Saturday, August 10, 2013

Semmingoh Orangutans

Well we are in Borneo, so we should see some Orangutans.  We had not planned to visit a rehabilitation centre but on the recommendation of Greg that it wasn't a zoo, and that the animals were living in the wild, we decided the Semmingoh sounded good.

It was an early start for us to be on the road in the green bunny by 7:30am.  It was one hour drive to the other side of Kuching and we knew we were getting close to destination by the number of tourist minibuses. 

Feeding time is set down for one hour at 9am & again at 3pm.  The orangutan are in various stages of rehabilitation to the wild.  Therefore it is considered successful if no orangutan turn up for feeding - but not very good for tourists with their eagerly poised cameras.

We were lucky with one lone female arriving about 9:10,  after the keepers began calling.  She made her way in through the treetops at her own pace.


Orang 2


She stayed for 5 minutes or so and then we and our fellow tourists scanned the treetops for more orangutan, but they didn't appear.  Instead we all watched the numerous squirrels for the next half hour.  Having exhausted patience Andrew & I looked at each other and headed back up to the main gathering area. 

After looking at some crocs and displays we noticed cameras turning to the treetops and tourists rushing west.  So we followed and saw a second orangutan come in to another feeding platform, much closer than the first one. 




Orang 7

The centre is excellent, there is no feeling that these wild animals are constrained in any way.  They come to the feeding areas if they are hungry, but if not they don't. 

They are very strong and graceful animals and we were very pleased we had made this visit.

We headed done the road to see an authentic long house.  We chose to go to a smaller less visited village that had once been at the end of the road.  We had a look around and got an understanding of what real longhouse is.


Setting the GPS in the direction of home we looked for restaurants for lunch.  Andrew turned down the 1st noodle stand options, but thought the name Porkies seemed promising.  Having eaten both fish and tofu in the last 2 days, he was feeling meat deprived - but certainly not underfed - we have eaten well.

We found the said "porkies" which turned out to be a pub restaurant sports bar in a suburban mall and we had a pork chop and wedges.  It was a good choice and we enjoyed it.  On paying the bill the owner asked where we were from and on hearing NZ he became quite excited.  He showed us the official Rugby World Cup 2011 ball he has, the NZ BBQ apron, and the 3 bottles of Watsons beer on his international bottle display.  It turns out he has a friend who is working just outside Christchurch, and the friend brings him something every time he returns to Malaysia.  It was a nice end to a good outing.

In the evening we (Adrian, Greg and us) went out for a Chinese meal a few kilometers away.  We were the only guests at the farm and it probably seemed the easiest option.  Adrian, speaking 3 dialects of Chinese, asked what we didn't eat and then proceeded to order a feast of delicious dishes.

From the farm we went back to Kuching for 2 nights, before retracing our flight steps back to Vientiane.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Kebun & the Rafflesia

A bit of Internet searching turned up a little accommodation gem for us - the Kebun (pronounced along the lines of "k'boon").  An organic farm about 20km out of Kuching city.  The are plenty of goats, ducks, poultry, bees and vegetables being grown.  

The owner has 2 houses for larger groups and also constructed a longhouse with 5 rooms, where we stayed.  The longhouse is a local living model that is exactly what it sounds like. A long central covered veranda, off which there are the 5 individual apartments.  Originally the "longhouse" was a goat shed, but the tourists live there now.  Lots of ethnic pieces and photographs decorate the space, which creates a interesting illusion.  Living was simple, but easy.  There were two other couples there whilst we were there, and we had three nights in the Kebun. 



With our room came a car fitted with a GPS.  We only had to pay for the petrol.  As well as a GPS the car had a name - "the green bunny". A great little 1980s car that was comfortable at about 70km p/h max.  We were told the highest speed clocked on it's GPS was 130km p/h.  There must have been a downhill stretch and a really good tail wind that day!

Green bunny

But the crowning glory of the green bunny is the purple fur on the dash and the big “P” sticker on the windscreen.  P for "provisional".  Yep,  learner drivers: don't get too close to that green car.

Green bunny 2

Our 1st day excursion was to the Gunung Gading National Park.  The park was mainly established to protect and promote the Rafflesia flower native to this area.  The flower is the biggest in the world growing to 1 metre wide.  It's a long road to the actual flowering with 18 months for the flower bud to appear, nine months for the flower to develop and then after all that time it flowers for a maximum of 6-7 days.  With a slight smell of rotting meat, it attracts carrion flies to effect pollination. There is no definite flowering season so it is matter of luck as to whether one is in bloom.  Our hosts told us there was a flower in its 3rd day of bloom - so we obviously made the trip.

We arrived at the park and hired our guide - almost compulsory if you want to see the flower - and headed up another hill in the heat.  Along the way we came across 2 Austrians without a guide who joined Andrew and I, thereby halving our 30 ringgit fee (nzd 12). We had also paid 20 ringgit per person to enter the national park.  The Malaysians have a good system of charging fees for every national park.
We saw Rafflesia buds, the 3rd blooming day flower and one at 6 days, so an effective mission.  

Below (top left) are the buds growing on a host vine, top right (a bud, many months away from flowering) and the bottom 2 are the flower on it’s 6th day flowering


The flower in it’s 3rd day of flowering measured 72cm across…


We headed to a nearby beach, but as it was raining and the tide was out we limited ourselves to a walk and paddle.  Off to Lundu for lunch and then a cruise afternoon & evening.

Sign at the entrance of the Kebun

Kebun sign

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Bako National Park

The public bus to Bako stopped across the road from our hotel so we patiently waited at the bus stop for the big red bus.  $1.30 NZ and just over an hour later we arrived at park headquarters.  Along the way we talked to 2 of the other 6 foreigners on the bus and agreed to share a boat in and out.  The boat ride from HQ to the park took 20 minutes as we zoomed along the river and under fishing stations. 


At Bako we waded up the beach, registered and headed off for lunch.

Food had been given a pretty bad rap in most information we had read, so we had headed bush with low expectations & an emergency packet of biscuits.  The food, while not 5* gourmet, was ok, and we never opened the pack of biscuits.

Having eaten, we decided to do the 1.5 hour walk to Kecil beach.  According to the ranger station, the hardest part was the 1st 10 or 15 minute climb and then it levelled out.  The climb, in 100% humidity, was more like 20 or 25 minutes and the levelled out bit had little shade and bright sunshine. 


The route was well done with board-walks where needed.  Along the way we didn't see any wildlife, but did see some pitcher plants, and the snake is from our night walk, later that evening.


It was with much happiness we started the climb down to the beach.  Much more joyful was the sight of the boat zipping in and out.  We had been told there should be boats at the beach which we could hire to take us back to the park, but there were no guarantees.  Our half of the 35 ringgit hire was the best $7 we have spent in a long while. 

Andrew had a swim in the sea and pronounced it lovely.


No comments are needed on the fashion victims in this photo – we were all so relieved to have seen the finish line!  With Marco & Laura from Australia.


The big downer at Bako is the state of the accommodation.  We had tried to book a 2 bed chalet, but even a month in advance these were fully booked out, so they assigned us a 4 bed dorm room.  We were charged 42 ringgit for the exclusive use of the room (about $14).  Our boat mates, Marco & Laura, had booked the day before and paid 15 ringgit per bed and ended up sharing their dorm with 2 others.


We spent the rest of the afternoon having a few beers looking at the sea and watching the wildlife.  There are plenty of signs telling people about the "naughty monkeys" - grey macaques.

naughty monkey

As one guidebook said – they are cute until you see them rip a can apart with their teeth – the monkey below did proceed to do exactly that.


But so many thought they were so cute jumping on the railings and watching them.  Then they were surprised when the naughty monkey swooped in, jumped on their table, whipped the can/fruit/food sitting on the table away from them.

One lady who was just in the process of sitting down (and wasn't doing anything dumb) got the shock of her life when one jumped on the railing and launched himself, at the plate she was still holding.  The naughty monkey lunged, and with reflex reactions she whipped the plate back and sprayed all her rice across the front veranda.  Neither party was entirely satisfied with the encounter! 

We weren't bothered by the packs of macaques as Andrew undertook a dominant male role and flapped his newspaper at those stupid enough to look in his direction.  Those that didn't get this message, soon understood that the large man running toward them with flapping arms was to be avoided.  I had an entertaining afternoon.

One Alpha male in his natural state – Red T-shirt and eating.  The only anomaly in this picture is there is no bottle of beer – wait, you can just see a beer can behind the water bottle.
alpha monkey

We did an evening guided walk which was OK.  There was not so much to see - being a national park they don't have guaranteed appearances.  But we certainly saw monkeys and snakes sleeping in trees, catfish and a variety of insect life.  On the positive side we weren't too over stimulated before drifting off to sleep in our anti-deluxe dorm, with the funny smell.

Bako is famous for the proboscis monkey, with its bulbous nose. We saw some in the early evening and during our early morning wander.  Much shyer than the naughty monkeys (or nasty as I would call them) they jumped in the treetops seeking tender leaves and flowers.



Sunday, August 4, 2013

Kuching, Sarawak

We had always planned at the end of the consulting assignment we would take a trip down to Borneo and visit Kuching.  And with some excellent 1st hand advice from Imogen, we booked our flights.

A quick superficial history lesson: From 1841 until 1946 the province of Sarawak was ruled by the Brooke family as a dynastic monarchy known as the White Rajahs.  After WWII the area was ceded by the Rajahs to Britain,  and subsequently became part of the newly formed country of Malaysia in 1963.  The British influence is evident in the architecture and high levels of English being spoken.  At the same time there has been a long established Chinese community.  Religion is split between Christian and Islam.  All in all it is a real melting pot of people and cultures.

We spent a couple of days in Kuching at both the start and end of our trip and really enjoyed it's laid-back vibe.

On one hand there is the colonial inspired architecture

And lots of colour

While on the other is there are many new buildings such as the new & very modern (2009) Sarawak state legislature


Old Chinatown (Jalan Carpenter) is full of colour and small shop-houses. 


Chinatown 2

Some things are still done small-scale, including making metal edges/folds by brute force, baking tins are produced and every colour of cotton you could ever need – displayed in rickety old drawers

Chinatown metal workers
Chinatown store 1

We had no problems finding good food here.  We ate everywhere from the open air market to the more upscale James Brooke Bistro.  Everything was cheap and tasty.  We made sure we had some local dishes including Kolo Mee, Sawarak Laksa and Mindin – a jungle fern, sort of like small asparagus. 


While oil & forestry are big export earners here, the exporting of Kek Lapis must be not far behind.  Kek Lapis is a local cake which originally came from Indonesia and the Dutch influence but it has become synonymous with Sarawak.  It is made with thin 5mm layers of brightly coloured, flavoured sponge cake sandwiched together – think Liquorice Allsorts and a ‘good’ cake will have 18 or more layers.  They were for sale everywhere and at the airport passengers were either checking in big boxes of cakes or lugging shopping bags full of cakes to take back to mainland Malaysia.

Kuching in Malay means cat, although the city is not named because of cats, rather the corruption of some other words.  However the locals have taken this as an opportunity to use it for a bit of local flavour so all forms of cat statues exist in the town.

One of the most touristed is on the round about on the main street.  Spotting it free from other tourists I told Andrew to pose and not squint into the bright sun directly shining in his eyes.  Apparently not squinting was the easy part, not squirming because the rocks were super hot, was a lot harder to avoid.

2 more sets of statues from around the city centre.  I like the 2nd, which someone else described as the cats doing a Nazi salute.

Kuching Cat 2

Kuching sunset