Friday, 7 February 2014

Borneo to Koh Phi Phi

Time has been going incredibly quickly but at the same time home feels like a long time ago. We’ve been away almost a month, and have been to Borneo and then Koh Phi Phi and Tonsai in Thailand. Tonsai is where we are now and will be for one more week. It has taken me all this time to get around to writing something down. Here are the highlights from our first couple of weeks in Borneo and then Koh Phi Phi.

We started in Borneo, where we planned to spend a week at the start of the trip before heading to Thailand for some longer stays at some of the climbing areas. Cat really wanted to visit Mount Kinabalu and see some Orangutans. I hadn’t heard of Kinabalu before we started planning the trip, but I gather it is fairly well known for the British Army expedition that had an epic making the first descent of Low’s gully. Low’s gully runs from the top of Kinabalu and consists of steep cliffs and dense jungle. I haven’t yet read Kinablu Escape, so I don’t know all the details, but I think that roughly, Low’s gully was a bit too gnarly for the team who ended up getting lost, separated, and some of them spending weeks in the jungle before getting rescued. I’d been trying to convince Cat that we should descend via Low’s gully, but she’s was being non-committal.

KK Night market

After Turkish airlines made a last minute change to our flight times that added an extra day onto our journey, we eventually arrived in Kota Kinablalu, the Capital of Sabah (Malaysia’s half of Borneo). We really liked KK for the lovely, smiley people, amazing night market food and you can get to some cool islands in about ten minutes by speedboat. After taking some time out to recover from travelling and rushing around before leaving the UK, we headed to Sepilok to check on the orangutans. This is about 6 hours east of KK and there is an orangutan rehabilitation centre, apparently one of only four places in the world where orangutans can be seen in the wild. The sanctuary is situated in the rain forest and cares for orphaned or injured orangutans, usually hurt when the tree they’re in is cut down. It was nice to see the orangutans, they’re not far from human… and they’re also gingers.

Mother and baby orangutanFlexible orangutan

After our brief stay in Sepilok we went to go and look into making a descent of Low’s Gully. Kinabalu was halfway back to KK and we found somewhere to stay just outside the park gates. There’s apparently quite a bit of climbing around the summit area on granite towers. Since we were travelling light, we weren’t really equipped to go exploring the climbing but we were keen to take a walk to the summit. From the park gates at 1,800m it’s only about 8.5km to the summit at 4,095m, so it’s fairly steep! It’s normal to walk up in two days, doing about two thirds on the first day, staying at Laban Rata (some mountain huts), and then finishing on the second day. The park will also let you walk up in a day if you want to and, being cheapskates and not wanting to pay to stay at the very expensive mountain hut (385RM for a noisy dorm room for the night versus our double room in a friendly guesthouse at the bottom for 80RM), this is what we decided to do. We hired a guide to walk with us, which is a requirement of the Park Authorities, and we had a young guy called Eddie who did the walk most days of the week and had initially worked as a porter carrying loads up to the mountain huts.

On a boat near KKCocktails at Koh Phi Phi

We weren’t very lucky with the weather while we were in Borneo and we had neglected to notice that we were going in the monsoon season so it rained heavily most of the time. This included the day we were walking up Kinabalu. Most of the time it was drizzly but by the time we got the huts at about two thirds of the way it was raining more heavily. Eddie checked with a ranger and told us that we couldn’t carry on to the summit because it was too wet. We didn’t mind about descending summitless - it was impossible to see anything through the swirling rain and mist, we were soaked and the walk was like an endless staircase and an afternoon drying out while reading felt awesome. However, we did sadly miss out on Low’s Gully (much to Cat’s relief…) although we saw some interesting wildlife, including carnivorous plants and a squirrel that attacked Cat.

Carnivore plantSoaked on Kinabalu

After a couple more days of pottering around KK it was time to move on the Thailand and we flew to Phuket via KL. We stopped the night in Phuket and then caught a ferry to Koh Phi Phi. We planned to stay a few days on Koh Phi Phi, before continuing to Tonsai. Koh Phi Phi is an amazingly beautiful island, but has become overdeveloped as a result. I haven’t been to Ibiza, but I image it might be a bit like Koh Phi Phi. We had a few really good days here though, there are some good and cheap places to stay and eat, we did some snorkelling, took a boat trip, did some walks and a bit of climbing. In search of snorkelling spots, a boat trip took us to Maya Bay on the neighbouring island of Koh Phi Phi Ley which is famous for being used in The Beach film. When we got there it was hard to see the beach through all the speed boats and longtails lining up. Needless to say it was very, very crowded and I didn’t think it was as nice as Porth Ceiriad anyway. We ate some deep fried chicken and a magnum and left.

Swimming at Koh Phi Phi LeyMaya Bay

It was sad to see an area called Monkey Bay on the way back to Koh Phi Phi Don – the main island where we were staying. Lots of boats were going in so that tourists could take a closer look at the monkeys, some boatmen throwing bananas and tourists following suit with full water bottles, so that they could get a picture of the monkeys drinking from them before discarding the bottles into the Andaman Sea. A large sign on the cliff above the bay heralded that we should ‘Keep Phi Phi Clean’, ‘Don’t Feed The Monkeys – It’s For Their Own Good’ and suchlike.

A couple of afternoons were spent cragging – there’s some good climbing on the island and we headed to Ton Sai Tower for lots of F6’s and onto Drinking Wall for F6/7’s. Not many routes on Drinking Wall, but what there is, is really good if you manage to find the crag through the jungle.

Faling to find Drinking WallThirsty monkey at Monkey Bay

Now it’s time to get some breakfast and endure another day of climbing at Tonsai…

No comments:

Post a Comment