A Travellerspoint blog

Arrive home

I woke at 0530, half hour before my alarm. I let myself out of my aunt’s house and grabbed a taxi to Singapore's Changi Airport, getting there about 2h30 before my departure to Auckland. The arrival card butt must have fallen out from my passport after check-in and the immigration officer asked me to go out to look for it. I checked with another officer who told me it wouldn’t be a problem and processed me hassle-free (apart from a couple of questions just to checked I’m correctly matched up).

Once through passport control, I had enough time to shower in the lounge and grab a salad and dumplings.

I had been upgraded to Premium Economy at check-in but was upgraded again to Business at the gate. I was actually happy with Premium Economy being a daylight flight during which I won’t sleep, and besides that section was empty. Both are “space available” paid upgrades and I would have preferred to keep the money and be in Premium Economy.

After breakfast, I watched a few comedies but spent most of my time catching up on all my Borneo blogs. I only managed a 30 min lie down after the midflight snack service. The flight went very quickly but it was a relatively short flight time of 9h.

It was a very pleasant way to finish and I’m off to work on Monday. I’m so lucky to have done this trip, get a job immediately which takes me till March but still allows me time off for Xmas and Chinese New Year (and school reunion) trips.

Edit: It would have been a very pleasant end to the trip but we had some problems at the airport upon arrival. Priority baggage for business class passengers were delayed by a mechanical breakdown. Naturally I thought it was the unloading machine but when it went on for an extended period, I thought the aircraft cargo door had jammed. Surely, if it was the unloading machine, they could have moved it. As it turned out, it was the unloading machine. It had stopped unloading and couldn’t be shifted either. That resulted in my bag being placed on the carousel 90 mins after arrival. By that time a few more flights had landed and it was a further 20 minutes before I could exit the terminal. All the feel-good experiences onboard for the previous 9h went out the window.

Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

To the Garden City, Island State or Breakaway Republic


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My pre-ordered taxi turned up early so I got to the airport in good time. It allowed me some time in the lounge before boarding my short AirAsia flight to Singapore (the Garden City, Island State or Breakaway Republic).

In the airline’s usual fashion, we left early an arrived even earlier, around 20 minutes before our scheduled time. AirAsia has changed my life in the last 7 years or so. Despite being budget, staff are reasonably good as long as you don’t expect anything you didn’t pay for. I noticed they put extra arrival cards on the meal trolley in case people make mistakes; they seem to use their brains.

Before arrival into Singapore, it is common to have the “mandatory death sentence for drugs” announcement. Now, there’s one advising the prohibition on toy guns, swords, nunchuks, knuckle dusters etc. It seems to be silent on real guns!

As we exited the gate area, all passengers were directed to a special area where hand luggage were x-rayed. Quite unlikely they found any metallic contraband as we were all screened before departure.

I taxied to my aunt’s place for a 2n stay.

Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Back to civilisation


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large_5550_14474954813164.jpgGoodbye Mulu, hope it won't be 21 years before I come back
Today I head back to civilisation in Kuching [Kuching-travel-guide-1096915]. I relaxed in the morning before going to the airport at 1145 for my 1315 flight. I based my timing on walking there but the owner was available to take me for MYR5 in his pickup truck, so I did that.

Yeah, I had a little too much time at such a little airport. Wadering around the small public area, I noticed there was a Muslim prayer room. Quite an anomaly as this is largely a Christian area and most passengers are foreigners. But then, Malaysia (but not the Sarawak state) has Islam as its official religion.

I think I had acclimatised myself with five days of no aircon and felt a little cool in the departure lounge and on board the 1h35 ATR flight to Kuching. This actually continued for the next few days.large_5550_14474954852950.jpgGoodbye Mulu, hope it won't be 21 years before I come back

As we prepared for take-off, the safety video froze intermittently and then went caput. The crew picked up from exactly where the video left off and did a manual demo with life jackets. To me, it’s just a reminder that the Malaysia Airlines group is a respectable and safety-conscious company. In its entire history, it hasn’t had a single jet fatality that has been positively attributed to mechanical, technical or pilot error (despite MH380 and MH17).

It was a great idea coming back to Mulu [Mulu-travel-guide-1310203] after 21 years. It was good to see how the Park had blossomed into such an all-encompassing adventure destination. The Park HQ had been relocated away from the resort (now Marriott). But sadly, most guests are foreigners. It was disappointing to see that there were only 11 people on our flight back to Kuching.

If I learnt anything, it is that handrails are not to be touched or grabbed. At Mulu, it is home to spiders, hairy caterpillars etc. They’re simply to stop one from falling over!

I was lucky to get a cheap ticket to Mulu at MYR235 return when it could have cost over MYR600. Accommodation in hostels for 5n (incl hot breakfast), plus park fee cost MYR225. Three non-adventure outings cost MYR105 while the two adventure ones cost MYR290. Ten meals (including a few wines) and incidentals cost MYR230.

Total of MYR1080 including return airfare for a 6d/5n adventure-packed trip. Money well spent! I’m just pleased that I had brought enough money as many others didn’t know that there weren’t ATMs. They also didn’t realise that card payments would be so unreliable.

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Adventure Caving at Stonehorse cave


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large_5550_14474950599436.jpgMy accommodation outside the park.
I had breakfast at my hostel outside of the park with Gwen (male) and Denis, both from France. Denis is originally from Madagascar. As it was Sunday, the family owning the place was getting ready for church at St Philip’s. They all wore “Askar Allah” t-shirts, meaning Soldier of God, I guess as in the hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers”. While I like them maintaining the Christian usage of “Allah” (which is a political issue in Malaysia), I’m not too keen on the soldier bit when used by ANY religion.

The three of us went to Park HQ to check on whether we could do Racer cave (intermediate). I had been waitlisted for that. They couldn’t open up another trip there but offered Stonehorse (also intermediate) which we were assured was interesting enough with some rope work.large_5550_14474950874877.jpgMy accommodation outside the park.I was happy with that, and Gwen and Denis decided to sign up too.

I waited for the couple from KL who had invited me to join them on a trip to Long Langsat. I thought it was courteous to let them know that I couldn’t make it even though I had told them Long Langsat was my “Plan B”.

With Stonehorse in the afternoon, I had some time to kill. I walked to Paku Falls which took about 45 minutes on plankwalk then tracks. The trail continued to Mulu [Mulu-travel-guide-1310203] summit, which takes 4 days roundtrip. The falls were insignificant and I didn’t feel like getting wet for a swim. It was purely to fill in time; perhaps it would have been a waste of time if I hadn’t seen a couple of hornbills (one can hear the loud flapping of their wings) and some monkeys.large_5550_14474950827250.jpgMy accommodation outside the park; view from the back door.I headed back for lunch.

Getting to Stonehorse took about 40 minutes, largely on the same plankwalk that led to Deer Cave, but we took a flight of stairs up up up before reaching Deer Cave. We encountered a Forest Dragon (brown non-chameleon lizard) on the way.
The two French seemed to know a little about the harness, while the two Aussie girls, like me were completely new to it.

We walked into the unmarked and unfenced/ungated and unlit cave. It started with a walk that wasn’t too different from hiking on any old rocky hill. Then we came across a deep crevasse that wasn’t too wide. Some people could have jumped across it but I probably wouldn’t like to try. This was our introduction to using ropes and carabiners. We were told how to hook ourselves on with two carabiners and how to change over one carabiner at a time when we get to a secured point in the rope (to get to the next section of the rope).large_5550_14474950841571.jpgMy accommodation host and his family are wearing "Askar Allah" t-shirts to St Philip's for mass, being Sunday. Big cross on the other side of most t-shirts.

We then had a short steep descend using a knotted rope, whereby we were told to grab just above the knot. It’s simple common sense but with too many new things going on, I probably would have just grabbed anything.

We repeated our rope/carabiner skills on a narrow stone bridge which descended into the abyss on both sides. The headlamps on our helmets couldn’t illuminate the bottom. We then made our way across a ledge using rope/carabiner.
All that, when demonstrated by our guide Peter, resulted in horrified OMFG looks on most of our faces. In reality it was all quite easily done. I guess I have no fear of spiders, dark or heights, so it wasn’t a problem. My fear was of falling. It’s rather funny that one Aussie girl had a bad scrape from falling while doing her washing but she did everything otherwise unscathed.large_5550_1447495061290.jpgButtress root.

We sat briefly at our turnaround point and turned all our headlamps off to experience the complete darkness. It could not have been any darker as we couldn’t even see our fingers when held in front of our eyes!
Denis has a thing for creepy crawlies. Whenever Peter explained a new species to us, he would ask “Can I touch it?” Very amusing.

Again, I was happy with what I had accomplished today. New and exciting! It certainly beats just plain walking and climbing for 3 days going to the Pinnacles and back. Funny how things work out for the better when plans go wrong!
It rained heavily in the evening, delaying Gwen, Denis and myself from going to dinner at the Park HQ. It would be my last meal there and I will kinda miss the food and the social side.

It would also be my last of five nights without aircon. I had coped well with the humidity and felt sufficiently cooled by fan at night. Well, actually at my second accommodation the fan only worked till midnight as the generator runs from 1730 to 0000 only.

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Clearwater & Wind Showcaves


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large_5550_14474944135221.jpgLocals bathing in the river.
The park hostel had no bed for me tonight. Rather than move into the more expensive options there, I thought I’d move out and give some business to the locals. So I stored my luggage at the guardhouse before going on my Clearwater cave trip.

We set off by boat to Batu Bungan village, which is also walkable from Park HQ. There was craft for sale there by the Berawan people, including beautiful beadwork. What was more interesting was the informative panels on Orang Ulu of which the local Berawan are part of. They have six different levels of “we” depending on the level inclusiveness as opposed to Malay which has only two (including vs excluding the listener). English only has one?

The village had a new longhouse which hadn’t been occupied pending official opening by some big shot.large_5550_1447494417732.jpgGetting to the caves by boat.Hhmmm!

It was a short ride to Clearwater and Wind caves from Batu Bungan. We visited Wind cave first, accessed by plankwalk from the boat. It had some stalactites/stalagmites but they weren’t overly siginificant compared to what we had seen at Lang cave. Because the cave had an opening in the roof, there was a breezy spot which gave the cave its name. Perhaps it was that, and its proximity to Clearwater that caused it to be opened as a showcave.

We had a rest on a platform by the river. There was a red tail racer snake in the tree above. Then it was a long hike up lots of stairs to the opening of Clearwater cave where we were shown a mono-leaf plant that was unique to this cave. It isn’t found anywhere else in the park, state, country, continent or world!

We descended the long stairs into the world’s largest cave system (measured by volume) and proceeded to the clear gushing river which gave the cave its name.large_5550_14474944207772.jpgBatu Bungan village.There was a reasonably long plankwalk circuit which took us through the cave which also had lots of stalactites/stalagmites, finishing with a set of steps to another cave opening. This opening wasn’t anywhere as big or lush as the Garden of Eden at Deer Cave.

An interesting feature near the cave opening were the phytokarst. These are sideway growing needle-like formations influenced by bacterial action (the other feature influenced in a similar way is moonmilk which gives the caves a whitish coating).

Leaving the Clearwater cave, I told myself that I wouldn’t be prepared to the adventure version of the visit to this cave. They swim for 2km in the dark with headlamps. Lagang with crawling is fine and I was looking to doing something with ropes. Swimming in the dark in a gushing river is beyond my comfort zone.large_5550_14474944226466.jpgThe new longhouse at Batu Bungan.

We had time for a swim in the clear tannin-stained water of the Melinau river. I opted to stay dry but the Russians jumped at the opportunity. They operate caves north of St Petersburg in Ruskeala Mountain Park and this is their staff outing to learn more about how other caves are run. I think they picked a good one as the programmes at Mulu [Mulu-travel-guide-1310203] are very well run. The park authority seem to hire the best expertise from around the world; the present manager is Australian and the next is South African.

Back at Park HQ and after luch, I picked up my luggage and wandered out of the park in search of a bed for the next two nights. My last resort would be Mulu Backpackers (MYR25) by the airport but as soon as I wandered out, there was Mulu River View at MYR35 (including breakfast).large_5550_14474944251982.jpgHandicraft at Batu Bungan.It turned out I’d be in the hostel for the two nights all alone!

After resting and getting settled into my new home, I wanted to head back into the park to the Deer Cave entrance and bat observation post. The rain came and I waited till it cleared before setting off. Along the way, I saw a pygmy squirrel. I had better luck today and the three or so million of them spurted and dribbled out. I’m not sure but I had recollections of a more continuous stream from 21 years ago. Nevertheless I was happy to see them come out to feed this time, especially since I had prepared myself for seeing nothing due to the earlier rain.

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