Kota Kinabalu

Sometimes ecotourism does not deliver such rich rewards as our orangutan excursion. We had booked for the river trip to see the proboscis monkeys famed for their particularly bulbous snout. We were picked up and taken on a cruise down a river that cut through the tropical forest in a place where there were significant numbers of the monkeys living in the wild. The skies were heavy with cloud, and thunderclaps reverberated along the river. As dramatic as this was, it was not good for spotting big nosed monkeys, as the noise worries them into more withdrawn positions. We continued looking with the binoculars provided.

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Eventually, with light fading we saw a couple of them moving about in the canopy. We were excited and felt validated in our decision to come on the cruise, though the photographs will probably not appear on the cover of any nature magazines. The monkey is circled in black below.

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Night fell as the boat returned to the jetty, and the trees were lit up by flickering green fluorescent dots of light emitted from fireflies which lined the banks of the river. We have no photographic evidence (though we did try), so you will just have to believe us.

Sometimes interesting nature just presents itself to you when you are not really looking too hard. While walking on Tanjung Aru beach we took this photo. In the hole is a tiny crab that is responsible for making all these little balls of damp sand. If anyone knows why, we would love to hear from you…

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We stayed longer than planned in Kota Kinabalu. Some travellers would have wanted to go all over the island, but we liked where we were staying, we got into a bit of a routine, and we didn’t run out of things to do.

The local bus took us into town for one ringgit (15p). The locals were a little surprised to see tourists on the bus, but were very friendly.

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From the harbour front we could get a sea taxi to one of the islands for 25 ringgit. Depending on the size of the waves the ride could be quite exhilarating (and jarring).

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One time we stopped off at Gaya Island where there were some houses on stilts. There was also a community like this on the way to Tanjung Aru beach. The residents made their livelihoods from fishing, or doing some of the less well paid jobs in the city.

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The variety of tropical fish could be seen from the jetty on Sapi Island.

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The beach could fill up with day-trippers, so we went for a wonder round the island.

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On the shores on the other side we found this creature in a rock pool.

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On our next trip to Sapi we found a ‘secret’ beach, which felt like our own, though we tried not to be too territorial when other folk stumbled upon it. I preferred to set up camp in the shade, while Nikki braved the tropical sun.

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There was excellent snorkeling to be had with live coral and a vibrantly coloured range of fish that made there home there. We felt very lucky to have found this other world just below the waves. Again no photos, as our camera does not go underwater; just watch ‘Finding Nemo’ for reference (we did see clown fish amongst others).

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When we returned from our underwater adventure, a large monitor lizard was taking a stroll on the beach. I have been told that these are quite commonplace in the tropics, and can be quite troublesome. For us it was definitely out of the ordinary!

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At the back of the main beach there was a stall which sold seafood tom yam for 12 Ringgits (£1.80). This was delicious.

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There were also wild boar roaming around. The piglets (or is that boarlets) were very sweet.

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Once we were back on dry land, we were in the mood to celebrate.

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The long island ice tea at the bizaarly named Beer Nest MIXO was the best we tried (though at 26 Ringgit not the cheapest).

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The sunset was all the better for it though.

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There is a fish market in Kota Kinabalu (KK) with plentiful fresh fish. If you go along in the evening, you can pick out what you want, and they will cook it how you like. It’s a must when visiting KK.

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Nikki and I are not generally late night people, but one evening we ended up in BED (short for Best Entertainment Destination). The band were doing covers with singers dressed in school uniforms, and occasionally looking over at an iPad for the lyrics. Accompanied by the happy hour beers, it all seemed quite amusing, and the light show was good.

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During our stay at Swiss Borneo Guesthouse, we got know the owners Silvio (from Switzerland) and Wan (from Borneo – Sabah to be precise). They took us on a trip to Kota Belud market. Wan told us about the origins of the name Kinabalu after which the mountain and the city (Kota) are name. ‘Kina’ means Chinese, ‘balu’ means wife. The story goes that a lady from Borneo married a Chinese sailor. He went to sea, and the mountain is the place from where she looked for his return.

When we got to the market, we found it was much cheaper than the shopping in KK, and there were some substantial knives available with ornately carved sheaths. Kota Belud is a centre for the Bajau people (on of 41 ethnic groups on Borneo). Instead of a knife, I bought myself an excellent pair of flip flops (12 Ringgit – £1.80). On the way back we stopped off at a pristine beach, where Silvio talked of his love for sailing.

Before we left Wan cooked us a delicious meal.

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Afterwards, we had a bit of fun dressing up in traditional local costumes.

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After sixteen days we said our goodbyes to Wan and Silvio, and their staff Shalyn, Luni and the housekeeper, and headed back to KL where we had a couple of days before heading up to Hanoi.

We returned to Chinatown. Watching the world go by on Petaling Street, I looked up to see lizards in the strip lights, not as big as the monitor on Sapi island, but definitely out of the ordinary.

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Next day we filled up on Mee Rebus Curry from the Central Market Food Hall (9 Ringgit – £1.40),

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and went for a walk.

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The Botanical Gardens were beautiful once more…

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