I Love Sabah
The first time I said: “We're going to Borneo” it sounded so awesome. What's great is that it never stopped sounding awesome! So this July we went for the second time and I'm sure I can say without any doubt: I love Sabah.
Borneo is a huge island, the second biggest in the world, and is divided between three countries: Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia (the Indonesian part of the island is called Kalimantan). We visited its Malaysian part, the state of Sabah.
We flew into the capital of Sabah - Kota Kinabalu or just KK. Booking a hotel in KK turned out to be not so easy. Having read all the reviews, pieces of advice and impressions, I came to a couple of conclusions. Since there's no real low season in Borneo, KK is 80% booked almost any time of the year. The best hotels are fully booked no matter how early you try to plan your trip. Luxurious hotels are situated far from civilization or on the small islands and cost an arm and a leg, and I really mean it. Middle and low-cost accommodations differ in price but not so much in interior, so why pay more? If a middle-cost hotel looks neat, check the location: it's probably really far so you'll end up spending a fortune on taxi rides. There are different levels of low-cost: with or without AC. We went for the “with” option in the historical city center close to the ferry terminal.
So what can you do in Borneo? I should say a lot. The first and most relaxing thing is the beach and the sea. KK has a couple of public beaches around the city, but they are not going to be your first choice. About 8 km away from Borneo one can see five coral islands, which make up the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park. They are the places to go. White sands, turquoise-blue- emerald water, hiking treks in the jungle, and even friendly monitor lizards. There's everything there. This is the place where I discovered snorkeling.
Even though I'm a horrible swimmer, the water is not too deep around the islands and the underwater life is so tempting; I rented a mask, a snorkel and fins every day to look at corals and fish. (It turns out you can't really drown with a mask and a snorkel). Corals are beautiful and I also found them frankly intimidating - they remind me of mysterious underwater terraces and flowerbeds you wouldn't dare step on.
Fish are bright and cheeky sometimes. Even though numerous signs ask tourists not to feed them, people still do. So the fish will swim close to you, surround or even bite you to get the food or to protect its coral from your fins. And even though they're so small and cute, I should admit I did have to escape from their wrath a couple of times. By the way, do you remember the “Finding Nemo” cartoon? Well, it turns out that the clown fish is also called the sea anemone, and its short name is Nemo. We managed to find him, by the way.
The beach is perfectly empty despite quite a large number of vacationers, who prefer to stay in the shade of the trees, so we could have it to ourselves. But be sure to know that locals and a lot of tourists from Asian countries don't only wonder but also laugh at us, crazy foreigners, grilling in the sun. In addition to staying away from the sun, they also swim and bathe fully dressed.
The highlight of the beach day is usually not the sun or the sea, and not even snorkeling. The best part is getting to the beach. Since it's 8 km away, you don't walk, ride a bike or even take a bus. You sail by a motor boat. And this is the most amazing way to start and end your day. The boat flies over the water, jumping on small wave-bums and diving off the big waves so fast that you can't look up unless you wear glasses. The wind twirls your hair, the sun dances on the sea surface and little drops of water sprinkle your face after each mighty jump. You just can't stop smiling and savoring every second of these trips. And looking over the horizon where the blue sky meets the blue sea and there's nothing else in the world but this breathtaking blue.
But don't get the impression that KK is just the place to put your feet up at the beach; it's also a starting point of many adventures. You can choose one, two or even three day trips and tours which will show you the famous symbols of Borneo. The first tour for us was a river cruise to the national park where the proboscis monkeys live. Borneo is the only place in the world you can see these types of monkeys. They are famous for their long noses. But it wasn't the nose but their delicious meat that became proboscis monkeys' curse since it was the reason people hunted them. No wonder monkeys are still very cautious and don't get near people even after their habitat became a natural preserve. We were lucky to spot a couple of monkey families in the trees.
After the dinner we got back on the boats and went to the river again to see the fireflies. I thought I saw some in my childhood so I wasn't really expecting too much. But it turned out to be real magic. The river is completely dark, there's just the moon above your head and suddenly you see the tree start blinking with white lights. They seemed to be decorated with thousands of tiny Christmas lights that were twinkling in the dark. What's even more surprising is when you see a couple of lights flying next to or over the boat. The fireflies are actually greenish-yellow but in the dark they seem to be white. You can't take your eyes off them and hope they never stop glowing.