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Traveling to Borneo to see the orangutans was a dream that had topped my ‘bucket list’ for years. When we were preparing to move abroad back in 2007 and I was busy dreaming of all-things-travel, I discovered programs that allowed you to stay for extended stretches to volunteer with the orangutans. From that moment on I was determined we’d make it to Borneo. While long-term volunteering wasn’t feasible for this particular trip, we were still able to visit the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre; an organization that has been doing wonderful things for the great red apes since 1964. The goal of the centre is to care for injured and orphaned orangutans, with the goal of releasing them back into the wild. As the centre receives much of its funding through tourism, educating the public about the plight of these incredible apes has become an additional focus.

The orangutans are free to roam the grounds of the reserve at their leisure, so it is possible to see them just about anywhere. Feeding platforms were constructed among the trees, and twice a day visitors congregate on nearby viewing paths to see if any of the orangutans, enticed by a free meal, will emerge from the surrounding jungle. We stayed at the nearby Sepilok Jungle Resort, and arrived at the orangutan rehabilitation centre just before the first feeding.  Eager tourists were everywhere, but we were still able to secure a spot with a pretty good view. Three young orangutans showed up, and entertained us for a solid half hour, dangling from ropes and bickering over bits of fresh fruit. These playful, inquisitive and agile creatures were absolutely fascinating to watch! We decided to stay at the rehabilitation centre until the second feeding, which turned out to be an excellent decision as most of the tourists from the morning feeding had long-since clambered back into their mini-buses to explore other highlights around Sepilok, and we were among just a handful of viewers in the afternoon. Again, several spirited juvenile orangutans made their way to the feeding platforms, as well as one adult female- what a treat!

We were really pleased to find an organization that is so dedicated to the care and preservation of the orangutans. Ethical animal tourism options can be hard to find, and we appreciated the efforts the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre took to ensure the orangutans remained safe and undisturbed, all while providing us with incredible viewing opportunities.

A few helpful tips for families visiting the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre:

  • Arrive early (at least 30 minutes prior to the feeding times- even earlier in the morning) if you’d like to secure a prime viewing spot.
  • There are far more tourists at the morning feeding, so visit in the afternoon if possible.
  • The grounds (jungle platforms, picnic areas) and facilities (restrooms, cafeteria) are very well kept and easy to navigate with a stroller. While the restroom was in excellent condition, as of our visit in February 2016, there were no changing tables.
  • You are only allowed to carry your camera with you to the feeding platforms, so plan accordingly. It’s usually hot, so drink plenty of water before heading down to the feeding platforms. Lockers are provided for the rest of your belongings.
  • For those carrying SLR cameras, you will need a significant zoom lens for taking photos (we just had our 100mm with us).
  • Cold drinks, snacks, ice cream and lunch options are available at the cafeteria, and are reasonably priced.

 

Sepilok0001Sepilok0002Sepilok0003Sepilok0004Sepilok0005Sepilok0006Sepilok0007Sepilok0008Sepilok0009During the hours between the morning and afternoon feedings, we enjoyed a yummy lunch at the cafeteria and Isla kept herself entertained by collecting and organizing tamarind pods.Sepilok0010Sepilok0011Sepilok0012Sepilok0013

This cheeky little fellow wandered onto a roof so that he could get a better view of all the people.

Sepilok0014Sepilok0015Sepilok0016Sepilok0017Sepilok0018Sepilok0019Baby Girl, all worn out from the excitement of our day. Love how she can sleep just about anywhere!Sepilok0020

As we wrapped up our stay in Singapore, we found ourselves with 11 days of free time before we were due in Kuala Lumpur. We decided to visit Borneo, as it has been at the top of our travel list for years. Without any real agenda, we arranged a flight to Kota Kinabalu, in the Malaysian state of Sabah, and booked a hotel for the night we arrived. We stayed at Hotel Eden54, which was within walking distance of many restaurants, Jesselton Pier, and a large shopping center. In the morning it was apparent that Isla was getting pretty run down, and our hotel room was very comfortable, so we ended up spending two nights. Having a quiet day to snuggle in bed, catch up on photos and watch movies was just what we all needed. That evening we felt the need to stretch our legs, so we ventured down to Jesselton Pier.

KotaKinabalu0001KotaKinabalu0002KotaKinabalu0003KotaKinabalu0004Just a couple of boats.

KotaKinabalu0005KotaKinabalu0006KotaKinabalu0007KotaKinabalu0008KotaKinabalu0009KotaKinabalu0010That evening we took some time to think about where we wanted to explore. One of Borneo’s well-known highlights is the Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary, situated on Sabah’s northeast coast. After chatting with the wonderfully helpful staff at the hotel we decided to rent a car and drive across Sabah to visit the orangutan sanctuary. The next morning, before leaving Kota Kinabalu, Isaac and Isla took a little stroll nearby the hotel to check out some local street art.

KotaKinabalu0011KotaKinabalu0012KotaKinabalu0013KotaKinabalu0014KotaKinabalu0015The hotel staff helped us arrange for a rental car (a very simple process), and by mid-day we were on the road! With the help of Google Maps we began the drive across Sabah. One benefit to renting a car was being able to stop whenever and wherever we wanted. About an hour outside of Kota Kinabalu we came across this mausoleum… certainly not a “normal” sightseeing stop, but really interesting!KotaKinabalu0016KotaKinabalu0017KotaKinabalu0018KotaKinabalu0019KotaKinabalu0020To break up the windy 7-hour drive, we decided to stop near Kinabalu National Park for the night. We stumbled upon the Kinabalu Mountain Lodge in Kundasang and it was a wonderful budget-friendly place to stay. The rooms were clean and basic, the bathrooms were shared, and there was a large common room and deck with sweeping views of the jungle.KotaKinabalu0021As soon as we checked in, we decided to stretch our legs and explore the grounds a bit. Tucked into a lush hillside, the lodge was in a relatively uninhabited area, and the jungle surroundings were so serene.

KotaKinabalu0022KotaKinabalu0023KotaKinabalu0024KotaKinabalu0025KotaKinabalu0026KotaKinabalu0027KotaKinabalu0028We dug out our old point and shoot camera before the trip and gave it to Isla. She had a great time documenting highlights of our adventures (more on this in a future post).

KotaKinabalu0029KotaKinabalu0030While our dinner was being prepared, we sat out on the deck and watched the last rays of sun dip below the tree tops. Isla entertained herself with little pebbles and seeds she collected during our walk.

KotaKinabalu0031KotaKinabalu0032KotaKinabalu0033KotaKinabalu0034KotaKinabalu0035Our dinner at the lodge was awesome! All meals were vegetarian, home made, and so flavorful!

The next morning we were back on the road and stopped at Kinabalu National Park. Our planning could have used a little improvement for this portion of our trip, as we did not research the park or stop at the visitor center when we arrived. Instead we drove around a bit, making a few stops when something caught our interest. It was nice, but we still aren’t certain whether we saw many of the park’s highlights. We did, however, get some peeks at Mt. Kinabalu when the cloud cover cooperated.

KotaKinabalu0036KotaKinabalu0037We also found a short hiking trail, Kiau View Trail, that was suitable for Isla’s toddler legs and attention span. We enjoyed our little hike and marveled over the fact that we were standing in the middle of a jungle in Borneo! Pretty darn awesome.KotaKinabalu0038KotaKinabalu0039KotaKinabalu0040Satisfied from our family hike and jungle explorations, we piled back into the car and drove on to Sepilok.

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13 of 52 Olive Fingers on Easter Sunday

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14 of 52 Isla reuniting with her barnacle friends after a long winter of high tides

We first tried fresh coconut ice cream after a long, sweaty afternoon of exploring atop Penang Hill. It was served in little paper cups from a modest food cart, and it was one of the best thing we had ever tasted (read, we each went back for seconds… and really wanted thirds, but you know, self control and all that). Made from coconut milk, this ice cream is sweet, creamy, fresh, and just a tad bit nutty. Yum, yum, yum! We are certain that coconut ice cream may be one of the greatest culinary creations in the world. For real. Each spoonful is a glorious, refreshing taste of the tropics.

We knew we could not wait until our next trip to Southeast Asia to enjoy some more of this amazing treat, so upon returning home I immediately began searching for authentic coconut ice cream recipes. I found a handful, but decided to go with the simplest option to start: coconut milk, sugar, and salt. Luckily, this recipe produced an ice cream with a wonderfully creamy texture and flavor just like we enjoyed in Malaysia and Thailand. The best part (or perhaps worst part, if you’re watching your figure) is that the ice cream is unbelievably easy to make!

Coconut Ice Cream_0001Coconut Ice Cream_0002Coconut Ice Cream_0003Coconut Ice Cream_0004Another memorable coconut ice cream stop was during our visit to the Bridge Over the River Kwai. This ice cream contained little bits of pandan leaves, which gave the ice cream an even nuttier flavor. I’m on the hunt for pandan leaves for our next batch of ice cream.

Each ice cream stand also offered a variety of toppings, such as salted peanuts, sweet corn and red beans, to name a few. We preferred the ice cream as-is, but this past weekend tried adding a little sweetened shredded coconut as a garnish.Coconut Ice Cream_0005The staff at Elephant Haven (an amazing organization we will be sharing about later) doted on Isla constantly. It was so sweet! They bought Isla this ice cream and she devoured every bite.Coconut Ice Cream_0006

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Anyone who has been to Chatuchak, Bangkok’s sprawling outdoor market, knows the narrow alleys between shops can be stuffy and sweltering. A couple of these coconut ice creams, served in hollowed out coconut shells (so cute!) certainly helped cool us down.

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I found this recipe via Noshing with the Nolands, and they got the recipe from Nancie McDermott’s book, Simply Vegetarian Thai Cooking. Side note, this ice cream recipe is vegetarian and vegan!

Coconut Milk Ice Cream Recipe

Ingredients

 

  • 2 cans (each 14 oz/400 mL) unsweetened coconut milk (we used full-fat)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1⁄2 tsp salt

Directions (with a few notes from our personal experience)

  1. In a heavy saucepan, combine coconut milk, sugar and salt. Place over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, stirring often to dissolve sugar and salt. Our ice cream never had to come to a boil to dissolve the sugar and salt. Remove from heat and pour into a bowl.
  2. Cover bowl with saran wrap to avoid a skin forming and refrigerate until very cold, about 2 hours. We put ours in the freezer so that it was really cold, but didn’t let it freeze.
  3. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions. We let our ice cream maker run for about 8-10 minutes, and removed the ice cream once we saw it thickening up. Serve at once or transfer to an airtight container and freeze for up to 3 weeks. We put ours back in the same bowl, covered with saran wrap and froze it until hard before serving.
  4. You can make the ice cream base in advance, cover, and chill for up to 1 day before you churn it into ice cream.

 

We’ve made two delicious batches of this ice cream in the past week and devoured it all before taking any photos! Both times the ice cream was creamy and perfect, which was awesome since homemade ice cream can be tricky to master. If anyone gives this recipe a try, we’d love to hear how it turns out for you!

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11 of 52 Practicing her new jumping skills all over Bangkok

PortraitAWeek_001212 of 52 Sand sledding in Winema