Day 390 to Day 404 – Kuala Lumpur to Brunei

Riding back in to Kuala Lumpur felt like entering a metropolis compared to the mountains and smaller towns of the last couple of weeks. I could get anything here. I dropped my shorts off to be repaired, did some laundry and bought some new cables all within 5 minutes of the hostel. I found a gigantic electronics mall not far away, 5 floors of gloriously nerdy shops selling everything electrical. I got myself a new camera since my phone camera had cracked, producing washed out sparkly photos of everything. My Laptop needed a new power cable too, the other had melted a few days before, nearly setting my room on fire, sparking and spluttering everywhere, thanks India.

Last time at Sunny Cycles. Life savers of hundreds of Overlanders over the years

There was a few more bits to do on Donkey too, back at Sunny’s motorcycle garage. An oil change, clean the air filter and fit my replacement chain oiler that they sent for free all the way from Scotland! Then it was time for me and Donkey to part for a while. I rode out of town to Port Klang and through the ginormous port, it feels like a small city. The gate guard let me in and gave me a slew of directions, which I instantly forgot. I figured it couldn’t be that hard to find the shipping office and promptly got lost. Thankfully a guy working with the shipping company spotted the confused foreigner riding around the port and led me the right way. I handed the keys over to a random dude with a badge and left. Hoping I’d see Donkey again on the other side.

I finally got to watch one of these things in action up close

I flew out to Kota Kinabalu and started my wait for Donkey. I tried to plan a few days of sightseeing to kill the time; I’d had the idea of climbing Mount Kinabalu, the main tourist activity around here, but when I found out it drops below freezing up there and I didn’t even have a pair of full length trousers I thought better of it. A little day out to one of the islands was nice, wandering alone through a some jungle feeling like an adventurer, only to come upon a beach covered in litter. The next few days of tropical rain and a spat of toothache kept me hemmed in to the hostel and watching movies with a fellow traveller.

Wandering through the jungle

By the time I got the message Donkey had arrived to the port I was going crazy. I shot straight over to try and speed up the release process. Just 5 days not travelling and moving feels like a lifetime to me now. I walked over and found a guy sitting on the steps with a huge box of car keys. He saw me coming and knew who I was straight away. It seemed all the guys knew about Donkey and his GB license plate, no doubt they’d had a lot of fun riding him on and off the boat. He grabbed the keys out of the box before I’d even said hi and greeted me like I was famous.

I wasted no time after that, I wanted some adventure, it had been a while since I felt like I was in the wilds, Malaysia and Thailand rarely feel like the back of beyond. I packed up at the hostel and hit the road about 2pm. It felt very odd, I always get on the road in a morning or not at all, setting out with only 4 hours before Sunset was a new one. I shot up the coast, heading for the North Point, 4 hours away, racing against the sun to get find a camp spot before it got too dark to see.

“London – 11,182Km” WRONG. It took me way more than that….

I arrived perfectly on time. I rolled up to the sign marking the Northern most point of Borneo just as the sun was hitting the horizon. It was stunning, 270 degrees of ocean and a gorgeous sunset. I got a few snaps of the sunset, and some guys got a few snaps with me and Donkey once they saw realised we ain’t from round these parts.

The sun sunk and the darkness began creeping up and I realised I hadn’t found a camp spot yet. Just down the road was a police station next to a big stretch of beach and grass lining it. I asked them if I could camp around here, they thought I meant “was it safe to camp there”, I was just asking for permission. They told me they’d keep an eye on my bike and tent in the night and it should be safe. I didn’t stay to explain that’s not what I meant, it’s a nice gesture. It’s always a balancing act, some countries you don’t want the police to know anything about you, they ask questions, they’re confused, they give you problems. Other times, they’re insanely helpful, community leaders and your best chance at solving a problem. Tonight they’d be guarding me from the horrors of the beach. As far as I could tell I’d be the scariest thing anyone could come across.

He’s such a poser

I stuck up the tent just as it got too dark to see what I was doing, got changed and rode back down the lane a little to a restaurant I’d seen. A nice surprise to find it run by a bloke from Scunthorpe. He recommended a nice beer, knocked up a good meal and gave a bunch of tips for the next days ride. Insects completely peppered my helmet on the ride back to the tent, it was pitch dark and my headlights attracted them all directly to my face.

There was a huge thunderstorm a few miles off, lighting up the sky constantly and silently. I thought I was in for a rough night, it was too warm to put the cover on the tent, but that meant if there was a downpour I’d be soaked before I even woke up. I left the tent cover pegged and tucked under one end of the tent, ready for a spectacular throw over when the rains came. I woke up dry and happy in the morning though. By the sunlight I could see what a beautiful spot I’d found. Right on the beach, miles of it all to myself. A joy to wake up to.

Good Morning Borneo

I got off to an early start after a little paddle on the beach, with nothing open for breakfast I just pootled along, peaceful and happy, riding through the jungle. The road just wound on, through small towns now and again but mostly through nothing but thick green jungle. The restaurant owners advice didn’t disappoint, he pointed me to the quiet roads with the best views. It opened out to some stunning views at times, looking out over miles of jungle to Mount Kinabalu and the ranges behind.

These views genuinely stop me. I just pull up and take them in a while

The road got pretty dodgy as the day went on. The tarmac was near perfect, letting me barrel along at 70mph but had kind of “sunk” in places. Meaning the road would suddenly drop a foot, then rise back up again but appear to b perfectly flat. The first one of these caught me off guard and jumped me, high. The rear wheel spun up, engine revving high as the tyre left the road. Thankfully I landed straight and, after cleaning out my underwear, could ride on a little more cautiously watching for the lines at the side of the road for slight deviations marking another jump.

I arrived in Sukau in awe. I’d been riding around Jungle all day but this village was set in the thick of it, right by the river leading into the real deep stuff. The village is a famous for wildlife spotters, David Attenbrough has visited a few times, trying to catch sight of wild Orangutans, Pygmy Elephants and some more unique creatures that only live in the thickest of Borneo’s jungle. That’s why I’d come, hoping to spot an Orangutan in the wild. It’s fairly rare but I’d heard here is just about the best chance in the world if you’re lucky.

I’d managed to arrive at the hostel just an hour before a boat tour was leaving so I got changed and hopped straight on. It was a very basic place this little village, no internet, no working Air-con and one small, under stocked store to buy food from. As romantic as a week in the jungle sounds there is not a great deal to do, or eat.

That boat was full of large cranky old Americans, we found them hilarious

The boat tour was pretty incredible, in a little 10 seat, narrow wooden boat, floating down the river with thick jungle on each side. Me and the other 6 tourists keeping our eyes peeled for any movement. Our guide was obviously a pro. He would be pointing out monkeys in the trees, then having to spend 5 minutes with a laser pointer guiding us to what he’d been able to see while driving the boat. Monkeys everywhere, a few exotic birds but no Orangutans unfortunately. Apparently it’s much more common early in the morning.

Many Monkeys

I spent the evening chatting to the other people in the hostel, we’d chatted and had a laugh on the boat tour and were all getting along over dinner. It’s getting more and more difficult to convince people about the trip. Saying “I rode here from the UK” no longer works. “Oh you shipped your bike to Borneo and rode here?”. I have to give the long version, listing a few countries before it sinks in. Then they stare open mouthed for a second before they start their questioning.

We all gathered again at 5.30am for breakfast before the tour, downing a cup of coffee and some sugar to make sure we could open our eyes enough for wildlife spotting. We blasted by a lot of the jungle from the night before and went straight to a couple of spots the guide said there had been sightings in the days before. The guides from all the hotels around the village are in a kind of club and keep a tally of where there have been sightings so they all have the best chance of success with their tour. They really do want to show the best they can, not just get their money and ferry tourists up and down the river.

These dudes! Chilling on the way home

A lot more monkeys, and a lot of different breeds, interesting, but getting old after a hundred of them. Floating down a very narrow channel of the river, with jungle looming over either side was amazing, spotting things high in the trees above. Then we got lucky. The guide stopped the boat and turned about, we all peered through the trees and could just about see an Orangutan high up, minding it’s own business, enjoying breakfast. It was pretty special, there aren’t many of these animals left in the wild and this jungle is being protected specifically because of these animals and a few others like them, the encroaching palm plantations and their very rich owners are a constant threat though.

Orangutan! The little blob up there

We carried on down the river, following a few other boats, leaving some behind for their viewing of the days find. Through a very open section of the river almost clogged with flowers and reeds but no luck in spotting any more. In fact we got very unlucky. We returned down the small channel to news that not 2 minuets after we had left, a group of pygmy elephants weren’t just seen, they walked down the bank and crossed the river right in front of the few boats watching the Orangutan. Their deep footprints were still fresh in the mud at the banks. Oh well.

Dudes running the hostel and tours, that’s the boat driver on the bike.

Just as I was packing up to leave after breakfast a guy rode up on a black Kawasaki and introduced himself. He’d notice the GB plate on Donkey and come to say Hi. He had done the same trip some years ago on his bike, and when he got to Borneo just sort of stopped. He lives here now, he liked it, so he stayed. We were both going the same way out of town toward the city so we had a nice ride for a couple of hours. He was blasting ahead on his sport bike. I have no idea how he rode that thing thousands of miles overland. Even a minor speed bump looks like it would ruin your day. But, as with me and Donkey, he wouldn’t change it for the world, and he goes riding around Borneo on it for a little holidays.

My Orangutan sightings weren’t done there though. I headed to Sandakan and the Orangutan sanctuary. I’d done my research and decided this was the best place to see them, the place least likely to be exploiting them for tourists, partly because it was cheap and therefore barely making money, and partly because it’s an open sanctuary, the Orangutans are free to come and go as they please. They heal the sick and hurt and nurture orphans while letting them integrate in the wild.

Sunbears! This guy was scratching his back Baloo style

I spent hours there. It was mesmerising, there wasn’t just the odd sighting, there were entire families playing and eating in the playground, with Macaques sneaking in to steal food and dodge the swipes of the older apes. The babies were getting the hang of swinging around and playing while the elders watched on, munching on Banana, mango and all sorts strewn out by the handlers.

There was a constant flow of adults, throwing their kids a few things and guarding from Macaques

The walkways around the centre wound around through jungle and, being an open sanctuary, meant there were occasional Orangutan and Human meetings. An amazing but slightly dodgy experience, given they can rip your arms off without thinking about it if they don’t like the look of you. Generally though most are used to, and slightly wary of, humans. One guy did get chased down the walkway by one who was particularly interested, as soon as he started backing up it came on faster. No doubt the Orangutan was laughing with his mates at the stupid human running away. I got my own close encounter when one walked right past me, the ranger 100m away telling me to stay still one minute then move the next, then stay still again, unsure what to do with one a meter away from me. It couldn’t care less though, wandering along the fence barely glancing at me. Rude.

“‘Sup biped”

Another beautiful ride on the winding roads almost back the way I’d come toward Kota Kinabalu. I didn’t want to head all the way back in to the city though so I headed for a “Mountain Lodge” at the foot of Mount Kinabalu I’d seen on the map. It was a long ass day, I’d been up at 5am for the morning boat tour now the sun was setting. The mountain stuck out above the land for miles around and caught the sun long after everything else, lighting up in pink and red. A beacon for me to head toward for the night. A winding path up to the mountain lodge in dark was a challenge, one car wide with a strip of grass and mud in the middle with a steep drop on one side.

This road gave me so many stunning views come sunset, sometimes it’s worth riding late

I had a very surreal moment when I pulled up though and realised why I’d recognised the photo. A blogger I’d be following in all the planning for the trip had stayed here. Now here I was, pulling up to the same place. It was utterly covered in insects and bugs, the door to the bedroom looked like it had been decorated by a butterfly enthusiast, except they were real. I showered with an audience of moths, stick insect and a couple of spiders. Thankfully the room had been sealed off enough that my capsule bed in a dorm room all to myself kept me safe.

As I was trying to get to bed, without disturbing the swarm

Now to start the long rides. Borneo is big. Much bigger than most people realise, being known generally as a “jungle” island, people think small, but it’s 3 times the size of the UK. It’s going to take me 4 days of long rides to get to the west side, and there’s not a great deal in between. I set off bright and early in the morning, having breakfast with sunrise. Getting on the road in crisp morning air feels amazing. There’s a whole day ahead and progress to be made.

Today was a day of many crossings. I wasn’t sure what to expect, I didn’t have any plans, my only goal was to get through without getting stuck. The first border crossing from the Malaysian state of Sabah to Sarawak just involved a little passport check and queuing for 10 minutes, albeit in the baking sun in my black riding suit. Then 20 minutes later, another border crossing out of Malaysia and into Brunei! Another new country, not much to explore though because after another 30 minutes the road wound back in to Malaysia again. More waiting, a few checks, smiles and suspicious glances, there’s not many foreigners crossing overland here but it’s hardly remote.

Another 30 minute stint and it back in to Brunei again. And with that, the heavens opened. Within a few minutes I was soaked to the bone. I had to turn my phone off because all my waterproofing is failing and with no hotel lined up and no idea where to go I headed for the centre of town. The rain let up and I got some photos of the grandest Mosque I’ve ever seen, and my reminder that this place is super Islamic. I pulled up on one of the main streets and was thankful I hadn’t arrived on a Friday. I have no cash and they don’t really take other currencies over the counter. I couldn’t see many food places at all. A Friday in a Muslim country would mean everything closed and no chance of changing money. Oh shit. It is Friday, I’m such an idiot. Now I have no phone, cash, food or plan.

Not a bad Mosque if I do say so.

My days of panicking over small things like those are over though. I had a wander around and found that anywhere changing cash was closed and nobody around knew any alternative. All but the most dire of food places were closed. Then I bumped into a random European couple and their 2 little kids, foreigners stand out starkly here, let alone white kids. I asked them about the food troubles and they sympathetically told me about the food market going on not 400m that I’d completely managed to miss on my way in.

Real life Laketown! The old capital of Brunei.

I ran back to the bike gleefully. I love street food, let alone in a new country. The jeweller who’s store I’d happened to park in front of came out to say hi as I put my helmet on. We exchange the normal pleasantries of the trip. Then I tried my luck with the cash. Sure enough, a man who deals in large amounts of cash, over and under the table was more than happy to help me out, changing about £20 at market rate from Malay Ringgit to Brunei Dollars. That should be enough for some food, a hotel and a few litres of fuel tomorrow.

The food market was everything I could have hoped for. Set up in a car park with tarp roofs and wood plank boards held up by metal frames. It felt exactly like a crappy town market in a UK car park. Add the rainy weather and it’s basically the same thing. Every stall was serving some food or another, cooking up or selling ingredients, cheeses, veggies, smoothies, sweets. Many, many deliciously unhealthy things. I saw someone making a spicy chicken sandwich which was then in an egg wrap and fried. It looked pointless, huge, and delicious. I’m having that. I grabbed some other bits and pieces and had myself a gross feast next to the market with a small bewildered Bruneian audience.

That looks ridiculous. Yes please.

Drying out, filled up with food and with a bit of cash I set out in search of a hotel. My phone told me there was no such thing as a hostel in Brunei, just mildly cheaper hotels. This place is expensive, it’s a tax haven in the middle of a poor South East Asia, the money really flows around this tiny little piece of land.

I arrived and got myself settled into what was basically a 10 bedroom house all to myself; more expensive than most hostels but I’ll take that! Only changing £20 helped me out. What I had left after food was my bargaining tactic. I held out everything I had left, just shy of what he was asking. Told him I could do this or nothing basically. He laughed and took it.

Bonus Pictures:…..

25/05/18 – 08/06/18

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