Borneo is one of those far away places everyone’s heard of and atleast once dreamed of visiting. Since Australia’s a continent and Greenland is always depicted much larger on a map than it is, Borneo is technically the largest island in the world. Its split 3 ways, with 2 tiny pieces belonging to Brunei, 2 provinces of Malaysia surrounding that, and then the rest of it is Kalimantan, Indonesia.
I was in Sarawak, the larger and safer part of Malaysia, since Sabah is a place where tourists are still being kidnapped every once in a while. It’s still kind of a big and scary place, a wild and forested jungle where primates rule and cities are far and few between. I stayed in the largest city Kuching, a suburban sprawl of civilization, but the trees and monkeys waited only 20-30 km away in any direction.
Kuching means cat, and they run with that reputation to the max with some cheesy over-sized cat statues all over town, but apparently it was named after a fruit with the same name. There are tons of plants and animals endemic only to Borneo, including the Mata Kuching (apparently a bit like Dragon eye fruit), and the coffee-table sized flower Rafflesia. Then there’s the weird looking monkeys and orange-coloured chimpanzees.
I visited the Semenggoh Nature reserve where they’re reintroducing the once-nearly-extinct Orangutans to the wild. We were lucky enough to see a 43 year old female and her 7 year old son come down for a free feeding, which the park rangers do both for tourism and to help them as they relearn to survive on their own.
Then it was off to the famous Bako National park, home of the Proboscis monkey. They’re kind of big and orange too, but with a white butt and fluffy tail, and what looks like a swollen thumb for a nose. Its hard to explain but google images of them and youll understand. I didn’t get close enough to one to get a good photo, although I did see about 10 or 15 during my hikes around Bako. Then there were the mischievious little Macaques, and the shyer Silver leaf monkey far off in the tree tops.
Besides all the monkeys and lush forests, the nearby coast Damai was also beautiful. Kuching itself silts on the river front with a peaceful promenade and lots of street vendors selling Lapis cake, a colourful layered cake of sugar and more sugar. The best food I ate was a traditional Malay soup for breakfast – laksa is a spicy noodle soup with prawns and coconuts and bean sprouts and lots of other goodness I cant put my finger on.
My couchsurf host was an MD in the ER and worked stupid hours, but every time we managed to meet up we feasted on various Chinese and Malay delicacies, rice wine and Singaporean beer. He also made time out of his schedule to pick me up and drop me off at the airport, since he said Kuching wasn’t a very pedestrian or traveler friendly city, but I think he was just happy to get out of the hospital and drive around carelessly without worrying about losing another life. I was certainly grateful but it also gave me some humbling perspective on how little I do to change people’s lives… maybe my travels will safe a life one day.