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Kinabatangan Wildlife

April 10, 2018 Tuesday – Sandakan to Kinabatangan, East Sabah, Malaysia

2018 Borneo tour

Kinabatangan, Sandakan & Sepilok area map

Kinabatangan, Sandakan & Sepilok area map

Today we trade our posh Le Meridien hotel in Kota Kinabalu for a wilderness lodge in the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary. We fly to Sandakan in East Sabah this morning, drive along the Kinabatangan River (Sabah’s longest at over 500 kilometres) to Sukau and the Kinabatangan Riverside Lodge

Along the way we pass through many kilometres of oil-palm plantations, and arrive in time for lunch (served buffet-style). When one of the staff takes my bag to my cabin, he is attacked by a troupe of Macaque monkeys and is bitten. Not an impressive start to my stay!

Late this afternoon we take our first river cruise in search of Pygmy Elephants, but our guide Junior only finds fresh elephant dung, since they appear to be on the move. We do see a large group of Proboscis monkeys high in the trees beside the river, some other monkeys, and the Borneo Civet after dark as we return for a late dinner.

The cabins at the lodge are pretty basic, with no air conditioning, just fans and screens on the windows. There are bugs in the room and especially the bathroom. I started taking my Malarone anti-malarial medicine a couple of days ago in preparation for this segment of our travels, however despite the lodge being located right on the river, I see no mosquitos.

April 11, 2018 Wednesday – Kinabatangan in East Sabah, Malaysia

We leave the lodge by boat at 6:30AM for a 2.5 hour trip along the Kinabatangan River. We spot a beautiful Stork-billed Kingfisher soon after we leave the dock. Unlike yesterday evening, today I have my full camera kit with me for the boat trip, I take some good photos of a female Proboscis monkey with a baby in a tree, some Hornbills, a Black and Red Broadbill, a male Blue-eared Kingfisher, a Chestnut-breasted Malkoha, an Oriental Darter, some Silver Langur monkeys, a Wrinkled Hornbill, and a small Monitor Lizard. This is my most productive day for wildlife photography!

Our guide Junior gives a presentation on how he started out as a waiter in a resort, became a guide 35 years ago, and had the opportunity to work with David Attenborough on The Living Planet series. The biodiversity on Borneo is very concentrated, lending itself to feature films about the rainforest, such as the National Geographic Great Migration series. Junior tells us he is self-taught as a guide, but he is licensed by the government. Same goes for our other guides, including his son.

Stork-billed Kingfisher

Stork-billed Kingfisher

On the afternoon boat trip, we go up a tributary of the main river, where we spot: a Stork-billed Kingfisher, male Blue-eared Kingfisher, a large group of Long-tailed Macaque monkeys, a small group of Silver Lemur monkeys, a Roller Broadbill (aka Dollar Bird), a Wrinkled Hornbill, a Monitor Lizard (about a half metre long), and an Oriental Darter bird. We see a couple of wildlife bridges built by the government wildlife service  to help the Orangutans cross the river channel (since they don’t swim).

I skip the night cruise, since photography is pretty well out of the question, and I really don’t want to be bitten by bugs, pick up any leeches, or attempt to photograph bugs by flashlight.

April 12, 2018 Thursday – Kinabatangan to Sandakan in East Sabah, Malaysia

On our morning boat trip, we see: Proboscis monkeys feeding (including a male), a Cattle Egret in breeding plumage, a pair of Hornbills, a male Black and Red Broadbill guarding it’s nest, and a young Crocodile on the muddy shore.

Staff waving goodbye to us from the Kinabatangan Riverside Lodge

Staff waving goodbye to us from the Kinabatangan Riverside Lodge

After lunch, it is time to leave the lodge by taking a 2.5 hour boat trip down the river to the sea, and then to the jetty at Sandakan. This turns out to be an endurance contest, despite having a rest stop half way at Abai Jungle Restaurant and Lodge, a lodge on the lower river run by the same company (S I Tours) as where we were staying. The boats are going about 40 knots and when we are in exposed sea water in the Sulu Sea, the ride is very rough and noisy. I wear my noise-cancelling earbuds to reduce my exposure.

Once we arrive at the jetty in Sandakan, our bags are taken by hand carts to the bus waiting for us, and we are driven a short distance to the only deluxe hotel to be found in Sandakan, the Four Points by Sheraton. It has an infinity pool, gym, 2-level lobby with a piano, and is over 20 stories high. It’s quite pretentious, however I’m happy to have an American-style room with air conditioning, hot water and comfy bed after the last few nights in the river lodge!

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Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei

April 7, 2018 Saturday – Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei

2018 Borneo tour

Woman’s Entrance, Jame Asr Hassanil Bolkiah new mosque

Woman’s Entrance, Jame Asr Hassanil Bolkiah new mosque

We start our full day in Brunei visiting the opulent Jame Asr Hassanil Bolkiah new mosque, where we are allowed to visit the inside of the men’s prayer hall after removing our shoes. The women in our group must also cover their heads and legs, and everyone has to check our bags, although we are allowed to carry a camera with us.

There is a very impressive Royal Entrance to the mosque with fountains, gardens and ornate gates, however the best photo-op I found was the Woman’s Entrance, where the symmetry of the golden domes and minarets is stunning.

We then travel back into Bandar Seri Begawan to see Masjid Omar Ali Saifuddien old mosque. I decide to not go inside, since our time here is limited. I walk out to the decorative cement boat that is situated in the middle of the lake beside this mosque, where I take some very nice photos of the mosque despite the midday Sun beating down on us.

We walk along the Jalan McArthur waterfront promenade to the jetties and board boats which take us across the Brunei River to Kampong Ayer, a Malay stilt village. After our return, we have time for a quick lunch at Franini’s Italian restaurant before boarding the bus to head out of the city. We make a quick stop for some retail therapy at a Starbucks in a mall, where I find some unique souvenirs of Brunei to take home with me before we continue on to see the Wawasan Brunei 2035 craft skills display.

Proboscis monkey in a tree on the Brunei River

Proboscis monkey in a tree on the Brunei River

Boats on the Brunei River take us past Istana Nurui Iman – the Sultan’s palace to see Proboscis monkeys in the mangrove at nearby Pulau Ranggu. We finish the day with another visit to the Jame Asr Hassanil Bolkiah new mosque at night, which is spectacular.

I’m pretty well beat by the end of this marathon day, so after we return to the hotel, I go downstairs to have a quick dinner of Nasi Goreng and then I unwind in my room before bedtime.

 

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Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Feb 27, 2016 – Port Klang & Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

2016 – SE Asia and Total Solar Eclipse cruise

Petronas twin towers, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Petronas twin towers, Kuala Lumpur

There is a giant NCL ship docked beside us this morning at Port Klang. She arrived first with 3,500 passengers aboard, so the shore resources are swamped. This delays the clearance of our ship, and the departure times for the shore excursions end up being almost an hour later than planned. We finally leave to board our buses and start the hour long drive through heavy traffic to Kuala Lumpur (KL).

The first stop on today’s shore excursion is a Hindu shrine, the Batu Caves. It is built into a huge Karst rock sticking up in the small community of Gombak, just north of KL. I take both video and lots of photos of the stairway of 272 steep steps up to the cavern containing religious temples and statutory. Using HDR and my fisheye lens are both helpful to capture this place. There are monkeys everywhere, and people are feeding them bananas of all things! Guess where the monkeys leave the peels…right on the steep steps! The caves at the top are interesting and well-lit, and have some shrines for the faithful.

Since we had a late start, lunch is our next stop: a sumptuous buffet in a local upscale hotel, the Concorde Hotel. We then make our way to the KL Tower, where we have to wait in what seem to be endless lines to take the elevators to the observation deck. Once there, the views of the city are spectacular!

By this time, we are running very late, so we make a quick photo stop at the Petronas twin towers, and can only stop at the Muzium Negara for a half hour. There are some very interesting historical artifacts in the museum, but we really don’t have time to appreciate them. Our last stop of the day is Independence Square, which offers us obstructed views of quite a few colonial buildings, as well as a cricket field, and other old buildings we have no time to explore.

Our tour is supposed to end at the cruise ship terminal at 4:30PM, but is is a full hour later before we finally arrive after battling traffic congestion most of the day. Not that it matters much to us as passengers, since the ship is not scheduled to depart until 10:30PM.

Warisan Seni Budaya are a Malaysian dance troupe who come aboard the ship this evening and perform some fascinating dances reflecting the mixed cultures to be found in Malaysia: Malay, Chinese, Indian, Sarawak, and Sabah. A young dancer struts around the stage in a peacock costume, and their performance ends with a combo of all the ethnic groups dancing together.

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Langkawi, Malaysia

Feb 26, 2016 – Porto Malai, Langkawi, Malaysia

2016 – SE Asia and Total Solar Eclipse cruise

Bats sleeping in their cave in Kilim Karst Geoforest Park Langkawi, Malaysia

Bats sleeping in their cave in Kilim Karst Geoforest Park Langkawi, Malaysia

Langkawi is a lovely island, which is a destination for tourism and a duty free area in Malaysia. I can see why Australians in particular come to this SE Asian destination. My shore excursion today involves bats in caves and exploring a mangrove for eagles.

After driving to the Kilim Karst Geoforest Park, we board small boats and zoom around the mangrove channels to see a fish farm (setup for tourists), the Langkawi Eagles (brown colour) and Sea Eagles (black and white) taking food in the channel, and exploring the bat caves. The little bats are asleep during the day, but they do a great job of keeping the bug population down. There are Long-tailed Macaque monkeys lurking around the entrances to the caves, where they try to steal tourists’ water bottles, since their only other source of water is to climb to the tops of trees for the fruit to be found up there.

Other than getting a headache from the fumes of the outboard motors, I had a great day!