Category Archives: Malaysian Borneo

Eat with your hands in Asia

Eat with your hands in Asia

Eat with your hands in Asia for meals like the locals – but be prepared! There may not be napkins, or even soap. Here’s what you need to know to stay clean and safe when eating with your hands in Asia.

[squeemish warning – you may find this post to be disturbing, on par with the post on airline bacteria]

Paradox: The more likely a culture is to eat meals with their hands in Asia, the less likely to find napkins on the table… or even soap in the bathrooms. Disturbing!

Mailbag: After a few posts raving about the fun of choosing your own fresh fish at a market and eating street food, I’ve been asked a bunch of related questions about the quality of food, safety of eating street food, cleanliness of restaurants, and even if the “Three Seashells” method was used (best line from the movie, Demolition Man).  This post is for you! So yes, after traveling around KL and all around Malaysian Borneo, I had to make a few mental adjustments and preparations.

Here are a few observations:

Eat your way around Borneo!

I definitely ate my way around Malaysia, especially KL and Kuching (in Sarawak, western Malaysian Borneo). I tried all kinds of new dishes – in Sarawak notable new dishes for me included Laksa, Manok pansoh, Kolok Mee, and more.

I loved their seafood markets – for one of they took over the roofdeck of a parking garage and turned it into a fish market, setting up a dozen mini-restaurant vendors like a food court in a mall. Fresh, cheap, and yummy!

Kuching – Malaysian Borneo

Kuching might have been my favorite city in Malaysia, and served as my home base for the Sarawak region of Malaysian Borneo (west of Brunei, population 600,000). It’s perhaps the most multi-cultural city in Borneo.  While cities aren’t generally a big highlight for me, after such limited selection in little towns and rest stops in my transportation, I was excited to get to Borneo’s culinary capital.  Kuching also served as an excellent jumping off point for my days in Sarawak, which feature Semenggoh Wildlife Rehab Centre and Bako National Park.

Niah Caves = fail.

Imagine sitting on a 5-hour bus ride to see an attraction, only to find out upon arrival that they’re are closed due to flooding. And has been for a few days. They suggested I “try back in a week or so.”  Ahhh!

My saddest face after learning we burned two days and wouldn’t even get to see Niah. Apparently it had been closed for a few days; there was no notice on their website, no hotline, no notice to the 8 hotels in the nearby town.

The attraction I’m referring to are the Niah Caves, supposedly the most impressive of Malaysia’s natural wonders. We were in Brunei, ultimately headed to Kuching on the northwest region of Borneo, so instead of taking a 45min flight, we took a 5-hour bus ride to Junction, a small town near Niah, and would have another 15 hour bus ride afterward to get to Kuhcing. It’s quite a bit of effort but people told me it’s worth it! We negotiated into our hotel price (that’s right, in Asia hotel prices are often negotiable) a shuttle from Junction to Niah, 45 minutes away. Our “shuttle” turned out to be space in the back of a flatbead truck, as part of the driver’s errands. We checked the Niah website and called ahead to check the hours so we could get there when it opens, but upon arrival they said not only is it closed, but it’s been closed due to flooding for 3 days. Ahhh!  They apologized and said they were thinking of updating their website to tell people. But they didn’t. Thanks Malaysia.

Celebrating Chinese New Year in Asia

To celebrate my first Chinese New Year in Asia, I left the jungle and headed to Kota Kinabalu (everyone calls it “KK”), the largest city in Sabah, in Malaysian Borneo. I was really interested to see how people celebrate; apparently not enough to do any homework on what Chinese New Year actually is. Oops!

For those of you that are as ignorant as I was, it’s a family holiday, similar to the way Americans celebrate Thanksgiving. So there were no big parties with the irrational excitement of elaborate countdowns signifying the exact moment of the new year. Instead I found myself in a predominantly conservative Muslim country (read: doesn’t drink) in a city with 11 bars, on a night that’s least likely to have any energy at the bars. Hmm… Still it was a good time.

We ate at the night market with the locals (dinner for them, appetizer for us). Look at all of that goodness!

Afterward we ate our actual dinner along the beautiful waterfront where most of the bars are.