smaller boats and set off up the river towards it's tributary, the Menanggol. The tribtary is easy to spot. The Kinabatang river is the colour of under-brewed and over-milked tea whereas the Menanggol running into it is a dark chocolate. We span round where the colours mixed and along with a number of other boats from our and other lodges set off up the tributary. This is a favourite spot of the Proboscis Monkeys who like to bed down for the night in the trees by the waters edge. They have become habituated to the presence of the boat and so either watched us or just went about their monkey business. We also saw Snakes, Crocodiles, Macaques and Hornbills. All very good to see but quite difficult to photograph.

After watching wildlife we had an hour or so to get ready for dinner, which our guide assured us wa, 'No sarong, no dinner.' I wasn't too bothered by the idea, but one British guy we'd been chatting too was very much unsure, I don't think he liked the idea at all. Still in the end he came out wearing his sarong, after popping back in when he'd seen me wearing mine with a T-Shirt and realising that he didn't have to wear only the sarong. While waiting for Gemma I was watching the lizards on the porch go nuts at all the insects that were attracted by the lights. Also after the insects, and quite startingly for me, was a bat zooming right past my face down the porch.

At dinner a guide asked if anyone wanted to take a drive with one of the lodge staff looking for Elephants. I was a bit tired so decided not to, watching the jungle for wildlife is quite a tiring business, although it doesn't sound like it should be. I couldn't face peering into the dark looking for Elephants, although they are big they can hide amongst the trees pretty well. The next morning after breakfast we joined our new guide for our trip back to Sandakan. Wildlife spotting was slow, with only more Egrets, some Macaques and Hornbills being spotted. That is until shouts rang out to stop the boat. One of the other couples had spotted three Elephants feeding and drinking in the long grass at the waters edge. As we sat in the boat facing them I counted another 20 individuals joining them. I could also make out shapes and the odd flick of an ear through the trees so there were certainly a number more nearby. It was excellent sitting watching them and I managed to get what I hope are some OK photographs. At one point a pair of young bulls had a bit of a fight. The guide was as excited as we were and clicking away like a tourist, explaining to see them is quite rare and especially for so many and so clearly. Two more of the boats from our lodge appeared and we slipped away and left them to it.

At the jetty in Sandakan there was, predictably, no news of cancelled Turtle island trips, so we got dropped back at Hotel New Sabah and checked in for another night. Given the slight amusement on the staffs faces I guessed that they don't see so many repeat visitors, at least not westerners.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Bye Bye Thailand

Patrick and Noi were headed to one of Thailands East coast islands for a week or so of sitting on a beach. They invited us to join them, but we thought we'd leave them to it especially as we only had a couple of days remaining on our visa. So we booked ourselves a cheapish onward ticket with Air Asia, the Ryanair of the region. And off we went to Borneo. It was quite sad leaving Thailand when we just felt we were getting used to it and learning a (tiny) bit of the language, which I'm fairly sure will be forgotten quite quickly.

Borneo is the worlds third largest island and is split into 4 sections, Brunei, Kalimantan belonging to Indonesia, and Sabah and Sarawak belonging to Malaysia. We chose to go to Sabah with the idea of getting to see some wildlife again.

The flight across was OK, a reasonable 2 hours 50 minutes, although just long enough to get thoroughly bored. Take off and landing are the only interesting bits of flying, the rest consisting pretty much of uncomfortable tedium. And on no frills airlines there is not even any film or Nintendo to stave off the boredom. After landing we were quite surprised to see that the extended visa we got on our initial entry into Malaysia was treated as a multiple entry visa, so we have no time pressures on leaving the country. We cleared immigration, picked up our bags and went to the taxi desk. In the queue an English girl asked whether we'd like to share the cost of a taxi into town. We agreed and set off toward a backpackers that we found a leaflet for. Unfortunately there was no (non-dorm) room at the inn, so we had to have a little bit of a look for somewhere. On the plus side Kota Kinabalu is quite small and fairly well endowed with accomodation options. We tried another place that was a bit expensive and they directed us round the corner to a cheaper room. We were fairly happy with the poky room and double bed they offered us, but the girl wasn't happy with the single they showed her, so we parted company.

The next day after barely sleeping because of noisy neighbours in the hotel we got up and out and were surprised to see a blue sky. This was somewhat of a novelty for our time in South East Asia until that point, most days having been cloudy at best or chucking it down at worst. A couple of days of information gathering and chores (Internet, Laundry, etc) ensued. Working out a rough plan of what to try and see and where to go and the order in which to do it, occupied a surprising amount of time. We tried to book accomodation at Mount Kinabalu National Park, but it was the weekend coming up and big groups had been more organised and gotten in before us. Because of the cost of accomodation in the park we've even lowered our standards down to a dorm room -shudder. Plan B was hastily devised.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Chop

Whilst in Surin Tim and I decided to have our haircut, or rather I decided for Tim as his hair was rapidly becoming a mullet. I dislike having my haircut at the best of times, disliking the typical hairdresser chat. As I am already in Thailand on holiday I figured that they couldn't very well ask where I was going on my holidays, so bravely walked into one of the very many hairdressers on our street.

My hairdresser was called Nit which amused me. Nit asked me what I wanted. I pointed to her hair as it looked a similar style to how I have mine cut at home. "Oh, mine o.k". The next 15 minutes were quite painful as I sat watching my mane like hair being hacked away and falling away in handfulls. Tim remarked that there was enough hair on the floor for two wigs. I have been trying to grow my hair for some time. No longer.

I'm sure that Nit "cut" my hair like hers, but Thai hair is a lot thicker than my wispy hair so isn't exactly like hers. I'm sure I have conjured up all sorts of images of lovely hairstyles, but actually it is ok and I like it. The plus is it is a lot lighter which is good in this heat. Tim's is alright. He had the standard shave, but he had some job getting them to use the shortest setting on the shaver with much consternation on their part. We can't complain anyway as the two haircuts cost two quid total.

Bangkok -the return

We spent 2 nights in Bangkok, again eschewing Khao San road, this time staying at the same place as Patrick and Noi, V.P. Tower. This is where Patrick used to live when he was in Bangkok teaching English a few years back. The staff recognised him, probably from the amount of times he had to ask for the toilet to be unblocked.

We didn't really do a lot in Bangkok this time as it rained a lot and we simply couldn't be bothered. The area local to V.P. Tower (Victory Monument area) had enough eateries and bars to keep us busy so we pretty much stayed around there except for a brief foray down to a mall in town so Patrick could buy some flip flops. We somehow managed to lose him in the mall. I quite enjoyed looking out from the balcony of our room (on the 17th, and top, floor) watching people scurrying about their business, like ants, on the pavements below.