Peninsular Malaysia

Two weeks ago we took an overnight bus from southern Thailand to southern Malaysia. With little sleep, we were dropped off at 4:30 AM amongst the sleeping bums on central square in Malaysia’s capital city, Kuala Lumpur! Hello big city! What a shock after being on a small island for a week. Fortunately, we found a 24 hour internet cafe and were able to do some much needed trip planning. We purchased airline tickets for Kota Kinabulu, Sabah on the island of Borneo!! We are flying there in 4 days! We also took a step out of our usual nature focused itinerary and stayed in the city for a few days! I really don’t like big cities, but this one was not that shabby. Surprisingly, it was not dirty nor stinky.We took advantage of all the amennities a big city has to offer and did some shopping for necessities like deodorant, toothpaste, contact solution and travel guides. We were also pretty excited to find a vast array of food options. We  toured Little India where I finally got a taste of real Indian food! I Love Indian food and we didn’t get sick! Big bonus! We had fresh chiapatti (it’s like a tortilla), dahl (pureed lentil soup) and aromatic curries, all served on a banana leaf. A local Indian taught us how to eat with one hand and seemed to be very impressed at how many chiapatti Ryne could eat. I was surprised at the culture  diversity here, about 70% of the population is Malay, 7% Indian and 7% Chinese. Most Malay are Muslim, which means most towns have morning and nightly chantings, generally over a loud speaker. These are not so welcome at 5AM!

The city had a fabulous botanical garden, aviary and nature preserve. Also, a pretty impressive (or oppressive) skyline of tall buildings. THis is also where we first met and fell in LOVE with Asia’s most delicious fruit: the Durian! Durian looks like a cross between a hedgehog and a soccer ball. It has big seeds with rich yellow creamy pulp around them. The taste is so different that it’s hard to describe, but to me it tastes like a rich, creamy, sweet custard and smells like strong red onions. The smell is so potent that some places band the fruit from entering their place.

We have visited three natural areas in Peninsular Malaysia: Kuala Selangor Nature Park, Bukit Frasier and Taman Negara, Malaysia’s premier national park. We have had an amazing time trekking around the rainforest and have had many jaw-dropping experiences.

Kuala Selangor is located on the west coast of Malaysia. A few decades ago the area was a vast swath of Mangrove forest, but now all that remains is a small nature park that is a couple square kms in size. We stayed in a “Chalet”, which was really a small cabin inside the reserve. The area abounded with widelife. In addition to the sixty or so species of birds, we saw huge monitor lizards, Dog-faced Water Snakes, a Mangrove Pit Piper, Silvered Leaf Monkeys, Smooth-Coated Otters, Common Palm Civet, 70 or so species of birds and a huge variety of crabs. The small fiddler crabs were particularly stunning, coming an many glorious colors from pinks and yellows to reds and blues. We did a night trip a long a river to see an incredible firefly display. The trees along the river would flash in perfect synchrony with thousands of fireflies, just like Christmas lights!

Bukit Fraser is located in the mountaneous interior of Malaysia and it gave us a great chance to escape the sweltering heat. We stayed for six days and it was very hard to leave. Very different from anywhere we traveled before this place is a high-end colonial style British town with many historical hotels and stone cottages. The whole area around the town is a protected area and there are numerous hiking trails through the moss cladened rainforest. The birds were a real treat here. We saw 90 species during our stay and were treated with excellent looks at Fire-tufted Barbet, Blue Nuthatch, Silver-Eared Mesia and Blyth’s Hawk Eagle. The area didn’t disapoint us for mammals either with the star of the show being the Siamang Gibbons, which called every morning. The large monkey has an expandable throat pouch that enables in the produce a very load “hoot.”

Taman Negara (Malay for National Park) is a 4,000 sqaure kilometer wilderness in the middle of the Malay peninsula. This is the only sizeable patch of forest left in a country that has basically been converted to palm oil plantations. We stayed there for the past week. In stark contrast to our stay at our luxurious bed n breakfast in Bukit Fraser, we set off on our own into the jungle for 6 days bringing in all of our food and camping equipment. The jungle was packed full of wildlife although most creatures were very difficult to see, which is pretty typical in the jungle. We managed to see a huge variety of birds, about 130 species. Birding highlights includes 7 species of Hornbills (Helmeted and Rhinocerus were the most exciting), 16 types af Babblers and 12 spp of Bulbuls. We visted a cave full of bats and saw a couple Cave Rat snakes and we even got a quick glimpse of a juvenile King Cobra! One great thing about tis park is the presence of 6 wildlife veiwing hides (bumbuns in malay) which you can camp at. We took full advantage of this and visited all 6 during out stay. Deer are mostly seen from the hides, but if you are lucky you could see wild cats, tapir or civiets. We saw deer (sambar, barking, greater mouse deer) and tapir.

 

Koh Tarutao National Park

We returned from paradise today. We spent the last 5 days on an uninhabited tropical island off of the Indian coast of southern Thailand! Koh Tarutao is one of the islands that makes up Tarutao National Park and from 1938 – 1946 it was where political and common prisoners were kept! At one time over 3,000 prisoners were on the 152 square km island. About 1/3 died of malaria or malnutrition. They were punished in severe ways, like 10-15 consecutive days in the hot sun or marching in place with a heavy anchor. A little spookey, but thanks to the prison, the island still has pristine tropical rainforest, and no resorts, which means hardly no tourists! If you want peace and quiet and a tropical white sand beach to call your own, then this is the place to go.
The island was full of wildlife. We saw 50 species of birds (highlights: white bellied sea-eagle, ruddy kingfisher, pacific reef egrets), 10 species of mammals (highlights: crab-eating macaques, langur monkeys, wild pigs, giant black squirrels, smooth coated river otters and lesser mouse deer!), 1 snake, 4 frogs and 5 lizards.
Tonight we are taking a bus to Malaysia.