Hello Borneo – Kota Kinabalu & Pulau Manukan

Flight number 5 from KL to Kota Kinabalu in Sabah (North East Malaysian Borneo) was an uneventful 2.5 hours. We just had to get up far earlier than we would have liked to catch it. Our next flight is from Kuching in the far west of Malaysian Borneo and isn’t for 2 and a half weeks so on the one hand we have plenty of time to get ourselves there, but on the other we have worked out what we want to see and do here and plainly do not have enough time.

IMG_0762Everywhere we have been so far has been expensive, we haven’t managed a cheap day yet, so when we landed at the airport instead of paying 20 ringgits to take a taxi into town we asked at the information desk and there was a local bus into town for 1.50 ringgits each. The bus doesn’t run on any set schedule so it was a case of sitting outside the terminal and waiting for it to show up. We only had time to stuff our faces with biscuits and pringles (it was lunchtime and we needed something to tide us over) when one turned up so we jumped on quick.

The bus took a very wiggly route to town so we got to see a few things we wouldn’t otherwise see. We’d scored a town map from the info centre and decided to walk from the bus station to the area where there are lots of reasonably priced places to stay. It was the middle of the day, 29 degrees and humid as hell and turned out to be about 2km (the map wasn’t to scale). Our rucksacks had weighed in at just over 15kg each and we couldn’t understand why they were so much heavier than Wellington, then we realised, there we had our thick trousers and jackets on, now we’re wearing lightweight tropics trousers and no jackets. Sure we’ve offloaded one no longer needed guidebook and a couple of other bits but they have been replaced with toilet roll (squat toilets are common  and often only have a pipe to use as a bidet, we get that its hot but what we don’t get is that you don’t dry instantly, particularly not when its humid) we couldn’t buy just one toilet roll, so we’re currently carrying 4. Of course now we haven’t needed it.

IMG_0810With our daysacks and carrying snacks and bottles of water we must be carrying 20kg each. Far too much. We’ve been trying to think of ways to reduce it but since we’re already technology free (except cameras) and don’t have luxury items its a tough call as we’re only 2 weeks in and might need something later. If we can manage the next 6 weeks to Mongolia we can offload some of the tropics gear e.g. a mozzie net and a couple of shirts. Since we haven’t used much insect repellant we probably now have too much, but the next 6 weeks is the main time we’ll need it and we might cane through it and you can’t buy the good stuff that you need here or in Burma. Dilemmas dilemmas. Maybe we’ll just keep humping it round for now and avoid walking with them in the midday heat wherever possible.

We reached the accommodation area and Marie got dumped under a tree with the bags while Emma did the rounds. It took a while in the heat, particularly as you have to take your shoes off whenever look at a room, but eventually we settled on the best deal with aircon, in a place that only has a few rooms and is really clean and tidy with a nice outdoor deck at the back and breakfast included.

IMG_0814Rucksacks dumped, ourselves washed and sweaty tshirts laundered, we headed out to explore. Emma developed a stinking cold on the plane and was sneezing and full of snot so we took it steady and had a late lunch then explored the part of town nearest to where we are staying before heading to the waterfront and checking out the markets (the fish market stank, the fish looked fresh but that’s because they kept pouring water over them, consequently the pathway was bloody and wet). We carried on down the waterfront and had a drink at one of the waterfront bars and watched the sun set.

The next day we took it steady again because of the snotty and sneezy one. She scored some traditional Chinese herbal tablets from the pharmacy for it, she reckons they help, for about an hour… Next up we sorted out a tour for the next day (or so we thought) to Kinabatangan River. It’s in the jungle and basically you go there to go on a boat up/down the river and spot wildlife and do some jungle walks with a guide. It’s one of the few places where you may see a wild orangutan. You can’t do it independently very easily and its peak season so even if you manage to get yourself there you might not be able to find somewhere to stay and you still end up on a tour anyway because that is what the places are all geared up for. With our tour we were to almost get ourselves there by catching the bus, but then they’d collect us from the junction on the main road and take us the rest of the way to the camp.

IMG_0777That sorted (we thought) we headed out and up the hill to Signal Hill Observatory, a viewpoint overlooking the town. We dropped back down into town via a ‘jungle trail’ and spent the rest of the morning checking out the northern end of town, including the ferry terminal as when we return to Kota Kinabalu we’re thinking we’ll take the ferry to Brunei. People in Kota Kinabalu are foodies so we have plenty of choice, but their current fad is sushi, which suited us just fine when we dropped on a nice Japanese restaurant with a sushi conveyor belt. After lunch we returned to our accommodation so that the snotty one could have a break and die a bit, until the main heat had passed and then we ventured out to explore the rest of town.

We got back and was told that the jungle camp and had called and that they had made a mistake and didn’t have accommodation for the next day. We discussed options over dinner and decided we’d try a couple of other places since we’re basically getting there ourselves anyway. Many phone calls later and we decided to go a day later, with it being peak season everywhere is just too busy and the risk too great that if we just show up we won’t be able to do what we’re going there for. It’s probably a blessing in disguise as it gives the snotty and sneezy one longer to recover.

IMG_0795We decided to spend our extra day in Kota Kinabalu visiting Pulau Manukan, one of the islands just off shore in the national park. Our hotel gave us a discount on the boat trip which was great, it all helps. Getting the boat was easy, as we already knew basically where to go. They’re small narrow boats and they go like the clappers bouncing across the top of the waves, even the drivers wear lifejackets, and there’s a reason for that!

The ride only took 15 mins and we were dropped off at a jetty surrounded by tropical fish. There is a resort on the island and a couple of places to eat and a small shop. There was plenty of people on the sand and snorkeling but it was surprisingly quiet and peaceful.

IMG_0816We explored the resort area, stuffed our faces with cornettos and took the jungle walk out to the end of the island (only 1.5km away). We hadn’t gone very far before we came across heaps of skink type small lizards, our steps weren’t scaring them off, they’d dart off when you were about level with them. It was hot, humid and slow going as walks go but we saw heaps of these lizards and then we spotted a big monitor lizard, he must have been 3 foot long, and we came across a huge ant highway that you could follow for ages.

After lunch we took it easy for the snotty and sneezy one and rented a beach mat, found a palm tree to base ourselves under in a quieter part of the beach and thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon breeze that had picked up. There might have been an afternoon nap involved.


  • All vehicles have indicators but no one uses them
  • The NZ made insect repellent is finally being consumed – the mosquitoes here don’t even land on us now as they hate it

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