7th May 2019 – Sepilok to Kota Kinabalu

One of the few ‘travelling’ days today and, for a change, we had a lazy start this morning and didn’t have to meet until 10.30am. sheet a light breakfast we met to get a bus to the airport, stopping at the Sandakan war memorial on the way.

The war memorial commemorates the POW camp that was based in Sandakan, run by the Japanese and the was a really interesting, and somewhat graphic, display of the atrocities that went on in the camp and also the stoic attitudes of the prisoners, most of whom would die before the end of the war.

After spending around 45 minutes at the sure we got back on the bus for the short journey to the airport.

Our flight left on time at 2.15pm and it was only 45 minutes later that we were landing back at Kota Kinabalu. On the right hand side of the aircraft you could see mount Kinabalu!

Mount Kinabalu from the air!

We had a minibus to the Dreamtel hotel, where we’d started from 11 days ago.

Ed and I agreed stone washing then met Peter, Zoe and Hala to walk to the waterfront. We stopped at Edna’s to drop off a small amount of washing ( less than £4 for a bag to be washed and returned to our hotel by 9pm!) and then walked on. We looked around the fruit and fish market taking place at the waterfront and also the handicraft stalls before heading for a refreshing Tiger and to watch the sun go down.

Last Bornean sunset

From here we caught a taxi to meet everyone for a farewell dinner at which a cake was produced for Ed’s birthday on the next day!

To finish the night we walked back to the waterfront for some Tigers and ended up in an Irish bar where there was live music.

As we need to leave at 8am, we called it a night at 12.30 and walked back to the hotel with Hala leaving just a handful of the group to it!

6th May 2019 – Palau Selingan to Sepilok

We were up at 6am in time for a quick breakfast before or boat left for the mainland at 7am.

Leaving the island

After a 45 minute return journey we walked back to the hotel where we had left our bags. We then had a 40 minute transfer to the Sepilok jungle resort where we’d be staying. We arrived just after 9.30 but couldn’t check in so we left our bags and headed for the orangutan sanctuary.

Apeing around

Here we first saw the nursery are before watching the morning feed where a few orangutans visited, including one who didn’t seem remotely interested in food, but was happy to be photographed! The weather was, again, really warm and humid and it seemed that we were just sweating standing still.

Before we reached the orangutans – a flying lemur
Mother and baby
Sheltering from the heat in the nursery
Just hanging around
Orangutan yoga?
Not sure who is watching who….

Having seen the feeding time we walked across the road to the sun bear sanctuary. Here we spent a good 45 minutes watching some of the different bears.

Waiting for feeding time
Tree climbing
Now where do I go?
You can see the individual yellow chest markings giving the Bears their name

It was now time to head back and when we arrived we went straight to lunch. It turns out that the food at the hotel restaurant is very good!

After lunch we were able to check into our rooms. We both had a quick shower before walking back to the sanctuary to see more orangutan feeding. There were a fraction of the number of people there compared to the morning and it felt quite exclusive although the heat and humidity remained high! We also watched a short film about the sanctuary which is supported by a British charity.

Feeding time number 2
The one without hair has a skin condition!

At around 3pm we walked back to the resort and then headed for the pool where we enjoyed a couple of beers relaxing in the shade.

At 5.30, some of the group (who hasn’t been enjoying the Tiger beer so much in the afternoon!) met to go on a nightshade. Night walk in the jungle. We walked for about 20 minutes and arrived at the rainforest discovery centre where we walked up onto a canopy walkway and managed to catch a sight of a flying squirrel in the dusk.

Don’t look down.. About 30m up!

As it was getting dark we walked into the jungle and spotted some smaller insects but nothing too exciting. We got back to the resort at about 8 and went straight for dinner. By 10 we were flagging after a day filled with animal sightings and the hot and humid conditions and so we had an early night.


4th May 2019 – Kinabatangan River to Sandakan

We had a 5.30 alarm call to be up and away on the river safari at 6am. A quick coffee in the cafe area and we boarded the boat. It was light, although the sunrise hadn’t properly taken place.

This time we cruised up the river and managed to see a few more primates, a crocodile and some hornbills.

Proboscis monkey
What we saw

We returned to the lodges at just before 8 and had breakfast and then checked out, took the boat back across the river and boarded our bus. Just before we got into the boat we saw a monitor lizard which had attached one of the pet cats at the lodges and apparently eaten her kittens.

Monitor lizard

We drove for about 15 minutes and then stopped at the Gomantong Caves. These caves are where twice a year they harvest bird’s nests for both cosmetics and bird’s nest soup. The harvesting is now regulated by the government and its only allowed before the swiftlets lay eggs or after the chicks have left.

Our transport

Before we entered the caves we spotted two wild orangutans in the trees next to the car park area. They seemed completely unbothered by our presence!

Orangutans in the trees behind

Hasif then explained some of the methods that the locals use to harvest the nests. The ropes and ladders all looked far too rickety to be climbing to the top of the cave 50m high! However, the rewards are worth it as the harvested nests sell for significant amounts of money.


We walked about 10 minutes along boardwalks to the entrance to the cave. It’s not really as impressive as the ones we’d seen in Sarawak, but they did have a massive entrance. As you approached you could smell the guano coming from the cave and there were hundreds of swiftlets flying around. We walked along boardwalks caked in guano and with cockroaches and sides scuttling around. There were three shacks set up in the cave that the locals use to sleep in to keep an eye on the caves. Not something that I’d want to do in a hurry!

The wardens’ accommodation inside the cave!

We walked quickly on the loop of the cave and came back out just in time to see another wild orangutan sitting in a tree eating fruit. We stopped to watch it for 10 minutes before walking back to the bus. We’d certainly been lucky to see two different wild orangutans.

A bit camera shy

We boarded the bus for a 2 hour transfer to Sandakan.

On arrival in Sandakan at around 1.30pm we dropped off our bags in the room and meet up with Peter and Zoe to get some food. We ended up getting a taxi for the short ride up the hill to an English tea Room where we had club sandwiches and scones, with, of course, a tiger beer.

After eating we walked down the 200+ steps, no mean feat given that we’re all still struggling with sore legs, and headed back to the hotel.

Anzac war memorial

We had some time relaxing before meeting up with the group at 5.45 to head to a roof top bar for a sunset drink and then some food, a bit later, in their restaurant in the floor below.

Rooftop cocktails

Finally, to end the evening, we had a couple of drinks at a waterfront ‘bar’.

3rd May 2019 – Poring to Kinabatangan River

We had an early start that, meeting at 7am to stay y or journey onwards. Overnight I’d been woken by an insect at the top of my duvet!

Not a welcome bedfellow

Our journey today will be about 5 hours in a small bus with an interior which is far too bright for early in the morning!

We’re following a similar route to that made by the asked forces during the war,  Sandakan to Ranau, on the death march, forced by the Japanese.

After a short drive we stopped to see the Rafflesia flower, the largest flower in the world.

In bloom
Dead, with the next generation next to it

After another 20 minutes or so we stopped at the Sabah tea plantation for breakfast, which included some good coffee!

We drove on and soon we passing miles upon miles of Palm oil plantations. The plantations are not made by deforesting rainforests, but by using areas which have already been cut down for timber. They also provide the second largest income for Malaysia after oil.

At around 1400 we arrived at the river where we caught a boat across the water to our hotel for the night. The accommodation is in lodges set in the jungle with the dining area and small sitting area as the main part.

Crossing the river
View from the dining area
Our room

We had a welcome drink and then a buffet meal was served. We checked into our rooms and had about an hour free time before we met at 4 for a river cruise and wildlife spotting. We both took the opportunity to have a tiger overlooking the river.

The cruise lasted about 2 and a half hours and we were able to spot loads of monkeys (macaques) a crocodile and even an orangutan. We arrived back at 6.30 and then had tea at 7.

Proboscis monkey
Our lodge
Orangutan in the distance
What we saw!

After tea we met for a night walk which meant that we needed to hire Wellington boots and leech socks. We spent an hour or so wandering around the jungle in the dark and did manage to spot a couple of different types of civet along with loads of insects.

Wellies and leech socks
Sleeping bat

As we have an early start for another river wildlife spotting trip at 6am, we just had one more beer and then headed to bed for 10pm to sort some photos, have a showerb to wash the grime of the day off and get some sleep!

1st May 2019 – Mount Kinabalu – day 2

We had a very very early alarm call at 2am in time for us to be up, have a light breakfast and be out for 2.45am.

None of us seemed to have slept well but there was a definite air of intrepidation and excitement as we waited to start. Fortunately we could leave some things at the lodge so we didn’t need to carry everything to the summit!

We all donned our headtorches and began the climb. The first part was mainly steps, sometimes made of wood and sometimes fashioned out of rocks and/or roots. There were about 150 people climbing to the summit this morning and so progress was slow. Fortunately the sky was clear and so you could see the way ahead lit by a convoy of headtorches!

It took a while to get my legs working after yesterday’s exertions, but once there we made steady progress. The climb was hard and we knew that we had to cover 2.8km distance and almost 900m in height!

We trooped along stopping when needed to take a break from the neverending climb.

At km 7, we had to show our passes and then we continued on. The climb became steeper and the steps ended, replaced instead by a rope that you could use to pull yourself up with. Some sections were particularly tricky and progress was slow.

At around 5am the pre dawn started and you could start to make out the silouettes of the various peaks that make up Mount Kinabalu.

We were right at the back of our group and we kept stopping to catch our breath! Eventually, we arrived at the 8km mark and we could see where the summit lay about 800m ahead, and about 200m above us.

The way ahead
Almost there

We walked on and managed to reach the summit at 5.50am, just as the sun was properly rising above the horizon. You could see the clouds below and we managed to take a number of great pictures, including the obligatory photo at the summit itself – 4095.2m above sea level!

Proof that we made it!
Me, Ed, Peter, Hala, Cat, Deb, Zoe, Boris, Sam, Emma,
Anyone for a tiger? 🍻

By 6.30 we had taken all of the photos that we could manage and so we started to retrace our steps on the downward trail. The sun was shining brightly and the waking generally much easier. We took some more photos in the light and as we passed the 7km pass check station we looked back and I could see why you start in the dark….I’d never have done it if I could have seen the scale of the challenge!

On the way down
Rock slide from the 2015 earthquake

We returned to the lodge in about 2 hours and after another light (and basic) breakfast we started the downward trail back to the park HQ. In the end it took us around 4 hours to complete and by the end we were all very weary with sore legs from the up and down exertions of the last couple of days. However, the sense of achievement in climbing a peak over 4,000m high was amazing although Ed and I agreed that it would be the first and last time up that mountain and that neither of us are particularly keen on hostel accommodation!

Finally down

On returning to the park HQ we had a lunch at the restaurant before saying farewell to the local guides and boarding a couple of minibuses to take us to our next accommodation at Poring hot springs.

As we were saying our goodbyes to our local guide they said that it was the first time that everyone in the group had made the summit and also the quickest time that everyone had made it back to the park HQ.

The journey to the hotel took less than an hour but we haven’t moved far from the mountain as we’ve dropped lower and around the foothills.

The place that we’re staying is still in the national park and has some hot springs. It’s much warmer here and a bit more humid. We’ve got a little lodge in the grounds of the hot springs complex. Across the road is a line of shops and cafes and there appear to be a line of stalls which during the day will be full of hawkers seeking to the tourists that come to the hot springs.

After a shower and a sort out of our rucksacks, we hobbled across the road to have a very welcome cold Tiger beer.

We met with the test of the group at 7.30 and headed back to the same restaurant where we’d had our beer for food. We’re all pretty tired after our 2am start but still managed to spend some time chatting in the common area that is within the accommodation. Tomorrow is planned to be a relaxing day!

28th April 2019 – KK to Dusun

We were at breakfast for about 7.30am and met our guide Hasif at 8am to go to the market.

The market was only a few minutes walk away and set up in a street. The were hundreds of stalls selling everything from fruit, vegetables, plants, fish, toys, cats and dogs and almost anything else that you could think of.

Back to the hotel we spent an hour or so packing and then met everyone again for 10am to start our next journey. We loaded or stuff into the van and we stopped in just a couple of minutes at the observatory. Hasif explained some of the history of the city and that about 60% of the land is reclaimed.

We drove out of KK and shortly started to climb. The road was well made, but very windy. We had a heavy rain storm but it soon cleared up.

After about 2 hours driving we arrived at our homestay for the evening, a small village called Tanak Nabalu, just below the foothills of Mount Kinabalu. We stopped first at the village hall where we were greeted by a welcoming party and then had a snack of fried bananas, pineapple and local tea.

We were assigned our hosts and we walked through the village to find our house. The village is far more developed than I expected and each property is fenced and the gardens are well kept. We’re staying with Saminah and her husband.

Welcoming committee

After gathering our bags we were fed a lunch of omelette, rice, chicken in soy sauce and vegetables. After this, we had some free time and we spent it dozing!

At 3pm we all met again and headed a short way up the hill to see the farming area. We watched a demonstration of how they tap rubber and also saw where the pineapple plantations are.

Next we walked back through the village and all the way down the hill that we had come up earlier in the van to la bridge was. there was a great area for swimming and most of us had a dip in water which was warmer than the rivers so far this trip.

What goes down must unfortunately also go back up so we walked back up the hill to the village and then had some free time before t where we sat on the balcony chatting to our host. we had some snacks or fried bananas and a host also insisted that we had a couple of beers. Is quite challenging as his english was not good and our Malay is even worse. However, we did manage to learn a couple of new words including Gugu (cheers in Dusun – the local tribes dialect) and Terima Casi (thank you).

At 6:30 we walked back down to the village hall and had a meal of various dishes the our hosts prepared. Then it was time for the inevitable cultural show. We watch the couple of dancers with accompaniment from 6 men playing gongs and drummer. Then we had to have a go both at playing the gongs and dancing.

By now we were all pretty tired even though we having actually done that much physical activity today. So we headed it back to our host family. we were both about to go to bed even though it is only about 8:45 however, our host appeared with more beers and we felt bad about declining and so we sat on the veranda for a couple of cans. I was glad we did as our leader said that the host was pleased that we’d accepted the offer.

We learnt a bit more about the village as by now our leader, efficient is also staying in this house, had returned. The village is about 50:50 Muslim/Catholic but both live very peacefully alongside each other.

Finally, at around 9.40pm, it was time to head to bed, although our host did try to get us to stay for one more! We’re in separate rooms here so I won’t keep Ed awake with my snoring…or visa versa.


27th April 2019 – Kota Kinabalu

We had a lazy start with breakfast at 9.30. Lots of our fellow travellers have already left but Cat is still here and of course Peter who travels on with us on the next trip. We also met Nizam at breakfast and had a chance to day some final farewells to a great guide.

Between us we decided that we’d stay around KK today and so at 11am we meet again and got a taxi up the hill to the observatory which gave views over the city.

The temperature is again very warm but definitely not quite as humid as in Sarawak. Next we walked down the hill, through a park and along to the clock tower.

We walked back to the hotel, which wasn’t far, and caught another taxi to the Sabah museum. We spent a pleasant hour looking some the history of Sabah and some of the exhibits, including from the headhunters trail!

As we were staying to get hungry, we caught yet another taxi back to near our hotel and had a light lunch in a trendy backpackers coffee shop. (the distances in the city are not far, but as it’s so hot, and the taxis so cheap, it’s worth doing!)

We then walked along toward the port and to one of the hotels which has a sky bar overlooking the bay.

View from the sky bar

We each had a couple of drinks before walking back to our hotel. We said our farewells to Cat as she is doing it this evening before having a rest and as I’m writing this, were just about to go to our second group briefing.

We met up with our new group at 6pm and, surprisingly, there is only one non European on this trip. The one Australian was arriving late so didn’t make the briefing. Our group this time is therefore 3 Swiss, 1 French, 1 German, 5 British (albeit that one is currently living in Australia) and an Australian. Our leader, Hasif, have is the usual introduction and then we headed out for food at a Malaysian restaurant.

We’d finished eating by 9 and some of its went for a couple of drinks at the BB bar before turning in just before midnight.

26th April 2019 – Labuan to Kota Kinabalu

We had a later start this morning and didn’t have to be ready until 11am so after a late breakfast we repacked our bags and checked out.

We boarded the minibus to take the 25 minute journey into Victoria. Here we had an hour to kill as we waited for our bags to be brought and so we stopped in a cafe for a cold drink and to pass the time.

At 12.30 we were able to board the ferry which would take us the 3.5 hour journey to Kota Kinabalu. The ferry was very crowded and whilst we all had a seat, it was pretty cramped.

We arrived at the terminal in Kota Kinabalu (KK) at 4.30 and once through immigration, had a bus to our hotel.

The journey to our hotel only took a few minutes. We’ll be staying at the Dreamtel for the next two nights, for the last night of the first tour and the first night of the second tour. We’ll also end or adventure here.  We’re on the 10th floor so have quite a view over the city.

Not exactly an exciting view!

After a quick shower, we meet everyone again at 6pm to go for our final group meal. We stopped on the way to drop washing off.. It’ll be delivered back to the hotel by 10am tomorrow, and we walked on down to the waterfront for food.

As we were walking the sun started to set but the sky also got much darker. There was some thunder and lightening, but no rain.

We carried on and ended up in a Thai restaurant for food. Meanwhile, outside, the heaven’s had opened!

It was pretty good, with I could have done with the crab having been or prepared!

After food and a couple of group photos, we walked back to the hotel and said some goodbyes to those leaving.

Chuck, Mel, Nizam, Peter, Jake, Yvonne, Leanne, Connor, Amy, Cat, me, Kim, Ed

Then Ed, Peter and I, among with Mel and Kim, walked to a bar in Chinatown for a few beers. There was some ‘live’ entertainment and after a few beers we walked back to the hotel for another good night’s sleep!

24th April 2019 – The Headhunter’s Trail.

Not the best night’s sleep last night. A combination of the heat and the less comfortable bed, along with other Chinese travellers getting up very noisily at 5.30 am made for a sleepless night.

We needed to be up for a breakfast of noodles and fried egg at 7am. The heat did calm down overnight and when we woke it was relatively fresh. However, none of the wet clothing had dried and even the dry clothing felt mildly damp.

An all round view
Before we start! Mel, Kim, Jake, Connor, Peter, Cat, me, Yvonne, Ed, Amy, Chuck, Leanne and Nizam

We started our walk at around 8am with the temperature starting to climb. The first section took us up past the swimming point to another monkey ladder rope bridge. Then we headed back down the river bank on the opposite side.

The terrain was similar to yesterday alternating between stone, mud and planks. As we walked there were markers every 1km to tell us how we were doing! After about an hour we had managed to cover just over 3km and the humidity was starting to become very high.

By 6km, we were all dripping with sweat and it struck me quite how remote we are. There were no roads to the camp 5, and so there really was only one way to go… On! At 7km we came to a crossing where the original monkey ladder rope bridge had been destroyed by a falling tree. Here we had to remove our socks and shoes and wade across. As I removed my one shoe there was quite a bit of blood just before the ankle and it was clear that a leech had been having a meal at my expense! The small round was still bleeding even after I had waded across the river through the knee high water.

Crossing the river

Just on the other side we stopped to put our socks and shoes back on and for some of us to tend our wounds. Ed also had been host to a leech just before he went into the water.

We walked on, glad that we were over half way. However, the heat and humidity we taking their toll and we were all starting to get very tired! The forest wildlife also seemed to have woken up to the fact that there was fresh meat around and Ed had another leech on his wrist and an insect such stung him on the stomach.

Eventually, after almost 5 hours, we arrived at a river bank where there were boats waiting to take us down stream. A very welcome sight. I can honestly say that I’ve never exercised is such extreme conditions and the headhunter trail may ‘only’ have been 11km, but it certainly felt much longer.

Made it. Just as well you can’t see how sweaty we are!

The boats were a slightly deeper version of the ones that we’d been on yesterday and also had seats fashioned out of plastic chairs with their legs cut off. We climbed aboard, glad to have made it! So, the headhunter trail, a great challenge and one to be proud of!

A welcome sight

We had a 30 minute journey downstream with alternating for water and ‘rapids’. Just before we stopped for lunch there was a section that we had to get out and walk around! We stopped just after where the boat handlers had prepared a lunch of vegetables, aubergine and sweet and sour booked egg, with a watery melon for pudding!

You can clearly see the rock formations

We then got back on our boats for a 3 hour journey downstream to our accommodation for the evening. At first the sun was out and the views of the winding river were beautiful, with the rain forest rushing from either side. However, the clouds started to roll in and before long it rained. Hard!

I was in a different boat to Ed but I grabbed my plastic poncho and pulled it over my head. However the hood came down and before long my face was drenched and water was trickling down my neck. The boat driver ploughed on as the rain bounced off the surface of the river. Fortunately it wasn’t cold!

After a while the rain subsided before starting again just before we arrived at our destination…a long house homestay. We got off the boats and sheltered under a tin shed until it subsided a little. When it did we walked a couple of minutes to our accommodation.

It’s raining!

The long house is essentially a type of terraced house where neighbours share a common space at the front of the building and this was to be where we were sleeping in little ‘pods’ to protect us against the mossies! The traditional longhouses would have been wooden, but now they are built from concrete. We arrived, a bedraggled mess and were greeted warmly, although it was a little unclear what we were to do. There were some shared toilets and a shower. However, in the end, Ed and I decided to simply dry off and put some dry clothes on from our large bags which we had just been reunited with!

After some time relaxing with a couple of cold beers and then we shown how our meal was to be cooked using a bamboo stuffed with chicken and spices on a BBQ.

A cooking demo!

After a while, the owner came to explain that a local TV station was filming a piece about the local tribes and, in particular, how they use herbs and spices in a sorry of make shift sauna. The two American lads were volunteered to be the models and we spent the next 45 minutes watching the film crew take the shots of the presenter interviewing one of the elder ladies about the techniques whilst the models roasted on the sauna made of rattan carpets covered with a cloth roof. All very bizarre!

It was now about 7.45 and time for tea. We were served the chicken along with rice and some spinach and done tasty spicy pineapple curry. We were all flagging a bit by now but there was still the cultural display to watch, although some choose to head to bed. (As it turned out, this was a bit of a mistake as the display as taking place at the other end of the common area so there was no sleep to be had whilst it was taking place). First one of the older ladies danced, followed by a man doing a warrior dance. Then, of course, they tried to get us to take part. I declined, but a couple of the group ended up having a go whilst the local film crew filmed! We were also served some rice wine!

Finally, it was time to retire to our pods, although it’s another stiflingly hot evening and the fans can only do so much.

Overall, an interesting, bizarre, tiring, but ‘enjoyable’ day!

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