MALAYSIAN BORNEO – Nature lovers paradise

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Finally, another destination bucket list tick! There’s only one thing on my mind… ORANGUTANS (and more recently, thanks to my buddy, Molly… the sun bears)

Left scary Lombok for chilli crab in Singapore for 3 days.. now I’m here.

Started in Kota Kinabalu.. thankfully it rained lots so I finally edited some of my 21 folders full of images.

 

KOTA KINABALU

City is named after the local mountain.. which is a beautiful sight when it’s not covered in cloud. Surprisingly much bigger than any other mountain I’ve come across here in Borneo.

Meh, KK – it’s a small city… more like Geelong but with skinny, tanned people and less visible butt tattoos.

The waterfront could use a revamp, but there are some cool restaurants and bars over looking the water and islands. It’s a great spot to watch the sunset.

I was “stuck” in bar because the rain came in horizontally, so being undercover outdoors wasn’t going to keep me dry.. inside I go and I think the rain stopped around midnight.. well, let’s stick with that guess. Chatted to another Aussie who had just come back from Uncle Tan’s Wildlife trek – (Bee (my bro) had only just mentioned this very same trek earlier that day) so after that chat I was sold and booked my tickets the following day.

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Breakfast of champions – substantial weight gain in Malaysia, the food is spectacular!

 

Uncle Tans Wildlife trek

Being covered in sticky, smelly and pointless bug repellant – the fuckers even attack through clothing and two layers of repellant.

The catfish jumping in the water around the huts sounded bigger than they actually were.

The tree roots that look like they’re shrouded in a greenish sheet and pretending to be ghosts at Halloween.

The birds! So many exotic, chatty, colourful birds.

Evil macacques, lots of evil monkeys.

ORANGUTAN in the wild.. not a rehab centre behind glass.

Probiscus monkeys – they look like someone stuck a penis on their faces

Squirrels – black ones and brown ones. Saw one in the camp’s resident cat, Putut’s, mouth and taken into someone else’s hut.

Mutant bugs that sound like airborne chainsaws.

The night noises so much louder than during the day – mainly teeny tiny frogs.

Being the only person in my tour ‘group’ – this place can hold up to 80 people.. I’m currently the only one here during the 5 hour transition of new and old groups.. so I get undivided attention and extra long safaris

Iddy biddy Bats dive-bombing you at night as you and your low battery torch find your way back to the hut or bathroom along the rickety, wooden, large gapped footbridge/track over water.

Being impressed by the guides that can spot an inch long frog in the dark (with torch) from 50mts away in a moving boat.

Bugs. So. Many. Bugs.

Learning which tropical plants are edible and which are topically medicinal.

Butterflies that float and actually glide in the breeze-less, thick tropical air as though they were eagles searching their prey whilst using the thermals to use less energy and keep their high vantage point.

No shower for 3 days – all weight gain from here was purely sweat, mosquito bites and repellant.

Bright starry skies at night without light pollution and no moon.

No rain starting from the day I arrived – finally Mother Nature’s weather isn’t trying to scare me off – just her mutant tropical bugs tested me.

Singing karaoke whilst the staff play drums – drums being the loose floorboard in a certain spot at the table along with the table top and tambourine – acoustic guitars and more tambourines.

I SAW A SLOW LORIS! Big hi-fives and even a hug in excitement from Otto for finding this little beasty.

Everything is damp. I mean clothes, but those parts of the body that don’t see much daylight didn’t see dryness the whole time as well.

Mosquitoes absolutely smashed my calves on my morning trek.. and I was wearing full length pants with one layer of repellant underneath and one on top. I’ve recently found out that it’s the female mozzies that bite and that blood extraction is purely to produce children. I can officially say I’m an egg donor and have children all over the world. On top of this new knowledge, these blood suckers have a thirst for beer swilling blood providers. Basically, I’m screwed.

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Fireflies. Little dancing fairy lights in the darkness.

Bioluminescent fungi! These little mushrooms, unassuming by day, lit the pitch black forest at night like Christmas trees

Honestly, I’m unsure if there’s anything that makes my soul happier than being in nature.

Is there anything Peppermint can’t do? This little oil has stopped itchies from mozzies in every country, and it is immediate relief.

The palm oil plantations… everywhere! Something like 80% of Borneo (Indo and Malay) was logged and turned into palm oil plantations. Now there are only 3 primary forests – but currently 10 secondary forests that were rebuilt starting in 1987 and hopefully more to come.

My hero, Otto, used to work in conservation and with the WWF, so he’s helped a lot in Malay Borneo to rebuild the forest and save the animals from extinction. A very knowledgeable man.

 

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Simple accommodation – usually shared, but I had this to myself. 🙂

 

THE ROAD TO SEMPORNA

An hour boat ride out of the jungle to the port we saw a few crocs along the river banks. The Spanish couple with me were so excited about 1-2mt crocs.. 😏 As we Aussies know, they’re just little ‘uns!

The Spanish couple had organised a car pick up so it’s just me to travel in the 22 seater bus alone (again) with the driver.

It’s an hour and a half trip to do the 100+kms into Lahad Dahtu. Pretty uneventful trip so I spent a lot of time frowning at all the palm oil plantations that have successfully ruined 80% of this island’s forestry.

I arrive at a petrol station to meet with my next bus. My driver, I’ve named Uncle Noddy, has been waiting just for me. There are only 5 of us making the journey to Semporna.. a measly 150kms away.

I’m given more royal treatment by being allowed to sit up front with Uncle Noddy and there’s a young Malay man who sits in the first row of the back of the bus and chats non-stop most of the way. Thankfully his English was pretty good so he acted as a translator at times with Uncle Noddy – whom spoke very broken English.

The chats turned to me being a solo traveller and not having a husband or children on so many occasions along with offers from him (36yo) and Uncle (60yo) to be my boyfriend. Uncle Noddy made sure I was aware of his.. umm.. stamina and power by using hand/arm actions!

After about 70kms, which has taken about 2hrs thus far due to the old bus’s ability to travel at approx 40-50kms p/h – any faster she’d overheat – the conversation has dropped off and I’m grateful for not being in the spotlight. That is until I see Uncle Noddy drifting off to sleep at the wheel.

There are only so many fake coughs one can do to help keep him awake and the rest of us alive. I offer lollies in the hope a sugar hit will liven him up.. nope. So I employ the help of youngin in the back to keep Uncle awake. A few slaps on the arm and more talking were starting to fail. Next option?

“Hey Uncle! Let me drive and you sleep.” Using charades and simple words to get my point across. He seemed keen on the idea so I waited patiently for him to stop and let me drive. After some time I kept pestering him and my translator to pull over and let me drive but the damn translator wanted to be dropped off before he’d allow a woman to drive.

Finally, we’re 60kms from destination and translator gets off. I take my chance – after the selfie request by translator – and jump into the bus’s drivers seat.

It seems Uncle Noddy has changed his mind and is nervous so we discuss for about 5 mins whilst I reassure him I can drive a manual (didn’t tell him that I’ve never driven a bus before).

Uncle gets into passenger seat after much reassurance from me and we’re off!

The remaining people on the bus (we had collected a few more along the way by this stage) were all wide eyed and staring at me in a nervous panic. The smoothest gear changes (I’ve possibly ever done) convinces the passengers and Uncle that I know what I’m doing.. all is well with the world.

Uncle kindly shares his snacks with me on our road trip – which I’m grateful for due to tight schedule and missing lunch. He’s much better as a passenger.

I do all the pick ups and drop offs, including into Uncle’s narrow laned village to drop nappies and snacks off to his family.

As I dropped one of the original passengers off I asked for his $35 ringgit – he found that extremely amusing.

Many people in cars, buses and on the side of the road clearly know Uncle and his van as he does this trip every day (and at that pace) so when they saw me driving there would be huge smiles or clapping.

Each time new passengers got on board their eyes popped when they saw who was driving.. until I take off.. then Uncle ever so proudly turns to the new passengers and gives them the nod. I think he’s proud of me and showing off a little!

After my 60kms we arrive at the bus terminal around 4:30pm and receive lots of smiles and hi-fives. Even an older female, original passenger, shakes my hand and says thanks.

I ask if I’m to catch a taxi to my homestay from here but uncle wouldn’t hear of it. He personally drove me in the bus to my accommodation.

Win! Although, I was still charged full price $35 ringgit.

And damn funny. I am now the latest of Marvel’s superheroes after the lives I saved.. they call me Blonde Bus-lady. Wonder Woman is envious I’m sure.

 

 

 

SEMPORNA

Even though this a tourist location I still seemed to be the only blonde wandering the streets. I finally understand what Tom Waits meant when he sang “I’m big in Japan”.. I’m so tall here!

Not much to the town. It’s dilapidated with many homes and shops scantily covered in rusty corrugated iron sheets and plastic.. and boasts a substantial amount of seafood eateries by the water. Makeshift markets taking up narrow laneways making the walk to certain areas longer than necessary due to the bottleneck of people shopping or trying to pass through.

Homestays seem to be the go.. maybe because most of Semporna is booked out with Chinese tourists – surprisingly something the locals don’t like. They prefer western tourists from what several of the locals have told me.

Hosanna Homestay was quite simple yet pricey for just a room with a bed with aircon.. bathroom was shared with 3 other rooms. The hosts very helpful and were in the process of prettying up the place.

$70 AUD p/n. Dependant on the type of solo traveller you are, there’s a room to suit your needs and budget with these homestays.

Kampung massage – Bayu Spa & Beauty – yesssssss!! More perfect SE Asian Massage. They tried to turn me away, but upon seeing my sad face they decided to look after me. On top of the awesome massage the very kind therapist gave me a small Aura Seri Spray to help with my stress. (May have something to do with Mother Nature trying to kill me… or the bus drive). More selfie requests from the staff made me feel special.

 

Officially THE worst “toilet” in SE Asia so far.

 

THE WATER

Went out for a day snorkelling trip with Borneo Speedy Dive tours and once again, this lucky solo traveller was assigned a guide all for myself. The lovely Victor was so sweet, kind, helpful and just as excited about finding the biggest turtles I’ve ever seen. If he had front teeth I’d consider being his wife #2. (Never mind the fact about becoming a Muslim)

I swear the more I snorkel the better the reefs and diversity of marine life… We swam with huge turtles that would have been close to my height – that’s if they were actually ninja turtles and could stand.

Saw a multitude of fish – tuna, crocodile fish, all the usual tropicals, angel fish as big as my head, a moray eel and the really punk (spikey) lion fish.

My super guide, Victor, took control of my new GoPro Hero5 – it’s friggen AWESOME! – and gained a lot of exceptional footage because he’s a free diver that can hold his breath much longer than my piddly 30 seconds.

What a day! They had to force me out of the water (Total of about 3 hours swimming over two locations) because all my Chinese counterparts wanted to go home. I suggested just leaving me there – this water is home to me.

The reefs are in great condition around these islands. Brilliant and bright colours showcased against the aqua expanse. These Malay people are wise enough to not allow people to wear sunscreen (other than a natural one), no standing on or touching any coral – even though I’m told it’s hard to control “so many stupid Chinese”! Not my words.

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I really wanted to visit Indonesian Borneo, but, due to my hasty exit from Lombok and not having time to research, it was too hard to get from Semporna – which is stupidly close to the Indo border – into Indonesia without going all the way to KL first. Madness I tells ya.

Overall I found Sabah kinda pricey for a SE Asian country that didn’t have the usual perks – like decent accommodation. But as usual all the locals are super friendly, kind and the guides I had went above and beyond to make sure my solo butt was well cared for.

A big shout out to Otto and Eim at Uncle Tan’s and for Victor at Borneo Speedy Dive tours. These guys all made me feel well looked after.

It’s funny how one day out in the ocean can make you change your mind about a place. Maybe, because I’m a water lover, my want to never leave the pristine coral and marine life made this place special.

 

 

What are your thoughts on Malaysia? I have a ticket to fly back there, but into Kuala Lumpur, and would love more feedback on where to and what to do… off the beaten path of course.

 

Its all about education of the mind body and spirit…. and being a water baby.

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