| Part 4: Sarawak, Kota Kinabalu,
Sandakan, Labuk bay, Sukau
21.12: KL -> Kuching
Hotel Ruby, in downtown Kota Kinabalu.
RM 119 for a double room (single rooms not available), which become RM
109 when I pay the next day. Room is ok, but basic. Clean, has A/C, a
TV, a phone, a fridge and an attached bathroom with a hot shower,
nothing else. This room is overpriced compared to what you get in Kuala
Lumpur for this price. Major drawback is that the room has no windows
and there is no way to set the A/C (the remote control is not in the
room). A/C is cold (it cools down the room to 20° C, which is way
too cold - the temperature should be around 24° - 25° C,
otherwise there is too much gap with the ambient temperature outside.)
Weather: some blue sky, but mostly
overcast in KL in the morning. Overcast and heavy rain in Kuching.
I get up at 8:40am, get ready and pack my things. Shirley and the kids
also wake up in the meantime. At 9:40am I check out of the hotel and
take a taxi to the KLIA airport, arriving there at 10:20am. Long queue
at the Malaysia Airlines check in counters (only two counters are
open). At 11am they finally open three additional counters for the
people on the Kuching flight. Finally at 11:15am I'm checked in and
rush to the gate.
The Malaysia Airlines flight MH2510 takes of with a small delay at
11:50am. Despite being a "full price" airline, the seats in this plane
(a Boeing 737) are very narrow. With AirAsia instead the seats in the
flights to and from Langkawi were much wider (plane was an Airbus
The plane lands on time in Kuching. I retrieve my luggage and proceed
to the exit. At the taxi booking counter I check how much it would cost
to rent a car + driver. It's RM 60 per hour, more than what I was
planning to spend (I expect it will take 4-5 hours to go to Anna Rais
and return - that includes the time spent to visit the longhouse). So I
take a taxi to Kuching for RM 30. Since there is no left luggage at the
airport, I leave the luggage at the taxi counter for RM 10.
Outside the airport it is raining heavily and it will continue raining
heavily until 4pm. Once in Kuching I find a taxi which will bring me to
the Anna Rais Bidayu longhouse and back to Kuching for RM 180 (with
some negotiation I could have brought this down to probably RM 150).
Around 2:30pm we leave for Anna Rais. Initially the scenery is boring,
but after about one hour of driving the scenery becomes very nice.
Mountains covered with rainforests, isolated rural communities.
At 4pm we arrive in Anna Rais.
There is an entry fee of RM 8. The place
itself is like all longhouses in Sarawak I've seen so far. The houses
are built with a mix of traditional and modern materials.The roofs are
mostly made of corrugated tin. People have TVs, refrigerators, DVD
players etc. Today it's Sunday and there is a Christmas party for the
children complete with a Christmas tree.
One hour later, at 5pm, we drive back to Kuching, arriving there at
6:30pm. There I shop around a bit in the waterfront area and at 7pm
have a dinner in the James Brooke cafe (good food and service). Around
8pm I take a taxi to the airport (RM 23, distance is 10km). Then I
retrieve my luggage and check in at the Airasia counter. This time I
have to pay RM 50, for 5 Kg of excess weight. That's a lot considering
that the flight cost RM 388.
By the way, today I have already noticed twice people checking in large
numbers of bags and boxes. It seems that people here carry large
amounts of stuff when travelling.
The AK5906 AirAsia flight to KK takes off with a small delay of about
10 minutes. The plane is very full. It lands in KK with a delay of 20
minutes (00:05 instead of 23:45). The taxi to downtown is RM 30. It
takes some effort to find a hotel - the first five hotels we check
(budget places for < RM 100/night) are all full. But then we find a
place in a slightly more expensive hotel. I sleep at 1:30pm.
Kinabalu -> Sandakan
Hotel City View, Sandakan. RM 68 for a
room, not too big, with A/C, TV, hairdryer, waterboiler, bathroom with
shower, telephone. Fast and free WLAN Internet access in the room. The
room is nicely furnished and has recently been renovated. Spotlessly
clean, quiet room. Very good value, recommended.
Weather: a mix of sunny blue sky and
overcast. It rains at 2pm for about an hour. Quite hot,after the rain
it cools down.
The alarm clock wakes me up at 10am.I pack my stuff and check out at
11:30am. Today I'll finalise my travel plans for Malaysia and when
exactly I'm going to fly to Australia. After checking out of the hotel
I look for a place where to have a late breakfast or early lunch. I
immediately run into a Chinese chicken rice place, where I order a
chicken rice meal.
At 12pm I walk to the Sabah tourist office (a 15 minutes walk
eastwards). Once there I enquire about places to see in Sabah. I do
have a guidebook (the Rough Guide), but it is dated 2006 which means
that the information could be outdated. I'm told that the Sabah Railway
(Beaufort, Tenom) is closed for repairs until 2010. From the photos I
see of Pulau Tiga I conclude that it is not worth the effort to get
there just for a night or two. It makes sense to stay there at least
three or four days and I do not have so much time. There is also just
this single Rafflesia flower blooming near Ranau, but it is quite old
already and likely to be rotting. Besides getting there by taxi would
cost RM 300 return, so it's not worth the time and cost. So I decide
that I'll fly to Sandakan today. It's just a matter of finalising the
I take a taxi to the Borneo Nature Tours travel agency. These are those
who operate the Borneo Rainforest Lodge in the Danum Valley. With them
I discuss the options for the Danum Valley. They offer a package for
two days at the Borneo Rainforest Lodge for RM 1260, which includes
transportation from Lahad Datu, accomodation and all meals, and guided
tours. Very expensive, but this is the only option if you are short of
time (other option would be to stay at the Danum Valley Field Research
Centre). This socalled 3D/2N package involves a pick up at 9:30am in
Lahad Datu, drive to the Borneo Rainforest Lodge arriving there for
lunch, after lunch at 1:30pm first tour of the forest, more tours the
next day, the day after morning tour, check out at noon, lunch, at
1:30pm they drive you back. Given the price it would make sense to
drive back in the evening, but they do not offer this (you have to pay
extra RM 180 for a "separate" transportation back to Lahd Datu).
I also ask for the Maliau basin (they are the only ones allowed to
bring in people there). It turns that this is a very expensive
proposition, as the cost is RM 3000/person in a larger group for the
5D/4N tour and RM 8000 (eight thousand!) if you are a single traveller.
After the Borneo Nature Tours travel agency I walk back towards the
main road and run into a standard travel agency. There I book the
7:50pm flight to Sandakan with MAS. Price is an exorbitant RM 290 -
exorbitant given the very short distance. As a comparison, for the trip
from KL to Kuching I paid around RM 550, but the distance from KL to
Kuching is about five times the distance between Kota Kinabalu and
Then I take a taxi to the Wisma Sabah where there is the office of the
Borneo Trails travel agency which offers tours to the Turtle island
near Sandakan. The staff of the Borneo Nature Tours travel agency
actually already called them by phone - the price of the 2D/1N tour is
RM 550 x 2, i.e. RM 1100 if you are a single traveller. Completely
overpriced if you ask my opinion, but let's check. The other problem is
that this tour takes two days, which is a lot considering that you just
want to watch the turtle for an hour or so in the morning. Basically
you leave Sandakan in the morning of one day (around 9am or so), arrive
to the island and then you do nothing until the next day, when you have
to wake up early to be there at 7am to watch the turtles.
Interestingly the ground floor of the Wisma Sabah is full of travel
agencies, including an AirAsia outlet (they apparently also have
outlets). At the Borneo Trails travel agency they tell me that the
Turtle island tour is fully booked in December, which finally closes
the discussion about the Turtle island.
Then I go to the AirAsia outlet. There they have computers from which
you can book flights. I book three flights, Tawau-KL on the 31st,
KL-Brisbane on the 31st and Melbourne-KL on Jan. 9th. Then I take a
taxi back to the Borneo Nature Tours travel agency, where I finalise
and pay the tour to the Danum Valley. Will be there between Dec. 26th
After that I try to get back to the hotel, but this time (in the
meantime it's after 5pm) I have no luck. No taxi passes by, so after a
while I start walking towards the city centre and manage to get lost.
So I ask some locals for the directions and am put on a bus which
brings me to the central bus station in KK. In the meantime it is late
already, so I rush back to the hotel and fetch my stuff. It takes some
effort to get a taxi, but finally at 6:25pm I'm on a taxi (RM 22) to
the airport. At 6:40pm I'm at the airport. I check in, have a dinner in
a restaurant, check my mails, then head towards the gate at 7:20pm.
The flight leaves pretty much on time and lands in Sandakan at 8:40pm.
By 9pm I'm in a taxi and about 20 minutes later I check in the hotel.
-> Labuk bay
Sukau B&B, Kampung Sukau. RM 40 for
a very basic room with no A/C and no toilet, breakfast included. Fan
and communal toilet/shower available. Meals cost RM 10 each. The room
has no furniture, just two beds and a fan. The place is quiet, along
the Kinabatangan river. They organise boat tours (6-8am, 4-6pm, and
8-10pm) along the Kinabatangan river. Only problem is that they do not
sell water or drinks and it is a 2.5km walk to the village where the
Weather: overcast in the morning in
Sandakan, then the sky opens up a bit; it rains for about 40 minutes at
1pm, then it's overcast again.
I check out of the hotel around 10:20am. In the reception I ask how
much it costs to go to Labuk bay and Sukau. They call a taxi driver who
offers to do the trip for RM 400, which is quite expensive. So I get
out thinking of going to the tourist office and enquiring there. Before
I get there I stop at a KFC restaurant for some quick lunch.
Once at the tourist office I run into Elvina Ong. Very knowledgeable
and helpful lady. It turns out that there is a RM 60 entrance fee for
the Labuk Bay Proboscis monkey sanctuary (in practice this becomes RM
70 because you have to pay RM 10 for the camera fee). A taxi apparently
is around RM 200 (go there, taxi waits for you, come back), but the
Labuk Bay people apparently pick you up from Sandakan and bring you
back for RM 220 which includes the entrance fee. Going there by public
transportation is not an option. When I call the Labuk Bay people, they
tell me that the transportation is fully booked. So Ms Ong suggests
that I call the Mayfair hotel, because they can arrange a driver for
Labuk Bay and Sukau for a good price.
So I call the Mayfair hotel and they offer a driver for the trip
Sandakan - Labuk Bay - Sukau for RM 300. Not exactly cheap, but I have
no other option. Driver will pick me up at 2pm at the hotel, driving
time is supposed to be 1 1/2 hours. By the way, the feeding times at
Labuk Bay are 11:30am and 4:30pm.
In the meantime it is almost 12pm. I explore a bit Sandakan walking
towards the waterfront. It hasn't changed much since my last visit in
2001 except for the waterfront which is being completely redeveloped.
New, modern and fashionable buildings are already in place and new ones
are being added. The fish market has moved into a new building.
Around 1pm I have a lunch in the Chinese restaurant adjacent to the
central market, then I walk to the hotel Mayfair where I pick up the
driver. We head to the City View hotel where I retrieve my luggage and
around 2pm we start driving towards the Labuk Bay sanctuary.
The road initially is good. After about 40 minutes however the driver
turns right and enters a mud/stone road. This becomes an asphalt road
again after a while, but only for a number of km, after which the road
becomes again a mud/stone track. We pass by across palm oil
plantations, then at 3:20 pm finally reach the sanctuary.
From the parking it is a short walk on the walkway to the observation
platform. It is not possible to continue from there. You can't have a
walk through the forest, because they tell me the planks are broken.
Around 3:40pm the first proboscis monkeys start appearing on the
trees.The closer we get to 4:30pm, the more monkeys show up and the
closer they approach the feeding platforms. It's probably at least
three to four dozens proboscis monkeys who are there at close distance
feeding on the platforms. Very impressive, usually proboscis monkeys
are very shy and hard to get close to. In the hour I'm there I shoot
over 300 photos of proboscis monkeys, fill the first 8GB memory card
and almost drain the first camera battery.
Shortly after 5pm I've had enough of proboscis monkeys, pack my things
and head back to the car. We then drive towards Sukau, arriving there
shortly after 7pm. The last part of the trip is a long drive in the
darkness along narrow roads. Once I arrive at the Sukau B&B I have
a discussion with the owner about the activities for tomorrow.