The horror of of actually reading something about independent travel in Sabah
400 ringgit (USD$125) for a day trip to see Orangutans?! I shuddered while turning more pages in the hostel’s well-worn photo album style brochure. The cheapest thing they had was a 190 ringgit river boat cruise. Also known as, “lots of water, with nothing to see”.
I looked over at the common area to see a gaggle of long thin legs stretched out in front of a TV set. No one cared.
“What has become of backpacking and travel?”
Lazy rich backpackers taking the easy option?
Even in my guide-book or online there was plenty about how to get to Sepilok rehabilitation center to see Orangutans in Sabah without a tour. A local bus for example goes right by the place. Yet, over a free breakfast they were all talking about the expensive tours … Why were these people paying so much? I didn’t, and don’t, get it?!
I asked the receptionist where the local bus stop was. She looked up from the TV with glazed eyes and mentioned something about it being down the road. Then she pushed the brochure at me again. The words were a struggle for her to speak as I continued to ask about a local bus. Anything from then on was met with shrugs. So be it.
How to get to Sepilok? You can only take a tour, there is no other way to do it …
I was up at 6.30am. Self service breakfast at the hostel meant I was dining alone, and due to a need for more than a single slice of air filled bread to eat, a recollection of the street stalls outside moved me in that direction. Thankfully the local lady vendor, without a hint of English, was able to provide me with better instructions to the local bus stop than the hostel girl.
The bus station was still empty at 8am. A few travelers wandered in and out. But, mainly it was locals. The bus passing Sepilok was also empty as I boarded. Either I was wrong about all this, or this was Asian timing at it’s best.
Taking the local bus to Sepilok
At 8.30am a nice driver entered the bus with a small bag of sweets. He handed me some and nodded knowingly as a few more travelers showed up. By 9am we were full, just like that. The journey was about 1 hour and cost a whopping great 4 ringgit. What’s more the bus dropped us off directly inside the orangutan rehabilitation center with a promise to be back at 4pm.
“Tell me I am wrong here, or was this all too easy?”
Cost of getting into Sepilok, and a first encounter
The Sepilok rehabilitation center charged sixty ringgit as an entrance fee, plus ten for a camera which I was half tempted to hide. I have a hatred of “extra charges”. But there was something more important at stake.
Get away from the crowds … fast
I walked swiftly, narrowly avoiding the mass of tourists that were emerging from huge tour buses now streaming into Sepiloks parking lot.
A long walkway promised a great jungle view. Maybe it’s Africa that has tainted me a little with all these promises of great jungle views. So far, it was all too neat and tidy for my liking.
I immediately dropped all expectations of this being a great experience. Bar, for a glimmer of hope that one should always carry in your back pocket when traveling.
No one else seemed too rushed … and with that I was back looking at the “group” tourists marching in flag raised unison down the walkway.
Old school independent travel vs today in Sabah
I understand perfectly if someone has a 9-5 job back home, and only one week to travel. Booking tours is a valuable option if you want to maximize your time and see nearly everything.
What I don’t understand is what’s happened to “the backpacker” or people doing year long RTW travel trips? Hostels I’ve come across so far in Sabah are filled with tour offices. Group bookings. And, “Hostel name, tour to here” offers.
And everyone has a choice to take them, or not as the case may be.
Guide books in hand, backpackers in Sabah happily mention that they just “scored a cheap room with … free breakfast.” . Then, it’s straight over to a price inflated bar. Before finally settling in front of cable TV or laptop. These were the same ones with no qualms about booking these expensive tours at the same hostels tour desk.
Are they even asking around the tours agencies outside? Why are they even carrying guide books with exact that tell them they can get their for 4 ringgit? The answer seemed to starting at me each evening.
I see more people in hostels staring into the blue hue of Facebook than actually talking to the new people around them about their experiences
Maybe it’s easier to simply “like” what a friend across the planet said than start an independent thought about what they are going here in the first place.
Are these the dying days of independent travel?
Yes, I have a lot of days when the prospect of haggling, going in the wrong direction, linguistic headbanging and sweating more than one naturally should makes me think of taking a tour. And, I’ve done just that. But, the result just isn’t the same.
Save for the rare occurrence of meeting someone interesting on a bus, full of people from your own part of the world, it’s all rather non-memorable. Again,yes, once in a while you might be blessed with a great group. And, that can be good. But, perhaps not every time. And, that is not my point in all this.
My point is simply why are these backpackers staying in cheap accommodation, eating out of supermarket shelves, avoiding laundry charges and then blowing all that saving away on expensive tours when there’s a local bus just outside?
Does this breed of “independent traveler” slash” backpacker” not have an interest in challenge. Is that it?
For me, at least, it’s that sense of challenge that one conquers with independent travel that makes it such a gold mine of adrenaline.
Yes, adrenaline rush. Isn’t that what 18-25 year old’s like? I seem to remember this … heck I still do source out as much adrenaline as I can!
It makes me feel alive. Very much alive. And as I get older, this becomes harder to find. And as such, so much more valuable to achieve.
I choose to travel not because it is easy, I choose to travel for the challenge; and the rewards that await in taking such a journey
Was independent travel a generational thing then?
I for one am thankful to still meet the odd true independent traveler these days. They are usually middle aged solo travelers with time, or couples taking career breaks.
There is of course the odd rich kid buying their way around the world of “independent travel” too. But they usually end up talking the ears off of those not so independent backpackers. They’re usually the only ones that will “listen”.
These are the same “independent” backpackers that make complaints that the floor is dirty. A fly landed on their meal. The beer is not cold enough. And, worse than anything I’ve heard in a long time … there’s nothing on TV today …
Rich kids, the “social generation” or just South East Asia?
A lot of these “travelers” are young. 18 -25. I can’t imagine they would want to spend more than they should at this age. So, I am hazarding a guess here and thinking they are “trust fund” kids aka people with rich parents. Well … were rich parents before sending their kids off on the “life changing experience” of travel.
Either that or my time away from the backpacking route meant I’ve missed out on the dawning of the “social ‘travel‘ network” whereby people prefer to Facebook their friends back home, than make new ones when traveling?
Or, is this just a phenomenon in South East Asia, renown for being a “beginners paradise for travel”?
I for one am checking out of the “hostel” style of travel in Sabah, and moving into guesthouses. They are the same price, don’t have the ” a tour is the only way to get there” mentality.
And, … well … a nice balcony with a book is a lot better company than a room full of “backpackers” with the bluish hue of Facebook reflecting off their pale shiny foreheads.
I don’t know if there’s a right or wrong in all this. I just know what path I prefer to travel on.
First encounter with a mother and baby orangutan