Drain forest Pipe life

Right. If things go to plan, this will be the last but one episode of the holiday which Helen and I took in Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo during October 2019.

With 5 days of (mostly) early starts and wildlife behind us, we’d scheduled in a couple of relaxing days before heading home. So on Tuesday we got up later than usual, had a breakfast, and packed. While counting up how much local currency we had, I got enormously frustrated at there being two coin denominations which each come in two sizes and colours. Behave!

After expert Tetris in our enormous suitcase, we paid up and checked out of the hotel. With a few hours to kill we got them to store our bags and walked back down to the waterfront for one last time.

There wasn’t much going on, but we didn’t expect there to be. This was our one opportunity to do souvenir shopping. The road which goes along the waterfront is called Main Bazaar, and it’s full of souvenir shops (plus minimarts and hardware stores). It’s not right pretty.

Satisfied with a couple of affordable wooden bird ornaments, found amongst a bewildering array of properly expensive antiques, we returned to the hotel, bumping into Paul who’d taken us to Bako on the way. Once we’d retrieved our luggage we asked the hotel to call us a cab to our next accommodation: The Culvert, in Santubong.

A few minutes later our driver, Mr Hoo, turned up in an air-conditioned motor. He was a friendly bloke with a loud voice and a hell of a strong accent. He drove us past the Cat Museum, pretty much the only thing we could legitimately consider something we missed out on. It’s a fair bit out of the town centre, up on the hill with great views, and the nearest roundabout is full of cat-shaped topiary.

Santubong is beyond the boat club from where we’d done the evening wildlife cruise on the previous Friday. In total it’s about a 45 minute drive beyond the city. Mr Hoo asked us about our plans for when we leave, and successfully convinced us to book him for the ride to the airport on Thursday.

Reaching the Culvert at about 2.15pm or so, we checked in and were given vouchers to exchange for meals, having booked full board. We could opt to have a lunch voucher for immediate use, or to use post-checkout in 2 days time. Choosing the former, we were shown the direction to our “room”.

I put “room” in quotes because it’s not exactly a room in traditional sense. The Culvert is an eco-resort, and all the “rooms” are made of water pipes. When finding this place online, months and months prior, it looked fantastic. And first impressions are good: the rooms are kinda funky, on a hillside overlooking the water. In fact no, let’s not say hillside: it’s on the side of Mount Santubong.

But it was a royal pain just to get there. OK, that’s mostly because I was carting a 30kg suitcase, but it could’ve been easier. There’s not much to be done about staircases on a mountainside, but the flat bits were periodic concrete slabs separated by gravel. That is, not something you can wheel a case over easily.

The pathways lead in front of each room/suite, directly past the window next to the bed. So while it would be nice to wake up, open the curtains and look out over the sea, there’s zero privacy if you do that. Our place was a “king suite”, which meant we had en-suite bathroom - most pipes require the guests to use one of the communal pipes which are loos and showers. Even the en-suite isn’t without peril though: it’s a separate building (rather than, say, us staying in a longer pipe than most) and the gap between them is pretty much open air and highly visible, especially given the proximity of the neighbouring pipes.

In summary, it’s not the luxury resort we’d thought – but is basically glamping. I’m trying not to sound like these are complaints, because they’re not really. If anything, we were less disappointed and more full of ideas for how they could improve upon it. Think of the UX!

But anyway. Lunch! Back up the stairs to the restaurant, for pizza and vegetarian sandwiches plus a couple of beers. Retaining the not-as-upmarket-as-we’d-thought vibe, it’s a fairly bog standard selection of food and unexciting lagers. But it’s nice enough, and unexciting lager is perfect for Malaysian weather. Also there’s a pretty fantastic pool next to it.

After lunch, Helen went for a dip while I lounged on a lounger to write up our Bako and Kubah expeditions. There’s been worse places to type a diary entry.

After this we explored the rest of the resort. There’s a small sauna, a sunset deck, an outdoor “gym” (running machine and stationary bike), another pool with a bar next to it, a smoking deck, and a beach. Reaching any of these from any of the others involves ascending or descending steep stairs with only loose rope on the edge. It was a very good job our leg muscles had had such a huge workout on the previous days or all this would’ve been a bit bloody much.

We saw very few other guests around. Not zero, but very few. Both bar and restaurant have way too little seating if the place were full, mind. I stayed chilling by the pool while Helen went back to change for the evening. Before lunch we went to the smoking deck so she could vape as the light faded.

At the restaurant we had, I dunno, some stuff for dinner. Mini pizzas and fish and chips I think? And a few bottles of lager, the odd cocktail. Not a great deal, especially since they close at 9pm. Bizarrely, you’re allowed to charge the booze to your room (“full board” isn’t all inclusive) but have to settle up each night. Huh. Weird. At the end of the night the kitchen staff (it’s out in the open) were preparing a lot of fruit, presumably for the morning, and proud enough of their work to be taking photos of it.

I’ve been saying “restaurant”. Perhaps not quite the right word?

Back in the room, actually going to bed highlights one of the other problems with such a layout: one of us is gonna have to clamber over t’other!

In the morning we popped up for breakfast, only to discover all the fruit had been eaten already. The rest of the buffet was ... OK. Much worse than in KL and at Kuching, tbh. But whatever, it filled a hole. Afterwards Helen booked a massage for mid-morning, during which I dozed in the room while watching Netflix on the android tablet provided as part of the room facilities.

The rest of the day was basically the same as the previous one. OK, perhaps not quite: Helen dipped in and I lounged next to the lower pool rather than the upper one.

It’s nearer the beach, which we did head down to but the tide was about half a mile out.

The trees kept us entertained for a bit, with numerous birds and a couple of squirrels making their presence known. A cicada or two made a loud noise like a bandsaw most of the day, and we both got bitten to fuck by loads of mosquitos.

During lunch, a large contingent arrived from some company, on a team building exercise. They took over most of the restaurant doing those kinda trust exercises that involve being blindfolded and falling backwards onto your colleagues, so we ate down by the other pool, with the nice rainforest sounds drowned out by terrible music from the bar’s speakers. No-one wanted this.

The restaurant was predictably busy in the evening, since the team builders had a big table to themselves with their own buffet food. We had an identical evening to the previous, only with fewer geckos wandering about. We’d had a relaxing day, stairs notwithstanding, but were ready to go home now.

On Thursday morning, having packed pretty easily – our travelling clothes are the bulkiest, making things simpler – we had our disappointing breakfast and checked out. Mr Hoo wasn’t coming to get us until 1130 giving us 90-odd minutes to kill, except he turned up at 1045. We’re done with Borneo, let’s make our way home. That’ll be the next and final episode of this trip, assuming I can ever be bothered to type it up.

Created By
Darren Foreman