Borneo Archives

December 16, 2008

Borneo - Here We Come

We did it! We booked our air tickets to Borneo today. Making the first reservation is always the hardest part of traveling for me.

Back in November, we were looking for a place to visit in January or February. I started to follow the airfare to Rome but it just didn't excite us. I took a look at the airfare to Australia - still up around 1500-2000. What about New Zealand? Even higher - 2000-2500.

Originally uploaded by cornstaruk

G suggested looking at Southeast Asia. Bangkok was more reasonable, 850-900. Possible. We love to trave; to places where there are plants or gardens that interest us. We have been seeing Rafflessia - the largest flower in the world. We also have a collection of nepenthes, carnivorous pitcher plants. Both of these plants grow on the island of Borneo. I even bought G a book on the "Pitcher Plants of Borneo" when I visited Singapore in 2000. People have also told us about Mount Kinabalu in Borneo. I'm not in any shape to climb this 13,000ft peak but I wouldn't mind doing some day hikes along the trail to the top.

I checked out the flights to Kota Kinabalu (KK) and discovered that Asiana airlines flies to KK from Seattle via Seoul. And the airfare wasn't bad. Less than $1,000 US! It was much easier to go via Seoul than going via Los Angeles to Singapore or Kuala Lumpur. Coming back is not going to be great since we have a 12 hour layover in Seoul but we hope to do a half day tour from the airport.

For the past couple of weeks, we have been pouring over every guidebook on Borneo we could get from the library. I searched the forums and googled different destinations. We worked up a potential itinerary, discussed dates and decided to go for it.

I also sent off a reservation request to the Borneo Rainforest Lodge. Several people have recommended this lodge on Fodors and it sounds like a great place to see wildlife in the wild instead of rehabilitation center.

Now to work on accommodations.

December 17, 2008

Where is Borneo?

View Larger Map

Do you know where Borneo is located? I didn't. I had a little bit of an idea but I had to break out the atlas to get a good idea of where it is located.

Borneo is an island in Southeast Asia. The South China Sea borders the island to the north. Across the South China Sea is Vietnam and Cambodia. Malaysia is to the west. Indonesia is to the west and south. The Philippines are to the East. It is the third largest island in the world. It is also the third highest mountain with Mt. Kinabalu at 13,435 ft.

The island is administered by three countries. The southern half of the island is Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of the country. Brunei occupies a small portion in the northern part of the island. The remaining northern part of the island is Malaysia. This is the part of the island we will be visiting.

There are two states in Malaysian Borneo; Sabah and Sarawak. We will spend about one week in each portion. Starting in Kota Kinabalu, we plan on visiting Mt. Kinabalu and the rainforest near Lahad Datu in the Sabah state. Then we will move to Kuching in Sawarak.

I'm excited. This will be a big adventure for us. We have not visited the jungle before other than a few days in the mountain rainforests in Costa Rica. It will also be our first vacation in Asia. I've been to Singapore for business for just a few days but that is it.

There are a lot of unknowns - how will we handle the heat? The humidity? The food? The culture? But we will see some amazing things.

January 8, 2009

Borneo Planning

Our trip is coming along although at times it seems like it is stumbling along. First I had problems with Yahoo mail blocking some of the replies from the hotels. I've switched to google mail which has been very good so far.

Now I'm trying to book airline tickets on line from Malaysian air but I haven't had good luck getting Capital One to approve the charges since it is an international online charge. The savings by booking on line is considerable otherwise I would try to get the tickets through a Seattle agent. I got one leg of our trip booked today but no luck for the other leg. I'll try again tomorrow. Wish me luck.

Here are the plans.

- Arrive in Kota Kinabalu in the Sabah state of Malaysia on Borneo island and spend two nights. We choose the King Park Hotel.

- Pick up car and drive toward Mt. Kinabalu to Magic Mountain Country Home near Kundasang. The owners have been great to work with and we are really looking forward to staying there for three nights. We plan to do some hiking near Mesilau Trail. We will also spend some time exploring around the headquarter, Poring and the Rafflesia center.

- Return to Kota Kinabalu overnight and catch an early morning flight to Lahad Datu where we will be picked up and transported into the inland to the Borneo Rainforest Lodge. We will spend two nights at the lodge.

- Kuching: We hope to transfer on to Kuching which is in the Sawarak state. We can't seem to book through from Lahad Datu but there is 1hour 20 minutes between flights and we think we can make it.

- We're not certain where we will be staying. Here are a few of the places we are looking at Singgahsana Lodge, Village House or Hilton.

- We are splitting our trip into 4 night and then one night in Bako National Park . This is going to an adventure. We will have to take a small boat over to the headquarters. The accommodations are very rustic but the hiking and animals are great.

- We'll return to Kuching for two more nights before our long trek home. Our flight does not leave until midnight from Kota Kinabalu so we'll have all day to explore before catching a late flight to KK. We will also have a killer 12 hour layover in Seoul on the trip home. We'll try to either do a bus trip of Seoul or a day hotel.

This is going to be a wild adventure. It is a bit different from what we have done recently. We have been to Belize and Costa Rica but it was over 20 years ago. The heat, the tropics, the food and the people - all will be so different. But I am very excited.

January 9, 2009

Waiting sometimes is the best

I think I actually lucked out with the problems I was having booking our airfare. I wasn't certain if 1:20 was adequate time to change planes. We couldn't book a flight straight through which meant we had 1:20 to get out bags and check in the next flight.

I asked for some advise from the resort. I didn't hear from them right off so we thought we'd go ahead and book it. It failed due to the credit card. I did hear from her today and she did not advise it. Mostly because flights could be late or canceled.

We changed our plans and we will stay the night in KK and then move on to Kuching the next day. I think we will relax more and not have to worry about the connection.

January 13, 2009

Borneo Books

Borneo Planning Books

Our local public library is a treasure trove of books for travel planning. It was instrumental in us choosing Borneo as our trip destination. I visited my branch early in December for books on travel to Thailand. We thinking about possibly going to Thailand since the airfare was low. I also checked out the "Lonely Planet Guide to Borneo" on a whim. Who would have thought that is where we would end up going.

We have been able to find all the travel guides for Borneo at the library. There are only one or two guidebooks that specifically focus on travel in Borneo. You can find a lot of information in the guides to Malaysia. We have decided to take the Lonely Planet and Rough Guide to Malaysia. Here are the guidebooks we found to be the most helpful for planning.

We also found several good books beyond the basic travel guides. G was looking for some tapes on Malay language. He is great with languages and plans on learning a few phrases before our trip. Not only was I able to find a set of language tapes but I also found several great guides to the national parks and wildlife of Malaysia.

Over the years, I've read several travel journals on trips to Borneo. They have all involved travel into the jungle of Sawarak. They are tales of trekking through the jungle, meeting the indigenous tribes and wild nights in longhouses. We will not be going into the jungle on Sawarak but we do hope to visit the Sawarak Cultural Village outside of Kuching. Here are several fun travel journals on Borneo.

I was also able to find a cd of Malaysian music published by the Rough Guide. The music is very interesting. It sounds a lot like music from Bollywood films along with accordion. I'm also going to look for CDs on music from the surrounding countries to create a playlist.

January 14, 2009

Curry Laksa

Curry Mee

Last week, there was a excellent and timely article in the Food section of the New York Times on Asian chicken soups. The article highlights the curry coconut milk soups of Southeast Asia. These soups go by varying names; Curry laksa, Curry mee, la sa ga, khao poon in Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand.

I have been studying and becoming familiar with the food in Malaysia in preparation of our trip. I remember the wonderful food I had in Singapore several years ago and our introduction to Indonesian food when we lived in the Netherlands. The food in Malaysia is somewhat similar. I found the book "Exotic Kitchens of Malaysia" by Copeland Marks at the library. It has been a great introduction to the dishes and ingredients of Malaysian cooking. There are several dishes that are also found in Indonesia such as Nasi Goreng (similar to fried rice).

The New York Times article caught my eye. I looked at the recipe for Coconut Curry Chicken Noodle Soup (Curry Mee). It sounded excellent although it uses ingredients that are more Thai than Malaysian. Southeast Asian cooking uses a pungent fish or shrimp product to provide a salty overtone similar to anchovy paste is used in Southern Italian cooking. It provides a salty depth. Thai and Vietnamese use fish sauce. Malaysian cooking uses belacan. It was used in several recipes in the Exotic Kitchens cookbook so I recently went looking for it. I found it in the Indonesian section of Ranch 99. This recipe uses fish sauce which is easier to find.

Most of the ingredients are available at Asian grocers in large cities. The SE Asian curry spice mix could be a little hard to find. The Kaffir lime leaves are option and could be a little hard to come by. They are worth finding since they do add a nice citrus note to the curry.

The noodles were another challenging ingredient. I stood for a long time in front of the wide variety of dried rice and wheat noodles at Ranch 99. Most of the packages were in Thai or Vietnamese. I pulled out the glasses and started looking at each of the packages for the minute English information. I finally found rice vermicelli. These are very thin rice noodles as compared with the thicker rice noodles for Phat Thai. But you can use any type of Asian noodle or even a dried Italian pasta such as angel hair or thicker. I thought the rice vermicelli would be too thin since it is similar to angel hair but it was great in the soup. I think that a yellow Chinese noodle is more traditional but I'd recommend using some type of rice noodle. Another place to look is in your produce area or where you find tofu in your grocer. Some store here on the west coast will have fresh Chinese or Japanese udon noodles in the product area. Both of these noodles will also work.

Once you have all the ingredients, the soup goes together very quickly. It is very spicy and rich but excellent. Sambal (chili paste) is extremely hot - use with caution. I made the soup with shrimp instead of the chicken but either would be great.

Coconut Curry Chicken Noodle Soup (Curry Mee)
From New York Times.
Serving: 4 main courses

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 small onion, minced
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 tablespoon minced lemon grass or pale green cilantro roots
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dark red chili paste, such as sambal, more for serving
3/4 pound boneless, skinless chicken thigh or breast meat, thinly sliced and cut into bite-size pieces (I substituted about 1/2 pound of prawns)
3 tablespoons curry powder, preferably Malaysian, Thai or Vietnamese
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 can (14 ounces) unsweetened coconut milk
1/2 cup half-and-half
4 cups chicken stock
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon sugar, more to taste
About 12 kaffir lime leaves or curry leaves, fresh or frozen (optional)
8 ounces dried thin rice noodles (bun or vermicelli), or other Asian noodles such as udon or lai fun
Salt to taste

1 cup bean sprouts
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
2 scallions, cut into thin rings
2 shallots, thinly sliced and deep fried in vegetable oil until brown (optional)

Quartered limes for serving.

1. Heat oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add onion, ginger and lemon grass and cook, stirring, until softened, about 10 minutes. Do not brown; reduce heat if necessary. Add garlic and chili paste and stir until fragrant. Raise heat, add chicken and stir-fry one minute. Add curry powder and paprika and stir to coat. Then add coconut milk, half-and-half, chicken stock, turmeric, fish sauce, sugar and lime or curry leaves. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 7 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, cook rice noodles in boiling water according to package directions (about 4 minutes). Rinse and drain. (If using prawns, add them to the coconut broth just as you start to cook the noodles)

3. Taste broth and adjust seasonings with salt and sugar. Divide noodles into large soup bowls. Bring broth to a boil, then ladle over noodles. Top with bean sprouts, cilantro, scallions and fried shallots, if using. Pass limes and sambal at the table.

Curry Mee

Lemongrass, Cilantro, Coconut Milk, Rice Vermillcelli, Malaysian Curry Powder, Sambal, Galangal (ginger), Lime leaves.

Curry Mee

Curry Mee
Kaffir Lime Leaves

Curry Mee

Curry Mee

Curry Mee
Coconut Broth

Curry Mee
Cooked Rice Noodles

Curry Mee

January 15, 2009

Fish Curry - Gulai Ikan

Fish Curry

Another dish very popular in Malaysia is fish curry. I thought I would give it a try since I had most of the ingredients. It is a breakfast food in some cities. A more famous national dish is fish head curry. I was offered fish head curry in Singapore by a co-worker but I passed. I might get up nerve this trip.

The broth is is somewhat similar to the Curry Laska except it has the addition of tamarind. This adds a tart citrus flavor to the broth. Again, once the ingredients are assembled, the dish is easy and fast. Serve with steamed jasmine rise or the more traditional Malaysian coconut rice.

Fish Curry - Gulai Ikan

3-4 small fresh hot red chilies, sliced and seeded (I substituted 1 tsp of chile paste sambal)
4 shallots, sliced (I used 1 large shallot)
a 1/2-inch piece galangal sliced
a 1/2-inch piece ginger, sliced
1 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp salt or to taste
1/2 tsp sugar (I used palm sugar but you can use regular white sugar)
1 tsp turmeric
1 Tbs tamarind paste dissolved in 1/4 cup water and strained *
2 cups ''regular" coconut milk (1 cup canned coconut milk dissolved in 1 cup warm water)
1 pound tuna cut into 2 inch cubes

Process the chile, shallots, galangal, giner, curry powder, salt, sugar, turmeric and tamarind liquid with 1/2 cup of the coconut mild to a smooth paste.

Put the paste and remaining coconut milk in a pan, bring to a boil, and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes.

Add the tuna and simmer for 20 more minutes. Serve with rice.

Tamarind Liquid

Put the paste in a bowl, cover with the later and let steep for 1/2 hour. Move the mixture around with your fingers now and then since it contains fibers and seeds.

Strain the mixture through a metal sieve and discard the fibers and seeds.

January 16, 2009

Anthony Bourdain in Malaysia

I was looking out on You Tube for some videos of Malaysian cooking when I came across the No Reservations segment on Malaysia. It was pretty adventurous as expected. Let's just say I doubt if I'm going to be eating any testicles.

In the third part of the segment, he visits Kuching and has Curry Laksa. I looks so good. I thinks he calls it "Breakfast of Champions". You can find it about 4:40 into this video.

January 29, 2009

Bihung Goreng - Fried Rice Noodles

Bihung Goreng

Here is another recipe I've tried from the cookbook "The Exotic Kitchens of Malaysia" by Copeland Marks. I had some extra rice noodles left from making the Curry Mee again and I wanted to try this recipe. Goreng means 'fried'. Bihung or bihun are thin rice noodles. The recipe also calls for Chai Sim or a type of chinese mustard green. I decided to use Choy Sum which is a smaller version of Bok Choy.

Organize all the ingredients ahead of starting and the dish goes together fast. I fried some shallots ahead of starting to sprinkle over the top and I fried the egg separate and shreaded it instead of cooking it together. I always seem to over cook my noodles or they come out soft if I cook the egg with the noodles.

Note: You can also use egg noodles instead of rice noodles. You can also substitute blanched vegetables such as cauliflower, string beans or carrot for chicken or shrimp.

Bihung Goreng
1/2 pound thin rice noodles
1 TBS vegetable oil
1 clove garlic, smashed with the flat side of a cleaver or knife
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup peeled and deveined small fresh shrimp
1/2 cup shredded cooked chicken (I omitted)
1 Tbs light soy sauce
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1/4 pound fresh mustard greens (chai sim), chopped if large leaves
1 cup fresh bean sprouts
1 tbs crisp fried shallots
2 scallions, green part only, sliced

Soak the rice noodles in warm water to cover for 15 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Heat the oil in a wok or large skillet, add the garlic and stir-fry until brown. Add the eggs and stir-fry over low heat for 1 minute. Then add the shrimp and chicken and stir-fry for 30 seconds.

Now add the noodles, soy sauce, salt and pepper. Stir in the mustard greens and bean sprouts and stir-fry the mixture for 2 minutes. Garnish with the crispy shallots and scallions.

Bihung Goreng

Bihung Goreng

Bihung Goreng

Bihung Goreng

Bihung Goreng

Bihung Goreng

February 4, 2009

One more week

We're almost ready. I was wrapping up some last minute details today. I am so excited - just a week and our adventure will start.

February 10, 2009

Bags are packed

Our bags are packed and we're trying to relax before the big flight day. I'm so excited/stressed. I hope I'll be able to sleep tonight.

I made some last minute plans. I read on Flyer Talk that we could get a free tour of Seoul from Asiana. I called to make a reservation. I found out that we did have a hotel reserved courtesy of Asiana because we had a 12 hour layover. Sleep - or see Seoul? Seoul won out. We switched it to the Day Tour. It will be a chance to do a quick siteseeing tour. I'll have to call to confirm from Malaysia. I should have done it earlier.

I've also spend some time on Google Earth trying to get familiar with the sights.

February 11, 2009

Off to Borneo

Just one last note before we leave. I will try to blog from time to time. I have a couple of posts scheduled for while we are away that will tell you where we are and Flickr picture that is available for sharing. You'll know a little bit about what we are doing even if we can't make it to an internet cafe.

Selamat tinggal

February 12, 2009

Kota Kinabalu

Kota Kinabalu City Center
Originally uploaded by thienzieyung

Our first stop is the city of Kota Kinabalu. It is the capital of the Malaysian state of Sabah. It is a large modern city serving as the jump off point for Mount Kinabalu and the several tropical islands near by.

Arriving late, we will only have one day to check out the city. It will be our chore day taking care of going to the visitor center, getting money, going to Borneo Books. I suspect it will take a lot to get us out of the bookstore. We're hoping to be able to also post from an internet cafe.

February 13, 2009

On the Slope of Mt Kinabalu

We are sitting here listening to a bird chattering on the forest edge. It almost sounds digital. We are at Magic Mountain Inn.

We arrived safely after just a slight delay in take off from SeaTac. Both flights went fine. Incheon airport in Seoul is amazing. We arrived in Kota Kinabalu at about 11pm quickly got through customs and on our way in a taxi to our hotel. It felt somewhat similar to other tropical cities. Bright Sodium lighting along the broad road from the highway.

Our room was not too bad for $40US. On the 12 floor with a broad view over the water. It was a little musty and our airconditioner leaked resulting a wet carpet. We didn't sleep much but did a lot walking in the humidity to get on the time zone. Did our chores (Atm, information, etc). KK town is small. We saw most of it in about 2 hours. We crashed a bit in the afternoon before going back out to the wonderful filipino BBQ. We sat a long tables at night and had giant prawns with spicy dipping sauce.

Today we had our buffet Malay breakfast at the hotel with noodles and curry before checking out. Our car was delivered and we were off.

First stop Orchid D'ville. It was an adventure to find it. We went to a suburb of KK and then headed into the small villages before turning off to go about 6 Km down an extremely bumpy gravel road. It is a working nursery growing cut orchids for the KK area along with lots of species orchids from Borneo. The guide took us on windy paths through the hill to see the ones in bloom, many very tiny in size.

Back to the main road we got stuck in traffic for about 1/2 hour due to a broken traffic light. I was very stressed. Then we start up the main road to KK. They drive on the left. Fortunately, we have an automatic Yeah! The road is steep and the car has no power. We got the cheapest one. I still had to pass many slow commercial trucks. We saw Mt. Kinabalu once but mostly it has been cloaked in clouds. It is much cool up here at 6,000ft.

We arrived and was able to find the Inn which is in the forest off a golf course. Very strange to have a golf course carved out of jungle. I've hard that many of the greens are waterlogged.

Our host is very nice. We are sitting and having a beer on the deck before she starts dinner of a steamed fish. She just showed us a large beautiful mushroom that she will steam the fish with. Yum...

February 14, 2009

Nepenthes have been found

The owner is so kind to let me user her computer and internet connection.

Dinner was wonderful as expected. We had a great steamed fish with ginger, tofu, and a vegetable similar to spinach except with more firm stems. She sauted it in garlic. It was so yummy.

We also got to try some wonderful tropical fruit - snakeskin fruit and fresh jackfruit. The snake skin was very good. It is large about the size of a plum but in a tear drop shape. We also have some mangosteen but haven't tried them yet.

But after the drive and with the cooler weather, both George and I were very sleepy after dinner and we had to say good night early. We fell asleep right away to the sounds of the wind in the trees. We do want to stay up a bit more tonight to be able to see the fireflies.

This morning it was very clear and beautiful. We could see Mt. Kinabalu. You couldn't ask for a more perfect morning. We had a good breakfast of eggs and fresh baked bread. They make their own bread here because it is so much better than what is in the stores. They even make sour dough. We also had muesli and fresh yogurt. They have mostly western visitors at this homestay and the husband is Austrian. He is away at work currently but his wife Lily is the perfect hostest.

We headed up to Meslau (spelling is wrong). We should have done a bit more research to know at what times the guided tours of the Nepenthes Gardens were held. We missed the morning one. We decided to head up the main trail which we also planned on doing and come back to do the garden trail later with a guide.

The trail is relentless. It starts climbing right away. Lots of stairs. I didn't get in good enough shape I'm sad to say. But we hadn't gone a 1/2 KM and George spotted a nepenthes. We are also seeing small tiny orchids and tropical rhododendrons along the way. We also had gorgeous view of the mountain in clearning but you could see a few clouds starting to gather at the top. I was exhausted so I decided to stay at a hut and George went on for a while more. He found several other nepenthes. I did get a little anxious waiting for him (he was gone about 30 minutes) but nothing happened. :)

The way back down was much faster but still difficult for me. Some of the stairs are quite large. It took us about 2 hours to go 1Km up and 1 hour to go back down. George could tell that I was pretty tired so we went to talk to the 'ranger' about the Nepenthes trail. By now it was cloudy and windy. He said it was as difficult as what I had just done and he suggested that we come back in the morning. So we will. We are rearranging a few plans and should be able to do it instead. IWe plan to go at 9am tomorrow. If we don't see everything we will just come back.

Lily is working on dinner now. She has baked some more fresh bread and we are going to be having pesto pasta. The pesto is home made and I think so is the pasta. We will be good and hungry.

Nepenthes have been found

The owner is so kind to let me user her computer and internet connection.

Dinner was wonderful as expected. We had a great steamed fish with ginger, tofu, and a vegetable similar to spinach except with more firm stems. She sauted it in garlic. It was so yummy.

We also got to try some wonderful tropical fruit - snakeskin fruit and fresh jackfruit. The snake skin was very good. It is large about the size of a plum but in a tear drop shape. We also have some mangosteen but haven't tried them yet.

But after the drive and with the cooler weather, both George and I were very sleepy after dinner and we had to say good night early. We fell asleep right away to the sounds of the wind in the trees. We do want to stay up a bit more tonight to be able to see the fireflies.

This morning it was very clear and beautiful. We could see Mt. Kinabalu. You couldn't ask for a more perfect morning. We had a good breakfast of eggs and fresh baked bread. They make their own bread here because it is so much better than what is in the stores. They even make sour dough. We also had muesli and fresh yogurt. They have mostly western visitors at this homestay and the husband is Austrian. He is away at work currently but his wife Lily is the perfect hostest.

We headed up to Meslau (spelling is wrong). We should have done a bit more research to know at what times the guided tours of the Nepenthes Gardens were held. We missed the morning one. We decided to head up the main trail which we also planned on doing and come back to do the garden trail later with a guide.

The trail is relentless. It starts climbing right away. Lots of stairs. I didn't get in good enough shape I'm sad to say. But we hadn't gone a 1/2 KM and George spotted a nepenthes. We are also seeing small tiny orchids and tropical rhododendrons along the way. We also had gorgeous view of the mountain in clearning but you could see a few clouds starting to gather at the top. I was exhausted so I decided to stay at a hut and George went on for a while more. He found several other nepenthes. I did get a little anxious waiting for him (he was gone about 30 minutes) but nothing happened. :)

The way back down was much faster but still difficult for me. Some of the stairs are quite large. It took us about 2 hours to go 1Km up and 1 hour to go back down. George could tell that I was pretty tired so we went to talk to the 'ranger' about the Nepenthes trail. By now it was cloudy and windy. He said it was as difficult as what I had just done and he suggested that we come back in the morning. So we will. We are rearranging a few plans and should be able to do it instead. IWe plan to go at 9am tomorrow. If we don't see everything we will just come back.

Lily is working on dinner now. She has baked some more fresh bread and we are going to be having pesto pasta. The pesto is home made and I think so is the pasta. We will be good and hungry.

February 15, 2009

Mesilau and Pitcher Plants

pitcher plant on kinabalu
Originally uploaded by bluefuton

This is our goal of the trip - pitcher plants of Borneo. The area around Mt. Kinabalu is a great place to see them. We plan to spend some time hiking along the Mesilau Trail which is an alternate trail to the top. There are also several day hike trails that you can do to specifically see the Nepenthes or Pitcher Plants.

Check out the variety of plants that can be seen in the area - Jeremiah Harris's Nephenthes Trip report.

We will have three night at Magic Mountain Country Inn to explore around the area.

February 16, 2009

Rajah Rules

We are walking on cloud 9 tonight. This morning we were able do a guided tour to see the Rajah Nepenthes - the largest pitcher plant.

We started our day with another hardy breakfast. Today I was able to try the homemade bacon Peter, the owner, makes. It was so good. George, Mr. Vegetarian, had to settle for a couple of fried eggs. And wonderful home made bread. (sorry no pictures).

Last night I woke up around 4am and I thought I heard it raining. I tried not to panic. I really was not looking forward to hiking in the rain. Plus I doubt if they would do a guided tour in the rain. But when we got up, it was not raining. The clouds were high up so it was not going to be too bad of a day. Not as spectacular as the day before but still a very good day to be plant hunting.

We drove 10 minutes up to the Masilau Nature Center. Today there was a large group of tourists preparing for a summit climb. They were all in the road taking pictures. We had to honk to get them to move their buses.

When we got to the nature center, the woman said that the nepenthes trail was at 11:30 not 9am. We asked if the ranger could make an exception especially since he said we could come back at 9am. She asked him and he agreed. Yeah! There were no other people around. Very few people come to this area except with guides.

The trail would take about 2hours. The ranger was extremely knowledgeable. He told us that Masilau means yellow. The soil on the hillside where the nepenthes grow is yellow and very poor in nutrients. This is why they have developed as carniverous plants to get nitrogen from the insects they capture since they can not get this from the soil. The soil is also serpentine which means it is high in nickel. We are familiar with this type of soil from Washington State.

Along the way, he pointed out many interesting plants such as ginger, rattan, palms. The trail goes down on the west slope of the river. There is a locked gate at supension bridge to keep people from accessing the plant area. Once on the other side, it was much less lush, the soil was yellow and there were fewer trees. Perfect for these plants. First we found Nepenthes burbidgeae which I think is very beautiful with red stripes on chartruse pitchers. Also along the hillside were rhododendrons and bamboo orchids.

The trail climbed steeply. There had been a washout so the stairs were quite open without railing. It was a little scary. But shortly afterwords, we found what we had come to Borneo for - the Rajah. The pitchers were 15-18 inches and held 2-3 liters of liquid. Sometimes mice will fall in and drown but mostly it was small insects such as ants. I got a chance to hold one - it was like holding a baby.

We continued climbing seeing many plants. We also saw a paphilopedium orchid (lady slipper) that we did not think we would be able to see. We felt so honored to see it.

We climbed almost to the top of the east slope - maybe 300 meters up. We had a lovely view of the dipterocarp forest along the slopes of the mountain. The clouds were opening and closing with views of the Mountain. Our guide told us that sometimes painters would come up to paint the views. It was a cloud forest as seen in films at about 6,000Ft. The weather was mild and fortunately not rainy. In fact since it was so open and exposed - it was very good that we had done it today instead of yesterday when the sun would have beated down on us. I would not have been a happy camper.

We returned and thanked our wonderful guide. We came back to the Inn and Lily made us some great Mee gorang (fried noodles) for lunch and some bananna fritters. She splits a bananna open like a hand and then puts it in the batter before frying. We also had some more fruit.

After lunch, we headed to the main Mt. Kinabalu headquarters about 20 minutes away. Much much more crowded. Tour buses and many foreign tourists. We were in time to go to the Botanical Garden where we saw many interesting plants and a few orchids in bloom. While in the garden we met an English couple and talked a bit about our travels. They had been to Poring and said that they were able to see Rafflesia - our other holy grail for this trip. We are heading there tomorrow. It is the largest flower in the world and we were not certain if one would be blooming so it looks like luck continues to be on our side.

We will head back to KK after Poring tomorrow. The following day we will head to Danum Valley so I will probably be off line for a while.

Thanks everyone for your comments and interest in our wild and crazy plant hunting.

February 18, 2009

Danum Valley

Misty Road
Originally uploaded by robstephaustralia

Next we head out to Danum Valley where we will spend two nights in the remote jungle at the Borneo Rainforest Lodge. We will reach it by a 2 hour drive down a bumpy logging road from Lahtu Datu. Once there, we will have the opportunity to see plants and wildlife. There is no guarantee on seeing any wildlife so we will hope for good luck.

Oh yeah.. one other thing. There are lots of leeches in the jungle. I suspect that I'll get bit once or twice. It is going to be gross. We'll have to get leech socks to help protect us.

Adventures of the Giant Plant

Wow! What can I say. I did not think I would be able to see the Rafflessia plant - the largest plant in the world. I remember long ago seeing a segment of "Secret Life of Plants" with David Attenborough standing next to a Rafflessia. Never did I dream that one day I would be able to do almost the same thing.

We started the day by having to say good bye to Lily our wonderful host at the Magic Mountain B&B. She made us feel so welcome and we left feeling like we had a good new friend. We headed out to Poring about 40 minutes away. We dropped down to more of the lower forest and it became hot.

We were nearing Poring when we saw the sign - Rafflessia in Bloom. We drove a bit further to make certain it was the one that the couple had told us about. It was - we turned around and went back. It was just a short distance away from the road. It had been in bloom for 4 days and was still in wonderful shape. They last about 7 days before they start to turn brown/black on the edges and really stink. They are pollanized by flies which were swirling around it. It is marroon and beign in color - similar to meat and smells about the same althought this one wasn't too bad.

They charged us 15RM (about 5 US) which is pretty expensive but since it only blooms for a short while - it is a good source of extra income. They do keep it fenced off so we couldn't get right up to it but close enough.

We snapped our pictures and that was it. We headed up to Poring with is one other tourist area of Mt. Kinabalu. It has several hot springs. We decided that we didn't want to go in them so we headed for the orchid house. It had some cool orchids in bloom including the rare Rothchild's lady slipper. We also went through the tropical forest walk which was kinda depressing. It was kinda a zoo with several empty cages. The few that had animals were raptors - eagles - that would have been better free. We did get to see some local deer.

It was time to return to KK. The drive was about 3 hours. Along the way it rained - a downpour. Perfect place actually for it to rain - while we were on the road. By time we got to KK it was sunny. Luck continued with us and we got a parking place next to the hotel and called for the rental car to be picked up.

We had an early evening since we had a 7am flight. We found a 24 hour street cafe that served several Malay dishes. George had sambal shrimp - good but messy and I had fried broad rice noodles with seafood. Yumm...

February 19, 2009

In the heart of the jungle

The sounds of the jungle is amazing - crickets and cicades clicking and humming. In the distance hooting or screeching of monkeys and hornbills. The stream near by rushing the base and background. So peaceful.

The 7am flight was right on time. It was a tiny prop plane and it took 55 minutes to get across the north of Sabah. We could wave at Mt. Kinabalu one more time. Landing, the airport looked so similar to those on the Carribean side of Guatamala. Low single buildings, exit onto the tarmac and get blasted by the heat and humidity.

The driver met us at the airport. Another couple from Finland is also going to the resort. We make a quick stop at the office and then we were off. It is 83 KM to the lodge in Danum Valley. The first 13 or so is paved. The rest is dirt - long wet muddy yellow dirt. The car is a 4 wheel drive Landcruiser. I ask if he needs the 4wheel drive and he said yes. Boy did we. Most of the way is on a logging road. It is in pretty good shape although a couple of place, the road is starting to slide. This part is kept up frequently. After we turned off and entered the primary (original forest), the road go really bad. It had rained a lot last week and my god, the ruts were up to the floor boards. The driver is wonderful. It takes us about 2 1/2 - 3 hours to go only 83 km.

But it is worth it. The lodge is wonderful. We are greeted with cold washclothes before being taken to our rooms. You walk on raised platforms between the cabins. Our large room has a deck with a out door tub and you can open the door on the shower if you want. It is amazing that you can find this good of accomodating in the middle of the jungle.

We start with lunch and then go on a nature walk. After relaxing a bit, we have dinner and then after dinner a night drive. We didn't have much luck seeing animals but it was amazing being in the jungle.

Today, we got up early for a canopy walk. The jungle was just waking up and it looked just like the picture I posted on Danum Valley. We climbed up and watched the forest come awake before returning for breakfast.

Then our next adventure started. We walked up to the other side of the river to a view down to the lodge. It was very muddy and slippery and lots of roots. Did I mention it was hot. I was sweaty and sticky. But NO LEECHES. Yeah!

But the best was yet to come. We went back down a short distance to see a burial cave. And suddenly on the cliff just a few feet away was an large male orangutan. Amazing to be able to see them in the wild and close by. I had stayed back a bit so they called me to go up and I was able to see but he was moving on so I didn't get too many pictures. But still amazed to see such a large and shy creature.

We returned down the hillside and went for a swim in a large pool fed by a waterfall. Very cool and refreshing. In the middle of the jungle swimming.

We returned for lunch and said good bye to our adventure partners from Finland. They only stayed one night. Later today, we are going for a river walk and a night walk after dinner.

But to be able to see the orangutan in the wild and so close - Amazing.

February 20, 2009

Return to Civilization

We have returned to KK and civilization. The stay at Danum was very special. We did not see too many more animals. We did have a couple of close encounters with bugs and reptiles. It started to rain while we were on our afternoon walk. Boy was I glad I had the leech socks. They were everywhere. Okay, not that bad but we did see several on our shoes and got them in time before they found the skin. They react to the rain like earthworm - rise up to the surface. Then they search out heat. George laid down his hiking stick and on jumped right on. They are thin - kinda like a wet piece of spaghetti and about 1-2 inches long. They go back and forth with their head/snout looking for animals to hook on. But fortunately no bites.

The lodge has been so peaceful. We sat on the deck after our afternoon walk and just listened to the sounds. Right at sunset everything erupted in noise. After dinner, we went on a night walk which was somewhat spooky. It is so dark in the forest. And after we returned from the walk, we took advantage of the outdoor tub to soak in the dark.

The next morning I decided not to do the morning walk. I was pretty exhausted after 4 walks especially the walk to the lookout. I've checked out my pictures and I didn't get too good of picture of the Orangutan. He seemed slow but was actually pretty fast at moving away from us. So far all of our walks have been with our guide. I think I'd get to spooked if I was alone with just George. There is so much life out there.

It was time to check out and head back. The road was just as bad as before. It is a long long 3 hours on the bumpy muddy rutted road. We did have one surprise - a 2 meter long snake was crossing the road. We stopped to check him out. We don't know what type but it may have been a gliding snake.

Our flight was fine and we are back at the King. We broke down and had western food today - pizza. Not too bad. The salad was arugula which I was pretty surprised to see. Tomorrow on to Kuching.

February 21, 2009

Cat City

We had our first travel snafu today. We got to the airport at 8am for our 9am flight to only find out that it had been canceled. Fortunately, the next flight was just a short wait (2hours). It was on a smaller plane and we got to see the port city of Binatulu.

We have booked a wide variety of different styles of accommodations. Business hotel in KK, Homestay/B&B in Mt. Kinabalu, 4 star resort in Danum and now a backpacker hostel. It is very spartan but very clean. We have a single room - not a dorm and it has hot water and air conditioning. Both extremely important! (And a fast internet connection).

But we don't plan to stay much in the room. We headed right out after arriving 3 hours later than planned. We made the information center just before closing so we could get details on buses for our trips the next 3 days. Next we headed for the Sunday Market which actually starts Saturday Afternoon. What an amazing market. So much better than KK. I'm feeling very comfortable here. The market was about 6 blocks long. All the vendors set up Easy-ups and tables. It is much more open than the wet market in KK. And what a variety of food especially the vegetables and fruit.

After returning to the hotel for a quick shower, we headed out for dinner at the Top Spot Hawker food court. It is located on top of a cement 4 story parking lot. The fish is beautifully laid out for you along with the vegetables. You select your vendor and then select your fish, how you want it prepared and any other dishes. We had a BBQ fish steak. I didn't quite catch what it was. Stir fried Noodles in tomato with fish (Tomato Mee) and midin - stir fried jungle fern. We both loved the fern. It was so tasty - like a good stir fried green. They stir fry it with chili and shrimp paste (anchovy) to give it a really great taste. All this for only 46RM or less that $15US.

Tomorrow we hope to get up and try the local Laksa. We found the restaurant where Anthony B. had his dish. It isn't far from the place we are staying. After breakfast, we'll head for the orchid and pitcher plant nursery. We'll have to go by local bus. We checked them out today. This is going to be one interesting transportation adventure.

Oh yeah - Why cat city? Kuching is the local word for cat.

Continue reading "Cat City" »

February 22, 2009

Malaysian transportaton

Last night wasn't too bad. The hostel/Inn is at a busy intersection just a block from the waterfront and there is a large Chinese temple overlooking the intersection. There is a large urn burning incense most of the day - hopefully bringing us good fortune. As expected there is some street noise - brrrr of motorcycles and occasional sirens. The room has no windows other than one high up near the loft. The lighting isn't the best either. We've resorted to reading by flashlight. But it is part of the adventure. Maybe my second childhood since I never got a chance to backpack the world when I was young.

We got up early and walked to the Laksa place. It was great. The kopi (coffee shop) had three booths in the front, one selling mee (noodles), one selling laksa (spicy soup) and I can't remember what else was being sold. We sat down and ordered kopi and laksa. The kopi came hot, milky and caramel sweet. It was either from the gula (palm sugar) or condensed milk. We paid 3.6 RM or 1US. Next came our bowl of hot soup. She cooks the rice noodles in a pot of hot water and the covers them with a spicy broth. I could taste chile, cumin, coriander and a bit of anise. No turmeric. It was topped with slices of fried egg, boiled chicken and prawns and some bean sprouts. It was served with a half of a small lime similar to mexican limes and a dab of hot chile paste. Oh so good. It was better than what I made - less coconut milk and ginger.

That got us going. Then it was off to try to catch the bus. We got there 15 minutes early but didn't see the bus. We finally noticed the ticket hut and went over and realized the schedule that we got from the tourist bureau might be wrong. We hung our for about 30 more minutes before I got real cranky. We walked back to the tourist office to check about getting a taxi because the schedule said we had just missed the bus and it wouldn't come for another 2 hours.

The bus would have been about 3 RM. The taxi was 30RM, but the driver was very nice and talkative. We walked about Kuching and the economy. The Malaysians are being affected by the economy also. He said that there had not been as many visitors or locals going out because of the economy. Many malaysians have been encouraged and hopeful that Obama can bring change. They are as excited as Americans for a change.

We arrived at the orchid and pitcher plant garden in padawan just a small suburb of Kuching. It was very interesting with lots of pitcher plants and orchids in bloom but rather small. We finished in about an hour and thought we might take the bus back. We saw it pulling away just as we walked out of the garden. Rats. We went over to wait. It was probably going to be another 2 hours. grumble.... But we had luck and a minivan bus pulled up. These vans run routes between different locations. They are kinda like a taxi van that pickups people along they way. He was heading to Kuching and had room. It was only 3 RM. Perfect! He made a couple of stops along the way to drop off and pick up more people. It was a great different experience.

I'm back at the hostel and relaxing before we go out for dinner. We're not certain but it may be a restaurant called Bla...Bla.. Bla. Funny name. They do fusion dishes. It will be expensive but sounds fun.

Tomorrow we have a pickup to go to see the Orangutan Refuge. They have a feeding at 9am and we can get picked up at the Hostel. Should be interesting.

Kuching has also been very interesting to visit. The town has an old colonial feel. There is also a big Chinese influence locally near our Inn. We have been seeing many Chinese temples and cemeteries. It is also along the river and there is a wonderful promenade - very western. Across from the promenade are a wide variety of shops which are fronted by covered sidewalks. These are the same type that I saw in Singapore. They provide nice shade from the equatorial sun. There are women selling a local coconut cake that is brightly colored in strips. I had a taste but it was too sweet. There are also other trinkets along the street. Lots of bright colors along with mildewy stucco that you see in the tropics. We've also seen a very cool Hindu temple close to where we had breakfast and the large gold domed Mosque. More evidence to the wide variety of different cultures which make up Malaysia today.


Kuching View
Kuching View
Originally uploaded by YeeJen

Now we move on to the state of Sarawak and the town of Kuching. Kuching means Cat and the city has many cat statues. We will spend several days exploring the town and the surrounding areas. Of course we will look for orchid gardens. Other items to explore are the orangutan sanctuary and the Sarawak Cultural Center.

February 23, 2009


We had a good dinner last night. We opted for Western food again. We headed to Bla..bla..bla.. There are actually 3 restaurants close together that have the same owner; Junk which has a decor of antiques, Bla... which has a Bali decor and in between the two, The Living Room. This has a lot of nice couches and opens into a garden. They also have long house style sitting which is similar to the short tables and pillows you find in a japanese restaurant. I've been pretty stiff and sore so I decided not to sit at the low tables but a standard table that looked out onto the garden area. You could have anything on either menu from Junk or Bla.bla.bla. Junk is western and Bla is chinese. We opted for Pizza again. I had lamb and George a vegetarian. It hit the spot. Western food is pretty expensive. It was 109RM with beer.

We slept much better last night and woke up somewhat early. Sunrise and sunset does not vary when you are on the equator. It comes up at 6:30 and goes down at 6:30. We had the continental breakfast the hostel provides (toast, lime juice and coffee). At 8:00, we were picked up and taken to the Orangutan Wildlife Center at Semenggoh. It was a minivan and was 25rm. They feed the oranguatan on platforms at two different locations. They put a bunch of fruit and it is possible for the Orangutans to show up for the free food. They are free in the large center so there is no guarantee that any of the 18 Orangutans will show up.

But one just gave birth 9 days ago. She was there with her baby. The mother loved eating the small banannas. I don't blame her - they are one of my favorites. She came down onto the lawn area also so we were able to get about 5 feet away. The caretakers are there at all times to keep the tourists in check. Two other young orangutans also showed up. They gave one a whole coconut which he took up into the trees to crack and drink. Did you know that Orangutan's DNA is about 97% similar to humans?

You only get to stay about 1 hour. The center wants to minimize the exposure to humans. We were back in Kuching by 11. Lunch time. We headed to the chinese hawker center for some noodles. Prawn Mee for George and Kolo Mee for me. The noodles are very similar to ramen noodles. They plonge them into hot water/broth to cook and top with bean sprouts and meat of choice. George had prawns. I had ground pork, wonton dumplings, chicken, bbq pork and something that I didn't know what it was. It was either a slice of tofu or fish cake. I think it was fish cake. I didn't feel like eating it. You also get a little dish of soyu sauce and sliced hot hot fresh red chilis. We poured this over the noodles. Perfect.

Next we headed to the museum. It is part natural history. This part was a little sad. A bunch of old cases with stuffed animals. The lights were not working so it was difficult to see. There were collections of shells also. Upstairs was a really nice longhouse display. We will not be going to a real long house. We hope to go to the cultural museum but it would have been nice to do a longhouse. Next time. We also went to the Islamic Museum which was interesting.

We are resting again and repacking our gear for Bako. We head out in the morning. We'll take a bus (hopefully) and then a boat to the peninsula. We will stay in a very basic one room chalet. I've heard it is very spartan and the bathrooms ... well let's just say not the best. It will only be for one night. We will do hiking to see more nepenthes and the proboscis monkey.

After that we will return and move to the sister hotel of where we are staying currently. It is out of Kuching. We want to relax a bit before heading back. Two weeks have gone so fast. I'll write more when we return from Bako if I have internet connection.

February 24, 2009


Long-nose monkey relaxes
Long-nose monkey relaxes
Originally uploaded by Erwin Bolwidt (El Rabbit)

Just outside of Kuching is Bako National Park. This park has trails and is a great place to see Long-nose monkeys like this one. We will stay one night in the park lodge. This will probably be the roughest place we will be staying.

It will also be an adventure to get to - We have to take a bumpy bus ride to the dock and the hire a private boat to take us up to the park. There is no dock at the park so we will have to wade ashore.

February 25, 2009

Back from Bako

Just a quick post. We are back from Bako and waiting our shuttle to our next hotel. I am dying for a shower. Bako was very interesting. Transportation wise everything went well. We got to the bus stop at about 7am and the bus didn't leave until 7:25. We met up with a great couple from Holland who is doing a 1 year Gap round the world trip. They are on their 6th month. Another woman from England was also waiting which made up 5 people to share the boat. The bus was a long bumpy ride on a very old bus. We got off and did out paper work. It turns out that we just made it in time to get a boat because the tide was out. Oh goodie, we get to walk in. Then the ranger gives us the lecture about stingrays and jelly fish. What have I gotten myself into??

The boat trip is quick - about 20 minutes. We had a little difficulty getting over a shoal and he had to stop a pretty far distance from the beach. George jumped off first and his feet sink into some shoe sucking mud so we all decide to go barefooted. The water came up to our knees. We just sloshed our feet a bit before putting them down to scar off the water critters. It wasn't really that far to walk before we got out of the water area and on to low tide mud. Definitely made for an interesting arrival.

We arrived about 9am and it was too early to check in. So we reorganized our packs and stored one. But we heard that there were monkeys right near the checkin so we headed out. We got to see the proboscus monkey right off. A group of several - male, female and lots of teenagers were hanging out along with gray monkeys. We spent time watching before heading back for some basic lunch.

We reorganized our packs and headed off to the Lintang trail. It followed the boardwalk across the mangrove swamp. We saw more monkeys in the trees and scampering across the mud flats. We also saw big claw crabs and mudskippers.

The boardwalk ended and then the climbing started. Roots, rocks and more roots. I was grumbling big time. It was about 1/2 mile before we reached the plateau and the keranga, a limestone plateau with low shruby trees. Right away we saw the nepenthes we were looking for - two more species that we had been looking for. They were everywhere. It was also hot as hades. We continued across the open area and then entered jungle again. Roots, rocks and more roots. We continued for about 2 km before I got really cranky and we turned back. It was a good thing. It got really hot since the clouds moved off. It was like walking in a sunny sauna.

We got back and got checked into our room - if you can call it that. A half of a house with two single beds - no sheets and I had a stinky pillow. Yech. The shower and toilet were together = nothing but cold water and it took 15 minutes for the toilet to fill. No toilet paper - no soap but we did have a dusty fan mounted on the ceiling. Thank god it was only one night.

We opened a couple of windows and then the naughty monkeys appeared. They gathered in front of our house - about 15 little monkeys. They started crawling on the front and tried to get into the windows. We had to shoo them away. Next they laid down and started grooming each other on the sidewalk. You'd think they owned the place - they do!

We went and had a beer at the canteen and ran into the Dutch couple. She pulled out her cookies and offered us one. And in a flash a monkey jumped on the table and snatched the package away from her and ran off. You can't fight them or they will bite. The staff comes out with a slingshot to keep them away during lunch.

We relaxed for a while and the had a basic cafeteria dinner. We gathered at 7:30 for a night walk. Saw a few insects.

Today, we tried another short hike. I couldn't make it to the beach. I was sweating like crazy. We went back and walked along the beach instead since the tide was out.

The boat was able to make it closer and we waded just a bit. The ride was quick. The bus came shortly after that but the ride was still long hot and bumpy.

The trip is coming to a close. It has been great. I'll write again if they have internet at the Village house - otherwise when we return.

February 26, 2009


Ah now this is the life. The Village House on Santubong Peninsula is so much better - perfect place for us to wind down after our adventures. The minibus took us through the suburbs of Kuching and on to the Peninsula. I'm a little surprised at the modern houses in the suburb. They are an upscale track home - most in stucco with overhanging metal roofs. They remind me a bit of houses around Auckland NZ. Soon we have entered a low growing palm jungle. There is also a resemblance to Kauai. The large jungle covered Mt. Santubong is in the distance over low houses and palm. There is even a bit of red dirt in the distance.

We were greeted with a cool drink and a cold cloth. The owner tells us a bit about the property. There are two rows of rooms build up like a Malay building on stilts. The face a wonderful long wading pool. Underneath is wonderful artwork and places to sit. We order dinner for 7 and make our choices - a fish in malaysian sauce and chicken curry for me. The food is served next to the pool. We are pretty tired from the hot day in Bako so we have an early night.

They encourage you to relax and enjoy the premises so we decide to do just that. It rained hard last night and started a bit again this morning so we let the rain tell us to slow down. It does stop and we go down to the beach. The tide is out so we can walk about 1km down the beach to the village. The tide goes out an amazing distance - it looks like almost 1/2 km out. George of course has to go out and investigate as far as he can. I stick around closer and take pictures. It has been hard to take pictures because of the overcast and UV light. I'm hoping some come out.

After meandering along the beach, we come to the village. It is a well kept brightly colored village. We get there just after noon and all the kids are getting out of school. They all greet us with Hello and a few giggles when we reply.

We stop in the store for a cool drink and they ask were we are from. They are always a little surprised that we are Americans. They always guess UK, or Australia, or Canada before US. They also almost always remark about the recession in US. We did have also have a conversation with a woman talking about the Bush administration's actions in Iraq. They have some hope for Obama but wonder what he can really do to change.

The rest of this afternoon has been spent playing cards, swimming and relaxing by reading or doing sudoko. Dinner will be soon. I think I'll follow Jerry's lead and have a Lychee Martini tonight. I've checked my mail and we haven't received any messages so I don't think our flight back to KK has been cancelled. I've been a little worried after they cancelled Saturday's flight. We are on the return portion of that same plane.

If all goes well, we will be home soon. I can't decide if I am ready to leave or not. I was after Bako. George was not. But the more cushy accomodations have changed my view. I think I could just stay another day in paradise.

February 28, 2009


We are half way through our return travel marathon at the airport in Seoul. We started the day by sleeping in and having a relaxing breakfast at the Village House. We hung around playing cards until about 12 noon before taking a taxi to the airport. We were about 2 hours early so we stopped by to have a latte at Starbucks. Yep, there is even a Starbuck's in Borneo with a picture of the original Pike Place store on the wall. It was a little freaky. I also picked up a few last minute food items like Laksa mix.

We arrived in KK and took a taxi back to the King Park Hotel for a couple of hours. We decided to get it for a night so we could relax and shower before the next leg. We had to make a few more last minute book purchases. George couldn't stay away from the plant books at Borneo Books. We also decided to have pizza again for dinner.

The plane for Seoul left at midnight. I hate sitting in the back of Airbus planes. It feels weird like back of the plane is fishtailing. We might have slept a bit but it was pretty uncomfortable. I don't remember the movie so I must have slept a bit. We arrived in Seoul at 6am.

We decided to take the City Tour. Asiana provides it for free. We could have gotten a free hotel room but this was so much more interesting. The airport (Incheon) is about 60km from downtown Seoul and it is on an island. The bridge that connects it is pretty amazing. There are 50 million in Korea and 10 million live in Seoul. You can definitely tell where they all live. The river is lined with 20 story high rise apartment buildings.

But what amazed us more is to go from the rich dense green jungle of Malaysia to the barren brown winter of Korea. Nothing is green at all but a few random evergreens. We are used to some green even in the winter on the west coast. This is very prairie brown stark and 34 degrees. Quite the contrast from 90 degrees with 80% humidity which we left 5 hours ago.

It takes about 1hour by bus to get to Seoul. The first stop was a Buddhist temple but on the way we went by the President's house which is called the Blue House. We saw tons of security police for blocks around it and could not stop. The temple was beautiful. Inside are three large gold Buddhas. A worship was going on and the temple was filled with about 100 people changing and praying. It was very moving. We had 15 minutes to walk around and take pictures before moving on. Next stop was recovered stream through the financial district that has been renovated with cement steps and a waterfall.

Next was lunch which was a lot of fun. We sat at low tables and had beef Buglogi (spelling) and of course hot Kimchi. George had a vegetarian rice bowl.

Last stop was of course for souvenirs. We bought nothing but it was very interesting area with nightclubs and sport stores.

3 more hours and then our last 9 hour leg home.

March 1, 2009

Home Again

The two weeks went by in a snap. It seems just like yesterday that we were navigating the airport in KK and finding out how to take a taxi. We really enjoyed Malaysia. We found the people very welcoming and charming. We loved the mixture of cultures - Muslim, native Malay, Chinese and Indian. It was very easy to get around and safe. We loved the food and the culture. The heat was a little hard to take at first. The nature is amazing. We highly recommend it to anyone who love nature.

We arrived home right on time. It seemed to take forever (1 hour) to get our bags and through customs. We arrived home to a cold cold house. We had turned everything down. Kitty wasn't talking to us and sulked outside for a long while. I made it to about 6pm before I crashed and slept over 13 hours. I suspect it will be another early night tonight.

Right now the washer is going and I'm loading my pictures on the computer. We took lots so I'm not certain when I'll have any to post but I'll try to hurry.

Now to plan where to go next.

March 9, 2009

Arrival in Kota Kinabalu

View of Kota Kinabalu

This is the first in a series of more in-depth posts on our trip to Borneo.
February 12, 2009

South China Seas. I can not hear that name without thinking of the Vietnam War. My brother-in-law served in the Navy on a boat station in the South China Seas. But Vietnam was not our destination. It was Borneo, an island south of Vietnam bordering on the South China Sea. Specifically, we were bound for the Eastern Malaysia state of Sabah and the town of Kota Kinabalu.

Kota Kinabalu, known locally as KK, was originally called Jesselton. It was a major trading post of the British North Borneo Company and founded it in the late 1800's. The British razed the city in WWII to prevent it from falling into the hands of the Japanese and rebuilt after the war. Northern Borneo joined Malaysia in 1963 and the town was renamed Kota Kinabalu in 1968. Today it is one of the fastest growing cities in Malaysia.

It is also a great tourist jump-off point for visiting Sabah. We selected it because of an one-stop flight from Seattle to KK via Seoul. There are also frequent flights from KK to other areas of Sabah and Sarawak which made it a great anchor point for our travels.

Our flight arrived late in the evening. The airport is new and very efficient. We were not certain if there was an ATM in the airport or if it would be accessible at 11:00pm so we exchanged $50US at the Incheon airport in Korea when we changed planes. Do you know how hard it is to get Malaysia Ringgits in the US? Many banks stock common currencies such as Euros, Sterling Dollars but you have to pre-order Malaysia Ringgits from either a bank that handles international currencies or from Travelex.

We did not need to be concerned. There are two ATMS at BKI and a currency exchange booth just outside of baggage claim in KK airport. They were open until 12:00 midnight.

Our bags arrived quickly and it did not take long to get through Malaysian customs. They inserted the departure portion their immigration form in our passport. I was afraid that we would lose it over the two weeks but never did. We also found out that you have to go though passport control when you travel between states in Malaysia.

There is a taxi counter in the airport and the taxis between airport and KK are regulated. You just walk up. tell them where you want to go and pay the taxi fee. It was 20RM to KK (30RM if between 12:00midnight and 6:00am). We made it by 15 minutes of the 50% surcharge.

There was little traffic and the driver rushed us towards KK. Sodium lights gave the area a golden glow as the buildings rushed by. I could feel and smell the humidity and heat even at midnight. Valentines Day was just a few days away and several of the billboards suggested for gifts. At one major intersection, a couple professed their love for each other. I do not think I would like my love announced on a huge billboard for millions to see.

Fifteen minutes later we arrived at our hotel. The King Park Hotel is located just on the edge of the center of KK. Our room was near the top and faced the water. A little musty but very clean with a large king bed and air conditioning. We took a hot shower and soon fell asleep. It had been a long 18 hours.

Activity starts early in the tropics. The length of the day varies little. Sun rose around 6:30am and set around 6:30pm. The low drone of the early traffic and a narrow beam of sunlight woke us. We heard the local minivans beeping for passengers. I peaked out through the window for my first glimpse of Borneo. The traffic circled below me and I could see the city awaking.

Breakfast was included with the price of our room which by the way is an economical 138rm or ~40USD. It was the standard Malaysian breakfast which consists of a variety of noodles and rice dishes, curry, porridge and egg along with hot sweet milky coffee.

We hit the street after a lazy morning. Our first challenge - getting across a major 4 lane street in rush hour traffic. And to remember to look left since Malaysians drive on the left. My senses were in overdrive. Heat, smells, noise! You definitely need to watch your footing while walking in KK. Many of the sidewalks at store fronts have tile floors which are often missing one or two tiles. There are dips and bumps on the sidewalks just waiting to twist your ankle if you are not paying attending. The storm drain gutters are covered with loose uneven slotted tiles which easily twist your foot. You do not want to go gawking around staring at the sights and not watch where you place your foot. Thankfully the sidewalks are extremely clean and there is no dog poop unlike Europe. The smell is another thing.

We headed toward Jalan Gaya. Jalan is the Malaysia word for street or road. This area is the Chinese center and also filled with backpacker hotels. The streets were still lined with brilliant red Chinese lanterns from the recent New Years Celebrations. We headed for the Alliance Bank for more money and the Sabah Tourism Bureau. We quickly realized that it only took us about 15 minutes to walk the main distance of the center of town.

I noticed the Tong Hing Supermarket when we exited the Tourism Bureau. We had to check it out. It was almost deserted early in the morning and was extremely clean. It is rather upscale and looks to be the place to purchase foreign food. It also had an extensive wine section which is pretty unusual. Malaysia is a Muslim county and alcohol is not as readily available as it is in Western countries.

Our next stop was Borneo Books in the Wisma Merdeka Mall. This is the place for flora and fauna books. We had to go there to see what plant guides we could find. We were not disappointed. The Wisma (mall) was also very interesting . I’m not certain how to describe it. In the center, there is an escalator/stairs leading up to the other two floors. Radiating out from this center space are passages lined with small tightly packed stores selling everything from sim cards, computer games, candy, shoes, clothing, food, jewelry, services like reflexology massage. I’m used to more open malls coming from the west coast and the stores seemed a bit more packed like what you would find in NYC or Europe. Borneo Books was located in the back corner of the 2nd Floor (3rd floor for US). We just followed the signs pointing the way.

Now for a bit of sightseeing. We headed to the waterfront. The day market is located in a large concrete multi-story building along the waterfront. The bottom floor is a wet market filled with produce, meat and other food sellers. I could not resist and investigated up and down the aisles and maze of stalls. It was dark but very interesting. So much foreign and different. The top floor is food court and a clothing store. Next door and outdoors is the smelly but fascinating fish market. It is filled with exotic fish and seafood. Next is the Filipino craft market. The stalls made me pretty claustrophobic. The aisles wound among the packed stalls lit by single light bulbs - dark even in the bright tropical mid-day sun. We were not in the market for trinkets or souvenirs so we moved on.

Vegetable stall

We were surprised that it was not yet noon. We had one more chore to take care of. We dropped by the downtown office of KK Leisure Tours to arrange for our rental car to be dropped off the following day. We ordered an automatic on-line and I wanted to take care of the paper work. We found their office in Sedco Complex, paid the deposit and finished the paper work. We arranged to have the car delivered to our hotel the next morning at 9am.

The Centerpoint Mall was near by so we decided to check it out. It was lunch time and there was a lot of activity in the mall. It is a somewhat modern mall with 5 floors including an extensive hawker food court in the basement. The air-conditioning made it a nice refuge. We checked out the food court and attempted to get a juice but we had not figured out how the hawkers work yet or we were just being ignored. We decided to move on. We crossed the street and stopped for a coke in outdoor restaurant along Jalan Pasar Baru. They had a large TV on with US big time wrestling. We learned this is a popular item in Malaysia. "Where are you from?" the waiter asked us. This question or its variation of "Are you from Great Britain?" was a common question. Many people were surprised to hear that we were from the United States. We ran into many other Europeans but rarely other tourists from the US.

The sun was high in the sky - it was time to return and rest before venturing out again at night.

Related Posts:

  • Kota Kinabalu
  • On the slops of Mt. Kinabalu
    View of Kota Kinabalu

    View from our hotel - King Park - over the center of Kota Kinabalu. Palau Gaya in the distance.

    Kota Kinabalu
    Near the Wisma Merdeka

    Early evening rush hour
    Rush hour in Kota Kinabalu - early evening

March 10, 2009

Filipino BBQ at Night Market in Kota Kinabalu

Filipino Night Market

Seller at the Filipino BBQ

This is the second in a series of more in-depth posts on our trip to Borneo.
February 12, 2009

We are always surprised at how draining the heat and humidity can be. We took advantage of our air conditioned room to rest and refresh ourselves during the afternoon. We had read a lot about the Filipino night market. It happens every night along the waterfront in Kota Kinabalu. It was not far from the hotel and decided to check it out.

We arrived at the market around 6pm and it was already in full swing. The vendors seemed to be organized by what they sold - chili, vegetables, fruit, produce and closer to the water - poultry. On the other side were the food vendors. The woks were hot serving up stir fries. Other booths had ice shavers and prepared Ais Kacang or ABC, a sweet mix of shaved ice, sweetened condensed milk, gelatin, cendol and other items.

Filipino Night Market

Limes and hot chilies

Filipino Night Market
Ginger and onion

Mangos at Filipino Night Market


The smoke and wonderful smell from the BBQ led us back to the corner and the Filipino BBQ. The grills were set up along the waterfront. You can stroll along the smoky aisle to see the wide variety of fish available - fillets, whole fish, prawn, king prawns, whole squids. Next to the grills are long cafeteria style tables set under a canopy. Go to the opposite head of the table to negotiate and select your meal. At the opposite end of the table, a seller is setup with recently grilled seafood and ready to provide you with whatever you want.

Filipino Night Market

Grills in action

We were hungry and decided to go for the King Prawns. The owner took our order and sent our selection back to be reheated and finished. He directed us over to the table and showed us how to do the dipping sauce. Take a handful of the small potent birds-eye chilies, crush them a bit with the spoon, salt, pour a little bit of the sweet soy sauce and water. He gave us a bowl to pour water and wash our hands. They asked if wanted "nasi" which is rice. We said "Yes" and they brought us two bowls of rice. A package of paper napkins was dropped on the table. Napkins were very poor in Malaysia They were often very small and very thin or just a box of tissues (Kleenex). We used a lot of the Wet-Ones we brought along. We also took some hand sanitizer but never used it.

King Prawns

King Prawns

Our two prawns arrived - steaming hot just off the BBQ. We washed our hands in the bowl and dug in. You eat with your hands. Peel a segment of prawn; grab a hand of rice. It was somewhat primeval sitting under the smokey evening light eating with our hands. But it was great. The prawns were meaty and sweet. I should have devined them since they were a little gritty and sandy but otherwise very tasty. We also had a couple of Malaysian canned drinks. We asked for 'sodas' but they heard 'soya' and we gave us two canned Seasons brand soya drinks They were actually much better than having a Coke. The dipping sauce was spicy hot, the shrimp was sweet, the drinks were refreshing, the atmosphere was very exotic. It cost us about 80RM (~23USD) and was wonderful for such an experience.

Related Posts: Arrival in Kota Kinabalu - First in the series

Filipino Night Market

Our view across the tables

Ready for dinner
Ready for dinner

Enjoying dinner
Enjoying the prawns - note the dipping sauce, drinks and other dishes

Filipino Night Market
Another shot of the variety of fish

Filipino Night Market
Smoky Grills

March 11, 2009

Driving in Sabah


This is the third in a series of more in-depth posts on our trip to Borneo. February 14, 2009

Anxiety runs in my family. I was not afraid to drive in Sabah but I was very anxious about having my car delivered to the hotel. I tossed and turned during the night wondering if the delivery would go smoothly. Normally, we drop by the car rental city center office and pick up our car. I realized it was a little bit different in KK when I stopped by the rental office to do the paper work. The cars are only at the airport - not in the center of town. Several people on Trip Advisor mentioned that they had the car delivered to the hotel so we decided to do the same. We will also have them picked it up when return from Mt Kinabalu. Would everything go smoothly? What an item to lose sleep about!

We had breakfast, gathered our bags and went down to the lobby to check out just before 9am. We sat down and waited just a few minutes before the representative showed up. Right on time - just a few minutes after 9am. No reason to stress at all. We finished the paper work, swiped my credit card and walked us out to the car. He showed us the car and verified that it met our approval. It only had a 1/2 tank of gas (4 notches). He mentioned that if we returned the car with more gas, that he would be very happy. We signed off and loaded up our luggage. I adjusted the mirror and we were ready to go - once I figured out reverse.

Malaysia is a former British colony and they drive on the left. One thing we learned from our previous trip to Australia was, if possible, to rent an automatic car in left driving countries. There are two large Malaysian car manufacturers - Proton (a subsidy of Mitsubishi) and Perodua (subsidy of Daihatsu). We got a Perodua Viva 1000c automatic. It was pretty small but we have a small Honda Civic Hybrid at home and are used to driving a small car. But was going to be really interesting going up hill.

I do not mind driving on the left and driven on the left on most of our recent trips. I find it easier to get used to driving on the left than remembering to look left when I walk across streets. Of course, there are a couple of things that do take a bit of adjusting such as remembering which side of the steering wheel are the turn-signals located. I don't know how many times I turned on the windshield wipers when I wanted to turn! The other drivers thought I must have been crazy flashing the windshield wipers at them. It is also a little hard to adjust to looking to the left for the rear view mirror but I must say the side mirror does a good job.

Our first stop was Orchid de Villa just on the outskirts of KK. I had emailed them for directions but I never received a reply. They had pretty good directions on their website and we asked at the Sabah Tourism Bureau how to get there. They said it was signed but warned us that it was a dirt road. Okay...

It was pretty easy driving out of KK. . I printed out a couple of Google maps for our route. I studied them before I left to become familiar with how get to Jalan Tuaran and Jalan Kiansom. Many of the roads are not signposted so you need to know the landmarks - Chinese temple, supermarket, church. We did pretty well until we got to Jalan Tuaran. Where do we turn? Are we in Inanam? Have we missed our turn?

Suddenly I noticed one of the supermarkets noted on the map on the Orchid de Villa website and pulled into the right lane. There it was - a sign for Orchid de Villa. We had found Jalan Kiansom and turned. We traveled along it checking off the landmarks and then saw another sign for the road for the village - Kampung Kawakaan. Now the fun began. I was so glad that I knew it was a dirt road. The sign said we had 3KM to go. It was pretty rough but nothing worse than what I've driven before on a PNW logging road.

It was very interesting to see the small houses and farms. It felt similar to small country farms in the US but the houses looked very different. And the plants were so exotic.

We found the nursery and parked. The guide told us the entrance was 20rm and offered to show us around. She knew just where to look for the orchids in bloom. Part of the nursery is a cut flower nursery for the local florists in KK. They mainly grew dendrobium orchids and were very busy preparing cut orchids for Valentine's Day bouquets. On the property, there is also a large pond which is fed by a cascading stream. This is where many of the local orchids grow. It was very interesting. We spent about 2 hours walking through the nursery. It gave us a good base knowledge of the orchids to look for on our travels. But it was time to move on.

Orchid de Villa

Orchid de Villa Office and our little Perodua Viva

Orchid de Villa
Showing us around Orchid de Villa

Lovely Dendrobium orchids

More exotic Arachnis orchid

Orchid de Villa

I had not printed out directions on how to get from the nursery to Mt. Kinabalu. I thought we had enough information in the guidebook and the map we had gotten from the tourist office. George felt it would be best to return to the junction with Hwy 1 although I was pretty certain we could continue on Jalan Tuaran and join up with the highway without having to backtrack. But he was the navigator so we went the way he felt most comfortable with.

Of course, we ran into several traffic snarls. First was the traffic jam at the Chinese school on Jalan Kiansom. It was just getting out at noon and traffic was being stopped to allow parents to pick up their children. It took us a little bit to understand what was going on. But this was nothing to the backup we ran into back in Inanam on Jalan Tuaran. The traffic seemed to not be moving at all. It just sat for about 5 minutes and then moved a bit. What was going on! I was starting to panic. Was this normal? Why did we go this way?

We finally started to make some progress and realized what was going on. The light was out at the major intersection where we needed to turn and a traffic cop was directing traffic. He let each way take their turn which is why it was taking so long. But finally after a 30 minute delay, we were on our way. Yeah!

We pulled off and filled up the tank. We had instructions which told us to fill up before heading to Mt. Kinabalu. We didn't see any gas stations after leaving Tuaran so it was a very good reminder. It was about 1.8RM per liter - not that much different from the US prices after calculating the per gallon price and exchange rate ($1.8USD). We continued to Tuaran and then turned off to the highway to Mt. Kinabalu.

The two lane highway continued for a few miles passing farms and small villages. One interesting village we passed was Tamparuli. It is known for the big weekly tamu (market and flea market) and an interesting swinging bridge. The market wasn't on Sunday so we didn't stop. The road started to climb. The grade was steep and road was windy but fortunately, it did not have a steep drop off on the edge. This is the major road between KK and Sandakan. You frequently come up behind diesel trucks with the truck beds loaded with heavy material such as lumber, rocks, etc. They crawl up the road at a very slow pace - maybe 20Km/h. You have no choice but to pass them on this curvy uphill road. Thank god for the passing lanes. Our little Perodua Viva had very little power to pass them so most of the time we just chilled out until the next passing lane.

On the Road to Mt Kinabalu

Passing on the road to Mt. Kinabalu

On the Road to Mt Kinabalu

One of many slow trucks we had to pass

On the Road to Mt Kinabalu

Mt Kinabalu peaking through the clouds and smoke from the farms

We caught glimpse Mt. Kinabalu in the cloud openings. The road sides were over grown with wild bananas, impatiens, bamboo and other tropical plants. Soon we became familiar with the Sabah dogs. They had a tendency to sleep on the road - close to the road edge or be found investigating the road edges close enough that you had to swerve to miss them. They seemed to be everywhere so I stayed alert. We kept climbing until we came to the main turn off for Mt Kinabalu. We had only traveled about 70km but we were almost at 4,000ft. The road now curved along the mountain side passing various hotels. This area is a popular area for hotels just outside the main park gate. The view opened and we saw the deep green terraced valley of the Kundasang area - our destination for the next 3 days.

Kundasang is at 1600 ~(5200ft) meters and much cooler the KK. The hills are terraced with vegetable farms growing a wide variety of different fruits and vegetables such as cabbages, tomatoes, and squashes. At the turnoff for the road to Mesilau, the roadside was lined with covered wooden stalls filled with fresh vegetables, fruit and snacks. We watched for the sign for the Golf Course to know where to turn. It was hard to see where to turn. The area was chaotic - filled with people, cars, buses, dogs going every which way. We slowed and crawled along waiting for an opening so we could turn. It was Sunday afternoon and everyone was preparing for the work week. Once on the Mesilau road, we passed seed and nursery stores more evidence that this was a major farming center.

We kept watch for more signs to the golf course to point us the way. The road steeply angled up and our little car struggled up the road. We passed the Kundasang diary and knew we were getting closer. Suddenly we noticed the large expanses of grass. This must be the golf course. The road to Mesilau cuts right through the course. We found our turnoff and drove up our home for the next three days - Magic Mountain Country Home. The owner, Lily, and her two dogs came out to great us and showed us the way to our room where we relaxed and unwound from the drive.

Dinner was wonderful as expected. We had a great steamed fish with ginger, tofu, and a vegetable similar to spinach except with more firm stems. Lily sauteed it in garlic. It was so yummy.

We also tasted some wonderful tropical fruit - snakeskin fruit and fresh jackfruit. The snakeskin was very good and so different . It is large about the size of a plum but in a tear drop shape. You peel the scaly skin and the firm fruit is in segments similar to a clove of garlic. It is similar in taste to a cross between pineapple and apple. It is also very crunchy. Lily also bought us some mangosteen but haven't tried them yet.

The evening was cool and we were both very sleepy after our wonderful dinner. We had to say good night early and fell asleep right away to the sounds of the wind in the trees.


Fruit stands along the road in Kundasang

Kundasang  Fruit Stalls

Wide variety of fruit and goods under the shade of the wooden roofs

School Girls in Kundasang

Schools Girls in Kundasang

Kundasang  Road

Mesilau road at Kundasang

March 17, 2009

Dayhiking on the Mesilau Trail at Mount Kinabalu

Mt Kinabalu

Mount Kinabalu

This is the fourth in a series of more in-depth posts on our trip to Borneo.
February 15

The morning was brilliant blue and crisp. The wind had come through at night and blown all the clouds away. We leaned off the front porch to get a glimps of Mt Kinabalu. There was not a cloud in sight. Lily told us how it had rain non stop the previous week and we said a little prayer to the rain gods for giving us a wonderful day.

We sat down to a hot cup of coffee while Lily prepared our eggs. We had fresh baked bread and sweet creamy butter along with cereal and get us off to a great start in the morning.

It was time to hit the trail. We gathered up our gear and climbed in the car. It was just a short 5 minute drive and we arrived at the Mesilau Nature Resort. This area includes several lodges, restaurant and the park headquarters. I completely forgot to get information about the area and we were a little confused at first where to go to find the trail. We went into the Sutra Santuary reception office to ask for information. The receptionist told to see the Rajah Nepenthese that there are three daily hikes led by a ranger. We had just missed the first hike at 9:00. The next hikes were at 11:30 and 2:30. You can also do a day hike on the Mesilau trail without a guide as long as we returned before sunset. We decided to hike a while on the Mesilau and return in time for the late ranger hike. We would have to pay our trail fee at the Sabah Parks office which was next door.

Mesilau road to Mt. Kinabalu

Road to Kinabalu with our trusty little car

Mesilau Nature Center
Chalets for rent at Mesilau Nature Center

We parked and walked back to the park office. It was 10rm for the trail and 7rm for insurance or a total of 34RM (~$10US) for the two of us. We were interested in the Mesilau trail because the great flora along the trail. In researching where Nepenthes grew, G found out that several species could be easily located along the begining of the Mesilau trail. Nepenthes of Mt. Kinabalu are found at the higher elevations. Mesilau is at 2,000M. The main trail starts at a lower elevation and you can not find nepethes until you have hiked several kilometers.

Mt. Kinabalu is one of the richest flora areas of the world. The Mesilau trail starts out in the dark lowland dipterocarp forest filled with bamboo, ginger, begonias and wide variety of trees of various heights. I am thankful for the shade. Even in the shade it was very warm and humid.

Mesilau Trail

Mesilau Trail
Tall Dipterocarp forest

The trail immediately started to climb. The trail was mainly roots, large rocks and ladders but it was in good condition. The wooden steps are useful if the trail is muddy and wet but fortunately it had not rained recently and the trail was dry. We came across a sunny opening and spotted our first nepethes - N. tentaculata . G knew to look for sunny open areas which are favored by the nepenthes. We were so excited to finally see our first nepethes in the wild.

Mesilau Trail

One of many stairs to climb

Nepenthes sp.
Nepenthes found along the trailside

We continued climbing. We started to spot many epiphetic orchids and were amazed at the diversity of ferns. We stared at huge bird nest ferns in the trees above our heads. Looking down at the trail, we spotted brightly colored flowers which had fallen from above. We looked up and spotted our first tropical Rhododendrons growing high above our heads. The bloosoms were brilliant orange. Continuing to climb, we noticed the forest was starting the change and become more stunted. The forest changed to oak and pine.

Mesilau Trail

Wait for me!

Mesilau Trail
More to climb!

We had been hiking for about 1 1/2 hours and I started to tire. I suggested to G that he go on ahead and I'll stop and wait for him. I slowly continued up and discovered that the trail crested at 2300m, just a little bit further. The trail leveled and opened up to wide vistas across the Mesilau valley and gorgeous views of eastern ridge of Mt. Kinabalu. High above clouds were starting to gather at the jagged peaks at the summit. We were so lucky to have a clear day but I could ready see the afternoon clouds would soon be gathering. On the other side of the trail were vistas down across the Kundasung Valley where we were staying. The plants were so interesting and diverse. Just before 1.5KM, I came to the first shelter and stopped in the shade to wait for George.

Mesilau trail vista

Mesilau trail vista

Mesilau Trail

Eastern Slope of Mt. Kinbalau

Mesilau Trail
View back down to Kundasung
Mesilau Trail
No easier going down

He returned after about 40 minutes. He was able to find another nepenthes species farther up the trail. We decided to return and it toke us just about 1 hour to return. But I was beat. The heat and exersion toke its toll on me and I was not certain if I could do another hike. We talked to the ranger and the Rajah trail is about .7km and similiar in elevation to the distance we traveled on the Mesilau. We decided to return the next day to do the Rajah trail.

We took a short trail between the nature center and the restaurant. It will filled with interesting ginger and lots of huge birdsnest ferns. We returned to Mountain House and spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing before having another wonderful dinner prepared by Lily.

Previous Posts:

March 18, 2009

Flora on Mesilau Trail - Mt Kinabalu

Rhododendron sp.

Rhododendron stenophyllum

This is the fifth in a series of more in-depth posts on our trip to Borneo.
February 15

We saw a wide array of amazing plants along the trail at Mesilau. Here are some more plants that we saw.


This is what we traveled to Borneo for. These carnivorous plants are along the trail at sunny outcrops.

Nepenthes sp.

Nepenthes tentaculata

Nepenthes sp.
Nepenthes fusca

Nepenthes sp.
Nepenthes fusca aerial pitchers


Tropical Rhododendrons also known as Vireya Rhododendrons. We saw several species along the trail.

Rhododendron sp.

Rhododendron sp?

Rhododendron sp.
Rhododendron bud


We saw several orchids along the trail. Many were very small. They grow as epiphytes on the trees.




Other interesting plants

Nature trail at Mesilau

Nature trail at Mesilau

Impatient (balsam)


We never figured out what this plant is. Any ideas?

Related posts:

March 24, 2009

Nepenthes Trail at Mesilau Mt. Kinabalu

Along the Nepenthes Trail

This is the sixth in a series of more in-depth posts on our trip to Borneo.
February 16

The Rajah Nepenthes - the largest pitcher plant is endemic to Mt. Kinabalu. It was one of the must-sees on our list. I was too exhausted the previous day to hike the trail up to see it so we returned the next morning. We drove up to Mesilau but had to stop near the entrance because a large group of climbers were having their pictures taken before starting the climb. They were taking up the whole road just below the trail head. A couple of beeps of the horn and eased through the crowd.

The nature center was deserted except for a woman and her baby who was cleaning up behind the desk. We noticed that officially the hike to the Nepenthes started at 11:30am. We asked to talk to the ranger and see if he would take us at 9am instead. He agreed.

The morning was cool and overcast - quite a difference from the brilliant sunshine of yesterday. The ranger led us along a concrete sidewalk, up past the Crocker Range Lodge to the start of the trail. We could hear the roaring sound of the river below. The trail descended down along the west side of the river through dense forest filled with moss, ginger, ferns and orchids. After a short while we passed by the historic Mesilau Cave where plant explorers have used as shelter while exploring the area.

Along the Nepenthes Trail

Along the Nepenthes Trail

Soon we reached the river and the ranger pulled out his keys and opened the gate to the botanical wonderland. Many of the plants growing on the opposite slope are endangered so the area has been fenced in to protect the plants. Mesilau means yellow and a quick glance across to the opposite hillside explained why. The soil was a dusty yellow in color. It turns out to be serpentine soil and very poor in nutrients. Poor soil is perfect for Nepenthes.

Along the Nepenthes Trail

Along the Nepenthes Trail

We crossed the bridge and started up the opposite slope. It was so different from the other side - much less lush. There had been many landslides and the area was clear of tall trees and plants. Most of the shrubs grew about shoulder high. The trail started to climb and soon we found the Nepenthes. The first one we came across is of my favorites - Nepenthes burbidgeae. The cups are chartreuse with magenta spotting and magenta and chartreuse striping around the lip. As we continued up we can see rhododendrons and bamboo orchids.

Nepenthes burbidgeae

Nepenthes burbidgeae

Discussing Nepenthes

We came to an area that had recently been washed out and was quite rough. There were wooden ladder steps to climb but little or few railings. I found it a little scary. But the vistas kept opening up above the river and across to the northeastern slopes of Kinabalu.

And there it was. Nepenthes Rajah! What we had come half way around the world to see. It was huge, almost 18 inches. The large magenta cups laid on the hillside around the plant. It is said to hold at least 2 liters of liquid and can trap small mammals. Looking inside - I only saw one or two dead insects. The ranger said it was okay to handle and I pick it up and cradled it like a baby.

Nepenthes rajah

Nepenthes rajah

Paphiopedilum sp?

The rajahs were all around - hidden in the deep sedge grasses along the slope. The ranger had another surprise for us - a paphilopedium orchid (paphilopedium hookeri). A beautiful green and pink lady slipper. We knew they grew in Borneo but thought our chances of seeing one were remote. This was like frosting on the cake.

We climb almost to the top of the eastern slope - just about as high as yesterday. The ranger points across to the ridge and says that the first shelter is just at the top. That is as far as we went yesterday. The clouds were opening and closing with views of the craggy top of Mt. Kinabalu. Our guide told us that sometimes painters would come up to paint the views. It was a cloud forest as seen in films at about 6,000Ft. The weather was mild and fortunately not rainy. In fact since it was so open and exposed - it was very good that we had done it today instead of yesterday when the sun would have beated down on us.

The ranger was scheduled to lead the next hike so we turned and started our decent. We made one or two more stops to see the nepenthes and orchids. We thanked the ranger for a wonderful hike and return to the Inn for lunch. We had a wonderful Malaysian lunch including Pisang Gorang - fried banana fritters. Yumm.

After lunch, we headed to Mt Kinabalu headquarters which were about 20 minutes away. It was much more crowded than Mesilau. Mesilau is almost deserted. Most of the climbers and the day trippers come up by minivan or taxi to the headquarters. There were also several large tour buses filled with foreign tourists.

We decided to visit the botanical garden which didn't reopen until 2pm. We decided to hike for a while along one of the day hike trails next to the botanical garden to kill some time. We returned just as the garden open and spent time admiring the orchids and tropical plants. We met an English couple and talked a bit about our travels. They had been to Poring and seen a Rafflessia in bloom. This was our second holy grail of the trip. It was a fresh bloom and only 3 days old. We were heading there tomorrow and it would still be in good shape. The flower lasts for about 7 days.

It took us about an hour to visit the garden. We decided to walk along another trail before returning. It was late afternoon and the sun was waning. Most of the tourists had left for the day. It was a nice and peaceful way to end our day and our visit to Mt. Kinabalu.

More pictures

Nepenthes rajah

They are the size of a human foot!

Nepenthes rajah

Nepenthes rajah

Nepenthes rajah

Nepenthes rajah
See the ant inside?

Nepenthes rajah flower
This is what the nepenthes flower looks like

Cymbidium sp?
Cymbidium orchid

Arisaema filiforme
Arisaema - related to Jack-in-the-pulpit

Related Posts:

April 1, 2009

The largest flower in the world

This is the seventh in a series of more in-depth posts on our trip to Borneo. February 16

Have you seen "The Secret Life of Plants" with David Attenborough? I remember him squatting next to a large maroon flower on the jungle floor - a Rafflesia - the largest flower in the world. I never dreamed that I would actually see one in bloom when I watched the episode on PBS. But we did!

Rafflesia - It grows in primarily in the eastern states of Malaysia; Sabah and Sarawak. We had hopes to see it but it was only going to be by luck. We knew our best chances would be either Poring or Gunung Gading in Sarawak. The plant is a parasite that grows on a vine called Tetrastigma which is related to grapes. The Rafflesia lacks leaves and roots and is totally dependent upon this vine. The bud looks like a cabbage and takes about 9 months to eventually bloom. The bloom will open and last about 7 days until it turns black. The flower consists of 5 petals and sits directly on the jungle floor. It can measure over a yard across in size. The center contains spikes which are the flowersand it is fertilized by flies. To attract the flies, it produces the smell of rooting meat. The scent attracts the flies which pollinate the plant.


We had heard from the couple we talked to at the Mt. Kinabalu botanical garden that there was a Rafflesia in bloom along the road to Poring Hot Springs. We asked them how many days it had been in bloom. It had only been open two days. Wow! That means if we drove up there the following day it would have been in bloom for only 4 days. It would be in prime condition. They told us to look for a sign "Rafflesia Bloom" just before the village of Poring.

Sign along the Poring Road

Lily produced another great breakfast. We sadly said "Goodbye" and headed off to Poring. We descended to Kundasang and headed towards Ranau. Ranau is one of the bigger towns in the area but the road only skirted the edges of the town. We turned off and headed back towards Mt. Kinabalu and Poring. We were much lower in elevation and it was very warm and humid. The houses in the area were interesting - many of the balconies had railings made of dark colonial Queen Anne style. Many of the buildings were a mix of stucco, wood and brick. You could tell that sections were constructed at different times and with different material.

We kept an eye out for the Raffesia sign. We were almost to the village when we saw it. We drove forward for a while and saw no other signs. That must be it. So we turned around and went back.

Three villagers were sitting on the side under an umbrella with a small stand. We asked them how much. They wanted 20RM. We said to much and negotiated 15RM per person. That was probably still too much but this is the one opportunity for the family/village to make a little extra revenue. The older Malaysian women led us along the trail for just about 1/4 mile until we came to a bamboo enclosure. There it was - Rafflesia.


Rafflesia on the forest floor


Snap... Snap... Snap... We took our photos and that was it. It was kinda a let down after all the build up and anticipation.

We drove up to Poring. Hot springs are the main attraction of Poring. We were going to return to KK so we already had decided not to visit the hot springs. We arrived just before 11am so we headed to the Orchid Conservation Center which was only open for an hour or so. The center houses the largest collection of orchids native to Sabah. Next to the Orchid center were the tropical gardens - a small zoo-like area. I found this area kinda depressing. There were several cages mostly empty - but a few - with birds. We did get a chance to see a herd of Sambar deer.

Poring orchid conservation center

Orchid Conservation Center at Poring

Paphiopedilum rothschildianum

Paphiopedilum rothschildianum

Sambar Deer at Poring

Sambar Deer

The other areas of interest at Poring are the butterfly garden and the canopy walk. We thought about doing one or both of them but they were about a 30-50 minute walk from the parking area. It was already past noon and we had a 3 hour drive to return to KK. I didn't want to do any more hiking so got a soda and relaxed for a bit before starting the drive back.

Most of the way back was sunny except for a sudden rainstorm just past Mt. Kinabalu. In 3 hours we returned to KK and called to have the car picked up. It was an early night for us since we had to be up at 4:30am for our 7:00am flight to Latah Datu.

Here are a few more pictures from our day.





Mangosteen and Snakeskin fruit

Mangosteen and Snakeskin fruit


Fern fiddlehead

Paphiopedilum rothschildianum

Paphiopedilum rothschildianum

Paphiopedilum sp.

Poring orchid conservation center

April 6, 2009

Danum Valley


This is the eighth in a series of more in-depth posts on our trip to Borneo.
February 18

Danum Valley - sometimes called the "Lost World". It is one of the largest areas of protected undisturbed low-land jungle in Malaysian Borneo. Of course, we didn't want to rough it or trek days which is why the Borneo Rainforest Lodge appealed to us. It would require a bit to get there and there was no guarantee that we would see any wildlife. We had our fingers crossed that we would be able to see orangutans. And then there was the matter of leeches. But what an opportunity to experience the jungle.

We left KK early in the morning - 7am - and flew across the island to the town of Latah Datu. As the plane approached the city, we flew low over stilted wood houses lining the harbor. The houses were more tropical and rustic than what we had seen in KK.

Mt Kinabalu - from plane to Latah Datu

Ladah Datu Airport

And the airport was tiny. We walked down the stairs from the plane, across the tarmac and into the single room for arrivals. The bags were quickly rolled in and we exited to find our driver waiting for us. Joining us was another couple from Finland.

We drove to the office where we signed the waivers and paid our balance. Then we were back into the trusty Toyota Land Cruiser for a 3 hour drive to the lodge. The first few miles were along the highway out of town - passing several fruit stands before leaving the main road. The first few KMs were through tropical fruit orchards, durian trees, coconut orchards, papaya. The road was still pretty good. It was also a logging road. The forest surrounding the conservation area were being logged and there was a chance that we would meet a logging truck. We came to a gate and a nursery. The logging is selective and they raise trees to replant the forests after harvesting.

We were hoping to see elephants. The Borneo pygmy elephant lives in this jungle. We could see lots of evidence that a herd had been by from the dung droppings on the road and the destruction on the side of the forest. But no luck. Only a single monkey scampered across the road.

Monkey crossing the road

Road to Danum

We came to the river and the driver said we still had another hour to go. Even though the road was good, it is very tiring to ride for 3 hours on a gravel road. Finally we turned off into the conservation area. The final last few kilometers were very slow since the road was rutted.

We arrived and were warmly greeted by the staff. We cooled off with cold washcloths and a cool drink of juice before they showed us to our lovely cabin. They cabins are connected by elevated wooden walkway. The balcony overlooked the river and we had a lovely outdoor tub.

Borneo Rainforest Lodge

Borneo Rainforest Lodge

We unpacked and changed. We gather at the lobby and met our guide for an orientation walk through the forest. We walked along a wooden path and learned about the forest and the unique inhabitants before returning for dinner.

The lodge has a wonderful kitchen. The dining room opens and overlooks the river. We had a good selection of tasty dishes each night including several vegetarian and fish selections for G.



Borneo Rainforest Lodge

Borneo Rainforest Lodge

After dinner, we went on a night drive to see if we could see any nocturnal creatures. We saw a civet cat and a few insects but not much else. It was a long day and we quickly fell asleep to the symphony of the jungle.



We awoke early next morning to do the canopy walk. Strung high over the jungle floor was a wonderful airy pathway. We walked along the main road while the dawn slowly crept over the jungle. The mist still enveloped the treetops giving the scene an unreal aura. The canopy walk was beautiful and not scary at all.

Canopy walk at Borneo Rainforest Lodge

Canopy walk at Borneo Rainforest Lodge

Canopy walk at Borneo Rainforest Lodge

Canopy walk at Borneo Rainforest Lodge

Canopy walk at Borneo Rainforest Lodge


We had breakfast and then changed to do hike up to the overlook and cliff burial. The trail went across the river and then climbed moderately through the forest debris. It was a little muddy. The last part was on a ladder. From the viewpoint we had a gorgeous view across the forest.

Trail to overlook

Trail to overlook

Trail to overlook

Borneo Rainforest Lodge


We started down and then went off to see the burial coffin. I was tired so I wait just below and then suddenly they started yelling "Marta - Orangutan..." I rushed up just as the large male -"King" started climbing up the liana vines . "I turned around and there he was on the cliff edge" on of the guides said. He climbed very quickly and I was barely able to get a picture especially against the cloudy sky.




We quickly went back down and stopped by the 'forest jacuzzi". A lovely waterfall fed pond. We jumped in and had a refreshing swim before returning to lunch.

After lunch, it was time to bid adieu to the our new friends. They were only staying one night. Later that afternoon, we went for another walk. We relaxed the rest of the afternoon listening to the sounds of the forest as the sun went down.

I was lazy the next morning and I sent G out on his own for one last jungle walk. I enjoyed a leisurely coffee while sitting on the deck and listing to the jungle. Too soon it was time for the bone jarring 3 hour drive back to Latah Datu. We had one surprise along the way - a large snake was on the road. We think it was a gliding snake - possibly a golden paradise tree snake. All too soon - we were back in KK.

Next up - Kuching.

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Continue reading "Danum Valley" »

April 19, 2009


Kuching riverside esplanade
Kuching Riverside Esplanade
This is the ninth in a series of more in-depth posts on our trip to Borneo.
February 21

Kuching - Cat City - that is the nick name of the city. I read that Kuching means cat in Malay. It is the capital of the Malaysian state of Sawarak, largest city on Borneo and the fourth largest city in Malaysia. We were staying in the city center and it did not feel like the 4th largest city.

Our home for the next few days was the Singgahsana Lodge. It is a very clean and a very well run hostel. We have a single bedroom. The lodge is located just steps from the waterfront and not more than a block from the more upscale Hilton which was our second choice. Our room was on the bottom floor. It doesn't have any windows except for the small windows on the loft above the hall way. We have our own bathroom and it is clean. I am not crazy about having a cement floor in the room but it has air conditioning and is just over 100rm (~33USD) so we are not complaining. We are trying to balance our expenses by taking this hostel after staying at the luxury lodge in Danum Valley.

Singgahsana Lodge
Singgahsana Lodge

View from Singgahsana Lodge Singgahsana Lodge

Singgahsana Lodge

There is something about the city that I really like. It was not destroyed during WWII unlike KK which was heavily bombed. It has a colonial feel to the central business district - a little bit old a little bit modern. We both love the river esplanade. Everyone is very friendly. I also love the diversity of cultures; Muslim, Chinese and Hindu. I feel at home.

Old Courthouse building
Old Courthouse building

Next to Open Air Market
Open Air Market area looking towards Kuching Mosque

We started off late since our morning flight was canceled. We didn't arrive until 1PM. The airport is very efficient and we easily found the taxi window, paid and and are on our way into town. It was 23RM as expected. We whip by the suburbs and soon (15 minutes) we are in the center of Kuching. We check in, drop our bags and head for the tourist office which was about to close at 3PM. We wanted to know how to get to the Orchid and Pitcher plant garden in Padawan and also how to get to Semenggoh Wildlife Center so we can see more Orangutans. We went next door to the National Park office to pay for our room at Bako but they are close to closing and asked us to come back the next day. We headed out and started to explore the city. Our goal - the Sunday Market which starts on Saturday afternoon.

Here are some scenes of Kuching.

Chinese Temples and Streets

Tua Pek Kong Temple

Tua Pek Kong Temple

Tua Pek Kong Temple

Detail on outside wall

Tua Pek Kong Temple

Tua Pek Kong Temple

Harmony Arch
Harmony Arch on Carpenter Road

Detail of the Harmony Arch
Detail on Arch

Hong San Si temple
Hong San Si Temple

Padungan Street
Padungan Street

Padungan Street
Covered walkway on Padungan Street

Chinese cemetery
Chinese cemetery


Kuching Mosque
Kuching Mosque

School Girls
School Girls


Hindu Temple
Hindu Temple

India Street
India Street

Views Around the City

Bus station - Chin Lian Long
Chin Lian Long Bus Station - one of two stations in Kuching

View to Astana
View to Astana from Esplanade

Dewan Undangan Negeri
Dewan Undangan Negeri - New state parliment building to open Summer 2009

Kuching Riverfront at sunset
Sunset on the River

Cats - lots of cat status around the city

Cat statues in Kuching

Cat statues in Kuching

Cat statues in Kuching

Cat statues in Kuching

Even the billboards have cats!

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April 25, 2009

Sunday Market in Kuching

Vegetable Vendor
Vegetable seller at the Kuching Sunday Market
This is the tenth in a series of more in-depth posts on our trip to Borneo.
February 21

I love markets. We were lucky on the timing of our trip to arrive in Kuching on Saturday. We were in time for the Sunday Market.

It actually starts Saturday afternoon and goes until Sunday afternoon. We thought it would be a great way to start our visit. It was not too far of a walk from our hotel. It is located on Jalan Satok and runs for several blocks.

We started at the end with the fish sellers. The diversity of fish is astounding. I recognized a few fish such as mackerel, shrimp, squids, rays but there were many that I could not recognize. A few vendors were selling chicken and eggs and we saw one small stand off to the side selling meat. Dried fish is an important part of Malaysian diet. There were bags and bags of ikan bilis - dried anchovies. And one vendor were selling sago palm worms. We definitely did not try the worms.

From fish, we continued along and next were many vendor selling vegetables. Chilies, gingers, jungle fern, okra, shallots, lime, everything you need for stir fries including sauce. Fruit - I loved the exotic fruit. My favorite fruit was dragonfruit - the fruit of a night blooming cactus. There were also vendors selling drinks. I had a cold drink made with fresh shaved coconut and G had an iced drink made of crushed sugar cane. We also picked up several bags of cookies and loved tasting the Kek Lapis - a traditional Sarawak multi-layered pastel jewel colored cakes.

Off on the side alleys were also small little nurseries selling orchids and other tropical plants for the garden or house. There were pet supplies, rabbits, clothing, shoes.

It was a riot of color, scents and tastes. We loved it.


Dried fish
Dried Fish
Ikan bilis seller
Ikan bilis seller
Chicken for sale
Fresh Chicken
Sago worms
Sago Worms
Ikan bilis
Ikan bilis seller
Ikan bilis seller
Ikan bilis seller

Vegetables and fruit
Chilies and fungi
Chilies and Fungi
Ginger and galangal
Ginger and Galangal
Midin - Jungle Ferns
Midin - Jungle Fern
Bitter Melon and Okra
Bitter Melon
Vegetable Vendor
Star Fruit
Star Fruit
Snake-skin fruit
Snakeskin fruit
Green starch noodles for cendol
Green Starch Noodles

Done with shopping
Done Shopping
Moto home after shopping
Time to Moto Home

April 30, 2009

Kuching Food

Display at Top Spot
Display at Top Spot

This is the eleventh in a series of more in-depth posts on our trip to Borneo.

February 23

Kuching has great food. It is known for several dishes such a Kuching (or Sawarak) Laksa and Kolo Mee. It also has many great hawker stalls.

We had read about the Top Spot. It is the place recommended for tourists who want fresh fish although I saw mostly locals when we went. It is located just up from the Riverfront and is on top of a 3 story concrete parking lot. I know... it sounds strange to a westerner but it is wonderful. The top is ringed by several hawker stalls. Each stall has their fresh fish and vegetables displayed similar to farmers market here in the US - neat and very artistic. Each stall is also topped with the name of their stall several in neon.

As you walk around, each vendor will try to persuade you to eat at their stall. We made the circuit and then returned to #10. The woman was very friendly and helped us to pick out fish. We wanted it with sambal but she told us that it was very different sambal from what we may have had before and served it on the side.

We also wanted to try midin - jungle fern. We asked her to prepare it spiced with belacan (shrimp paste) and chili. We also ordered some tomato mee. It is all prepared fresh but fast. They brought us our Tiger beer first and then our dishes. Yummm...

My only complaint was the napkins. The paper napkins were very small and thin. Otherwise, the everything was excellent.

We also wanted to try Laksa. Laksa is a spicy noodle soup with shrimp, chicken. bean sprouts and shredded egg. There are several different varieties in Malaysia and Kuching is known for their variety. We decided to go to Choon Hui Cafe. It was written up in our guide book and was on the Kuching segment of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations. It wasn't too far from our hotel and we got there early in the morning. Laksa is a traditional breakfast food. We also ordered a sweet coffee - coffee sweetened with condensed milk. It wasn't that bad.

The ladies in the front of the cafe cooked up the Laksa fresh. They had a huge pot of boiling water where they cooked the noodles. Then they ladled the broth over the noodles and topped it with the meat and vegetables. It was served with limes and a scoop of sambal. Perfect for a hot muggy morning.

We also had Kolo Mee and Prawn Mee for lunch at a stall along Jalan Carpenter. Mee is more like ramen noodles and more dry. Both were very good but I didn't get any pictures. One night we also had pizza at Bla Bla Bla which had great atmosphere and decor but was much more expensive than the seafood. Good but we preferred the seafood and noodles.

Here are some shots of two of the restaurants and the food we had.

Top Spot
Top Spot Restaurant - you enter up the stairs on the right - 3 floors up

Welcome to Top Spot
Selamat Datang - Welcome!

Neon Signs at Top Spot
Our favorite stall

Display at Top Spot
Fish and vegetables on display - choose your dinner

Waiting for dinner at Top Spot
We're ready and waiting for dinner

Top Spot
Other diners enjoying their meals

Grilled fish at Top Spot
Grilled Fish

Tomato Mee at Top Spot
Tomato Mee

Midin in belecan
Midin (jungle fern) with belacan and chili

Black Pepper Prawns
Black Pepper Prawns for our second dinner

Midin again - with garlic this time

Neon Signs at Top Spot
Great Neon Signs

Neon Signs at Top Spot
Another great sign

Choon Hui Cafe - Laksa
Choon Hui Cafe - our stop for breakfast laksa

Preparing Laksa at Choon Hui Cafe
Preparing Laksa at Choon Hui Cafe

Laksa at Choon Hui Cafe
Our dish

Laksa breakfast
G enjoying his bowl

Welcome sign at McDonalds
They are everywhere! We did *not* eat at McDonalds but couldn't resist including the welcome sign.

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May 6, 2009

Semenggoh Wildlife Centre

Young Orangutan at Semenggoh

This is the twelfth in a series of more in-depth posts on our trip to Borneo.
February 23

Orang utan - it is Malaysian for person of the forest (orang - person; utan - derived from hutan meaning forest). It was very exciting to see an orangutan in the wild at Danum Valley but we really didn't get a chance to see him for very long. I had debated about going to one of the rehab centers. I think the rehab centers provide a great service but I had also heard that it can be somewhat of a performance or zoo. But after reading more about the Semenggoh Wildlife Center outside of Kuching, we thought it might not be too bad. And it was not.

The Semenggoh Wildlife Center is located in the Semenggoh Nature Preserve which is about 25km from Kuching. It was originally founded as a place to care for wild animals which had been found injured or orphaned in the wild. It started in 1975 and has been a great success. Today, it is more of a place to study orangutans.

The center has two feedings daily; 9-10am and 3-3:30pm. The orangutans freely room the preserve and may come to the feeding stations if it is not wild durian season. Durians were not in season in February so there was a good chance that we would see them.

We found it the information on how to get to the center very confusing. We asked at the Kuching Visitor's Center. They said that there was a special bus that left daily at 7:30am along the Main Bazaar. Other information we had said to take on of bus #6 and walk about 1km to the feeding area. The visitor's center said the bus would not make it on time but we later found out that the schedule on the map was incorrect. We did talk with some other tourists who went via bus and were able to get there on time.

We looked at the visitor information on the board at the hotel and it said they could arrange a trip for us. It was only 25RM and would take us from the hotel to center and back. The bus would be much cheaper but we would have to walk. So we decided to have the hotel arrange it.

A white minivan picked us up at 8am. It made a stop at another hotel - Lodge 121 to pick up another couple. We got to the center just before 9am. There are two feeding areas; one is a platform about 1/4 mile into the forest. The other is at the center. At the center there are several ropes strong up between the trees. We first went to the main center and we saw a mother with a small baby and an adolescent. It was very weird to see the orangutan come down to the main area and walk among the tourist. They seemed to love the bananas. They took a few and left.

Next we went over to the other platform. Not much was happening. One Orangutan came down but quickly left. We were all sitting patiently but nothing. We decided to leave and went back to the main area. The mother had returned and we had more chances to see her close up. It was pretty amazing.

Overall, it was a good experience. It was crowded but not too crazy. I'd recommend it.

Here are more shots of orangutans we saw.

Trail entrance to Semenggoh

Orangutan at Semenggoh

Mother and child Orangutan at Semenggoh

Close up with the tourists

Mother and child Orangutan at Semenggoh
Mother and child

Mother and child Orangutan at Semenggoh
The baby clutching tightly to mother orangutan

Mother and child Orangutan at Semenggoh

Mother and child Orangutan at Semenggoh

Young Orangutan at Semenggoh
Teenager at play

May 17, 2009

Getting to Bako

Bako National Park

This is the thirteenth in a series of more in-depth posts on our trip to Borneo.
February 24

Bako National Park was the main reason we had traveled to Sarawak. Like Mt Kinabalu, it is known for unusual plants including several unique species of Nepenthes. It was also home to the Proboscis monkey. They are frequently seen among the mangrove swamps near the headquarters at low tide.

Bako is not far from Kuching but it is not easy to get to. There are no roads to Bako. It is located on an isolated peninsula beyond the river estuary. It can be done as a day trip but most guide books recommend staying at least one night. This allows you an opportunity to hike and experience the jungle at night.

We decided to stay overnight. The park services are run by the Sarawak Department of Forestry. There are no commercial operators. We contacted the park by email and were able to reserve a room in the 2 bedroom chalet. It was described as having 2 twin beds and an attached bathroom. Cost 50RM (~$20US). We had to pay in advance so we made a trip to the National Park office which was located next to the Kuching Visitors Center.

The inexpensive independent way to get to Bako is to take the Petra Jaya bus number 6 to Bako Village. The buses start running around 7am and cost 2RM. You catch the bus at the open market near the city Mosque. We backed our day packs with just what we needed for hiking and staying overnight. We put our main luggage in storage at the Singgahsana and then headed out to try to catch the first bus. The schedule on the bulletin board in the hostel said 7:20. We got there about 7am. We could tell right off that there were several other tourists waiting. We started talking with another couple who was from Holland and a woman who was from the UK. The boats to Bako take 5 people so we agreed to go together and split the cost of the boat which was 47RM. We were approached by several minivan drivers while waiting for the bus. The cost for a minivan was 40RM. 8RM per person versus 2RM by bus. The couple from Holland knew that the tide was changing in two hours so there was a chance that we might miss our opportunity to get to Bako in the morning. We discussed it but decided to wait for the bus. It finally showed up around 7:25am. We got on and it headed out.

The ride took us through the suburbs of Kuching. It was rush hour and the traffic was pretty backed up at the major roundabout. It took a good 10 minutes to get through the roundabout. The area became more industrial and we could see large factories. Small shanty towns surrounded the edge of the factories. School children would get on at the stops out in the middle of nowhere and travel a short distance before getting off for school. In the suburban areas along the way, women setup stalls along the road selling small triangles of rice (nasi) wrapped in banana leaves - fast food breakfast for the commuters.

It took us about 1 hour until we arrived at the Bako Kampung (village). We checked in at the headquarters. They checked that we had reservations and paid our entrance fee of 10RM. The low tide started at 10am so we were close to the last groups to go over to Bako until the tide changed. The Ranger explained that we were going to have to wade ashore since the tide was too low to dock at the boat launch. He mentioned that there were stingrays and jellyfish in the water and recommended that we swish our feet before we set the into the mud. What had we gotten ourselves into???

There was a notice at the boat launch warning about crocodiles. Oh goodie. We walked down and climbed into a small boat. We all put on life vests and then we headed out. Along the way we passed stilted houses and poles set out as fishing traps. The way was mostly smooth but it was also so exotic and exhilarating. We stalled a bit on a sandbar at the mouth of the river but soon we were in the bay at Bako.

We should have known with the difficulty that the boat had getting over the sandbar that we would not be able to be dropped off close to shore. The beaches are very shallow and extend a long way out into the sea - I would say almost 1/4 mile. The boatman cut the motor and it was time to jump out.

G went first with his Birkenstock. The water was up to his knees and the mud sucked off his sandals. I was glad I had zipped off the lower part of my pants. We all went over the side holding our backpacks and shoes. Slosh.. slosh.. we went slowly ashore.

Other than being muddy, it was fine. We came ashore near the canteen. The signs told us to go a 1/4 mile further to the park headquarters where we checked in. It was only 9am and our rooms were not ready yet. So we gathered everything that we needed for our day hike into our hiking pack, put on our boots and stored our gear in storage bins in the headquarters. It is not locked but there is usually someone around.

We couldn't check in until 2pm so we did some wildlife watching, had lunch and went for a hike. I'll detail this more in the next post.

The canteen is self-service with a variety of Malaysian noodles and curries. There was also a small store with a good selection of drinks, salty and sweet snacks. We bought a large bottle of water along with our breakfast. It was about 15RM.

We returned from our hike about 2pm and were able to check in. Our chalet was basically a duplex. It was one large room with a waist high cabinet separating what might be the eating area from the sleeping area. There was an oscillating fan bolted to the ceiling. We opened the windows although the rangers told us to keep them shut. The windows were screened but not secured. The long-tailed macaques showed up and climbed up to the windows. They were just waiting for us to turn out backs on them and they would push the screens in and rifled though our bags. The rangers called the 'naughty monkeys' and the definitely were.

The bathroom was basically a tiled room with a toilet that filled very slowly and a hand-held shower. There was only cold water. In the main room there was a sink, a screened cabinet for storing food and a refrigerator. The walls were stained and dirty. We discovered that there was only a cover on the bed - no sheets. Little did I know my pillow was also moldy. I wouldn't find out until it kept me awake during the night. Fortunately it was only one night.

Here are some pictures of the trip and accommodations.

Bus to Bako
The bus to Bako

Arrival at Bako bus stop
Bus stop in Bako Village at the Bako Park boat launch

Boat to Bako
Getting on the boat to Bako

Houses along river on way to Bako

Stilt houses along the river going to Bako

Boat to Bako

Wading in at Bako
Just after the boat dropped us off. You can see it in the background leaving.

Wading in at Bako
A little ways more to go

Canteen at Bako
The Canteen

Bako accomodations
Our room at Bako

Bako accomodations
A refrigerator and a place to store food.

Bako accomodations
Toilet and shower - no shower for me that night!

Monkeys outside our room
The naughty monkeys waiting to get in our room

Related Posts:

May 20, 2009

Bako Day Hike

Mangrove swamps at Bako

This is the fourteenth in a series of more in-depth posts on our trip to Borneo.
February 24

We did not have breakfast before leaving Kuching so we started back to the canteen before going on our hike. We looked at the trail map while eating. G wanted to go up on the kerangas, a limestone plateau where several species of pitcher plants (Nepenthes) were found. The Lintang trail made a loop up to the kerangas and then back to the headquarters in 5.25 km. Okay.. that is only about 3 miles, I should be able to do that. Wrong! Bako is almost on the equator. It was noon. It was about 90 degrees with 80% humidity. The limestone was white and reflected the heat and sun just like snow. I made it 2KM before I got cranky and said I had to return.

But it was a very interesting trail. It crossed the kerangas where we found several pitcher plants along with the ant plant and other interesting flora. The trail then went back into the jungle where it went up to a high point, descended back to the limestone kerangas. We were able to find lots of sundews along a rusty looking stream. We went back into the jungle where we saw many interesting trees and an amazing palm, Johannesteijsmannia.

Bako Trails

Start of the trail at bako
After crossing the mangroves, you will come to this trailhead and start up to the plateau

Heading up to Kerangas on Lintang trail
The trail climbs over boulders and roots

Heading up to Kerangas on Lintang trail

Kerangas on Lintang trail at Bako
Limestone soil on the kerangas

Kerangas on Lintang trail at Bako
Just follow the arrows

Nepenthes rafflesiana
Along the edge of the limestone lots of Nepenthes rafflesiana

Nepenthes rafflesiana

Nepenthes rafflesiana

Nepenthes albomarginata
Nepenthes albomarginata

Lintang trail at Bako
The trail heads across through the heath brush

Lintang trail at Bako
Sometimes on boardwalks

Dischidia rafflesiana
More interesting plants - Dischidia rafflesiana

Myrmecodia beccarii ?
Ant plant - Myrmecodia beccarii

Johannesteijsmannia altifrons
Huge palms - Johannesteijsmannia altifrons

Related Posts:

May 22, 2009

Animals of Bako

Proboscis monkey
Proboscis Monkey at Bako National Park

This is the fifteenth in a series of more in-depth posts on our trip to Borneo.
February 24

The main attraction at Bako is the wildlife. Number one is the Proboscis Monkey. These monkeys are native of Borneo Island and highly endangered. Bako is one of the best and easiest places to see them in the wild. We were lucky and the rangers told us about a troop of Proboscis monkeys that were hanging out in the beach side trees just a 1/4 mile from the park headquarters. They were feasting on the leaves of the mangrove trees. We spent a good hour hanging out watching them. They make the most interesting noise - "Oh-oh" very nasal and similar to way Raymond in the movie "Rainman" would say it. We also saw several silver leafed monkeys but I was not able to get a good picture.

The other primate that you will definitely see at Bako is the long tailed Macaques or 'naughty monkeys' as the ranger at the headquarter called them. These monkeys roam in big troops around the bunkhouses, just waiting for an opportunity to climb in a window or attack at tourist. They know the canteen packages food to go in white plastic bags so they will attack anybody carrying them around.

They also love cookies. We had sat down with our boatmates for a beer in the afternoon at the canteen. They had purchased a package of cookies and offered us some. We were taking and not watching what was going on and Bam! a macaque jumped into the middle of the table grabbed the cookies and ran off. He dumped them on the grass and gobbled them down before we could even get to them. Needless to say, he also spilled a couple of beers.

The other animal that is easy to see is the bearded pig. It hangs out around the canteen and bunkhouses. One female had a cute little group of four babies. They were so cute scampering along the beach behind her.

And everyone had to check out the green tree pit viper snakes. They hung out in the brushes on the boardwalks between the canteen and our rooms. It was definitely a good reason not to stray off the boardwalks.

Proboscis monkey

Proboscis monkey

Proboscis monkey
Young Male Proboscis monkey

Young Proboscis Monkeys arguing

Young Proboscis Monkeys arguing

Proboscis monkey

Bearded pig

Bearded Pig

Bearded pig

Mother Bearded pig with babies

Long Tailed Macaque

Long Tail Macaque with baby

Long Tailed Macaque
Who me? Not me? I'm innocent!

Green tree pit viper
Green Viper

Sunset at Telok Assam

Sunset at Telok Assam

If you are interested in more information here are some links from Borneo Travel with information on the wildlife.

Common Animals of Bako
Proboscis Monkey
Macaque Attack

Also if you want to see more pictures - check out this great flash slide show of from another Bako National Park

Related posts:

March 5, 2010

Day tour of Seoul

CBD Seoul
Central Business District - Seoul

It has just been over a year since our trip to Borneo. We had a long layover in Seoul on our return. Asiana has a great option for the layover. You have an option of a hotel room or you can take a day tour of Seoul. The hotel room was tempting because our flight from Kota Kinabalu left at midnight and arrived at 6:30am in Seoul. We would continue on to Seattle at 6:00pm - 12 hours. But we were very curious about Seoul and felt the bus trip would be a great option to get look at the city. We had booked our flight on-line so we called the Asiana reservation line and made a reservation for the trip.

Incheon was pretty deserted when we arrived at 6:30am. We asked where to go to get vouchers for our day trip and they told us go exit through baggage and go to door or gate 13. We were really confused. We went down to the carousel 13 in baggage and it was deserted. So we decided to go out. Incheon is a huge airport. We looked around and realized that the areas near the different doors were numbered. We found the area 13 and there was an agent who gave us vouchers. We had to gather in the area around 8:30am.

We went in search of some breakfast. Nothing much was open yet but we had a good time viewing the different menus and window displays. Most of the restaurants were serving a Korean style breakfast which was not what we wanted. We couldn't figure out what the Korean dishes were and did not want anything that might have meat. I think we finally decided to have a coffee and pastry at a Starbuck-like coffee shop.

We went back to the area and we were still confused. Every so often someone would come out and call out a name. It took us a while before we figured out that it was people who were being transported to a hotel. We finally found a group that was still waiting and asked if they were on the day trip. Yes. Good. So we waited around.

They finally called us around 9:30 and we boarded the bus. It is about an hour by bus. The bus went by tollway. It was the end of February and everything looked barren and gray. The areas along the water had some industry and greenhouses. So we had crossed over River into the main area of Seoul.

The river was lined with tall apartment buildings. We went by the Blue House - Cheongwadae where the president of Korea lives. This area had more trees and outdoor areas. Much of the area that we saw had high rises and very little open space.

We entered the CBD and our first stop was at Cheonggyecheon Stream. This stream had been covered over and a freeway ran atop it in the 1950's. In the early 2000's, the president decided to tear down the freeway and uncover the stream which provided more open space in the high rise area. I can see how it would be a beautiful place to visit in the summer. It was freezing and a bit windy but architecturally very interesting. We also visited a near by tourist bureau.

We reboarded the bus and moved on to visit the center of Zen Buddhism in Seoul - the Jogyesa Temple. What a peaceful spot in the midst of the urban. A ceremony was going on inside the beautiful temple but we had an opportunity to peak in and see the the three large golden Buddhas. More on this in a post to follow.

It was time for lunch. The bus parked in front of the Harley Davidson store. What a sight! Hogs in Korea. From here we walked a short block to a Korean Bulgogi restaurant. Stop by tomorrow to see lunch.

It was time to shop after lunch. The bus took us to the Itaewon area. It was filled with both Korean stores and many typical American stores such as Nike, McDonalds, Burger King. We went into a couple of stores but nothing was tempting.

It was almost 2pm so it was time to return to the airport. We still had about 3 hours spend in Incheon. I was able to find the free internet and museums after cruising the stores. The sun went down and we boarded our final flight to return to Seattle.

Seoul Skyline

Seoul Skyline

Seoul Skyline
Skylines of Seoul

Jongro Tower
One of the more interesting buildings - Jongro Tower

Cheonggyecheon Stream
Cheonggyecheon Stream

Cheonggyecheon Stream
Waterfall near beginning of Cheonggyecheon Stream

Cheonggyecheon Stream
Cheonggyecheon Stream

Harley Davidson Seoul
Harley Davidson Seoul

Harleys in Seoul
Bikes on display

Here is a map of Seoul and were we stopped:

View Seoul Day Trip in a larger map

March 6, 2010

Photohunt: Foreign

Bulgogi lunch
Waiting for Bulgogi lunch in Seoul Korea

What to choose... what to choose.... Foreign has so many ways and places for interpretation. We love to travel to foreign countries. According to Webster dictionary, one of the definitions of foreign is alien in character. We travel mostly to western countries which end up not being that foreign.

We made our first trip to Asia last year. We traveled to Borneo Malaysia. It could definitely be considered foreign but since they spoke a fair amount of English and we were familiar with Southeast Asian cooking, it was not that foreign to us.

But we did have a layover on the trip back from Borneo to Seattle in Seoul. Asiana airlines provided us with the option of taking a free day tour of Seoul. It was the perfect way to experience a country very foreign to us.

Korea uses the Hangul alphabet which I can not read. The area I live in Seattle has a large Korean population but I have not explored the restaurants or stores. We knew very little of the culture or cuisine. I've seen signs on Korean restaurants - "Bibimbap", "kalbi", "Kimchi" and "Bulgogi". But all the dishes were totally foreign to me.

We stopped for lunch during our tour at Bulgogi restaurant. Bulgogi is thin slices beef in a soy sauce marinade that are quickly grilled or sauteed. First we had to figure out what G would eat since he does not eat meat. He could try Bibimbap. He wasn't too enthusiastic but would give it a try.

We arrived at the restaurant and had to take off our shoes before entering. We were escorted into a separate room where there was a long low table with burners and it was lined with pillows. Oh my goodness - I was going to have to sit on the floor. I'm not that flexible any more and it was definitely a foreign experience to eat sitting on the floor.

We found a place and set down. We ordered drink. G and I ordered a Kass beer which we had on the flight. The servers sit down an amazing array of condiments - non of which I recognized. They then brought the marinated beef which they set on the burners which were between every other party. They fired them up and the scent of soy-marinated beef filled the room. Yum!

The beef was cooked in no time. The servers came around to cut it up with a pair of scissors and chopsticks. Another couple on the tour was familiar with bulgogi so they showed us how to eat it. Take a piece of lettuce, put a bit of rice on the lettuce, a slice of the bulgogi meat and add your spices. Kim chi - a pickled cabbage spiced with hot peppers; Ssamjang - a spicy paste, pickled turnip and many other items foreign to me.

It was delicious! I loved the soy-sweet taste of the beef. It is not as good as kalbi which I absolutely love but not bad. G thought the bibimbap was ok. I think it was a little too foreign for him. I would love to try bulgogi again and there are a couple of places near by to try. But I have to admit - it was very foreign to us.

Bulgogi lunch
Low tables and burners setup for bulgogi

Bulgogi lunch
Condiments for bulgogi

Bulgogi lunch
Kimchi - hot and spicy fermented cabbage

Bulgogi lunch
Bulgogi cooking at the table

Bulgogi lunch
Time to serve - the server cuts it up with scissors and mixes in the onions and mushrooms

If you want to know more about this dish, check out these video from Epicurious on bulgogi.

Around the World in 80 dishes - Korean Bulgogi

March 8, 2010

Jogyesa Temple in Seoul

Jogyesa Temple

The best stop on our half-day tour of Seoul was at the Jogyesa Temple. This is a Seon or Zen Buddhist temple and it is the only temple within the ancient Seoul's city limits. It was built in 1910 and is Zen Buddhist center today. It is definitely a retreat from the fast paced urban life.

The temple consists of several buildings. I wish I had known more about the center before my visit. You enter the temple grounds through the One Pillar Gate. This gate is the boundary between the spiritual world of the temple and the secular world outside. We were attracted immediately to the Great Hero Hall which is stunning. It is the heart of the temple and enshrines the Buddha Sakyamuni.

The building is of wood. On the exterior, there are beautiful cosmic designs known as "Dan-chung" painted on the beams and columns to protect the wood and decorate the temple. The doors are covered with fine lattice work and the life of Buddha is depicted on the painting around the building.

Also on the grounds is a 500 year old lacebark pine. There were other significant buildings such as even-story stone stupa which holds a relic and the Paradise hall and bell pavilion. I explored the areas but did not have time to find out more.

Here are some pictures of the exterior of the temple and the grounds. Tomorrow I will post pictures of the inside of the Great Hero Hall.

Jogyesa Temple
One Pillar Gate where you enter the temple grounds

Jogyesa Temple
Examples of the Dan-chung decoration - here on the gate

Jogyesa Temple
The beautiful lattice doors

Jogyesa Temple
Detail of the lattice doors

Jogyesa Temple
Paintings on the exterior of the temple

Jogyesa Temple
Paintings on the exterior of the temple

Jogyesa Temple

Jogyesa Temple
The 500 year old lace bark pine outside the temple

March 9, 2010

Inside Jogyesa Temple Seoul

Jogyesa Temple

Yesterday, I showed you the beautiful exterior of the Jogyesa temple in Seoul. We had a chance to peak inside the interior of the Great Hero Hall on our quick visit. First we had to take off our shoes.

Jogyesa Temple

The hall was full. Many people were chanting and bowing so we did not have a chance to explore much of the temple interior. But even from the sides, the Buddha triad was stunning. They represent the Sakyamuni Buddha in the center, Amitabha Buddha to the right and Bhaisaiya Buddha(Medicine Buddha) to the left. The hall is known as the Great Hero Hall because it enshrines the Buddha Sakyamuni. The Buddha Sakyamuni is known as a great hero because he overcame greed, hatred, and delusion and is their original teacher. There is also a smaller wooden statue of the Sakyanumi Buddha in the hall.

Too quickly it was time to leave. It gave us just a taste of all there is to see in Seoul. Here are a few more pictures of the interior of the temple.

Jogyesa Temple

Jogyesa Temple
Amitabha Buddha

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