Sunday, June 15, 2014

Just back from Borneo and Japan - Part 1: Borneo

Our wonderful trip to Borneo and Japan was successful in large part to what I learned from you. Because Borneo and Japan are such different destinations, I am going to break the report into two separate posts. I’ll include the general background in this first one on Borneo and make reference to it in the introductory section on Japan.

We have traveled quite a lot in Asia and have learned to slow down in the last few years, as we are now 65 and 70. Three weeks of travel meant we would be able to include some days to relax. Planning began about 10 months ago when I redeemed miles on United for two business class tickets from DC to Singapore for our preferred travel dates in May, 2014, for three weeks altogether. The flights were on ANA from Dulles to Narita, United (first class) Narita to Singapore on the way to Borneo, on the return we were on the ANA Dreamliner from Singapore to Narita. We did a 6 day stopover in Japan, then flew back to Dulles on ANA. I won’t go into the ins and outs of the changes I made on these tickets before I finalized the itinerary. Essentially, I extended the layover in Japan from 2 days to 6 days as I read more about Tokyo from your trip reports and Japan guide. I had initially planned to go to the Cameron Highlands and leave from Kuala Lumpur, so that was the major change. Because we have an AMEX Platinum card, I was able to get credit for the change fees and so there was no “cost” to us.

Originally, I wanted to go to Kuching (Sarawak) first because I thought it would be easier to recover there from jet lag. But it turned out that the Borneo Rainforest Lodge was booked for the days that we would want so I changed the order of travel and we went to Sabah first. We landed in Singapore after midnight and spent the night in the Ambassador transit hotel, flew (Silk Air) to Kota Kinabalu in the morning for 2 nights at Le Meridien, flew to Sandakan on an early morning flight and went to Turtle Island, from there we were driven to Bilit for 2 nights at the Bilit Rainforest Lodge, then driven to the Danum Valley for 3 nights at the Borneo Rainforest Lodge, then flew to Kuching (Lahad Datu to Kota Kinabalu, the Kota Kinabalu to Kuching) for 4 nights (all flights on Malaysia Airlines). Jimmy at Tropical Gateway booked everything for us in Sabah - - accommodations and transit between places. I would highly recommend him - - very easy to communicate with and the service was excellent. I booked all the internal flights myself.

My concerns were about what and how much to pack, especially for our 8 nights in Sabah. The Travelex and Under Armour clothes were the right way to go - - even those took a while to dry. We had to change clothes and underwear two or three times a day. Brought a combination of long and short sleeve tops - - washed everything in permetherin before we left. I agonized over footwear and eventually decided to waterproof our running/walking shoes and that worked just fine. We definitely needed the ankle support and I think even light hiking books would have been too heavy. We also brought Ecco sandals and I had a pair of Reefs. One article of clothing I wore quite a lot but haven’t seen anyone write about: a sleeveless cotton knee length T shirt (originally a swimsuit coverup), which I changed into immediately after the boat trips and treks. It was great for when we rested in our rooms in between activities. Here goes:

May 21: At the ANA counter check in, we checked our bag through to Kota Kinabalu. Left Dulles on ANA on time, arrived in SIN a bit late because of delay on the United flight. We brought one small carryon with clothes for Japan, which we knew we would not use in Borneo. We took it to the Left Luggage counter in Chiangi airport, which was near the Ambassador Transit hotel, where we arrived at 1am on May 23. Solid 6 hours sleep, checked out and walked to our gate for the 9am flight to Kota Kinabalu. So we stayed within the security side of the airport the entire time.

May 23 and May 24: Uneventful flight to KK but our bag did not arrive with us. Filled out forms, pretty nervous about it because we only had one day of clothes in a small bag. Fortunately, we got a call that afternoon that our bag had been located in Singapore and would be delivered the next day.

Kota Kinabalu is one of the gateway cities in Borneo and there are a few international flights that arrive in its very modern airport terminal. Like many secondary cities in Southeast Asia, it is a mix of old and new, modern and traditional. Directly on the South China Sea, there are many lovely views from modern hotels and waterfront esplanades. Mount Kinabalu is to the east and many people come here to ascent the mountain. There are many shopping malls and small stores and markets.

We stayed at Le Meridien in the city center, a great choice for us. It was directly across the street from the central wet market and vegetable market so we were able to easily wander through the stalls. Our room on the 8th floor had large windows with a great view of the market and sea and nearby islands. Diagonally across the street is one of the main restaurant/bar areas right on the waterfront. We walked over there at around 6pm on Friday and had drinks and watched the sunset, it was really lovely. Later that evening we went back for dinner at an Indian restaurant (Kohinoor) a couple of doors away from the Irish bar where we had our sundowners.