Month: April 2016 (Page 1 of 2)

Mulu National Park

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Home to some of the world’s largest cave systems, Mulu National Park is a must see for anyone visiting Borneo. Mulu is situated in the Sarawak half of Malaysian Borneo. Here it is on a map of Borneo:

Arriving in Mulu

I flew to Mulu from Miri with MAS Wings as that seemed to be the fastest and easiest way to get there. The flight cost less than 100RM. MuluĀ airport is tiny. Our plane was the only one there so it only took 5 minutes to get our bags. Outside the airport, local people were waiting in their cars to take tourists to the entrance to the national park for 5RM per person. It’s actually not too far from the airport to the national park entrance, so it’s possible to walk, although it may be difficult with large bags and the heat to contend with.

Once at the national park, I checked into the hostel, paid park fees and looked at the tours available for the next few days. I ended up booking tours for all of the show caves plus the canopy walk.

Show Caves & Bat Observatory

There are 3 tours of show caves in the national park: Clearwater/Wind Cave, The Fast Lane and Deer/Lang Cave. The first one I did was the Clearwater/Wind Cave. For this one, we met the tour guide at the park HQ at 8.45am. We then took a boat to a local village where it was possible to buy handmade goods from the villagers. We then took the boat to the caves. To get to the caves we had to walk up a few steps. The first cave we arrived at was Wind Cave. I thought perhaps it would be a little bit cooler in the caves but nope, it was still very humid, hence the reason I’m very sweaty in the picture below.

 

wind cave mulu national park malaysia borneo

A picture of a very sweaty me standing in the entrance to Wind Cave

We then went to Ckearwater Cave, where there is an underground river.

In the afternoon, we did the canopy walk. We’d booked it for 2pm and in all honesty it was far too hot at this time of day to fully appreciate it. I met people who did it near sunrise/sunset and they had a much better time.

In the late afternoon, I went to the bat observatory, in hope of seeing the bat exodus which occurs every evening from Deer Cave. I was lucky enough to see it and it was incredible. Over 3 million bats fly out of the cave taking around 30 minutes.

bats mulu deer cave borneo malaysia

Bats leaving Deer Cave

The following day, I went to the Fast Lane in the afternoon. Out of all the show caves I visited, this was the quietest as we were the only tour group there. It was possible to get close to bats in this cave. Our guide pointed out creatures in the cave like crickets, centipedes, spiders, crabs and swiftlets.

On my last day in Mulu, I went to Deer and Lang Caves, home to between 3-4 million bats. Deer Cave is huge and has a high ceiling, whereas Lang Cave has some interesting rock formations.

Tips for Mulu

  • If you’re on a budget (like me) stay in one of the homestay’s just outside of the national park. They’re cheaper and the facilities are nicer than the hostel in the national park.
  • Wifi can be purchased for 5RM/day at the park HQ. It’s not great wifi but will allow you to check emails/social media.
  • if you want to do any adventure caving, it’s recommended that you book in advance.
  • Restaurants outside of park HQ are a bit cheaper, although in general everything in Mulu is more expensive than the rest of Sarawak.
  • Don’t miss the Bat Exodus!

 

 

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The Philippine Experience – El Nido

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When visiting new countries, I love to learn more about the culture, whether through a city tour or a cooking class. By the time I arrived in El Nido, I’d been in the Philippines for over six weeks and hadn’t seen anything of the sort. Then I came across the Philippine Experience. It promised to be a day of fun Filipino experiences. I booked the tour through my hostel, Our Melting Point. Each tour requires a minimum of three people to run and in our case there were four people. The meeting point was outside Spyder Bar on the beach. Our tour guides introduced themselves to us and we headed to the market.

We took a tricycle to the market and the guides explained that Filipino families usually go to the market around 6am, so by 9am it shouldn’t be too busy. They were correct, it was clear that a lot of produce had already been bought. The guides told us what a regular weekly shop looks like and talked us through some of the items we may have found a little unusual in Europe. I enjoyed visiting the market, it was great to see fruit and vegetables of all shapes and sizes on sale instead of the uniform looking ones that are sold in the UK.

pineapples el nido philippine experience

Wall of pineapples – market El Nido

From the market we headed to the workshop, where we would be spending the rest of the day. To get there we did a mini trek through a forest. Our guide pointed out many different trees and plants which are useful in the Philippines. When we arrived at the village, we had fresh buko waiting for us, along with cold water and calamansi juice. The workshop area is spacious and has lots of information about the Philippines on the walls.

 

The guides had bought some fish from the market, so we were shown how to properly gut a fish and how to tell whether a fish is fresh. After, we went fishing. Only one of us was lucky enough to catch something – the vegan in the group. Typical.

We returned to dry land where we learned about coconuts. We cracked open some old coconuts, collected the juice, then grated the inside. The coconut shavings were then used to make coconut oil.

For lunch, we made chicken adobo. We were supposed to be having pork but the market had sold out because it was Easter weekend. The guides showed us how to make adobo and spoke about the different ways their families make it.

 

After lunch, we relaxed for 15 minutes before learning how to weave using coconut leaves. We made a couple of toys.

Once our lunch had settled, it was time to climb a coconut tree! There was a harness and helmet provided – an unusual feature in the Philippines. I didn’t climb the tree because I was in a lot of pain from falling off a motorbike the day before (more on that later!)

To end the afternoon we played some Filipino games and learned a traditional Filipino dance, topped off with some halo-halo, a Filipino dessert.

I had such a great time learning about Filipino culture. I wish I’d been able to do this, or something similar, at the beginning of my trip. The great thing about The Philippine Experience is that it’s suitable for any age group. Many thanks to Mark, Shay and the rest of the team!

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In Pictures: Borneo

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Someone once said that a picture says 1000 words, so based on that quote, here’s my favourite parts of Borneo.

1. The Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

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2. The Kinabatangan River

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3. Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei

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4. Mulu National Park

5. Kuching

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When I return to Borneo I’d like to climb Mt Kinabalu, visit Bako National Park and scuba dive on the east coast.

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Kuching Cat Museum – An Odd Place

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As soon as I heard about the Kuching Cat Museum, I knew I had to go. Here’s what other travellers had told me about it:

“It’s a bit niche”

“Only go if you really love cats”

“A little bit bizarre”

It sounded perfect.

The Cat Museum is not within walking distance of the other tourist attractions in Kuching, so I took a taxi there. It’s home is in a weird UFO shaped building.

I walked into the UFO building, to find the entrance to the cat museum through the mouth of a giant cat head.

entrance kuching cat museum borneo

Entrance to the Kuching Cat Museum

Entry to the museum is free but there is a fee of 3RM to take pictures on a mobile phone, or 4RM to take pictures on a digital camera.

The first thing I noticed was the giant statues of cats. They’re actually a bit creepy.

statues kuching cat museum

I moved onto the section about cats in Borneo. It was a goldmine of bad taxidermy.

bad taxidermy kuching cat museum

bad taxidermy kuching cat museum

 

bad taxidermy kuching cat museum

Next up, was the wall of 3D pictures of cats.

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All around was cat memorabilia in glass display cases. It was actually quite impressive how much cat memorabilia had been collected. Here’s one example of a display case. Notice Grumpy Cat in the bottom right corner.

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Other areas of the museum include; cats in literature, cats in theatre; cats in art and a cat food display (seriously).

You’d be mistaken for thinking that this museum was just a collection of cat memorabila; a few parts were educational. Like, for example, this poster which shows that you can tell the temperature of a room purely based on the way a cat is sleeping:

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The final part of the museum consisted of pictures of people with cat tattoos. Alongside this were the different kinds of cat tattoos available and their meanings.

Other notable mentions include: a room dedicated to a lady who collected cat memorabilia, the section about cat funerals and the wall of cat themed greetings cards and postcards.

The Kuching Cat Museum is probably the weirdest place I’ve visited so far on this trip. It’s a great way to spend 45 minutes in Kuching.

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THE KUCHING

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Island Hopping In El Nido

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I follow a few Philippine tourism accounts on Instagram, and I swear around half of their posts are of El Nido in Palawan. The pictures always show turquoise crystal clear waters and towering cliffs, so naturally I was excited to see this for myself. There are few flights which go directly to El Nido, so I flew to Puerto Princesa which took an hour from Manila. From Puerto Princesa to El Nido I took a van which cost 500PHP. Google Maps thinks it takes a little under four hours to get to El Nido. In actual fact, it takes around six hours.

Once in El Nido, there’s a lot of tour operators who basically all offer the same tour packages, A, B, C and D. From speaking to other backpackers, it seemed like A and C were the most popular. The hostel I was staying in (Our Melting Pot) also ran their own tours so I started with Tour A.

The meeting point was in the hostel at 9am, which gave me plenty of time to enjoy the free breakfast. Once on the boat, we were told there would be 5 stops. The first stop was Seven Commandos Beach, a white sand beach . The beach is quite large so although there were a lot of tourists, it didn’t feel busy.

seven commando beach el nido palawan philippines

Seven Commandos Beach

The boat spent around 40 minutes there, then headed for the next stop: Shimizu Island. The beach here was already full of boats by the time we arrived. Everyone got off the boat whilst the crew prepared lunch. There’s snorkelling to be done in this area but a lot of the coral is dead. We headed to the beach where lunch was served: salad, grilled chicken and fish.

The next stop after lunch was the Secret Lagoon. We headed over there and yet again, there were a lot of tourists. Only one person can go through the entrance to the Secret Lagoon at a time so there was a large queue at the entrance. Once inside, the lagoon does look great.

The fourth stop of the day was the Small Lagoon. This was my favourite stop because three of us hired a kayak and paddled around the lagoon. The water is beautifully clear. The water in this area is full of jellyfish which fortunately do not sting. Whilst in the kayak we got drinks, ice cream and a guy on a boat gave us a shot of rum to make us fully realise our dream of becoming pirates.

el nido palawan philippines small lagoon

Clear water in the Small Lagoon

 

The final stop of the day was at the Big Lagoon. Unfortunately it was low tide so there wasn’t another opportunity to kayak. This stop wasn’t as busy as the others, but I preferred the Small Lagoon.

Final Thoughts

I had a great time on Tour A and I felt that for 1300RM, the price was reasonable for such a touristy area. The downside was that each destination was crowded so sometimes it was difficult to fully appreciate the beauty of these places. It’s possible to hire private boats for a similar price (you’ll need a group of 10+ to make it cost effective) and they’ll take you wherever you want to go.

 

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