Welcome to my new homepage! If you share a keen interest in photography, travel and adventure, then I hope through this website and blog, I can share my life experiences with you. Being a keen outdoor adventurer, I love photography, mountain biking, camping, trekking and offroad expeditions. JOHN KONG
Today John paid an official visit to YB Datuk Seri Panglima Haji Masidi Manjun, the Minister of Tourism, Culture & Environment Sabah today to present him the Best of Kinabalu Park Book which the Minister has written a wonderful foreword:-
Picture: From Left, Ms Hana Harun (Marketing & Communications Manager, Sabah Tourism Board), Pn Mariam Omar Matusin (Deputy Permanent Secretary, MOTCE), Mr. Ginun Yangus (Permanent Secretary, MOTCE), YB Datuk Seri Panglima Masidi Manjun, John Kong and Cassandra Chin (Sales Manager, EBiz Design & Communications)
“There have been publications on Kinabalu Park from easy-to-read brochures to everyday guide books and massive coffee table books. This condensed version of a pictorial guide and travel book is an excellent endeavor to highlight the best of Kinabalu Park through stunning images and candid descriptions.
I would like to express my thanks to the photographer and publisher of “The Best of Kinabalu Park” for taking this initiative to show not only the best but also the unexplored and rarely seen images of this amazing nature reserve and its stand out feature, Mount Kinabalu.
Tourism has always been a mainstay of Sabah’s economy and it is important to keep it fresh and exciting to encourage more visitors with the diverse interests to come here. Photography is one aspect that we can take advantage of as Sabah is blessed with an abundance of captivating features such as its geographical landscape, biodiversity, people and cultures.
With 160 pages of high-quality photographs, this book is a fantastic resources to appreciate the splendour of Kinabalu Park and its natural features. It would also be a much valued gift to inspire the inner photographer and traveller in you.”
John also presented to the Minister a 5 feet wide print personally selected by YB Datuk Masidi of the Mesilau River which was captured before the earthquake on June 5th this year. John also briefed the Tourism Minister of his current projects which included the documentation of the changed landscapes of Mount Kinabalu after the June 5th earthquake.
To find out more about the book please visit: http://www.johnlkong.com/books-publications/
The Borneenis Gallery is located at the Institute of Biological Tropical and Conservation Institute of Universiti Malaysia Sabah. As a centre of excellence and a significant research institute in Borneo, ITBC contribute in engaging research towards the conservation of wildlife and supports conservation initiatives particularly in the state Sabah.
Our company, Ebiz Design & Communications was engaged to design and built the gallery from concept design, 3D rendering and construction. We wish to thank Universiti Malaysia Sabah for entrusting us with the project and we are so happy that it turned out so good! Based on modern contemporary design, the gallery has the centre feature of a tropical tree with surrounding colours of the forest and wood.
Our company has also built more than 10 galleries around Sabah over the last 10 years from Sukau Kinabatangan Wildlife Centre, Gomantong Visitor Centre, Kinabalu World Heritage Gallery, UMS Gallery, UMS Museum, UMS Palepas Gallery, Rafflesia Centre Tambunan, Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre, Mesilau Nature Centre Gallery and Likas Wetlands.
PONTIANAK – SANDAI – PANGKALAN BUN
The Trans Borneo Expedition 2014 (TB2014) is organised by JAVA Adventura headed by its CEO and Expedition Leader, Pak Harry Sanusi from Indonesia. The 4WD Expedition event successfully circumnavigate the island of Borneo over more than 6,200 Km taking a total of 23 days. TB2014 had 75 participants and 25 vehicles from 4 nations Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia and Singapore. This is part 2 of a 6 part feature.
THE JOURNEY BEGINS
After crossing the border passed Entikong, the roads in West Kalimantan are narrower and although the roads were sealed, it is still bad and there were lots of pot holes which slows down the convoy. Houses along the roadside were also built right next to the main road so the convoy have to be very careful to avoid on coming motorist and vehicles.
The flag off ceremony was on schedule with the singing of the Indonesia’s National Anthem and before long we were on the road. Since it was Indonesia’s Independence Day, throughout Kalimantan, the road sides were decorated with the national flag which made our journey more meaningful and colourful. Our first day was to reach the township of Sandai. Along the way, we will cross the Equator into the southern hemisphere of Borneo Island. The highlight of the day was the river crossing of the Tayan River which had a steep gradient to embark and disembark from the ferry. All the daily commuters’ vehicles and trucks were struggling and skidding while disembarking and Pak Harry vehicle was used to winch some of the vehicles up. So amused, we were betting among ourselves whether the heavy laden trucks can make their way up and most of the time we were wrong!
We reached Sandai at 7 PM and I went for a drive along the river side with Chai and the settings of the villages along the river were so rustic just like it was untouched since the early 50s. The locals were friendly too. The next destination was Pangkalan Bun, a town in Central Kalimantan. The convoy started the journey through an off road section from Sandai and after crossing the West Kalimantan Border, we were treated a generous lunch by Convoy Leader Hj Ibrahim of giant fresh water prawns! After a heavy meal the convoys powers on to reach a comfortable Swiss Bell hotel at Pangkalan Bun at 7 PM. I was too tired to go out so I ordered room service for the night and to download my images. I am very much looking forward to the next day!
IN TOUCH WITH NATURE
Making sure that all my batteries are charged, lens checked and my rain gears intact, part of Trans Borneo participants will spend a full day at Camp Leakey, Tanjung Puting National Park, Kalimantan where 6,000 wild orangutans live making it the largest population on earth! Thanks to the great conservation effort of a single remarkable woman, Dr Birute Galdikas, the park now boast fantastic wildlife sightings.
Having worked with orangutans in the wild and captivity around Sabah, I was very excited to see what this park has to offer. For a start the mode of transportation is very different, using a wooden boat house, the journey to the park is 4 hours one way so to make a day trip it will be a full day. Most visitors will take the 3 days 2 night package to really enjoy the nature but due to TB2014 busy schedule, I was happy just to be able to visit Tanjung Putting. While departing from the jetty, we can see back from the shore to the town of Pangkalan Bun. A very different shapes of building appears, bird nest culture is a booming industry here and they overtaken the buildings around town.
Although the boat ride is a bit long, once entering the park, the journey was well worth it with familiar peat swamp forest. Before long, we could site proboscis monkeys, macaque monkeys, borneon gibbons, broad bill king fishers and lots of orangutans. Once at the feeding platform, we were greeted by more orangutans along the way which criss-cross our path from time to time. Amazing!
To be continued…
The Trans Borneo Expedition 2014 (TB2014) is organised by JAVA Adventura headed by its CEO and Expedition Leader, Pak Harry Sanusi from Indonesia. The 4WD Expedition event successfully circumnavigate the island of Borneo over more than 6,200 Km taking a total of 23 days. TB2014 had 75 participants and 25 vehicles from 4 nations Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia and Singapore.
TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE
Trans Borneo is not a new event, for a select few, it will be a trip down memory lane and a reunion of many personalities who have become legends among the 4WD fraternity, including Indonesian Offroad Federation (IOF) founder Pak Harry Sanusi (better known as Pak Harry), Anuar Ghani and Dr Teoh Siang Chin from Sabah, Hj Ibrahim Awang Damit of Brunei, S4M magazine publisher Yamin Vong and Richard AKA “Volvo” Voon and Chai Yew Foo from Sarawak. These personalities truly are some of the fore fathers of 4WD expeditions in this region and it’s from their initial efforts that many world class 4WD events like the world famous Rainforest Challenge and Borneo Safari International Offroad Challenge were born.
Anuar said the last circumnavigation of Trans Borneo was done more than 17 years ago way back in 1997 and it was tough then, where in the 1995 recce, it took 21 days and it seemed everything from the recce vehicles broke down, the radiator burst, they had 4 punctures, one tyre came off and overtook them, numerous mechanical breakdowns and repairs and a broken GPS. They were also arrested by forest officers, got robbed in the middle of nowhere during a flood, not to mention getting bogged down on mud roads and numerous river crossings. Above all this, Anuar said “It was an unforgettable experience and I had the time of my life!”
TRANSBORNEO 2014 ROUTE MAP
For others like myself, and being the promoter and key organiser of the recent 2012/2013 Borneo Safari International Offroad Challenge, the TB2014 will be an adventure of a lifetime. TB2014 official event dates are to flag off from Pontianak on August 17th, 2014 and closing ceremony at Kota Kinabalu on August 31st, 2014. The event dates are also made to coincide and a co-celebration of Indonesia’s Independence Day during the flag off ceremony and Malaysia’s Independence Day on the closing. TB2014 officially is a 15 days 4WD expedition traversing through 2,500 Km of on road and off road experience, 2 ferry crossings at Tayan River & Balikpapan Bay and 14 days of Hotel & resort lodgings with 1 day camping at Seimanggaris army outpost. There were four convoy leaders; Reza Hariputra – from Pontianak to Palangkaraya, Hj Ibrahim Awang Damit – from Palangkaraya to Seimanggaris, Sanny Ho – from Seimanggaris to Kota Kinabalu and Chai Yew Foo – from Kota Kinabalu to Kuching.
Never been on a road expedition this long, my journey starts with a curious phone call to my driver/co-driver and good friend Chai Yew Foo of 4×4 Quest of Kuching Sarawak asking him what needs to be prepared. After being briefed by the conditions, I organised my equipment accordingly and arrived at Kuching on August 15th. Greeted by Paul Si from the airport, I was introduced to Dr Teoh and Volvo Voon. The Sarawak Adventure Travel Association gave us a wonderful dinner later that night with a taste of local Iban delicacies as well as celebrating our friend, Clarence Labo’s birthday.
We start rolling at 7 AM says Chai during the briefing, I thought this is only for the first day as we need to cross the Kalimantan border at Tebedu early in order to reach Pontianak before night fall. 7 AM, however become the standard rolling time for almost every day!
At Entikong, everyone was getting the vehicles documents done and passports processed and I was happily in line for my turn until the Indonesian immigration officer looked up to me and paused. I sensed something wrong and the next thing he told me was “your passport is less than 6 months validity and I cannot let you through”. I was shocked as I was overseas 2 weeks earlier! In disbelief, I double checked and true enough, it was just out by 5 days! I was so disappointed and started cursing myself and told our convoy leader what happened. Chai just smiled and introduced me to Rizal, a scout team member sent by Pak Harry to escort us to Pontianak. Rizal went to talk to the immigration officials and I was given the green light to pass with a warning to renew my pass port upon reaching Malaysia. Thank you Rizal! I was about to pack my bags and take a bus back to Kuching!
We reached Pontianak 7 PM that night after a 12 hours journey. Pontianak is the capital of the Indonesian province of West Kalimantan. It is a medium-size industrial city on the island of Borneo. It is located almost precisely on the equator, hence it is widely known as Kota Khatulistiwa (Equator City).
MAKING NEW “MILLIONAIRE” FRIENDS AT PONTIANAK
At the welcome dinner briefing at Hotel Kapuas, Pontianak, I finally met the rest of the convoy. The Brunei team headed by Hj Ibrahim Awang Damit has already arrived a day earlier. The Indonesia team headed by Pak Harry arrived by shipping their vehicles from Jakarta. All the participants were formally introduced to each other during the briefing with Team Brunei 12 vehicles, Team Indonesia 2 vehicles, Team Malaysia – Sarawak 7 vehicles, Team Malaysia – Sabah 4 vehicles. They were also 2 participants from Singapore who had joined the Brunei vehicles. The eldest participant, the mother of Hj Ibrahim, Hjh Dayang Damit Awang Ahmad is 78 years old and she still insist she drives some of the stretches!! The youngest participant being only 12 years old, Liu Jia Han who currently resides in China. The next elderly couple were Chai’s parents, Chai Kien Thin at 75 years old and his wife who has driven even to Sulawesi Island and Borneo Safari over the years. I have also met the “Iron Lady” AKA Manja who drove all by herself the entire journey. Her signature phrase throughout the convoy radio was “COPY THEN”. All of us were also made instant millionaires after we changed our money to the Indonesia Rupiahs. There you have it, a convoy of 75 people from 4 nations, all millionaires, of different ages, of different experiences all ready to circumnavigate the island of Borneo over 15 days!
To be continued…
Text and Photos By: John Kong
The Mission of the Gurkha Hut Photography Expedition
While on an expedition to capture images for several projects for the Sabah Park’s Mesilau Nature Gallery and for our sponsors TAMRAC Bags, we made a photographic expedition to visit the highest mountain hut in Borneo and Malaysia to the Western Plateau of Mount Kinabalu!
Though Mount Kinabalu is famed for the picturesque Low’s Peak, our mission took us to discover and document what looms on the western pla of Mount Kinabalu. Nestled among the jagged crown of peaks, Oyayubi Peak is located on the western ridge of the mountain. As one among the 20 or so peaks that scatter the crown, Oyayubi stands 4 000m tall. 95m shy of Low’s 4 095m peak. In Japanese, Oyayubi means “thumb”, as the peak does resemble a thumb.
Just beneath the colossal granite that is Oyayubi Peak, Gurkha Hut is no more than a tiny white dot on a greyscale slope. Built in 1984 by the Gurkha’s from Nepal, and accommodating a maximum of 4 people, this tiny monument stands as the highest man made hut found in Mount Kinabalu and on the whole of the Island of Borneo.
Made of oak wood and a metal zinc roof, the hut is equipped with 4 mattresses, cooking utensils and even a small collection of books, making it quite a homely abode at such a high altitude.
Driving from Kota Kinabalu city to Kinabalu Park in Kundasang, we stayed overnight at the park before our conquest to the peak on the very next day.
The trip begins from the root hill of Mount Kinabalu at the Timpohon gate, which also serves as the starting point of the Mt Kinabalu trail. At 9am, it was already a cloudy day and it was looking as though luck was not on our side as the skies began to pour soon after. But our stay at the Gurkha Hut wasn’t until the next day, so we kept our fingers crossed and hoped for clearer skies.
The trail took us through many different landscapes, from dense tropical grounds to sub-alpine forest, and finally through the harsh granite rock surface where the peaks were finally insight. Reaching Laban Rata at 3pm, it was relief to everyone that the passage of what seemed like never ending stairs was over for that day. We unloaded our pack and rested our gears, as tomorrow we will begin our ascend to Gurkha Hut.
The summit climber ascends to Low’s Peak as early as 2 am in the morning to catch the sunrise, but since we were going to the western ridge and spending the night there, we had the convenience of starting our journey a little after sunrise at 6 am. To our delight, we woke up to fantastic weather and had a great time taking some images while on route.
We reached the Low’s Peak by 9 AM and rested before continuing our journey to the Western Plateau. It was truly exciting, as this was where the photography mission really begins. Making our way there, our view of the Western Plateau was slowly declining as clouds started to rise to the peaks while we were trekking through all the rocky sections. Markers are placed along the trail in the form of small stack of rocks as a guides.
After an hour of trekking, the hidden peak of Oyayubi was finally in sight. Though only partially visible, what a magnificent sight it was! Energized and excited at the sight of the peak, it was 15 minutes later that we spotted the tinny tiny Gurkha Hut, dwarfed by the giant Oyayubi Peak.
Reaching Borneo’s highest mountain hut at 10.30 AM, it was roughly a 4.5 hour hike from Laban Rata. Despite the mornings clear skies, the conditions at the hut were cloudy and by 12pm it started to rain. To pass time, we sorted our equipment and looked on in hopes that the weather will clear. And soon enough, it did!
By 2pm we were out of the hut and photographing one of the most amazing side of Mt Kinabalu. Being on the Western Plateau, the views we witness were unlike anything we’ve seen before. From the peaks and its rock formations, it felt surreal and worlds away from Mt Kinabalu. The Gurkha Hut faces directly west, giving us a pretty spectacular view of the west coast of Sabah at 3 800m above sea level.
On our stay there, we also got to experience one of Borneo’s highest man made toilet. And what a chilly challenge it was when the temperature drops below freezing!
Wasting no time on daylight, we started our shoot for the Tamrac Bags as the other member our team geared up for their time lapse images. The night was clear, and the moon was bright. The stars were all around us, and the universe was above, opening us to its entire enormity. It was a humbling experience for all of us. We shot all through that night and I got several great shots of star trails and we even got a glimpse of the Milky Way.
We pitched a yellow tent close by to protect us from the harsh wind during our photo session that night. But even with that, the weather took a drastic change and by 1 AM we had to stop shooting outdoor as our equipment and bags were starting to frost! The temperature had dropped to -5 degree Celsius! So we packed up and eagerly hoped for a beautiful sun rise from the back of Oyayubi Peak.
The weather conditions seem to be against us ever since day one, with the heavy down pours, a band of clouds constantly rising and the cold winds blowing at every direction. But all of which were worth it for the sunrise we got on day three at Gurkha Hut. Warm light was breaking on the horizon, and we had the Western Plateau all to ourselves. Unoccupied by other climbers, it was serenity at its most divine hour. I took some great pictures during that time, and those images have since made its way to become TAMRAC Bags and Sabah Tourism Board’s promotional material!
Kinabalu Park – Malaysia’s First World Heritage Site
Towards the northern end of the Island of Borneo, the Kinabalu National Park lays cool and composed as one of the most popular tourist spots in the whole of Sabah. Gazette as the first state park in the state of Sabah in 1964, it was then made Malaysia’s first World Heritage Site by UNESCO in the year 2000 for its diverse range of flora and fauna.
In a nut shell, the park is the centre of plant diversity in all of South East Asia, with 4 climate zones each supporting its own niche. Amidst some of the world’s oldest rainforest, the park is home the largest flower in the world – the Rafflesia, to even the smallest species of orchids.
Spreading to an astounding 75 370 hectare in size, the park’s most prominent resident is the majestic Mount Kinabalu, standing at 4 095m tall. In the early days, Mt Kinabalu was believed to have been a volcano because of a deep shaped gully that splits the summit into a U shape. Similar to that of a Volcano’s mouth. Contrary to the rumour, Mt Kinabalu is actually a young granite rock that’s still growing half a centimetre each year!
How to Get to Kinabalu Park
Getting to the park is easy. There are hourly buses leaving Kota Kinabalu city for Ranau from as early as 7am daily, at the long distance bus terminal at Bandaraya, beside the Merdeka Field. The journey takes roughly 2.5 hours and will cost Rm15 – 18 per person.
Once at the National Park, there is an entrance fee of RM3 for Malaysian’s and RM15 for non-Malaysians.
If you intend to climb the mountain, some planning needs to be done before hand. You will need to get a climbing permit, insurance, hire an obligatory guide, and book your accommodations at Laban Rata before you will be allowed to climb.
As complicated as the sounds, don’t be alarmed as many climbing packages will cover that for you at a cost. And as always, it is cheaper to do it in groups.
Tips Equipment preparation and things to do and prepare
Clothing – We had to prepare clothes for the cold nights up at the Gurkha Hut, with temperatures dropping below freezing on some nights. For the climb, we prepared 3 basic layers of clothing; the outer layer, the base layer and the fleece jacket.
Photography – For photography, the perfect kit is to bring a small foldable umbrella as you don’t have to wear a full rain coat if it rains. And chances are it will from time to time. Having a full rain cover will be hot when you start trekking. Furthermore you can still take pictures in the rain if you have a small umbrella.
As for camera gear, what I used were Nikon D3s and D3x bodies. Lenses are 24-70mm f2.8, 14-24mm, 16-35mm and 60 mm macro lens. Other essential equipment are a tripod, a remote release cable (most important for star trails), a polarizer and ND filters. As we were working in wet and humid environments, a small micro fibre towel is essential to wipe off drops of water on your lens. The only charging power source available is at 3,270 m. So we had plenty of spare batteries, essential if you plan to do time lapse and star trails photography at night.
Along with sleeping gear, cooking gear and food to last while at the Gurkha hut. Another important item in my pack, is a small bag of glucose. I usual mix it into my drinking water as an energy supplements as well as to fight the high altitude sickness when climbing.
Special thanks – Jonathan Tan Photography Studios, TAMRAC Bags, Nikon Professional Services for D3s Body, Sabah Parks Board of Trustees for accommodations.
Published Magazine Features, Exhibitions and Book
This feature article was published by Sabah Tourism Magazine and Travelution Magazine