Category Archives: Borneo

PB Travels… Manukan Island

After my exhilarating time in Sandakan, the next stop was an island off the coast of west Borneo.  We took a quick flight back to KK, and we went straight from the airport to the seafront to catch a boat to our hotel.  The marina was pretty impressive with all these super yachts.  We were off to Tunku Abdul Rahman Park, essentially a marine park made up of 5 islands. Manukan island is the 2nd largest, and that is where we were going to be staying.  I was super happy – blue skies, sandy beach, sea, snorkelling on the menu – what more could I ask for?

Where am I staying?

Oh mama.  Now this is the life.  This hotel was truly excellent.  Manukan Island Resort.  I’m weary of ‘island resorts’, particularly since the last one in Malaysia was vile as hell.  This was really lovely – reminded me of the hotels in Goa.   Beautiful rooms, in house restaurants, a pool, on the seafront and sunset spots within the resort.  LUSH.

Ratings?

  • Grubbiness factor: ask me about the cleanliness factor! Beautiful room, well stocked and free mini bar (don’t get too excited, only soft drinks and water), porch, sofa, two beds… lush lush lush
  • Bed: 9/10.  Lovely and comfy
  • Shower: 9/10. Just as lovely and comfy.  The bathroom was massive!

What did I eat?

Buffet breakfasts were included in the outdoor, sea facing restaurant.  There was SO much food (yes, you guessed, all meaty and fishy and milky), but they had fresh fruit, fresh fruit juices, and my go to, beans on toast. They also had lovely Danish pastries, which I couldn’t have, so I made my own with a bread roll, peanut butter, kaya (coconut jam) and nuts. Perfect.

Lunches were either in one of the restaurants on the resort or on the go (no pics of these). They were very well balanced in my opinion – salad and chips. Perfect. And coconut water whenever I could get it.

Dinners were on another level. Along with the a la carte menu, there was a special every evening. One night there was Laksa – and yes, the chef made a version for me. So so delicious, I asked for another bowl just of the sauce. I may or may not have sipped it through a straw. I had another coconut water too.

The next night – char kuey teow, essentially flat rice noodles with veggies and prawns and lots of naughty things. I hadn’t been able to have an authentic version so far because nobody wanted to make one without animal fat or seafood, until this lovely chef was more than happy to. So tasty, tangy and full of flavour.  That with a mango mojito? Perfect meals in the perfect location. Oh I do love to be beside the seaside!

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What did I do?

I relaxed, I read, and I chilled. I also went snorkelling. So most of the coral in his area was bleached due to overfishing – it was only brown on the first snorkel site. The fish however were delightful – lots of marine fish. We went to 2 other sites, around the other islands in the park – each one better than the one before, with more life in the coral – massive ones at that, and more colour – green, lilac, blue. A clam or two, and loads of sea urchins. I also went snorkelling from the beach near the hotel. Not a lot of coral, but lots and lots of fish. I absolutely love snorkelling – next investment needs to be a go pro!

I also went ziplining between two islands, Gaya and Sapi.  This was excellent – I do love a good zipline, and this was on a decline from one island to the other – and speeding across the sea was pretty cool.  Sadly no pictures, didn’t want to risk my phone/camera falling into the sea.

The hotel had a path within the grounds that lead to a beautiful sunset point. The walk was stunning – secluded, surrounded by trees and lianas and lots of fungi. The sunset was also very impressive, very peaceful and very worth it.

And that brings my travels in Borneo to a happy end.  The trip got better and more enjoyable with each day.  The group of ladies (and one lone man, lucky him) I travelled with were wonderful and we all got on really well.  Borneo, with all it’s palm plantations made me sad, but the wildlife and nature got me so so happy, and the beach holiday at the end was the perfect way to end this part of my travels.  Next? Final destination, Hong Kong, and then home!

PB Travels… Sandakan

Leaving the river, we headed to the next destination, and one of my favourites of the trip – Sandakan.  There was so much that was packed into the time we were there, and I enjoyed every minute I was there.  Sandakan is one of the bigger towns that I visited in Borneo, and it reminded me so much of Hong Kong, in terms of the style of buildings and layout.  And then I was told that Sandakan was once known as ‘Little Hong Kong’.  Whaddaya know! Oh, and the sunsets were beautiful.

Where am I staying?

S’kan Style Hotel, is right on the waterfront.  The room was a welcome change after the previous hotel.  Modern, clean, slick with a good shower and decent air conditioning.  The location was excellent too – facing the sea, a market right outside the hotel, a mall 2 minutes walk away, walking distance to restaurants, it was a perfect little hotel.

Ratings?

  • Grubbiness factor? None – the room, sheets and towels were lovely and clean
  • Bed: 8/10.  Comfortable enough, but I was so exhausted after all the day’s activities that I would just pass out
  • Shower: 9/10.  Lovely and powerful, and very decent toiletries.

What did I eat?

So I was still playing it safe on the food front, sticking to water with some soda bicarbonate – nice and alkalizing, never travel without it!  Breakfasts were either baked beans on toast (hash browns one day! whooo!) or bananas with PB.  Nice and simple, no dodgy additives either.

Lunches? Well, I played it safe one day and missed out on a lunch we had at a local place. I did have a lovely lunch in the Sepilok Sanctuary – a veggie noodle dish – once again, simple and delicious.  That, with a cup of lemon tea was exactly what I wanted, and needed.

Dinner one night was at at the Ba Lin Rooftop Restaurant.  Stunning views,  and I was starving – so I went some pasta, with courgettes, cherry tomatoes and pumpkin..mmm – but a few mouthfuls in and the alarm bells stared ringing.  MSG?!? Yep.  In Pasta! Come on.  They got a proper telling off!  Dinner another night was on the seafront – where there were oodles of restaurants.  We chose the Harbour Bistro Cafe and I chose a lovely dish of tofu, pumpkin, green beans and carrots with rice.  Clean and simple again. Whoo!

What did I do?

First stop – Gomantong Caves, where swallow’s nests are harvested and sold at astronomical prices to people who think that swallow’s spit is good for their skin.  Seriously people!  When my sister visited the caves 6 years ago, she was shocked at the conditions of the workers in the caves harvesting the nests – no safety harnesses…well, no health and safety.  I’m glad to say that has been improved – metal ladders, harnesses, hard hats – but this is all we were told about.  Sadly when I went to the caves, it was just after all the nests had been picked.  Now I loved the caves.  There was a little, and I mean little exhibition, that was packed with information on the layout of the caves, the birds, nest production and all that science stuff.  There was a scenic 10 minute walk to the caves – where I saw stunning bugs, amazing dragonflies AND A GIANT LEECH! – and then the caves.  Don’t worry about feeling claustrophobic (the caves are massive), what you need to worry about is the stench of guano (barf) and the thousands – and no, I’m not kidding – of cockroaches.  They were everywhere, on the handrails (don’t even dream of touching them), the walk way, the cave walls – argh!  A very interesting walk but go prepared with decent, waterproof walking shoes and a decent torchlight.

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Next stop? Another memorial – the Sandakan War Memorial, set in the grounds of the POW camp.  A beautiful space, lots of greenery, a waterlily pool, stunning flowers.  There was a room dedicated to information, a chronological walk through the Death Marches, including quotes from survivors about the conditions of the camp and the walk.  I was in tears.  It was so so so sad to read, and as with the Kundasang Memorial, I just kept on thinking that we all need to learn from these mistakes.  Humanity is what matters, not wars and power. 😦

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Next on the list? Animal galore – in sanctuaries.  I’m glad we did this after seeing all these animals in the wild, but at least in this was we get to see them much much closer.  First stop? Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary.  The plan was to hang out here for most of the day and be there for the for the feeding sessions – one in the morning and one in the afternoon.  It was such an excellent experience. Even though we couldn’t go near them, we got pretty close – or rather they got pretty close to us.  And we even saw an ickle baby!! Not a rescued baby, but one born in the sanctuary!! What a brilliant sight!  We were for about 3 hours in total – and every minute was entertaining.  They took their time to do everything – moving at leisure, eating slowly – so so interesting to watch, each one with their own personalities and quirks.. such amazing creatures.  Cliched maybe, but this was the highlight of my trip to Borneo.  I loved loved loved it here.  Even the 90% humidity and high temperatures didn’t dampen (ahaha) my spirits.

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Next stop – another sanctuary.  The Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary.  Now driving to this place – which was about 1/2 hour away from the Sepilok Sanctuary – was not nice.  We were not driving alongside the plantations but IN them – and this place was right at the end.  It was set up to ensure that the area wasn’t cleared for more palm – and after what we saw, that is a good thing!  Walking in (at feeding time), we were greeted with about teeny silver leaf monkeys – tiny things, and their babies – well, even smaller, and orange! They were like squabbling teenagers – very very vocal, expressive and running around everywhere – we needed to be careful where we were stepping!  After that – proboscis monkeys.  Wow.  Loved watching them.  They were the young adults – calmer, but still energetic.  They gobbled their fruit up almost instantly, unlike the wizened old orangutans.  Once again, it was an amazing experience, they were so interesting to watch – and the males? Well, you couldn’t really miss them!!!!!! Put it away I say! 😭

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Not only were the monkeys brilliant, the smaller bugs were just as interesting and fascinating (including some cute fungus).

My time in Sandakan was excellent – the hotel, the activities and the animals – all were truly great and I thoroughly enjoyed my time here.  Next (and final) stop? The beach! Whoo!

PB Travels… Kinabatangan River 

The next couple of days were spent by the side of the Kinabatangan river to explore the wildlife and birds. So exciting!

Where am I staying? 

Myne Resort, literally in the middle of nowhere, and a beautiful resort at that. A lovely dining area where we were all hanging out and eating all our meals. The rooms were scattered around (mine was waaay up these flights of stairs), and big at that. The only thing – and completely understandable (in the middle of the forest, next to a river, in a place where it rains everyday) was the mold in the bathrooms – not good!!! I did give my constructive feedback before I left 😬. 

Ratings?

  • Grubbiness factor: very high due to mold in bathroom
  • Bed: 8/10. Lovely – and I had a choice 🙂
  • Shower: 0/10. See first point. I wasn’t impressed and spent as little time as needed in there.

What did I eat? 

Breakfasts in the hotel were pretty extensive – as were all other meals. All meals were included – as we were so secluded we couldn’t just walk down the road to a restaurant. The breakfasts were a variation of the pic below – interesting to have French fries for breakfast! I basically stuck to beans on toast and that was it. The ‘local fruits’ were basically papaya (which I enjoyed) and watermelon (which I didn’t).

Lunches and dinners were the same – a buffet, with at least 2 veggie options that I could eat. With rice. One night we had coconut tofu which was quite nice.  Lots of greens,raw salad and loads of garlic and ginger. Very tasty – at first I thought it was the garlic and ginger – and then it dawned on me after a couple of meals.. M S G. Oh no. I was pretty intolerant to it a few years ago, but bizarrely over the years, the tolerance was manageable – until now. Now it came back with a vengeance.  I suspect it is the minimal doses I’ve been having over the past few weeks that have been building up.  And because it was ‘bulk buffet catering’, I unfortunately couldn’t walk into the kitchen and demand an alternative.

I actually started feeling the effects – constructed throat, headache, nausea – seriously people, this was not in my head. So I basically stopped eating for a day,  and ate very little the next and that helped immensely. Big shame since the food looked really good. STOP using MSG!

What did I do? 

We stopped at the Sabah Tea Plantation, the only one in Sabah. We had a lovely guide from the plantation who walked us through the the whole tea making process, and we ended in the restaurant for a tasting session. Tea flavoured naturally with herbs and leaves.  Pandan (my favourite), geranium (alright), lemongrass (sadly vile), and a few more for general wellbeing, including a natural viagra. Hehe. There were also amazing views of Mt Kinabalu. I Really enjoyed spending time in this place.


I did buy some packets of tea – some lose leaf and the pandan flavoured one. One of the girls bought some tea biscuits – which were actually quite horrible. Did not like them one bit.

So onward to the river the main reason why we were there.  We would go out twice everyday to check out the wildlife. I loved it. On a boat, racing up and down the river, bird watching – amazing hornbills!! Monkey watching – we saw wild orangutans!!!! And Pygmy elephants!! It was truly excellent. The only time it wasn’t truly excellent was when it rained one day when we were on the boat. It was torrential – same as on the walk – but rain when you’re on a speeding boat is painful and prickly.  I was so glad to be back in the resort!  Not only did I see so much on the river, the resort was also a hotspot. Lots of giant moths, wild boars – I cannot complain. Not at all.

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Back in the lap of nature, where I am happiest, and this place was no exception – dodgy bathroom and MSG laced food aside, this place was beautiful.  I didn’t see as much wildlife as I have in other countries with the same environmental set up (Costa Rica, Madagascar), but it was still so very worth it. 

 

PB Travels… Kota Kinabalu

West Malaysia done, next stop Borneo! But before that, a quick mention of a stunningly  amazing restaurant in Kuala Lumpur. I had to go to KL as I was catching my flight to KK early the next morning.  I went to Bukit Bintang Street for dinner.  This was such a sensational meal, I loved every mouthful – and that was the same for the rest of the people I had dinner with. The restaurant – Opium. Live music – amazing tunes on a traditional Chinese instrument (guqin I think it). My meal? Epic.  I started off with a Gin cocktail – with lychee, ginger flower and kaffir like leaf. This flavour combination was like nothing I’ve had before – I can’t even describe it, I was amazed with every sip. I ordered the crispy tofu topped with papaya salad. WHOA.  The tofu was amazing – and that salad was perfectly balanced. Accompanied by those spring rolls – OMG. I can’t believe how good this meal was. Other epic omni meals were a duck salad with rice and a salted egg carbonara. The latter was particularly good I was told. PLEASE GO HERE.  

Ok.  Now that I’ve got that out of the way, onward to KK. I’m joining a group for this penultimate part of my travels.  

Where am I staying?

Horizon Hotel – I start and finish here. Now this is a hotel. Lovely and lush, massive room, beautiful shower, wonderful toiletries, gowns, slippers. And a 10 minute walk from the action, 5 minutes to the mall and a weekend market that I can see from my window? Result!!

Ratings?

  • Grubbiness factor? Zilch. Nada.
  • Bed: 9/10. Crisp sheets, pillows of varying thickness and levels of hardness – perfect. 
  • Shower: 9/10. Lovely jubly. 

What did I eat? 

Breakfasts as usual the hotel, and I was looking forward to seeing how east and west Malaysia may differ – not much in the breakfast department.  The usual – beans on toast and peanut butter too (but the horrible kind). 

Lunch in KK one day was at El Centro – my need to not have rice was still strong, and I found this place that did burgers and sandwiches and the like. I went for a veggie burger with fries and a salad. Oh boy. That hit the spot. It wasn’t the best burger I’ve had, it was actually quite fragile and was falling apart – but I thoroughly enjoyed it. What was also a very pleasant surprise was my lime soda with angostura bitters. Excellent combination, one I would have never thought of. 

We had lunch in the village the next day (after a short and sweet walk through the village). Our village guide’s wife put on this spread – even though she had just had a baby a week ago!! I had rice (yes, back on it but only sparingly), greens, cooked cucumber and stir fried pumpkin. There was chicken and fish for the omnis. It tasted quite nice (absolutely no chillies), and I had to ask if they had used MSG. ‘Very little’ was the response. Hmmm. Felt like a bit more than that to me. 


Dinners? I tucked into a simple albeit very floppy dosa one night – tasty but nothing to write home about. The lime soda was lovely though. The next night I ordered a simple stir fry of tofu and veggies, explicitly having to ask for it without MSG. I am realising that this side of Malaysia definitely indulges more in that nasty stuff than the other side. 

What did I do?

We were making our way to the Kinabantangan river, the next stop on our journey and on the way we stopped at a small village and we were taken around by a Dusun – a local in that region. It was quite a pleasant walk, learning about village life, growing pineapples and living in the shadow of Mt Kinabalu. 

The other spot that I loved was the Mt Kinabalu Botanical Gardens. An absolutely stunning maintained area with amazing flowers and plants, there were also lovely forest trails. I was in my element – greenery, interesting flowers, so many orchids and oh so much beautiful fungus. And funky pitcher plants. Loved loved loved it. Half way through the walk the heavens opened – torrential isn’t the word. There was no option but to cut short the walk and head to dry ground. 

Next stop was very sobering. I will admit that I did not know anything about this before I got to Borneo. The Death Marches, where approximately 2400 Australian and British POWs were literally walked to their death by the Japanese. It was so horribly sad to hear, see and learn about it. It is amazing how quickly people forget all about humanity and compassion. What was even worse was that there were only 6 survivors. The Kundasang War Memorial is a very beautiful space, with a room dedicated to pictures and messages from the families of the POWs. There is a beautiful Australian and English garden, and a fountain memorial with plaques with the names of each and every POW. It was very sobering to see, but reassuring that that everyone is still remembered. Lest we forget. I agree with that sentiment. But I think ‘lets not bloody repeat the same mistakes again and learn from the past’ holds more weight. We just need to act on it! 

All in all, the first taste of Borneo is beautiful, majestic, warm and sobering. I’m looking forward to seeing more of this wonderful place.