February 2019 – Roaming the Island of Borneo

If you have been reading my website at endlessroaming.com you would be aware that I have been blogging about previous adventures across the USA, specifically 2012. I’ll also write further about other experiences in the USA and other countries I have been to, at this point in 71. I am now sitting in in my hotel in Kota Kinabalu, part of the state of Sabah which is located on the island of Borneo, I have also included a few travel tips.

The airport at Kota Kinabalu is about 7km from the downtown city area, as Borneo is part of Malaysia there was no need to switch out my sim card as when I arrived in Kuala Lumpur four days earlier. The flat fee from the airport to the city is 30 ringgits on all taxis, which can be arranged on arrival, there is no public transport available and the only alternative would be to hike but as it was a 35-degree day and I was carrying a 25 kg backpack it was the taxi service for me, now for something more interesting…

Kota Kinabalu is the capital city of Sabah, a state on the island of Borneo, the population is approximately 450,000 though it’s difficult to say how many people live here with a lot of works from the Philippines not being counted officially as part of this total. The is the launching point for a lot of adventures across the island including into the adjoining state of Sarawak and also the countries of Indonesia and Brunei which share the island. This makes for quite a diverse population and you could spend months getting around the island but as I have eight days, I’ve had to limit my activities to the local area of the city.

My first activity was to visit the city’s Waterfront area to catch the rather epic Borneo sunset with a multitude of other tourists. The view also includes coastal islands, local fishing boats and a bright orange sunset, better illustrated in images than through my haphazard writing skills. After the sunset I headed to the Kota Kinabalu Nights Markets for dinner, there are four in total. The first market I visited was full of fresh fish and other seafood caught out in the South China Sea and would be any seafood eaters delight. I don’t happen to eat seafood so settled in for some nasi lemak and a few beers, ended up watching all the barbeques cooking, fishmongers haggling with tourists and locals that were wandering on by. After finishing dinner, I headed through the other markets sellling tourist items, more food and arts/crafts andI headed to the pub for some beers, compared to the market area the bar section is a relatively new area and quite a popular location for tourists and locals.

The bar staff at the pub I chose for my local bar, the Shamrock were very friendly, drinks were relatively expensive considering the price of alcohol generally in Malaysia but it was a good vibe and I met a lot of people there. Unlike nations such as Thailand and Bali where there are a lot of Western tourists, Borneo’s tourism industry seems to thrive mainly on South Korean and Chinese package tours, this meant that most of the people I ended up speaking to were either from Kota Kinabalu itself, workers from the Philippines and some Westerners who had chosen to make Borneo there home or like myself just passing through. This made for a very different experience to travelling other parts of Asia and in my opinion made for a more genuine experience.

A few activities that I participated in included the FireFly Tour organised through the OIB Travel Centre. This tour took approximately 8 hours and went long into the evening. I went on a tour bus with some other Westerners who were all in couples so I ended up sitting up front with the driver. We ended up discussing everything about Borneo for the next few hours and as I indicated, the locals are very hospitable. When we arrived in the jungle, we were taken out on a boat to look at the various types of monkeys inhabiting the riverside, my camera could not do it justice. When the sun went fireflies started lighting up in the trees, almost like Christmas lights and with the full moon it was quite a surreal experience. Along with a quality dinner including beef rendang we headed back into the city and got back quite late, the roads in Borneo are currently being constructed across Sabah but at this stage takes quite a while to cross what would be considered small distances.

The second tour I went on was through the same organisation to go and view Kinabalu park, Mt Kinabalu is the tallest mountain on the island of Borneo and can be viewed from great distances. There are organised climbs of the mountain for two days and one night but as my time was short and the cost being quite expensive, I chose to view the mountain instead. After taking in the spectacle we went to the Rafflesia Reserve where the Stinking Corpse Lily is was in full bloom, this is a very rare occurrence as from germination the flower can take between 7 to 10 years to bloom and this will last a week before the flower rots. When rotting the flower germinates a smell something like rotting meat, it was quite smelly needless to say, this flower also happens to be the largest in the world. After that it was off to the Poring Hot springs for the tree canopy walk. The springs are thermal baths, once it was completely natural but now its more of a pool complex. More interesting to me was the canopy walk itself, at over 175 metres long and up to 43 metres in height it makes for quite a spectacular view over the jungle below.

My last activity was the most enjoyable, I enrolled in a three-day PADI Open Water certificate course with Go Aquatic. This restricted me regarding the activities I could do on Borneo of which there is many including as indicated climbing Mount Kinabalu or seeing orangutans in a wildlife sanctuary. Tip All orangutans have been moved to one location on Borneo, the Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre, you a no longer see them in Kota Kinabalu.  My dive course involved a day of theory and then two days were taken out by boat to the island of Sapi to learn the skills required to become a diver. The guys from Go Aquatic were very helpful, friendly and understanding regarding my training and after four open water dives, I successfully completed my PADI exams and am now certified as an Open Water Diver, this means I can dive anywhere (within reason). There are reefs to dive on around Sapi and plenty of tropical fish to see, as amazing as Sapi is it’s not regarded as the best area to dive in Borneo so I might have to come back one day to get a better look at what other dive sites are around. Nevertheless, the water is clear, the wildlife is amazing and the weather was fantastic.

Besides going to the islands for diving / swimming, I decided to learn more history about Borneo, the Sabah Museum is quite comprehensive telling the history of cultural development on the island, details about the jungle, displays include a few old cars, trains and the development of the local live music scene which from my experience in the bar I was frequenting is really good. The two takeaways I took however were Borneo were once active head hunters which is still kinda difficult for me to grasp considering how friendly everyone is and the importance of the Australian army during World War Two. Australia defeated the Japanese army at Kota Kinabalu freeing Borneo from the occupation during the war and because of this there are memorials around the island dedicated to the Australian war effort. This is possibly general knowledge however it was a revelation to me, there is always something new to learn while roaming.

My last night was like a going away party, I had met many people through diving and at the bar and had been made to feel very welcome.  Tip There is something to be said about staying at a place for a week or so, being a solo traveller and getting to know people in a social setting, I am sad to leave and will miss the place. I can’t recommend Borneo enough as a tourist destination, it’s obvious the Koreans and Chinese package tourists are well aware of what it has to offer with the high-class shopping, golf course, restaurants and celebrating Chinese New Year, for everyone else, I encourage you to come and see this place. Not only is there a huge jungle out there with adventurous activities, but also the but beauty and friendliness of the place should also put it on any global roamers list, I’ve been here for eight days, and barely touched the surface……

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