Some of our favourite clients Ian and Cathy Furbank recently visited relatives in Kuala Lumpur and asked us to arrange an adventure to Borneo to (hopefully!) see Orang-utans and Proboscis Monkeys combined with a bit of local culture and R&R on the coast ... here is Ian's hilarious take on the events of their travels!
"I write this gazing out of my window into the grey cold rainy winters day, having arrived home yesterday just in time to scrape the ice off the car windows. I am now properly into my usual post-holiday slump.
BA in their usual unhelpful way managed to make me pay over the odds for pre-booked seating ... (I obviously missed a trick in that I had paid an extra £86 to sit next to “'er indoors”, when I could have been snuggling up to some dusky maiden instead. However liberal use of sauvignon blanc in Gordon Ramsay's Plane Food, and a sleeping tablet got me through most of the flight.)
As usual ours were the last cases off the carousel and the poor driver waiting for us had nearly given up and gone home. So, to the Four Points by Sheraton, standing like a white monolith amongst the waterside houses on stilts in Sandakan (and next to the biggest and smelliest fish market in Sabah). This is a rather soulless hotel, made worse by the fact that the “best bar in Borneo” was shut. When we finally got the young girl in charge of the lobby to get us a drink, I'd gone off the thought of a beer and fancied something cool and soft – a banana smoothie perhaps?? Whilst waiting for the hotel to grow the bananas I googled Trip Adviser to see what they said about the Four Points: the sum of it was great bar, but “don't touch the banana smoothie”!! It was rather sugary! Our evening meal, care of Trip Adviser again, was the Harbour Restaurant. Choose your own fish from the tank, guess what dressing you want, and wait ... noting that at least two other couples from the flight from KL were wedged into their plastic chairs and table, amongst the rather scruffy backpackers. Slap up meal for two, for about £12 including drinks - bargain!
Back to the hotel where I found I'd got a text telling me that the 12:50 flight from Sandakan to Kota Kinabalu had been cancelled and re-organised for 6am. No worries – it was just Jules challenging us to get up early. Transferred to Sepilok Orang sanctuary with excellent guide Sam, ready for the juvenile Orang's feeding time in the purpose built, just opened feeding enclosure. A message came through when we were paying for our cameras (why not just add 10 ringgits to the entry price?), that there were 8 youngsters waiting for us to start their breakfast. By the time we got there six of them had got bored and pushed off and the other two were hiding in the bushes so we couldn't see them properly. No problem, off to the adult feeding platform: one lazy female turned up and spent most of her time with her back to us, and one of the stroppy teenagers who was hiding from us earlier, arrived and had a fun time trying to steal fruit out of the basket, even poking the attendant with a finger when he wouldn't comply.
Thence to Sin-Sin jetty to await the boat trip to Abai jungle lodge. This was apparently built as a simple refuelling and comfort stop for those elderly voyagers travelling on to the Kinabatangan Riverside Lodge! It was delightful, with lovely common areas and boardwalks, as well as lodges. No aircon but good fans, and en-suite facilities. Evening 'cruise' in open fibreglass purpose built boats with individual seats, splendid guide Zali, and good views of old male Orang sitting in a mango tree, as well as Proboscis monkey family.
Both Cathy and I agreed that although it was very similar to African safari trips, the main difference is that if the animals are not within the first couple of meters of undergrowth, then you just don’t get to see them. In Africa there always was something to see even if was just another zebra/wildebeest, or a bird. However there is something very pleasant about trolling along a river at dusk, chatting inconsequentially with fellow travellers. The main problem is that the light was not good for clear photos. After a splendid evening meal and a good night’s sleep, we were off again to review the old Orang, who was still asleep in his tree. Typical – I could have done with a snooze as well. Not much else to see so back for breakfast with a couple of large monitor lizards and a semi tame Bornean bearded pig who loved his toast! All very jolly until one guide came along and showed the scars on his ankle where the pig had been a little too eager to get his breakfast! Off along the river to the KRL where George was our convivial host and guide. I have always fancied myself as an expert animal spotter, and George quickly worked out my speciality of spotting 'Logodiles' and particularly pigeons – everyone else saw purple breasted herons or several different types of Hornbill, or even Rollers, but every bird I saw turned out to be Imperial Green Pigeons.
We also spent a happy couple of hours having lunch at a local village and planting trees,. This was slightly curious, as we had to cross the river to pick up a young lad with a spade and six saplings, then to the chosen riverside area to plant the trees in the pouring rain. When we got to the village, there was a shelter with hundreds of various sized saplings – why did they need a bunch of gullible tourists to plant a measly six trees when if they had been serious, a couple of hours would have seen hundreds planted. More cruising, more proboscis families sleeping, another Orang hiding in a tree top, and the macaques. George being a Malay didn't like either macaques or Chinese people. He likened the Chinese to the monkeys “they're everywhere, do everything, eat everything including KFC”. Not sure if he was referring to the monkeys or the humans or both....
I had mentioned the change in flight to a couple of the SI Tours people and eventually they twigged that we and another couple were going to have to be re-organised. It turned out that the flight from Sandakan to Kota Kinabalu had changed again to 6pm, so we transferred as per the original plan at 9 the next morning. We were left at the Sabah Hotel with this other couple who we later discovered were Mr & Mrs Complainer – they had not only complained to the SI Tours people, but had also complained to their travel agent in the UK (you obvs got off lightly). They were given a hotel room to cover the four hours delay, whereas we had to slum it by the gorgeous pool, in the sun, with a free lunch thrown in (not in the pool!). What’s to complain about?? The only downside was that we arrived in KK too late for the 7:30pm ferry and had to get on the 9pm one to the island. Again it was tough, finding the “Cock & Bull” bar – no kidding – where we were forced to have a couple of beers and food. We sadly missed a couple of hours of daylight to find our way around Gaya Island Resort, but we did find the pool bar and cocktails.
We booked the 9am nature trek, yoga, and kayaking in the mangroves for the next day, but strangely the kayaking was cancelled because the tide was going to be too low. I’m not sure why this struck me as odd, but surely the tide was not suddenly out?? Anyway the nature trek consisted of Jimmy (why do they have such ridiculous names, when they patently obviously aren’t a Jimmy or a Trevor or a Kevin!) and us and a group of giggling wealthy Chinese youngsters who were most unsuitably dressed for a jungle trek (Old Father Furbank here not impressed with hot pants and sneakers as clothes of choice). Anyway they spent their time slapping at the exposed bits being bitten, whilst I merely sweated so much in my safari gear that even my trousers had soggy bits down to the knees. Talking of being bitten, I was meal deal of the day for the couple of days in Gaya Island Resort. Despite positively showering in 100% DEET, and wearing long sleeves and trousers in the evening I was bitten alive by creatures unknown. Never did see what was biting me, but I just looked like I had an attack of really severe mutant measles, with wheals and blotches all up my legs. This was coupled with having been reading on a sun lounger in the shade, only I hadn’t noticed that the sun had moved, and so had a bright red chest on one side only, made me a sight to behold in the swimming pool. To make matters worse we had also booked a massage – a buy one get free one as they said – except it was half price not free. (Unlike the shoe shop in Sandakan which advertised ‘Buy one, get one free’). My masseur not only started with a foot massage using ground ginger, which felt like ground glass on my bites, but then seemed to take great delight in giving me the masseur’s version of a Chinese burn on my sunburnt bits. That’s when she wasn’t kneeling on my calves so that she could get maximum knuckle penetration in my back, or using her elbows to grind into my spine between my shoulder blades. If this was what was called an Indigenous Bornean Massage, I’m surprised that there’s anyone left standing in Borneo. And having had the local version of all-in wrestling combined with Sumo and Origami, I have to admit to the fact that she was only about four foot nothing and weighed possibly less than one of my arms. I have never been in so much pain, and felt so pathetic at the same time. I felt so awful I had to console myself with several cocktails (or was the anaesthetic effect) in the pool bar.
The best bit of the couple of days though was the Bornean Culinary Experience. This was a cooking class run by one of the chefs in the posh restaurant on site. We made the Borneo version of ceviche, followed by a chicken coconut curry, and then had to eat the results of our labours. There was just Cathy, me, and a German chap, Gunter, who turned out to be a professional Trombone player (!) who cooks as a hobby. The chef and her team seemed almost happy to see us and I fortunately amused them hugely with my cack-handed attempts to prepare the spices and chillies. However despite my protestations that I was there to eat not to cook, the food was eventually terrific, although they didn’t quite understand my convulsions of laughter when I asked them to “give my compliments to the chef”. Cathy who has heard it all before looked resigned, and Gunter couldn’t quite translate was just bemused. At least I amuse myself...
So in summary, Jules, you were excellent again. The trip up the Kinabantagan River was possibly not as exciting as I had hoped, but I saw what I have always wanted to see (actually the Proboscis monkeys rather than the Orang Utans) in the wild, the accommodation was excellent, just like a posh safari camp, but sweatier, and the guides very knowledgeable and the Malayan people absolutely delightful. Gaya Island Resort only appears to have been open for a couple of years, and is obviously much better used by Malays and Chinese (and Antipodean) than British tourists. Admittedly we were there in low season so it was pretty quiet, but it was beautiful, well thought out, with fabulous accommodation and excellent dining. We did try the Fisherman’s Cove (posh) restaurant there, having had our cooking lesson during the day, but were sadly disappointed: it was trying too hard to be an international experience and not quite getting there, the food was actually fairly poor, and we felt conned that they didn’t have any of the advertised house white wines, but managed to find a Pinot Grigio which eventually cost 255 ringgit (~£45). We loved the resort and could happily have spent a few more days there, and the staff were exceptionally nice (apart from the masseur!)
The transfers were flawless, the arrangements perfect, the travelling tolerable. Many many thanks once again. Oh, and we saw the in-laws in KL. Splendid".
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