Mobile phones
Getting around

Mulu NP, Tambunan, Sepilok, Taliwas, Danum valley, Makassar, Tana Toraja, Gorontalo, Tangkoko, Bako NP

29.7: Munich -> Doha
30.7: Doha -> Kuala Lumpur
31.7: Kuala Lumpur -> Miri
1.8: Miri -> Mulu NP
2.8: Mulu NP
3.8: Mulu NP -> Kuching
4.8: Kuching -> Kota Kinabalu -> Tambunan
5.8: Tambunan
6.8: Tambunan -> Sosodikon hill -> Sabah tea -> Sepilok
7.8: Sepilok (Borneo sunbear conservation centre) -> Sukau
8.8: Sukau -> Lahad Datu
9.8: Lahad Datu -> Taliwas river conservation area
10.8: Taliwas river conservation area -> Danum valley field centre
11.8: Danum valley
12.8: Danum valley field centre -> Tawau
13.8: Tawau -> Nunukan -> Tarakan
14.8: Tarakan -> Makassar
15.8: Makassar -> Tana Toraja (Rantepao)
16.8: Tana Toraja
17.8: Tana Toraja
18.8: Tana Toraja
19.8: Rantepao -> Gorontalo
20.8: Trip in the Gorontalo region
21.8: Gorontalo -> Tangkoko
22.8: Tangkoko
23.8: Tangkoko -> Tomohon
24.8: Tomohon -> Manado -> Kuching (via Singapore)
25.8: Kuching -> Bako national park
26.8: Bako NP -> Kuching -> KL
27.8: Kuala Lumpur
28.8: Kuala Lumpur
29.8: KL -> Doha -> Munich

Planning and overall impression

This was the first trip to South East Asia since the pandemic started (the last one was in 2019). As usualy I focused on a few places in Malaysia I had not been yet, and some areas of Indonesia (Sulawesi). After so many years of travel to Malaysia I've almost run out of places to visit in Malaysia, and in fact I visited again some national parks (Mulu, Bako).
The other aspect was that this trip had a focus on wildlife, so I visited a number of wildlife areas (Mulu, Sepilok, Kinabatangan river, Taliwas, Danum valley, Tangkoko and Bako).


Malaysia is not an inexpensive country to visit, but costs are not high either. Travelling in Indonesia is a bit cheaper.


There is a large variety of food all over Malaysia. In practice, since my time was limited I often ate in fast food restaurants. Similar situation in Indonesia, where it is easy to find delicious food.


Countless hotels everywhere, easily bookable via the international booking portals.

Money  / Exchange rate (August 2022)

1 Euro = 14721 - 15290 IDR
1 Euro = 4.43 - 4.58 MYR (Malaysian ringgit)

Mobile phones and prepaid cards

Celcom SIM card for RM 45 with 30 GB of data in Malaysia.
In Indonesia for the first few days I can't buy a SIm card, because my phone is not registered in Indonesia. On my third day in Indonesia I'm finally able to buy a Telkomsel SIM card in a Grapari (Telkomsel) shop. The Telkomsel staff there manages to get my phone registered (she asks her manager for approval) and the SIM card activated (seems she uses her Indonesian ID number). Finally I have a phone with mobile Internet (32 GB) , a local phone number and 100 minutes of phone calls.

Internet access

Most hotels offer free WLAN access in the room, with variable quality. I also relied on the mobile phone (using it as a mobile hotspot).


Tropical weather pattern with hot & steamy air, afternoon rain, although all in all it rained relatively little. Indonesia (Sulawesi) was drier than Malaysia.

Health / Vaccinations

For Malaysia the usual set of tropical immunisations (but I didn't refresh them for this trip). Then, upon arrival in Malaysia, nobody cared about Covid status (vaccinations, MySejahtera app) - nothing was checked.
In Indonesia upon arrival the Peduli Lindungi app was checked.

VISA / Entry requirements

VISA on arrival for EU nationals and nationals of several other developed countries. I had to pay a visa on arrival fee of 500000 IDR upon arrival in Indonesia.


No problems neither in Malaysia, nor in Indonesia. These are safe and stable countries.

Getting around

In Malaysia I used flights, taxis and a rented car to to get around. In INdonesia I relied on flights and taxis.

29.7: Munich -> Doha
Hotel: night spent on the plane
Weather: not so hot in Munich, sunny, milky blue sky with some clouds

Things today proceed smoothly, considering that airports are just opening after the Covid pandemic and we have been reading horror stories of huge queues at the airports, lost luggage, delayed and cancelled flights and so on.

In any case, we take the 11:42am bus to the S-Bahn station, and there take the train to the airport, arriving at Munich airport at 12:37pm.

Then it takes some time to reach the gate, because it is quite far away. We pick a trolley for 1 Euro, which is a very good idea, because the check in counter is very far away from the S-Bahn Station, and we can put all our stuff on it.

At 1:07pm we queue up at the Qatar airways check in. Long queue already. While we wait, the kids go to McDonald's to get some take away food.

The airport looks very relaxed, there are not so many people.

At 1:50pm we have the boarding passes. Then, we briefly stop and eat the take away food the kids took, before walking through security. At 2:10pm we proceed to the security check.

The 4:25pm Qatar Airways flight to Doha has some delay. It only takes off at 5:05pm, then lands in Doha at 11:05pm local time. There is a one hour time difference in Doha.

The Doha airport is ok (modern and clean) and it is easy to get around. We quickly reach our gate. Then we have some food in the food court (high prices - the equivalent of 8 Euro for a slice of margherita pizza, just to make an example).

30.7: Doha -> Kuala Lumpur
Sunway Putra hotel, Kuala Lumpur. 45 Euro for a big room in a nice hotel in central KL, with an adjacent mall. The room has practically everything, but not too much furniture. Attached bathroom, centralised A/C, free WLAN. Breakfast not included in the price.
Weather: sunny, hot, tropical, some clouds in the sky. No rain.

We queue at the gate around 1am, then enter the plane (an old A330-300) around 1:25am. The plane starts rolling at 1:55am, then takes off at 2:16am. I hear quite a few people coughing on the plane.

The plane touches down in KL international airport at 2:48pm local time. What a feeling, we are back in Malaysia after three years!

Getting through immigration and retrieving the luggage doesn't take much time. BTW, nobody asks for the MySejahtera app (we have only been asked for it in Munich).

Then we get out and buy SIM cards from Celcom (RM 45 for 30 GB of data; later I hear that voice calls are expensive).

We book a 6-seater from Grab and drive to the hotel. We leave the airport at 4:25pm and arrive in the hotel and 5:30pm (RM 112 for the trip).

We check in and later have some dinner in the mall, then take a rest.

31.7: Kuala Lumpur -> Miri
Hotel OYO 89301 Ys Inn, Miri. RM 64 for a small room with no windows, but with attached bathroom. The idea of booking this place was to take a hotel near the airport (and in fact it's just 2km to the terminal). But at midnight it's difficult finding a taxi. The room has no windows, but is otherwise ok.
Weather: same as yesterday (sunny, hot, tropical, some clouds in the sky). Some light rain in the evening in Miri.

I wake up after 9am. At 11:30am I take a Grab car with Natasha to a Thai temple (amulet centre), not far from the Midvalley mall. Brief photo stop there around 12pm. It's not a terribly impressive Thai temple, but cute enough and it's interesting to have a Thai temple in KL.

Then we take another Grab car to the Midvalley Megamall. There I'll have a haircut and after that Natasha and myself will spend some time shopping around and having some food.

The Midvalley mall is still nice, but you can feel that it is starting to age. It doesn't look so fresh anymore.

Lots of people today in the mall, all carrying a face mask (required in indoor areas).

At 3:12pm we take a Grab car back to the hotel, arriving at 3:37pm. We walk back to the room and take a rest.

After 5:30pm I take a Grab car to the airport (RM 65 + RM 7 of motorway tolls), arriving at KLIA at 6:23pm.

Then I check in and at 7pm have some dinner (noodle soup). Before 8pm I'm at the gate, at 8:35pm they start boarding the plane.

The plane, a Boeing 737-800, looks quite new, but the overhead compartments are too small, or perhaps people have too large carry-on luggage.

In any case, for this 9pm flight, the plane starts rolling around 9:05pm and takes of at 9:12pm.

We land in Miri at 11:12pm. Then it's a matter of going through passport control and retrieving the luggage.

When I call a Grab car to the hotel, no Grab car responds. After some trying, I finally queue up at the airport taxi counter. When it's my turn, the counter closes (it's not yet midnight) and the guy simply walks away.

I walk out. Some discussion, a lady promises a taxi will be coming.

Some time later a minivan taxi shows up, but wants RM 38 for the short 2km trip to the hotel. Another taxi which arrives later initially asks RM 25, then accepts RM 20. Shortly after midnight I'm at the hotel.

1.8: Miri -> Mulu NP
Room with attached bathroom with hot water shower, A/C, four beds, basic furniture for RM 226 (includes a breakfast) in the Mulu national park. A bed in the dorm would have cost RM 60. No internet access anywhere, neither in the room, nor in the reception.
Weather: overcast in the morning in Miri. No rain. Some rain after 5pm in the Mulu national park.

I get up at 8:20am. Around 9am Malaysia Airlines informes me that the 11:20am flight is delayed to 12:30pm.

I get out at 9:30am and have some breakfast, then at at 10:07am take a Grab car (RM 7) to the airport. There I check in and have a meal at a Marrybrown fast food outlet. At 11am I proceed to the gate.

At 11:55am Malaysia Airlines informs of a new delay. The 11:20am flight now will take off at 1:50pm, i.e. with a delay of 2 1/2 hours.

In practice the plane will only start rolling after 2:05pm, then will wait about 15 minutes for three additional planes to touch down, and only after 2:20pm will it take off.

We land in Mulu NP at 2:41pm. Then I take a car to the park HQ (RM 5, lady waits about 10 minutes for more travellers, but today it's only me).

Once at the park HQ, I register and ask for a room. After 3:30pm I start walking on the trail towards the deer cave.

For some reason today I don't see any wildlife, not even insects or millipedes. There is noise of animals in the forest, but you see nothing.

At 4:30pm I reach the access gate to the Deer cave and I'm not allowed in. Apparently they will only let you in if you are with a guide. So I take a rest at the bats viewing point.

After over an hour, at 5:40pm, the bats finally appear and make their show. Pretty cool view of swarms of bats flying in the sky.

At 6:04pm I pack my stuff and walk back to the park HQ. There I will have a dinner in the cafeteria.

2.8: Mulu NP
Room in the Mulu NP.
Weather: in the morning and until about 2pm sunny, with gradual clouds buildup. After 4pm very heavy rain.In the evening no rain again, but relatively fresh.

I get up at 8am, have a shower, then have breakfast. After 9am I go to the reception and plan the activities for the day. I ask for the flight schedule (need a flight to Kota Kinabalu), but they don't know. There should be daily flights to Kota Kinabalu, but it would be good to know what time exactly they depart.

For the morning I book the canopy walk at 10am for RM 45. Basically a guide will show us the way to the canopy walkway and explain a bit about the animals and the plants. I'm together with three American tourists and a couple from the UK.

The canopy walkway is nice, but not terribly impressive. The good thing is that it is quite long, the bad thing is that the view is obstructed by the treetops. By 11:20am we are done with the canopy walkway and walk back to the park HQ.

After 12pm I have a lunch in the cafeteria and then register for the "Fast lane in Lagang cave" tour at 2pm (RM 65, includes a boat transfer to/from the cave).

At 2pm I meet the new guide. Together with me a French family of five (three kids) will do this tour. Interesting that the guy manages to bring the wife and the small kids into the jungle.

The Lagang cave is quite long (guide says 1km) and is not illuminated. Inside you need a torchlight. The guide manages to spot several animals, including a snake who lives in the darkness. Also, besides the bats, there are lots of birds, some insects, spiders, even a white crab in a pond.

By the time we exit the cave at 4pm (seems we did some kind of loop) it has started raining. We walk towards the boat and the rain becomes very, very strong. So strong that the special, rainproof Goretex shoes I'm wearing do not manage to keep my feet dry. There is just too much rain coming down.

We reach the park HQ around 5pm. I rush back to the room to change the wet clothes.

In the evening I have a dinner in the cafeteria.

3.8: Mulu NP -> Kuching
Hotel D'Green, Kuching. RM 130 for a room with all I need. It's quite basic, but functional and centrally located in Kuching (about 200m-300m from the waterfront). Compared to the Imperial Riverbank hotel for which I paid RM 131, this place is heavily overpriced, because the Imperial Riverbank is much, much better. Checking again the website, I see that the Imperial now costs RM 150 (incl. the RM 10 tax).
Weather: sunny, blue sky in the morning in Mulu, then the sky turns overcast and around 12pm-1pm it rains for a while, then dry again (blue sky with clouds). Mostly overcast in the evening in Kuching.

In the morning I check with the reception if the "Garden of Eden valley" walk is avaiable. Turns out it's not, so I decide to leave Mulu. Also, I ask about flights. Am being told that there is a 10:25am flight to Kota Kinabalu (too early, can't make it) and a 1pm flight to Miri. I plan to take this flight and then see if I can get a connecting flight to KK.

Then I take the key for the treetop tower (you get it at the reception) and walk up there. It's a metallic tower, at treetop level, suitable as a hide for bird watching. Obviously you have to stay there for a long time (hours?) to get a chance to spot birds.

Since I don't have so much time (need to check out by 11am), I take some pictures, then get back to the room and check out.

Around 11:10am I'm outside the park waiting for transportation to the airport. Turns out that an Italian lady also goes to the airport, so I can share the car with her.

Once at the airport I'm told that the flight to Miri is full and I can only get on a flight to Kuching at 2:25pm (RM 324, not cheap; no flight with Malaysian Airlines to KK I can catch today in Kuching; hopefully AirAsia has a flight). With no other option left, I take this flight to Kuching.

This is what happens if you are in a place with no Internet. You are cut off from communications and are unable to book flights, check flight schedules and book hotels. The Mulu national park should offer some Internet access at their premises.

So I have about two hours to kill at the airport. By the way, there is no cafe or restaurant at this airport.

At 2:20pm the plane is still not there and they announce that the flight is delayed to 2:50pm. The plane finally lands at almost 3pm (and unloads the passengers first). It starts rolling at 3:27pm.

We land in Kuching at 4:50pm. Finally I have again an Internet connection. I quickly realise that there are no more flights today from Kuching to Kota Kinabalu. I end up booking a flight the next day (Thursday) at 11:55am, arriving in KK at 1:25pm. There is also an earlier flight at 7am, but I don't want to wake up at 4am to catch this flight.

Then I book a hotel in Kuching and give a call to Shirley. In the evening I take the boat tour along the Kuching river (1 hour, RM 19) at 6:45pm. Perhaps I should have taken an earlier one, because after 7:15pm-7:20pm it's already dark.

Back in the hotel, I book the room for the next day (in Tambunan).

4.8: Kuching -> Kota Kinabalu -> Tambunan
Hotel Tambunan Rafflesia, Tambunan. RM 85 for a big room with furniture, TV, bathroom with shower. Not so high end, but clean and functional.0ß9
Weather: overcast in the morning in Kuching, some light rain. Initially sunny with clouds in KK, after 4pm it starts raining and it rains until after 7pm in Tambunan. Fresh in Tambunan in the evening after the rain.

I get up at 8am and get ready. At 9am I check out and take a Grab car to the airport. This time it costs only RM 11, much less than the RM 29 I paid yesterday at the airport.

We reach the airport at 9:25am. I get in and proceed to the Airasia check in counter. Seems you have to check in online. I download the app on the smartphone and check in the flight (with the support of an Airasia employee).

By 10am I have passed through immigration and security. I proceed to the gate and have some meal in the food court. Around 11:10am I queue up at the gate.

The 11:55am Airasia flight starts rolling at 11:40am and takes off at 11:50am.

We land in KK shortly after 1pm. Then I need to go through Sabah immigration before being allowed to proceed to the baggage retrieval.

Once out in the arrivals hall I check the car rentals. I find two or three which allow one-way rentals and in the end select Avis. It's RM 178/day for a Proton Persona (small car, but bigger than the smallest ones) with an excess of RM 500 (if I damage the car, I pay RM 500). The one-way rental fee is RM 450 or 550 if I return the car in Sandakan and RM 650 if I return the car in Tawau, if I remember correctly. We agree on a flexible car return date.

After the car is settled I drive to Yayasan Sabah (i.e. the Sabah foundation) in the Tun Mustapha tower. There I walk to the 12th floor, where the office for the bookings to the Danum valley is.

I manage to retrieve somebody and arrange two nights (3D/2N) in the Danum valley field centre for RM 1300 (chalet - I get the Malaysian rate, because I'm married to a Malaysian; the non-Malaysian rate is RM 1757).

In addition I book one night in the Taliwas river conservation area, some kind of new nature/wildlife place with accomodation, food and a program. This costs RM 596. Not exactly cheap, but could be interesting.

In fact there are lots of wildlife areas in Sabah, if you have a look at Google Maps, but only a few are open for tourists.

It's almost 4pm when I finally leave the Yayasan Sabah office. Then, after a brief stop in a supermaerket along the way, I reach the hotel in Tambunan around 6:30pm. Pretty bad mountain road: lots of narrow curves, narrow lanes, tarmac in poor conditions, ongoing roadworks in several spots. The road to Keningau is much better.

5.8: Tambunan
Hotel Tambunan Rafflesia, Tambunan. The table is full of ants, small ants, walking everywhere and probably looking for food. Quite irritating, when you use the notebook PC and ants walk around the keyboard and the screen. Also, you can't put any food or drinks on the table, because the ants will find it.
Weather: a mix of sunny and overcast, but mostly sunny. Almost no rain the whole day. Quite fresh at 1080m of altitude when the sun isn't shining.

I wake up at 8:30am and get ready for the day. Around 10am I leave the hotel and drive to the Rafflesia information centre, on the road towards Kota Kinabalu, arriving there at 10:30am.

Some discussion with the staff. It's RM 50 for the guide (reduced from RM 100, because I'm a single traveller) + RM 15 entrance fee/conservation fee. Later I wonder why the guide is so expensive, because the entire trek across the forest lasted only one hour.

Basically between 11am and 12pm we walk across the forest and the guide shows me two good rafflesia flowers, one bud and a number of already rotten rafflesia flowers. It's not too bad actually because the chances of seeing rafflesia flowers in full bloom are small.

Five years ago however, when I visited the Crocker range NP, I was much more lucky, because in two days I saw several rafflesia flowers in full bloom.

In any case, besides the rafflesias, I get also many nice rainforest images. The terrain by the way is very slippery, because yesterday it has been raining heavily.

Shortly after 12pm I get back into the car and drive to Tambunan. There I buy some noodle soup in the 7/11 convenience store (they have no other food and I'm a bit in a hurry, because after 2pm it might start raining).

After this short lunch I drive to the Sinurambi viewpoint, a place in the mountains overlooking Tanbunan and the valley, where a 10m metal tower with a viewing platform offers good views of the valley. The road is initially sort of good, but the last 2 km are a dirt track.

The entrance is free (just for a change) and I spend a few minutes having a look and taking some pictures.

After that I drive to the Mahua waterfall. That is the closest entrance point to the Crocker range national park. I had been here in 2017, but back then arrived very late in the afternoon and didn't have enough time to have a look at the place. I'm hoping that I can do some short trek around the waterfall.

Driving to the Mahua waterfall parking takes about 45 minutes. I park the car in the parking at 2:33pm. The weather is surprisingly still good, meaning that it is not raining.

Short discussion with the staff. If I want to do something more than the 500m trail to the waterfall, I must take a guide and this costs RM 80. I'm not in the mood to again spend money on a guide (and not RM 80 for a 1-2 hours trek) so I just pay RM 10 to get to the waterfall (Malaysians BTW pay only RM 3 to get in here).

The area is very scenic. There is a small forest river and some other smaller forest streams, with bigger and smaller waterfalls. Very nice scenery, I get many nice photos.

I end up spending over an hour in this place. Some people even swim in the pools, even if it's quite fresh (we are at 1100m of altitude and there is no sun).

After 4pm I leave this place and key in a restaurant I found via Google Maps (the Brothers Burger). It takes a while to get there (I reach the place at 4:45pm). Turns out that this restaurant actually is a stall along several other ones, adjacent to a supermarket. Their chicken burger however is not bad (if you remove the oily breadcrumb coating on the meat).

After this meal I buy some stuff in the supermarket and drive back to the hotel.

In the evening I review my travel plans for the next days.

6.8: Tambunan -> Sosodikon hill -> Sabah tea -> Sepilok
Sepilok jungle resort, Sepilok. RM 163 for a room with A/C, bathroom, some furniture. Breakfast included in the price. Nicely decorated, some furniture (but no cupboard). Adjacent restaurant/cafe. Very near to the Sepilok orang utan centre.
This place has two problems: it is very hard to find with Google Maps. If you arrive by car, you arrive at a closed gate and the place looks abandoned. It takes some searching to figure out that the entrance to the resort is the Banana cafe, further down the road (tricky if you arrive after dark). The other issue is that the rooms are very far away from the reception (about 200-300m). It's a problem if it starts raining when you walk to the reception or restaurant.

Weather: mostly overcast the whole day, with some rain (but not much). Fresh and windy on the Sosodikon hill at 1465m of altitude.

I get up even before 8am and start driving around 9:30am. It's actually not a big distance to the Sosodikon hill (75km), but it's mostly mountain road, with slow traffic caused by slow trucks every now and then, and the last 2km are a very bad dirt track. As a result it takes over two hours to reach the Sosodikon hill.

The road conditions are quite bad. Roads are paved, but full of holes and in many sections the surface is damaged (you have to drive carefully) and in general the roads are narrow.

Once at the Sosodikon hill I'm reminded that there is a fee of RM 10. RM 5 for Malaysians.

From the hill there is a nice view of Mt Kinabalu and the surrounding area. A pity that today the peaks are partly obstructed by clouds. While I'm on the hill I meet some (ethnic?) indian and Chinese tourists, probably Malaysians. Probably this place is full of people at sunset.

Around 12:30pm I'm done with this place and key in the KFC restaurant in Ranau, where I'm planning to have some lunch. Along the way I stop at a market (must be in Kundasang) and buy some fresh fruits for RM 10 (bananas, pineapple and pomelo).

It takes only about 40 minutes to reach Ranau. I park the car in the parking opposite the KFC and have some lunch.

Around 2:30pm I drive to the Sabah tea resort, some kind of resort / restaurant / cafe inside a tea plantation. It's not far away and I arrive shortly after 2:50pm. First I have a short walk around the area. There is not this nice tea hills panorama, like the one you have in the Cameron highlands. There are some tea bushes, but not so many.

Still the place is very nice and has nice views of the surroundings. I notice that there are lots of visitors on this Saturday afternoon, including many western ones.

I take a seat in the cafe and order some milk tea. Actually this place is a restaurant, so I could also have ordered a complete meal, but it's no point to have a lunch at 3pm and I just ate something one hour ago.

Shortly before 4pm I start driving towards Sepilok. The road conditions also on this more important road connecting Kota Kinabalu with Sandakan are poor. The tarmac is broken in many places, and you have to constantly watch out for holes. In several sections, even longer ones, there is no tarmac at all, only a dirt track.

Back in 1999, Mahathir, the prime minister of Malaysia at that time, had this Malaysia 2020 vision: Malaysia reaching developed country status by 2020. Well now, it's 2022 and the roads in Malaysia are the roads of a developing country. Actually other developing countries, even poorer than Malaysia, have better roads.

In any case, the issue is arriving not too late in Sepilok, because after about 6:30pm it gets dark and it's not good to drive in the dark in Malaysia (because of the road conditions and because something might pop up on the road which could cause an accident.

So there is some pressure to drive these 189 km as fast as possible to arrive not too long after dark. The problem is that the road conditions and the traffic (slow trucks which cannot be overtaken for a while) limit the maximum speed. So in the end I arrive at Sepilok at 7:30pm. Then I lose about 15-20 minutes to find the hotel. It's dark and the place is well hidden.

By the time I check in it's 8pm. I have a dinner then proceed to the room.

7.8: Sepilok (Borneo sunbear conservation centre) -> Sukau
Sukau village homestay (or Kinabatangan Balai Kito homestay). RM 60 for a basic room with A/C, fan, two beds with mattresses, chair + micro table. No toilet. The homestay arranges boat trips on the Kinabatangan river.
Weather: overcast in the morning, then sunny blue sky, then overcast again. Some brief light rain in the evening.

In the morning I get up at 8:30am, have breakfast, then check out. At 10:20am I'm at the Bornean sunbear conservation centre, opposite the Sepilok orang utan centre. Lots of cars and buses in the parking lot.

The entrance fee is RM 50 (Malaysians pay only RM 10). The setup is similar to the one of the orang utan centre, meaning that there is an exhibit area with some information about the Bornean sunbears and there are two platforms from which to observe the sunbears. There are five sunbears when I visit.

The difference with the orang utan centre is that the sunbears are actually in cages, i.e. they are not free to leave the centre and roam in the forest. It's understandable that tourists want to see some sunbears, but like this, this place is like a zoo. Or perhaps, if you let the sunbears roam free, they wouldn't come back to the centre and just disappear in the forest.

At 11:30am I get back to the car and drive to Sukau. Along the way I stop in a petrol station to refuel the car (RM 50).

The road to Sukau is a mix of good and not so good, but it's mostly quite good, better than the road I experienced yesterday.

I'm in Sukau around 1:30pm and start looking for a place where to spend the night. The Greenview guesthouse is full (which doesn't surprise me as this place is in the booking portals) and even their boats are full. The Sukau B&B where I stayed in 2008 is closed (and in fact the building is in poor conditions).

I ask at the restaurant and they mention a "Bam" homestay. I drive along the road until I find a homestay and they happen to have a room. Even better, they organise boat trips, jungle trekking and there is a family of Polish tourists with whom I can share the cost.

So I have some lunch at 2:20pm, then take a short walk in the forest. I hear some large animals in the trees, but cannot see them.

At 3:30pm I'm back at the homestay, and at 4pm the boat trip starts. This time the boatsman goes downriver. We see a number of macaque monkeys. Nothing so special, but these are macaque monkeys living in the wild, not the macaque monkeys which harass tourists at the Batu caves in KL. So these monkeys are more interesting.

After the macaques we'll see a small mmonitor lizard, some white heron birds, more macaques, crocodiles (several), an eagle, an unidentified black bird, some hornbills, and several proboscis monkeys (but very far away, i.e. on a very tall tree).

We are back at the homestay at 6:30pm. I quickly download the images to the PC and eat something.

At 8pm the night boat trip starts. This is quite cool and thanks to a flash and long lens I manage to get some very cool shots of animals. Mostly it's birds (various species), but also crocodiiles and a civet cat on a tree who is eating something.

We are back in the homestay around 10:30pm.

8.8: Sukau -> Lahad Datu
Fajar hotel, Lahad Datu. 108 RM for a room, decently furnished (table+chair, LCD TV, cupboard for the clothes, controllable A/C, attached toilet with shower). Fast Internet included. The only problem of this place is that some lamps are broken, so that the room is quite dark.
Weather: Mostly overcast, some sun and blue sky. Almost no rain.

I'm ready at 9:15am for the 9:30am trek in the jungle. But then I hear that the guide already left with the Polish family. Apparently the owner of the place didn't inform the guide that I wanted to join the trekking.

So I check out and drive to the Sukau B&B from where a trail into the forest starts. The idea would to do a loop across this patch of forest (approx. 2 x 2 km or 3 x 3 km). Should be doable in a couple of hours or so.

So I walk into the forest taking the trail along the river. The problem is that this trail ends after some time. I remember having seen a side trail branching out before, so I walk back and try to catch that trail. But what happens is that I find myself suddenly in the forest, without any trail, because these trails tend to vanish. In the end I walk back to the car using Google Maps and the compass function of the smartphone.

I'm back at the car shortly before 11am. I get into the car and start driving towards Lahad Datu, keying in the Gomantong cave, which is along the way. I've already been there, but it's an interesting cave and I have time anyway.

When I arrive at the junction to the cave I turn left on the road and soon reach a half-closed gate. A sign says "the cave is closed for visitors". Very strange, but what can I do. So I just continue driving towards Lahad Datu.

The road consists of good and bad sections, sections where you can drive at the upper speed limit and sections where you have to slow down and carefully navigate around huge holes. Then there are many sections where the tarmac is not so great.

Once in Lahad Datu (around 1:15pm) I key in a KFC restaurant and drive there. I manage to find a car parking near the KFC and park the car there. In the KFC again they are out of stock of French fries and potato wedges (same as in the Ranau KFC).

After lunch I drive to the hotel and check in. Later in the day, around 4pm I'm out again and buy some stuff and have a look at the place. It's a very dirty and run down city. There hasn't practically been any progress in the past 20 years. It's an ok place, meaning that you can get from A to B, buy all the stuff you need, but the roads are dirty, broken and smelly.

There is a place with sort of an open air food court, with people selling all kind of stuff. If you are not too concerned about hygiene, you can eat here for little money and skip restaurants. I buy some street food and eat that for dinner. I'm back in the hotel around 7:30pm.

9.8: Lahad Datu -> Taliwas river conservation area
Wooden chalet in the Taliwas river conservation area. RM 596 package which includes this chalet, the entrance permit, the ranger who shows me around (when I arrive in the afternoon, night trip in the evening, morning trip the next day) and the meals (afternoon tea, dinner, breakfast and lunch the next day). The chalet is quite spartan: electricity only between 5pm and 11pm, room with fan (no A/C), attached toilet with cold shower, some basic furniture. No hot water. This place is a bit overpriced. On the other hand I'm the only tourist here today, so all the staff is here for me only. Dinner is actually not bad - better than what I was expecting: plain rice, vegetables, beef and green peppers, chicken wings and watermelon. I end up eating more than what I was thinking. These ladies know what to cook for tourists.
Weather: overcast the whole day, with some sun peeking through. No rain the whole day (luckily).

In the morning I check out late at almost 11:30am. Then I go (actually park the car in front) to the office of the Danum valley field centre and settle the bill. Also, I buy a pair of leech socks (RM 26), without which it is not feasible to walk in the forest in this part of Sabah (unless you don't mind feeding the leeches).

Then I refill the fuel tank at a Shell petrol station and buy some food and drinks. After that, I key in the Taliwas river conservation centre into the navigation system. Then I start driving.

Still in Lahad Datu, I end up in a (short) traffic jam. After that I stop at a KFC restaurant where I have lunch.Then I continue driving.

The road is initially good, but the last 18km until the Taliwas place are a dirt track. A reasonable one, with the occasional difficult spots where you have to slow down.

Around 2:40pm I arrive at the visitor centre of the Taliwas river conservation area. The ranger is already there waiting for me. We settle a few formalilies and then he shows me the chalet where I'm staying. When I'm about to reverse park, I hit a wooden pole right in the middle. The car has no rear camera and only two sensors, one on each side, but none in the middle. Seems that these RM 500 of the insurance excess are gone.

Shortly after 3pm I start the first trek into the forest, with the ranger and some other guy. Together we complete a small loop, which will last less than two hours.

The ranger explains that this is not primary forest, but logging stopped in 1970, so the forest has had over 50 years of time to regenerate. Perhaps in another 20-50 years it will be primary again. There is not so much wildlife, because we are still not so far away from the civilisation and there is this busy road with too many cars. The Danum valley instead is much more remote and has primary forest.

In fact, we don't see much wildlife (actually none during this first trek, except for some bird flying away).

I hear that this place is mainly visited by school classes who come on weekends to experience the rainforest. Must be quite a challenge for the teachers to handle so many kids fighting with leeches (doe the kids all wear leech socks?), or perhaps the schoolkids don't go so deep into the forest.

After 5pm we are back at the visitor centre. I get to the room and start downloading the pictures to the computer and sorting them out. At 7pm there is a dinner (which is better than I expected), and after 8pm there is the night walk into the forest.

I put on the longs lens (100-400mm, 200-800mm equivalent) and an external flash. The flash is a small, portable unit, but a bigger one would have been helpful, because the distances to the subject sometimes are big (more than 10m), so more light would have helped keeping the ISO values lower.

For the whole trek we don't see birds or mammals (only when we are back at the visitor centre we see a bird and some mammal on a tree). It's mainly insects, spiders, frogs. The guides tell me that they saw a mouse deer, but I can't see it and am in any case not fast enough to switch on and point the camera to the subject. Also, at night, with the flash it's difficult to get decent pictures of an animal which is hiding in the distance behind tree leaves. Not impossible, just difficult.

So, somehow this place is kind of interesting, but there is not so much larger wildlife.

At 11pm sharp they cut off the electric power. I was hoping on some grace period, for instance half an hour more, but no, at exactly 11pm there is no more power.

Outside the night sky is a bit bright, because there is some light cloud cover and behind the moon.

By the way, despite all efforts, today I get about 3-4 leech bites.

10.8: Taliwas river conservation area -> Danum valley field centre
Chalet in the Danum valley field centre. RM 1300 package for two nights (3D/2N), which includes the accomodation, the meals, the trips with the ranger and the transportation to/from the Taliwas river place.
The Danum valley field centre actually is not bad (if you have your own room). A/C power from 7am to 11pm, good food in the cafeteria, helpful staff. The room is ok (no A/C, only fan). Breakfast at 7 or 8am, lunch at 12pm, dinner at 7am.

Weather: overcast in the morning, later after 10am the sun comes out and we get plenty of blue sky. No rain the whole day.

I get up at 7am and shortly after 8am start the trek to the waterfall. We immediately get into the forest. The trail starts climbing up the hill. The forest is, well, not too impressive. Aside from the leeches, a big problem are horse flies which constantly fly around your head and try to touch you. Very difficult to get rid of them.

Because it's not a relaxed stroll across the forest (we are being chased by the horse flies), we rush through the forest and reach the waterfall ahead of time at 9:45am. Then it's a short break there, and we are back on the main road to the Danum valley (the one for the cars) by 10:30am.

Because the sun is quite strong in the sky and there is very little shadow on that road, we call the staff of the Taliwas centre and ask them to pick us up (it's still 1-2 km to walk).

Once back in the Taliwas centre, I take the second cold shower of the day, because I'm totally sweated. I realise that another three or four leeches managed to sneak through my protection (I guess they got in from above the belt line) and bit me on the legs.
Not a terribly big deal, but it's quite a bloody mess, i.e. blood coming out, staining the trousers, forcing me to wash them. Luckily it's polyester trousers, which dry immediately.

At 11:40am it's lunch time. Again not a bad lunch, even if the chicken meat is a bit hard and dry.

At 1pm the staff informs me that my driver for the Danum valley will only arrive at 3pm, because he/she needs to wait for some other guests. But yesterday in Lahad Datu the ladies were telling me this driver was only bringing me to the Danum valley.

I kill the time by going through the images in the office buidling (they have solar power), while at the same time recharging all the batteries.

At 3:20pm the driver is still not there. I call the office in Lahad Datu and they tell me that the driver just left (!). Apparently he has been waiting for some tourists, who in the end didn't show up.

Finally at 4:30pm the driver is here. It's a minibus, but one with probably good tyres and 4WD, capable to do the road to the Danum valley.

And in fact the road soon gets quite bad. Along the way, about 10km from the Danum valley field centre we spot some elephants (first one, then a group of three).

We arrive at the Danum valley field centre finally at 6:15pm. I register at the reception, then get the key to the room. Dinner is at 7pm, so there is still some time to take a picture or two.

At dinner I have a chat with my guide, Afif. He explains a bit the setup and we arrange to do a night walk at 8pm.

At 8pm it's Afif, an Indian lady and myself. We walk into the forest. Immediately we run into some sambal deer, who came here to graze. Over the next hour and a half we'll see insects, spiders, several frog species, a bat and a mouse deer.

11.8: Danum valley
Room in the Danum valley field centre.
Weather: in the morning mostly overcast, later the sun comes out. At 2:47pm it starts raining. Luckily the rain is already over before 3:20pm (before our afternoon trek starts).

I get up at 5:15am, take a shower and at 6am I'm ready for the morning walk.

It's actually still a bit dark at 6am and there is mist everywhere, limiting the far away views, i.e. if an animal is high above on a tree at a long distance, the picture doesn't come out well.

We do a one hour walk near the field centre. The only animals we meet are some gibbons, high up on a tree, but because of the bad light conditions and the limited visibility, I can't manage to take good pictures. Along the river there are some cool views of the rainforest.

The walk ends by 7am and I wonder if it was worth getting up so early. I was thinking that perhaps I would see some special wildlife (for instance a leopard), but nothing like that happened. The other thing is, had we really seen a leopard in the forest, it would have been almost impossible to get a good shot because of the darkness.
In the Danum valley it only starts brightening up well after 7am.

At 7am there is the breakfast and at 8:30am we start the longer (daytime morning) walk in the forest.

This time we run into some red leaf monkeys, about 10-15m above in the trees. This time I manage to get some decent pictures, also thanks to the long lens I have with me.

We continue walking and later run into a group of gibbons, even higher up in the trees (perhaps 20-30 metres above the ground). A bit difficult to get good images, because the monkeys are hiding behind leaves and constantly moving. It's also not easy to handhold a 1120 mm lens (equivalent; it's the Olympus 100-400mm at 400mm with the 1.4x teleconverter).

Later we spend some more time walking in the forest, looking for the orang utans, but can't manage to see any.

At 11am we are back in the field centre. I take the second shower of the day (because I'm totally full of sweat), download the images from the camera to the PC, and wash a couple of T-shirts (polyester, i.e. quick-dry T-shirts; it wouldn't make sense to use standard cotton T-shirts in this environment, because you would need 2-3 fresh cotton T-shirts per day; at least the synthetic material ones are easy to wash and also dry quickly).

At 12pm we have lunch. Again buffet style and again not bad (I take steamed rice, fish and vegetables; fresh mango fruits for dessert).

The next walk is a 3:30pm. I take a rest in the room and go through the images.

At 3:30pm we start the afternoon trek. We are supposed to cross the river over the bridge and complete a loop, but there is news that an orang utan has been spotted. So we rush to the orang utan site.

Turns out that the orang utan is on a tall tree behind the leaves. Very hard to spot and you only see part of it and the sky behind is very bright. We lose some time walking closer to it, but it's a spot in the forest, obstructed by foliage, very hard to get some image.

After about 15-20 minutes of trying (in the meantime it's a whole group of tourists assembling at this spot in the forest below the orang utan tree) I tell our guide, Afif, that it is pointless to continue wasting time here and that we should move on.

Because we have lost quite some time in this orang utan effort, we have to change the plans and will no longer cross the bridge across the river. Instead we will walk the road up and down for a while.

Now we see some bird on a wire, the nice scenery and later we run into a group of red leaf monkeys on a tree, much easier to photograph and in much better light. It's now 4:40pm and the late afternoon sun is shining nicely on this tree.

We continue walking along the road, but don't see more wildlife. We pass by the rhino cage, and empty compound which was planned to be used for breeding of rhinos. Then we turn back.

On the way back we spot again the group of red leaf monkeys, this time on another very tall tree, quite far away. I put on the 1.4x teleconverter.

We are back at the field centre after 6pm. At 7pm there is the dinner. I have a chat with the Indian couple (father and daughter) with whom I have been sharing the guide. We arrange the night car trip at some time after 9pm.

Shortly after 9pm we start driving along the road towards Lahad Datu. We quickly run into a tarsier, then will later see a civet cat crossing the road, some (rare) flying frog on a bush, a mouse deer, a giant squirrel on a tree, a slow loris, a lemur hanging from a tree branch on a tall tree, another slow loris, an owl and some interesting lizard.

The night is great: full moon, very few clouds, mainly clear sky, magic atmosphere. We are back at the field centre after 11:20pm.

12.8: Danum valley field centre -> Tawau
Check inn, Tawau. RM 110 for a small room (probably in the range of 10 m²), but with a good soft bed, window (there are hotels with rooms without a window), table+chair, cupboard, controllable A/C unit, LCD TV, coffe/tea making equipment, toilet with shower). Centrally located, good view over the city.
Weather: overcast in the early morning, later the sun comes out and the sky turns blue. Some rain around 1pm, otherwise dry.

I get up at 6:20am (actually I could have slept 10-20 minutes longer), have breakfast at 7am, then check out, and by 8:20am I'm in the minibus which will transfer me to the Taliwas river centre where the car is.

Along the way the minibus needs to be pulled by a pickup truck in a place where the road is being repaired and is too steep and muddy. A 4WD pickup truck can do it, the minibus can't. Otherwise it's amazing at which speed these drivers navigate along this crazy forest road.

We reach the Taliwas centre at 10am. I transfer my stuff into the car and about 10 minutes later I set off towards Tawau. Along the way I stop in Kunak shortly before 12pm to settle some things.

Around 1pm I restart from Kunak towards Tawau, arriving around 2:30pm. I have some food in a KFC restaurant, then look for the ferry to Indonesia.

It takes a while to find the ferry terminal, because Google Maps shows the ferry originating in the wrong place. Once there I find out that right now there is only a ferry to Nunukan (leaving at 11:30am?), but from there I can take a speedboat to Tarakan.

I try to buy a ticket, but they only sell them in the morning between 8am and 9am. Some discussion and the guy agrees to book one ticket for me (RM 130 if I understand correctly). He wants the money, but can't give the receipt. In the end he agrees to book the ticket for me.

All a bit complicated, but once in Tarakan, there is a direct flight to Makassar (Sulawesi) for 109 Euro, while if I first fly back to KL, then to Jakarta and Makassar it's three flights, much more expensive and takes a lot of time.

Then I drive to the Tawau Hills national park. Now, I arrive at 3:50pm and am told that the park is already closed, because they don't let anybody in after 3:30pm.
Some discussion, I explain that I came from Lahad Datu to see this place and am leaving tomorrow already. I'm finally allowed for 30 minutes to have a look at this national park.

It's supposed to be secondary rainforest, but from the distance it looks more like primary rainforest, i.e. many tall trees. I run into a board showing slow loris, tarsiers, gibbons, read leaf monkeys and macaques as living in this national park.

So perhaps this national park is interesting. But perhaps, without an experienced guide and the possibility to do night trips, it may be a bit difficult to see wildlife.

Near the headquarter there are tourist facilities and accomodation (RM 85 for an A/C room, but perhaps the girl who told me doesn't know exactly).

I take some pictures of the area and of the waterfall, then get out and book a hotel in Tawau. Then I drive to this hotel and check in.

In the evening I return the car at the airport.

13.8: Tawau -> Nunukan -> Tarakan
RedDoorz Syariah at Grand Taufiq, Tarakan. 304048 IDR for a crappy room with a window, but facing the next wall. WLAN included, but so slow that to book the next flight in the evening, I have to go down to the lobby, because there the Internet connection is good enough. The room has a big bed, controllable A/C, an LCD TV, a cupboard. All very old stuff. In the toilet the fan which sucks the air is broken and there is no toilet paper (have to go down into the lobby and insist that the give me one - a hotel guy goes to a shop and buys one). The receptionist can't speak English, only Indonesian. Hard to understand why this place gets good ratings on booking.com.
Weather: sunny, blue sky with a few clouds in Tawau in the morning. Sunny, blue sky the whole day.

I get up at 7:50am, pack my stuff and check out at 9:10am. Then it's a short drive with a Grab car to the ferry terminal. There the guy from yesterday has the ticket for me ready (RM 130).

Lots of people this morning waiting for the ferry to Nunukan. Lots of women with children and adult men. Seems I'm the only tourist here today.

At 10:30am the boarding starts. They weigh your total luggage. Allowed are 10 Kg, in my case their scale shows a total of 30 Kg, so I have to pay RM 32 for the additional weight (RM 1.60/Kg).

Then you go through a security check, immigration (officer asks where I'm going etc.) and finally around 11am I'm on the ferry. It's sort of a "bullet boat" type of ferry, i.e. fully contained vessel, you can't walk outside.

Shortly after 11:30am the boat leaves Tawau. It takes 1:45 hours to reach Nunukan and the boat is slow - slowly glides along the smooth water.

Once in Nunukan first they check your Peduli Lindungi app (they scan the QR code). Then you proceed to immigration.

In my case, since I'm a German national I have to get a visa on arrival for a fee of 500000 IDR. The problem is that the guy who sells the visas is not there. I wait for a long time until this guy shows up. Then the issue is that I do not have Indonesian rupiah, they don't take Euro or the credit card.

Long discussion, in the end one of the immigration officers brings me on his motorbike to an ATM (Mandiri), where I withdraw 2.5 million IDR (you never know how much cash you need).

Then it's a matter of reaching the ferry terminal for the speedboat to Tarakan. Again some discussion. Somebody insists that he can bring me on his motorbike to the terminal. No way with a huge and heavy suitcase.

Finally somebody with sort of a truck will bring me there for 70000 IDR. It's actually an old and broken truck with no windows and no A/C, but never mind, the important thing is to reach this terminal.

So we arrive at the ferry terminal around 2:15pm. Quick discussion, a speedboat to Tarakan is leaving soon. 300000 IDR, we rush to the pier and I board this boat.
Thinking again about it, perhaps I caught the last speedboat to Tarakan of the day (almost missed it).

The boatride to Tarakan takes quite some time (very bumpy ride, because the boat is fast and there are waves). We reach Tarakan around 4:50pm, i.e. two and a half hours after we left Nunukan.

I get out and check the place. Somebody offers to bring me to the hotel I booked (the Grand Taufiq) initially for 70000 IDR, later goes down to 50000 IDR, but not less than that. Actually it's just a short 1km distance, so they are charging far too much.

In the end I will walk out of the terminal with my bags, and a good Samaritan picks me up along the way and brings me to the hotel. Later in the evening, when I know what kind of place Tarakan is, I realise that I should have taken the 50000 IDR offer.

After checking in, I go out and start looking for a SIM card. To make it short, in this place nobody speaks a word of English, the supermarket cashier doesn't know how to process a credit card payment (she starts typing the credit card number on her computer, instead of using the credit card reader), the KFC restaurant closes around 7pm.

I spend about one and a half hours going to three shops, trying to buy a SIM card. But no SIM card works in my phone. Later in the evening, back in the hotel, I do an Internet search. It seems only phones which are registered in Indonesia can use local SIM cards. You can register your phone's IMEI number on a website of the Indonesian customs, but when I try to do so, the procedure fails.

It's almost 8pm when I give up looking for a local SIM card (will try again tomorrow in Makassar airport). I look for a restaurant, but can't find anything where I would dare to eat something. Finally I eat some noodle soup in the Bakso Dan Mie eatery opposite the hotel. I have to use the hands to make them understand that I would like to eat something, because they only speak Indonesian.

Back in the room I book the flights and the hotel for the next couple of days (Makassar-Tana Toraja is overpriced in my opinion at 110 Euro (includes 33 Euro luggage fee).

14.8: Tarakan -> Makassar
Expressia hotel, Makassar (along the waterfront). 369000 IDR for a nice room. Clean, modern, not too much furniture, but very nice, luxury feeling. Best place where I've stayed so far, after so many days spent in so-so places.
Weather: sunny, blue sky with a few clouds in the morning in Tarakan. Same weather in Makassar, although around 4pm it rains a little bit. Not too hot, probably because we are along the sea.

I get up at 8:30am, then get ready and check out by 10am. The taxi to the airport costs 70000 IDR. At the airport they ask to see my ticket, so I pull out the computer and show them the email with the flight booking. Then I have some breakfast/lunch (chicken noodle soup with rice).

Since there is free Internet at the airport, I use that to download the emails and book the hotel in Rantepao (Tana Toraja area). Also, I try again to register the phone IMEI numbers with the Indonesian customs site, and this time it works.

By 11am I'm in the gates area, waiting for the flight to Makassar.

Shortly after 12pm we board the plane (a 737-900), at 12:37pm the plane starts rolling and it takes off at 12:45pm.

The flight proceeds smoothly and at 2:11pm we touch down at Makassar airport, at 2:15pm we reach the gate, shortly after that we can leave the plane. Then I retrieve the luggage and look for the customs office, where to declare the phone.

But I can't find a customs office. So I exit the terminal and look for an information counter. I ask some people and they send me to the other end of the terminal, at the departures area. Finally, after thoroughly checking everything I realise that in this airport there is no information counter. And there is no customs office, not even a place where they sell SIM cards.

So I walk back to the Grab counter and ask for a car to the hotel. At 3pm we leave the airport and drive to the hotel (cost is 159000 IDR for the car + 30000 IDR of road tolls).

I check in at the hotel and soon after that am back down in the lobby and ask for a Telkomsel shop. They tell me that today is Sunday and all Telkomsel outlets are closed.

A hotel employee offers to bring me to a telecommunications shop, where people might help me. He brings me there on a motorbike. It's a small shop and they can't do anything.

From there I start exploring a bit Makassar, i.e. this area of Makassar. It's not too dirty and full of small shops and there are a few convenience stores and food places every now and then.

I soon reach the waterfront. Here there are lots of food stalls, many of them grilling bananas (big, fat bananas). Seems to be a local delicacy.

Quite a few people on the street on this Sunday afternoon. I spot a small restaurant offering interesting food and have some food there around 5pm (marinated beef with rice). Then I continue checking out the area.

Shortly before 6pm I reach Fort Rotterdam, which is still open (the hotel staff had told it closed at 4pm). So I walk inside (free entrance, but you have to register and make a donation) and have a look.

After sunset I continue walking in the waterfront area, then walk back to the hotel.

15.8: Makassar -> Tana Toraja (Rantepao)
Toraja lodge hotel, Rantepao. 345000 for a big room with toilet (shower). Not too much furniture (a bed, table+chair, cupboard). Interestingly there is no TV. The toilet has no toilet paper. Free internet in the room, but it is so slow and unreliable that I use the mobile phone as a hotspot. Breakfast included.
Weather: sunny, blue sky in the morning in Makassar. In Rantepao it's a mix of clouds and sunny. No rain the whole day.

I get up at 6:30am, later then I realise that I could have slept a bit longer. In any case I check out and take a Grab car to the airport (90000 IDR + 30000 IDR of tolls) at 7:44am, arriving at 8:09am at the airport.

Then it's a matter of wading through the masses (not clear why so many people crowd around the airport) and enter the terminal. I check in and proceed to the gate.

There I have some breakfast in a cafe. Around 9:50am the boarding starts. The plane (a half full ATR72-500/600) starts rolling at 10:15am and takes off at 10:22am.

The flight proceeds smoothly and by 11am we are at the Tana Toraja airport. I get the luggage and walk out. Somebody immediately approaches me and offers to bring me to Rantepao with his car for 300000 IDR. Not cheap, but then it takes over an hour to reach Rantepao.

This driver introduces himself and offers to drive me around. The price is 250 Euro for three days.

The road to Rantepao is not much of a road, in the sense that you can't drive fast, partly because we are most of the time driving through urban areas (like an endless city) and partly because the road is narrow or has a broken surface or both.

With a short stop along the way we reach the hotel around 12:45pm.

By the way, we are at 900m of altitude and it's not so hot. In fact the hotel has no A/C.

After checking in I ask in the reception where there are restaurants and where I can find a Telkomsel shop. I'm directed to the Grapari Telkomsel shop on Pongtiku street.

So I walk out and have a look at the city. People are very lively and say 'hello mister' all the time. Friendly, but if you have to hello back everybody, after a while it gets tiring.

Strange enough the place doesn't look like a tourist hotspot. I was expecting a place will of cafes, restaurants, tour/travel agencies, but I struggle to find any restaurant and cannot find a single tour operator. I'm looking for a travel agency, because I would like to get a second quote for the car+driver.

Anyway, I walk for a while until I reach the Grapari shop. There finally I manage to solve the SIM card problem. The Telkomsel staff there manages to get my phone registered (she asks her manager for approval) and the SIM card activated (seems she uses her Indonesian ID number). Finally I have a phone with mobile Internet (32 GB) , a local phone number and 100 minutes of phone calls.

In the meantime it's 2:30pm. I call the driver and ask if he can bring me to this funeral place he was mentioning before I left the hotel. He tells me it's too late. Seems the day is gone - I won't be able to do any sightseeing today.

So I slowly walk back to the hotel. I use Google Maps to look for travel agencies, but can't find any. Perhaps they all closed during the pandemic?

At some point I spot a restaurant. I walk in and approach the staff, asking him if he knows any driver who can show me the area. He says yes and asks me to wait.

I sit down in the restaurant and order some meal (haven't had lunch today). After some time the guy is back with another guy, a driver. Short discussion, he has a Toyota and for 500000 IDR/day can show me around. This is quite reasonable and a lot less than what the airport driver quoted me.

After the meal (it's already after 4pm) I continue checking out Rantepao. In total I find two restaurants catering for foreign tourists. The rest are eateries where local people eat, but where I wouldn't walk in. There are a number of convenience stores. I can't find a laundry.

I'm back in the hotel around 5pm.

16.8: Tana Toraja
Toraja lodge hotel, Rantepao. Heavy noise around 5:15am. Some idiot is playing some very loud music, very loud sound of voices. Not sure what the problem is, but I hope this doesn't happen again the next night.
Weather: overcast the whole day, no rain.

After breakfast at 9am I meet the driver. Turns out he is not the driver. The driver is somebody else who speaks very little English. The car is a big Toyota van (Innova?).

With that we start the sightseeing trip of the Tana Toraja area. Today we focus on the southern part.

The first stop is the village of Lemo (entry ticket: 20000 IDR). There are some special buffalo horn houses and tombs in the rock wall. Actually today I'll see plenty of tombs everywhere. Then, there are rice fields everywhere, very nice and photogenic.

The next stop is Buntu Burake, where on a montaintop there is a huge statue of Jesus. Again an entrance ticket of 20000 IDR and this place is not so interesting, although there is a nice view over the valley.

We then drive to a place called Suaya (20000 IDR entrance), where the main attraction is some king's tomb in the rock wall.

Then the driver brings me to a baby grave. I wander around without finding anything, until the driver points to a tree, where some bamboo mats are hanging. A bit hard to understand what this place is. When we are about to leave the driver tells me to pay another 20000 IDR entrance fee. But there is not even a ticket booth, and this place really has nothing. So I just leave a donation on 10000 IDR to somebody.

The next stop is Tampang Allo (20000 or 30000 IDR entrance fee), where there is some more complex tomb setup in the rock and inside some caves. There is a short circular trail which goes up the rock wall, inside the cave and ends up at another end.

Shortly before 2pm we stop for lunch at a restaurant, which actually is not bad. It's tourist oriented and has a nice view over the surrounding fields.

After lunch, shortly after 3pm, we reach a place called Londa. Here there is again a big tomb with rock wall etc., but here you have to go into a dark cave (torchlight needed). Inside the dark cave there are several coffins.

The last stop of the day is the village of Kete Kesu. Very picturesque, a double row of buffalo horn houses, all built with original materials (not corrugated metal roofs).

Behind the houses a trail leads up the rock wall, where coffins are hanging from the rock face (apparently these are very old). Oh, and there are skulls and human bones everywhere.

The sightseeing trip finishes shortly after 5pm. We drive back to Rantepao and I pay the driver.

I'll then have some food and then walk back to the hotel.

Later in the evening I review my travel plans. The idea is to use flights to reach Gorontalo in northern Sulawesi, and use it as a base from where to explore the area, which should be interesting.

17.8: Tana Toraja
Toraja lodge hotel, Rantepao. The last night was quiet (no huge noise in the middle of the night).
Weather: overcast in the morning, after 9am the sun comes out and the sky turns blue with a few cllouds. No rain the whole day.

At 9am I meet again the driver matchmaker. He tells me that today I have a new driver, because the other one had to take care of another customer for three days. The matchmaker explains the program of the day: three sites in the morning, back to Rantepao for lunch, several sites in the afternoon.

In reality the day will turn out quite different, and we'll run out of things to see/do and will be back at the hotel early at 3:15pm.

The first stop is at 9:30am (Batu Menhir - Rante Parinding), basically some kind of grave with megaliths. Quite scenic with all those big stones.

Then we drive across the beautiful rice paddy landscape to the next site (Kalimbuang Bori). This is a tomb site with a megalith burial ground and other tombs in the rock and in huge rock boulders. Also this is very scenic and had I known that we would run out of things to see later, I would have spent more time here. 30000 IDR entry ticket.

The next stop is Palawa, which consists of two rows of traditional houses facing each other (entry ticket: 30000 IDR). Again very scenic and the house roofs are built with traditional materials (as opposed to most buffalo horn houses which use corrugated metal roofs).

Shortly after 11am we leave Palawa and drive to the next place, Galugu Dua, 4km from Palawa. It's again two rows of buffalo horn houses, this time however all with corrugated metal roofs, except for one which is built in traditinal materials.

When I ask why we bother to stop here, the driver says this one house is 300 years old.
Around 11:20am we drive to the Bolu cattle market. Today there is no market, but a few buffaloes are still in the market area.

At 11:45am we are at the Marante site. Here basically there are some wooden statues in a rock overlooking a road. Seems this is all there is in this site, so the stop here is quite short.

We are back in Rantepao shortly after 12pm and stop in the Rimiko restaurant (where I have found the matchmaker). I have lunch here.

After 1pm we leave again. This time the matchmaker is in the car with us and he will accompany us to a cock fight somewhere in the mountains.

Along the way we stop several times because the scenery and the villages are simply too gorgeus. Beautiful rice paddies, terraces, forest areas, villages with traditional houses etc.

The road by the way is really bad. Only paved in some sections, in other sections it is a bad dirt track (with big stones).

After some time (around 2pm) we reach the village of the cock fight. It turns out that today there is no cock fight.

So we turn back and slowly, with several photo stops along the way, get back to the hotel in Rantepao, arriving at 3:15pm.

The day today is much shorter than the day yesterday, and I wonder if we have run out of things to see. According to the matchmaker you need three days to visit Tana Toraja, but somehow after less than two days we have finished the sights.

I do some research in the Internet. We have indeed seen all there is to see around Rantepao, i.e. we haven't missed anything. There are a few more sites, but they are very far away.

So in principle, Tana Toraja could be "done" in 1 1/2 days. Perhaps the three days the local guides mention include a (half/full day?) visit to a funeral - just guessing.

Or perhaps if you have a guide who explains everything, you spend (much) more time at each site.

But if you are short of time and have a driver who knows where to bring you, you could limit your stay to two days - arrive the first day with the flight from Makassar, do sightseeing for the remaining half day, then for the full next day.

In the hotel I book the flight to Gorontalo on the 19th (have a short 1:35 hours time window to change planes in Makassar - hope things will work out).

Then I walk back into town and chill a bit and have an early dinner at 5pm. I'm back in the hotel before 7pm.

18.8: Tana Toraja
Toraja lodge hotel, Rantepao.
Weather: overcast the whole day, some rain. Quite chilly at altitude (1300m, especially if you sit in an outdoor restaurant and there is some wind.

The plan for today is to finally see one of these famous Tana Toraja funerals. Leaving the hotel we reach the place (somewhere in the mountains) at 10:45am (after a brief stop along the way).

It's indeed a big deal. Lots of people. They have converted an entire village to a place where to hold this celebration. While we are there (i.e. these 1:20 hours) people dressed in traditional attire arrive all the time and bring money and gifts (and some speaker announces what everybody brings).

I also brought something. Initially the guide (today the matchmaker is my guide for a fee of 500000 IDR) insists that I must buy a box of 20 packs of cigarettes, because apparently this is the tradition. Some discussion, I stubbornly insist that I'm not going to buy cigarettes. Even if nobody were to smoke them (which I doubt), I don't want to support this industry.

So in the end I buy three cans of Bintang beer and 4 Kg of sugar, paying 120000 IDR (= 8 Euro). Now, if I were to buy three cans of beer and 4Kg in a German supermarket I'd spend less than 8 Euro, so something here must be quite expensive. Perhaps it's the beer.

Actually I could have sneaked in without bringing any gifts, because nobody checks at the entrance if I brought gifts or not.

In any case, the entire scene is quite picturesque. Young girls, even kids, are heavily made up and wear traditional clothes. The guys were the sarong. Traditions are quite strong here.

Several pigs lie on the ground, tied to some wooden frames. One after one they will be slaugthered and cooked for the guests. There are also many buffaloes, but they will not be slaughtered today.

I meet again Bertus, who in the meantime has read the post on Tripadvisor complaining about him. He gives me his version of the facts, which differs a bit from what was posted on the Tripadvisor Sulawesi forum. I tell him to post his version in the forum.

I also meet a German couple who is also travelling in Sulawesi. Brief chat about the trip.

This funeral thing is very scenic and picturesque, but after a while it gets boring watching all these people always come in.

So after 12:20pm or 12:25pm we get back to the car and drive to a restaurant near the Batutumonga viewpoint.

With good weather this would be a great place where to spend some time and enjoy the view. But today it's fresh and rainy, and sitting outside having lunch is a bit freezing. Hopefully I don't catch a cold.

After lunch we drive to another place, the Loko Mata site (30000 IDR entrance fee). This is sort of a giant boulder where they have cut slots for tombs in the rock (and they are still actively adding tomb slots - this huge boulder is like a Swiss cheese.

Still, it's quite an interesting view. Tombs everywhere. Even along the way, every bigger boulder or rock has been use to place tombs in it. Interesting local culture.

It's now raining a little bit and it won't be suitable to trek through the countryside.

So we drive to a place, where after a harvesting ceremony, there is now some kind of martial arts competition. Countless guys fighting against each other, group fights.
Nobody is supposed to get hurt, but they all actively kick each other.

We are back in the hotel around 4pm. In the evening I have a dinner in town.

19.8: Rantepao -> Gorontalo
Hotel Grand Q, Gorontalo. 549808 IDR for a big room in what probably formerly was a 4 or 5 star hotel (now everything is a bit old).
Weather: overcast in the early morning in Rantepao. By 9am the sky opens up and the sun shines. Sunny, blue sky with a few clouds in Gorontalo. No rain the whole day.

I check out after breakfast at 9am, then can't initially find the driver, then I find him. We leave the hotel around 9:05am and drive to the airport. The drive is slow, but without major hitches. The taxi trip to the airport costs 300000 IDR.

At 10:17am we are at the airport. There I discover that I get both boarding passes (the one for the flight to Makassar and the one for the flight fromm Makassar to Gorontalo) and the luggage is checked through until Gorontalo.
This is great news because yesterday I was worrying that I would have to check in again in Makassar and the time might not be enough (1:35 hours between flights).

So I proceed to the waiting area and book the hotel in Gorontalo.

The plane from Makassar lands early at 10:50am.

Shortly after 11am we start boarding the plane. By 11:20am we are in the air, which is strange because actually this is an 11:35am flight. Perhaps they had all passengers ahead of time, so decided to take off early.

We land in Makassar airport at 12:10pm. If you are in transit, you have to show your boarding pass and enter the gate after a security check.

There in the gates area I order some food in a restaurant. I get the worst food I have so far had in Indonesia on this trip. They have no noodle soup with chicken, so I order a fried rice with chicken (not spicy) and some freshly squeezed pineapple juice.

What they serve is plain white rice, a dry, overcooked drumstick with almost no meat and some sauce which is extremely hot (uneatable). The pineapple juice has no taste - probably it's a few drops of pineapple juice diluted with water. All this for 94000 IDR.

Probably this restaurant relies on customers like me who don't know how bad this place is.

By 1:15pm I'm at the gate waiting for the flight to Gorontalo. I have to wait for a while - boarding starts quite late, after 2pm. Some girls who are also going to Gorontalo ask if I have a house there.

The 2:05pm flight seems to be delayed, because at 2:30pm the plane is still at the gate.

At 2:32pm it finally starts rolling, and about five minutes later it takes off. We land in Gorontalo at 3:55pm, with 20 minutes of delay.

Then things proceed smoothly, i.e. I quickly retrieve the luggage. At the exit there are several taxi counters. All offer trips to Gorontalo for 100000 IDR, which look like a good deal considering the distance.

Turns out that these are for shared taxis and I manage to get a taxi with two other people and a crazy taxi driver who plays with the smartphone while driving and almost causes a car accident because of that. The taxi leaves late because it waits for passengers to fill the car and obviously I'm the last person he brings to destination. I'm in the hotel at 5:55pm.

The driver, by the way, offers to bring me to watch the whale sharks tomorrow.

In the hotel after checking in I ask if they can recommend a tour operator. And they put me in touch with somebody. Later I discover that this guy most likely is ok, but charges far too much (2 million IDR for a one day trip with the car).

I go out and walk to the Gorontalo mall. This is, well, a decent mall, but not a terribly impressive one (not the newest one and a bit small; no food court).

In the mall just for a change I have a pizza in a Pizza Hut restaurant. Then, there, a lady (her name is Henni) approaches me and asks if she can have a chat with me. No problem, so we start talking.

Turns out she is some kind of tour guide. Good to know, perhaps she can help organise my time in Gorontalo.

After a discussion, some phone calls etc. we end up agreeing that she will pick me up tomorrow at 8am in the hotel. We'll do a day trip tomorrow for 600000 IDR for the car and she will join me for an additional 200000 IDR. The day after that I'm planning an overnight trip to the Nantu national park.

20.8: Trip in the Gorontalo region
Hotel Grand Q, Gorontalo. Today I discover that in my room there are cockroaches.
Weather: sunny, blue sky with some clouds and a thin clouds cover, which varies over the day.

Shortly after 8am Henni picks me up in the car (a minivan) with the driver. Together we drive towards the southeastern coast to the whale shark viewing spot.

We arrive there around 8:30am. Now the next thing to do would be to get into a boat and look for the whale sharks. Henni speaks with the boatsmen. Turns out that it's already two days that the whale sharks do not show up. Who knows where they are.

So we spend some more time on this place along the coast (there is a beach with boats), then drive to the next spot (along the coast). It's the Olele marine park. We arrive there at 9:13am.

Well, I was expecting a bit more of this place. It's again a beach with boats on it. The only difference is that boats here bring people to snorkel into the sea.

We are here until about 9:45am, then drive back to Gorontalo. Along the way, we stop in one spot with a good view of a bay.

The idea now would be to do some sightseeing in Gorontalo. More specifically, we start with the Dutch colonial era houses. We arrive there in Gorontalo at 10:50am.

Now, these Dutch houses are in a good conservation status, but are not terribly interesting. We then see a few more buildings, including the sultan's palace.

Around 11:30am we stop for lunch in a small restaurant, where we order some tuna sate sticks with rice and a soup.

After lunch, at 12:20pm we leave for the next place, the northern coast. More specifically we will drive to the Kwandang harbour and take a boat to Saronde island.

It was basically me asking to drive to the northern coast to have a look. By the way, the driver asks me to pay an additional 100000 IDR for the fuel (on top of the 600000 IDR I pay for the car; in addition, I pay the lunch for the guide and the driver).

The drive takes a lot of time. It's just 63 km, but we need almost two hours to get there, because the roads are not good and because there is a lot of traffic.

While driving there I have a discussion about the plan for the next days with Henni. I discard the idea to go to the Bogani Nani Wartabone national park, because there is no accomodation there (according to Henni).

I'd have to go to some kind of homestay in the national park using a motorbike, leaving behind my luggage (because it can't be transported on a motorbike) and bringing along food and drinks.

I'm not that adventorous and would prefer a comfortable room with A/C, a restaurant, guides etc.

Unfortunately I have to cancel also the plan to go to the Nantu national park. This one has better infrastructure (accomodation and a restaurant; you can go there by car) and some guide can bring you on his motorbike into the jungle.

But you need a government permit and today is Saturday, tomorrow Sunday. I could get the permit at the earliest on Monday and I'm not keen to waste one day (Sunday) in Gorontalo doing nothing. Also, I don't really like this place.

The other things is that there is a direct flight to Manado on Sundays and Fridays, and tomorrow is Sunday. If I miss that flight, I have to fly all the way back to Makassar and then catch a flight to Manado.

Alternatively, it's also possible to go overland to Manado. But it's over nine hours by car (10+ to Tangkoko) and I'm not crazy about spending a full day in a car on these horrible roads.

So I decide to pick the flight to Manado tomorrow and take it easy in Tangkoko.

We are at the harbour in Kwandang at 2:20pm. Some discussion with the boatsmen. For 300000 IDR they will bring us to the Saronde island.

But I have to call a phone number before, because the island is privately owned by an Australian and somehow I need permission. The problem is, when I call that number, nobody picks up the phone.

It takes about 45 minutes to reach an island (Mohinggito, not Saronde; 5000 IDR/person entrance fee). We stop there for  while. There are a couple of beaches (actually three), of which one sucks, and the northern one is good. There are some beach huts and a cafe, and some local kids playing around. But otherwise this island is unimpressive. By the way, it is surrounded by coral.

We have some drink, then get back to the boat and ask to be brought to Saronde. Some discussion, the boatsman says that without permission from the owner/caretaker, he may not bring us there.

In the end we agree that he will bring us to a spot from which we can take some pictures of Saronde island.

Saronde island is a bit better, meaning that it has some nice sandy beach. But otherwise it is also so-so.

At 4:22pm we turn back and return to the harbour, arriving there at 5:15pm. Then it's a longish drive back to Gorontalo. We're back after 7pm.

21.8: Gorontalo -> Tangkoko
Tangkoko ranger homestay, Tangkoko (Bitung). The equivalent of 32 Euro for a big room with A/C (not very strong), two big beds, toilet with shower, no furniture except for some thing to put the luggage on. The door lock is broken (the door can't be locked). No WLAN in the room (only in the restaurant). No hot water in the shower (only cold).
Weather: sunny, blue sky with some clouds in Gorontalo. Same weather in Tangkoko and Manado. No rain the whole day.

At 9am I check out and call a Grab car to the airport (146000 IDR + 5000 IDR parking fee at airport). Henni asked yesterday to follow me to the airport, so she is there with me.

The car arrives punctually and is a flashy new Daihatsu minivan. We reash the airport shortly after 10am.

There I check in and pay the luggage fee (which now is at a steep 620000 IDR - was 540000 IDR in the Internet, but they weren't accepting credit cards on that website - I would have had to make a payment via an ATM).

I have some food at the airport (noodle soup with rice for 35000 IDR), then go to the gates area. There I open the computer and start doing some stuff, until around 11am I hear a boarding call for the flight to Manado.

What happens is that the Wings air flight again boards/leaves early. It's an 11:45am flight (on an ATR72-500/600, about 70% full), but by 11:20am it starts rolling and takes off at 11:24am.

We land in Manado at 12:11pm and are at the gate at 12:15pm. I proceed to retrieve the luggage, then look for an ATM, because I need new cash. The ATM in the airport is out of order.

Outside there should be the driver of the Tangkoko ranger homestay. He is not there yet, so while waiting for him I have to explain to several taxi drivers that somebody is picking me up and that I don't need any help.

Finally the driver arrives. We drive to an ATM outside the airport, where I take some cash. Then we drive to Tangkoko.

On the way the car has problems. The engine stutters heavily, as if it was losing breath. Turns out it's because the car is short of fuel, i.e. the problem is solved after the driver stops at a petrol station.

We arrive at the homestay around 2:20pm. Some discussion with the owner about what to do over the next couple of days. This afternoon at 4:30pm there will be an afternoon walk into the forest, ending after dark (at 8pm). Tomorrow there is the morning walk, 6am to 9-10am (3-4 hours).

Then the owner recommends Tomohon as a place where to relax and do some mountain climbing. The Tangkoko and Duasudara volcanoes are not easy to climb (apparently no good trail), while the Lokon near Tomohon seems to be easily accessible.

After 4:30pm I meet the guide and we walk into the jungle. The guide, Mr Farn, speaks some English. Together we'll spend the next three hours walking in the forest. We'll see some insects, spiders, a bunch of Celebes crested macaques, a tarsier and an owl.

At 8pm I have a dinner in the restaurant of the homestay, then I retire to the room.

22.8: Tangkoko
Tangkoko ranger homestay, Tangkoko. See below - the final bill is quite reasonable (they charge only 50000 IDR per meal, no matter what you get).
Weather: sunny, blue sky, hot, the whole day. In the evening it rains between 9pm and 10pm (which is good, because the entire forest is really dry).

I wake up very early at 5:20am, in order to be ready for the 6am walk in the forest. The idea would be to see some wildlife which possibly can only be seen in the early morning and also to get some daytime shots of wildlife in much better light than the evening ones I took yesterday.

So shortly after 6am I meet the guide and we start walking into the forest.

Today the entrance only costs 100000 IDR (yesterday 150000 IDR, because it was the weekend).

We immediately run into a large group of Celebes crested macaques, who are doing morning cleaning stuff (monkeys cleaning each other the fur) in some open air place next to a building. We get very close, the monkeys do not care about us. The guide says that 2000 Celebes crested macaques live in Tangkoko.

The next photo opportunity is with some small blue-black bird high up on a tree. I put on the 1.4x teleconverter (equiv. focal length of 1120mm at the tele end) but even with that the bird only makes up a very small part of the image. Later the same bird flies a bit closer, so that it looks bigger in the image.

Then we spot two green parrots high up on a tree, looking at us. Also here, due to the huge distance the parrots are quite small in the image. Still, I get some good shots at 1120mm focal length. This lens which Olympus released a couple of years ago and their teleconverter are quite good.

Then I take pictures of red flowers which are blooming on top of a tree (30-50m of height probably).

We find the first cuscus bear of the day, again high up on a tree, behind the leaves. This is much more difficult to shoot than the ones I saw in 2019 because of the larger distance and foliage in between.

Then we spot a second cuscus bear, more difficult to shoot because it hides behind the leaves, high up on a tree.

By now we have met several other groups of tourists, each with a guide, walking in the forest. More or less all these groups go to the same places, sort of following a predefined itinerary.

Later we spot a large male hornbill which is bringing some food to a female in a tree (probably raising chicks). This time the hornbill takes almost the entire image frame at 1120mm.

Then we see the third cuscus bear of the day, a very shy animal which hides so much behind foliage that I can't get good images of it.

Next, surprise surprise, we see a couple of tarsiers on a tree who apparently are active during the day (it's 9:05am). This time I get some very good shots, because the animals are very close and not afraid of me.

Before getting back to the homestay we'll see two different bird species and again some Celebes crested macaques.

Back in the homestay I go through the images and later have lunch.

In the afternoon I book the flight with Scoot from Manado to Kuching via Singapore on August 24th.

At 4:30pm the afternoon walk starts. Initially I'll shoot some spiders with the flash. We then walk to the beach, which consists of black sand (probably volcanic).

This afternoon forest walk end up being not very fruitful, because we don't see as much wildlife as we saw yesterday or this morning. The other thing is that because it is quite dark, the camera is not fast enough acquiring focus and we miss some photo opportunities.

We are back before 8pm in the homestay. I have some dinner, then retire to the room.

23.8: Tangkoko -> Tomohon
Mountain View homestay, Tomohon. 12 Euro for a room (actually a bedroom and another room with table and chairs), attached bathroom. No A/C (but you don't need it, because at 800m it is quite fresh). The bathroom has hot water in the shower, but the shower sucks. The first room they put me in has no towel (I have to ask them to give me one - they ask why I don't have one with me) and no paper in the toilet. When I find out that the shower is broken, they move me to another room, and this is much better than the previous one (there is a towel inside, toilet paper and a clothes drying rack). No WLAN, but I can use mobile data on my phone.
At night I have difficulties falling asleep, because the bed and the pillow are so smelly and disgusting. It's the smell of a foul and rotten bed full of mold, where countless of sweating people who never take showers have slept. This bed should be sent to an incinerator.
Weather: it seems that it has rained during the night in Tangkoko. It's still raining in the morning, but by 9am the sun comes out. In Tomohon it's overcast and rains a little bit, but it's dry after 3-4pm.

In the morning I check out. The bill turns out to be quite reasonable - 50000 IDR per meal, and the meals were big with lots of food.

At 9:30am I leave with the car for Tomohon. The drive is quite smooth, but because the driver misunderstood the accomodation in Tomohon (Mountain View resort vs homestay), we lose some time in Tomohon and I only check in around 11:50am.

Some discussion with the owner of the place. Mt Lokon is doable, but right now the summit is covered by clouds. The Mahawu crater is even accesible by car, and the owner thinks that the birds there are not necessarily that impressive.
Later I discover that there are lots of birds also on Mt Lokon - perhaps I should have brought along the long lens.

I walk to the supermarket opposite the homestay and buy some food and drinks (I've skipped lunch today and it's almost 1pm).

Then I call a Grab car and provide the Mt Lokon trail starting point as destination, because I can't select the De Lokon Cafe and Restorant as destination in the app, which would be a better starting point.

It takes half an hour to reach that spot. Actually not exactly, because the road becomes impassable for a sedan car. So I explain verbally that I'd like to go to the De Lokon cafe and the driver brings me there.

This De Lokon cafe and restorant is quite an impressive place. On a slope overlooking Tomohon, with a huge and nice garden with flowers, it seems to be a venue for weddings or other events.

I start walking upwards following the road initially. After some time I run into a group of western travellers with a local guide. They are coming down and perhaps have already climbed Mt Lokon.

I continue and at one point cross a dry river. I continue, but the trail ends in the middle of nowhere - there is huge grass, tall as men, blocking the way and this grass has sharp edges. I check, but there is no way to continue.

So I backtrack and think a bit. I start guessing that perhaps that dry riverbed allows to proceed upwards. Indeed this is the case, as I can see footprints of trekking boots in the sand of this riverbed. So I walk up all the way, until I reach a plateau.

Then I turn left and start climbing the mountain. The problem is that there is no visible trail. Initially climbing is ok, as the ground is free of vegetation, but after some time I'm again blocked by tall vegetation.

Looking down, at some point I notice a volcanic crater with smoke. Checking my position with Google Maps, I realise that I'm climbing up Mt Lokon, but actually I wanted to reach this crater.

Since it's almost 3pm and continuing upwards it's a fight against the vegetation (I like climbing mountains, but not under such conditions), I walk down to the crater, Lokon-Empung.

Big crater, and there is sulphurous smoke coming out. At the bottom there is a small , muddy lake (actually more mud than water - probably this is a lake only during the rainy season).

After 4pm I start walking down. All the time I run into all kinds of different birds. I don't have the long lens with me (only the general purpose one), because I didn't want to carry too much weight when climbing the mountain.

I reach again the Lokon cafe. If I call a Grab car, perhaps they wouldn't come all the way up to this place to pick up a customer (just guessing), so I continue walking down until I reach Tomohon city.

The scenery and the views are quite nice. Lots of agriculture on these slopes.

After 5:30pm I reach Tomohon, i.e. the main road crossing Tomohon. I continue walking a bit, just to have a look at the city. At some point I realise that it's still 2 1/2 km until the KFC, so I pull out the phone and open the Grab app. 10000 IDR to reach the KFC, but suddenly a minibus stops and offers a ride for 5000 IDR. So I get into the minibus.

The KFC is open. Quite a difference between Tomohon and Tarakan. Tomohon is a relatively developed place with good tourist infrastructure, Tarakan is a - how should I say - a place where I foreign tourist who can't speak Indoensian shouldn't end up.

After some food in the KFC, I get out and walk the remaining 1.5 km to the homestay. I buy some more food and drinks in the supermarket and retire in the room.

There I find out that the shower doesn't work and move to the adjacent room.

24.8: Tomohon -> Manado -> Kuching (via Singapore)
Imperial Riverbank hotel, Kuching. RM 127 for a room. Nice full service hotel, not sure how many stars, but feels like four stars. Nicely decorated, lots of equipment and furniture. Good location in Kuching.
Weather: sunny, blue sky with a few clouds in Tomohon, fresh. Hot, steamy and sunny in Manado. It's raining in Singapore and Kuching.

I check out after 10am, then book a Grab car for two destinations. First the Mahawu volcano, then the airport in Manado. The Grab car arrives at 10:15am.

It doesn't take long to reach the parking (15000 IDR fee) of the Mahawu volcano. We are there at 10:40am. For there it's a short walk to the viewpoint from which you can see the crater. We are around 1330m of altitude and the entire area is heavily forested.

Very nice view from this viewpoint. Due to all this vegetation this should be a good area for birdwatching. There is a fresh breeze and the light is great. I regret a bit not staying longer here.

In principle trekking could be an option here, if there are trails and you have a guide with you who can help you spot birds and other wildlife.

Around 11am, because I have to catch a 2pm flight in Manado, I tell the driver to get back to the car. We walk back to the car and around 11:10am start driving towards the Manado airport.

Along the way the driver stops at a petrol station for refueling and there we lose quite some time. Basically we only start driving again at 11:30am.

Some stress because there is a lot of slow traffic on this mountain road and I don't know how early I have to be in Manado for the international flight to Singapore. Is 1 1/2 hours sufficient, or should I be there 2-3 hours before?

In the end we reach the airport at 12:29am. I enter and immediately proceed to the check-in. Check-in is very slow and I wait half an hour until it's my turn.

In my case, because I fly to Kuching and don't live there, the check-in counter staff wants to know my complete itinerary after Kuching. But I don't have printouts of all tickets (Kuching-KL, KL-Doha-Munich).

Kuching-KL happens to be in my phone, but KL-Doha-Munich is in my computer, buried in some email. Some time lost pulling out the computer, finding the email with the ticket and showing it to the counter staff.
Oh, and of course I have to show proof of vaccination (I use the MySejahtera app).

I was thinking to have lunch at the airport, but since it's already 1:20pm and I still have to proceed through security and passport control, there is just no time to have something in a restaurant.

But even if I had time, I couldn't have lunch because there are no restaurants in this gates area. So I buy some chips and drinks at an Alfamart store.

Turns out that I have to finish all these drinks at once, because there is one more security check before passport control, and they don't allow you to bring any liquids.

Finally around 1:40pm I'm at the gate. I pull out the computer and start processing some images, thinking that soon I have to close it again and board the plane.

Turns out that the waiting time at the gate is much longer than expected, because the Scoot flight to Singapore is delayed.

In fact I board the plane after 2:10pm. The plane starts rolling at 2:35pm and takes off at 2:45pm (was supposed to be 2pm).

The plane is almost full. I see only a handful of empty seats.

Around 5:35pm we are above Singapore, then the plane circles a bit (waiting loop) and in the end we land at 6pm local time. I get out, enter the transit area and have some food (there is a small food court).

At 7:50pm I am at the gate. There is a new security check and then I board the Scoot flight to Kuching. The plane starts rolling at 8:26pm and takes off at 8:36pm (was supposed to be 8:15pm).

We land in Kuching at 9:50pm. Things initially proceed smoothly - by 10:05pm I have passed immigration and am at the luggage belt. Then I have to wait 20 minutes for my suitcase. Once outside the terminal - which is freezing cold like a refrigerator - I have to wait 15 minutes for a Grab car.

I check in at the hotel around 11pm. Full service hotel with a clean bed, what a difference from that shithole place where I stayed yesterday.

25.8: Kuching -> Bako national park
Accomodation in Bako NP, RM 50. I'm sharing a room with four beds with two ladies from Perak, because no accomodation is left today. Basic room with fan and attached bathroom. The room I had been assigned to is used by somebody else (booking mistake). Later in the evening I'm assigned my own room (perhaps somebody cancelled or didn't show up). Big bathroom attached with toilet and (cold) shower. Yellowish water coming out of the tap.
Weather: overcast the whole day, some light rain every now and then. In the afternoon the sun peeks through a bit and there are some patches of blue sky. Not too hot.

In the morning I get some cash from an ATM, then buy some food and drinks in a convenience store.

At 10:24 am I take a Grab car to the jetty for the Bako NP (RM 34), arriving at 10:58 am. Then starts the discussion for the boat and the accomodation. I have no reservation, but the staff finds an empty room for me. Then I'm approached by a Malaysian Indian girl from Perak regarding the boat. It's RM 200 for the whole boat (go and come back) and she wants to share the cost. If you return later than 3pm, the cost is higher (RM 400 for the entire boat).

The girl also offers to share the room, but since I got an own room in Bako, I initially decline.

Then more people join to share the boat cost.

So, around 11:40am we get into the boat and leave for the Bako NP. There is some light rain.

In Bako, at the reception, they give me the key to a room. This is not empty, so I move into the room with the Perak ladies.

Then, around 12:40pm I start trekking in the national park. The longer trail until the far away peninsula is closed, so I will do the walk to the Pandan beaches, then get back with the circular Lintang trail.

The scenery is nice and would be even better with a sunny blue sky. The trail goes all the way down to the smaller Pandan beach, but stops at a viewpoint for the bigger Pandan beach.

When walking back along the Lintang trail to the park HQ, I realise that this trail is longer than it looks on the map. In fact when I finally am back at the park HQ, I will have walked over 21000 steps. I haven't been walking so much for quite some time.

In addition, this trail is difficult. Very steep in some sections (you have to climb up/down along unstable wooden ladders), slippery, lots of balance needed, lots of tree roots everywhere. Even the less steep sections sometimes are challenging, if you try to avoid the muddy parts.

I'm back after 6pm, just in time before it starts getting dark.

Around 7pm I have a dinner. RM 25, you choose from a selection of pre-cooked food.

Then the staff tells me that a room suddenly is available. I rush back to the room of the Malaysian Indian ladies and move my stuff to the new room. Now I have a room with four beds just for me.

In the evening, between 8 and 10 pm there is a night walk. Largish number of people (perhaps 15-20) following a guide. Another guide is behind and closes the ranks. In between there is a female staff.

We spot quite a few small animals (insects, frogs, fish, even two snakes.

26.8: Bako NP -> Kuching -> KL
Sunway Putra hotel, Kuala Lumpur and Hero hostel (Kuching). The room in Kuching costs 8 Euro and is needed for a few hours, to take a rest, have a shower and a place where to leave the luggage. The room is small, has no windows, but is clean and functional (has controllable A/C, a toilet with shower).
The hotel in KL is the same as the one at the beginning of this trip (full service hotel) and costs around 50 Euro per day. They have upgraded us from the superior to the deluxe room at no extra charge (perhaps we are good customers). Nice, clean, fully furnished room. 4 star feeling. Very good shower with plenty of hot water. Soft bed.
Weather: overcast in Bako in the morning. Around 11am-12pm the sky opens up a little bit. Not too hot (due to the cloud cover).

I'm at the reception at 8:30am asking for a guide who can show me some wildlife today. After some discussion it turns out that no guide is available. Some people arrive this morning with their own guide, but are unwilling to share the guide.

Between about 10am and 1pm I do the Lintang trail in the other direction of yesterday (in case I missed something yesterday).

After 1pm I have some lunch in the cafeteria, then wait for the boat to Kampung Bako.

At 2pm I meet the couple with whom I'm sharing the cost of the boat transfer. They give me the phone number of the boatsman. I call him and ask him to come early.

At 2:30pm the boatsman is here and we get on the boat. Then it's about 20-30 minutes to the jetty in Kampung Bako. There I share the taxi to Kuching with the same couple (cost is RM 50, split by three).

Around 3:30pm I check in at the hostel in Kuching. I soon get out again and buy some snacks and drinks in a convenience store, then get back to the room.

I'll be there until almost 5:50pm, going through the images of the past days, then taking a shower.

At 5:50pm I go out, thinking of having some quick food in a KFC restaurant. On the way I run into a seafood food court and go there. I choose a nice slice of fish and ask them to cook it for me. What I get is an overfried fish steak, hard, dry and tasteless. Should have told them to steam it (and at RM 50 this fish slice is not cheap either).

It's 6:50pm when I'm back on the street. A bit late for a relaxed stroll on the streets of Kuching. I decide to go to the airport a bit early and spend the time there.

So I leave the room in the Hero hostel and call a Grab car. With that I get to the airport (RM 12), arriving at 7:26pm. I check in and proceed to the gates area.

The 9:40pm Airasia flight to KL is a bit delayed. The plane starts rolling at 10:06pm and finally takes off at 10:17pm. It's quite full, especially considering that we arrive late in KL.

We land at 11:37pm in KL and I retrieve the luggage at 00:06am. Very long walk to the exit of the terminal (by the way, very nice, clean and modern terminal - it improved over the years - it's now much better than KLIA1).

I wait 20 minutes until the Grab car arrives (RM 65 + RM 7.50 of tolls). We leave KLIA2 at 00:27am and arrive at the hotel at 1:14am.

27.8: Kuala Lumpur
Sunway Putra hotel, Kuala Lumpur.
Weather: sunny, blue sky in the morning. It gets overcast in the afternoon and then it rains for some time. Not so hot after the rain.

Day spent in KL, reunited with the family. We leave the hotel very late (after 12pm) and take a train to Masjid Jamek. From there we walk to the central market (Pasar Seni).

There the ladies shop a bit, then have something in a cafe restaurant. We then take a Grab car to KLCC and spend some time there, also eating some food in the food court.

Then the ladies take the train back to the hotel, while I will slowly walk back the 3.3km to the hotel, because I'm in the mood of walking a bit (after having spent so much time in the freezing Suria KLCC shopping mall, I need to warm up a bit).

On the way to the hotel I'll discover a part of KL I haven't seen before and take some nice pictures. It starts raining while I'm walking, so I try to walk in covered pavements.

In the evening we'll meet some relatives of Shirley.

28.8: Kuala Lumpur
Sunway Putra hotel, Kuala Lumpur + night spent on the plane.
Weather: as yesterday, but a bit more clouded. More sunny in the morning, then gradual clouds buildup, rain after 4pm until midnight (and beyond).

After 12pm I take a Grab car to the butterfly park (ticket: RM 25), arriving there at 12:22pm.

The butterfly park is basically a huge cage with lots of plants and flowers, where different species of butterflies fly around. Perhaps these butterflies also reproduce there.
There is also a small exhibit area with glass cases containing insects and other information about butterflies.

Around 1:20pm I leave the butterfly park and take a Grab car to the Thean Hou Chinese temple, a big and nice Chinese temple. I'm there at 1:40pm.

This Sunday the Thean Hou temple is full of people, lots of activitity. Even some couple getting married.

At 2:24pm I take a Grab car to the Mid Valley mall, where I meet Shirley and the kids. I'll be almost two hours in the mall. At 4:15pm we take a Grab car back to the Sunway Putra mall.

Then I buy some food and drinks and at 5pm, walk back to the hotel.

We'll be in the Sunway Putra hotel and mall until the evening. At 11:47pm we take a Grab car to the airport.

29.8: KL -> Doha -> Munich
Home, sweet home.
Weather: sunny, blue sky in Doha, not a cloud in the sky.

We reach KLIA at 00:50am. Then we check in and proceed to the gate. Around 2:50am we board the plane to Doha. The plane, an A330-300, is quite full.

The plane starts rolling at 3:16am and takes off at 3:27am with a delay of half an hour. Inside this Malaysia Airlines plane it's quite cold - as usual Malaysians like very cold A/C. I'll keep that in mind when booking the next flight from Germany to Malaysia.

We land in Doha at 5:07am local time and exit the plane at 5:21am. Then we waste some time as somehow we have to have our boarding passes (which Malaysia Airlines issued in KLIA) checked/processed again at some counter (> 30 min. waiting time).

After that there is a long queue at the security check and after some time they tell us to move to another security queue, because this one is too full. A bit strange that this airport is so crowded on an early Monday morning.

Around 7am we have some food in the food court, then proceed to the gate. There, the Qatar airways staff takes a very long time to process our boarding passes. Something which takes a matter of seconds (swipe the boarding pass over the reader), here takes several minutes as a lady carefully checks everything multiple times and types something into a computer.

At 7:40am we are finally in the waiting area of the gate, around 8am we board the plane. It starts rolling at 8:30am and after a very long time takes off at 8:52am.

The plane is a new and stylish Boeing 787-8 with LCD window shades. It's almost full.

We land in Munich at 1:15pm, 15 minutes early. At 1:43pm we have passed passport control and are at the luggage belt. Then, due to some problems, we only get the luggage at 3:10pm, i.e. almost two hours after we landed.

At 3:24pm we are at the train station and just missed the 3:23pm S8 train to Munich. We then take the next S8 train at 3:44pm and reach home shortly before 5pm.