Living on stilts – Mabul Village, Malaysia

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Playing, washing and snorkelling. Local children in Mabul Village.

Getting around to posting some of the pics from recent trips. Pics without tales of horrid travellers or other stories.

The images are from Mabul Island, in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. They depict local housing, tourist accommodations and new construction aimed at mostly Chinese travellers.

Travel by mainland Chinese is a HUGE moneymaker for places like Malaysia, Indonesia and Palau. So much, that tour companies and specialized services are being created with them in mind.

The big draw in this area is scuba diving in Sipadan, an island close by that offers some of the world’s best diving. Probably the best diving I’ve ever experienced.

Workers in the service/tourism sector here work long hours. Many live in housing supplied by the resort in which they work. Some never really know when they’ll get their next day off. If they’re on a regular schedule, they will work six days a week. I met a cabbie in Kota Kinabalu who slept in his car, and saw his wife and children only monthly for a couple of days. My wilderness resort guide lived on site and visited his family on a irregular basis. Incomes are low and workers depend on tips.

Those of us fortunate enough to travel should be grateful, respectful and generous.

A night with orang utans

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Okay, I’m kinda bullshitting you, but the orang utans were down the street.

I was booked into the Sepilok Nature Resort in Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia for one night. The plan was to visit the world famous Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre the next day before driving for two hours to the Kinabatangan River and Myne Resort, where I hoped to see more orangs, monkeys, crocs and elephants.

If I’d known the nature resort was going to be so awesome, I would have arranged to stay longer.

Though located on the outskirts of a major city, the resort was tranquil – the thick forest muting all traffic sounds. The chalet in which I was booked was cozy and featured an amazing bathroom.

Look at that cute fish poking its head out of the filthy water. Not so much to look at me, but to encourage me to deposit some of my breakfast its way.

The orang rehab was a typical tourist place. I get it. Admission pays for the important work they do. The best part was at the end, when a ‘horny’ (according to staff) teen boy orang joined us on the walkway in an effort to snag a mate. A human mate.

The staff moved this fellow along before he could grab a tourist, a constant chore, they said.

The tours are offered several times a day, when the orangs are fed. Once rehabed, they’re encouraged to leave the protected area.

I loved my visit to Sabah and plan to go again. Here are some of my other postings from Malaysia.

Machine Guns in Paradise – #scuba #diving Sipadan

Gorgeous. White sand. Turquoise water. No guns in sight.

Gorgeous. White sand. Turquoise water. That’s barbed wire on the left. No pics of the soldiers. Feared they might shoot me!

Wasn’t sure what to make of the scowling military guys with machine guns. Later, I was told they were there for my protection.

When I saw them playing with Sipadan Island’s friendlier stray cats, I knew they were good guys.

Sipadan is in Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia. It almost always makes scuba diving top ten lists. Jacques Cousteau, back in the day, gave it a thumbs up.

Tank gives it two thumbs up.

Plane, bus, boat, SCUBA

Plane from Kuala Lumpur, bus, boat, SCUBA

It is, bar none, the best place I’ve ever scuba dived. Shark-infested waters (white tip, non-aggressive), giant schools of fish and turtles galore. Warm water. Gorgeous beach on which to relax between dives.

The downside of Sipadan is also its upside. Malaysia restricts the number of divers to 120 per day, which means it’s relatively uncrowded and the marine environment is being protected.

The 120 permits have been divvied up among dive shops and resorts. They sell to each other when they have spares. Getting a permit – beyond the guarantee you may get with your hotel or diving reservation – isn’t easy or cheap.

Which means you can travel a long way, like from Canada, to only be guaranteed one day of Sipadan diving. That was my guarantee. In order to get that, I had to book at least five nights in a fairly swish cabin at the SMART Resort on nearby Mabul Island. (Roughly a 45 minute boat ride away.)

Some of the 120 daily divers arrive. We left our resort at 6:00 am to get in the water by 7:00 am.

Some of the 120 daily divers arrive. We left our resort at 6:00 am to get in the water and diving by 7:00 am.

I booked seven nights and dove six days. I dove Sipadan on four of those days.

Yup. I hit the jackpot. I asked to buy extra Sipadan permits, if they became available. On three occasions, other divers at the resort elected to not dive Sipadan. (Insane??) So, I was offered the spare permits. The extra several hundred dollars I paid was well worth the expense. I may never get the chance to return. These memories are priceless.

The rules. Every diver at Sipadan must sign in. No walking around the island either. Tourists are restricted to a small beach area.

The rules. Every diver at Sipadan must sign in. No walking around the island either. Tourists are restricted to a small beach area.

So, what’s up with the machine guns?

In 2000, 21 people were kidnapped from Sipadan by a terrorist group – 10 tourists from Europe and the Middle East, and 11 resort workers. They were taken, at gunpoint, to the Philippines. Most were released within five months after an offensive by the Philippine government.

The military presence on Sipadan is meant to prevent a hostage taking like the one in 2000 from happening again.

Orangs + crocs: Myne Resort, Malaysia

Sundown in the jungle. Kinabatangan River.

Sunset in the jungle. Kinabatangan River.

I love big wildlife. Elephants, giraffes and all kinds of monkeys. Anything my deteriorating (aging) eyesight allows me to still see.

When I went to Malaysian Borneo to scuba dive in August, I knew I had to spend a few days in the jungle observing land creatures. Too far to travel to NOT do this. A once in a lifetime experience.

Off to the Myne Resort.

Off to the Myne Resort.

There are never any guarantees with wildlife. When, on the eve of my jungle journey, a fellow traveller told me seeing an orangutan in the wild was indeed rare, I was disappointed.

My cabin at Myne Resort

My cabin at Myne Resort

Still, I had some hope when I arrived at the Myne Resort on the Kinabatangan River, about two hours south of Sandakan. Four days and three nights filled with jungle hikes and riverboat tours.

The boat tours left at 6:00 am, 4:00 pm and about 7:30 pm. Each timeslot offered different things to see. I had a private guide, Dozi, a walking wildlife encyclopedia.

To my delight, I saw several orangutans, lots macaques, proboscis monkeys, a bunch of pretty birds and crocodiles. It was terrific to watch a huge herd of pigmy elephants one night. Truly unexpected as we’d been told they’d left the area weeks before.

The river.

The river.

I’m so glad I did this. I’ll carry these wonderful memories with me for the rest of my life. I’ve hung several pictures on my walls at work. The trip was worth the $800 CDN cost. (That also paid for excursions to an orang rehab centre, a cave, plus of tour of Sandakan and lunch. Ground transportation too).

The Myne Resort was excellent. Loved my room with the river view and the food. All the guides, serving and desk staff were wonderful. I highly recommend Myne. There are shorter, more economical packages to be had at the resort than mine. This was a splurge.

Life experiences like this trump designer shoes and handbags, party dresses, jewellery, expensive restaurant meals and other silly purchases.

A sweaty me on the observation platform. Dozi dragged my sorry ass up the side of a mountain to get me here. And I thought I was in shape!!

A sweaty me on the observation platform. Dozi dragged my sorry ass up the side of a mountain to get me here. And I thought I was in shape!!

Like leech socks. Didn’t need them. Anyone wanna buy a pair of unused leech socks?

Tank versus bat poo

Harvesting the edible birds' nests. Hard dangerous work

Harvesting the edible birds’ nests. Hard, dangerous work.

The promo material was hilarious.

It promised a sickening smell, ten feet of guano (aka poo) deposited by millions of bats, plus beetles, cockroaches, centipedes and scorpions.

Who wouldn’t want to visit Gomantong Cave near Sandakan, Malaysia? With a sales pitch like that, I wanna be first in line.

What’s remarkable about the place, besides being big and smelly and full of bats, is the harvesting of edible bird nests. Mostly for export to China. The harvesting is carried out three times a year and I was lucky to be there during one of the harvesting periods.

Workers in the cave.

Workers in the cave.

I have no desire to eat a bird nest bound together by feathers and bird saliva. It was, however, fascinating to watch the workers climb along the ropes, extended high up, to gather the delicacy. Dangerous work. High paying too, I was told. But in exchange, workers were forced to sign away any right to sue their employer if they became injured on the job.

Smell aside, the walkway was slippery. Covered in the advertised bat poo. My kind and considerate guide, Dozi, produced a hardhat from the back of his van for me. No guano was getting in this gal’s hair.

Those are bats. They were everywhere.

Those are bats. They were everywhere.

Not sure I would have requested this excursion if it hadn’t been offered as part of my jungle package to the Kinabatangan River.

Glad I went though. Especially as there was a wild organutan feasting in the trees near the entrance.

The cave is about 90 minutes by car from Sandakan, which can be accessed via plane or bus from Kota Kinabalu or Tawau.

A wild organ enjoying a meal of leaves.

A wild orang enjoying a meal of leaves.

Here’s a gallery of some of the pics I took inside.

I do stupid things while travelling so you don’t have to

Don't be an idiot. Like me. This chair thing really hurt.

Don’t be an idiot. Like me. This chair thing really hurt.

I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

To wit, 15 minutes of sheer torture in one of those coin operated massage chairs. This one at the airport in Tawau, Malaysia.

With three hours of time to kill before my flight north to Sandakan, I needed entertainment. After the chicken-rice curry, three trips to the toilet and a scan of the junk in the stores, it was time to relieve the boredom.

That’s when the bank of massage chairs appeared in view.

The Asian guy seated there looked pretty happy as the massagers pounded his butt cheeks. So, I decided to part with 5 RM ($1.51 CDN) for a 15-minute ride of my own.

A small price to pay to rehabilitate my battered body after six consecutive days of scuba diving near Mabul and Sipadan Islands.

Bad idea.

The massage ‘treatment’ alternated between thumping every column of my spine with intense force to bludgeoning the back of my head in a way that made my grey matter bounce from back to front.

Squeezing my injured legs. Right were the bug bite scabs are.

Squeezing my injured legs. Right where the bug bite scabs are.

That’s not all. Every few minutes, the chair would squeeze the bejesus out of my calf muscles. Right where the bug bite scabs and diving-mishap bruises were.

Never again.

These tools of torture masquerading as oases were present at every Malaysian airports I visited. They were mostly always empty.

Don’t be tempted.

You can’t escape #Nickelback or #KFC

The Colonel is always there. No matter where you travel.

The Colonel is always there. No matter where you travel there’s a KFC. You’ll also find Nickelback when you least expect it.

Near Sandakan

On the road to the jungle near Sandakan.

“So, is Vancouver close to Napanee?” the Malaysian tour guide asks.

Christ. I know exactly where this is going.

Napanee.

Birthplace of Avril Lavigne. Wife, now estranged, of Nickelback’s Chad (Turton) Kroeger.

“That’s where Avril Lavigne comes from,” says Dozino, the guide.

I cannot believe I’m having to think about Nickelback while in a tourist van, heading out of the bustling metropolis of Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia and into the Borneo jungle.

Dozi, it seems, has a big crush on Chad’s bride. Can rattle off all of her hit songs, of which there have been few in recent years.

Her most redeeming feature in this strict Muslim-country, according to Dozi (and this made me laugh), is that “Avril isn’t sexy.” Or, IMO, talented.

As this conversation was thankfully ending, I noticed a KFC outlet in a strip mall on the outskirts of town, looking out of place in a sea of Malay restaurants. As out of place as conversing about the soon-to-be-ex-Mrs. Chad Kroeger in a far away land.

Dozi would mention Avril several times during our four days together. He was an excellent, highly-informed tour guide. He dragged my sorry ass up the side of a mountain in the jungle. He held my arm so that I didn’t slip on bat guano (feces) in a cave. But, his taste in singers and women is appalling.   IMG_1086

Just as Avril would reappear during my journey, so would the Colonel. In every podunk town there’s a KFC.

The world is a strange place.

PS: I returned to Canada to hear that news that “Chavril” was no more. Immediately, I messaged the news to a FB friend at the jungle resort, who happened to be with Dozi when my news arrived. Dozi is happy. His wife may not be!