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Such was my desire to fly on the Airbus A380 that when planning I hadn’t taken into account the logistical implications of an 11am flight. So it was that Dave drew the short straw to deliver me to the bus station in time for my 6 o’clock bus. The journey itself was comfortable as Chris Evans entertained throughout the 2½ hour journey. Always before I’d taken the night flight and would be ready for sleep by take-off, I hadn’t figured on the effect of travelling during time I’d usually be awake so slept little on the plane. So it was that I wearily arrived in Singapore with the MRT to negotiate to get to the Hotel Clover. Thankfully, though it was only 11am, my room was ready so I was able to recharge the batteries with some kip and a refreshing shower in my very smart, but exceedingly compact, room
Research had told me that the nearby Clarke and Boat Quays are the places to go for a beer so I meandered over and was soon enjoying a lovely pint of Speights Pale Ale at The Bungy Bar, so called because of the reverse bungy situated next to it. I’d been forewarned at how expensive Singapore is so was, surprisingly, happy to be paying ‘only’ the £5 Happy Hour price. This lasted until 9pm so I figured I’d be pretty much done by the time it was over. Not so however as within minutes I was chatting with Aussies Darren, Chris, Ida & Genevieve. The beer & waffle flowed as the hours flew by until, eventually, only Darren (from Frankston) & I were left. Feeling an unnecessary need to show me everything that the city has to offer, we took a taxi to Orchard Towers which, I was to discover, is a multi-storey knocking shop. Thankfully Darren didn’t take umbrage when I suggested we leave after one drink and numerous propositions. We were soon finishing the night off back in Clarke Quay with a kebab & more beers.
On arrival the previous day I’d bought a 3-day Travelcard (S$30 incl S$10 deposit) so hopped on the bus to the Botanical Gardens, as recommended by culture vultures Ray & Nicky. It was really nice to escape the hustle of the city and meander around this beautifully laid out space, coming across monitors, turtles and a variety of tropical fauna & flora. From there it was on to nearby Orchard Road, with all its malls, before heading to Chinatown for lunch and a few beers. Having enjoyed the previous night it was back to the Bungy until closing for a cracking band, Stealing Sirens, and a rake of beers with a different set of Aussies I'd got chatting to.
Next day it was time to visit the iconic Raffles Hotel (everybody does!) to take the obligatory photos. From there it was on to nearby Little India which, contrary to the tourist blurb, has little to recommend it apart from enjoying one of the best curries I’ve ever had at Shahi Kitchen in Dunlop Street, a mutton masala with peas pulau & veggie paratha, very cheap it was to. A final evening at the Bungy pretty much saw out my time in Singapore. All that remained the next day was to pack-up and negotiate the MRT once more to get back to Changi.
I wish I’d spoken to my German flight companion when planning Borneo as she was full of useful advice, most of which my existing arrangements meant I couldn’t act upon, principally taking a Kinabangtan River cruise when in Sandakan.
After the smartness & dynamism of Singapore, Kota Kinabalu (KK) takes you to the polar opposite in every sense. The short taxi ride, 30MYR (£6) set fare, soon delivered me to the colonially-styled Jesselton Hotel in lively Gaya Street. The problem with arriving in any strange city after dark is that it’s pretty difficult to make out what’s what. I stumbled upon a lively fish market on the waterfront and, full of bravado, decided to immerse myself straight away into the local culture. On being seduced into a restaurant by the only person who spoke English, I looked forward to the beautiful giant prawns I’d picked out, unfortunately a full hour later all I’d managed to get was one can of Tiger beer and they hadn’t even started to cook the food so I gave it up as a bad joke. Worse still, by now most of the restaurants I’d passed earlier had closed meaning my only option was the coffee shop next to the hotel, where I got a passable Nasi Lemak but no beer, after which I decided to cut my losses and retire to my lovely room for an early night.
I set out good & early the following morning to suss out the city, firstly the jetty at Jesselton Point, where I was pretty disgusted by the amount of rubbish in the harbour. From there I walked the whole of the promenade until I came across the main bar, restaurant & entertainment area, frustratingly just ten minutes further on from the ill-chosen fish market. The good news was there’s plenty of bars & restaurants and there’d be somewhere to watch the Ireland v England match at 11pm the following night. From there I went up to the Signal Hill Observatory for an overview of the city before enjoying my, well-earned, daily siesta. After an agreeable meal at Mai Yai Thai Orchid it was rugby-time, thankfully the Shamrock Bar I settled on watching the Scotland v Italy match in is Irish in name only and proved to be the perfect choice as it has plenty of screens and good, friendly service. The rock band playing were pretty decent as well.
Next morning I perused the market which sprouts up in Gaya Street every Sunday morning, before taking the ferry (40MYR incl. terminal & island fees) to Mamutik Island armed with my new snorkel & mask. While it wasn’t the suggested choice of islands to visit, it proved inspired as it was pretty quiet and there was enough sealife in the water to make it interesting. Speaking to a couple of French guys on the way back, they said that the preferred Sapi and Manukan were much more crowded. After a few beers at Jesselton Point and my compulsory siesta, it was back to the Shamrock for the rugby once more for the match. Sadly my misgivings about Englands chances in Dublin were borne out, though I never expected such an inept performance, made all the more uncomfortable by my, slightly mocking, Kiwi viewing companion. Anyway, I’m never one to let shit rugby spoil a good night and, yet again, the band were pretty good.
All that needed doing next morning was to pack up and head to the airport for the short flight to Sandakan. As we approached the terminal I was pleasantly surprised to see a rugby pitch set out in the field opposite, as if on cue I then bumped into a Maori representative team on their way home from the Borneo Sevens tournament held that weekend in Sandakan.
I doubt I’ll ever get a cheaper return flight than the £30 Air Asia to Sandakan, slightly embarrassing was being asked over the tannoy to make my way to boarding as they were waiting to depart, sure enough as soon as I boarded the door shut and we were off 20 minutes early. An hour later I’d collected my baggage, paid the 38MYR (£7.50) fare at the taxi desk and was on my way to Sepilok Jungle Resort in the company of a charming driver who gave me a local history lesson throughout the journey. In pretty difficult financial times he was grateful of the return booking I made with him. By the time I’d checked into my ‘Deluxe Double’ it was gone 3pm so I settled on a few beers & bite to eat in the restaurant, which was located by a picturesque rainforest pool brimful of wildlife. There I was re-aquainted with a couple of groups of Aussies from the Gold Coast and Melbourne I’d chatted with at the airport who just happened to be staying there as well, and great company they turned out to be. I don’t know if it’s the effect of the heat & humidity but 8pm bedtime was to be the norm while here. While the room was adequately furnished and reasonably clean, ‘deluxe’ is pushing poetic license a bit far!
Next morning I headed to Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre 15 minutes walk along the road, the 40MYR admission fee gives you entry for the day so, as many did, you can visit for both feeding sessions, at 11am & 3pm. It’s not exactly seeing them in the wild but it’s probably the nearest you can get to it. From there I visited the Sun Bear Conservation Centre, 30MYR admission, home to the worlds smallest bears, very cute and, for me, just as enthralling as the orangutans. After a spot of lunch nearby, the pool offered a welcome respite from the heat & humidity before enjoying another entertaining evening with the Aussies at the restaurant.
My last day started with a trip to Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary, about ¾ hour drive away. I could’ve got a return bus ticket for 40MYR but, perhaps foolishly, used the resort driver at 5 times the price! At least it meant I could leave when I’d seen enough rather than have to hang around for the 3pm bus from lunchtime feeding. Admission is 60MYR but, for me, the Proboscis monkeys were my personal highlight and you were able to get right amongst them. Silverleaf monkeys and Hornbills added to the entertainment and everyone was totally captivated, thoroughly enjoyable!
Back at base I resisted the lure of the Rainforest Discovery Centre a short stroll away, in favour of a refreshing swim and chill by the pool before enjoying a final evening at the restaurant then another early night in readiness for my 6am taxi to the airport for my flight back to Kota Kinabalu next morning.