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An Adventure in Borneo and Malaysia

The Union StaffOrangutans stop at a feeding platform in Sandakan, home of an orangutan sanctuary.
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There is no other place like Borneo! The weather is 80-90 degrees all year, rain most every day and lots of rain forests, offering a very tropical paradise.

We were hosted in deluxe hotels, offering a buffet breakfast daily, with Malaysian, Chinese and American dishes. Our tour also included five lunches and six dinners. Some were at the hotels, others at Chinese seafood restaurants.

The currency is called “Ringgit,” the money exchange was 3.80-3.76 to one U.S. dollar, but that can change daily.



The local street shops like the U.S. dollars. Hotels and better department stores want Ringgits and cashier’s checks.

We had no problems with immigration or customs, but a passport is a must. We had ours stamped four times.




Our international flight left from Los Angeles at 1 a.m., with first-class service on Malaysia Airlines for approximately 19 hours.

After arrival in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capitol, we made a connection for a short flight to Kuching, the gateway to the legendary island of Borneo. We went through immigration, collected our luggage and cleared customs. We met up with our tour escort and the rest of our group. The escort traveled with us from this point on, supervising all aspects of the tour, which involved several flights to other points.

Kuching is nestled on the banks of the Sarawak River. The next day we set out to discover the charms of this captivating city that was established by Sir Games Brooke, the first rajah of the Province of Sarawak.

We viewed buildings dating back to the days of the white rajahs, ancient Chinese temples, and colorful markets displaying the produce that first brought traders to Borneo. We visited the Sarawak museum and saw an excellent collection representing Borneo’s history.

The following day we went by boat to Babo National Park, one of the best places to see wildlife in natural surroundings. We encountered silver leaf monkeys that are really mean. We were told not to smile or look them in the eye. If they see your teeth, it shows a fret to them. There was also lots of macaques, a monkey found chiefly in Asia and the East Indies. Also common in the area are deadly viper snakes, no bigger then your big thumb, about 11 to 12 inches long, and green with a yellow stripe that blends in with the foliage. They are very hard to see. Wild boars, lizards and numerous species of birds, also make the rain-forest their home.

The highlight of our trip was a visit to the Batang Ai Reservoir. Our journey took us through rural pepper gardens, cocoa and rubber plantains, and palm oil plantains.

When we arrived at Batang, we proceeded by boat to our unique resort hotel, the Hilton Long house. There are no roads in, only the water route. The tide was low, leaving us with about 100 steps to go up to the hotel.

The following day we went by motorized long boat up the lake to visit an authentic long house. This is a unique way of living, in that the whole village is built under one roof. The long house originated in the time of head hunters, when people lived under one roof out of a need for safety and protection.

Our boat ride was one hour and 20 minutes. The long boats are 20 feet long and 2 feet wide at the top, tapering down at the bottom to approximately 11/4 feet wide. This holds six people – the driver, a lookout and four other people sitting on wooden seats, one in front of the other.

We stopped to visit a school, taking gifts for the children. They board all week, and go home to their village on Friday afternoons. Their ages range from 7 through 12 years. The only way for them to get back and forth is by boat.

When we reached the long house – where 14 families lived – we experienced the legendary area hospitality and learned about the fascinating culture and customs. We met the head man and his family; he is the one who sets the rules for the other families.

The long house was approximately 10 feet off the ground and built on stilts. Each family had their own quarters – one main room and a kitchen off to the side, no privacy whatsoever. They sleep on mats, which are folded up during the day, and all their cooking is done over an open wood fire.

We were invited to have lunch with them, which consisted of chicken and sticky rice cooked in bamboo, and mixed vegetables. We were introduced to a new vegetable called “fiddle head firn.” It looks very much like stems from a plant after the leaves have been stripped off. The meal ended with fresh fruit. This meal was served on the floor of the enclosed hall in front of their living quarters. We sat on bamboo mats, with the food laid out on the floor. After lunch, we were treated to some dances by the locals and invited to join them in their dance.

Our next flight took us to Sandakan, home to one of only four remaining orangutan sanctuaries in the world.

This is where captive orangutans are reintroduced into the wild. They even have a rehabilitation program. We stopped at their feeding platform where the orangutans were fed fruit and milk.

We saw females with the babies clinging to them. Each orangutan had a name. One of them, Patrick, was with our group. He wanted to mingle, but the ranger made him move back. He obeyed, but expressed his resentment by knocking over a short post, picking up a short piece of wood about 21/2 feet long and throwing it off the deck. He put on quite a show.

We took a ride into the countryside and went to a village where we met with descendants of a famous headhunter and saw a collection of skulls.

We at last had a day of leisure to enjoy our luxurious hotel, explore at our own pace, and do some shopping. We ended our day with a sumptuous dinner at a Chinese seafood restaurant and a native performance.

Upon returning to Kuala Lumpur, we were taken on a city and country tour. This is a very big and most beautiful city. We went up to the 42nd floor and was able to go out on the twin bridge between buildings.

The main sources of income for the country are palm oil, rubber, pepper, and lastly, tourism, which amounts to only about 3 percent of the economy resources.

Malaysia is made up of 13 states. Its population is 10 percent lower class, 60 percent middle class, and 30 percent upper class. We believe it to be a very safe place because there is hardly any crime, due to strick laws. For instance, if anyone is caught with more then 15 grams of drugs, its an automatic sentence of death by hanging. Being caught with firearms also results in death by hanging. Rape or stealing can get a person up to 19 years in jail, plus 6 to 12 lashes with the cane, one lash at a time. The wounds from one lash are allowed to heal before receiving the next lash, and at the same time the person is still in jail.

After 15 days our regular tour ended, and eight of us took a flight to Penang Island. There we enjoyed a three-night extension and relaxed in a tropical paradise in a deluxe beachfront “Shangri-La” hotel, the Golden Sands Resort.

After 18 days, we once again boarded a plane and made our trip back to Los Angeles, and then on home.

Bonnie Hocking lives in Grass Valley.


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