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Getting around

Part 5: Kinabatangan river, Gomantong caves, Lahad Datu, Danum valley

Map of Malaysia
13.12: Munich -> Bangkok
14.12: Bangkok -> KL
15.12: KL
16.12: KL -> Langkawi
17.12: Langkawi
18.12: Langkawi
19.12: Langkawi
20.12: Langkawi -> KL
21.12: KL -> Kuching -> Kota Kinabalu
22.12: Kota Kinabalu -> Sandakan
23.12: Sandakan -> Labuk bay -> Sukau

24.12: Sukau
25.12: Sukau -> Gomantong caves -> Lahad Datu
26.12: Lahad Datu -> Danum valley
27.12: Danum valley -> Semporna
28.12:  Sibuan
29.12: Mabul
30.12: Semporna -> Tawau
31.12: Tawau -> KL
09.01: Melbourne -> KL
10.01-11.01: KL
12.01: KL -> Bangkok
13.01: Bangkok -> Munich

24.12: Sukau
Sukau B&B, Kampung Sukau. It seems that two American girls and I are the only guests in this establishment. The Sukau B&B is the last guesthouse along the road Sukau road; the road ends here, beyond it the forest begins. This is an advantage because you can immediately walk into the rainforest, but you are also very far away from the Sukau village and from shops. There are actually two more guesthouses along the river between the Sukau B&B and the Sukau village (the Tomanggong and the Greenfield; the Greenfield has rooms with attached bath. However it seems that both are empty today.
Weather: sunny with a few clouds the whole day; it gets quite hot at noon.

I get up at 9:20am and am ready at 10:20am. Despite the late wake up they still serve me a breakfast. Then, at 11:30am I start walking along the marked trail into the rainforest. The trail actually proceeds eastwards along the river and is not well maintained. After a few hundred metres it becomes very narrow and overgrown with vegetation. At 12pm I run into a family of orang-utans, mother and baby, very noisy impossible to miss. They are there right above me looking at me curiously. I seize the opportunity and take some shots.

At 12:25pm I start walking back towards the Sukau B&B, because lunch is at 1pm. After the lunch break, at 2pm I walk to the Sukau village. I have no mineral water with me, the tap water in this guesthouse is undrinkable and they do not sell drinks. They do offer water in plastic jugs, but it's dirty. This is perhaps the biggest drawback of this place: they do not sell drinks and except for breakfast, lunch and dinner they do not sell food.

It is very hot at 2pm when I walk along the river, because the sky has almost no clouds and the tropical sun is very strong. After a while I use the umbrella as a parasol (haven't put on sun tan lotion and am not in the mood of getting sunburnt). The river scenery is beautiful and very peaceful, with the exception of the occasional boat passing by.

At 2:40pm I'm finally in the village. It is very small, has one school and just three or four shops. I have a chat with a local and ask about buses to Lahad Datu, because I'm not in the mood of spending another RM 300 for a taxi transfer. There are indeed several buses and minibuses going to Lahad Datu at the junction (road to Sukau and road to Lahad Datu). But I have to be at the junction at the latest by 4pm.

After that I buy some drinks and an icecream in a shop. I manage to drink almost one litre of isotonic drink in less than a minute - must have been pretty much dehydrated. Around 3pm I start walking back to the Sukau B&B. While I walk two cars which I later find parked at the Sukau B&B pass by. At least one must belong to the owners of the B&B. They could at least have offered me a lift, instead of letting me walk with the heavy bags under the strong sun.

By 3:40pm I'm back in the B&B and take a short rest. At 4pm the boat safari trip starts with the two American girls and myself on the boat of the B&B. Two hours follow along the Kinabatangan river and a side arm. We first go to a place near the Sukau Rainforest Lodge, where a few Bornean Pigmy elephants are messing up the garden of a local. Actually it's not clear where the garden of this local ends and the wilderness begins. It looks rather that this local set up his home in the territory of the elephants and the elephants are hungry and are just having dinner.

By 4:30pm we are done watching the elephants and get back to the boat. The boat now enters a side arm of the Kinabatangan river, where several monkey colonies are located. We find several proboscis monkey, macaques and long tail macaques. No hornbills however. The last big find is a monitor lizard relaxing on a tree above the river. By the way the river is quite crowded - there are at least four boats of various tour operators, all in the sam spots at the same time. We're back in the lodge at 6:20pm. We have dinner at 7pm, then the day essentially is over.

25.12: Sukau -> Gomantong caves -> Lahad Datu
Hotel Mido, Lahad Datu. RM 75 for a room with A/C, TV, phone, some furniture, attached bath with bath tub/shower. Very old hotel, probably hasn't been renovated for at least 30-40 years. The room is full of small ants. Everything is old and decrepit, but never mind, it's just for one night and it is centrally located.
Weather: same as yesterday: sunny with a few clouds the whole day; it gets hot at noon.

I leave the hotel shortly after 11am. I have chartered a car which for RM 100 will first bring me to the Gomantong caves and then to the road junction from where I can take a bus or minibus to Lahad Datu. Two children of the owner of the B&B follow me on this trip. The car has no A/C.

After one photo stop (the area we pass through is mostly covered with palm oil plantations) we reach the Gomantong caves entrance shortly after 12pm. Then I buy the ticket (RM 30 + another RM 30 for the camera; locals pay much less) and proceed along the plankway to the cave. You first have to walk 5-10 minutes across the jungle before accessing the main entrance of the cave. At 12:20pm we are finally at the cave's entrance.

The cave itself is huge and impressive. Inside there is a very strong, almost unbearable smell of ammonia. Must be the excrements of the birds and other animals who live in the cave. In any case, the wooden walkway is covered with fresh animal shit - quite disgusting. In the cave there are lots of people who are harvesting birds' nests.

At 1:15pm I'm done with the cave and walk back to the car. We reach the junction shortly before 2pm. Immediately a local asks where I'm going to and offers to bring me to Lahad Datu. Initially for RM 30, then he increases his price to RM 50. Maybe I said yes too quickly and should have made a horrified face and negotiated down the price. But never mind, the car is nice (a Toyota Avanza), has A/C and is leaving now. I'm not in the mood of waiting a long time in the tropical heat for additional passengers with whom to share the cost.

We manage to be in Lahad Datu by 3:20pm (actually the distance from the junction is not that big - less than 90km). Then we look for a hotel. A very easy task, as the centre of Lahad Datu is full of hotels (although the first where I ask is full). I check in, leave my stuff in the room and immediately get out to have a look at the place.

Lahad Datu is smallish, smaller than Sandakan, and has no colonial/historical architecture worth mentioning. But this place is very colourful and full of life. I walk around and am the only tourist here today (don't meet any other tourists). I must be kind of an attraction, because all the people on the street continuosly say hello to me. They must not see western tourists very often. The fish market is very, very lively and full of people. Lots of fish, very cheap at RM3.50/Kg. Compare that to prices in Munich, where the fish costs the equivalent of RM 100/Kg! If fish were that cheap in Germany, we'd probably eat fish every day.

I'm at the centre of the attention in the fish market. Everybody is posing for me and asking to have his picture taken, people posing with big fish etc. It gets so bad that I have to get out of the fish market. But on the street, along the food stalls, it's almost the same. People continously saying hello, hello, hello... I guess I could spend the next two months talking to everybody I meet. Everywhere else in Malaysia people simply ignore me, but here in Lahad Datu the situation is completely different. If you want to make friends and meet people in Malaysia, come to Lahad Datu. By the way, the girls are unbelievably friendly and cheerful. A pity that they are so short - not that I am looking for somebody, as I'm happily married, but if you are single, short and are looking for somebody, come to this place.

I spend some more time exploring the city, then after a while I get tired and remember I saw a KFC resturant somewhere. At 4:40pm I have a brief quick meal there, then get out and walk towards the Guardian drugstore for some purchases. Then I enter the Millimewa mall and manage to find an Internet cafe. The Millimewa mall itself is quite small for Malaysian standards and has no food supermarket. There are mostly electronics and mobile phone shops. although in the ground floor there are a few food stalls.

I spend about one hour in the Internet cafe, browsing the web and checking my emails. When I get out again at 6:20pm, it is almost dark. I continue exploring the area surrounding the hotel and run into a restaurant which offers WLAN access. So I get back to the hotel, download the photos to the computer and around 7pm get out again to this restaurant with the computer. While I have dinner there, I download all emails to my computer.

In the evening I don't do much, because there is actually not much to do here at night. You can walk along the streets, but the streets are dirty, most places are closed and the places which are open cater mainly to locals. Tomorrow Borneo Nature tours will pick me up at 9:30am at the hotel.

26.12: Lahad Datu -> Danum valley
Borneo Rainforest Lodge, Danum Valley. RM 630 for a nice bungalow with attached bath but no A/C (RM 1260 for the package of 2D/2N which includes transportation to/from Lahad Datu, the accomodation with all meals and the guide). Over 30°C in the room when I check in, I'm astonished that for RM 630 you get a room without A/C. The bungalow I'm staying in is the one most far away from the reception and the restaurant, it's scary to walk after dark to the restaurant along the plankway. Lunch and dinner are good (buffet system). Overall this place is overpriced - for what I pay they could offer a bit more. The room fills up with insects in the evening.
Weather: sunny in the early morning in Lahad Datu, it is however overcast already when we leave the town at 9:30am. In the Danum valley in the afternoon it starts raining lightly at 3:30pm and after 4pm it rains like hell until 8pm.

The day starts well. At 9:30am the driver of the Borneo Rainforest Lodge picks me up in the hotel. Then he drops me off in a bakery where I have some breakfast and picks me up again with two other guests (an American couple). Then we start driving to the Danum valley.

Shortly after 10am we briefly stop at the Lahad Datu Guanyin Chinese temple. From the junction onwards (still 77km to go) the road is no longer paved and is in fact a stone-mud road. Luckily it is not raining right now, because I can imagine what happens to this road when it gets wet.

The drive along this road is long and tiring. We reach the lodge around 1pm, after three hours of driving. The lodge itself is at an altitude of 500m according to the driver. We are immediately greeted by the friendly staff and I proceed to have lunch.

After lunch, since the first activity only starts at 3pm, I have a walk along the easy Nature trail, which is a 600m long walk on a plankway. Then I continue walking along the river for a wildlife. I can't hear or spot any wildlife larger than birds. In fact, as I am told later, it is very difficult to see wildlife in the Danum valley because the reserve is very big and the wildlife is hiding somewhere. By contrast it is very easy to spot wildlife along the Kinabatangan river, because all animals there gather around the river.

At 2:30pm I walk back to the lodge. Shortly after 3pm a guide, a British guy and I start a walk along the hornbill trail. The largest animal we see is a small bird. I'm not surprised given that the guide talks non-stop with his loud voice and all animals probably hear us a mile away.

Around 4 something pm we reach the canopy. This is really spectacular, a canopy walkway high above the trees where from an altitude of 100m or so at its highest point you can have a look at the valley. It's a pity it is raining like hell, so strong that I can't take pictures.

The rain keeps getting stronger and stronger and now the only way back (unless we want to track back the trail we just finished) is the stone-mud road. Not exactly a problem (I have an umbrella) until we reach a point which is completely muddy. Anywhere you go your shoes sink in the soft yellow mud. I spend about 10 minutes trying to find a way around this muddy part and my shoes get full of mud. At this point my patience is completely exhausted and I'm more than pissed off by this place. I decide that I will check out tomorrow. What is the point of staying here, if no wildlife is visible and all trails are more or less muddy? You need rubber boots to walk around here.

The scenery is actually the same as in Taman Negara, but Taman Negara is much more easily accessible and accomodation is way cheaper. Also, I need to wash my shoes and they will not be dry by tomorrow so I won't be able do any walking tomorrow anyway.

I finally reach the reception, get the key and inform them that I'm checking out one day early. Once in the room I start washing the shoes. To remove all the mud I have to completely rinse them with water. Then the service staff knocks at the door and enquires about my plans for tomorrow. Some discussion and I explain again why I will leave tomorrow. Then I take a shower.

After the shower I suddenly notice something on my hand. It's a leech and it has been sucking blood. I try to get rid of it, but it keeps attaching itself from one hand to the other. In the end I manage to throw it into the water basin and kill it with the room key. I check my hands but they look ok. It's only a few minutes later that I realise that the left part of my body is bleeding. It is actually the belly that is bleeding non-stop in large amounts. The leech must have injected an anticoagulant, which prevents the wound from closing. No idea how it got to the belly, but perhaps it got on the shoes when I walked back in the mud. In fact I check again and find another leech on the ground near the shoes. Now I notice that my white T-shirt has a huge blood stain. I wash it in the water basin and try to stop the bleeding without success.

In the meantime it is 7pm, time for dinner. I walk to the reception and ask if they have something against leech bites. They cover the wound with a plaster and say that this will take care of the leech bite. However, at 9:40pm, I will notice that blood is still coming out of the wound.

At 8:40pm a guide knocks at the door and asks if I want to join the night drive. Starts at 8:30pm, takes one hour. When I accept, he says that actually it is already too late. Never mind. Then he asks if I want to participate in the 6:30am walk tomorrow morning. No thanks, I'll pass, that is too early, besides I have no shoes. Then he asks about the 9:30am walk. It will actually be again on a muddy trail, more muddy than today, so I pass also this offer. I inform him that I will simply walk to the canopy on my own tomorrow. All the trails are around the river, so it is almost impossible to get lost.

Copyright 2009 Alfred Molon