The frustration of booking ahead, and then things going wrong, and having to cancel bookings, or not make the booking, was never more evident than us not being able to get to Singapore, and the need to get to our bookings in Sarawak, Borneo. Due to the delays on Tioman Island we bypassed Singapore altogether and headed back to Kuala Lumpur. There we booked into the Sunray Putra Hotel and got a bargain daily rate of AUD$80, including an amazing breakfast, considering it was a five-star hotel.
We caught up with the delightful John and Margot for dinner before their flight back to England.
We now had to fly again to reach our next destination. The flight from Kuala Lumpur to Kuching, Sarawak was a bargain AUD$68 for the two of us (yes TWO of us) and we were there in under two hours.
At the hotel, before we left Kuala Lumpur, I got my running shoes out of my backpack. Normally doing this simple action would not be worth a mention in the blog, but this day it was nearly a marriage breaker!!!! You see I had gotten my running shoes very wet the day before we left the Sutra Beach Resort some two weeks earlier. I packed the wet shoes in plastic bags with the intention of drying them out at Taman Negara – silly me I forgot. Thus the soaking wet shoes had rested in the bottom of my bag and allowed to spawn life! The running shoes were already about 18 months old and possessed a, shall we say, wholesome manly foot odour prior to being stored in the soggy condition. The shoes’ smell had ripened, considerably!! Di choked before the plastic bag was even opened. I could tell I would have to choose soon, the wife or the running shoes!!!
To be fair Diane allowed me one more harebrained idea just to keep me occupied. I took the running shoes and their foul stench into the bathroom and I bombarded them with shampoo, conditioner and shower gel – the shoes got the scrubbing of their lives. I completely rinsed them out and took them to a sunny spot to dry out near the hotel pool – it was fool-proof. A few hours later I went to where I left the shoes and, in my opinion, the unpleasant reek had diminished to an acceptable level. I put the running shoes on and smugly commenced to walk around – for three seconds all was good, then I felt a squishy, soapy texture within the shoe and to my horror, and Di’s amusement, bubbles suddenly sprouted through the shoes – the shoes were spawning!!! Di laughed, Di laughed a lot, Di laughed loudly!!!!
The more I walked the more the bubbles poured from the shoes. On the plus side my feet were now sparkling clean. It was clear the shoes would have to go and sadly I deposited them in the nearest garbage bin. Even the most ingenious of plans can sometimes go wrong. If I had kept the running shoes Diane would always have been able to find me; she would just have needed to follow the ‘suds’.
We arrived in Kuching in Sarawak and caught a taxi for 70 ringgits (AUD$23) to the Damai Beach Resort. The trip took about 50 minutes to cover the 40 kilometre distance.
Sarawak is a Malaysian state on the island of Borneo. After the Second World War the island of Borneo was basically split into four areas. Sarawak and Sabah became Malaysian states. Kalimantan became an Indonesian state. Brunei became its own sovereign state. The capital of Sarawak is Kuching. I was amazed to learn that Borneo is the third largest island in the world behind Greenland and Papua New Guinea (Australia is NOT considered an island but a continent).
We stayed four nights at the Damai Beach Resort.
This resort is a large resort and is nestled at the foot of the impressive Mount Santubong.
The area looked quite the jungle scene with the large rain forest covered mountain in the background which was often eerily immersed in mist.
The area is famous for jungle hiking, the Sarawak Cultural Village Museum, the Damai International Golf Course, and the orangutan wildlife reserve.
The resort is huge with well over two hundred and fifty rooms available. The resort, though, is very rundown and, for a supposed four star, it certainly needed maintenance and a few coats of paint. Apparently it was quite the resort in the 80’s and 90’s when it was in its hey day. We only paid AUD$56 per night and for that it was worth it. We had a room with interconnecting doors and the first night we could not believe how noisy our neighbours’ kids were and how late into the night their energy lasted – it was midnight when they finally settled down. Di asked for a room change the next morning but we were told they were leaving so we stayed put. We just happened to see the neighbours vacating the room and were shocked to see five Malay adults and five young children exit the room – it seems as though ten people stayed in the one room.
The interconnecting room soon became an issue with us over the next three nights. For two nights the people next door snored loudly. Then on our last night the people next door arrived at 11.15pm and tried to open the interconnecting door – they obviously had no idea what the door was for and nearly broke the door down trying to open it. Sadly, without sleep, Di is a walking wreck and a ruin.
The beach at the resort was good and very clean.
The ocean was flat and the water was pleasant to swim in. We were still in monsoon season and it rained daily, though some days were just an evening downpour, we did get the opportunity to soak up the sun.
The National Park headquarters is a ten minute walk from the resort. It was raining one day and I set out to walk one of the mountain trails. Di didn’t come as she was worried about leeches and the track being very muddy, so alone I went. The easy trail takes about 90 minutes round trip and is rather challenging in places, climbing embankments and coming down steep sloped tracks. Overall though there were no leeches and rain water seemed to drain into the sandy earth quickly so the track was firm. There was a waterfall and a canopy walk along the track.
There were also many pleasant streams to cross.
The longer hikes take up to five hours and involve climbing up the mountain. Although ropes and rope ladders are provided, the National Park Officer advised against doing these tracks alone and a guide could be hired for 20 ringgits to accompany solo hikers.
We met up with two wonderful Irish ladies, Ann and Mimi who had been travelling in Borneo for the past five weeks or so. They had travelled through Sabah first and, as they shared tales of their journey through Sabah, we were able to enhance our own plans of travel through that area. Sabah is the ‘real’ jungle area and not as developed as Sarawak. It was in Sabah that we intended to see the orangutan sanctuary, as it is possible to see them in the wild there. Di had a check list of all the places we intended to see and Ann and Mimi had virtually followed the same route.
Over the next few days we spent most of our meal times with Ann and Mimi and enjoyed their company and travel tales. Alcohol is cheaper in Borneo, than the expensive Malaysia, and the chats with the girls gave me the opportunity to catch up on some ale I had missed out on in Malaysia.
We also had some amazing sunsets at Damai.
The resort transported us back to Kuching in a minivan on Saturday afternoon for only 13 ringgits each. The resort was now considerably fuller with many local people making the trip there for a weekend away.
We now had four nights at the four star Grand Margherita Hotel in Kuching. The hotel is in the middle of the city, right on the riverbank and was the first international hotel in Kuching. The very lovely room was very cheap, costing AUD$52 per night, including a buffet breakfast.
Kuching is the capital of Sarawak and, I dare say, would probably have been the capital of Borneo if the country had not been dismantled.
Kuching has an engrossing history. Firstly, the name comes from the Malay word for cat which is ‘kuch’. Yes, Kuching is the city of cats. Though to be fair I saw more cats in Mersing than I have seen here in Kuching. What Kuching does have though is a litter of cat statues throughout the city. These cat statues are a great place to practice the art of photo bombing as tourists find them a purrrrfect photo opportunity.
In Malaysia I have loved the street art that adorns buildings throughout the towns and cities. Kuching is no different. Street art is not vandalised in Malaysia by ugly graffiti and random acts of wanton violence – the western world vandals could learn a lot from Malaysia about creation rather than destruction.
In 1841 Sarawak was ceded to the British adventurer, James Brooke, by the Sultan of Brunei for helping the Sultan fight insurgents and reclaiming the throne. James Brooke became the White Rajah of Sarawak. The Sarawak area was known for piracy and head hunter tribes, Brooke rid the area of pirates and outlawed headhunting.
On his death in 1868, Brooke’s nephew became the second White Rajah of Sarawak for two years, until his return to England. His younger brother Charles then became the third White Rajah of Sarawak. It is Charles who transformed Kuching into the capital it is today.
Charles built Fort Margherita to protect the city against any future threat of pirates – to this day the fort, built in 1879, has not fired a shot in anger.
The fort, though, was home to both the British and Japanese occupying forces during World War 2. Charles Brooke built many of the Kuchings’ buildings and a wander around the city will allow you to easily identify these buildings. The Brooke family ruled Sarawak until after the Second World War when the British took over.
The Sarawak River runs through Kuching and most of the city is on one side of the river. The other side has Fort Margherita, the newly constructed state parliamentary building and Astana House.
The rest of that side of the river looks like a few houses set in a jungle setting.
To get across the river you have to take a small ferry. The trip across takes only 30 seconds and costs 1 ringgit (AUD$0.28).
A bridge across the river is currently being constructed and was due to be completed in February 2017 – at the time of writing this, the 28th of February 2017, the bridge looks like it MAY be completed in 2018.
Fort Margherita is named after Charles’s wife Margaret. Astana House was built in 1879 as a wedding present to Margaret from Charles. This building became the White Rajah Palace. These two buildings flank the state parliamentary building.
There is a wonderful walkway along the river bank on the main city side of the river. This walkway runs for a few kilometres and offers views over to the above three mentioned buildings. The walkway is lined with little stores, river cruises, coffee shops, restaurants and entertainment. There is absolutely NO pressure placed on tourists to buy or enter any shops or restaurants – it is bliss for tourists to wander.
Across the road from the river walkway you will find Chinatown, India town, the Cat Museum, Sarawak Museum, the Main Bazaar, the Grand Court building, the Post Office and numerous modern malls. We wandered around the main Kuching area in a day so it is all close together. Entry to all museums are free.
What was surprising, for me, was that the streets were fairly empty and never did I feel like I was drowning in tourists. It wasn’t until we entered a mall did we see masses of local people – sadly the air-conditioned mall seems to have sucked the life out of communities and the mall has become a second home.
Having said that, Di and I ate in several mall food courts and we would have a nice meal of chicken, rice and salad with a bottle of water each and we paid less than AUD$9 for the TWO of us. It rained a lot in Kuching whilst we were there, it was humid and the mall was a pleasant escape from both these things.
Just on the rain, parts of Borneo are now flooding – the flood curse is following us – soon we will be refused entry to a country once the common denominator is identified!
Sarawak does offer orangutans, turtles, dolphins, monkeys, etc. It has the jungle trekking experience and all that has to offer. However, Sabah is meant to the place to experience what I have just listed, so Di and I saved ourselves for when we get to Sabah to spend our money on this.
Kuching is a great little city and somewhere I would recommend people should visit. I was impressed with the local teenagers in Kuching. Whilst walking through Kuching over a dozen teenagers greeted me in English and tried to engage in basic conversation with me. These males and females were extremely pleasant and seemed excited to be practicing their English. The Borneo people certainly smile a lot.
I enjoyed my eight days in Kuching and Damai Beach and look forward to the rest of my Borneo adventure as we head up the coast to Brunei and Sabah.
The adventure is continues ……….