In the first part of this trip we visited Kuala Lumpur and Cameron Highlands. This Malaysia and Borneo itinerary takes to the easters coast before we head to Borneo.
Beachtime in Penang
Penang is one of the famous Malaysian beach resorts. Here you can swap sightseeing with a few hours at the beach. We stayed at the beautiful Shangri La Rasa Sayang. If nothing else, visit the cave temples of Ipoh. The largest one is Sam Poh Tong . A visiting Chinese monk discovered the cave and decided to create his home and meditation space here. The temple is known for its turtle pond, the Chinese symbol of luck and a longevity.
Kuala Kangsar is a beautiful garden city with, amongst others, the Masjid Ubadiah, one of the most photographed Islamic buildings of the country. The Istana Kenangan (Rembrance Palace) is also here, built without nails or drawing.
The temple of the Azure Cloud or Snake temple is full of venomous pit vipers, possibly knocked out by the incense. These days nothing more than a tourist attraction.
Georgetown is the heart of Penang. On the corner of Gurney Drive are the most famous and expensive food stalls (and even then the prices are reasonable).
Khota Baru is the cradle of Malaysian culture and is situated on the border with Thailand. It is the only place in the world with traffic signs warning for crossing elephants.
In Cherating we stayed at the Impiana Cherating. This was about the worst hotel experience for us, ever. About 5 people and a horse’s head were staying here. The roof was near collapse. The bar at the pool looked abandoned. Really bizar. Luckily, we only stayed one night. I looked up the hotel and apparently nothing much has changed to this day. And there is not a lot to see in this region. Pedal to the metal and drive past here is the message!
Hotel Equatorial made up for a lot. The hotel is excellently positioned to explore this super friendly town.
Around 1400, Malacca was the first settlement on the Malaysian peninsula, and independence was declared here in 1957. It has good reason to call itself the city where Malaysia was born.
Also visit Tasik Chini. It is a rare sunken land of 12 interconnected lakes. Lots of monkeys live here, and it is a paradise for bird spotters.
You can take a relaxing ride through the centre of town with a bicycle taxi or do a 45-minute river cruise of the Sungai Melaka.
On our travels we had noticed “Durians not allowed” signs in several hotels. We had wondered what durians were. We thought maybe it was a people that wasn’t so welcome in Malaysia. But we discovered the truth when we stopped at one of the fruit stands along the road. The durian (aka stinking fruit) is a large fruit with a green spiky rind. The awful smell will meet you from a long way away. Despite the smell, the fruit has a delicious flavour and can cost someone a weekly salary! There are no plantations, but the poorest people are allowed to plant a few trees in their garden. Everywhere there are stalls along the road where they sell their durians.
It is not recommended you take durians in your car. Buy some rambutans instead. They are a type of large lychee and have a lovely taste.
Orang-utan and long-nosed monkeys
After the road trip through Malaysia, it was finally time for my favourite part of this trip. After a short flight we arrived in Malaysian Borneo. You see, Borneo is part Malaysian, part Indonesian, and the independent state of Brunei is also on this island. Quickly check into the Hotel Sabah, in the middle of the rain forest.
We went straight for the highlight: a visit to Sepilok Nature Resort. Orangutans who are taken from their owners, or orphaned young are rescued and brought to this 4000ha large reserve, where they get rehabilitated and prepared for their re-release into the wild. Sepilok Nature resort is a beautiful project. You are sure of meeting the big apes twice a day, when they are being fed.
It was not long before we stood eye-to-eye with our (near) counterpart. I cannot describe how fantastic this was. I could have spent hours here.
For more information, see http://sepilok.com
Be sure to arrange a boat ride on the Kinabatangan, the longest river of Sabah. During this cruise, you’re nearly sure to meet the proboscis monkeys. They have a long nose, hanging belly, reddish hair and a white tail. The locals called these monkeys “Hollanders” as they thought they looked like the Dutch colonists. These unique monkeys only live on Borneo and are not in any zoos as they kill themselves in captivity.
It wasn’t long before we met a group of these long-nosed monkeys. A mother jumped from a tree over our heads to the bank on the other side. Her infant was afraid to follow her in first instance. We enjoyed half an hour of her encouraging her little one to jump. I managed to take a good photo of the jump! That moment, with my husband in a small wooden boat, was one of those moment where life was perfect
Birds’ nests and cockroaches
We booked a guide to explore the rest of the island the next day. He brought us to Gomantang, one of the largest caves of Borneo. Enormous numbers of bats and swiftlets, whose nests are collected for Cantonese restaurants the world over, flit around here. The birds’ nests can fetch a 1000 euro per kg and thus are strictly guarded by ranchers. The guide takes us for a walk through the cave. I was silly enough to ask what the millions of beetles were, crawling over the wooden walkway. Cockroaches!!!! Trousers tucked inside the socks, shirt held closed at the collar and keep on going. Awful!
.Do you enjoy a long hike? The guide can take you into the rain forest to look for giant rafflesias. These flowers can grow up to a diameter of 1 meter and can easily weigh 10 kg, and smell of rotting meat. They are the symbol of Sabah.
A tip to finish on. We drove through the whole of Malaysia, but in hindsight it would have been better to just do the west coast. This saves you a lot of kilometres, and you have still seen the highlights. But do book that excursion to discover Borneo as that will make your Malaysia and Borneo journey truly unforgettable!
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