Kuching Sarawak Borneo - Malaysia:
the largest flower on earth
I had an AWESOME birthday weekend!
Kuching is the biggest Malaysian city in Borneo and also the capital city of the state of Sarawak. Did you know that the Island of Borneo is made up of three countries - Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia.
Semenggoh Orang Utan Rehabilitation Center
The Orang Utan (we say orangutans), known as the "man of the forest", can only be seen in Borneo and Sumatra.
Richie (below) is the large alpha male of the group at Semenggoh Orang Utan Rehabilitation Center. You can tell a male from a female as a mature male has large cheek pads. Adult males can reach a height of 5 ft and can weigh up to 220 lbs. We were lucky to see Richie as he had not been spotted for several days.
If you go to visit the orangutans you need to make sure it is the right time of the year. During "fruiting season" the orangutans do not come to the viewing area for food as they can get all the food they need in the jungle.
Orangutans are primarily fruit eaters but they also feed on young leaves,
insects, bark, flowers, eggs and small lizards. The orangutans at this center are considered semi-wild because they do get food from the rangers during the dry season.
Females are about three quarters of the height, and half the weight of the males. They have a low reproductive rate and only give birth to a single infant once every 7-8 years. The life expectancy of orangutans in the wild is unknown. They can live more than 50 years of age in captivity.
Orangutans have a very large arm span. A males arms can stretch seven feet from fingertip to fingertip, a reach considerably longer than his standing height of about 5 feet. The guy below is actually a teenager, not a full-grown orangutan.
Orangutans are an endangered species and are protected by law in Malaysia, Indonesia, and internationally.
Day Two - Bako National Park & Sea Stack Rock Formation
We boarded a small boat for a 25-minute ride to Baku National Park. The scenery was stunning. Millions of years of erosion of the sandstone created a coastline of steep cliffs with cool shaped sea stacks (vertical rock formations) and colored patterns in the rock formed by iron deposits.
The most well known sea stack in Bako looks like a cobra head coming out of the water.
Look at that blue sky and green water! I can now say I have dipped my toe in the South China sea!
Bako is a rainforest and the oldest national park in
The park's most famous resident is the bizarre looking Proboscis Monkey. Borneo is the only place you can find this monkey. It is hard to see the monkey in the shot below, but I wanted to provide one photo that gives you the feel of the rainforest and how far up in the trees the Proboscis Monkeys live.
The monkeys are a blast to watch. They are extremely agile and can jump long distances from tree to tree. Our guide, Maui from the Ooo Haa Tours and Travel, was great. He knew exactly when the monkey was going to jump and he really helped us capture these photos.
These monkeys are not small! Among the largest of Asia’s monkeys, male
proboscis can reach 50 pounds. Females are about half the size. And only the males have the extremely large protruding nose.
Scientists do not know why the nose of the Proboscis Monkey grows so big. They think it is to attract a female mate, as the noses of females are much smaller.
The proboscis monkey is a social animal that
lives in troops of 2 to 20 usually with only one male. They live in trees and rarely are seen on the ground. They have a lifespan of about 13 years.
The nose of the male Proboscis Monkey can grow very large (up to 7 inches) When it gets this large, it hangs down over its mouth and has to be pushed aside to eat.
Local people refer to them as "Dutch monkeys," as they were considered a caricature of the Dutch sailors and plantation owners when Borneo was a Dutch colony.
It was very hard to photograph them as they were high up in the trees. The monkey below is a female.
They are so human-like. Look at his leg and protruding belly - just like an old man! We watched them for hours. They were definitely the highlight of my visit!
The Proboscis Monkeys are an endangered species. There are thought to be around 7,000 left in the wild today. Very few are found in captivity,
as they do not respond well to the artificial conditions. In Baku, they live in the wild and rangers do not feed them.
As I mentioned before we hired a private guide, Maui, through Ooo Haa Tours & Travel and he really made our day a very special one.
It was extra special for me as he surprised me with a birthday cake and the staff at the park sang Happy Birthday to me in Bahasa (language of Malaysia).
I was really surprised and touched by this sweet gesture. It was a beautiful cake and quite tasty! We highly recommend Ooo Haa Tours & Travel.
Mangroves are special types of trees in the tropics that live on the edge, where the rainforest meets the ocean. They are often referred to as "rainforests by the sea". They protect the coastline and prevent erosion. There are more mangrove species in SE Asia than anywhere else in the world.
The mangroves fascinated me. When we arrived at the park, it was high tide and the mangrove forest looked like this...
After lunch, it was low tide and looked like this...
Although it looks like you would sink deep into the sand, it was actually quite firm and we were able to walk on it without sinking in.
Mangrove forests are on the list of threatened species. It looked like another planet. I was going to say it looked like another world....but Borneo really IS another world : )
After lunch we walked along the beach to explore more creatures and the plant life of the mangrove.
We found a group of long
tailed macaques also known as the crab eating macaques. They have an extra long tail that ranges from 14 to 23 inches. Unlike the proboscis monkeys, the macaques will spend time on the ground hunting food, especially crabs.
The babies are born black and will begin to change colors around 3 months old. They are just so cute I had to share a few photos.
These monkeys are not afraid to come right up to humans to look for food. They even tried to dig in D's backpack.
Other critters we encountered:
Pyrops candelaria or Lanternfly
How cool is this? It is a cousin of the cicadas. Found in SE Asia, it feeds on the sap of fruit trees. The long nose allows him to pierce the plant to obtain sap.
This gecko is not so unusual, other than we thought it was interesting how he took on the color of the stone.
The bearded pig, native to SE Asia, is Bako’s largest mammal. They were tame and mostly interested in finding food, but the rangers still advised us to keep our distance as they are wild animals.
What a great day at Baku Park!
Day Three: Gunung Gading National Park, Fairy Cave, Wind Cave
the largest flower in the world
The Rafflesia flower is only found in the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra and they are very rare.
It can grow to be 3 feet across and weigh up to 24 pounds. It is hard to get a feel of the size from the photo.
You get a better perspective with D in this photo.
To see more photos and to read more about this fascinating flower, visit my art blog at ma vie trouvee.
To get into the Fairy Cave we had to walk up MANY steep steps. Once in the cave, you look up and see a large opening where sunlight streams into the cave, allowing you to view the plush green walls. It was magical.
It would be a great setting for a movie; but to date, no one has ever filmed one there.
Safety first.... can you imagine a walk like this in the US without rails all around to protect you from falling? Once we got deeper in the cave we needed our flashlight and it was too dark for photos. There is a formation that is said to resemble the Goddess of Mercy and many people come to pray to her. Some even spend the night in the cave hoping to see a vision ..... of lucky numbers to win the lottery!
The Wind Cave
I did not like the Wind Cave as much as the Fairy Cave, but D did. I think it was more of a “boy’ thing as Joe, our guide (also from Ooo Haa Tours and Travel), liked this cave.
It was pitch black and you needed a flashlight, or a torch as they say in Malaysia, to see anything in the cave. It was filled with thousands of Bats! D has always loved bats so he was happy. Me, not so much - it was dark, smelly, and there was bat poop everywhere. Oh yeah - AND spiders! I think I may have caught something just walking through.
Kuching means "cat" in Malay, so you will often hear it referred to as the City of Cats. You will also see cat statues all over the streets. There is even a cat museum. We passed on this one.
Kuching prides itself on being one of the most multi-racial cities in Malaysia. Although most of Malaysia is Muslim (61%), Kuching is predominantly Christian and Buddhist.
The primary language spoken in Kuching is known as Bahasa Sarawak, which is a subset of the Malay language. The second largest population is the Chinese, so you will hear Chinese spoken as well. We were told that there are 45 different languages and dialects spoken in Kuching. Fortunately, one was English so we did not have any problems getting around.
With the large Chinese population, you can see a strong Chinese influence on the architecture in the old town area and many Buddhist temples in the city.
These structures, used to burn joss paper to honor the dead, were very unusual. I have not seen them in any other country.
Our favorite subject when traveling - FOOD. My favorite dish of the trip was Laksa (coconut based curry soup with seafood). Like the locals, I even ate it for breakfast. We have Laksa in Singapore but it is too fishy for our taste. We learned that Laksa is a very regional dish so the taste can really vary.
Kuching was declared a city in August of 1988 and the Kuching Festival is celebrated each year in July/August to celebrate this occasion.
There are entertainment events along with the Annual Food Festival, which we visited our first night. It was their 25th year so were told it was extra special!
We ate so much!!! Starting off with fried chicken, D's favorite. The food was extremely cheap as this is a local event, it is not put on for tourists.
The longest line at the festival was for "fried fresh milk". We have never seen or eaten this before.
I looked up the recipe and it really is just milk mixed with cornstarch - which is boiled, cooled, then fried. Were they good? OH YES, like little pillows of warm cream.
Next... tiny little ice cream cones. I could have eaten 20!
What on earth are these?
Even seeing the name, we were still puzzled. So we had to give them a try.
Let's just say they were interesting. Not bad - not great. They reminded us of the ice cream served on the streets of Singapore that they wrap with colored bread; but these were fried.
Since we were way past our "allowed" desert quota for one night, we decided to throw in one more... fried Oreo cookies. The verdict - so so. They sat too long and should have been served piping hot.
D wanted to go back the next night. I refused - it was too much junk food for two nights in a row!!
A beautiful view
Across Kuching and the Sarawak River is a very local neighborhood. One day we hopped on the “bot tambang” or
“water taxi” to explore.
It takes about 5 minutes to cross and costs about 30 cents US. There is no schedule or timetable. The boatmen will set sail when they feel like it, or if the boat has a good number of people.
For both our crossings, there were about 10 people, but I read where they will squeeze 25 onto the boat. I was not very happy with 10, I can't imagine 25!
The houses were larger and nicer than we were expecting. Many homes were selling items for the Ramadan festivities, like the one below.
Two friendly little boys were manning this one.
They were very excited when they saw D was going to buy some of the sweets they were selling. They did not speak English but appeared to be very happy with what D offered them ($1.00 US for two pieces - probably normally sold for about 20 cents).
We were very impressed that he put on plastic gloves to serve the sweets. D purchased two cake-like, coconut desserts. Both were yummy.
My second birthday cake! This colorful layer cake called "kek lapis" in Malay, was sold on every street corner and are very famous in the Sarawak. You could get them in every color under the sun. They were originally only eaten during religious events, but now are everyday treats.
The one I picked was chocolate and blueberry and it was oh so good. Can you believe that each layer is baked one at a time. I count 15 layers. I don’t think I would
have the patience to make this cake!
Goodbye Kuching - thank you for a birthday I will never forget!