03.09.2009 32 °C
We decided to spend the night in Singapore airport before our early morning flight to Borneo as it was voted ‘the No.1 airport to sleep in’ on some random website we found for backpackers, who, have apparently slept in a lot of airports! Naturally we had to test this theory and as it turns out it is not a bad airport to be in at 3am in the morning, 24hour food, clean toilets and free Wifi!
We landed in Kota Kinabalu and we left Kota Kinabalu having seen little else then ‘Harry Potter and the half blood prince’ and the inside of our hostel. The next day we headed west to Sandakan on a rather nice bus, which, unfortunately had one rather unpleasant kid on it who we believe stole Anna’s Ipod (it was the Ipod shaped bulge in his pockets that gave him away). So we arrived in Sandakan minus an Ipod but excited to see some Orang-Utans.
Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre rescues little and large Orang-Utans from Palm oil plantations and the bad people who want to sell them or keep them as pets, they then train them to go back to the wild. You can walk into the jungle with about 60 other tourists all equipped with huge, much needed zoom cameras, and see them being fed on a feeding platform which are about 50m away (hence the need for the zoom) the whole experience last about 10minutes. It really is great though the centre is solely about rehabilitation and the Orang-Utans definitely come before the tourists and their money. Let’s just say they were not overly impressed when asked if I could hug a baby Orang-Utan!
Later that same day brought the beginning of our 3day safari trip to the heart of Sabah’s jungle. First we drove through miles of palm oil plantations arrived in the jungle, got a boat on the river and landed about 5mins later slightly upstream but on the same side of the river! Our very remote and ‘hard to reach’ camp had a driveway and two cars parked in it………..hmmmmmm. The three day safari programme was fairly straight forward, morning boat ride, early afternoon jungle hike, late afternoon boat ride and evening jungle hike. The first boat trip was great we saw the big nosed Proboscis monkey, lots of Macaque monkeys, some Japanese egrets, eagles and even a crocodile. The second trip was good but then by the fifth boat trip with no new sightings, mild sunstroke and very sore bums from sitting in the boat for too long we were all a bit fed up. The day hike to the Ox bow lake was memorable, we battled through the jungle, up over vines and through swamp land only find not only a lovely lake at the end of it but also a little Aoife covered in about 5 leeches one of which was having lunch on her stomach! Luckily help was at hand in the shape of a lighter but not before we got photographic evidence.
So delighted to get back to civilisation and off our diet of cold rice, cabbage and spicy chicken we decided to go for high tea. It just so happens that Sandakan boasts an English tea house, complete with crocket lawn, fresh scones and English breakfast tea. So without further ado……..we dined!
Over dinner that evening we came to the conclusion that our travels lacked a certain ‘randomness’ and that the only way to solve this was to go somewhere, well, random. And that somewhere was a town called Tawau, right down south on the boarder to Sawawak which boasted the ‘Tawau hills park’. On arrival into the town we discovered two things, firstly that the only service provided to tourists was a bus straight out of the town and secondly that not even the locals had heard of ‘Tawau Hills Park’. We must have looked lost because a lovely lady took us under her wing and into her car, driving us around the town for half an hour in order to find us a bed for the night….. thanks lady!
Its true, things always look better in the morning, the next day we found a mini bus to take us to the park, which as it turns out does actually exist. The park was beautiful and practically abandoned (well, not including the 60 scouts camping in the field next door). We went swimming at the foot of a waterfall, found a particularly smelly hotspring and posed beside the ‘tallest tropical tree in the world’. And of course Aoife got a few more leech attacks!
Our next stop was Semporna, known as the dive capital of Malaysia, where there is little else to do but dive, snorkel or buy dried fish. We dived, we snorkelled but we passed on the dried fish. Just off Semporna there are numerous Islands with coral gardens and amazing marine life. The most famous of these is Sipidan, a reserve where Ruth was lucky enough to dive for the day. While Ruth was working towards her PADI Advanced Driver, braving both deep water and night time dives the rest of us got the boat to Mabul Island where we stayed for a couple of days. Uncle Chang’s was an extremely basic hostel built on stilts that jut out into the water. They feed, water and shelter you for the equivalent of 10euro a day! So naturally we took advantage of the ‘free’ food then spent the rest of the day at the posh resort on the other side of the Island, lounging on their deckchairs and snorkelling…. It’s a hard life.
Our last stop in Borneo was the National Park, home to Mt Kinabalu, the highest mountain in Malaysia, also the most expensive, so we didn’t climb it. Instead we had a movie marathon day while looking at the view of the mountain from our hostel window (it was lashing rain outside so we didn’t feel too guilty). The sun came out the following day and so did we, off to Poring hot springs in the National Park. We decided to go see the Rafflesia but disgusted that they wanted to charge us to see it we decided that a picture of one was adequate. In the park we did a 35m tree top, canopy walk where Anna got caught by the camera police for using her camera without paying the camera tax (this obviously made us all the more determined to take photos and resulted in a very frustrated security man). We then went to a butterfly farm where we saw a Preying Mantis (an insect where the female bites off the male’s head after reproduction) and of course lots of butterflies. Finally we lounged in the sulphur smelling hot springs before heading back to base.
The next day we began our two day bus, taxi, and boat journey to Brunei to go visit the Sultan……….
Anna, Ruth, Aoife, Kate and Kirsten