Do You Know The Way To Fairyland?

When I first thought of this travel blog, a childhood poem came to mind:

 

I have lived in Sydney for over 7 years on this stint, and at least 15 in total throughout my life. Not once had I ever heard of Fairyland.

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Borneo Travel: Etiquette with photos of kids

When travelling, you want to notice the differences between your hometown and your destination. That is the point of travelling – to see what else is out there, how it is different, and learn from it. It’s not a big deal. It’s just the way our world is set-up.

And others will notice how different you are too. And that’s okay. But what do you do when it becomes a little less okay? Or even a lot less okay…

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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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Sandakan: Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary

Today (19 August) is International Orang Utan Day. Definitely an appropriate day to share this blog post. If you are interested in supporting the rehabilitation of Orang Utans, please check out the Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre and their UK Appeal (which operates internationally). 

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First of all – yes, we visited both Sepilok in Sabah, and Semenggoh in Sarawak. I liked both for different reasons.DSC_1509

Sepilok is set up more commercially than Semenggoh. Always remember that it is a Rehabilitation Centre, for Orang Utans and other animals. That is their focus, so they have better business plans. The feeding sessions are great, but it is worthwhile checking out the video session and information centre as well. They are really informative, even for 5yo.

There are 2 feeding sessions – we had around 3 orang utans turn up for each. However, the morning session had more people, and monkeys visit as well. The afternoon had less people but less wildlife.

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We started off our day with the morning feeding session for the Orang Utans at the Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary (5mins walk). This sanctuary has more wildlife than just the Orang Utan (and the night creatures previously mentioned). It also homes rhinocerous and elephants (we didn’t see them) and Macaque monkeys (saw lots of them).

A couple of extra points: It is really hot. Even if the weather is nice just outside Sepilok, the feeding platforms are really hot and muggy. Even guides from the area DSC_1497often comment about the heat within Sepilok. It was the worst we experienced during our entire holiday. Luckily there is an air-conditioned information centre just across the walkway from the cafe. Since N was still a little less than sparky, I had no qualms about taking full advantage of the luxury.

Between the two sessions, we decided to walk to the Rainforest Discovery Centre, which we were told was about 10-15mins walk down the road. BAD IDEA!! It took us close to 40mins of solid walking, with me carrying S at least half of the way, and both boys suffering some mild heat stroke. Not great, considering that N was FINALLY starting to feel better.

IMGP3659Fortunately, we recovered in their air-con and then headed to the cafe for lunch – only to find that the advertised cafe has not actually been built yet. (NB: I’m pretty sure it has now – 4years later. Or at least I would hope). So we hurried through the small bit of canopy walk that had opened, then took a taxi back to our room. It looks like a great place to check out, but obviously our circumstances didn’t help its impression on us.

After a quick dip in the pool, we headed off to the afternoon feeding session. Once again, hot and muggy – this time the boys lasted 30mins before needing the air-con in the reception hall (the memory of ice-creams there probably didn’t help). Let’s face it: even the animals seemed less interested at this time. Rather than continue, we headed back to the swimming pool and an early night.

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The entrance fee is more expensive than Semenggoh. This is probably because of facilities – there IS a cafe at Sepilok, as well as the additional information services. Semenggoh doesn’t have the same support. This gives Sepilok a more …. refined feel, for want of a better word. It is not a zoo – we are regular visitors of Taronga Zoo in Sydney, and Sepilok is definitely not a zoo even by those standards. The difference in fees is significant – Sepilok was RM75 for 2 adults + 1 kid; Semenggoh was RM6 and no camera fees.

It is still worth your visit. If you can do both, do both. They are each completely different experiences.

And please, please, please – do the night safari. It is worth every penny and so much more.

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Sandakan: Sepilok Jungle Resort

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If you’re reading our Borneo adventures in chronological order, then say “Selamat tinggal” to KK!! To be honest, it was a nice place. We found a lot of fun things to do there, and have some very genuine experiences. But KK doesn’t really stand out for me from this trip.

Mind you, our trip to Sandakan did not exactly start well either. We woke on our last day to find N with a fever. We were all a bit concerned as he was not feeling well, and definitely not his usual bubbly self. More cuddly and less backpacky. B was especially worried as he had seen N pick and eat something off his sandals the day before. The perils of travelling with toddlers.

We were early for the airport, which allowed N a chance to cheer up a bit and have a little to eat. Bad idea – as we line up to go through security, he vomits all over me. I instantly ran to the nearest toilets to clean up, while B and S go shopping for some new shirts. Yay me – scored a new shirt. Still, we all boarded okay (with some passengers eyeing us off cautiously) and continued to monitor N.

The flight itself was short and pleasant – about 45mins. Make sure you get a window seat for a view of the mountain. We spoke with an Australian family who had chosen to drive across instead, and it took them almost the whole day. Even with the stop at Mt Kinabalu, they said the drive itself was awful – traffic and conditions combined. Especially with a sick child, I was grateful for the comfort of flight.

We were lucky to have our shuttle/pick-up take us into Sandakan for a few supplies  (including a thermometer and panadol for N). While shopping around, B found this “retirement village for old kids rides – just hidden away at the back of a convenience shop. They were amazing!! S and N each had a turn, with smiles returning all round. See if you can recognise any your childhood favourites.

We eventually arrived at Sepilok Jungle Resort around 4pm. Here the malaria risk is fairDSC_1361ly high (especially at 4pm) – but alas S refused to put on his DEET. I couldn’t really blame the kid – the stuff smells really strong. But for anyone travelling with kids in the area, I strongly recommend (as did the doctor back home) this is NOT NEGOTIABLE. Of course, that meant the argument ended with S and I missing out on swimming while B and N cool off. That’s two for me.

imagesThe swimming here is a big deal. Sepilok Jungle Resort is located right next to the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre (and the Rainforest Discovery Centre down the road), along with a bunch of other accommodation sites. However, SJR is the only one with a big swimming pool and cool water slide. They even charge patrons from other resorts because it is that popular. And S & I missed out the first day. Brilliant start.

The good news is that we did make it for the Night Safari I had booked with the Resort. One of the local guides takes you on a night walk through the Orang Utan Sanctuary, spotting out the wildlife you would otherwise never know to exist in Borneo. It was awesome – even more so because we were the ONLY ONES for that tour. This guide was especially understanding and patient – with the kids, and the big kid with the camera (looking at you, B). In fact, he was really excited about the boys coming along. Apparently very few families take the tour because most don’t think their kids have the energy or interest at night, or are quiet enough, or smell like cabbage or something. Trust me – we had a fantastic night tour and would recommend this as one of the best!!

The list of things we saw:

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  • 4 snakes (3 different types)
  • 1 orang utan hanging on the outside wire
  • 1 tree crab (never heard of this before)
  • mouse deer
  • butterflies and moths
  • glow-in-the-dark funghi
  • tree frogs
  • stick insects

Despite still not being well, N really enjoyed the night safari and followed B’s pointed finger. S was right up there with the guide, wanting to see everything and learning some cool tricks for spotting animals.DSC_1398

Me: I simply marveled at the wildlife that we would have missed if not for this opportunity. We were even lucky enough to return to the our room right before a storm hit. Perfect.

Edit: Just a quick review on the Resort itself. It is a nice place to stay, close to the Orang Utans. Don’t think that because it has Resort in the name that it is all fancy. We had a deluxe room close to Reception and the pool – and we paid the extra for it, with a/c. That really made it for us. It’s a little walk to the cafe/restaurant but consider the appalling service provided there (read Trip Advisor; it wasn’t just us), that really isn’t such a bad thing.