Cuddle monkeys :-)

They are not quite as famous as their big nosed cousins at Labuk Bay, but this family of silver haired monkeys was all the more cuddly. One of these cuties would surely fit into our backpack, right?

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Bea and the monkeys:

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Monkey man Wolfgang:

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Big noses, chronically flatulent and always horny – meet the Proboscis monkeys

Labuk Bay proboscis monkeysIf you thought that all monkeys are cute and cuddly you may want to think again and take a look at these fellas: bulbous noses, fat bellies, loud, constantly farting and perpetually aroused (but don’t we all know a couple of those guys from home?).

The story of Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary is one of the few positive examples in Borneo where a commercial plantation development was abandoned in favour of an endangered species found nowhere else in the world.

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At the end of the day we enjoyed the trip to Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary even more that our visit at the orang-utan sanctuary, because these ugly farting monkeys were so much more fun to watch munching their sugar-free pancakes.

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Sepilok orang-utans and sun bears

The Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre is a forest reserve in Sabah province for orphaned and confiscated orang-utans … for more information about their history and terrific work check out their website here.

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During the afternoon feeding session this cheeky bugger had a blast swinging across the viewing platform and empty his bladder all over the waiting crowd who were looking up at him with big eyes and gaping mouths. The exited “awwwws” and “ohhhs” quickly turned into “urghs” when people realised what just happened. 🙂 Good thing we picked a different viewing spot in the afternoon, because in the morning we were standing right at the very same viewing platform!

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While the orang-utans were taking their siesta two stupid German tourists (and very few other foreigners) were hiking the bird trail at Sepilok in the midday heat.

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Right next door to the orang-utan rehabilitation centre a new sanctuary recently opened its doors for another endangered species of Borneo: the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC). Those small forest bears are endangered by habitat loss, poaching, pet trade and captured for disgusting bile farming. Poor bears 😦

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Borneo – home of the orangutans

Borneo

Malaysia flagMalaysian Borneo was probably the one destination of our trip we argued about the longest … Bea didn’t want to go there because of the Malaria risk but I wanted to see orangutans in the wild. In the end I was able to convince her by showing her plenty of pictures of cute little orangutan babies 🙂 From Singapore we booked our flights to Kota Kinabalu, which was the only place in Malaysia Borneo we knew, only to realise that our real destination was Sandakan on the far east side of Borneo – a whooping 7 hour bus ride away. So after a short and uneventful night at the Oceania Hotel in ‘Kota Kina’ we headed for our first (but definitely not last) bus trip in South East Asia. The roads across the Malaysian highlands were certainly nothing like a German Autobahn, but in retrospect they were really well maintained compared to some other countries we have been since. The views were a mix of dense jungle, a peek of Mount Kinabalu, palm plantations and endless sheet metal and bamboo villages lining the road.

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At the end of the trip we were exhausted and looking forward to some blissful days of luxury at the Sheraton in Sandakan (which was only marginally more expensive than the windowless hostel in Singapore).

Sandakan town itself had not much to offer other than a small harbour front, some ok restaurants and a night market full of exiting food stuff for us to try (meaning that I was constantly buying new things to eat and when it tasted good Bea would consider to take a nibble too :-)). Think fish balls, sticky rice in banana leaf, satay sticks and other things we don’t even know the names of.

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On Friday we ‘missed’ the 5:00am ANZAC Day memorial service for Australian and British POW casualties of the Sandakan Death Marches, one of the many reminders of war history in the region we would encounter during our travels.

The next day however we got a closer look of the ‘pride’ of the Malaysian navy during an open day / open ship event at the local navy base. The big frigate with the rocket launchers was supposedly manufactured by an Italian shipyard for Sadam Hussein’s army just before the first gulf war and Malaysia got it for a discounted price when it could not be delivered to the original buyer any more.

But we did not come to Sandakan for its boring town centre, its culture or military but for its unique wildlife and it was finally time to meet the “people of the forrest” better known by their Malay name: the orang-utan!

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Marina Bay Sands

A trip to Singapore would not be complete without a visit to the Marina Bay Sands hotel towering over the southern end of Marina Bay on a stretch of reclaimed land. I always try to come here on a stopover in Singapore and nothing beats a Singapore Sling with a view like that! This time however we learned that the bar is not open to visitors of the viewing platform on weekends and we were restricted to the smallish deck at the tip of the ‘ship’. Note for next time: make a reservation at the restaurant, save the money for the elevator ride up and spend it on a Singapore Sling instead. Since we didn’t want to support the sorry excuse of a tourist bar/snack shop at the viewing deck we found a great bakery in the hotel later and enjoyed some amazing cake and macarons.

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Singapore – gateway to Asia

Singapore was our first port of call in South East Asia and an easy starting point for a trip through Asia. Since I already spent a couple of business trips and stopovers in this tiny country, we thought it’s not worth to stay more than three days to get used to the climate and Asia. Well… think again Wolfgang, because with Chinatown, Little India, Marina Sands hotel, Sentosa island, fantastic hawker food, the Zoo with night safari and Clarke Quai there was more than we could fit into our three-day stopover.

Our hostel at Boat Quay was right in the middle of it all and even boasted views of the iconic Marina Sands hotel … unfortunately not from our windowless bunk bed room. Well, accommodation in Singapore is pricey and we didn’t want to burn too big a hole into our Asian travel budget at the first destination.

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At least this way we didn’t spend any more time than necessary in our room and went out to discover the city; despite the scorching daytime heat:

City walk and Marina Bay

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Buddha Tooth Temple in Chinatown

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Little India

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Gardens by the bay

Behind the stunning Marina Sands hotel we found our way to the Gardens by the bay … a beautiful green retreat from the city buzz with a dozen gigantic metal trees in the centre.

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Boat Quay and Clarke Quay.

Boat Quay and nearby Clarke Quay were the perfect location for a nice beer at the end of a long day. Too bad the only memorable thing about the ‘famous’ coconut crab at Jumbo seafood was the price … which to this day remains the most expensive and most disappointing eating experience we would have on our entire trip in Asia. It just proves one more time that the best food in Asia is not found at pricey waterfront places but at hawker stalls and local food markets for a few bucks.

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Brisbane, Gold Coast – our stopover in Oz

flightFinding the best and cheapest flight connection from one place to another is like a big three dimensional puzzle and something we’re getting particularly good at during our trip. Unfortunately island hopping from Vanuatu into South-East Asia was not an option … my personal favourite would have been Vanuatu – Solomon Islands – Nauru – Micronesia – Guam – Palau – Philippines … but there simply were no connections across the equator there. Believe me – I’ve looked for a long time! So the cheapest and most direct connection took us from Vanuatu to Brisbane and then with Scoot (yes, that’s an airline) from Gold Coast to Singapore.

So here we were in Brisbane! Melbournians and Sydneysiders usually smile at the little town up in Queensland that wants to play with the big boys, but after months in the south pacific and New Zealand we were quite flashed by the metropolis of Brisbane. It was great to enjoy a little bit of civilisation (well as much civilisation as you can get in Queensland anyway), have a decent cup of coffee in one of the cute CBD cafés and do some city sightseeing for a change. The South Bank made for a great river stroll and the Cathedral of Saint Stephen right in the centre of the CBD was a beautifully tranquil retreat from the bustling city!

Nepalese Peace Pagoda

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The Nepalese Peace Pagoda at the South Banks World Expo site was a perfect outlook as to what lies ahead of us on our trip. We’re certainly looking forward to see some elephants in South-East Asia soon 🙂

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Special thanks to Leon and his family for a fun South Africa BBQ and a room for the night in Brizzie’s suburbs! Make sure your new pool is ready for our next visit – we’ll do a particularly thorough inspection of the steps 😉

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Gold Coast – a summer vacation spot in its own right – was just a one night stopover for us. We had just enough time for a stroll along the beach and some early dinner … our flight was at 9am the next morning which meant getting up at 6 … Brrrrr.

The clowns from Scoot turned out to be one of the few airlines in the world that have a 15 kg baggage limit for international flights and couldn’t even bother to mention it on their e-tickets! So our cheap flight deal turned slightly more pricey after we had settled the bill for our excess luggage 😦

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