From Mulu it was a short 30 min flight to Miri (it was on this flight we got the Soya milk- it has almost more sugar than coke in it! Gav had mine).
Miri is an oil town and was the site of Shell’s first oil well and is good for diving apparently but we were just passing through. We had hoped to go to the Oil museum there while we filled the time between flight and bus but it was Monday and it is closed on Monday. Booo. Instead we went to a rather boring shopping centre to get plasters-my “new” Tevas were still slicing my feet to ribbons-and to stock up on some snacks and water for the trip.
Eventually the time came round for our bus to Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital of the Sultanate of Brunei and country number 9. I slept for most of the journey apart from waking for the visa checks, but all in it was about 4 hours travel time so not too far. Despite the “DEATH TO DRUG TRAFFICKERS” signs you see entering every country in this region, they seemed to only be checking the bus for people crossing the border illegally in the hold, it was much more strict going into Singapore where they get right in your face and ask you have you any cigarettes or alcohol while scanning your bags.
Brunei is expensive so we planned only staying two nights, the cheapest accommodation we could find was at KH Soon Guesthouse, it was really central also. Which was where almost all the people on the bus stayed. Quite basic but the room was enormous- you’d almost get tired walking from the door to the bed! It had shared bathrooms across the hall with squat toilets and hot showers (our measure of luxury these days) so not too bad. Our day here consisted mainly of walking around the immaculate town centre where the only people we saw were gardeners or people doing maintenance, the place was very quiet, even in the evenings too. We did attempted to visit the biggest mosque there but there was an event on and non-muslims could not enter. We tried a number of times over the course of the day to get in but each time we got there the sign was up so in the end we never managed to see inside. Still was nice from the outside.
We also paid a visit to the royal regalia museum which was quite interesting, bit of propaganda but it also housed all the presents that the Sultan had got over the years, as you’d expect the majority of gifts were from the nearest neighbours (Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Philipines, Indonesia and Cambodia (there was also a gift from the King of Cambodia, the year was not displayed)), from other arab nations but the only western country seemed to be the UK (I think Australia might have been there too but can’t quite remember). The Sultan also studied in the UK and spent some time at Sandhurst.
Basically those two things were the only ones within walking distance but enough to get a feel of the place. Oil, religion and the Royal Family were the top things here.
So a quick stop in Brunei complete we got a local bus to the port of Serasa. This actually involved 2 buses took about an hour cost ($2 BN/$1 US/0.75p) and I had my photo taken by some locals on the bus- they were not subtle about it at all! The ferry was grand too, took an hour and a half to the island of Labuan with some violent film on for entertainment.
On arrival in Labuan we passed though Malaysian immigration and had to wait for our connecting ferry to Kota Kinabalu which wasn’t due to leave for 4 hours. The great thing about Labuan (it’s quite a touristy place with nice beaches and diving spots) was that it is under the jurisdiction of Kuala Lumpur which made it a duty free place (I’m not sure how) so you could get very cheap foreign beer and spirits, plus they had shops and shops full of chocolate, both in the terminal and outside (which was around 10-20% cheaper). We picked up a few bits and pieces as the chocolate out here can be pretty expensive for decent European standard stuff apart from Cadbury’s which is not too bad depending on where it is made. The Chinese stuff is awful but the Malaysian was good. Gav got some Filipino San Miguel as well which for six bottles was about the price of one beer on the mainland and we got some chocolate of course- I got some delicious Dime bars- so good! Gav got some Kinder Shocobons…we wanted to make them last at least a week- they were all gone in 48 hours. We have no self control!
So a few hours whiled away in Labuan and it was back on the Ferry to Kota Kinabalu (KK), the largest town in Sabah. It was once called Jesselton, but then they changed it in 1967. On a clear day from sea you can see Kinabalu mountain behind the down, which is quite stunning (alas no photo).
So what is there to do in KK? Not a whole lot in fairness. We had our usual things that needed doing- finding a place to stay and immediately doing laundry were top on our list when we arrived. Euan and Morgan were also in town and were leaving the following morning so we wanted to grab a drink with them too. We ended up staying at Season Street Lodge which got absolutely slated on Trip Advisor (we read that afterwards), we had planned to stay at another place but it had a room with no windows and seemed noisy so we had to fall on plan B- the next closest place. It was fine, the room was a good size, had air-con though (no fan) and a window. I would later grow to hate the window- down the street they had a sort of cabaret bar which was at a volume to make your ears bleed- started at 9 pm finished sometime after 2 am. The first night I didn’t notice this though as we were back in around that time. More on that later. The shared bathroom was a bit of a pain though but at least it was clean, the shower, sink and squat toilet were all in a cubicle slightly longer than a standard toilet however they positioned the hanger for your clothes and towel over the toilet.The toilet had no lid and a hole that went to oblivion, luckily we didn’t drop anything in it. Then we had an epic trek to the laundry- of course in the tourist areas of Malaysia you have the lady who will do your laundry. It’s quite expensive when you know you can go to the local laundromat and get it done in an hour at a fraction of the price, only problem was finding one. Google managed it though. Then we were off to trek across town with our massive bag of washing. We eventually found it and an hour later we were on our way back for a quick shower and change and then out to find the guys- it was now getting late though…
In all we spent six days in KK which is more than anyone should really spend there unless you are working for Shell (who have a massive glass monster of a building in KK) or something. The reason we stayed so long is that I wanted to do my Advanced Open Water course here as it was the cheapest place other than Koh Tao I could find and it had a large National Park- Tunku Abdul Rahman Park which sounded good. The cheapest best rated company I could find were Diverse Borneo, they were a PADI 5 Star centre as well so all good there. Gav not wanting to miss out on a few dives went with Sabah Divers for one day 3 dives. Mine would last two days.
As I had not long finished my antibiotics and antihistamines (for my ears) I decided to get a fit to dive cert before I signed up for the course, passed it with flying colours and signed up.
Long story short, I passed the course (yay!) but it was a bit of a depressing place to dive, lots and lots of rubbish everywhere in the sea, you see a bit everywhere in SE Asia but here was ridiculous, especially when there are all bit of plastic bottles and bags wrapped all over the coral. A large population of Moro refugees live above the water at the main island in the park so between them, the city and the shipping lane it’s really not in the best location. Lots of nice fish though and I saw a seahorse which was really cool. Big yellow one too, almost the size of my hand and he was pregnant, which was a rare sight.
The other exciting thing we did was go to the cinema to see the new James Bond- Spectre (8.5 RM/$2/£1.30 each). We both enjoyed it but the theme song was awful, for those who like Sam Smith, sorry but no it was terrible.
Other than that we were stuck for a day after I finished diving as I had a 24 hr no fly (also no going above 300 m) so a trip over the mountains had to be delayed, plus I was exhausted so really wanted to do nothing (thanks James Bond!). Sleep quality was very poor in KK due to the street cabaret, one night it was the entire Bodyguard soundtrack, another night it was a 70’s medley and even earplugs weren’t working!
So after six days in KK and only , it was definitely time to move on our next stop was Kinabalu National Park. It reopened the day we arrived there (1st December). Gav had wanted to climb it and so we had looked into it but the price was looking ridiculous for a 1.5 day trek (around 1300 RM/$303/£204). The earthquake which hit the mountain had caused significant damage so they needed to put a new route in, even still Sabah Parks took the opportunity to significantly hike up the price, we still wanted to see it though so made a quick overnight stop there giving us most of a day in the park before we moved on. Kinabalu National Park is one of the most diverse areas in the world with 14% of all flora from SE Asia in it- as you can see…
Our base there was a place called Ayana– it was quite lush in comparison to the other places we had stayed with beautiful views over the mountains south of the park. It was 800 m from the park apparently. No it wasn’t, it was actually more like 1.4 km. Which is fine if you don’t have bags.. they love to say the distance by crow here, the actual distance is not important apparently. We’ll forgive them for the views though!
Though we didn’t have long in the park it was fun to wander about and do some trails. Yes there was a Botanical Gardens there too- I’m going to have to start making a note of how many we have been to now…
So one quick night here and we were off, to our next stop Kota Kinabatangan!