From September 14 to October 3 2011 The Intrepids, a travel group of Humber Valley United Church, Toronto, Ontario is making a trek calling at Hong Kong; Kota Kinabalu, (Kinabalu National Park, Borneo) Malaysia; Kuching (Belum Rain Forest, Borneo) Malaysia; Kuala Lumpur (Malacca), Malaysia; Singapore and Bali (Ubud) with more Hong Kong for some at the end.

Excellent information about our stops are at WikiTravel Malaysia (overview) ; and for the stops below:
Kota Kinabalu         Hyatt Regency Hotel                       Kinabalu National Park
Kuching                  Pullman Hotel
Belum Rainforest     Belum Rainforest Resort
Kuala Lumpur         Renaissance Hotel 
Malacca                  Renaissance Hotel
Singapore               Orchard Hotel
Bali                         Nusa Dua Beach Hotel & Spa         Ubud
Hong Kong

Tuesday/Wednesday, September 13/14 - Getting There

Tuesday, September 13
It was a bit of a scramble getting ready, with things like the purchase of a new car distracting our attention!  But when the limo came to get us at 9:45pm, we were set to go.  We got to the airport well before the 3-hour mark for our 1:40 am flight, but there was already a long line of people, many of whom had several large boxes to take along.  Eventually, the plane was loaded and we left on time.

Photos 13 Sep

Wednesday, September 14
Sometime during the 15-hour flight we crossed the date line, so Wednesday more or less disappeared.  We had a very nice dinner at about 3am, then all returned to our dozing.  Unfortunately an hour or so later I awoke with severe nausea.  No airsick bag to be found!  So I headed for the kitchen area where 2 lovely young ladies plied me with hot water and lemons and brought me plastic bags to be sick in.  They gave Larry moist towelettes for my head and neck and I was able ( with difficulty ) to take a gravol.  In a half hour or so I was fine, thank goodness and slept for the next few hours.  These Cathay Pacific seats are pretty confortable, though sitting up isn’t my favourite sleeping position. Before we finished the flight, we had a “snack” of chicken noodle soup and then a hearty breakfast.  So we were well-fed, but 15 hours is just too long in the air non-stop!

Photos 14 Sep

Thursday, September 15 - Kota Kinabalu

It was a relief to arrive at the Hong Kong airport at about 4:30am.  We easily made our way through the airport and 2 security checkpoints only to find that our gate was in an outlying terminal building and the buses weren’t running yet.  We were too weary to make out way back to the main concourse, so didn’t get coffee until about 7:15.  The rest of the Intrepids trickled in and we all boarded the Dragon Air plane for Kota Kinabalu.  It was about a 2 ½ hour flight and we had another breakfast.  At the airport in K.K. there was a very long line-up for immigration.  After about an hour everyone but Janet and Barry had appeared.  When they still hadn’t appeared after another 15 minutes, the search party was sent out.  Seemed there’d been an error on one of their forms and they were sent to the back of the line!  Eventually they got through, we all found our luggage, our guide and our bus and were on our way.  We checked into the Hyatt Regency and immediately slept for 2 hours or more.
The Intrepids gathered near the pool for drinks and a view of the sunset or the harbor.  Then we took the bus to a floating restaurant for a seafood dinner and some lively traditional dancing displays from various Borneo tribes.  Some of our group joined in the dancing and the blow pipe demo.  E-M was celebrating her 65th birthday so got to wear a sparkly tiara for the evening.  Finally back to the hotel and time for bed. 

Photos 15 Sep

Friday, September 16 (Malaysian Independence Day) – Kota Kinabalu

After a great night’s sleep, we were among the first at the breakfast buffet. Nice spread and attentive service. After breakfast we strolled along the harbour-front and past a vast market area, enjoying watching the local commerce. It was already getting hot! I went for an early swim. I had the pool to myself.
Then we met up with the group for a city tour with our guide, Walter. We visited the former government building, which is a hanging building structure. Apparently its cables are unable to support the weight of modern office equipment so most of the offices have moved elsewhere. It’s a very interesting –looking place though. We all posed in some Orangutan photo-op things, and our wonderful driver repaired the bus’s AC which was on the futz. From there, we proceeded to the City Mosque, a beautiful building, surrounded by a pool of water. It has a blue dome and minarets and is truly impressive. Our next stop was a Chinese Hindu Temple, also very beautiful. There were some lovely gardens around it. The rest of the group also saw some smaller shrines but we had lost track and didn’t find them. Final stop of the morning was at a very interesting museum. We saw local tribal costumes and saw how they were made, as well as touring a traditional village.
Since this is Borneo – head-hunters land – the village included a “skull hut”. Our guide explained that the head-hunting originated with the villagers defending themselves against pirates. Apparently a head also formed part of most bridal prices. Back at the hotel, we enjoyed a delicious thin-crust, garlic-free, pizza. We checked in with the Intrepids lounging by the pool, but we were on a mission to find a source of potassium and had heard that the nearby shopping centre had everything. We wandered there for an hour or so – very crowded. A wide variety of shops, mostly small, from tailors to food stalls, Body Shop and Guardian Drugs. A huge “superstore” that was like a dollar store on steroids. Then it was time to relax and cool off for a while. Dinner was a Chinese meal, with unusual food and lots of good conversation and laughter. Back at the hotel, some folks went to the cafĂ© for dessert, some to the bar, and others to their rooms to prepare for tomorrow’s early departure.
At about 10:15 we heard fireworks from our hotel room and realized that we had a perfect view from our window. It was a great show, that brought people onto the street below to watch. Super ending for Independence Day.

Saturday, September 17 – Kota Kinabalu, Kinabalu National Park

This was a big exercise day! We started with another great breakfast at the hotel, then boarded the bus for the trip to Mount Kinabalu. It’s about a 3-hour drive over very rough roads. Our first stop was a market area, for a bit of retail therapy. Really nice handicrafts.
At a roadside stop we had the opportunity to hike into the forest and see a Rafflesia plant in bloom. It is the largest “flower” in the world, according to our guide, but apparently, in reality it is a type of fungus. Not pretty, but impressive. The bloom lasts just about 5 days, with day 3 being prime. We saw one that was on day 3 so we were lucky. We saw another that was several days beyond that and it had subsided into brown sludge. The walk into the forest to see it was interesting though it felt somewhat risky. We crossed a couple of streams on bridges of bamboo poles, climbed downhill from slippery rock onto slipping rock and so on. But along the way were other flowers, and the peace of the forest (jungle) itself. Oh – and insects. Got a bite or two, so hoping they were benign.
Next was the Park area, where we had a look at the hot pools/bathes that were very crowded. It’s a long holiday weekend and everyone had their kids for an outing. (National Malaysia BD). It was fun to watch but didn’t appeal for ourselves. Several members of the group headed for the butterfly garden and the rest of us began the climb to the canopy walk. It was hot and humid and the climb was long and steep. We were pretty wrung out by the time we got to the beginning of the walkway. It was great to be up among the treetops and see the forest jungle from that perspective. We were a bit nervous about it, but everyone made it safely and enjoyed it.
Back down on solid ground we were more than happy to get on the bus and head to a restaurant for la late lunch. It was yet another Chinese meal, but tasty. The setting was beautiful, on the side of one of the lovely mountains, surrounded by tall, stately pines of various types and flower gardens with brilliant colour. Very peaceful and lovely.
As we drove along we could see many terraced fields. This is a vegetable farming area, where crops like cabbage thrive. So there were vegetable markets and handicraft markets along the road. Our views of Mount Kinabalu itself were mostly obscured by cloud, but we did get glimpses of the peaks now and then. Our last stop of the day was at the Botanical Gardens, a National Park, where we toured an enclosed area featuring many of the species of orchid that abound here. Some were nearly too tiny to see but many were very visible and lovely. We nearly missed it because the doors closed just a couple minutes before we arrived. However, Sally-Jo convinced the attendant to let us in briefly. Glad we didn’t miss it!
Then back to KK, to refresh ourselves at the hotel before going to dinner. (Happily we checked the window of our room at exactly the right moment to witness a gorgeous southern hemisphere sunset.) The restaurant was small and we ordered individually, so 22 people pretty much overwhelmed the small staff. Food was tasty, we got beer and it was nice, but it was late and we were very tired and happy to finish our meal and head to the hotel. 

Sunday, September 18 – Kuching, Malaysia (Borneo)

Up pretty early for one last breakfast in KK (waffles for us today) and then our bus delivered us to the KK airport. At the airport we met an Australian couple with their new friend Koko, a huge-sie stuffed orangutan they bought (…to fill their empty nest). We all posed for photos then and when Koko was reposing in the overhead bin of our flight to Kuching.
On arrival there we were met by our new guide and driver and whisked off to the Pullman Hotel. After settling in we met to head out to Semenggoh Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. We were warned that this is not a zoo. The 25 or so animals are free to come and go and it is hoped they’ll return to the wild. However, food is put out for them twice a day and usually at least some come and enjoy it.
As it turned out, 9 of them Came! We watched them for about an hour before they all disappeared back into the forest. It was just amazing to watch them swinging through the trees and clambering along ropes. One pelted a covered bridge with coconut shells and other food debris. Another, carrying a baby clambered down and crossed through the area where people were standing, causing a scramble out of her way. Photos were difficult because of the lighting unfortunately.
We stopped at a pottery shop on the way back where people picked up souvenirs ( Larry and Jane couldn’t resist carved headhunters (with carved heads on their belts)).
Back at the hotel most of us went for a swim and drink by the pool. Dinner was Chinese (again!) but much more tasty and interesting than we’ve been having. Gail, Doris and I had our own special dishes, free of garlic, crab and MSG. Lots of variety and all good. At the next table a Chinese family was celebrating a birthday. They had an elaborate cake, with candles and sang Happy Birthday in English. We joined in the singing and I took over one of our CANADA buttons as a birthday gift. They sent back a plateful of small slices of cake for us. We were each given 2 cans of Tiger beer with dinner, but few people drank both. As a result, we left the restaurant with many cans of beer in purses and pockets.
Back at the hotel, some of the mini-bar fridges are not connected so we may need to round up some ice tomorrow (or carry them to our next stop). (There are rumours of a “Hall Party” tomorrow, an Intrepid tradition.)

Photos 18 Sep

Monday, September 19 – Kuching, Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia

We took off fairly early to get to the Sarawak Culture Village in good time. It was an interesting drive through lush vegetation and new housing estates. At the village, we toured several traditional homes – a long house on stilts, a Chinese farmhouse, a round building used for community and defence purposes. We had an opportunity to try a blow gun and some people did very well. People were practicing traditional crafts such as weaving and cooking, and we heard traditional music and dance. The village is in a lovely setting and it was pleasant walking around, though it became very hot. The morning ended with entertainment in the theatre – music and dancing for a series of the different tribes of Borneo, and a terrific comedy act by 2 young “warriors”. Then we had a large “lunch” before heading back into Kuching. We visited the Cat Museum ( Kuching is called the cat city – kucing without the h means cat in their language ) which was amusing, a Chinese temple, where Kenny explained some traditions to us and returned to the hotel. Since it was raining, we didn’t meet at the pool for a party as planned. Instead, the Wilkes had everyone to their room and we had a “hall party”. Our dinner was at a vast seafood place very near the hotel. Then we were “bad” and stopped at the dessert bar at the hotel for more that we didn’t need.

Photos 19 Sep

Continue the Blog to 20 Sep