Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Self-portrait of Early 2003

Travelling Days and Places to Stay

I used to travel quite a lot while I was still studying overseas in the UK. During most of the summer breaks I'd be planning ahead with my mates on the next venue to visit or venture. I've been to Turkey (Ankara and Istanbul), quite fun that was. Amsterdam was cool. Plus some others, mostly Europe. Travel was mostly done using trains which, at the time and probably still is, the most cost-efficient means to travel across the European continent. You travel for long hours most days, and if you haven't a posse of fun individuals to travel with, you'd get bored pretty quickly.
When you travel as a student, most of the time you only spend on travel fares, food and the occasional lodging (if you don't end up sleeping at the train station). It's got to be cheap, as cheap as the word goes. I never indulged in shopping for souveniers because I well couldn't afford to. It would be good to go visit places where shopping is relatively cheap.
I've never remembered staying in a, should I say, a proper hotel room back then. It was always one of those small, secluded and very cheap inn or one of the YMCA hostels where you pay for a room to share with four other strangers. Plus sharing the sanitary facilities they provide. But I was not one to complain because a comfortable lodging with a nice warm bed are but a temporary bliss when compared to the joys of discovering new places to see and enjoy.
These days, my method of travelling is down to two main choices: by car or by plane. There is no railway service here in Borneo, for Sabah and Sarawak that is. Your best bet to travel effectively and efficiently is by car, bus or by plane. It's faster by plane if you go from one city or town (with ab airport) to the other.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Nathan and the Songbirds

On Monday 2oth my family and I went to a Christian Charity Concert in town, organised by the SIB (Sidang Injil Borneo) Church and their associates. Some of Malaysia's top young performing artists were there, i.e. Jaclyn Victor, Juwita Suwito and Evenstarr. It was quite an ok show (ok because I thought the minus-one sound system didn't do justice to the singers, i.e. the sound system sucked big time) and the performers were very friendly indeed. Here are some photos of my son Nathan with Juwita and Jaclyn.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Tawau, Sabah - Seafood at its Best

I was in Sabah just a couple of weeks ago. Kota Kinabalu to be exact, the capital of Sabah, north of Borneo Island. My how the landscape has changed. My last visit to Kota Kinabalu (or KK for short) was back in early 2006, while I was working on a project in Tawau, southeast of Sabah. They are now building (or have completed some parts of it) a fly-over which crosses over the main road leading to the city centre towards Centrepoint shopping mall, or something like that. Sutera Harbour Resort still looks good, since it was first developed in the early 2000s. There are a couple of new shopping places again, one of them is City Mall I believe it's called, and another one just sort of next to Centrepoint. I don't remember what that one is called now. For the shoppers among you, you can find out more in a fellow shoppers' travel blogs of KK.
In less than 50 words, Kota Kinabalu is a modern city with a rather impressive road network and is fast expanding, thanks to the developments on the reclaimed land to the coastal side of the city. It's best for quick shopping trips because they do have good shopping places in KK, much much better than Kuching I would say.
Tawau - What I remember best about this town is the excellent and very affordable seafood. it's also the gateway to one of the region's best coral reef areas and diving areas, i.e. Semporna and Sipadan island. Check out other similar places in this region in coral reef diving travel blog. In Tawau you can get escargoes and lobsters for half the price you pay in the cities, cooked that is.
Food area to visit will be the stretch from Sabindo Seafood Night Market (Pasar Malam) which will take you through dozens of Chinese and Malay coffee shop to open air cafes that serve anything from beef noodle soup (Ngiu Chap or Soup Tulang) to fish and chips. Best part to me is it's fresh, delicious and very very affordable - you won't break your wallet even if you bring 10 of your most carnivorous buddies along to feast.
How to get there? First fly yourself (from wherever you are) to KK, then get a connecting flight to Tawau. That would either be MAS or Air Asia.

I've not been to Sipadan myself, but would like to go there someday. Gonna need to take good pictures to make a good travel blog.

Mulu's Trek and Trails - Part 2

Ok, to finish off my writings on Mulu, here are the rest of the information with regards to trails and attraction spots.
The Pinnacles:
Mulu’s famous Pinnacles, which are a mid-way up the slopes of Gunung Api, consist a series of 45 meters high, razor-sharp limestone spikes that tower above the surrounding vegetation. The trek to view them is one of the most popular in the park, yet it is tough and challenging as the trail itself is very steep and requires a certain level of fitness.

The Headhunter's Trail:
The Headhunter's Trail is a great way of entering or leaving Gunung Mulu National Park.
The trek is organised by travel operators. It combines upriver travel, jungle trekking and an overnight stay at an Iban longhouse. The trail itself follows the route taken by Kayan headhunting parties who paddled up the Melinau River to the Melinau Gorge. From there, they dragged their longboats through the forest for 3 km until they reached the banks of the Terikan River, where they launched headhunting raids against the people of the Limbang area.

The Headhunter's Trail can also be done in reverse, starting from Limbang and ending up at the park HQ. Either way the trek offers an excellent introduction to the rivers and rainforest of Mulu and the added attraction of a longhouse visit. Visitors have the option to climb the Pinnacles as part of their Headhunter’s Trail package as the trek includes an overnight stay at Camp 5.

Gunung Mulu Summit Trek:
The toughest trek in the park is the climb to the summit of Gunung Mulu (2,376 m). It requires a high level of fitness. In the 19th Centrury, two old ‘Borneo hands’, Spenser St John and Charles Hose, attempted to conquer Mount Mulu, but expedition failed. It was not until 1920’s, when Tama Nilong discovered the ‘south-west’ ridge way to the summit. In 1932, Tama Nilong led Lord Shackleton and an Oxford University Expedition to the summit of Mulu.

Since then, the route discovered in 1920’s was used as the trail to summit. The trek is usually done by a 4-day hike, but experienced trekkers can do it in less. It involves overnight stops at jungle camps. A number of wooden huts are positioned along the trail, which provide shelter for overnight stops. Trekkers should well prepare with good trekking shoes, sleeping bag, food supplies, cooking utensils and sufficient water before the trek. Along the trail, trekkers can experience the rainforest and perhaps see some rare animals and birds, including various species of Hornbill.

We digress a bit. While I was a student in the UK (in the mid-90s that was), I managed to see some very beautiful countryside areas up in Lake District. Amazing it was. If you haven't heard of the place, search for Lake District in the net. For a place to stay, you might want to check accommodations here for the nearest ones, London is not too far away as well.

Visitors are required to register at the Park HQ upon arrival. There is a good information centre next to the registration counter. Book your accommodation in advance. Bring a raincoat, torch and camera flash along. Non-slip shoes are essential as the trails are slippery. Plan for at least 2 days’ stay in the park to visit the cave system.
No camping equipment will be provided by the Park. Therefore, bring your own sleeping bags (2 seasons) for Camp 5 are sufficient, but for the Summit Trail, warmer equipment is recommended. Visitors who are going for Adventure Caving must bring their own caving equipments, as the park does not supply them. The Park HQ also has a canteen, which sells drinks and meals.
Well that about wraps up Mulu for now. One of the things you need to bear in mind when coming over to an equatorial region is that it minght rain anytime. So get a good hat or raincoat or brolly ready (brollies don't really work all too well in the jungle) before you venture forth. It won't get as cold or as windy as Amsterdam during winter though so no thick clothings needed.
Next post will be on Sabah.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Mulu's Trek and Trails - Part 1

Mulu has three adventure treks, all of which require a certain level of physical fitness. You need basic camping gear, as it is useful if you are planning to stay overnight in the jungle base camps. Trekkers must be accompanied by official park guides. Most tour operators can assist with travel arrangements for these treks and also can supply any necessary equipment and food.

Deer Cave & Lang's Cave:
You can reach the Deer Cave by following a three kilometers plankwalk path where you will pass through peat swamp, alluvial flats and limestone outcrops including some superb rainforest, jungle streams and an ancient Penan burial cave.

Upon reaching the cave entrance, there is no doubt that you are about to enter the largest cave passage in the world. The cave is simply huge, over 2 kilometers in length and not less than 90 meters high and wide. The main chamber, which is partially lit by sunlight, is 174 meters wide and 122 meters high. Deer used to shelter at this cave and this explains why the name Gua Rusa (Deer Cave) was given by the local Penan and Berawan people.

Deer Cave is home to many species of bats. If the weather is fine, visitors may be treated to the spectacular sight of a black cloud of free-tailed bats merging from the entrance of the cave to go in search of food between 5 and 7pm. Initially, this cloud was thought to contain hundreds of thousands of bats, but recently according to a study it was known that the figure is well over 1.3 millions. These bats help to control pests on crops around the vicinity of the caves. They get rid of insects like mosquitoes. It was estimated that each bat could eat 10gms of insects or fruits per day.

There is a path leads into the cave and winds its way around, follow the natural contours of the cave floor. This path eventually leads to the "Garden of Eden" where a hole in the cave roof lets in a shaft of light, which allows the rich green vegetation to thrive. Another feature is the famous profile of Abraham Lincoln, which guards the southern entrance of the cave.

A visit to Deer Cave is usually combined with one to Lang's Cave, whose entrance is a short distance away from that of Deer Cave. Lang's Cave is the smallest of the show caves but its rock formations are well worth seeing. These are more attractive, as all are strategically positioned spotlights, which highlight stalactites and stalagmites.

Clearwater Cave & Wind Cave:
Clearwater Cave is Asia's longest cave and also rated as 7th longest cave passage in the world. It measures 107km. It has a subterranean river, part of which is navigable by boat.

There are two ways to access Clearwater Cave. First, you can trek a 4 km nature trail, which takes about one and half hours. Alternatively, you can take the longboat cruise along the Melinau River where it stops at Wind Cave. This usually take 15 minutes but, if the water level is low, the journey might takes longer as the boatman often has to jump out of the boat and push.

Wind Cave, which is part of the Clearwater Cave system, has many impressive stalactites, stalagmites, flowrocks, helitites and rock corals, some of which are illuminated in the 'King's Room.'

After visiting these caves, visitors can climb down the steps to the picnic area. There is a crystal clear pool at the area filled by water that flows out from the caves which is an excellent swimming spot. Visitors can also choose to relax on the picnic benches and admire the rainforest scenery, or perhaps watch the swarms of butterflies that are often found fluttering around the riverbank. If you are lucky, you might see the Rajah Brooke butterfly with its huge bright-green coloured wings.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Mulu - Flora & Fauna

Continuing from my last post, I'm going to provide some descriptions of Mulu's diverse flora and fauna here.
There are seventeen vegetation zones, which have been recognized, and over 3,500 plant species recorded and 1,500 flowering plants identified. Massive, lowland dipterocarp forest occurs up to an altitude of 800 meters and 284 tree species have been recorded. Between 800 meters to 1,200 meters, Quercus Subsericea dominates the lower montane forest. Upper motane forest displaces between 1,200 meters to 2,177 meters where small tree and shrub layer can be found like Rhododendron and Vaccinium and some other pitcher plants like Nepenthes lowii, N. tentaculata and N.muluensis. Pitcher plants are in themselves one of Borneo's natural flora attraction, and in Sarawak itself an up-coming event is being organised to create awareness among the general public on the uniqueness of this plant species. To check for sources of event or conference organisers, click here.

Limestone forest occurs on the Melinau Limestone Formation, which includes limestone forest; limestone cliff vegetation, lowland limestone montane forest, upper motane limestone forest and limestone cave vegetation. Many endemic calcerous species are represented in this area; the limestone flora is one of the most diverse and best preserved in Southeast Asia.

The alluvial plain in the park comprises of lowland alluvial forest, tropical heath forest, peat swamp and riparian forest. It is the most complex vegetation formation in the park. Some emergent species attain a height of forty meters, with maximum girths of 250m.
One thing an avid traveler always needs is a good camera. I for one would never settle for a point-and-shoot contraption because everytime I take photos, it has to have some kind of short story in it. Which is how photographs should be taken. A good source of photography and related information on suitable equipments to be used, photo-taking, printing, techniques and others can be found here.

Gunung Mulu National Park is also considered to be one of the richest sites in the world for palms, with approximately 111 species and 20 genera recorded. These are Wild sago palm, which occurs on the steep slopes of Gunung Mulu; Iguanura melinauensis and Licuala Lanata are endemic to the alluvial plain; Calamus Neilsonii and Salacca are endemic to the limestone.

About 1,700 species of liverworts and mosses have been recorded. Examples of endemic mosses to the park include Hypnodendron beccarii and H. vitiense. The very rare bogmoss can also be found in rain gullies in the high forest. There are also a great number of spore producing plants, occurring in the park. To date 442 species have been identified, many of which are ferns. In addition 4,000 species of fungi have been recorded.

Fauna species, including 81 mammalian species were found. Important mammal species such as the Malayan Pangolin and 2 species of endemic Borneo squirrels; the tufted ground squirrel and the plain pigmy squirrel have been identified in the park. The Savi pigmy shrew, the smallest mammal in the world, weighing only 2 grams is also found. Other than that, 28 species of bats have been recorded, which is one of the highest numbers in South East Asia. The largest colonies of free tailed bats, wrinkle-lipped bats can be found in Deer Cave including 12 different bat species, the Lesser tailless round leaf and the Orange-tube nosed bat that have not been seen anywhere else in Borneo.

The Park also recorded 270 bird species where out of the 29 endemic Borneo species, 26 have been recorded. There are 8 of Borneo’s hornbill species have been identified including the wrinkled hornbill. Other species include Bulwer’s Pheasant, crested fire back pheasant, Storm’s stork, and the Bamboo muni which is endemic to Borneo and has only been found in Mulu and Kinabalu.

A total number of 25 snake species have been identified. This include regal python, reed snake and poisonous snakes like the banded-coral snake, the red headed krait and the white-spotted cat snake. Two-thirds of all known amphibian species occurring in Borneo can be found at the nominated site, including Wallace’s flying frog and the significance is the Philautus that only breeds in the fluid of the pitcher plant and 27 species of lizard have been identified.
Others existed in the park are 76 species of amphibians and 48 species of fish.
I've always wanted to produce a short film on my excursions in the wild, but before that I need to get myself a good videocam, plus acquire some skills in film-making, editing, graphic designing, etc. A good source of info would be here.
Or, if you're more of a writer, you can also try to look for publishers for your work either in hardcopy or e-book; check it out here.
Ok, more stuff on Mulu in my next post!