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Kuching, which calls itself the Cat City,  is the capital of Sarawak and is a charming place, a mixture of old and new. Our hotel room overlooked the river, where we could watch the comings and goings.  We were particularly amused by two racing longboats, one hopelessly outclassed in terms of size and manpower, if not heart. (see video) Outside the city are resort hotels, and it is easy to visit the interior and the native way of life in longhouses. As the children of these villages leave for school, many decide to stay in the modern areas and the village way of life is dying out. Sadly we only stayed in Kuching the one day, but intend to return. Visit the Sarawak website for detailed information.

Kota Kinabalu is the capital of Sabah, and was rebuilt post war as it was largely destroyed during the war. I didn't find it an attractive city, as older parts would add character, and the new buildings pre date the exiting building period of Malaysia. 

As everywhere in Malaysia though, the people are welcoming. All the coastal areas are dotted with floating villages, one is visible on the island just offshore from the city. 

A little way outside the the city is an exhibit of Longhouses, which attempts to show visitors the traditional way of living.


Kinabalu Park - The inland area of Sabah boasts the highest of Malaysia's mountains as well as tropical jungle. Kinabalu Park has a botanical 'garden' at the start of the route to the mountain top, which is a climb that can be attempted by any fit person, and guides can be organised in advance. We contented ourselves with the 'garden' and the treetop canopy walk available at Poring, where there are hot springs to bathe in also.

We stayed in the Tanjung Aru hotel just outside Kota Kinabalu, set in beautiful gardens, with unspoilt islands offshore.. The hotel has a dive centre, where you can also take a boat out to several of the islands to spend the day snorkeling. Some islands are uninhabited, others have small hotels and restaurants. On one of the smaller islands we visited, we met a rather large monitor lizard, and found that the local monkeys were a considerable nuisance, if you left any belongings unwatched, they were there immediately. We soon understood why all the swimmers left tightly fastened bags very near the jetty area. The hotel beach faces the setting sun, a beautiful sight.

Just down the road from the hotel was Sugar Bun Plaza, a complex of informal makan style food vendors, with a large outdoor seating area. The food was both cheap and tasty. There was also a slightly more formal roofed restaurant, seafood a speciality, though still much cheaper than the hotel. We were lucky to be under cover on one particular evening….although we did have to move to a more inside table, from where we marvelled at the deluge outside.

Our second visit to Sabah, in October 2004, took us to Sandakan, from where most of the wildlife tours originate. First we collected at the waterfront, for the boat trip to Turtle Island. After an hour or so we pulled into a wide sandy bay, and disembarked. We made our way to the main reception building, which also houses the restaurant, and were then shown to our chalets. Back to the main building for lunch, then the afternoon was ours to look round the island, snorkel, or just rest for a probably late night to come. After the evening meal we had to sit around and wait to be told there was a turtle, making her way up the beach to lay her eggs. We all followed the rangers to the spot, to watch the egg laying. The rangers remove the eggs, and bury them in the hatching ground where they are protected, and after a few days the hatchlings dig their way out, and are collected. We tourists get the chance to handle the tiny creatures, after the egg laying, and then to watch them being released to make their way to the waves.

Next was a visit to the famous orangutan sanctuary at Sepilok. Injured or orphaned orangutans are brought here, and after being cared for are released back into the local jungle. There are no fences in this local jungle, the orangutans are totally free. However, food is put out for the free orangutans daily, and a short boardwalk takes visitors to the viewing area. Generally the orangutan are simply fed bananas, to encourage them to forage for more varied fare themselves.  There is no guarantee any will turn up to feed, although it is rare that none do. This day we were lucky. In fact, very much so, as there was a mother and baby in the group to be fed. This time rambutans were on the menu as well, possibly as so many orangutan had turned up.

Later that day, we had a very long and bumpy drive, mostly through date palm plantations, to an area of natural jungle at Sukau. We arrived at our riverside cabins for a quick freshen up and refreshments before an evening river trip. The small boat takes you down a tributary of the main river. We saw a wild orangutan, a rare sighting, a family of proboscis monkeys, and several families of other monkeys as well.

 Next morning found us back on the road, calling this time at the Gormanton cave, where swiftlets build nests to be collected by intrepid men for the incredibly expensive birds nest soup. The caves are also home to poisonous centipedes, thankfully they stay on the walls of the cave, away from us. There are also large numbers of cockroaches, which walk all over the boardwalk as well, so wear stout shoes, not sandals, for this trip. There is a lot of bird guano under the boardwalk. The smell in the cave is dire, but it is worth the visit.

After our wildlife tour, we had a walk around the city, and  got back on the bus to see a chinese temple (about half the population are ethnic chinese) a colonial house, and a floating village. The village houses seem dilapidated, but are mostly very well decorated inside, and the owners invite you in proudly, and many will then hope to sell you souvenirs or trinkets. The waste however is dumped straight into the water underneath and at low tide it looks appalling.

Visit the Sabah website


2004 Gillian Gatland

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