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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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: 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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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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KK’s Hidden Art Gallery

This entire blog post shouldDSC_1135 be written by B, but the poor guy is so busy – we would be waiting until after the next holiday. However, I am working off his notes from the experience and sharing it as best I can.

Early one morning, B went exploring – particularly looking at a semi-demolished building around the corner. He found it to be re-used as a make-shift gallery for local graffiti art. The images depicted are only some of the plethora on offer. It was truly amazing.

As he ventured around, he noticed a lot of the artwork incorporated multi-dimensional views – lining up the two pillars behind would reveal additional depth. Or incorporating chips from the pillar as part of the artwork. Some had layDSC_1141ered their own graffiti over the top, as a 2nd layer of enhancement.

The building was not abandoned. While looking around, B was approached by a man, who talked to him about the area. After asking for money, the guy offered to show where he and others lived inside the dilapidated building. Under the watchful eye of the seedy-looking bloke nearby, B politely (and wisely) declined, and returned our hotel to tell the tale.

DSC_1150I love the photos. They really are creative – not just in the imagery, but the use of the environment. And this little block really did feel like an open-air gallery.

If you are in KK and looking for it, it’s on the corner of Jalan Kota Kinabalu Lama 6 and Jalan Haji Saman. Exit Hotel Eden 54, walk to the corner on the right and then turn right. Walk towards the Esplanade and you’ll see the Gallery on your left.

Enjoy.

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North Borneo Railway

Sometimes, when I am researching/prepping for a holiday, I come across little gems that make me so excited… I worry about if they will live up to my expectation.

I cannot even remember where I initially heard about the Railway. It was a passing comment on a forum somewhere (maybe Travellers Point?) but it piqued my interest. A beautiful old steam train, in true colonial style, wandering down the original track of colonial days as it leaves the bustle of KK and takes you on a gentle exploration further afield… *sigh*DSC_0973

When I looked into it further, I found it had been decommissioned. 😦 I was so disappointed – I knew the kids (particularly N) would love a train ride like this.

Then … rumours started to pop up. Someone was trying to revive the Railway. The Malaysian Government was in talks. Tourists were hearing chatter about “When you come back…”

About two months before we were to start our Borneo adventures, I finally found a website with more information!! The track was in desperate need of repair – and it seemed like the maintenance was taking forever. Would it be ready in time for our holiday? The anticipation was killing me!

The reason for all the to-ing and fro-ing was the “sale” of the Railway. Many years ago, the Railway experience was run by the Government, but the need for maintenance was outside of the budget. Where once there were daily treks, services soon depleted to every second day. Then twice a week. Eventually every 2nd weekend if there were enough people on the waiting list. Around 2009, it had pretty much stopped.

Until one of the big resorts, Sutera Harbour, purchased the Railway experience and gave it a complete make-over. And did a FANTASTIC job.  DSC_0967

Being organised by a Resort (and subsequently aimed at its own patrons), the North Borneo Railwaycomes with a price. On face value, this trip was perfect for all of us – adults being able to sit and enjoy the scenery; children getting a kick out of the train ride (and scenery); and we were fed too! But it is expensive – I found a lot in KK is expensive, as it is aimed at the tourists. I even organised directly with the information desk – and it didn’t change anything. Consider this one of the “splurges” on the trip.

The train itself was beautiful. Definitely true to the Colonial style. Well decked out, nostalgic music being played and the staff are there for the patrons comfort. As the train was ready to depart, our station master rang his bell and the engine puffed slowly away. Refreshments were served almost immediately, so we sat back and sipped our lemon teas, passing by water villages, schools, and fields. DSC_0988

The view along the way is amazing – grab a seat on the East side of the carriage (left looking to the engine) as most of the interesting scenery is that side.

PENTAX Image

PENTAX Image

The train stops twice before returning. At the first stop, we took the Tour to a Chinese Temple. You walk back along the train tracks to the small Temple, beautiful in its presentation and feel. Make sure you wear appropriate shoes for this short walk, and bring a hat and sunglasses. It is really bright here and even this short walk is enough to drain you. Fortunately, there are refreshing towels when you return to the train.DSC_1038

After the Chinese Temple, we continued our journey further South to Papar, a small town wedged in the valley between Crocker Range and the coast. There is a great little park across from the train station for kids to run around, and further along are a few mini markets for ice-cream.

As we returned to the Station, we heard the whistle blow and saw the tell-tale steam rising overhead. Once again, refreshments served as soon as the train pulls out and a delicious Tiffin Set lunch was laid out before us.

The Steam Engine pulls you back the same way, so if you are sitting on the good side, you are still on the good side. If not, buddy up to the travellers in your carriage for a seat swap.

Couple of tips: Don’t bother being too early with kids – There is nothing else around the station and they will soon be bored. 9.30am is the best time to be there, grab good seats and grab a few photos.DSC_0964

S had a childrens ticket and N was complimentary. I was initially told that the seats are allocated with the tickets, but later learned (after watching others scrambling on for seats) that it was first in, best dressed. This left us sitting with all 4 at the same table, rather than 2 to a table like everyone else. Not a great problem (read: young/small kids) but it was noted and did effect the wait staff with service (often forgetting the extra food we were to have).
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Bring a little extra cash – any extra drinks bought on the train are charged at Resort rates.

Watch the gaps between the carriages and the platforms. 5yo just made it across.

It is an expensive splurge, but we enjoyed it as a whole family.