On the Road Again 6 Monday 13th to Sunday 19th

Monday 13th March

Woke up to a beautiful morning and while we breakfasted, Brandon approached and suggested an afternoon trip to Baku National Park to watch the Orang-utans coming to feed. We decided to go to the Art Museum in the morning and be back for the 2 o'clock departure.

The museum is quite new and was very interesting and informative about the Sarawak people, traditions and culture through contemporary, modern and traditional art, textiles and sculptures.

A baby carrier
A longhouse decoration

A whizz round the Ethnology Museum which highlights Borneo's rich indigenous culture. Complete with a full sized long house and a rather dusty, collection of stuffed indigenous wildlife, it was equally interesting and deserved a longer viewing. However, the Orangutans were waiting ......

It was a half an hour walk to get back to Basaga where Brendan and his assistant Tanty were waiting to take us to the Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre - a sanctuary for a colony of Orangutans. It was half an hour's drive to Semenggoh and we were warned that if the conditions weren't right we might not see anything.

Immediately we arrive we are rushed off to one of the feeding areas and gradually they appear, first from the tree tops and then there is excitement when Ritchie 'the big daddy' of them all is sighted. It is interesting to note that the others give him a very wide berth. He was majestic in his nonchalance of the small crowd of admirers and he ate slowly and calmly looking at us, looking at him.


You don't mess with Ritchie. He's killed or maimed many of the other male Orangutans in Semenggok. Some had to be relocated for their own wellbeing. The public toilets in the Park have been trashed so many times by him; toilet bowls, handbasins scattered over the car park, that the authorities have given up and closed them down!

The other Orangutans kept to a safe distance!

I loved the way the staff could identify every animal and give a detailed and fond character analysis of each one.

We were lucky to see at least eight of these wonderful creatures. Easy to spot really as the trees bend and sway precariously as they approach. You hear them before you see them.

Other things spotted at the park:

I was very brave and held this millipede!
A variety of 'pitcher' plants

After feeding time, the park is closed to visitors and Brendon dropped us off by the waterfront in Kuching.

The River Sarawak

Strange circular boat!

Love these colourful bamboos

Chinese quarter

Kuching is supposed to mean place of cats so everywhere you look there are statues of cats:

Love Kuching - it's so relaxed compared to Mainland Malaysia and Thailand. The smiling faces remind me of Thailand 25 years ago.

Brandon and Tanty recommended Top Spot for dinner which strangely enough was situated on top of a car park. Famous for its sea food, it didn't disappoint. Although I think we made some bad choices ourselves.

Top Spot

The famous durian which is banned in every hotel!

Sad fish

Lobsters galore

End of a busy day....

Tuesday 14th March

Early start this morning - up at 6.30. We have to get to Bako National Park which entails a boat trip and as it is tidal, timing is crucial. We are travelling with a young French couple, Kenny and Mathilde. Very good travel companions - very chatty and interesting. Mathilda is a video editor and Kenny ( can't remember) It is about half an hour's drive to the river where we meet our guide, Ismadi. He is a large, jovial guy with a scarcity of teeth and instantly likeable.


This is his village & he knows the area well.

Ismadi's village
Transport to Baku

As soon as we arrive we see this fine chap - a Bornean Bearded Pig. He is totally unconcerned with our presence and we get very close to him.

The Bornean Bearded Pig

The rangers communicate with each other to let us know where there are sightings of animals, so straight away we are whisked off to see a group of silver-leaf monkeys AND a baby which causes much excitement. The babies are a bright orange colour until they are six months old when they become silvery-grey like the adults.

Then more excitement as word reaches us of a sighting of proboscis monkeys. Sad that I didn't get any good pictures of them. They were very high up in the trees and not easy to spot apart from their white tails.

I'll never make a wild life photographer!

Baku is home to 37 species of mammal & has seven distinct ecosystems. We were lucky to see a variety of plants and animals on our trek with Ismadi

Hermit crabs
Stingless Bees' nests
Monitor lizard
Fiddler crabs
Mother & baby viper
A Flying Lemur

We walked back along the coast to avoid the Macaques, who can be very vicious. Ismadi tells us about the uses & medicinal qualities of the plants along the way.

Our guide, Kenny and Mathilde
Rock formations in the jungle
Squeezing through the rocks to the beach
First through the mangroves
Then through the mud
Passed spectacular sandstone formations
To the beach
Back to the reception/ cafe area
For our packed lunch

Then back on the ferry ......

Return before the tide turned
Where Tanty was waiting to drive us to Basaga

Torrential, continuous rain this evening meant we ate in and read our books.

Brilliant day though!

Wednesday 15th March

Beautiful morning after the rain last night

We are off to Gunung Gading National Park which is 85 km NW of Kuching and an hour and a half's drive. Kenny & Mathilde are joining us with Brandon & Tanty, our guides.

Tanty is keen to buy us a few snacks
Amazing variety of natural snacks

Gunung Gading is the best place in Sarawak to see the world's largest flower - the Rafflesia. The rainforest covers the slopes of four mountains and contains trees that are particularly valuable for timber so they have some protection here.

The Rafflesia can grow up to 75cm but are unpredictable and something that happens here only 25 times a year and it only lasts for about five days!

Brandon of course had phoned the park and established that there was a flower. He discovered roughly where it was and we followed.

Passing wild peanuts on the way
A Lantern Bug
Finally, it was sighted
Rafflesia have a 9 month gestation
This one should open fully tomorrow

Then we trekked to one of the three waterfalls for a much needed swim...

Very refreshing & quite deep in places

On the trek back, nearly walked into this fella ....

A young Viper

You don't get too close to these!

Ate in a Malaysian equivalent of fast food on the way home; really good! More heavy rain on the drive back.

Thursday 16th March

Today we fly to Miri but the flight isn't until 7.50 pm so we have the day in Kuching. After packing & leaving our bags in reception, we head into town. First, a walk along the waterfront ....

Just caught!
Not sure how authentic these were

Visited the Chinese Museum. The Chinese account for 30% of the Malaysian population.

They have contributed a huge amount to the Malaysian culture and have at least 6 distinct dialects within their own descendants.

Around the Chinese Quarter

And the rest of the town.

Lunch at a Thai Restaurant & then walk back to Basaga to say goodbye to Kenny & Mathilde and order a taxi to the airport. But Brandon says he will drive us there. We are given gifts of T-shirts & a fridge magnet!

Flight to Miri is slightly delayed (most are) and we get a taxi to the home stay - Tree Tops which is owned by an English BA pilot & his Malaysian wife. They are on holiday at the moment so it is being run by his sister in law.

Taxi driver was unsure of the way so we had to phone and be directed in ......

Very peaceful and a bit cooler than Kuching.

Outside our room

Friday 17th March

Today we are mostly doing caves. The Niah National Park caves to be exact. We hired a car for the day from our home stay and as the round trip is estimated to take at least 5 to 6 hours, we should make an earlyish start. We don't want to have to find our way home in the dark!

Making our way down to breakfast

Through the lush garden

Longhouse - backpackers accommodation

The car journey took just over an hour

Our ferry boat

Then we had to cross the river - luckily by boat!

Trying to find the ticket office!

It seemed like we were the only ones there.

Apart from this laid back cat!

Then it was a 4.5 Km walk through the jungle to the start of the cave complex.

Niah is one of Sarawak's smaller National Parks but it is famous as one of the birthplaces of human civilisation and so one of the most important archaeological sites in the world. In 1958 a skull was discovered which was estimated to be 40,000 years old. As the excavations continued it became clear that there was continued human presence here for tens of thousands of years

Rock overhang just before the caves

Then the Great Cave comes into view. Over 60m high and 250m wide. It is a spectacular entrance and even better once you have climbed the stairs to the top and look out through the stalactites, overhangs and the dangling creepers to the surrounding jungle scenery.

Two occupations that still go on in the caves today are the guano collecting and birds' nest gathering. Guano (bird and bat dropping) is collected and sold as fertiliser and birds' nests (from the swiftlets who share the caves with the bats) are cleaned and cooked to produce the highly prized Chinese birds' nest soup. The Park management have to constantly monitor the caves to deter illegal collections. This is a seasonal activity and there were no collections being made while we were there.

After the Great Cave we had to switch on our torches to enter the dark cave or Moon Cave. The walkway here was extremely dangerous and slippery and the torches attracted clouds of midges.

We couldn't hurry for fear of falling and it was a relief to reach light. We continued on the plank walk out into the jungle once more till we reached the Painted Cave. Once again it meant a treacherous scramble up a slippery, steep slope to the opening.

The paintings are very difficult to see. As our eyes adjusted we could just make out a few reddish objects but it was a bit disappointing. A guide would have been helpful at this point.

They are not the best preserved caves we have visited especially at the entrances which have a fair amount of graffiti.

Then we had to retrace our steps back through the different caves. A total of nearly 12 km today. Then the hour's drive back to Tree Tops. Slight detour as we took the wrong road but back in time for a much needed shower before dinner.

We are the only ones here tonight.

Saturday 18th March


Our room

Garden walk

The food from the garden is all organic: Papayas, pineapples, coconuts ......

Our flight to Bario is at 12.30 today so we have a leisurely breakfast and pack. I'm a bit nervous of this flight because it is going to be a very small propeller plane (a 15 seater) and the weather is crucial - if it is bad weather, it doesn't fly.

Our plane

When we book in, not only do our bags get weighed but we do as well!

The tiny hold is crammed
Oh joy! I'm sitting right at the front!!

My seat is right behind the pilot; at least I can see them smiling to each other - very reassuring!

The flight is surprisingly smooth but very noisy. We fly beneath the clouds so the view is fantastic but as I'm sitting in the middle, photography is not really an option.

Muddy river meanders through the jungle

It is mountain and jungle interspersed with logging roads, very little evidence of habitation. There is now a road from Bario to Miri but it only a logging road and takes 14 hours. Our plane ride was 50 minutes.

A smooth landing
We offered to carry our own luggage - but no ...
Bario Airport
Bario - the 'capital' of the Kelabit Highlands

We had a 'handshake' welcome from the staff and then Scot, our host, arrived to take us to the Longhouse. After a quick unpack and a look around

Even though it is only a 20 minute walk into town, we take advantage of a lift from Scott to visit the new Rainforest Information Centre.

It's a very small exhibition but it describes the two main local tribes; the Kelabits, who number only about 6500 and the Penan a more remote, nomadic tribe.

The walk back is so peaceful and almost traffic free.

The only good road we were to discover

Dinner is a communal affair and the food is locally sourced from the surrounding forest. Bario is famous for three things; rice (we are surrounded by paddy fields), pineapples and natural spring salt. We have dishes of local wild boar, rice of course, free range chicken (everywhere you walk in Bario) tapioca, and wild green vegetables spread out for us to help ourselves. Lunch at 1 pm and dinner at 7 pm.

We share the dinning table with two young Malaysian men, Jo and Jong, an older Dutch couple and their daughter-in-law, Tanu, who is Indian and her son Ishan. They are expecting Tanu's husband Hans but he has missed a plane connection & may be delayed for days.


Jong and Ishan

Tanu, Doug and Jo

Drees and (?)

Sunday 19th March

Today is Sunday and what do we do on Sunday? We go to church of course. The grandmother of this house is very religious and is very pleased when , Drees, his wife, Jo, Jong and I, say we would like to come along. I nearly back out when I hear it could be three hours long but I think if I stand at the back I can sneak out.

In the end we all walk in with grandma. As we approach we can hear the pastor and the tone is one of hellfire and damnation. Don't like the sound of this!

Grandma leads us to seats in the middle of a very plain, square hall, decked with mostly pink, plastic chairs.. There is a good congregation there with no 'age' dominating and an equal spread of male & female. The Pastor finished speaking almost as soon as we arrived and nearly half the congregation stood up and walked to the front to form a choir while 4/5 young men picked up instruments and the songs began. The songs (hymns?) were simple to follow and the words were projected above the stage. They were catchy and evangelical in flavour and quite repetitious so before long I was singing along with the best of them.

The larger choir sat down and a small core stayed along with the band and they were joined by the dancers; a group of about 7 adolescent girls who swayed and gestured along to the music. It was all good fun for about 3/4 of an hour. Then the music stopped and the sermon began. The Pastor was not the one who had lead the singing, but a visiting evangelical missionary. He spoke in Malay but interspersed his talk with a few words of English, whether for our benefit or not, I'm not sure. It meant we could sort of follow the thread. Then after another 3/4 of an hour, it was all over and we left feeling a warm glow of good feeling to all around us!

The day was sunny and warm and after lunch, Jo and Jong said they were going to climb Prayer Mountain and we decided to join them. The plan was to ride the bikes to the starting trail and then hike. There were plenty of bikes to choose from at our place and we set off.

Unfortunately, we soon hit the 'normal' logging roads which were excruciating on the bottom, so one by one we gave up the challenge and walked our bikes to the start of the trek.

It was soon obvious that this was going to be a challenge. The track became steep very quickly. It was slippery and muddy and if it wasn't for a rope tied to trees along the route, we couldn't have made it. We hauled ourselves up and had to take a good few rest stops until we arrived at a very basic, rustic church, but this was only about two thirds of the way and the weather was turning!

The rustic church

The last third was very tough and we met a few walkers returning from the summit who called out encouragement and told us we were only 20 minutes/5 minutes!! from the top. It was more like 20 minutes.

By the time we reached the top, it had started to rain and the 'wonderful view' we'd been promised was completely obscured by dark, thunder clouds and a dramatic fork of lightning. We hastily took a couple of photos beside the large cross which we could see as we flew in to Bario the day before and then we had to face the decent.

Looking like a boiled lobster!

Jong, the fittest of the four

The proud 'oldies' but forked lightning and a large metal cross on top of a Mt - not a good combo!

All I can say is 'thank goodness for the rope!' We all got down with no major injuries and 'walked' our bicycles' most of the way home.

Amazingly blue berries

Looking back

Showers, food and the end of an eventful, diverse day.

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