Mulu Park

Elisa and I finished our travels through Borneo with a trip to Mulu National Park, known for its extensive caves and The Pinnacles.

We made a pact to visit the park over our Thanksgiving feast, so enthralled were we by the beautiful pictures we had seen online. It didn’t matter that it was in a remote, isolated location. A pact is a pact.

So we set off for Mulu once we finished our adventures in Kota Kinabalu. The only practical way to get there is to fly from the town of Miri, unless of course you want to take an 8-10 hour boat ride through the jungle.

As soon as we landed, I realized just how isolated we were. Apart from the park there is scant development: a nearby “resort” (i.e., rundown hotel), some homestays and two restaurants. There is no town nearby just a smattering of local homes.

Elisa and I outside Deer Cave

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Guest Post: City Slickers

I want to share a guest post from Elisa, my travel companion for the past three weeks, covering our time in Sabah.


After having traveled together for 2+ weeks in Malaysia and Borneo, Matt and I arrived in Kota Kinabalu via ferry from Labuan and were ready for the real Borneo experience (i.e., some adventure travel). Exploring the options were a lot more difficult than he and I anticipated. Matt’s bucket list includes climbing Mount Kinabalu, the tallest mountain in Southeast Asia and while I had never heard of this mountain before, I decided that since I had never climbed a mountain before and you don’t need much experience, this would be the place to do it. So we set out to figure out a way to make this happen…which due to the monsoon season and the fact that the mountain is controlled by one company, Sutera Harbour, was unfortunately going to prove to be something that he and I would leave to come back to. What we did find though was a much more intense and unique experience than I would have ever thought possible on my journey around the world.

Kota Kinabalu, or KK as the locals call the city, has a main area where people can book all types of tours throughout Sabah, so that’s where we went to find out how to make this climb happen. After going into a few shops, we realized that the people to talk to were the ones who control the mountain, Sutera Harbour. We were dismayed at the lack of information and the unwelcome nature of the entire office. The response to all of our basic questions – about the guides, the climb, their accomodations, chances of making it to the peak and the transportation there – was a double-sided sheet of paper that had virtually no information (except the climb schedule, which began no later than 10am on the first day and started at 1:30am the second day, so you could see the sunrise, a big and bolded disclaimer stating that due to an electrical outage, there was no heat or electricity at Laban Rata (the mid mountain dorms for all climbers) and a minimal necessity list). We left feeling more confused than when we first got there! Knowing that we had to make a decision but not having all the right information, we decided to talk to one of the companies that had guided us there to try to find out the real deal about the climb and the answer to our biggest question – during the monsoon season what are the chances that you will be able to make it to the peak? Lawrence, a guide with Ride Borneo, welcomed us back with a friendly smile and said “Want to talk to someone who actually speaks English?” He was our much needed silver lining to what was beginning to look like a frustrating mess. We sat down and discussed our desire to have an adventure and also climb Mount Kinabalu…he was candid with us and described the climb as well as the challenges and freezing temperatures we may face due to the monsoon season. When we heard that there was a 70% chance we may not make it to the peak due to weather, that was the turning point for us to consider some other options.

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Thanksgiving on Labuan

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday because of the three F’s: Family, Food and Football.

This year was only the second time I have spent Thanksgiving outside the US and the first time I would not be with my family (I was in London for Thanksgiving during my junior year at Stanford but my mother and grandmother came to visit me).

So I knew even before I left on this trip that Thanksgiving this year would be different. But I never thought I would split the holiday between Brunei and Labuan, Malaysia.

At least I was traveling with Elisa so we were both in the same boat and could celebrate together. Despite the lack of the three F’s we made do and did our best to have a nice holiday meal.

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Chilling Out in the Cameron Highlands

By the time Elisa and I reached Tanah Rata in the Cameron Highlands, we were both a little spent. Between the frequent travel and (too much) food in Penang, our energy levels demanded we take a day to sleep, relax and take some time to plot out the next steps in our trip.

So that’s what we did. And it was a great idea, especially considering it rained all day anyway.

We researched where to go for our upcoming trip through Borneo, caught up on email, and (in my case) followed the thrilling Stanford-Oregon football game (Go Stanford!). Read more of this post

An Unexpected Stop in Ipoh

Originally, Elisa and I planned to head to the Perhentian Islands from Penang. We knew it was the rainy season there but we had both heard of the islands’ and excellent beaches.

However, as we were planning our trip there from Penang, we found out how bad the weather really was. With monsoon-like conditions and most hotels closed, we called an audible and opted to head to Ipoh instead as a quick trip before visitng the Cameron Highlands. Unlike Penang, Ipoh isn’t on the typical tourist trail but still maintains terrific colonial architecture and a thriving local food scene.

Birch Memorial Clock Tower

Food, Culture and Humidity in Penang

Without question, Penang lived up to its reputation as a food paradise. No matter where you are, especially in the main city of George Town, you are spoiled for choice. Chinese, Indian and Malay food are in delicious abundance not too mention the many quaint cafes serving up white coffee. And if you are unsure what to eat, you can just visit the many food stalls to try a little bit of everything.

just a small sample of what you can eat in Penang

While the most famous dish is char kway teow, a fried noodle dish, I really enjoyed laksa, a fish-based noodle soup and cendol, a coconut milk-based dessert. Little India also boasts numerous options, including some that are open 24 hours. Read more of this post

Starting A New Malaysian Adventure

Kuala Lumpur

Finally a place on this trip that I had been to before. A place where I already knew how to get around and had seen the main tourist sites. After always having to adjust to the new countries I have visited on this trip, entering Malaysia was a relative breeze. Even the immigration process was easy as the official at the airport stamped me in without even a single question or entry form.

Petronas Towers

I used my three days in KL to rest, hang out with my Couchsurfing host Udeen (as well as exercise at the gym he works at) and see my Stanford friend Johan who lives in the nearby suburb of Subang Jaya.

with Udeen

But I also used the time to start planning for my long awaited travels through the rest of Malaysia. Ever since I came here with Stu in late 2006, I have wanted to explore Malaysia beyond KL. From the street food of Penang to the beautiful beaches of the Perhentian Islands to the jungles of Borneo, I am ready to take in all that Malaysia has to offer.

with Johan and Michelle

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