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Part 4: Sematan, Tanjung Datu NP, Gunung Gading NP, Teluk Intan, Similajau NP

08.06: Dubai -> Kuala Lumpur
09.06: Kuala Lumpur
10.06: Kuala Lumpur
11.06: Kuala Lumpur -> Bali
21.06: Surabaya -> Johor Bahru -> Mersing
22.06: Seribuat archipelago
23.06: Mersing -> Johor Bahru -> Kuching
24.06: Kuching -> Sematan

25.06: Gunung Gading NP
26.06: Tanjung Datu NP
27.06: Sematan -> Teluk Intan
28.06: Teluk Intan
29.06: Teluk Intan -> LCCT
30.06: LCCT -> Similajau NP
01.07: Similajau NP -> KL
02.07: KL
03.07-04.07: KL -> Munich

24.06: Kuching -> Sematan
Hotel Sematan Palm Beach Resort, Sematan. 153 RM for a comfortable big room with A/C in a bungalow very close to the beach. Breakfast and à-la-carte dinner included. Small TV, A/C, no phone, bathroom with hot shower. The room doesn't have much furniture, but is very clean. The bungalow has a veranda. The resort is about 3km from the Sematan village, very quiet. Free wireless internet access in the lobby area. You can walk along the beach to the village or rent a bicycle for RM 8.
Weather: sunny and overcast in Kuching. Heavy rain in Sematan between 2 and 3pm, after that light rain until 5pm.

After waking up and getting ready I have breakfast in the hotel (not too much choice, but not bad breakfast). Then I make a number of phone calls to check how it is possible to get to the Tanjung Datu NP.

I speak with one person who apparently coordinates the homestay program in Teluk Melano (the village adjacent to the NP). He mentions an expensive package for RM 1150 (2D/1N, five people, boat included), which however breaks my budget.

On the other hand the staff in the Sematan Palm Beach resort with whom I spoke on the phone yesterday mentioned that the boat costs RM 700, while the Rough Guide (2006) I have mentions a price of RM 200 for a boat.

I discover that the room lies in a free WLAN hotspot and use the Internet to check further the situation in Tanjung Datu. Looks quite complicated, so I decide to get to Sematan and continue searching there for a way to get to Tanjung Datu.

I check out and ask in the reception for a taxi to Sematan. One phone call, and we find a driver willing to do the trip for RM 130. It's Simon Goh, +60-16-8889993, friendly taxi driver from Kuching.

At 10:50am we leave for Sematan. We first stop at a bank where I withdraw some cash from an ATM, then at 11am we continue driving for Sematan.

On the way, shortly before arriving in Sematan, we notice smoke in the mountains. These are fires lit by the local people who know of no better way to clear the forest for farming.

Around 12:40pm we arrive in Sematan. Sematan itself is a tiny village centered around a market square with some shops, a bus stop and a jetty. There is no bank and there are no ATMs.

After checking in the hotel I have some lunch in the restaurant. Then I explore a bit the area. It's almost 2pm and it's about to start to rain.

While it rains I'm in the room until about 4pm, sorting through my photos. After that I go into town (hotel staff brings me by car), and check for boats to Tanjung Datu. Apparently I need to come back tomorrow morning at 9-10am, and talk with the park staff who will come here.

It doesn't take too much time to visit the entire village. Excellent small bananas in the market stall, the best I've had since I came to Malaysia two weeks ago.

Around 5pm I start walking back to the hotel, first along the road, then along the beach. Very laid back and relaxed atmosphere. Reminds me a bit of Kampung Cerating, but is much more laid back. Very long, wide beach, shallow sea. In the evening I don't do much.

25.06: Sematan -> Gunung Gading NP -> Sematan
Hotel Sematan Palm Beach Resort, Sematan.
Weather: overcast the whole day, no rain.

I wake up early, have a look out of the window, then go back to the bed again. The sky is overcast, so today I won't make the trip to Tanjung Datu.

Around 9am I have breakfast, then I have a conversation with the ladies in the reception of the resort. We agree that I will take a car+driver at 1pm to go to the Gunung Gading NP. On the way back, in Lundu at 5pm, the cousin of one of the ladies will pick me up and bring me back to the resort.

In the meantime it's 10am. For the next two hours I do some kayaking in the sea. Almost manage to reach the islands opposite the resort. Then I have lunch and at after 1:15pm I drive to the Gunung Gading national park.

The Gunung Gading national park is a rafflesia centre. Here it should be easy to spot rafflesia flowers. Unfortunately at the moment they have no blooming rafflesias, so I will only see some buds.

We reach the park shortly before 2pm. I register (RM 10) and am assigned a guide (RM 20) who will bring me to the location of the rafflesias.

After about 20 minutes of walk we reach the first rafflesia bud. Then we continue walking and for the next 30 minutes we'll see more rafflesia buds, including one which is 8 months old and will bloom next month.

Around 3pm the guide returns to the headquarters and I continue walking around the national park myself. At some point there is a small river with a small waterfall. Getting into the pond would be possible.

At 3:40pm I start walking back. I leave the park and walk along the road towards Lundu. Lundu is a small city, probably the only one with a bank in the area. I reach Lundu around 4:15pm, then walk around a bit. Lots of Chinese in Lundu.

At 5pm the cousin picks me up in his car. We drive back to Sematan, where I buy a big fish in the market. Then the cousin picks up his wife and his daughters and we drive back to the resort.

At the resort I hand over the fish to the restaurant and ask them to cook it (half today, half tomorrow). I don't do much in the evening. Great sunset by the way.

26.06: Sematan -> Tanjung Datu NP -> Sematan
Hotel Sematan Palm Beach Resort, Sematan. The room costs RM 180 today (weekend price).
Weather: sunny, blue sky with some clouds for most of the day. It rains for about one hour between 3:30 and 4:30pm.

Beautiful day today. I get up around 9am, get ready, have breakfast, and at 10am, one of the ladies in the reception brings me to Sematan village by car. What a service. There they introduce me to the boatsman.

The boatsman will for the modest sum of RM 450 (!) bring me to Teluk Melano and the Tanjung Datu NP. We'll be back in the late afternoon.

We leave Sematan at 10:10am and reach Teluk Melano at 10:55am. The sea is very flat and smooth, no waves, no wind.

Teluk Melano is an isolated Malay village which can only reached by boat (no roads lead there, although people are using motorbykes there). It is relatively small, consisting of a number of Malay style houses, some of them on stilts. Coconut palms everywhere. The beach of Teluk Melano is nice, but is of yellow sand, not white coral sand. Near Teluk Melano there are a number of other small beaches. From Teluk Melano it is possible to walk to the Tanjung Datu NP (3.7km, takes approx. 1 1/2 hours).

After a brief stop in Teluk Melano we continue our trip to Tanjung Datu at 11:15am.  Ten minutes later we are at the NP.  We arrive at a beach, then pass through a gate and walk for 450m on a plankway to the park headquarters.

There I register and pay the park fee (RM 10). The park ranger explains a bit the park. Today I'm the only visitor to the park. Wow, the entire park for me. Actually the last visitors arrived to the park the day before yesterday. This park gets very few visitors, on average around 40 visitors/month, of which only 10 are non-Malaysians.

According to the ranger there are no leeches in the park and in fact I won't meet any today. My guess is that the soil is a bit too dry for the leeches to feel comfortable.

Around 12pm I start walking on the Pasir Antu Laut trail (2.7km), the trail which runs more or less parallel to the beach. The rainforest is quite cute, but where is the breathtaking scenery as described in the Rough Guide Malaysia? It's definitely a nice and peaceful national park, with pristine rainforest and nice small rivers flowing through it, but it lacks breathtaking sights.

While walking in the forest I hear at one point some noise in the trees, most likely caused by a large animal, probably a monkey. But I can't see any large animal. In fact I will only see small animals, insects, reptiles, but no large ones. On the one hand the time is not suitable (early afternoon), on the other hand the animals here are afraid of humans.

Around 12:50pm I run into the trail which leads to the beach. After five minutes I'm on the beach. Very nice setting, big round rocks on the beach, to the right the long sandy beach. I swim a bit in the sea, then walk back to the park HQ along the beach.

It's almost 2pm when I reach the park HQ. I rest a bit, then continue walking on the Belian trail (2km long). This trail is much tougher than the first one I tried. I have to climb the steep hills up. Lot of sweating in the heat. Almost no mosquito bites, because I'm covered with a thick layer of mosquito repellent.

It's about 2:45pm when I reach the small trail which leads to the rafflesias. Also this park has rafflesias, but they are a different species than the one found in the Gunung Gading NP. I start walking towards the rafflesias. Horrible narrow trail on a very steep hillside. Quite tough to wak here, requires a lot of concentration and balancing. It doesn't help that I'm wearing slippers.

Finally shortly after 3pm I find the rafflesia spot. There are several rafflesia buds, of which the largest one probaby will bloom in one month or so. No blooming rafflesias.

After about 10 minutes at this spot I backtrack and head back towards the Belian trail. In the meantime I hear some thunder and around 3:30pm it starts raining.

I expect the worst, that I will arrive at the park HQ completely wet, but then it turns out that the thick leaves layer blocks a lot the rain. Few drops initially reach the ground and in fact I'll manage to reach the park HQ mostly dry.

In any case I rush down the steep mountainside with my slippers. Major balancing effort and lots of concentration required. Thick layer of leaves on the ground which make the trail even more slippery.

Around 4pm I finally reach the park HQ. Small chat with the park ranger, then at 4:30pm I walk back to the boat and we head abck to the hotel. This time the sea is quite rough and both the boatsman and myself get a nice shower of seawater on the way back.

In the evening I don't do much. I call Simon Goh, the taxi driver of Kuching. He'll pick me up tomorrow at 10am.

27.06: Sematan -> Teluk Intan
Room in a flat for rent in Teluk Intan, RM 60. Was booked by my wife. Big room with A/C, bathroom, basic accessories
Weather: sunny in the morning in Sematan, then overcast.

I get up, pack my stuff. At 10:15am the taxi driver picks me up. We arrive in Kuching airport around 11:45am. I check in, then proceed to the gate. The Airasia flight leaves a bit early and lands in KL on time at 2:25pm.

Then I contact Shirley and ask if her brother Shaun will pick me up. Yes, he will, around 4pm at KLIA after picking up David, another brother of Shirley who lives in Shanghai. So I take the shuttle bus connecting the LCC terminal (which AirAsia uses) and KLIA.

The flight from Shanghai has some delay, so we only manage to leave KLIA in Shaun's car after 5pm and arrive in Teluk Intan at 8pm.

28.06: Teluk Intan
Room in a flat for rent in Teluk Intan.
Weather: sunny and  hot with some clouds

Family day in Teluk Intan. I'm again together with Shirley and the kids, and meet the parents of Shirley and her brothers and sisters with respective spouses and kids.

29.06:  Teluk Intan -> LCCT airport terminal (KL)
Tune hotel, LCCT airport terminal. Total of RM 138 spent for a tiny room, 3m x 3m + a small toilet with shower. Room has a bed, A/C (for which I paid RM 21), fan, a safe. There is a hair dryer in the toilet. Nothing else, no furniture, no place where to put the luggage (I keep it next to the bed). No telephone and therefore no way to contact the reception if you need something. Bring your own alarm clock, as there is no way to arrange a wake up call.
I paid RM 12 for 24 hours of wireless Internet (good and fast connection) and RM 5 for a towel. The room is very noisy (facing a busy road). Overpriced, but the location is very good, just a few minutes walk from the airport terminal.

Weather: sunny and hot with some clouds in Teluk Intan. Relatively fresh in KL in the evening.

I get up around 9am, get ready and pack my things. At 11am I have some late breakfast/lunch in a White Coffee cafe in Teluk Intan, then between 12pm and 2:20pm we are in the local cinema to watch Transformers. War-like movie, a bit too much violence and destruction for a 5 year old (Alissia is with us).

Then we drive back to the house of the parents of Shirley. At 5pm I take a bus to KL (Jalan Duta bus station). The bus reaches KL at 7:30pm. After a brief dinner I take a taxi to the LCC terminal (coupon system: RM 88 for the ride, overpriced, the metered fare is just RM 40). By 9pm I'm in the hotel.

30.06: LCCT airport terminal (KL) -> Similajau national park
Chalet in the Similajau NP. I pay RM 52.50 for a chalet with a basic room and bathroom next to it. No A/C, only fan. No towels. No hot water, cold showers only. Very spartan accommodation. The only accommodation with A/C (and perhaps towels and hot water) is the VIP lounge (RM 200 for single occupancy). Check in at 2pm., check out at 11am.
Weather: a mix of sunny and overcast in Similajau. No rain. Not too hot.

I wake up at 7am and at 8am I take the shuttle minibus (RM 1) of the Tune hotel to the LCCT airport. After checking in there is very little time left to get to the gate.

The AirAsia plane takes off shortly after the scheduled 9:05am departure and arrives in Bintulu shortly after 11am. Intensive questioning at the H1N1 screening because I'm a foreigner. Then I go through the Sarawak immigration (lady asks what I'm doing in Bintulu), retrieve the luggage and take a taxi (RM 73, coupon system) to the Similajau NP.

We reach the Similajau NP at 12:30pm. The NP is approx. 40km from the airport. Some discussion with the park staff: they can call a taxi for me tomorrow. A boat to the Golden beach costs RM 200 (150 one way). The park has a canteen which serves basic food. It appears that today I and a British girl are the only visitors to this NP. Not too many visitors in general.

After depositing my stuff in the room, I have some lunch in the canteen. Food is not that clean (there is an ant in my drink).

At 2pm I start walking on the 6km long trail to the Turtle Beach. I won't make it until there - at 4:30pm I turn back to avoid being in the jungle after dark. For the next four and a half hours I'm walking on the trails; good trails, well marked, easy to walk speedily.

Around 4pm, next to a small river shortly before Km 5, I spot a small crocodile (approx. 1.5m long), which quickly runs away as soon as it notices me. I also heard something big jump into the river before that, so perhaps there are two crocodiles in that river. Other sightings are a large monkey, which I actually just hear but can't see, and some largish lizards on the beach.

When walking back to the NP HQ, I choose the beach route. Great decision, because the coast looks gorgeous with all the rocky formations and the rainforest in the late afternoon. I walk back quickly, but the beach would be an excellent place where to spend some time. Very special setting (rainforest, rocks and sand). Beach interrupted by small rivers every now and then.

On the way back, I only reach the viewpoint at 6:15pm. Only 15 minutes left to cover the 1.3km to the park HQ. I rush a bit, getting up and down the hills with my slippers, then manage to be at the park HQ by 6:30pm. Nice sunset after that.

01.07: Similajau national park -> KL
Hotel Boulevard, KL. RM 235 for a double room (deluxe).
Weather: rain early in the morning in Similajau, then overcast, then some sunshine. Comfortable temperature in Similajau, not hot. Hazy in KL in the evening, thin clouds layer.

Despite having set the alarm clock to 7am I sleep until 8:15am. Must have been too tired yesterday. Outside it's raining, so I give up on the idea to take an early boat to the golden beach in Similajau NP. I check if it would be possible to visit the Niah national park, but going and coming back would take over five hours (three hours needed at the park). I would barely manage to catch my 4:10pm flight and would rush a lot.

So I just take it easy and get ready. I decide to take the boat to the golden beach (RM 200 for a return trip), no matter what the weather is. By 9:50am I'm in the office and ask for a boat (and a taxi at 2pm). Then I have a short breakfast in the canteen and at 10:15am the boat leaves for the golden beach.

It only takes half an hour to reach the Golden Beach. A beautiful and long beach of light yellow sand (golden actually), with a pond of clear water behind. Very scenic setting, unspoilt clean beach, soft sand, clean seawater. Behind the green jungle. A great place to stay and relax, if you have your own boat, because the only other way to reach the beach is by walking for 10km (3 hours +) across the jungle.

We spend some time on the beach, then go to the Turtle beaches, which are on the way back to the  headquarters. These are not as breathtaking as the Golden Beach, but are also very nice.

It's almost 12pm when we start going back to the park headquarters, which we reach around 12:15pm. Short discussion with the park staff at the headquarters about the national park.

The Similajau NP doesn't get so many visitors, which is partly understandable, because basically there is just one very long trail and the park highlights (the beaches and the coastal area) are only accessible by boat (expensive) or by a long and tiring walk across the jungle. Otherwise it's a marketing problem - the Similajau NP is not well known and is quite far away from Kuching, the tourist capital of Sarawak. Were Similajau more easily accessible from Kuching, it would get more visitors.

I have lunch in the canteen, then I pack my stuff. Shortly before 2pm the taxi driver is there. Some discussion about the price, initially the driver asks for RM 80, then accepts RM 70.

At 2:45pm we are at the airport of Bintulu. I check in, then head to the departure hall. The AirAsia flight leaves on time and arrives on time in the LCC terminal of the KL airport.

Once I retrieve my suitcase, I notice that somebody has opened it. Nothing is missing, but it is very annoying that somebody searched through my suitcase without asking for permission. This is already the second time that this happens. Shame on AirAsia. I'll buy a better lock which can't be broken so easily and from now on start using it. This searching through my bag without my permission is very irritating has to stop. Like somebody breaking into your house and doing a search.

In the evening I meet Shirley, the kids and the relatives. We have some dinner and stroll through the Midvalley mall.

02.07: KL
Hotel Boulevard, KL.
Weather: rain in the morning in KL. Later in the day dry but more or less overcast. Not too hot.

Day spent with the family, essentially doing some shopping and babysitting while Shirley does the shopping.

03.07-04.07: KL -> Munich
Hotel Boulevard, KL.
Weather: sunny but thin clouds layer the whole day. Slightly overcast in the afternoon. No rain the whole day. Not too hot.

Another day spent with the family, shopping etc. Farewell dinner with the family of Shirley at 7:30pm, later we pack our stuff and at 11pm we are in a taxi (RM 150) to the airport. Check-in at 12pm at the Emirates counter, fast and uncomplicated.

The plane takes off with a slight delay of 10 minutes at 2:10am and lands in Dubai on time. Departure from Dubai at 8:35am, arrival in Munich at 1pm local time.

Copyright 2009 Alfred Molon