Mandy and the World

Find out what I've been up to on my overseas adventure!

Island Life

After spending about a week catching up with family in Kuala Lumpur and Ipoh, chilling out and eating lots more good food, I made my way to the Perhentians- a pair of islands off the east coast of peninsular Malaysia. I had heard amazing things about the place, but had never made it as I always seemed to be in the country at the wrong time of year (the islands shut down completely during the wet season and you can’t get transport there). They just opened back up around March, so I was in luck!

perhentian-islands-map

I caught a night bus north-east from Ipoh with only about 8 other locals. It was very comfy- most of the night buses here are better than aeroplanes with nice wide seats that recline all the way back and a footrest. Compared to the last night bus I caught from Miri to Sibu, this was a dream. Last time I forgot to pack my hoodie, so was freezing cold despite my sarong ‘blanket’; the seats didn’t recline; the bus was full so I was sitting next to a big guy trying not to knock him as I struggled to find a position compatible with sleep; and the bus stopped what seemed like every hour, the driver would turn on all the lights and when he was ready to go again, gave the horn a good solid thumping to really make sure there was no way you could stay sleeping. This time I had come prepared for the chilly climate, and despite many sections of the road seeming to be made entirely of those corrugated bits that are usually only on the sides of freeways in Australia (with the accompanying jarring shudders and thunderous noise), I managed to get a few hours of sleep.

At about 5.30am I arrived in Kuala Besut- the small mainland town which is the jumping off point for boats to the Perhentians. There was a travel agent lady waiting at the bus stop, and me being the only traveller out of the 2 of us who remained on the bus til this final stop, she pounced on me and asked if I was going to the islands. I said ‘yes’, and she said ‘follow me’, and led me down a dark road to her shop and sold me my boat ticket for the standard price.  I had a bit of time to kill so went back to the one coffee shop which was open and had some kaya (a sweet coconut spread) on toast and a kopi (the local coffee made with sweetened condensed milk). Eventually I went down to wait at the jetty with a growing crowd of backpackers and holidaying locals and at 7am we got on the boats.

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The boats to the islands are medium sized motor boats- there were probably about 10 people on mine with the packs all piled at the front. The journey was bumpy as we went flying over the waves with occasional stomach-dropping lurches off the top of swells and you could see everyone’s luggage jumping around. It was a little nerve-wracking and thoughts of What would I do if this boat capsizes? Should I try to hang onto the boat or jump out of it? I wonder if I could save my handbag? did start to drift through my head as we went along… But I tried to put those thoughts out of my head, held on to the wooden bench I was sitting on with a vice-like grip, and leaned towards the middle of the boat hoping for the best. It was a relief to see the land approaching, and we made it with no problems.

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There are two Perhentian Islands, very inventively named Pulau Perhentian Besar (Big Perhentian Island) and Pulau Perhentian Kecil (Small Perhentian Island). I decided to stay on the small island, which is a bit cheaper- the big island apparently has more snazzy resorts than budget-friendly backpacker rooms. On the small island there are two main beaches- Coral Bay which is the smaller and quieter beach, and Long Beach, which is where most of the nightlife is. There are no roads on the island, but the two beaches are linked by a footpath- it only takes about 10 minutes to walk between the two sides, but the path goes over a hill which is a bit of a killer in the heat of the day or with a full pack on!

Coral Bay

I got off at the first stop, Coral Bay, as I had read good reviews for rooms within my price range at Ewan’s Place. I had emailed Ewan with no response about a week before I arrived trying to book, as I’d heard he was often full. Then I called about 3 days before I arrived and asked if he had availability, but he said he wasn’t sure yet! So I asked if he could write my name down just in case he had something available when I got in which he said he would. Anyway, I hiked up the start of the hill from the jetty, found Ewan’s place. Ewan wasn’t in but they said they had no rooms anyway. The next place I came across was Tropicana Inn which was also in my price range. As I came into reception asking if they had any rooms available, a girl was checking out and so he said, ‘ok, you can have this room’. How convenient! The girl recommended it, she told me the room was clean and had a double bed, fan, mozzie net and its own bathroom, so I said I’d take it. I wasn’t sure how much luck I’d have down on Long Beach or if there were cheaper options there either. Not to mention dragging the pack around is not so fun and it was already super-hot and I was tired, so I just wanted a shower and a nap ASAP!

The path to Tropicana

The room was fine, it was nice to have my own space and a fan all to myself- I don’t think I’d have slept well in a dorm, it would’ve been hot, stinky and stuffy! The only thing that worried me was the sign on the back of the door declaring that the hostel “shall not be liable in any way for any losses injuries or death howsoever caused in the event of my stay”, but I didn’t dwell on how one could die in this room… I ended up going back to Ewan’s café for lunch after freshening up, and Ewan was in. He said ‘Are you Amanda? They told me you came looking for a room earlier…’ and then when I replied yes, he told all the staff ‘That’s Amanda! She called the other day!’ and from then on, all the kitchen and wait staff in the restaurant greeted me by name, they would write ‘Table 14 (Amanda)’ on my bills and always waved a big goodbye and shouted to come again, so friendly! Ewan treated all the customers so well, his place was always packed. The food was good too, and he also had pretty much the only working wifi on the island!

Approaching Long Beach

I spent the rest of my first day lazing on the beach with a book in coral bay, trying to get over a cold I’d picked up so I could go diving. There is not a lot of action on the island during the day, it’s the kind of place where you can have one thing on your ‘to do’ list for the day and not get around to it.

Chillaxin Boats in Coral Bay

My most pressing decisions were whether to lie on my front or my back, whether I should go for a dip in the water or if I should get up and go buy a fruit shake.  Ahhhh, it’s a tough life… I stayed and watched the stunning sun set and then had a romantical dinner for one on the beach- BBQ Kingfish, yum!

Sunset at Coral Bay BBQ Kingfish Set... Just $5!

I woke up early the next morning (this tended to coincide with when the electricity shut off around 6-7am) and I tried to doze for a while longer, but it got too hot without the fan! I had planned to go to the big island that morning and hike a trail that a family from Vancouver who I met in Mulu recommended I do before sorting out my diving in the afternoon but I ran into a girl I’d met in Kuching at breakfast and got chatting, and by the time I left it was already midday and roasting, so I thought I’d enquire about the dives first. I was thinking I’d just do some fun dives, but I got convinced to do my Advanced Open Water since I had a few days. It turned out I could join another guy, Dan, doing his Navigation dive that afternoon and complete my course with him and our instructor Harun. For the advanced course you have to do a deep dive (to 30m) and a navigation dive, then choose 3 other elective adventure dives from a whole range. Dan had already done his deep dive and I had done mine a while back in Thailand- they said it was still valid so I ran with that!

I had about an hour and half to read my nav chapter before the dive, so got some lunch and read at the café (the rooms are too dark and stuffy to read without electricity during the day!). We had to learn some compass skills to do some pretty simple out-and-back and square dive patterns, so looking like knobs practiced them on the beach first with steps instead of fin kicks, then got out to do them on the sandy floor of the bay. After we’d both completed our skills, we got to swim over a beautiful reef on the way back to the boat. We saw a massive crown-of-thorns starfish, found nemo (western clownfish) and my fave little longfin bannerfish (I’m going to use the help of google images to show you all these fish as it was too deep to take my camera!).

CrownThorns  Longfin-Bannerfish

After the dive, I went to freshen up and then met Dan and a group of his friends back at this giant flagpole on the beach- their 7pm meeting spot for dinner each night. We had some dinner and a couple of beers then headed down to the main bar on Long Beach, Blacktip, for a couple more beers… Blacktip is your typical island beach bar with tables less than a foot high, mats on the sand, free shots, candles, tiki torches and fire-twirling. Drinking with my dive buddy Dan (who is a well-trained Pom) was tricky. He would say ‘One more and then we’ll call it a night’ and I’d say ‘But that’s what you said after the last one!’ and he’d be like ‘Buddyyyyyyy!’ with a disappointed look and I’d get another drink. Simple as that, I’m very susceptible to peer pressure (as most of you probably know)! Anyway, we had a good night and I managed to get myself home at a reasonable hour in a reasonable state to finish reading my chapter for our wreck dive the following morning!

BlackTip

When I woke it was raining, I was feeling pretty good though. I headed down to Turtle Bay Divers and we completed our knowledge review and dive briefing for Sugar Wreck. It was a cargo boat carrying sugar (in case you hadn’t figured that) which sank in December, 2000. It sounded really awesome, there are cargo rooms big enough to swim around in and it’s had time for the reef to develop and become home to many fish. We had another guy Steve join us for a fun dive. Harun said we’d try to go to Sugar Wreck as planned, but this site is one of the furthest away-  between the islands and the mainland (still relatively close at only 20 minutes on the boat) and if the boat driver didn’t have good enough visibility because of the weather it would be unsafe.

Long Beach in the rain The jungle trail in the rain

We headed out on the boat in the rain, which spiked our faces and hurt our eyes so we all put on our masks, which made us look dicky but worked really well. Unfortunately you couldn’t see anything once we got out of the bay, so we had to go to another wreck nearby called Police Wreck, which was 3 police boats deliberately sunk in 2012, so not as old or exciting. The visibility for this dive was the worst of any dive I’ve ever done! Ranging from 3 metres at best with an average of 1-2 metres, when Harun was right in front of me, I could only see the tip of his fins, no legs or anything! We did see a couple of cool things- a Bat fish, a porcupine fish and lots of baby barracuda.

batfish  Fish-Porcupine

Afterwards I signed up for a fun dive at Sugar Wreck the following afternoon (I had gotten really excited about it with the briefing and was still keen to see it!), grabbed some brekky, but didn’t do much that afternoon, just sat at Ewan’s and caught up on some emails- there is actually very little to do on the island when it’s raining! We were meant to do our night dive that evening, but when I showed up at 6.30 it had been cancelled because the surge and current was too strong… I had really been looking forward to it, but safety first I guess. Dan changed to do his last dive as a drift dive with me the next morning, and I still had one more dive to make up, so Harun said we could use Sugar Wreck as my Fish Identification dive, so I had my fingers crossed the weather would pick up and I could finish my course before Friday- I couldn’t dive on my last day because I would be flying that night.

As usual, we met at the flag at 7pm and then went for dinner and to Blacktip again. This time Dan and I decided to drink spirits as it was cheaper than beer, so thought we would share a small bottle of the local rum ‘Monkey Juice’. It was quite sweet and tasted quite good mixed… which was not a good thing as we got through the bottle quite quickly and had no hesitation going for a second! Excitingly around this time, we heard news of a sea turtle laying eggs down the beach, and got to see her burying them before shuffling back out to sea- awesome!

Mummy sea turtle!

Anyway, after the second bottle of monkey juice, I wasn’t feeling any effects, and Dan suggested we get a third… ‘I will if you will buddy!’ so we went for number 3… after this, I’m not quite sure how we ended up getting a fourth bottle (I blame Dan) but everyone was getting loose on the d-floor and it was a lot of fun! All of a sudden I felt pretty drunk and decided I’d better head home before the morning dive. This time it was not such a reasonable hour!

Monkey Juice (before)  Monkey juice...

I woke up in a world of pain, but finished my drift dive chapter and made my way down to the dive school eating an orange for breakfast. Dan looked remarkably spritely and laughed when he saw me. It was raining again, but we could still go out to our site, Seahorse Drift. The idea of drift diving is that in an area with a strong current, instead of swimming against it, you can just drift along with it in one direction. The boat then follows you so you can just come up when you’re low on air or your no-decompression limit is up.

Unfortunately at Seahorse drift that day, we saw no seahorses and there was very little drift, so we just basically swam over the sandy bottom and didn’t get to the coral garden quick enough without the current- apparently we just hit the start of it when our no-deco time was up so had to ascend. My log book entry was short and sweet- “Saw: flounder, cleaner shrimp, tube worm”.

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Back up on the surface I sadly could feel my hangover again. I think you are immune underwater; too bad I couldn’t spend more time down there! Dan and I grabbed a quick brekky before he had to get the boat, but I could only manage half a slice of roti (if you know my appetite, that will tell you how off I was feeling!). I said goodbye to my buddy Dan, and went for a quick powernap and finished my reading for my last dive, fish ID.

That afternoon we got to Sugar Wreck despite a bit of rain and choppy sea. I got off the boat ASAP as the chop was making me feel ill and down we went to the hangover free underwater world! The wreck was awesome, vis wasn’t amazing because of the conditions, but we saw loads of cool fish- lionfish, scorpionfish, box fish, porcupine fish, puffer fish, a little bamboo shark, it was great! Unfortunately I had to go back to the choppy surface eventually and got quite seasick, having to visit the edge of the boat whilst waiting for some other divers to surface :-/ quite the classy lady…

bamboo-shark lionfish

Well with those two dives finished I was qualified! Hooray! I went to have a siesta in my dark room to celebrate. By the time I woke I was feeling kind of hungry (sign of the road out of hangoverville!) and it was almost time to meet at the flagpole with the other two of us who were left, Mathias from Finland and Markus from Germany. We got dinner at Ewan’s, and chatting about plans I decided I’d catch the boat back at 12pm with the guys rather than catch the 4pm by myself. The weather was still showing little sign of improvement so instead of sit on my own inside in the rain on the island all day, I might as well make a move and have some company on the way to Kota Bharu.

We had an early, monkey-juice-free night and in the morning I headed to Long Beach to meet them again. The sea was more choppy than it had been the whole week, and the locals on the beach said I had to walk all the way to the jetty at the end of the beach as the taxi boats couldn’t get to the shore because of the waves. I hauled my pack over there, and saw Matti and Markus waving jovially then  miming to me to swim over to the boat which bobbing up and down a little way out! I waited for the taxi boat, which even though it is smaller than the boats that go to Kuala Besut, still struggled to pull in to the jetty with the incessant waves.

Taxi boat at the jetty

When it finally got in and unloaded its passengers, I stepped in tentatively with my pack, willing my balance to hold up for me on this occasion otherwise seeing myself sinking like a stone, a big turtle on its back dragged under the waves by its heavy shell! Other passengers followed suit, with the boat teetering ominously side to side, and the driver at times screaming frantically in malay as an occasional wave spilled or threatened to spill into the boat. I was quite concerned about the amount of people and bags that were loaded in, but suddenly we were on the move and I watched my glorious big boat loom closer and closer. Finally we pulled up alongside it, I passed my luggage over and then climbed in, breathing a small sigh of relief that the first terrifying part of the journey back to the mainland was complete!

Mandy Mathias and Markus

On the big boat it was a waiting game as 12pm passed and still we waited for the taxi boats to ferry more and more passengers onto our boat meant for “12 passenger only”…

12 passengers...

By the time we got moving and had picked up passengers at 2 more spots it was almost 1pm and our numbers had grown to 20 passengers! From there it was another nail-biting half hour (well it would have been if I had the courage to release my grip from the seat) tearing over the surge in the rain to Kuala Besut.

Full house!

I tell you I have never been so happy to set foot on land in my life! My whole body was sore from being tensed for impending doom the entire trip, but once more my worrying was unnecessary as we safely grabbed our packs at the jetty and waltzed into the throng of taxi drivers to battle the next leg of the journey to Kota Bharu, and on to the airport.

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In the City of the Cat

Welcome to Kuching, the capital of Sarawak in Malaysian Borneo. ‘Kuching’ in Malay literally means ‘cat’ and while I didn’t see hordes of feline friends roaming the streets while I was there, there is an overwhelming array of cat themed souvenirs, an impressive number of cat statues, and even a cat museum to make sure you know it! Kuching is a lovely, laid-back city on the Sarawak River in the west of Borneo. It very clean (this probably has something to do with the existence of rubbish bins around town) and the concept of continuous footpaths seems to be embraced much better here than in Miri. Most paths in the centre of Kuching don’t even have holes in them, though the Main Bazaar features the hazardous inch tall step/drop every 2 meters or so, because for some reason, every shop front’s piece of footpath is at a slightly different height…

cat statue cat vs lizard

I arrived in Kuching by boat from a town called Sibu. My short stay in Sibu was mostly for the food (gasp! I hear you exclaim). It’s not a particularly backpacker-friendly town, with no hostels and not a whole lot to do (except for eat really cheap and delicious Chinese food) or see (aside from a pretty Chinese temple and the giant swan statue- the symbol of Sibu).

hua pek tong temple swan of sibu

I ended up staying in a borderline hotel which my reduced budget from Mulu allowed, so it had air conditioning (set to an Antarctic 18 degrees but no remote), a TV from the 80s and free wifi, but lacked cleanliness, a sense of security and décor… but it was only for a night, and I survived sleeping on top of the covers in my silk sheet!

security in sibu

The boat from Sibu to Kuching takes 5 hours, cruising out down the Rejang River past logging yards and small riverside villages to the South China Sea, before coming back into the Sarawak River. It may sound relaxing, but inside in the upstairs ‘VIP’ seating they played movies full bawl, the first dubbed in Mandarin and the following movies having an awful lot of shouting, sirens, shooting and explosions. I spent some time out on the back deck to take a break from the blaring cop movie soundtracks, though the wind tangled my hair into knots, and out there you often had the luxury of cigarette smoke blowing in your face too. The soundtrack outside was the engine accompanied by an occasional rooster crowing from inside one of four large cardboard boxes with holes in them.

the boat to kuching Logging by the Rejang

In Kuching, I stayed in a lovely B&B called Threehouse where the dorm was thankfully leaps and bounds above my hotel in Sibu- clean, secure, comfortable, nicely decorated and half the price! The guesthouse is run by a Swedish girl called Bindi, she’s lived in Kuching for 6 years and is now married to an Iban tattoo artist (Iban is one of the native tribes in Sarawak).

jalan china

I spent my first evening wandering down the waterfront which was really pretty and had lots of little food stalls. I ate some rojak, the malay ‘black salad’- basically a bunch of fruit and veg in this dark, spicy but delicious mystery sauce topped with peanuts. It looks intimidating, but it’s tasty!

Rojak

The locals were all very friendly and everyone wanted to chat. Once it was established I was from Australia, one guy selling beautiful batik said to me, ‘Is it true? About the kangaroo?’ and I was a bit confused, but was like, ‘Uh, yes… they do exist!’ Then he wanted to know… ‘How big are they? Do they really have a ‘pocket’? Can you keep them as pets?’ It was really cute! I really wanted to buy some of his batik but decided it wasn’t wise at this stage of the trip!

kuching waterfront

The next morning I woke to the sound of steady rain and debated whether or not I should bother getting up to catch the 7am local bus out to the Semenggoh Wildlife Centre as I’d planned. I ended up hoping for the best and going for it. Kuching, unlike Kota Kinabalu, does have a bus schedule (in KK, the buses just leave whenever they are full, so you just wait. And wait. And wait….), however the schedule in Kuching does come with the disclaimer that the service is ‘not accurate or reliable’! I had been told if anything, the buses tend to leave early if they fill up so to leave plenty of time. Punctuality- particularly early in the morning- is not usually my forte, but I did well on this occasion and managed to catch the bus. Hooray! As is pretty standard in asia, the air con was cranked to about zero, and I got so cold I had to put on my rain jacket inside for most of the hour plus journey!

bus schedule

By the time we reached Semenggoh, the rain had eased. Semenggoh is famous for its orangutan rehabilitation programme, which aims to rehabilitate animals that are injured, orphaned in the wild or handicapped by prolonged captivity, with the objective of subsequently releasing them back to the wild. It is nowadays a centre for the study of orangutan biology and behaviour, with about 28 semi-wild orangutan living in the forest there (they are wild in the sense that they live in the forest not in an enclosure, but they do get some food provided by people).

orangutan tightrope

There are 2 feeding times a day, and if they are hungry the orangutan come down and get fruit off the park rangers. The morning I was there we were lucky and got to see quite a few of them, including the big alpha male and a mum with a baby clinging to her- very cute! It was funny to see the way they got as much fruit as they could hold in their mouth/ feet/ hands and still manage to climb up then dangle off the ropes and trees in these awkward positions, peeling their bananas and eating them whole!

orangutan arabesque orangutan eating

At Semenggoh, I met Jessica from Germany and Gustaf and Martin from Sweden who were all going to Bako National Park the next day and said I should join them. As it was school holidays, the park was busy- lots of the locals like to visit Bako too- and when I checked at the park office all the dorm accommodation for the following night was booked out unfortunately. Most people recommend staying at least one night in the park so you can see more of the wildlife, but I ended up having to do a day trip.

It was another early start with a 7am bus to catch to Bako town where you then charter a boat to the national park. We were told low tide was in the morning, so if we didn’t get the first bus the river would be too shallow and we’d have to wait til about 11am-midday for the boat to leave which would turn my day trip into a few hour trip.  I just got there in the nick of time with Ondrej, a Czech guy staying at my guesthouse, as the bus left from a different spot to the Semenggoh one, so we’d gone on a bit of a run around! We met the others on the bus, and again I had to wear my rain jacket inside cos the A/C was set to freezing!

When we got to Bako town we had to pay our park entry fee (which everyone thought was RM10, but was actually RM20) and then organise our boat. Everything we’d read and heard said it was 5 people to a boat- perfect for our group, but when we got there they said, no, its only 4 to a boat. They also make you arrange your return boat at the same time as booking one over, which was a bit tricky since I was only there for a day, Ondrej was staying 1 night and the other three were staying 3 nights. We ended up splitting, and Ondrej and I got a boat across with a Spanish couple who were also day tripping, but Ondrej had to pay for his return boat on his own (he was meeting another friend there so could split it with her later) so it worked out ok for everybody after a long time standing at the desk confusing the poor busy girl who was working there on her own! I was worried the tide would be out by the time we were done sorting the payment, but we made it…

welcome to bako

It was about a 20 minute boat ride to get to park HQ, passing houses on stilts by the river, then with views of the rocky cliffs out on the sea. As it was low tide, the water was way too far out to reach the jetty, so we had to take off our shoes and jump out in the shallows of the front beach and wade in. Our boat driver told us his name was Lee and we arranged to meet him at 4pm at the jetty as it would be high tide by then- this is why you have to pay in advance, because the same driver does your return trip. It’s a bit confusing but I guess the system works! On the way up to the park HQ, we were lucky enough to spot two Proboscis monkeys, or ‘long-nosed monkeys’, sleeping in the trees. To see some of these monkeys- a species found only in Borneo- was one of the main reasons I wanted to come to Bako. They are quite shy and often out in the early morning or evening, so I wasn’t sure if I’d get to see any on a day trip, but tick- Mission Accomplished by 9.30am!

proboscis side profile

After watching the monkeys for a bit, we went to park HQ where you handover your registration to show you’ve paid your entry fee, pick up your map and can discuss which trails to do in the time you have. Since I only had the day, the others were all happy to follow wherever I wanted to go (lucky me!) so I chose to visit Telok Pandan Kecil- a beach where you can see the famous ‘sea stack’ (which is on every postcard or advertisement you see for Bako) and of course so we could go for a swim. That would leave us enough time to also walk the Paku trail, which is the main wildlife trail where you are meant to be able to see more of the proboscis monkeys.

bako trails

The start of the trail was shady, an undulating mesh of tree roots, but it was hot, still and humid. The trail then opens up to a combination of sand, rock or boardwalk- quite flat and easy walking, but out in the open with no shade- it was absolutely scorching by 10.30am!

jessica on the trail in bako  bako boardwalk

We saw lots of the carnivorous pitcher plants but we could now see why these trails were not renowned for wildlife sightings- the animals clearly knew not to fry themselves out here during the day!  With a few rests in the shady spots we found along the way, we arrived at Telok Pandan Besar, which is a lookout over the large beach. We were greeted with shade, stunning views and an occasional breeze up on the cliff top.

bako- telok pandan besar

After Gustaf and Martin had climbed everything possible (rocks, fences, trees!) and we’d all taken our postcard pictures, we were eager for a swim to cool off from the relentless heat and headed on down to Telok Pandan Kecil, the small beach.

bako liana swing

With some creative changing techniques, we all managed to get into our bathers as well as retain our modesty, and then rushed on down to the water. We were disappointed to find it was warm and didn’t give us the feeling of refreshment and rejuvenation we looking for! It was like taking a murky bath (amongst very beautiful scenery nonetheless). The ‘sea stack’ I had wanted to see was partially hidden by the cliff face- it seems all of the advertising shots must have been taken from a boat rather than from the coast. I tried to swim out closer to it, but gave up after a while as it was so warm and I was making very slow progress- I did get a reasonable picture for my efforts though (well, reasonable considering I was treading water at the time!)

bako sea stack

On the way back to the turnoff for the Paku trail, 3 out of 5 of us had run out of water. Luckily Ondrej had brought 3L so still had a bit and I still had about 500mL to ration, so we decided to push on. We moved quietly, scanning the trees for monkeys and taking care to stop moving our feet whilst doing so to avoid face planting in a spectacular way. After a little while we spotted a mother and baby proboscis monkey, and a bigger one munching on some leaves.

proboscis 1

The baby proboscis are sooooo cute! We watched them for a bit then continued on to Paku beach. The only other ‘wildlife’ we saw was a hermit crab who appeared to have got himself lost in the rainforest. He was perched up on a mossy covered rock and started to scurry across it, but turns out crabs aren’t so good on rounded surfaces and he slipped and tumbled down the side to the forest floor, poor thing! We left him to continue on his merry adventure.

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At Paku beach we drank the last of our warm water and headed back to park HQ with thoughts of cold beer on our minds. Just before we got back, we spotted some more proboscis monkeys- a couple of babies with their mum up in the trees and then a big fella sauntering around right next to the boardwalk! I was starting to think it’s a myth that these monkeys were rare- they seemed to be everywhere! We were lucky to get very close to the big one, most of the others we’d just seen from afar. We watched him just going about his business, chomping on some leaves, and snapped away like the monkey paparazzi! Eventually we remembered our thirst and made our way back to park HQ, but unfortunately they have the worst refrigerator ever and keep their drinks at ambient temperature minus one or two degrees. I crossed warm beer off the list and settled for a tepid coke and an icy pole instead (the freezer was actually functioning properly). After that I had to say goodbye to the crew and headed down to the jetty to meet the boat.

bako- low tide at the jetty bako- high tide at the jetty

Back at Bako town, we’d just missed a bus (as it had left 10 minutes early) so I read about the estuarine crocodiles in Sarawak (the same species we call saltwater crocodiles in Australia) while I waited. One of the boards specified that ‘larger animals prefer large preys such as dog, buffalo and human’. Another had facts and figures on crocodile attacks in Sarawak, complete with some gory pictures- one of a girl being attacked by a crocodile (good thing the person watching was taking a picture and not running off to get help!) and another of some body parts that had been pulled out of a captured crocodile’s gut! Quite graphic for a public noticeboard I thought…

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That night in Kuching I went to pick up a ticket for an event I had found out through Couchsurfers- the ASEAN Film Festival Launch called ‘Movies in the Rainforest’. It was a movie marathon running all night in the Sarawak Cultural Village. Sounded cool so I thought I’d go along. Besides, tickets were only RM18 (entry to the village itself is normally RM60) and for that price, you could wander around and stay overnight in the village as well as see all the movies. Bargain! The lady who’d organised the group had also organised lifts for everyone which was great, so we planned to meet at 10.30am the next day to head down.

I was late that morning as my watch kept losing time (I think I’ve accidentally worn it in the water one too many times…) so I didn’t get to the meeting place till about 11, but by then my lift hadn’t arrived yet either- phew! I was travelling down with a guy called Brian (who goes by ‘King Kong’) and he arrived with a flurry of energy. I chatted to his sister Ping who will be in Melbourne in a couple of weeks and talked things to eat, see and do. Since the rest of our contingent was yet to arrive, we headed downstairs to the Chinese restaurant to eat. Ping recommended I try the ‘cangkuk manis’ (or ‘sweet leaf’), a local vegetable normally stir-fried with egg- very tasty. Eventually our group of 8 had all gathered and eaten, and off we went to the cultural village.

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We arrived around 2.00 in the afternoon. The movies weren’t starting til 5.00pm so we walked around for a few hours, looking at houses and artefacts from each of the major cultural groups in Sarawak- Bidayuh, Iban, Orang Ulu, Melanau, Malay and Chinese. My favourite was probably the Orang Ulu longhouse, which was up on these huge elaborately carved stilts.

orang ulu longhouse 2

At 5 we went to watch our first film, a Chinese Malaysian film set in KL, called ‘Kepong Gangster’. It was about 5 school friends who decide to join a gang once they graduate and what happens to them all. Lots of fighting and very melodramatic with the ultimate moral of: kids… don’t join a gang. But not a bad film. Afterward we decided to go and get some food; we met another Couchsurfer called Melvin who knew a good seafood restaurant nearby (randomly I had met Melvin’s aunty on the boat from Sibu! What a small world!). On our way out it was the opening of the festival and there were traditional musicians playing and lots of celebrities who none of us travellers recognised, but the locals were going crazy! At the restaurant, King Kong and Ping ordered us a whole bunch of dishes to share and a coconut each to drink (enormous ones, bigger than my head!) and we left feeling very full. We hung out down by the beach for a while and then went to watch some more films.

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Ping and I went to watch what we thought was going to be a Singaporean movie called ‘Boys to Men’ about soldiers, but unfortunately, in true Kuching style, the schedule was neither reliable nor accurate and had different movies showing in different places and at different times to what was actually happening! The film actually showing was a Malay one called ‘8 Jam’ (‘8 hours’) about a guy sentenced to the death penalty and the story about how he got there, so we watched it anyway.  Again featured lots of fighting and was quite melodramatic, but pretty good as well. By the end it was about 2am, so Ping and I relocated to the air-conditioned, mosquito-free auditorium to sleep for a few hours. Initially this was quite difficult with the movie soundtrack booming through my ear plugs, but eventually I fell asleep on the floor until Ping woke me at 7am- the end of the festival. We stumbled outside into the daylight, and met the others at the front gate looking equally as haggard and of course King Kong wanted a photo of the group so we all tried to smile!

Melvin and 2 of the guys were going to climb Mt Santubong and Melvin kept trying to get me to come, but having no gear (I was wearing thongs and day clothes) and on about 4 hours of broken sleep I was not really in my mountain-climbing prime! So I headed back to Kuching with the rest of the group. Ping and I went to get more local food for me to try for breakfast- the Sarawak laksa, Kuey Chap (‘pig soup’) and Char Kuey (a delicious fried dish with rice cake and egg in a sweet soy sauce- I think I have a new fave!).

char kuay sarawak laksa

Ping then took me to the Cat Museum, as I was so excited to see what kind of crazy cat paraphernalia was inside, but I forgot it was Good Friday and it was closed! Sad face 😦 I got the security guard to take a picture of me at the entrance which was almost worth the trip anyway…

cat museum

After freshening up, Ping thought we could go to Jong’s Crocodile Farm instead. They breed crocs there and there were THOUSANDS of them! Ridiculous numbers, they were all lying on top of one another in the enclosures. Methinks they need to separate the males and females for a while…

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Oh and disappointingly, swimming is prohibited at the croc farm… Damn! I had brought my bathers and everything…

no swimming with crocs

We had by chance arrived in time for the main attraction, the crocodile feeding. The staff hang chicken carcasses from strings above the pond and the crocs make these spectacular leaps for them. I have to say, some of them had pretty bad aim- they missed completely, and others took 2 or 3 goes to pull the chicken off the string (if another croc didn’t move in and grab it in the meantime)…

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There were lots of other animals in the park, including deer, eagles, giant South American fish (arapaima), monkeys, peacocks, otters, lemurs, and what has to be one of the cutest animals of all time, the Malayan Sunbear (cue collective ‘awwwww!’).

sun bear

On the way out we walked through a small ‘crocodile museum’ which was largely a collection of disgusting things (eg. Preserved crocodile foetuses at various stages of development) and a lot more confronting pictures of small children’s bodies/body parts being pulled out of crocodiles. FULL. ON. There was no ‘Warning: This section contains photographs which may scar your children for life’. It was like crocodile fun facts, cool. Pictures of crocs lazing in the sun, uh huh, crocs swimming, yep. Then BAM! Dead 8 year old boy. Severed limbs of 10 year old girl. WHAT?! I took pictures of the pictures just cos they were so graphic and horrifying it bewildered me that they were just plonked on the wall there! Worse than the ones on the noticeboard at Bako town. I won’t post them here, but if anyone has a morbid curiosity let me know and I’ll show you! But you have been forewarned…

That evening King Kong had offered for me to stay at his house- my first couchsurfing experience! We went out to eat more local cuisine- Kolo Mee, a type of noodle topped with pork, and cendol, a shaved ice dessert (which again looks intimidating but is delicious). In the morning he drove me to the airport for my flight out, but after checking in, we went to get more local food! We shared tomato mee in 2 varieties, kuey teow (large flat rice noodles) and crispy mee, as well as a Chinese sticky rice dumpling wrapped in banana leaf. When I was sufficiently stuffed, it was back to the airport to say goodbye and on to my next destination, Singapore…

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