Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Hanoi and train to Sapa

I arrived to Hanoi in the morning. Immigration went smoothly and in fact, they took only one form with one picture instead of two. By the time I arrived to the centre by bus 17, it stopped raining and I packed up with two other girls who just came from Bangkok. We had lunch together and exchanged our plans and info and went to get some accommodation. I went to centre backpackers as I was happy to crash somewhere soon as i was pretty tired. It is a place for party people so not entirely for me. I went to find something cheaper and more like me place (without my back pack) and after seeing few, I picked one and moved there next morning - lucky guesthouse 2 at the edge of old town and close to railway. Hanoi is famous for mad traffic and I was very happy that I have found "how to cross a street in Hanoi" article online. :-) Also I found my way to the north bound train station and bought my self a DAY train to Sapa. Everyone goes by the expensive and luxurious night sleeping train offered by many agencies. But I just wanted to taste how the normal train travel in Vietnam is like and it was a good sample, I tell you :-) ! The train left at 6:10 am and arrived to Lao Cai 5 pm. I got soft seat in coach with aircon, it was a dirty train, nothing special. But surely better then the wooden benches in other coaches. The countryside I have seen from barred window was very green and very agricultural. Several people passed through the train selling different kind of food and drinks and many passengers changed too. For example the seat behind me was later taken by a guy in a green uniform who stuck his very smelly feet between my seat and the window so I moved away and dared to gesture my opinion on that to him. As a result he took off his green socks... it helped a bit. Well it was fun, but I admit it was tiering too. Arriving to Lao Cai with a delay just on time to catch the last bus to Sapa. This bus is official government bus and costs 28k+15k for a bag.

The famous annoying guys trying to get everyone into a minibus are hard to shake off and about 10 of them followed me until they saw me getting the official option. We got to Sapa just when the dark falls and again new people fighting for me to get to their hotel. It was sad as I was the only foreigner coming, so only one could win. At the end I gave up and went on with one of them, I was tired and needed a bed and rest. And he took me on is bike. He gave me a good price for single room with bathroom. Its a bit damp and smells a bit mouldy, but looks clean.

My breath was taken away by the green views and the beauty of this mountains, slowly I was realising that this was part of my dream and happiness flooded me. More greenery to come tomorrow, when I will stay in a village with a local family. Cannot wait!

Joining a couchserfing meeting in Hanoi was a good move. Those lovely people meet every Sunday, so if it suits you a tiny bit, I can only recommend it. I had great time, all spoke good English and gave me interesting insights as well as took me to a Cafe Acoustic for authentic night scene. Thank you so much!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Gungung Kinabalu and all we did inland on Borneo, Sabah!

Kampung Kiau - Guas Nabalu Home stay

So here comes my first home stay. It is in the middle of Bornean mountains just at the foot of great Mount Kinabalu. I have to say that the experience was great and it was more of an experience than a stay. The money are well worth it too. Strait away we notice that the climate is nice, fresh and free from the costal humidity, what a nice change!
Jehirin has picked us up on a junction where a minibus from KK has spited us out. He is number 11 of 14 children in this family (most of the kids are away for work or studies). The dad is still a guide taking tourists up the mountain around five times a month. The mother is a smiley big hearted woman who cook's for the guests and the family. Both also work on their fields and farms.
The village is Christian and lives a commune life. People here speak their own Dusun language and learn Malay at school + basic English. The land belongs to the village, (sharing it between families) and if you are local, you can build your house on patches dedicated for new buildings. Houses are humble even if they are new. On the farm, families grow rubber tree, pineapples, bananas, mountain rise, cocoa, and lots of jungle fruit trees and plants including wild ginger and tapioca. It is a very friendly place, relaxed and peaceful.
We had a great swim in a river which runs strait from the great mountain and is pristine clear and cold, but fun. That was our afternoon shower!
Young guys of this village build a special type of wind mils from light wood and bamboo to keep wild animals off their little farms as the mils create a whistling noise. That's what we learnt the first day. We also had plenty of food and it was mostly local and fresh. Dusun people are also very short and smiley. :)
Track to the jungle on second day:
We have tracked to a jungle strip trough number of farms and arrived to a small jungle house where we learnt how to make a cup from bamboo, how to make floor from bamboo, how to make fire from bamboo, some bamboo has water inside and bamboo sprout-shoot can be served for a diner. Also a frog or fish trap can be easily made from a bamboo and a jungle string. We got some wild cucumbers and young stems also for diner. Jimy cooked us simple lunch there and we had some rest before the mid day heat passed. Now, a banana tree can be cut and the very inside of the stem can be used for cooking as wedgie but the webs needs to be taken out from each cut ring. Also the juice is an antidote for snake bite needs to be drank and also can be applied on a cut or wound as a disinfection! What a useful plant!
Pineapple price goes as low as 3 cents per kg when there are other fruits like durian on the market and when and many other farmers grow it. So lots of nice ripe pineapple is left on the fields as it is just too much work for little income to harvest it and bring down. It can get cold there when it rains for few hours. Squirrel traps are also made from bamboo and rattan (see pictures). The track through farms and jungle are very nice. Due to the high altitude the humidity is gone and even a hot day is a very nice day. In this family, only 3 kids has stayed, the oldest is a lady who married in the village, Jimmy, our guide and Jeherin. Other family comes for weekends and holidays.
There is a big history and tradition in Kiau village for the people to become guides for Kinabalu mountain. Girls and boys usually learn from their parents by climbing along from young age. They are lovely natured. So as you see, we have learned a lot here and we loved it.

Kinabalu climb

So we learnt a bit more about guides and people around the mountains while climbing up. It is a difficult hike with lots of steps up. Well, but let's start from the beginning. Doing this track is kind of a controversial topic between travelers as the whole activity and accommodation is owned by Sutera Harbour company and what ever these people do gets very expensive so the cheapest deal for the climb with staying over night, food, guide and all the fees comes to 750 MR. We have met tourists - meaning holiday-makers on the way not long term traveling folk. And that just proves that the price is too high. Also the local people don't go up anymore for the same reason. So only guides and porters go up there. Porters carry all the supplies up to the lodge and as they often carry over 30 kilos, they concentrate on every step they take. They get paid 4 MR per kg and the oldest guy we met was 57. Many women do this job as well. They all walk in locally made rubber shoes with rubber buttons on the sole because they do not slip at all and are made from rubber these villages produce and also the shoes costs only 7 RM. They are fit people! Anyway we did it and it was more of a luck as every guidebook tells you to book couple of weeks upfront and our home-stay has organized it all for us at last minute and that was a piece of luck so we picked it up and went.
Mountain facts:  In 1997, a re-survey using satellite technology established its summit (known as Low's Peak) height at 4,095 meters (13,435 ft) above sea level, which is some 6 meters (20 ft) less than the previously thought and hitherto published figure of 4,101 meters (13,455 ft). More here.

The two days are organized interestingly. Fist day is 6 km to Laban Rata 3270 meters above sea level, rest and dinner and early bed as the next day you wake up at 2am and start walking in the dark after simple pre-breakfast. The sunrise is about 5:30 and we arrived there just on time. The last kilometer or so is very cold (and I mean ti, it was 0`C) and windy so it's nice to hide from the wind behind a rock and wait for the sun to come up chewing on some snack. Take pictures and run back down as toes and fingers freeze so fast! The scenery is magnificent and so surprising because you don't see where you actually are until the light returns and everything appears! I do not regret doing it. :) Altho, the descend continues after really nice breakfast and legs starts feeling it soon. It combines 3 km in the morning up, 3km down and another 6 km to the base so almost 12 km of steep hiking in one day. My knees didn't like me and my ankles started to complain just before the end. And I was not alone, all tourist where the same. The entry pass to the Kinabalu National Park is valid for another few days and includes free entry to another park called Poring hot springs where hot sulphur springs are managed into bathing pools. It was a very nice treat for our muscles but the hotel where we stayed had accommodation in second floor and that was painful. Ouch! I still look at stairs with respect...

Orangutans and Proboscis monkeys

The next day, we took a taxi to Ranau and hoped into a bus to Sepilok - the Orangutan place! Sepilok is just some hotels and guesthouses around the rehabilitation center and not much then that. The weather is back to hot and humid and prices are also more upscale, but that is understandable. Next day we went early for the feeding time and took some good pictures of baby Orang-utans there, check them out. We have packed at lunch time and squeezed another activity in this day and went to see the Proboscis monkeys to near by oil plantations, where the owner left some forest for the wild animals and builded a platform for visitors and drinking wells for monkeys. They also get fed in certain time so they show up and once the food is eaten, they go again. It is a great fun and we loved it. From there we moved to Sandakan, a small town on east coast. We did not like it there. The place is smelly, noisy and somehow unfriendly. Search for clean guesthouse was very hard and unsuccessful. The room was dirty and bathroom smelly and something has stung me during the night creating huge hard red stings which where of course very itchy. Well anyway, hop into a minibus and go to Kinabatangan river!

Kinabatangan river experience

Another wild live pursuit. Barefoot lodge was nice and inviting, clean and sitting on the river bank...yes romantic. This one night stay included 2 wild life spotting river cruises. There are some 1000 wild orangutans in Sabah and we managed to see 3, I think thats great! We have also seen 3 crocs on the first trip! 2 swimming and one on the bank in shade. There are many types of hornbills and other birds, proboscis monkeys, long tale macaques and more. The night cruise was very interesting as the driver/guide has a huge spotlight and finds sleeping birds which are somehow frozen by the night and don't move. I felt a bit guilty shining the light into their eyes and disturbing their resting time. But the fact is, there is no other chance to see those birds, first, they are tiny, second, very fast and shy. The last morning cruise was misty and quiet as everything was just waking up. There, we've seen a back scales of the largest crocodile - 4 meters long.

So after this adventure, me and Dale have split our ways as he was missing his boat and I wanted to visit friends on Ocelot who were just making their way to Tawau town by sea. We met and had some nice 3 days together there. Thank you for having me!

Please leave your comments if you feel like it! :) Next report will be from the land of green tea -Vietnam!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Kota Kinabalu

Two weeks in Kota Kinabalu went fast, I have been enjoying all the luxuries of world class marina here and explored the city. There are 8 shopping malls and another one is being build. It's a bit incredible number for the size of the town. But tourism brings money and you can see them everywhere. Also the shopping options spoils you in no time. Borneo is certainly less muslim and more relaxed then other parts of Malaysia. Also, you can clearly recognize the original people from others, it is a very divers place. It is also very clean here and there are many options for eating and entertainment. I have enjoyed the Sabah state museum a lot, it is very empty and quiet, but there are interesting things to see and learn.

This guy has sold me ice-cream :)

We are leaving for the Kinabalu National Park tomorrow and fingers crossed we might get squeezed in for the climb as well. It is booked out at the moment, but maybe someone will cancel at last minute or we will just go around the park which should be nice enough. Next is orang-utan park, probostic (live only here on Borneo) monkeys, Danum valley an some diving on islands of Tawau on the other side of Borneo - Sabah. We are also hopping to catch up with our friends on Ocelot and see them good buy before they set of with the Indonesian rally to sail to all the beautiful small islands and Raja Ampat and more. We didn't make it on time for the military escort which was organized by rally for security reasons. Yes, the Philippine issue is a worry there. It is happening only on a short strip of a land and islands, but it is not a safe place, where policemen are being shot and tourists kidnaped. Well hopefully, the Malaysian government will take good measures and will prevent more violence happening in the future.

My next plans are not involving any sailing, at least for few month. I will be flying to Vietnam at the end of this month and explore Laos and Cambodia as well. I need to fly through Kuala Lumpur again which is an extra hassle, but also an opportunity to visit my friend Bee and stay over night at her place, which will be enjoyable.

So wish me luck and if you have any tips for me for these three countries, they will be more then welcome!