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From Bhutan to Borneo

 

We were warned that  the Paro airport in Bhutan is visual only, and the least level of incremental weather shuts it down. Which seems only right because it is surrounded by mountains. They tell you to make any connecting flights with a day lapse in case you cannot get out of Paro.  Well, we arrived at the airport on a cloudy morning with drizzling rain. Nothing that would stop an Airbus 320 anywhere else.

A druk Air A 320 going nowhere because of a light rain.

However our flight was delayed hours, waiting for perfect weather. Druk air served us lunch and tea in the lobby so that people would not be absent if the clouds lifted.

Our flight was back to Kathmandu. We were not on an 320, but a small prop plane.  That meant we should have gotten a great view of Everest.

Right after we boarded the plane, the rain returned, but we made it out of Paro anyway.

We did get a decent look at Everest. This is the “other side” of the great mountain, from the Tibetan side.

We got back to Kathmandu on a nice afternoon. We went back to the KGH. We just relaxed for the next day. We spoke with people who had tried to get into Tibet. They actually had their permits and/or visas. But when they got to the border, the Chicoms turned them around, with little or no reason given. We spoke with our travel agent about a visit to Tibet someday, but he was as perplexed by the Chinese constantly changing the rules as  we were.  Maybe someday we will be able to go, and maybe someday pigs will fly.

We left Kathmandu for Bangkok. We had both been there a few times before, so we looked for something different to do. We signed up for an Intrepid Travel Tuk Tuk tour. It was fun. We saw some interesting and different stuff.

I had never been to the flower market in Bangkok before. It was awfully pretty. This is a table of Lotus flowers on sale

We left BKK for KL. That is Kuala Lumpur. We flew Air Asia, which is an excellent low cost airline that covers that part of the coconut. I hear that the main terminal in KL is beautiful, new and efficient. The low cost terminal is, well, tired.

We went through this airport 3 times on this trip and each time it was crowded, even at one in the morning. There were no jet ways and no buses. You had to walk a long way from the plane to the terminal, dodging luggage trucks and jet blast.

The KL airport is 1 ½ hours away from KL. We were only going to stay in KL overnight, and leave the next morning so we stayed at a  hotel only a ½ hour away, which obviously exists to serve people in transit.

We flew Air Malaysia to a city called Sandakam in the state of Sabah. We were still in the same country, but it was a 2 ½ hour flight, definitely the longest domestic flight I had ever taken in Asia. It was like flying from NY to Chicago. Amazingly, when we got to Sandakam, we had to go through immigration!  Oh well, at this point another stamp in my passport is just another stamp.

We were now officially in Borneo. I am not sure just what I expected. Headhunters?

Our tour was arranged through AMAZING BORNEO TOURS. They picked us up at the airport. Our lodge was n the Kinabatangan river, about two hours away. For the next two hours we drove through nothing but palm oil plantations. Miles and miles, thousands and thousands  of hectares of land that used to be jungle, is now producing palm oil. It is definitely the cash crop of Sabah. Why all this palm oil?  Is this a good or bad thing? Go here to find out.

We got to the lodge after a the long drive. The lodge was OK, nothing to write a blog post about. Our adventure in “wild” Borneo was to start the next day.

The first thing on the agenda was Orangutans.  I was thinking that this was the third endangered species I had seen this year, kinda cool.  We went to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center. This one of those places that somehow get orphaned or injured critters and raise them until they are prepared to go back into the wild. They showed us an interesting video of their work. I noticed a glaring error and afterward tried to bring it to the attention of the docent. No big deal, but they ought to get their facts straight. I’m no biologist, but I know the film was flawed.  This place was billed as a chance to see orangutans play together. After a 45 minute wait at a staged area, in the Borneo heat, we saw ONE. He was led to the feeding area by a refuge worker, and did not look all that enthused about being on display.

The rehab center put out a basket full of fruit, he ate one and then swung away like Tarzan, back into the jungle. Mind you, there were at least a hundred tourists who had paid like US$30 apiece standing around sweating and pointing cameras. All in all, this was a disappointing excursion.

we transferred to another lodge where we took trips on the river. On one trip we actually saw Orangutans in the wild, and my favorite, the Jimmy Durante of  primates, the Proboscis monkey, on another.

Although we could not get too close, we were in a boat in a big river, we were pleased and amused to see Orangutans in the wild. Actually we saw quite a few.

My favorite sighting was the Proboscsis monkeys. Their noses are humorous. They are kind of cute. Apparently not endangered, except for loss of their homeland to the palm oil business.

In case I have at all led you to believe we were “explorers” in wild Borneo, this next photo should cancel that idea.

This is just a sample of the tourist boats on the river that day, during LOW season.

We were treated to a great sunset.

I love a good sunset, don’t you?

The next day we left the lodge and the river. We drove through palm oil plantations for another hour to see the second cash crop of Sabah, birds nests. Yup, this is the primary source of birds nests for birds nest soup, of which the Chinese are apparently quite fond. They pay a LOT of money for these nests, harvested from a cave.

The best photo I could get in a dark cave. There is a walkway built of rotting wood that you follow through the cave. The birds nests (Swifts) are all up on the roof, and for me impossible to get a good photo.

Mary Ann and me in front of the opening to the cave on the slippery wooden walkway. It was slippery because it was covered with birdshit. If you fell off, you would land among the 10 billion or so cockroaches on the ground.

Mary Ann showing of her hand covered with birdshit from holding the rail along the walkway. We were ready to leave.

Well folks, that was it for Borneo. Is it worth your time and treasure to go? Only if you want to say you have been there!

Thanks for reading, share with a friend, make a comment, or go order a bowl of birds nest soup cooked with palm oil.

 

Posting From My Ipad. Nepal, Bhutan, Burma, Borneo and Thailand

Please be understanding about my posting for the next five weeks. I love my IPad, but it is a bit difficult to type with two thumbs instead of two fingers. Also, the WordPress apps for the IPad are seriously demented.
Mary Ann and I are off to Kathmandu on Friday. We are going there for two strategic reasons. Kathmandu is one of only three places where you can catch a flight to Bhutan. Only one airline, Druk Air, flies into Paro, Bhutan.  If you want a good scare, go to YouTube and search for “Real Paro Bhutan Landing” or just click here. I cannot believe I will be on a Druk Air flight making that landing in just a few days. I have landed in La Paz Bolivia, and Bocas Del Toro Panama, both less than comfortable situations, but this one is rated the most dangerous landing on the planet. It is visual only, no instruments and weather is constantly sketchy. All the trip planners say to build in an extra day or two in case your flight cannot land or take off, so we have.
The other strategic reason is that Bhutan seriously limits the number of tourists at any given time and we know a great Nepalese guide who was able to get us the entrance visas.
Bhutan is an official bucket list item. There are many things to see there, including the Tiger’s Nest Monastery, which you should google to believe, or just gander at this.

They say that you should acclimate to the altitude before you hike to this place. There are three ways to get there. Hike, ride a horse 2/3 of the way, of fly on the back of a mythical tigress. That last one is probably a budget buster.

After Bhutan we are going to Burma (Myanmar if you must) which also just reopened to tourism quite recently. How recently?? There is not a single ATM in the entire country. We will float down a river to Mandalay (which also has a new name,,duh, I dunno what) and see many spots that they want to turn into tourist haunts ASAP. I am just as glad to get there before the drunk Russians.
Then Borneo. Hell, I know nothing about Borneo. The tour agent told us to bring leech socks. Sounds like fun!
After that we are going to Thailand to try to find a place to retire. We think we found a good candidate. Inexpensive, on the beach, good expat community and excellent health care. We will do a week of due diligence. One good thing about Thai law is that foreigners cannot buy land, so even if we think we love it, then we don’t, we are not stuck with a place we cannot sell.
Stay tuned for posts about riding a Yak and other nomadic pursuits! Share this with anyone that you want to convince you know someone crazier than they are.
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