Prepaid GSM

Sarawak, Brunei, Sabah, Kelantan and Terengganu
Part 2

22- 23.8: Munich -> KL
24.8: KL -> Kuching
25.8: Kuching
26.8: Kuching -> Bako NP
27.8: Bako -> Kuching -> Miri
28.8: Miri -> Mulu NP
29.8: Mulu NP -> Miri
30.8: Miri -> Belaga
31.8: Belaga -> Sibu -> Miri
1.9: Miri -> Bario
2.9: Bario
3.9: Bario -> Brunei
4.9: Brunei ->  Mt Kinabalu NP
5.9: Park HQ -> Laban Rata
6.9: Laban Rata  -> Mt Kinabalu  -> Kota Kinabalu
7.9: Kota Kinabalu -> Kota Belud -> Kota Bharu
8.9: Kota Bharu -> Perhentian 
9.9: Perhentian island
10.9: Perhentian island
11.9: Perhentian  -> Redang
12.9: Redang -> Kuala Terengganu -> KL
13.9: KL ->  Ayutthaya
14.9: Ayutthaya ->  Munich

Continues from Part 1

24.8: Kuala Lumpur -> Kuching
Kingwood Inn, 140 RM, Kuching; a bit overpriced for a hotel of this kind, quite far out of town; the swimming pool is quite small; about one hour walk to the waterfront
Weather: Sunny with some clouds the whole day; brief shower at 4pm
GSM coverage: all major networks in Kuala Lumpur and Kuching

I manage to wake up at 7:30am while Shirley sleeps longer. After breakfast we split - Shirley waits for her sister Sara and will then go to Subang Jaya, while the first thing I do is to take a taxi to the Citibank in Jalan Ampang and withdraw cash. After I walk to KLCC for some photo shooting. Then I fetch a taxi to the Sultan Abdul Samad building and the nearby Jamek mosque (Masjid Jamek), again for some photo shooting.  On the way to Bukit Bintang road I buy a TM Touch prepaid card for my mobile phone (49 RM with 20 RM of calls). According to the salesman the prepaid card of Celcom is the best for Sarawak and Sabah, but it costs 75 RM (30 RM of calls).
I have lunch at the Esquire Kitchen restaurant in the BB Plaza shopping complex at 1pm. At 1:30pm I rush back to the Hotel Concorde - still have to check out. I take again a shower, pack my things and check out. After leaving my stuff in the lobby I take a taxi to the BB Plaza shopping complex in Bukit Bintang road, where I have a haircut at Kimarie. At 3:30pm I'm back in the hotel where I meet Shirley and we take a taxi to the KLIA airport. The flight to Kuching is very full. We arrive on time in Kuching at 7:45pm and are in the hotel before 9pm. After checking in we take a taxi to downtown Kuching (7 RM), have a brief dinner and walk back to the hotel.
25.8: Kuching
Kingwood Inn, 140 RM, Kuching
Weather: Sunny the whole day, some clouds
GSM coverage: all major networks

The alarm clock wakes us up at 9am. I did't get too much sleep as I only fell asleep at 4am. We rush down for breakfast (nothing special, I eat some toasted bread), then take a taxi into town. We go to the Holiday Inn and buy a tour to the Sarawak Cultural Village (55 RM per person including transportation and the 45 RM entry ticket). After I stroll along the waterfront while Shirley goes shopping. 

At 12:15 we are back at the Holiday Inn and get into the minibus. Just for a change the A/C is not strong enough (last night in our hotel room we were freezing with the A/C set to 18 degrees or less and no chance to set it higher) and we end up sweating before we reach the Sarawak Cultural Village at 1:15 pm. The Village is open until 5:15pm and there is a cultural performance at 4:30pm. I have already been there in 2000, but the Sarawak Cultural Village is always worth a visit. There are houses of all Sarawakian tribes (Bidayu, Iban, Melanau, Penan etc.) and cultural performances.

We leave the Village at 5:20 pm and are back in Kuching a bit after 6pm. We do again the usual things (me shooting some photos and Shirley shopping around). At 7:15pm we have dinner in the Top Spot seafood restaurant, opposite the Holiday Inn. This looks like the best place in Kuching to have some seafood, and our expectations are indeed high. Shirley orders crab and I order some fried fish with no bones. I end up getting a fish with lots of bones and skin and very little meat. A similar thing happens to Shirley whose crab contains almost no meat. As I'm still hungry, after dinner I have a chicken sandwich at the nearby KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) outlet.

We are back in the hotel at 9:15pm. I start sorting through the 340 images I took today (1.5 GByte of data). Tomorrow we'll go to the Bako National Park. In the evening I download my emails through a very slow Internet connection.
26.8: Kuching -> Bako National Park
(Half of a) Chalet in the Bako NP; small room with three beds, fan, no A/C, bathroom and kitchen shared with other half of chalet; quite overpriced at 100 RM
Weather: showers in the night; clouded in the morning, then sunny the whole day
GSM coverage in Bako NP: TM Touch (I don't check the other networks)

Around 11am we check out of the hotel and drive by taxi (RM 30) to the Bako National Park. The taxi brings us to the jetty of Kampong Bako. There we take a boat to Bako NP (8 RM/person or 40 RM for the whole boat when fewer than 6 people). The boat ride along the mangroves of the Bako river and then the open sea takes a total of 25 minutes.

After checking in we have some lunch. There is just one restaurant in the whole NP, and the quality of the food is bad. I eat some fried rice, Shirley doesn't finish her noodles. By the way, we are not greeted by monkeys upon arrival, as I was in 2000 during my first visit to Bako NP.

At about 2:30 pm we start our trek heading towards the Tajor waterfalls, doing first the Lintang trek towards north, then changing to the Tajor trek. It's very hot and we sweat a lot. At the beginning of the Lintang trek, if you walk to the left into the Telok Paku trek for a few minutes, there is a small path which leads down to a place where you can overlook the bay. From that spot you can see the rare proboscis monkeys in the mangroves (very far away only however).

The walk to the Tajor waterfalls takes longer than expected. We pass through changing vegetation - on top of the hill it is relatively dry and you can see pitcher plants everywhere. In the lower parts there is more humidity and there is the usual rainforest. We finally reach the waterfall at 5:20pm. Actually it's not a waterfall, just a series of connected ponds, where in theory you can swim. Since it's quite late, we walk back fast, without making stops. We manage to reach the park HQ by 7pm (quite tired and a bit dehydrated).
Tomorrow Shirley will take a rest, while I'll walk to the Pandan Besar beach. 
27.8: Bako -> Kuching -> Miri
Miri Hotel, 99.80 RM for a deluxe room (room with three beds, A/C, bath+shower, TV, fridge); room is so-so
Weather: Sunny and hot the whole day, a few clouds in the sky; (some) showers and thunders during the night
GSM coverage (Miri): TMTouch and all other major networks

It looks like right now Sarawak is experiencing its hot and dry season. The Bako national park is like a hot sauna, with the temperature getting very high in lower parts of the tropical forest during the day, as the sun heats up the air. It's more fresh on the plateau, because some wind is blowing there, but still very hot. Walking along the trails is difficult in this heat. Even the (shallow) seawater gets very hot - hard to believe but true. You walk into the water expecting refreshment, but the refreshment only comes after walking for about 50 meters, where the water reaches your hips. I should be used to the heat, as it was quite hot in Munich during the two weeks before I left, but here it's just very hot.

We get up around 10am, but didn't sleep well as the room has no A/C (only fan) and during the night it was first quite hot, then became cold, then hot again in the morning. We take a shower (yellow smelly water coming out of the pipe; but the cleaning ladies later tell us that the water comes like this from the mountain, they drink it and it is very healthy). 

The ants managed to find all our cookies during the night - looks like they know that food can be found in the chalets. We pack our things and check out of the room at 11:20am. After we have kind of a brunch. I have again the fried rice which I already ate twice yesterday. The only restaurant in Bako NP  doesn't care about quality or variety of dishes (and why should they since they have a monopoly ?). 

The tourist infrastructure in Bako NP is pretty run down by the way. They should modernise the chalets, introduce A/C, improve the facilities and open a second restaurant. Looks like until 1995 there were more Malaysian visitors then foreigners, after which foreign tourists started outnumbering Malaysian tourists and now make up 75% of all visitors (20000/year in 2001).

After we start walking along the Lintang path, beginning at the southern end. In 2000 there was a colony of proboscis monkeys about 300 meters from the park HQ. Unfortunately they seem all gone, and the only monkeys we see are some macaques. So we just walk back to the beach in front of chalets, and rest in one of the covered benches. Shirley is still tired of the long walk we did yesterday and is no mode to start another walk. It's about 1pm and the boat will bring us back to the jetty in Kampong Bako at 3:30pm. Since it's quite hot and getting even hotter and the beach is near, I decide to take a swim in the sea. It's still low tide and the sea is very shallow. It takes a lot of walking to reach a point deep enough to swim. Unfortunately there is some small jellyfish in the sea. You can't see them but can feel the stings. 

At about 3:20pm, when we are about to get on the boat, some silver leaf monkeys suddenly show up near the restaurant. I seize this opportunity and shoot a couple dozen pictures. By mobile phone (using the TM Touch card) we organise a taxi to pick us up in Kampong Bako at 4pm. The boat ride back to Kampong Bako this time takes less than 20 minutes. The taxi ride to Kuching takes another 20 minutes. We get out at the Holiday Inn where we leave the bags for two hours. After we go shopping to the nearby Sakawak Plaza shopping centre. Shirley buys a leather bag, while I buy a pair of shorts and two Sarawak T-shirts. We then have some food in the shopping complex food court and the KFC restaurant. At 6:15pm we take a taxi to the airport. The 8pm flight to Miri leaves on time and we arrive in Miri airport at 9pm.

On Sunday, August 31st, it's Merdeka (Independence) day in Malaysia and many hotels are fully booked. We find a room in the Miri hotel. Tomorrow we are flying to the Mulu National park with the 1pm flight.
28.8: Miri -> Mulu NP
Accomodation in the Mulu NP: double room (chalet) with A/C, towels, bath & hot shower; quite nice; 100 RM; poor illumination (dark rooms)
Weather: sunny the whole day with some clouds both in Miri and Mulu NP; some very light rain in the late afternoon in Mulu NP on the way back from the caves

We get up late as usual at almost 10am. By the time we have packed our things and are ready it's already 11am. We bring our dirty clothes to a laundry behind the Miri hotel (low price: only 10 RM for 2 Kg of clothes). Then we look for some (fast) food or should I say brunch before flying to Mulu. Most restaurants are closed (apparently they are only open at night), so we head to the Imperial shopping mall, where we have something in a KFC restaurant. The mall is quite modern and kind of elegant by the way. Then, since it's late, we rush back to the hotel, check out and drive by taxi to the airport. It's 12pm and our flight is at 1pm.

It takes only 10 minutes to reach the airport. The airport in Miri is very new, having been completed just two months ago. It's a modern relatively sophisticated building. Miri is an international airport and there are direct flights to Kuala Lumpur, as we find out. We fly to Mulu on a Twin Otter 14-seater. The flight is quite rough, as we fly low among the clouds and there are some turbulences. Flying time is only half an hour.

Once in Mulu I ask to change the booking for Shirley forthe flight back to Miri (I'm on the 3:35pm flight tomorrow, while the travel agency put her on the 11am flight, because by the time we made the booking all seats on the 3:35pm flight were full). The guy tells me it's no problem to place her on the 3:35pm flight, but he can't change the booking (only a Malaysian Airlines office can do so). So, he takes her ticket, tells me he will try to sell it tomorrow and use the money to buy a ticket on the 3:35pm flight. Never mind as long as Shirley can fly with me at 3:35pm.

Surprisingly there is some (weak) GSM coverage in Mulu NP by Maxis.

Transportation from the airport to the park HQ costs 6 RM. There is a park fee of RM 10/person and there are cave fees of 20 RM for groups up to five people for the Lang/Deer caves and 20 RM for the Wind and Clearwater caves. Accomodation is 100 RM (see above). I end up leaving RM 160 at the park HQ. The room is very nice by the way, way better than the room we had in the Bako NP for the same price. There are also several restaurants. Overall the Mulu NP has a much better tourist infrastructure than the Bako NP.

We start our trek to the Lang and Deer Caves at 2:50pm and reach the Lang cave at 4pm, after many stops. We don't see any mammals or larger animals along the way, only many insects. The Lang cave is quite nice with stalagmites and stalagtites made of white rock, like marble. The Deer cave is a very huge passage through the rock (largest in the world). It's also the home of thousands of bats and the ground is full of bat shit and pee. A very smelly place and you have to be careful to avoid being hit by bat excrements dropping from above. Around 5-5:30pm legions of bats start flying out of the Deer cave. It's a very interesting to watch. We are back in the room by 6 something pm. We take a shower and have dinner. Tomorrow we'll probably take a boat (85 RM) to the Wind and Clearwater caves.
29.8: Mulu NP -> Miri
Hotel Pacific Orient, Miri, 79 RM for a double with bath/hot shower, TV, A/C, telephone, etc.; furniture a bit old, but the room is decent; very good shower and water tap
Weather: sunny the whole day with some clouds; no rain; quite hot in Mulu; more cool in Miri
GSM coverage (Miri): TMTouch, Digi, Maxis, Celcom

This morning I get up at 9:15 am. Shirley is tired and wants to take a rest, so I decide to go to the Wind and Clearwater caves alone. I manage to get ready and leave the park HQ at 10am. My time is limited as I have to be back at the park HQ by 2pm, as the flight to Miri leaves at 3:35pm.

I walk fast and manage to reach the entrance of the Wind cave at 11am (normally you need about 1:30h to reach the cave). There is a park employee checking the tickets there. When I'm about to take out the tripod from my backpack, she tells me that tripods are not allowed. She says that there are large groups in the caves and tripods would disturb. But never mind, it's relatively late, I'm the only one in the cave, so I manage to use the tripod without problems.  I spend one hour in the Wind cave (impressive rock formations in the Sarawak chamber) and at 12pm I get out of the cave and head to the Clearwater cave, which I reach 10 minutes later. The Clearwater cave is crossed by a small river (hence the name Clearwater) and is quite scenic, although the rock formations there are less spectacular. When I get out of the cave it's 1pm - quite late. Therefore I rush back to the park HQ.
I manage to be back at 2pm. I skip lunch and shower and pack my things. Shirley is already waiting for me. We take a minivan to the airport (6 RM for the two of us). Everything goes smooth with the plane ticket for Shirley. The airport guy managed to sell her 10:55am ticket, and put her on the 3:35pm flight (later I notice that there are three more seats available on the Twin Otter). Once in Miri airport we drive by taxi to the Pacific Orient hotel.

Around 6pm we get out of the hotel. We have a look at Miri and have dinner. After dinner I spend one hour in an Internet cafe (RM 4/hour) and download an image recovery tool. Later in the hotel I manage to recover all images.
Tomorrow we'll have to get up early to catch the 8:30am and 8:40am flights. Shirley goes back to KL, while I fly to Belaga, along the Rejang river. The day after tomorrow I'll go by boat from Belaga to Sibu via Kapit. The flight from Sibu to Miri is at 6:30pm and I hope I'll be in Sibu in time. Not 100% sure that there are boats from Belaga to Sibu right now (perhaps the river doesn't carry enough water for the boats).

Copyright (c) 2003 Alfred Molon