We arrived back in Malaysia for about the 5th or 6th time during the last year. Up until now we had not made it away from KLIA2 (the airport)…add to this two previous times and we had been to Malaysia about 7-8 times without ever having been outside of Kuala Lumpur. Alas we arrived at a time when smoke from Indonesian forest fires shrouded Singapore and Malaysia in a thick haze. We spent a night at the airport hotel then headed to Penang.
I immediately fell in love with this place. I had always held Malaysia relatively high on my list of nice places but this early foray has placed it VERY high on my list of favourite countries. Based in no small part to the excellence of the food available here…you can get anything you like here…add to this the happy and friendly nature of everyone you meet…how could you not love the joint.
Malaysia has been recorded as a major trading hub on the spice route going back as far as the 1st century AD. It seems to have had for almost all of its time a multi-ethnic, multicultural, and multilingual society…which continues up to this day. Malaysia’s foreign policy and apparently the populations policy is “officially based on the principle of neutrality and maintaining peaceful relations with all countries, regardless of their political system.” This means that they pick no fights and generally try to resolve issues pragmatically. As such there is very little disharmony and the place is a pleasure to be in.
We set up camp in the old town section of Georgetown which is the heart of the tourist district. On our first day our hotel owner sat with us for about 30 mins and on a map pointed out all of the tourist sites and identified the lesser known ones that were not to be missed. For the ones with a bit of distance he added the bus numbers, where to catch them, how long it would take and how much it should cost. All of this at no cost and with no benefit to him other than making sure that our stay was as pleasant and fulfilling as it could be…WOW…
The main thing you see when you hit the old town section of Penang is the street art. It is everywhere. It started from small beginnings in an attempt not to lose the history of the neighbourhoods but has grown a life of its own. Every street, every corner, any spare bit of wall is fair game for what has become roaming gangs of artists. Not graffiti…actual art. And some of it is incredibly clever and it adds a whole level of character to old crumbling buildings…so much so that the crumbling etc is incorporated into the art. The street art here is a beast in its own right so I will do an extra sideline for this alone.
On the first night we migrated into little India in search of a feed and a beer (which we thought may be a little challenging in an overtly Muslim country). No issue. We wandered through typically (sort of) Indian streets and markets with spices, trinkets, saris, tailors, food and gram everywhere you looked. I say sort of…because it was clean here…no urine and faeces (human or cow) on the road. The water was clean and running (not in a rusty, filthy drum) and all the scary bits about India were removed leaving only the best bits.
With this knowledge we happily settled in for a meal. Alas it had been too long between curries for me and I went crazy with the ordering. I absolutely love the concept of having a bit of everything…thali style…but for two of us spraying orders across the menu is less than ideal. Either way I ordered about 6 mains for the two of us…plus breads and beers. What was delivered was authentic Indian…it was good. I however have been reminded of the two dish ordering rule…in my defence…we ate it all…and it was fantastic.
The next day we hit the road following the map suggestions of our hotel owner which were spot on. The first port of call was the local Yum Cha (Dim Sum) joint about 150 metres down the road. We then wandered up “Jalan Mesjid Kapitan Keling” commonly known as harmony street…why harmony street…Because the Kapitan Keling mosque, Kuan Yun Chinese temple, Saint Georges church, Hindu Sri Maha Mariamman temple, Cathedral of Assumption, Acheen street mosque, Nagore shrine and the Khoo Khongsi clan temple are all located side by side within a 5 minute walk. As they have done for the past 180 years.
So we wandered the street hitting the end where we found Fort Cornwallis, town hall, city hall, and a bit further on and around the corner the Cheong Fatt Tze mansion for the guided tour. All of this was on the recommendation of our little dude and it was all awesome. The only detractor of this was that the town was still choked with smoke from the Indonesian fires, it was about 34 degrees and high humidity…and we both had bellies full of curry and yum cha making it a touch uncomfortable.
We hid In the air conditioning for a few hours before heading out to the red garden food court which is a brilliant food court style eatery surrounded by almost every type of hawker stall you can think of. We got our seat, ordered our beers and off I went in search of food. Alas I completely forgot (or disregarded) the 2 dish rule…I cannot be trusted with so many delicious food options. We had Chinese roast duck, Syrian schwarma, Asian braised pork belly, some Malaysian noodles and German beers and got change from a $20. Oh my…we would be back.
The next day we got up late and missed our yum cha and had to settle with coffees and scones for Jill. We then hit the art trail using the well appointed map supplied by our little hotel dude. Another high temp high humidity day but 4-5 hrs of walking and checking out and photographing the street art…followed by another night at the hawker stall for another spray of delicious goodies from across the region.
The next day was day 365…our 12 month anniversary since departing Australia. We had a day in…blogging, this and our 365 post followed by a revisit to little India for more curries. My god I love this place. The next day was sushi train, some assignment prep for Jill and back to the food court for our last meal in Penang as we would be leaving early in the morning to head to Borneo.
Well this was a break away from everything on a beach in the jungles of Borneo…literally. We flew from Penang to Kota Kinabalu where we were met by our cab driver who drove us 70 minutes into the jungle. As we popped into a village of about 8 houses he stopped the car and started unloading our bags…pointing at the ocean.
In the distance we could see two boys one 18 years old and the other about six…they were doing burnouts in a red inflatable rubber duckie. He saw the cab then sped over to where we were. He grabbed both bags (no mean feat as combined they are almost 40kg) and started wading through the water to the rubber duckie. We took our boots off, unzipped the bottom of our trousers and followed the wading.
Knee deep in water hopped on and we sat on the edge of the life saving rescue vessel and off we went to our lagoon. Same scenario on the other end…hop into the water and wade onto the sand…and be met by a grinning owner. This place is quite literally an inlet with about 100 metres of sand, about a third of that of grass and buildings…and then the jungle. There was a main building which was the size of a double garage that housed the kitchen and a dining area which was under a lean-to type structure attached. And then there was the little bungalows.
Our little villa had a ditch filled with stones running through it…we assumed it to be a drainage issue but we were raised above the ground so I don’t really know why.it may have been artistic…but in reality it was a fall hazard…especially heading to the toilet late at night. Our toilet was not in our villa but rather out the back in an open air lean-to. There was a toilet, a sink and a cold water shower which was attached to the upright of the veranda structure.
We had a dip in the ocean, settled into our hammocks and generally kicked back for a while. At sunset we took some photos from our villa and the beach then waited for the generator to kick in. That evening we headed to the garage for a reasonable sort of dinner and crashed early…making sure to plug in all of our devices as we only had electricity overnight while the generator was running. This place is a petrol driven, internet/ technology/ communications free paradise.
The next day we swam and lazed in our hammocks…that is all you can really do here. The one bit of excitement was watching Jill’s arm swell, blister and change colours after the jellyfish sting she got while swimming. This didn’t stop either of us from going for two hourly dips and lazing on the hammocks in between…did I mention that this is all you can do here. At one point we watched the English girl who made the cocktails hop in a kayak and paddle off returning about 3 hrs later. We found out that night that she had paddled to the opposite side to a different beach…to call her mother on the cell phone…as that is what you have to do to get any sort of reception.
Late in the day I started chatting to a guy painting a door blue at the extreme end of our 100 metre stretch of beach. He was painting the door of the soon to be established dive and snorkel shop. Many moons back I did my open water dive ticket…much to the amusement of my sisters who called me shark bait for a period. So anyway we arranged that the next day I would get a quick refresher and we would head out to dive some scuttled Japanese war ships a few inlets over. Jill would lay on her hammock.
The few days were mostly spent in the hammock and reading…as there was little else to do here…not so terrible. From here we did the reverse journey back to Kota Kinabalu where we hopped a 3.5hr ferry to Labuan Island which is a duty free launching point outside of Borneo. To be honest there is very little going for Labuan township. It is a ferry terminal, a dock and a bunch of duty free stores. But the timing of ferries is such that you cannot do it in a day trip but need to overnight here.
As you are forced to overnight…there are very few hotels here and of course all the cheap rooms are taken…always. It was quite a funny place actually. There were a lot of girlie/boys loading up on cosmetics, a bunch of body builders loading up on supplements (and probably roids) and a bunch of drunks getting booze and taking in their daily limit to Brunai Darussalam which is only a 90 minute ferry away…but is totally dry.
Kota Kinabalu is the capital of Sabah, on the island of Borneo. Commonly known as KK it is the gateway to most people visiting Sabah or Borneo. It is the main launching point for mount Kinabalu and the range of Islands off the Borneo coast, including Labuan. We hopped the Kota Kinabalu Ferry from the Jesselton Point pier and headed away.
When we were finished in Labuan and Brunai we returned for a couple of days in KK. The first order of business was laundry as Malaysia is hot and humid, meaning that clothes get sweatier much quicker than normal. This created a problem as we dropped them off at noon with a 10am pickup the next morning…the next morning we found that it was a public holiday and everything was shut…including our laundry. The laundry would reopen the day after at 10am…but our flight left at 7am. So we had a down day… mucking around to try and get our clothes and Jill making a start on her last assignment of the year.
Some phone calls from the great staff at the hotel…and the owner of the laundry came in on his day off, retrieved our clean clothes, and delivered them straight to us. Malaysia really is fantastic and the people will help any way they can. Our hotel was right next to the night market for goods and a short walk to the food market. We had a huge seafood meal of crabs, scallops and calamari…with beer for under $20.
The next stop was the one that I had wanted since coming here to Borneo…we were off to see the orang utans… I have had an unhealthy love for all things orang utan since seeing Clint and Clyde in “every which way but loose” and “any which way you can”. We landed in Sandakan and headed straight for Sepilok which is the home of the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. It is 43 sq km of protected land at the edge of Kabili Sepilok Forest Reserve that was turned into a rehabilitation site for orang utans back in 1963.
Exiting the airport at 8am we were met with peak hour in Sandakan and bumper to bumper traffic on the exit to the airport. I commented to the cabbie that the traffic was bad today, who responded…no traffic…too many cars. A ridiculously long period (and 14 miles) later we arrived at our accommodation… the Sepilok Jungle Resort. This place is squarely placed in the heart of the Borneo jungle and is a 250 metre walk to the entrance of the orang utan sanctuary.
For about $20 you can get a day pass which covers the 10am and 3pm feeding times and access to the infant orphanage. The centre cares for young orang utans orphaned as a result of illegal logging and deforestation and those who have been illegally caught and kept as pets. They are trained to be rereleased into the wild. There is an infant nursery for the littlest ones and once the orphans get their skills up they are released to fend for themselves within the protected forest. There is a twice daily feeding for those unable to cope however the meals are identical every day…making it a very boring diet and thereby encouraging them to forage for their own food.
On the visit the first afternoon we saw 4 orang utans coming in for the afternoon feeding and then another 4 in the infant nursery. Despite the “silence” signs all over the joint the peace of the jungle was ruined by the rudeness of Russian and British tourists who clearly were above the rules and their experiences were the only ones to matter.
The next morning we headed back for another fix…while leaning on the rail watching the action Jill got a bite from a centipede/millipede. After a few hours of sitting in the jungle in the heat watching the orang utans and we headed back to the hotel pool to cool off and for Jill to do the last masters assignment for this year. After three days our sojourn into the jungles of Borneo was over. In case anyone is interested…this is a trip very worthy of replicating.
Having left Borneo we headed back to Kuala Lumpur for a few days and actually got out of the airport for a change. Jill had some cousins (Jen and Paul) that we arranged to catch up with while we were in town. We had a couple of drinks together and a catch up but having 2 year old twins severely impacted the time we could spend together as the attention spans were short. Our accommodation was right in he heart of Chinatown and Jill had the last assignment to finally put to bed.
She studied while I wandered the streets checking out the local sights and of course food outlets. The last thing of note was that the venom from Jill’s centipede/millipede bite combined with the left over toxins from her jellyfish sting a week or so earlier to cause a fairly nasty reaction.
Her arm swelled and the healing jellyfish welts became inflamed and she generally became unhappy as competing toxins decided to mess with her system,