17.05.2013 - 20.05.2013
The journey to Kota Kinabalu, Borneo would be quite a drawn-out affair; touching down in Oman, spending a night in Kuala Lumpur and paying a taxi driver to break all speed limits to get me to an airport on time. After persuading my boss, and not with a small amount of guilt, to take five weeks off to travel around Asia (the perks of being a PhD student), I now get the next month or so to make my way around Malaysian Borneo and hopefully hit up some of the Philippines with my girlfriend Helen.
The flight to Muscat, Oman was enjoyed next to an elderly Sri Lankan lady who repeatedly expressed that London was too cold for her liking on the plane from Heathrow. Onwards to Kuala Lumpur I flew into the sunset for the second time in less than a day and on arrival, headed to the city centre for a night in a budget hotel before getting up at 6 for my flight to Borneo. Unfortunately what with my body clock pretty messed up and a night's sleep ruined by Kuala Lumpurians (no idea if that's what you call them) drag racing outside my room all night, I managed to oversleep by a solid hour and a half. After the initial panic I found a taxi driver willing to push his ancient Proton hatchback to its limits to get me to the airport on time. No seatbelts? No problem - this is Asia. I hit baggage drop with five minutes to spare and bought myself a chicken croissant.
Kota Kinabalu is my current base and is the capital of Malaysian Borneo - it's not a huge city but with incredible views and sunsets over the South China Sea, and some of the best seafood I've ever had, it's a definite winner. The first day was spent chilling out and swimming in the pool of the swanky hotel we'd booked ourselves for the first night. The following day, and after Borneo's attempt at a full English (the Muslim aversion to pork is a severe limitation to such a breakfast) we set out for a sweaty walk to a viewpoint above the city. The view was predominantly city with the tiniest addition of sea but the resulting picture probably gives you some idea about the city.
That afternoon we headed to the jetty to take a speedboat to one of the tiny islands off Kota Kinabalu. The one we chose, named Mamutik, was the smallest of the five and offered the classic delights of a white, sandy beach combined with plentiful coral and sea life within a short snorkel. One of my tasks this holiday is to get good at underwater photography, and to do this I'm using an old Nikon film camera borrowed from Helen's dad. While this is all well and good, and will hopefully yield some good results, you won't be able to see them any time soon. Use your imagination with this one.
While visiting tiny islands is good fun, it's less fun when you're faced with the prospect of being stuck on them. The guy with the boat who brought us to Mamutik was supposed to be picking us up at five pm but was nowhere in sight. Eventually we managed to find a contact number and got one of the locals to find out where the guy was, and sure enough the boy had forgotten all about us. Almost an hour late the boat rocks up and without apology takes us back to the mainland.
After a day in which we were able to appreciate some of the best of Borneo's marine life, we ate some of the best of Borneo's marine life. The night market here in Kota Kinabalu serves up a vast array of dishes, but the seafood barbecues are by far the best. We dined on tuna steak and giant prawns, but the best by far was the squid. Next level barbecue skills on show.
We finally hit the hay in our now more modest accommodation (no windows but air con is a good compromise), ready for an early rise to climb Mount Kinabalu - the peak over 4000m above sea level.