Mobile phones
Getting around

Part 3: Northeastern Sabah, Kota Kinabalu

25.8: Tehran -> Kuala Lumpur
26.8: KL
27.8: KL -> Pinang
28.8: Pinang
29.8: Pinang
30.8: Pinang
31.8: Pinang -> Kota Kinabalu -> Kudat

1.9: Kudat -> Pulau Banggi -> Tip of Borneo -> Kudat
2.9: Kudat -> Bavanggazo -> Gombizau -> Mengkabong -> KK
3.9: Kota Kinabalu -> KL
4.9: Kuala Lumpur
5.9: Kuala Lumpur -> Dubai
6.9: Dubai -> Munich

31.8: Pinang -> Kota Kinabalu -> Kudat
Hotel Ria, Kudat. RM 118 for a room, probably three stars, clean, with A/C, TV, fridge, water boiler, hair dryer. Attached bathroom, some furniture (a table, chair etc.). Clean, nice. Breakfast not included.
Weather: overcast in the early morning in Pinang, but already by 9am the sky opens up. Slightly overcast with some blue sky in Kota Kinabalu, same in Kudat. No rain.

I get up at 7am and take the taxi (RM 50) to the airport at 8am. This morning the roads are empty and the trip only takes 25 minutes. The airport in Pinang is undergoing a RM 300 million modernisation and you have to cross a building site to reach the terminal.

After checking in I start calling a number of travel agencies in KK regarding a day trip to Pulau Tiga. I find only one tour operator offering the trip to Pulau Tiga and they are charging a lot (over RM 500 per person, minimum 6 people, absolutely ridiculous prices). The overnight trip to Pulau Tiga costs RM 630 with one agency and over RM 700 with another one.

I start wondering if perhaps I should stay in Kuala Penyu and charter a boat to Pulau Tiga, but there are just quite basic places in Kuala Penyu (not offering tours in the Klias peninsula). One place near Kuala Penyu (Tempurung Seaside Lodge in Kampung Tempurung) is getting good reviews and offers some limited activities in the area, but it is quite isolated and I was thinking of exploring the area. So I start pondering whether to make it to Kudat and explore the area around it.

The plane lands in Kota Kinabalu at 1:10pm. I check some options at the information counter. The girl isn't terribly knowledgeable, but it appears that today I won't be able to get to Kudat by plane. Either Maswings has cancelled the flights or it's not possible to fly today. On the other hand the girl confirms that getting to Pulau Tiga is expensive. But she says it is possible to get to Kudat by taxi for just RM 30 and I wonder how since it's a big distance.

I decide to get to Kudat today by taxi because the area around it looks more interesting than the area around Kuala Penyu and perhaps I can visit both places (later I'll realise that there is just no time in three days to do both the Kudat area and the Klias peninsula). I call the Ria hotel in Kudat and book a room.

Then I have a fast lunch in the KFC restaurant at the airport and catch a taxi (RM 30, coupon system) to the centre of KK where the long distance taxis are. I'm there around 2:15pm and there are a couple of shared taxis waiting for customers. One leaves soon without me, probably because there is no space for luggage in the boot.

At 2:45pm, when the shared taxi is almost full (car leaves when it has seven  paying passengers, each paying RM 30), I tell the driver that I will pay for the missing person, so that we can leave soon. In practice we are not leaving soon, because everybody must say goodbye to everybody and it's 2:55pm before we leave.

The trip to Kudat takes three hours. The road passes to a large extent in the plains, but also partly through mountainous terrain. It's in a poor state: in several points the road has only one lane, because the other lane was washed away by the rains or for some other reason collapsed. Lots of roadworks everywhere. Looks like this road was built in poor quality.

I'm in the hotel in Kudat at 6pm. There I enquire about the boat to Pulau Banggi. The receptionist says that there is one boat at 9am. However when I check at the jetty it appears that the boat probably leaves at 8am. So I'll be at the jetty tomorrow at 8am just to be on the safe side.

In the evening I look for a restaurant but can't find anything nice. I only find two places run by Malays or Indians which do not look too clean and appetising. So I just buy some food in the supermarket and eat it in the hotel room.

1.9: Kudat -> Pulau Banggi -> Tip of Borneo -> Kudat
Hotel Ria, Kudat.
Weather: overcast in the morning, the sky opens up around 10am, then is overcast again for the rest of the day. No rain.

I get up at 7am and am at the jetty at 7:55am. It turns out that the ferry to Pulau Banggi leaves at 9am, but it's a good idea to be here earlier than this, because it's important to secure a seat (RM 18 in front, RM 15 at the back) on the ferry.

I'm the only western tourist this morning on the ferry to Banggi. There are just two western tourists returning from Banggi, and a couple of (Malaysian?) Chinese with big cameras.

The ferry leaves at 9am. It's the sealed speed bullet type of ferry with A/C. It arrives to Pulau Banggi at 10:20am.

Pulau Banggi is a large island, densely forested, still completely undeveloped from a tourist perspective. The ferry stops at a long jetty which is next to a village. There are cars and roads on Banggi, but no taxis, tourist information or tourist infrastructure whatsoever.

Near the village there are no nice beaches. I ask a few locals about beaches (nobody except one girl speaks English). One girl tells me I can catch a boat (RM 100) to a nearby island which has a beach. It's 11am by now and I'll have to be back by 1pm at the jetty to catch the 2pm ferry, so the proposition does not sound too attractive.

Basically I'm stuck here. Without local support and not knowing where to go, it makes no sense to visit Banggi, as you will be stuck like me at the village. I walk to the west a bit, as I remember having seen some suitable stretch of coast west of the village when arriving.

After about 15 minutes I reach a place where I can stay below the shadow of palm trees, out of sight of the village and with access to the sea. For the next hour and a half I'll swim in the sea and relax. The sea water quality is variable. It could be clean, but I'm too close to the village.

At 1pm I'm back at the jetty. At 1:30pm the ticket sale begins. Lots of people, some with up to a dozen Malaysian ID cards (you need identification to buy a ticket) trying to get a dozen of tickets around the table. It takes some effort to get through and I'm even concerned that the seats might sell out before I get  one and I might be stuck on the island. Luckily after a while I manage to secure a seat (RM 18).

At 2pm the ferry leaves. On board they are showing a movie on the DVD player. It's about the life of an Asian gangster. Suddenly the unthinkable happens and the movie shows a sex scene. Beautiful Asian girl in sexy underwear with an Asian guy in shorts on a bed. The girl moving well, the couple knowing what to do. No nudity at all, but on a boat where all women are Muslim and dressed up as nuns, you can imagine the contrast.

I watch the scene in disbelief for a while (and regret later not having fixed the whole thing on video) until one of the nuns stands up and switches off the DVD player.

Now, in Malaysia all movies pass through censors who cut out the hot scenes, but it appears that this movie did not go through this filter. Most likely it's an illegal black market copy. Ha ha ha.... here is what happens if you buy pirated DVDs.

We arrive in Kudat at 3:20pm. The first thing I do is to get back to the hotel and have a shower, to get rid of the mix of salt water, sweat and suntan lotion on my skin and to get a fresh T-shirt. Then I explore the Chinese temple near the hotel. It's the colourful, nicely decorated temple of the local Chinese Hokkien community.

Then at 4:20pm I walk to the taxi stand and enquire about a taxi to the Tip of Borneo. After some waiting and discussion we agree on a price of RM 70 to go and come back. It's more than I expected, but then I didn't know that it's 35km one-way to drive to the Tip of Borneo.

At 4:30pm we leave and arrive at the Tip of Borneo at 5:05pm. On the way a Malaysian Chinese guy, friend of the taxi driver, informed me about everything the central government in KL is doing wrong: they are siphoning off local resources without giving Sabah much in return (and in fact the streets here are in a very poor state), have a policy of encouraging immigration of Muslim Filipinos and Indonesians to increase the percentage of Muslims (who will then vote for the government), rampant corruption and more.

The Tip of Borneo turns out to be a big surprise. There are several hotels, resorts and homestays here, surprising for such a remote place. The whole thing is set up as a tourist attraction, with a monument and a staircase to the rocks of the promontory.

Near the cape there is a long and beautiful beach. Soft, wide sand, a few km long. Several homestays on this beach. I stop at one (Tampat Do Aman) and talk with the owner. The place is designed to blend with the local environment and culture. There are rooms in a Rungus longhouse, no A/C, activities and infrastructure involving the local community. Quite nice and peaceful setup, although not too interesting for me due to the lack of A/C.

At 6:30pm we drive back and arrive in Kudat at 7:10pm. I then have dinner in a local Chinese restaurants. Surprisingly inexpensive (a meal with fish and rice + a beer and a 100Plus for just RM 14).

2.9: Kudat -> Bavanggazo -> Gombizau -> Mengkabong -> Kota Kinabalu
Hotel Full Hua, Kota Kinabalu. RM 80 for a small room, small and basic. A/C, TV, table+chair, cupboard, attached bathroom, window to the inner side of the building (little daylight coming in), hard bed. Good location in the centre of KK. Free wireless Internet in the room, fast connection. There are ants everywhere in the room. Something stings me on the legs, perhaps it's a bed bug.
Weather: overcast in the morning in Kudat, by noon the sky has opened up and is mostly blue or blueish.

I check out at 11am and look for a taxi. For some reason this morning at the taxi stand there is nobody. I look a bit here and there, then happen to find the bus station. There I ask somebody for a taxi. Some discussion, no taxi seems available, but a private car could be available. We settle on RM 300 for the trip until KK, with a number of stops along the way.

The first stop is the Maranjak longhouse near Teningol. We arrive there shortly before 12:30pm. This is Rungus longhouse built with traditional materials, quite long with space for 25 families. It has been reconverted to sort of a hotel, i.e. you can stay overnight. Facilities are quite basic (no A/C), but the place is very scenic and thanks to the open walls there is always fresh air coming in, so that it does not get too hot even in the middle of the day.

I'm actually surprised to find a longhouse in such a good preservation status. The only other longhouses in such a good state I'm aware of are those of the Sarawak cultural village near Kuching. All other longhouses I've seen in east Malaysia have corrugated tin roofs and use modern materials.

The Maranjak longhouse is actually part of Kampung Bavanggazo, a nearby Rungus settlement. In Bavanggazo there are other Rungus longhouses, all built with traditional materials and apparently locals are still living here. This village is really a gem.

At 1:25pm we continue towards the next place, the Gombizau honeybee farm. This is just a 10 minutes drive from Bavanggazo along the road to KK. Here it appears that the locals about a decade ago have started farming honeybees to produce honey. Entrance fee is RM 5. Quite interesting to see a honeybee farm in the tropics. Honey is available for sale.

The girl who accompanies me and shows me the beehives and opens them and pulls out the slices is not wearing any protective clothing. In fact not even I am wearing protective clothing. All this girl is using is some pot which emits smoke, with which apparently the bees are chased away or made quiet.

At 1:45pm we continue driving towards the next place, the Mengkabong village. At 3pm we stop at a car workshop to fix one of the tires which broke while driving.

We reach the Mengkabong village near Tuaran at 4:20pm. Quite poor road to access this place in the last km. Mengkabong is a village with houses built on stilts over the water of a bay. Very picturesque, but not too terribly impressive.

After 25 minutes in this place we continue driving towards KK. We reach the outskirts of KK at 5:35pm, then due to the traffic jam we only reach the hotel shortly before 6pm.

I immediately get out again and head to the waterfront. What a surprise. Now suddenly KK looks like a modern and trendy town, with a cool waterfront and modern and flashy malls. It has completely changed in the last few years. I've been in KK briefly in 2010 and 2008, but back then I didn't notice the change.

I decide to have a closer look at KK tomorrow, i.e. spend the day in town. In the evening I have a brief dinner then head back to the hotel after dark.

Copyright 2011 Alfred Molon