We start our Malaysian adventure on Malaysian Borneo in Kota Kinabalu, a big town in the province of Sabah. From here we travel up to Sandakan and the Kinabatangan river for a exiting jungle retreat. After this we head back to Sandakan, spend a few days in a nice hotel with pool before flying to Kuching. In the area of Kuching there is so much to to, our five days where not enough. Ending our travels through Borneo we fly to Kota Bharu on the mainland for a totally new adventure. A few days in paradise on the Perhentian islands and after that we visit the Taman Negara, the oldest forest in the world... a real treat for nature lovers.
Because of the high season everything is full and crowded, up to a point it gets annoying. So we decide to cut our journey short and end our trip through Malaysia with a few days in Kuala
Lumpur before flying to Sumatra.
A short history lesson of Malaysia
In the year 1641 the Dutch where in here... yep, us again. At the time the country was called Malaya. We took over from the Portuguese and conquered Malacca, the area where it all started and where you can still find a lot of our history.
Anyway, we got interested in the spices and stayed around for 150 years. After trading Sumatra for Malacca with the English we moved our spice-business to Indonesia.
Malaya, has been an English colony until 1957, that is when different parts of the country as we know it where joined and got it's independence under a new name: Malaysia. Brunei backed out at the last moment.
Until today most people speak English making it easy for foreigners to get around. Yay.
For us Malaysia eventually wasn't satisfying enough, besides it being high season we were very shocked seeing so much beautiful nature being destroyed. This country is on self destruct modus. Ancient thick forests, home to many different animal species, are being replaced by ugly palm oil plantations. To us it seems like the Malaysian people just don't care about the real value this country has. There are a few people buying land to turn it into a money making machine and everybody else can only watch. This is so sad...
nevertheless we say, visit this country while it's still got beauty to offer!
The island of Borneo is divided in three parts. The Indonesian Kalimantan covers the biggest part, about two thirds, and then there's the Malaysian part with in the middle the small state of
Brunei. The Malaysian part is divided in two provinces, Sabah in the top and Sarawak on the bottom. The highest point of Borneo is Mount Kinabalu which lies in the northeast. It's about 4100
meters high and very popular for climbing. Mostly because of the heat in this period we decide to skip the mountainclimbing and focus on the animals. Borneo is widely known for it's primates,
orang-utans in particular. So our expectations are high and our mood is good!
The peninsular part of Malaysia is located between Thailand and Singapore. We will start our adventure here in the northeast. In Kota Bharu to be precise and we'll spend a few days on the Perhentian islands. As you can see below, it's a terrible place...
After this we visit the absolutely breathtaking Taman Negara, the oldest forest in the world. A rough trail that leads us through this primitive jungle surprised us hugely.
With a few days in Kuala Lumpur we end our journey through Malaysia for now. It's high season, that means fully booked hotels, tours and busses.
What can I say, Malaysia is HOT! This country has a lot of jungle that means high humidity. Temperatures of 35+ are no exception but the feeling temperature is far above 40 in some areas. Especially in Borneo the humidity can be around 95%. Want to hike a mountain here? Great plan, but do consider the shape you are in and how much heat you can handle. Take twice as much water as you'd normally do.
For us hiking through the jungle was doable for a few hours with some climbs and descents. The litres of water we drank immediately came out of our pores again so we felt quite detoxed. After that we where in need of a serious cold shower. We skipped climbing mountains for now.
Strange enough there are no tuktuks in Malaysia. So... how on earth do you get from one place to another?!
We find traveling around in the cities is easiest by Grab car. This works exactly like Über, but in some cities there's more availability or it's even cheaper, so we recommend to download both apps on your smartphone.
For those not familiar with Grab or Über, this is how it works: you download the app and make an account. You need to fill in your creditcard number or PayPal. The last one doesn't seem to work much in Malaysia, so creditcard is better... or both. You can add another payment method later on.
So you now have an account and in need of transportation. At the homepage of the app fill in your location if it doesn't do that itself, if it does check if your location is correct. Then fill in where you want to go and if a car is available you'll see the price on the bottom of your screen. Sometimes there an 'about' price. We've experienced that the eventual price was indeed somewhere in that area. You order the taxi and get a name and a car registration number, so you can look out for the car. On your screen you see the car moving towards you and sometimes they will call you for your exact location, so entering your local sim number is quite useful. Also when you order the taxi you can enter a note for the driver like 'at the hotel entrance' or 'I have an orange backpack'. Also while you're waiting you can send the driver a message or even cancel your order.
When you've been brought to your location you exit the taxi and the amount will be withdrawn from your credit card. You can give stars to the driver in the app and maybe give a compliment or a comment about the ride.
Safe? We have never felt unsafe or uncomfortable. With Grab, all cars we had were very new, actually we think there is maybe a opportunity for the drivers to drive a new car if they join Grab.
We didn't use Über much in Malaysia, but in other countries this was a good way to get around.
Costs? We estimate the Grab-costs to about € 2.00 per 5 kilometres.
For longer journeys there are different means of transport. A minibus with (yes!) a maximum amount of persons. A coach for more space and comfort, it will cost you a bit more and take a bit longer to get there but whoah it's comfortable.
The skyway. There are a few budget airlines who will fly you to the other side of the country for sometimes less than the price of a bus trip. Sounds good right? Unfortunately there's a big downside too. You won't see anything of the surroundings and of course this is also environmentally less attractive so we suggest you only use the skyway if really necessary. We do want to keep those jungles green as long as possible ;-)
We've noticed that going to non-touristic areas, the public transport can be quite a challenge. Switching busses five times on a 100 kilometre ride is nothing new.
After Malaysia we want to visit Indonesia for a longer period than the regular 30 days visa you can get upon arrival. There is a 60 day visa which can be extended at any immigration office
in Indonesia for about € 30.00.
When we get to the Consulate of Indonesia in Kuching the office is full of people. We queue at the reception to get a application form and a number. We can sit on the right side and fill in the form. We've brought our printed fake ticket from Jakarta to Amsterdam and US Dollars to pay for the fee. When our number comes along we've only been there for five minutes so we are very surprised. The waiting area is totally full with people so they must be waiting for something else. We sit at the desk of a consulate employee and tell him we want to apply for a 60 day tourist visa. We hand him over the form and the copied documents and wait while he checks everything. We need to show him the planeticket to Indonesia as well. Fortunately we have one, we already booked a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Banda Aceh in Sumatra. I e-mail him the ticket so that he can print it. No problem at all. We add a passphoto to the documents and need to pay the fee at a colleagues desk, 205MR per person (about € 41.50). We say we brought US Dollars, but we can only pay with Ringgit so we need to find an ATM. Jos walks all the way to a petrolstation where there is supposed to be a bank, but when he gets there, there's no ATM. So he has to walk the 1.5 kilometres back again empty handed. As soon as I tell the clerk we didn't get the money she says it's also no problem, we can pay the small amount we do have now and the rest when we pick up the passports. Phew...
We can pick up the passports after 4 o'clock the same day. We pay € 2.00 from the city centre to the Consulate which take a good 20 minutes.
Currency: 10 Malaysian Ringit = € 2.00
In total visiting Borneo and the Peninsula we've spend:
Transportation: € 351.30 (incl. 3 domestic flights)
Accommodations: € 289.00
Food and drinks: € 348.55
Entrance fees: € 104.00
Other: € 22.00 (internet)
That brings us to a daily budget of: € 48.47 for two persons including everything except international flights.
We've stayed in double rooms with a private bathroom, cottages and hostels with shared bathrooms and cold showers with or without breakfast.
Although Malaysia is not as cheap as other Asian countries we would have managed to maintain our low budget if it wasn't for the high transportation costs. If we would have stayed longer we could have spread the transport costs out over more days. The last three days in Kuala Lumpur didn't help much either.
Here are some examples of products and prices in euro:
White bread in supermarket: € 0.80
Large pizza in lunchroom: € 7.00
Real (no instant) coffee latte in a lunchroom: € 1.25
Beer (250 ml) in a cafe: € 1.50
Beer (250 ml) supermarket: € 1.25
Coca Cola in restaurant: € 0.35
Main course in restaurant: € 1.50
Liter gasoline: € 0.40
Simcard with 5 gb data: € 6.00
Most prices in Kuala Lumpur are about triple of this.