Category Archives: Sabah

Hilton Kota Kinabalu ticks all the boxes for me

Flying into KK or Kota Kinabalu as its officially called, we, my friend Judy and I were picked up by Ben who was to be our guide – many thanks to Sabah Tourism Board for helping host us for 3 days and organising my itinerary. Ben was an ideal, and professional guide, and of course our driver, Wilfred (who incidentally, we find out, grows vanilla) was a safe and considerate driver.

First stop the was the Sabah State Museum, where we walked through the heritage village, in and out of many traditional houses and watched women making jewellery and arts and crafts. Inside the museum we enjoyed, in particular, costumes of years gone by and a photographic exhibition. We also made a note to ourselves to read more by Agnes Keith whose first book about ‘North Borneo’ as it was then, has become a tagline for Sabah – Land Below the Wind while another of her books, Three Came Home inspired a film of the same name.

Checking into the Hilton Kota Kinabalu, that evening we had early dinner with Jeremy, the marketing manager from the Hilton: he didn’t need to do any ‘marketing’ as the hotel and the Rooftop Poolside Bar and Grill spoke for itself. I had an Angus beef steak which was thick, tender and cooked perfectly, exactly as I’d requested – rare. Judy had salmon and said it too was faultless.

While up there we met the chef as well as the cooks and wait staff. Breakfast was in the Urban Kitchen on the ground floor and, as always, although I loved the wide variety of global food, I particularly enjoy being able to have Asian dishes for breakfast. The Urban Kitchen has an international buffet every night as well as having a special menu – for instance, Monday Malaysian, and Saturday Local Seafood Market. The Rooftop also specialises in the local seafood.

The Hilton Kota Kinabalu – really central, and which accommodated us for three nights in luxury – has been open since mid-March 2017 and, going by our experience, it’s living up to the names international reputation. Its spacious, luxurious rooms are all you could wish for – including in my room, a large rain or ‘deluge’ shower and big TV. It also had many power points and USB plugs, essential for travellers, and the bedside lights were fantastic – often one of the worst features in hotel rooms!

I also loved the welcoming lobby with its huge chandelier and especially the variety of little seating areas and magazines. Off the lobby was a quiet and well stocked library which impressed me.

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The Hilton staff were impeccable. I asked one of the wait staff ‘why are the Hilton staff so friendly?’ He responded. ‘I don’t know, maybe it’s just typical Malay, ma’am’. It’s true the Malay are friendly and helpful, but the staff here seem to really enjoy their various roles. Of course, Sabah, with the highest number of tourists in Malaysia, is not called ‘friendly state’ by accident.

This is about the third Hilton I’ve stayed at – it certainly was the best, by a long shot – and this, as followers of my blogs will know, is truthful and is exactly how I’d have written this had I not been hosted.

Kinabalu National Park, Sabah, Malaysia

“No, I’m not climbing to the peak” I tell our excellent guide

While in Kinabalu National Park,  (Sabah, Malaysian Borneo) I’m not sure if our guide said “look up there” or I just noticed and photographed the pretty canopy outline then later heard about ‘canopy shyness’. I just know the narrow yet clear gaps between the tree crowns is attractive.

Canopy, or crown, shyness is, I now know after research, is a phenomenon in which some tree species make sure they do not touch each other: forming canopies with channel-like gaps. It’s most common among the same species.

This growth has been discussed in scientific literature since the 1920s and many hypotheses have been put forward as to crown shyness being an adaptive behaviour. Research suggests that it maybe stops the spread of leaf-eating insect larvae, and, or, also possible physical explanations such as light shading sensing by adjacent plants.

A Malaysian scholar, Francis S.P. Ng, studied (1977) the Malay camphor tree and suggested that the growing tips were sensitive to light levels so stopped growing when near other foliage due to the induced shade.

Mt Kinabalu

However, apparently, the most likely theory is that the trees simply do not want to hurt themselves in windy areas!

I wonder – I just know the gaps between the trees provided me with a couple of  striking photos.

Is this a Malay Camphor?

 

Bako, Sarawak: Malaysian Borneo for your bucket-list

I love Bako National Park.  Sadly, I was unable to stay overnight this time, but I recommend that if you possibly can – do so!  I also recommend you book well in advance to get a bed.

This park, which I believe is the smallest in Malaysia, and certainly the most visited because of the ease of access, from Kuching, Sarawak, is almost a different place when all the day-trippers leave.

At the bottom of this blog is a link to another story, with photos, that I wrote about Bako a few years ago after my first visit.  I’m still in love with the ‘ugliest animal you ever could see’ and of course the severely endangered proboscis monkey – most people have no idea that this monkey is even more endangered than the orangutan – once again, like many animals, in danger because of habitat loss.

A public bus from Kuching will take you to the dock where you can catch a boat to Bako.  Just remember, there are crocodiles in the water!

lunchtime

Here are some photos of those so-called ugly animals – I think ‘how could you not love the Bornean bearded pig’.

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The kiwitravelwriter reluctantly leaving Bako. photo by Chris Lambie
catching the boat to leave – by Chris Lambie (Australia)
arriving at Bako

here’s another blog I wrote, with more photos, about Bako

No posts for a while – I’m on the road again

strange nose – sort of like the proboscis monkey

I know many bloggers and travel writers do blog while on the road – I rarely do! However, I will be posting a photo a day.

Why? Well, I’m always too busy ‘doing’ ‘observing’ ‘photographing’ – as well as eating and generally ‘experiencing’ rather than writing.

As some of you know I will be at music and cultural festivals, I’ll also be exploring and hiking in national parks, snorkeling in warm waters, and, and and – so lots to follow in my daily photos and then the future blogs on this site.

So, if you want to follow my travels in Malaysia, (Sabah, Sarawak Penang, & KL) and Mongolia) follow me on my Traveling Writer Facebook page, and/or my KiwiTravelWriter Instagram page as I plan on posting a photo a day during my adventures over the five weeks I’m on the road. (I’m leaving NZ 30th June and back on 7th August)

Then, if you want to read my blogs after I have digested all I saw and experienced on these travels (And get notified by email as they are published) make sure you sign up for this blog on the top right of this blog page.

Now I will zip up my bags and head off to  the airport – see you back here in August.

Of course you can read any of the some 1300 blogs I’ve written since 2008 – just use the search box by topic, country, year or word.

 

#Follow me for new photos from Mongolia, Malaysian Borneo, and Penang


It’s only one week until I leave on my next big adventure to Mongolia and Malaysian Borneo! (and the mainland too) I have written a short blog about Mongolia, (see here) a country I’ve never been to, and I plan on posting a photo a day on my kiwi travel writer Instagram and Facebook pages – so #follow me. My blogs will follow once I return to New Zealand after my 5 weeks exploring.

While I have been to many parts of Malaysian Borneo (Sabah and Sarawak) and I’m looking forward to revisiting the Rainforest World Music Festival and Bako National Park, I also expect to discover new things in Kuching – including the fishing village of Kampong Buntal – and which is very close to where I’m staying at Damai Beach Resort during the festival. So, watch this space!

I’m of course hoping to see orangutans, proboscis monkeys, wild pigs, and possibly a crocodile or two. My must-eat food list is too long – and once again I’m hopeful my bathroom scales do not show a huge upward number when I return home. Malaysia has such wonderful food and Malaysians are all foodies, and who will always entice you to try this and that and yet another thing.

I’m spending about five days in Penang, which is considered the food capital of Malaysia, and as it’s been a long time since I was there I’m wondering if some of my favourite places will still exist. Feel free to give me advice about your favourites in the comments at the end of this blog.

In Sabah, the northern region of Malaysian Borneo, I will be snorkelling in new areas -Mabul island, and also Gaya island where I will visit the Marine eco-research Centre. Another new place will be the Sabah Tea garden after a short hike and Kinabalu Park – one of Malaysia’s world heritage sites.

Check out blogs I have already written about Malaysia (use the search button on this blog site) and make sure you follow me for five weeks of daily photos – as many of you will know, Malaysia is my favourite Asian country – and who knows, Mongolia – which is a blank canvas for me – could end up on my favourites list too.

Hope I get to see Richie again – he’s a big boy!
Heather helps plant mangroves

 

The kiwitravelwriter, arrives on Talang-Taland Island, Sarawak,  photo by Gustino – Sarawak Tourism Board
A fisherman uses a net on Batang Ai, Sabah. Malaysian Borneo

 

Malaysian Borneo: how eco aware can the kiwi travel writer be?

A LoveLetter to Malaysian BorneoIt seems there’s no universally accepted definition of ecotourism, and there are considerable overlaps in the meanings. It’s perhaps the most over-used and misused word in the tourism industry – often deliberately misused for marketing purposes.

Hapeta says in it, “I’m a self-taught writer, not a journalist, or an ecologist. This is not a scientific paper with lots of facts and figures, merely the musings about green issues by a traveller who wants to walk as lightly as possible on Earth”

She uses her trips to Malaysian Borneo as a way of exploring the issues. She also says she is “Time-rich, I’m a slow traveller, so stay longer in more places than most, trying to absorb the culture and flavours, to sit and watch people. It also means that although I don’t always sign up for an expensive eco-tour, I do try to practise the principles of ecotourism.”

This small book starts with her surrounded by noisy, diesel-fumed boats, nudging each other, racing their engines, drivers manoeuvring so their passengers get the best view. It made her wonder “can a travel writer, or any traveller, really be green – or is this just an oxymoronic dream, given the air miles needed to get to destinations?”
In this essay-cum-travel memoir she considers how green she was, or wasn’t, while exploring this ‘seething hotspot of biodiversity’ of an island. (Quote: Planet Earth. BBC TV).
She obviously agrees with Malaysia’s tourism tagline. ‘Malaysia – truly Asia’ and this booklet is a good introduction to the island of Borneo and green travel issues around the world.

Note: “A Love Letter to Malaysian Borneo” is available in all e-book formats at Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, and Amazon, plus any other such places that you prefer to buy your eBooks from.

This book has been entered in the annual Malaysian Tourism Awards (2014/15)

New ebook on green-eco travel. The Kiwitravelwriter explores Malaysian Borneo

The Kiwitravelwriter explores Malaysian Borneo in her new book … and uses her travels to consider how green she is, or isn’t: it’s a combination of essay and memoir. (Sorry, but no photos in the book – see my blog posts for them)

 

The long title says it all “A love letter to Malaysian Borneo. Or, can this travel writer be green?” 

The cover photo was taken in Tabin Wildlife Sanctuary by a young Italian man – who, incidentally, was the person who first spotted an endangered clouded leopard during a night safari we were on in the same area.

 

 

 

One turtle arrives in the middle of the night

“You are lucky I’m a pacifist’ I tell Gustino, from the Sarawak Tourism Board, “if  not, I would slap you!”

“Don’t worry”, he tells me, “many will come tonight”.  I remind him of the old saying about birds and how one in the hand is worth two in the bush – and that that specific turtle was the one in the hand. He laughs, “don’t worry, you will see them tonight” he reassures me.

 

We leave Sematan town for the national park
We leave Sematan town for the two hour trip to the national park

We are on Talang-Satang Island National Park which  is part of the Tanjung Datu National Park the smallest in Malaysia’s largest state : the tonight he’s talking about is the island where we will be in a few hours, Talang-Talang. (all National Parks are managed by Sarwawak Forestry)

He, as our host, was woken at about midnight by the ranger who was patrolling the beach to watch for landings. Perhaps they thought we were exhausted (true) after a week at the Borneo Music Expo and the Rainforest World Music Festival but seeing turtles lay eggs has been on my bucket-list for ages and I’m scared I’ll miss out!

no lifeguards here!
no lifeguards here!

Anyway, miss out that night I did but this is what I’m told:

  • it was her second egg laying visit in 10 days
  • she laid 104 eggs (80 last time)
  • the eggs were transferred immediately to a safe area (the monitor lizards must hate the rangers)
the eggs are buried at the same depth as the mother did .. but now safe from predators
the eggs are re-buried at the same depth as the mother did .. but now safe from predators

Despite being disappointed I did hear gibbons calling early in the morning – they remained out of sight but it was thrilling to hear them again, my first time had been in Sabah last year.

After breakfast we boarded our fishing boat for a one-hour trip to the island where I’ve been told “you will see them.”

See my next blog to see if I was able to tick off one of my bucket list items or, if I had to abandon my pacifist leanings and slap my host!

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Here is a pictorial journal of our stay on the island.

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OMG – endangered species right beside me!

Night two safari at the Tabin Wildlife Resort, Sabah was OMG great: as well as seeing the giant-eyed slow Loris, an Italian man in my little group spots the prize – the stealthy carnivore, the silent killer, the wonderful, and endangered, Sunda clouded leopard.

Clouded Leopard. photo by Cristian Morettin. August 2013
Sunda Clouded Leopard. photo by Cristian Morettin. August 2013

I cannot believe my luck. It is right beside the road and we stop, and in amazement, remain silent, looking down on it as it too freezes briefly, before slinking slowly into the bush. Beautifully marked with large irregular patches of colour it is about the same size as a medium-sized dog. I’m sure not many tourists get to see this vulnerable creature which research estimates there are only 275–585 of them in the four totally protected reserves that are large enough to hold a long-term viable population of 50 individuals.

How much deeper will it get? Photo by Cristian Morettin.
How much deeper will it get?
Photo by Cristian Morettin.

Despite having no photo of my own, Cristian Morettin, our hero who spotted the leopard, sends me one of his, as well as one of me up to my knees in water as we cross a river, before cooling down in a waterfall pool.

On the same day that we saw the mainly nocturnal leopard (Tabin is considered to have 2 or 3 hundred according to Wendy Hutton in her book Tabin) we also see another rare sight: the Bornean, or Pygmy, Elephant of which there are about 1500 and are only on Borneo.

Getting ready for the afternoon safari, all of which are included in the charges to stay at this luxurious resort, our guide rounds us up with urgency.

My guide who found the elephant
My guide who found the elephant

‘Quick, an elephant in the area’ gets us moving fast despite the heat – I’m the first on ‘our truck’, the first of three trucks and in only moments spot him slowly disappearing into the bush.

The driver’s told to where to go and wait for him to hopefully reappear. While the guide is scanning the bush, I photograph oil plantation workers on the opposite side of the road – it’s a hard job and I believe 90% of the manual workers in these plantations are Indonesian migrant workers, employed to do the harvesting, weeding and maintenance.

Oil plantation work is heavy work
Oil plantation work is heavy work

Ten minutes later our guide proves right about where the elephant would hopefully go, and he, one lone animal, emerges from the bush into the long grass he loves to eat. Despite being smaller than other elephants, and are called a pygmy, they are actually between 2.5 and 3 metres high, have big ears and straight tusks. Beside an Indian or African elephant I’m sure they’re tiny, but I’d be a little intimidated at his size had I met him on the path. He may be small, but the grass is high and the photographer in me keeps hoping he would come out into the more open areas – but no such luck.

the grass is as high as  an elephants eye!
the grass is as high as an elephants eye!

We just sit and watch him for 20 or 30 minutes; he ignores us, busy eating the ‘elephant grass’ he loves. An older elephant, these lone males are at the bottom of the pecking order and can be a problem: however it seems this one, a well-known regular, has caused no problems.

While a national treasure, the elephant is sometimes regarded a nuisance and can destroy acres in a night. With the fragmented forest reserves and deforestation this has sometimes placed the wildlife in conflict with landowners and villagers. Sadly ‘the 14 pygmy elephants which were found dead at a forest reserve near Tawau, Sabah (January 2013) were killed by severe poisoning’ the Sabah State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister, Masidi Manjun said. More positively, quick action by wildlife rescuers saved a herd of 10 Bornean pygmy elephants that had wandered off their range and ventured as close as 10km to Lahad Datu: the Sabah Wildlife Department, over eight days, captured and relocated them (nine female adults and a four-year old male calf) back into Tabin. The Sabahmas Plantations have electric fences and ‘green corridors’ to help keep elephants out of their palm areas because of the damage they can create.

Bucket list ... return to Tabin Resort for better pygmy elephant photos
Bucket list … return to Tabin Resort for better pygmy elephant photos

Adding Tabin Resort onto my ever getting longer ‘revisit-bucket-list ‘this country has produced, I fly back to KK and home to New Zealand. Nevertheless I have another Malaysian Air ticket with my name on it – this time I’m off to Miri for the annual Borneo Jazz Festival in May 2014, and to see some caves in Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo.