With the different food, water and climate, everyone said I should expect to get sick when I came to Malaysia, especially in my first few weeks. I was very relieved to find my immune system working full force with not even a cold in my first few months here. In fact, the only sickness I did get was after eating at a high-end Chinese restaurant at the Hilton, not the local street food. So it was just my luck that I got a bout of bronchitis right before my four-day work/holiday trip to Kuching, Sarawak, East Malaysia.
I’d been looking forward to this trip for weeks, ever since I found out I was being sent for work with the chance to stay back and travel for a couple days after. When I started feeling a pressure on my chest and coughing a few days before, I thought it was a cold and my stance against encouraging a global immunity to antibiotics as a result of over prescription stupidly prevented me from going to the doctor beforehand. It wasn’t until my ear refused to pop for nearly a day after my flight and my voice started sounding like Barry White that I realized perhaps I was wrong…
After two days working, resting and drinking as much hot water as humanly possible, it was finally time for my weekend trip. Let me tell you, after waking up throughout the night with a hacking cough, feeling exhausted and feverish, I was not exactly in the best situation to go out exploring Sarawak. But I was also not about to give up my semi-free trip, so I loaded up on cold medicine, lozenges and tea and set out.
Let me just say, Sarawak is absolutely beautiful! It is much cleaner and less congested than KL, and there are green hills and jungles everywhere. Sarawak is one of two Malaysian states that make up East Malaysia on the island of Borneo, which also includes the country of Brunei and parts of Indonesia.
To start off our trip, Jullian and I rented a car and headed out to a crocodile farm where they have lots and lots of crocodiles, as well as cages of other cool animals. The farm was pretty cool. You get to see lots of crocs in cages, and at feeding time, you get to watch them jump in the air for their food. They also have cages of monkeys (like Rafiki), snakes and ponds of exotic fish to look at while you’re there. My highlight, however, was the baby monkey who escaped from her cage to give me and the rest of the tourists quite as a surprise as we were walking down to see the crocs…
Way better than the crocodiles, however, was the orang utan sanctuary at Semenggoh Nature Reserve. The reserve, along with another center, rehabilitates orphaned or displaced orang utans to send them back into the wild. At the reserve, you get to enter into the park at feeding times when the orang utans come back to eat (the plan is for them to eventually learn to get food on their own). It was amazing! I gotta admit, the first 50 minutes were a bit slow. The orang utans came down about 50 feet away to eat, and I was disappointed that they were so far. But in the last 10 minutes four orang utans came down to our side of the park, where they came within a few feet of us to get food from our park ranger. They were hilarious too, just swinging all over the trees and trying to steal food from our guide, even when he tried to turn them down. I absolutely loved watching them, and they had to practically drag me away from the park. It was definitely an incredible experience.
Aside from wildlife, Sarawak is also known as being a major cultural hub in East Malaysia, especially with lots of local aboriginal tribes that are different than the Malay-Chinese-Indian ethnic make-up of Peninsula Malaysia. In between the crocodiles and the orang utans, Jullian and I drove out to visit one of the tribes in a longhouse in the middle of the jungle. A longhouse is literally what it sounds like: a very long house, sort of. Mostly made from bamboo shoots, a longhouse is a very long community building where the
whole village lives. Individual families have their own doors and units, but the outside is like a very long porch which is a common area for everyone. We didn’t get to stay very long, but we got to walk along the building, chat with the people, and check out the skulls room (many tribes were known for headhunting, where it was a mark of honor for a man to take the head of another person. They then save the skull and get a tattoo).
The next day, we were able to learn more about the village we just saw at the Sarawak Cultural Village. Like Detroit’s Greenfield Village, the Sarawak Cultural Village is like a living museum where you get to walk through replicas of the homes of aboriginal tribes where characters dress in costume, perform local dances, traditions and crafts and talk to you about the history. It was fun, you get to see a very different kind of history than I’ve been exposed to and watch a very cool cultural dance show in the end.
One of my favourite parts of the trip, though, was just swimming in the South China Sea. Aside from a short trip to the beach at Port Dickson (not known as a very nice beach in Malaysia) this was the first real beach I’d been too while I was here. It was gorgeous! The beach was right next to the hills (or mountains? Can’t really tell the difference) so you can swim while watching the clouds descend into the trees. The water was fun too. Not exactly crystal clear, but the waves were pretty rough making them extra fun to jump into! The resort we stayed at was also pretty unique, we actually stayed in a tree house! Technically, it was a cabin on stilts that sits among the trees, but it was awesome. It came with its own bathroom and shower, air conditioning and a beautiful view of the beach and trees. The fact that the hot water was fickle and there was a creepy crawly shell/crab thing sharing the bathroom with us only added to its charm (sort of).
Now I’m back in KL on a sick day with a full course of antibiotics waiting for my body to recover. Less than three weeks until Thailand!