Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Holly and the big-nosed, pot-bellied monkeys of Borneo

Holly (fresh off the plane from London), Sandy and I caught an Air Asia flight from JB in Johor, Peninsular Malaysia, to Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, East Malaysia, on the island of Borneo.

First on the agenda in Sabah was to find the big-nosed, pot-bellied proboscis monkeys, which can only be found in Borneo. We headed southeast along the coast to the Klias river delta — halfway to the border with Sarawak — and followed a boat tour through the river system for an hour or so.

We soon became adept at spotting groups of hilarious-looking monkeys in the trees on either bank. The male proboscis have huge round droopy noses, pot bellies and pemanent erections! In Indonesian they are known as "monyet Belanda" or "white-man monkeys".

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Climbing Mount Kinabalu ... almost

Mount Kinabalu is the tallest mountain between the Himalayas and PNG and the two-day ascent to the summit is a must for all visitors to Sabah. Except us. We decided it was best viewed from a luxurious chalet at basecamp.

We hired a car to drive to Mount Kinabalu, which is 90 km from Kota Kinabalu. The Malaysian-made Kelissa only just made it and Sandy, the designated driver, had to peddle furiously up the mountain roads. In the background is the chalet we stayed in at the base of Mount Kinabalu, about 1600 metres above sea level.

The chalet had an open-hearth log fire and after several unsuccessful attempts at lighting a fire using tourist brochures as firelighters, we called in the pros. Two Kadazan guys had a roaring fire going within minutes with the help of some tradtional Kadazan firelighting techniques ... burning plastic bags of chemicals!

Poor old Holly had fled England for the heat of the tropics and Sandy and I dragged her halfway up a mountain, above cloud level, to sit round a log fire!

Drying clothes in front of the fire ...

We did go on three decent walks: the first for 2.5 km at dusk along the ridge to the back of the chalet; the second, before breakfast the following day, a short but steep 600 m up the side of the hill next to the power station (the starting point of the Kinabalu ascent); and the third for a couple of km along the trails around the basecamp.

Hiking above the clouds ...

Sandy in the clouds ...

The summit of Mount Kinabalu ...

Monday, January 09, 2006

Birds spotted in Sabah

Mt Kinabalu
Large-tailed Nightjar
Chestnut-capped Laughingthrush
Black Laughingthrush
Scarlet Sunbird
Chestnut-crested Yuhina

Sungai Klias
Stork-billed Kingfisher

Pulau Manukan
Yellow-vented Bulbul
Pied Fantail
Magpie Robin
White-bellied Sea Eagle
Pink-necked Pigeon
Crimson Sunbird

Montane plants

No idea what the following are but we did see some weird-looking ferns at the 1900 m level, as well as the whispy moss hanging on the trees and, the highlight for us, two species of wild pitcher plant! The pitcher plants secrete a sweet substance that attracts flies, which are then trapped in the pitcher's trap and slowly absorbed by the plant!

We found these alien spawn growing out of tree roots. They looked like eyeballs protected by an impenetrable jelly-like substance. What are they??

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Possibly the worst hotel food in Malaysia

After the physical and mental exhaustion of looking at Mount Kinabalu from the basecamp, we decided a few days at the beach were in order. The Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park comprises five islands, lying just offshore from the state capital Kota Kinabalu. Only two of the islands offer accomodation and we found ourselves on a speedboat to Pulau Manukan.

The beaches were beautiful, the chalets great, the snorkling pretty good ... but the food appaling and the staff somewhat blur to say the least.

Conversation #1 (in Malay) in the restaurant, after waiting 30 mins for the food to arrive:
Waitress: have you taken back your credit card yet?
Us: what card?
Waitress: your credit card, to pay.
Us: we haven't seen any food yet.
Waitress: Oh! No food?
Us: no, please could you check for us?
Waitress: (blank looks) check what?
Us: (banging head on table) the food?

Coversation #2 (in Malay) in the restaurant again:
Us: do you have a set dinner?
Waitress: yes
Us: what is it?
Waitress: err, five dishes
Us: what dishes?
Waitress: i don't know
Us: can you find out?
Waitress: you want the set dinner?
Us: we need to know what it is first?
Waitress: so you want to order the set dinner
Us: we need to know what the dishes are
Waitress: oh, so you want the set dinner then
Us: no, please ask the chef what the dishes are first
(Finally goes to the kitchen and comes back with a list of nasty sounding dishes)
Us: We'll choose from the menu, is everything available tonight?
Waitress: I don't know ...

Sunset over Pulau Manukan ...

Checking out the Jobs Section for a position on the hotel's wait staff ... but unfortunately over qualified

The island was so relaxing that Holly decided to extend her stay by three nights ... and stock up on pot noodles

Saying goodbye to Holly at the jetty ...

Sunday, January 01, 2006


Sandy and I went for New Year's Eve dinner at Dotty's Carribean Corner (!) at Keppel Marina. This rather obscure place is a real gem, hardly anybody has heard of it but it serves decent BBQ seafood and it's always fun dining on the water's edge, in this case facing Sentosa. It's a working marina so tug boats and passenger ferries keep motoring in to dock for the night. As usual we ordered far too much for two of us: chilli crab; BBQ asam prawns; BBQ baby squid; kai lan with garlic; beef, chicken and lamb satay; and a mountain of fried rice!! Insane. We had to take a stroll around the marina afterwards just to digest the food. Since we only finished the last crab claw at about 10pm, we decided to stay on for the countdown and watch the fireworks from there. Next time I'll bring my own wine, the corkage is only $8!! I had to endure flavourless Carlsberg the whole night.