Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysian Borneo

Caught a 2 or so hour flight from KL to Kota Kinabalu with Firefly (yep, I hadn’t heard of them either but randomly came across them on Google so obviously we trusted them with our lives). Touching down in Kota Kinabalu (formerly known as Jesselton – MUCH better name) we saw this AMAZING view from the aeroplane and were instantly excited about Borneo:

We got a great deal at the Meridien Hotel in the centre of town so shacked up there for a few days. There are a few markets in the surrpunding area that are pretty interesting to walk around; there’s a traditional ‘Filipino Market’/Pasar Kraftangan which was probably great a few years ago but now it’s full of souvenirs (made in China). Definitely worth walking through if you’re not claustrophobic though. The back streets of the main town are worth a walk around too; we came across a great disused building/burned down concrete box filled with fantastic graffiti (I have a little obsession with photographing graffiti). Just across the road from here is the Suria Sabah, a ‘shopping centre’ which has a fantastic French restaurant in a really hidden spot on the top floor – mighty find! Back in the town centre the Atkinson Clock Tower/Lighthouse (built in 1905) is worth a photo or two. You can walk up to Signal Hill from here to get a view of Kota Kinabalu from a height.

We also took a day trip to Sapi Island – lovely beach although we did nearly die on the boat trip back – riding high on massive ways – the dude needed a spotter out the front of the boat just to know what was out in front. Needless to say we didn’t do the beach a second day.

So you’re either supposed to climb Mt. Kinabalu or head to Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre when you visit Borneo. We did neither. You have to book accommodation on the mountain months in advance – hundreds of euro for a night in a DORM too (crazy) and you need a National Park Pass which also costs a few hundred. Turns out Sepilok is a flight away from Kota Kinabalu too…so yes, we went to Borneo and didn’t see a mountain or an orangutan. Do some research! You have been warned.

Can’t wait to go back to Borneo!!

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

So it started raining on the Perhentians on the day we were leaving. I’d usually be happy to leave the rain behind…but not when you have to get on a speedboat. Needless to say we may as well have put clothes on directly from the washing machine – that’s how wet we got. Good luck trying to change out of sopping clothes when you’re already late for a 9 hour bus trip as your boat driver (?) tries to fit as many people on to his 12-person max vessel. Good times! So we got to KL (that’s what the cool kids call it) after a cross-country trip in the fanciest bus ever. 3 seats wide – 2+1 with leather armchair type seats. Very flash. It was pretty surreal actually seeing the Petronas Twin Towers on the way in – well done there Mr. Architect.

So KL is basically another shopping mecca. That’s pretty much all there is to do. We visited the Aquaria KLCC which is a pretty good aquarium at the base of the Petronas Towers. The KLCC is KL’s new(ish) city centre area and houses the Towers as well as KLCC Suria – a pretty good shopping centre (they have Harrods!!). Got the hair done for c.35 euro – not too shabby! Some more of KL’s shopping centres include Lot 10, the Pavillion (which has a pretty great crystal fountain at its entrance), Starhill (didn’t spend much time here with Mr. Armani), the Berjaya Times Square (the world’s 5th largest building and has an indoor rollarcoaster – pretty cool)… There are some cultural things to do too. We checked out Merdeka Square which was all decked out for Malaysia’s National Day (August 31st). Chinatown is definitely worth a visit; surprisingly small area but nice to stroll around.

We met my brothers and girlfriends for one day on their way home to Ireland on a holiday – that day turned out to be my birthday so we had some Afternoon Tea in Harrods and went up to check out the view from the Petronas Twin Towers. Finished off the trip with a night out in an airport hotel with some lovely girls singing ‘Happy Birthday’. Good times.

Perhentian Islands, Malaysia

After a lovely 5am rise in Georgetown we hopped on a mini-van with about six other people and took off on our six hour trip across peninsular Malaysia to Kuala Besut. As the Perhentian islands have next to zero facilities you have to bring enough money for your entire stay (or walk about a kilometre in Kuala Besut and the speed-boat will take off without you). You have to pay a 10RM conservation fee at the port. Then you hop on a speed-boat for about 45 minutes and you’re on the Perhentians!

So off we got from the jetty in Kecil and had a lovely leisurely breakfast on the beach. Then we started looking for accommodation. Island. Booked. Up. Come back tomorrow morning. What now? After a major struggle with backpacks on the beach and countless reception desks we took a water taxi to the Pulau Perhentian Besar (big island) in search of accommodation there. Eventually we found a shack in the ‘Tuna Bay Resort’. Resort my eye, they had a communal TV, woo. We hid out here for one night and one major thunder and lightning show which continued until 4am whilst I was freaking out that we wouldn’t be able to get back on to Kecil (which houses much cheaper accommodation).  Got a speedboat back to Long Beach in Kecil the following morning and found a shack (quite literally) in ‘D’Rocks Garden’ which we booked for over a week. This shack = 4 x plywood ‘walls’, 1 x plywood ‘floor’, 1 bathroom with over-toilet shower and open air to the room, a balcony with a beautiful sea view and about 19.5billion insects. All for €23 per night. Bargain. Well that’s actually a bargain in Malaysia. It was fine once we bought mosquito coils, insect repellant, OFF! spray (for spraying on all exposed skin  mosquito saviour). We stayed there for eight nights – it was about 30 feet in the sky at the end of the beach and into the jungle so we both have some pretty epic calf muscles now. Moved to the ‘World Cafe’ for a further eleven nights which is directly on the beach and not so shack-y, although shack-y all the same. It has sporadic wifi too which is semi-useful.

The Perhentian Islands are probably the most laid back place we’ve ever been. It’s pretty much white sand, turquoise water and coconut trees (although they do have a pretty serious litter problem). There are no roads here, just beaches and one path from the two main beach areas. Supplies come pretty regularly from the mainland although many places run out of things by midweek. It’s a diver’s paradise, that’s actually pretty much what the islands are all about – diving and snorkeling. You can do the PADI 3 day dive course here for approximately €200 – I believe it’s one of the cheapest places in the world to get certified. Most of the shops and speedboat taxi stands here rent out snorkeling gear. An umbrella and two beach-mats will set you back 10RM – about €2.34 (at current exchange rates!) – do you hear that Spain??? That’s about the only cheap thing here though. A can of beer will set you back €2.50 and a bottle of wine upwards of €20. We had one really nice dinner in ‘Bubu’ for a special occasion – we ate a lot and it cost about €85. It’s a nature lover’s paradise here – we’ve spotted plenty of monitor lizards (one particularly large one), innumerable species of fish, some sea-jellies (I’ve recently learned that jellyfish is an incorrect term), geckos, turtles…

We spent most evenings in Ewan’s Café at Coral Bay on the other side of the island, a whole ten minute walk/hike (it’s a pretty steep hill so I’m going to go with hike here) away. Owned by a lovely family, it’s one of those places you see the same faces in every night. Most days were spent lounging on the beach although it can get quite hot – think it was about 34 degrees during our stay.

Advice if heading to the Perhentians: Bring more money than you think you’ll need, bring way more sun-screen than you think you’ll need, don’t arrive at the weekend unless you have accommodation (it’s really busy at the weekends and then really quiet midweek), Get off the speedboat at Coral Bay; they’ll charge you more and take you to a second boat if you go all the way to Long Beach; it’s an easy walk.

Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

Caught an AirAsia flight to Penang after a last minute decision to skip Thailand’s islands (don’t ask). Eventually found a bus to Penang’s capital, Georgetown, after a little while wandering around the construction site they’re calling an airport.

Our first evening’s walkabout in Georgetown didn’t really endear us to the area. We went to get some food and almost hit the ceiling with the prices; Malaysia is hands down the most expensive country in South East Asia. There’s a 7% tax and a 10% service charge on food (of course they put this in a tiny sentence at the bottom of the menu that you’d need a magnifying glass to see – just put the actual price on the menu lads!) We came across this pub street, an entire street cordoned off with outdoor seating areas and fairy lights – there was like four people in the whole area. The Malaysian government have realised that heavily taxing alcohol makes a tidy little profit (they must have an Irish expat adviser) even though most Malaysians don’t drink as they’re Islamic. Stayed in a guesthouse called the Red Inn Heritage on Love Lane; nice communal area, pool table, internet access…outdoor toilets – what more could a girl ask for? We spent a lot of time exploring the town…

Day-time in Georgetown went down better; it’s actually quite a charming, picturesque place, recently added to UNESCO’s heritage list. There is a lot of building work going on; it’s more of a ‘watch this space’ place than a tourist mecca at the moment. We actually enjoyed this though, it’s nice to get somewhere before McDonalds sets up shop (although Starbucks have already settled). There’s one area which is pretty heavily modernised, fancy schmancy shopping centre and all!

We wandered around the old town area for a good few hours, taking in the beautiful City Hall and Town Hall down by the sea, Fort Cornwallis where the British landed however many years ago, some temples (obviously), a pretty cool clock-tower, (HSBC!), one of the only (I would have guessed the only) train-stations in the world without any tracks, the pier area, the most amazing building in the universe apparently owned by some famous people but the security guard was hush-hush about this (so why say anything in the first place? It’s the type of building anyone would kill to own even a studio apartment in and there was a great open-air courtyard which housed a young female violinist in the evenings as well as plenty of art exhibitions in some of the upstairs rooms). Georgetown has some pretty great wrought iron art strung on the side of buildings randomly strewn across the city.

All in all, a nice place to spend a few days. We booked a bus to take us to Kuala Besut from here, the gateway to the Perhentian Islands off the north-east coast of Malaysia.