Borneo/Malaysia w/Friendly Planet

Dec 2nd, 2008, 04:51 AM
  #1  
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Join Date: Feb 2004
Posts: 96
Borneo/Malaysia w/Friendly Planet

Hi Everyone,

It’s been three weeks since I returned from my latest trip: “Borneo Adventure” with Friendly Planet. The trip lasted from 10/12-11/01/08, and included 10 days on the island of Borneo (Sabah & Sarawak provinces, Malaysia), 4 days on the Malaysian island of Penang, 3 scattered full and ½ days in & around the capital city of Kuala Lumpur, and, of course, a couple days of travel time. The travel time between LA and Kuala Lumpur was nearly 20 hours each way—which included about 1 ½ hours in Taipei for refueling. A very long trip! Plus an additional 3 ½ hours for me to fly between Chicago and LA. Surprisingly, the flights were not as unbearable as I had expected. Malaysia Airlines was relatively comfortable, with friendly flight attendants.

I booked this trip last February, after an Internet friend, a woman with whom I had been trading Emails and trip reports, asked if I would like to join her and a friend on this tour. The itinerary posted on the website looked intriguing and the price seemed reasonable, so I signed on. The problems began in June, when our scheduled return flight was cancelled by Malaysian Air, and continued with additional flight cancellations, many attempts to get information from Friendly Planet regarding our connecting flights to Los Angeles (where the included air was to begin), and itinerary changes, apparently due to Malaysia Air internal flight changes. We had been told that all the activities/sights included in the original itinerary would still be part of the tour, but this didn’t happen. The schedule included seven internal flights—most of which were around the middle of the day. As a result, on flight days, we had little time in the morning, and little or no time after we had arrived at our destination and checked into our hotel to do any sightseeing. Heavy rain also curtailed some of our planned activities. We knew we were taking a chance on that time of year, but usually the rains do not start so early. And it was very hot and humid—in the 90’s most days. Unfortunately, I became dehydrated on one excursion, and missed a wildlife hike in Bako National Park plus a sunset cruise. Lesson learned—I will always be careful to drink lots of water in future similar situations. In general, we didn’t see as much wildlife as I had expected.

Another problem was that two nights of our stay in Kuala Lumpur were actually at a hotel an hour away from both the city and airport—a business hotel in a rather nondescript town. This hotel was paid for by Malaysia Air (because of their flight cancellations), but we learned later that Friendly Planet could have negotiated a more convenient hotel for us. Another fault I found with Friendly Planet was that they didn’t relay information to our guides about my special diet (I cannot eat foods containing gluten—primarily wheat, barley, & rye) nor the dietary needs of another person in our tour group who was highly allergic to fish and seafood. As a result, the two of us were reduced to eating white rice and veggies for too many meals. Most of our guides, while friendly, were not as competent as I had been used to with other tour companies.

Now that I’ve mentioned the problems with the trip, I really do have some good things to say. Our group included only six people—and only four on the Penang Island extension. At least five of us were very compatible, while one person would, I think, have rather been on a private tour. I especially enjoyed getting to know my Internet friends in person. It really helped that we could laugh together at all our setbacks. The country was much more developed that I had expected. Rather than small, sleepy seaside towns, there were bustling cities with streets filled with cars, and lots of new construction. Kuala Lumpur was filled with skyscrapers, including the world’s 2nd tallest buildings—the Petronas Twin Towers. Our hotels were, for the most part, very comfortable. My personal preference, though, would have been for smaller, more centrally-located hotels in some locations. The huge Hiltons and Holiday Inns generally don’t appeal to me. The people couldn’t have been nicer—and their friendliness seemed genuine—not just put on for the sake of tourists. There was very little of the pushiness of souvenir hawkers that is seen in so many countries.

Some of the most memorable parts of the trip included:
- The gorgeous river view from our hotel (the Hilton) in Kuching, and the walk along the river at sunset.
- The day in Batang Ai, including a ride across a lake in longboats to a native longhouse, visiting, drinking, and dancing with the inhabitants, learning about some of their customs, enjoying a BBQ picnic on a hill overlooking the scenic lake, and then getting caught in our first downpour on the longboat ride back to the hotel. It was a pretty exciting boat ride!
- Nature walks in the primary rainforest of Mulu National Park. Although we didn’t see any large animals, our ranger-guide took the time to point out many interesting plants, butterflies, and insects.
- The subsequent downpours in Mulu which changed the dry ground under our stilted cabins to a lake with water 15 feet deep overnight! I’ve never experienced such heavy rain before.
- A daytrip to the historic town of Malacca, with its interesting old European & Chinese buildings and shopping street. The Baba Nonya Heritage Museum was especially interesting.
- The Batu Caves outside of Kuala Lumpur. The huge statue of a Hindu god at the foot of the 270 steps leading up to the caves that contained several Hindu shrines was an unforgettable sight. As were the many playful monkeys trying to steal food & drink from the visitors.
- Our stay on Penang Island, where we had time to relax by the beach as well as enjoy more leisurely sightseeing. Highlights for me were the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion and the Butterfly Farm. We also enjoyed our best dinners here—at the Ferringhi Garden.

Borneo, Penang Island, and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia are definitely destinations worth visiting. Based on my experience, you might be able to do better than the Friendly Planet tour, however.

If you are interested in receiving the blow-by-blow account of my trip, and/or link to my photos, please let me know ([email protected]). I’ll try to get them out early next year.

Thanks to all you Fodorites who answered my questions when planning the trip!

Karin
karinkz is offline  
Dec 2nd, 2008, 06:41 AM
  #2  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 32,988
Thanks for your report. I remember answering questions when you were planning this trip.

I'm glad you has some good experiences, sorry the tour company did not deliver as promised. As you know, I'm an advocate of independent travel. Traveling independently would have given you control over all the things Friendly planet didn't attend to - hotels and location, flight times and food issues.

I do hope this introduction to Malaysia will encourage you to travel more in this fascinating part of the world.
Kathie is offline  
Dec 2nd, 2008, 02:32 PM
  #3  
 
Join Date: Nov 2004
Posts: 14,440
Quite an adventure, setbacks and all. I got dehydrated in Borneo too. Do you think you'll travel again with your Internet friend?
atravelynn is offline  
Dec 2nd, 2008, 07:40 PM
  #4  
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Kathie--

You're right. With independent travel, you have more control. I used to travel independently, but then my husband stopped traveling, and I don't enjoy going alone, so began joining tours. I think there are advantages to both types of travel. In hindsight, I do think Borneo is one of those places better done independently.

Atravelyn--That's interesting that you also got dehydrated in Borneo. That had never happened to me before, and I've traveled to a lot of hot, humid places! It really scared me when I passed out. Yes, I would definitely travel again with my Internet friend--if we could agree on a destination.
karinkz is offline  
Dec 3rd, 2008, 05:33 PM
  #5  
 
Join Date: Nov 2004
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If you two like nature, Karinkz, how about going to Africa? I've never gotten dehydrated there.
atravelynn is offline  
Jan 10th, 2009, 02:44 PM
  #6  
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 389
Hi, Everybody--

My travel partner Jeri and I are the internet friends that Karin spoke about as being on this same tour. We got to know each other through these boards, and it was great to meet her in person after years of exchanging emails and to travel with her. I think that her overview of the trip is right on.

I, too, want to thank Kathie and others for their input and encouragement to explore this part of the world.

It's been a little over two months since we returned, and I've just now finished my travel journal. I'm looking forward to reading Karin's, which she hopes to have completed soon, to see if our take on the trip was similar.

Karin takes copious notes and gives a lot of attention to detail in her very complete reports. That's what draws me to read what she writes. And with her report, I'm certain that you will have a total picture of the things we saw and did, the high points as well as the drawbacks in the itinerary.

My own report is pretty long, but since I don't take the amount of notes that Karin does, relying more on the written itinerary as well as my photos as I recall how all unfolded, it will be slanted toward personal reaction rather than absolute accuracy of time, place, and specifics.

That being said, I will be happy to send a copy to any who would like to read it. Just send me an email at [email protected].
Bo2642 is offline  
Jan 10th, 2009, 02:57 PM
  #7  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 32,988
Bo, please do post your report here. Don't worry about it being long - lots of us write long reports!
Kathie is offline  
Jan 11th, 2009, 06:52 PM
  #8  
 
Join Date: Nov 2004
Posts: 14,440
Please lay the report out here and if anyone thinks it is too long they may avert their eyes. It's useful not only as a current read, but for people researching in the future. When the search feature works better here it will be even more useful.

Add some photos too.
atravelynn is offline  
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