Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Borneo – March, 2014
Since I arrived very late the night of our group meeting, I not only missed our Intrepid meeting but missed meeting my roommate!!!  In the morning at breakfast I met a few of my fellow travelers and we had a free morning to pick up some water, etc. at the nearby open market.  The zipper had broken on my little red day pack so I needed to find something to see me through.  I found a very cut little blue one with pockets and zippers compartments and since it was a bit worn I bought it for $5!!!  Such a deal!

Left about 12:45 p.m. for our homestay in a Dusun village.  Our host explained how rubber was extracted from the trees which we saw nearby on the following day.  Walked down to the river to cool off and when we returned a delicious dinner was set out for us – vegetable and fish curry!!  Dancers and gong players came by later to entertain us – fun!!

In the morning after fried rice and noodles for breakfast we walked over to the host’s house and his wife gave us a cooking lesson.  We made (and then enjoyed) fish soup, chicken and potato curry and fresh vegetables.  Afterwards we drove to a chalet near Mount Kinabalu, the highest mountain in south east asia.  Free time to hike or relax.  Buffet dinner with all sorts of local foods and delicious fruits.  I hadn’t been feeling all that great so was skeptical about the climb….

In the morning after eggs and lentils for breakfast, we got our walking sticks and porters to carry our bags and everyone set out.  I was only able to walk for a couple hours and had to return to the chalet but I was able to enjoy the lush, green rainforest and the beauty of my surroundings.  The hike is all uphill and normally it would have been easy  enough for me but I think I was bitten by something which made my legs almost unworkable.  I would, however, highly recommend the hike to the top and everyone who made it said it was really worth the effort!!!

The next afternoon everyone came down and had lunch and then we drove to poring hot springs, known for their therapeutic properties, staying at a little hostel nearby.  There are several pools which you fill with water (which takes forever!!!) but the water is very hot and it feels wonderful.  Had a delicious hot pot with shrimp for dinner and lots of fresh fruit for dessert.

In the morning after hard cooked eggs and delicious pineapple slices for breakfast I walked over to the poring springs area.  First I wandered through the Orchid conservation park which was filled with lovely plants and on to the forest suspension bridge with its six suspension bridges overlooking the forest below.  Stopped at a very elegant restaurant near the springs with a lovely view of the lake and relaxed and enjoyed some tea before heading to the butterfly park with its unusual flowers and butterflies.  When I returned to the hostel a few people were leaving to see the largest flower in the world called the “rafflesia” which rarely blooms so it was very unique to see it.  It had been opened for a few days and was rather strange in appearance, i.e. the petals looked like leather and it was enormous!!!  Had some thin noodles with mushrooms and egg for dinner – quite delicious.

In the morning we drove to Bilet a small village on the banks of the Kinabatangan river.  Transferred our luggage to boats which took us across the river to our lodge located directly on the river.  After settling in to our cabin and enjoying a tasty lunch of chicken/rice/vegetables we divided into boats and took a river cruise in the late afternoon.  We saw a lot of proboscis monkeys, some really close to the shore, a few birds, etc.  It reminded me of a boat ride I took in the Ecuadorian jungle except this lake was a lot wider.  Tender chicken and stir fried greens for dinner.  Some took an evening jungle walk but it was raining and I decided I didn’t want to stumble around in the mud…

In the morning after an early morning cruise in search of wildlife and breakfast on the porch we visited the Gomantong caves renown for their valuable swiftlet nests which are harvested for bird’s nest soup.  On to the busy city of Sandakan.  Visited the Abigail Keith House, an old restored colonial house where she, the author of many books about Burma, lived with her husband Harry, a conservator of forestry for North Borneo.  Before the visit we sat outside in the garden and enjoyed afternoon tea sandwiches, scones and tea.  It was lovely.

Walked down to the waterfront and visited the central market and walked around the dock.  In the evening we all walked back down to the waterfront for dinner outside under the stars.  I had some ginger prawns which were quite nice.  Packed a small bag for our trip to turtle island.

Delicious buffet breakfast in the morning, eggs, noodles, fruits, etc. etc. and then a 20 minute walk to the ferry where we took speedboats over to the turtle island marine park.  The water was choppy which made for a fun ride.  Checked into our little cabin and then walked along the beach before lunch of vegetables/rice and fruit.  Free afternoon to wander around which was great as it was a beautiful day.  Met at 6 p.m. in the lodge and our guide explained all about the turtles laying eggs, etc.  We saw a video about the protection of the eggs, how the little turtles are released back into the ocean, etc. so had a nice feel for what we would see later.  Delicious sweet and sour shrimp for dinner with fresh pineapple and then we waited until it became dark and the “show” to began. 

About 8 p.m. we walked down to the beach and were able to see a large green turtle laying her eggs.  She had already dug her “nest” and was very concentrated on laying her 67 eggs almost in a trance.  The guide shined a flashlight on the “nest” so we could see her laying the eggs which was incredible…The ranger collected the eggs and we followed him back to the hatchery where he put the eggs which would hatch in 3 – 4 weeks.  He gathered up some just hatched baby turtles and we followed him back to the ocean where he released them – hopefully some made their way out….

After breakfast we took the ferry back to the mainland, walked to our hotel and retrieved our luggage.  Hopped on the bus to the orangutan rehabilitation center in Sepilok.  We arrived at the center in time for the first feeding at 10 a.m..  Bananas, etc. were laid out on the feeding platform and the orangutans came down from the trees to eat.  They are such impressive animals and great fun to watch.  Took a break and had a light lunch in the café nearby, saw a video of the endangered sun bears and then walked over to the reserve where there were a few sun bears which were really small!!!  We returned to another “feeding” of the orangutans and this time saw a mother with little babies hanging on to her chest….That evening our lodge put on a nice barbecue dinner for us with salmon, vegetables, chicken wings, fresh corn and watermelon – wonderful for a change!!!

After breakfast we headed back to kota kinabalu and on the way we stopped at the War Memorial built on the site of a Japanese POW camp which marks the starting point of the tragic Sandakan Death Marches on which 2,400 POW’s were forced to walk through the jungles of Borneo, only 6 Australians surviving the ordeal…Short flight to KK and then a drive to a seaside resort nearby where we had a free afternoon to enjoy the beach.  A fresh fish dinner on the verandah overlooking the water and a fond farewell to all the travelers…

Peaceful breakfast and then our guide dropped me off at my colonial style hotel, the Jesselton.  They upgraded me to a lovely quiet room where I spent four nights.  I wandered around a bit to get oriented and found a coffee bean and leaf café where I had a delicious raisin scone and coffee for lunch!  Afterwards, I took a taxi to the Sabah museum where I spent a couple hours enjoying the old instruments, costumes, old ceramic pottery, etc.  Outside was a heritage village with several long houses which you could go into and imagine how people lived.  Back to the hotel to freshen up and then a pleasant walk to the waterfront for a delicious Indian dinner at Kohinoor.  Shared outstanding tandoori chicken, spinach paneer, vegetable korma, spicy prawns, naan and roti with one of my fellow travelers.  Afterwards we wandered around the food stalls selling fish and vegetables cooked to order.  Back to the hotel where it was so nice to have a room alone!!!

Early in the morning I picked up some little pastries across the street and then took a taxi to the train station.  Bought my ticket for the local train and then had coffee and my pastries next door for breakfast.  Train left at 7:45 a.m. and I enjoyed my trip through the countryside watching people get on and off along the way.  It stopped for an hour in Beaufort so I wandered around a bit through the local market and up to the Mosque.  Train arrived back about 1 p.m. and this time I took a local bus into town for $1!!!  There is another train called the North Borneo railway which is the oldest running steam train in Borneo.  On board tiffin-style breakfast and lunch are served but it is quite expensive… Stopped by Jesselton Point where the ferries leave for the islands and got a schedule as I planned to go to Pulau Manukan in the morning.  Had a delicious raisin scone and coffee at the coffee bean and leaf, took a rest and was back out to the waterfront as the sun set.  Stopped by the fish market and picked out some fish which they grilled for me in banana leaves but it really didn’t compare to that awesome Indian dinner I had the night before!

In the morning I took the ferry to Manukan Island, the second largest in Malaysia’s first marine national park.  It has lovely stretches of beach so I just wandered the beach and then walked up to a nice vista point where I enjoyed the sound of the ocean…Ferry back about 2 p.m.  Back to the Indian restaurant for another tandoori chicken dinner and beautiful view of the waterfront. 

The following morning after breakfast, I walked to the wetlands which took about an hour.  First I climbed the steps to the Signal Hill Observatory Platform, the highest point in the city, for a beautiful view and then walked to the wetlands where you walk along a 1.5 kilometer boardwalk which brings you deep into the mangrove where there are interesting birds, plants and wildlife to see.  Another great meal at the Indian restaurant – this time I ordered the tandoori fish and some interesting vegetables.

In the morning I walked along the Sunday market which was just outside my hotel and then took a taxi to the airport from where I flew to Kuching.  Checked in to the Lime Tree Hotel and then wandered the waterfront to the textile museum which houses textiles and costumes made by the ethnic community of Sarawak and was very interesting.  Stopped for a coffee and hazelnut cookie before continuing on to the Historical Museum which dealt with the long houses.  In the evening I went to TopSpot for dinner which was great fun!!!  It is on top of a parking structure and takes up the whole top floor with stalls selling fresh fish and vegetables ready to be cooked.  I ordered a whole pomfret and some greens, i.e. broccoli, snow peas, spinach, etc. and then sat down at a table and waited for it to be cooked.  Everything was absolsutely delicious and perfectly prepared!!!

It rained pretty heavily in the night so I packed my waterproof jacket for the trip to Bako National Park.  Nice breakfast to start off and then a bus ride to the ferry where I reconfirmed my cabin.  The rain had stopped by the time we arrived and since the cabin wasn’t quite ready I took the T Paku trail which lead up and through tree branches to the beach and then back.  Had some tea and a snickers bar in the lodge and then checked into my cabin which had two rooms, each with three beds and one separate bathroom and porch.  As I wanted my own space I rented the whole building for $50 a night!!!  Took a walk along the beach and then had some fried rice and fresh pineapple for dinner.

Was surprised that there was toast, eggs and fruit for breakfast!!!  Took the T Pandan Basar trail which was a longer hike but flatter and more interesting.  It ended with a view overlooking the beach.  Later as I sat on my porch lots of probiscus monkeys were playing and running up and down my banisters and on the roof – really cute.  Dinner was brown fried rice, fresh vegetables and watermelon – not bad for $2!!!

Took another short walk after breakfast and then the 11:00 a.m. ferry to the bus and the bus back to Kuching and checked into the Batik Hotel.  Walked to the Tun Jugah foundation which had some very interesting local art, jewelry and textiles on display.  Later the gal at my hotel drove me to Dyak restaurant which was a bit far away.  The chef, classically trained in the Western tradition, takes traditional recipes and fresh, organic jungle veggies to create innovative and quite delicious dishes.  The restaurant is bit like a museum with historical artifacts, etc. all around.  I mentioned I was a chef so was able to try 4 different little plates, i.e. chicken with bamboo and greens, pork tenderloin w/two sauces, special rice and some outstanding jungle vegetables.  Great fun.

In the morning after breakfast I walked along the waterfront to the art museum and enjoyed the Maori exhibit from New Zealand and some very nice local wood carvings.  Walked across the bridge to the Sarawak Museum where there were gongs, coffin jars, etc. on display – all fascinating!!!  The gal from the hotel gave me a ride to the airport which was a nice surprise.  We ran into some bad weather so didn’t arrive into KK until about 6 p.m.  I dropped my bag off at the Jesselton and walked along the waterfront as the sun set to my favorite Indian restaurant and my last meal in KK.  Again, delicious tandoori chicken, etc. Took a taxi to the airport and the plane left about 11 p.m.

I arrived in Seoul, South Korea and booked a 3-1/2 hour transit tour.  This time we visited an interesting temple and some quaint old houses where the emperor and the local folks had lived.  Last stop was a food street where we had about 45 minutes to find “lunch”.  I found some crunchy spicy chicken wings, a vegetable omelette and some little breads filled with sugar for dessert – delicious!!!  Caught the 4:30 p.m. flight to LAX and had another great Korean meal on board.  It was called Ssambap and was a plate of steamed rice, bulgogi (thin slices of very tasty beef), some large sesame leaves and some bean paste.  There was a little booklet which showed you how to eat this meal, i.e. top the sesame leaf with some of the rice, beef and bean paste and fold it up like a taco – yummy!!!  Got home about 1:30 p.m. just in time to shop and prepare some spicy shrimp and tortellini skewers to deliver the next day!!!  Next year – the Inca Trail!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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