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Getting around

Part 3: Batang Ai

30-31.7: Munich -> Abu Dhabi -> Delhi -> Singapore
1.8: Singapore -> Desaru
2.8: Desaru
3.8: Desaru -> Singapore
14.8: Jakarta -> Kuala Lumpur
15.8: Kuala Lumpur -> Kuching -> Batang Ai
16.8: Batang Ai
17.8: Batang Ai (longhouse and waterfall trip)
18.8: Batang Ai -> Kuching -> KL -> Bangkok
20.8: Bangkok -> Kuala Lumpur
21.8: Kuala Lumpur
22.8: Kuala Lumpur
29.8: Kota Bharu -> Temenggor lake (Royal Belum state park)
30.8: Tour on Temenggor lake and Belum reserve
31.8: Belum state park -> Ulu Muda
1.9: Ulu Muda
2.9: Ulu Muda
3.9: Ulu Muda -> Dabong (near Gunung Stong state park)
4.9: Stong state park -> Gua Ikan -> Gua Musang -> Dabong
5.9: Dabong -> Tumpat -> Kota Bharu -> KL
6.9: Kuala Lumpur
7.9: Kuala Lumpur -> Abu Dhabi -> Munich

14.8: Jakarta -> Kuala Lumpur
Tune Hotel, KLIA2 terminal of KL airport. 206 RM for a very small room with attached bath with shower. Basic, but clean room containing all essentials, but not a phone (i.e. you can't call the reception if there is a problem). The room has an LCD TV which is on when I arrive, but no remote control. There is no way to switch off the TV, as I can't find a switch or a plug to pull. Finally I find the box with all the A/C power switches and manage to switch off the TV. Hair dryer in the toilet. Free WLAN included in the room price.
Weather: sunny the whole day in Jakarta, some haze. Tropically warm, but not too hot.

After four days in Jakarta, at 3:15pm I catch a taxi to the airport. Due to the traffic the trip to the airport takes one hour. Cost is 1230000 IDR + 4000 IDR (airport parking) + 13500 IDR (road tolls). When checking in, Airasia charges 150000 IDR airport tax (luckily I have enough Indonesian cash left). Damned airline, they should include the airport tax in the ticket price.

Then I proceed through the passport and security checks to the gate. The airport is quite clean and modern. However there are no cafes or restaurants after the security check.

The Airasia flight to KL leaves with some delay. The plane is quite full - 80-90% of the seats are taken.

We land in KL at 10pm. This is KLIA2, the new terminal of Airasia. The terminal is modern, clean and functional, but also huge. It takes almost 20 minutes of fast walking to reach the immigration counter. After that I retrieve the luggage. The KLIA2 terminal is like a huge shopping mall with plenty of shops and restaurants. The good thing compared to the LCCT terminal is that now the entire area is air-conditioned.

After a lot more walking I finally reach the Tune hotel at 10:45pm and check in there.

15.8: Kuala Lumpur -> Kuching -> Batang Ai
Hotel Hilton Batang Ai. 300 RM for a big room with big separate toilet (breakfast included the price). Strictly speaking not a Hilton hotel, just run by Hilton. The hotel has a small pool and a restaurant.
Elegant luxury room with two beds (sheets are quite old though), phone, some lamps, furniture. Toilet with shower. Adjustable A/C, but of the old type. No WLAN in the hotel. Phone calls with a mobile phone are possible (there is a radio base station adjacent to the hotel).
To reach the hotel you must take a hotel boat at the jetty of the Batang Ai lake. Using the boat the first and last time is free, at other times there is a fee of 69 RM.  When arriving, there is a very steep and long staircase, and you have to carry your luggage. No ramp on which you could roll a suitcase with rolls.
The hotel offers a number of day-trips, but prices are quite steep (up to 140 RM/person, min. two people).
BTW, the customers are 90% or more westerners
Weather: some rain in the morning in KLIA2, then the sky opens up. Sunny with some clouds in Kuching, tropically warm. A little rain around 5pm in Batang Ai.

I get up at 6:20am and leave the hotel by 7:05am, then walk to the terminal. Check-in proceeds smoothly and the Airasia flight takes off almost on time, shortly after 8:30am.

We land in Kuching at 10:15am and by 10:30am I'm outside the gate waiting for my driver. This is Mr Yap, who will drive me to the Batang Ai jetty for RM 350. We leave at 10:35am.

The trip proceeds smoothly. The only problem is that the taxi driver drives slowly. Even on the motorway we only reach a maximum speed of 80-90km/h. As a consequence we miss the 2:30pm boat and only arrive at 3:15pm.

So I wait at the small pre-registration house which overlooks the jetty (about 3-400m from it). Shortly before 4:15pm I walk down to the jetty.

The 4:15pm boat will leave only at 4:25pm and will be really crowded. At 5pm I finally am at the hotel and check-in. It's too late to start any activity and it is also raining a bit, so I just relax at the pool and have a dinner at 7pm.

16.8: Batang Ai
Hotel Hilton Batang Ai. Good breakfast with lots of stuff.
I'm able to receive emails through the smartphone, but in homeopathic doses. Every now and then the smartphone manages to download a few emails.

Weather: overcast in the early morning, confortably fresh air. After 10am the sky opens up and by 2pm the air is very hot. Heavy rain in the evening, starting at 8pm for over an hour.

This morning I have breakfast after 9am, then around 10am I check with the staff if there are forest trails on which to explore the surroundings. Turns out that there is only one short forest trail looping behind the resort and which includes a canopy walk. Walking further is not possible according to the guide. Also, the trail may only be done with a guide, as I'm being told. The trip can be done twice a day, at 10am and 4:45pm.

So I get back to the room, get ready and put on insect repellent. Then, at 10:30am I start walking on this trail. With slow walking and several stops along the way to take pictures I reach the canopy walk 15 minutes later. There is a gate which is locked, so I have to climb around this gate.

The view from this canopy walk is ok, but not as impressive as the one in other jungle areas where I've been (Ulu Temburong, Danum valley etc.). Lots of mosquitoes, who sting me through the T-shirt on the shoulder. Should have put insect repellent also there.

I continue walking until the point where the trail bends back to the hotel. Here I try to continue my excursion into the jungle, but have to give up pretty soon, because I cannot see the ground and am not keen to wade through the vegetation without seeing what I'm putting my feet on. I'd probably need very long rubber boots and a machete to continue walking into the forest.

Then I walk down to the lake and, at 11:30am, back to my room where I cool down a bit.

I check again the excursions offered by the resort. A couple are to the Iban longhouse. The half-day one leaves at 9am, brings you to the longhouse and back by 12pm. The full-day one adds a stop at a waterfall for swimming, lunch and brings you back at 2pm. Then there are fishing trips, trips to the waterfall etc.

There is actually not too much to do in this hotel, which in fact is quite isolated and far away from everything. Maybe I shouldn't have booked three nights in this place. Should have taken a tour which would have brought me to a number of places in this area and would only have included one night or so here.
On the other hand it's nice having a hotel with A/C where to cool down and relax just in case.

In the afternoon I book the longhouse + waterfall trip. Way overpriced at over RM 200, but it's the only way to see one of the Iban longhouses in the area.

I spend the rest of the day in the resort.

17.8: Batang Ai (longhouse and waterfall trip)
Hotel Hilton Batang Ai.
Weather: sunny, blue sky with some clouds. Hot in the afternoon. Rain in the evening after 6pm until after 8pm.

In the morning I'm ready by 9am for the excursion to the longhouse and the waterfall. This is a full-day excursion (in reality it ends at 2pm), costing 214 RM with which they bring you to one Iban longhouse (dance performance included) and to a waterfall for swimming after that.

The boat leaves at 9:15am from the jetty. Together with me there is an elderly British couple, a young Taiwanese-Japanese couple (with unclear relationship status, seems the Taiwanese girl is trying to seduce the Japanese guy, otherwise she wouldn't be wearing such a tiny hot bikini) and the guide. Another boat is leaving with guests who will only do the half-day trip to the longhouse (and be back by 12pm).

We proceed now first on the lake and later enter the Engkari river, a tributary of the Batang Ai lake. The water levels in the lake are low, around 3-4 metres below normal. I hear that this year the rainy season finished three months early.

After half an hour, at 9:45am we reach the Nanga Mengkak Engkari Iban longhouse. Surprise, this is not an original Iban longhouse. Together with many longhouses in the area, when the Batang Ai dam was built in 1985 these were relocated to higher positions to avoid being flooded by the waters. As a consequence, when the longhouse was rebuilt, modern materials were used (tin roofs for instance), not traditional ones.

The Nanga Mengkak Engkari longhouse has comfortable living quarters for 37 families, with TVs, satellite dishes, washing machines etc. The only original thing which has remained is the longhouse layout, and the tradition of a community of living together under a chief (sort of a local king, because the new chief is the son of the current chief).

It appears also that this longhouse is visited by several tour operators (on a blackboard I spot bookings of Diethelm Travel and other tour operators).

Offer of rice wine and of a stronger liquor, which I don't try. Dance show with a guy dressed in traditional Iban gear and an elder lady. Then, at 11:30am we board the boat again and proceed to the next place, the waterfall.

At 12pm we get out of the boat, then walk 10 minutes in the jungle and reach the place. This is a beautiful small waterfall in the middle of the jungle. Cold refreshing water, the best spot of today. A pity we can only stay one hour in this place.

Towels and lunch are provided by the hotel staff. One hotel guy is grilling a fish for the Japanese-Taiwanese couple who ordered menu D which included this fish.

Around 1:20pm we walk back to the boat and reach the hotel at 2pm. I spend the rest of the day relaxing in the resort. Plenty of Allamanda flowers in the resort.

In the afternoon quick chat with the local guide of the hotel. To go further upriver you need to book a tour with Borneo Adventure (actually, according to the Rough Guides guidebook, other tour operators are also making the trip to the Nanga Sumpa longhouse, one hour further upriver). The Batang Ai resort is not allowed to bring people to the upriver area.

18.8: Batang Ai -> Kuching -> KL -> Bangkok
Dream Bangkok hotel. 1900 Baht for a nice, clean and elegant hotel room with good, soft bed, good A/C with a working thermostat, big flat screen TV, nice furniture (table+chair, fridge, electronic safe, two cupboards etc.). Free Internet in the room. Very good buffet breakfast included. The only difficult thing is to catch a taxi in the morning.
Expensive laundry service: 70 baht for underpants or socks. Luckily I find a massage shop next to the hotel doing laundry for a fraction of this.
Weather: overcast in the morning in Batang Ai. Around 11am the sky opens up, then mostly sunny (with some clouds) for the rest of the day. Surprisingle hot in the evening in Bangkok.

Entire day spent getting from the Borneo jungle to Bangkok.

At 10am I catch the hotel boat to the jetty, arriving there at 10:20am. I notice that only two mobile network operators have coverage here: Maxis and Digi. It seems that all coverage comes from the radio base station at the Batang Ai resort.

The taxi driver picks me up at 10:30am. Brief lunch stop at 12:30pm along the way. We reach the Kuching airport at 2:35pm.

I check in for the Malaysian Airlines flight at the electronic check-in terminals where you can get the boarding pass. Then, after having some food in a KFC restaurant I proceed to the gate.

The Malaysian Airlines (MAS) flight leaves on time and arrives on time at 5:40pm in KLIA. The plane is a modern Boeing 737-800, quite classy with individual screens in each seat. More space in the seat rows than on Airasia flights. Also better service, as meals are included in the price. Once there I proceed to the gate for the connecting MAS flight to Bangkok. This leaves at 6:50pm and lands in Bangkok at 8pm local time. The MAS plane to Bangkok is less than half-full.

In Bangkok I get some cash from an ATM and a SIM card from DTAC for 149 Baht (49 for the SIM card + 100 Baht top up). It seems I misunderstand something, because 30MB of data are not included in these 49MB (there is no data at all). An international SMS costs around 10 Baht and the two SMS I send do not arrive to the recipient.

I fetch a taxi to the hotel (cost is 450 Baht, fixed price according to the taxi driver).

Copyright 2014 Alfred Molon