Uninterrupted bliss on Borneo

Dart, meet map. Map, meet dart. Now pick us a vacation.

Every winter we need to spend a week away from the dreary northwest — someplace where, you know, the sun shines — so we head off on a vacation to some totally random location, usually chosen by throwing a dart at a map or by drop-kicking a globe across the room. This year the dart landed on Malaysia.

Getting there was no picnic, and neither was getting back — all totaled, we flew through eight different airports, spent 48 hours on airplanes and endured one particularly thorough bag search by everyone’s favorite government agency. Hell, we flew through Tokyo one day before the earthquake and tsunami that leveled much of the Japanese coast, and we flew through San Francisco on a day that ended in ‘Y,’ so you know that place was a disaster.

But in the end it was all worth it, because the payoff was a week of uninterrupted bliss on the island of Borneo, where we hiked to the top of a mountain, played under remote waterfalls, explored some of the largest caves in the world and, not surprisingly, made such good friends with the poolside bartender that he named a drink after us (OK, not really, but we did spend a lot of time at the pool).

Enjoy the photos.

After 32 hours of traveling that spanned three days, our first payoff was waking up at the end of our flight from Tokyo to Malaysia and being greeted by this sunrise over 13,455-foot Gunung Kinabalu. We had a seven-hour layover in Kota Kinabalu, but decided we’d rather get Dunkin Donuts than climb this beast (yes, they have Dunkin Donuts in Malaysia).

Our final destination was Miri, which was a short, one-hour flight from Kota Kinabalu. We stayed at the Miri Marriott Resort & Spa, a popular vacation destination, apparently, for Australian tourists and ex-patriots from Brunei.

We left on Tuesday and finally arrived at our hotel on Thursday, so it pretty well goes without saying that as soon as we stepped foot in our room we flopped on the bed, ordered room service and watched “A Few Good Men.” OK, maybe you wouldn’t have necessarily guessed that last part, but it happened.

The view from our balcony.

After all that traveling, the first day of our visit was declared a “Pool Day.” I think it was the right call.

Another view of the pool, which was advertised as the largest free-form pool in Miri.

In an attempt to sprinkle at least a little physical exertion into our vacation, we took a day trip to Lambir Hills National Park, where we wandered the rainforest and enjoyed views of several waterfalls.

After less than a mile of hiking you come to Latak Waterfall, which has several picnic shelters and a nice swimming hole.

Lambir Hills is incredibly biodiverse, with over 1,500 plant species in a 50 hectare area. This giant, prehistoric-looking fern made me wonder if I was going to get swooped up and eaten by a pterodactyl.

This sign was posted at the base of a 100-foot tree tower built for bird watching. In my head I was thinking, “Well, it doesn’t say you can’t climb it…”

But I guess if the tower’s missing nine of its first 12 steps, it probably isn’t such a good idea to climb it after all.

The trails weren’t particularly well-marked (plus they were marked in kilometers, which don’t translate in my mongoloid American brain), so I have no idea how far we had hiked at this point, but we were glad to have a chance to stop and rest here at Nibong Waterfall.

The rest of the hike was pretty steep as we climbed to the top of Bukit Pantu, the second-highest point in the park. Not all of it was this well maintained; in fact, the rickety, slightly rotten wooden steps at higher elevations were downright scary.

But all the climbing was worth it to catch this panoramic view of the park from the top of Bukit Pantu.

This leech hitched a ride to the top while drinking about a pint of my blood. For anyone thinking about doing any hiking in Malaysia, either spring for a pair of leech socks or be prepared to pick about a dozen of these off your legs.

After hiking at Lambir Hills, we returned to Miri for one of Malaysia’s famous sunsets.

Another sunset photo from the Marriott in Miri.

It was time to play tourist again later in the week, when we rented a cab for the hour-and-a-half drive to Niah Caves, home to some of the oldest and largest caves in Southeast Asia. After paying the park entrance, it costs you a Ringgit (U.S. equivalent: 25 cents) for a boat ride across the river. Best quarter I ever spent.

I’m too lazy to get out a dictionary and find out whether these are stalagmites or stalactites, so you’ll just have to figure it out yourself.

A panoramic shot of the cave mouth, looking back into the jungle. Scientists discovered human remains from 40,000 years ago in this cave system. No, that’s not a typo.

This photo doesn’t even begin to do justice to the enormity of this scene, but this is the entrance to the Great Cave, which is about 200 feet high and 800 feet wide. Basically, when you get to the part where the stairs disappear into the blackness, it’s time for the headlamp.

One of my favorite photos from the trip. This was awe-inspiring — a shaft of light shining down into a giant, subterranean cistern. And yes, all those little specks in the photos are bats.

Looking out of the blackness into the jungle at Gan Kira, otherwise known as “Moon Cave.”

One of the many bizarre insects we saw during our hike.

Before we left, we caught one more sunset over the South China Sea.

A great end to a great vacation.

1 Comment

  1. Gayle /

    What an absolutely incredible looking place. Beautiful!

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