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Part 3: Kota Kinabalu, Garama river, Pulau Tiga

9.8-10.8: Munich -> Dubai -> KL
11.8: KL
12.8: KL
13.8: KL -> Khao Lak
20.8: Bangkok -> Kuala Lumpur -> Kota Kinabalu
21.8: Kota Kinabalu -> Garama river -> Kota Kinabalu
22.8: Kota Kinabalu -> Pulau Tiga -> Kota Kinabalu
23.8: Kota Kinabalu -> Mari Mari cultural village -> Sandakan
24.8: Sandakan -> Sepilok -> Sandakan
25.8: Sandakan -> Pulau Berhala -> Lahad Datu
26.8: Lahad Datu -> Tabin wildlife reserve -> Lahad Datu
27.8: Lahad Datu -> KK -> Mamutik and Sapi -> KK
28.8: KK -> Mantanani island
29.8: Mantanani -> KK -> KL
30.8: KL -> Singapore
31.8: Singapore -> KL
1.9: KL -> Munich via Dubai

20.8: Bangkok -> Kuala Lumpur -> Kota Kinabalu
Hotel Le hotel, Kota Kinabalu. RM 138 for a tiny basic room (12 mē) with adjustable A/C, flat screen TV, free WLAN, attached bathroom with shower, tea making equipment. Very little water coming out of the water basin. The room is on a busy and noisy street (very noisy even after midnight). The room is ok if you don't mind the noise, but not terribly good value.
Weather: overcast in the morning in Bangkok, around 11am the sky opens up a bit. Similar weather in Kuala Lumpur. In Kota Kinabalu in the evening quite fresh. Apparently it has been raining the whole day.

We take a taxi (200 Baht + 105 Baht of highway tolls) to Don Muang airport at 10am. The trip takes only 25 minutes, because there isn't much traffic. Then we check in and proceed to the gate.

At the airport I call again the Mantanani resort because they still haven't sent the booking confirmation, even if yesterday I sent them all my details. Today they tell me that the weather is bad in Mantanani and they don't recommend that I come. This is strange, because the Internet weather forecast for tomorrow is good. I wonder if they really want to have me as a customer.

Don Muang airport is a shadow of what it once was. The infrastructure is old and there are far fewer shops now than there were years ago when it was the main airport of Bangkok. I notice three airlines serving it: Airasia, Nok Air and a third one (offering a flight to Nanning this morning).

The Airasia 1:10pm flight takes off on time and lands in KLIA LCCT about 10 minutes early at 4:10pm. Huge queue at the immigration counters. We retrieve our luggage and then I split from Shirley and the kids who will stay in KL.

I check in for the Kota Kinabalu flight and have a meal in the food court. Then I proceed to the gate.

The 18:35 Airasia flight is delayed for some reason and only leaves at 7pm. The plane is about 3/4 full. It lands in Kota Kinabalu with a delay of 15 minutes. After that I proceed speedily through immigration, retrieve my luggage and take a taxi to the hotel. Quite expensive taxi (RM 30), given the short distance (only 7km).

21.8: Kota Kinabalu -> Garama river -> Kota Kinabalu
Hotel Le hotel, Kota Kinabalu.
Weather: thin clouds layer on KK, some patches of blue sky every now and then. Mostly sunny. Not too hot. No rain.

I get out of the hotel at 11am and walk towards the Sabah tourist office. On the way I spot a travel agency (Marudu Express Travel Service, wonderfulsabah at gmail.com, +60 16 8055133, no website yet) and check what tours they offer. A couple of tours are interesting: daytrip to Mantanani for RM 250 and daytrip to Pulau Tiga for RM 230.

The problem is that these tours are fully booked over the next few days because of the Chinese school holidays. It seems that this operator is catering for the Chinese market (PRC) and in China at the moment there are school holidays.

So I arrive in the Sabah tourist office and enquire about various options. I get to hear the following from a lady who seems to be quite knowledgeable:
  • Daytrips to Tabin are apparently possible, but I need to get in touch with an operator (Tabin Wildlife Holidays Sdn Bhd, www.tabinwildlife.com.my) to arrange the daytrip. This is the operator who charges RM 2500 for a 3D/2N package in Tabin (with single supplement). Will call them tomorrow to check.
  • The Maliau basin is apparently best accessed from Keningau.
  • The road between Keningau and Tawau will be ready in 2014. For now a 4WD is needed when driving between these two places.
  • She doesn't know much about islands near Sandakan, except for Lankayan and Turtle island. Apparently daytrips to Lankayan are not available.
After that I walk to tour operator opposite the tourist office (Only in Borneo Tours Sdn Bhd) and enquire about tours. Tabin tours are too expensive, but they have a Garama river tour starting at 1pm (until 9:30pm) for RM 180. I book this, in order to explore a bit the area and not waste the day. They tell me they have no availability for Mantanani for tomorrow and that the weather in Mantanani is bad right now.

Then I walk to Wisma Sabah and check with more travel operators. There is one (WB Tours & Travel Sdn Bhd) who has tours to Tiga and Mantanani. These tours are more expensive however: Tiga for RM 350 and Mantanani for RM 300 (which later become RM 420). Regarding the RM 230 price of Marudu, she claims there tour is much better, safer, with better food etc.

I don't have much choice here, because Marudu is fully booked, so I book the Tiga tour for tomorrow and later also the Mantanani tour for after tomorrow. The price rises to RM 420 (!) because apparently all cheaper tours are sold out and this more expensive one visits two islands (Manatanani Besar and Kecil), while cheaper tours only visit one. I have to admit here that I'm not the best bargainer and sometimes I just want to close a deal and avoid wasting time looking for cheaper deals.

In any case it's almost 1pm, so I rush to a bakery to get some lunch, then head to the Only in Borneo tour operator, where the driver is already waiting for me. We start soon and pick up other guests.

This picking up activity lasts until 2pm, i.e. until 2pm we are in KK picking up other tour participants. Then it will take two hours of driving to get to the Garama river camp of this travel operator.

It's actually a quite tedious drive, which tomorrow I'll have to do again, because the trip to Tiga is overland is overland and only the last section from Kuala Penyu is by boat. It would have been better to stay overnight somewhere in the Klias peninsula.

Anyway, shortly after 4pm we reach this camp and have a Hi Tea (tea or coffee, fried bananas and some brown rice things). The actual boat trip on the Garama river starts at 4:45pm.

Our group gets onto three motor boats which until 6:30pm will cruise up and down the Garama river. We spot a few proboscis monkeys colonies along the way, although most monkeys are quite far away and do not exactly pose for us. They actually observe us from a distance, hiding behind the leaves.

At 6:30pm we are back and have a dinner (food is so-so, a bit dry and not too tasty). Then at 7:10pm, when it is dark already (lots of mosquitoes by the way), we get back to the boats, looking for fireflies. And we quickly find several trees with these insects. Quite cool light show.

Then, at 7:30pm we start driving back towards Kota Kinabalu. I'm back in the hotel at 10pm.

22.8: Kota Kinabalu -> Pulau Tiga -> Kota Kinabalu
Hotel Le hotel, Kota Kinabalu.
Weather: similar to yesterday. Some clouds in Kota Kinabalu, but mostly sunny in Pulau Tiga (kind of milky-blue sky, every now and then some clouds). No rain, but around 3pm I can see some thunderstorms over the mainland far away. Good weather in KK after 5pm.

The day starts early at 7:15am. I get into the minivan for the Pulau Tiga tour and surprise, surprise, today we don't spend one hour touring KK, picking up people. It seems that today I'm the only person on this tour.

We proceed speedily along the coast, reaching Kuala Penyu shortly after 9am. At 9:35am the boat trip towards Pulau Tiga starts. On the boat there are two people from the tour company (jaholidays.com.my): a boat driver and a guide.

We first head to snake island (Pulau Ular), arriving there shortly after 10am. In fact the boat ride between the mainland and Pulau Tiga only takes about 25 minutes.

There are three islands in the Pulau Tiga area: Pulau Tiga itself, a largish, heavily forested island, this Snake island which is very small, perhaps 100m x 100m and only 10m high, and a sand bar island, very flat with some vegetation, also very small.

I'm surprised that on this small (snake) island there are tall trees, which for sure must be a few decades old at least. They must be getting enough water from the rain.

On the snake island the guide looks for snakes, but can't find any today. So after about 20 minutes (you don't need much more time to explore the entire island), we proceed to the next island, the sand bar island.

Here there is a very nice white coral sand beach and the sea water is also quite clean, almost crystal clear. This is a nice place where to spend the day on the beach. The only problem is that there is very little shadow (just a few tall trees in the middle of this sand bar), so if you spend several hours here you end up getting roasted under the sun.

We don't spend much time here and at 10:45am proceed to Pulau Tiga.

After 10 minutes the driver stops the boat in a place southwest of Tiga, perhaps 200m from the beach.

This is the snorkelling spot and in fact there is some coral below. The sea water is not that clear however, probably because we are not that far away from the coast.

We spend some time snorkelling/swimming in this area, then at 11:25am proceed towards Pulau Tiga, arriving at the main beach five minutes later. The main beach lies on the western side of Pulau Tiga, the one facing the mainland.

There are two jetties on this main beach, one of the Pulau Tiga resort, and another one belonging to some other establishment (not clear if this is a resort, but probably it is one). The beach is a few hundred metres long, but very narrow. Or perhaps right now there is high tide.

This main beach consists of white coral sand but is quite dirty. Part of the problem is the sea currents which flow from west to east and push all rubbish and dirt on this beach. Then there is also carelessness of the resort staff, who don't bother to clean up the beach.

The beach immediately in front of the Pulau Tiga resort is very dirty and messy. In addition, there is also a lot of junk stuff lying behind the beach. Hard to understand that a resort, which is not that cheap, cares so little about the beauty of its immediate surroundings.

Anyway, we land on this beach and proceed with a box full of food to one of the picnic places. It's 11:35am now and the guide suggests to have lunch. Now it turns out that the lunch is pretty disgusting.

The problem comes from the fact that all food has been cooked in the early morning and has been put into plastic boxes for transportation. Now it's almost noon and all food is cold. A bit disgusting to eat cold cooked stuff. The meat consists of deep fried chicken wings. The tour costs RM 350 (RM 120 more than the other offer), but they have to save a few RM on the meat. I end up only eating some rambutan fruits, leaving the food untouched.

At 12pm we start walking towards the mud volcanoes. It's a trail through the forest which after 1.2km leads to a place with grey mud ponds. Apparently there is some kind of underground thermal activity, because bubbles keep coming up.

It's sort of two pools, each a few metres wide, in which people bathe. I'd like to bathe there as well, but where is the shower?, Well, there is no shower here. After you finish bathing in the pools you have to walk back towards the beach and either swim in the sea, or take a shower in the public facilities. Since I have a camera bag with expensive camera gear which should't get in touch with mud, I skip the mud bath.

But there are several tourists (a few Dutch, and a large group of Chinese) who are having a great time in the mud bath, even diving completely into this mud pool.

At 12:40pm we start walking back to the beach. We'll stay there until about 2:30pm, relaxing and swimming in the sea. Then we fetch the boat and by 3pm we are back in Kuala Penyu. Then we drive back to Kota Kinabalu.

On the way back I have phone and email exchange with the travel agency. In the end the trip to Mantanani for tomorrow is cancelled, because they are unable to confirm whether it will take place or not.

The problem seems to be the weather (strong wind, rough seas). They can only confirm tomorrow morning at 6am if the trip will take place or not. Now, imagine waking up at 6 something am during a holiday and waiting at 7am for the information whether the trip takes place or not...

At 5pm I'm back in the hotel. I book an evening flight for Sandakan for tomorrow (with MASWings), then have a brief shower. I get out and eat a small thing, then walk to the waterfront for some sunset shots.

Good clouds cluster today, because shortly before sunset the sun peeks through the clouds and the sky takes beautiful colours. Lots of people on the waterfront, all taking sunset pictures. They should extend this waterfront, because it is really nice to watch the bay from here.

After dark I head to a KFC restaurant and have some dinner. Then I walk back along the sea front, passing by some very dirty spots, smelly, full of large rats.

Finally I reach the market near the Meridien hotel. Lots of life there and lots of interesting and very photogenic scenes, especially on the fish market. Large amounts of fresh fish for sale. I'm back in the hotel at 8:30pm.

Copyright 2013 Alfred Molon