Wednesday, February 24, 2010

East Malaysia (Borneo)

Borneo, third largest Island in the world after Australia and Greenland and commonly know as the Land Below the Wind.

We were away early on the 22nd April and got to KL Sentral (Central) in time to meet up with Winnie and get a bus RM10 to KLIA airport, where we almost bumped into Mike who had come by bus from Ipoh with Ching who had gone onto LCCT as he was flying Air Asia and we were flying MAS. Irene met us at the airport in good time and we got to Kota Kinabalu [formally Jesselton] at about the same time as Ching on Air Asia. We were not sure where to go so got 2 taxi's to a new area only to find it had no hotels. We walked a few km to the old part of town and after much searching found the Summer Garden hotel. We all bunked in together at RM28 per head and were kept awake by live music outside our window. The next day checked into The Blue Ocean hotel just off Gaya Street at RM50 a double, all the coffee /tea you can drink, plenty of bread and peanut butter and free wifi. It got to be a very pleasant home and we stayed there then save 1 forgettable night at the Government Rest house in Kudat later in the week.

Kota Kinabalu has grown into a huge and fun city. The place is generally clean and tidy with great markets and in particular the Philippine market and near by evening food stalls with just about anything you can think of. There is a new Yacht Club to rival anything in the world with 5 star resorts either side. Quite spectacular.

We found a chap with a Hi Ace van for RM150, per person who took us up to the hot springs, canopy walk and base of Mt Kinabalu. Legend has it that Chinese sailors landed near Kota Belut and seeing Mt Kinabalu thought a dragon lived there. So they set out leaving their wives behind. They all perished and the wives stayed on to mourn. Kina is thought to be what is today Cina in Malay or China as we know it and Balu means widow in malay (and Tagalog). So Kinabalu is Chinese widows. Love these useless bit of info. It happens that there are a lot of place names in Sabah starting with Kina and they are all associated with Chinese. Mt Kinabalu is magnificent and is to be seen early morning before the clouds roll in. Even then the sight of clouds ripping off the jagged edges is great. There is good old fashioned rest house style of accommodation in various lodges and guest houses in the area and excellent if you plan a trek up Kinabalu or simply wander the jungle treks around the base

We took a day going by buses to Keningau and Tenom toward the Brunei border. Sabah is all mountainous and the bus trip winding through valleys and climbing steep hills was very beautiful. The 2 towns were very clean and friendly and the people had old fashioned courtesy.

Next was a ferry ride to one of the Islands off shore about 20 min fast boat ride. These are nice, but don't compare to good Aussie beaches and expect to be hit a premium fee being a foreigner just to land. There are a number of places that charge foreigners more [sometimes much more] than locals which gets under my skin. As an Aussie if we did that to overseas visitors we would be discriminating and probably raciest. The only time the much higher fees was worth it was the Kota Kinabalu Museum and here I complained about the different pricing and they agreed and charged me the same as locals....and it was worth more! Fantastic museum, well laid out and interesting. It includes an art gallery [very forgettable], a jungle walk..OK and a heritage village which was excellent. This is a must do.

Another guy with a Toyota Avenza 7 seater took us N.E. To Kudat via Kota Belut for RM250 per day. [Should have found him before the Mt. K trip. Found him at the long distance taxi stand] This was a fun drive and we stopped off to see long houses but missed the wild horsemen of Kota Belut.

Kudat is a lovely fishing town and was once the centre for Sabah when it was on lease to to British Borneo Co. Actually has a long history but today is best known for cheap fish meals. As mentioned the overnight stay at the rest house was horrible. Its a pity as the building is quite new but has had zero maintenance and everything filthy. There are plenty of Chinese hotels in town and I wish we had stayed at one. Next day up to the farthest N.E tip of Borneo which was well worth the trip. Very beautiful and with a small offshore Island with lighthouse at the point where the South China Sea meets the Sulu Sea. A bit further around the coast was a superb Island joined to Borneo at low tide with a sand split. Great except most of the rubbish in SE Asia was there as well. Very sad.

Finally we said goodbye to Sabah and caught the early flight to Miri in Sarawak. Unfortunately we stayed at another really horrible hotel, the Fairland Inn [KC is still scratching] but Miri was quite a nice town although nothing special. Main industry is oil and it shows as there are really nice houses. Main thing was to be up before dawn again next morning to get a bus to Niah Caves half way to Bintulu.

Being 1st May the crowds were there and we couldn't get accommodation, so we settled for the walk [around 12km] through the great cave, one of the biggest in the world and onto the painted cave. Human bones found at the great cave date back over 40,000 years and are some of the oldest found in Asia. This was an expensive exercise, as the bus, RM10, only goes to Ngu Junction bus stop , [which is humongous, clean, free loo's, local market and supermarket rolled into one in the middle of nowhere.] The cheapest we found to go the 17.5km to the caves was a real live native in his pick-up for RM40 each way. Foreigners again get stung extra for cave entrance, just because they are foreign. It is a must do however and was well worth it all

We bused the same day onto Bintulu RM10 each. As there is no bus from the express bus station into town, we stayed at a very nice hotel near the bus station, had a good meal and off the next day. Suggestion for the Bintulu Chamber of commerce...get a connection bus service into town. What we saw of Bintulu was very nice, clean, friendly and good food. Its an oil town but also a timber town and on the way to Sibu we saw some huge timber mills. Also lots of local longhouses beside the road is all sizes, lengths and colours.

Sibu has got to be one of the really great surprises. Sitting on the 640km long [longest in Malaysia] Rejang River, it is beautiful, super clean, no smell, fantastic food, good cheap good we decided to stay an extra day almost as soon as we arrived. Formally known as Foochow, it has a huge Hakka population and like most of Sabah and Sarawak, has a number of Churches , Mosques and temples. [Reportedly the largest temple in SE Asia not far from town. This will wait for another trip] The market is huge and super clean, food as good Chinese food as you can get. The Sibu night market [Pasir Malam] is on every night with very cheap and big variety of food and with beer at RM10 for 4 cans, makes it a must each evening. Unfortunately there are one or two restaurants who take one look at foreigners and double the price, so check prices before you sit down. Out in the river ships riding at anchor a few traveling yachts and dozens of extremely long, fast passenger “torpedo” boats. This river is a major highway and the whole town can only be described as FUN. We will definitely go back and will look out for the regular Air Asia or MAS really cheap deals to Sibu.

We had planned to take the high speed torpedo to Kuching, but instead we took a bus RM7 the 1 hour trip to onto Sarikei further down river. Nice well set out town, with very cheap food and cheap beer at 4 cans for RM10. If ever in Sarikei, must check out the water tower, which has been shaped like a huge Shanghai jar with huge brightly painted hibiscus flowers all around. Bus was too quick for me to get my camera out and I was too lazy to walk back a few km just to take the snap. A compact town with all 4 story buildings and super friendly. The local famous dish is Kolok Mee, which had a tomato paste mixed with wheat noodles, char siew BBQ pork, prawns and savory pork mince with white pepper naturally as we were in the middle of pepper country. The Leh Hua hotel RM40 was cheap and had an on suite and almost clean. The town is bounded on 3 sides by rivers which makes for a good waterfront.

Bus onto Kuching. We were a bit tired and pissed off that Kuching has no connecting buses to the express bus terminal or to the airport. This is something they really need to look into as people do not want to pay more for a taxi the few miles to town than the fare to get there in the first place. Having said that, Kuching is a lovely town, especially the older section along the river. There is history all around, from the “Rajah” Brooke to the many regional groups of Chinese migrants, the Iban and other local tribes. The new state Parliament house at RM300m is a bit over the top but the whole thing is a great and very civilised picture. After Sibu, this is my favorite for the trip. We were taken to a super restaurant called Blah, Blah, Blah...yeah thats what I thought, but food was terrific and traditional old style Chinese.

Air Asia back to KL all too easy and a great trip finished.

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