Saturday, February 06, 2016

Solo Female Backpacker - 2 Weeks in Sabah, Borneo


Backpacking in Borneo feels like opening a Double Decker bar after a hard gym workout - a blissfully indulgent but hard earned treat.

For me, Sabah has been the gift that just keeps giving. All the grand experiences have been wonderful, but even in the daily goings-on I've learnt a great deal. Malaysia has a lot of sit-down loos, although I seem to have a knack for finding the remaining holes in the ground in desperate times.

Unlike in India when I accidentally locked myself in to one and the school caretaker nearly performed an exorcism and Kenya where I lost my balance and plunged foot first straight down said hole, I seem to have finally mastered the art of not being completely incompetent in this division. Embrace the victories, right?

My wonderful hostel owners in KK made me feel like family, taking care of me when I staggered down the stairs after climbing and making sure I had enough to eat on long bus journeys. The scenery I just can't gush enough about.

The mountains, jungle, rainforest, beaches, waterfalls, fruit, wildlife - I just can't get enough! I even took a 6 9 hour bus from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan to see more of it rather than a 40 minute flight, which was only slightly tainted by the looping soundtrack of farting, burping, spitting, and retching coming from across the aisle...

In my first week I explored the city, went to the beach, got lost in a night market, had a magnificent day at the Sabah Ethnology Museum, and climbed Mount Kinabalu. The infamous Gaya Sunday Market was sprawling with tourist trinkets and local foods, but for me the terrible conditions and treatment of animals for sale was far too negative to outweigh these.

The regular night market is very tame, however, and is just crammed with locals, food, and clothes. Week 2 was also exciting, with 3 days in the jungle wildlife spotting, visiting the best orangutan sanctuary I've experienced, island hopping, and eating my way through the city again, including the Gaya Street Chinese New Year kick off festival!

No such thing as too much dim sum. I also spent 2 weeks being chronically underdressed compared to the super snazzy holidaymakers from China and Korea, decked out in the most beautifully Pinterest outfits and heels with perfectly porcelain faces despite the 35 degree heat. That's talent, my friends.

Due to being a perfectly Jurassic playground, a lot of things in Sabah are relatively expensive for backpackers. If I were to have more time in Borneo, or even 2 weeks again, I would definitely head down to Kuching to explore there, and head over to Semporna for the incredible diving!

If I had more savings, I would head straight to the deepest, darkest, and truly untouched jungle of Malau Basin to climb the 7 storey waterfall (£2,000 for 5 days), immerse myself in wildlife in the equally untouched Danum Valley (£2,000 for 5 days), and head over to Turtle Island during hatching season (£250 for 2 days).

I'm already counting down the days until I can come back and explore this pure definition of wanderlust!

My lesson from Sabah has been pretty general: copy the locals. Remembering not to use my left hand for eating or passing money took a while to click (left hand is considered dirty), and watching locals at the night market and ordering the same straight after them has helped a bit with the Foreigner Tax!

Though I also learnt that the night market is to be visited in groups, as the fish and noodle portions are enough for 3 people minimum...! Foreigner Tax can't be avoided, however, at the attractions of Sabah - foreigners are charged usually around 6x local fees, which unfortunately makes some things like Mount Kinabalu and Turtle Island completely inaccessible to most backpackers who haven't fixed their trip around these, which is a shame.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Solo Female Backpacker - 2 Weeks in Sabah, Borneo
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