We left Sandakan on Thursday 15th march for kota kinabulu. It was a 6 hour bus journey. We turned up at sandakan bus station for the 9am bus which we wanted to get and unfortunately it was full, so we had to wait for the 10am, gutting. Again, as if on queue there was the annoying English couple from our hotel who left in a taxi a few minutes before us and who had obviously managed to get the last 2 seats on the bus. Err! Typical ha!
Kota kinabulu is situated on the South China Sea and is the capital of the Sabah area. It is quite a big town with lots of shopping centres, a waterfront market, restaurants and bars etc. Alcohol is available here but is pricey. The downtown area was nearly totally wiped out in WW11 bombs and so there is only a small area of the city that has any remains of its colonial past.
We treated ourselves on the Thursday night to dinner at a restaurant called 'little Italy'... It was divine! And had pizza & i had seafood risotto with 2 glasses of white wine. Very very welcomed! We have found the food in malaysia very disappointing, we have stuck at it, eating lots of local food hoping we would find something tasty but have had no luck so we decided to just have Italian on our first night here! And boy was it good!
On Friday we got a boat over to Sapi Island, just 15 minutes from kota kinabulu. We had heard it is a great place for snorkelling etc. We had had a tip from a diver we met to not stay on the main beach but go to the next one around where the snorkelling is better. We had to climb over really slippery rocks for about 15 mins to get there which was very tricky in flip flops! On the way there we had a close run in with a gigantic monitor lizard! Andrew had gone on ahead to suss out if the next rock section was safe so I was stood waiting when I heard a massive rumble in the trees etc above the rocks. I looked up, expecting maybe a monkey but saw this huge green crocodile sized monitor lizard appear! I was actually really really scared so took my flip flops off and climbed up onto a rock (because monitor lizards can't climb rocks?!?) and stood physically shaking hoping to goodness it wouldn't head down my direction! It seemed like an age before Andrew came back and when he did I frantically signalled to him to stop where he was and I did my best lizard impression to stop let him know why I was perched on a rock in the sea! Ha, looking back its hilarious but at the time I was really frightened! After a few minutes the monitor lizard crawled away back into the trees and we made a quick move over the rest of the rocks onto the beach area to snorkel! Unfortunately we didn't see any turtles or sharks but did see lots of coral and fish. That night we ate at the Filipino market which is just amazing; full of food stalls selling fish, meat, fruit and veg. We got some lovely photos from there and really enjoyed sat eating with the locals at the wee tables at the market.
Sat 17th March - a big day! St Patrick's day, Wales winning the grand slam and Ireland getting beating by England in the rugby (boo!!). With the time difference the rugby didn't start until 10.30pm so we spent the day over at another island off Kota Kinabulu, called Manukan Island. No monitor lizard encounters there, just a standard day at the beach with our books! We had real trouble finding somewhere that was showing the rugby; we must have asked around 15 bars all across the city here but eventually, when we thought we would have to go and watch it sat in an internet café we found an Irish bar at the waterfront called 'Shamrock bar' and watched both matches there. Wales winning the grand slam was just amazing, thankfully there were 4 people in the bar from Swansea who were watching it too, so we had some other people shouting and cheering with us! The bar was showing the match on 2 TV screens but had a DJ playing music for St Patrick's day so we had no commentary, every time we shouted or cheered we had a pub full of confused Borneo Malaysians staring at us ha ha! We missed Cardiff tonight, we knew the atmosphere would be amazing there and we felt very far away from home. It was a shame to miss celebrating the Grand Slam win in Wales, but we wouldn't change what we are doing!
Sunday and Monday 18th and 19th March we had a few slower days. We visted Sabah State Museum in Kota Kinabulu, the highlight being the collection of human skulls from the head hunting days in Sabah, quite sureal to see! We ate again the in Filipino market, this time keen to try the local fresh fish that they BBQ for you there and then. We ordered one large tuna steak and 3 skewers of big king prawns (15 in total), all for 3 pounds sterling which is just amazing! It was amusing though, we forgot how much hard work peeling king prawns are and the meal turned into an evening event with most of our time spent peeling the food! I was too hungry to wait and so ate each prawn as I peeled it but poor Andrew sat and peeled all his prawns and about 20 minutes later, after I was nearly finsihed my meal, he looked up from his hard work and said 'I guess I better start eating now', poor thing, everything was cold by this stage haha! It was a fun experience though and amazing to think that every single night this market is set up and taken down, its so so much work. If we had something like this at home it would be a once a year sort of event which everyone would rave about, but here it is just normal everyday business.
While in Kota Kinabulu we stayed in a great wee budget hotel called 'A and J' which was cheap and cheerful and had air con which was great. Unfortunately it was right beside a shop selling dried fish and seafood goods, so the stench from there was so overpowering when you came out of your room or anywhere nearby. We went in to have a nose and found that they sell really unusual sea goods to China for making very expensive soups. There are packs of 4 large sea cucumbers selling for 135 pounds sterling, just unbelievable money for something we have snorkelled over and poked at many times on our trip!
We persisted with trying a range of local foods here, in the hunt for local tasty dishes we can recognise and order. I actually ended up emailing a girl I met in Vietnam who worked in Borneo for 8 months to get some trips and thankfully she was very helpful and gave us some pointers! So we managed to have a few tasty and cheap local meals in street kitchens; nasi goring ayam (fried rice with chicken), mee hon (noodles) and roti's - pastry things a little like naan bread sort of things which you can get in different flavours. You can get a meal here for around 1 pound sterling which is such good value, similar to the rest of south east asia really.
So today is our last day in Kota Kinabulu and so our last day in Borneo. We fly back to Kuala Lumpur tonight and then head straight onto Melaka, further south tomorrow. We have heard and read great things about Melaka, especially their food, so we are keeping our fingers crossed for that! Borneo has been a great adventure, the highlight being the orang utans, proboscis monkeys and our very close run in with the gigantic monitor lizard! I can't beleive that two weeks today I will back in Northern Irealnd,on the Drumreagh Road in my wellie boots out with my Dad at lambing time, such a strange feeling when I am sat in Borneo!