Strictly: Sarawak

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Another month, another holiday. I seem to be doing pretty well with them this year. This time I took a short, 3 day jaunt over to Malaysian Borneo in the hope of seeing some wildlife and eating some good food. And I was not disappointed on either front. We set up in Kuching, the capital of Sarawak (aka Malaysian Borneo) and spent our first afternoon eating (naturally) and having a wander around the city. There are many things I like about Singapore, but also lots of things I don’t like. One of the things I like least (and one I’m sure I’ve written about more than once on here) is the way people manage to get in your way, or just outright walk into you, when you’re out and about, minding your own business. It was somewhat of a surprise to turn up in Kuching have people not only respect our personal space but actually be nice and friendly as you’re just walking down the street. It was very disconcerting after so long with Singaporean manners. Our hostel was in the middle of Kuching, a stones throw from the river and an impressive view of a big, gold-pagoda boasting building that turned out to be something government-related. A shame because I can only imagine what it looks like inside.

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Interestingly, despite there being hornbill pictures and statues literally everywhere, we did not see a single hornbill the whole trip. 

On our last day in Kuching we had a brief explore of the city, complete with old shophouses selling tourist tat, and crossed the river on the rickety-est bumboat I have ever seen to try and reach the very odd looking, english style castle we had spotted on the other side. We didn’t make it, unfortunately, but did find ourselves in some kind of weird, deserted area of the city where we could walk down the middle of the road without being harassed by a single car, and an Orchid garden with very few actual orchids.

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The main reason for our visit to Kuching was to see some of the wildlife that Borneo is famous for. The obvious place to start is with the orang-utans, and so we set off to Semenggoh Nature Reserve in search of some. The state of the Bornean jungles is really quite sad, and we were in two minds about where to go to see orang-utans. Multinational corporations have bought up lots of land in the Bornean rainforest, mainly on the Indonesian side, and are deforesting it in order to plant palm trees for palm oil production. In the process of getting palm oil the ground is burned and, it being a jungle environment, the fires often spread to destroy surrounding rainforest that can rage for weeks if there’s no rain to put it out. Centres like Semenggoh exist to help rehabilitate, and feed, the orang-utans affected by the deforestation. This is all very well until you realise that this is used as a legitimate reason by the multinational corporations to continue deforesting the rainforest – their argument being that if orang-utans are being fed and cared for by people they don’t need so much jungle to live in. I hate global capitalism! So anyway, I digress, but we picked Semengohh because, apart from feeding the orang-utans the centre doesn’t interfere in their lives, and they are not restricted in their movement, so they are effectively wild. We definitely hit the jackpot with the orang-utans too. On arriving we saw two showing off in some trees near the carpark, and were rewarded by even more at the viewing platform at breakfast time (as well as a very brave squirrel who harassed one orang-utan and stole it’s fruit). We even managed to see the big boss, Richie, cue a lot of Jungle Book references on the journey back into the city.

Due to the ridiculously early start for the orang-utans we still had the whole afternoon to kill, and so set off to Sarawak Cultural Village, a living museum displaying the village life of all the different cultures in the area. The village boasts a different longhouse for each community, and the traditional skills and crafts are still practiced by the people who would have done them hundreds of years ago. It was a really fascinating place, and definitely worth the trip, but oh my was it hot. I cannot tell you how glad we all were to find a bar by the sea and a bucket of cold beers after wandering around for a couple of hours.

Our final afternoon in Sarawak, after the borderline apocalyptic feel of the orchid-less orchid gardens, was the big one. The experience that would see us out with a bang. We had wanted to go into Bako National Park, a nature reserve boasting all the wildlife you could hope for, but a long day and late night the day before put paid to that idea. So instead we opted for a wetlands boat tour and spent 3 hours zipping through the jungle on a boat, seeing irrawaddy dolphins, proboscis monkeys, fireflies, crocodiles (well, exactly one crocodile) and the most amazing sunset I have ever witnessed. It ended the trip with a bang for sure, and kind of made me want to live on a boat in the jungle forever. I mean, when you’re sailing along in the dark, lit by nothing but countless twinkling fireflies and the stars slowly coming out overhead, why would you ever want to leave? We were also lucky enough to have the most amazing experience as we watched the sunset, accompanied by the call to prayer from the nearby Malay village, complete with houses on stilts balanced precariously between the water and the jungle. I could have stayed on that boat for days (I mean, it definitely helped that I felt just a little like Pocahontas going just around the riverbend!).

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This kind of looks like I was trying to find the Loch Ness monster, but I promise you it’s irrawaddy dolphins
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The proboscis, or ‘penis nosed’ monkey (I know everyone’s thinking it!)
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There were always going to be a lot of sunset pictures. I’m not even sorry!

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Returning to Singapore the following morning was a little bit of an uncomfortable jolt back down to earth, but I’ve just got to keep thinking of that river and those penis nosed monkeys!

Leah Out X

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