Mobile phones
Getting around

Part 6: KK, Mamutik and Sapi, Mantanani island, Singapore

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

27.8: Lahad Datu -> KK -> Mamutik and Sapi -> KK
Hotel D'Borneo, Kota Kinabalu. RM 120 for a not so big room with attached bathroom and shower (electrical heater), adjustable A/C, free WLAN in the room (so slow to be essentially unusable; I'm forced to set the smartphone in tethering mode). Two soft beds (what a surprise in a budget hotel), TV, phone, tea making equipment, some decent furniture (chair, table, some shelves, a cupboard). No safe, no fridge. Good location in the centre of the city. No elevator (!).
Weather: nice sunny blue sky with very few clouds in Lahad Datu and when I arrive in KK. From 3pm onwards the sky is overcast also on the islands of the Tunku Abdul Rahman NP. Starting at 7:30pm it rains for half an hour.

At 10am I check out of the hotel and walk to the taxi stand. I ask for a taxi to the airport, which is about 600m from the hotel. The taxi driver asks for RM 10. I tell him it's only 600m and ask him to to it for RM 5 (actually he should for RM 2, given the short distance). The taxi driver insists that he must get RM 10 for these 600 metres. In the end we settle for RM 8.

So we drive to the airport, and I check in. The 11:10am flight leaves early and lands early in KK (11:55 instead of 12:05). I quickly retrieve my bags and get a taxi (RM 30, again overpriced for the short distance) to the hotel. I'm in the hotel at 12:25pm. I'm rushing a bit because I want to catch a boat to the islands and the last one leaves around 1pm.

I deposit my bags in the room, then walk to the office of Traverse Tours in Wisma Sabah. There I pay for the 2D/1N tour to Mantanani island (RM 460 for transportation and room; the room costs RM 170 and for this price I get a single room with no A/C and no bathroom; poor value, but there is no other way to stay on Mantanani).

Then I walk to Suria Sabah where I buy some take-away food at a KFC restaurant. Finally I arrive at the ticketing office of the boats to the islands at 1:15pm.

One by one I walk through all counters asking for a boat to Sapi island. All boats have already left. The last counter (island hop) has a boat to Sapi, but I need to go to Mamutik first. The boat will leave at 1:30pm and drop me off at Mamutik. At 3pm it will pick me up in Mamutik and bring me to Sapi. At 5pm the boat picks up the people on Sapi and brings them back to KK. The cost of the ticket, including the terminal fee, is RM 37.20.

So at 1:30pm we leave for Mamutik. It takes 20 minutes to get there. On the boat I'm forced to wear a life jacket. It doesn't matter that I tell him I know how to swim.

Mamutik is sort of pretty, with a nice white sand beach. The seawater is not too clear. Swimming is a bit complicated because you have to walk quite far from the beach and in the process you have to walk over coral.

Lots of Asian tourists on this island, most of them Chinese. Many of them are wearing very funny swimsuits, covering the entire body. Some women are wearing some kind of bikini, but the bottom part is a miniskirt. Apparently they are too embarassed to show their ass.

Quite a few people are going into the water with the orange life jacket. My god. These people should learn how to swim.

With some delay, at 3:05pm the boat for Sapi arrives. Getting to Sapi takes another 20 minutes because on the way the boat stops at Manukan island.

Sapi is the smallest of the islands of the Tunku Abdul Rahman park (T.A.R.), and also the island furthest away from KK. Consequently this island has the clearest sea water. There is a white sand beach, quite small. It's possible to walk around the island by climbing on the rocks.

Also here there are lots of Asian tourists. Same scene as on Mamutik. I discover a trail leading into the forest and follow it. Lots of monitor lizards everywhere. These animals are not afraid of humans and simply ignore me. I almost stumble on a large one in the middle of the forest.

Lots of mosquitoes in the forest. I need to reapply mosquito repellent after being stung a couple of times (I apply it every day twice, in the morning and in the late afternoon).

Snorkelling is not that good on all T.A.R. islands, but on Sapi the situation is a bit better. Lots of fish close to the beach.

At 5pm the boat picks us up and brings us back to KK (20 minutes boat ride). Two boats of the same company (ours and another one) make a race on the sea.

It's 5:25pm and I need a shower. I'm full of sweat, sea salt, suntan lotion and mosquito repellent. I get back to the hotel and take the second shower of the day.

At 6:30pm I get out again, looking for a place where to have dinner. And I discover a place near the open air market where the local population goes for dinner.

It's a place with plenty of grill restaurants, where you can eat inexpensive seafood. A grilled 500 gram red snapper goes for RM 25, a large piece of tuna fillet (must be around 300 gram or so) goes for just RM 8.

So I order this piece of tuna fillet. It is served after some time with plain rice. It's quite good, but a bit dry. Perhaps I should have asked for some sauce. Together with a canned drink the dinner has cost only RM 10. A pity I haven't discovered this place earlier.

After dinner I buy some fruits, then get back to the hotel.

28.8: KK -> Mantanani island
Mari Mari Mantanani backpacker lodge, Pulau Mantanani Besar (the big island). RM 170 for a very basic bungalow. Two mattesses, each with a blanket. Fan, no A/C. Electric power only between 6:30pm and 6am (i.e. between sunset and sunrise). Very spartan accommodation, there is nothing else in the room. No attached bathroom. Shared bathroom with very basic shower (only cold water, no shower head. No mosquito net in the room. The only positive thing is that there is a veranda and at the lower level there is a hammock. Otherwise the accommodation is so uncomfortable that I decide to stay only one night. At night I spot a giant cockroach in my room running over the bed. For some reason there is no more A/C power after about 2am.
Weather: spotless sunny blue sky in KK in the morning. Nice weather on Mantanani until 4:30pm, then the sky gets overcast for a bit over an hour, then it opens up again. Nice sunset.

At 7:20am the Traverse tours minivan picks me up. We drive to Wisma Sabah, where I board the bus of Traverse tours (standard 40-50 seater). Until 7:45am other tourists keep arriving. Then we start driving towards Kota Belud. There is a tour guide on the bus, who explains what activities there are on Mantanani. Apparently on this bus there are both daytrippers and overnighters.

At 8:20am we stop briefly at the Rasa Ria Shangri La resort north of KK. This is kind of a luxury resort with an own golf course. There the bus picks up more people.

We continue driving towards Kota Belud, arriving at the jetty at 9:40am. Then we get on the boats to Mantanani. The weather is very good today and the sea water is quite calm.

We leave the Kota Belud harbour at 9:50am and reach Mantanani 40 minutes later. Mantanani has a beautiful long white sand beach on its southern coast, where the Mari Mari backpacker lodge is located. The sea water is also quite clear.

We get down from the boat and head with our stuff to the lodge. There, after a brief introduction, we are assigned our rooms. Then the day on the island begins.

Initially I swim a bit. That is, I try to swim a bit. Not so easy because the sea water is very shallow. You have to walk forever to reach deeper water. And when you reach it, it's full of corals and can't walk any further. Actually you could. but it's sort of pointless to walk 500m from the beach to reach a spot where you can swim.

After that I have some lunch in the canteen. The food is a bit pricey, and my pepper chicken is more skin than meat.

Then I spend a couple of hours resting because it's too hot to go under the sun right now.

At 3pm I start walking around the island. Supposedly in two and a half hours you can walk once around Mantanani.

The first spot I notice is a village of local people. The beach in front of this village is full of plastic rubbish. People probably just throw their rubbish on the beach or into the sea.

The village seems to have electricity and a water source. I also spot a TV antenna, so I guess these villagers are more sophisticated than the Mari Mari lodge.

I continue walking and run into the next place. Suddenly there is another tourist operation, full of tourists, all of them Chinese. The place is Palm beach. When I ask the staff of the boats for which company they work, they claim the name is "low price".

An Internet search for this company yields nothing, but these people seem to speak English and know what they are saying. Strange. I wonder how these (cheaper?) tours are booked.

Actually, at least the dive operation seems to be run by a "Palm Beach Mantanani Holidays Sdn Bhd", who have a website at www.palmbeachmantanani.com

I then continue walking until the eastern end of the island. There I find another resort. Actually this resort seems not to be ready yet, i.e. it's still under construction. But this will probably be a high end resort, because the bungalows look quite stylish.

By the way, I meet a monitor lizard, perhaps 1.5m long, who is not afraid of me. He allows me to get very close to him and simply emits some noises (warning signals?).

I pass the eastern end of the island and walk along the northern coast. Here the beach is less impressive than on the southern side.

Here there is another resort called "Bembaran beach resort". There are even a few (Chinese) tourists, otherwise the resort looks pretty much empty and deserted. But some construction/servicing is going on.

Finally after some more walking I reach the spot where you are supposed to start crossing the island (you can't walk around the western end). I walk though the forest and end up at the local village. I wonder if I took the wrong trail.

By the way, lots of blood-sucking sandflies on the beach. This alone kills in my opinion Mantanani as a tourist destination.

The sunset looks quite nice. You have to walk to the western end of the beach.

After sunset, the lodge turns on the generator and we have power.

For dinner I try the steamed fish, which is quite good. After that I book three flights and two hotels (am flying back to KL and doing a daytrip to Singapore from there).

Mobile phones work on the southern beach. My smartphone (Samsung Mega 6.3 with a Maxis card) can't make phone calls in the resort, only on the beach. But I see a girl talking on her smartphone in the cafeteria of the resort. Perhaps she is using a different network or her phone has a better radio unit than mine.

29.8: Mantanani -> KK -> KL
Tune hotel, KLIA. RM 206 for a tiny room with a bed, attached bathroom with shower and nothing else. The room has a total size of probably less than 10 m. Adjustable A/C, hair dryer in the toilet. I don't book the WLAN because I already have Internet access through the smartphone.
Weather: overcast in the morning in Mantanani, then around 9am the sky opens up. In the afternoon the sky gets overcast again. Overcast and some rain in Kota Kinabalu.

After a sleepless night (the Mari Mari bungalow on Mantanani was hot like an oven) I get up at 7:45am and have some breakfast. At 9am I check out of the bungalow.

For the next few hours I'll swim in the sea, stay on the beach and do nothing.

The boat back to Kota Belud leaves at 2:40pm and arrives with some delay (an engine broke down) at 3:45pm at the Kota Belud jetty, where the Traverse tours bus is waiting for us.

By the way, today there are only a handful of western tourists. The majority of the tourists are Chinese, either Malaysian Chinese or from Mainland China.

We reach Kota Kinabalu at 5:40pm. Then we switch to the minibus and finally reach the airport at 6:20pm. Since it's too early to check in, I have some dinner in a KFC fast food first.

It turns out that I easily could have taken the 8:10pm flight (I booked the 9:30pm flight just to be on the safe side, in case for some reason we were delayed).

Both the 8:10pm and the 9:30pm Airasia flights are delayed tonight. The 8:10pm flight has one hour of delay, the 9:30pm one is rescheduled for 10:05pm, but the plane lands only at 10pm, so the 10:05 pm are utopistic.

In fact the the flight only takes off at 10:35pm, i.e. with over an hour of delay. The machine is almost full. We land in KL at 1am and I sleep by 2am.

30.8: KL -> Singapore
Hotel 5footway Inn, Singapore. Whenever I think that I have hit the bottom and it's not possible to find a worse place, I end up finding a worse place. This place tops it all. 137 SGD (81 Euro or 107 USD) for a room with a size of 7 m containing two stacked beds and nothing else besides a tiny table of perhaps 80x40 cm and an A/C unit. No windows, no toilet. The toilet is far away, one floor higher. It is shared, very smelly and disgusting. The room feels like a hole in the ground. An isolation prison cell is more welcoming. The room is noisy with people slamming doors in the corridor.
I can't believe that booking.com is keeping such establishments in their portfolio and giving it a high rating (8.1 out of 10). And I can't believe I'm paying 81 Euro for such a place. For a little bit more you get a suite in a four star hotel in Dubai.

Weather: overcast in the morning in KL, no rain. Some clouds, but mostly sunny in Singapore.

I get up at 9:40am and get ready. At 11am I check out and manage to catch the shuttle (RM 2, was RM 1 years ago) to the terminal. Then I have to rush like hell, because the gate closes 45 minutes before departure and the flight leaves at 12pm. I have my breakfast while standing in the security check queue.

The Airasia flight to Singapore is quite full and takes off at 12:18pm with some delay. It lands in Singapore at 1:10pm, but I only manage to leave the plane at 1:30pm. Then I proceed through immigration, retrieve my luggage, get some cash and take a taxi (33 SGD) to the hotel, arriving there at 2:30pm.

The room is not ready yet (apparently I may only check in at 3pm), so I leave my bags there and start my sightseeing of Singapore.

Singapore has changed again since my last visit. It appears that the development of the Marina Bay is now complete, with all the buildings around the bay now in place and the gardens behind the bay set up as well.

The area around the Marina bay is extremely photogenic, a photographers' paradise. All buildings and architectural elements, the green areas etc. are carefully choreographed. At night this area really shines.

I check out the Marina Bay Sands hotel. Really impressive architecture. Pricey rooms however. The cheapest room I found when I was looking for a room in the Marina Bay Sands two days ago was 321 Euro. Even booking a room some time in the future yields a minimum price of 248 Euro. To stay there with the family I'd have to book two rooms.

The park with the artificial trees behind the Marina Bay Sands hotel is very nice and aesthetic.

There is a huge shopping mall next to the Marina Bay Sands hotel. This extends over several interconnected buildings and is pretty much high end. Mostly expensive western brands for sale (Armani, Gucci etc.).

When I'm back in the hotel in the evening at 10pm, I get to see the room. What a nasty surprise. I complain about the missing bathroom initially, but then they show me their hotel on booking.com. Indeed there it states that the room has no windows and no bathroom. I should have read the fine print more carefully, but then I didn't expect that booking.com would keep such establishments in its portfolio and I was blinded by the high rating the 5footway inn got.

31.8: Singapore -> KL
Home of Sara, Kuala Lumpur
Weather: great weather in Singapore. Sunny, blue sky, very few clouds. No rain. Overcast in KL and from what I hear it rained heavily during the day.

I check out in the morning, leave my bags in the hotel and start walking towards Marina bay. This morning the weather is good and the light is great. I walk towards the Marina Bay Sands hotel, pass by it and reach the gardens area by 11am.

I've been in this area yesterday, but with the sun in a different position. I'm now re-shooting some scenes with a different light.

At 11:30am I'm done with the photos and start walking back towards the hotel. At 11:50am I fetch a taxi, get back to the hotel to recover my bags and drive to the airport (SGD 19).

At 12:20pm I'm at the airport. There I check in and have a meal. At 1:40pm I reach the gate.

It appears that the 2:10pm Airasia flight is delayed by one hour. The plane starts rolling at 3:10pm and only takes off at 3:20pm. It lands in KL at 4:30pm. Then I proceed through immigration, retrieve my luggage and take a taxi to KL. Evening spent not doing much.

1.9: KL -> Munich via Dubai
Home, sweet home
Weather: overcast in KL in the morning. 41C (or 39C ?) in Dubai, 13C in the evening in Munich. No rain.

Day spent getting back to Munich with Emirates Airlines via Dubai. 15 hours of travelling (two 6-hours flights plus a 3-hours stopover in Dubai).

We check-in our bags at KL Sentral, then take the 8:40am train to KLIA. The flight to Dubai takes off at 11am, with half an hour of delay, but then lands on time at 1:15pm in Dubai. The usual procedure there, disembark, pass security (bags scanned again), get into the transfer zone and wait there. Then we take the flight to Munich at 4:30pm local time.

Both flights unspectacular, both on a Boeing 777-300. The one from KL to Dubai with no A/C power in the economy class seats and a bit small LCD screens (old type). The one from Dubai to Munich with A/C power in the economy class seats and larger LCD screens.

After landing around 8:30pm local time it takes quite some time to retrieve the luggage. We are home around 10:40pm.

Copyright 2013 Alfred Molon