Category Archives: Borneo

Sarawak and Sabah

What an adventure (SE Asia)

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1 idea, 1 baby, 1 husband and wife, 2 backpacks, 2 daypacks, 1 buggy, 6 months, 25 weeks, 176 days, 175 nights, 6 countries, 55 destinations, 70 temporary homes, 67 guest houses, 2 friends houses, 1 tree house, 525 meals, 12 planes, 66 taxis, 11 cars, 22 buses, 17 coaches, 14 ferries, 7 MRT journeys, 6 4x4s, 23 local minibuses, 6 speedboats, 8 tourist buses, 2 rib boats, 3 x cycle rickshaws, 1 tourist boat, 4 trains, 1 horse and cart, 3 motor rickshaws, 14 sky trains, 5 underground trains, 1 canoe, 1 small wooden boat, 1 jeep, 2 tug boats, 6 long-tail boats, 38 tuk tuks, 10 saangthaew , 1 elephant, first 2 baby steps, 9 new teeth, 2 baby haircuts, 19 new words, 1 happy toddler, 1 new job, 1 new life…

…a backpack, a buggy, a baby 

1 BIG adventure.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

Heathrow Airport aged 11 months, day 4 of our trip in Tioman, a toddling chap on China beach and 18 months old at the end of our journey.

No words needed… (Kota Belud, Borneo, Malaysia)

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I’m going to keep this entry short and let the picture tell the story.

After bumping into the same group of three English girls who were following a similar route to us and hearing about their 2 night stay at a secluded beach resort called Manana, our plans to go back to Kota Kinabalu were scrapped in favour of this idyllic spot (another benefit of not booking ahead).

After a delayed journey brought on by our aborted take off (a little scary) we arrived in Kota Kinabalu from Sandakan, took the 90 minute taxi journey to the coast and paddled out to a small rib that took us the rest of the way to our destination – a small but beautiful beach.

Three days of relaxation (as much as you can relax with a baby) followed.

Enough said….

Backpacking with a baby in SE Asia

Beautifully secluded beach shared with 2 other guests

Top tip of the day:
It may sound obvious, but if you do want to schedule some relaxation time at a beach location, do your research first. Ideally a baby friendly beach needs to have plenty of shade so choose one with large overhanging trees. We’ve found that if we put ‘the boy’ on the sand in the shade he will play happily for hours giving you the chance to lie/sit next to your baby and have a bit of a break.

A rare sighting in Borneo (Sandakan, Borneo, Malaysia)

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Today was a play day with nothing planned. My other half, wanting to have a break from ‘the boy’ decided to take a visit to the memorial site just outside Sandakan. It was on his return that he spotted something very unusual.

Pulling into the bus terminal he could see them through the trees. White coloured heads, moving fast with two offspring held close to them.

In a bid to get a better look and to try and engage in some way, he ran through the busy traffic, across the road until he was in close range.

Ten minutes later and he was back. ‘The boy’ had a play date scheduled for later that afternoon.

The rare sighting was in fact another family backpacking. Mia and Tue are a lovely Danish couple travelling around SE Asia with their two little boys aged 10 months and 4 (a rare sight in Borneo). They’ve been travelling for 5 months now and are only half way through their adventure. In addition to Malaysia they’ve been to China, South Korea, Cambodia and Vietnam. We are the first family that they’ve met backpacking with a baby (and the first for us too) so it was brilliant to be able to swap tips and know that we can contact each other in the future for advice along the way.

Backpacking with a baby in SE Asia

A rare sighting in Borneo

We met up for a cuppa at a colonial teahouse on the hill but once we got chatting we extended our meet up into the evening. ‘The boy’ had a great time interacting and playing with their 10 month old and my other half had an even better time as he extended the night even further (into the early hours) and had some beers and blokey conversation (football and all that!) with Tue.

It was a really fun day and they are proof that it’s possible to travel long term with young children and still have a lot of fun whilst doing it.

Top tip of the day:
If you’re taking a laptop with you backup any baby/childrens DVDs you own onto your device to use during play days or on long train journeys.  You can also find episodes of popular children’s shows on Youtube. (For example, ‘Waybulu’ and ‘In the night garden’).

The big orange beasts of Borneo (Sepilok, Borneo, Malaysia)

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My other half has competition because today is the day when I get close up and personal with the big hairy beasts of Borneo – the Orang-utans. In Malay orang means “person” and utan is derived from hutan, which means “forest.” Thus, orangutan literally means “person of the forest.”

Fifteen years ago t discovered Dorset’s ‘Monkey World’ and watched the huge orange beasts in awe.  Since that day coming to Borneo to watch the free roaming Orang-utans has been on my ‘wish list’ of places to visit.

And now, after surviving the 20k journey on a battered local bus that had seen better days, we’re here.

Hanging out with my friends

Feeding takes place at 10am and 3pm but the walk through the forest is open for a number of hours each side of this.  As they are free to roam there is no guarantee that you will see anything and at the morning feed only one mother and her baby came to eat.

The afternoon was different. 7 or 8 Orang-utans came swinging out of the forest, hanging from the ropes in what looked like advanced yoga poses, their limbs so long and lean under the mass of orange fur.  The long-tailed macaque and silver lipped monkeys also made an appearance, desperately trying to steal the food from the platform without getting a clip around the ear from one of the Orang-utans.

The star attraction...

I was transfixed on them, but it was during this time when ‘the boy’ attrancted almost as much attention as the wildlife. At one point, pushing his buggy around the decking, he was being filmed and photographed by a number of local tourists. Ten minutes later and without even asking, he was lifted up and passed around a Muslim family in full traditional dress. Their video camera was running and many family portraits were taken with a plus one, ‘the sweaty boy’! I know it’s lucky to touch or pinch the cheek of a white Western baby, but still don’t quite get the fascination.

Our close encounter

Anyway, an hour later and we’re still watching (the Orang Utans, not the families photographing ‘the boy’) and then we witnessed the highlight of the day. A male swung across the closest rope to us, hung for a while, dropped and then made his way slowly through the shrubbery to the viewing platform. A few seconds later and he’s sitting there right in front of us, nothing between us. He’s huge and the ranger advises us to take a step back to give him some space. After flashing his genitalia in a leg behind head pose he lay down, arm under his head and just watched us.  We’re watching him. He’s watching us.

It’s a day I’ll never forget.

Top tip of the day:
The majority of places we’re staying in don’t have cots but as a substitute ask if you can have a mat for the floor. Most guest houses have small mattresses to hand that are suitable for your baby to sleep on. We’ve been placing them against the wall and then we put our rucksacks down the other side to make a secure space for him to sleep.

Turtles and teething troubles (Selingan, Borneo, Malaysia)

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One of our ‘anchor points’ of the trip was Turtle Island, a 24 hour visit to Pulau Selingan, one of three protected islands that are favoured by green and hawksbill turtles for laying their eggs. We booked the trip 3 months in advance as they limit the number of tourists to a maximum of 50 per night.

The island is 40km off land (an hour in a speed boat) and we arrive to find a golden beach lined with palm trees and clear water.  Turtles lay their eggs during the night so we had the day free to spend relaxing on the sand or snorkelling.

Unfortunately ‘the boy’ had been suffering for the past few days with teething and the previous night had been a disturbed one with my other half and I taking it in turns to comfort him throughout the night. Needless to say we were shattered.  Forget the paradise beach, all we wanted to do was sleep. ‘The boy’ played in the sand for an hour, we had our lunch and then we made best use of ‘the boys’ nap time, went back to the chalet and slept for a couple of hours.

The beach

Post dinner and after pushing ‘the grumpy boy’ (his teeth were still playing up) around the canteen in his buggy for over an hour to get him to sleep we patiently waited for the ranger to notify us of the first turtle sighting.

Two hours passed and then we got the nod, although it wasn’t a nod, or a calm order to follow him, but a frenzied ‘quick, quick, hurry, hurry or you’ll miss it!’ As you’re not allowed to use torches (it disorientates the turtles as they think it’s the moon), we were scrambling across the sand in the dark until we came to where the turtle was laying. It was an amazing sight and we were able to get within a few feet of her, but it wasn’t the serene experience I had imagined.  Surprisingly the rangers don’t ask for silence so there was a lot of noise and movement around the turtle, which I thought would be distressing for her. Within a few minutes of us arriving she finished laying her 46 eggs (just below the average of 50-100 eggs in each clutch), the eggs were collected and then we watched the ranger burying them in the hatchery to safeguard them from hungry, rats birds and lizards.

The eggs take around 2 months to hatch and interestingly the temperature at which they are incubated determines the sex of a turtle. If the egg is above 29°C then it will hatch female, below 29°C and it will be male. Typically when a turtle has laid her eggs under a shady bush then the majority of hatchlings will be male as the eggs will have been cooler than if she had laid them in direct sunlight.

Eggs in the hatchery

We also got to witness the release of a hundred or so hatchlings, waddling clumsily down the beach until they reached the sea and swam off, following the light of the moon.

The highlight of the visit was the next morning. A little disappointed with the manner that we watched the turtle lay her eggs I decided to get up at 5.30am so that I could be on the beach for 6am (the beach is off bounds between 6pm and 6am unless you are with a ranger), on the off chance that I might see something. I bumped into Sven, a lovely German guy that we have been spending time with and he’d had the same idea. (Poor old hubby had to babysit!).

6am turtle burying her eggs

Ten minutes later and we saw something – a small amount of sand being thrown up in the air from under a bush, and another, and another. We walked towards it and there she was, a giant turtle who had just finished laying and was beginning to bury her eggs.

We watched in silence, only a metre away whilst she slowly covered the eggs up with sand, pulled herself out of the pit, made her way down the beach and swam off into the distance. We had the privilege of watching her for twenty minutes and it’s going to take a lot to beat it. Amazing.

Top tip of the day:
Carry a small clip top plastic container in your day-pack. We found that ‘the boy’ lost his appetite when he was teething and would only eat small amounts of food at strange times of the day. When you don’t have access to shops or a kitchen it’s handy to be able to take uneaten food (fruit, vegetable rice etc) with you for later in the day.

Baby meets big nose… (Sandakan, Borneo, Malaysia)

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After a thirty minute 7am flight we arrive in Sandakan, east Borneo.

Yesterday we took a two-hour journey to the base of mount Kinabalu, the largest mountain in Borneo, standing at 4101 metres high. We chose to do the Linwagu trail, a 6 kilometre trek through the mountain’s lower level terrain (circa 1,500 metres), which would have been a lot easier had I not been carrying the extra 10kg (‘the boy’) on my back.

Kota Kinabalu has been all about the scenery – beaches, mountains and treks, but the areas surrounding Sandakan are all about the wildlife.

Although most people automatically associate Borneo with orang-utans, Proboscis monkeys are on the ‘must see’ list, particularly as they can only be found in Borneo amongst the mangrove swamps and riverine forests.

The monkey derives its name from their large, drooping, red nose of the adult male. (Think Gonzo from The Muppets.)

Proboscis monkeys

We decide to spend a full day at the sanctuary to visit both viewing platforms at feeding time and to watch the video reel detailing how the sanctuary was founded by Mr Lee, a local business man. Call me cynical, but unlike other primate sanctuaries I’ve been too I couldn’t help thinking that Mr Lee was only in it for the money rather than the welfare of the monkeys. The story goes that he bought a huge expanse of land to de-forest and turn into palm oil plantations. He’d destroyed the majority of the Proboscis monkey’s habitat, forcing them towards the coast, but then he had a change of heart and decided to save the last part of their forest and open a sanctuary. He also decided to open a large resort, shop and a café! Like I say, call me cynical, but I think Mr Lee saw the dollars.

Anyway, as much as I don’t like greasing the pockets of Mr Lee it was well worth the visit. ‘The boy’ loved watching the younger monkeys playing and swinging through the trees and unexpectedly we were able to get within a few metres of one family group. One very sad thing we witnessed was a mother carrying around the corpse of her baby that had died the previous day. They continue to carry the body around with them and spend hours picking the flies and insects off the fur until it finally decomposes.

Proboscis monkeys, tick. Orang-utans still to come….

Top tip of the day:
‘The boy’ was very uncomfortable today as he’s teething. We’ve found it handy to have a small see through make up case with us at all times containing baby essentials. Ours has the following in it: Calpol and neurofen sachets, teething granules, bonjela, hand sterilising gel, baby nail clippers, mini bottle cleaning brush, small bottle containing washing up liquid to clean milk bottles, spare dummy, small pack of baby wipes and a small bottle of factor 50 children’s sun cream.

Backpacking with a baby is not always fun (Kota Kinabalu, Borneo, Malaysia)

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I woke up this morning with a headache and feeling under the weather. I felt as though I’d had a huge night out on the town, but that was not the case.

There’s something about feeling sick when you’re away. It can make you feel really homesick. I mention this to my other half. I tell him that I would love to be at home now in our big comfy bed, curled up under the duvet, all cosy and feeling safe, when he points out that we don’t have a home in the UK anymore, just a storage unit on an industrial estate. Nothing like a few positive words to make you feel better! Reality bites.

In the last week we’ve moved from place to place so quickly that I think it’s finally catching up with me. The travelling is beginning to take it’s toll and unlike at home where you have a number of rooms to spread out over, spending 24/7 as a family is tough sometimes when you’re all living and sleeping in the same room. Going away was the right decision, but it’s not all going to be hunky dory all the time and if I don’t write exactly what I’m feeling that it would be a false record of our trip.

Anyway, yesterday we took a speedboat to one of the many beautiful islands surrounding Kota Kinabalu. We went to Manucan a small island with beautiful tropical fish darting really close to the shore.  ‘The boy’ loved playing in the sand and splashing in the small waves. It was a great day.

What's going on!!??

This morning we were heading to another of the islands – Sapi. I was really looking forward to going there as a couple we had met in Tioman recommended it to us. Alas, I was feeling so sick this morning that I decided not to go, so ‘the boy’ and my other half have left, leaving me in bed to catch up ion some much needed rest. There is a positive in here though. I get a baby break. Don’t get me wrong I love ‘the boy’ more than anything else in the world but every parent knows that every now and then you need a break to re-charge your batteries. So that’s what I’m doing, re-charging my batteries, catching up on some sleep and writing. Hopefully my men are having a fun day in paradise….

Top tip of the day:
When taking public transport make a note of the number plate or boat number so that if you leave anything behind it will be easy to track. We left ‘the boys’ hat on the speedboat yesterday and although we eventually got it back it would have been a lot quicker if we’d know which boat we’d left it on.