Sandakan - Flight 3

Leaving Kuala Lumpur and flying to Sandakan airport in Borneo doesn't take very long but it transports you to a very different place. As travellers we found this exciting and, at times, challenging. We trudged across the tarmac to our plane (lots of walking across tarmacs on this trip because low cost carriers don't pay for air crews and gate fees) in KL excited about the jungle and wildlife adventure we anticipated was ahead of us and disembarked from the plane in Sandakan to see this, and this creaky old luggage carousel, and felt just a little chill along our spines... a taste of the new experience our little family had been craving.
One ludicrously cheap 40min taxi ride later and we were at Sepilok on the edge of the rainforest in a traditional malay house (bumbung panjang) built on stilts with a gabled roof, big windows for cross ventilation and woven wicker covering the walls and ceiling. We sat in the shade, drinking lemonade, sweating lightly in the humidity and looking out over the murky ponds and dense rainforest that surrounded us. Lush, bold beauty was all around us tempered by the haze the heat and humidity generate. There is nothing subtle about the beauty of the tropics and it is intoxicating. There were road crews and gardeners constantly at work hacking away at the jungles edges as if keeping it at bay. Watching them work in the full sun and heat of the day while wearing long pants, shirts and balaclavas (we never did find out why they wear these but it seemed like madness) made us feel like wimps as we struggled to aclimatise.

We spent an afternoon at the wonderful Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary. Walking along the wooden boardwalks deep into the rainforest only intensified the humidity and we were sweating up a storm by the time we reached our destination.We saw several orangutans but the thing that impressed me most was the thunderous sound they make as they crash through the trees. It sounds like tonnes of earthmoving equipment is moving towards you and then just a group of animals appear. It doesn't seem possible that so few creatures can make so much noise. Of course, my crew could have given them a run for their money but they were on their best behaviour, gently shushing one another if they said anything above a murmur as we waited for the animals to arrive. We only spent one night at Sepilok before heading back to Sandakan for the rest of our stay. The staff at the Sepilok accomodation seemed bemused that we were spending so much time 'in town' and we soon discovered why. Sandakan, for all the palm oil wealth (at least on paper) and the many wildlife and diving trips that originate there, is a pretty depressed place.

We felt like a travelling exhibit everywhere we went. People would stop what they were doing to turn and stare at us until we were out of sight, coming up to touch the children (dilarang touchar!) and marvel at the odd sight before them. We didn't see any other tourist families and, from chatting with a few people, discovered that we were definitely a rarity. You go on holiday prepared to observe so to be so openly observed definitely put us out of our comfort zone. We actually stayed in our hotel room for most of the first afternoon after a bizarre experience of trying to find lunch in a place that is, largely, without restaurants or food outlets. We ended up finding cheese and salad club sandwiches (you foodies would have laughed - white bread with the crusts cut off, one sad lettuce leaf, one Kraft single and one sliver of tomato. We anticipated some unusual food moments but not this kind of unusual food moment!) and KFC.

But, it's good to be shaken up from time to time, so we quickly gathered our nerves and got back to the business of seeing Sandakan.

We visited the Sunday morning markets (tamu), enjoying the colours and sounds of this bustling place on the edge of the Sulu Sea.We visited the Puu Jih Shih Temple overlooking the city below and looking out at the scores of freghters waiting to transport palm oil all over the globe.We visited Buli Sim Sim, the chinese water village built on stilts over the water to maximise the cooling effect of the sea breeze. It is a suburb over the sea and the tiny walkways between the houses are strung with drying laundry. Each front door has a pot holding burning incense sticks as a heavenly offering on the step and a tv satellite dish perched over the door. It was a wonderful place.
We took a day tour with Mr Aji to the Kinabatangan River, puttering along the black water listening to the sounds of the jungle, spotting the signs of crocodiles in the river and enjoying seeing proboscis monkeys, macaques, mambos, orangutans, hornbills , lizards and kingfishers in their natural habitats. This was one of the highlights of the trip for us. Mr Aji was a great guide and the joy the kids took in spending the day on the river was infectious.

That's J looking up at the macaques who had paused at the river crossing to view us as curiously as we were viewing them :-)

I'll write more about Borneo next time because we had two more interesting stops and, to do them justice, I can't just add them as bullet points to this list. I look forward to sharing it with you, dear reader!


Mary said…
Let 's see...Bali, Thailand,Israel and now Borneo ..the armchair traveling I have been doing with you all has been so wonderful.

Looking forward to more of your beautiful travel posts..
Molly said…
Wow what a great trip! Thanks for sharing..

Popular Posts