Sabah – Land Below The Wind

Borneo has always been an attraction to many who dream about being surrounded by more than 100 million-years-old tropical rainforests that house a vast diversity of species. As a Malaysian, I’m not proud to say I haven’t stepped foot at Sabah until last Monday. My host Mum, Gabi and her friend, Marianne, spent their first 10 days at Perhentian. Although we were just a boat ride away, I hardly had free time to hang out with them except on my day off on one Sunday. Therefore, I took one week off and decided to go Sabah with them as Marianne wanted to see Orang Utan. I didn’t have much time to research on places of interest, hotels, etc, therefore I booked the whole trip through Sepilok Tropical Wildlife Adventure.

It was a pleasant surprise to see Joanne at Kuala Besut jetty. I was the one who booked the room for them but I totally forgot when exactly were they at Perhentian. Luckily they saw me while I was at the jetty. She still looked the same, cute as usual! However, we didn’t have time to catch up as both of us had a flight to catch.

Joanne – the sexy nurse!

Day 1

We flew from Kota Bharu to Sandakan, with a connecting flight at Kuala Lumpur. It was already dark when we arrived at Sandakan. That was when I realised although Sabah is Malaysia, it is nearer to the equator, hence the earlier sunrise and sunset. A four-wheels truck took us to Sepilok Jungle Resort. We checked into a triple room and went for dinner. The surrounding was really tranquil. For once, it felt weird not to hear the sound of the waves hitting the beach. However, it was good to have a change. Dinner was good and despite the fact that I should enjoy my vacation, I could not stop thinking about Perhentian and the fun I would miss out when the FUZE team came over! It took some time to relax, unwind and not think about work! We went to bed after having some Brandy. Surprisingly, it tasted nice with black coffee!

Day 2

Gabi woke up shortly before 6am! I slept until past 7am and went for breakfast with them. We went to Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre at 9 something so that we can watch the feeding of orang utan at 10am. It is rare to see orang utan in the wild, therefore the feeding time is the only time to see them! There was one young male hanging on the rope swinging itself to the feeding platform. When another female and her baby approached, the young male moved away. Apparently dominant female with baby has priority in their society! Not long after that, another female showed up with a baby clinging around her. Real cute! I captured a lot of photos but most were crappy as I zoomed them quite close up. Before we left, we watched a movie about the man of the forest! Amazing and sad stories about them. Most of the orang utans found in this centre are orphans, hence needed to be taught how to survive in their natural habitat. Babies usually stay up to 7 or 8 years with their mother. Here the human become their mother.

Entrance to Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

We had lunch at Sim-Sim Seafood Restaurant at a water village on the way to Sandakan city. The wooden houses were built above the sea and it was devastating to see the piles of rubbish below these houses. Just when I thought the waste management system at Perhentian is bad, this is worse! It is even irony to look at the rubbish and have lunch there. Although the seafood was really delicious, I hope someone does something about the rubbish as the sight of it is disturbing!

The water village that is surrounded by rubbish!

Delicious and fresh seafood lunch at Sim-Sim

We visited the Sandakan Central Market first. It is very similar to any wet market in Malaysia. I also met up with Chiara, who was doing her dissertation project at Sabah. It was really nice seeing her again after she left Perhentian.

Spices

I rather see them in the sea 😦

Chiara and I showing off the cheapest basic Samsung handphone

We went to the oldest church at Sandakan, built by the British, also one of the building still standing after a bombing here. Then we went to a temple up on a hill which has a view of the city and sea. It was built by the rich tycoons at Sandakan.

The church that survived the bombing

A temple of Buddhism and Taoism 

The last stop was Sandakan Memorial Park. I was a bit confused when I listened to Robert, our friendly tour guide, explaining about the history of this park regarding some prisoners of wars and Death Marches. I learned about history in secondary school but I certainly did not remember about the prisoners of war when the Japanese took over Malaya. Apparently the park was a prison camp where Australian and British servicemen were captured as prisoners and shipped over to Sandakan to build an airport and a railway track. However, at the end of WW2, Japan didn’t want to surrender. Together with more than 2000 weak and sicked prisoners, they attempted three Death Marches which is a walk from Sandakan to Ranau, a distance of 265km in the forest. Only 6 escapees survived. The encounters with the Japanese during the Japanese occupation in Malaya was probably the cruelest ever experience for Malayans in the history.

The plan to swim in a pool was cancelled when we got back quite late to the resort. However, I did manage to go and check out the pool which looked really cozy! I had a quick nap before dinner. We had some Schnapps and coffee before heading off to bed.

Day 3

I was quite sad to leave Sepilok Jungle Resort as it was a really nice place to relax. If I ever come here again, I would definitely stay longer. After breakfast, I walked around the resort and took some photos while enjoying the nature. We went to Gomantong Cave first. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this cave as my experience to different caves have been totally unique. The most challenging one was probably at Tempurung Cave. The rests were easier with proper pathway to walk. It only took probably less than 45 minutes to walk around Gomantong Cave. However, the smell of the birds’ shit was bad. There are 4 kind of birds’ nests there and only three of them are edible. The most disgusting part was cockroaches crawling everywhere! Gross!! It is amazing to see how high the workers have to climb to harvest the nests. While walking along the jungle pathway back to the van, we saw some butterflies, a chameleon and a sun lizard.

Gomantong Cave

After that, we drove all the way to Kinabatangan River and spent a night at Bilit Adventure Lodge. After lunch, we checked into our lovely room. We all had a nap before going for an evening river cruise to see wildlife. Evening tea was good, especially the doughnuts! We were quite lucky with the weather. Although it looked cloudy, it didn’t rain, only at the end of the cruise, it started to drizzle. We saw elephants eating and bathing in the river, Rhinecerous hornbills, wrinkled hornbills, proboscis monkeys, macaques, eagles, etc. I enjoyed the cruise a lot. In some way, it felt like Tortuguero in Costa Rica.

A pleasant surprise to see elephants on the river cruise

There was an optional night walk after dinner but we did not go. We ended up having some drinks and talking to Robert. Unlike Sepilok Jungle Resort, this lodge didn’t have wi-fi. It felt weird but definitely good not to go online for once! I ended up reading a book and fell asleep.

Day 4

This was the only day that we had to wake up so early for a morning cruise at 6am. As usual, it was so hard to get out of the bed but once we saw the sunrise from the cafe, it was worth it. I was hoping to see at least one crocodile basking by the river bank but there was none. However, we did see a green viper, egrets, hornbills, birds, eagles, etc. It was a nice cruise. The sound of the jungle was really soothing.

Sunrise from Bilit Adventure Lodge

We had breakfast and started packing up to leave by 8.30am to Poring. The journey there took about 4 hours. We had lunch in a Chinese Restaurant first before going into Poring Hot Spring Recreational Area. It was crowded!!! We went for the canopy walk as it closed at 4pm. It was a short jungle trek to the canopy walk. The canopy walk across a hanging bridge 40m above was awesome! People who are afraid of height would have a heart attack walking across the bridge.

One of my favourite trees – Pokok Berlian

A group photo before the canopy walk

We went to the butterfly farm after that. I didn’t see many butterflies though in the open garden and only saw a few species in an enclosed garden.

We then walked up for about 300m to a waterfall. I wanted to dip myself in the water but nobody else was up for it so in the end, it was just my hands that touched the cool water!

We walked back to the hot spring area. It was still full of tourist. Gabi and Marianne didn’t want to dip in the hot spring as well. So this time I put my legs just to feel how hot the water was.

The famous Poring Hot Spring

We had some drinks before we left for Kundasang. It was about 1000m plus above sea level, hence the cooler temperature. It was quite windy as well. We stayed a night at The Cottage Hotel. We had steamboat for dinner. After dinner, we went for a walk around the small town to another cafe for a drink. The streets were dark but the night view was magnificent. The crested moon and shining stars lit the night sky. The wind was strong too! It was a good night with Gabi and Marianne. When we got back to the hotel, there was a cockroach in the room. All of us had a share to hit it but it escaped leaving behind one hind leg. Ewww… The sound of the wind through the window was quite scary throughout the whole night. Nonetheless, I slept well.

Day 5

Gabi woke up at about 6am to catch a glimpse of Mount Kinabalu. I heard her talking to Marianne and they both left the room. Assuming that she didn’t wake me up, the mount must had been blocked by the clouds so I continued sleeping until 7 something. When I went down for breakfast, I couldn’t see them anywhere so I had breakfast first. Then they showed up. Apparently they were outside taking photos. I also went outside to take some photos before the clouds cover the mount. People say Mount Kinabalu is most of the time shy as it is always behind the clouds.

A view of Mount Kinabalu before it hides behind the cloud

Our tour guides were late so we waited for them. We went to Desa Cattle Farm near the hotel. I never knew that in Malaysia, we do produce milk but not in a big quantity. Gabi said it was as if we just arrived at Malaysian Alps without snow. The scenery did look similar to Swiss Alps, except for the vegetation and the bare mount.

Desa Cattle Farm

We visited the milk production factory but the process is shown at 3pm every day. Instead it was Gabi who explained to me about the milk process. We also bought some sourvenir and milk to drink. Yum…tasted delicious!

Delicious milk!

The next stop was Kundasang War Memorial, a garden dedicated to the prisoners of war, whom all died at the prison camp or along the route during the Death Marches. These prisoners were mainly Australians and British. It was sad to read from the newspapers articles of what had happened back in the 40s, how cruel the Japanese were.

Entrance to Kundasang War Memorial with nice gardens and a look out point above

We left Kundasang and went to Kinabalu National Park. We first visited the museum. Robert wanted to show us the entrance to climb Mount Kinabalu but there was an event going on and it was closed. We went on Silau-Silau Trail for less than 1km and visited a botanical garden.

Mount Kinabalu hiding behind the clouds

Kinabalu National Park

Along Silau-Silau Trail

We had lunch after that. Gosh, I was really hungry! The food was good. We drove to KK after that, stopping once for sourvenir. It was past 5pm when we reached the hotel.

We went for dinner at about 7.30pm at Kampung Nelayan. There was also a cultural performance. We told the tour guides that it was alright for them to join our table. Marianne even went up to try the bamboo dance. We left before 10pm as Adelyn has reached KK.

This really reminded me of Long Beach!

Magunatip – the bamboo dance

It was really nice to see her. We first had Long Island Iced Tea at the bar in the hotel with Gabi and Marianne. We hopped to the next bar at Upperstar, just walking distance from the hotel but Adelyn decided to drive there. We ordered another jug of Long Island Iced Tea and a glass of Mojito. The last time I saw her was 2 years ago, so much to catch up. The tour guide, Faizal and his cousin, joined us later. Shortly after 2am, the bar closed. We went to a club. Gosh, nice to be in a club again, except that the music sucks. The next thing I knew was all craziness and madness. I couldn’t even remember how I got back to my room and I was feeling really hangover the next morning. That was totally like hangover 2 for me. Hangover 1 was when I had to fly back from Switzerland to Malaysia.

Marianne, Adelyn and Gabi

Adelyn – the party queen!

Faizal – the tour guide with all the fun

When I was awake, I realised I didn’t have my handphone with me, most probably it fell out of my pocket into his cousin’s car. I had to wake Faizal up to get back my phone. We drove all the way to Panampang to get my phone, then straight off to the airport. Time really flew by so fast, before I knew, my vacation had ended. It was time for Gabi and Marianne to go back to Switzerland. When I left Perhentian, I wished I didn’t have to go but now I wish I don’t have to go back so soon! The almost one-week stay at Sabah was amazing, hopefully I will go back there again one day.

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One thought on “Sabah – Land Below The Wind

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