Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Kota Kinabalu

Tuesday 1/07 - Wednesday 9/07

Kuala Lumpur to Kota Kinabalu

After a delayed flight, we arrived in Kota Kinabalu (KK), the capital of Sabah region of Malaysian Borneo. We caught a bus from the airport to the main backpacker strip and found some good affordable accommodation. Although, it is still a city, Kota Kinabalu definitely had a much more peaceful and relaxed atmosphere as compared to KL.

Because we felt so rushed in Thailand and had limited time in KL, we decided that this tranquil city would be a great place to veg for a few days.

As it is Ramadam, there is a daily food market just on our doorstep which we have often visited and tried many local dishes - agar deserts with brown sugar, a malt tasting fruit juice and of course many noodles. On the first day of the market, the mayor of KK, Mayor Datuk Abidin Madingkir, visited all the stalls and gave a little speech. We happened to be at one of the stalls at the time he was visiting and being the token tourists at the market, the photographers immediately herded us in for a Public International Relations shoot. We later chatted to the Mayor who had been to South Africa and we bonded over our respective mountains - Table Mountain which he had visited and Mount Kinabalu which we planned to summit.   
The next day we went in search of a newspaper in hopes to see our faces on the cover...alas, the papers chose to feature the sponsors of the event - our egos were bruised as we were upstaged by Maggi!

On the only rainy day that we have had thus far, we had made plans with a fellow Aussie from our backpackers to go and visit the islands surrounding KK.
We got our speed boat tickets (with a RM10 discount) at the harbour and jetted off at a great speed to the first island of  Mamutik.

Sailor boy ready for the voyage

Joy sporting our brand spanking new waterproof bag - it's amazing and it's PINK!

Our Aussie friend who we thought was called Shaun, but now we really don't know...

We arrived on Mamutik which was supposed to be the best island for snorkeling. 

New fashion of towel folding...both stylish and practical!

The front beach was very crowded with a huge contingent of Chinese holiday makers so we decided to sign the required indemnity forms and venture to the restricted beach on the other side of the island. However, after the trek through the over grown jungle path, we came across a huge monitor lizard that was viciously protecting the bay. This along with the fact that a storm broke out just as we arrived was a clear sign that we were not meant to snorkel here and returned sheepishly to the safe beach. Roxy tried a bit of snorkeling but after all three of us were repeatedly stung by pieces of jellyfish (that had been chopped up by all the boats) we retreated to shore and were keen to move along to the next island. 

Monitor Lizard
Storm rolling in

We arrived at the second island Manukan, which was the largest and most developed of the islands surrounding KK. We had lunch at a cheap beach side cafe but as the weather was so miserable we had to retreat inside for some warm drinks!

Once the weather cleared, we had just enough time to go for a little walk/photo shoot (to show off our recently purchased sarongs) along the beach.

Roxy trying out new ways to wear her sarong

Joy braved the waters for another swim but was soon met with the jellyfish 

We boarded our speed boat to return to the main land. We were glad to make it onto dry land after a very nerve-racking ride!

Thank goodness for those life jackets

While in KK we decided to have a lazy day and indulge in some home comforts...and for us that meant animated movies and popcorn!!!
We had been dying to go watch "How to train your dragon 2" which definitely did not disappoint. The popcorn was amazing however, as always in Asia, it was covered in sugary delight and no salt options were available.

The day wasn't a complete waste as we did soak up a little culture as we were leaving the Mall. 

As part of training, to get fit in order to summit Mount Kinabalu at the end of the month, we elected to climb to the local lookout point in KK. 
View from the bottom...our target point

Ready to go...

Once again some steep stairs
But once at the top, the view was worth the pain...

After many failed attempts at a selfie, a kind Aussie lady took pity on us and took this amazing pic of the sunset over the bay

View displaying that as the sun goes down, the city lights come on

The Gaya Street Sunday Market is a one of the biggest weekly markets in KK and luckily lay right on our doorstep.
The entire street is closed off and filled with merchants selling their wares.
We had come across the infamous Durian fruit at the beginning of our travels but it took us until stop number 3 to pluck up the courage to sample it. This was the perfect place as we arrived during fruiting season and it was everywhere to be seen, in all shapes and forms! The fruit is an acquired taste as it has an extremely pungent aroma that can has been likened to rotting flesh or sewage (wonder why we hadn't tried it thus far).

Luckily this sweet old gentleman offered us a small taste of the fruit - which was all Joy needed to know that it was not for her, Rox on the other hand did not mind the multi-flavoured, gooey texture that left a garlic after-taste
Besides food, clothes, plants and the usual Hello Kitty enthusiast stalls, there were also mobile pet stalls. They contained everything from bunnies to hamsters to fish.

Rox admiring the tiny turtles

We even found some brown-spotted dalmatians (Took the picture especially for you Tis)
Tried some Wheatgrass juice which is fabled to be good for your health
Another thing that is apparently also good for your health and will make you beautiful is... 

Bird-nest soup or this exciting sugary drink version of it. 

We didn't have the courage to try this one.

As we had heard that the biggest white water rafting in South-East Asia was to be found right here in Sabah along the Padas River, Joy couldn't resist [Roxy had had various near death experiences the last time she and her sister (Melissa) had done rafting along the Zambezi river at the Victoria Falls in Zambia]
We had to rise at the crack of dawn to make our 2 hour bus ride from KK to Beaufort. At Beaufort we just made it onto the local train which took us all the way to the rafting base camp.

A little padkos of peanut butter sarmies and apples on the train

The Train conductor leaning out the open door

Roxy couldn't resist doing the same - although with a little more of a dramatic flare

Joy hanging out with the train driver - unfortunately she couldn't convince him to let her take the 'wheel' this time

Entertaining ourselves on the 2 hour train ride at a maximum speed of 40km/h

Upon arriving at the rafting base camp, we were first instructed to sign indemnity forms and Roxy, being the astute lawyer that she is was the only one to read the details. After signing the forms we were kitted out in life jackets and helmets and then given a safety briefing by one of the instructors, Ash. Rox even got used as a test dummy in one of the safety demonstrations showing how to be flung both in and out the .

We were then all ready to face the rapids of the 'spicey' Padas River...

The entire group - spot the odd ones out (hint...it's us)

Now for a 'wild' photo

Our rafting crew - Shuyi and Delia from Singapore (Girl-power)

Using the railway to transport the rafts to the river

We really were in the middle of the jungle

Our instructor Henry taking a selfie

The dream team: Team 'S'-urvivor before hitting the water

And we are off...

All looking good on the 'Smile' Rapid 

Our Motto - Don't stop paddling (doesn't matter if you can't see)

Where is the boat...? 

Rox counting to keep our strokes in sync

And it seemed to work - as even the photographer noted that we were the most co-ordinated team

Watch out for that rock (Shuyi vigilantly keeping her eye on it)

Into the 'Whirl Pool' Rapid we go 

Henry and Tony (our guides) looking very relaxed and in control in the back

South Africans displaying perfect poise and balance in the face of destruction

Oh no - lady over board!!!

Henry to the rescue of Delia 

Tony - isn't that paddle supposed to be IN the water!! Such a poser

Our crew celebrating surviving up until the halfway point

Failed jumping photo

First taste of the 'Washing Machine' Rapid... it only does down hill from here....

And we lose the right side of the crew

And here goes Joy in hot pursuit (it just looked like SO much fun)

And of course true to form, she had to fall with her classic 'penguin dive' to add some dramatic flare!! (Luckily no stitches this time hey - I guess water is less damaging than tar)

Even pointing her pretty toes - Aunty Lynn (our Ex-ballet teacher) would be proud

And then the traumatic part about falling - getting stuck under the boat

Rox looking concerned as she is sure Joy went under this side - Where is she? 

Luckily she was alive - Just landed up on the other side of the boat - after the current kept sucking her back under the boat

Finally we realised she was on the other side and ok - Hooray - no need for Rox to jump in after her anymore

All thumbs up from Henry - another successful ride under his instructor's belt

Taking a refreshing voluntary dip after all action ...watch out for them crocs

Once we were safely back on dry land, we went up to the rafting headquarters for a barbecue lunch where we had the chance to share tales of our adventures with the other rafting groups.

Refreshing views on the cooking train ride home

Trying to capture the reflection of an elderly local man on the train as he stared out into the jungle with such a child-like wonder. 

After a 8 hours of travelling and 2 hours of paddling, we had sore muscles, a few bruised and were generally exhausted, so it was off for a junk food dinner and then an early night for us!
                                            We are the ultimate survivors! 

We spent our last full day in KK recovering from the rafting and booking and paying for our Mount Kinabalu climb.
The next day we rose early to catch a taxi to our bus to Sandakan. The trip would take about 7 hours and test our stomachs and faith greatly on the windy mountain passes.

The first time we have come across a proper looking SA taxi in Asia (which they also tried to fill to the brim)...

...except the Asian versions have stopping bells and safety bars!

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