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Tanuki's Borneo trip report-January 2009

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Jan 23rd, 2009, 03:28 AM
  #1
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Tanuki's Borneo trip report-January 2009

I have just returned from my first trip to Malaysia, where I spent the entire time in the Bornean states of Sabah and Sarawak. I left the U.S. in the wee hours of January 1 and returned January 20, Inauguration Day! I went back to work the next day and am still not entirely unpacked or over my jet lag but I will be posting some reflections of the trip over the next few days. I live in Nashville and traveled with a friend who was flying out of Atlanta, so we used that as our gateway city. I thought initially that we would have to fly to Kuala Lumpur and double back, but that was not necessary. We flew Korean Air to Seoul and then their flight from Seoul directly to Kota Kinabalu. Round trip air fare from Atlanta was $1392. US, including all taxes, booked on orbitz.com. My trip included time in Kota Kinabalu, Selingan Island (sea turtle conservation site), Sepilok Orangutan rehabilitation center, Sukau/Kinabatangan River, Sandakan, Borneo Rainforest Lodge, unexpected overnight in Lahad Datu due to cancelled Malaysian Airlines internal flight, and Kuching. It was a wonderful trip and I enjoyed the Malaysian people very much. The wildlife, tropical vegetation, and cuisine were terrific, and as always it was great to broaden my horizons and learn more about another fascinating part of the world.

Kota Kinabalu is the capital of Sabah and is located on the South China Sea in the foothills of the Crocker Range, the pinnacle of which is Mount Kinabalu, one of the highest peaks in Southeast Asia. Some of the submerged mountains form the islands of the Tunku Abdul Raman Marine Park, accessible by public ferries from the KK wharf. KK was occupied by the Japanese during WWII and most of the buildings were destroyed by Allied bombing, so it does not have the architectural charm of an older city. We stayed at the Jesselton Hotel (“Jesselton” was what the city was called during its British colonial days), a small boutique hotel in a convenient location on Gaya Street. The room was $79 US per night, including breakfast, booked through asiarooms.com. The Sunday market takes place right out in front of the hotel, and this was a fun and colorful experience. The market caters to locals as well as tourists, with vendors selling everything from produce and pets to housewares, snacks, and a range of souvenirs.
We spent part of the first day at the Sabah Museum, learning about the history, multiple cultures, struggle for independence, and much more. I am interested in textiles and ethnic costumes and enjoyed their exhibit of weaving and the traditional wedding costumes of the various tribal groups of Sabah. We had lunch at the small café in the courtyard. The friendly proprietor offered us his newspaper to read while we waited for our meal to be prepared, and I noticed a headline stating “Amok dies after police shooting.” I have always found the phenomenon of “running amok” interesting from a clinical and linguistic standpoint and was intrigued to encounter an example, referred to explicitly, on my first day in Malaysia. We chatted with the proprietor and when he learned that we were Americans, he expressed happiness and hopefulness about our then-president elect. We met the same response over and over again throughout the trip.
I am running out of steam at the moment but will write some more later.
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Jan 23rd, 2009, 07:24 AM
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I can't wait for more! I'm so glad you stayed at the BRL. I'm looking forward to hearing about all of it.

Welcome home!
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Jan 23rd, 2009, 08:40 AM
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Interesting report. Thanks for taking the time to do one. Will be following along with everyone else reading your report!

Aloha!
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Jan 23rd, 2009, 12:04 PM
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I'll also be following along.
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Jan 24th, 2009, 01:35 AM
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We were aware that we would be visiting during the rainy season, but that rarely presented a problem and on the contrary had some advantages. The fact that the days were often cloudy meant that the temperature was milder, and everything was less crowded with tourists than during the peak season. With few exceptions, the rain was limited to a downpour for an hour or so, or occurred overnight, and some days it didn’t rain at all. We did not feel that any of this interfered with our enjoyment of the trip, as we often used the rainy interval for an indoor activity such as visiting a museum, stopping for a snack, or shopping. It did make for some muddy hiking at BRL, about which more later. While in KK, we took the speedboat ferry out to Manukan Island in the marine park, where the water is so clear that you can see little tropical fish swimming around the pier as you get off the boat. You can rent snorkel gear, and there is a place to have meals as well as overnight accommodation.
Much of KK is reclaimed wetland, and we visited the Likas Bay wetland conservation area bird sanctuary, a preserved mangrove swamp with a boardwalk winding throughout. We saw lots of lizards, mudpuppies, crabs, etc., but not as many birds as I would have imagined. In any event, I was glad to see some of the precious original habitat being preserved, particularly since this is an area in which a great deal of upscale development seems to be taking place. While in KK, we also visited the small aquarium on the University’s spacious and lovely campus, the Sabah State Mosque, the Guanyin (a.k.a. Kwan Yin) temple, waterfront , and Philipine handicraft market. On the advice of a local couple we met, we had dinner one evening at Restoran Sri Melaka, which has the appearance of a diner but served excellent and authentic regional cuisine at very reasonable prices. As you might expect, given the proximity to the ocean, seafood was fresh, plentiful and delicious everywhere we went. We also enjoyed having a light meal out on the oceanfront boardwalk. We liked the Jesselton Hotel and especially appreciated the unfailing graciousness and helpfulness of the staff. The Jesselton does not have a pool, however, and I know that is a consideration for many. There is a big Chinese herbal shop next door, with the entire front open to the air during business hours so that we were met by a spicy fragrance each time we walked past.
We made our arrangements for visiting Selingan Island, Sepilok and Sukau/Kinabatangan through Borneo Adventure Tours www.borneoadventure.com and were very satisfied, but there are many companies and options and I would recommend shopping around for the package that best suits one’s interests and needs. Guides, transport from Sandakan airport, meals, and overnight accommodation were included. We flew to Sandakan from KK on the early morning flight. Be sure to sit on the left side of the plane for a view of Mt. Kinabalu from the air. (to be continued)

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Jan 24th, 2009, 03:04 AM
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what a great, detailed report. We hope one day to expand our visits to more of asia. We certainly will be using these notes!

One suggestion, could you break the report into paragraphs to make it a little easier reading? thanks.
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