KL:Towers in the Sky

Despite our fantastic location for a hotel (Traders Hotel), it took us a few days before finally going to see the Petronas Towers up close. We had a big afternoon planned with CK to see Bukit Melawati, so a quick visit to the Towers seemed like a good idea. Unfortunately, the Travel Gods deemed otherwise.

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KL: Deerlands and Elephants

Sometimes, travel destinations can fit nice and neat into categories. Foodies Dreams. Cultural Experiences. Art and Architecture. Nature and Wildlife.

Sometimes, when travelling with kids, it’s a good idea to seek out the categories and give them a bit of structure. Something tangible for them to associate with.

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KL: Batu Caves

KL was the last leg of our Borneo Adventures. And if you think we were starting to ease off on the adventures, you would be grossly mistaken.

There is a lot to do both in and around KL. Most of it you can reach easily with public transport. Some of it you will need a driver or a bit more planning. In our case, with kids involved (and N still not liking the humidity) we opted with a driver for the “out of town” activities.

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KL: From One Jungle to Another

We have developed a ‘pattern’ to our travels.

Push it hard for most of the holiday. Live it a bit rough. Sometimes this means “jungle showers”, or dingy guesthouses, or even a tiny little studio apartment – just big enough to drop off the bags because we really are too busy running to the next adventure.

But dang – we like to finish on a high note. The last chance of true holiday leisure, to leave us high on the bliss of travel.

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Sandakan: Wild. Pygmy. Elephants.

As I previously mentioned, Kinabatangan River offers so many opportunities to discover its beauty. Our stay at Bilit Adventure Lodge included morning and afternoon/evening river tours – watching out for wildlife, and talking with Loi (our personal guide) about the conservation work in the area.

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Sandakan: A River of Darkness

This entry continues directly on from our Wild Pygmy Elephant experience. If you don’t like spoilers, go here first and then come back to finish the adventure. 

There is a general rule on the Kinabatangan River – all boats are moored back at your Lodge prior to night fall. There’s a really good reason for this – it is really REALLY dark on the river!!

I’m not talking ‘walking down the street’ dark. I’m not even talking ‘up in the middle of the night, fumbling for the toilet door’ dark.

I’m talking ‘can’t see the person sitting next to you in a two-seat wide long boat’ dark.

I can’t even share photos to show you. It was that dark.

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Sandakan: Kinabatangan River

Do you remember the Night Safari we enjoyed through Sepilok Jungle Resort? We enjoyed it so much, we signed up for another at Bilit Adventure Lodge.

 

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Photo by Team Cahill

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Planning: The Stuff You Leave Behind

Two weeks to go!! I am so READY for this holiday.

Actually… no, I am not.

I am sitting here, making sure that the budget is tight for when we arrive. You know, the usual stuff: money for the petrol; money for groceries; money for sightseeing… the usual stuff.

But here is a timely reminder for anyone going on holiday soon: Make sure you also plan for the ‘stuff’ you leave behind.

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Sandakan: Gomantong Caves

Kina-ba-tang-gan.

Kina-batang-gan.

Kinabatangan.

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I am embarrassed to say it took me a whole day of practice for the pronunciation.

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Sandakan: Turtle Island Park

OMG!! This you HAVE to do!!

And don’t waste your time organising through some tour group. You do not need a tour guide for this experience. Do it by yourself, and book it directly with Crystal Quest. Not only will it save you a bit of money, it also gives you a bit of freedom to explore. As we did.

Read on.

DSC_1571Turtle Island Park is actually a group of islands, co-managed by both the Malaysian and the Philippines Governments. Selingan Island is the only one open to the general public to view and learn from Rangers, with the intent of raising awareness and support for the conservation of turtles.

The island is a long way from land – beautiful; small; quiet. Along with the set activities, we were also allowed snorkelling and swimming in designated beach areas. We all loved this as the snorkelling was far better here than the islands of KK (did I mention that the visitor numbers are kept low?)

If you’re a sucker and booked with a tour group, you will be met by your guide at the Jetty, and they will take care of most things for you. If, however, you have booked it yourself – You turn up to the Jetty at the required time; check in; pay your balance, conservation fees, and camera fees; and then hop on board when they tell you. No big deal.

The trip out takes about an hour, passing water houses and a temple or two along the way. It is very noisy – there is no deflection of noise from the motor. If you suffer tinnitus, bring some ear plugs. There was another family with young kids (7 and 4) who appeared to suffer the same issues.

DSC_1586Upon arrival, we were given some brief instructions as to the usual procedure for the night and then given some free time. Of course, B & S headed straight to the beach for swimming and snorkelling. N was still feeling sick at this point, so we simply headed for a nap in our little bungalow.

Main meals are included with some provisions to buy snacks as needed. After lunch, S & I separated from the other two. Funnily enough, both groups saw monitor lizards.

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In our case, S and I hurried back to our bungalow to grab cameras for the opportunity.

For B and N, they had to hurry to find a Ranger – they had spotted a monitor lizard in the hatchery itself. It was pretty easy to tell its intent with the long tongue licking away, but fortunately B spotted it fairly quickly and the Ranger has a pretty good hammer-throw for monitors.

The tricky part comes after lunch. See, the Big Event is late in the evening. And sometimes it can be really late in the evening – dependent on where your group is in the queue, and the availability of turtles laying their eggs. Fortunately, our boys crashed for almost 3hrs in the afternoon, so they were plenty rested for the evening.

DSC_1627The evening started at 6.30pm with an educational slideshow, followed by dinner at 7.30pm. This is where it gets a little tricky. The Rangers usually split all the guests into three groups, and you can even hear ‘negotiating’ with the tour guides as they try to score the best time for their guests.

Fortunately, having kids AND no tour guide pushed us up to the first group. Where most guests were totally dependent on their booked guides to share information with them, we had been talking to the Rangers directly. They were really impressed with the kids and their genuine curiousity. They were also impressed with S having his own ‘photographers pass’. This meant the Rangers were happy to move the kids up to first to avoid a late night… and because they are cute. If you are in the 3rd group, you could be waiting until 10.30pm for a turtle sighting. No matter which group you are in, bring some playing cards for the wait. We only had to wait until 8.30pm.

Our first stop is on the beach, where we are witness to a beautiful large mother laying her eggs – 83 in total.

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Now – B did an awesome job with photography here, but obviously no flash (do not disturb the natural wonder you are here to witness). This lovely photo shows the size, while the Ranger is busy noting measurements, markings, general health, etc.

It is definitely worth paying the little bit extra for a photographer’s pass, even for the kids. We have some amazing shots captured by S that are just his personally. You feel so lucky to participate in this. It doesn’t feel like a touristy exercise – you genuinely feel like you are observing a natural wonder under the watchful eye of trained Rangers, committed to doing the right thing.

We then visited the hatchery and watch the Rangers carefully relocate the eggs, with markers and details recorded with each clutch.

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Our final stop is back on the beach, this time to participate in the release of some new hatchlings back to the ocean. This is where the Rangers were absolutely magnificent with the children. S and N were allowed very close to help redirect the babies. Like, arms-reach! That’s N in the yellow and white t-shirt in the photo.

DSC_1658The night didn’t end there! While we walked back to our bungalow, still stunned by the whole experience, B and S found a loose hatchling on the footpath. This time B held the baby while S found the Ranger to help return it to the hatchery. In one day, both kids had been heroes to at least one baby turtle. And B held one in his hands!!

Overall, the experience was amazing. Truly amazing. The Rangers are so approachable and love sharing their knowledge with anyone willing to listen. The boys learnt a lot from the experience; things they still remember 4 years later. And being able to participate in a conservation program, even on a small scale, really leaves you with a good feeling for the holiday. Like, it’s not just about relaxing on a holiday. It is part of a grander scheme as well.

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