Anyone visiting Borneo who fails to be thrilled by the wildlife and spectacular scenery should check they still have a pulse! In ten square kilometres it has more biodiversity than North America and Western Europe put together.
How staggering is that? It's also the third largest island in the world and comprises 3 countries. Sabah to East, where we were and Sarawak to the west which became part of Malaysia in 1963, the tiny Sultanate of Brunei between them and to the South, the huge Kalimantan, which is part of Indonesia.
We travelled to Sandakan by bus so we could "feel" the interior of Borneo. It was a good move. As we climbed out of Koto Kinabalu the mighty, misty 4000m plus Mt Kinabalu emerged.
The tumbling foothills were covered with primary rain forest giving us a taste of what we were to see in 2 days time. However 3 hours into the journey the landscape changed to "non biodiverse" monoculture......gudzillions of plantations established to deliver Palm oil products including biodiesel.
Huge tracts of forest have been lost to agriculture but fortunately the Malaysian Government have recognised the need to protect what remains. Indeed some plantations have been allowed to revert to diverse (secondary) forest where the plants and animals can once again proliferate and endangered species have a chance to survive.
We stayed overnight in Sandakan where it was difficult to find a restaurant selling alcohol as the North Western area is predominantly Muslim. The town was a strange mix of new buildings and tired looking concrete blocks.
Our hotel was one of the tired variety and in need of a refurb but was fine for the night. However one of its redeeming features was a restaurant and bar on the roof overlooking the Sulu Sea. After our bus trip we were thirsty so it seemed rude not to go there for a drink.
The view over the town, harbour and out to the tributaries of the Kinabatangan River was fab. Strangely there was an engagement party just starting as we tackled our iced lemon tea and the first tune they fired up on the karaoke machine was "please release me let me go, for you don't love me any more" by Engelbert Humperdink!
We looked at each other and smirked! We left them to it and went for dinner with Pam and Jen from Northampton, young 20 something's who we met on the bus. I treated us all to a slap up dinner at a Habeeb Curry House for the princely sum of £7!
Pam told us her life story of marriage at 20 to a South Africa through to her recent relationship when she discovered her boyfriend had cheated on her when she a acquired a "nasty STD!" All very illuminating.
After a night in our luxurious (not) 4 poster bed at the shabby but not chique Nak Hotel
, we were keen for our next adventure to start. Jamil who was to be our guide for the next 4 days, took us to the Sandakan Yacht Club where we boarded a two engined power launch captained by the sharply dressed Siti.
This was going to be fun. Siti flicked the switch, powered up the nautical equivalent of the "Quattro" and we sped off to Selingan Island which lies close to the Phillipines border in the Sulu Sea. Here green turtles return to its beaches to lay their eggs and it looked just as you would imagine a tropical island paradise should be be. White sand, Palm trees and blue sea.
Labels: Borneo, Sandakan