Sunday, 3 September 2017

Day 17: KL and Home

Well the hotel was very very quiet considering it was right next door to the airport.  I was very surprised.  However, the sheets were noisy and they kept us awake.  We got up at 8, re-packed and then headed in the buggy to the airport for breakfast.  We didn't find much, just a pastry, but then we were wanting a proper lunch so that was ok.

Nasi Lemak
Nasi Bojari
As the airport has a viewing area, we thought we would have a look - Matt wanted to take some cool pics of flights landing and taking off with his new long lens, but the runways were a long way away, meaning you couldn't take a good photo or even see them that well.  Oh well, we headed into KL on the Ekspres train and then on to KLCC on the LRT to do some shopping.  First stop Isetan, to buy some mochi, a couple of t-shirts for Tom including a very smart Ducati one which was very reasonably priced.  Matt, having got burnt all through the holiday whenever he went swimming, bought himself a sun shirt which is what most of the men around here wear in the pool - a UV shirt made of swimsuit sort of material which stops you getting burnt in the pool.  Oh well, if we come to a hot country again he'll be sorted, although I'm not sure many Brits would want to wear one, poor Matt needs it though.

After that we headed to the restaurant floor and went to Madame Kwan's for a very lovely Malaysian last supper.  I had Nasi Lemak (the national dish of Malaysia) and Matt had Nasi Bojari, another favourite.  It was very delicious and a great ending to the holiday.  Oh and if you are wondering, Nasi Lemak: coconut rice, chicken curry, dried shrimp floss, hard boiled egg, a nice onion thing with those weird caramelised tiny fish in it, and a little pot of pickles.

Getting wet in the fountains
Wet boy!
With our bellies happy, we headed to the Sony shop and Matt almost bought another camera lens but faltered at the last hurdle.  We said hello and goodbye to the KLCC fountains (Tom got purposefully soaked in them) and then we headed to the Central Market, where we did some more shopping - this time souvenir shopping.  We didn't spend as much money as we thought this holiday, the food in particular was way cheaper than we were expecting, meaning that we ended up paying for the Rasa Ria in Ringgits and still had more than enough left over.  We could have bought up all of Central Market, but in the end we figured that we probably wouldn't use most of it, the clothes are great for Malaysia but not for Ingleton and our house is full of nick knacks as it is!

We had a sit down and a juice and decided to call it a day.  We headed back to the station and got the trains and buggy back to the hotel.

Swimming pool with a view?!
Then a lovely swim, jacuzzi and sauna before getting changed into fresh clothes and headed to the airport.  We checked in and then went to our lounge - wow!  It was lovely, hot food was made to order, we had a great view of the airplanes taking off for Tom.  How very relaxing.  Then to the airplane and a wonderful business class flight with flat beds.  It is going to be soooooooo hard to fly economy again I tell you, just the ability to lie down flat makes the flights so so so much better.  We were almost sorry when we arrived and although we didn't sleep for long, we didn't feel like we've been on a long haul flight.

We headed to the business class lounge and booked ourselves in for a shower.  Then found some nice comfy chairs to while away the wait...

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Day 16: Rasa Ria to KL

Blue rice for breakfast!
So today was a travel day.  Not much to report I'm afraid.  We got up and had breakfast, shock and horror we got to the restaurant to find huge long queues, a lot of people arrived yesterday (pretty much all Chinese) and the restaurant couldn't cope.  We have always just walked in previously, today we probably had to wait a good 20 minutes before we got a seat.

My heart wasn't in for 'eating like a pig', so I took it a bit easier today, as did the other two, however, Matt still managed to work his way through some interesting food including blue rice?!  Tom had to go and get some too!

Last dip in the lovely pool

The boys then went down for a swim (Tom swam, Matt dangled his legs) whilst I finished the packing (forgot the toothbrush charger - oops!).   We then got a Grab taxi to the airport - really lovely chatty man.  The airport was brand new and huge.  No queues anywhere which meant it was a nice, pleasant experience.  Flight was pretty uneventful - almost zero leg room - Matt had trouble fitting in the seats and he isn't exactly tall.  Tom fell asleep (too many late nights).  We got to KL around 5pm and walked into our hotel (we are staying at the airport), checked in, went for a swim and then got the rather groovy electric buggy back to the airport terminal to find some tea, we went to the Malay food section full of airport workers, and very cheap - 3 meals and drinks came less to one meal at the RR, and it was freshly cooked and delicious.
Mt. Kinabalu from K.K. Airport

We then came back to the hotel, had to remind them to sort out Tom's bed again, had showers and got ready for bed.

Day 15: Rasa Ria

So, another good night's sleep, followed by another amazing breakfast buffet.  The menu had changed from yesterday - but still the very wide array of dishes.  Think both me and Matt managed 4 courses each today, whilst Tom was carb loading and only managed 2!

After a lie down so our bodies could start digesting breakfast, we headed to the pool for a swim, this time wearing T-shirts as we all got a little burnt yesterday and rather than have burnt skin for the flight home we all decided to wear a T-shirt in the pool to help cover us up.  It's the thing to do here - once again we have the full range of beach wear going on here, from the full burkini to the skimpiest of bikinis.  Although there are a lot less burikins and a lot more skimpy bikinis going on here (still yet to see a member of staff in a headscarf here - very disappointing, obvious discrimination going on!)

Me falling off the slide!
After a good play, Tom and I went off to get some body boards to play in the sea whilst Matt headed back to the hotel for a bath, lie-down and me time.  The waves were a little bit better today, so Tom managed to ride quite a few waves and I even managed to get some myself.  We got back to the hotel room and had showers, put on normal clothes and headed back down to the pool to get our ice-cream lunch (it is as much as we can manage after breakfast).  Then we headed down to the Nature Interpretation Centre as Tom had his Nature Ranger experience.  He was the only one down for it, but he didn't mind and went off happily with Derron, his guide, once he had been properly dressed in a Nature Ranger Polo Shirt and Baseball cap - very smart.

Matt and I were a little at a loss, we couldn't really go back to our room - it hadn't been cleaned yet.  We tried to get a mocktail from the bar but it wasn't open yet, so we ended up in the very lovely lobby drinking a can of pop each whilst reading our books.  Not, I guess the best use of an hour's free time, but it was all we could think to do and it was hot, hot, hot.

Boy in slide
We went to collect Tom after the hour was up and had to wait, we figured he was having a good time - if they were late back.  When he got back, he was put through a quiz of the different animals of Borneo and did really really well.   I was impressed, he got more right than I did!  He was very hot and sweaty but I think he was happy and enjoyed his time.  When we asked him what he learnt, he couldn't remember anything, but as the day wore on all these facts about the animals of Borneo kept appearing.  He had learnt a lot without realising - the best way!

We took his trunks down with us and he happily got changed and jumped into the pool, it had been a hot, hot afternoon for him in the rain forest.  He then spent the next hour mainly underwater in the pool looning around.

Ranger Tom
Then, back to the room for down time, beer and crisps before getting ourselves ready for a nocturnal jungle walk.  Out came the long trousers, boots, socks etc in an attempt to not get bitten.  Tom demanded some table tennis before hand so we headed to the games room and sweated in the hot humid atmosphere of it (it is always hot and humid in the games room area) before heading back to the Nature Interpretation Area for the night hike.  We were having a good time, we were each given torches to shine around, hoping to see the reflection from an animal's eyes.  We found a scorpion, a lizard, 2 tiny frogs, a poisonous centipede and...then...a screaming boy!  He had got stung by a bee (the bee's sting was still in his hand - the ranger pulled it out!).  So that was that, we got taken to the medical centre and had to pay for a nurse to check him over and give him some medicine (anti histamine and calamine lotion).  The ranger did say to go back so she could finish the walk, but by the time we were finished it was almost 8pm and we hadn't eaten.  Tom was tired and said he wanted food, we couldn't argue, so we knocked the night walk on the head and went to the Indian again at Tom's request for curry.  Tom bolted his down in no time at all and perked up so I guess he was pretty hungry!

Very tired boy!
Once done, we got back to the room and Tom went to bed straight away, whilst we headed for the balcony.  What a rubbish way to end our stay here.  Hopefully Tom's enduring memory will be of the good things rather than the bad.  Maybe we should have ended our trip in Sandakan, as that is where all the good stuff happened.

Anyway, we think 2 full days in a resort like this is probably just about right for us, I have a feeling we would start going stir crazy if we were booked in for any longer as you can't get out of the resort, we are sort of prisoners here.  So, just the little task of packing, getting to the airport and flying to KL tomorrow.  Then a day in KL shopping before heading home.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Day 14: Rasa Ria

Relaxing by the pool
So, we all slept well last night which was good, as it was the first time we have all been in a room together during this holiday.  We had a leisurely wake-up and then headed down to breakfast.  Wow, we have not seen a breakfast buffet like it ever!  You name a type of cuisine and it was there.  There was so much that we got a little overwhelmed as to where to start.  Rather than describe it, here are our meals:

Chocolate donut, takoyaki, rice, bread, emmenthal cheese, hard boiled egg, 2 x marshmallows dipped in chocolate, papaya, milk and mango smoothie

Ready for the challenge
Cinnamon bun, lemon danish, pancake with dried fruit and maple syrup, fried rice with lamb curry and beef curry, fried tofu (maybe), watermelon, local orange, unknown local fruit (nasty), double espresso, large black coffee, pineapple juice, hash brown

Bread, edam cheese, hard boiled egg, rice, stir fried veggies, sauteed potatoes, granola parfait, cinnamon roll, melon, lychee, local orange, green apple juice, orange juice, pineapple juice, dried mangoes.

Basically there was an Indian area, a Chinese area, a Malay area, a British area and a European area.  It was mad, I have never seen so much food!  When we left the restaurant we discovered a whole other area where chefs were making omelettes, soup and stir fries to order.

It was the breakfast of champions and we feasted like kings.

Body boarder

We went back to our room and got changed into our swimmers.  Yep, we were going swimming on full stomachs (we had promised Tom!)  We got in slowly, the pool water was lovely and warm.  We lazed about for a bit, played with our beach ball a bit, went down the slides a couple of times, all the usual things, until a fitness instructor came by and wanted to do aqua aerobics - we got out!  Certainly not Matt's sort of thing, Tom was too short to take part as he couldn't stand up in the pool and I would have felt very self conscious and silly doing it.  Tom asked to go to the beach so we did so.

Competition time.
The beach is gorgeous, beautiful, fine yellow sand and then we got to the sea (South China Sea) wow, it was literally as warm as bath water - warmer than the warm pool water!  I have never been in sea so warm and I've been in quite a few seas in my time.  It also was very gently sloping meaning that even Tom couldn't begin to get out of his depth without wading miles out.  I then discovered that you could get body boards from the hotel to play with, so we got three and had a go.  There wasn't much of a surf on the sea, but it was nice bobbing around on the sea, enjoying the warmth of the waves gently lapping over us.

It did begin to rain at this point, the clouds were forming so we thought we would have one last dip in the pool in case it all went off again.  It didn't 'go off' as such today but it did rain and it has got cooler, must be around 25 this evening, which to us is now cool and rather refreshing after days and days of very hot and very humid weather.

Excellent Indian dinner
We then went back to the room, had showers to get rid of the salt and chlorine and went down to the shop to buy ice creams (lunch).  Tom then went to Kids Club as they were learning how to make mocktails and as we have all drunk A LOT of them since arriving here, he was keen to learn how to make them.  We thought it would be a great opportunity for him to meet other children too.  It wasn't to be, he was the only child who turned up for it.  He didn't mind though and happily went off to learn his new craft.   Matt and I were a bit lost without him, but we went to the wildlife reserve to see what there was to do.  We found all sorts of trails, but you can't just do them - you have to have a guide with you, so we booked a nocturnal walk for tomorrow night for all three of us and picked up a leaflet with other activities, including one which was a Junior Nature Ranger, where children get the chance to help the rangers in their day to day work.  We thought he might be interested, he is and we have booked him in for tomorrow afternoon - once again he is the only child doing it, but he is fine about that.  Matt and I then played table tennis until we could pick him up from his mocktail making.

The hotel lobby - quite swanky
We then returned to our room for some down time.  We played Uno and flags, had our beer (iced tea) and crisps and then headed out to the Nature Information Centre for a talk they were holding about the animals of the nature reserve.  We were the only ones to turn up and they were quite surprised to see us.  They actually allowed us into the reserve by ourselves for a wander round which was good and we remembered quite a few of the plants from our trip to Mt Kinabalu Nature Reserve. Problem was we were all in sandals and although we sprayed ourselves with insect repellent, the bugs saw us coming and feasted on us.  Within minutes we were all itching incredibly, so we didn't stay long.  We got back to our room for quick shower to get rid of the bugs.  I had at least 16 bites just on one foot.  Well that was a mistake I won't make again - durrrrrrrr!  It will be boots and long trousers tucked into socks for me tomorrow!

We then went for tea, this time we decided to go to the Indian, where we had a very lovely dinner.  Tom had a special curry for children, then Matt and I shared a lamb kebab and a chicken curry.  All washed down with lassis and posh iced tea for Matt.  It was all very very delicious.  The chef came out to chat to us as we were the only ones in the restaurant with a child and as he said if the child is happy and eats up you know you have done a good job!  The waiter also stopped and chatted to us, he was amazed that we got the coach from Sandakan to Kota Kinabalu - I guess not many guests who stay here would do such a thing!

Day 13: KK to Rasa Ria

Packing light for long-distance travel
We tried to sleep in this morning, but as always on the days when you can sleep in, you don't.  We were in fact woken up by the sound of bag pipes?!  I thought Matt had put some of his weird music on, but he could hear them too.

We mulled around the flat for a while and then tried to decide what to do for breakfast.  We hadn't found any good bakeries around for buns, and NOTHING opens until 10am, so options were limited. I was not going to have fried chicken again.  We reluctantly decided that we should go to McDonalds around the corner - it was open 24 hours. 

Just as we were getting ready to go, I noticed a huge Malaysian flag being held by soldiers and carried down the road.  Hummm, then a huge Sabah flag passed us by.  Then more military music and more marching soldiers, people in other uniforms and children.  Was this the big Merdeka parade (Merdeka = National Day - this year Malaysia is celebrating 60 years of independence) it did seem very early in the morning - it was only just 8am. The parade went on and on and on.  Would you practise something this big in full 2 days before the event?  We weren't sure.  Anyway, after watching it for a while we went down and walked to McDonalds.  Wow, it was fiercely hot this morning, it was barely 8am and the temperature in our reckoning was over 30 already.  We ended up walking amongst the groups who had been marching.  I looked at a group of girls and realised they were in girl guide uniform, I asked if I was right and was told yes.  We then chatted all the way to McDonalds, luckily I picked on a girl who could speak really good English and had visited London.  Such a shame we didn't have any scout badges on us from Ingleton (we did have some in Japan last year and I gave them back)
Happy with her lunch

Anyway we got to McDonalds just before a marching group descended on them and got in our orders of non halal sausage mcmuffins served by a Muslim (how does that work?).  We then returned to the flat to continue packing and squeezing everything in our cases - space is getting tight, we think a new bag will have to be bought in KL to accommodate everything before we fly out.   Matt and Tom then went for a swim in the pool whilst I went in search of beer, pop and crisps to buy ready for our luxury hotel (we figure that we will get massively hit if we were to buy these at the hotel)

Then an hour's down time at the flat before handing back the keys to the flat and heading to the Marie Celeste shopping mall opposite us for a fantastic Japanese lunch.  Full bento for me, curry and rice for the boy and ebi tendon for Matt, all amazing and very authentic, they have 2 Japanese chefs, which helps.  We then got a taxi to the Rasa Ria.  Now I had been trying to get hold of the hotel to find out about their shuttle bus to and fro KK, but they were slow in answering and we got a bit annoyed with them.  When they finally got back to me, they told me it was 39RM per person.  We had a quick look on Grab (an Uber like taxi app)  and found they would do it for 39RM all in.  We went for Grab and had a very pleasant experience, they turned up about 2 minutes after the booking and drove the very long way to the resort through a torrential downpour, the rain hurtled down.  We actually felt sorry for the driver, who took loads of care, but of course it took ages in the rain and floods.

The view from our balcony
As we arrived we got a welcome gong and musical accompaniment.  Then the hard sell to upgrade (don't think so, this place cost us enough as it is!) and we were allowed in.  Now neither of us have ever stayed somewhere like this and at first we felt quite lost, especially as it was still raining.  We promised Tom a go in the swimming pool as soon as it stopped, but it never stopped, not until it got dark.  We had a quick look around, it is all very nice, lots of activities going on, the shop was reasonably priced, except for canned beer which was exceedingly expensive, so we did well to bring ours with us (and there is an empty fridge in the room which will come in very handy).  Restaurants are basically priced as they would be back home - money will not stretch here like it has been, but we have only spent 50% of the money we brought with us as everything has been much cheaper than expected (the difference between eating as a local rather than as a tourist, and of course we have had a free tea and beer and crisps for tea last night).  We found a games room where we tried to have a game of pool - Tom's ability isn't great...

We registered Tom as a child for children's activities - there is mocktail-making tomorrow and a nature detective thing happening on Thursday as well as other things. This took us ages as we couldn't find the children's area - we got to it eventually, miles away from the pool.  We didn't get to the beach as it was so miserable, hopefully tomorrow we will.  We then went back to our room, had a cheeky beer and played Uno (Tom won almost every game - how did he do it?).  We then got dressed and headed to the games room again - this time to play table tennis, which he picked up really quickly this time.  We only ever seem to play it on holiday, today he started off badly but finished really really well, very impressed.  We then went in search of tea, we enquired about the buffet, it was 158RM per person (50% off for Tom).  A little too much for our liking - we had had a big lunch, so then we went in search for the Italian, we searched and we search and we searched. We couldn't find it, so we asked and were directed.  OMG it was miles away, this place is enormous.  We sat down and got very attentive service - glass being refilled every 5 mins, we all got 2 appetisers FOC as tasters, and all enjoyed our meals: spaghetti in tomato sauce for Tom, gnocchi and Gorgonzola for me and lamb shank for Matt.  We then walked back to our room via the gardens, except we couldn't see much and got a little lost trying to find our way around.  Hopefully tomorrow we will have no rain and be able to work out how this place works - we are yet to find a map of the place.

Tell you what though, you could easily come here, sit in the 'bubble' of the hotel, do some activities and go home and say, oh yes I've been to Malaysia.  They haven't though, haven't seen one headscarf since I've been here.  There is no-where to walk to - the driveway here is long and to walk it would be too much in the heat, so there would be no interaction at all with the Malaysians except workers at the resort whom I guess are all very well selected.  Travelling is pretty much all about interaction and trying to experience a country as it is, using their transport etc etc, a holiday though, that's different I guess... 

Day 12: Kinabalu Nature Reserve and Poring Hot Springs

Mt. KInabalu in the sun
Wow, what a day, but unfortunately not for good reasons!  Today was our trip to the Kinabalu Nature Reserve and Poring Hot Springs, arranged by the same company who did the river cruise last week, so we were really looking forward to it.  We were picked up at 8.10am by a small coach and then went round the backpackers places picking up more and were then transferred to a bigger coach for the trip back up the mountain (we had passed the nature reserve on our way over from Sandakan)  It is a very windy and steep road, so we bedded in, made ourselves comfortable and enjoyed the view.  When we came from Sandakan, it was torrential rain and we were in the clouds so didn't see anything, today it was clear blue sky and the view was amazing.

Dwarfed by the mountain
Mt Kinabalu is just over 13,000ft, so taller than Mt Fuji, it has a very craggy top and sheer sides.  It doesn't look particularly climber friendly although many do walk up it every day (it takes two days to do it).  It has never snowed at the top.  Anyway it is a spectacular site.  We stopped off at a viewpoint at Nabalu Market.  The idea was to take photos of the mountain, have a toilet break and look around the market.  However, we only had time to take photos and go to the toilet, so we completely missed the market which was a shame, I do like a good market, and also spending money there means you are supporting the local community.

Nice view for lunch
Next we continued climbing up to the foot of the mountain, so much so that it disappeared from view. Our guide took us on a tour of the mountain garden which was interesting as she pointed out so many plants and was able to explain their good / bad properties to us.  She did go at 1,000 miles an hour though and woe betide you if you wanted to take a photo, you got left behind!  We were bundled back on the coach and then we had a 50 minute trip to Poring Hot Springs where we were having lunch.  Well the 50 minutes became 3.5 hours due to a landslide!  Ouch, the rumbles of discontent were getting louder.  We literally sat in a queue that went at about 1 meter every minute.

Lush forest

Matt in the Hot Spring
It was excruciating.  Our guide told us it was a landslide, and we know you can't account for these things, but she knew where the landslide was and taking into consideration the amount of time it was taking to crawl along the road, they should have abandoned the trip.  We ended up getting to our lunch stop at 3.30!  Not exactly lunch time.  Next stop should have been the canopy walkway in the rain forest, but that got cancelled as the walkway closed at 4pm.  We went straight to the hot springs, and were given 30 minutes to 'enjoy' them.  Well of course that isn't long enough, just as we were beginning to relax and enjoy them we had to rush back to get changed and back to the coach.

They were in a lovely location, just a shame we didn't get the chance to appreciate anything.

The world's largest flower
We then went to see a Raffleisia in bloom, well Matt did as it was 90RM (just under £18) for the 3 of us to go. We then got on the coach of doom and headed back to KK and yes, we got stuck in the same traffic jam again.  We got home at 9.40pm when we should have been back at 7pm.  Not a great day, so yesterday evening was spent composing a letter of complaint rather than blogging as we were not happy bunnies.  When we got back Tom went straight to bed so our tea was a can of beer and crisps!  Not a great end to not a great day!  Humpfh, a shame as everything else we have done here has been amazing.

One thing of note was that Tom was a complete angel, he didn't complain once, and was so well behaved.  We can't fault him at all on anything.  He got a massive hug and kiss and went to bed exhausted but happy after a very boring day.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Day 11: Kota Kinabalu

Matt's classy breakfast
Toady we had a day to explore the city of Kota Kinabalu.  It isn't the most beautiful of cities, and it is hot, hot, hot but the more you explore it, the more you find.

We had a lazy start to the day, we had yoghurts and then headed off in search of some 'proper' breakfast.  We read that the shopping mall next door to us, Centre Point has a basement food court with items for breakfast so we headed over.  Some of the eateries were open, but most were selling fried rice with a whole load of toppings most of which we didn't recognise and certainly couldn't stomach that early in the morning.

Whale (fish) rider?
We ended up in a Bornean rip off of KFC, 'Borenos' and had fried chicken with rice (me), fried chicken with cheesy sauce on top and rice with gravy (Matt - I tried it, it was revolting) and chicken burger with mash potato for Tom.  Not your average breakfast - but really all we could find before 10am when everything else opens up.

We then went for a wander up the coastline.  First stop was the Handicraft markets which were outside and full of loads and loads of stalls, all selling the same items.  The problem was the passage ways were very very narrow, and the items stacked up high, meaning you couldn't really see what was being sold.  Also if someone had stopped at a stall ahead of you, you couldn't get past them and would have to wind your way around them through other stalls. We saw a couple of things we liked:  Tom took a liking to a turtle, but we made him wait just in case he saw something else he liked, his holiday money is gradually running low.  Oh, I forgot to add, it was steaming hot in the markets, there was no air conditioning and no fans, the sweat was running down our backs again - lovely.

One of the many local fishing boats
Next we came to Central Markets - once again, no air conditioning, but this time there were fans and high ceilings which helps.  These were pretty much local markets for local people, so selling fruit, veggies, meat and other stuff in bags which we couldn't recognise.  There was then a separate room off which we walked through - it was the non-halal area - so pork in various forms.  This is normal, in fact we have discovered, and now think of as normal that beer and pork goods are always to be found in a separate room / fenced off area away from everything else so that they don't taint all the other goods in the shop.  With over 65% of the population being Muslim it is important.  Most restaurants are halal, the ones that aren't tend to be Chinese.

Pulau Gaya from KK waterfront
We then found ourselves back on a nice bit of promenade so continued to walk along that amongst fish statues to Suria the shopping mall at the end of the prom.  It is very picturesque: clear turquoise sea, fishing boats constantly coming in and out and cute islands in the bay covered in trees.  What's not to like?  We know you aren't supposed to walk around here, we are (as always) the exception to the rule and anyway, you find out the layout of a place much better if you walk it, but really you would expect an obvious pavement to an obvious entrance of a big mall from the promenade wouldn't you?  Oh no, we had to go past the service entrance and all the bins and cross the road and then enter through a side entrance.  Oh hum.  Anyway, we entered and found ourselves in glorious air conditioning, fantastic.  It took us quite a while to cool down, but we got there in the end.  We found a great shop selling Borneo souvenirs, including Tom's turtle at a much cheaper price than in the handicraft market! We pledged to go back on our way out as there were a few things Matt and I liked too.

Do people really do this?!
We had a good look round - mainly to try to get cool again, and found a huge Daiso - yay.  We got excited and somehow managed to buy half a basket of bits and pieces, it was much better than the one we found in KL.  By now we were flagging so headed to the food court for some lunch.  This time Tom went for fried chicken and chips, Matt went for Takoyaki and I went for veggie donburi all washed down with fancy fruit juices.  On the way out we went to the toilet.  Not a great event, but it confirmed a strange habit I wasn't sure about.  In lots of toilets in Malaysia there are notices saying no squatting with pictures of people standing on the toilet squatting.  I thought this must be an exaggeration, surely no-one would do that?   Well today I went to the toilet and had to wait ages. When I finally got a cubicle, the floor was very wet (they wash their bums with a water hose here which I still don't understand how to do without getting all your clothes soaked?).  So not a problem the floor was wet, but then when I looked at the seat of the toilet I noticed wet footprints.  I thought, maybe it is the patter of the seat, so touched them with my hand, they wiped away.  OMG, the person before me really did stand on the toilet seat and squat!  Great!  I didn't want to sit in their footprints, so then I had to squat over the toilet seat (feet on the floor) to use it as there was no toilet paper.  A funny Asian quirk I guess?

We then went to Jesselton Point, which is a ferry terminal for those staying in hotels on the surrounding islands. Next on the planner was to walk up the hill to Signal Hill Observatory Tower.  It took us a while to find it, but we got there in the end and had a well deserved ice cream.  We then got a taxi back to our apartment, we had walked a long way in the heat.  First on the agenda was a dip in the pool, we got ready, Tom went to get his snorkel, but couldn't find it!  We spent 30 minutes stripping the apartment upside down trying to find it, but it was nowhere to be found.  All we can think of is that he left it down by the pool yesterday and forgot to bring it back amongst the chaos of us trying to work out how to get back to our apartment.  We asked at reception and the security guards who went to find it for us, but no luck.  They found a pair of googles but no mask and snorkel, so we have assume that someone walked off with them.  Such a shame as they were quite expensive, and Tom loved them - he was really upset but knew it was his fault and there was no resolution, he hasn't enough money to buy anymore and he needs to learn a lesson on looking after his property.  I was hoping he would be able to snorkel in the sea at the resort hotel we are going to, but I guess that won't happen now!
Downtown KK from Signal Hill Observatory

We got back to the apartment, had showers, put the laundry on and had some downtime before heading out for sunset and tea.  The sunset didn't really happen today unfortunately so we walked south down the boardwalk to another huge shopping mall.  Once again, I know the culture here is to drive everywhere, but if you are going to build a huge shopping mall at the end of a boardwalk prom, surely you would put some sort of pedestrian crossing across the 6 lanes of busy road so you can access it?!  Apparently not!  There was a road tunnel to the mall for cars, so we walked down that and suffered the heat and fumes being spat out by the cars, but really!!!!!!!

We found a very cute shop in there called Kaison and somehow came out with a measuring elephant?!!!!  Then tea in a Malay restaurant (fried rice for me and Tom, and roti and chicken curry for Matt).  Then a walk back a different way (we still had to negotiate a huge, busy road with no pedestrian crossing) to take a very tired Tom home to bed (think we may have slightly overdone it today!)

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Day 10: Sandakan to Kota Kinabalu

Sleeping with bears
Today we reluctantly said goodbye to Sandakan.  We really enjoyed our stay there, great apartment, lovely smiley people and great wildlife.  What more can you need for a holiday.  Wish we had stayed longer.

Oh well, one of Jocelyn's staff came by to take us to the Express bus terminal - funny thing about express coaches in Malaysia - the terminals seem to be in the middle of industrial estates way out of the city centre.  Not sure how that is convenient for anyone other than teksi drivers?!

Anyway we got our Tung Ma Express Coach to Kota Kinabalu with no trouble.  It wasn't brand new, but comfortable enough, we were at the front which meant we had the best view and Matt was sat next to a Primary School teacher who had good English so they were nattering away for a while.  He showed interest in Tom's diary and actually read it from cover to cover and then said that his standard of writing is better than his students (I'm sure he was being nice).  Malaysians use the Roman alphabet, so he can directly compare how the letters etc are formed, Tom's writing isn't the best though, a little bit on the messy side...

Waiting for the off
Tom and I settled down to watch the Palm Oil plantations whizz past.  We stopped a way out of Sandakan where a whole load of women came on board to sell us nuts, crisps and dried fruit and then 2.5 hours in we stopped for a lunch break.  We had brought nibbles with us, so we just had an ice-cream as it was quite hot (nicely air conditioned on the coach though).

We were treated to entertainment on the coach, two videos were put on for our enjoyment.  The first, called Kong: Skull Island, was a little on the ridiculous side (even though it stared John Goodman and Samuel L Jackson, who both should have known better), the second called Logan was a Wolverine film and massively violent and full of the F word, and it had English subtitles on it.  Not great with an 8 year old on the front row.  He had his iPad on and I was happy for him to use it as much as he wanted.  This he did until he got snoozy and instantly fell asleep on me.  A good way for him to spend the journey as he hasn't been going to sleep until quite late this holiday and must be behind.

Being on the front row we got to see the driving of the Malaysians on the road.  Now, Matt quite happily drove around Sandakan with no incidents, the Malaysians are pretty law abiding and chilled when it comes to driving.  They also drive on the same side as us which makes it easy for us.  He said that he felt more at ease driving here than in Spain or Italy for example.  However, there is only one road to Kota Kinabalu from Sandakan and it is only a small road, which is full of palm oil tankers going slowly, meaning the coach has to overtake them - not always at the most sensible places!  There were a few hairy moments believe me.  However, the driver did his job and got us to KK in one piece.  The first half of the trip was quite dull, but the second half of the trip was spent going up, up, up twisty roads to the Mt Kinabalu Reserve, at one point we were at 5,000 ft and still the mountain rose up above us.  We then drove through the clouds down to KK.  It rained on us at this point and when I say rain, I mean poured, the coach almost became a boat as the road disappeared under storm water.
The Labuk River

As I said we arrived into KK with no incident.  We then had to get a taxi to our Air B&B apartment as the coach terminal was so far out from the town centre.  The taxi driver was so efficient that he drove off with the door still open and without Matt!  The crowd and us had to stop him - he laughed.  Matt was unimpressed, so then he said sorry!  We got to the apartment block and were greeted at once by Mark our host who took us to our apartment.  It is the biggest to date, but much older and tireder than the others.  Oh well, I think we have been spoilt until now, so can't really complain, especially as we are off to a posh hotel after here.  Tom wanted to go to the pool, so we all headed down for a refresh and snorkel.  We then headed back to the apartment to find that we couldn't get back through the door to the apartment block.  The key didn't work and there was no-where to scan the access card!  We tried other doors, all the same.  We asked some girls in an office, once again they couldn't help.  Hum, how do we get out of the pool?  We saw a security guard but he was busy talking in a walkie talkie.  We asked a teenager, who tried to help us by asking the security guard but got abuse from him for interrupting - oops!  Finally we found a way out and then walked all the way around the apartment block again to get in.  It seemed very wrong, but at least we got back to our flat.  How strange!
All too much

We had quick showers and then headed out to the mall opposite us for tea. We were expecting a busy, thriving mall as the adverts on the outside displayed Sports Direct, Starbucks, Nando's, Pla-Rail (someone was very excited), Hard Rock Cafe etc etc.  When we got in, it was like K village, empty!  the Pla-Rail shop is closing down, there was no Starbucks, no Sports Direct, Nando's had about 2 customers and Hard Rock Cafe was too expensive!  Humm, every other unit was closed.  How disappointing. However, it did have a Japanese restaurant which we decided to patronise, and were very glad we did as it was amazing, the best Japanese food we have had this trip.  We all cheered up.

We then went on the search for a convince store to buy some breakfast, although we found some convenience stores, we didn't find anything for breakfast, so we bought some drinks and came back to the flat.  We will explore in the morning, much easier in the day light.

Day 9: Sun Bears

Our stunning hire car
We all slept in today - why not, we deserved it after yesterday!  We decided to have an easy morning, so had breakfast and then headed to the pool with Ali as we hadn't been in it for 2 days, much to Tom's disgust!  We had it to ourselves and spent a pleasant hour in it, Tom with snorkel (don't think he will ever contemplate swimming without it now) and us in goggles, trying to be good and doing some lengths.  We got out, back to the flat and packed ready for tomorrow, the downside of multi-centre holidays: the constant messy suitcases (we don't unpack properly - what's the point?!)

Once we had done most of it, we got the car and headed back to Sepilok.  We had noticed that the Orang-utan place had a restaurant attached to it, so we wanted to patronise it, mainly for the sake of the orang-utans.  It was a really good restaurant actually, food was fresh and tasty.  Tom had a prawn omelette, Matt a beef curry and me a veggie noodle soup.

The Sepilok Giant - the tallest tree in the area
Once finished we headed to the Sun Bear Sanctuary which is mainly for maltreated bears - ones that have been captured for pets or even worse for bile production.  This is a little slice of heaven for them, they live in a fence area of rain forest (a large area of course) and are looked after and fed until they are ready to return to the wild.  Guess who we bumped into...Elod from yesterday.  He seemed happy to see us.

We were expecting to see one or two, but there were loads.  A walkway above the forest floor took us around a couple of the enclosures from which we could spot them and loads of long and short tailed macaques - well there was a lot of free food around for them to steal - which they did!  You know yesterday when we saw macaques we were amazed, today we were almost blasé about it all, however, saying that we did stop to watch them for quite a while and Matt got some more fantastic photographs.

We stayed at the sanctuary a good 2.5 hours, watching the bears.  Most of them were up in trees, but one pair came down to eat some food right in front of us which was very kind of them.  Sun Bears are the smallest of all the bears and called so because they have a golden mark on their chest - every one is different - so like a finger print.  They are very cute and look very cuddly, we could have watched them all day, even though the sweat was dripping off us whilst doing so.

We finally broke away from them and headed in to have an ice-cream and watch a video about them.  Tom bought a toy sun bear with his holiday money (this is where the orang-utan place fails because they didn't have any soft toy orang-utans for sale.  I'm sure if they did, we would have another one by now!)

Sun bear cub
We then headed up the road a little to the Rain Forest Discovery Centre to go on some walkways above the canopy to see what we could see.  We didn't get there until after 3.30 so were hoping to see the same sort of wildlife we saw on the river yesterday, but it wasn't too be, not sure if it was because it wasn't there or because we couldn't see it without a guide to spot it for us.  Tom did see a Giant Tree Squirrel and I came across a tiny snake, but apart from that we didn't see anything.  We heard plenty though - mainly insects but I'm sure some of the noise was coming from birds and primates too.  We walked all the walkways and climbed all the towers and went to see the biggest tree in the area, and all the time it was hot, hot, hot and ridiculously humid.  We were hoping for a rain storm to cool us down, but it didn't happen today, it just remained hot and humid.  Yuck.

Bear in a tree
At 5pm we gave up, we didn't think we would be able to find anything, maybe the lack of rain and wind and coolness meant the animals weren't out.  We drove back to Sandakan via Giant Supermarket to get some snacks for the coach ride tomorrow as we aren't sure if we will stop en-route during the journey (I did ask when we booked tickets, but the ticketing lady didn't understand me).  It can take up to 7 hours, so I figured we needed supplies just in case.  Oh and this time the non-halal section was open so we managed to get some beer for the evening - yahooo.  Not that we need a drink to enjoy ourselves, but we are on holiday and a drink before bed after spending the day sweating is a nice treat.  Must say thought that we are loving the culture of soft drink mocktails and freshly pressed juices here, they are all delicious and sooooooooo cheap, we are practically living on them and loving them.  Wish they were available like this in the UK.  Not sure a mocktail bar would work in Ingleton though!

Short tailed macaque
We got back, had much needed showers, put on clean clothes and then headed to the local shops for tea.  This time we thought we would go back to Mel's Fresco Bites as the food there was good.  Tom and Matt ordered fried rice and I ordered something Malay (Google translated it as wet fried chicken?!) Whilst we were waiting we had some freshly bbq'd chicken wings for a starter - they were delicious too.   Then we waited and waited and waited and waited for our mains.  They didn't come.  Everyone in the cafe got served their food including those who arrived after us and still it didn't come.  Then we noticed that the waiter who served us had disappeared!  I made it very obvious with my body language that something was wrong and the girls started to go through slips whilst pointing to us.  In the end they came over and asked if we were waiting for something!  Ah ha!  We had to re-order.  Tom's came first, then Matt's and then finally mine.  (It was noodles with chicken in a gravy).  It was all very tasty, just a shame we had to wait so long, especially as we had promised ourselves one last mocktail at Cafe Classico to say goodbye to our friends.  Tom decided he had drunk enough, but I had a calamansi mojito (really yummy) and Matt a Classico Breeze (watermelon thingy).  We said goodbye and headed back to the apartment to put Tom to bed - it was past 9pm.

We leave Sandakan tomorrow morning, shame as we have really loved it here, we are in such a great location, fabulous apartment, lovely people all around us.  Think we would have happily stayed a week if we could!  Oh hum, a long coach journey to KK tomorrow.

Friday, 25 August 2017

Day 8: Cave and River

Giant millipede
Wow what a very long, very exciting day we've had.  The best day so far!

So, this was a day trip that I booked from the UK.  To go to Gomantong Cave (which David Attenborough has been to) and Kinabatangan River from which we had a boat trip to try to see some animals.

Huge moth
It all started at 9.00 when we were picked up from our apartment complex dead on time (a good sign).  We then went to Sepilok to drop someone up before going to a supermarket to pick up some face masks (apparently the smell at Gomantong Cave is really bad) and then a 2.5 hour drive to the Cave.  It wasn't the most thrilling of drives, the road was lined with Palm Oil plantations, so it is the same vegetation you see mile after mile after mile.  However, as soon as you turn off the road, you are deposited straight into rain forest.  This we did and suddenly the bus came to a halt - our guide Elod, very excited, as he had spotted some gibbons.  We all shot out of the van (there were 7 of us) me in a state of undress (I was wearing zip off trousers and was just putting the legs on, I had one leg on and one leg off!)  They weren't close enough to photograph, but we saw them - 5 of them larking in the trees, wow they really do fly through the air, a delight to see them swinging and falling through the trees.  Our guide was really excited because he said that was the first time he had ever seen a gibbon.

Horseshoe bats inside the cave
Once they had gone we carried on to the cave. There was a boardwalk down to it and we walked slowly down, hoping to see some wildlife, but other than some orang-utan nests (orang-utans build a new nest every day to sleep in - as they don't have a tail they need a nest to be safe at night) and some rather wonderful centipedes and millipedes, we didn't see anything. We could pretty much smell the cave before we saw it, our guide was right, it did smell strongly of ammonia.  Tom was glad of his mask.  

Red leaf monkey
So the cave was ENORMOUS, it was the white cave.  This is the place where the birds' nests for birds nest soup are harvested (4 times a year).  The nests are made by the spit of Swiftlets - small birds who live in the cave and are harvested by men using quite primitive equipment in the dark - rather them than me, they get paid about £4,000 a month to do it (the ones up the ladder - £1,000 for those at the bottom of the ladder) .  The cave is also the haunt of the Horseshoe Bat, and there were 1,000s of them.  All of their droppings were on the floor, making the stench.  Elod said that if we were to walk on the floor, we would be up to over our knees in bat droppings!  Some of the bats were awake and circling around above us.  Mainly though the cave was home to lots of horrible creepy crawlies: billions of cockroaches who were keen to feast on any bat or bird who dropped to the floor, spiders and a long legged centipede which would slowly paralyse you if it were to be bitten by it. Nice!

We had a good look around, Elod, spotting things as we went - he had a powerful torch and green laser light to help us see things.  We came out and he found us a lime tree, pulled some leaves off and let us sniff them to get rid of the stench of the cave.  We then all washed our boots - as they were covered in bat droppings.  We then walked back to the bus.  This time, the trees by the boardwalk were teaming with monkeys.  First we found a group of red leaf monkeys.  They were brilliant, near enough to photo (just) and a big group.  They were fascinating to watch.  As we were watching them we heard some drips come through the leaves, yep, one of them was doing a wee and it landed on our guide Elod, who was very very unhappy about it - unfortunately for him it was really funny and we fell about laughing.

Young proboscis monkey
As we carried on we left the red leaf monkeys behind and came across a group of short tailed macaques.  Once again there were loads of them and they were running through the trees, jumping here and there.  Wow, we came out of the forest very very happy, our guide said that he could hear something big and was sure that there was an orang-utan around, but it didn't come near enough to us to see (the jungle is so so dense that any animal less than a metre away is impossible to spot!)

Black hornbill - amazing looking creatures
We got back to the bus and headed towards the lodge for lunch.  We didn't know what to expect.  We got off the bus and were deposited by the river where a boat came along.  Oh, we were getting a boat to the lodge.  It was a long speed boat and a fun way to arrive for lunch.  The lodge was lovely, all made from wood and open to the air and elements.  We took our footwear off and headed into the seating area where we were treated to a buffet lunch: rice, tandoori chicken, fish flavoured with coconut and wrapped in leaves, Japanese cucumbers (still not sure what this was) and some sort of pak choi which is the 'green vegetable' of choice around here, finished off with pineapple and watermelon.  All very tasty.  We then had some down time which was very welcome as it had been a very hot morning at the cave.

River Kinabatangan
Also at the lodge was a large group of Brits also travelling with children (an Explore/Exodus group - I saw the baggage!).  Tom made friends with some of the boys and played volley football.  Get this - as he was getting to know them they were asking each other where they were from, the boy, Lewis was from Nottingham, but he knew the Yorkshire Dales because he had been camping in a place called Meadow Falls!  A coincidence or to be expected when we travel because we always find something in common with the people we meet!  Anyway, Tom played for about an hour and came back to us dripping in sweat and very red in the face.  We dipped his head in cold water and got him an ice lolly to try to cool him down.  At 3.30 we had a briefing about the 10 primates we might spot on the river cruise and at 4.00 we headed off on our speed boats, looking for them.  The cruise takes place in the late afternoon because that is when the animals come out and get ready for bed.

Bilit Adventure Lodge

At 3.30 as the briefing began suddenly there was a wind!  Literally one minute it was still and very very hot and humid and then it was windy!  At 4.00 the rain came.  So we all put our raincoats on and went barefoot into the boats to go speeding down the river.  Tom and I had the best seats at the front of the boat.  At first we didn't see anything except for an Egret, and were beginning to wonder if we would see anything, but then we headed down a tributary.  The first thing we saw were some rope bridges across the river - these have been put up by the government to help the non swimming primates to cross the river (orang-utans can't swim, macaques can) and then Elod stopped the boat, he had found a tree full of Proboscis monkeys.  Wow!  They were a bachelor group and most of them small, but there were loads of them, the trees were literally dripping in monkeys.   We sat there watching them for ages, it really is mesmerising watching them going through their day to day antics. 

Long tailed macaque
Next we found a tree full of long tailed macaques.  Once again there were loads of them.  One of the males was low down by the river and we managed to get really really close to him.  So close that if he wanted he could have jumped into the boat.  (We were told that macaques are quite vicious and to not look them in the eye).  Luckily he stayed there and was very still meaning we could get really good photos of him.  We eventually tore ourselves away from that bunch and found a tree with some silver leaf monkeys in it.  As soon as they heard the boat they ran away, but still we saw them.  The rest of the trip was spent spotting more and more monkeys.  Mostly long tailed macaques.  Tom was completely enthralled by being in a speed boat and seeing all the wildlife, he even asked questions of Elod completely unprompted and good questions too. 

As dusk descended we saw more birds, mainly hornbills - those weird birds with the huge horny tusk on the top of their beak.  There were loads of them, and they are so elegant when in the sky. 

After what felt like 10 minutes in the boat, our 2 hours were up and we turned around and went back towards the lodge.  One more stop to see a mangrove snake curled up in a tree - how anyone spotted that is beyond me.  We then went under the rope bridges and found to our delight that there were lots of long tailed macaques using them to get from one side to the other.  We stopped to watch, but it was getting darker and darker so we had to break and go back to the lodge. 
Macaques crossing the river

Then a short loo break and back across the river to our bus and back to our apartment in Sandakan, which took a good 2.5 hours.  Tom unsurprisingly fell asleep on my shoulder, even though the road was very bumpy.  We got home at 8.45pm.  We were hungry!  Matt drove over to Cafe Classico to get some take away burgers and chips, whilst I got Tom showered and changed and started unpacking the wet dirty clothes from the day.  Matt wasn't long, the owner wouldn't let him pay for our tea as we are now his friends.  Wow!  A fantastic end to a great day.  Think we will need to take it easy tomorrow.

A round of up of animals we saw yesterday:
+ Gibbons
+ Short Tailed Macaques
+ Red Leaf Monkeys
+ Horseshoe Bats
+ Pigmy Squirrel
+ Black Nest Swiftlets
+ Long Tailed Macaques
+ Proboscis Monkeys
+ Silver Leaf Monkey
+ Hornbills: Black, Oriental & Wrinkle
+ Egrets
+ Kingfisher
+ Purple Heron
+ Mangrove Snake
+ Water Monitor Lizard
+ Millipedes
+ Centipedes
+ Cockroaches
+ Sun Skin Lizard
+ Huge Butterflies