Borneo, the other Malaysia

I had to go back and check my posts… Things are moving quickly now. The first part of the trip was well sorted, the end well sorted and there is a portion in the middle where it turns out it is just a bit too hectic.

After leaving Penang (we needed a bit longer here as we did in Langkawi) we did a true whirlwind of Kuhala Lumpur. Very cosmopolitan city, clean, good restaurants, interesting activities. We spent a bit of time at a lovely in-city park with old growth forest (remember, this is a big city so to see this old growth forest amid high rises was amazing.

Old growth forest in the middle of the city. There was a lovely canopy walk as well.

Then to the Batu Caves. Beautiful caves, lots of subway and train action to get there which was fun to sort, but not very difficult. Batu is an important Hindu site, huge caves with shrines and depictions of Hindu history. The depictions were interesting, the throngs of people, many tourists, but even the devout, made it seem not very pious. But perhaps I just don’t understand religion based in a country with so many people. Those being blessed seemed to be involved in the opportunity.

The main cave. It was huge. There is a hole in the top that lets in natural light.

A blessing spot

The steps to the main cave.

Depictions and stories of Hindu theology.

Entrance to the smaller cave.

We were ready for more serenity. The largest enclosed free-flying bird aviary in the world. Again, in the middle of town. A chance to see Malaysian birds up-close and our first get very wet in the rain “opportunity”. Luckily we have quick dry clothing!

Unfortunately, we had to leave KL (as everyone calls it) the next day. We were just scratching the surface and ready to start exploring.

Borneo was calling, and we can more easily get back to KL. On to KK (Kota Kinabala). There are two Malaysian provinces on the island of Borneo (which turns out to be the 3rd largest island in the world) Sarawak and Sabah. (and two other countries Brunei and part of Indonesia). We were headed to Sabah, home to Orangutans, Sun Bears, Pygmy Elephants and Mt. Kinabalu, one of the highest mountains in SE Asia. No we did not climb this nearly 14,000 foot mountain (perhaps we should have) although it is not a technical climb, but did spend a day hiking around near the base.

Hiking one of the trails. They were nearly deserted and very peaceful.

It is cool here, even at about 3000 feet. Lovely, beautiful mountains with clear streams; the only clear, clean looking water we have seen in SE Asia! The rest is polluted by human waste or run off from agriculture and deforestation and is brown.

A clear stream!

A place to come back and explore further.

To digress a bit back to KK as we visited here before Mt. Kinabalu. A nice modern town with lots of history and charm. Due to unforeseen travel circumstances, we basically got to see our hotel and have dinner at the fish stalls on the peer. Definitely authentic, tasty and loads of fun.

KK has lots of high rise buildings, lovely beach spots and parks but still has a charm and a feel of authenticity. Another place we need to get back to. We are already seeing another Borneo adventure in the future.

Rental car finally in possession and we head east from KK to Mt. Kinabalu, do our hiking and spend the night in solitude and quite in a little cabin at a tea plantation in the highlands. Lots of tea grown in Sabah, much used for blending, but locals also drink it in all sorts of forms; straight, blended with coffee and various herbs for flavor, one “good for men” another “good for women” as well as sort of standard form with ginger.

The Sabah Tea plantation. There is still forest in the background.

We toured the factory, but were not allowed to take pictures. Not sure this is “fine” tea, but a somewhat interesting tour.  I guess tea is make in the factory, not the field.

Lovely location and perhaps not total destruction of the highlands for tea production. Hoping!

A day of driving on narrow, less than stellar two-land roads, through heavy rain and clouds, but all paved, and we arrive at Sepilok. The beginning of the “true” Borneo rain forest adventures. We have lovely accommodations at our current stop and are just tip towing into the rain forest. We came to see the orangutans at the rehabilitation center (an easy place to see them). Orangs that have been injured or abused are brought here, rehabilitated, and taught how to be wild.. Not sure if they release them elsewhere, but they are definitely living wild here as there are no enclosures. After seeing the young ones still “under management”, and fed we saw two wandering on their own and later that day saw another two who were clearly living wild. There are feeding stations but sometimes they come, other days they do not. Our day the pig-tail macaques came. Thus, the Orangs had plenty of food in the forest.

This guy was quite close to me. Keeping an eye on her.

Mom and baby. These were wild Orangs we happened upon. Thrilling!

These guys are in areas where there is civilization around, but definitely not high rise civilization. Malaysia is trying to find a balance between their wild places and the needs of people. Fingers crossed.

Across the street from the Orangs is the Sun Bear Rehab facility. The guy who started this, Wong Siew Te is a local but went to grad school in Asia and Missoula, MT. Unfortunately, Sun Bears (the smallest bears in the world, but still good size to me) are poached for food, captured for pets and used for the bile from their gall bladder in Chinese medicine. Their range is extremely threatened. Sun Bears are now protected (at least in Malaysia), but, although that means more than in Cambodia, they are still subjected to all the atrocities I mentioned and only sometimes truly protected. Thus, the facility where they teach the bears how to be bears.

The Sun Bears find a weak spot in the coconut and then crack it open.

A fairly new facility (this facility used to be used to protect the Asian rhinos, but sadly, there are only 2 left in the world at other facilities) and thus Wong Siew Te was able to set this facility up as a place for the Sun Bears. They have released 2 into the wild (they started in 2008) and have another release scheduled for February. There is hope for the bears, at lease on Borneo.

As well as fruits and nuts, the also dig in the ground for worms and grubs. Very versatile diet.

Wong Siew Te was wandering around the facility and we had the opportunity to chat with him and ask questions. Very dedicated to the bears, and a find man. It was wonderful and a privileged to have a chance to chat with him. BTW, both the Orangs and Sun Bears have programs to adopt one to help support their rehab and release. Go for it!

This afternoon, we are changing locations, heading for the wetlands of the Kinabatangan River. The Kinabatangan is surrounded by oil palm plantations where they have clear cut the rain forest and planted palms; we saw them as far as the eye could see as we left the highlands of Mt. Kinabalu.

This has just been clear cut and terraced for palms.

Newly planted oil palms.

The river is very threatened but Malaysia seems to have corridor along the river to support the crocodiles, elephants, cats, bird life, and monkeys. We’ll see how that looks….