2018 Malaysia

This was a bit of a trip for Michelle and I to reminisce, as we’d spent nearly 5 months here many years ago, and to take the children to a relatively safe, easy and healthy country with rainforests. It was safe and easy but, somewhat ironically, I was the most ill I have been on a foreign trip since visiting India and Nepal in 1991 where I got the same illness: giardia. It was also a chance to try to see some of the things that I had missed before; it has to be said that I have rather limited success with this. Despite these two issues I do recommend Malaysia. Thailand is called the ‘land of smiles’; to me it should be Malaysia. There are many countries where I have found the people incredibly friendly to foreigners but I do think Malaysia is the country where I’ve seen the most people smiling.

The slightly bizarre economics of flying meant that we flew via Jakarta, staying in a hotel near the airport. This seemed like a good plan as it meant we could have a good night’s sleep before catching the morning flight to Kuala Lumpur. That was the theory but we hadn’t counted on the paper-thin walls of the hotel which, by its nature, had people coming and going all night. So, a rather pleasant, breakfast at the very nice airport in Jakarta was rather spoilt by the fact that we were half-asleep.

Luckily by the time we’d picked up our Proton people carrier I’d woken up a bit. Driving in Malaysia (which i had done before but only for a couple of days) was far easier than in Thailand.

28 July - 30 July Bukit Tinggi

I’d not been particularly looking forward to this site for a number of reasons. Firstly it was a mealworm baited site, secondly it was, by some way, the most expensive site for accommodation and the food was meant to be expensive and finally, as a fake French village, it sounded tacky beyond belief.

As it turned out we really enjoyed it. It was very tacky to put it mildly but this was a novelty for me.  It was certainly unlike anywhere else I’d visited in Asia. The prices of the rooms were very high by Malaysia standards. However the superb breakfast -  a huge eat all you want buffet of Asian and Western dishes - did make it better value than it first seemed. The cost of food was also fairly high by Malaysian standards but considerably cheaper than eating a similar dish in the UK.  What did annoy us was the high cost of drinking water which was only available in over-priced small bottles. So, if you go, bring lots of drinking water with you. There was a bar, but we arrived with gin and didn't find out the costs. I suspect it was it was horribly expensive.

The thing that made it most enjoyable was the wildlife watching in pleasant, relatively cool, conditions. I might not be keen on mealworm baiting sites but considering how poorly I did trying to find the few bird species I hadn’t seen before it was good to see the key species of mountain peacock pheasant .

and ferruginous partridge so well.

The mammal highlight was definitely my best ever views of siamang , although they were still very tricky to photograph.

Yellow-vented green pigeon

Yellow-crowned barbet

Dusky langur was seen a couple of times.

Southern pig-tailed macaques enjoyed raiding the bins.

Butterflies included smaller wood-nymph,

Club silverline

Common earl

Bamboo orchid was a very attractive flower.

30 July - 1 August Krau

We’d planned to stay here as it had become well-known as a stake-out for Malaysian rail-babbler. Another baited site but this was a species I was desperate to see and indeed was the main reason for returning to Malaysia. It was clear that the rail-babbler was no longer regular long before we arrived but we decided to still stop here as it was enroute to Taman Negara and close to a sanctuary for orphaned animals which the family really enjoyed.

Three visits to the former RB site did produce this lovely rufous-collared kingfisher - coming to mealworms that others had put down.

This long-tailed grass skink was at the elephant sanctuary.

Butterflies at the elephant sanctuary included common rose,

common emigrant,

Both the elephant sanctuary and a small area of marshes near our pleasant accommodation held a few Odonata.

Blue marsh hawk

Common flangetail

Female scarlet skimmer

trumpet tail

green marsh hawk

1 - 10  August Taman Negara

The Talhan Guesthouse and our hire car.

Both Michelle and I have spent three weeks in Taman Negara over two previous trips. It was hard work. It’s hard to believe that the first time we camped for two weeks. We were younger and poorer then and there wasn’t the variety of cheap accomodation available in Kuala Tahan during this visit. Times have changed and we found the very friendly and cheap Tahan Guest House rather too basic, mainly due to the tiny rooms.

My memory was of birding been very hard work here due to shy birds and the heat. Frankly this time it was far harder than I remember. I’m told many people think it’s got harder here now, but maybe it was partly due to being out of practice with Asian birds or just being less observant as I get older. Maybe it was that I became ill here with what turned out to be giardia.  All I can say is I saw amazingly little and conditions for photography, especially without my SLR, were awful so there are very few photos of what I did see.

There were two things I was particularly desperate to see. I’m going to start on a positive. I was desperate to see a tapir. Michelle and I had spent three nights in the Kumbang Hide sharing it with rats, annoying noisy people and a long since functional toilet - particularly an issue when you have giardia. Michelle refused to risk another fruitless night so just Byron joined me on the boat up river. I’d just had my first bad night of illness and felt very weak and was full of imodium. The two hours walk nearly killed me. After a while we were joined by a group of Singaporeans and their two guides. They insisted on cooking under the hide and making lots of noise. After a few gentle comments failed, I had rather strong words with the guides. I was told that no wildlife came until at least 1030. I was frankly terrified of another fruitless night so put it pretty assertively that they needed to be quiet and get in the hide and the 1030 thing was nonsense. They probably decided that I was a little unhinged so the noise levels went down greatly.

My point was made quite well when shortly afterwards, around 9, a tapir appeared. I’m not sure I’ve ever been quite so relieved. In my head it was going to be another failure. I did shed a tear or two. Absolutely superb. We watched it almost continuously until 1130 when we went to bed; during this time it was briefly joined by another. I woke up at 5 and peered out and they was one there then.

We were, relatively speaking, better at seeing mammals than birds although I did have very limited luck photographing them. Although I didn’t see the hoped for colugo, which was only slightly behind tapir and rail-babbler on my ‘wishlist’, I did see my first ever brush-tailed porcupine. Although it was fairly brief, hence the absence of photographs, it was pretty close around the buildings at the HQ. We had one nightmare organised nightdrive in torrential rain in the back of a 4WD which I am trying to block from my memory. Our own version was quite successful with my second ever leopard cat

And a distant red giant flying squirrel. Other mammals included three-striped ground squirrel

And a group of about 30 young wild boar.

A very brief view of two Oriental small-clawed otters was more frustrating than pleasing. White-handed gibbons were heard but not seen and we got rather distant views of white-thighed langurs.

It is hard to exaggerate how frustrating the birding was. I heard rail-babbler and garnet pitta but failed to see them. I thought I’d got off to a fantastic start on the first morning. I was talking to a Scottish birder who described a bird he’d seen. I said it sound like a Malaysian peacock-pheasant and that I was gripped, as it was a ‘lifer’ for me.. Then we heard one calling. It came close and closer and then came out. I was literally shaking. It was only later that I realised it was one of a couple that had been introduced: the photo shows a badly-fitting ring on one of its legs.

crested fireback

orange-backed woodpecker

black and red broadbill

rufous-winged philentoma

hairy-backed bulbul

The most spectacular of the reptiles were the monitor lizards.

water monitor

clouded monitor

many-lined sun skink

Smith’s giant gecko was a very impressive gecko, almost as large as a tokay gecko.

A couple of smart amphibians.

Malayan slender treefrog

four-lined treefrog

common Sunda toad

Some good insects were seen. In particular Libellago semiopaca: a superb, tiny damselfly. I originally thought it was a fly hovering over the river.

Rhinagrion mima

Lyriothemis biappendiculata

Orthetrum testaceum

common birdwing

royal Assyrian

banded yeoman

harlequin sp.

dark blue jungle glory

blue begum

10 - 14  August, Fraser’s Hill

A slow four hour journey to Fraser’s Hill followed by the pure bliss of cooler temperatures and a ‘proper’ hotel. After Taman Negara the Shahzan Inn looked very plush. When vomit appeared in one of the corridors on our first night and was still there when we left, it seemed rather less plush!

We’d visited twice before in 1993 and went into reminiscing over-drive.  Both times staying with the legendary Nash. Nash put up visiting birders and as well as providing what was, at the time, the only budget accomodation at Fraser’s; he provided superb food and great company. We spent some time trying to see if we could find his old house - he moved to Australia - but we were never sure if we’d found the correct one.  I can’t resist a photo from one of our earlier visits.

The relatively cool weather made birding much more pleasant but it was still hard work. It took another baited site for me to get my one new species: Malaysian partridge.

Red-headed trogons were both common and showy.

lesser raquet-tailed drongo

rufous-browded flycatcher

Unlike our last two visit we failed to even hear simangs. The main mammal interest was provided by poorly seen white-thighed langurs and the more showy dusky langurs.

Pallas’s squirrel

The best butterfly was Rajah’s Brooke’s birdwing; sadly no chance of a photo.

blue-banded jungle glory

yellow glassy tiger

lesser striped black crow

Horsfield’s yamfly

common posy

It was a horribly early start, meaning we missed the best part of the Shazaz hotel - the included breakfast - and drive to the airport to return the car, flushing a few chestnut-naped forktails, on the way. We nearly missed our bus to Mersing as someone drove into the back of our taxi to the bus station.

We’d been to Mersing twice before and it would always be stuck in our memory as the place where a pangolin literally walked through the door of the restaurant, where we’d been having a beer. While taking the photo below, with a very cheap 35mm camera, I managed to fall down a drain and scrape much of the skin off my arm.

15 - 22 August Tioman Island

This was our ‘holiday within a holiday’. It’s was intended to be a good chance to chill out with wildlife watching largely limited to snorkelling. Unfortunately my plan to photograph and identify lots of fish was blown when we realised the camera we’d bought for this was still in my son’s bedroom!  

It did have a couple of excellent wildlife sights. Firstly a colony of island flying foxes just down the beach from our accommodation.

Unfortunately I was unable to take a photo of the other highlight: swimming with a hawksbill turtle. My first hawksbill turtle and my first experience of swimming with any species - superb! The other snorkelling highlight was black-tipped reef shark.

Looking for wildlife outside the coral was hard: the only real paths was about three quarters of an hour walk from the accomodation and the road was too busy.

White-bellied sea eagles were fairly common

Black-naped terns were quite common on the boat trip to Coral Island and quite a few bridled terns were also seen. Sadly the best views of both were on the day that I decided not to take my camera due to concerns about the small boat.


Elegant bronzeback was a smart new reptile for me.

Both water (in the photo) and clouded monitors were seen regularly.

common posy

great egg-fly

common hedge blue

Male and female banded marquis.

tailed jay

Kuala Lumpur

It was then off for a couple of nights in KL before flying to Jakarta and then, after a more comfortable stopover, to the UK. Other attractions and my increasing ill health meant there was no looking at wildlife but we did look at some of the sights. I’d definitely recommend seeing the Petronas Towers at night.