Dear my little brothers (yes, to me, you are still my cute-looking and adorable bros),
B’ Phay and I recently traveled to Borneo Island, visiting famous tourists spots in Kinabalu, Sabah. We were so ecstatic that we dismissed all negative news about conflicts arose by Filipinos who claimed land inherited by their predecessors. The deadly battle turned out to only take place in Lahat Datu, located extremely far away from major landmarks in the western part of Sabah. Moral of the story, don’t let your mind being swayed by media’s terror; what’s bad on TV may not necessarily a fair reflection of reality.
We thought that we were smart to quickly secure Air Asia’s promotion rate of SGD88 for return ticket from the usual price of SGD200++. The rate was so appealing and I was so joyful that finally I could climb one of the highest mountains. It turned out that we were not smart enough. Most climbers aimed to secure a place at Laban Rata, the only lodge nestled along the trail before continuing to climb at 2am to reach the summit during sunrise time, three to four months in advanced. The monopolistic nature of lodging operation makes it even more impossible to get a vacant room only 1-2 months before our departure. We tried calling tour agencies, but they either replied that there was no spot left or asked for astronomically high price, roughly around RM900 for ONE person! After careful back and forth discussion, we decided not to pursue with the idea of climbing to the summit.
We arrived at Kinabalu International Airport at 8pm local time and looked for transfer to our first hotel. There was only one taxi counter, so we approached them and paid RM30. The journey to the city center was relatively short, around 10-15 minutes (that’s when we thought that RM30 was a bit overpriced, for Malaysia’s standard). We then checked-in to urban chic budget hotel, Eden 54. The interior design is not bad, given its low price of RM50. At least, it has cable TV, private shower complete with hot water. After settling down and dropping our luggage, we walked around the city to find somewhere nice to dine. We were advised to go to the night market, unfortunately, our stomach was growling even harder and we had to stop our quest and satisfied with small and descent Sulawesi hawker-style spot. From the name, it is obviously coming from Indonesia. We ordered Soto Ayam and Meatball Soup whose tastes were exactly the same (I bet they are using the same gravy). It was not a great closing for our day in Kinabalu, but it was good enough to tame down our hunger.
The next day, we were ready for our mountainous adventure, located 2 hours from city center. We went to Padang Street and as advised by our taxi driver, we joined his friend for cab-sharing to Mount Kinabalu. Initially, it sounded like a good deal as sedan-type taxi is only fitted for four people, so we only had to wait for two more passengers. Then we waited and waited… for almost an hour! It was such a waste of time, especially as we witnessed other buses, taxis, and chartered cars went by. We felt cheated. To cut the crap of waiting even longer, we told the taxi driver that we would pay an extra charge of the remaining passenger (additional RM20) and then we made moves.
The journey was even longer than two hours and to our horror, we were dropped at the side of the street and not at our lodging! It was still 1 km to reach Kinabalu Mountain Lodge which literally located at the mountain (I am a bit exaggerated here, but the path involves walking up and down the hills). I felt pity for B’Phay who had to drag 20kgs luggage for around 20 minutes (But I was devilishly laughing at him. I know sometimes, I could be very ruthless…) The view from the lodging was stunning. The high position surely brings the advantage; It is so high that the mist and cloud seems to be lower than the balcony where we hanged out while waiting for the magnificent sunsets from afar.
The hiking to Kinabalu was more challenging than we initially thought. Many steps are 50-cm high that we had to constantly stop and rest, take a deep breath and then continue with the trekking. We only went up for 1.5km then decided to walk down as it started drizzling and looked very grey (even if the weather was perfect, I doubted that I could hike even higher). To make up for our lazy attempt, we decided to walk from Timpohon Gate to the Kinabalu HQ for an hour. It was already 3.30pm and there was a moment where the mist was blocking and limiting the visibility of roads ahead of us. It was really cool but also spooky (there were only two of us walking down the street; the rests opted for car transfer to HQ).
On the third day, we went to Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park for island hopping. We had to take ferry from Jesselton Ferry Terminal, was directed to Counter 5 (Borneo Ferry Tour and Travel) by our taxi driver. We paid around RM48 per person, with park conservation fee and two island-transport included. The ferry ride resembled a bumpy roller coaster ride, as the boatman sped and deliberately maneuvered his boat in a certain way that all passengers would constantly get the water splash. It was really fun. The view was also breathtaking and reminded me so much of Lombok with its bluish and greenish crystal water and pristine sand. We were dropped to Mamutik first, following tips from Tripadvisor. I swam near the shore, hopping to get a chance of witnessing colorful fish. It was a wishful thinking and I found nothing on the sea ground. I tried different areas and decided to join a group of three people who swam further from the shore. When I got closer to them, I found that they were feeding the fish, no wonder they were surrounded by them. It was a different experience from Lombok, where we snorkeled in much deeper water and enjoyed a more natural beauty of marine life. As the sun set high and burnt my skin, I decided to just chill out at the islands (our next step was Manukan) and read the book. It was pretty relaxing.
At 4pm, we returned to the main ferry terminal. We hanged out at the cafe row along the harbor. I liked the breezy air, again while doing my reading, and eating crepes. At night, we managed to find the sought-after seafood night market (it is within walking distance from the Winner Hotel). The tent covered up dozen tables (or even more) and each long table was owned by different vendor. The seafood selection was great and we chose pomfret, squid, and a slew of seaweed as the vegetable. The chili sauce was a great addition, and it was only RM36 for two people! An amazing deal and the best food we had in Kinabalu!
Overall, we enjoyed our gateway in Kinabalu. The people were friendly, the landmark was astonishing, definitely worth it! Next destination, it will be Bromo!
 Nevertheless, I was extremely anxious after knowing that UN peacekeepers were killed by Sudan’s rebels in a convoy. May everything is more in order during Tatat’s deployment.