Dave in Thailand Borneo
Kuching Dec. 7-10 2004

Always one of the places on my "really wanna get there" list - Borneo. A place of mythology - one of the few great remaining rainforest jungles left in the world, headhunters, long mysterious rivers, snakes and crocodiles, etc and etc. Finally made it. Only a couple of days, a loooong time short of enough time - but it was a good trip, in terms of learning a few ropes and things. Let me show you a bit ...

Well - gotta give some credit here to Air Asia, the new very discount airline that started operation a year or so ago, with some very good discount flights (they do crazy things like 10 ringitt (about $3 Cdn) between KL (Kuala Lumpur) and Penang - about a 30 minute flight (all their planes are 737-400s - seats close together, no reserved seating, no free food - but for that price, on short flights - who's arguing?). They regularly do 700-900 baht ($25-30 Cdn) between Hat Yai here and KL or Bangkok. And the flight from KL to Kuching, in Sarawak, in Borneo, goes for between 1500-3000 baht (Cdn $50-100). Anyway, after airport taxes and stuff, it cost a bit over $500 for 2 of us, round trip Hat Yai-KL-Kuching. Good on ya. Air Asia 737

Well, a quick look at just where we went - first a big map on the top, showing the general location of the great island of Borneo, as it relates to Thailand and the other countries of SouthEast Asia ..... south china sea map

... and a bit of a closer view, showing the city of Kuching, in the Malaysian province of Kuching, where we stayed and day-tripped from ... basic borneo map

- and here is where we got to, the Telang Usan Hotel, after landing at the Kuching Airport at about 8:30 pm (there's only one flight from Hat Yai daily, which limits connections...) - it wasn't the fanciest place, but not so bad - the Hilton and Holiday Inn (pics later) on the waterfront are considerably nicer appointed - and considerably more pricey. This was about 1,000 baht ($30+ Cdn) per night - breakfast included, which again wasn't really great, but enough to fill the belly. The service was by and large good though, and the people friendly, which does count for something. (I was quite impressed with the overall friendliness and honesty of the Kuching and Sarawak people - especially the taxi drivers we met - but as they say, don't get me started on the taxi drivers in Thailand!!! (bad news! - it just gets tedious when you go somewhere, realise you don't have the exact change, and KNOW before you offer the large bill that, one way or another (depending on language skills) the driver is going to pretend that (after a day of cab driving) he just doesn't have any change gosh darn it!!! (so you'll have to tip him the difference between the fare and the bill. Right. hahaha))
Telang Usan Hotel, Kuching

Sarawak River - Kuching Waterfront Well, like any city, Kuching is hard to get "overview" pictures of - but here is one of the defining things of the place, the Kuching Waterfront, where it borders the Sarawak River - a nice park sort of walkway has been constructed all along here the last few years. The big grey monstrosity at the far end is the Hilton hotel, where we didn't stay - but if you had the bucks! .... Rivers were a main mode of transportation prior to modern road-building equipment and airliners a hundred and fifty years ago (+/-) when these areas were being "discovered" by the British, and this part of the Sarawak River, about 10 miles inland from the sea, was where they decided to start a town to govern the area. The pic shows the main town side, and on the other side, along with the expanding city, are the governor's mansion and the fort that was built to guard the place from pirates (more later!).

Kuching means "cat" in the local language, and there are several well-known cat statues around town ....

ann with cats ann and dave, cat statue dave with cat

sarawak cultural village promo photo Actually, though, we didn't do any of that stuff the first day, or night actually, I just wanted to give you a quick overview of the city - we got into Kuching about 21:00, and I didn't want to go wandering around strange places at night. Given our short time there, I didn't want to waste any time either, so I got the friendly hotel staff to get us on a trip the next morning for the Sarawak Cultural Center, one of the places I had read about and wanted to see. So - we gotta diversify now - we took a lot of interesting pics on this trip, and I'm gonna break em up into a couple of smaller sections, to keep the pages a reasonable size. But before meeting the shuttle bus the next morning, we did take a stroll along the waterfront - and then off to the Sarawak Cultural Village - you can read THIER online info here and go to MY pics here

Back again!
Well - an interesting morning, with a lot of miles on the ol runners already - lots of daylight left, what to do? Well, first a bite of quite tasty lunch ....

Ann, lunch in Kuching Ann, Dave, lunch in Kuching
Ann getting on boat ..... and then we thought we'd take a trip across the river to where the old English fort was, dating from the famous James Brooke days, and the governor's residence, Astana, dating back to the same time. The grounds were really beautiful, although at the moment half of the area (think a small city block in size - this is a BIG place! - there's maybe a kilometer or so between the gov res and the fort, and apparently ALL of the space, along the river, was a huge garden - what is left is very beautifully done) is torn up for, they tell me, the construction of some new government buildings of some sort.

(I thought we could just go in and have a look around this place - but when we got to the front gates the guards were somewhat surprised - it is NOT open for tourists (as my Lonely Planet informed me when I looked again)! They were friendly enough about it though, and didn't shoot us or anything.

Astana - governor's residence, Sarawak

the old boater ... So we took some more boat trips (the little boats went to either the gov res (dropping people there who lived nearby I guess) or the fort - but not between those two places, and the normal road was all messed up because of the construction) .... moseyed along to Fort Margherita.)

dave in the little boat

Fort Margherita from the river So here's a shot of the fort from the river - all the area to the left (of the pic, not the fort) was once a garden park stretching down to Astana, but is now, as I said earlier, "under construction" - I suppose they will do a nice job of whatever it is they are doing, but it is still too bad to see such a beautiful garden giving way to more cement government buildings.

And then below is a model of the fort.... and beside it a view down the river - apparently in those days pirates of one sort or another were still sailing the seas, and the fort was mainly built to protect the spice traders of Sarawak from such people. Or something. You know how it is with history books and the winners who write them....
Ann on wall of Fort Margherita Model of Fort Margherita

Well - it was getting pretty late in the day, and we headed back across the river on the little boat once again, and stopped at the small pub-restaurant in the middle of this pic under all the new hotels and condos around it for a beer (me) and some food (Ann), and watched the sun going down over the Sarawak River, and the river life and people going home and stuff for a couple of hours (yeayea couple of beers too) ..... - this was actually the ONLY place all along the waterfront where you could sit for a beer! (Muslim country) - these old places, built in the traditional style, had and have SO much more character than the cement high-rises dominating construction today! the riverside pub

Ann in bed ....and FINALLY back to the hotel, where that bed sure looked good to a poor girl who had sure been dragged around a lot in one day!

Well, the next morning once again we got up very early to be sure we were at a certain place for a certain thing - neither of us are big on early morning pics - so without further ado, as they say, off we go to the ....Semenggoh Wildlife Sanctuary...

Back again, again!
Well, really, there's not much to tell after that - those Orang-utans were certainly the highlight of the trip for me, although everything else was pretty interesting too. We did have a few hours left in the day, before our early flight the next morning, but not really enough time to get to any of the nearby national parks for a look before dark or anything, so we just roamed around Kuching a bit but didn't see much really unusual or interesting ....
a Kuching timsmith - along one street we found a tinsmith....

And that was about it - back to the hotel, where one of us at least was ready for a cold beer, and one of us once again ready for a nap after a LONG day! .... back at the hotel once again

And then just as we were leaving for our room to have a nap and/or shower (and/or another beer for "someone") before eating, I saw a book advertised about Borneo that looked interesting, and when I asked about the "autographed copy" they said they had for sale - they pointed me into the verandah dining room where he was sitting! - D.H. "Robbie" Robinson - I had a short chat with him, but he was just leaving for a dinner date with some friends - he apparently spends several months each year here at this hotel in Sarawak, where he lived and worked for about 10 years starting around 1950, working at building roads through the wilderness here, and his well-written book A Mild Man in Borneo (which I bought and he did indeed autograph) tells many interesting stories about those years. Robinson the writer book cover - a mild man in borneo

on the plane back to KL And then an early morning flight back to KL and Hat Yai .... - an adventure looked forward to for so long - and then over. But good memories, and a plan to return - there's a great deal of both Sarawak and Borneo yet to see!

Other Dave in Thailand stuff:

Wien Tien
PSU AG Fair 2004
Loy Gratong at PSU 2004

this site is mostly sort of a photo album for some friends and family, but if you have stumbled across it somehow on the net and want to contact me, you can write to siamdave at yahoo dot ca