Wednesday, 23 June
It’s a long way to Borneo. Twelve hours from Heathrow to Kuala Lumpur, a couple of hours for changeover, and then another two hours to Kota Kinabalu. We arrived at KK around noon today, after leaving home at 7:30am yesterday. We are travelling with another couple, good friends of ours. We were all very jet-lagged by the time we arrived.
I checked the weather forecast before we left, and it was reporting 33 degrees celsius and heavy rain for the entire time we were there. I have been to equatorial countries before and was expecting oppressive heat and humidity. Because everywhere in Borneo is air conditioned, the heat didn’t hit us until we left the airport at Kota Kinabalu to find a cab to our hotel. It feels like walking into an oven.
The hotel is the Grand Borneo, which is right above the ultra-modern Borneo 1 shopping mall. The mall could be anywhere in America. It even has a Starbucks. We were too early to check in when we arrived at the hotel, so we went into the mall and found a restaurant called The Dome, in which to have a drink. We were later to discover that it was the only place outside the hotel bar we could buy alcohol. With Malaysia being a muslim country, most restaurants don’t serve it.
Thursday, 24 June
We decided to explore the local area today, so we took the free shuttle bus from the shopping centre to the centre of Kota Kinabalu. The first of what was to be many rain storms during our visit hit us while we were out and about. None of us had coats or umbrellas, and when it looked like the rain was going to come down rather heavily, we ducked into a nearby shopping centre to wait for it to stop.
Unlike the Borneo 1 shopping centre, the one we took shelter in was more like a covered market, clearly catering for locals rather than tourists. We only saw a couple of other Westerners in there, and like us they were taking shelter from the rain. I browsed at clothes for a while, but it soon became clear it was going to be a futile exercise finding my size. Asian people are much shorter than Europeans, the women small and slight. I am five foot six and a size 12. Malaysian shops don’t seem to cater for anyone over a size 8, and browsing just gets too depressing.
The toilets are another element of Asian culture I struggle to get used to. Like Africa they prefer the ‘squat’ variety. When you do find Western-style toilets, they have footprints on the seat. I guess Malaysians are just as unwilling to use Western toilets as I am to use the ‘squat’ ones. And it’s another country where the people don’t use toilet paper. But my years of travelling have taught me to always carry tissues.
When the rain stopped, we headed down to the pier, and had lunch at a Malaysian noodle place. Food is generally good and very cheap.
Heading back to the hotel later in the afternoon, we decided to try out the hotel swimming pool. We were hit by another fairly heavy rain storm, but the pool itself is under cover, so the rain doesn’t really matter.
Friday, 25 June
We had arranged a tour to the orang-utan sanctuary at Sandakan today, which involved being collected from the hotel at 5:10am. Borneo is eight hours ahead of GMT, and I’m still waking up in the middle of the night confused about what time it is. The very early start was a bit of a struggle with jet-lag.
We had to take a flight to get to Sandakan, from the airport we arrived at only a couple of days ago. As we left the hotel before breakfast and had some time before the 7am flight, we had breakfast at McDonald’s at the airport. I’ve not had a Sausage McMuffin for years, but after such an early start it tasted pretty good. Though I doubt the sausage had any pork in it. Pork products are forbidden in muslim countries, and we didn’t find anyone selling proper bacon anywhere in Borneo.
The tour of the orang-utan sanctuary began with a video about what the centre is trying to do. It takes in orphaned orang-utans and teaches them how to survive in the wild – how to climb, and gather food, and interact with other orang-utans. When the orang-utan is able to fend for itself, it is released back into the wild.
Consequently, when fruit is plentiful on the trees, as it was when we visited, you don’t see many orang-utans come to the feeding platform. Only two orang-utans came to the platform for food when we visited. There were, on the other hand, rather a lot of monkeys, keen to take advantage of a free meal.
After we left the sanctuary, we were taken to see the Puh Jih Shih Buddhist temple. I noted that the temple was adorned with a simple that looked like an inverted swastika. We were told that this symbol is a Chinese symbol meaning ‘peace’. Somewhat ironic, then, that the Nazis decided to hijack it, turn it around and stick it on their flag.
But the temple was a very peaceful place, in a lovely location on top of a hill – apparently an auspicious place in Fung Shui practice, which is why the temple was located there.
Before we were taken to the airport to catch our flight back to Kota Kinabalu, we had a buffet lunch at a rather nice Sandakan hotel. The lovely swimming pool there was very tempting. Sadly it was only open to residents of the hotel.
Saturday, 26 June
Today we visited the Kota Kinabalu wildlife park. We negotiated with a taxi driver, who took us there, waited the three hours we spent there at the car park, and brought us back again. We thought the rate we got this for was very reasonable, and the driver was happy to have a guaranteed day’s takings. I can’t see a London taxi driver hanging about for hours waiting for his fare to want a ride back.
The wildlife park is well worth a visit, with a variety of animals including orang-utans, Borneo tigers, bears, elephants (much smaller than African elephants), and a walk-in aviary. Borneo’s famous probiscus monkeys are strange looking things, with their enormous noses.
Looking at the deadly snakes, crocodies and other lethal creatures in the reptile house made me thankful I live in the UK. At least we don’t have wildlife roaming free in our forests that can kill a person with a single bite.
Sunday, 27 June
Dive trip today. Well, the boys went diving. My friend and I went along for the snorkelling. We were taken – on a very small boat – to an island about ten minutes away from the mainland. It seems all the dive trips leave from this island; it was rather busy. I did venture into the water with my snorkel, but to be honest I prefered to swim. The water was a bit too silty to see much. It was, however, gloriously warm, and hanging out by the beach was a very pleasant way to spend a day. We were given lunch on the island, but by the afternoon the clouds had started to roll in. This seems to be a fairly consistent weather pattern for Borneo – clear and sunny in the morning; cloudy and wet in the afternoon. In the end it seemed we timed it rather well. It started to rain just as we got back to the mainland.
Monday, 28 June
We went to Poring Springs and Mount Kinabalu Park today, which involved being collected from the hotel at 8am, and being taken on a two and a half hour drive. Also on the tour with us were an older Australian couple, who are staying in the same hotel.
Poring Springs (apparently ‘poring’ is Malaysian for ‘bamboo’) is a conservation area, and involved a lot of trekking through jungle, which is hard work in the heat. At one point we had to cross a swinging ‘Indiana Jones’ style bridge, which was made entirely of rope, with only a plank of wood providing a base to stand on. The bridge was 30m above ground level. I don’t have a problem with heights, particularly, but I do have a problem with standing on precarious surfaces. We made it safely across this bridge, but I have no desire to repeat the experience.
As well as the hot springs which Poring Springs is famous for, there is a very picturesque waterfall, which you can take a dip in if you so desire. We were actually warned off doing this by the tour guide when we booked the trip, at the travel bureau in the Borneo 1 shopping mall – apparently the water is not exactly clean.
We had a Chinese buffet lunch at a local hotel, and then were taken to Mount Kinabalu Park. No, I was not energetic enough to climb the mountain. The park is at the base of it. There was a jungle trek involved, but to be honest I chickened out of it. I decided to stay at the very comfortable visitor’s centre, with the Australian lady, and have a cup of tea while the guys did the nature trek. I have no stamina, and I’d already done one nature trek at Poring Springs that did me in.
Our friends did a different trip today, and we caught up with them back at the hotel. They were keen to catch the shuttle bus into town and have dinner at a fish restaurant that had been recommended to them. The restaurant turned out to be a covered market. All around the edges were tanks containing live fish and crustaceans. Plastic tables and chairs adorned the middle area. You were supposed to pick the fish you wanted and they cooked it for you. This seemed to be a locals eatery – I didn’t see any other tourists there. Call me unadventurous, but I wasn’t liking the look of this place. Then I made the mistake of using the toilet. It was a single cubicle – Western style, but filthy seat. No toilet paper. No flush. Three inches of water covering the floor. Nowhere to wash one’s hands. And a hole in the ceiling from which rats and cockroaches crawled. After that I rather lost my appetite for eating prawns I had to dig out of their shells with my fingers. Our friends tucked in with some gusto. Chris and I ended up having chips back at the hotel bar, and I got disproportionately enthusiastic about the toilets there. Which were clean. With toilet paper. And soap and water. And not a cockroach in sight.
Tuesday, 29 June
We left the Grand Borneo Hotel today and headed for the Nexus Resort, where we are spending the last couple of days of our holiday. The Nexus is a five star resort, and is fabulous. The layout is very similar to the hotel we stayed in in Zanzibar last year, and I think it is owned by the same organisation.
The Nexus has a wonderful swimming pool and a beach, and we spent much of the afternoon lazing around in a very agreeable manner. For dinner we decided to try out one of the Nexus’s seven restaurants. We went to the Olive, which does Mediterranean food. I had fabulous pasta – in fact this was the best meal I had in Borneo. The restaurants at the Nexus also serve alcohol, which was a welcome discovery.
Wednesday, 30 June
We got up early, so that we could embark on the hotel’s 8am ‘jungle walk’. Hence we didn’t have much time over breakfast, which was rather a shame as the Nexus does a fantastic spread.
We met the Nexus guide for the jungle trek, and she enthusiastically told us about all the deadly snakes that lurk in the jungle. Fortunately for us, we didn’t see any.
Returning to the hotel we spent a pleasant morning lying by the pool in the sun. The clouds started to roll over about 1pm, as we have started to expect. However, then it started to rain. And this time it meant it. I now understand why they call it ‘rain forest’. When it became evident the rain wasn’t going to stop, we retreated back to the room, where we pretty much had to stay for the rest of the day, as the rain didn’t let up until darkness fell and we were ready to go get dinner.
it’s actually rather a shame, as this is our last day here. Our flight leaves at 6am tomorrow, so we will have to leave the hotel in the middle of the night. We all feel like we could do with another day to enjoy the wonderful facilities the Nexus has to offer. But the holiday has to come to an end. There are still so many things we didn’t get to do, so maybe one day we can return, and have another Borneo adventure.