| Part 3: Kota Kinabalu, Garama river,
9.8-10.8: Munich -> Dubai -> KL
13.8: KL -> Khao Lak
20.8: Bangkok -> Kuala Lumpur -> Kota Kinabalu
21.8: Kota Kinabalu -> Garama river -> Kota Kinabalu
22.8: Kota Kinabalu -> Pulau Tiga -> Kota Kinabalu
23.8: Kota Kinabalu -> Mari Mari cultural village -> Sandakan
24.8: Sandakan -> Sepilok -> Sandakan
25.8: Sandakan -> Pulau Berhala -> Lahad Datu
26.8: Lahad Datu -> Tabin wildlife reserve -> Lahad Datu
27.8: Lahad Datu -> KK -> Mamutik and Sapi -> KK
28.8: KK -> Mantanani island
29.8: Mantanani -> KK -> KL
30.8: KL -> Singapore
31.8: Singapore -> KL
1.9: KL -> Munich via Dubai
20.8: Bangkok -> Kuala Lumpur -> Kota Kinabalu
Hotel Le hotel, Kota Kinabalu. RM 138
for a tiny basic room (12 mē) with adjustable A/C, flat screen TV, free
WLAN, attached bathroom with shower, tea making equipment. Very little
water coming out of the water basin. The room is on a busy and noisy
street (very noisy even after midnight). The room is ok if you don't
mind the noise, but not terribly good value.
Weather: overcast in the morning in
Bangkok, around 11am the sky opens up a bit. Similar weather in Kuala
Lumpur. In Kota Kinabalu in the evening quite fresh. Apparently it has
been raining the whole day.
We take a taxi (200 Baht + 105 Baht of highway tolls) to Don Muang
airport at 10am. The trip takes only 25 minutes, because there isn't
much traffic. Then we check in and proceed to the gate.
At the airport I call again the Mantanani resort because they still
haven't sent the booking confirmation, even if yesterday I sent them
all my details. Today they tell me that the weather is bad in Mantanani
and they don't recommend that I come. This is strange, because the
Internet weather forecast for tomorrow is good. I wonder if they really
want to have me as a customer.
Don Muang airport is a shadow of what it once was. The infrastructure
is old and there are far fewer shops now than there were years ago when
it was the main airport of Bangkok. I notice three airlines serving it:
Airasia, Nok Air and a third one (offering a flight to Nanning this
The Airasia 1:10pm flight takes off on time and lands in KLIA LCCT
about 10 minutes early at 4:10pm. Huge queue at the immigration
counters. We retrieve our luggage and then I split from Shirley and the
kids who will stay in KL.
I check in for the Kota Kinabalu flight and have a meal in the food
court. Then I proceed to the gate.
The 18:35 Airasia flight is delayed for some reason and only leaves at
7pm. The plane is about 3/4 full. It lands in Kota Kinabalu with a
delay of 15 minutes. After that I proceed speedily through immigration,
retrieve my luggage and take a taxi to the hotel. Quite expensive taxi
(RM 30), given the short distance (only 7km).
21.8: Kota Kinabalu
-> Garama river -> Kota Kinabalu
Hotel Le hotel, Kota Kinabalu.
Weather: thin clouds layer on KK,
some patches of blue sky every now and then. Mostly sunny. Not too hot.
I get out of the hotel at 11am and walk towards the Sabah tourist
office. On the way I spot a travel agency (Marudu Express Travel
Service, wonderfulsabah at gmail.com, +60 16 8055133, no website yet)
and check what tours they offer. A couple of tours are interesting:
daytrip to Mantanani for RM 250 and daytrip to Pulau Tiga for RM 230.
The problem is that these tours are fully booked over the next few days
because of the Chinese school holidays. It seems that this operator is
catering for the Chinese market (PRC) and in China at the moment there
are school holidays.
So I arrive in the Sabah tourist office and enquire about various
options. I get to hear the following from a lady who seems to be quite
After that I walk to tour operator opposite the tourist office (Only in
Borneo Tours Sdn Bhd) and enquire about tours. Tabin tours are too
expensive, but they have a Garama river tour starting at 1pm (until
9:30pm) for RM 180. I book this, in order to explore a bit the area and
not waste the day. They tell me they have no availability for Mantanani
for tomorrow and that the weather in Mantanani is bad right now.
- Daytrips to Tabin are apparently possible, but I need
to get in touch with an operator (Tabin Wildlife Holidays Sdn Bhd,
www.tabinwildlife.com.my) to arrange the daytrip. This is the operator
who charges RM 2500 for a 3D/2N package in Tabin (with single
supplement). Will call them tomorrow to check.
- The Maliau basin is apparently best accessed from
- The road between Keningau and Tawau will be ready in
2014. For now a 4WD is needed when driving between these two places.
- She doesn't know much about islands near Sandakan,
except for Lankayan and Turtle island. Apparently daytrips to Lankayan
are not available.
Then I walk to Wisma Sabah and check with more travel operators. There
is one (WB Tours & Travel Sdn Bhd) who has tours to Tiga and
Mantanani. These tours are more expensive however: Tiga for RM 350 and
Mantanani for RM 300 (which later become RM 420). Regarding the RM 230
price of Marudu, she claims there tour is much better, safer, with
better food etc.
I don't have much choice here, because Marudu is fully booked, so I
book the Tiga tour for tomorrow and later also the Mantanani tour for
after tomorrow. The price rises to RM 420 (!) because apparently all
cheaper tours are sold out and this more expensive one visits two
islands (Manatanani Besar and Kecil), while cheaper tours only visit
one. I have to admit here that I'm not the best bargainer and sometimes
I just want to close a deal and avoid wasting time looking for cheaper
In any case it's almost 1pm, so I rush to a bakery to get some lunch,
then head to the Only in Borneo tour operator, where the driver is
already waiting for me. We start soon and pick up other guests.
This picking up activity lasts until 2pm, i.e. until 2pm we are in KK
picking up other tour participants. Then it will take two hours of
driving to get to the Garama river camp of this travel operator.
It's actually a quite tedious drive, which tomorrow I'll have to do
again, because the trip to Tiga is overland is overland and only the
last section from Kuala Penyu is by boat. It would have been better to
stay overnight somewhere in the Klias peninsula.
Anyway, shortly after 4pm we reach this camp and have a Hi Tea (tea or
coffee, fried bananas and some brown rice things). The actual boat trip
on the Garama river starts at 4:45pm.
Our group gets onto three motor boats which until 6:30pm will cruise up
and down the Garama river. We spot a few proboscis monkeys colonies
along the way, although most monkeys are quite far away and do not
exactly pose for us. They actually observe us from a distance, hiding
behind the leaves.
At 6:30pm we are back and have a dinner (food is so-so, a bit dry and
not too tasty). Then at 7:10pm, when it is dark already (lots of
mosquitoes by the way), we get back to the boats, looking for
fireflies. And we quickly find several trees with these insects. Quite
cool light show.
Then, at 7:30pm we start driving back towards Kota Kinabalu. I'm back
in the hotel at 10pm.
22.8: Kota Kinabalu
-> Pulau Tiga
Hotel Le hotel, Kota Kinabalu.
Weather: similar to yesterday. Some
clouds in Kota Kinabalu, but mostly sunny in Pulau Tiga (kind of
milky-blue sky, every now and then some clouds). No rain, but around
3pm I can see some thunderstorms over the mainland far away. Good
weather in KK after 5pm.
The day starts early at 7:15am. I get into the minivan for the Pulau
Tiga tour and surprise, surprise, today we don't spend one hour touring
KK, picking up people. It seems that today I'm the only person on this
We proceed speedily along the coast, reaching Kuala Penyu shortly after
9am. At 9:35am the boat trip towards Pulau Tiga starts. On the boat
there are two people from the tour company (jaholidays.com.my): a boat
driver and a guide.
We first head to snake island (Pulau Ular), arriving there shortly
after 10am. In fact the boat ride between the mainland and Pulau Tiga
only takes about 25 minutes.
There are three islands in the Pulau Tiga area: Pulau Tiga itself, a
largish, heavily forested island, this Snake island which is very
small, perhaps 100m x 100m and only 10m high, and a sand bar island,
very flat with some vegetation, also very small.
I'm surprised that on this small (snake) island there are tall trees,
which for sure must be a few decades old at least. They must be getting
enough water from the rain.
On the snake island the guide looks for snakes, but can't find any
today. So after about 20 minutes (you don't need much more time to
explore the entire island), we proceed to the next island, the sand bar
Here there is a very nice white coral sand beach and the sea water is
also quite clean, almost crystal clear. This is a nice place where to
spend the day on the beach. The only problem is that there is very
little shadow (just a few tall trees in the middle of this sand bar),
so if you spend several hours here you end up getting roasted under the
We don't spend much time here and at 10:45am proceed to Pulau Tiga.
After 10 minutes the driver stops the boat in a place southwest of
Tiga, perhaps 200m from the beach.
This is the snorkelling spot and in fact there is some coral below. The
sea water is not that clear however, probably because we are not that
far away from the coast.
We spend some time snorkelling/swimming in this area, then at 11:25am
proceed towards Pulau Tiga, arriving at the main beach five minutes
later. The main beach lies on the western side of Pulau Tiga, the one
facing the mainland.
There are two jetties on this main beach, one of the Pulau Tiga resort,
and another one belonging to some other establishment (not clear if
this is a resort, but probably it is one). The beach is a few hundred
metres long, but very narrow. Or perhaps right now there is high tide.
This main beach consists of white coral sand but is quite dirty. Part
of the problem is the sea currents which flow from west to east and
push all rubbish and dirt on this beach. Then there is also
carelessness of the resort staff, who don't bother to clean up the
The beach immediately in front of the Pulau Tiga resort is very dirty
and messy. In addition, there is also a lot of junk stuff lying behind
the beach. Hard to understand that a resort, which is not that cheap,
cares so little about the beauty of its immediate surroundings.
Anyway, we land on this beach and proceed with a box full of food to
one of the picnic places. It's 11:35am now and the guide suggests to
have lunch. Now it turns out that the lunch is pretty disgusting.
The problem comes from the fact that all food has been cooked in the
early morning and has been put into plastic boxes for transportation.
Now it's almost noon and all food is cold. A bit disgusting to eat cold
cooked stuff. The meat consists of deep fried chicken wings. The tour
costs RM 350 (RM 120 more than the other offer), but they have to save
a few RM on the meat. I end up only eating some rambutan fruits,
leaving the food untouched.
At 12pm we start walking towards the mud volcanoes. It's a trail
through the forest which after 1.2km leads to a place with grey mud
ponds. Apparently there is some kind of underground thermal activity,
because bubbles keep coming up.
It's sort of two pools, each a few metres wide, in which people bathe.
I'd like to bathe there as well, but where is the shower?, Well, there
is no shower here. After you finish bathing in the pools you have to
walk back towards the beach and either swim in the sea, or take a
shower in the public facilities. Since I have a camera bag with
expensive camera gear which should't get in touch with mud, I skip the
But there are several tourists (a few Dutch, and a large group of
Chinese) who are having a great time in the mud bath, even diving
completely into this mud pool.
At 12:40pm we start walking back to the beach. We'll stay there until
about 2:30pm, relaxing and swimming in the sea. Then we fetch the boat
and by 3pm we are back in Kuala Penyu. Then we drive back to Kota
On the way back I have phone and email exchange with the travel agency.
In the end the trip to Mantanani for tomorrow is cancelled, because
they are unable to confirm whether it will take place or not.
The problem seems to be the weather (strong wind, rough seas). They can
only confirm tomorrow morning at 6am if the trip will take place or
not. Now, imagine waking up at 6 something am during a holiday and
waiting at 7am for the information whether the trip takes place or
At 5pm I'm back in the hotel. I book an evening flight for Sandakan for
tomorrow (with MASWings), then have a brief shower. I get out and eat a
small thing, then walk to the waterfront for some sunset shots.
Good clouds cluster today, because shortly before sunset the sun peeks
through the clouds and the sky takes beautiful colours. Lots of people
on the waterfront, all taking sunset pictures. They should extend this
waterfront, because it is really nice to watch the bay from here.
After dark I head to a KFC restaurant and have some dinner. Then I walk
back along the sea front, passing by some very dirty spots, smelly,
full of large rats.
Finally I reach the market near the Meridien hotel. Lots of life there
and lots of interesting and very photogenic scenes, especially on the
fish market. Large amounts of fresh fish for sale. I'm back in the
hotel at 8:30pm.