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Welcome to the Jungle

Mulu National Park

sunny 32 °C
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Feel free to comment on how cheesy you think that post title is :)

Well as you surely know by now we did manage to reach Mulu (and yes I know I'm behind on the blogging). The weather cleared (we actually got a bit of sun and no rain in Mulu!) and we finally boarded a flight on another small ATR72 prop plane for the 20 minute flight (the same trip by boat takes 12 hours - there is no road access to the park). This was the view from the plane...


It was proper jungle and I was apprehensive about where we were staying at Park HQ. We couldn't get a standard room so we had to book one of their new bungalows which was probably the most luxurious room we've stayed in yet and remarkably bug free! The park was really well managed and even their restaurant served well priced and tasty food. We were staying for two nights but arrived late of course on the first day. The second day was taken up by a tour of four caves, the first two (Clearwater and Wind Cave) had to be reached by boat, and in the afternoon we walked to Deer and Lang Caves. All were spectacular and the guides were all locals who had grown up in Mulu. Photos really don't do the caves justice, but I tried anyway (check out the videos I uploaded on youtube)



The winner of them all was Deer Cave. This was the location of the filming of an episode of David Attenborough's Planet Earth on caves and also the home of about three million bats which in turn made it the toilet for about three million bats. The smell of ammonia when you walked in was overpowering and gross and the fact that you were walking on boardwalks surrounded by enormous piles of bat shit resulted in a rather swift walk through this cave for fear of being shat or pissed on. It is Deer Cave that holds access to the very beautiful Garden of Eden, features a very odd rock formation resembling Abraham Lincoln and it's also the spot where you can witness the bat exodus each evening at dusk where the cave's population of bats fly out in formation for their nightly feed.



The following morning we went on a canopy walk. Twenty five metres up off the forest floor Mulu's canopy walk is the longest in the world. It helps if you don't look down.


Mulu was an amazing experience and I'm so happy we were able to get there. I think I would consider coming back to Borneo to do more treks in Mulu, I have never been somewhere where every inch of the place was teeming with life. It is a place that could both kill you with its various deadly animals and plants or could cure you of colds, shingles and burns among other things - that's where it pays to have a local with you :)

Posted by suzebert 17:50 Archived in Malaysia Tagged caves malaysia borneo unesco Comments (1)

Miaow Miaow

Kuching and Tales from an Airport Lounge

rain 26 °C
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That was what the security guy at the metal detecter in Kuala Lumpur airport said to me after checking my boarding pass....miaow miaow. Thankfully I already knew that Kuching's nickname was Cat City, otherwise I would have thought this guy was a bit special and really shouldn't be given the responsibility of airport security. It was fortunate that we were actually able to get on our flight. 48 hours beforehand, an Air Asia A320 had skidded off the runway at Kuching in heavy rain. No one was injured but the nose cone was stuck in the mud and no flights were allowed in or out of the airport until it was cleared.

Yes I did say heavy rain, and it was still raining when we got there too, quelle surprise! If another taxi driver tells me I've arrived somewhere at the wrong time of year again I may cry. At least it seems that it's not a case of a little Irish cloud hovering over our heads, apparently we're all blaming El Nino and all I can say is I'm glad I didn't travel to Brazil or Brisbane, and that we got out of Sri Lanka in time. Lets hope we can avoid any flooding in Borneo too, but something tells me they're used to rain around here.


Kuching is a lovely city built upon the Sarawak River which provides a gorgeous waterfront to stroll along, when it's not raining. Our number one priority was Semenggoh Wildlife Sanctuary, home to the Wild Men of Borneo, the orangutans. Despite the rain we went along for the 3pm feeding. The park is completely open and the orangutans are essentially wild and allowed to freely move wherever they like. They do appear for the bundle of food that is placed on feeding platforms in the jungle at 9am and 3pm. We were extremely lucky (lucky with animals, not so much with the weather it seems). At one of the platforms we sat under a shelter to watch a mother and young baby in the trees. At first mammy was clearly pissed off with the rain like ourselves and had placed a large clump of leaves and foliage on her head to keep her massive body dry. Baby wasn't too keen on this idea and decided to pull all these leaves off and generally have a play about. After a short while they were on the move, down from the trees, on to the feeding platform, down the steps from this platform and on the ground just a few feet in front of our shelter.


It was at this point I remembered the large poster of lovely graphic images of the results of an orangutan attack on the wall behind us and decided we should probably retreat and give mother and baby their space. So we retreated out into the rain a few feet from the shelter while they sauntered in and had a sit down, now comfortably out of the rain. Absolutely an amazing experience. What a difference 3% makes!


We had planned on taking a river cruise to try spot some irrawaddy dolphins, but the weather was so bad no boatmen were sailing so that was scrapped. Instead we spent a day wandering around Chinatown and browsing the many shops of Borneo wood carvings, artwork and jewellery. Kuching has a great chilled vibe to it. There was no one hassling us for anything, on the streets or in the shops, it was all very relaxed and pleasant and I would highly recommend a visit....in the dry season (or in Borneo's case, the less wet season).

I'm currently in the Executive Lounge of Miri airport. We were meant to fly to Mulu National Park this morning at 9.30 but the flight was cancelled because of...you guessed it...bad weather! The next flight is at 2.25 and we've been bumped to that one and given a free lunch voucher. It seems the weather is fine enough to fly in Miri but crappy in Mulu so unless it clears up we could be spending another night in Miri and possibly bailing on the park altogether which will be a bit disappointing. I'm currently in two minds as to whether it'll be a good thing if the flight goes this afternoon, there's a real prospect of being stuck in the park if flights get grounded again on Wednesday and it aint a cheap place to stay and that will then have a knock on effect on our plans for Kinabalu. That I guess will be left up to fate. There isn't much to Miri, which is why I wasn't planning on writing a blog post about it, it's really just a stopover for Mulu and all we really have to show for our time there are memories of a hangover after a great Indian meal and too many beers.


Posted by suzebert 11:13 Archived in Malaysia Tagged animals malaysia borneo kuching semenggoh Comments (0)

Beach Fail #2 And Other Such Christmas Tales

Bali & Lombok

storm 28 °C
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Our plan was to head to Bali for a few days before hopping on a boat over to Lombok where we had chosen a relatively fancy pants hotel to splurge on for the Christmas and New Year period. It was to be a time to relax from all the previous months travelling, a time to spend on the beach or by the pool finally working on my tan while sipping a beer or a cocktail. Sounds nice doesn't it? Well you know what they say about plans, make one and the universe will come along and shit all over it.

Bali was a wash out. Rained everyday and when it wasn't raining there was an overcast sky threatening to rain. We have yet to lie on any beach (we're currently in Bali for our second visit after Lombok before heading back to KL to start the serious travel again). Leaving the weather aside for a moment, we stayed in what probably could be described as the second most touristy spot on the island, Legian/Seminyak. I had intended to stay in the less boozy and beachless town of Ubud but I couldn't find accommodation there so we resigned ourselves to the Aussie package holiday destination of choice. Speaking of Australians, they are everywhere here, and, while not wanting to tar them all with the same large obnoxious boozy brush, they don't paint a pretty picture of their home country, wandering around the streets wearing the ubiquitous Bintang beer wife beater vests - that's if they're not going topless of course - carrying their bottle of beer or vodka and generally being loud and annoying. I'm really beginning to doubt the theory that travel broadens the mind...

Despite the rain and the Australian occupation we quite liked our few days in Bali. There are a tonne of really nice restaurants - you know us, if we're well fed we're happy - and it's much cheaper than we thought it would be which is always a bonus, especially after the budget blowing Sri Lanka visit. It was lovely to catch up on sleep and really not do much at all. We booked our ticket for the trip to Lombok which involved a bus for a few hours, a ferry for four hours and another bus for an hour on the other side. A very long trek for such a short distance - the ferry crossing is 25km - but it was a nice, if very dull and rainy, drive through the Balinese countryside.

Our hotel in Lombok was just outside the provincial capital Mataram. It was very isolated with beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and paddy fields. I would post photos but I lost my camera on the way back from Lombok to Bali. The hotel was actually a collection of 14 villas or cabins and as we were staying so long the manager upgraded us to a larger one with its own veranda to sit out on, we even had our own aquarium in our bathroom, very fancy (if you ignored the leaky roof and the dead gecko in our bed). Thankfully, as we were so isolated, the hotel restaurant did decent and cheap food. This didn't stop us heading into town every few days to stock up on beer and munchies however. The weather in Lombok was slightly better than Bali, I think we got maybe three or four days where I was able to soak up some sun for an hour or two before the clouds came over and a storm broke.

Christmas was extremely strange. Facebook and Twitter got very annoying with updates from friends and family about heading home and things being very wonderfully snowy - the same people have since gone back to work and have returned to feeling miserable which is lovely. The hotel put on a Christmas Eve dinner where we got some turkey, stuffing and spuds which was nice. Christmas Day was just any other day, we went for a swim, we ate and drank beer and generally felt quite sorry for ourselves. New Year's Eve was mildly better, we had planned to head into town to grab a pizza but a lack of taxis had us eating in the hotel at their New Year's Eve dinner - it should have cost us $50 each but with our taxi situation the manager allowed us to join for free. They had the cheesiest band playing at dinner, something like you'd see at a granny's 80th party with a really dodgy keyboard being played very badly. So we ate, drank and retired to our veranda where we fought the noise of the band with our own tunes from our laptop. At midnight, despite a raging thunder storm over the nearby hills, I insisted we jump in the pool for a swim. The hotel staff thought we were odd but it was fun all the same.

I guess we could have done some sort of tour of the island or other nearby islands while we were in Lombok but to be honest between the crappy weather and our wonderful tendency for laziness we just weren't bothered. As boring/disappointing/sad as that may be for you dear reader that's how it is. We'll try do something interesting in Borneo in a few weeks. We're looking forward to getting our mojo back in somewhere new and interesting. In the meantime, you'll just have to make do with photos of Will's de-bearding session, which one's your favourite??




Posted by suzebert 01:06 Archived in Indonesia Tagged bali indonesia christmas lombok Comments (0)

Galle and the End of our Sri Lanka Visit

sunny 30 °C
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Galle was a refreshing change to the rest of Sri Lanka. A lovely looking old Dutch fort town on the coast, it's one of the most popular tourist spots in the country. For once we were able to walk around a town that was interesting to look at, there were restaurants and a cafe! No more overpriced shitty guest house or hotel food. The town was rather ramshackle, in a nice way, that reminded me of Cuba. Again, not a huge amount to do in the town but at least we could get out of our guest house on our own without the need for Sampath.


However, there's a downside to being able to wander around Sri Lankan towns. On every corner there's someone trying to sell you something, even our guest house owner kept suggesting a jewellery shop around the corner to me and recounting stories to Will about the last Irish couple that stayed there who generously gave him money for his family so his children could go to school.


Touts are everywhere in Asia, some places are worse that others, but for the most part you get used to it - it's a fact of life and that's fine. Sri Lanka was the toughest so far I think, not only because of the sheer volume of touts, but because some seemed to get offended when we said "no thanks" (not all, the ones in Negombo are pretty cheerful about it). When we were with Sampath on one occasion, a guy trying to sell us large, and admittedly very pretty, sea shells complained to him in Sinahalese that we weren't buying anything. In response Sampath explained that we are travelling for six months and not really in a position to buy every trinket that comes our way. With that explanation the guy was happy enough that we had a decent excuse and went on his way.

After that encounter and observing the kind of tourist the country attracts, my theory by the end of our time there was that perhaps Sri Lanka isn't used to the young backpacker tourist who may not have a huge amount of money to spend. The majority of tourists I saw were package tour types and middle aged - especially in Galle. We didn't come across many, if any, younger backpackers such as ourselves. Whereas I think places like Thailand and other Asian countries that are well established on the backpacker route are used to the scruffy hippy types traipsing through their countries, Sri Lankan touts see a white face and see dollar signs, which is what we began to feel like by the end of the trip. But that's just my theory.

Overall, I can't say the experience over the two weeks was amazing. There is no denying the country is one of the most beautiful I've seen, the majority of the people are genuine and friendly and I still can't believe you can find a beach like Tangalle and you only have to share it with a few local fishermen. If the peace holds, the tourist industry I can only imagine will get bigger and hopefully better. I do feel like the country needs to figure out how it wants to manage the extra attention it's sure to get, however. It all seems a bit haphazard, it seems difficult to get around independently - I didn't see any tourist who wasn't with a tour group or a guide - and ridiculously expensive for what you get. To be honest though, I would hate to see the place turn into another soulless beach resort destination either. There were high points and there were low points, we could have done all we did in a week I would think, so maybe we spent too long there, maybe we're not cut out for travel in an underdeveloped tourist industry (we do like our hot water showers!), I don't know but it was certainly an interesting country to visit.

Moving on from my ramblings, lets leave Sri Lanka on a positive note. On our way back to Negombo (where we stayed for one night before catching our flight back to KL) we stopped off at the Kosgoda Sea Turtles Conservation Project. Here the volunteers gather up all the eggs that sea turtles lay on the nearby beach and bury them instead under sand at the hatchery where they have a much improved chance of survival than on the beach where they can be taken by people for the local delicacy (yuck) or eaten by birds or lizards and other animals. When they are big enough they are released back into the sea. It's a lovely spot and you can see the baby turtles (incredibly cute, I was close to putting one in my bag and stealing it) and some bigger ones that are deformed or blind and therefore can't be released. A random fact for you that we learned is that turtles have tickles, hilarious watching them flap about when you tickle the top of their shells - such cool animals! Some photos are below, just ignore my silly grins at the cuteness of it all.




Posted by suzebert 23:43 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged animals sri_lanka galle Comments (0)

Tissa to Tangalla

all seasons in one day 26 °C
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We arrived in Tissa (our base for Yala National Park) and within a few hours we were picked up by our safari driver in this very cool open Land Rover.


We were very lucky. The weather was great and within maybe the first half hour of the drive we saw a young male elephant and a leopard! The leopard sighting was incredibly lucky even our driver and the tracker guys were excited about it and everyone else we passed that day hadn't seen a thing - including a tour group who had been out since 5am that morning. It was so close to the jeep and possibly the most stunning animal I've ever seen, the photo does not do it justice.


The safari was brilliant and the park itself is beautiful. We were taken to one particular spot on the beach within the park that was hit particularly bad by the tsunami and where 48 people died. Our driver had been in the area at the time and managed to help out some tourists who had lost everything - these tourists were using the same tour company as we were and hence why this driver is always used by the company for safaris in the area.


With the safari done we moved on to Tangalle. We were told by Sampath it was one of the best beaches in Sri Lanka, and he was right. Just a pity it was pissing rain...again. So we spent the day on our balcony drinking beer looking out at the rain. We stayed in a small guest house on the beach far from the town with not a lot to do. Our entertainment for the evening was when we discovered our minivan was stuck in the mud outside the guest house. The local guys were doing their best to dig the front wheels out but what it took was myself and Will and our combined weight (most likely heavier than the four or five lads helping) bouncing on the rear bumper to give the van some weight to eventually get it unstuck.


The next morning of course when we were heading to Galle, the sun was out and it was gorgeous.


Posted by suzebert 02:09 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged beaches safari tangalle tissamaharama Comments (0)

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