By Samir and Rachel
There is an island called Borneo, though there is no city/state/country with that name. The island is broken into three countries – Brunei, Malaysia & Indonesia. We flew into the city of Kota Kinabalu (KK), which is the capital of the state of Sabah, in Malaysian Borneo, the day after Samir’s birthday. The thing that struck me the most was how different it was from KL – much cleaner, less populated so less traffic, and much less diversity – while there are large Indian and Chinese populations in KL, there are less in Sabah. In KK, we explored the pleasant waterfront/boardwalk area for some fresh seafood – Manu Bhaiya picked seafood that was still moving, to be grilled for our dinner. It was expensive, but super fresh.
We decided to visit the State Museum (“Muzium” per a road sign), but went walking instead. We got stuck about ¾ of the way there at a gas station for about 30 minutes due to a heavy rainstorm. The museum had several artifacts on display from earlier parts of their history, including human remains thought to be in excess of 10,000 years old! I was amused by a huge jar inside a jar and other jars used for burials.
The next day, Manu Bhaiya and Samir woke up early to go to the Sunday market on Jalan Gaya to buy some accessories for our upcoming jungle trip on the Kinabatangan River – namely a fisherman’s hat and umbrella for my brother.
After they came back and woke me up (hehe), we went to Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, named after the first Prime Minister of Malaysia, which is a collection of five islands off the northwestern coast of Malaysian Borneo. My brother and I snorkeled the shallow depths and saw amazing corals, and all kinds of colored fishies, off the coast of Mamutik Island. We skipped the other islands because we got a bit of a late start to the day, but we heard Mamutik had the best snorkeling anyway. The beach was ok – a little dirty and kind of small, but definitely worth the trip for a quick snorkel. And since we weren’t going to make it to Sipadan (further South – world class dive site), it was a nice enough beach experience in Borneo.
Side note – we had dinner a couple times at this place called Upper Star – I had a Taco Mexican which did okay to satisfy a Mexican food craving, but they had cheap drinks by the jug!
The next day, we set off to Kinabalu National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage site) – a 2-3 hour minivan ride from KK. Again, since we were going to the mountains, the weather was nice and cool. We stayed at a budget guesthouse – D’villa Rina Ria Lodge – that had a private balcony (plus the restaurant had open aired balconies) and gave us some gorgeous views!
The center of Kinabalu Park is Mt. Kinabalu, the highest mountain in Malaysia, towering over 13,000 feet and is the 20th largest in the world. Many people come to the park to climb Mt. Kinabalu – a two day trek that requires an overnight stay at their lodge plus a climbing permit and requisite guide – all in all, I think it would have cost over $200 per person to make the trek. Aside from the money, Samir and I both hated the thought of climbing uphill for two days (though Manu Bhaiya considered trying to do it in one and then decided against it once we realized that the fog in the mid afternoon would have made the climb worthless), so we all stuck to a couple trails around the park instead. It started raining lightly halfway through which made the muddy trail even more interesting to muck about in! But the scenery and the park were beautiful – and I learned that I could imitate one of the bird calls so I was having fun doing that randomly 🙂
After our walk around the trails, we all decided to go back and take naps!
The next day, we arranged for a day trip to the Poring Springs. On the way, our driver told us to look out for private gardens that may have the famous Rafflesia flower (the world’s largest flower) in bloom. While the Poring Springs also has this flower, it has a long budding period (eight months or so) and only blooms for about a week after that. Samir and I had missed seeing it in the Cameron Highlands so I was excited that we may get to see one there – and sure enough – on our way to the Springs, we found some private garden that had the flower in bloom. The Rafflesia flower is also known as the corpse flower because it gives off a foul odor – we barely smelled it though since the flower (I think it’s really a fungus) was fenced off, but it was a good two feet in diameter!
From there, we continued on to the Poring Hot Springs and went on a canopy walk through the trees (these swaying bridges that are suspended up in the trees that you walked across so you could experience the jungle from up high) – stellar views! Plus, I got to play “Look Ma, no Hands!” while trying to cross the bridge, which with my brother and Samir purposely shaking the bridge was not happening!
There are also a couple of waterfalls (we only went to the closer one) and a bat cave (only Manu Bhaiya went to this) that were in the Springs complex. Finally, we took a dip in the hot spring tubs that took forever to fill up!
That evening, we enjoyed a gorgeous sunset from the lodge…
And Manu Bhaiya made a new friend…