New Year’s Eve in Borneo

Borneo, the third largest island in the world and at this time of the year, also the very warm and dry place in Asia. This is one of my favorite corners that I would love to explore a bit more.

Before carrying on our trip, I snap a few shots.

The purpose of the visit on this island is to climb Mt. Kinabalu (UNESCO World heritage), Low’s Peak (4095.2m) — the highest peak in South-Eastern Asia– and thus we registered with a tourism company for the 2 day trip to the top of the mountain, the World’s highest via ferrata included.

Nabalu handicraft marketThe trip from the airport to the reservation is a 2h drive, with a very friendly Malay guy/de. It is funny to me to notice that they drive on the left here, unlike in Europe. The road to Kinabalu Reservation, includes a stop in Eden …ahem, I mean Nabalu’s market full of local handicraft and fruits fro, the region. There we try some mangosteen and red banana.

Palm trees mix with the usual non tropical species, until slowly the road starts climbing and there are only exotic plants left on the menu. Coconut and banana growing in the wild, and from time to time I catch a glimpse of a Jackfruit tree or Durian? (after all I left Asia without grabbing the chance to taste it … :-\ ).

Pine Resort Vila's terraceBefore starting our journey up to Low’s peak, we spend a night in the Pine Resort. This is basically our New Year’s Eve, which turns out to be a very sweet one, unexpected thing for the middle of nowhere. Alex decides that she wants to BBQ, so we gear up for it and in the evening, after dinner we try our luck… which is not with us. The fireplace is empty, BUT friendly locals help us out first with coal, then with the rest of the stuff. I actually get into a nice get to know them conversation. They are local guides in Kota Kinabalu, accompanying tours on flora in the city. They are all mostly from KK and their English is improving! :)

Trail to Pendant HutOn the 1st of ’13, we start our journey up to Pendant Hut (3289m). It is a 6km long trail, that we are told it takes 6h, for 1423m altitude difference. I let you do the math on the steepness of the path. It is yet anther beautiful experience. The path is basically stair like, which atm I totally enjoy, will do less on the way back … . The weather is pretty warm, but nothing unbearable, I sweat, thus I don’t feel the humidity. Our way goes up through the clouds sometimes. Our guide has an original local name, which unfortunately I forget right away, but the other locals that I get to meet during the coming 2 days have names like Bryan, Albert and so forth. This is a bit unusual, interesting!

We are 5 in the group, and turns out that the couple who joined us is very friendly and kind. I help out the guy with some post workout advice and seems to work for him, thus he makes it to the top later on. On the other hand, Denzil is not feeling so good, and decide to abandon the hike. Turns out after the trip that he had caught some bacterial infection at lungs’ level.

The way up is not too hard, and even though before the trip I was doubting the lose requirements shoe wise, it is indeed a trail doable with trainers, trekking shoes, all the way up.  On the way, I try to communicate with our guide, a very very cute old man, obviously in a good shape, and later on he starts showing me all the amazing plants on our way up.

Don't remembernot orchidPitcher plantOrchid





By the end of the 4th km, meaning 4h — which is very much doable in less than 4h, the tropical rain starts. And it pours more than cats and dogs and it keeps on raining. It catches us at the shelter, but we have a commitment, by 15h30 we have to be at the hut, for next day’s via ferrata briefing and it is 12h30.

Pendant hutOnce the rain doesn’t seem to want to stop, we continue our journey up the path in rain, and after a short while I am swimming in my shoes and decide to break apart from the group (cannot get lost since there is no other way, but down the same path) and decide to continue alone and … faster. I make it to the cabin 1h before the others and take a very welcome warm shower. By 14h45 I am at the early briefing, though the weather at that point doesn’t look too promising. The only problem now is that the shoes and socks are not gonna dry for the next… morning.

My first climb of >4000m and it is outside Switzerland

After dinner, early bedtime, by 7 people start sleeping and we wake up at 2am to get ready for the departure. I get to hike with Nicky, partner of Carol who decides not to do the climg, friend from dinner last night. Very handy! So we start the climb, and with 2 x 30 min breaks of shivering in the shelter of some cliffs on the way up, we make it to the top, where we have another few minutes until the sunrise. It is there, finally and after so many pics, we finally head down from the 0 degree non-tropical, windy climate. Socks and fingers frozen, I can’t be more grateful to descend!^^


The way down is actually only until the via ferrata (3776m). We meet there our mates and guides and we begin the 3h descent. I must day, it was enough of it for a while. Since we start off without breakfast, Nicky and I am all about breakfast the whole way down, but mostly towards the end. It is an amazing trail, with many verticals and horizontals. Our guide is amused by us not taking chances with the security attachments, in the beginning but by the end we try out the crazy hangings as well. There is a segment which takes us through the jungle. ATM seems the most difficult part of the trail. Finally with an average speed we reach the bottom and in the end we get our well deserved meal!

via1via ferratavia3



We leave the hut at 12 and the final descent takes us like 3h20 for ~>2300m descent, back to Timpohon Gate (1866m) and that’s where (aprox.) I say good bye to my trekking mates and new lovely friends, Nicky and Carol.

View from the end of the via ferrata over Pendant and Laban Rata Huts
View from the end of the via ferrata over Pendant and Laban Rata Huts

At the bottom, the driver who picked us up from the airport and drove us around, Bryan is taking us to our accommodation places. In the meanwhile the Amazing Borneo Team Member hands us out the certificates of accomplishment for Low’s Peak and the via Ferrata

<BLING> Wohoo, got the certificate! :-) <BLING>

More pics here.

Kuala Lumpur and Batu Caves

Malaysia was on the other hand, like a lotion to me after the bustling streets of Bangkok and all the craze there, we had a blissful stay in Kuala Lumpur at the Reggae Mansion, situated in the old town area.  Petronas Twin Towers

The Petronas Twin Towers (World’s highest buildings for 6 years until Taipei took over) are outstanding and imposing. The inside is a shopping mall of course, but it also houses the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra and some more institutions. In its close vicinity is the KLian space needle, which offers, honestly a poor overview on the towers — at least during the night.

Batu Caves and the 270 stairs

As a short evasion from the engineer’s world, to the north of KL, opens up the Batu Caves. A carst cave, formed in limestone, which at present houses a Hindu temple. The complex includes also the Dark Caves, for which they offer a guided tour. The guide I had was very sympathetic, working currently in the cave as a scientist. Somehow I felt after a while that caves are like mountains (shame on me), almost the same after a while, but seems that a new take on presenting the formations can attract interest again!

Ancestor on a leashThe whole formation is accessible by climbing 270 stairs, a nice warm up before something more serious! and yes, it would have been perfect if I opened my eyes on this one…


More pics here.


First and last thing on my mind: Fooood …mmmm I miss it!

A totally different world, different feeling, that does not compare to my experience with the various cultures from the far far East, through the individuals that I have met so far.

The general impression is that people from the countries of Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia do still show some of the basic, genuine kindness and hospitality that seems to be buried sometimes too deep, in the Western culture.

Of course we are not talking about remote Buddhist or Hindu temples, these cultures have also been touched by globalization, and they display the usual tourist trapping attitude in the highly visited spots, but nevertheless my general impression was that of people who would cross the line by lurking around wealthier tourists and mugging them much less often than in Europe. Self understood, this involves tourists as well minding their belongings and behavior.

Trip to Asia, first part. Butterflies in the stomach, all excited about the trip, already on Liszt Ferenc Airport. Settling the last details before the flight, which include some dinner and off I am! With only a 2h delay on CDG, the trip continues with the tough part — some more 12-14h of flight to Changi Airport. Well, I have to say, it is a looooong trip! It better be worth it!

Done, made up my mind. It is worth every moment of it; starting from the people I get to talk to on the plain, to the locals from Asia that I meet on the journey. It is like a deep breath of fresh mountain air! Inhaling the new, crispy experiences from another end of the World! Well, I must say, the first lungful of air was more like water than air. In Singapore, at the time I arrived, humidity was so high, that I felt I was breathing water… .

P.S. Another proof of how beneficial this trip was, is my freinds’ affirmation when we first met after vacation: Tu as une bonne mine!  and I effectively realised this myself, when I heard it like the 3rd time in 2 days!