Friday, 18 November 2011

Kota Kinabalu

In which we eat more seafood than is strictly healthy and spend too many nights listening to bad bands.
Starring Mr Ben, the hee-haw man and Phineas Fogg

We arrived in KK rather late at night and so had booked into a place that you could walk to from the airport - described by Tripadvisor as an idyllic beach hangout that you could easily spend weeks at.  The room we had booked wasn’t available so we got ‘upgraded’ to a triple in an outhouse that had clearly not been used for awhile. The floor and Cath’s bed (she chose it, it wasn’t my fault!) were covered in gecko turds and I woke up in the morning covered in ants – little ants, but definitely ants.  We left shortly after sunrise and got the bus into the town itself. 

Kettle for washing your hands
We weren’t expecting much from KK which was bombed to oblivion in the second World War but we ended up really enjoying it.  For a start the seafront is lined with a series of night food markets that sell everything from corn on the cob to coal baked bread.  We spent three nights in a row at a series of fresh seafood stalls where you picked your stick of skewered prawns, squid or cuttlefish and they barbequed it for you. There’s very little cutlery and the tables are covered in thick plastic as it all gets rather messy but there’s a little plastic kettle to wash your hands, tons of napkins and all manner of spicy condiments.  It was just as well we were happy to be out exploring the evening delights of KK as our hostel room looked out over a large open air bar with a stage from which, every night until about 2am, the most karaoke-like live band I have ever heard blasted out their personal take on Adele, Chris de Burgh and Lady Gaga (catering to every taste apparently).

We did a day trip out to an island called Manukan by catching the ferry from the local port. It’s quite a procedure – you have to go into a huge hall full booths with everyone yelling out destinations and prices to get your ticket and pay for snorkelling gear. Then you’re escorted back to the pier where you yell out ‘Mr Ben, Mr Ben’ and 12yr old boy appears who hands you your snorkelling gear. Then you hang around for a bit until the boat is full and finally set off.  There was a rather large Chinese man in the seat behind us who yelled out ‘Hee Haw’ every time we bounced over a wave.  His much younger girlfriend looked mortified. The island itself was lovely – we went for a walk along the ‘jogging’ trail to one of the points and then wound our way back boulder hopping along the coast, stopping at deserted beaches to swim.  Off the main pier the snorkelling is passable if you manage to keep clear of everyone flapping around in life jackets – I saw a ray disappearing off into the blue and a lot of anemones with their resident Nemo fish. 

After much debate and research we decided not to climb Mount Kinabalu.  It’s a tough climb to 4095m and back in 26hrs and we had neither the right equipment nor the requisite fitness levels.  Instead we took a local bus out to the park and spent a day walking along part of the summit trail and before winding back down on a longer hike through a river valley. This was Cath’s first experience of SE Asian buses and the smashed windows, reeking on board toilet and seats permanently stuck in recline mode prompted her to call this ‘The Hell Bus’.  How I laughed.

It was interesting to see both the people making their way down – looking pretty close to death – and those just starting up.  The porters were in flip flops, the organised Chinese were all sticks and technical clothing and one crazy man was dressed in a full suit with a bow tie and a curly-ended moustache – Malaysia’s own Phineas Fogg. 

The bottom terraces of the mountain are blanketed in dense rainforest so the trail we took back was rather slippery and damp but very atmospheric.  There were puffs of steamy mist,  a torrential downpour for which we donned our ponchos (giant plastic bags effectively), tracks of some large cat that had used the path before us and of course, a leech – discovered on the inside of my boot when we got back to town.  Aside from the odd bird calls and some strange insects our only animal sighting was a pair of Bornean Gibbons – a rare treat.

More photos:

1 comment:

  1. You don't want to know where Hugh found a leech when we were in Borneo...