Friday, March 28, 2014

Surprise Weekend at the Borneo Highlands Resort

"A family is a unit composed not only of children but of men, women, an occasional animal, and the common cold."

Ogden Nash

Last Saturday, I was planning to bundle our entire family (sans cats) into my car and go for a day at the beach right after I punch out from my Friday call. It was to be Darwin's first ever encounter with sand and sea but the best-laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft agley, as Bobby Burns would say. After a few days of comfy, breezy overcast skies, the sun rose high and shone hot on Saturday. Darwin is a bit delicate - as babies are wont to be - and I had no intention of baking my firstborn so I scrapped the plan as soon as I got home from work. Cheryl was very disappointed because I've been talking through the entire week about going to the beach that weekend and she had spent all morning preparing to go nowhere.

So, I went to my computer, looked up a number and made a quick call. Then I told my wife that we are going to spend a night at the Borneo Highlands Resort. A one-and-a-half hours drive later through some kampungs with the picturesque Penrissen range always in view, we have arrived in a sort of commercial paradise for those who can afford it.

View From Room in Borneo Highlands Resort
The view from our room, stitched from 4 photographs.

There were two types of accommodation options available at the Borneo Highlands Resort - one of 30 rooms at the "Clubhouse" or one of their 10 "Jungle Cabins". I got us a "Birdie" room at ye snooty House of Clubs at the song of about RM240 a night (breakfast included). In case it is not already made abundantly clear at this point, the Borneo Highlands Resort main selling point is its 18-hole Hornbill Golf Course, its well-coiffed grass bordered by rainforest and damp from mountain mist. Every painting in the house depicts golfing. There are ceramic bas-reliefs of each of their holes in the corridors. In their lobby, a wall was reserved for the photographs of their most notorious guests and I saw mugshots of Mahathir, Badawi and Taib there.

The Clubhouse itself appears to be a weathered, peeling half-timber affair perching at the edge of a hill that exudes a delicious haunted Overlook Hotel atmosphere. It's the perfect holing up spot if you are into writing horror novels or nursing your inner axe murderer.

Borneo Highlands Resort Clubhouse
The Clubhouse where we stayed. Photo taken in the evening when the mist thickened.

Borneo Highlands Resort Room
Our Birdie Room.

Our room was a woody chamber with no telly, because the people who run this place takes their "Back to Nature, Back to Basics" slogan seriously. I found a burial pile of TV carcasses siting in a dark, musty shower room opposite our room. The only source of food in the entire resort is their open air Annah Rais Café and they only serve expensive vegetarian fare. Someone told me that that's because the owner of the resort is a Buddhist. I can't see his decision being very profitable as his target clientèle are mostly made up of wealthy wagyu-carving plutocrats, and such devoted adherence to one's own principles can't help but elicit admiration from me. The food was pretty delicious though and as guests, we enjoyed a 20% discount. I almost didn't feel that sense of being incomplete that I usually experience every time I omit meat from my meals.

The first thing we did was drive 2 hilly kilometres from the Clubhouse to the Kalimantan border viewpoint. A signboard informed me that it was about 1000 metres above sea level with a 600 metres drop from the edge.

Kalimantan Border Brighter
At the edge of civilisation. Yonder lies Indonesia.

It was invigorating to see an ocean of trees and mountains as far as the horizon from so great a height. Shadows of cloud crawled silently and lazily over untouched rainforest below while birds frolic carelessly through the cold air between lances of late afternoon sunlight. The Penrissen range is a designated Important Bird Area (IBA) and it shows so if birdies are not your thing, you can pick up a binocular and watch real birds there instead.

There, I set up my tripod and took our first ever family photo.

Kalimantan Border Family Portrait
From right to left: Me, Cheryl and my hairless heir.

It is the first photograph to include all three of us in it.

Darwin Foot in Mouth
Darwin, displaying his innate skill of putting his foot in his mouth, just like his old man.

After soaking up the stunning scenery and resisting the temptation to pee 600 metres into a neighbouring country, we got into the car again and circumnavigated the entire resort. We drove past an abandoned vineyard and a flower garden which was closed to visitor at the time before getting off near the stables to introduce to Darwin his first horse. By this time, daylight have started failing.

Darwin and Pony
He was so psyched.

Horse Rollover
This is upside down. It's actually a picture of a flying horse carrying the planet Earth on its back.

Borneo Highlands Resort Pony Dick
We also inadvertently introduced Darwin to his first horse-cock. Good thing he won't remember any of it.

The entire day was incredibly relaxing and the fact that so few people were there at the resort (in spite it being a weekend during a school holiday) contributed to its pervasive mood of peace. We saw little more than a dozen people and I don't believe that more than 5 rooms were occupied. All the golf courses we saw were devoid of golfers. There was a large prayer banner in the reception area for Flight MH370 and the staff members were encouraging their guests to scribble on it with a permanent marker, but it looked rather pathetic with so anaemic a number contributing to it. I didn't, being atheist and thus, having no use of talking to make-believe deities hoping to magically influence world events.

When we left the resort in the following day, we stopped beside a pretty multi-tiered waterfall we saw when we were crawling agonisingly up the mountain at 5km/h. We stayed for less than a quarter of an hour there because some local youths have taken over the site and have started a smoky cook-out using wood fire (one of them pissed in full view of us at the wayside). I made a mental note to return to it again if I ever come this way again. The water was crystal and the shallow rock pool was perfect for splashing in.

Damn you people who have as much right as I do of being here.

Darwin at Waterfall
Darwin, listening to his first waterfall.

Of course, the highlight of my stay at the Borneo Highlands Resort was my solo unguided hike up Mount Penrissen which looms over Hole 13. I'll talk about it in excruciating detail in a subsequent write-up - it was like no other trek I ever did. Both my legs were streaming with blood by the time I finished.

RELATED POST: To the Edge of Sarawak at Penrissen's Peak

Spontaneous vacationer,
k0k s3n w4i


Hsu Jen said...

Darwin looks too cute to handle. And he's teething!

That resort looks so worth it. I need a quiet getaway! Most of the nicer, exclusive places here with lots of greenery (mostly in seremban) cost a bomb.

k0k s3n w4i said...

Hsu Jen: He's now working on his two upper incisors. And yeah, the resort was really cheap (considering the service and the environment). I paid RM240 a night but if you rent one of their "Jungle Cabins", it will only cost you RM180. My colleague said that his family of 7-8 can fit in one comfortably and he is organising a Pakistani doctors' family getaway this weekend renting several cabins.