Thursday, March 16, 2006 

Onroad 2 Borneo Revisited : Uncle Tan Jungle Camp


Kinabatangan River Borneo, 3-5 March 2005

After a really good night sleep at Summit Lodge in Kinabalu Parks we checked out about 11am to catch the SIDA Express bus to Sandakan. We waited outside the Park until the bright yellow coach turned up. On an email from Eugene, this bus recommended to go to Uncle Tan Wildlife Jungle Camp HQ in Gum Gum village. It took about 4 hours journey to the village. The night before I tried contact Eugene to get latest development about the camp at lower Kinabatangan River. It was flooding in last 3 weeks so we just want to know whether the water level started residing.

On the junction of KK-Sandakan-Tawau, we’ve been stop due the immigration control. The officer with blue uniform in military style carrying riffle jumped up to our bus to checking ID or passport. I sat on the very end of the bus and got my chance. He asked my ID and I gave him my scruffy Indonesian passport. He quick glanced on it and notice few things. Then he smiled (pfffff…thanks God), asked questions in a good manner including where I have been and what I have been doing. The two British bloke just left without checking.


The bus driver knew where we should go. So we ended up in the Batu 16 Gum Gum just by the Uncle Tan office. You can easily spot this office since they put a big sign on top of their second floor where several basic room for stay overnight. We would not stay in this place. We want straight down to the camp –about 2 hours away from the HQ. But we got problem. They did not mention that we should arrive in their office at least at 130pm, otherwise we will missed the shuttle transport to the boat point. I argued that last night when I rang them I clearly mention that we will arrive at 3pm. And we did, not missed a single minute. We understood that we would not get chance to see orang utans at Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre. But that what we wanted. We just want to go to the camp.

After negotiation and calling the big boss (Eugene –apparently he is the son of late Uncle Tan), he agreed to transport us with fancy Toyota 4wheel drive fully AC at 5pm. Thanks for the email correspondence before our arrival and also Mark’s tips about using camera flash. So here we are….on the fancy car. We drove back to the road junction and again met the immigration control. But now they seemed not bothered about us. I asked about these to Shahril -the Uncle Tan driver. He said that Malaysia aware about potential smuggle immigrants from either Indonesia nor Philippine.

About 6pm we reached the Batu Puteh village not far from Kinabatangan Bridge. I saw kids swimming happily in the muddy river when the sun started going down. These kids enjoyed the river just like their parents. Some of the parents went to fishing with nets on a simple boat. A lady showed me proudly her half day fishing : a bucket full of fresh water prawn and fishes. A lovely selection…She said that flooding led more fishes to go further, meant you can easily caught them in the net.

Someone coming with a warm welcome. The guy –about late 20s typical Asian, dark skin, well built, long hair with a black Uncle Tan T-shirt gave a hand to everybody. His name is Lan. He would take us to the camp along with two others kids. On the dark, we set off with the boat. On our way, Lan showed us animals that he’ve seen it in just a glance with his bright spotlight. It took about an hour to reach the camp through oxbow lake and floodplain of Kinabatangan river. As I mention before, the camp in flooding conditions, means that now the camp became a water camp. Actually the location of the camp is by Danau Girang or Lot No 6 on the Wildlife Sanctuary. The sanctuary level means that people can across the land without permission but not allowed to logging or farming.

An oil lamp in the dining room was the only source of light, quietly dimmed the rooms. Sound of owls and frogs gave impression to remoteness of this place. The dining area was the only place that we can stay that night. The rest of the camp was about half on top of water level. The huts that supposed to stay were totally un habituated. On that room we met three people from Sweden that arrived earlier on that day. They been waiting for us for dinner and the night safari. I can see that the room already been set up with 4 matras with mosquito net hanging about 2ft from the floor. This is our dining, bathroom and also sleeping room for the next 3 days. Since I am the only women in this camp, Mark had to drag me out with the boat every time I need to wee (apparently we called it No 1 need and the No 2 need you can guess what it was…).


We had a good dinner on that night, A pack of rice with lots of stir fried vegetables and chicken curry (with lots bones of course !). Then we have a half an hour briefing about what the Wildlife Jungle Camp about. Since flooding we were second guest in this camp. Most of them cancelled the program due the incapability of the place. Imagine that in the dry conditions the camp actually quite spartan and basic. With the flooding even drink water and toilet would be major problems. You’ve got to prepare for this situation. Previously we had to filling the disclaimer form regarding the flooding, including possibility that we couldn’t spot as many as animals that used to be easy to find in this area including elephants and orang utans.


The first night safari were great, we spotted frogs, owls, eagles, scorpions and flying foxes. In two hours we were scattering the river tried to find animals. Lan was really experienced guide. He told us the latin name, common habitat and the diet of each animal we found. I excited with this new experience, specially I am not a wildlife photographer. Lan himself is a keen wildlife photographer. Most of pictures on the board of the camp and the HQ were him. Eugene –his boss also a mad photographer. If you see some crocodile pictures or kingfisher or snake, they were all amazing. It needs a lots effort and determination to capture such beautiful moments.

In the next morning we started early to see how the animals moving from their territory to the jungle for feeding or daily activities. We went to the oxbow lakes to spot some of proboscis monkeys. We saw eagles as they moved to another area, also the famous one –Oriental hornbill. We had another safari in the mid day, then we had broken machine when we back to the camp. Problem was : we got to go upstream, so Lan decided to take a boat by river bank away from the main river. It took us more than 45 minutes through the swamp area with cutting the tree and leaves along the way. We survived by local boat just passed the river, carried us to the Observation Tower opposite the Uncle Tan camp.


There is a list of wildlife animal that we spotted in three days during our stay at Kinabatangan River.
  1. Proboscis Monkey (Nasalis larvatus )
  2. Long Tailed Macaque (Macacafacicularis)
  3. Silvered Leaf Monkey (Trachypithecus cristatus)
  4. Red Leaf Monkey (Presbytis rubicunda)
  5. Oriental Darter (Anhinga melanogaster)
  6. Oriental Pied Hornbill (Anthracoceros albirostris)
  7. Asian Black Hornbill (Anthracocecos malayanus)
  8. Wrinkled Hornbill (Aceroscor rugatus)
  9. Great Egret (Egretta alba)
  10. Intermediate Egret - small version (Egretta intermedia)
  11. White Collared Kingfisher (Halcyonchloris)
  12. Stork Billed Kingfisher (Pelargopsis capensis)
  13. Grey Headed Kingfisher
  14. Brahminy Kite (Haliastur Indus)
  15. Crested Serpent Eagle (Ichthyopha gaichthyaetus)
  16. Bornean Blue Flycatcher (Cyorniscaerulatus)
  17. Cricket Frog (Rananico bariensis)
  18. Brown Bull Frog
  19. Green Tree Lizard (Anolisbima culatus)
  20. Monitor Lizard (Varanus indicus)
  21. Buffy Fish Ow (Ketupa ketupa)
  22. Plyn Pygmy Squirrel (Exilisciurus)
  23. Stick Insect
  24. Orb Weaver (spider)
  25. Brown Bush Grasshopper
  26. Black Scorpion
  27. Dollar Bird (Eurystomus orientalis)
  28. Tractor Milipede (black )
  29. Giant Milipede (red)
  30. Storm Stork (Ciconia stormi)
  31. Pig Tailed Macaque (Macaca nemestrina)
  32. Short Billed Spiker Minter
  33. Flying Foxes (Pteropus hypomelanus)
  34. Civet Cat Viverridae
  35. White Bellied Woodpecker
  36. Green Imperial Woodpecker
  37. Blue Eared Kingfisher (Alcedo meninting)
  38. Malay Badger (Mydaus meliceps)
  39. Wolf Spider
  40. Frilled Tree Frog
  41. Centipede
  42. Blue Totter Bee - eater
I m still looking for the latin name for all the animals above. Please inform or correct me.

Monday, March 13, 2006 

Borneo Revisited 1 : Mt Kinabalu



We arrived in Kota Kinabalu (KK) from JB at 28 Feb 2005 late evening. Flight been retimed two hours from the schedule. Air Asia sent sms regarding this matter that allow me to book domestic flight in Borneo. From airport to the Borneo Backpacker-place we stayed that night we took taxi cost RM17 (15minutes drive). Just book in and served with dormitory room without AC cost RM20 each. Not too bad though, soon we realized that this time was off peak season and not weekend days.

We couldn’t sleep that night. We reckoned the room was quite hot and loud. The location of the BB lied by the main road in KK. We heard motorcycle drove madly by skidding all around the city at 2am ! Next morning we were heading to National Parks by walk to the shuttle bus to bus station. Only 5 minutes walk from BB. We took 730am bus then catches the 745am express bus to Sandakan. We paid RM20 each on the site and jumped ourselves into it. The journey was quite pleasant with view of the villages and hill side of the Kinabalu. It took 2 hours then we reached the parks at 10am.

I straight to the Sutera Sanctuary Lodge counter to resume our booking. Then register on the Parks counter. All the paper work regarding our climbing and accommodation also pay by cash for climbing permits (RM100each for foreigner, guide RM70, insurance RM7 and plus storage for bag each RM10). But we did not have that all amount the money ! We got to pay in US dollars which is not recommended. We did not have choice, this is our fault that we forgot to get some cash while we were in JB. Never mind …

All sort it then we got climbing permits. Wow fancy badges (hmm make sure that we will swap in when we were on top Mt Kinabalu ) and several forms that gave in to our guide Ben John as checking note. At 1030 we started walking with several people behind. The first 2km were lovely, mainly lots people walked up and walked down. The vegetation just like jungle forest with fern and trees. Then we reached the km 4.5 where we found nepenthes or pitcher plants. Some of them were enormous with diameter of 20-30cm, some were tiny about 0.5cm in diameter. Bright red rhododendron were really pretty while mountain white orchid was everywhere near the path.
The last kilometer was hard and tough. I started feeling exhausted apart from not enough having sleep a night before, but also the gradient becoming more vertical. We pushed our luck to get the resthouse before dark. Ben Jon really helpful with carrying my rucksack on half way up. I was end up carrying camera and video/audio equipment instead. The Nat Park rule about porter carrying load was maximum at 10kg per person and you got to pay them about RM50. But mine was about 11kg !

Around 330pm we arrived at Laban Rata resthouse –a two storey building with rooms for rest and a fancy restaurant. Actually there are three more huts in this area but only Laban Rata is the biggest and warmest. Eventually with RM69 per night for dormitory room sound luxury in this altitude. But I thought a cup of Sabah tea was reward for today walking.
We had to share a room with three Malaysian. The dorm itself was OK, quite tidy for us. We just need a good sleep and good food. There is NO hot shower even the parks promise that in their website. Imagine you had to do shower in temperature about 5C water ! The sensation was unbearable. I did manage though ! The foods were fantastic specially chicken and corn soup also deep fried banana with sabah tea. Hm lovely…

We went to bed early at 6pm ahead from the Malaysian gank. Then it came. The sound of snore from the girl next to me was so loud that I can’t believe those irritating sound from. I couldn’t sleep again until 1 o’clock while that girl woke up and put the light on. Oh Dear ! Started climbing about 230 after a light breakfast and cup a tea. The climbing was quite straight forward while we have to do in the dark. The weather helped quite lots. No rain during our walking earlier and those night was clear with stars. A big number of climber that night, I reckoned about 200 people attempted to conquer the summit.


The granite slope of Kinabalu actually not slippery at all. The life line that remark the path was helpful to see the way. But useless to hold your hands while their been set up too low to the ground. I thought it might be set for descent rather than accent Kinabalu. Then after quite taxing climb about 3.5 hours we managed to reach the Low’s Peak (4,095.2m) and watched the sunrise behind King Edward peak. The sheer rock from St John Peak and the Donkey Peak were amazing. After dark out and sun arise we could see the rock formations on the U shape that divide the Low’s peak with others. The chilly wind was not too bad apart from the temperature drop about zero.

We celebrated Mark's birthday right on top of Kinabalu with flag that me and Paul prepared earlier on. The walked down through granite was quite easy. I did not need rope for most of the section, but few of them need descending in right way due the gradient. I can say that most of the stone walks were safe for fit and in good shape after spent hours ascending. The view still amazing, and with morning light was a perfect for photographing the peaks on that day. The weather still on our side, no fog and clouds appeared during our descent. The temperature was improving just like the sun started arising. It was gorgeous !

It took about 2.5 hours to reach Laban Rata. With cup a tea that heal our fatigue from sleepless night we started our day . Then another breakfast that make our morning looked perfect. Two hours later we were heading down back to the main gate. Again the pain of walking down start hurting my legs. We were keep moving specially in last 3km, stopped only when raining poring down. Believe me that was a maschocistic trekking down ..


We managed to take pictures of plants along the path, specially nepenthes and necklace orchids. Birds were everywhere, mainly they eats wild berry that grow abundantly in this area. The Mountain Blackeye and Yellow Breasted Warbler were move really quick if we try catch them. Anyway we had many pictures of plants and also many interesting species to see.


We headed down to the gate and arrived about 4pm. The shuttle bus that carry us to the park was waiting. Then we reported our descent and also get the key for our place in Summit Lodge. I need to negotiate with local driver to arrange transport for Mark to Kadazan village –the nearest place to get cash money. It cost RM15 about a half an hour for him before appeared at our pretty lodge. The lodge have two bedrooms and nice beds. That’s what we need. After not much sleep in last two days and a hard 11.5km walking, we definitely need proper sleep.

Monday, February 13, 2006 

Thaipusam Festival : Don't try it at home !


‘Thai’ is the Hindu month which falls between January 15 to February 15 and ‘Pusam’ refers to a star which shines at its brightest during the period of this festival.

Thaipusan originates fom a Hindu pranic story of Idumban, a devotee of Lord Subramaniam (also known as Lord Murugan, son of Lord Shiva) who received a divine calling to pay his homage to the deity on a hilltop shrine. Along his journey, he sang hymns in praise of Lord Subramaniam to forget the heavy burden of the offering he was carrying. Pleased at the devotion shown by Idumban, Lord Subramaniam showered blessing upon him.


Thaipusan commemorates Idumban’ devotion and even today, it is believed that any devotee carrying a kavadi in fulfillment of vows, will have their wishes granted, like those of Idumban.
During the procession on the eve of Thaipusam, a statue of Lord Subaramniam in a silver chariot (kavadis) will travel from the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple in Tank Rd to Sri Layan Sithi Vinayagar Temple at Keong Siak St.

Did you know :
• Lord Murugan is often depicted riding on a peacock hence the use of peacock feathers on the kavadis.
• Hindu believe that limes ward off evil spirits
• Devotees pray to Lord Ganesha before Thaipusam for success in fulfilling their vows because he is the remover of obstacles
• Holy ash is sprinkled over wounds left by the skewers as it is believed to have the ability to heal
• Coconuts are broken by devotees to symbolize the ‘opening of oneself’ and the white flesh of the kernel reveals the purity of the heart and soul.
• Devotee ring the bells on the door of the temple to announce their arrival on the Gods before pooja (pray)
• It takes about 2 hours to assemble a spiked kavadi.


*text taken from the board at the Serangon Rd. More pictures at Multiply.

Sunday, January 22, 2006 

Kenny G Live : My Teenage Dream


It was a dream come true. When I was 16 years old, turned on the radio at my friend's house I froze while listening a magical sound from an instrument that later I found the name -saxophone. That pieces of song led me to spend my pocket money to buy a cassette called Kenny G Live 1989. I never regret it. From his whole albums (sole album or compilation), this album I crowned it as the best. Not because I felt the intimate Kenny but also I found jazz was an interesting kind of music.

Friday 20th we went to the show at Max Pavillion a building at Singapore Expo. I was hoping to see him at outdoor stage just like in 1989 tour, but turned out to be indoor with may be two thousands audience. The good news that the acoustic system was excellent. Kenny backed by his teammate showed what the music can be. Rich with improvisation, powerful instrument and careful choice of songs were add on the great night.

Piece like his " Silhouette" was a beautiful opening song while he wandering around rows of the audience. Also he showed his circular breathing technique that blow saxophone in a very very long breath. My favorite such as "Song Bird" , " Home", "Tribeca" -played jamm with bassist, "Going Home" were line up nicely. I did enjoy the song as I imagined when I heard many years ago. Kenny closed the session with "My Heart Will Go On" soundtrack of Titanic -a wonderful climax.
Back on my seat, I felt like dreaming. Thanks Mark for our 1st anniversary gift !

 

Indochina Journal 6: Summary for Transport


There were several consideration that need attention to independent traveler who want to go this area:

1.The condition for Laos was not too dangerous, but you must be willing to any transport available. Mini-Van for tourists (non local) could be ordered anywhere, while the public's transport such as bus and boat are widely acceptable.

2. Loaung Phabang was more organised and embraced tourism.
Although the road were unpaved but facilities such as guesthouses, hotels, restauranst, and travel agents were easy to find. In here also you could arrange visas to any neighboring countries like China, Myanmar, Vietnam.

3. Northern Thai mountains especially in Chiang Mai very popular to backpackers. But if you go to Chiang Do -90km or 2 hours with sangtheauw, you will be avoided by the bustle of tourists especially in trekking season.

4.The prices summarized below were based on high season (Deceember). If you travel in low season so assume that you will spend 60% of the rate. If you travel alone the price just slightly the the same as you were travel in low season.

Legs of Transportation (the price based per person)

Singapore - Chiang Mai with Tiger Airways SGD210.23 (inc tax)
Chiang Mai - Louang Phabang 1,900BHT (inc stay overnight at Chiang Khong and Mekong speedboat)
Louang Phabang - Van Vieng with bus of US$8
Van Vieng - Vientiene with mini-van of US$7
Vientiene - Nong Khai with taxi US$8 (for two)
Nong Khai - Bangkok by train 568BHT with bed
Bangkok – Singapore with Tiger Airways 3,825BHT (service charge at Don Muang 500BHT)

Accomodation (note: price based for two sharing)

1. Chiang Mai
EagleHouse, 190BHT per room, guesthouse, double with fan
6 Chang Moi Gao Road, Soi 3, Chiang Mai 50 300.
THAILAND. TEL: 053 874 126 or.
TEL: 053 235 387.
New:- 24 HOUR FAX: 053 874 366.
Contact: Annete at mail@eaglehouse.com
web: http://www.eaglehouse.com/
Comments: we stayed at EH 1 that its location little bit further down outer city tunnel. Bathroom was clean and an extra bed. Willing to pick up in the airport

2.Chiang Dao
Chiang Dao Nest, 398BHT per room, bungalow, AC
144/4 m.3 Chiang Dao, Chiang Mai, 50170, Thailand
TEL: +66 53 456242
Contact: Stuart Cavaliero at nest@chiangdao.com
website: http://nest.chiangdao.com/
Comments: the bungalow was great, view was facing to Chiang Dao mountain, Thai
buffet from the restaurant was the best.


3. Louang Phabang
Sokdhee Guesthouse, US12 per cream with fan
Old City in the Manthatoulat road
Comments: did not have a view, but the house was a traditional wooden house. Bathroom was clean and hot shower.

4.Van Vieng
The Villa Nam Song, ranch type, US30 per room, double with AC
TEL: 00.856.23.511.016
Contact: Mrs Marie-Helene at reservation.namsong@gmail.com
Direction : from the bus station, walk 10 minutes acrross gravel road afterwards turnleft headed bamboo bridge. This villa just beside the bridge and Bungalow Thavonsouk (best known in Van Vieng).
Comments: scenery of limestone across the river was extraordinary, sat in the terrace restaurant laid back. Very recommended.
5.Vientiene
Haysoke Guesthouse, US$15 double with AC
083/1-2 HengBoon St B. Haysoke
Vientiene Lao PDR
TEL: 007 (856 21) 219711/22
Comments: clean and have a big room, very far from the river bank. Close to National Museum.

6.Bangkok
Happy House, 495BHT double with AC
46 Soi Chanasongkhram, Pre Athit Rd, Pranakorn, BKK
TEL: 02-2803301/02-2803306
Direction: Khaosan Rd turn left to direction Rambhutri road
Comments : clean and tidy, only the room was rather crowded.

Other link:
Guesthouses in Louang Prabang

Wednesday, January 18, 2006 

Tangerine everywhere !!!


We went to MacRithie for macro photo session. Hop on bus 166 we passed agriculture shops not far from the parking lot. We amazed for the ocean of tangerine trees and fruits that so abundant. Mark thought that was an artificial thingys. I did't believe him, so here's the pictures (pic 1)

We just realised that Chinese New Year will coming soon (end of January). Chinese ethnic celebrate Lunar New Year with foods that contains many symbol. Such as :
Tangerines and oranges are passed out freely during Chinese New Year as the words for tangerine and orange sound like luck and wealth, respectively. From : About.com

We also found funny fruit (not sure this is edible or not). The shop sell a bunch of stem with fruit only without leaves (pict2). After searching we found the common name is Nipple Fruit (Solanum Mammosum) symbolize abundance.