The clock is ticking

‘You’re away for 8 weeks? Really?’

People are amazed at the length of time I will be in Borneo … not even all of Borneo but SabahSarawak and Brunei to be exact, the top third of this island, the worlds third largest. But now the clock is ticking, and just as I counted down my days ’til my big adventure, so too is my countdown app counting  down the days until it’s time to board the plane  here in KK and return to New Zealand : and that’s where the second part of my journey starts, writing articles and blogs about it all!

So, as the clock ticks faster and faster I thought it was time to tell you about my  plans for the next 2 and half weeks … my calender is full!

Tomorrow I’m off to Kota Belud … for what is evidently ‘Sabah’s most vibrant market’; the next day, still in the home of  Sabah’s most traditional people, the Rungus, I’m heading further north to Kudat for a couple of nights at Tommy’s Place. This was the areas first capital, and of course I will be visiting the tip of Borneo and spending time on the beach  – and who knows what else!

Back to KK – as Kota Kinabalu is known locally – for a nights rest before I’m off to Brunei for four days, hopefully to get to see the Sultans Palace which is only open 3 days a year … always right after Ramadan ends, perfect timing for my trip. I’m travelling by ferry with about an hour stop-over on the duty-free island of Labuan, Malaysia.

Back to KK for another nights sleep at the Borneo Backpackers, re-arrange my luggage then off to the  much talked about area of the East Coast of Sabah … like most travellers here I’m ignoring the over-conservative travel warnings or advisaries that many western countries have on their websites.

Sandakan means the Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary, Labuk Bay and the proboscic monkeys, among other things – including the annual Sandakan Memorial Day ceremony  – on the site of the PoW camp. This will be interesting as I knew nothing about this part of WW2 until I ended up here in  ‘Australia Place ‘where cheap accomodtion can be found among the printing works, and where the Australians camped when they liberated KK. More of this later!

Add few more days with a night safari in Sukau and bush walks in the celebrated Tabin Wildlife Resort, and you can see the next 17 or so days are full!

I still aim at producing a photo-a -day and I know there will be very few words to accompany them … saving them until I write the stories and re-live my adventures again . . . what a bonus two holidays for the price of one!

So time to stop writing and head for the night market .. the Hari Raya one where all the special foods of the holiday season are available. No wonder my goal of not putting on weight in Malaysia was doomed to fail!

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Ps. Apologies to those of you who got the unfinished, unedited version of this an hour ago 😦

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Meeting the world’s biggest flower … the rafflesia

Although I had this plant in my Borneo bucket- list, I knew there was no guarantee I’d see one.

In Sarawak I could have seen one but I had a booking to go to Bako National Park and the flower was already on day three (jt only lasts 3 or 4 days) when I saw the Forestry announcement about the bloom. I also heard it was a two-hour hike to get to that flower, so in the heat I was sort of relieved I couldn’t go.

These flowers are not something you can grow in your garden, unless your garden is a tropical rainforest in Malaysia, Sumatra, Thailand, or the Philippines, or here on Borneo. It also needs to be near the Tetra Stigma vine which, as a parasitic plant, it attaches it’s self to. I didn’t know all this, I just knew I’d seen photos of it, and heard Sir David Attenborough talk in awe of it in his Borneo adventures. And, let’s face it, this is an awe inspiring island.

So it was in Sabah, on a day trip to Kinabalu National Park and Poring Hot Springs that our guide said a flower was able to be seen in Poring. I immediately sais yes and while the others were in the pools, I went on private trip, through a local tribes orchard, past durian, star fruit, ginger, and more of my favourite fruits to arrive at a crudely formed pathdown a bank to the fenced-in, protected plant.

As this one was in local tribal lands it meant the fee went directly to them, not the tour company, which of course is one of the ways to be an eco-traveller: leave as much money as possible in the communities you visit.

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Kota Kinabalu: capital of Sabah, Malaysian Borneo

Kota Kinabalu , Sabahis very different to it’s neighbors State capital – Kuching, Sarawak – and if you are new to Asia, this would be a very easy place to start exploring the region. Food is often the stumbling block for travellers but here you can choose from many western style eateries . . . as those who know me through Facebook, or this blog, know, I mostly eat local food wherever I am.  Today I grossed out some of my friends with the photo of durian I’d just bought for Sunday breakfast. ( from the weekly Gaya Street market).

However this blog is not about food but just a few of the highlights from my time here – to date.

KK (as the city is often called) has the KK City Bird Sanctuary only 2ks from the city centre … I emerged from there an abject failure as  birder as could hear many of the 80 species there, but saw few. Seems I’m more of a social birder, requiring big slow birds to watch. But it WAS high tide so not a good time in among the mangroves; well that’s my excuse.

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Boardwalks are essential in mangrove area
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I did watch these ants carry a crab claw home ... they have good taste
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KK City Mosque - the biggest here, and arguably the most beautiful in Malaysia
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Walking back from the city mosque I did see a feww of these birds
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The Atkinson Clock Tower where I had my inelegant fall
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A purple heron keeps its distance at KK wetlands
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Pot-bellied proboscis monkey .... quite an unfortunate face too!
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And finally, the naughty long tailed mcaque!

Not everything has been covered, so more highlights in another blog. (I went to see the proboscis monkeys with a bus/boat tour with TYH Borneo – http://www.tyhborneotours.com )

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Kuching … sorry to say goodbye

What do you call a city whose name means cat, but is not named after a cat? A city that has two mayors with the same powers, wages and responsibilities and who can carry out them differently ; who has a pedestrian mall called India Street but very few Indian shops on it …  well I call it wonderful.

This city, the capital of Sarawak, East Malaysia, Borneo, is beguiling and it’s easy to see why people stay longer than they planned – just as I have.

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The waterfront has wind and solar panels to light the many lights along its length and across the river, the Astana is lit up like a Christmas tree – day and night locals and tourists promanarde it’s length, junks, water taxis, and  a large tourist boat give people either passage home across the water or  river level view of the city.

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They also make wonderful layered cakes that are sought after by all Malaysians when they visist from West, or penunsula, Malaysia, taking them home as gifts for friends or family. I will write a blog or article about this Sarawakian  skill, and now tradition, when  I return to New Zealand

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Rainforest World Music Festival better than promised.

The annual Rainforest World Music Festival in Kuching, Sarawak, (East Malaysia, Borneo) certainly lived up to and even surpassed my expectations. (Next one 20/22 June 2014)

Set on the edge of the jungle, in the fascinating Sarawak Cultural Village, this has become a signature tourism event in this, Malaysia’s largest state Sarawak. I will be writing more about it,  but for now let me suggest that if you plan to be in Borneo, or Asia in general, or will be passing through any July make sure you add the RWMF to your bucket list along with the orang utans which everyone travelling here wants to see.

At the three-day festival, along with the great shows every night, on the two stages, during the day are fascinating workshops with artists from various bands and acts combining to jam together and show how their instruments work. This meant the Australian didgeridoo was playing along with other wind instruments such as a saxophone or Iranian bagpipes! It was often hard to choose which workshop to attend.

A first this year was the pre-festival expo: the successful Borneo World Music Expo held at the Pullman Hotel and which is planned to be an annual event also, showcasing traditional folk, roots and ethnic music to the international stage.

I only attended the last day of the expo but was really impressed by a Malaysian band Beringin Emas who performed at a high impacts level for some 45 minutes during the showcase event in the evening. As I said … more to follow, just make sure you get to the next one … or the  Borneo Jazz Festival in MAY 2014

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Off to Malaysia Lah.

Hibiscus nat flower malaysiaweb 020_16A
Hibiscus. National flower, Malaysia

Yes, today I’m off to Malaysia Lah – and, as I said in my book – Naked in Budapest: travels with a passionate nomad,– it’s my favourite Asian country!

So why “lah” and why “favourite”?

To lah or not to lah that is the question. Many Malaysians add this ‘non-word’ to sentences, peppering it around , flavouring their words just as you do with the spice.

For explanations of all the meanings attributed to the word see here.

Some include these

Coaxing: Come on, lah; don’t be like that-lah; please-lah
Forceful: Shut up-lah! Get out-lah!
Apologetic: Sorry-lah
Fed up: Enough-lah!
Definite: Of course-lah; sure-lah
Agreeable: Okay-lah

We Kiwi also add a sort of non-word to many sentences – ours is ‘eh’ pronounced ‘ay’, like the letter ‘a’ and it’s used to tag question or emphasise a statement – not nearly as versatile as the Malaysian Lah!

However, my parents, clear-speaking Christchurch folk, were horrified when their North Island born grandchildren moved south with the casual ‘eh’ added to their comments and queries alike – they considered it very ‘lower-class’. It was ‘regional’ but it has slowly moved to the South Island but it’s still not so common there – and many people throughout NZ still consider it a sign of a lack of education and or money.

And, now, why ‘favourite country’? Well, my first visit to Asia, and Malaysia was in the late-90s, landing in Singapore, on my way to Thailand where I was keen to see the gold temples and Buddha’s. Malaysia was really just a two-week route north. I thought it would be ‘just another colonised country’ and gosh was I wrong!

As a Kiwi (New Zealander)I got a 3-month visa as I crossed the border, bused to Malacca and promptly fell in love with the country, the food and the people: Think Assam Pedas a spicy-sour fish for breakfast, sweet-corn ice-cream, great sights, history,  friendly people of different ethnicities and religions, and of course  their “Open Homes”.

These open homes are a truly Malaysian way of celebrating all festivals or celebrations including religious and ancient events, when everyone is invited to someone’s home for a great meal.  Staying in Malacca for ten days meant I was there for the Hari Raya celebrations (end of Ramadan) and much to my surprise was welcomed into the home of the Deputy Health Minister.

I tell much more about my time in Malaysia in my book, but to finish this blog, I can tell you I finally had to make a rush to the Malay-Thai border on the last day of that 3-month visa, hating leaving, and knowing I would return.

I’ve been back a couple of times but this is my first visit to East Malaysia (Sarawak & Sabah on Borneo) and for the next 2 months I’m looking forward to seeing both the differences and what’s similar – follow my adventures here and on social media.

Heather Hapeta: the kiwi travel writer

See here for my social media links – so you can choose how to follow my travels, the food, the creatures, and the nature of this tropical island 🙂