When I was 7 years old, my father bought me a huge book about countries and peoples of the world. It fascinated me, and I am sure fuelled my wanderlust, as I wanted to visit everywhere in the book! Borneo was presented as one of the most remote and mysterious destinations. A land of Orangutang, strange proboscis monkeys and head hunters. Now I would finally visit! Flying into Kuching in Sarawak you could see this was real tropical jungle! Close to the equator geographically, Borneo is an island which partly belongs to Indonesia, partly to Malaysia and also the kingdom of Brunei. The Malaysia bit is further divided into Sabah, and Sarawak where we stayed!
Kuching is a small but growing city on the riverside, with a lovely relaxed atmosphere. The area is a happily cohabiting mix of extremely friendly local tribespeople, Malays, old time chinese and some expats. We walked into town everyday to explore the rainbow interiors of the fabric shops.
This is the home of Batik printing. Prices were ridiculously low, so some fabric may have sneaked into my case!
There are historic temples, bedecked with lanterns and offerings for the chinese New Year.
The old court house and fort from British colonial days, a beautiful mosque,
an Orchid garden,
a magnificent new government building
and a brand new wiggly bridge.
The promenade is lined with pop up food stalls, and at night the whole area is illuminated.
The big action happens outside town. Through tripadvisor I found lovely Jihey, a local driver guide, and he took us on our outings! We visited the Semenngoh National Park, one of the few areas Orangutang remain in the wild. Their natural habitat is being decimated for Palm oil plantations. We were so lucky and privileged that several animals came down near the watching area.
Then on to two incredible cave systems. A rather strenuous and precarious climb up to the fairy cave was rewarded by suddenly arriving in a vast cavern, full of ferns and great limestone formations.
The wind cave was a 1 kilometre network of boardwalks through an unlit cave system where it seemed everywhere you looked were thousands of bats. 12 different species apparently. If you shone a torch on them, they swooped around you. Luckily we like bats!
There were also tiny cup nests made by the cave dwelling swiftlets. Some with eggs or chicks.
The cups are held together with saliva, and this is the sought after ingredient for birds nest soup. It was a truly remarkable place.
Ooh… did I mention the spider?
The next day we visited the Sarawak cultural village. Houses, typical of each tribal area, have been reconstructed here.
Many tribespeople still live in communal longhouses, and we were astonished to learn that one tribe continue to live a nomadic existence and hunt with blowpipes. We were able to try a blowpipe.
It was surprisingly accurate, even with me blowing it! The longhouses would contain a headroom… containing the heads of any enemies they had killed. Thankfully not a current practice.
We watched a beautiful cultural show. Not usually my thing, but the costumes and dance moves were so expressive.
Our last day was spent doing some hot and steamy jungle hiking in Bako National park, on an offshore island.
Featherworm patterns in the sand!
This is one of the only places in the world to see the proboscis monkey. Just as we were giving up hope, we encountered 3.
Another privilege. I also got to paddle in the South China sea!
Our final afternoon was spent at Bumbu’s cooking school…actually the covered yard behind a rather dusty antique shop. Any health and safety jobsworths would have had a fit, but basic hygiene was promoted at all times. We were introduced to local tribal cuisine and taken to the jungle market where everything was picked or collected locally. Every unusual vegetable or fruit was explained to us, and we selected our ingredients, including Mirin, a forest fern!
Back at base we chopped, and crushed and pounded ingredients and made marinades and sauces for our dinner. We wove pandan leaves into baskets and made coconut custard to put in them.
Great fun and educational too, and a super dinner to enjoy at the end.
Our other dinners in Borneo were eaten on the roof of a multi storey carpark!! We were dubious at first, but on reaching floor 6 we entered the bustling, garishly neon lit wonderland of Top Spot. All around the edge were stalls filled with fresh fish, shellfish and vegetables.
The centre was crammed with plastic tables and chairs that were filling up at an alarming rate. Stall 25 had been recommended. How to choose? Eventually we had squid in their special batter, huge freshwater prawns grilled with garlic, mixed oriental vegetables and sweet and sour chicken. All delicious.
With a large beer for Chris and fresh juice for me, the bill was under £9 per person!
Now we ❤Borneo too! We even found a great sunhat for Chris.. although not very practical on the plane!
We were expecting a taxi at 4.15 am for a very early flight to KualaLumpur and a 2 hour wait for our connection to Hanoi in Vietnam. Just before bedtime I got a message. Our flight is cancelled. We are on the 7.00 instead, giving us just 45 minutes to change planes. Aaagh.. see what happened in our next blog!