Well I have been home a while now but the journey to Borneo is still fresh in my mind so it’s probably time to share a few things that are possibly more practical than exciting. So flights, we chose to fly Singapore Airlines, they had a great deal on so we basically got 2 for the price of one and as always the airline was fantastic, good food and as comfortable as a flight in economy could be.
In Kota Kinabalu for our first five nights we stayed at the Travellers Light Backpackers, in the aptly named Australia Place. Location wise it is really good, as long as you enjoy a walk you can access the main part of the city on foot, the ocean front is only about 5 minutes walk but the waterfront area with bars and dining is about a 20 minute walk with the trendy Beach Road only 10 minutes away. It is a budget and basic accommodation but not an uncomfortable or unclean accommodation. We gathered that it is a family run establishment and the young woman who seems to be in charge is happy to help whenever she is around. It does not have 24 hour reception but the place itself seems to be secure and safe. We stayed in a double room, which basically is a double bed and space for your backpack – but what more do you want? The showers are located on the deck out the back, there is enough room to dress in the shower space, but the rooms are not so far that you can’t head over in a towel! I actually became quite a fan of the outdoor shower, a bit liberating I think! Breakfast is basic, toast and jam but there is free flow tea and coffee, so the deck becomes a great place to just sit and chill, of course beer is available downstairs at reception. All this said it costs only 65MR a night for a double room – what do you want??
If you fancy a bit more for breakfast head to either Bella or Hunters at the Best Western Hotel – a good value filling breakfast is available to keep you going. There are a few places down Beach Road to eat and drink so worth a wander, this road comes alive at night as the live music takes hold, it’s nothing groundbreaking or astonishing but it’s lively. The bars on the waterfront are pretty lively on an evening but also fairly quiet in the afternoon, a really nice place to just sit and watch the sun set over the ocean – a little bit of paradise. If you are a vegetarian, don’t be put off at the seafront markets, if you explain not meat, no fish, no fish or oyster sauce, they will accommodate and it all tastes very fresh.
Because of the unrest on the East coast of Sabah we decided to dive in KK and chose Downbelow Dive Centre to dive with, the prices are good and all dive gear, pick up and drop off from city locations is included as is lunch and refreshments for the day or days. Each morning you are picked up from your hotel and taken to the harbour for transfer by speedboat to Gaya Island for the dives to begin. The staff are professional, friendly and helpful, as a new diver this made the experience a really positive one. One day diving consist of 3 boat dives, a briefing is provided before each dive and all surface intervals are at the dive centre on Gaya Island. It has a positive and enthusiastic atmosphere and so it ends up being a great place to meet new people too. There are people of all diving levels visiting, visibility can’t be guaranteed, but hey this is about entering a natural environment and this is nature can sightings or visibility really be guaranteed?
Instead of Sandakan we decided to head to Kuching, so it was an online visit to Air Asia to book our flights and Hostel World to book some accommodation. We stayed at the Singgahsana Hostel, it was not the cheapest and the rooftop bar is quite expensive but the rooms are clean, roomy and comfortable and the showers were very good. Location wise it is a good option, only a walk to the water front and the Main Bazar. The only thing we did note is that shops and some of the food places are not open late, I would describe it as a bit of a sleepy place.
While in Kuching we visited Semenggoh Nature Reserve to see the Orangutan’s and it was a great surprise, we thought Sepilok was the only place to have this experience but from people we spoke to I think the Kuching option seems to be the best. It’s accessible by local transport for only 3MR each way per person and 20MR each admission, much cheaper than booking a tour and an opportunity to be around when the hoards of tourists are not. We also visited Bako National Park, again public transport is easy and the least expensive option – catch the number 1 bus and it takes you to the centre to catch the boat and the bus is 3.50MR each way per person, again park fees are 20MR and the boat costs 94MR for 4 people return in the boat, so if you are a couple or alone look for others and share the boat. The Paku trek is the best trek to walk to see the Proboscis Monkey’s in their natural habitat, it’s also the shortest of the treks if time is an issue. The accommodation is cheap so if I where to return I would definitely spend a day or two at the Park and explore more of the walks.
We spent our last couple of days back in KK, overall our trip was amazing and packed with things to do and the only days that where quiet and slow were the travelling days. It seems that Borneo is still a bit of a well kept secret, not yet completely overrun with tourists making it a really good spot to visit. The diving and the national parks are beautiful and still unspoilt, not too commercial. When in the jungle you can’t help but look in awe at the beauty of nature, the way water carves it’s way through the rocks, the way the tree roots weave through the ground and in the mass of green there is the occasional coloured plant making itself known. It’s so important to stop, look and take a deep breath at the world around us and Borneo has reminded me to do just that.