Saturday, May 12, 2012

Sandakan: Sepilok Orangutan Sancutuary

Tim:  The afternoon that we completed the climb and had reached the base of the mountain, we planned our onward travel to Sandakan. Sandakan is the largest city near Sepilok the Orangutan Rehabilitation Center. The bus ride took about four and a half hours. We arrived in the early evening, but it was already dark. We were exhausted having woke up at 2:00 am that morning for the summit climb. After an Indian dinner of fried chicken and roti we went to bed. The next day we switched hotels because we found a much nicer place for less money down the road. We caught a 2:00 bus to Sepilok. The bus ride took about 45 minutes to make the 25 kilometers. We arrived at the Orangutan Rehabilitation Center just a few minutes before three o'clock when the afternoon scheduled feeding time was to occur. A few minute walk down a boardwalk through the jungle brought us to a large wooden platform that served as a viewing area. There were elevated platforms 15 meters away for the orangutans. There were only four orangutans that came to the feeding. They are amazing creatures, with long dangling arms. We we were able to take some great pictures. After 45 minutes of feeding time the orangutans made there way back into the deep jungle and we grabbed the four o'clock bus back to Sandakan.

Amber:  Climbing Mt Kinabalu was an amazing experience.  We were exhausted as we finished our climb.  I only had a few blisters from my available choices in foot ware; chacos and my 'barefoot' shoes.  I think I'm pretty lucky considering how high we climbed! The clouds had set around the mountain top as we hiked down.  It was full on pouring out when we hiked down to the main road and waited for a bus to drive by, heading to Sandakan.  Tim had shipped his rain pants back to Juneau when we were in Laos, so I was the only one with a full set of rain gear.  Tim nominated me to go out and flag down the bus, he stayed under the awning and watched our gear.  It wasn't too long in the rain before a bus heading to Sandakan stopped when it saw me flailing my arms at it.  All the passengers on the bus wearily watched as Tim and I looked for a seat. We both looked like drowned rats and were dripping water as we walked the length of the bus.  Finally, someone moved to sit with his buddy and we got to sit together and not get anyone else wet.  Tim was so tired from our lack of sleep the night prior, he fell asleep almost instantly.  The purser kept walking by and laughing at him, all sprawled out and sleeping in the back of the bus!

We were happy our activity in Sandakan was one with minimum exercise.  We could move, but not that well!  Stairs were extremely difficult, so used handicap ramps whenever possible.  The Orangutan sanctuary was fun.  They are so amazing.  We saw only three or four, but it was fun to watch the orangutans come out of the jungle, drink some water, swing along the vines and ropes set up for them, and stuff their faces with bananas.  One filled her mouth so full of bananas that she had to hold a finger to her bulging lips as she chewed so she didn't spew the bananas out.  After the feeding, they swung up into a big tree and we watched as one collected leaves.  Maybe to make a nest.  Tim took several pictures, and just as he handed the camera back to me, the closest orangutan swung down the tree right next to us!  She walked along the railing a ways and curiously watched one of the staff before meandering down the boardwalk and back into the jungle.  I was so shocked she was so close (withing grasp) that I failed to get any pictures as she was right next to us.  Next time!

Borneo: Mount Kinabalu

Amber:  We got up early the next morning (5:45am!) to hike up to the park head quarters.  Fingers crossed that the land slide had forced someone with a reservation to decide to collect their travelers insurance and cancel their reservation at Laban Rata.  We had tried weeks before to get a booking, but the lodging was full and without a reservation, you either had to climb Mt Kinabalu in one day, or not go at all.  Considering we have not been keeping up on our mountain climbing while in SE Asia, we really wanted to spend the night at Labn Rata. We got to the park head quarters at 6:30am and asked if there was any news of a cancellation.  They said not yet, but check back at seven when the more senior staff arrived.  We waited.  At seven, they had not heard of any cancellations, but advised us to come back at eight.  We went to a small restaurant and had breakfast, then rushed back. 
The mountain notoriously gets cloaked with rain and fog in the afternoon this time of year.  As we waited for news, we watched as the first wispy clouds of the morning turn into thick fog that soon obscured the mountain top.  By nine am, half the mountain was hidden in clouds.  We decided to wait until eleven for news of a spot opening up.  If one did, great, if one didn't we'd hike the trails around the base of the mountain and get up bright and early the next morning to attempt the one day summit. 
While we waited, I went to the restroom.  Someone was being violently ill in the stall.  Feeling bad for them, I went back to where Tim and I had been waiting.  A few minutes passed, and we got news that a group had attempted to climb at seven am, but had begun to experience altitude sickness, so turned back.  Four spots were available!!  We happily booked two of the bunks and arranged for a guide to take us up the mountain.  A third member was joined to our party; a man that had just run the marathon in KK the morning prior!  So much for it being a leisurely hike up the mountain, we needed to keep up with this guy!
Tim:  Everyone who climbs mountain must have a guide. It is not really necessary to have a guide as the trail is very well marked. Anyway the guide always follows behind the group. Mount Kinabalu is the tallest mountain in SE Asia at 13,435 feet, less than 1000 feet shorter than Mount Rainier. The mountain is usually climbed over two days. It is possible to make a one day ascent, but the mountain is almost always covered in clouds and fog by mid morning. The hike to camp at Laban Rata goes from the starting point of 1892 meters to 3272 meters. The hike up to Laban Rata generally takes 4-6 hours. Amber and I did it in 3 hours and 40 minutes. It had rained on us earlier in the hike, and we were hiking in shorts and tshirts. When we were within 200 meters of Laban Rata it started to rain torrentially. The temperature had also started falling because of the higher elevation. By the time we reached Laban Rata we were freezing cold and completely soaked. When we checked in the reception handed us a towel to dry off. It took the whole afternoon into the evening to finally warm up again. We arrived at Laban Rata at 2:30 in the afternoon.
The main building has a buffet dining hall on the first floor and a host of dorm room that include 4 beds each. We napped an lounged around for the whole afternoon. We ate the buffet dinner at 5:00 o'clock and we were in bed by 7 PM. Most people begin their final ascent of the mountain at 2:30 am. This is to ensure that you get to see the sunrise when you are at the top of the mountain. It takes another 2 and a half to four hours to reach the summit.
As we were waking up we were waking up at 2 in the morning we could here a man retching in the men's bathroom next to our room. The night before we had spoken with a group of three Austrians, one man and two women. We saw the man during early morning supper. His two companions had been suffering from altitude sickness all night and had been vomiting and were not going to be able to finish the climb. Amber and I felt fine except that I had a light headache.
We started hiking at 2:45 am. Obviously, it was still completely dark. The second half of the climb was much steeper than the first. In many places there was a thick rope used for hauling yourself up the steep granite. We were noticeable more out of breath. After an hour of hiking we had passed most of the hikers and were in the front of the pack with exception of about 8 other people who had started hiking much earlier. It was almost a full moon so once we reached the granite slopes we were able to shut off our headlamps and hike by moon light. The last kilometer or so went very slow as we needed to stop every few minutes or so to catch our breath.
We reached the peak at 5:10 am. The sunrise was not for another 30 minutes. We huddled together to try to keep warm. We were wearing all of the warm clothing that we had, which wasn't much. We waited for the sunrise and hastily took a few pictures. At this point we were very cold and had to leave the summit before we got hypothermia. After speedy hiking down we were able to warm up as the sun was quickly warming the air and our elevation declined. It took us a hour and a half to reach Laban Rata again. We took a short nap, had some breakfast then headed down the mountain. By the end of the hike our legs were sore from all of the down hill. It took us another 3 hours to make it down to the starting gate. In total it had taken us 6 hours of climbing to reach the summit and four and a half hours to come down.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Borneo Adventures

Tim:  After three and a half amazing days in Singapore with our friend Cindy, we needed to follow through with our plans to visit Borneo. Borneo is the third largest island in the world and is shared by three countries: Malaysia, Indonesia, and tiny Brunei. In the Malaysia portion their are two different states: Sarawak and Sabah. We chose to visit Sabah with a round-trip flight in and out of Kota Kinabalu. Sabah is also the home of Mount Kinabalu, the tallest mountain in Southeast Asia at 4095 meters. Amber and I chose Sabah largely from our desire to climb Mt. Kinabalu.

We took and Airasia flight from Johor Baru which is across the bridge from Singapore to Kota Kinabalu. We didn't arrive until around 11 pm. We shared a taxi into the middle of town with another couple. We found a place to stay at a run down hotel that was barely passable, but better than the other options we looked at. The next day we did very little. We were trying to plan out the next few days of our trip, but the day was a holiday so most of the tour companies were closed. We only have nine days in Borneo. We were looking into the possibility of renting a motor bike, but the holiday was Saturday and the only motorbike company in town was also closed on Sunday. In the evening we ventured over to a food night market and enjoyed red snapper and other local delicacies.

We settle on a bus to Kinabalu park, the park that contains Mt. Kinabalu. Our plan was to show up in the park in the late afternoon and see what options there were for climbing the mountain.

Our bus left Kota Kinabalu around 1 PM, it was to be only a two hour bus ride. Not long after departing we began gaining elevation into the mountains. An hour into the drive it start raining, torrential rain. In places the road seemed like a river as it was completely covered with several inches of draining water. An hour and 45 minutes into our drive, we came to a stop on an hill. The rain had settled down some, but it was still raining. There was a long line of cars stopped in front of us. After a few minutes we got off the bus to go see what was going on. About 200 meters up the road there was a land slide that had brought mud, boulders, and trees onto the road. There was a small backhoe trying to remove the debris. As we approached we could see other people watching from the other side of the land slide. We heard rumbling like thunder. Within moments the people on the other side of the landslide began backing away and then running away from the area. More debris came down the same shoot and began spilling onto the road. Those of us on this side of the land slide also started running away from the area as we didn't know how much more debris would be coming down. The equipment operator had to quickly back away from the area as well. There was sticky brown mud covering a large section of the road down the hill from the landslide. Our sandals and our feet were covered with mud. After the second slide the equipment operator went back to work, but within a few minutes another small landslide occurred. At this point the equipment operator back away from the slide area and shut down the equipment until the rain and runoff settled down.

I was surprised how small the backhoe was compared to the size of the landslide. The backhoe had what was probably a three sq yard bucket, but the landslide had buried the road in as much as 12 feet of mud and boulders. I knew from looking at the slide that it would take many hours to clear the debris. We went back to the bus and waited for over two hours before walking back up to the landslide to check on the progress. Not much progress had been made. We saw groups of people hiking across the landslide that appeared fairly settled but still had streams of water flowing down it. After some discussion, we opted to hike over the landslide as well and try to hitch a ride down to the Kinabalu Park entrance some 5-10 kilometers down the road. No one could give us a strait answer. So we strapped on our backpacks and hiked over the landslide which was easier than we expected. We waited around for 30 minutes before hitching a ride with a local couple in an SUV who were turning back due to the landslide. The park was only about 6 kilometers down the road. We were dropped off at the park entrance. We were told to check back in at the main office the next morning to see if there were any cancellations that would allow us to have lodging at the Laban Rata Lodge. We found an affordable guesthouse just 200 meters down the main road from the park entrance.

Sunday, May 6, 2012


Tim:  Our bus ride from Melaka to Singapore took four hours. We had to pass through immigration in Johore Baru, and it went without incident. The same bus drove us all the way into the downtown area of Singapore near Little India. Amber and I made our way to a nearby mall (there are malls everywhere in Singapore) and purchased a Singapore SIM card and prepaid credit. We contacted our friend Cindy Choa. She was busy for a little bit and had her boyfriend Michael meet us at the mall. Cindy arranged for us to stay a friend's house on the outskirts of the city.

That evening we enjoyed an amazing seafood dinner at Jumbo Seafood Restaurant. It included granola covered prawns, squashed wrapped scallops, and chili crab. This began our four day love affair with Singapore food. Singapore is famous for its amazing malls and food options. As we really didn't need to do any shopping, we just settled for the food. The next day we had lunch of Dim sum (sp) a Hong Kong specialty at what use to be an old horse race track. We ate dinner at a rooftop Indian restaurant in Little India.

As for sights, we checked out the Asian Civilizations Museum. It was by far the best museum I have ever been to, with the most amazing ancient artifacts I have ever seen. This include a ship wreck exhibition of merchant vessel from 830 AD that was found of the coast of Indonesia. There was a gold coin collection that included coins from 600 BC. There were amazing examples of ancient artifacts from all the Asian countries.

Friday, May 4, 2012


Amber:  We arrived in Melaka midday after a short two hour bus ride from KL.  The main bus station was a few kilometers from the center of town, so we went in search of bus 17.  For 1 ringit, we were able to squeeze onto the local bus along with a mix of locals and backpackers.  It was so full that there ended up being standing room only for a lot of the passengers, but we were able to stack our backpacks onto Tim's lap and sweat out the ride sitting. 

We wound our way through town and finally got out at the center of town.  Melaka is a charming little town that is considered a Heritage sight for Malaysia.  Centered on a river that eventually leads into the ocean, the old buildings are fairly well maintained.  Mosques, temples, shops catering towards tourists, and guest houses line the narrow brick streets.  Tim and I  crossed the river into budget Chinatown and were able to find a cozy guest house after looking at a few options.  Clean white sheets and blankets were provided as well as towels.  The bathrooms were shared, and the wifi only worked in the lobby, but the room was nice, and the guest house was clean.  We decided to celebrate and took a nice long nap. 

Once the heat of the day had passed, we got up and went in search of food.  We found the weekend market and sampled some of the local fair.  We had popiah, basically spring rolls on steroids, both fried and fresh.  The fried kind was good. The fresh ones had a slight fish flavor that I was not too crazy about, perhaps from the pickled turnip in them.  I donated most of my fresh one to Tim as he liked it.  We had been greedy when we had seen the tasty looking popiah and ordered four of them, and they were filling!  After eating those as well as a few pastries stuffed with sweet pork, we ended our meal with cendol.  Tim is convinced he could make a killing at the Palmer State Fair with this flavored shaved ice Malaysian delicacy.  It was simple yet very tasty and refreshing.  We shared a peanut butter flavored one and it was pretty darn good.   

Tim:  The next morning we woke up at 6:00 am to the sounds of Muslim chanting from the Mosque across the street from our guest house. At 7:00 in the morning the drumming started from what was apparently a parade down our street that included cows. We found their cow pies on the sidewalk later. On our first full day in Melaka we ventured out for breakfast at the cafe where breakfast was included as part of our guesthouse stay. The food was not very good. Amber stayed in the room for a while, and I visited the museum that is housed in the original Dutch administration building constructed in the 1600s. It was a hot day, Amber and I walked around in search of dinner. We ate fried chicken for a snack from a hawker stall then settled on Indian Banana leaf food.

Amber:  The Banana Leaf food was very tasty but they served it with no utensils.  Tim especially was a little taken back by the concept of simply digging in with our hands.  The food was brought out in serving dishes, but then plopped onto a banana leaf that was placed on the table upon our arrival.  Very traditional but   it was a little like reverting back to childhood!  We had ordered nhan, mutton, and tandoori chicken.  It was all very good, but we had not seen the hand washing sink upon arriving.  We did our best using little crackers they had given us to scoop the food, but finally, after spotting the sink, felt better about just digging in.  I had read that to use the left hand was improper due to the way people use the toilet over here... but the other guests seemed to be digging in with both.  You can't believe everything you read!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Kuala Lumpur Part 2

Tim:  Our second day in KL we woke up early to be in line for the limited number of tickets to visit the viewing areas of the Petronas Towers. Petronas is the name of the Malaysian national oil company which occupies much of the buildings. Our first stop was the sky bridge at the 41st floor so 170 meters above the ground. Then we visited the viewing area on the 86th floor. The buildings are 542 meters above ground. The Petronas Towers are the 5th tallest buildings in the world and the tallest towers in the world. There were some awesome views from the top floor, and we got great pictures.

After the towers we took the sky train to a nearby market and Sikh Temple. On the way we went by one of the most popular mosques in KL during the beginning of afternoon prayers. All of the gates were open and hundreds of men and men only were flocking into the mosque. Further down the same road was the largest Sikh Temple in SE Asia. Sikhism is a religion founded in what is today Pakistan in 1604. We had to put on head coverings as well as wash our hands and feet before entering. We received a guided tour from one of the Deacons of the temple. It was an interesting experience. The have like seven different Holy Books which they rotate every day.

Later in the afternoon we went back to the aircon mall at the base of the Petronas Towers and watch the new Avengers movie in 3D. We both really like the movie. For dinner we made our way back to our guesthouse. On Friday nights the guesthouse hosts a freee dinner for guests on their rooftop area. The food was Malay/Indian and was delicious. After drinking a couple of beers in our room, we went to bed.

Amber:   I have to say that the Sikhism mosque tour was one of the more awkward experiences we have had on our travels in SE Asia.  We knew nothing about the religion, and were quite surprised when we arrived at the mosque to see we would be receiving a private tour.  Quite the experience, and one we were not expecting.  We had lots of questions, and our guide did his best to answer them with out making us feel too silly for not knowing!

The next morning we woke up and went in search of breakfast.  We were going to go to the center of Chinatown and have a quick bite of chicken and rice, but once we left our guest house we found the streets choked with protesters.  They were dressed in yellow tee shirts and chanting.  It was a peaceful demonstration, with lots of cheering and laughing.  We pushed through the crowd to find more streets just as crowded.  The only presence of police we saw was a long line of uniformed police men in front of a market, but they were just standing there.  One was even on his cell phone. 

We finally found a place for breakfast, and scarfed down some cold noodles and an egg (no chicken and rice was to be found on the crowded streets, and most restaurants seemed to have closed so that they could join the protest.  We went back to our room, gathered our belongings, and went in search of a bus station to make our trip to Malaca. 

We had an older version of Lonely Planets Malaysia book, so the bus station listed was no longer the main station.  Thankfully we had lots of people in yellow shirts we could ask directions from!  We ended up needing to take a subway to a bus station on the outskirts of town, and once there easily got a bus to Malacca.  It was not until we had settled into our guest house in Malacca that we realized that the protesters had gotten doused with chemical water from water cannons and tear gas thrown at them from the police.   Scary!