Well we’re in Malaysian Borneo and we’re liking it so far! It’s quite different from Indonesia, a bit dearer for one thing, but also more developed than I expected. For some reason when I thought of ‘Borneo’ I thought of wild jungle land and indirectly, abject poverty. It’s only now that I’m here I realise the importance of the word ‘Malaysia’ before the word ‘Borneo’. I didn’t actually realise until we started out on this trip that Borneo is not a state itself, just an island made up of three countries: The northern strip (Sabah and Sarowak) is part of Malaysia; there’s a tiny bit on the north west coast which contains the rich kingdom of Brunei and the remaining majority is Kalimantan, which is part of Indonesia. We’re in one of the most visited parts, Sabah, as there’s lots to do here and it’s a bit more developed than the Indonesian bit so it’s easier get around. Don’t get me wrong, its not like Europe or anything, it’s just not as poor as Indonesia. Its not as hot either, which is actually very welcome after a month of profuse sweating!
We arrived in Kota Kinabalu (KK) and spent our first two days figuring out what to do next. A big tip for anyone coming here at this time of year is to book ahead! It’s hard enough to find accommodation and book activities etc. at the moment and we wasted a few precious days getting our act together. KK is actually a nice city (it’s more like a large town) but it’s not very pretty, apart from the sunsets which can be amazing.
After KK we moved on to Mount Kinabalu, the highest mountain in South East Asia and Eddie did the two day climb, along with a Via Ferrata add-on, I’ll let him write about that himself (he loved it, but said it would have killed me- steps half the size of me). We based ourselves in D’Villa Rina Ria lodge which is a ten minute walk from the park entrance, and is a lot better value than accommodation within the park. They’re also very helpful (as is everybody involved in tourism here), giving us travel advice, booking our bus on to Semporna afterwards and even waiting out on the road with us to make sure we got the right one.
While Eddie did the climb, I did some gentler guided walks and viewed a slideshow on the park’s history. There are some really interesting plants to be seen here, including carniverous pitcher plants which attract flies by giving off a smell of dead meat and luring them to their death by drowning in the water-filled pitchers of the plants.
I also visited a local WWII memorial garden in the nearby village of Kundasang which was actually really moving (look up Death March Sandakan if you want to know what I’m on about). I met the Malaysian Historical Society from Kuala Lumpur while I was there; they seemed very pleased to meet me, I think they thought I had travelled all the way from Ireland just to see the memorial!
So now, after an eight hour bus journey east to Semporna and a short boat ride, we are at Seaventures Dive Centre – a converted oil rig off the island of Mabul. We had our first dive under the rig when we got here this morning and saw all kinds of everything, already! And I have to say it’s pretty cool staying on a converted oil rig, it’s definitely got the novelty factor! We have two more dives around here today and two tomorrow in Sipadan so we’ll be writing about those in the next few days.