The day after Puerto Princesa we were in another port – Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia. It’s not actually in mainland Malaysia, but instead is in Sabah, on the tip of Borneo. (This explained a lot actually, as when we had looked at maps before leaving it had seemed as though we were taking a particularly extravagant route to Australia, though we’d not thought to question this!) We hadn’t booked an excursion as we had done some research before arriving about Kota Kinabalu, obviously only neglecting to look up where it was in the world, so after we had eaten breakfast in the buffet while watching the boat sail into port, we packed our bags in the room and managed to be some of the first people off the ship when we docked at around 11.30am.
We’d seen the local ferry terminal from the ship as we came in so knew roughly where we were heading, so set off out the port on foot to Jesselton Point (about a 15 minute walk). It was incredibly humid and we both got super hot (read: sweaty) on the way to the ferry building. Fortunately we managed to find the right ticket counter pretty quickly, and bought a return ticket to Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park – a group of five islands about a 20 minute speedboat journey away. We chose a return ticket to Sapi island, and after waiting around for about 45 minutes (outrageous!) a boat was ready to take us across.
The speedboat was small and carried about 12 people – unfortunately they obviously didn’t account for people as heavy as us (I blame the cruise diet). As such when we got about halfway to the islands the engine cut out – it had flooded due to the weight at the back of the boat (WE were at the back of the boat! Further outrage!) The drivers explained that we needed to spread out, so the upshot of this was that Jimi and I got to sit up front on the nose of the boat, which was bumpy and fun, somewhat like a rollercoaster. They could hear our screams in Manila! We eventually arrived at the island and jumped onto a jetty where we could already see all the colourful fish below in the water. Jimi was immediately itching to get in and snorkel! The island was sandy with small strips of beach, but most of it was jungle. We found a spot by one of the beachy bits to leave our bags, and then headed straight into the water.
The coral reef in Sapi is right off the shore, maybe 20m out, and the water wasn’t very deep – at its deepest up to our shoulders – so we could snorkel right over the reef. The reef has obviously been damaged by tourists which is a shame, but even so we still saw lots of different fish including clown fish, clams, hundreds of bright tropical fish, a puffa fish and a stingray. We spent about an hour in the water and then went for a stroll to the small shop in a wooden hut on stilts along the beach, where we bought some cans of drink and snacks. There were monitor lizards strolling about – we saw quite a few, completely unfazed by people and also bumped into our cruise friends Jill and Russell on the beach who had come to the island after we’d mentioned it last night.
We had our snacks under some trees as it had started to rain (Jimi threw the crisps everywhere and then knocked over the drinks – a shocking couple of minutes!) before we went back in again, this time with the camera to film the fish. After about ten minutes I was BITTEN BY A FISH which seemed unlikely but genuinely happened and it drew blood! I could have died. Needless to say, after all that violence we didn’t stay in much longer, which was also good because then the monitor lizards all seemed to go swimming which was pretty terrifying as they are enormous. About 4ft each? Big enough says Jimi. We went back to the main hub of the island to wait for the 4pm ferry, and saw some monkeys again, this time picking through some rubbish bins. Classy and cute – a winning combination.
We caught the boat back to the mainland without a hitch, and then picked up some wifi at Jessleton Point so managed to make some Skype calls home. We also found a flip-flop shop and treated ourselves to a pair each with our remaining ringgits. Fippers are big in Malaysia and after buying them we have now seen them everywhere, so let it be known for the record how fashion forward we must be!
As we had spent all our money we couldn’t get a taxi back, so walked in the (now pouring) rain back to the boat. But our fortunes changed back on board when I discovered Gilmore Girls was on TV in the room. (Can I just take a moment to say just how much I love Gilmore Girls. This may not seem relevant to the travel blog, but in a way isn’t Gilmore Girls relevant to us all? They talk so fast, but they talk so true.)
That evening we headed to the dining room where we were back with our usual table for more food, fun and chatting and after dinner had some coffees with some other new cruise friends. It’s been so lovely to meet so many friendly Australians (and Brits!) who have just been the most generous people so far – boding very well for arriving in Australia!
The next three days were spent at sea before we docked in Bali. These were pretty lazy, so while we considered providing long and detailed descriptions we decided to skim over these as they largely consisted of sleeping/reading/eating in various orders.
Key things that happened during this time include:
- Getting up early enough to finally eat breakfast in the restaurant, where Jimi discovered amazing Eggs Benedict which was unfortunate as we will probably now need to get up that early every day, sigh.
- We saw a hypnotist in the theatre on our first sea day, which was pretty convincing – loads of people took part and seemed to genuinely be hypnotised on stage which I’d never seen before. Jury is out on whether they were pretending.
- We played late-night shuffleboard and mini golf with our dinner friends – Yvonne and Kevin and Laurence and Rini. They beat us at both activities quite comfortably. Kevin is VERY good at golf.
- (Kevin saw dolphins but we missed them! So we then spent several hours over the course of the three days looking out for dolphins. We saw none).
- We bought a $30 internet package for 24 hrs, and spent a lot of time debating whether to book another cruise in January to the Pacific islands. We may yet do so.
- We had a formal night so dressed up and then ate dinner again with Jill and Russell, and then drinks with Daryl and Sue in the bar, making plans to do another drinks evening in their suite!
- Jimi tried the climbing wall, and nailed it. He was only defeated by the red route on the far right wall – the challenge for the rest of the holiday will be to complete this!
So as you can tell, productive times all round. On Friday we arrived in Bali and, most excitingly of all, I’ve passed scribe duties over to Jimi for this post:
The day started well. We snuck off the boat and got on one of the first tenders to shore. When we arrived at the port of Benoa, we met our driver for the day, Sukiwirma, and we started our tour.
The first place we visited was a local village temple. Me and Kimberley had to wear a sort of sarong garment to cover out knees. The temple was incredible. There were stone carvings of various gods and our guide explained how it all worked. There are four types of temple and we were in a village temple.
After the temple our guide drove us to the monkey forest. It was hot! We paid our entry fee and then wandered down to a river. There were monkeys everywhere. They eyed up our stuff and a monkey decided that a packet of paracetamol looked too good to resist and stole it. An Australia lady raised the alarm to a warden and we fled. I’m sure the monkey had a good time. A warden gave us some sweet corn and the monkeys climbed all over us. I got a monkey bum to the face. Nice.
After the forest we had a wander around Ubud market – the driver had a nightmare parking the car! We didn’t buy anything but had a look at the hundreds of stalls selling everything from wooden penises to fake designer underwear. Something for everyone.
Our driver then took us to look at some of the rice terraces. We wandered down through a restaurant and across a river to the terraces. I fell in one stream and have ruined a pair of trainers. Not quite sure what Australian immigration will make of all the mud. We paid a toothless old guy 10,000 Bali dollars and headed up the other side. The view was amazing. Green paddy fields and palm trees cut into the side of a hill. We had a breathtaking view at the top and ate an apple. Kimberley had a go with one of the rice baskets. From her technique I’m not sure she would be cut out for a day in the paddy fields.
Our guide then took us to a water temple. We put on another sarong and headed in. Mine was a particularly fetching neon patterned number. The president lived up the top of the hill by the temple when he visited the area. Not a bad place. The temple was similar to the one we visited in the morning but much bigger. There was a natural spring in the middle and our guide explained that the spring was used to wash people and purify people. There was also a separate bathing area with water spouts. The spouts represented different things and you washed under 11 separate ones. We wandered out through a market and onto the next part of the tour.
The coffee farm was only five minutes down the road. Our guide showed us all the plants that normally come in jars at home. We saw vanilla plants, coffee plants, cinnamon trees, cloves and pepper corn plants. They also had a speciality coffee the locals call “cat-poo chino” – basically the coffee beans are fed to a Luwak cat and then roasted and turned into coffee. Not exactly the most ethical coffee in the world but it tasted alright! We also got to sample some great local teas and coffees. Highlights were a spicy ginger tea and a sweet coconut coffee.
The waterfall was about ten minutes away and we paid 20000 dollars and headed over to have a look. It looked big and you could see plenty of people in the water swimming. We did not have time to swim so looked at it for a bit then headed off. Sukiwirma assured us we would be a the port by 4.30pm in time to catch the tender back to the boat.
At 5.20pm we were still in the car. The last tender was at 5.30pm.
(Tantalisingly Jimi ends the blog there! But to fill you in…)
When he eventually pulled up at the port we literally legged it out the car and across the car park into the ferry building… only to discover that most of the ship was there as there had been a spectacular delay with the tenders! So we were FINE. (Which is fortunate as Jimi also neglected to mention that he had left the credit card on board, so we’d run out of money, hence having no lunch and we also didn’t have our passports which were still in the ship’s care! So being stranded would have been particularly unfortunate).
We had to wait about 45 minutes to actually get on a tender, but when we did we were able to stand on deck and watch the sunset as we sailed over to the boat. It was all lit up for the evening and we bobbed about for a while waiting for tenders in front of us to unload, before we finally got on board.