August 29, 2005


The trip down to Kutching was much longer than I had thought. Had an unexpected stopover in Sibu when my bus arrival was later than the only boat departure of the day. Sibu is a port town with a Chinese temple. But it really didn't make up for the day I lost that could have been spent in Bako, the park everyone has been raving about since I arrived in Borneo. Like everywhere else, I'll just have to go on my next trip! Seems the places I want to visit are adding to my list and not being scratched off! Had an exciting stop by the Polis (the Malay-English spelling is great!) who were looking for illegal immigrants.

Kutching is a peaceful, relaxed city on the Sarawak river. So relaxed that I seemed to have a problem keeping my eyes open. Could it be 4 months of travel is tiring me out? Or maybe it was all the food I ate. Ramsay (the artist I met a couple months ago in KL) just happened to be at his Kutching gallery when I arrived. He invited me to join his brother and wife to see the outskirts of the city. We drove to a Malay village on the other side of the river and ate seafood... my favorite being the salty, crispy, muscle omelette! After my 3rd attempt at eating crabs, I think I'm starting to get the grasp of the whole process. Jungle ferns, ochre and lady's fingers, we had a feast. Then got in the car to find an ais dessert--what is this name? Shaved ice on top of red beans (and an option of green jellies), sitting in coconut milk. Not bad but I was about to burst. P

August 27, 2005

Kenyah Longhouse Part 2

It's been a few days now, I'm starting to forget the details! I must include the second night of festivities. Olong Ulu means "upriver people" and Kenyahs are one of these groups. One of their traditional dances has each person performing individually as either a warrior (men) or a hornbill (women). My past never included flying or dancing, never mind being graceful! I think I would have been much better suited to the warrior capturing dinner with a few taekwondo kicks. So the men with a sword in one hand and the sheild in another, with a few shaking stomps on the floor, captured their prey in their hornbill coat. And the women with upright feathers on the head and feather pom poms in the hands, slowly turned, bending closer to the ground and up again, arms flying away.

Once the dance has been danced, someone else offers them (not that you have a choice) a shot of rice wine called tuak. It's simple ingredients are sugar, yeast and rice. White rice makes white tuak and burnt rice makes red. For some reason I was offered 2 glasses, one of each kind. There was only one older man to refuse the wine because of heart conditions. It just so happened I was the offerer which meant I had to drink his shot! A few of us had personalized songs sung to us. It was completely not in English, but the beaming smile of the singer, the interested audience around, sitting on a wooden longhouse veranda with a few candles glowing our only light, in the middle of the jungle, made for a deeply moving experience. It ended with a glass of tuak. Yes, another drunk night.

The morning started with some unstraight walking and a chicken ceremony. Which included (you guessed it), a glass of tuak. Back upstream the river we had come down 2 nights ago, we collected a couple durian on the way and headed for Long San. The larger town was not as traditional as Long Moh, but contained so many beautiful murals. Flowered pictures above the hotel room doors, black and white mirror images, the Malaysian flags of each state. Children played football and hung in trees and waved hello. There was an electric orange sunset over the river. The evenings plan was to party at a longhouse, however a recent death in the village meant 2 weeks without ceremony.

Back to Miri, the last couple days already seemed so far away. This was a glimpse at a fading culture as the younger generations prefer to study and work in the cities. Hopefully the future will bring more tourism to keep their tribes alive. But will tourism make the dances less genuine and their lives more dependable on the modern world? I suppose no matter how many animal species and tribes that become extinct, the world will continue to go through it's metamorphosis. Hope lies in the people who don't want change and put effort towards preserving what we still have. P

August 25, 2005

Niah National Park

A 4km trek to see the two caves was much easier than it could have been, not having to touch the natural ground. A raised wooden boardwalk had black lizards racing across it, beautiful mosses growing between the planks and long red millipedes that I first noticed when I was about to grab the rail, and then decided against it. A procession of 5 men passed by with heavy bags of gauno on their backs. It can be used for fertilizer, the other uses I'm not sure of. Niah is also well known for nests, that harvesters collect for the Oriental restaurants to make their special birds nest soup. Yum, I've always wanted to eat noodley strands of bird saliva!

The great cave was grand, a huge cavern, the rock surface covered in greens and reds. This is where a human skull was found aged 40,000 years old! Further inside was a narrow tunnel that led to the interior of the massive cave. Intensely white holes above let streams of sun pour through. Bats screetched and flickered as they circled in and out of the light. It was pitch black, I'm glad the fading batteries of my rental flashlight held out! Dark shadows whipped by infront of me, the indented ceiling only a few feet above my head had bats hanging upside down. How they hold onto such a smooth surface amazes me. I searched for paintings hidden within the darkness, but the only markings were white scratchings trying to cover up the "W.K. heart P.L." (haha!) graffiti. The real drawings were at the next cave over, proof cave men had lived there so many years ago. It was exciting, even though the reddish paint had faded, and the cave was quite dark, and the barbed wire and chain link fence were infront, AND it was 10m away! But still fascinating.

I have just been inspired by an Australian artist. John showed me his travel sketchbook and has made the effort (I had intended to make myself!), of making 1 painting each day. P

August 23, 2005

Kenyah Longhouse Part 1

I just came back from an incredible excursion within the interior jungle of Sarawak. So much has happened, I'm filled with so many thoughts and events, I'm not sure it will all fit into this entry.

I was gratiously accepted to join a group that had arranged a trip to visit a traditional Kenyah tribe. A dozen of us packed into three 4x4's to drive a full day along the rough, twisting, mountainous, dirt road. Beautiful black and green Rajah Brooks fluttered past (Malaysia's national butterfly). The perfectly straight, tall Tualang trees (I think I got this right!) loomed above the main forest canopy. A man posed for our photographs with his freshly hunted wild boar. A happy couple stood with one of his arms around her and the other holding a blow pipe. The smiling woman sentimentally shook my hand and motioned "from my heart to yours".

The main highway deviates from all rules of driving. Left and right applies when the hand painted arrows direct which side of the road you need to drive on when ascending a hill or turning a bend. Sometimes there is only one track when the mud is too slippery. Or a stop to wait for a logging truck to pass by. The ends of the bridges had stacked tires on each side to bump into if the car happens to sway. Fortunately the road were in good condition (considering) for us!

After an evening longboat ride from Long San to Long Moh, we arrived in the small village Usun grew up in. We entered her longhouse that she had not seen in six years. We were greeted with introductions, delicious food, traditional songs and dances, and A LOT of highly alcoholic rice wine! The girls were invited to wrap rice in banana leaves which is so much harder then it looks. Everyone went to bed drunk and slept soundly until the early cockling of the screetching chickens.

The day started with a trip to the newly cleared rice paddy. The trees are burned down which left the steep slope covered in fallen, charred logs. The men start at the bottom poking holes in the ground with their sticks and the women follow, baskets of rice on their backs, precisely throwing several grains into each hole. The sun was hot, the bees swarmed and we were accidently and purposefully covered black in soot. After a well deserved wash in the rapids, roasted chicken scewered and set upon on a BBQ constructed with slats of bamboo, and boar steamed inside a hollow section of bamboo, we were happily content and satisfied! To be continued... P

August 22, 2005

Into Sarawak

"The first real sight of the Borneo kingfishers was equally startling. Brighter than any illustration could ever be, apparently radiating blue and orange from its back and stomach all around itself into the background of green..." Into the Heart of Borneo, Redmond O'Hanlon

I have started reading this book at the same time I am actually seeing and relating to these amazing things he writes about. P

August 15, 2005

Warning about the youth hostel in Brunei

Arhugh!!! Of all places, I was the victim of a theif in Brunei! Even Lonely Planet states it is comparably safe to the rest of Asia because most people are wealthy enough to not need a backpackers old stuff. I'm going to write them not to reccommend this place anymore. The one budget accommodation in the city is a youth hostel dormitory. The dorms were strictly separated into women and men rooms. However something is going ary where the men in charge freely roam into the women's side to request fees or whatever. One girl caught a couple of them peering through into her shower! And our room had been rummaged through by someone and all my belongings were scattered across my bed. One girl had a shirt missing that was replaced with one of the theives. I had a change purse (Lisa, the one the matches yours!) stolen, but even more maddening, all my photo cd's. Those are the most important possessions I have of this trip and they have been taken by someone who will get no value from them at all. He has taken all my memories! I made copies of each and sent them home, I just hope they make it. P

August 13, 2005

Thailand to Borneo Photos

Originally uploaded by Art Journey.

More new photos! From a green snake in Thailand to the beautiful flora, fauna and friends in Sabah. P

August 12, 2005

Boat, Mosque, Museum

Kampung Ayer (means 'water village') edged the shores and also had a cluster of houses in the middle of the river, creating an island. Laura (Italian, living in Holland, also 29) and I proudly bargained down the boat driver from $20 BND for 1 hour down to $10. But this isn't Malaysia anymore and the consequence was a really fast drive-by view in half an hour! Maybe the photos will not be great but it was great to see a whole community of homes, stores and schools for 30,000 (half of the city!) people built on stilts. Plus driving through the natural AC was relieving on this really humid day.

Jame'Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque (had to check that name!) is the largest in the country and is expensively beautiful. Intricately carved wooden doors, mosaic tiled fountains, the circular stained glass above... and then we were told we should not enter until after 5pm. Which actually worked out since these two quick glimpses gave us the opportunity to see the museum as well. The Islamic Arts section was full of illuminated Qurans and decorated sabers, ceramics and fabrics. There was the oil gallery and others too but at that point they had already closed and we were told to leave yet again. So that was my whirl-wind tour of Bandar Seri Begawan! P

August 11, 2005


The first thing I saw pulling up into the harbour were all the oil rigs. The mark of Brunei, the wealth it is known for and the main industry many survives on. I spoke with Ramil, Philipino, on the bus ride to Bandar. He is trying to find a job here and was returning from KK to have a medical exam for applications. The second thing I saw, as he pointed out, were all the huge, extravagant houses lining the highway and the shiny new cars on the road. Apparently the rich own a couple cars each and build all these houses, many of which remain empty because there are not enough people to fill them. He asks, "Why do they need all of this?! 2 or 3 is good, but 12 is too much!" My expectation of the capital, BSB, was to see a busy, crowded city with a downtown core of high skyscrapers. However, it turns out, the population is only just over 60,000 and the high percentage of Muslims make it a non-alcoholic, cafe-drinking, safe, quiet and pleasant atmosphere. All the young people drive to Labaun or KK in Sabah or Miri in Sarawak to have a night life! I am excited to see the mosques and (another) stilt village tomorrow. P

August 10, 2005

Pulau Labuan

The museum had an excellent miniture creation of the Patau-Patau Water Village. All of the houses are built on stilts with raised, wooden pathways connecting them all together above the water. I went this morning to explore and discovered all the wooden planks were replaced with concrete walkways, which even had railings! It seemed very unfortunate for my aesthetic tastes, however, it is much more practical for the residents who live there. One man told me it took them 6 months to build and it's an improvement from before. Almost every house had dozens of plants lining their property. The man was very proud to point out his small mango and apple tree that beared no fruit. I wanted to ask him more questions but he kept responding with a "Yes" which meant he didn't really understand what I was saying. In such a small village, there were so many children and each one either jumped to say hello or just laughed at me hysterically! P

August 08, 2005


Well the homestay wasn't what I expected (it's a B&B), but still had a great time. Was immersed among avid insect-bird-animal watchers and I love nature even more than before. There was so much to see, including some rare animals that are unique only to Borneo. My first glimpse of a truly wild orang-utan was a dark clump in a tree about 100 metres away. At 6am it was just waking up with the sun rise and for a few seconds I saw it swing from it's nest and climb down the trunk. Our guide on the night boat cruise was excellent and would quickly scan the dense forest with his flood light and suddenly stopped when he found animals that took me sometimes a long moment to spot once the light was on it! There were a couple owls who looked back at us with wide, round yellow eyes. A beautiful blue eared kingfisher sleeping on a branch. The flying fox hanging in a tree, walking, and then flew away. The gulping, fat frog that took me the longest to spot as he looked like one of the stones he sat on. The reflection of 2 tiny lights on an aligator in the river, the reason most animals and humans do not swim in the murky water. Groups of dancing fireflies. And an evil giant, black bee that stung me on the neck. It was so painful for the rest of the evening, as though it kept stinging me over and over again. My whole neck was stiff the next day but it's fine now. I realized there's no way I'd survive in the jungle!!

The morning cruise was even more spectacular which included a long monitor lizard, a curled mangrove snake in a tree, a couple swimming otters, and numerous birds. In the sunlight, the kingfisher has a brilliant shiny blue back and bright orange tummy. The monkeys were exciting to watch, within a small area we saw 3 species of probosis, gibbons, long tailed and pig tailed macaques. The male probosis is so unusual with it's long nose. I think it must have been inspiration for the creation of the muppets! I saw 3 out of the 8 species of hornbill birds. The best was the rhinoseros hornbill, which can grow to 1 metre in length and has a red-orange horn on top of it's beak. They are so huge, they rock an entire tree when they land in it. 4 oriental pied hornbills landed in the tree only metres from us and gorged themselves on the papayas. A butterfly later landed on the open fruit to taste some of the leftovers. The cycle of life! Unfortunately my camera is terrible at long distance shots as most of the wildlife I had to view through binoculars. But it was so amazing to spy in and watch nature go about it's daily routine.

The small peice of primary jungle I saw was packed with life. But everyday, acres of land are being burned down and cleared to plant palms for palm oil. The plantations are everywhere and are taking away one of the only places you will find virgin forest. Like everywhere else, animals are decreasing, but as the forest gets smaller, the space left for them to go on this island is limited. P

August 03, 2005


In the afternoon I have been here I have seen the least number of tourists than in any of the other cities I have been in Malaysia. About 5. I ate roti serat (vegetable pancake with 2 types of curries), but not until almost every person in the restaurant had a chat or at least a look at me. Ana is Philapino and was my waitress and took a good interest in my hand sanitizer. Fadila has 3 children and makes an effort to welcome all of the foreigners to her town. The girl cleaning the glass next to my table, wasn't really looking at the window. Every mouthful I ate was watched by whoever could see. It was funny! Or I had to think that so as not to let myself get too self conscious.

I have signed up for a homestay in a village on the Sungai Kinabatangan (the longest river in Sabah). Tomorrow I will live a couple days with a family in the jungle! I don't expect there will be internet? P

Mt. K. Close Up & Poring

Wow! Kinabalu was very moving. Well, it itself did not move, but the clouds around quickly swept towards it from below in Crockers Range and totally engolfed the mountain. One moment it was this cold, hovering rock in clear view and the next it was invisible. Helena and I walked a trail that led us to a view point of the tall waterfall pouring down one side. Right before sunset, the light turned the leaves, flowers and clouds a warm orange. We were high enough to see some clouds almost skim our heads as they sped by quickly above us. The rest of the clouds rolled in giving me loads of options for so many photos and videos! Truely spectacular. I am satisfied even after not seeing the view from the very top.

Next was Poring Hot Springs which had some outdoor sulphur baths. Not exactly what I anticipated but the warm water felt great. The tropical and orchid gardens were filled with colourful insects, exotic flowers, interesting pitcher plants and curling vines around twisted trees. Every branch on the canopy walk made me paranoid thinking it could be a tree snake. The only thing I saw in the trees was a guy swinging from one of the vines. And I think the ape sounds made by the tourist group behind me would have scared them away anyway! Jackie the orang-utan, didn't even make a noise. She was lonely and just had her mind set on the male a few hundred metres away. She swiftly climbed up a trunk, hung with one arm from a branch to get a better view, and then swung tree to tree towards him. There was a huge variety of bugs and moths (and 1 bat) in the hostel's kitchen, which was many more species than the 3 I saw in the butterfly garden.

I'm so glad to be on the internet again, I almost died, it's been more than 4 days!