Arriving in Paradise

On Thursday afternoon, we left Borneo for the next leg of our Malaysian adventure, our first flight brought us back to West Malaysia (on the peninsula) to Kuala Lumpur. Our second flight brought us to the island province of Langkawi – on the west side of the peninsula just south of the Thai border. Or as I have decided to call it – Paradise.

Mornings in Paradise

Mornings in Paradise

We landed shortly after 7pm and upon arrival looked for our pick up from the hotel. I had called from the hotel in Sandakan, confirmed our arrival time and was told someone would be there to pick us up.

After walking around aimlessly for a bit, John approached a man who appeared to be from a hotel – but was obviously not looking for us – to ask if he knew where we would find our hotel pick up. He turned out to be from the right hotel, but was not expecting us. Our phone call had not been communicated – but luckily he was there already.

With him was a woman who (when realizing we were staying at their hotel) offered us cold wet towels. A minute later, the general manager of the hotel showed up, handed us a card and introduced himself, requesting that we contact him if we ever needed anything during our stay.

Wow – what service. Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant for us. HA! A few minutes prior as the plane landed I told John I thought the resort we were flying over was where we were staying. The lady in the seat in front of us turned around and confirmed my observation. She then continued to make small talk, noting that they would be staying there as well.

Our hotel

Our hotel

Back to the general manager – right after greeting us he suddenly rushed away – to greet the woman who we spoke to on the plane, her husband and her son. We were then introduced to her husband – who happens to be the head of the company that owns the resort.

Suddenly, being greeted by the general manager of our resort at the airport made more sense. They began to walk out and we continued to go with them until the original man, who didn’t know he was supposed to be meeting us, told us we had to wait.

Did I mentioned this place was beautiful?

Did I mentioned this place was beautiful?

Apparently, our royal treatment was short lived. They went in their private car/boat while we waited another 45 minutes at the airport for another plane with more guests. Then we were taken to the ferry dok where we needed to wait another 15 minutes for a ferry to take us to the resort.

We stayed at a wonderful resort on a private island off the main island of Langkawi. This sounded fabulous in theory, but in reality proved to be more of a nuisance than anything. Mostly because of the ferry which did not run frequently or even on schedule, and the transfer time that going to and from the island ate up.

Waiting for a ferry to the main island!

Waiting for a ferry to the main island!

It was a long day and we were exhausted by the time we got checked in.


Sandakan Market

The last day in Borneo was fairly uneventful, we woke up early to have breakfast and take the two and a half hour boat ride back to Sim Sim water-town and Sandakan.

Before catching our flight out of the Sandakan Airport, we had time to explore the central market and have lunch.

We had stopped by the market on Monday, but it was late in the afternoon and it appeared everyone was pretty much done for the day.

Monday - notice the woman is sleeping Chicken Feet

Monday – notice the woman is sleeping.
Chicken Feet

On Thursday morning around 10am the market was hopping. We walked around and saw all the fresh seafood (some still living), the fruits and veggies, raw meats and eggs, dried goods,  clothing shoes, bags, and about everything you could imagine.

Kids playing next to fresh veggies

Kids playing next to fresh veggies

The market building is only a few years old we were told, previously the entire market had been held outdoors.

While not air-conditioned, and obviously open air – I can imagine not sitting in the direct sunlight and having fans circulating air makes a big difference.

No one likes freshly sunned chickens

No one likes freshly sunned chickens

Our guide also mentioned, that now it is much better for the produce as before the market was not divided into sections and having fresh fish next to fresh produce does not make for the best produce!

I’ll let the pictures talk – if only I could have captured the smell for you!

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Big fish

Little fish

Little fish

Colorful fish

Red Fish, Blue Fish!

A lobster

A lobster

Shellfish

Shellfish

Sharks with fins cut off

Sharks with fins cut off

Chopping up fresh fish

Chopping up fresh fish

Click here for the video of this guy working!

The view from the market of fishermen coming in for the day

The view from the market of fishermen coming in for the day


More Beautiful Borneo

After breakfast on our second day of our trip into the Borneo jungle, we had a little time to ourselves to relax and also make sure our bags were packed. We were staying one night in each of two jungle lodges.

At 10:30am, we met back with the group to head out for our tree planting activity. The Abai village which is located across the river from the Abai Jungle Lodge grows little seedlings. These trees are then sold to people to replant elsewhere. We went across the river by boat to pick up six trees and then headed a ways downstream to plant them.

There was a large grassy area where the tree planting took place, the former site of a village – they are trying to recreate growth in the area. However, in the open grasses it is hard for reforestation to happen without help.

With our trees and a handful of elephant dung

With our trees and a handful of elephant dung

As we got off the boat and on to land, we were all delighted to find many large piles of elephant dung. We then decided we should all grab some of the (dried) elephant dung to help fertilize our trees!

Digging a hole

Digging a hole

One of the local boys helped to dig holes, and we were left with sticking a sapling in a hole and filling the hole with dirt (more like clay in Sabah) and elephant dung. We then watered our saplings and made sure to note their numbers.

Planted Umbrella trees

Planted Umbrella trees

All the trees are tagged and numbered, and records are kept of them and who planted them. In case we ever want to visit our trees in the future. The species name was told to us in the local language – but the translation is umbrella tree.

Abai Village

Abai Village

We hopped backed into the boat and headed back to Abai village. We were given a little tour of the village and learned more about their history and way of life. They have a population of about 170 people, a school with about 40 students (I believe just through elementary school) and a mosque. There is also a very small store, and a machine which they use to process rice.

Our guide Albert explaining how this machine helps in harvesting rice more efficiently

Our guide, Albert, explaining how this machine helps in harvesting rice more efficiently

Fish drying in the village

Fish drying in the village

The village in supported mainly by fishing, and they seem to farm a lot of their own food. The village also has an Oriental Pied Hornbill that lives there and is very friendly to humans. When she was a baby, they found her injured and helped nurse her back to health. She flies free and has ever since she recovered; however, she stays in the village and seems to have no desire to go out on her own.

Village Store

Village Store

Collecting water

Collecting water

We had lunch in the village, before heading back across the river to the lodge.

Lunch

Lunch

The village bird, stealing our crumbs from lunch

The village bird, stealing our crumbs from lunch

John and I then were transported to Kinabatangan Riverside Lodge about an hour upstream where we would be spending our second night in the jungle. On the way, we spotted a 2.5 meter long crocodile on the bank!

Hey big guy!

Hey big guy!

The lodge seemed to be much bigger and had some new additions which made the accommodations slightly nicer than the Abai lodge; however, I like the food at Abai better.

Morning view from the Kinabatangan Riverside Lodge

Morning view from the Kinabatangan Riverside Lodge

Another trip up the river to search for wildlife was on the schedule for the late afternoon. We departed the lodge on another small boat and just went a couple minutes upstream before turning into a smaller river. It was nice to be on a smaller river again as you could see the wildlife on both sides of you and feel truly surrounded by the vegetation and wildlife. As we moved slowly up the river, the monkeys did not seem as frightened by us, and many stayed near the shore and let us watch them as they ate, played and groomed each other.

See the monkey?

See the monkey?

Late in the afternoon is when the monkeys find their way back to the river’s edge looking for a tree to stay the night in. Once back at the river, from their daily trips deeper into the jungle to find food, they snack on leaves and fruit, the young ones play and they socialize by grooming each other. It is fascinating to watch them and to learn about the different species.

Monkey silhouette

Monkey silhouette

Proboscis monkeys with their distinct large noses are only found on Borneo. In addition to the information we obtained from our guides, we were shown a 30 minute video on the species which was quite interesting.

This was right above John's head... The guide shook the tree and said, "they never wake up..."

This was right above John’s head… The guide shook the tree and said, “they never wake up…”

We saw long-tailed macaques, pig-tailed macaques and proboscis monkeys. We also spotted a black and yellow striped snake curled up sleeping in a tree, a couple water monitor lizards and of course more birds.


Good Morning Borneo

Wednesday morning, after our first night in the jungle lodge, we woke early for a 6:30 am boat ride to see more wildlife. It had cooled down significantly overnight, which was evident by the crisp air, the dew covering everything and the light fog rising from the water. It was truly beautiful. All sorts of birds were awake singing and you could hear them surrounding you, even when you couldn’t see them.

From the lodge

From the lodge

Steam rising from the water

Steam rising from the water

We went a bit up the river to a much smaller tributary, and headed upstream towards a lake. At times, the trees from the sides of the river would cover us like a canopy. Under the trees you could see amazing root systems growing into the water. My favorite tree was the banyan tree (related to fig trees) that has stilt like roots growing down from the branches. The roots help support the branches and allow for the trees to grow to their enormous size – sometimes stretching across creeks to grow on the other side.

Tree roots

Tree roots

Banyan Tree

Banyan Tree

We kept startling a purple heron and following him further upstream to the lake. We also saw more monkeys, a beautiful oriental pied hornbill and great egrets. It was a beautiful morning! Our guide actually spotted a gibbon in a tree a long way off, but he had very powerful binoculars and we didn’t think of bringing any. (Note – if you go to Borneo, bring binocs – and a GOOD camera)

Wear a life jacket - even if it is 3 sizes too big!

Wear a life jacket – even if it is 3 sizes too big!

We moved along to a quiet spot on the opposite side of the lake, where we sat for awhile watching the birds and drinking coffee. Suddenly, there were loud cries from deep in the jungle. It was a dominant male orangutan. The BIG ones – the ones you do not see at the sanctuary. Orangutans stay very deep in the jungle and they are very, very rarely seen in the wild because of this. However, to hear a large male crying out in the morning was quite spectacular.

On our way back to the lodge, we spotted a crocodile sitting along the bank of the river. We knew they were around, but it was the first one we got to see.

Breakfast!

Breakfast!

Back at the lodge, we had breakfast served out in the woods.


Borneo Adventure 2

Part Two – Continuation of the first day

After our lunch at the lodge and checking into our rooms, we had about an hour or two to ourselves. John and I went and explored the lodge and the walkways through the forest surrounding the lodge.

Outside our chalet at the lodge

Outside our chalet at the lodge

Flowers at the lodge

Flowers at the lodge

Around 4pm, we left again on a smaller motorized boat to go upstream and look for more wildlife. There was talk of elephants being further upstream in the days prior. So our guide, Albert, said we would go a ways up river and then come back slowly looking for wildlife. I really wanted to see an elephant, but apparently it is quite rare.

Exploring on our own

Exploring on our own before the wildlife cruise

We traveled upstream for about an hour without seeing much of anything. I was tired of sitting in boats and felt like it would be a waste of a trip as it seemed there was nothing to be seen in the thick forests lining the riverbanks.

On a boat again!

On a boat again!

We then came across a film crew who apparently had been sitting in the same spot since before noon and had seen some elephants crossing the river at noon – it was now 5pm and they said they were waiting for more.

Yes, there are many monkeys in that tree. (Bring a good camera when you go to Borneo!)

Yes, there are many monkeys in that tree. (Bring a good camera when you go to Borneo!)

We stopped for a moment and continued up a bit further, saw some more monkeys and turned around. This time when we stopped and our guide spoke to the driver of the film crew’s boat, they relayed to us that in fact about 50 pygmy elephants had emerged from the woods and swam across the large river. They also said one female had turned around and gone back in to the woods without crossing and there were two males that had not crossed.

As we sat on our boat talking, we began to hear movement in the bushes – big movement – not just monkey business. A few minutes later, the most amazing thing happened – a female elephant appeared on the riverbank.

A female Pygmy elephant!

A female Pygmy elephant!

We backed up our boat, as she was right near us, to give her room to cross. Then we watched an elephant swim all the way across the large Kinabatangan river. A-MAZ-ING!

Getting out of the river

Getting out of the river

She struggled getting up the bank on the other side of the river, but when she did and disappeared back into the forest we heard the cries of her herd as they greeted her.

She made it.

She made it.

Seeing an elephant in the zoo is one thing, seeing an elephant in the wild is quite another. I have seen elephants in Cambodia (and ridden them) but they were captive and forced to hang out in the city. The pygmy elephant is a smaller sub-species of the Asian elephant and only lives on Boreno.

Not only that, but the Borneo Pygmy elephant is endangered. There are only an estimated 1500 left on the island. Seeing one emerge from the jungle was such a rare and fantastic experience.

On the trip back to the lodge, we were able to see a number of other animals, including 4 species of monkeys (proboscis, long-tailed macaques, pig-tailed macaques and silver leaf monkeys), many birds – including 2 types of king fishers, and fireflies.

Sun going down over the river

Sun going down over the river

After dinner, we took a late evening walk behind the lodge to see birds ready to sleep, lizards, and lots of insects, moths & butterflies.

Getting ready to sleep

Getting ready to sleep


Borneo Adventure

Part One

The Sandakan airport – in the province of Sabah located in East Malaysia on the island of Borneo – is very small. By small, I mean – the entire boarding area/both gates are contained in one room. There is one x-ray machine and one line for security, but it only took about 3 minutes to get through. You land and take off on the only runway.

The runway was started by prisoners of war captured in Borneo by the Japanese in World War II for the Japanese to use as a military airstrip. Of 2,434 POW’s held in the Sandakan prison compound, only six – who had escaped – survived. The government later finished the runway and opened the airport, as a memorial to those whose lives were taken.

After arriving at this airport in Sandakan on Monday, we enjoyed the afternoon and evening at and around the very nice Sheraton Fourpoints Hotel. Tuesday morning, we started on our Borneo Adventure. We had booked a 2.5 day/2 night trip with Borneo Adventures to see some of the jungles of Sabah. (I highly recommend them if you are in Borneo.)

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Watching the sunset over Sandakan

Eddy picked up an older British couple and us from the hotel in a van at 8am and we drove about 40 minutes to the Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary. Since the 1960’s this rehabilitation center has worked with over 730 orangutans to prepare them to be released into the wild. Some were pets, or animals that had been in captivity, others lost their habitat do to land being developed or natural disasters.

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Look at those apes!

Look at those apes!

Currently, there are about 50 orangutans at the sanctuary. On a large piece of land, the apes run free. We visited the outdoor nursery where about 6 young orangutans played on ropes and equipment designed like a playground for them. They learn to interact and socialize, and also skills necessary for survival.

At the playground

At the playground

Ropes and bananas

Ropes and bananas

We then went to the feeding platform where we were able to see 4-5 adult orangutans snack on bananas, sugar cane and some veggies.

Come get some food

Come get some food

Feeding post

Feeding post

Talking over lunch

Talking over lunch

Then we drove back to Sim Sim water-town which is just north of Sandakan. Sim Sim water-town is one of the nicer water-towns around the Sandakan area of Sabah. We were told they have running water as well as electricity; however, they are lacking a proper sewage system. This means that any waste goes straight into the sea.

Sim Sim

Sim Sim

Sim Sim

Sim Sim

On our way to the Orangutan Sanctuary, we were informed that the government has built affordable housing (approx 150 ringgit per month or $40-45 USD) to try to get people to move out of the water villages. With so many people (around 300,000) occupying very small spaces on the water, waste has become a huge issue. Not only human waste that goes into the sea, but all trash is thrown into the water. There is a huge problem with pollution and garbage filling the water all around Sandakan. It was sad to see all the trash, but also it is their way of life.

Trash in the water

Trash in the water

From there we got on a boat which transferred us to Abai Jungle Lodge. The boat and our new guide Albert took us around the outside of Borneo, to the mouth of the Kinabatangan River where we continued upstream to our lodge.

Here you can follow the path of our journey, the red line is where the ferry took us on the first day – to Abai Jungle Lodge.

Map of our journey

Map of our journey

On a boat!

On a boat!

Along the way, we were able to spot some proboscis monkeys chilling in a tree by the river. Lunch was served at the lodge, then we checked in and had some time to explore.

Lunch at the lodge

Lunch at the lodge


China – Day 2

Tuesday morning, after our MSG filled street food breakfast, we caught a subway over to the Laoximen station. From there we walked to what I call the cricket market. I think technically it is the bird and flower market. But that doesn’t sound nearly as interesting. Surrounding by the chirping of thousands of crickets of many sizes and colors, we explored the crowded little market filled with animals, smells, bird and plants of all varieties. Tried not to cry when we saw ten or more dirty kittens crammed in a small cage, or the caged puppies. Fish, turtles, rabbits, chinchillas, gerbils, crickets, grasshoppers, thousands of caged birds from small song birds to a large grey parrot, to birds that said Ni Hao (hello) as you walked by.

Cricket Market

Cricket Market

All sorts of fish

All sorts of fish

They even make pet food in the market, sell meal-worms for the birds and you can watch the shop keepers and they shove little chunks of lettuce into the hundreds of teeny cricket boxes to feed them.

Food for animals!

Food for animals!

(Back in April 2011, I did a post about this market: Bird and Flower Market – with lots more pictures!)

Later in the morning, we went to Jing’An temple, then did a lot of aimless walking about town and exploring.

Incense burning at the temple

Incense burning at the temple

A mix of old and new - this is Shanghai

A mix of old and new – this is Shanghai

Our afternoon beverage, was brought to us by Liquid Laundry, a fun new restaurant, bar and brewery opened by the owners of Boxing Cat Brewery. It definitely has a totally different feel to it that Boxing Cat, but I loved it. Fifteen craft beers on tap, including their own – brewed in house, some Boxing Cat beers and also guest taps from around the world.

Awesome!

Awesome!

We tapped that!

We tapped that!

We ran into Boxing Cat’s brew-master Mike and were able to catch up briefly with him and the fabulous beer happenings in Shanghai. If you are ever thirsty for something delicious make sure to check out both Boxing Cat Brewery and Liquid Laundry.

Brew master Michael Jordan

Brew master Michael Jordan

Post beverage, and a difficult search for a taxi, we found our way to the Xujiahui area where we met four of my former coworkers for hot pot dinner at Little Sheep. After eating our own weight in hotpot, we rolled ourselves back to the hotel and crashed.

Old co-workers - these girls are the greatest!

Old co-workers – these girls are the greatest!


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