Sarawak Journals

A Biologist In Sarawak

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A November 2002 trip to Sarawak by Antony Dodd

Kuching Istana Photo, Sarawak, Malaysia More Photos
Quote: This journal is about my visit to the national parks, in Sarawak, for three weeks. We were particularly interested in the animals and plants, but also spent some time exploring the local culture.

A Biologist In Sarawak

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Overview

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Bako National Park (watching proboscis monkeys and amazing pitcher plants). Guning Gading National Park (giant Rafflesia plants in flower). Journeying right up the Batang Rejang by boat to visit an Iban longhouse.Quick Tips: Good walking shoes/boots are a must for rainforest walking, as trails are often muddy, slippery and overgrown with roots; many of the locals wear flip-flops but I guess it depends on how high your leech tolerance is. Anti-mosquito paraphanalia of all sorts (i.e.: repellent, coils, plug-ins, net, etc.)Best Way To Get Around: The only way to get around within the national parks is to walk. No cozy jeep tours here. Public buses are variable in frequency and comf...Read More
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On Friday 29 November 2002 we left the UK for Sarawak, part of Malaysian Borneo. There are no direct flights between the UK and Borneo, so we decided to fly to Kuala Lumpur, and then on to Kuching. We flew from Gatwick to Kuala Lumpur on Emirates, mainly because they were cheap (£408 return to KL) and also because the flight arrived in Kuala Lumpur at a tolerable hour. Despite flying during Ramadan, we were plied with huge quantities of food for both sectors of the flights, and in spite of the cheapness of the tickets, the airline was fantastic and a definite recommendation! We loved amount of legroom and inflight entertainment! We arrived in KL during the early afternoon, and decided to ...Read More

Kuching, the

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Kuching Istana Photo, Sarawak, Malaysia
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In Kuching airport we had to fill in another embarkation card, and passports were stamped again. The airport was small but had an extremely helpful tourist information desk that provided us with a couple of maps, an extremely useful free introduction booklet to Sarawak by Wayne Tarman and Mike Reed ("The Official Kuching Guide", some of which is here) and times for the bus from the airport into Kuching town. The bus was infrequent and we got sick of waiting in the hot bus shelter and ultimately went in one of the minibuses, which was half a ringgit more than the bus. When we arrived in Kuching, we did not find it especially difficult to find our way around, and the maps in our guide books...Read More
Rafflesia Photo, Sarawak, Malaysia
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To reach the Gunung Gading National Park, we took the bus to the nearby town of Lundu, which was about 2 hours by coach from Kuching. Kuching's long-distance bus stop (Third Mile Express Bus Terminal) was out of town and we struggled to find a bus that would take us there, receiving conflicting information from everyone we asked. We ultimately took a taxi to the bus terminal and resolved to find out about the bus situation after our return. The coach to Lundu was air-conditioned (no cheaper option) and cost RM8.30; the journey passed through beautiful areas of mountains, papaya orchards, and included an interesting crossing of a muddy brown river on a decrepit car ferry, a bottleneck on the road ju...Read More
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We made an excursion from Kuching, after visiting Bako (see other section of travelogue), to the Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, where a number of ex-captive orangutans have been reintroduced to the forest. We took a bus from outside Kuching post office, which cost RM2, and dropped us off at the entrance to Semenggoh. Entrance to the park was RM3, and the 1km walk to the Wildlife Centre took us through the Forestry Department nursery and attractive ethnic/anthropological botanical gardens surrounded by rainforest. Orangutan feeding time was at 9.30am, so we arrived early, and we were initially encouraged by the lack of any other visitors. After half an hour or so, the place had turned int...Read More
Bearded Pig Photo, Sarawak, Malaysia
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We prebooked accomodation and obtained permits for Bako NP at the tourist office in Kuching. The permits cost RM10 each, and a "hostel" room was RM40 per night (the room had fans and four beds, but we booked the whole room), and also there were shared bathrooms, kitchen facilities and a barbecue. Getting to Bako: We took one of the hourly rattler buses from the Petra Jaya Transport bus station in Kuching. The bus station was more of a virtual concept than a physical feature of Kuching, and it took some effort to identify where the bus would depart from. It was a bit of a fight to get on the bus, because many people were moving around in anticipation of the forthcoming Hari Raya fes...Read More

Bako National Park

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Attraction | "Bako National Park (pitcher plants and proboscis monkeys)"

Bako National Park Photo, Kuching, Malaysia
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On our first evening, we strolled up the boardwalk of the Lintang trail that leads through swamp forest. We spotted durian trees, rattan palms, and a monkey that we couldn't identify. The mosquitoes had us for dinner, and we disovered the value of DEET repellant. The next day, we decided to follow the entire circular Lintang trail, because the literature indicated that the trail is well marked and passes through most of the vegetation types that arise at Bako. We headed off early because the park leaflet indicated the trail took 4-5h and we wanted to be able to stop and look. We started the trail in the northerly direction that passes over the mangrove boardwalks and then vanishes into th...Read More

Bako National Park
Bako
Kuching, Malaysia

Towns on the Batang Rejang: Sibu

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Pagoda Photo, Sarawak, Malaysia
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We took the express boat from Kuching to Sibu. There is also a bus between Kuching and Sibu, but the boat was quicker and we hoped that the journey would be more scenic than an overnight bus ride. The ferry departed from a 'different' wharf than usual due to the level of the Sarawak River, and we took a taxi to the wharf because the buses proved confusing. When the boat was ready to depart, we were able to buy a ticket on the boat. The tickets were RM28 each, one way. We decided to sit upstairs on the deck for the journey, rather than in the uber-air-conditioned interior. The journey took about 4 1/2 hours. The journey involves a short sea crossing to reach the estuary of the Batang Rejang, and whi...Read More

Towns on the Batang Rejang: Kapit

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Express boats Photo, Sarawak, Malaysia
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On the express boat to Kapit, we passed the small towns of Kanowit and Song, and yet more barges and boats laden with logs. We noticed a fair number of hillsides that had been logged and were badly eroded, although there was more forest the further upstream we went. It's hard to know how honest or otherwise the Malaysian literature is about the 'sustainable' logging programme. We arrived in Kapit around lunchtime. Kapit is a very small place and we quickly found the Kapit Rejang Hotel, where payed RM15 for an excellent value clean double room with ensuite bathroom and air conditioning. During the afternoon, we visited the Resident's Office at the State Government Complex to apply for a pe...Read More
Longhouse veranda Photo, Sarawak, Malaysia
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The longhouse was about half an hour's drive from Kapit, along a tributary of the Rejang. When we arrived at the longhouse, we realised it was situated in a really nice location on the small river. We had to cross a narrow, bouncy suspension bridge between the road and the longhouse. The longhouse was mainly made from wood, with corrugated iron rooves. The style of the longhouse was very much "traditional", as opposed to the many new cement longhouses that we saw along the Rejang between Sibu and Kapit. We were led to the communal veranda where we met by the chief headman's family. The sweets and biscuits went down well with the many children and the drink was enjoyed by the adults. Wha...Read More

Towns on the Batang Rejang: Belaga

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The Batang Rejang in Belaga Photo, Sarawak, Malaysia
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We took the early morning express boat from Kapit to Belaga. It cost RM30 each. These express boats have reinforced hulls so that they can cross the Pelagus Rapids, a place where accidents do still occur. The rapids were quite exciting, with whirlpools and scraping sounds on the boat's hull! We were subjected to videos of the German band the Scorpions during the course of the journey. This was a very interesting journey, the jungle beside the river was very dense and there was little evidence for logging (though we were sure it was going on, but out of our sight...). There were many longhouses beside the river, and our boat stopped at some of these. Some of these longhouses were accessed by traditi...Read More
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Bintulu airport is right in the middle of the town and only five minutes walk from the cheap hotels. All the hotels we looked round were incredibly seedy, with cages around the reception areas and obviously operated as brothels. In the last place we looked in, the cockroaches were sufficiently huge to put us off staying a night in Bintulu. We decided to take a bus to Niah Caves National Park and stay there instead. The only decent thing about Bintulu was an excellent bakery.

Niah Caves National Park

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Boardwalk at Niah Caves NP Photo, Sarawak, Malaysia
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At Batu Niah town, you can take a taxi straight to the headquarters, but we opted for the more pleasant 20 minute boat journey upriver to the park instead. We paid RM40 for a 4-bed hostel room within the park, but had the whole chalet to ourselves (4 hostel rooms with a communal seating area). The rooms were en-suite with fans and loads of space. There was a restaurant/café on site where you had to remove your shoes to enter and although the food was slightly pricier, was tasty and filling. To get to the trails and caves, you had to take a boat across the river for RM1 each. Even though it was a small river, you are discouraged from swimming across because of the presence of ...Read More
Early morning at Lambir Hills Photo, Sarawak, Malaysia
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Since the accommodation at Lambir Hills is even more expensive than other national parks in Sarawak, we decided to share a ‘chalet’ with a couple of other people we met en-route. Despite the price, the ‘chalet’ was significantly less pleasant than other national park accommodation we’d stayed at. There was also a rather limited supply of food available at the canteen (basically, noodles, noodles and packet cakes). It seemed that the BBC crew that were filming "Jungle" at the time were afforded different meals though… During the early evening, we headed to a lovely pool with waterfall that’s about 250m from the entrance to the trails. It was a fantastic place for a swim, although we didn’t g...Read More

Miri

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Durians Photo, Sarawak, Malaysia
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Of all the food we had in Sarawak, we thought Miri served up the best. The main reason for this was the wider availability of Indian food, which provided a fantastic opportunity to avoid the constant and tiring noodle soups that are served up by the Chinese coffee houses (I don’t think I’ll ever understand what motivates people to eat a boiling hot soup when it’s a humid 30 degrees Celsius). Miri also has an excellent fruit and veg market, where I procured and ate my first durian! I wasn’t entirely convinced that I liked it. Although the flesh around the seeds is quite pleasant to taste and texture, the onion smell turned my stomach. I think it’s an acquired taste, because I’ve since eate...Read More