Sunday, August 30, 2015

Borneo without a plan: Kota Kinabalu & Sandakan


We had to leave Indonesia. Our visa said so. So we started planning.

We played with the idea of visiting Singapore–one of the cheapest international flights from Denpasar. We scrapped that idea when we learned there would be a city-wide anniversary celebration and the already high prices would be inflated.

We were almost convinced we’d go to East Timor. How many people get to say they’ve been to East Timor? But when airline ticket prices seemed a bit steep we ditched that idea too.

Then the idea of Borneo appeared. We could go to Malaysian Borneo; we both love Malaysia and Borneo has orangutans…and proboscis monkeys and rainforest! A price check showed round-trip tickets at around $150 USD–we could do that! We booked the tickets.

    A side note on Malaysia:

    I’m going to let you in on a little secret… Malaysia is amazing. It was one of my biggest surprises while travelling in Southeast Asia. There’s no shortage of people gushing about Thailand, Vietnam, The Philippines…but Malaysia–it’s just so underappreciated. Read about one of my getaways here.

    Malaysia has natural beauty; lush tropical jungles, (empty) white sand beaches, rolling green hills and like in Thailand plenty of protected national parks. There’s culture; modern cities, fantastic (and cheap!) food, and a melting pot of ethnically diverse people.

    Sure the cost of travel is a bit higher (for the region), but you’ll get more for your money with slightly nicer accommodation, and better infrastructure. The bus system is extensive, decently comfortable and simple to use. And with many people speaking English, getting around is that much easier. Malaysia is developed compared to her neighbors, but still growing and changing in that way that makes travelling still interesting and exciting.

However, for this trip to Malaysia, we never really got around to planning much.

Kota Kinabalu

Most international flights in Malaysian Borneo’s state of Sabah arrive and depart from Kota Kinabalu. The city itself isn’t exactly special. It sits on a lovely enough stretch of coastline, however development hasn’t been too inspiring for the little city. Tall, bland, concrete buildings, completely lacking in even a trace of character, block any view one might find of the coast. The environment is hectic and dirty and the climate here is mostly wet.

When we arrive into Kota Kinabalu in the early evening, we have just one night booked at one hostel and no plans for how we will spend our next 7 days in Borneo.

We get lucky and meet a group of travelers at our hostel within 5 minutes of arriving. We haven’t the chance to change out of our travel clothes before we join the group and head for dinner. As is usually the case, our group gets larger as other backpacker types join us and we all end up in a seafood tent on the waterfront at a vibrant night market.

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