From Bali, I made my way north to Malaysian Borneo, where I stayed in the city of Kota Kinabalu or KK for short, known for its local markets, street food, and fishing. It took me a while to warm to the place as it has a bit of an industrial feel to it, the buildings are tall and ugly, and there doesn’t seem to be a great deal to do other than eating out or shopping in overly extravagant malls, which is fine for some people but I struggled to keep myself amused for long. Having said that it served its purpose well as a base for my trip to Mount Kinabalu and my explorations into the rainforest.
Climbing Mount Kinabalu
After a few days of eating my way around the city, I booked my trip to Mount Kinabalu, knowing very little other than I was required to have a “moderate” level of fitness and should probably wrap up warm. The summit is a colossal 4095 metres and it would take two days to reach. The climb began early on day one, just me and my mountain guide, a local lady in her 50’s who couldn’t have been much taller than 5ft but was somehow looked built for climbing. She was slow and steady, but was a great companion educating me with interesting facts about the mountain and Malaysia in general, I found out that she makes the climb up and down the mountain twice a week and has been doing this from a very young age, she explained how the people who live close to the mountain have incredible stamina and can walk to the summit without stopping to take a breather. She also explained about the spiritual significance of the mountain to the locals and how it needs to be treated with respect, I was quite happy to oblige. Day one was all about making our way to the hostel which was around two thirds of the way up the mountain, this took me around 4hrs 30mins which my guide was incredibly impressed by (maybe my ancestors were mountain folk too). For the final climb to the top on day two, we left around 02:30 under a clear starry sky and arrived at the peak just in time for sunrise around 05:30, I can completely understand why people become addicted to the feeling of conquering the highest peaks as the views from up there were unbelievable, and the sense of achievement having made it to the top really makes it an amazing experience. Although the application form stated you only require a “moderate” level of fitness, I would say this probably needs to be upgraded as I saw no end of people giving up along the way either through exhaustion, injury, or altitude sickness, some giving in literally within metres of the top. So walking up the mountain was tough, but what I hadn’t realised was how difficult the descent was going to be and I found this the hardest part, all of that effort I used on the way up meant that my legs were now burning and felt like jelly on the way down, it would have made for an entertaining watch seeing me wobbling all over the place, but I finally made it to the bottom unscathed and satisfied that I had conquered this awe-inspiring mammoth of a mountain, what a feeling!
The Orang-Utan Sanctuary
After taking a few days out to recover from the climb I made a trip to a local Orangutan sanctuary, which oddly enough was situated in the grounds of a 5 star hotel complex. I was a bit apprehensive about visiting the place as I had imagined a tiny enclosure like one of the attractions in a zoo, but to my surprise it was actually a contained part of the rainforest where there was acres of land full of trees for the Orangutans to play in and instead of exploiting the animals for the sake of tourism, it seemed as though they were doing a fantastic job of nurturing them back into the wild. Watching the Orangutans swing from tree to tree was a pleasure, these incredible red-haired apes have an abundance of character and I really hope these conservation projects make a difference against the odds.
Into the Rainforest
The following day I booked an excursion into the heart of the rainforest to get up close and personal with the wildlife; we were promised sightings of Proboscis monkeys (the strange looking monkey with the big nose), fireflies, and a locally prepared feast and luckily enough the trip delivered on all counts. We hopped aboard a boat and made our way through the mangroves and as we made our way deeper into the Rainforest we started to spot family after family of monkeys, and even our guide was shocked at how many there were; it had been raining constantly the whole day and as it had stopped as we arrived, it meant they were all now on the hunt for food. We were given binoculars to search through the trees, whilst our guide reeled off a ton of interesting facts about the wildlife and the ancient rainforest. Once the sun had set we went to a particular part of the Rainforest which was swarming with fireflies, this was my first time seeing them and I was pleasantly surprised as thousands of tiny little lights made their way towards the boat as our guide flashed his green tinted torch on and off to lure them in, it was quite a magical experience. Once we had finished gaping open-mouthed with awe at the fireflies (I may have swallowed one or two), we stopped for food. The locally prepared feast which was laid on for us was incredible, an all-you-can-eat Malaysian masterpiece of seafood, meats, rice and noodle dishes, and a fine selection of sweets for desert. Whilst I was sat down for dinner I was joined by a retired English couple, who were spending every last penny of their retirement fund to travel the world, they had been all over SE Asia, South and Central America, and just experiencing all the world has to offer. I was interested to see how they found travelling later on in life, as a lot of people decide to have children at a young age and then travel once they have retired. Their advice was very clear, although they had enjoyed raising their two children; they wish they had travelled more when they were young, as there were so many activities which they were just not capable of doing now. I was also saddened to hear that the man had terminal illness and was unsure of how much longer he had left to live, so this was obviously spurring them on even more. It was great to speak with this couple and to see how happy they were even in the face of adversity, it made me sad but at the same time grateful for my experience and I left feeling inspired.
My final stop in Malaysia was the capital Kuala Lumpur, this densely populated city is impressive and bursting with life, the iconic and world renowned Petronas Towers (pictured below) are an architectural masterpiece both inside and out and it was well worth the fee to access the bridge between the two towers. The hostel I chose for my stay in KL was the Reggae Mansion, no idea how they came up with that name but it would certainly feature as one of the best hostels I’ve stayed at; the rooms were massive with the biggest pod-style beds I’ve seen, it had a cinema, a fantastic restaurant, and a nightclub on the roof overlooking the city, it was classed as a party hostel (kind of obvious when you have a nightclub on the roof) but it was fairly chilled and I made some good friends there. The first night I stayed there, I made friends with a group of people who were headed out for drinks, we ended up finding a Salsa bar selling BOGOF Mojitos, I love these little moments where you just sit back and appreciate just how much of a culture clash has occurred, I mean I was in Malaysia, in a Cuban themed cocktail bar watching people Salsa dance, sat with a Scottish girl, Welsh lad, and myself from England, talking about our favourite destinations so far and it makes you realise that you can be anywhere in the world with anyone and in some weird way, still feel completely at home. Other notable mentions for my time in KL was the Birdpark, which is the largest of its kind in the world and was a good way to spend a few hours, Berjaya Times Square shopping mall to check out the indoor roller coaster, and the Islamic Arts Museum which despite the rather boring sounding name it was actually incredible.
Highlights of Malaysia
Mount Kinabalu – Not only my number one of highlight of my time spent in Malaysia, but probably my standout moment of the 6 months.
The rainforest – Over 140 million years old (thanks Wikipedia), the Borneo rainforest is full of some of the world’s most amazing species of animals and insects, 44 of which are endemic to this island alone. It had a completely different feel from the rainforest I explored in Cairns, but both were incredible in their own way.
Next stop Singapore….
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