DAY 1 (Kuching – Sibu)
Maarten, the vegetarian veterinarian, and i, the fantastik filosofa, we leave Kuching at 8:30 a.m. and have seven different drivers. Among them father&son duo, primary school teacher, cybercrime detective, gambling machine repairman… they all bring bring us a bit further on our way. It is interesting to note when the way people earn a living reflects their attitude and vice versa; for example, the detective kept talking about the dangers of hitchhiking.
In general, there is hardly anyone who doesn’t remind us that Sabah is very far and we should better take the bus. We smile and answer that we like to take it slow. Slow or not, in the evening we have covered around 400km with seven lifts. In Sibu we check in at Hai Ping Inn (RM 55/double) opposite the big market hall where we have dinner (mee goreng=fried noodles) and also breakfast (bananas, papaya, oatmeal).
DAY 2 (Sibu – Batu Niah)
Today we get six lifts and travel about 330km. We meet people from all walks of life, among them a palm oil plantation owner and a young truck driver transporting palm oil. When the latter drops us at a junction close to Batu Niah it is getting dark already.
DAY 3 (Batu Niah – Miri)
We are lucky to get a ride from an elderly man in a 4WD vehicle which seems to be oversized for him, at some times. Be that as it may, he decdes to bring us all the way to Niah National Park HQ. We are forever grateful for his token of generosity.
We register and leave all luggage at the infodesk with Stefanie. Then take our time to take in the amazing rock formations and huge caves. We find excavation sites and a lot of information in both museum and along the trail. Even with all the best apparatuses it is impossible to wrap up and capture what we encounter here with all our senses!
I smell the green moss, i see the swiftlets’ nests in the ceilings, i follow the waterdrops falling from stalactites 30m above my head, i smell the air laden with the stench of bat droppings, i see insects with 20cm long antennas and ants almost as big as my pinky toe (for real!), and every now and then i taste the sweat off my upper lip and feel the t-shirt sticking to my chest and back. It truly is an all-round envelopment in raw nature experienced with all the senses.
After we get back to the parking lot at the Park Headquarters, I ask two girls in a 4WD where they are going: Miri. And yes, we can join! No problem. Like that, this day turns out to be perfect yet again. Arriving in Miri we check in at Dillenia Guesthouse (RM30/dorm). Maarten and I have the entire house for ourselves 🙂
Considering the difference between eyes and tablet camera and the fact that we (Maarten & me) are taking in nature with all of our senses, I decide to make an exception to the rule and post no pictures of Niah Caves – it was sweaty and smelly. Sometimes we heard clicks of bats echolocating their way through the darkness. If you want to have a taste of what it looks like around the Niah Caves please refer to the photos you find in abundance online … you’ll be best served by watching these amazing high-quality pictures and i’ll be spared waiting for 5 minutes for an amateur picture to get uploaded.
DAY 4 (Miri)
Chill out in Miri.
Nowhere to go.
No one to be.
Nothing to do.
DAY 5 (Miri)
We check out Lambir Hills National Park today. When we come back it is already past 4 p.m. so we agree to spend a third night in Miri. Back at the guesthouse we meet two nice Australian women, two truly inspiring human beings. We share dinner with them and listen to each other. We talk about the state of the world, vegan living, letting go, we talk about permaculture, spirituality, time, communication, privilege… we lose track of time, and that’s always a good sign. The food is great, the mood is mellow, the vibe is groovy. We walk back to the hostel, listen to Mooji, and take rest.
The National park is called Lambir Hills but in fact we don’t hike any hills but explore the rainforest and take a dip at several waterfalls. Yes it goes up & down and the trails are somewhat slippery at times, but it’s not real hiking what we do. More like having an afternoon walk with some take away picnic at the waterfall.
We walk another 2km and arrive at Pantu Waterfall. Here we meet three people from Brunei. We introduce ourselves and soon after that they start their return to Park Headquarters. Maarten has a short power nap at the waterfall while i dip in and save a hornet looking insect from drowning in the pool. After a couple of hours we are back at Park HQ and get a ride from the aforementioned Brunei homies. They drop us at Dillenia, our guesthouse and bid us farewell. Oh might as well stay a third night in Miri 🙂
DAY 6 (Miri – Brunei – Sipitang)
In the morning, after a workout, a shower and a big breakfast we hitch a ride to the border to Brunei.
Once we exit Malaysia it is quite easy to stop a car going to Bandar Seri Begawan (B.S.B.). John picks us up with his silver Proton. He is rather nervous, checks our passports (which, in the course of the day, will get stamped 10, yes, ten times) asks us several times if we have any drugs or guns (‘… no, only love and understanding…’) He wants to help but understandably he doesn’t want to get any trouble.
At the next border we bid farewell and are picked up immediately by a friendly family – they are heading to Limbang!
On the way there is not much to see, really.
After working through a ton of mixed vegetables with plain rice at Kuali Coffeehouse (Purnama Hotel) I go over to a man on a scooter to ask for the best place to hitchhike. He gives us directions and expresses his doubts about our chances.
We walk around the corner and stop there to try our luck. I enter a shop to get some cardboard and write the words “BOLEH TUMPANG” on it with a permanent marker while Maarten shows up on the road with his impermanent thumb. It takes about three or 4 minutes for my sign to be finished. At E a car stops, Maarten talks to the driver to find out that he’d go to Lawas but wants us to pay for it. Nah… Just when i start filling the final G another car pulls over. First i don’t recognise him: It’s the guy we met 10 minutes ago on his scooter! His name is Naim. He is willing to bring us to Lawas. And he apologizes that he cannot bring us any further… (u kidding me, right?)
Naim says he goes there anyway to play tennis with some friends… but it all turns out differently. We start talking, he keeps driving, we pass borders, our conversations go way beyond the usual ‘Where are you from?’, ‘What’s your name?’, ‘What do you do for a living?’. We share stories & dreams & aspirations. We share views about education, religion, friends, travel and family and he decides to bring us a little further. He smiles and says it’s only two hours for him to drive back… (what?) It’s getting dark now. He goes on; there is no good spot here for us to hitch another ride. So he prefers to drive us another ten minutes.
We finally end up in Sipitang and agree that our meeting must be takdir (fate). Here he points out the beautiful sunset and helps us find a nice and affordable place to stay named Dhiya Esplanad (RM60/double). The least we can do is invite this saint to have dinner with us and of course, exchange contact details.
This is why I love to travel like that! Encounters like these remind me how hitchhiking can be one of the best ways to connect with local people, make friends easily and come around cheaply.
DAY 7 (Sipitang – Kota Kinabalu – Kundasang)
Today a couple takes us for a ride out of town, then a family brings us a bit further. Next a woman who used to be a long-term traveller herself and is now working for the Ministry of Education is so kind and drives us to KK. At sunset we hitch a ride with a couple who get out of their way and pass their home to bring us all the way to Kampung Berungis. For this extra-route we are especially grateful because our being at this crossroads means that we have a chance to reach Kundasang. It is dark. We find a good spot where it is not dangerous to stand at the roadside. I take a flashlight and point it at my friend Maarten who has his headlamp activated and is holding our sign “BOLEH TAMPUNG”.
We are lucky!! After ten minutes a car passes us and comes back three minutes later; we get picked up by a young man called Mislan. He goes to Kundasang – our place is on the way, great! The car is a freaking fridge and the music deafeningly loud but no complaints. He brings us over 60kms straight to Halelujah Retreat Center.
It’s been a loooooong ride dude and worth it all along. Quite an adventure and super easy, innaway. It’s true what they say: Universe chimes in to help you once you set your mind on doing something. Desires fulfilled, we are tired & happy we made it. For a couple days we’re off the road again – Halelujah!
A week has gone by.
We have travelled about 1,300km.
We haven’t paid a single ringgit for transportation.
We have made the acquaintance of at least 50 people.
We are humbled and inspired to emulate the generosity, hospitality and friendliness exemplified by Sarawakians and Sabahans.
Thank you thank you thank you.
In case you also think about hitchhiking in Malaysia, i highly recommend it! As two like-minded hitchhikers say, it truly is como abrir una caja de sorpresas. The less you expect the more you get. The hospitality and friendliness of the people here will render you speechless.
Before you embark on your journey though, it is a good idea to check this site which provides valuable info on hitchhiking in Malaysia.
There are some nice anecdotes and tips on Melissa’s inspiring blog here.
Some things turn out to be really useful as a hitchhiker:
- Sharing the experience with a buddy helps a lot; it is way easier to keep smiling when someone you know is nearby, and when you share travel stories time goes by faster, too
- Holding up a sign saying ‘Boleh tumpang’ helps
- Keeping in mind the next cities or towns in the direction you want to go to.
- Being prepared that people want to make your trip easier by dropping you off at a bus station because they are unfamiliar with the concept of hitchhiking
- Knowing some basic local speak, in this case Malay/Chinese will enable you to connect with your benefactors, get off the beaten tourist track and have a good laugh
Some phrases have helped us most to get a free ride in Sarawak and Sabah:
- Tumpang = to have lift
- Boleh / Tidak boleh = Can / Cannot
- Mana anda pergi = Where are you going?
- Tolong = Please
- Terima kasih (Sarawak) / Bon sikou (Sabah) = Thank you
You are bound to learn more phrases as you go. It’s such an easy and fun-to-learn language! Find out more about that (and other Malaysian qualities & quirks) in the next post. If you want to be notified, consider following my blog… someone told me it’s sexy 😉