The first mini-expedition by Raleigh Malaysia

Written by Tan Zhai Yun (Nat)

Photos by everyone

The Raleigh Malaysia mini-expedition from Jan 18th to Jan 28th, 2019, in Maliau Basin, Sabah, was the first time many of us in Raleigh International Kuala Lumpur (RIKL) and Raleigh Sabah Society (RSS) met. It was also the first time we were working together to launch a joint expedition for Raleigh Malaysia, a vision that we both have in mind.

We had 10 days together in Maliau Basin, the lost world of Sabah, to figure out what we wanted Raleigh Malaysia to be.

For some context: Raleigh Borneo ended its operations in Sabah last October after having operated in the state since 1987. You can read more about why they left and what they’ve done over the years here. Anyhow, the alumni-led RSS and RIKL pledged to continue the legacy of Raleigh in engaging the youth, transforming communities and the environment through volunteering activities.

We had several tasks. For the first few days, we will help the conservation centre clean up an area near the Belian camp that was destroyed by fallen trees. Meanwhile, we will attend workshops held by our RIKL advisor and the Raleigh Malaysia programme advisor. At the end of it, we will be rewarded with a trek through the pristine virgin forest and visit its famous waterfalls.

There were quite some hiccups along the way (read about it below), some moments of over-achievement (we wanted to trek so badly!) and in the end, many, many inside jokes. I’ve never been to a Raleigh expedition before, having only joined RIKL after attending and volunteering for the Introduction Weekends. When the RIKL president texted me after those 10 days asking how I was, I told him that I got it now -- the whole purpose and experience -- of an expedition.

Hearing about it is never enough. It takes experiencing the camaraderie between teammates, carrying wood you never thought you could carry, hiking distances you never thought you could hike, seeing natural views you only saw on Instagram, and listening to stories from those at the forefront of protecting the environment to understand why my friends from RIKL and RSS were willing to take off into the forest for 3 months. (Don’t believe me? Read their stories here bah.)

Here are some memorable moments from the 10 days we had together:

Day 1:

Like all trips go, ours was not so smooth sailing in the beginning. For the five-hour trip from the Kota Kinabalu airport to Maliau Basin, one of the vans broke down in Keningau. Everyone in it had to sit by the side of the road and wait for a mechanic to come.

It was the kind of incident that we can only look back and laugh at, because our poor friends had to wait for hours, first for a mechanic who never arrived, and then for a new van to arrive. When we asked them where they were, the only thing they could say was "on the way!" They only got to the hostel in Maliau Basin in the dark.

As for my van, we arrived in the evening. We managed to catch a glimpse of wild elephants and got a tour from Fidzah around the research centre. We saw wild boars, owls, deers, as well as a very fancy VVIP bedroom that we could only dream of staying in.

Another unfortunate incident was that a resident wild boar ate the pack of Yeesang we purposely brought to celebrate the upcoming Chinese New Year. Oh well, it is the year of the pig, I suppose the boar deserved it.

Day 2

Some of us woke up extra early to watch the sunrise at the observation tower, which was a 3km walk in the dark under a sky full of stars and a road full of elephant dung. It was incredibly worth it. At 6am, the sun began to emerge from the layers of clouds shrouding the giant trees, and all the birds woke up at once to sing.

All morning, we helped the rangers fix up Belian camp, which is where we will be staying for the next few days. The Basin rangers were in the midst of building a covered structure for us to sleep on hammocks. It was such a comfortable accommodation! There were even toilets, showers and a kitchen.

The view at night

We also sat in a workshop by Jia Yaw, who made us brainstorm what Raleigh Malaysia meant to us, what we do, who do we do it for, and what are the benefits. It was a very helpful exercise for RIKL and RSS to formulate our shared vision together.

During the workshop

Day 3

We started to work on the site properly today. We cleared the trail, built new steps, rolled huge, huge logs of Belian wood, and took apart structures that were destroyed by fallen trees.

It was NOT easy. Mind you, Belian wood planks are incredibly heavy. They’re also very strong and beautiful, which is why the centre wants to reuse these planks that came from the fallen Maliau Sky bridge, steps and a few gazebos.

Seeing the boys work together to move the heavy logs was such a sight that a few of us just stopped our work to watch them. They not only had to push with all their might and cooperate with each other, but they also had to jump away from the scorpions and centipedes hiding under the logs!

We also carried the logs across Maliau River via a suspension bridge. If you ever want a strength and balancing challenge, try carrying heavy logs and standing in the middle of the swaying bridge. Even better, do it while another person is also using the bridge at the same time, so you can sway even more.

We ended the day with a session by Adam, who walked us through the process of launching a project. It was a semi post-mortem for how we organised this mini-expedition as well.

Day 3

We said farewell to some teammates who were leaving! Many, many photos ensued, in our bright orange shirt.

The rest of us continued working. Some of the rangers came to help us carry the very, very, very (I cannot stress this enough) Belian wood, the mother of all Belian wood, across the river. You should sign up for this if you love strength training classes.

By the end of the day, we were all visibly tired. Our lovely dinner team served us fresh Paku Pakis plucked near the camp. During our day review by the campfire, everyone couldn’t help sharing how we worked so well together today. We were all incredibly exhausted, but we kept smiling and laughing as we recalled how we helped each other out, how many of the boys -- Rek, Fauzi, Otto, Jas, Marble, Boy, Duha -- carried the mother of all Belian wood and rolled the massive logs away from the trail without talking (just by making weird noises.)

I know I was inspired to work hard because I saw everyone else working so hard. What an incredible feeling!

Day 4

Last day of work. We were so excited and exhausted at the same time. Today, we rebuilt the steps to be more aligned and uniform, cleared the trail, carried our remaining wood, dismantled some wire fences and parts of the bridge that were not pressed by the trees.

The highlight of the workday? Carrying out the metal cables. Oh my god. It took 4 or 5 of us to carry it from the top of the hill across the river. It did not look heavy but boy was it heavy! Thanks to the strong boys Otto and Jas who led the way by pulling it and walking (or running), we managed to get it across. Candice and I helped them take it across the river and at times, I felt like the cable was pulling me and not the other way around.

Posing by the steps we finished making

At the end of the day, we were just glad that we could add one more day for trekking and do the full loop! After packing our bags with food and clothes (the heaviest rucksack was almost 19kg! Kudos to Marble, Boy and Hock Yew.) We were ready to rest for our trekking adventure.

But in the middle of the night, we were awakened by the sound of two bears fighting and deer yelling. A bear had broken into our kitchen a night ago, so we were on high alert. Marble and Boy (our heroes) woke up and guarded the camp for us. Next time you see Marble, you should ask him how his Bear Watch went.

Day 5

We began our trek from Agathis camp to Nepenthis camp. It was a 7.5km trek. The first 3km was a tough uphill climb. After close to five hours, we arrived at the nicely built camp and settled in.

One of the toughest thing about the trek, however, was getting used to the many leeches that kept seeking us! Arrgh! At first, I was terrified of plucking them out from my socks and shoes but by the end of it, I was just peacefully picking it out. Here's a fun fact the rangers told us: The healthier a forest, the more leeches there will be. So do not harm the leeches that come your way! It was… definitely easier to stomach the leeches when I understood this.

Posing outside the camp

Day 6

We visited two waterfalls today and made the trek from Nepenthis to Ginseng camp, our home for two nights. We started our day at 6am, trekking 2.3km to Giluk Falls. It was so beautiful with incredible cliffs and two layers of falls!

Then half of us went to Takob Akob falls, while others went to Fozzy falls. The trek to Takob Akob was steep and slippery at parts, especially as we were hiking quickly through the 1.5km up and down. The falls itself was like a giant’s playground, as June puts it, with high walls of rock decorated by moss and ferns.

The legendary Takob Akob

The falls were just the beginning of the beautiful journey we were to take. The 6.5km trek to Ginseng falls was surreal. We went from a mossy forest-like garden with wild pitcher plants surrounding us to hiking between huge, ancient trees with thick vines wrapped around the trunks.

We finally arrived in Ginseng camp after a steep decline and many slips and falls (from me).

Day 6

We visited the legendary Maliau Falls today. It was a 5.5km to the massive falls through a few hills. The last few kilometres were just a steep decline. On the way there, we got a glimpse of the basin rim wall due to the good weather.

A little back story: During the day review last night, Boy told us the story of how his expedition team only got back from Maliau Falls at 11pm at night after leaving in the morning because of an injured team member. Grace also told us the hike might be tough. I was mentally preparing myself for the entire hike but it turned out to be not as tough as I imagined!

On our way back, it began to rain. At first, we could just hear a faint rumble far away to our right. Our ranger, Hardi, suddenly told us to put on our raincoats. In a few seconds, the rain arrived. This is nature, indeed, telling you that you can never outrun it. We paid a visit to Ginseng Falls, which is 300m away from the camp on the way back. It was very slippery and full of leeches. But the view was beautiful. I'll just view the leeches as a toll I have to pay to see natural beauty.

Day 7

The last day of trek! The 9.5km trek back was not very steep except for the first part, and our bags were significantly lighter. Some of us were practically running for the last 1km. I was enjoying the last sights and scenes of the forest that we were about to leave behind. I will miss this!

By the time we got out to Agathis camp, the leeches were still not willing to bid us farewell. We sat on the road and by the benches, picking leeches (tiger leeches, brown leeches) out from our shoes and socks.

The fun was not over by the time we got back to the camp! We also found that a bear had broken into our kitchen. After a few hours of rest -- and rain -- we began preparing for a BBQ party that we were going to host together with the Maliau Basin centre staff. It was such a great meal of BBQ chicken, rice, curry, and we all had fun singing and dancing.

It was also great to hear Tuan Jeddah thank us for the work we did and praise our efforts. What a great ending to the expedition. He also told us about the need for conservation in the Basin, the threat from gaharu collectors and the diverse species of animals within the basin.

Day 8

It was time to say goodbye. I already miss the forest! We had lunch together and bid each other farewell. Then we bid Duha farewell again when he dropped us off in KK for dinner. Otto and Jas surprised us when Duha came back to pick us up… to all whom we bid farewell to when we got to the airport. This was only to be followed by a surprise by the rest of the RSS crew, who showed up in the airport!

We had a day review in the airport departure hall then and there, sharing our thoughts and feelings with each other.


We still have so much work ahead of us, but I'm so excited about what lies ahead for Raleigh Malaysia and future expeditions! If you’re interested to join us, please follow us on Facebook, Instagram or this website to keep up with our latest activities!