On it was to Borneo, a place I've wanted to visit for a number of years. I'm writing this in a place called Gunung Mulu National Park - more on it later - whilst hanging around for a flight back to civilisation. I've also been here a couple of weeks, so it could prove a challenge to remember everything since I'm not a note taker!
Me and the two lads I'm here with landed in a city called Kota Kinabalu (KK), on the eastern side of the island. KK became our base city for the first part of Borneo. There wasn't much to see in KK but it's actually quite a nice, quiet little city. Even before we entered Borneo, we'd decided that we wanted to take on the challenge of trekking to the top of Mount Kinabalu, which stands at 4095m - not Everest but high enough! We got a decent preliminary price so decided that we were definitely in for the challenge! But the first challenge proved to be finding some proper hiking boots that were big enough for one of the lads! We probably went to every kind of outdoor shop in the city and in the end were rescued by a Sports Direct of all places! That mission consumed a lot of the only full day in KK!
We weren't actually attempting the mountain at that point - the day after we went to a place called Sepilok. The main purpose of going to Sepilok was to go to the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. We actually arrived too late on the day to go there, so we just went to a rainforest discovery place. It was nice and served as a good introduction to the biodiversity of Borneo. We also got our first introduction to the meaning of the word rainforest. It was as wettening as one would expect!
The following morning, we went to the above mentioned Rehabilitation Centre. The entry fee was relatively steep and to me, it felt a little bit too "touristy". But at the same time, I got the impression that the orangutans were treated perfectly well and it was really cool to see them in their natural habitat. Some of them were legitimately hilarious! It was also raining again so we naturally got drenched on the way back to the hostel.
We took an early lunch because after that, we were picked up to start a 3 day, 2 night tour at the Kinabatangan River. It was approximately a 2 hour bus ride to where we were staying. We actually misinterpreted the tour in that we expected way more time to be spent on the river! In reality, not much time was spent on river. That said, we went on a trip along the river not long after arriving. We saw a lot of monkeys, who quite conveniently live on the trees along the river bank! Surprisingly enough it rained for the entirety so it became quite cold and unpleasant on the way back!
I found the majority that trip to be quite uninspiring and I'm struggling to remember what else we actually did! There were a couple of cool things on the full day spent there - we saw wild, nomadic orangutans who apparently live in isolation, and also a crocodile during the boat trip on that day. Sadly we didn't get quite close enough to have a wrestle with the croc! That night, we participated in some local music and dance. It was really fun, but luckily me and one of the lads had a couple of beers beforehand to take the edge off the embarrassment!
After that, we moved onto a place called Sandakan for the night, and I have no recollection of what we did there, apart from going to the cinema!
My overriding memory from that trip is how there is mile after mile of palm tree plantations, which are used for the big business of palm oil. It's a disgusting practice and not the only example of the powers that be in Borneo selling out - by either choice or desperation - for money. But it was sad to see such huge swathes of rainforest effectively destroyed.
The following day, we went back to KK for a couple of nights, with Mount Kinabalu now well & truly on our minds. The road east to and from KK travels past the mountain. We decided it looked like a piece of piss from a distance! We ended up getting a really good price for the trek because we booked it last minute and once that was booked, we bought the equipment that was required.
So the big day arrived and we were picked up after having had an early night to prepare. The trek up Mount Kinabalu is 18km there and back from the start point, spread over two days. On the drive over from KK, I experienced some incredibly ill-timed but perhaps ironic gastronomical issues! We were also on the minibus with some guys from South Korea, who looked way fitter and way more prepared than we were, which made one or two of us raise an eyebrow.
We completed our registration and were assigned our guide for the full trek - one is not allowed to begin the trek without guide. We were informed buy our guide that the first day would just be "slow and steady" up to the accommodation for the night, so we let the Koreans set off first in the expectation that they would just walk away from us. The trek started with some very brief downhill before the uphill ascent began. The start point of the trek is at 1800m, which is already higher than the highest peak in the UK! It was still hot and incredibly humid even at that altitude. We set off at a natural pace and caught the Koreans before the first rest point, which caused some amusement and puzzlement amongst us. That was the last we saw of them prior to the accommodation.
The first 4km wasn't easy, but it was the easiest part of the climb because it wasn't too steep. Although we were told to be "slow and steady", we probably went quicker than we needed to, but it felt natural. We had lunch at the 4km point on the first day. It was included in the tour and was pretty unsatisfactory! Luckily I was well stocked on chocolate bars and sweets! The steepness ramped up considerably from the 4km to the 6km point, which is where the accommodation is, at approx 3350m. Given that there was zero physical preparation for the trek, my fitness was severely tested, but I and we made it to the camp for the night! We also passed numerous other trekkers and weren't passed by anyone on the way up, which actually gave me curious amounts of satisfaction!
It was beautiful at camp, with the clouds already being on a level. But it got cold when the sun disappeared! Given that the camp is at 3350m and porters have to manually carry everything, the food provided was fantastic! It was all you could eat and contained many carbs as one would hope and expect.
The first thing that we all noticed when we stopped trekking for the day was the altitude. It was definitely a little harder to breathe than normal and it took genuine effort to walk 20m to the canteen and back. It also took way longer than normal for the heart rate to come back down. On that night, we went to bed very early because we would be awake at 01:45 the following morning, for breakfast and then to start the final ascent to catch the sunrise! All three of us had a shocking sleep.
That said, we were in good spirits and ready for the massive challenge ahead. We set off just after 02:30 and we were actually amongst the last group to leave. Clearly our guide had some kind of faith in our ability! The guide set the pace for the final ascent, which was a very steep 3km at obviously a high altitude. Despite the pace being steady, we passed a lot of other trekkers in the first few hundred metres, which again gave that extra encouragement and at the point felt comfortable.
For me, it didn't stay comfortable for long! The difficulty increased as the steps were replaced by rock, which was complemented by rope if needed (and it was in places). I started needing regular breaks as it became harder. One thing for me though is that I never felt as though I was unduly affected by the altitude and at never point did I suffer any symptoms of altitude sickness. Also, despite the fact I was struggling, I still wasn't overtaken by anyone, and where the Koreans were was anyone's guess at that point.
We struggled on up and it was a countdown each time the guide informed us of how long to go. Towards the end, I started to get close to the physical edge, but never at any moment did I contemplate giving in. And then the moment arrived where I saw the summit - it came sooner than I expected - and I literally shouted f*** yes! That gave me the extra impetus to force my way to the top, well in time for sunrise. It was an incredible moment and the adrenaline meant that I wasn't feeling any of the last three hours. Also, despite setting off almost last, our group was amongst the first to the top of the mountain. Which in my book means we smashed the mother****er. And the well equipped Koreans.
The view from the top of the mountain was the most mesmerising and astonishing thing I've seen in my life, and despite the pictures, it'll be a mental image that will stay with me forever. Whilst another peak covered the sun, it was still a truly special sunrise. And then to see the mountain become light and to look at what we just trekked up, make it even more special.
As good as our guide was at pacing us up the final part of the mountain, it turned out he was an even better photographer! The guy took some belters and it actually got quite humorous when he spotted the perfect puddle for a reflection shot!
The time came where we had to make our way back down to camp, for a second breakfast and to pack up before leaving. On the way down, the Koreans appeared. Suffice to say I had a very satisfying internal chuckle. The way back down to base camp was far easier and quicker than the way up!
We arrived at base camp at around 08:00, but were quickly informed that because we were on the same minibus as the Koreans, we had to wait for them before continuing the rest of the descent. That left me unamused. In the end, we set off at 10:00 whilst they were going to set off later because they only made it to base camp at around 09:30!
Me and the lads set off on the descent at our own pace (one of them ran down!). After alll the difficulty and pain of the previous 24 hours, I decided to enjoy the stroll back down the mountain. I did for an hour or so, and then it got hard. Step after step after step just killed the already depleted quads! And the knees didn't appreciate it either. I made it down just within the target time set by the guide, but I wasn't in great shape at that point and walking became legitimately difficult! We went for lunch but I wasn't hungry so just stocked up on more sugar.
In some pain and a considerable time later when the Koreans were done, we started the journey back to KK. Energy wise I felt very good and had the natural buzz of completing the climb! We made it back to the hostel and checked in. I took the first step to go upstairs to our room, and my right leg effectively told me to **** off. It completely seized up and somewhat embarrassingly, I ended up falling straight back onto the floor, bags in hand! I emerged unscathed and pissed myself with laughter as one would expect. We rather stupidly had an early flight booked for the following morning, so we had to be awake at 05:30! Not wise. We didn't get up on time, but still made it to the airport, in considerable pain and in time for the flight to the next destination in Borneo - Gunung Mulu National Park.
From doing my research prior, the national park was somewhere that I was very much looking forward to going. It turned into quite a huge disappointment. The first two days there were spent outside the park in the very small town of Mulu. The reasons being we still didn't have the legs to do much, and because an entry pass for the park lasts for 5 days, so didn't want to waste any days.
We went into the park eventually and arranged our activities. The park is in the middle of the rainforest and is home to a huge network of caves, so the ingredients were there for it to be something fantastic. Unfortunately though, we were priced out of the better activities, and those activities were hidden behind the paywall.
The best day at the park was a 12km trek through one of the caves into what they label as "Garden of Eden". The reason being you walk all the way through the cave to another open rainforest area. At the end, there is a waterfall and natural pool, which is what made the day thoroughly enjoyable. We had lunch and messed around in the water for an hour or so before heading back.
By the end, we spent 6 or 7 days at the park and we were all starting to go a little insane because apart from the overpriced activities / tours, there was absolutely nothing to do there! It ended up becoming the next bitter taste in the Bornean mouth.
I was delighted to leave Mulu to fly to Kuching, which is north west Borneo and where I'm finishing this from. These are a couple of designated relaxation days before heading back to Kuala Lumpur briefly, and then back to Vietnam!
Goodbye for now.