Day 1 – Kota Kinabalu, Friends Arrive
It was an odd day for us flying back to Kota Kinabalu as it was the first time we had retraced our steps in all the 4 months we’d been travelling. There was a good reason for this as we had some friends (Colin & Steve) and my sister, Ambreen, coming out to spend 10 days with us.
That day we took two trips to the airport - once to Terminal 1 to pick up Colin and Steve and the second time to pick up Ambreen at Terminal 2. We took the local bus in each time to save costs and the nice guy at the bus station did look at us oddly the second time we turned up.
They all arrived safely and on time and they were greeted with balloons and a banner. In hindsight blowing up balloons in an airport is not such a good idea as when they burst you get some strange looks from the security guards.
Day 2 – Mamutik Island
On day two of the trip to Sabah, we went snorkelling in the Abdul Tunku Rahamn National Park, just off the coast from Kota Kinabalu. We rolled into the ferry dock rather late, and hired some snorkels, masks and flippers for a pretty reasonable price. Mahmoud and I already had a snorkel and mask from our trip to Thailand which helped! We boarded a speedboat from the ferry dock, from which it was a 10 minute hair-raisingly-fast ride to the tiny Mamutik Island.
The island was very pretty, with all the necessary amenities (although the changing rooms were being renovated), and we set about our business of snorkelling and sunbathing. The snorkelling was decent, although it was low tide and the water was very shallow around some of the coral. Ambreen bought some “bottled bread” (bread in a water bottle), and we fed the fish. This generally resulted in a frenzy of fish surrounding the person with the bottle, and meant you got to see a lot more than if you just snorkelled around. A couple of us got bitten by the fish – I started to get a little paranoid by it, and got out shortly after getting a nip!
All in all, it was a good day – although Colin got a bit sunburned! We rounded it all off by watching the sunset with a drink back in Kota Kinabalu, followed by a trip to some local hawker stalls selling fresh cooked seafood. It was delicious, and some of the nicest fish we’d had on our trip so far. A great start to our group trip in Sabah!
Day 3 – On the plane to Sandakan
We took taxis to Kota Kinabalu airport, where we caught a domestic flight to Sandakan – a mere 45 minute flight from Kota Kinabalu. We were descending before we’d even finished climbing, and once we’d landed we picked up our bags, and had reached our hotel – Hotel London – within half an hour of our arrival.
Hotel London was cheap but clean and basic, and was a decent place to stay. Sandakan was an odd place – a bit soulless as it had been rebuilt following it’s destruction in WWII, and quite unclean with more cockroaches than Mahmoud and I had seen in our entire five month trip combined, but the people were friendly and it was a good place to base our activities in eastern Sabah from.
We spent the first day relaxing into our surroundings, and exploring the town. We had a quick look around the local market, and then sat by the smelly seafront and had some food and drinks. Bedtime was early on day 3 – ready to be up and ready for our trip the following day to Sepilok Orang-utan Sanctuary!
Day 4 – Sepilok Orang-utan sanctuary
The thing that everyone wants to see in Borneo is the orang-utan. Literally meaning “man of the forest”, they are rare to see in the wild, but the Sepilok Orang-utan Sanctuary is one place where tourists can go to see partially rehabilitated orang-utans being fed. We took a 45 minute local bus from Sandakan to the centre, where we were just in time for the 10am feeding.
When we arrived, there were hundreds of people waiting at the feeding station, kept quite by men with large signs saying “Silence!”. We crept past the other tourists, and looked up into the canopy, where we saw our first orang-utans. They were hanging there, waiting for the feeding to start – we counted just three. There were two feeding platforms there, the larger one of which the orang-utans were waiting at and all the tourists were clustered near. The keepers must have changed their schedule however, as much to the chagrin of the dozens of tourists clustered at the larger platform, they used the other platform for feeding the orang-utans. Fortunately for me, I was standing right there when the feeding began, and got some good video of the feeding! There was a lot of angry muttering from some other tourists – they felt a bit short-changed!
The best part of the feeding was when one large orang-utan jumped onto the viewing platform and knuckle-walked through the crowd – he walked right past me! Everyone jumped out of the way, as you’re not supposed to touch them in case you give them diseases, but it was great to be so close.
We came back for the second feeding at 3pm, at which point we saw another five orang-utans, including a nursing mother and her tiny baby. They are very human in their actions, and she handled her baby with such tenderness that it was very sweet.
On our way back to the main centre, we saw an Australian man stroking some macaques - really very odd behaviour considering the prevalence of rabies in Borneo. Even more odd was when he encouraged his young daughter to stroke them – bizarre, you wouldn’t catch me going anywhere near them! One of the macaques jumped on his shoulder which I think made him nervous – if it had been me, I probably would have screamed and run around in circles, but he very calmly coaxed it down. When lots of macaques started jumping onto the walkway we left for Sandakan – being surrounded by monkeys is not fun!
Day 5 – A trip down the Lower Kinabatangan and Gomantong Cave
Gomantong Cave was on the way to the river trip. Our first experience of a cave in Borneo was amazing and we had high hopes for this one too. We arrived and were led down to the mouth of the cave by our driver who we had hired for the day. Travelling in a group of five had its advantages as you can spread the costs.
The cave was looked simple enough, a walkway to the back of the cave and then circled back out again. As we started to walk into the cave the stench of the bats and birds was the first thing that hit us, a bit like our previous experience. Looking over the walkway I started to notice the piles of bat and bird droppings and then I saw them. COCKROACHES! Hundreds and hundreds of them, just like in a horror movie. I went to steady myself as it was a little slippery underfoot too and as I went for the banister of the walkway I pulled away just in time it was littered with COCKROACHES too. I stopped and gathered myself and then noticed around my open toed sandaled feet more COCKROACHES. After that I don’t really remember much about the cave, only that we all stamped our feet all the way round and stopped briefly at the back. It’s an experience I won’t be repeating anytime soon.
After the cave we headed onto the river .So far our river trips have been some of the highlights of our trip, the one to Siem Reap and Cherating a couple of favourites. I was hoping this one would not disappoint as along the river banks you are supposed to be able to see proboscis monkeys, pygmy elephants, long tailed macaques and horned billed birds.
We saw all of these and the highlight was definitely a herd of pygmy elephants. There must have been over 50 of them grazing by the river bank and we spent a lot of time watching their behaviour. Just fascinating!
Day 6 – A bus trip to Kinabalu National Park
Our last morning in Sandakan greeted us with rain, and we made our way to the bus station to catch the first available bus to Kinabalu National Park. Arriving at the bus station was a bit of a shock – it was more of a car park than a bus station, and on pulling up, touts surrounded the taxis we were in. We managed to buy a ticket for a bus that was leaving immediately, but the experience was a bit of an odd one – nothing like anything else we’d experienced since Cambodia three months beforehand. I can imagine for Steve, Colin and Ambreen it would have been rather weird!
The bus sped off to Kinabalu National Park, and the weather just got worse as we got closer. The first half of the five hour journey was solely through palm oil plantations. It was shocking to see how much jungle has been cleared to make way for palm oil – it makes the scenery pretty dull to watch too! Unfortunately, at about the point the scenery should have gotten better we went up into the cloud cover and couldn’t see anything! So, unfortunately, what could have been a decent journey was a bit dull. Having a toilet on the bus didn’t help – buses with toilets always stink!!
Still, we arrived at our accommodation near the park – Kinabalu Pine Resort. The accommodation was okay, but kind of overpriced in comparison to other Malaysian accommodation. The weather was miserable when we arrived too – it was so foggy we couldn’t see further than a few metres. Worse still, it was cold – only about 20 degrees – we had to wrap up warm!
We wandered into the small nearby village for some lunch, and eventually settled on a small restaurant which served some decent food – but the village itself was a bit dull. On our way back to the hotel, the clouds parted to reveal Mt. Kinabalu looming overhead – it was very beautiful with the mists rising off of it. We were very relieved that the weather was improving – there would have been nothing worse than two nights in the fog and the rain!
Day 7 – In Kinabalu National Park
After a chilly night’s sleep, we awoke to a gorgeous blue sky and lovely soft light over Mt. Kinabalu. This was in stark contrast to the previous day’s rain and mist, and it was definitely a relief to have a bit of good weather.
After breakfast we chartered a minivan to take us to the park headquarters, from where we did a guided tour of the park’s botanical gardens. The gardens were ok, and we would have rushed around them if we hadn’t been on the tour. The tour was really interesting and informative, and for all her apologies for her “poor English and information”, the woman who showed us around was very informative and easy to listen to – some tour guides preach but she chatted to us and it was much more interesting than I thought it would be!
After the botanical gardens we opted to do another guided walk, but it was not quite so useful as it basically contained the same information on a different walk. Still, it was a nice little walk, although we were always at the front of the crowd of oldies who were on the tour with us! Just before the walk started, Steve noticed that he had a cut on his leg. We weren’t sure what had caused it, as he hadn’t felt anything bite or scratch him, but Steve is not good with blood and he felt a bit woozy and had to sit down. Then he fainted! We were all a bit surprised, and he did come around quickly, but it was pretty scary for a few minutes!
We did an hour long walk back to the park headquarters for lunch with the intention of doing another one in the afternoon, but unfortunately the weather packed in and it rained for the rest of the day. After hoping the weather would clear, we eventually gave in and went back to the hotel. That’s the problem with travelling in the monsoon and in the hills – it all gets a bit unpredictable!
Day 8 – Poring Hot Springs, and back to Kota Kinabalu
On our final day in Kinabalu National Park we decided to hire another mini van to take us back to Kota Kinabalu via Poring Hot Springs. Poring is the name given to Bamboo in Malaysia and at Poring you get to see some really big examples of it surrounding the hot springs. There were two attractions – the first being the springs and the other being a Canopy Walkway high above in the treetops.
The weather pattern in the park had been of nice weather in the morning and then rain in the afternoon. So as soon as we got to the springs we headed straight for the walkway just in case the weather turned. I’m good with heights but when I first stepped onto it I had a slight wobble, however I turned round to Colin who is not a big fan of heights and smiled to say everything was good. We all managed to get round and being up so high was terrific.
The weather soon turned after that and we waited around a bit for it to clear but the rain stopped play again so we headed to Kota Kinabalu. Steve’s prayers were answered as he was a little concerned at the erratic nature of some of the driving he’d experienced in Malaysia, as our minivan driver was very cautious in his driving. His overtaking was non-existent so the journey back seemed to take forever. Luckily the cloud cover was not so low and some of the views were pretty impressive.
Day 9 – Snorkelling at Sapi
On our final full day in Kota Kinabalu we decided to go snorkelling again as we had had so much fun the first time and our visitors would soon be returning to the weather back in England. This time we chose an even smaller island called Sapi off the shores of Kota Kinabalu. I have to say that for me this was the better of the two islands we visited. Firstly because we got a longer hair-raising ride on the speedboat to get there and secondly the water was deeper so snorkelling was a little easier and just as much fun. Ambreen once again bought some bread stuffed into a plastic water bottle which the fish loved. At several points the fish that had gathered got frightened off, from what we thought were other snorkallers. However I spotted a larger looking fish in pursuit of the smaller ones as they fled. At one point the larger fish flew between Ambreen and I in a flash of silver.
Day 10 – Goodbye Borneo
The 10 days in Sabah had been fully loaded. I was really pleased with the way things had turned out. The Snorkelling was great, using Sandakan as a base to visit the Orangutans, and river trip was ideal. The trip up high to Kinabalu National Park was a bit damp but still lots of fun. Above all it was great spending time with Ambreen, Colin and Steve and the five of us had lots of fun. It was for us like having a mini holiday, jammed packed with activities, as travelling for a long time has become a way of life. A fantastic one I may add!
Written by: Mahmoud & Jono