Not many SE Asia travellers go to Malaysia. Those that do, hit Kuala Lumpur on the peninsula and even fewer venture to Malaysian Borneo. Those that do, go to Sabah. Sarawak is a different place. If anyone goes there, they may stick to the coast - we've gone inland. Seems to be off the main radar and we're loving it! Lots of beautiful parks and friendly people. No museums, temples, or 'sites' to speak of, just the genuine area full of people doing their own thing. I should know by now that the places NOT mentioned in the guide books we will like, those that are raved about, we will not. Even Brian is having a good time! (and that surely says it all!)
One of the things you notice most about being in a non-touristic area is the stares. We have been travelling with the couple from Finland, so we attract a lot of attention! We would anyway, but the blond hair certainly helps! Brian gets even more silly giggles when he goes into shops and I try to get him to use this to his advantage when bartering, but he won't. Foreigners are quite a novelty here. After 24 hours in Kapit we finally ran into one other traveller. When we head downriver further to Belaga I think we'll see a further downshift.
However, this kind of travel does have it's disadvantages. Our stay in Sibu is one of them...no hotels made for backpackers. But we found something quite nice in Kapit and were actually able to dicker a very good price for the room. There is also a real lack of services for travellers here
. We were desperate for laundry, but no one was advertising doing this. We asked at our hotel and they could do some, but at a very high price (like 3 RM/shirt). So instead, we walked to a shop and bought some laundry soap. There is no tourist information and there isn't quite the number of excellent English speakers that we've noticed previously. Wandering around trying to find the permit office for further travel up the river was quite difficult (my guide book gave the wrong info). There were different wharfs for different boats without any type of signage. No matter what, we could not figure out the opening hours of places (everything is open at 6am and close at 4pm never to re-open again). It made it a bit difficult to know when to eat.
Kapit is a lovely little town with a lively energy. The humidity in Sarawak is like nothing I've ever experienced though. We're using air conditioning for the first time on this trip! I've even bought myself a fan, although when I use it I feel like I should be menopausal. Beautiful afternoon clouds are followed by monsoon rains and evening lightening shows in the quiet time before the Karaoke bars come alive...
But during the day just going around the colourful market is a treat. It sells all sorts of wild jungle produce and we're still adding to our list of fruits. We tried snakefruit, which looks beautiful, but is awfully sour! Something resembling the taste of a date that's in a hard shell and you suck off the fruit around the seed. A new favourite is a little green spikey ball which is very juicy and very sweet. The market also has a wide selection of local meat: river catfish, bearded pig, deer, lesser mouse deer. This morning when I mailed my package home I was able to stand in queue with dozens of locals who were paying their bills and submitting applications, not tourists buying stamps. There's no english at any of the food stalls, but that means each meal is a bit of an adventure and we're learning lots of different dishes. The ABC Special dish was by far he most...colourful!
Well, it's taken us almost 3 months and we finally feel like we're REALLY travelling. I know we've been travelling through places, but now we feel like travellers. Before, we were just on a main tourist trail going through heavily touristic places. Everything was catered to 'the west': toilets, breakfasts...restaurants that locals would NEVER eat in...tacky tourist shops...etc. We're away from that now.