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Getting around

Part 4: Sarawak, Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan, Labuk bay, Sukau

Map of Malaysia
13.12: Munich -> Bangkok
14.12: Bangkok -> KL
15.12: KL
16.12: KL -> Langkawi
17.12: Langkawi
18.12: Langkawi
19.12: Langkawi
20.12: Langkawi -> KL
21.12: KL -> Kuching -> Kota Kinabalu
22.12: Kota Kinabalu -> Sandakan
23.12: Sandakan -> Labuk bay -> Sukau

24.12: Sukau
25.12: Sukau -> Gomantong caves -> Lahad Datu
26.12: Lahad Datu -> Danum valley
27.12: Danum valley -> Semporna
28.12:  Sibuan
29.12: Mabul
30.12: Semporna -> Tawau
31.12: Tawau -> KL
09.01: Melbourne -> KL
10.01-11.01: KL
12.01: KL -> Bangkok
13.01: Bangkok -> Munich

21.12: KL -> Kuching -> Kota Kinabalu
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 A320).

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.

22.12: Kota 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 bookings.

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 Sandakan.

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 and 28th.

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.

23.12: Sandakan -> Labuk bay -> Sukau
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 shops are.
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.

Copyright 2009 Alfred Molon