| Part 4: Kota Kinabalu, Mari Mari
cultural village, Sandakan, Sepilok
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
23.8: Kota Kinabalu
-> Mari Mari cultural village -> Sandakan
Hotel Swiss Inn Waterfront, Sandakan.
RM 124 for a nice room, 3-4 stars feeling at a very moderate price.
Adjustable A/C, not hard bed, ironing board and iron, tea making
equipment, phone, LCD TV on wall, table+chair, attached bathroom with
shower, electronic safe. No cupboard. Free WLAN internet, but for some
reason the Internet access doesn't work. Breakfast included. Best value
Weather: mostly sunny, blue sky the
whole day. Thin clouds layer for most of the day (no deep blue sky).
Some clouds every now and then. No rain.
In Sandakan good weather until about 5pm, after that storm and rain
until late in the evening. Heavy rain in the evening.
For some reason this morning my smartphone has no Internet
connectivity. Makes me feel a bit lost, as suddenly I have no access to
a lot of information I use when travelling.
At 9:20am the minivan of Traverse Tours picks me up in front of the
hotel. We drive to the Mari Mari Cultural Village. Initially we drive
to the north, passing by the Likas mosque, and then turn right at some
point. At 9:55am we reach the village.
The Mari Mari cultural village overall gets glowing reviews on
Tripadvisor and for this reason I was expecting something similar to
the Sarawak cultural village near Kuching. But compared to the Sarawak
cultural centre, this Mari Mari cultural village is a disappointment.
It's much smaller (there are only six traditional houses), the houses
are not built as nicely as the ones of the Sarawak cultural village and
the staff is not as competent and authentic as the one of the Sarawak
For instance one of the tourist guides of the Mari Mari village,
dressed up as a local, at some point starts chit-chatting in Chinese,
which makes me wonder if she really belongs to a local tribe. By
contrast the Sarawak cultural centre has genuine staff of the local
Sarawak tribes, even some real Penan.
In any case, the Mari Mari village has houses of the following Sabah
tribes: Dusun, Murut, Rungus, Lundayeh and Bajau. The tour starts with
a demonstration of cooking in pieces of bamboo, followed by tasting of
locally made rice wine (distilled and non-distilled type).
Then we visit the Dusun house, the Rungus longhouse and the Lundayeh
house. After this there is demonstration of rope making with tree bark.
Then we visit the Bajau house, which has a wedding scene inside. The
next thing is a demo of cooking rice paste sweets.
Finally we visit the Murut longhouse. To get inside there we must pass
a gate and are "screened" by Murut tribespeople. Inside the house there
is sort of a trampolin on which local tribesmen jump to the roof.
After this, starting at 12pm, there is a music and dance show in the
local theatre. A similar show also takes place at the Sarawak cultural
centre, but is higher end: it's inside an airconditionned building
(while here the theatre is open-air), and the performers are more
In 2003 the tour to the Sarawak cultural village cost RM 55 (including
transportation from Kuching) while now this tour costs RM 160, i.e.
three times as much.
After the performance we have lunch (buffet-type). At 1:15pm we drive
back to Kota Kinabalu.
I'm back at the hotel at 1:55pm. I head to a Maxis shop (my Malaysian
mobile phone operator) and have the Internet connectivity of my mobile
phone fixed. That takes about half an hour, because there is some
Then I take a taxi (RM 12, very pricey for just 1km) to Suria Sabah, a
big shopping mall in KK. After some time there I walk to the harbour.
I check for tours to Mantanani with an operator (Chau's Nature).
Mantanani is fully booked with this operator, but daytrips to Mengalum
are available for RM 430. Quite pricey, but if you stay in the resort,
it's RM 980 for 2D/1N (i.e. over RM 500/night). Sabah is quite an
expensive place where to have a holiday.
Then I check if there is a way to make it to an island, for instance
Sapi. No way, it's almost 3pm and there are no more boats leaving the
harbour. I could charter one, but it would cost me RM 250 (to get to
So I walk back to Suria Sabah and have some food in a Pizza Hut
restaurant. While there I call Tabin Wildlife Holidays Sdn Bhd,
the operator of the Tabin resort, and ask if daytrips to Tabin from
Lahad Datu are possible. They are indeed possible and cost RM
280/person, minimum 2 people (i.e. RM 560 for a single traveller).
Still very expensive, but less than the RM 1700 an overnight trip to
Tabin costs if you go there as a single person. However the lady says
that these daytrips can only be done if there is availability and in
August they are fully booked. Not clear which availability she is
referring to, because for such a daytrip a room is not needed. Perhaps
she is referring to the availability of cars and drivers.
After the meal I walk to the Marudu tour operator, planning to book a
tour to Mantanani island.
August 29th is available, but when I ask what time in the evening we
are back (so that I know which flight to KL to book) I'm being told
that the return times are highly variable. It might even happen that I
cannot return on the same day, due to the rough seas and have to spend
an unplanned night on the island.
This apparently happened to a group of 70-80 tourists the other day. In
fact a guy who is sitting in the office of this tour operator tells me
it happened to him.
This information makes me a bit hesitant, because I can't spend days in
KK waiting for the right time to get to Mantanani island and on the
other hand I cannot run the risk of being stuck on this island and (in
the worst case) miss the return flight to Germany (was thinking of
doing Mantanani as my last tour in Sabah before getting back to KL).
Mengalum island apparently also has the same problem (according to the
guy who is sitting in this tour operator office). Quite far from the
mainland (2 hours by boat), and you can get stuck there in case the
seas are rough.
It's almost 5pm when I get out of the tour operator's office. I slowly
walk back to the hotel, eating something on the way, then fetch my bags
and take a taxi to the airport (RM 30).
I check in at 6pm (could even have booked the earlier 6:35pm flight,
insted of the 8:15pm one) and proceeed to the gate.
THe flight takes off with about 10 minutes of delay (plane is an
ATR-72). Everything proceedds smoothly until we are about to land in
Heavy winds prevent us from landing initially. The captain ragains
altitude and makes a second landing attempt about 15 minutes later.
Again the plane shakes heavily as it tries to approach the runway and
has to regain altitude again. Finally at the third attempt, with 50
minutes of delay, the plane finally lands. I was really afraid the
plane would either crash or run out of fuel.
After landing it takes a long time to retrieve the luggage. Then I take
a taxi (RM 26.50, coupon system) to the hotel.
24.8: Sandakan -> Sepilok -> Sandakan
Hotel Swiss Inn Waterfront, Sandakan.
Weather: good weather the whole day.
The sky is mostly blue with a thin clouds layer, which during the day
becomes thinner and thicker. No rain the whole day, but in the late
evening at 10:40pm it suddenly starts raining heavily.
I have a breakfast around 10am in the cafe near the hotel (which
perhaps belongs to the hotel). Then I explore Sandakan a bit.
First of all, the location of the hotel is great. It's immediately next
to the waterfront, a very nice area with a view of the Sandakan bay.
Next to it is a new huge building, which contains the Sandakan
Convention Centre, the Harbour Mall and the Four Points hotel (probably
a 4-5 star hotel, Sheraton group). The entire area looks quite stylish
and modern. What a change since my last visit to Sandakan in December
Then I walk to the Sandakan tourist office, planning to get information
about interesting places around Sandakan (and whether it is possible to
do daytrips to the islands). Bad luck, the tourist office is only open
from Monday to Friday and today is Saturday.
So I walk towards the harbour with the idea to ask the boatsmen whether
trips to the islands are possible. And indeed they are possible.
Immediately when I reach the boats area somebody approaches me and says
"Berhala?". Berhala is one of the islands of the Sandakan archipelago,
very close to Sandakan.
I'm probably not the first tourist who has tried to get to Berhala. He
asks how long I want to stay on Berhala (I say one hour), then asks for
RM 150, which seems a bit pricey, given that the island is not that far
away. When I hesitate, he asks how much I'm willing to pay. Good
question, I don't know.
I'm a bit undecided what to do today, because there is also the option
to visit the new sunbear centre near Sepilok, but I don't know if it's
open already (the LP guide writes it is going to open in 2013) and what
the visiting times are.
It's almost 12pm noon, so I walk away for the moment. I have some food
in a KFC restaurant, then briefly walk along the streets. A taxi driver
offers to bring me to Sepilok for RM 40. This seems to be the price.
I briefly check with the smartphone and find out that the sunbear
centre only opens in 2014.
I head to a travel agency, where I want to ask about trips to Tabin.
Daytrips to Tabin are avaiable for RM 320, min 2 people. You leave
7:30am from Lahad Datu, return after lunch at 2pm from Tabin.
I walk back to the harbour, ask again about the boat. It's a boat
without a roof, and I might get sunburnt. A boat with a roof apparently
costs RM 200. In addition right now the sky is a bit overcast, so the
pictures won't be that good. So I decide to skip Berhala for today and
will instead visit Sepilok.
The taxi trip lasts a bit over half an hour (we leave at 12:30pm and
arrive after 1pm).
Essentially Sepilok (the headquarter, visitor centre and facilities) is
still the same since my last visit in January 2001. The afternoon
feeding time is 3pm. Still a long time to go. Having a walk in the
rainforest is not allowed, they only let visitors in at 2pm.
I'd have to walk to the rainforest conservation centre which is about
1-2km away and I'm not that keen to do that in the heat.
So I wait until 2pm, then I walk in. I'm sent back because visitors are
not allowed to go in with their bags (apparently orang utans will steal
them). I get rid of the bag, ending up with all pockets of my shorts
full with stuff. Then I get in and walk towards the viewing platform.
I was originally thinking that there is a path you can take and have a
walk in the rainforest. But it turns out that the plankway is circular
and quite short (you only can walk for about 5-10 minutes).
When I reach the viewing platform at 2:15pm there are already some
orangutans orbiting around the platform. That is, they are moving above
us, using the ropes and the trees. One of the fellows is throwing tree
branches at us.
I see only three individual orang utans. Somehow I remember that the
last time I visited Sepilok in January 2001 there were more orang
utans, although when looking again at my pictures of 2001 I don't have
a shot showing more orang utans.
But this means that at the moment the Semenggoh centre in Sarawak is a
better place where to spot orang utans, because during ma last visit
there, I saw more orang utans.
Anyway, the feeding session starts punctually at 3pm and at 3:15pm I
slowly walk back to the tourist facilities. It's still a bit early, so
I go into the showroom and watch the movie about the centre.
At 3:45pm the movie is finished and I get out. Somehow I can't find a
taxi to get back to Sandakan. Then a guy approaches me and introduces a
4pm bus to Sandakan (RM 5).
I end up taking that and later regret I didn't get a taxi. The bus is
very hot, has no A/C, is slow, makes many stops and only reaches
Sandakan at 5:25pm.
I make it back to the hotel and take a shower. Then I get out again.
I check again the Manila option: flying KK-Manila, spending three
nights in Manila, then getting back to Malaysia. I end up discarding
this option, when I read that Manila at the moment is flooded.
But I find the travelogue of a guy who visited the Tabin reserve as a
half-day trip from Lahad Datu with his car (or a rented car). So I
decide to try to do the same, i.e. get to Ladad Datu tomorrow and then
try to charter a car+driver or rent a self-drive car.
In the evening I have a dinner on the waterfront. Quite inexpensive
food (only RM 13 for a dinner and a fresh fruit juice).