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Getting around

Part 4: Kota Kinabalu, Kuala Lumpur, Dubai

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

3.9: Kota Kinabalu -> KL
Hotel Boulevard, KL. RM 315 for a double room. Good quality, four star level room with everything. Internet usage not included in the room rate. The room rate actually is RM 275, to which RM 40 for the breakfast is added.
Weather: sunny, blue sky with a few thin clouds every now and then in KK. Overcast in KK in the late afternoon. No rain.

I check out of the hotel at 10am and have a brief breakfast at a Secret Recipe cafe. It's 10:30am but the malls are still mostly closed. The opening time seems to be around 11am.

I have a closer look at the waterfront. It's a wooden platform stretching for 200-300m along the coast, starting at the Meridien hotel. This stretch of the KK waterfront is very nice in the evening, when the cafes and restaurants are open and the area is full of people waiting for the sunset.

The remaining part of the KK waterfront is way less impressive and is in fact still not developed. The Kota Kinabalu waterfront was first set up in 2008 and was supposed to be 2km long. As of today only the small section near the Meridien hotel is developed; the rest still needs to be populated with shops, cafes and attractions. In addition, the KK waterfront is interrupted by dirty and smelly markets, which should be relocated.

I slowly walk along the waterfront towards the Suria Sabah mall, making a brief stop in the KK Plaza mall. KK Plaza is one of the several old malls in KK, which should be demolished and replaced with more modern and flashy malls.

Suria Sabah is the new mall in KK.  Built opposite the Gaya centre, Suria  Sabah has a stylish exterior and probably is an attempt to have a high end mall in KK. Inside, Suria Sabah is still largely undeveloped. There are several western branded goods shops in the ground floor, but in the upper floors most properties are still not rented out. At the moment only 1/3 of the mall is developed and setup and decoration work is still ongoing. On the 8th floor there are cinemas.

At 12pm noon I have lunch in the food court on the third floor. Then I walk to the nearby Jesselton point jetty. Next to it there is a big building with several operators offering trips to the islands of the Tunku Abdul Rahman park.

This seems to be new, because the last time I made it to the islands in 2003 you had to charter a boat and negotiate the price. Now instead it's a well regulated system of operators who bring you to the islands: Sapi, Manukan, Mamutik and possibly others.

I check with one of the operators (Beach Bums Borneo), who has hourly departures between 8am and 4pm to the Sapi, Manukan and Mamutik islands (Manukan being the biggest island). It's RM 20 for a round trip to one island, RM 30 for two and RM 40 for three islands. If you arrive in the morning, you can island-hop to the three islands.

In addition to the RM 20 for the boat, there is a RM 7.20 fee for the harbour (no idea why they are charging this) and additionally you must pay RM 10 conservation fee once you reach Manukan island. These two fees didn't exist when I last visited the islands in 2003.

The 1pm boat leaves early at 12:50pm and arrives on Manukan island 10 minutes later at 1pm. I have about one hour and a half of time before my return boat picks me up at 2:30pm.

Pulau Manukan today is full of people, 99% Asians, most likely all Malaysians. Manukan has a few nice sandy beaches on the side facing the mainland. Lots of fish in the sea near the beach. The sea water however is not that crystal clear, perhaps because so many people are swimming.

Very few people are wearing swimsuits: most are entering the water with shorts and T-shirts, some even fully dressed. It's this Asian embarrassment of undressing on a beach. Only a handful of western girls are wearing bikinis. Most people are not swimming, they are just standing in the shallow water.

On average Malaysians are not good swimmers, because swimming involves undressing and that is embarrassing for a Malaysian. I run into a Malaysian Chinese guy boldly wearing a slim swimming trunk (he's the only one on the whole island).

Manukan has a resort or two. One is run by Sutera, the same company which also operates the Laban Rata, Mesilau and Poring lodges in the Mt Kinabalu national park. The setup on Manukan with the vegetation and the chalets is quite idyllic. The only problem is that hoard of people on the beach. Perhaps on weekdays (today is Saturday) Manukan is less crowded.

After having seen again Manukan, I'm now less inclined to recommend it to people. It's just too crowded, now that affordable boat services have made it easily accessible.

At 2:30pm the boat for the return trip arrives. It briefly stops in Mamutik island to pick up a passenger. Mamutik is way smaller than Manukan, but has some facilities. The beach looks nice, but is quite small.

We are back at the Jesselton Point jetty at 2:50pm. I take a taxi (RM 15) to the Kota Kinabalu Wetland Centre (KKWC, entrance: RM 10), a small conservation area of 24 hectares with a mangrove swamp, full of birds. The KKWC is a bird sanctuary set up on one of the last remaining pieces of coastal wetland in KK. It's just out of KK (the taxi trip takes only 10 minutes).

There is a circuit visitors can do, crossing the park on wooden plank ways. Right now when I arrive it's low tide. I don't see too many birds, except for some egrets and other small birds, but hear a lot of birds. In the middle of the park there is a wooden tower, from which you have a nice view of the park. Binoculars and a bird guidebook can be rented at the entrance.

I'm at the park until 4:25pm, then catch a taxi (RM 15) to KK. There I have a meal in a KFC restaurant, then take a taxi (RM 25) to the airport.

Lots of people today at the airport. While I wait at the gate, two previous Airasia flights to KL leave. It seems that lots of people are returning to KL after the Hariraya holidays.

The Airasia flight takes off at 7:20pm with a 25 minutes delay. The plane is almost completely full. It lands in KL with some delay at 9:35pm. Then things go quite fast and I'm in the hotel with Shirley and the kids by 10:45pm.

4.9: Kuala Lumpur
Hotel Boulevard, KL.
Weather: sunny blue sky in the morning, a bit foggy/hazy in the late afternoon, poor visibility (perhaps due to forest fires in Indonesia?). No rain, except for a few drops in the evening.

Day spent with the family not doing much. Around 1pm I take a taxi (RM 9.30 metered) to the Puduraya bus station, to have a look at the new building which is now completed.

The new building is completely different from the old one. It is much more clean, finally has A/C, is much more functional, has an adjoining car park where people can leave their car when they board the bus. The ticket sales counters are now on a different floor than the waiting area. The whole bus station is now a building with several storeys and there are several shops. It's a bit like a mall, but lots of spaces are not occupied yet by shops.

After Puduraya I pay a brief visit to the area around it and then there is the issue what to do next. Taxis in the area refuse to use the meter and charge a multiple of the metered rate. I walk to the BB Plaza mall in Bukit Bintang, shop a bit around, have some food, then take a taxi (RM 20, not metered) to the The Mall shopping mall in the Legend hotel. After that I join again Shirley and the kids (taxi now is metered and only RM 5). In the evening we have a common dinner with the family of Shirley in Damansara.

5.9: Kuala Lumpur -> Dubai
The Country Club Hotel, Dubai. 500 AED for a very nice apartment with a living room, two toilets each with a shower (one also with a bathtub) and a bedroom. The sofa in the living room doubles as a bed where our two kids sleep. Nice, elegant and classy atmosphere. Wireless Internet and breakfast included. Good buffet breakfast, makes you appreciate the holiday.
Weather: in KL same pattern as yesterday: morning with a spotless blue sky, gradual build up of a cloud cover and more or less overcast in the afternoon. No rain. Hot and steamy in Dubai.

We don't do much today except prepare for the trip home. After a breakfast, at 10am, while Shirley is doing some shopping, I bring the kids by taxi (RM 10) to KLCC.

The KLCC aquarium is still closed and only opens at 11am. Too late, as I'm planning to return to the hotel already at 11:30am (Natasha is supposed to sleep between 12pm and 2pm) and in any case the entry fees are ridicolously high: RM 45 for an adult, kids between 3 and 12 pay RM 35, no family ticket. With my two kids I would pay RM 115 and would only have half an hour of time.

We head instead to the playground of the KLCC park which right now is empty. After a not too long time the kids are hot and thirsty and I quickly bring them into the KLCC mall for some cool air and a drink.

Around 11:30am I fetch one of the blue taxis outside the Petronas towers. Turns out not to be such a good idea, because the rates are roughly double the rates of the standard taxi and the taxi driver takes a very weird and long route on the motorways. The bill ends up being RM 35.20 and I also paid a RM 2 commission at KLCC. A rip-off, because the driver could have taken the standard and much shorter route through Bukit Bintang.

Back in the hotel Shirley is still shopping and in fact will only be back at 12:20pm. At this point it's too late for some midday nap for Natasha (she'd only fall asleep shortly before 2pm) and in any case we need to pack our bags. We decide that Natasha will get some sleep on the plane.

We pack our bags, then check out shortly before 2pm (Shirley has extended the room at no charge until 2pm; to extend the room until 4-5pm would cost RM 170, not worth the money).

At 4:30pm we take a taxi (RM 18) to KL Sentral. There I try to buy a family ticket (RM 75) with the KLIA Express, but am told that this option is only available if you book online. So I pull out the notebook and with the DiGi wireless connection I book the KLIA Express ticket. For the paper printout (which is needed) I walk with a USB stick to a print shop in KL Sentral. Wonders of modern technology... although on the other hand they could sell these family tickets at the counter in KL Sentral without insisting on an online booking.

We check in at the Emirates counter in KL Sentral (even get rid of the luggage there) and catch the 5:30pm train to KLIA, arriving at 6pm. Total spent to get to KLIA is RM 93, a taxi would have cost RM 150 given that we are four people with a lot of luggage and would have needed a large taxi.

The Emirates flight takes off at 7:30pm. The plane is a Boeing 777 with a high end flight entertainment system: high quality LCD monitors in each seat, individual choice of movies for each seat, individual choice of languages for each movie. AC power sockets for notebook PCs in every group of seats. Big toilets in the economy section, the biggest I've seen so far.

We land early in Dubai at 10pm local time. Then it takes half an hour to get through immigration (long queues), but after that we immediately retrieve the luggage and take a taxi to the hotel.

6.9: Dubai -> Munich
Home, sweet home
Weather: hot and humid in Dubai. The heat is however now more bearable than it was last year in July, suggesting that September is a more cool month than July in Dubai. Less than 20C in Munich in the evening.

After breakfast we check out of the hotel and catch a taxi (19 AED) at 10:40am to The Dubai Mall near the Burj Khalifa. We're in this mall until 2:20pm, shopping around and having lunch. It's a very large, high end mall with a multitude of expensive shops selling high end, mostly branded goods. Easy to spend hours in this mall without getting bored. The mall has a huge aquarium and an ice rink.

At 2:20pm we catch a taxi (43 AED) first to the hotel to take the bags and after that to the airport, arriving at 3pm. We check in one piece of luggage and proceed to the gate.

The Emirates flight to Munich takes off on-time at 4:30pm. The plane is an Airbus A340 with a flight entertainment system with LCD screens in every seat. These LCD screens are of not so high quality: dark, and brightness level heavily dependent on the angle. No individual choice of movies (they play according to a fixed plan) and are only in one language (mostly English). No AC power socket for notebook PCs.

We land in Munich at 8:45pm local time, a bit ahead of time. Everything proceeds smoothly and we are at home shortly before 11pm.

Copyright 2011 Alfred Molon