Monday, October 12, 2009

Sabah Orchid Tour Day 2 Part 2 - Oct 1 2009

Here's part 2 of Day Two.

Apparently, there is now a direct flight service from Kuching to Mulu! For return tickets direct from Kuching to Mulu and then from Mulu-Miri-Kuching, I paid a total of only RM343. That used to be how much it cost for a return flight from Miri to Mulu! A deal too good to pass up.

Part 2 of Day Two
Lunch at Gunung Emas
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Lunch stop at Gunung Emas and enjoying the view out on the verandah.
Cool fresh air and breathtaking scenery.
So we left Kipandi at around lunch time. It had been a most enjoyable visit but there was more to come! Tony had arranged for Linus (the park manager) to serve as our guide up the mountain. First, we drove to a rest stop called Gunung Emas for lunch. Tony had recommended the deer meat dish here so we got that. Gary got some fried rice noodles and I believe Peter and the ladies got fried rice. Beautiful scenery from the back of the restaurant. We sat out on the verandah overlooking sweeping valleys. The air was cool and fresh and we were about 1600m above sea level. Lunch was served and the deer meat was pretty tasty, fried with shallots, leek and ginger and served with white rice. Up in the mountains, I noticed that drinks were never served with ice, even though it really wasn’t that cold. I like ice with my cold drinks to help dilute the sweetness.
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Deer meat stir fried with leek, ginger and fried rice noodles (right).
Orchid paradise
Orchids are abundant in the mossy forest
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Coelogyne radioferens on the left and Bulbophyllum catenarium
Once everyone was satisfied and full, we proceeded up the mountain to a small national park/forest reserve nestled somewhere in the middle of the jungle. Linus took us into the forest trails here and my jaw dropped at the amount of orchids and epiphytes on the trees. At first, I thought the park staff had gathered them from nearby jungles and planted them there, tying them to trees or planting them among the leaf litter on the ground but no, everything was natural! Coelogynes, Bulbophyllums, Dendrobiums and terrestrials, it was something I’d never imagine before. There were orchids on tree trunks, on the ground, on the tree tops, at the base of trees, left, right, front, back, center, above and below. It was orchid paradise! And being a protected park, the plants should have at least some level of protection from poachers. Sadly however, I was told that most if not all of the rarer species such as paphs in the area have long been stripped away.
We spent quite a long while just enjoying the beauty of the surroundings. Places like this really need to be preserved for all future generations to see and appreciate. Kids these days spend way too much time indoors and when they do get out of the house it’s into an indoor place again like the mall or the cinema. Not that there’s anything wrong with that but kids need to realize how important it is to have green and healthy forests, preserved and unspoiled because they serve as vital green lungs to our ever expanding cities. Not to mention the amazing diversity in such natural places.
Who knows, the cure to cancer may go down with the last tree to make way for monoculture crops such as oil palm. Besides being extremely unsightly, oil palm plantations also displace countless species of wild animals and wipe out beautiful and rare plant species such as orchids. I believe that even if we all stopped buying oil palm products the march will still continue because palm oil is traded on the market and production of bio-diesel is becoming more significant. However, someone mentioned that oil palm is going through a phase like what all previous monocultures went through before it, cocoa, rubber, pepper etc. One day there will be so much surplus that people will start replacing their oil palms with other crops.
Well back to the park. We also saw a yellow Spathoglottis species flowering along the roadside. Beautiful flower with a small lip, Gary did mention its name to me but I can’t remember it (not kimbaliana). Also saw a lot of Nepenthes tentaculata, the type found here have more squat pitchers compared to those I came across in Kuching. It was quite heartening to see how quickly the yellow Spathoglottis and the N. tentaculata colonized some disturbed forest patches. Baby plants were springing up everywhere.
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Nepenthes tentaculata and Spathoglottis sp. have colonized some of the open disturbed areas.
We also learned about the medicinal uses of a common kerangas (heath forest) shrub with purple flowers. Name escapes me, sorry. Traditionally, the leaves are used to cure small wounds. Take the leaves and crush to a paste and smear on cuts and light wounds to stop the bleeding and dry it up. The unopened buds of the flowers can be chewed on and the juice swallowed (but not the pulp) to relieve minor stomaches or diarrhea.
We also had the pleasure of photographing a most beautiful mini bulbo, Bulbophyllum lohokii which we were told has a very limited distribution area. It was a very eye popping experience, finding the explosion of species diversity in the mossy forests of Mt. Alab. It was well worth the drive.
Giant Tiger Orchid
We left close to sunset, stopping by a village house by the main road to take photos of a huge clump of Grammatophyllum speciosum on the way back. This thing had multiple spikes and as we all walked over to try and take photos of it, the house and plant owner came out to greet the party. “Lima ringgit satu gambar,” he told me. He wanted RM5 per photo. Yes, that’s per photo, not per person. That must be how he got enough funds to build that handsome new house next to his old one. haha Anyway, Peter had the best deal of all, he had a video camera! At 30 frames per second, he must have had like RM45 000 worth of photos the five minutes he spent in there hahaha!
Some of us walked further down the road to look at some dragon fruit plants. Some were flowering and in fruit but no one was around. We made a quick retreat back to the car after discovering dogs had been actively fertilizing the area.
We arrived back in the city past sun down. I was actually quite concerned about leaving early and arriving before dark as I hate driving at night with all the lights from on-coming cars giving me a hard time. Thank goodness by the time night fell, we had driven into the well-lit city roads.
Once we parked the cars at the guest parking lot of the Hyatt, I headed back to 1 City Hotel just nearby to check into my new room. I had requested a room on a different floor and with two twin beds for the night. Why two twin beds? Well, one to put my stuff on, lay out clothes etc and the other to pass out on.
The new twin room I requested, free of cigarette smoke, good!
It was quite a tiring day but we had another event to attend to. Tony Lamb had told us that the Sabah Minister of Tourism, Dato Tengku Adlin had invited us out to dinner at a seafood restaurant at a place called Kampung Nelayan (Fishermen’s Village). So soon as we all showered and changed, we were on the road again but this time, driven in a 40 seater tour coach with a tour guide to accompany us.
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Extremely tasty fresh shrimp and a cultural show at Kampung Nelayan
Dinner was very good. First course, fresh prawns (or shrimp if you will), still alive and swimming in their tanks scooped out and dunked into hot water and served immediately to us. Wooooweeee shrimp doesn’t taste better than this! Many more courses followed including a particularly tasty one was stuffed chicken meat. There were three kinds of stuffing that I tasted, I believe one was shrimp. Yum! There was also a dish called sayur Sabah or Sabah vege. It’s kinda like asparagus but with a tougher texture. Dessert was a very simple but very tasty serving of coconut pudding scooped out of fresh coconuts and served in bowls. We were told it’s easy to make, just take a fresh coconut, take the water and mix in some custard powder or agar powder, cook and then let sit till cool. Refrigerate before serving. Absolutely delicious. Good food, good company, great atmosphere and a wonderful host who was very concerned about our needs. Thank you very much! It was a perfect end to a very satisfying day.
Do check out my Flickr site for the complete Day Two photoset:

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sabah Orchid Tour Day 2 Part 1 - Oct 1 2009

An interrupted rest
After Tony’s talk the night before, I hit the sack soon after a quick shower back at the hotel. Unfortunately, I only got about 3 hours of sleep before a choking cigarette smell woke me up. The entire room reeked of second hand smoke and I felt like I had just had a bowlful of cigarette ash for supper.

The inside of my mouth and throat felt really dry and bitter from breathing this toxic air. It was past midnight and I contemplated switching rooms but then I thought if some asshole’s been smoking out in the corridors then the other rooms would most definitely be reeking as well. So I got up and opened the windows and switched off the aircond to let in some fresh air. This did alleviate the problem somewhat so I settled back in to sleep.

1 City Hotel

Not a half hour in and I awoke to a tickling sensation across my face and then I felt some creepy crawly in my hair! I bolted up and turned a light on, it was a freaking cockroach the size of a 747! Apparently it had got in through the opened windows. In the moment, I grabbed the closest thing to me to crush it, a soft fluffy pillow. :P The little bugger got away scratch free and I spent the rest of the night awake and fidgeting about. The slightest sensation such as that from the comforter tassels shot me right up brushing franticly at invisible roaches.

Anyway, I managed to fall asleep for about 10 minutes when that little bugger scrambled across my face AGAIN! Geez what was it after? This time I was ready and squashed it flat with my bare hands. I didn’t care if it was dirty, I was quite determined to make sure it didn’t live to race across another hotel guest’s face! I even crushed and dislocated its head to be sure before leaving it atop the toilet cistern to show housekeeping the next day (not the hotel’s fault though as I believe it got in when I opened the windows).

Well, you know what they say about roaches, they’ve been around for millions of years and no amount of crushing can truly kill them. It was gone the next morning, no trace of it wherever I looked!

Someone’s missing a leg. ;P

So back to the smoke problem, because I had to close the windows, the cigarette smoke was back and how time flies when you’re squashing roaches, it was nearly 3AM! I turned on the TV and Band of Brothers was on so I watched that till I fell asleep an hour or so later. Got up again at 6AM and was out the door by 7AM to request for a new room on a different floor which the hotel staff politely obliged (they apologized for the smell and roach too). So I really only had about 4 hours of sleep time the entire night. I was a walking zombie came breakfast time.

Breakfast – roti canai telur
I ran into half of the group out for morning coffee on my way to the bank. We all then went to the 24 hour mamak food joint right across from my hotel and everyone had roti canai telur (Indian flat bread with egg). Everyone seemed to enjoy theirs but having had much better fare elsewhere, I thought the roti was too dry and very bland. Everyone cleaned up their plates except me, with more than half left over. Were you guys really that hungry or are did my taste buds go all wonky after inhaling all that polluted air the night before?
Next thing to do, pick up our rentals at the airport so we all set off in three taxis.

Burning fuel
After burning a litre or so of fuel taking the cars for a spin, I suddenly realized I had a Garmin Etrex Vista hCX GPS with a super sensitive receiver and preloaded maps for the whole of Sabah complete with topography maps and ice maker in my bag! With the GPS it was easy to drive all the way up right to the doorstep of Kipandi.

Kipandi  Butterfly Park
The drive up to Kipandi is a pretty nice and scenic drive in the direction of Penampang and Tambunan. It’s not too difficult to drive there if you have a GPS telling you which way to turn but even without one, once you’ve been up there, it’s unlikely you’ll forget the way the second time.
After passing rolling hills to our left and right, sweeping valleys, sloping roads and steep gradients, we finally arrived at Kipandi! Everyone took out their cameras and started snapping away at the tiniest thing that moved (bees and wasps) and the commonest of Borneo orchids (Arundina) out on the parking area even before paying the requisite entrance fee of RM20 per person. Tony and the Kipandi crew were already waiting for us up at the reception area.

Kipandi is a really nice place to visit if you’re into insects and species orchids. There’s a small collection of Hoya, Nepenthes and Aeschynanthus (lipstick plant) species as well.

Tony first introduced us to a unique local fruit very popular in Sabah, buah tarap (Tarap fruit, Artocarpus species). I have only ever tasted this fruit once during my previous trip to Sabah as my mom  loves it and bought a whole fruit hoping I’d help her finish it. I didn’t like it one bit then and I didn’t like it this time either.

Tony Lamb introducing buah tarap to the group.

Digging in! In a few minutes almost the entire fruit’s gone.

This fruit has a very strong pungent odor, smells like kerosene to me. I call it the kerosene fruit. It’s supposed to taste heavenly but it tasted more like wet cotton with syrup. Now I don’t know about you but cotton isn’t very tasty to me. Everyone else in the group disagreed however, and pretty soon the freshly split fruit on the table was reduced to only skin and seeds. “Yum, tastes like chicken!” said someone (ever notice how everything new tastes like chicken?). “Oooh, this tastes like papaya and bourbon!” said another. “Wow! It’s like eating cake with all the icing minus the calories!” exclaimed one other. However, the over-the-top remark of the day was this - “This is so good I just farted and nobody noticed!” A bit inappropriate when you’re standing around in a circle of 11.

I made up all of the above remarks of course, harhar!. ;P I simply guessed what they each were thinking while sampling (or devouring!) the stinky fruit.

Short introduction and welcome note from Dr. Steven Chew.

We were then given a short introduction by Dr. Steven Chew, the resident entomologist who then took us up the insect museum. Very impressive collection of butterflies of various species from Sabah and across the seas. Stick insects, beetles, roaches, you name it! He then took us into the butterfly garden and we saw a number of very colorful and beautiful large specimens gliding through the air. One came into to land on a nearby vine to lay its eggs. We saw one particularly interesting caterpillar, a big fat thing with soft rubbery hairs sticking out of its body.

A tour of the insect museum.

Big soft and rubbery caterpillar.

In the butterfly garden were also some interesting plants. One in particular, botanic name escapes me, looks like a cross between an aroid and a pandan. It flowers at the very base of the plant and produces flowers which stink like fresh droppings of a monkey. Its main pollinator are bugs that are attracted to such a stench.

Fascinating wild orchids
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Besides the insect collection, Kipandi also features a large collection of wild orchids mostly collected from deforested areas (logging, development, plantation etc.). The garden here is very well cared for, the blood and sweat of one Linus (he gave me his card but I misplaced it) whom I understand is the manager of the place.

The shade houses feature all kinds of orchids from the smallest Bulbophyllum species to giant Grammatophyllum species. We were also in luck as it was Coelogyne season, specifically C. radioferens and C. dayana (or is it C. pulverula now?).

The way the garden is laid out also gave me a lot of ideas how to redo my own orchid house. They had tree fern trunks driven into the ground and aroids, ferns and other ground plants to help keep the soil together around the trunks. On the trunks were orchids of all kinds and the cool and misty mountain weather really helps to keep the plants in good condition.

Please hop over to my Flickr page to view the photos taken at Kipandi. I think words cannot do justice to the beauty of some of the species found in bloom there. I will let the pictures do the talking.
(flickr pro account expired, pictures in above set no longer accessible)

Day Two to be continued in Part 2.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Sabah Orchid Tour Day 1 - Sep 30 2009

September 30th 2009

Don’t know why but whenever I’m on the eve of flying off somewhere, I usually have trouble sleeping. I guess it’s the anticipation. Even if it’s just flying off to a nearby place (I define nearby as less than 2 hours flight time) like Singapore or KL or in this case, Kota Kinabalu. I had very little sleep the night before my flight to KK from KCH. I was to join a group of 10 for an orchid tour through Sabah. I call it Nature Tour now as we saw a lot more than just wild orchids.

This tour's been in the works for quite a while. Back in 2008 if I remember correctly, I got an email about a trip being put together to Sabah and Sarawak to look for orchids in 2009.

The Tour 2009 was to visit Mt. Kinabalu Park, Mesilau, Poring, Kipandi, Orchids de Villa and Long Pasia in Sabah. It would then move on to Sarawak (Mulu National Park and Kuching). I booked myself a return ticket on Malaysia Airlines KCH-BKI returning on the 13th but then I realized I won’t be able to join the trip to Long Pasia so I bought a new ticket from BKI-KCH, leaving the one on the 13th unused. Thank goodness I got my tickets early and cheap however, RM50 per leg, nett!

Kota Kinabalu Day One

1 City Hotel

I got into KK at around 11am. Went straight to 1 City Hotel where I had reserved a standard room. Quite a pleasant surprise this hotel was, not much to look at on the outside but the rooms looked and felt at least 3 stars. Large LCD TV with satellite channels, big comfy king-sized bed with no shortage of pillows and clean towels, carpeting, free-flowing hot water and the icing on the cake, unlimited use of the free wifi! All for just RM98 per night.

First thing I do in hotels is to check the sheets. Mine had some stubborn stains in them so I had housekeeping put in a new sheet immediately. Friendly staff here.

Meeting the rest of the group

All done, I headed out to the Hyatt hotel less than a block away where the rest of the group would be staying. Most arrived in KK a couple days or so earlier than we did so they had time to mingle and get to know each other.

I’m trying to remember what we did after meeting up in the lobby… oh right, off we all went to Yummy Chicken, a food joint serving all kinds of local dishes from fried noodles to fried chicken to tom yam. We all ordered the ginger chicken which was pretty good and fresh fruit juices. We then split up the cost by 9.

Borneo Books and Texas Grill

To while the afternoon away, we went to Borneo Books. The new Malesian Orchid Journal Vol 4 is out. No idea what we all did between then and dinner, data’s all missing from my archives. We had dinner at a place called Texas Grill right across the street from the Hyatt and most of us ordered nasi lemak (yes of all things!) which turned out pretty good. Then, just short of falling flat on my face nose in my dish due to the sheer weight of my eyelids, we got up and headed back to the hotel where we then met Tony Lamb, who gave us a short but insightful mini presentation about orchids and the flora of Mount Kinabalu. It was enjoyable indeed, even if my eye lids felt like lead. When the presentation was done, I nearly passed out on the floor as I was that tired (very little sleep before the early flight from Kuching).

Orchids – a bottomless pit

Mr. Tony Lamb mentioned that night that the orchid hobby (specifically wild orchids) being a bottomless pit. Well, I’ve hit the bottom of the pit fortunately so my wallet can at least breathe a little easier. I’ve stopped buying plants completely but have not lost interest in them. I love photographing them and have taken thousands of photos since 2007. Even if I was still new to keeping orchids compared to everyone else, I didn’t feel out of place as everyone’s very down to earth and we all got along very well! Not an easy thing to do, putting together a tour for 10 but thankfully we didn’t have to leave anyone by the roadside for being too opinionated. haha

In actual fact, not too much happened on Day 1. I just like to be wordy and show off my three-finger typing skill that “blazes” ahead at 53.97 words per minute (I’m typing in a public space). Next, Day 2 at Kipandi and Mt. Alab.

Here are some pictures from Day 1. As usual, for clearer photos, head to my Flickr site.


Taken from the plane, I believe the mountains in the distance are part of Mulu National Park.


My room at 1 City Inn, nice and clean with a big comfy bed. Conveniently located and free wifi too!


Iced lemon tea served in what looks like a honey jar.


For lunch, almost all of us went with the ginger chicken served in this beautiful piece of china which some in our party attempted to buy on our second visit to this place.

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