Travelling independently using public transport
(together with my wife)
TERM: 1. - 31. 8. 2008
Lumpur -- Crocker Range NP - Tambunan -
Kinabalu NP - Kota Kinabalu - Niah NP - the Rejang river (Belaga -
Sibu) - Kuching (visits of the Bako NP, Kubah NP, Santubong NP, and
Semenggoh WRC) -- Tioman island - Melaka - Taman Negara NP - Kuala
Malaysia is unique. Before Malaysia I have been to some other South-Asian countries, including Thailand and Indonesia and because I have found many similarities among these countries, I have expected to encounter a very similar world. To my surprise Malaysia felt quite different - to the extent, that I would change the popular Malaysian tourist slogan of "Malaysia, truly Asia" to "Malaysia, still another Asia". So, even if you have seen other parts of Asia, do not overlook Malaysia - it offers another experience.
At first sight you can notice a difference in physique of Malaysian countryside which - in contrast to usual Asian rice-field farmland - is typically formed by rainforest or more often by oil palm monocultures. But much more striking for me there was a difference in the attitude of the Malaysians of all descents towards tourists - in majority of places they have managed to keep their lifestyle unaltered by bowing to tourist needs and money (with some exceptions, like Kuala Lumpur or Kota Kinabalu). They have not modified historical centers of majority of Malaysian cities just to attract more tourists and relieve them of their money, and so there have been hardly any tourist restaurants and minimum souvenir shops (and those few all well hidden between other normal shops) to be found there. And the most surprising to me has been that almost all shops and eateries in these areas were typically closing at 6pm (some hour and half before sunset !) and these areas became rather dead - locals simply forgot about tourists and resorted to their civilian and family life. Although it was sometimes annoying not being able to find an open restaurant and/or to buy some provisions for next day, I did find this admirable and quite unique in whole world (when thinking about all these restaurant stools and umbrellas plugging to uniformity the streets of historical quarters of European cities, I sincerely regret we failed to adopt some of this attitude). Actually, it seemed to me that the Malaysians very much succeeded to refrain from the greed in general, judging by my observation that they had not manifested any effort to overcharge unknowing tourists, their pestering had been minimal or nonexistent, and they had even seemed to be bored to haggle for prices and did not mind at all to keep their souvenir shops full of the items clearly unsalable for the price asked.
Another notable thing I would like to point out is the amazing Malaysian system of national parks. These parks are very well organized and noted for rather extensive network of well-maintained hiking trails (for sure very difficult task in the tropical climate) and at the same time charge very reasonable entrance fees; many parks even allow free camping anywhere in backcountry you like ( but this will not last long, I guess). Of the countries I have been, I have hardly encountered the same extent and user-friendliness of the national parks as in Malaysia, probably with the exception of the U.S.A. (similar European parks of this quality typically exist only in the mountain areas). And on top of it, it is typically very easy to get to the Malaysian parks, often even solely by public transport. I suggest to everybody to make the best of these parks.
Transport: Public transport in Malaysia is generally quite effective and reasonably priced. There are notable differences in transport in East Malaysia (i.e. states of Sabah and Sarawak on Borneo; next only "Borneo") and West Malaysia (i.e. Peninsular
Malaysia; next only "Peninsula").
1. We flew to Kuala Lumpur and back with the EgyptAir from Munich as we could not found any reasonably priced flight from our hometown of Prague, Czechia. The flights were generally OK even if slightly delayed, leg space was little above average. Both flights between Munich and Cairo were exceptionally scenic, offering nice looks at the Alps, Italian and Croatian coasts, and some Greek islands including Crete. Our flight to Malaysia included a 7-hour overnight layover in Cairo - as I heard that one is entitled for a free hotel for an over-6-hr overnight layover in Cairo I asked for it and indeed got a voucher issued by the EgyptAir Munich office; yet, the promised hotel was allegedly full and handling of the situation by the staff of the Cairo transfer counter was very slow in a typical Egyptian way - therefore I asked them to change our hotel voucher to the voucher for a free entry to the first-class lounge at the Cairo airport, where we got free refreshment and reasonably quiet sleep at some easy-chairs. Also, as we could not found any convenient transport between Prague and Munich we decided to drive our car to Munich which brought us a problem where to park the car for a month; the solution we have chosen was to park it in the paid parking lot near the Munich airport called Parken MUC (www.parken-muc.de) - the service was OK, cost EUR79 for 31 days, and included transfer to and from the airport terminal.
2. In Malaysia we used the local low-cost airline AirAsia (www.airasia.com) to fly between Peninsula and Borneo and to cross from Sabah to Sarawak over Brunei. The planes looked well maintained, the flights were OK, usually on time, and far from full. The company was a typical low-cost airline with no free service on board, minimum leg space, and no seats allocation (surprisingly, there was no run to get a better seat when boarding); the tickets bought well ahead of the flying time and within a promo action were indeed very cheap. Their internet booking worked well and the payment using a VISA debit card went without a problem; there were no problems with using their electronic tickets. The AirAsia weight limit for the checked-in baggage was reduced to 15 kg only but the payment requested for excessive kilograms was not too high - RM15 per kg for flights between Peninsula and Borneo and RM10 per kg for flights within Peninsula or within Borneo; they did allow passengers traveling on the same itinerary to share the allowed weight. They seemed to newly apply some "Checked Baggage Handling Fee" - we were only asked for this fee (RM5) at the Kuala Lumpur LCCT Airport, while no payment was requested at Kota Kinabalu and Kuching; after my objections in the LCCT (it was beginning of our trip, I had not read anything about this fee before, and they were not giving any receipt) they stopped to ask for it but later I did find some rather confusing reference to this fee in their "Terms & Conditions of Carriage" - so maybe it has been some valid new addition after all (I wish the airlines stop with all these splitting the air-ticket prices into confusing sub-parts and simply spit the total price).
3. Otherwise we used mainly public buses, esp. on Peninsula. There are express buses covering long distances and on Peninsula also slow local buses connecting near places and stopping frequently. All the buses are very cheap and offer about normal seating space, all and esp. the express buses are typically in a reasonably good shape. All buses are strictly nonsmoking and the express buses are always air-conditioned and typically overcooled (come prepared for cold and draught). In connection with the recent increase of price of fuels many bus lines has been cancelled so do not count too much on information given in even fairly recent guidebooks or traveller reports (naturally, the prices are also somewhat higher). The remaining express buses are now frequently full so better book the tickets well ahead if possible - standing in these buses is not allowed. Seats are numbered and you can choose your seating - try to avoid the front seats No. 1 to 4 (insufficient leg space) and rear seats (somewhat uncomfortable due to lack of bus suspension). There is no fee for the luggage which typically goes to the storage under the bus deck.
4. On Borneo we used mainly microbuses (locally called "minivan"). They are running along the preset route, leaving any time when full, and stopping anywhere along their way - they are used for all distances and they are your only option for the short distances. They are still quite cheap (even if slightly more costly than buses) but be aware that the seats at the rear and middle row offer rather insufficient leg space for the Westerners. There is no fee for the luggage which may go to the storage in the back, on the roof, or inside with you. In case there is not enough passengers for a microbus to leave you can always sent it on its way by paying for the remaining seats - the total price for a minivan should be always somewhat cheaper than rate for a taxi on the same route.
5. Other means of transport you may need to use is some kind of a boat. The public boats are still the main means of transport in the interior of Sarawak, where there are almost no public roads but an abundance of navigable rivers and streams. These boats are fairly big (may seat over 50 passengers), long and narrow boats capable to negotiate the rapids and travelling in quite large speed - the passenger cabin offers seating similar to an aircraft and is typically air-conditioned into overcooling (come prepared for cold and draught); they usually let you sit on the boat flat roof where you get strong wind and very nice views; the tickets are reasonably cheap. You will also likely need to take a boat when you go off the mainland to some island; the boats used to transport people to Tioman island are quite similar to Sarawak river boats, just bigger - the passenger cabin is also similar but often you are not allowed to sit outside even when the sea is calm; the tickets are reasonably cheap. You may also need to use a boat to transfer to some national parks - these are small, open, long and narrow boats for several passengers; the rice for these may be rather high.
6. In the cities you may use public buses or resort to taking a taxi. The public bus systems of Malaysian cities are dead cheap and seem to be fairly well developed but it is naturally not always easy to find out which bus to use. If you do not have a proved information about a convenient public bus I recommend to take a taxi. There is usually no problem to find a taxi - the taxis in Malaysia are quite reasonably priced and taxi drivers ask a fair price right away (the situation sadly quite unique in the world). The taxis are not metered and so you need to settle the price when getting in (in the airports there are special taxi counters where you pay for a taxi ahead and get a voucher to be given to the taxi driver) - still, on all occasions when we knew the price before the price asked by the driver was exactly right; also the prices asked on other occasions always seemed to be proportional to the distance covered (amazing !!). On the other hand, on both occasions when we booked a taxi through our hotel the deal totally failed and we got into troubles - better do not rely on this service.
7. In the areas outside the cities where the public transport is scarce and there are no taxis, you may try hitchhiking. We have sometimes resorted to it on Borneo and had a good experience - as anywhere it depended on location and luck but normally it did not take us long to get a ride. The ride was usually free but sometimes we were asked to pay up to the price of the public transport.
Accommodation: We used budget hotels typically with rooms for about US$10 to US$20 (so slightly more expensive than it is typical for the developing countries). In general, the rates for the rooms are very diverse depending on the place, competition, and season - there seems to be no room for negotiation of the rates (we have never had any luck trying to get any discount on the basis of length of stay or malfunction of some parts of room equipment). For your money you can sometimes get a quite large air-conditioned room and/or a room with your own bathroom included, or otherwise just a small bare cubicle with some bed and fan only. Depending on the competition, the price sometimes depends on occupancy but more often not, so usually you pay for the beds even if not using them (I did not see any single-bed rooms, there were usually big twin beds or two or more beds). Ahead payment for room on a daily basis is almost always expected and flatly requested. If the bathroom is attached to the room, it normally consists in a single separate room containing a toilet bowl (rarely a squat toilet) with an outfit for using the Asian/African water-cleaning method, and a shower (and rarely also a bath tube); a shared bathroom is usually the same combination. Hot water shower is usually available even in very hot places and not too good-looking hotels - typically they use a through-flow heater mounted before the spray with a possibility to regulate water temperature. At least a fan is always provided and it is indeed a bare necessity in the Malaysian everlasting sweltering heat. A mosquito net is surprisingly rare considering that there are always some mosquitoes around (even if not too plentiful) - we have been using our own mosquito net but it was rather difficult to attach it somewhere (in many places it was possible to hang it from construction holding the false ceiling; otherwise we hanged it down from a low-lying rope attached to some suitable spots like picture hooks or door/window hinges). Breakfast could be sometimes included in the room price (but it has incidentally never happened to us). We have found it quite difficult to find an available budget room in many popular places, so booking ahead whenever possible seems to be always a good idea.
Food: Considering that Malaysia is lying in Asia, it appears to be surprisingly difficult to get a good food in Malaysia (it is strikingly more difficult than in Thailand, Indonesia, or India) - the main reason for this is an outstanding lack of tourist restaurants in the centers of majority of Malaysian cities, including Kuching and Melaka. Food available in cheap restaurants and street stalls is almost always based on meat and it is not really fresh (it is prepared in the morning and - hopefully - kept warm throughout the day with some kind of heater); vegetarian food is rather limited (we are not vegetarians but when in tropical areas we prefer to resort to vegetarian food to avoid problems). If you want something freshly cooked (which we always very much prefer), it practically reduces your choice to the fried rice (locally called "nasi goreng" and fried noodles (basic kind is locally called "mee goreng" and based on Malay yellow wheat noodles; in bigger places, esp. on Peninsula, they may have some other kinds of noodles too, like the long flat rice noodles called "Kuay Teow", and thin vermicelli rice noodles called "Mee Hoon"). You can always negotiate to have these meals prepared strictly vegetarian ("sayuran" in Malay) - beware that very often have a tendency to add some sort of fresh vegetables (salad) on top of the dish, so you may want to tell them that you want all the vegetables cooked. There are some restaurants or stalls specializing on this fried food but you can often have it prepared even in the usual eateries selling the pre-cooked food if they are not too busy. Fortunately, even the fried rice is not the same in any two places as the spices and vegetables added and the way of cooking somewhat differs - your meals thus taste always somewhat differently. In some places, esp. more touristy, you may sometimes found a restaurant serving also some other vegetarian food or even having a menu but it is rather rare. A local speciality in Malaysia are the so called "hawker centers", i.e. aggregations of several food stalls selling a variety of inexpensive food - they are widely used by locals, typically serve quite a good food, offer wider variety (e.g. seafood), and often are the only places which remain open after sunset. In more touristy places, where you get a chance to choose a restaurant, be aware that the main difference between cheap and not-so-cheap restaurants is frequently not in the price of meals served but rather in the quantity of food you get - in "cheap" restaurant you may oddly get twice as much food for the same price; more so, in some officially "better" restaurants you may be treated to a surprise of the 15% tax added to the price given on menu. As for provisions, the bottled water, soft drinks, and bakery are widely available in many shops (but you may want to shop around, esp. if staying longer in the same place, as the prices may differ slightly).
Money: We solely used cash withdrawn from ATMs using a debit card (MasterCard) and had no problem at all. There were many banks with ATMs - we used the Maybank that had ATMs accepting both MasterCard and VISA cards and with a withdrawal limit of up to RM1500.
Timing: There is not much difference in weather in Malaysia around the year - it may rain any time, esp. now with all those climate changes, but the rain typically does not last long - and, it is so hot there that you anyway typically do not mind some rain if not welcoming it outright. The only thing to watch out for is the stormy weather influencing conditions on the islands off the east and west cost of Peninsula in certain periods of the year. Our plan has been to visit the east-cost island of Tioman where this bad weather starts some time in October - this and intention to avoid Ramadan made us to choose August for our visit. Yet, the summer months are said not to be so good due to more tourists coming from Europe for these school-vacation months - we have indeed seen enough of European tourists around which brought us some difficulties due to lack of available accommodation. I would also recommend to avoid Malaysian national holidays as the Malaysians seem to like to take part in nation-building activities - we had quite a trouble travelling just a day before the Malaysian National Day as the not-too-organized Marathon races clogged the streets of many cities and substantially slowed down bus transport.
National park visits: The Malaysian national parks are among the best in the world and definitely worth visiting - they are very well organized and typically offer plenty of well-maintained hiking trails in very interesting natural habitats. In general it is allowed to hike alone there and camp freely in remote parts of the parks but this possibility is starting to be bounded with some restrictions - the reasons seem to be not so much the conservation issues as the safety, i.e. effort to avoid accidents (the locals seem now to be starting visiting these parks without being really prepared for trekking in backcountry). Thus it has become compulsory to hire a guide and follow a strict itinerary on Mt. Kinabalu already some time ago and recently the same scheme has been adopted e.g. on Mt. Ledang - and this practice is likely to be extended further. Right now the rangers in some parks seem to be trying to discourage people from doing any independent trekking but it is still possible to persuade them and get permission (but be sure you know what you are doing). So I would generally say that - if you are prepared - you better do not talk too much about your plans, pay a fee, and go for it; in general, it is not against the law - but where it is (like at the Kinabalu NP) I would not try it. We have noticed a notably scarce presence of wildlife within majority of the Malaysian parks we have visited (with a marked exception of the Taman Negara NP) when comparing them to other rainforest areas around the world I have been before, including Amazonia or Africa (but I do recall having similar experience in Thailand at the Khao Sok NP, while there was still enough animals at the remote Khao Yai NP); I am aware of difficulties of seeing reinforest animals living mostly in the canopy but even their vocal manifestations has been strangely rare - besides some monkeys and other animals hanging around human settlements we have not even seen any birds bigger than, say, a blackbird (to catch sight of a hornbill, the Sarawak's token bird, we have to wait to the Taman Negara NP), and any mammals but some squirrels and forest rats; it looks like that the animals are either very scarce there or at least very much afraid of humans. All the fees related to visiting the national parks are generally very reasonable indeed and seem to be even kept strictly proportional to the amount of services provided (e.g. there is no fee for camping in backcountry and RM5 fee for camping at the park HQs where you get access to some sanitary facilities) - the exception are the services provided by some private companies in some parks when prices go quickly beyond any reason (the Kinabalu NP is esp. bad example); technically, you are often supposed to buy a new fee any time you leave the park but it seems to be a general practice to pay just once - we have always paid just once and nobody has ever asked us to present the receipts within any park. There is some sort of accommodation and food offered in majority of parks but you better do not count on it - the accommodation is often full (it is sometimes possible to book it ahead even through the internet) and food may be temporarily unavailable. In general then, beware that the Malaysian tropical climate makes hiking there very tough for those coming from mild climates like Europe (I am sure hikers coming from Australia or southern states of the U.S.A. are fine); the everlasting sweltering heat is the main feature of Malaysian weather and brings in an insistent sweating and weariness to an un-accustomed European. This makes hiking along the rainforest trails rather difficult and slows you down considerably even without your notice (you feel like if walking in your normal speed just to find out that you are painfully slow in fact). I admit that our average hiking "speed" along the trails has been about 2 kms per hour and on some hilly trails (like in the Bako NP) it has dropped down to ridiculous 1 km per hour. One is constantly wet there and we have found it much better to rinse out our clothes frequently in the streams as it does not make them any wetter than simple walking (it is funny - you rinse your dress, put it on, and it feels completely comfortable, not at all chilly). Also, it is always good idea to wash also yourself thoroughly very often in the stream you pass or otherwise you become pretty sore - and believe me, it is funny just when reading about it in your cozy room and not to experience it; it happens to you even before you start to feel it and then it is too late for countermeasures. On the other hand, we have noticed a strange feature there - in spite of heavy sweating we did not need to drink especially much (maybe even less than when hiking in the mountains in Europe - I do not know the reason, is it possible that one gets water from the breathing ?); anyway, there is enough streams everywhere, just bring some water-purifying tablets to save yourself from some burden. And in addition, there is another treat to fight - the infamous South-Asian terrestrial leeches. They seem to appear just in the parks lying further away from the sea as they probably do not mix well with salt even if only scarcely spread in the air (the local people used to fight them of by spreading a salty solution along their legs, which seems to prevent them from fastening). They are not at all dangerous and luckily do not spread any diseases but if you get more of them and let them suck long enough you may experience some kind of reaction like a slight gathering accompanied with rather unpleasant itching - you are more or less fine if you are not in a hurry and have time to stop and get rid of them time to time, but better do not leave them alone for long. We have always used iodine to disinfect the wounds and alum to stop the bleeding; alas, we have tried to spray out our shoes, socks, and trouser-legs with a DEET-loaded repelent and it did disturbed them slightly but did not stopped them completely. Now, all these words of warning have not been meant to discourage you from any serious hiking in the Malaysian parks which offer superb nature experience - just make sure you come prepared to be able to enjoy the experience. The Malaysian climate is indeed tough for people from mild climatic zones (the only place in the world I remember to encounter the same unrelenting heat was Makassar or Ujung Pandang on near Sulawesi island; it was not that bad in Amazonia or anywhere else) - still, you can always manage and it is definitely worth the effort.
Safety and pestering: We have found Malaysia very safe and absolutely friendly - both petty and violent crime is virtually non-existent there. People are extremely friendly there and seem to have no problem with anything you may do (we have seen quite a few tourist totally ignoring any dress code and nobody has seemed to feel offended or even notice) - the Malaysians have to be one of the most relaxed people in the world. Also the level of pestering in Malaysia must be one of the lowest in the world - it is even lower than in Europe (even the sellers in the souvenir shops seem to be rather disinterested and do not really try to sell you something - it was almost boring there). Even if somebody tries to start a conversation with you (usually that typical where-are-you-from thing) it is very rare that she/he is after something - almost always she/he is just trying to be friendly and let you know you are welcome to Malaysia; amazing indeed...
General impression: Malaysia is clearly one of the friendliest places in the world. People are very relaxed and you will get genuinely friendly smiles everywhere with no secondary aims. The Malaysians are welcoming you without anxiety to get your money (to the level that it may prove difficult to get something you want) and they try to help you when asked ... and only when asked (but watch out, it is still Asia and so they hate to admit they do not know the answer to a question). Go there and enjoy the country where there is no need to be alert - it may even feel little boring for a seasoned traveller. The only unpleasant thing in Malaysia is its climate which is rather fatiguing esp. for somebody coming from mild European climate - but it is worth of fighting it, the Malaysian nature is extremely interesting and the Malaysians make it easy for you to meet and enjoy it.
Crocker Range NP
We have spent about two days in the Crocker Range National Park and enjoyed it quite a lot. The Crocker Range in general is a long forested mountain range running parallel to the west coast of the state of Sabah on Borneo and rising from the sea level to over 4000 m a.s.l. in its northernmost extremity, famous Mt. Kinabalu. The range thus offers a great diversity of vegetation types and large parts of it are protected within the Kinabalu NP on the north and the Crocker Range NP on the south. In contrast to other Malaysian national parks there are almost no visitor facilities in the Crocker Range NP and it makes it rarely visited and usually also omitted in the guidebooks. To have a look at it, we made use of the road connecting Kota Kinabalu with Tambunan and crossing the Range along a flat pass at the altitude of just under 2000 m a.s.l., where we made our base at the Gunung Emas Resort (by the locally used identification located at the Km52 of the Kota Kinabalu-Tambunan road while counting from Kota Kinabalu). Owing to the altitude this visit provided a bearable acclimatization to the Malaysian climate for us - besides enjoying the superb forest lining the very main road, we have also visited some side roads and trails nearby, the near Tambunan Rafflesia Conservation Area, and the village of Tudan. There are no charges to be paid there yet.
Exploring around the Gunung Emas Resort: In general you can try to explore the forest just about anywhere along the main road but the slopes around there are so awfully steep that we have never made ourselves to try to scramble them. A good and less excruciating way offers a sealed side road branching off east at Km56 just opposite the Gunung Alab Resort - it goes up over the ridge and on two spots (the first not so far from the main road, and the other just on the ridge) there are hiking trails branching away to both sides from this side road; we have tried the south branch of the trail on the ridge which led into a very scenic cloud (mossy) forest; on this side road just under the ridge there are even some buildings identified as headquarters of the Crocker Range NP (it may be possible to get some information there but we have not tried it). Another chance to explore offers a side road to the village of Tudan branching off north at Km49 - after about a kilometer along it the road turns abruptly to the right and downhill and at this spot there branches away straight ahead a path; it is not so good for exploring the forest as there are signs of logging and even some farming along it but it is interesting from the cultural point of view - it is a part of the network of the so called "salt trails" used by local villagers to carry goods from the mountains to markets in coastal towns (it would be possible to walk along these trails for hours and days but one would certainly need a guide); we have ventured just a kilometer or two along this trail and enjoyed its amazing feature of being able to keep the altitude in that very hilly terrain around there.
Visit of the Tambunan Rafflesia Conservation Area: This Area was set to protect a place with particularly common occurrence of the famous rafflesia plants (the rafflesia is a rather strange parasitic plant known to be the world's largest flower); its Visitor Center is located on the main road just beyond the pass (at Km61) and there are several kilometers of established hiking trails starting from there. The trails pass through a very nice rainforest and they are quite sloping allowing one to appreciate the influence of altitude on changes of vegetation (my wife even managed to pick up a leech there proving that we had to get to a rather low altitude as the leeches are not supposed to be found in higher altitudes). The trails generally lead to flowering sites of rafflesia plant (indicated by small tablets with inscription "Plot" and some number) and you can see literally tens of rafflesia buds on the ground at these spots. When there is some rafflesia plant in full bloom you are allegedly not allowed to hike in the Area alone and have to take a guide at the Visitor Center to escort you to the flower. On our arrival we talked to the ranger who said there was no flower and so we were allowed to go anywhere on our own (we still managed to find a flower which just begun the process of its opening). We did not pay any entrance fee in the Area - yet, when coming back from our trek we noticed a sign informing about the entrance fee of RM5 and guiding fee of RM100 at the Visitor Center; I have no idea why the ranger did not ask for anything.
Visit of the Tudan village: Tudan is a small village populated by native Kadazandusun people and located some 4 km off the main road along a very steep, mostly gravel side road branching off north at Km49 of the main road. The village itself is rather sleepy and not particularly interesting but along this side road you can have a look at the Kadazandusuns farming on their sloping fields and appreciate their hard life; in the morning you also get a nice panoramic view of Mt. Kinabalu towering in a distance from the road.
1. To get to the Crocker Range NP from Kuala Lumpur we first flew to Kota Kinabalu and from there took a minivan. The AirAsia flight to Kota Kinabalu (their first of the day at 6:50) cost RM150 for both of us (a promo action price), took one hour and half, was on time and uneventful. From the Kota Kinabalu airport we took the bus 16A (frequently passing the Terminal 2) for RM1.50 per person to the "City Park" stop; from a near minivan stand (near the State Library; with help of bystanders it was fairly easy to find it) we took a minivan heading for Tambunan and got off at the Gunung Emas Highland Resort (cost RM13 per person, took about 1 hr).
2. To get between the individual places along the main Kota Kinabalu - Tambunan road we widely used hitchhiking; it has never taken too long to get a ride and we have never been asked for money.
Accommodation: Gunung Emas Highland Resort, a self-contained "treehouse" (a separated two-room cottage built around a living tree about 3 m above the ground up in the forest across the road from the main building) with bathroom attached for RM50 per night (asked and agreed price was RM60 but they gave us a discount for no reason and without our asking when paying the 2-day rate when leaving ??; nice of them indeed); the electricity (and consequently the hot water) was provided by generator and was available only from some 18:30 till 23:00. The Resort looked rather run down and many services had not been available (yet still proudly advertised by all kinds of signs, like two separate restaurants allegedly offering Malay and Chinese food) but the place was quite friendly and homely; they had about 10 treehouses but I doubt all of them were ready for using. At the time we were their only guests.
1. The Gunung Emas Resorts is running a small restaurant (probably its main source of income as it is visited by people from Kota Kinabalu escaping from heat) where you can get some meat-based food and also order fried rice or noodles. Also at the Resort there is a small shop where you can buy basic provisions.
2. You can also get about the same food in the restaurant of the Gunung Alab Resort at Km56 on the main road. In addition at Km52.5 on the main road there is a not-so-catchy restaurant called Puncak Damai Restaurant, which we have never tried.
We have spent just an afternoon and night at Tambunan but found it quite interesting as it has been the only occasion we could see the padi-field (wet-rice) farming, which is typical for the area but otherwise rare in Malaysia. Tambunan itself is a busy town offering a glance at Sabah real life.
Transport: While waiting for a passing bus or minivan on the road by the Gunung Emas Resorts, we were hitchhiking and got picked up by an empty minibus and treated to a free ride to Tambunan.
Accommodation: Tambunan Village Resort Centre (firstname.lastname@example.org), a double room with fan and bathroom attached (with hot-water shower and bath tube) for RM60 per night (the actual price was RM65 in August but the price paid were agreed upon when booking the room in May); the room booked ahead via internet (the booking was free, the Resort looked moderately full). The Resort was quite up-market establishment and we got their cheapest room available (our window opened to sort of a corridor - it was advertised as a room in the "bamboo longhouse" but in fact was in a concrete building with room walls just furred with split bamboo). I have chosen it because there was allegedly no other hotel at Tambunan and also because they offered (and later indeed carried out) to arrange a pick up by minivan in the morning to take us to Ranau, our next destination.
Food: Surprisingly, there was no full-scale restaurant at the Resort but just a stall - yet, we have got quite a good fried rice there for cheap price.
We have spent about two days altogether in the Kinabalu National Park and it has been for sure one of the highlights of our trip. The Park is dominated by about 4100m-high Mt. Kinabalu (data regarding its height vary quite remarkably; locally it is called "Gunung Kinabalu") and as the Park HQs are located at the altitude of some 1500 m a.s.l. only, it offers very unique and varying landscape and vegetation. Mt. Kinabalu is one of the highest mountains in the world which can be climbed easily by just about anybody, and so its climbing became a very popular pursuit. Every day it is climbed by over a hundred of people who all follow about the same itinerary - the trek takes two days and everybody is required to stick with her/his compulsory guide and spent a night at the same place on the mountain; the whole show has been handed over to a private company, the Sutera Sanctuary Lodges, which is asking very steep fees and charges. This had been hardly an arrangement we could at all enjoy and so we gave up our intention to join in this exercise (one could probably do it on one's own slipping through around the gates with a tent but about half of the climb has to be done along a single trail and so one would have no chance to escape the crowds anyway). Fortunately, there is a not too advertised way how to enjoy majority of the unique vegetation zones of Mt. Kinabalu while avoiding the crowds - as the lower part of the climb can be done along two different trails, which meet at the altitude of about 2740 m a.s.l., it is possible and allowed to do a day trip going up along one of these trails and down along the other; this way you still get a chance to see majority of the vegetation zones on Mt. Kinabalu including the scenic upper montane cloud forest (you just miss the subalpine meadow zone located at the altitude of 3300 to 3700 m a.s.l., and of course the bare-rock zone above it). Besides these two trails leading to the summit, there are several jungle trails criss-crossing the area between the Park HQs (at the altitude of 1564 m a.s.l.) and the Timohon Gate (at 1866 m a.s.l.) allowing one to appreciate various kinds of vegetation protected at this extraordinary Park. Being so high, Mt. Kinabalu is creating the weather of its own which typically includes clear top and fog in its lower parts in the mornings, clouds coming in and obscuring the summit from the mid-mornings, quite strong rain-showers in the mid-afternoons, and clear nights on the whole mountain. The basic Park entrance fee is RM15 per person - it is now called the "Conservation Fee" and it is verbatim "valid for one day (or three days for an overnight visitor)", so technically one seems to be supposed to buy a new fee each day when not staying within the Park borders overnight (well, we paid just once); no payment is requested for using a camera.
The Mesilau - Layang-Layang - Timohon trek: The trek took almost whole day and was very nice and rewarding - we went up along the Mesilau trail and down along the so-called Summit trail, through the Timohon Gate and on to the Park HQs. We have chosen the Mesilau trail for our ascent as it is much less crowded being longer (by about 2 km and 3 hrs) and more demanding of the two ascending trails to the summit - the trail starts at the plushy Mesilau Resort at the altitude of about 2000 m a.s.l. and climbs first to about 2300 m just to bring you back down to 2000 m before making the final ascent. This makes this trail somewhat unpopular among the summit hunters but its ever-changing landscape and vegetation makes it much better choice for nature lowers - I certainly recommend it to anybody whose solely goal is not just to "beat up" the mountain. Along the way up you pass through the zones of oak-chestnut forest, conifer and bamboo forest, and very scenic rhododendron cloud forest with trees covered with mosses and common incidence of orchids and pitcher plants. The Summit trail going invariably down from the trails meeting point at Layang-Layang is much less interesting but along its lowest part it features the lower mountain forest not to be seen along the Mesilau trail; when going down along the Summit trail in the afternoon you see hardly any climbers - the crowds pass there in the morning. The Gates on both trails are open from 7:00 (in addition, in the Park HQs we got information that trekkers are supposed to report at the other Gate till 16:00 - but nobody told us that at the Mesilau Gate when we were signing in and nobody cared when we passed the Timohon Gate at about 17:00) and you need to sign in there to get a tag (it gives rangers an idea about the traffic on the mountain - you are supposed to give it back when leaving trough the other Gate) and pay for a permit (just RM10 per person). For this trek you are not required to hire a guide (which is for sure not needed on those well-beaten trails on Mt. Kinabalu) and to pay that hefty RM100 fee for the climb permit.
Hiking the trails around the Park HQs: We have spent about a day altogether hiking along majority of interlocked trails established around the Park HQs and all the way to the Timohon Gate and found it very enjoyable. The trails wind through an ever-varying lower mountain rainforest, some following streams and some others offering good views from the ridgetops overlooking undulating plains surrounding the mountain; all the trails are very well maintained and marked and the altitude makes hiking there quite pleasant. We liked the most the ridgetop Kiau View and Bukit Ular trails, and the streamside Liwagu trail (even if this one was little bit spoiled by huge pipes for a new water conduit lying here and there along it - thanks Sutera again). Hiking along the trails lying closer to the road connecting the Park HQs and Timohon Gate is somewhat less pleasant due to a surprisingly heavy traffic along this road during the day - better leave these trails till the evening when the traffic all stops. Also, the Pandanus trail and Mempening trail are somewhat disturbingly wide and overdeveloped (it is because they are parts of the route of weird summit Marathon race organized there annually). There are no additional fees for hiking these trails. Near the Park HQs it is possible to visit the so-called Mountain Garden, i.e. a botanical garden showing all kinds of trees and plants growing within the Park while indicating them by their names - it is slightly run down but still provides some information about vegetation you can see in the Park; the entrance fee is RM5 per person.
1. There is no direct transport from Tambunan to the Kinabalu NP and the journey needs to be done in two legs. First we took a minivan from the Tambunan Village Resort Centre to Ranau; the minivan collected us in the morning directly at the Resort after being booked ahead by Resort desk clerks an evening before. Next we took another minivan from Ranau heading for Kota Kinabalu and got out right in front of our chosen hotel lying on the main road. The journey cost RM28 and RM15 per person respectively, and took together about 5 hrs.
2. It is not too easy to get to the trailhead of the Mesilau trail (there is allegedly a shuttle between the Park HQs and the Mesilau Resort but it is very infrequent and esp. not running early in the morning). Therefore we booked a taxi at our hotel, the Kinabalu Rose Cabin, but it did not work - no taxi showed at the set time of 6:00 (I do admit we got warned right away that 6:00 was too early for a taxi there ??!) and the hotel desk clerk was not interested to do anything for us. So we again resorted to hitchhiking and fortunately got rather quickly a free ride to the near village of Kundasang (some 2 km away) where we found several taxis waiting for customers - the taxi to Mesilau Resort then cost some RM70.
3. There is a shuttle running between the Park HQs and Timohon Gate - it is meant mainly for the package climbers of Mt. Kinabalu so it typically goes from the HQs to Timohon Gate in the morning and waits there for climbers coming down from the summit at about noon to transport them back to the HQs; it seems to be rather difficult to get a ride outside this frame and we walked all the way to the HQs.
1. Kinabalu Rose Cabin (kinabalurosecabin.com), a double room with bathroom attached (hot-water shower) and a balcony with nice views of the mountain for RM84 per night; the room booked ahead via internet (the booking was free; I have done the booking as the Park was very popular and we did not want to waste any time there looking for a hotel - the hotel indeed looked quite full). The hotel was located on the main road outside the Park and enjoyed quite a good reputation but we could not really testify to it - it was relatively OK but nothing special and I have already mentioned their inability to arrange for a taxi. In any case, it is the remotest of all the hotels available near the Park, lying about 2 km from the Park entrance along the main road - you can try hitchhiking but we never have had any luck there early in the mornings and late in the evenings. We have seen a few cheap-looking hotels still outside the Park but much closer to the Park main gate and so it may be a good idea to start looking from there if you have enough time.
2. Within the Park around the HQs there are several hotels and guesthouses run by the infamous Sutera Sanctuary Lodges but even dormitory beds are ridiculously expensive there. They may also be full as they are all parts of that package-climb business exercised there.
1. There is a very good restaurant named the Restoran Panataran Kinabalu right across the main road from the Park entrance, which is featuring an English menu and serving a rather delicious food and generous portions. It was one of the best restaurants we have encountered in whole Malaysia and I very much recommend it. They also sell some basic provisions in a small shop there.
2. Inside the Park just next to the Timohon Gate there is a small shop and stall where you can get some sandwiches and also quite a good fried rice for a cheap price.
3. Also inside the Park there are several restaurants around the HQs but they are all run by the Sutera Sanctuary Lodges and serve ridiculously over-priced food. Still, one of them is the Balsam Cafe offering an all-you-can-eat kind of service and so if you arrive really hungry you can try to outsmart them (the breakfast cost RM35, lunch and dinner RM38; the food was good but the choice was not especially generous).
4. There is a small restaurant in the Kinabalu Rose Cabin but we have never tried it.
We have spent just an evening in Kota Kinabalu - it has not seemed to have any soul or appeal.
Transport: After a short wait at the stop on the main road right the opposite to the Kinabalu Rose Cabin we flagged down a passing minivan going directly to Kota Kinabalu; the journey cost RM30 per person and took about 3 hrs. There are also express buses passing there and those can be also flagged down but be aware that they go to the Kota Kinabalu new bus station lying quite far from the city center.
Accommodation: Hotel Gaya, a tiny double room with fan and shared bathroom (hot-water shower) for RM20 per night. A very cheap but bearable hotel chosen for its proximity to a taxi stand needed for early morning trip to the airport. I checked several hotels in the area before, which all offered air-conditioned rooms for the price starting at RM75 which seemed to be a luxury just for a short night sleep.
Food: There have been several good-looking restaurants near the hotel, all featuring an English menu. We have chosen one randomly - the food was OK but the portion was somewhat reduced and we got a surprise in the form of a 15% tax added to the bill. There was a supermarket near there too.
We have spent just about half a day in the Niah National Park and found it quite nice (our original plan was to stay for one more full day but we decided to cut our visit due to problems with getting something to eat there). The Park is primarily noted for several connected huge caves housing large colonies of swiftlets (birds known for their nests fancied as delicacy in China) and bats; yet, the prominent limestone hill housing the caves is also quite interesting, and the surrounding rainforest is just magnificent.
Park visit tips: The basic Park entrance fee is RM10 per person (it is common for all Sarawak national parks with established visitor facilities and called the "Single Entry Pass", so technically one seems to be supposed to buy a new fee when leaving the park for a night); no payment is requested for using a camera. The Park HQ is located across a small river from the Park itself, so to get to the Park you need to use a readily available boat (RM1 per person) - there are crocodiles in the river, so swimming is not really recommended. The caves are easily accessible along a well-maintained plankwalk leading all the way from the boat jetty to the caves and passing through a superb rainforest full of giant trees; plankwalk railing is a favourite area of all kinds of insects (and we have also seen a local famous flying lizard starting its glide from it). Also the caves can be explored along the established plankwalks but you need your own light (or to hire a guide in the Park visitor center who comes equipped with a powerful light) - yet, do not expect to see any stalactites there, besides the animals its mainly the contrast of the darkness inside the caves and the illuminated colourful rainforest outside what makes it interesting. Every evening just after the sunset (at about 18:30) you can observe the bats leaving the caves in droves for their night hunt in the forest - nevertheless, at the time of our visit the bat flight-out was not especially spectacular as the cave entrance was very large and the small bats looked just as distant black dots moving just under its ceiling (but we have been told that if the weather is more favourable, i.e. more wet, the bat flock is much bigger ??); beware that the regular boat ferry across the river to the HQ operates just till 19:30 and you get stuck if coming later (so if you plan longer stay, make some pre-arrangement with the boatman); still, the plankwalk is easily walkable and you can safely get from the cave entrance to the river in half an hour even in the dark. In addition to the plankwalk trail, there are also two consecutive forest trails in the Park leading around and up to the top of the limestone hill housing the caves - the trails are quite muddy at first and very steep later so allow plenty of time to negotiate them; the view from the top is supposed to be good but we have given up on getting there due to lack of time. We have not encountered any leeches in this Park. The Park ranger (the one working in the Visitor Center and the only one around) was very nice and ready to help in every respect. All in all, half a day stay has been definitely too short for enjoying this nice Park in full - the originally-planned extra day would be well spent there.
Transport: To get to the Niah NP from Kota Kinabalu we first flew to Miri and from there took a minivan to the Park HQ. The AirAsia flight (their first of the day at 6:55) cost RM86 for both of us (a promo action price), took one hour, was on time and uneventful; to get to the Kota Kinabalu airport we took a taxi from a stand opposite the State Library for RM20. From the Miri airport we again took a taxi to the Local Bus Station on Jln Padang for RM20 (paid ahead at the taxi counter) and from the near stand we took a direct minivan to the Niah NP HQ (cost RM25 per person, took about 2 hrs) - the stand was some distance away and would be difficult to find but we were actively contacted by the minivan driver looking for passengers right after leaving the taxi. You can also use one of many much cheaper express buses ploughing the coastal road between Miri and Bintulu (and leaving from other bus station) but those drop you at Niah Junction where you need to find a further transport (taxi or hitchhiking) to the Park some half an hour drive away; the buses formerly connecting Miri with the town of Batu Niah lying near the Park have ceased the operation for good.
Accommodation: We slept in our own tent pitched near the Park HQ on the river bank - cost RM5 per person per night payable at the Park Visitor Center and gave us access to the bathroom (cold water only; beware that water needs to be actively pumped and so it totally quits running when there is a break in electricity supply - it has happened to us but they started a generator soon to reset the supply); we also arranged with the Park ranger free storing of our excessive baggage in the Park Visitor Center to get more space in our tent. There is an accommodation in the Park which is reputed to be rather good but it is frequently full (as it was at the time of our visit); it can be booked ahead at the Miri Tourist Office but not through the internet).
Food: The Niah NP is reputed for providing a quite good food in a canteen at the Park HQ and I made a mistake to rely on it. Unfortunately, the canteen quit all cooking just at the time of our arrival - the owner told us that his cook got ill and there would be no cooking for at least a week. In addition, the small shop also located at the Park HQ, was nearly empty and not selling any bakery or soft drinks. It put us into troubles, as we had not enough provisions for two days, and so we arranged for our leaving next morning and resorted to our emergency supplies (actually, there was a town about 3 km away from the Park, where we could get some supplies, but we did not want to waste time with logistics and took the whole thing as an omen). To our surprise, the canteen resumed cooking the same very evening, allegedly because of finding another cook (?!!!). Lessons learned: (1) never ever trust in only one source of food supply, and (2) do not fully believe the information provided by locals in Malaysia - it may be true but it may be also just a short-living guess (this was not the only case of this kind, just the most clear one).
The Rejang River
We have spent about two days and half journeying along the Rejang river and enjoyed it thoroughly. The journey gave us another perspective and let us experience the life of the Borneo interior - we went along the route Batu Bakun - Belaga - Kapit - Sibu - Kuching. The Rejang (over 550 km long) used to be (and to a large extent still remains) the main artery of Sarawak, providing an ever-available connection between individual settlements and on to the coast, its navigation being much easier way of travelling than struggling through the dense ubiquitous rainforest - till now, all the interior settlements lie invariably on the banks of rivers and streams. Nevertheless, the Sarawak's interior is no more a wilderness - it is criss-crossed by a dense network of roads built by logging companies and there exists a convenient public transport along the rivers provided by fast air-conditioned motorboats (situation quite different from the rainforest area around the Amazon river in Peru where all the transport is still handled only by slow cargo boats). In any case, travel to the interior gets you off the tourist trail and lets you appreciate the real life of Borneo. Yet beware that in dry season the water level in the Rejang can drop considerably and the boat traffic in upper Rejang can cease operation temporarily - this is typical of January to May but may happen also in July to September, so you better check out about it before going; to get up-to-date information you may contact e.g. the Resident's Office in Kapit (email@example.com - they are very helpful there and provide all kinds of information about the Rejang) or Mr. Niesta Bato (firstname.lastname@example.org - a quite helpful freelance guide living at Belaga). Officially, foreigners need special permits to travel anywhere to upper Rejang above Kapit - the permits are issued free of charge at the Resident's Office in Kapit (and allegedly newly also somewhere in Bintulu); this permit is a clear nonsense and there is a rumour that the only reason for this request is to make foreigners to stay overnight in Kapit and improve local economy (as the process of issuing it takes long enough to make sure that you miss the boat for Belaga if reaching Kapit on a morning boat from Sibu); in any case we did not bother and I suggest to anybody to forget about it completely - nobody is ever going to ask you about it, certainly not on the boats or in hotels (and you can always say you did not know - Malaysia is a very reasonable country and you are not going to rot in a jail).
1. Bakun junction - Belaga: This was the only part of the journey done overland. There is a regular government-built sealed road leading from the Bakun junction (a crossroad midway between Niah Junction and Bintulu; in fact just a few stalls selling food) to Bakun (a town newly built for native communities relocated from the site of the highly controversial Bakun Dam under construction there). In the middle of nowhere (some 2-hr drive from the Bakun junction) there is a turnout for Belaga along a dirt logging road - riding along this road was a rather special experience. The logging roads are the roads built, owned, and administered by the logging companies - these roads are set for big trucks transporting logged timber from the rainforests to saw-mills and public roads, meaning that these trucks have always right of way; it goes so far that the usual driving rules do not apply there - it is no usual Malaysian left-side traffic, the only traffic sings used there are telling you which side of the road you are supposed to drive next; and when seeing a fully-loaded truck you are supposed to get out of its way quick (and the driver of our jeep was definitely taking no chances in this respect). The road was quite good as it was dry but it would have to be a different story within wet season. Along the road we could time to time observe patches of forest clearcut and burned to bare ground and other patches beginning to grow over again with a much less impressive vegetation; nevertheless, at least half of the time the rainforest around the road looked intact yet.
2. Belaga: Belaga is a real backcountry town with a center consisting in a short street opened on one side to the river bank and a quite busy boat landing-place (the Rejang is just about 30 m wide there). There is nothing special to see there (just a real life) and everybody seems to retire to bed with a sunset. When walking around the center you are for sure going to be contacted by one or more of the local guides offering trips to longhouses or forest trekking - afore mentioned Niesta Bato may be one of them; yet, the trips are quite expensive (some RM350 per person per 2D1N at least; certainly not so cheap as it is suggested in the LP Malaysia).
3. Belaga - Kapit: This boat journey has been one of the highlights of our trip - riding on the boat roof gave us an opportunity to get some idea about the life of local people. The public boats are practically the only means of transport along this part of the river and so they stop just anywhere on request. Thus, each boat is making frequent stops at individual longhouses along its way (or even several stops if the longhouse is long enough as residents seem to be too lazy to walk too far) - well "stops", the boat just about touches the "jetty" (and it may be anything from a nice-looking wooden platform to a sloping muddy bank only) and a would-be passenger is expected to jump quickly on board (the locals appear to be well trained and we have seen just one near miss). Together with passengers, the boats also carry cargo (up to a motorcycle - we have seen one fixed to the railing of a boat) and mail (the mail delivery consists in the boat blowing its horn when approaching the addressee longhouse and the boat conductor throwing the letter on the jetty/bank while the boat is slowly passing by). There are signs of logging of the rainforest on the river banks here and there (and also landing-places for loading the logs to log barges) but more often the rainforest alongside the river at this part looks still intact and majestic at places, esp. around the Pelagus Rapids. The Pelagus Rapids is the reason why the boats cannot navigate the river when the water is low - the river is rather shallow there and runs around and over series of rock outcrops (the man at the boat wheel needs to be able to maneuver skillfully); yet, the Rapids was not especially impressive at the time of our visit (the water level was about medium). Anyway, before introduction of powerful modern engines and some stream regulation using dynamite, the Pelagus Rapids used to be a real barrier for Iban raiding parties hunting for heads of other tribes and so they formed a natural border between settlements of fearsome Ibans and somewhat less warlike Orang Ulus (literally "upriver people"; a collective name for a number of different tribes settling area of the upper Rejang).
4. Kapit: Kapit is a fairly big and busy town, a metropolis of the Sarawak interior, until now not accessible overland by public transport. Right now there is some reconstruction under way along the river bank there, making it somewhat less attractive for travellers - the Rejang is already over 60 m wide there and the boat traffic on the river is relatively busy too (esp. tow boats towing log barges or pushing a bunch of logs bound together). The only local sight is a wooden fort turned to museum, one of the forts built by the Brookes at the Sarawak river towns to protect urban people from Iban's raid - it is interesting but not too impressive (but we have not been inside as it is closed on Mondays, by coincidence the time of our visit).
5. Kapit - Sibu: This boat journey has been less attractive but still interesting. There are local and long-distance boats ploughing this part of the river; the boat we were travelling was an express boat stopping just at two bigger towns along its way - Song and Kanowit. The river was quite wide there already and also the boat traffic on the river was rather busy. The river banks were still lined with a rainforest, but this time it was clearly the secondary rainforest.
6. Sibu: Sibu is quite a big town and important port lying close to the main coastal highway; the Rejang is already very big river there - the main channel with the Sibu wharf is over 100 m wide (while total width when counting side channels is allegedly about 1.6 km). We have spent just a couple of hours there, never venturing too far from the wharf.
7. Sibu - Kuching: This boat journey has been different from the previous ones and so again quite interesting. The boat - much bigger this time - went first through a vast swampy river delta lined with mangrove forest, made a short stop at the town of Tanjung Manis in the river mouth, and then cut across a wide sea bay to Kuching; close to Kuching we had a good chance to admire scenic coast around Kuching, namely mountainous Bako and Santubong peninsulas, and also to observe dolphins surfacing several times near the boat.
1. Niah NP - Belaga: Our first goal was to get to Belaga while making use of a regular overland jeep transport leaving from Bintulu and going via the Bakun road forking from the coastal road. First we arranged a ride with the Niah NP ranger in his car from the Park HQ to Niah Junction (a rest stop for the express buses going from Miri to Bintulu and lying on the main road in the direction of Bintulu few kilometers beyond the Niah crossroad); cost us RM30. Next we found empty seats in the first bus heading south and got to the Bakun junction; cost RM15 per person. While waiting for a jeep for Belaga we were hitchhiking and after some time agreed to accept a ride to the Belaga turnout in a passing jeep - our original decision was to accept just a direct ride all the way to Belaga and we should have sticked to it as the accepted ride was an expensive trap (we were told there was enough onward transport to Belaga from the turnout and made to believe we were getting a free ride; but we were then asked to pay RM40 per person per 2-hr ride and there was absolutely no vehicle going for Belaga from the turnout for next 3 hrs - we had to wait until the jeep providing regular transport arrived (and we were at risk that the jeep might have been full!); there was just a dusty shelter at the turnout and it was very hot there, the place was definitely less pleasant place than the Bakun junction with its shops and stalls - lesson learned: under no circumstances accept any ride not taking you all the way to Belaga and always ask about the price there). The last leg of our journey to Belaga was then a jeep ride along a logging road to Belaga (cost RM40 per person, took about 2 hrs).
2. Belaga - Kapit: There was only one boat going along this route every day and leaving at 7:30, the journey cost RM30 per person and took about 5 hrs; after Kapit the same boat was continuing all the way to Sibu.
3. Kapit - Sibu: There were several boats going along this route every day - we took the first boat leaving at 6:40 (cost RM20 per person, took about 3 hrs).
4. Sibu - Kuching: There was only one boat going along this route every day and leaving at 11:30, the journey cost RM45 per person, took about 4 hrs, and ended at the Kuching wharf quite far away from the city center. There were also many buses going from Sibu to Kuching but these would take about 8 hrs to get there due to their detour taking them all the way to the Indonesian border and back.
1. Hotel Belaga at Belaga, a double room with air-condition and bathroom attached (hot-water shower) for RM30 per night; the room was OK esp. considering the price.
2. Ark Hill Inn at Kapit, a double room with air-condition and bathroom attached (hot-water shower) for RM62 per night; the room was OK.
Food: There were enough
restaurants to eat during daylight at Belaga and Kapit but all these
restaurants - and all shops as well - were closing at 18:00 and so it was not so
easy to find an open restaurant.
1. At Belaga we followed recommendation given at our hotel (in its "closed" restaurant) and got a fried rice in a near small restaurant.
2. At Kapit we found a large hawker center at the spot identified as "Night Market" on the LP Malaysia map (#20) and got some fish dinner there for a change.
3. At Sibu there were a couple of stalls just in front of the boat wharf and we had especially tasty fried rice with pineapples in one of them on Jln Market.
We have spent six days altogether in Kuching and its vicinity and mostly had a very good time - besides Kuching itself we have also visited some of the near nature sites, namely the Bako NP, Kubah NP, Santubong NP, Semenggoh WRC, Sarawak Cultural Village, and Damai beach. Note: Besides, we were also considering an option to join an evening boat cruise to the Kuching Wetlands NP (a brand-new park established in 2002 and protecting coastal mangrove swamp and forest near the Santubong peninsula) promising spotting of dolphins, proboscis monkeys, crocodiles, and fireflies, but decided against it due to its relatively high price (offered by several companies, the cheapest being the CPH Travel Agencies (www.cphtravel.com.my) asking RM160 per person for the cruise up to 2 hrs).
Exploring the city of Kuching: Kuching has a rather colourful history (it used to be a capital of "the White Rajahs" of Sarawak, the Brookes) and as it is known for surviving undamaged even the WWII, one could expect to see an interesting historical center there. Unfortunately, we have not found any "genius loci" left there - there are a few rather average Chinese temples and some streets with Chinese shophouses left but all this is surprisingly plain and unattractive; a part of the old quarter has been replaced with ugly concrete modern buildings, and right on the river bank next to the center there are superciliously towering some particularly out-of-place tall buildings of classy hotels. Kuching nowadays is a fairly large and busy and quite boring city - even the fairly big Sarawak River flowing through it is not offering much life to attract any interest; well, at least there is the Waterfront, a rather pleasant esplanade on the river bank where you can get a much welcome rest in a shade. On the top of it, Kuching center is one of the places where the afore mentioned general Malaysian lack of interest in tourist money can be experienced - majority of restaurants and almost all shops close at 18:00 (fortunately there are some exceptions; also many souvenir shops do stay open late). However, on the opposite side of the Sarawak River (east of the Fort Magherita) and often overlooked by visitors there is a string of Malay villages composed of traditional houses built on stilts - we have quite enjoyed our visit there and very much recommend to anybody to take a walk around these villages where one can feel real life.
Visit of the Bako NP: We have been on an overnight two-day trip in the Bako National Park and found it interesting. This long-existing Park is quite famous and much reputed for exceptional diversity of its vegetation and rich wildlife but we have not found it really fully justified, esp. regarding the wildlife which seems to be concentrating only around the Park HQ (esp. the infamous suite of macaque monkeys and the local token bearded pig) and is very rare further away. As for the vegetation, the Park indeed incorporates very different kinds of habitats, incl. some mangrove swamp forest and dipterocarp rainforest, but majority of the Park is formed by a dry sandstone hills and plateaus covered by a rather low vegetation much less impressive for our uneducated eyes than the usual Malaysian rainforest (yet, featuring some interesting pitcher plants again). During our stay we hiked majority of the Park trails - we were overnighting at the Limau beach so from the HQ we went north along the Lintang, Tajor, Bukit Keruing, and Limau trails; on the way back we crossed from Limau to Sibur beach and went along the Sibur, Limau, Bukit Keruing, Ulu Serait, and Lintang trails. The hikes always took whole day and were quite strenuous - in particular, the Limau trail was very tough going constantly up and down and we happily followed a good advice offered by a Park ranger in the HQ to cross from Limau to Sibur beach with a low tide in the morning (the large bay on the north of the Park is very shallow and half of it becomes virtually dry during the low tide; one just need to get over the narrow promontory south-east of the Limau beach and cross the small inlet on the other side of this promontory (wading in seawater about mid-thigh deep) to get to the northeast edge of this large bay and then cross it along the drained seabed to the Sibur beach on its other side). Nevertheless, we have not found either the Limau trail or the Limau beach esp. interesting or nice, so after the experience I would not really recommend to struggle all the way there - I believe it would be more rewarding to camp next to one of the bigger streams at the beginning of the Limau trail and skip the rest while saving one's vigour for better enjoyment of the Park. Some other tips: the south leg of the Lintang trail near the HQ was passing through a beautiful dipterocarp rainforest, otherwise rare in this Park (it could be possibly everywhere along the short trails in the southwest of the Park so these trails should not be overlooked - we have not visited them unfortunately); we have very much enjoyed swimming in a very nice pool just under the Tajor waterfall (a magic place with tea-coloured water surrounded with mosses and ferns - it is just a short way upstream from the spot where the Tajor trail crosses the Tajor river); beyond the trails shown on the Park maps we have seen a sign for the Lakei beach somewhere in the middle of the Limau trail, so it would be also possible to go there (but beware that this beach is too shallow for any swimming); the Bukit Gondol loop trail has been closed at the time of our visit. In any case, majority of Park visitors never ventures beyond the Lintang loop trail and the Tajor trail so it is worth going further away to enjoy some solitude - on the other hand, the Park trade-mark proboscis monkeys are supposed to hang mainly around the Pandan beach and Pandan trails, in case you really want to see them (we have not seen them along our route as there were almost no mangroves there). We have not encountered any leeches in this Park. The Park single-entry entrance fee is RM10 per person; no payment is requested for camping in the Park or using a camera.
Visit of the Kubah NP: We have been on a day trip in the Kubah National Park and enjoyed it a lot. This Park is fairly new (opened since 1995) and still known mainly as a popular picnic spot but it has actually much more to offer - it is formed by a rather high sandstone plateau covered by largely undisturbed and quite scenic rainforest accessible along a good network of well marked and maintained trails; within the Park there is also the Matang Wildlife Centre which is practically an open-air zoo, keeping some of the Sarawak's popular animals in a semi-natural setting and also running a training programme for particularly troublesome orangutans (meaning too young or feeble) that cannot be handled at the Semenggoh WRC. We started our visit at the Matang WC by touring the zoo - it looked rather run down but featured some animals living in a fair environment (quite big and well-separated enclosures located within the forest - we have seen some deer, sun bears, civets, crocodiles, owls, but no hornbills at the time of our visit); on the zoo loop we were also lucky to meet a young orangutan who was just being led by its trainers to the forest for some of its survival training (naturally we wanted to follow but been asked not to disturb the training process). After that we trekked along the Ulu Rayu trail heading for the Park HQ - the trail was quite nice and went mostly uphill through a rather majestic dipterocarp rainforest (but beware of the leeches occurring on the lower parts of the trail near the Matang WC); near the Park HQ we made a left turn along the loop trail leading to the Selang Viewpoint (the viewpoint was very much worth the detour as it offered a superb panoramic view of the distant Santubong peninsula and the Sarawak river wetland lying just in front of it) and from there came back to the so-called Main trail next the Park HQ (this loop replaced the original one-way Selang trail still shown on majority of available maps). From there we went back west to the Ulu Rayu trail, along it to its crossroad with the Summit trail, and along the Summit trail to the Park HQ - the reason for this detour was our intention to have a look at the so-called Frog Pond which was supposed to be a good spot to see some frogs (but we have not seen any - it would be probably necessary to come at night). Occasionally, some trees along the trails were identified by their names. The whole trek took a good part of the day but it by far exceeded our expectations. There are more trails available in this nice Park including the Summit trail, a sealed road leading all the way to the top of 911-m-high Mt. Serapi (which is said to have a cloud forest on its top due to its proximity to the coast and the so-called "Massenerhebung" effect) - this Park seems to be somehow underrated and it is definitely worth visiting, possibly even for an overnight stay. The Parks single-entry entrance fee is RM10 per person (it is valid both for the Park and Matang WC and can be bought at both at both visitor centers); no payment is requested for using a camera.
Visit of the Santubong NP: We have been on a day trip in the new Santubong National Park (established in 2000) and quite enjoyed it. This Park is located on Santubong peninsula and comprises the area of the prominent 810-m-high Mt. Santubong - it can be explored along few well marked trails established and maintained by some near tourist resorts; the area is not much rated and advertised but it is covered by a very nice rainforest and well worth visiting, esp. because of its easy accessibility from Kuching. First we hiked through the rainforest along a short 2-km trail (called the Santubong Jungle Trek; starting at the Green Paradise Cafe near the Damai Holiday Inn Resort on the road from Kuching to this Resort and ending on the same road near the Sarawak Cultural Village) and back (closing the loop to the Green Paradise Cafe) along another trail going in parallel to the road (not shown on any map of the trails); then we set out along the trail leading all the way to the summit (called the Santubong Summit Trek; 5-6 hr return; the slopy trail which was said to become very steep near the summit, sometimes even fitted with ladders) but got just to the meeting point with another trail coming from Bukit Putri (another starting point on the main road near the village of Santubong) where there was a promising but unfortunately rather overgrown viewpoint; from there we went back to the Green Paradise Cafe. All this trekking took majority of the day (we spent some 3 hrs at the Sarawak Cultural Village) and was quite good, the rainforest there was one of the most impressive of those seen on Borneo; occasionally, some trees along the trails were identified by their names. We have not encountered any leeches in this Park. There are no charges to be paid there yet.
Visit of the Semenggoh WRC: We have spent half a day in the Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre and found it interesting, esp. owing to the orangutans seen there. The original purpose of this small nature reserve was to provide a sanctuary for orangutans rescued from captivity and train them to be able to return to their natural habitat and live an independent life in the wild - this rehabilitation programme has been now mostly transferred to the Matang WC but the successful graduates of the original programme, semi-wild orangutans and their babies are now living free at the Semenggoh reserve. They spend most of their time roaming the forest but frequently come back to the Centre for a free meal which gives anybody a very good chance to see them, esp. during their regular feeding times at 9:00 and 15:00 (nevertheless, beware that during the wet season, when there is abundance of fruits in the forest, they may not bother to show up). Until recently the reserve has been freely accessible along some marked trails but the situation has changed and everything is now very organized - in general, there are two feeding platforms where the fruits are offered to the orangutans. The first platform is near the Centre veterinary clinic, is permanently accessible to visitors, and is visited by younger and weaker apes (we have seen an old female, a young female, and two youngsters there); the second platform is somewhat away in the forest, is accessible along a plankwalk, the visitors can have a look at this platform just from a somewhat distant observation point and are admitted there just at the time of feeding, and the platform is visited by a group of wilder apes (we have seen about ten orangutans there including some mothers with babies and the huge alpha male - the orangutans in the wild are living a solitary life in order not to compete for food, but in their safe heaven in the Centre they formed an organized group; we could observe the alpha male waiting for all group members to get their food and then leaving, while obediently followed by all group). We arrived to the Centre at 8:00 and found all trails closed to visitors - it turned out that the visits were very carefully organized: first all the visitors were led to the first platform near the veterinary clinic and after arrival of interested orangutans (they have their mental clock visibly very much on time) the fruits have been put on the platform and the first show started; after the apes got their meal there and left, all the visitors were herded to the second platform and the food put there for the second show; when the orangutan group left the visitors were herded back and sent home - we have not been much too happy about this change and after some persuading were allowed by the ranger to stay behind near the second platform and enjoy the forest sounds. After that we came back to the trailhead of the Brooke trail near the veterinary clinic (one of the trails formerly normally accessible and still shown on all maps of the Centre), found it still closed, and after questioning the employees found out that all the trails in the reserve were newly closed for good - in short, we had to talk to the Centre head ranger and get a special permission to be able to walk the trail (he was emphasizing that we were going there at our own risk, so here might be the source of those late changes). Anyway, we did walk the loop Brooke trail in the end - the trail was winding through a beautiful rainforest and was quite nice and worth the effort (nevertheless, as we were the first visitors after quite some time we have become a much welcome prey for quite a few of very insistent leeches); the trail was still in a good shape and led us safely through the forest (just be careful near the river - the trail is not crossing the river but forking left just before the shelter there) to the above mentioned second feeding platform and back to the access road next the Centre HQ (so, here one could get to this trail without asking when ignoring the "no entry" sign put there). Besides the orangutan feeding platforms and the now closed forest trails, the Centre also comprises several botanical gardens featuring various kinds of plants (e.g. palms, bamboos, pitcher plants, etc.) but we had not much time to explore them. The Centre single-entry entrance fee is RM3 per person; no payment is requested for using a camera.
Visit of the Sarawak Cultural Village: We have spent some 3 hrs there and found it interesting but highly overpriced. The Sarawak Cultural Village is an outdoor museum (located near the Damai Holiday Inn Resort on the Santubong peninsula) displaying full-scale housing of various people living in Sarawak, esp. the longhouses of different native tribes; the exposition includes full-scale houses including some furniture and also demonstrations of some of their typical arts and crafts done by representatives of the particular people; also part of the visit there is a 1hr-long cultural show performed in an air-conditioned theatre and demonstrating some traditional dances and music. The entrance fee is RM60 per person, no payment is requested for using a camera. The place was quite full with package tourist and we did not find it really worth its inappropriately high admission fee.
Visit of the Damai beach: We have spent a lazy afternoon on the beach of Damai Holiday Inn Resort on the Santubong peninsula and found it not too appealing. The beach has fine sand and very warm water but visibility there is much too poor for snorkelling there (near zero even in a calm weather) and the breakers form at the depth too shallow to have fun in them. Still, there is an abandoned walkway heading south from the beach where you can spend your time in a shadow and solitude; fresh-water showers are available on the beach. The entrance is free (at least when arriving on the Holiday Inn shuttle minibus).
1. For description of the transport to the Kuching wharf see the Rejang river description above. To get to the Kuching center from there we took a taxi from a stand in front of Kuching wharf to the well-known Borneo B&B hotel on Green Hill for RM18.
2. To get across the Sarawak river in Kuching you can use the sampans, a motor ferryboats, which cross the river on both sides of the Waterfront; cost RM1 per person.
3. Bako NP: To get there we first took the first bus No. 6 (Petra Jaya company) leaving Kuching at 6:40 (from its stop next to the Open Air Market near the Electra House) for the village of Bako - cost RM2 per person, took about 40 min. From Bako village we then took a boat to the Park HQ waiting there - it cost RM47.50 for the boat taking 5 persons (the cost is aplit evenly among the actual passengers) and took about 30 min (be prepared to wade to the shore on arrival during the low tide and beware the stingrays possibly lying on the bottom there). The last regular boat back to Bako village leaves from the jetty near the Park HQ at 16:00, when coming later you can ask at the Park HQ to call the boat for you but you need to pay for whole boat (we were lucky after our arrival at 17:00 to find empty seats at the waiting boat chartered by 3 other persons). The last bus from Bako village to Kuching leaves at 17:00 (we were lucky again - just when heading to the road to try hitchhiking we managed to find empty seats in a just leaving minibus taxi chartered by a group of other travellers and so we shared the total taxi price of RM40).
4. Kubah NP: To get there we chartered a whole public minivan heading for the Matang WC for RM40 (there were no other passengers in sight and we did not want to wait); there are no public buses going all the way to the Park but the bus No. 11 is passing along the main road some 2 km away from the Park HQ. To get back from the Park HQ we tried hitchhiking while walking to the main road and quite quickly got a free ride to Kuching in a private car.
5. Santubong: To get to various attractions on the Santubong peninsula (Santubong NP, Sarawak Cultural Village, Damai beach) we made use of the shuttle minibus connecting the Holiday Inn Hotel in Kuching with the Damai Holiday Inn Resort (some minibuses continue all the way to the Sarawak Cultural Village) - it goes several times during the day, the first one leaves Kuching at 7:30 and the last one goes back from Damai Resort at 21:00; it cost RM10 per person one way; when booking ahead you can negotiate a pick-up by the minibus at your hotel in Kuching. On one occasion we tried hitchhiking while walking to the Damai Resort and been lucky to get a free ride to Kuching in a private car.
6. Semenggoh WRC: To get there we took a taxi from a stand in front of our hotel for RM40; there is no regular public transport going there now. To get back from there we tried hitchhiking again while walking to a distant main road (there should be public minivans passing there irregularly) and quite quickly got a ride to Kuching in a private car - the driver was asking RM35 for the ride and settled for RM20.
Accommodation: Hotel Orchid Inn, a quite comfortable double room with air-condition and bathroom attached (hot-water shower) for RM45 per night. This was the cheapest of several hotels located just opposite to the notorious Borneo B&B hotel on Green Hill and not at all shown on the LP Malaysia map. The hotel was quite friendly and there were no problem with storing our excessive baggage free of charge for a day when going away to the Bako NP (we also booked a room for the day of our return) or after check-out time when leaving late - we were quite happy there. We checked the Borneo B&B hotel before and found it highly overrated by the LP Malaysia (it was offering just tiny bare air-conditioned rooms with shared bathroom for RM40 per night).
1. After 18:00 it is not so easy to find a good restaurant in Kuching as majority of its restaurants is closed. Still, there is a good restaurant named the Spring Forest Cafe on Jln Wayang offering an English menu and serving quite good and cheap food and generous portions. If you need to buy some basic provisions like water, soft drinks, or bakery you can find few opened shops on Main Bazaar street near its corner with Jln Wayang.
2. Before 18:00 the choice of restaurants is much better. We can recommend the Bollywood Cafe on Jln Carpenter offering a good and cheap Indian food.
3. There is a very good restaurant named the Green Paradise Cafe on Santubong peninsula on the road from Kuching to Damai near the Holiday Inn Resort, right at the beginning of the trails in the Santubong NP. It is offering an English menu with a very good choice of vegetarian meals (including fried fern, the Sarawak speciality - quite delicious) and serving a rather good food and generous portions. It was one of the best restaurants we have encountered in whole Malaysia and we very much recommend it.
We have spent five days on Tioman island and had a very good time enjoying the sea. Tioman is relatively large mountainous island lying some 50 km off the east coast of the Peninsular Malaysia - it is covered by dense undisturbed rainforest, lined with rocky outcrops and sandy beaches, and surrounded by beautiful coral reefs. Tioman island is a part of the Tioman Marine Park and so the its visitors are supposed to pay the entrance fee of RM5 per person (common for all marine parks in Malaysia; valid for three days from the date indicated on the ticket) - the fee is collected at a special counter near the jetty in Mersing from where the boats depart for Tioman but the collectors are very flabby and it would be very easy to avoid paying (when going to the island we were in a hurry to catch the boat and just ignored the collector weakly asking for the fee quite far from the boat counter or the boat itself; we paid only when leaving the island even if not asked at all as we considered it necessary to reward the Malaysian policy of asking so very reasonable fees for the national parks); of course, nobody has ever asked us about the fee on the island.
Tioman sea and
marine-life tips: Tioman is practically all around surrounded by corals which grow right next to the shore and are mostly alive
and nice and also attracting a lot of fish. In August the seawater temperature
was very pleasant and made it possible to swim for a practically unlimited time
without getting cold through. The tide difference is not overly big there (up
to 2 meters at full/new moon).
1. Swimming: No problem to swim on Tioman at any place and any time - the water is warm and clear and the waves are never too big (at least not on the west coast). The beach at Air Batang (ABC) village is mostly rocky and not much appealing but OK to get to the sea; the beach at Salang it is mostly sandy and much better.
2. Snorkelling: The snorkelling at Tioman is very good - there are coral gardens and pinnacles growing right next to the shore all around the coast and so you can snorkel just about anywhere and right off the coast. The corals there are exceptionally diverse - I have never seen so many different kinds of corals so close to one another (all kinds of hard and soft corrals incl. some sea fans). There is also lots of all kinds of reef fish hanging around the coral reefs, esp. abundant are otherwise rare blue spot stingrays. On top of it, a quite unique feature of Tioman is frequent sighting of blacktip reef sharks (we have seen some every day) and hawksbill sea turtles. The usual visibility in the sea is above 20 m if the sea is calm but it can drop considerably in shallow sandy areas after a storm (even distant) - so if you arrive at good conditions do not waste much time and hit the water. Due to the low tide difference it is possible to snorkel at any time of the day. When snorkelling, do not forget to take at least a T-shirt and better some trousers too as the sun is especially strong at Tioman (I was wearing a T-shirt but my forearms still got sunburnt - first time it ever happened to me). We were staying at Air Batang village and explored the coast all the way from there to the Monkey Bay - there were corals almost all along the coast and snorkelling was mostly very good. We have liked the most snorkelling at the Monkey Beach (small bay just south of the better known Monkey Bay), esp. on its southern side where there are very nice coral pinnacles in the bay itself, and especially diverse corals and fish at the bay mouth (e.g. frequent sightings of big porcupine fish). Above all, at the Monkey Beach and the adjacent Monkey Bay (you can swim from one to the other easily) we had the luck to see some sharks every single day - bigger of them were about 1.5-m long and sometimes inquisitive enough to come close to some 3 m and circle around to get a better look (amazing experience indeed !!), smaller ones were rather shy and always swam away quickly on seeing us; they liked to hang around rocky walls near the mouth of these bays but also entered the bays and did not mind to swim all the way to beach and even in quite shallow water. There is a well-beaten path through the rainforest along the coast from ABC to Monkey Bay (and on to Salang) and so it is possible to walk there easily (even in sandals); the walk to Monkey Beach takes about an hour one way. Along the coast between ABC and Monkey Bay, the snorkelling was slightly better at the northern part between the Panuba Resort and the Monkey Beach (but the rest was also good - the sightings are always question of luck anyway). However, even the housereef at ABC itself has been very good - it consists in fairly large coral garden featuring all kinds of corals and fish; the best parts are on both sides of the ABC jetty (I have been lucky to see a turtle there just south of the jetty; it was rather tame, swam quite slowly and let me come very close and follow it as long I wanted - I could testify to its bad behavior as it was kicking to corals occasionally when swimming along; the sightings of turtles are allegedly rather common there too). Our everyday routine at Tioman became to walk to the Monkey Beach in the morning, snorkel in there, swim south along the coast to the small beach just north the Panuba Resort (this applied to myself only - my wife, who is not so keen swimmer, just walked back to this beach and swam there around), walk back to ABC for late lunch, and go snorkelling at the ABC housereef. One day we made a trip by boat to the village of Salang north of ABC, which is also renowned for good snorkelling - we have found snorkelling there good but not good enough to really justify the expenses for travelling there (see below); the snorkelling at Salang was good on the south side of the Salang beach and around the near Soyak island - it is possible to swim across the narrow channel between Tioman and Soyak islands but be very careful as all boat traffic to Salang (surprisingly heavy in fact) passes through this channel. There were several places at ABC (diving centers and some hotels) offering snorkelling trips to various places around the island (e.g. very popular Tulai Island) but they were quite expensive and we were happy enough with the sites described above.
3. Diving: There are a lot of dive sites all around the Tioman island, all the dives are boat dives. At ABC, there are four independent diving centers and also some centers attached to some local resorts. I enquired about the prices before going to the island and learned that the price for a 2-dive trip would be some RM170-220 incl. equipment rental. The cheapest rate was offered by the Eco-Divers (eco-divers.net) - their prices at May 2008 were RM170 for a 2-dive trip incl. equipment rental and RM40 for taking along my non-diving wife to enjoy snorkelling. Nevertheless, I have not dived there after all as I managed to catch a cold just after arrival on the island (due to a broken fan in our room which was impossible to regulate) and could not be sure that my ears would clear well.
Tioman rainforest tips: There is just a short sealed road between the Berjaya Tioman Resort south of Tekek village and ABC (even that one is interrupted with a staircase), a dirt road between Tekek and Juara village on the east side of the island, and few paths connecting some of the villages on the island west coast. All the rest of the island is covered by an undisturbed primary rainforest, hardly ever visited by humans. We have only walked the coastal path between ABC and Salang (easy - just follow the power cable; the similar path is supposed to lead also south from Tekek all the way to the village of Genting) and found it quite nice - the rainforest there was quite beautiful; occasionally, some trees along the trail were identified by their names; we have not encountered any leeches on the island. Another possibility to meet the Tioman rainforest offers the dirt road between Tekek and Juara village on the east side of the island - it has been recommended by several travellers; besides, with some effort it would be for sure possible to find a guide to take you to the island interior or to the summit of some of the island mountains (the highest Mt. Kajang reaches up to 1038 m a.s.l.) - nevertheless, we have never found enough time and strength to try any of these options (the climate of Tioman island is as hot as anywhere in Malaysia); hikes along the trail to Monkey Beach fully saturated our desire for the rainforest. Tioman also provides a possibility to observe some wildlife - monitor lizards are especially abundant everywhere along the forest trails and even within ABC itself, on forest trails you can encounter some macaque monkeys, and in the twilight time you get chance to observe bats hunting for insects just next your cottage.
1. To get to Tioman island from Kuching we first flew to Johor Bahru, then took an express bus to Mersing, and from there took a boat to the island. The AirAsia flight (their last of the day at 21:15) cost RM226 for both of us (a regular price), took one and quarter of an hour, was slightly delayed and uneventful; to get to the Kuching airport we took a taxi from a stand in front of our hotel for RM23. Early in the morning we needed to get from the Johor Bahru airport to the Larkin Bus Station (Johor Bahru long-distance bus terminal) and it proved to be rather difficult - it was too early for public buses to operate (and we were told they did not follow any fixed schedule and nobody was able to tell when and if at all they would go) and there were even no taxi in sight (and the taxi counter was closed). Fortunately, there was a shuttle bus leaving at 6:10 and heading for the Airport City Lounge in Johor Bahru center - the bus was a direct bus not supposed to make any stops along its way, so even though it was passing by the bus station it looked that we would have to go to the city center and find a transport from there; still, I made sure that the driver knew we were actually going just to the bus station and so - as we were the only passengers - the driver was nice enough to drop us at the bus stop even if not specifically asked (cost RM8 per person, took about half an hour). From the Johor Bahru Larkin Bus Station we took the first direct bus for Mersing leaving at 8:30 (S&S International Express; cost RM8.80 per person, took 3 hrs). At Mersing it was a short walk from the bus terminal to the jetty for the boats to Tioman (the bus did not go to the jetty itself as it was declared in the guidebooks). From the Mersing jetty we then took a speedboat to the Tioman island itself (Bluewater Express; cost RM35 per person, took about 2 hrs) - it was a smooth passage by a calm sea along some small islets densely covered by jungle; on the particular boat it was possible to get onto an open deck above the passenger cabin which made the trip quite nice and interesting (yet, the boat crew was doing their best to discourage us from being there - and as we found later, on other boats there was no direct access to the open deck from the passenger cabin). On the Tioman island the boat is stopping in sequence at several villages along the west coast starting at Genting - you better tell the crew which village you would like to go as the boats may not stop at villages where nobody seems to be getting out.
2. It proved to be impossible to travel between villages on Tioman by boat for a reasonable price. The only public transport available there is making use of the boats connecting Tioman to the Peninsula but for a reason curious to me they clearly do not want people doing it and discourage them by asking very inflated prices - some RM25 per person for a 10-minute trip from ABC to Salang. Of course, you can always charter a private boat at many places on the island but it would be even much more expensive. On advice of the owner of our hotel (South Pacific Chalets) we tried another option but it had not come out much better after all - every morning at about 8:00 the diving boat of the B&J Dive Centre goes from ABC to Salang, picks up some divers there and then returns back to ABC; our hotel owner maintained that when asked the boat skipper would take us along for some minimum price like RM10 for both but it appeared to be just his wild and completely unfounded guess; we did talk to the skipper, were taken on board, but then asked to pay RM20 per person - we did pay it after some vain haggling but it was a clear robbery (the price of RM20 per person for a 10-minute trip they would go anyway - and are paid for by the Dive Centre - is an awful wrongdoing by the Malaysian standards); probably their intention was just to discourage people from using their services and they definitely deserve to have this desire satisfied.
1. Our AirAsia flight from Kuching arrived to the Senai Airport near Johor Bahru an hour before midnight - too late for bothering with looking for a hotel when leaving by bus early next morning (there is no cheap hotel near the airport or bus station; my research brought the Hotel Seri Malaysia next the bus station as the cheapest accommodation available there for RM130 per double). Therefore we decided to stay at the airport and it has proved to be a good decision. When leaving the airport we have been actively contacted by taxi counter staff and asked if we were looking for taxi which we declined and walked on; next they asked if our intention was to sleep at the airport and on our hesitant admission of that they suggested a good place for that on the first floor next to the closed airline counters. We went there and found a large quiet carpeted room where we could spread out our camping mats and get a fairly good sleep - they even dimmed the lights there from midnight to some 5:30 when the airport started to come back to life.
2. South Pacific Chalets at Air Batang village on Tioman, a self-contained wooden chalet with fan and bathroom attached and a perron for RM40 per night. We have chosen Air Batang (ABC) as a backpacker-oriented village offering enough of cheaper accommodation and restaurants, and developed basic infrastructure like some shops and diving centers (even several internet places but none of them had connection during our stay), but also good snorkelling near by. The chosen accommodation was found by a pure coincidence but it turned to be a very good luck as it was likely one of the best options available there in general - the cottage was fairly new and located at a quiet place right next the rocky beach and a nice coral garden near the ABC jetty (our only complaint would be the partly broken fan that was impossible to regulate and which brought me a cold at the first night - we screened from its draught then using a towel) - we were quite happy there and could recommend it without any hesitation. I checked all the accommodation at ABC and the only cheaper options offered were the rooms at the Mokhtar's Place (RM30 per night for double; yet, slightly shabby and in a not so good location); of all the ABC accommodation there were just a few rooms/cottages under RM60 available on our arrival on Tuesday around noon (so booking ahead might be a good idea if you can find any way how to contact any of the cheaper places); there were enough room available in the more expensive places on the ABC's northernmost side.
Food: It is not so easy to get a good and cheap food at ABC as majority of restaurants tends to open just for a rather short periods of time during the day. The best restaurant available seemed to be the very restaurant of our South Pacific Chalets - permanently open, offering an English menu with a good choice, and serving quite good and cheap food and generous portions; unfortunately, it became temporarily closed on the second day of our stay due to a death in owner's family (somewhat interestingly they were organizing all things by themselves including funeral ceremony and burial at their backyard). That made us to look for other options - the only other permanently open place was the restaurant of the My Friend Chalets (the same price and quantity as at the South Pacific Chalets, little smaller choice and slightly less good food); another reasonable place was the Ziza's Restaurant right next the jetty but it was nearly always closed (slightly cheaper food but also slightly smaller portions and not much choice); not so good place but still acceptable was the restaurant of the Mawar Beach Chalets (often closed, about the same price but much smaller portions, good food, little better choice). If you need to buy some basic provisions like water, soft drinks, or bakery you can find few shops north of the South Pacific Chalets - yet, beware that the prices are much higher there so it is good idea to stock with anything able to last at Mersing.
We have spent about two days in Melaka and found it interesting. Melaka clearly manifests historical influences of the Malay, Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch, and British on the area and thus represents Malaysian history in a nutshell. As for the Portuguese and Dutch there is not much left of their heritage except some historical buildings. The heritage of the British then lies oddly in their introduction of the Indians into the mixture of peoples living in Melaka - their influence can be very well observed in the so-called Little India, a city quarter with abundance of Indian shops and restaurants. Nevertheless, the most visible of all is the Chinese heritage and the influence of the Chinese is omnipresent and very much shaping appearances and life of the city. Especially interesting is the so-called Chinatown in the very heart of the Melaka historical center - it is a Chinese quarter with several streets of small two-storeyed houses with little shops in their ground floors which are still conserving the life and atmosphere of old Chinese merchant centers (probably long gone anywhere else and especially in China itself). On the top of it, Melaka Chinatown is especially good example of the most peculiar feature of Malaysians mentioned before, their reluctance to alter their life style and their indolence to tourist needs - virtually all the restaurants and shops were closed from 18:00 till 8:00 (incl. souvenir shops !!?) and the whole quarter became amazingly quiet with its streets illuminated by dimmed red lanterns; also in Chinatown there are many temples of various religions (esp. on Jln Tokong) and it is quite interesting to compare their remarkably diverse atmosphere. We have quite enjoyed walking around Chinatown, esp. at night and in the morning, and found it truly magic.
Transport: To get to Melaka from the Tioman island we first took the first direct speedboat to Mersing (Bluewater Express; leaving at 7:30 from Salang for its first stop at ABC; cost RM35 per person, took about 2 hrs). From the Local Bus Station (Mersing long-distance bus terminal short walk from the jetty) we then took the first direct express bus leaving for Melaka at 13:15 (S&S International Express; cost RM17.50 per person, took over 4 hrs). (Note: Before walking to the Local Bus Station I checked the S&S-International-Express office at the Tourist Bus Station right next the jetty and was told that their bus leaving at 13:15 was full - no clue what that meant, the bus we later took made no other stops at Mersing and was full right from the Local Bus Station.) Our bus arrived to the Melaka Sentral (Melaka long-distance bus terminal) - to get to the city center we took the local bus to the Town Square in front of the Christ Church (Melaka Panorama Bus; leaving from stand No. 7; cost RM1 per person, took about 15 mins).
Accommodation: Chong Hoe Hotel, for the first night a family suite (2 double beds), for the second night a double room (not available day before), both with air-condition and bathroom attached (hot-water shower) for RM60 and RM45 per night respectively. It was one of the only two budget hotels located in the heart of Chinatown, quite friendly and well maintained (the other Chinatown hotel was the LP-Malaysia recommended Sama-Sama Guest House which we also checked and found it full).
Food: There are no budget
tourist restaurants at all in Chinatown.
1. We arrived very late at the first night and so we have been in no mood for looking for a restaurant. The only place we found open in the vicinity of our hotel at that time was one of the Famosa Chicken Rice Ball restaurants (a Melaka restaurant chain organized in the McDonald's style) on the corner of Jln Hang Kasturi and Jln Hang Jebat - they had an English menu and the food was good but the price was high and the portions small. If you need to buy some basic provisions, the only shop opened anywhere near was just opposite to this restaurant.
2. Even after exploring around Melaka we did not really like any restaurants in Chinatown (they were either too shabby or too expensive). It was almost a shame but the best food we could found in Melaka was one of the stalls at the hawker center on Jln Bendahara (#75 on the LP Malaysia map) which was offering some fresh food - fried rice and variety of fried noodles; very cheap and quite good. We also checked the restaurant called the Discovery Cafe on the corner of Jln Temenggong and Jln Bunga Raya - it looked OK, and esp. their English menu looked very promising but their kitchen was closed or what and their offer was very limited at the time of our stay in Melaka. When buying basic provisions you can find better prices at several shops located along Jln Bendahara.
Taman Negara NP
We have spent about two days in the Taman Negara National Park and found it very nice indeed. The Park protects large area of an undisturbed primary rainforest mostly composed of the lowland dipterocarp forest (but it also contains some mountains covered by the montane forest - incl. 2187-m-high Mt. Tahan, the highest mountain on Peninsula); the rainforest there is just magnificent and remarkably full of wildlife (even if manifested mainly just by sounds of their voices).
Park visit tips: The basic Park entrance fee is just RM1 per person (it is called the Entry Permit" and we have got it issued for the exact two days of our stay); there is a fee of RM5 requested for using a camera (it is called the "Photographic License" and issued for a one-month period). There are some trails established within the Park; while the trails close to the HQ are well-maintained and marked, the ones further away are not that much used and also not that well maintained - the marking is inconsistent, not especially good, or none at all there (then you just have to follow a well-trodden path) and a reasonably detailed trail map is thus a necessity. When paying the fees in the Park HQ Visitor Center the rangers are questioning you about your plans and try to push you into their accustomed patterns (actually, when coming by boat from Kuala Tembeling, it is recommended to pay at the counter at Kuala Tembeling, as there are no questions asked there) - so, a general advice, if you have plans of your own, is to volunteer as little information as possible and negotiate artfully (my general experience is, that the Malaysian park rangers are quite tolerant and let you do anything reasonable when you show them that you know what you are doing, are not planning anything damaging to the environment, and do understand that you do everything at your own risk). Our general plan was to get far away from the Park HQ, overnight in our tent there to enjoy the rainforest at night, and walk back to the HQ next day. To get away from the HQ, we chartered a boat to Kuala Trenggan - the trip up along the Tembeling river was nice by itself, the river was some 20 m wide and lined with very nice rainforest (and also passing through some rapids but contrary to what the guidebooks might describe, it was not any special adventure to get through them - enough water or what ??); along the way we also saw on the riverbank a small village (i.e. bunch of palm-thatched shelters) inhabited by the Bateks, local indigenous people. We got to Kuala Trenggan (a site of an abandoned lodge now being slowly reclaimed by the jungle, a fortunately unsuccessful plan to establish another plush resort within the Park) at about 11:00 and set off along the Kenian trail, passed the Kumbang hide (a wooden hut built on stilts where one can spent a night and possibly observe animals coming to a near man-made salt lick), and at about 17:00 reached the turn-off for the cave of Gua Kepayang Kecil - this hike was rather pleasant and very reasonably long (about 8 km altogether); the trail was usually well beaten and visible (nevertheless, at places where some forest tree was blown down recently be careful to find the original trail again after walking around - some animal trails could lead you away), sometimes little muddy and crossing some streams time to time (but there was always some way to cross them without wading); the forest there was very nice - mainly the majestic lowland dipterocarp forest, but at the last section we reached a limestone area with somewhat lower and less dense montane forest. We put up our tent at the turn-off next to a nice stream (and also went to have a look on the near cave which was of a very similar kind as the caves in the Niah NP but much smaller and less impressive) - unfortunately, it was raining all night long and so the forest sounds were rather muffled to enjoy them in full; still, we could not possibly miss the noise produced probably by an elephant who was browsing on a near tree, knocked it down finally, and then passed by our camp. Next day (the rain stopped soon after the daybreak) we hiked back to the Kumbang hide and near behind it turned southwest on the trail connecting to the Tahan trail and then south along the Tahan trail to the HQ where we arrived at some 18:30 - this hike was quite long (about 17 km altogether) and strenuous and did not leave us much time for any loitering or enjoying the rainforest - too bad as the forest was very nice again (still, we very much enjoyed the sounds of morning jungle - especially the gibbon callings were magic). The connecting trail from the turnoff near the Kumbang hide to the Tahan trail was slightly less beaten and visible but still OK to follow (now and then it was even marked by little yellow tags); it was again little muddy and again occasionally crossing some streams - yet, near its beginning it was necessary to cross the Trenggan river, which was about 10 m wide there and had to be waded about crotch deep (yet the flow was not especially strong and the river bed was firm and sandy without sharp rocks and so there was no problem to walk barefoot; crossing was also made easy by a rope outstretched between the river banks). The Tahan trail (generally heading from the Park HQ all the way to distant Mt. Tahan) was again well beaten and visible, and becoming more obvious as we were getting closer to the Park HQ (the Tahan trail led near the Tahan river and we could hear passing boats time to time - so it should be possible to go there and flag down a transport back to the HQ if necessary). The visit of the Taman Negara NP was certainly one of the highlights of our trip and this Park would definitely deserve longer stay (we squeezed it into our itinerary just as a late addition, being initially deterred by its popularity - yet, almost all visitors stick to vicinity of the Park HQ leaving the rest of the park undisturbed and ideal for enjoying the nature). However, one thing not so enjoyable is general presence of leeches in this Park - they are not especially abundant but they are everywhere and there is no way to avoid them completely (make sure to stop and get rid of them time to time, or you will get some wounds which will keep itching for quite a long time).
1. To get to the Taman Negara NP from Melaka we first took an express bus to Temerloh, then another express bus to Jerantut, and finally a local bus to Kuala Tahan. To get to the Melaka Sentral (Melaka long-distance bus terminal) we took a taxi (the Melaka Panorama Bus we used to get to the city from the terminal followed a loop road and we could not find where to board it) - as the taxis were rarely passing through Melaka Chinatown, we walked to the corner of Jln Temenggong and Jln Bunga Raya and flagged a passing taxi there; the ride cost RM18. From the Melaka Sentral we took a direct bus to Temerloh leaving at 15:00 (Transnasional; tickets bought 2 days ahead, cost RM12.50 per person, took 4 hrs) and from Temerloh another direct bus to Jerantut (Super Express; leaving at about 20:30, cost RM5 per person, took 1 hr); there was no direct bus from Melaka to Jerantut available in spite of the information given on the internet. Next morning we then took the first local bus for Kuala Tahan leaving at 5:30 (Latif; cost RM6 per person, took 1 hr). In general, besides the local bus there is another and quite popular way how to get to Kuala Tahan - go to Kuala Tembeling by bus or taxi and take a boat from there (leaving at 9:00, costs RM45 per person, takes 4 hrs); this option was too slow for us as we were in a hurry.
2. The Park HQ is located is located across the river from the village of Kuala Tahan - to get to the Park and back you need to use one of the frequent ferry boats (RM1 per person, takes about 5 mins).
3. To get away from the HQ, we chartered a boat to Kuala Trenggan at the Park HQ Visitor Center - it cost hefty RM90 per whole boat (the rate is valid for return trip but have to be paid even if going just one way). There used to exist a much cheaper regular boat service operated by the Nusa Holiday Village resort along the same route at 10:00 but we could not find any sign of it - I was asking for the seats in this boat and the ranger kept talking about THE 10-o'clock boat but next he asked for RM90 and the boat - when it finally came was just for us (in addition, it did not show at the set time and we had to ask for it at the visitor center again); the boat could seat some 5 people, so bigger groups can save some expenses.
1. Greenleaf Traveller's Inn at Jerantut, a tiny double room with fan and shared bathroom (hot-water shower) for RM20 per night; a very cheap but bearable hotel chosen for its proximity to the bus station as we came there late and were leaving from there again early next morning. The place was however quite friendly and the desk clerk was capable to provide all kinds of information about the Taman Negara NP logistics.
2. Durian Chalets at the village of Kuala Tahan, a double room with fan and bathroom attached for RM40 per night. This was the outermost accommodation in Kuala Tahan (meaning from the bus stop and jetty for the boats to the Park HQ) and the only place where I was able to find a reasonably priced room after our early arrival - other hotels were either full (at least according to the signs displayed) or there was nobody to ask about a room so early. We needed a room quick as we were trying to catch that Nusa-Holiday-Village 10am boat for Kuala Trenggan (later proved not running anyway) and so we just dumped our excessive stuff in the room and left for our overnight trip to the Park; we thus really used the room just for our second night and found it OK. In any case, it looks that booking ahead might be a good idea there if only you could find any way how to contact any of the cheaper places (you would have no problem to book a room in those two plush resorts within the Park - the Mutiara Taman Negara Resort and Nusa Holiday Village).
Food: There is a string of restaurants at the village of Kuala Tahan, floating on pontoons on the river around the jetty for the boats to the Park HQ but we did not have time to try them. We were quite tired and took our dinner at the closest place to our hotel we could find, i.e. in the restaurant of the Teresek View Motel at Kuala Tahan - they had menu all right but in fact had just some of the meals listed on it, so we just got fried rice once again; the food and portions were OK but nothing to remember. If you need to buy some basic provisions there is at least one shop just across the road from the Teresek View Motel.
We have spent just a few hectic hours in Kuala Lumpur before leaving for the airport (our arrival was very delayed due to the coming Malaysia National Day) and we had time just for a little walk around Chinatown. Nevertheless, we found Kuala Lumpur somewhat interesting as the atmosphere there seemed to differ from the rest of Malaysia - this was the only place we did encounter at least some pestering, but still very moderate. At that short glance, Kuala Lumpur seemed to be quite big and modern city but somehow showing a distinct feel of Asia, actually much more than other places we saw anywhere in Malaysia. The Kuala Lumpur Chinatown seemed to be very busy and hectic, esp. the market on Jln Sung Guna (yet, we have been there on the eve of the Malaysia National Day and the city was getting ready for the celebration, so we might not have seen the typical Kuala Lumpur). In any case, we were trying to do some last minute shopping there and it proved to be not so easy - even our plan to buy some samples of Malaysian tea (loose tea leaves not stuffed into tea bags) appeared to be a rather difficult task and we did not get much choice; I guess, better do not to leave these activities to Kuala Lumpur.
1. On our arrival to Malaysia, our EgyptAir flight from Cairo arrived to the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) while our connecting AirAsia flight to Kota Kinabalu were leaving from the Kuala Lumpur Low Cost Carrier Terminal located about 20 km away. To get there we used a shuttle operating every 45 mins between the two terminals. The shuttle leaves from the Ground Level of Block C of the Car Park of the KLIA Main Terminal Building, cost RM1.50 per person, and the journey takes about 20 mins; its operation ends around midnight and does not start before 5:00.
2. To get to Kuala Lumpur from Kuala Tahan we had to switch buses two times - first at Jerantut and then at Temerloh again. First we took the first local bus from Kuala Tahan to Jerantut leaving at 7:30 (Latif; cost RM6 per person, took 1 hr). From Jerantut there was a direct bus for Kuala Lumpur but it was full - still, there were seats available at this bus at least to Temerloh (Super Express; leaving at about 10:00, cost RM5 per person, took 3 hrs - there was a not-too-well organized Marathon race which clogged the streets of Temerloh). After seeing the mess (the bus terminal at Temerloh was a zoo with all those delays), I made sure that the bus we took for Kuala Lumpur was an express direct bus not stopping anywhere along the way (Bulan Restu; leaving at 13:30, cost RM8.60 per person, took about 3 hrs). Again, there was another way to go - take a boat for Kuala Tembeling (leaving at 9:00, costs RM45 per person, takes 4 hrs) and then either take an expensive shuttle organized by some hotels directly to Kuala Lumpur, or go by several consequent buses via Jerantut and Temerloh; we were quite glad that we did not try that with all those delays.
3. Our express bus for Kuala Lumpur arrived to the Pekeliling Bus Terminal there. To get to Chinatown in the city center we used the special KL means of transport - the KL Monorail; from its near final station Titiwangsa it took us to the stop named Maharajalela (RM2.50 per person, took some 15 mins). From there we just walked to near Chinatown.
4. In the effort to make travelling to the Kuala Lumpur airport easy for us, I booked the taxi through our hotel in Kuala Lumpur (Backpacker's Travellers Inn), which was offering quite a good price of RM70 per taxi. Unfortunately, this proved to be a bad idea as an incompetent desk clerk in this hotel managed to order single taxi for us and another couple - when we found out he was not able to correct his failure quickly and we were facing a pretty mess of missing our flight. Fortunately, we managed to flag passing taxi soon and also quickly negotiate a reasonable rate of RM80 for the airport - the money paid to the hotel was then returned and we did make it to the airport on time after all.
1. Our EgyptAir flight from Cairo arrived to the KLIA an hour before midnight - too late for bothering with looking for a hotel when flying out early next morning. Therefore we decided to stay at the Kuala Lumpur airport - the small-hours gap in operation of the shuttle connecting the Kuala Lumpur airport terminals made it necessary to switch the terminals right after our arrival and set up the place of our overnight stay to the Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT). The LCCT building was the simplest airport building I have ever seen, strongly reminding a big suburb supermarket - there was almost nothing in the area before the check-in counters, just a few chain restaurants (incl. McDonald's) and minimum seats (even none at all in the departure section). The best place for a rest we could find was a corner in the arrival section next to one of the building entrances/exits and the left-luggage office - we spreaded out our camping mats there and tried to get some sleep while taking turns; the place was fully lighted and it was not really quiet but it was not so bad after all (at least nobody bothered us - we got quite a lot of friendly sympathetic smiles in fact).
2. Backpacker's Travellers Inn, a tiny 3-bed dormitory room with fan and shared bathroom (hot-water shower) for RM34 per night. We needed the room just to deposit our luggage while touring Kuala Lumpur, get a shower, and change our cloths for flying home - still, it proved to be quite an ordeal to find a room; I checked just about all the hotels in Chinatown and this was the only room for reasonable rate I could get (probable reason were the coming National Day which was celebrated by huge fireworks in the same very evening).
Food: There have been enough
cheap restaurants around Kuala Lumpur Chinatown but not really tourist friendly
(no English menu, limited choice, mainly pre-cooked food). Finally, we have
chosen randomly a busy looking small Indian restaurant and got our last
reasonably tasty fried noodles there. There were enough shops around Chinatown
to buy basic provisions.
When preparing for my trips I always gather from the internet all information available and before I go I put it unsorted into separated documents covering each place to be visited and print those out to use them during the trip. I still have the documents prepared for this trip and I can send them to you on request. If anybody is interested please see the information on my Introductory Page.