The summer vacation of 1999 went to Malaysia and Singapore. Four weeks of jungle, trekking and orangutans. Perfect!
The jungle in Taman Negara National Park is one of the attractions of main land Malaysia. On the Borneo part of Malaysia South East Asia’s highest mountain, Mt. Kinabalu, is a must and the Sepilok reserve is one of only four places in the world where Orangutans live in the wild.
Malaysia is generally safe to travel through. People are friendly and helpful and except for saying “hello” all the time, nobody are likely to bother you.
The greatest hazard is probably the fires in Indonesia. The smoke reaches Malaysia and when it is worst, visibility can be down to less than 100m.
The cheapest airline ticket to Malaysia we could find was sold by Aeroflot, so somewhat nervous, that was the Aeroflot company we decided to fly with. As it turned out, Aeroflot is neither worse nor better than most other companies. The food sucks, but other than that it was an OK flight.
After landing in Kuala Lumpur, we took a taxi to the center of the city. Found a rotten but cheap hotel room, which we quickly regretted having taken. Found a better one the next morning.
There is not much to see in Kuala Lumpur. One day is plenty of time to stay there! What we found to be the main attraction was a skyscraper. The Petronas Towers are arguably the highest building(s) in the world and they are definitely impressive.
There are, of course, some pretty squares and different museums, but nothing spectacular. It is a good place to book different sights around the country. Malaysia has begun the policy (which I’m sure many other countries are about to follow) of limiting the number of visitors to certain areas. This makes it a bit hard for people traveling on their own, to visit these areas, for they are sometimes booked for months in advance. The areas in question are: Taman Negara (to some extent), Mt. Kinabalu and Turtle Islands, the latter being the most difficult to book for. They simply limit the number of hotel rooms and don’t allow more visitors than there are rooms.
It is probably not necessary to book a room in advance for going to Taman Negara. But for Mt. Kinabalu and Turtle Islands it is. When we visited Malaysia in July, trips to Turtle Islands were not possible until mid September! Too bad!! Try making a reservation from home if possible.
We took a bus to Kuala Tembeling. A permit is needed to enter the Taman Negara park, and this permit is obtained Children here. It costs only 1RM (ringit) and is easy to get. From Kuala Tembeling the trip continues by boat to Taman Negara. Its almost 70km on the river, and the trip takes about 3hours.
The hostels in the resort area are expensive, the other side of the river is cheaper! There is no bridge crossing the river, so a boat takes people across.
The best thing to do in Taman Negara is – not surprisingly – trekking in the jungle. And there is ample opportunity to do this. Everything from a one hour walk to a 9 day trek is possible. We took a two day trek to the Bunbum Kumbang hide. It was an excellent trek of about 6 hours each way. We saw many animals in the park – lots of birds – including Hornbills, butterflies, a small snake, monkeys, water buffalos and lizards. Larger animals like elephants, tapir and leopards can Canopy be seen, but very rarely. It was a tough but brilliant trip!
Taman Negara has also got one of the highest canopy walks in the world. Walking around in the canopy up to 40m above ground is quite spectacular.
After seeing the park we took the boat back to Kuala Tembeling and from there a taxi to Jerantut. From Jerantut we continued by train, south to Johor Bahru, just north of Singapore.
There is not much to see in Johor Bahru. It is an ugly noisy town, and the only reason for going there are either continuing to Singapore or flying somewhere. We were there for the latter – catching a plane to Kota Kinabalu in Sabah the next morning. We took a walk around the city, but unfortunately one of the only things worth seeing – an earlier sultans palace – was closed.
Found a nice hotel in the center of town and went out to find an Internet Cafe. There were three or four but now they will be all over. One of the next things we did was to find Kinabalu Gold Resorts where it is possible to book tours to Mt. Kinabalu and Turtle Islands. It was not possible to go to Turtle Islands but Mt. Kinabalu still had a few rooms available.
Next we took a walk around town. Saw among other things a mosque and a small village on poles. Kota Kinabalu is not a beautiful city, but then again hardly any Asian city can be described as beautiful. What is beautiful though, is the Tunkun Abdul Rahman National Park, a group of islands located only a few kilometers from the city. Its a nice place to go and relax.
Sandakan and Sepilok
From Kota Kinabalu we went across Sabah to the eastern part of the province to Sandakan. On the way we Sandakan Kinabalu, the 4100m high mountain that we were going to climb later on. As it is the case for most Asian cities, there is not much to see in Sandakan (there is a mosque and a Chinese temple), but it is a great base for visiting Sepilok – a Orangutan rehabilitation center where it is possible to see “semi-wild” Orangutans.
Seeing the Orangutans was a fantastic experience! They get fed twice a day, and this is when you are most likely see them. The animals live in the jungle/forest and are not restrained in any way. The idea with the center is, that when the Orangutans are ready to take care of them selves they simply don’t come back. And it is working great. We saw lots of Orangutans including a huge male (not often seen). It was very exiting. It is possible to walk around the area, but a permit is required. It is easy to get though and a small trek in the forest is definitely worth while.
Mt. Kinabalu is South East Asia’s highest mountain at 4100m. It is located in the middle of Sabah, and sits there as the only mountain within miles. At its foot is a small resort where people stay during their visit. This is the place where it is necessary to book a room, cause there aren’t many of them.
The mountain is typically climbed in two days, and a guide is mandatory even though it is definitely not necessary. There is a good foot path all the way to the top, but it is quite steep The path rises 2km over just 8km. The trail starts in about 1900m and the first day usually ends in 3200m where there is a nice big hut. This part takes 4 to 6 hours depending on a persons fitness. Remember to see the fascinating pitcher plants on the way up! In the hut it is possible to get a bed and a meal, and just relax and enjoy the amazing view.
The second day starts early in the morning (around two or three o’clock), and after about three hours the summit is reached in time to see the sun rise. Fantastic but COLD!! Bring warm clothes. Walking all the way down takes about 6 hours, and this part of the trip is tough on the knees. But the trek is very rewarding and a great experience.
Now it was time to leave Borneo. We took the bus back to Kota Kinabalu and flew to Johor Bahru. From there we went to Singapore. See the Singapore section for a description of this part of the trip.
Malaysia was a terrific place to travel, and we would love to go back and see the rest of the country. Especially Sarawak!