We flew from Singapore to the town of Kota Kinabalu on the island of Borneo. There really is not a lot to do in the town itself, and we swiftly moved on and took a bus to the town of Kundasang. This town is home to the Kinabalu national park which was about a 30min walk from our accommodation, called Ayana Resort. The town was in the mountains and was considerably colder than Kota Kinabalu, and the evenings were icy. The accommodation itself was in the middle of nowhere, and there were lots of stray dogs running around the location. The facilities at the accommodation were great though and it was a good choice to be in walking distance to the national park.
We went to visit the Kinabalu national park and spent the day hiking through the beautiful trails in the rain forest. We also visited the botanical garden in the park where we saw some interesting wild orchids and pitcher plants that are native to the area. The rain forest is very moist, with lots of moss about and this is where Natacha had her first leech encounter. The rain forest was really deserted and the leeches must have been really starving for some warm blood. If one attaches to you, the safest thing to do is to leave it until it is well fed, and falls off by itself.
After a couple of days in the area we decided to move on to the next location on our route, which was the town of Poring. This town was about an hour away, and we stayed at the famous backpacker location called the Round Inn.
The town of Poring is very small and well known for the Poring Hot springs and the Rafleshia garden. We were very lucky because the timing was perfect for us to view the rare Rafleshia flower in full bloom. The Rafleshia flower takes approximately 9 months to flower, and then are only open for a few days before dying.
On one of the days we went in the rain on a 5 hour hike through the rain forest, on what turned out to be a muddy and slippery path, in order to get to the majestic 120m high Langanan waterfall. This hike was very intense, and we were again the only hikers in on the trail. We had to fight off lots of leeches all the way there and back, but it was worth it to see the amazing waterfall and the stunning forest. We passed a large cave on the way, and stopped to admire the many bats flying in and out of the cave past us.
Once we arrived back from the hike, we took a well deserved soak in the natural hot spring baths at the base of the forest. It was awesome, but smelled like sulfur really intensely. When the water got too hot, we moved over to the cold rock pool for a dip, which was very refreshing.
There is also a canopy walk in the forest which we went to see on one of the days we were there, it was high up in the trees and took a lot of effort to get to the starting point up many stairs.
We took a 5hour bus journey from Poring to the next town which was called Sandakan. This was a funny journey, lets just say that having a toilet on the bus is not always a great idea. A Malaysian lady totally destroyed the toilet, and the bus had to do an unscheduled emergency stop, in order to clean up the mess. The flush mechanism and bouncy road, and possibly squatting on the toilet bowl as opposed to sitting was the main issue. Combined with the delights of the local roadside food, this could have been to blame for the disaster.
Being on the bus with aircon is a blessing, until something like this happens and it becomes a curse, as the smell was so intense and the windows did not open. The driver had to open the emergency roof escape hatches in order to get some fresh air into the bus before we could continue. After they had hosed and disinfected the toilet, they installed a padlock on the door in order to avoid any further incidents. Have you ever taken a shit so bad that you brought a bus to a standstill? LOL How embarrassing!
Once we arrived in Sandakan, we stayed at the Sandakan Backpackers Hostel in the middle of town. We were situated near many shops and restaurants, mostly for food we did not eat. The town is pretty boring and not much to do at all. We decided to visit Labuk Bay for the day, to visit the probiscus Monkey sanctuary, where we saw the beautiful probiscus, and silver leaf monkeys at the sanctuary.
On another day we went to visit the Sepilok Orangutan sanctuary, where the orphan and injured orangutans are being rehabilitated to go back into the wild. They are not in cages, and roam freely through the jungle. While we were in the vicinity of the sanctuary, we decided to visit the rain forest discovery center, where we did the canopy walk through the trees. This was a beautiful walk high above the rain forest, where we encountered some other monkeys and birds.
We then decided to move on to the next town of Semporna, which was another six hour bus journey for us. This has got to be absolute most disgustingly filthy dirty town we had ever seen. There was oil all over the roads, and loads of litter, dirt, and garbage everywhere, and plenty of beggars and stray dogs everywhere. We also saw some large water monitor lizards walking in the streets, which come for the rat population. The town serves as a port to the islands for divers, and has no real other purpose. There was a very large military presence in the town to keep law and order, due to pirates from the nearby Philippines and other disorderly conduct by locals. our purpose for visiting the town was to snorkel at the nearby islands, and we booked a snorkel tour to Mabul Island, which was amazing.
After a military escort from the harbour to the island, we had the whole day to snorkel. Our first trip was to the coral reef on Mabul Island, which was beautiful. There was schools of trigger fish, goldies, cuttlefish, and lots turtles. The corals were lovely and vibrant, with loads of variety and colour. This snorkel trip was funny because we had two chinese ladies with us who at the moment of jumping off the boat, let the leader know that they did not know how to swim. He then gave them a tube to hold onto and had to drag them everywhere so that they could also see the fish.
On this trip Natacha somehow picked up a hitchhiker crab in her swim skirt that was only discovered much later after being out of the water, and eating lunch. The poor crab had been silently hanging on for dear life hoping to get back to the sea. Natacha found him and returned him to the sea as we went out for our next snorkel trip for the day.
The second snorkel venue was a dive site, which had no corals, but lots of large schools of large fish, and turtles. We went up and down the area, about 100m long, swimming with the schools of fish and getting close to the turtles. The last snorkel trip for the day before heading back was where sharks and larger fish hang out, but we were not lucky enough to see any. We managed to see sting rays, and large schools of Red fang trigger fish, but no sharks.
On our snorkel trip we spoke to a diver, who was telling us about his trip to Flores in Indonesia, where he swam with giant manta rays. This really sparked our interest, and we decided that this was something we would really like to do, and that is how Flores became our next destination.