Borneo: monkey cruise

After my minorly mishap-ful first day in Borneo (ie getting off on the wrong island) I was excited to make sure Sunday went great. I headed out to the Sunday morning market with two Thai girls from my hostel who had climbed Mt. Kinabalu two days before; both were named Pear (Pair? Pare?) which I found amusing. One was more talkative and friendly, so I shall call her Pear1. Her friend was nice but seemed like she would have preferred if Pear1 hadn’t invited me to join them, so she gets to be Pear2. Pear1 actually studied abroad in the US for a year during highschool, in Minneapolis of all places. It was the only time I hung out with people from my hostel because they were leaving later that day, but it was nice to have someone to point things out to. I might have enjoyed the market a little more on my own though, just because it was packed so stopping to look at anything was a major hassle and I didn’t want to be annoying.

So many people!

So many people!

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I didn’t buy anything because none of it really struck my interest, but markets are always fun to peruse. And, as a bonus we found the laksa place I had read about by accident. It was absolutely packed so we did the Asian thing and asked a pair of women if we could sit at their table, then proceeded to pretend those woman didn’t exist. So strange, but when restaurants get packed people do weird things. The laksa was delicious, as it always is. Pear 1 and 2 shared a bowl but I polished one off all on my own (it wasn’t even that much food…)


Back at the hostel I said goodbye to the pair of Pears and headed up to my room to slather on sunscreen and bugspray for my monkey river cruise in the Klias Wetlands. I was picked up outside the hostel and driven in a small bus to a larger bus. The tours I went on in Vietnam had terrible buses so the napa-wine-tour quality vehicle was a great step up, and even better than that the ride was two hours instead of the torturous Halong bay four. I took bus selfies and read along the way.

We arrived mid afternoon at a muddy brown river bordered by a couple houses. Our guide gestured for us to clamber aboard some motor boats, and we gently puttered downstream. It was a nice juxtaposition to the bone jarring speedboat ride from the day before. The boats were slightly jank and the river was very shallow, meaning our ‘captain’ had to periodically lift the motor out of the water and detangle random gunk that got stuck in it. We made it, despite the gunk issues, and while we waited for the boats to be prepared (whatever that means, they were the same boats we floated up in and appeared untouched when we reboarded a few minutes later) we were treated to brown sugar sticky rice and banana fritters with tea, so I’m not complaining. I loaded up because I figured it would be a long time before dinner and I’m never happy when hungry.

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Finally we got to start the actual river cruise, the reason we were there. We scootched back onto the same boats and headed back up the tributary we had come down to get to the ‘base camp.’ We emerged onto the main river and headed off in search of monkeys. We would quietly motor along in our two boats until one of us spotted an animal on one of the shores, at which point our captains would maneuver us as close as possible so we could get a look. The main target was the proboscis monkey, a kind near to my heart because of how they remind me of elephant seals what with the big floppy nose on adult males (hence the name). While I never got a super close up look (although I did borrow a friendly cruiser’s binoculars at one point to see a family of them) I loved being out in the wetlands and seeing the monkeys where they belonged rather than in a zoo.

We also saw long tailed macaques, although they are very common and so were less exciting. They actually are so prolific the Malaysian government has no restrictions on killing them because it helps to quell a potentially massive population. Still, monkeys! We also spotted a lizard and then drifted into a herd of water buffalo cooling off after a hot day. From the name I had pictured them as something akin to the bison I saw in Yellowstone, but they look very much like dark brown cows with bigger noses. Unfortunately we saw them well into dusk so I have only really truly terrible photos of them. I saw herds of fruit bats (herds? flocks? families?) flapping away overhead, apparently it was migration season for them. They weren’t dense enough groupings to do anything so dramatic as block out the sky (or even a bitty portion of it) which was a relief because ew, bats. But from a safe distance below it was awesome to see the silhouettes of 20 or so bats heading somewhere (?) as outlines against the sky. Our last animal experience (besides the mosquitos) was with fireflies, something I’ve never seen before. They stuck to the trees so our guide staccatoed (not a verb, oh well) his flashlight to make them glow brighter. It was like seeing natural christmas tree decorations.


Proboscis monkey

Proboscis monkey


long tailed macaque

long tailed macaque

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I had an interesting chat with the guide about college in Malaysia and how his family disowned him because he didn’t like hunting, so he became a naturalist. He was a very nice guy with a lot of information about every species we saw and a really unfortunate rattail.

We puttered back to base camp for dinner in pitch black under a crazy number of stars and then ate some pretty delicious food before we headed back to the buses. The rest of the night was uneventful and I got back to my hostel utterly exhausted. That cruise was definitely the highlight of the trip.

Sorry about the length between Borneo posts, I had some pretty big assignments and then my sister Taylor came for a visit (!) so that took up a lot of time. Oh, and I got sick. yaaaay. My illness meant I couldn’t show Taylor around in quite the style I had imagined, so instead of hanging around Singapore she headed to Thailand a few days early. The gave me the chance to lie in bed for two days and do nothing, so I have recovered enough to not cancel my big trip: tomorrow I join Taylor in Chiang Mai for 5 days and then head straight to Bali (with a hop over to the Gili Islands) for 6 more! I just finished my last essay of the semester and am packing fluid mechanics to study while traveling, finals are only two weeks away after all. And then I head home! I don’t want to leave SEA but I do want to go home, if that makes any sense, so I think I’m ready to be back in the US.

I’m going to try posting small things from my phone during this trip but hostel wifi can be terrible and iphone keyboards are annoying, so don’t hold your breath.


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