Continuing our travels westward across Bornean Malaysia, with a quick visit to Brunei, we feel as if we’re back home with scout meetings, the local running club and mountains on the agenda…72 days in.
During our time in the Philippines, we didn’t manage to meet any scout groups but when we arrived in Borneo, Mike soon found a group in Kota Kinabalu via Facebook and we arranged to meet them. Scouts in Malaysia is linked to school, with all of the students required to attend a uniformed after school club on Wednesdays. However, due to Ramadan, they weren’t having a normal meeting so a small gathering was arranged for those that could make it. We spent a great couple of hours with the scouts, learning about their awards and activities. They keep such detailed records for their badge and award work, we especially liked the maps they have to make as part of the expedition for the King’s Scout award, their highest award.
In my previous post I explained the reason we came to Malaysian Borneo; the call of the mountains and Mount Kinabalu in particular. After doing our research, we decided that as great as it would be to add it to our list of peaks climbed and the achievement of our first over 4000 m, we didn’t think it was worth the expense (nearly £250 each). We still wanted to soak up the atmosphere of the mighty Kinabalu, so headed to the national park at the foot of the giant monolith for an overnight stay to take in the fresh mountain air (read cooler) and catch the early morning views before it gets shrouded in cloud. Our accommodation for the night was Jungle Jack’s; a collection of shipping containers for dorms and a kitchen area that reminded me of an organised campsite.
It was simple accommodation, but full board for £9 per person and in a small clearing of jungle looking up to the impressive peaks of Kinabalu, you can’t go that wrong. Jack is one of the many memorable characters that we have met on the trip so far; a land owning socalist, embracing tourism to help the penny pinching backpacker and to preserve the local jungle, he’s also an ex-chef, who like most Malaysians likes to share his view as to what is wrong with the country. Most of the guests are staying as part of a package to climb the mountain and Jack takes everyone out to one of the local restaurants for dinner. The food was delicious and it was great fun to feel the buzz of the group from Manila that were starting their climb the next day.
After returning for a brief stopover in KK, it was time for another new country, Brunei; a chance to wonder at the gold and statements of wealth (Wikipedia ranks it as the fifth richest country in the world) and another stamp in the passport. In fact as we took the bus to Bandar Seri Bagawan (BSB, the capital), and you criss cross through Bornean Malaysia and Brunei before finally arriving, it was a 9 hour bus ride and 8 border crossings and passport stamps! What initially struck us was how quiet everywhere was, it probably didn’t help visiting during Ramadan, which meant it was harder to find food during the day and we had to take it back to our hotel to eat. BSB was an interesting two day stopover, home to the world’s largest stilted water village and free museums, always good. We spent an interesting morning wandering around the royal regalia museum in our socks (no shoes allowed) learning about the royal family and the hundreds of gifts they’ve been given, more gold. Brunei wasn’t what I expected after reading our guide book, it’s a rich oil state, we could tell, it had the nicest roads since Japan! I think I was expecting it to feel different to Malaysia and cost of living to be higher, but it wasn’t on both counts, food was cheaper and due to the varied cultural mix of Malays, Filipinos and Indians it didn’t feel as conservative as I expected of an Islamic state, very similar to the rest of Malaysian Borneo.
Crossing back into Malaysia again, we had a few days in Miri before our flight to Mulu National park. Other travellers we had met described Miri as a dull oil town; however, Mike spotted an entry in the guidebook under jogging and got on Facebook again to find the local running group. He joined the local club on two evenings whilst we were in Miri, all good preparation for his upcoming 10k race. He was chatting to some of the members after the run and mentioned our plans for the next day; to visit Lambir Hills, a nearby national park, when two of the club members asked if they could join us and be our guides for the day.
This is the most overwhelming aspect of our trip so far; the kindness of strangers, we have been fortunate to meet so many kind people, who have gone out to their way for us. KT and Willie were no exception, they drove us to the national park, we walked some of the trails together, they took us for lunch, before dropping us back at our accommodation. We had a fantastic day, the national park was beautiful with great trails through the jungle and a waterfall to cool down in and as for lunch, the prawn noodles were absolutely delicious. Before we had left home, one of my hopes for the trip was to meet new people and experience new cultures but I never expected to be shown such kindness by people I’ve never met before, it is truly humbling.