A Travellerspoint blog

July 2010

Bloggin' 'Bout WILD Borneo

Part 2: Gunung Mulu National Park (in Sarawak)

Borneo is most widely known for its pristine rain forests (which are being logged, but is that really surprising?). I had never been to a rain forest. So, despite the countless reports online and in the LP about leeches and coming prepared, leech socks at the ready, I booked my trip to Gunung Mulu in Malaysian Borneo's eastern state, Sarawak.

I'm not a super-adventurous type (I'd prefer four walls to a tent any day of the week), but I'm also not a namby-pamby. Mulu has plenty of accommodation: a four-star resort, private rooms with private bathrooms, and dorms. I chose the "roughest" (read: most budget-friendly) of them all: the dorms. What can you expect from a dorm in a rain forest? They were clean and neat with minimal amounts of huge scary bugs. There was no air conditioning, but I think I preferred it that way. The showers, however, were rampant with geckos, huge bat-sized moths, plenty of mosquitoes and other unknown insects that I warily kept my eye on while showering in the freezing-cold water. It could have been "rougher," yes, but I think I did pretty well.

The plane ride there was pretty much breath-taking, as much of a cliche as that word is. I mean, really. It was incredibly beautiful. Know what? I'm going to just let those pictures (that you've probably already seen) speak for themselves:
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Not even the presence of about 20 Korean ajummas and ajoshis could damper it for me.

When I arrived it was, of course, raining, as it tends to do in a rain forest. The cafe that is attached to the dorms is pretty accommodating. There is the traditional Malaysian fare, but they also have hamburgers and french fries. Breakfast is included and their pancakes were DELICIOUS, though they attracted their fair share of bees.

After a quick snack and some more reading, I embarked on the night hike. Without a flashlight. Oh dear. I also neglected to bring my camera for two reasons: 1) I am clumsy and didn't want to worry about falling off the path and landing on the camera and 2) I thought, wrongly so, that taking pictures with flash would disturb the animals and insects and be discouraged by the guides. On our hike, we saw large insects, millipedes, some mammals up in the trees (eyes only) and a tarantula in its nest. Our guide told us to be vigilant about seeing snakes because if we saw one, there was about a 90% chance that it was poisonous. At the end of the night hike, we saw a very very large stick bug...I mean freakishly large. It was sweet. Then I went back to my dorm, where I was sharing pretty much the whole room (about 15 beds) with a big Malaysian family that woke up at 5am, before sunlight, to rustle their plastic bags around. Earplugs are a great invention.

The next day, I had more tours planned, but decided to venture out on my own for a bit.
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The trees were really big. And there were these fern-like plants that seemed to be hanging around everywhere. I am interested to know what sort of relationship they have with the tree: are they part of it? Is there a symbiotic relationship between the plants and tree?

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These ants, much like the stick bug, were really big. Mutant big.

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There was a whole lot of moss on the trees, the ground, the walkway, and pretty much any other surface that has been around there for a long time.

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The stagnant water was murky, but also kind of pretty.

I signed up for the Canopy Skywalk, which seemed like a good opportunity to see more animals and birds. It was not, but it was still pretty cool. You're about 15-25 meters above the ground, crossing a series of rope-ish bridges to get from platform to platform. Overall, I felt pretty secure, except for when I decided to stop and take a picture from the bridge. That was when I felt like I would go careening over the side, headfirst. Again, no real fauna to speak of, but it was a nice walk.
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View of a mountain from the bridge.
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The bridge.

From there, we moved on to the Deer and Langs Caves, but not before walking 2.5 km.
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A river that we passed.
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Rain forest friend. Look at that color!

Deer Cave is massive, but Langs Cave is much smaller.
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Both of these are Langs Cave. With Deer Cave, it was really difficult to portray just how big it was using a camera. (It has the world's largest cave passage...ooooh....ahhhhh...)

Then, there is supposedly a Great Bat Exodus every night at dusk. It started raining, however, and after about 45 minutes I decided to head back the 3km. By myself. In the rain. It was not a super-fun hike, I can say that much.

My final day, I took a longboat up the river to Clearwater and Cave of the Winds. The longboat ride was really pretty; we were able to see people who live along the river: kids in school uniforms, whole families washing their hair, women washing clothes. I felt a bit like I was intruding on something, but they all just smiled and waved.

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The one really great photo I got on the water.

We stopped at the Penan longhouse market; I was expecting a tour, they were expecting customers. So I bought some stuff and saw a pet monkey.

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We stopped at the Cave of the Winds, which has natural winds going all through it. Apparently, the clouds sink down and seep through the cave roof, providing a constant stream of air. No good pictures though.

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Our final destination was Clearwater Cave. At this point, I was getting a little caved out, as I'm sure you can imagine.

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I still took some pictures, though!

And with that, I was finished at Gunung Mulu National Park. Time to head back to the hustle and bustle of Sabah's Kota Kinabalu. Sigh.

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Goodbye, Mulu!

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We got a nice rainbow to send us off.

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What are those lines on the ground? I don't know!

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On the ground in KK.

Stay tuned for the final installment of the Borneo Blogs!

Posted by lrbergen 01:35 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Bloggin' 'Bout Borneo

Part 1: Kuala Lumpur - Kota Kinabalu

I admit this is going to be difficult to recap everything since it's been nearly 2 months since this trip actually happened. Bear with me.

I arrived in Kuala Lumpur on the mainland first for two reasons: a) I wanted to get out of Korea ASAP and b) I wanted to see the Petronas Towers at night. Done and done. Kuala Lumpur was hot and humid; you always think you've prepared yourself for the difference, but you can't really. It was cold and rainy in Korea so I could only imagine the heat in theory.

I found my hostel pretty painlessly (on a side note, the BackHome Guesthouse has to be the best one I've ever stayed in. Ever.) and went and got a beer with one of the girls staying in my room. We had the added bonus of a man following us around and even managing to sneak into the hostel to "hang out" with us before the lady running the place shooed him out. KL was alright, but just alright. It reminded me of Bangkok and other bustling dirty cities in SE Asia. The garbage/sewage smell, the puddles of indeterminable liquids that you step in...in flip-flops. The one redeeming quality was the Petronas Towers, which were totally worth the stopover on the mainland. I didn't get to ascend, but just being there was pretty cool.

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Yep. That's them.

It was hard to get a good night's sleep because of the 24-hour street traffic noise, and by the next day I was pretty happy that I was getting out of KL.

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Mmmmmm....breakfast. (Roti with all the dipping sauces. DELISH!)

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Cool graffiti

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Some of the buildings in the morning.

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I didn't include more photos here, because I've already posted so many on my Flickr account.

The trip to Kota Kinabalu (Malaysian Borneo's main city) was smooth and painless...I even got to eat some tasty chicken biryani on the plane - seriously...Malaysia Air's food = some of the best you can find. It was a bit rainy / cloudy / overcast when I arrived when I went exploring.

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Yep.

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That night, I went for dinner at the Filipino Night Market, where they had amazing barbecue. I mean really amazing. They had fish, squid, chicken; all fresh, all grilled while you wait. And you can totally eat with your hands, which I love doing.

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Chicken Satay, which I got the 2nd time I came.

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This pot and basin were provided for hand-washing before and after the meal.

I had the help of a friendly local sitting next to me on ordering and how exactly the logistics of eating my meal should properly go. It's not just something you sit down and can do immediately. He ended up paying for my meal and he and his business associate and I went for some drinks (which they invited me to "have some beers"...however, because they are Muslim, I was the only one with an actual beer). They were very helpful and nice, which was totally a running theme with 99% of the Malaysians I met on my trip. Everyone was friendly, and I even had long conversations, in perfect English, with my taxi drivers. People are SO friendly and everyone speaks English.

The next day, I walked out onto the Gaya Street Sunday market...which had a plethora of different things for sale. Like...
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Chickens.

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Turtles.

After, I decided to check out one of the islands off the coast. Their trips are mainly marketed to snorkelers, but I figured I could lay on the beach with a book. WRONG. It's snorkeling or nothing there. Also, the waters are pretty full of trash. I've heard that the nearby floating village residents just sort of dump their trash into the ocean, something I noticed all around KK as well. I did not go into the water, but I got a lot of my book read (A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving - way better than Cider House Rules).

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It was pretty, though!

That night, I think I went to go see Iron Man 2...mainly because of the air conditioned theater, but also because the movie was $3. Fun had by all.

The next day, I left for Gunung Mulu National Park in Malaysian Borneo's other state, Sarawak.
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Wheee!

Posted by lrbergen 18:51 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Seoul in May

yes...2 months ago

So two months ago, I took photos and posted them on Travellerspoint, never actually blogging about them. Since then, I have gone to Borneo and still need to post photos/blog about it. I also went to the DMZ. I have had plenty to write about. Next weekend, I will go take photos for the first time since ...June? Time to get caught up!

First, we went to the Noryangjin Fish Market in Seoul. There were tanks upon tanks of fish, shellfish, baby octopuses (octopi?), and squid. There were lots of people there to shop and take pictures, and the hawkers were happy to oblige. After you've had your fill of the sights, you can pick up some fresh sashimi, sliced right in front of you (or, as was our sashimi's case, sliced only very recently) and take it to a little restaurant and eat to your heart's content. We also got ourselves some fresh raw oysters. How much would you pay for this? Back home in Indiana....a lot. Here in Korea...less than $15. YES!

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What does this look like...?
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Sea cucumbers
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This lady was only too happy to pose for my camera
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Just like Mr. Peanut!
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Tools of the trade
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What kind of fit?
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Lots of kidd-os there, fascinated by the creatures
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OH SO DELICIOUS
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Fish market lamps!

So our trip to Noryangjin was a great success! Not long after that, I went into Seoul to do some shopping/sightseeing with Michael and his wife, Dixie. This was before Buddha's birthday, before I went to Borneo, before Michael and Dixie took off to SE Asia. I always forget how lovely walking around in Seoul can be.

First, we hit up Insadong, which looks very different now than it did in the winter, the last time I took photos there. It's much more crowded, especially because it was the weekend.

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Chicken-on-a-stick (dalk kkochi) seller
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Fortune tellers are pretty popular here...they decide how "compatible" couples are for future marriage and sometimes decide names for unborn babies. I never really noticed them before, but now that I know what they're used for, I see them everywhere.
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Ceramics shop; Insadong is pretty well-known for its ceramics
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Man carries boxes
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Playing!
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We stopped for lunch: kimchi jjigae, kimchi pancake, and makeoli (rice wine). Delish!

Then we decided to walk to Namdaemun, the huge outdoor market where you can buy EVERYTHING. We passed Jogyesa, the Buddhist temple, and the surrounding religious paraphernalia shops. This time of the year (well...THAT time of the year, May) is the most beautiful around these parts because of all the lanterns being made and sold and hung.
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Lotus lanterns for sale
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The lanterns strung around Jogyesa
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They made the yin-yang from the Korean flag
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Neat!
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Reflection of the lanterns
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Shadows
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Tired of lotuses? There are plenty more options

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Reflection in Jongno
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Jongno tower
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Saturday Seoul traffic
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Chunggye stream, Seoul
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Tacky!

And that was May in Seoul. Hooray, May!

Posted by lrbergen 01:20 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

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