Sunday 7 September 2014

Highest Mountain (4'095 m) and biggest nose

It's a long way from Brunei to Kota Kinabalu (KK) but not because the distance, more because of the borders you have to cross. Since Brunei consists of two unconnected parts, and since there is a border within Malaysia, we had to stop at 8 Check-points to do all the migration (Brunei exit, enter Sarawak; exit Sarawak, enter Brunei; exit Brunei, enter Sarawak; exit Sarawak, enter Sabah). But finally, we arrived in KK. The Borneo Island is known for it's rainy weather (it rains 2 out of 3 days) and so we arrived with a thunderstorm. Luckily, our hotel was not too far away.

Next morning, the weather has cleared up so we could explore the city and checked the options we had there. Not surprisingly, climbing mount Kinabalu was very expensive (around 300 USD per person) so we firstly decided that we're not climbing it (furthermore we were told that it is fully booked most of the days) but rather just have some walks in the national park which surrounds the mountain.
So, after a very nice sea-food dinner, we left for the mount Kinabalu National park. It's a 3 hour ride into the mountain area and we arrived shortly after lunch. Our place was nice and had some very cute cats to play with, but unfortunately, it started to rain again, so we did not see much of the surroundings. Nevertheless, we went for some walks in the park, but it's not much fun when everything is soaking wet, so we headed back to the little cats...
The following morning, it had cleared up a bit, so we could see the surroundings but we still wanted to continue to Sandakan, to see some more monkeys (Orang Utans).

Kitten in the lodge
Cats in the lodge
Morning view
In Sandakan, we found a very friendly backpacker that helped a lot in organizing the following trips. The first one was the visit of the Orang Utan sanctuary which was worth a visit. They raise orphans and injured Orang Utans and try to bring them back into the wild, but they can come back for a feeding if they want to. At our feeding, about 8 Orang Utans showed up which was a great experience. After the feeding, we changed location and went to the sun bears sanctuary (just across the road) where we could see some of the smallest bears in the world and we furthermore saw 2 more Orang Utans with a bad mood there, so we had to run quickly to be in a save distance from them (but most of the other tourists rather try to take pictures instead of moving away when a Orang Utan shows up and the guard shouts: "Run! Run! Run!"). We also attended the afternoon feeding (with less tourists and less Orang Utans) before going back to town.

Orang Utan at feeding place
Happy with bananas
Afternoon feeding
Sun bear
Sun bear
Besides the Orang Utans, there is a second type of monkeys there, the Proboscis Monkey, which you can recognize easily: they have a big nose (the alpha males at least!). It's nice and funny to see them (they look really special), but sad to know that they only live there since all the rain forest around has been chopped down for palm oil trees; so the small part that is still there is there only refuge. In comparison to the Orang Utans, they are much more "civilized" since they finish all the food that is given to them whereas the Orang Utans are very selective on what they it (most of the food they just try and drop it after).

Big nose monkey
Bachelor group of Proboscis monkeys
After the 2 monkey stops, we changed our location to a small island close to the Philippine border where they raise sea turtles. To get a room there its a bit difficult: if you call the owner, they tell you it's fully booked but you can try to call a travel agency they may have some beds left and yes, they did! So we got picked up in the morning and a fast boat drove us to the island. In the afternoon, there is not much to do but only relax and sleep since the action is in the evening when the turtles arrive on the island. At 9 p.m we were called to visit a turtle that was just about to lay eggs. It was nice to see this, (but too many tourists were around) and it was very special moment when they released some small, just hatched turtles into the sea. Furthermore, our guide told us to get up early next morning so we may see another turtle nesting on the island and we were actually lucky so we saw another one (you are not allowed on the beach between 6 pm and 6 am and there is military police and rangers patrolling). So we had seen 2 turtles and many small ones and we were brought back to Sandakan.

Turtle island
Hatching turtles

Turtle in the morning
Water village at Sandakan
The same day, we left for Kinabatangan River which is one area that has not been transformed to palm oil plantations. On the way, you just see palm oil trees but once we arrived, it's different, with rain forest and a lot of animals. The best thing in such surroundings is the river cruises were we could see lot's of different birds (especially horn bills with they remarkably large beak) one wild Orang Utans, many proboscis monkeys and the ubiquitous Macaque monkeys.

Proboscis Monkey
New born baby
Horn bill
Macaque Monkey
Besides those animals, there were lizards and snakes and we also saw a small crocodile in the evening. So the river cruises were very nice, the jungle walks were rather disappointing since you don't see many animals there (except for leeches!) so after two nights, we left the lodge.

In Sandakan, we saw an offer to climb Mt. Kinabalu for "only" 200 USD plus some nights staying with "Jungle Jack" so we took the opportunity and went straight to him. It's a strange place up in the mountain, build with shipping containers, very cheap beer (1 USD per can) free food and the cheapest climbing permit by far! How does it work? He does book you a bed in the mountain lodge, but not food and he tells you just to go to the buffet and eat there "for free" and it actually works! :-)

View to the mountain
So the first day, it's 6 km climbing quite steep uphill (1'500 m) followed by a short night and an early wake up. After "free" supper at 2.30 in the morning everybody starts to climb to the summit (and there is PLENTY of people doing this!) so you wait at various places until you can pass the very slow ones and finally, you reach the summit just before sunrise. It's a strange summit, firstly because there is a lot of people on it, trying to get a summit picture and secondly the surrounding is very special, it like one big rock with no vegetation at all.

Summit sunrise
Summit picture
The summit...
View from summit
The summit is on 4'095 m above sea level and therefore it's pretty cold and quite high since you start on 1'700 m. As usually, some of the people walk just to fast and end up with severe headache (typically altitude sickness) so we distributed a lot of our Aspirin on the mountain to ease their problems. On the way down we also met some of the guys we met before so it took us a while to get down since we stopped quite often, talked, distributed some more Aspirin and finally, we reached Jungle Jack's again.

We could have staid another night but we had fight next day, so we were looking for some transport down to KK and luckily, a guy with a big car just gave us a lift down to KK for free :-) very nice chap!
Our next stop was Penang / George town on the west cost of Malaysia, so we had a flight with AirAsia. The bording was a bit special since it was raining when we had to board the plane and they didn't use finger docks, so you get an umbrella and walk to the plane :-) quite funny!

Boarding AirAsia flight
We stayed two days in Penang, so we had time to visit the historic centre of George town itself, with it's markets, shops, restaurants etc. and one day we took the cable car up to Penang hill (we could still feel climbing Kinabalu Mountain in our legs) which offers a view over the city and has some temples on top of it, and we spent some time in a big Chinese temple close to Penang hill. The temple is not old, it was rather built by rich Chinese and they are still expanding it!

Church in Penang
Clock tower in Penang
Hindu temple on Penang hill
Chinese temple
Inside the temple
Temple inside
After Penang, we left for some day of beach (and duty free) to Langkawi. We had booked a room, but the directions were completely wrong, so we could not find it and we stayed in a different place. We thought it's going to be difficult to find a room for the week and as it was a long week end, but it was luckily no problem to get one.

Beach (after they cleaned up)!
After 3 days beach, we wanted to leave again, but instead of leaving, we were asked if we want to participate in a Bollywood movie (Roy). They told us: 200 RM for 5-6 hours shooting (well, they did lie on that...) + free accommodation. So we agreed, moved our hostel and were ready next day. After 2 hours of waiting to be picked up, we were driven to a golf resort where the shooting took place. Firstly, the guys were angry since we did not bring any shirts, long pants or high heels (well, nobody told us to do so) then we got somehow dressed, we did our own "make up" since they did not have any an then we started shooting the scene. After about 6 hours we were told that there is another scene to shoot but we first had dinner, followed by a long discussion about our wage (we finally got a bit of a raise) and we continued shooting until 6 am... (18 hours) for 400 RM per person. So it was definitely an experience but we would not do it again since they did not tell us the truth about the expected shooting time and salary. But we had some fun with the other western guys doing the shooting (e.g. with a Scottish couple who complained as well) and with one of the real actors (Valentine Cawley) who was fun to talk to as well!

Shooting the auction scene
Now, after some more days of beach we finally arranged our night bus to Perhentian Island (there is only night buses from here) for some more beach and snorkelling, before we go back to KL (cheap 25 USD flight per Person with Malaysia Airlines!) and before we go to Myanmar. Depending on the connectivity in Myanmar, we will try to do an update there as well.