31.12.2011 – 06.01.2012 Cloudy/Rainy/Sunny 32 °C
I’d always thought of Borneo as this vast jungle and the people well behind the times, like the older Abo’s in Aus I suppose, although after booking the flight I started to look into it a bit more so I had some idea as what was there and what was to see, and it looked good. Incidentally, the reason we ended up even considering a trip to Borneo was thanks to the extortionate Philippines visa extension fees. They have sky rocketed over the last few years and now take the piss. At the time of writing you get twenty-one days free (well not really free because they hit you with the exit tax of 600P when you leave, but anyway) you can then extend for a further thirty-eight days making your total stay 59 days for 3000P (about £42). Any extension after that is 7000P a month, that’s just over a hundred quid, a month. Let’s not forget the Philippines is a third world country and the fact it was £30 in 2008.This gave us the hump and so we started looking for flights abroad because, cross the border and come back, you get another twenty-one days free (well, not really free…). A flight to Borneo on New Years Eve appeared for £120 each return so we grabbed it. Basically it has cost us £20 to see Borneo then. Not Bad.
We left Clark, having been hit with the 600P exit tax and climbed aboard our AirAsia flight bound for Borneo. First flight in a couple of months so we were both excited, also because it was New Years as well, god know where we’d end up that night, I was hoping to be partying with an Orangutan but realised my chances were slim. Our flight was smooth and immigration even smoother. The Malaysians are slick. Malaysians? Oh, of course Borneo island is split between three countries, Indonesia, Brunei and Malaysia. Leaving the airport and covering the 7km in a cab to Kota Kinabalu centre, you could tell too, it looked very much like Kuala Lumpur, just a bit quieter. I was happy. Having left Western Malaysia back in July with very fond memories I was looking forward to seeing what the eastern part was like.
We checked in to our hostel, X-Plorer Backpackers for 25RM (£5) each a night for a dorm bed in a room sleeping six, but there was no one there and so we had our own room, and went down to chat to the bird behind reception about what there was to do as it was now about 7pm. She suggested the BB Cafe which was right next door, this was a kind of open seating area with a corrugated roof which three or four bars and restaurants seemed to share. It was decorated nicely with a water fountain in the middle and jungle flora scattered around. Only problem was the drink prices. I’d forgotten how expensive a beer was in Malaysia. We had a few anyway and moved to the next place, Upperstar, a bar come restaurant nearly overlooking the bay. More beer flowed then we left to find the next place. Walking down the road we had no idea where we were going, we walked past a couple of white girls. Common sense kicked in and I stopped to talk to them, Katie and Caroline from Germany (are all German girls called Caroline? – See Koh Samui post). I asked them where they were going but I don’t really remember their reply, just introducing myself and B and asking if we could tag along. They seemed enthusiastic. which was splendid. They had an idea where the bars were and told us about a club called Bed so we headed for that. As we got there we realised it was too early for Bed but next door was the Cock ‘N’ Bull which looked lively. The four of us got in and sat down and what was on the TV? Spurs vs Swansea. ‘Right that’s it, don’t talk to me now’ I murmured My attention for the girls had gone. Half time 1-0 to the good. A guy walking round gave us all party bags for the countdown containing party poppers etc which was a nice touch. Quarter to midnight now, time was flying by then, 10, 9, 8… Happy New Year! 2012 was here but really I just wanted to watch the match. Just after midnight we left and headed for Bed (even though the match hadn’t finished, I got overruled three to one) the atmosphere was electric, people partying, singing and dancing in the street. I was looking for the fireworks supposedly by the harbour but couldn’t see them. Must have been behind a building or something. As we were about to enter Bed we were poached by a guy with a square head from a bar near there (I say near because I don’t remember where). As we entered he gave us a jug of beer. Cheers! Then his Chivas Regal came out. I don’t even like whisky. Cheers, that went down as well. Another jug, and another, and another followed courtesy of the Lego headed Malaysian. When we tried to give him some money he wouldn’t take a Ringgit. Brilliant. We said our goodbyes and fell out of there when we saw Katie chatting to a group of blokes. She called us over and we joined them. Kiwi’s all on holiday. Nice guys they were, a group of Lawyers, one guy who had just come back from Afghanistan and one who was in insurance. They got the Shishas out. Then the beers, and again they wouldn’t take any cash. A few drunken hours later they went to go home and asked us to come with (I think it was the fact I was with three girls and not my sparkling conversation that I was invited although one of them was gay so you never know?). Back at their penthouse apartment they were renting we drunk more beer and chatted shit. The next day B told me I’d been coming out with random drunk sentences nothing to do with what we were talking about. I’ve been told I do this before, when I get really tired and I’m hammered I start saying what I’m thinking. I haven’t been smacked because of it yet… Time to go home and this part I really don’t remember. From B’s account I abused a girl in KFC because they had run out of rice, I went on to remind her ‘we’re in Asia’ and ask ‘How can you run out of rice?’ and furthermore to ‘go and pick some’, then I fell asleep on the pavement telling B to ‘leave me here because you’re always there’ amongst other things. I then fell down the stairs in the hostel. Good night.
I woke up in the afternoon with the fattest hangover I’d had in a while, my head was pounding and it must have been 30°C in the room. That day was a write off, I just about managed to get out of bed for some grub in the evening, a nice Char Keoy Teow, a greasy fat noodle dish with seafood and egg. I returned to bed to sleep it off. The next day we went round the Suria Mall and along the harbour then returning to the Suria Mall to go to the cinema where I nearly died from pneumonia. There was nothing much on so Sherlock Holmes 2 was the pick and at only 10RM (£2) each it was a bargain. Their cinemas are much nicer than the ones in Britain too, very swanky. The temperature however was set to arctic, once again. (Why do the air-conditioned buses and cinemas of Asia have it cranked up to maximum?) If westerners who are accustomed to the cold a bit more than Asians don’t like it, what do the locals think?
Wetlands River Cruise. Doing a bit of digging around there were a few excursions available but we settled on a particular one with ‘Only In Borneo’, a tour company offering loads of day trips etc because they were cheap and had their office across the road from where we were staying. Booking up, they matched the fifteen percent discount offered on the web if you paid by card and we were off the following day at 1pm. A two-hour drive to their base camp in the jungle and half an hour sitting around eating dried bananas and coffee (these were the ‘local cakes’ made by ‘local people’ advertised on the leaflet) we set off down the river in a boat with fourteen other people. An endless 2 hour ride up and down the river, we spotted a few proboscis monkeys hanging in trees, the main reason we took the tour but they were very disappointing. You could hardly see them with your eyes let alone our point and shoot camera. Obviously it isn’t the tours fault the Monkeys weren’t friendly but they should definitely have made this clear before booking, instead of showing you close up pictures of them stretched horizontally to make their noses wider and bellys bigger, the conning sharks. We saw the smallest Monitor Lizard I’ve ever seen and then it was back for a buffet dinner, which was average at best. Back out on the river to spot the Fireflies, it wasn’t long before they showed up, in their two’s. We pulled up next to a tree and there couldn’t have been more than 20 tiny flashing white lights there, thoroughly uninspiring. Add to this probably the 2 most annoying Australian bitches giving a running commentary, I couldn’t wait for the trip to end, and just looking at B I could tell she felt the same. Another two-hour drive and we were back. Thank god. Verdict: £32 each and that was the cheapest you could get it. Go to Lok Kawi to see Probiscis Monkeys instead. Miss.
Lok Kawi Nature Park. Lok Kawi is half an hour south of Kota Kinabalu and day trips were available for 130RM each (£26). We thought we would be able to make it cheaper going under our own steam, and we were right. 40RM taxi there, 40RM entrance for two and 50RM taxi back (because you have to book the cab you came in as there are no cabs available there) for a total of 130RM (£26), the price it would have cost us for one person. Clever little travellers. It was a good day out too. We arrived just as the animal show was starting. This involved Mowgli the Orangutan painting a picture, swinging around on some rope and first challenging a kid from the audience to push a piece of Papaya through a clear plastic box over obstacles with a stick (of course Mowgli won) and then challenging a guy to rip the husk from a coconut any way he could. Again Mowgli won, using his teeth to tear it apart. Next up was a couple of Hornbills catching seeds in midair then a Parrot playing dead as well as few other things. Last was a box next to us built into the steps of the amphitheatre with a lock on it. I never noticed it until the guy pointed it out, the same as everyone else around us but when he came and took the lock off and grabbed a massive snake, everyone was paying attention and looking around for their own little boxes next to them. All in all, was worth it.
After circling some more of the park the next big thing was the feeding times, the Sun Bears, then the Tigers, then The Orangutans, then the Otters and Gibbons and finally the Proboscis Monkeys but first we had the rest of the park to see. All the remaining animals looked happy enough, with their enclosures big enough or of reasonable size and the one cage that was too small and had a Clouded Leopard in – had a sign saying the enclosure was temporary while his main place had a lick of paint. Good stuff. They even redecorate for them when they get bored with the colour! The Botanic Gardens was a letdown with ninety percent of it being closed and no explanation why but that’s the way it goes in Asia. The feeding times were brilliant. First up the Sun Bears were given a load of bananas which they tore open and ate the inside leaving the skins on the floor. They also learnt to stand on two feet and look deceptively cute in a bid for more. The female even climbed to the top of the pole and sat there so she was level with us. That was it though. The Tigers were given a chunk of meat each which they just held between their paws and ate – what did you expect? The Orangutans were the best. Chucking bread to them, bananas, carrots and sweet potato they come really close to get it and you can see them very close up. They argue over the same piece of food too, with one munching a carrot and another chasing him all the way to the top of this climbing frame for it, even though there were three more carrots on the ground below. The Otters were cool, greedy little sods. Something I didn’t know was they scream for food, each squealing for a fish. Fifty or so fish were thrown in for them and some were holding one or even two in their hands while devouring another in its gob. The Gibbons were just sitting in a tree eating. Finally the Probiscis Monkeys, they were given carrots and a load of green stuff which resembled weeds. It was interesting to watch the pecking order, with the group waiting for the alpha to take what he wanted first then moving in. It was also good to see them close up after the disappointing and expensive Wetlands Trip. As the Monkeys were hanging on the bars of the cage, the guide who was supplying the food said be careful they don’t piss on you! With that, one started spraying all over this German bloke which B, myself and his two mates found hilarious. We’d been there five hours and it was tipping down with rain so we called George, our new taxi driver friend to come get us. Had the Botanical Gardens been open though we would have been bang on our 5:30 arranged pick up time. Verdict: Well worth the £25 odd for two people there and back. Do it on your own and you have your own time too.