Evolution gone mad

Just come back from another afternoon trip to see Borneo’s natural wonders.

This time was to see a sanctuary created by a plantation owner for the crazy looking proboscis monkeys otherwise known as long-nosed monkeys or Dutch monkey – the Malay thought that they looked like the Dutch colonials with their big bellies and big noses.

We arrived a good hour before the designated feeding time although the big-conked ones did seem to know that their sugar-free pancakes were coming, with 10 or so just hanging around the viewing area. This gave us time to admire a huge eagle, a swimming lizard and also the start of an invasion from a large number of silvered leaf monkeys.

Feeding time arrived, and a massive alpha proboscis male bounded down the viewing platform heading straight towards the gathered tourists. Fortunately, it then saw the pancakes and proceeded to cause havoc amongst the 40 of its own kind. For the next hour we just stood and stared at all the wildlife feeding away, including gibbons who made an appearance at the end of the feeding.

So, why have proboscis monkeys evolved to have such big noses? Answers on a postcard to the usual address please.

Above the rainforest

Day two in the wilds of Borneo saw Chloe and Allan brave the rough trekking terrain of the Rainforest Discovery Centre.

Chloe was delighted to discover that real rainforest is fully equipped with gravel paths, cafes and public toilets. She really doesn’t know why people like Bear Grylls make so much fuss.

The Centre is designed to educate both Malaysians and tourists about the value of preserving the local rainforest, and a huge amount of effort has been put into the information displays. We are duly educated.

The small botanical garden was like a mini Kew, with pitcher plants, wild orchids, spices and other indigenous species.

A walkway through the rainforest canopy is still under construction, but we could walk two lengths of it. Each ended in a 20m high platform, taking us to the level of the most towering trees. Spectacular.

We finished with a turn around the lake – complete with suspension bridge. Chloe looks relatively calm in this photo, but it was taken before Allan’s hilarious bouncing routine.

How she laughed.

Borneo, Bette Midler and Orangutans

Arrival in Borneo after a 2.5 hour flight from Kuala Lumpur into a harbour city called Sandakan. Strangely, there’s something about the city that looks like Bournemouth and it even has an English tea-house.

The evening in Sandakan was spent in the very pleasant company of Shannon and Neera, two women from Melbourne. We drank, for us on this holiday, a fair few beers and think we outed Shannon as a massive Bette Midler fan (sorry, Shannon) and listened to some great employment lawyer stories from Neera. Only when Allan got the bill did we remember that beer is fairly expensive in Malaysia, definitely not the 50 or 75 cents we paid in Cambodia and nearly a full day’s budget was spent. Well worth it though.

We are now in Sepilok for the next five days. Day one took us to the world famous orangutan sanctuary. We saw two of the orange beasts, one lurked shyly up a tree but the other swung around King Louie-style for a good 20 minutes. It was pretty magical to see them in their semi-wild state. There are only seven organgutans in the 2,500 hectares, but the numbers were made up with a lot of other types of monkey.

Allan marvelled at the nearly human hands of the tiny Long Tailed Macaques. They were all hanging out in big family groups and having a right old time waiting the orangutan food to be distributed, until the alpha male turned up to ruin everyone’s fun.

Returning home to our lodge at Paganakan Dii, a true room with a view, we can see and hear the rainforest from our bed by sliding back the wall. And, miraculously, it’s not too loud to sleep.

Curry for dinner, a new episode of Spooks and an early night – it’s like we never left Vauxhall (except for the frogs, the mosquitoes and the flipping great rainforest outside!)

Patronas Charm

We arrived last night in hot and humid Malaysia after a slightly bumpy (Allan) or about to plunge horribly into the ocean (Chloe) flight from Phnom Penh. With only one full day before our next flight, we embarked on a trip to two of the biggest towers in the world, both handily only a short journey away from our cheap and good hotel.

First was the KL Tower (bet it took them ages to think of that name) at a very impressive 421m high – although the observation floor was only 276m high, which still seemed almost in the clouds to us. A clear morning allowed perfect 360 degree viewing of the urban sprawl and surrounding countryside. Fantastic views only spoilt by the sad “zoo” at the bottom which was mainly big snakes in very small cages.

Next up, a stop at the very well recommended Zanmai Sushi restaurant to get that raw salmon craving sorted that Chloe has been suffering for the past five months. We ate enough to fill an aquarium, came to a bargain £14 and needed a lie down to allow full digestion.

After a little retail therapy to replace some hand baggage that managed to get mashed on Air Asia, we reached the Patronas Towers at a whopping 452m. We didn’t get to the viewing platform but consoled ourselves with taking some good snaps of the towers from outside. Simply the most spectacular modern building we’d seen on this holiday and well worth the visit.

So, a day in a big city finishes. Quite a contrast from Cambodia. Next stop, Borneo.

Goodbye Cambodia, we’ll miss you. And photos.

Let’s be honest. After Vietnam and Laos and some of the food poisoning and transport difficulties we had in those countries, we approached Cambodia with a little trepidation.

We didn’t dash around Cambodia, everything we saw was done in a very unhurried way, which suited us perfectly. What we did see was absolutely stunningly spectacular – Angkor, Lazy Beach, silk making – and horrifying – War, Prison and Genocide Museums.

Cambodia has been through so much so recently, even compared to the suffering of other countries in this part of the world. Trying not to sound patronising here but we were blown away by the hope, the will to succeed and the natural easy-going nature of the people.

So much more to see in Cambodia, we’ll be back. Have a look at our photos here.

The dark past of Cambodia

We weren’t looking forward to our visit to two of the more infamous sites of the Khmer Rouge’s murderous regime which led Cambodia through its darkest period of history.

Sure, it’s been written a million times before but some stark statistics are that anywhere between 2 and 3 million people were killed from 1975-1979, many of whom were brutally murdered by the government. That’s 1/3 of the entire population of Cambodia at the time, either murdered for sometimes no other reason than being educated or being a relative of the wrong person. That’s men, women, children and even babies. Khmer Rouge thinking was that babies would grow up and seek retribution for their parents’ death.

We were taken to the Tuol Sleng prison, also called S-21. An old primary school. This is where “confessions” were obtained from around 20,000 people and only 7 survived. Presumably as a way to officially sanction the evil that they were about to commit, prison administrators ensured that ever person who entered had an official photo taken and paperwork completed. Now, hundred of photos of the inmates are displayed and the look on some faces seemed to confirm that they knew what was going to happen to them. Some look only lost and confused. There are blood stained floors and walls. There are gory photos that show what was found in each of the rooms when the Vietnamese army discovered the prison.

The head of S-21, Comrade Duch, is thus far the only person to have been tried for the crimes perpetrated against the Cambodian people.

Next, we went to the Choeung Ek killing fields, though there are hundreds around Cambodia, which were exactly what the name suggests. A pagoda has been built as a tribute to around 17,000 who were murdered there, most taken from the S-21 prison. The memorial pagoda displays all the bones found, including skulls on the first four levels. Truly awful stories about how people were murdered were told to us by our guide. The bones and clothing that are still coming up to the surface, including all over paths on which we walked, underline how recent this ‘history’ still is. We quizzed our guide about many details but no one can explain why a government exterminates 1/3 of its population.

We’re glad we had this very educational and truly upsetting day. It is hugely impressive that Phnom Penh is now such a functioning and vibrant city, when only 30 years ago it had just emerged from complete abandonment during the Khmer Rouge years, its population going from 1 million to 2,000 in just a few days. Even more amazing is how the Cambodians we have met on this holiday, who undoubtedly have lost parents and loved ones, all seem to be educating themselves further in languages/skills (our tuk tuk driver was studying medicine in breaks!) and are hopeful and positive about the future. If there’s any justice in this world, they deserve every success.

Health and safety gone mad

Cambodians are nothing if not entrepreneurial. Faced with a kilometre stretch of bars, all full of drunk tourists, one kind-hearted local spotted a big gap in the market.

‘These people are drunk,’ they thought. ‘Too drunk to light fireworks and then crawl away to a safe distance’.

Saddened at the thought of so many very, very drunk people missing out on the phosphorus-fuelled fun, they hit on the brilliant idea of selling hand-held fireworks … in the bars … simply ignite and point.

Thus it came to pass that Sihanoukville beachfront was lit, every night, by a dazzling display of fireworks being waved around by pissed blokes from all corners of the globe (but mostly from Australia).

Genius.

St. Valentine’s day missed, slackers

Today was our first St. Valentine’s day as a married couple, although there was another 14 before marriage, and it turned out to be a very pleasant non-event.

We did very little, a trip to the supermarket was probably the most activity done during the whole day, the rest was spent sleeping and watching some American crime dramas. Sounds like our normal weekends at home!

Dinner was done perfectly again by the hotel and, after 2 strong cocktails and very large portions of prawn curry and chicken noodle soup, the 8 steps from restaurant to room was just the perfect distance. Slackers is the very minimum we should be called after a day like today.

Paradise found?

The moment the boat rounded the headland it was clear that this bay was going to deliver the unbroken golden sand and shallow turquoise waters promised. Two and half hours off Cambodia’s southern coast lies the island of Kaoh Rong Samloem. On its western shore are a dozen wooden bungalows and a bar-restaurant. Welcome to Lazy Beach.

Our days were spent lazing in the sun, swimming, snorkelling, all interspersed with the odd siesta. Our evenings were filled with silly cocktails, card games and excellent food.

We saw phosphorescence in the sea on our way back from the bar, tiny little flashes of yellow-green light that appeared when the water was stirred up (no, it wasn’t the pina coladas). We saw brightly coloured dragonflies, birds that looked like Archeopteryx in flight (think they were Hornbills), bats, crabs and butterflies. We saw some beautiful sunsets.

Despite every item needing to be brought in by boat, the kitchen here turns out a large menu of Cambodian, Asian and Western food. Squid in Kampot Pepper was a highlight, as were Allan’s massive prawns which he joyfully confirms were bigger than the ones in Phuket.

There’s a dark side to every paradise, though, and we discovered that our lonely, vehicle-free beach miles from anywhere was INCREDIBLY NOISY at night! Not with the revelries of other guests or working noises of staff, but the hard-working fishing fleet that plies the waters here and their very-nearly-falling-apart boat engines. Plus, of course, the crashing of waves on the shore just metres from our bed. The maximum sleep we managed during our stay was 5 hours.

This is not a complaint – just an observation. No need for messages of sympathy from those of you living the easy life back at home. Every rose has its thorn. Next time, we’ll bring earplugs. Oh, and seasickness tablets for Chloe, who belatedly discovered that three hours on a choppy swell is not the life for her… (smutty punchlines welcome)

Out of reach on lazy beach

As from tomorrow, the Hardcow team hit Lazy Beach. This is a set of bungalows sat right on the beach on an island 2 hours from the south coast of Cambodia. There is no Internet, there is no mobile reception, there is very little electricity, so there will be no news or replies to emails from Tuesday to late on Sunday.

Hopefully our view of the sea is better than Arsene Wenger’s hidden view (yet again) of the incident that had one of his players rightly sent off.