02 September 2013

CYCLING SABAH, BORNEO, MALAYSIA





13 August - Kuala Penyu – Beaufort – 40 kilometres

Shortly after leaving I reached the small town of Beaufort. I needed to go to a Bank and with such an English sounding name I was curious to see what it was all about. There was not much to see in Beaufort; it was just a typical jungle town, except for the fact that it has a railway station. The town also still has several rows of blue, two-storey, wooden shop houses, which gives it a rustic feel. Notorious for its annual flooding, the town is also known for its stilted shops and houses.
I found a room and lazed around for the rest of the day. I wanted to go to the wetland reserve, but it proved a bit problematic getting there and back. The railway line intrigued me and I wanted to take the train to the end of the line and back, just to see what it is like.


14 August - Beaufort – Kota Kinabalu – 98 kilometres

None of my plans came to anything, as every time I asked someone I got a different answer, so I packed up and cycled to Kota Kinabalu. It was a fairly easy day on the road - the biggest problem being the busy and narrow road.
Halfway there a large mountain range loomed ahead and, once again, I realized that I should never become too blasé!! Fortunately, nothing come of the mountains as the road seemed to follow a kind of a valley, a beautiful ride past a lush green countryside, interesting people, and small villages and riverside settlements.  I got into a kind of rhythm; the wheels spun easily, making a soft, whirring sound on the tarmac and the kilometres flew by. I pedalled past women carrying baskets strapped to their backs, past roadside Durian stalls and scrawny looking dogs, too timid to give chase.
Most interestingly, I cycled past custom built concrete birds' nest factories. I read somewhere that “edible bird's nests are among the most expensive animal products consumed by humans.” The nests are used in Chinese cooking, mostly for bird's nest soup. Made of interwoven strands of saliva they are high in calcium, iron, potassium, and magnesium.
Finally, I reached the big and modern city of Kota Kinabalu, or just KK as it is known to the locals.


15 August - Kota Kinabalu

I had a slow start to the morning as I had a windowless room (one of my pet hates), but then I couldn’t argue with the price. I had nothing planned for the day, but to walk around and see what Kota Kinabalu was all about. There was not much of interest in the town except for the interesting waterfront with its fishing boats, markets and food stalls. It was blazing hot again, so there was not much in the way of walking around. Again, the Bank did not want to dispense any money due to my Bank being off-line…… arrrggghhh!!!
That night I did not go down to the local night market, as is my usual habit, but instead sought out the tourist lane where they played western music, had a large screen TV, sold beer and pizzas. Strangely enough, most of the patrons were locals!! How ironic: the tourists were down at the local night market and the locals were at the tourist spot! I got my share of ear-splitting music, pricy beers and bad food, and headed back to my room, having had my fill of Western culture, for the time being.

16/17 August - Kota Kinabalu

Early morning I took a boat the nearby islands. Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park consists of five islands just off the coast of downtown Kota Kinabalu. I only had time to go to three of the islands, and what a blast! I snorkelled until my fingers and toes were wrinkled - what a pleasure. The water was lukewarm and crystal clear, the fish colourful and plentiful….. What more could I ask for?? There are times that I truly think I´m happiest when in the water. Too soon it was time to go back and if I knew there was camping on the islands, I sure would have brought my tent.
I stayed in Kota Kinabalu one more day. There is not much to see in town as most of KK was destroyed by World War II bombs, and except for the waterfront markets there are only the parks that are of any interest.

18 August - Kota Kinabalu – Kota Belud – 75 kilometres

I picked up my laundry, had a Chinese bun and coffee, and headed out of town. Just outside Tuaran I came upon an upside down house!! I had to stop and look at this bizarre building!  Inside everything was also upside down; tables, chairs, beds…everything was hanging from the ceiling. The designer did not forget about the outside, and even the car was hanging from the carport roof.


From Tuaran the road became extremely mountainous. It was intensely hot and soon I was drenched in sweat, moving at a snail's pace up the mountain. I was rather happy to see a stall selling ice cold sugarcane juice, especially after traveling under the blazing sun for a good few hours. As if that was not good enough, I found that another traveller had already paid for my drink which was waiting for me on the counter!! How awesome it that?? I gulped it down and was set and ready to tackle a few more hills.

19 August - Kota Belud – Poropok View – 45 kilometres

Overnight I changed my mind and decided to cycle over the mountains past Mt. Kinabalu National Park. I encountered rather steep hills, such that I had to push the bicycle from time to time. It is not that it was that high, but rather due to the steep gradient. The uphill went on and on and on, kilometre after kilometre, with no end in sight.

Eventually, a friendly man stopped and offered me some water and informed me that it was another seven kilometres to the top!! Soon afterwards, another good Samaritan stopped and offered me a ride. I seriously considered the offer but in the end continued up the mountain, huffing and puffing.

To the top of the hill only meant to the junction of the main road from KK. From there it was much better and, although still uphill and slow going, it was easier than where I came from. Soon after joining the main road, and just as I thought I could go no further, I came upon a small settlement selling handicrafts and snacks. I asked if I could camp for the night and they were more than happy to oblige. They quickly pointed me to a covered area which even had electricity, a tap, and toilets close by. I was happy for the cover, as it rained all night. I also understood that I was not the first one to camp there and that three other cyclists had already camped there on previous occasions.

20 -21 August - Poropok View – Mt. Kinabalue Nas Park – 16 kilometres

I was told that it would be another seven kilometres uphill and then the road levels out all the way to the park. How wrong they were!! I nearly had a sense of humour failure, as the road just kept going up and up and up!!

I eventually reached the park and found that accommodation in the parks had been handed over to a resort company and prices had increased dramatically. It was much better to stay outside the park gate, at one of the homestays. I found a room for RM35 right outside the gate, and was happy that I was done with the uphill for the day. I rinsed my sweaty clothes and had a bite to eat at the next-door restaurant. The weather took a turn for the worse and I was happy to be in a room and not busy walking up the mountain.

The storm dissipated during the night and I woke to clear skies and with a view of Mt. Kinabalu, dominating the skyline, rising to 4101m AMSL. I had my usual noodle soup for breakfast and set off into the park on one of the many trails. I soon met up with Lucia (from Spain but living in Mozambique) and the two of us continued the walk together. It was a pleasant walk with some rather unusual plants.  We just had enough time for lunch before Lucia had to catch the bus back to KK.

22 August - Mt. Kinabalue Nas Park – Telupid – 115 kilometres

I flew the twenty kilometres downhill to Ranau. All I needed was a red suit and I could’ve been superwomen!! I swept past small settlements, clinging precariously to the mountainside; each house with its own piece of land, forming an interesting patchwork of lines and colours. The jagged peaks of Mt. Kinabalu slowly disappeared in the distance. And that was the end of the downhill.

Soon the road started snaking up yet another mountain, and it continued in that vein for the rest of the day. There is not much one can do but put your head down and get it over and done with. The heat was intense and water was my biggest problem - I stopped at each and every conceivable watering hole to fill my bottles and rehydrate myself.

In the meantime, and for no apparent reason, I had my eye set on Telupid, about one hundred and twenty kilometres from Mt. Kinabalue. Determined, I tackled hill after hill and the kilometres to Telupid became less and less. When the signboard announced the last four kilometres to Telupid, my mood lifted….. I was nearly there!  At the same time a huge hill came into view……bloody hell…. Fortunately, so did a sign for the Golden Star Hotel!! Just there and then I decided to tackle the hill in the morning.

It was an interesting find, as the hotel looked fairly new and nearly everything worked. The air-con was icy cold, the shower nice and warm, and the bed firm!! Heaven!! The downstairs restaurant appeared fairly popular for a place in the middle of nowhere.


That evening I sat on the veranda, had a beer and a huge plate of fried rice, while watching the large trucks battling up the hill in the rain. I had the distinct feeling that the staff had to draw straws to see who was going to serve the foreigner. There was a lot of giggling and then one shyly appeared, asking what I would like to eat by pointing her fingers to her mouth!! I crawled into bed and listened to the rain pouring down; it rained like it can only rain in the tropics.

23 August - Telupid - JC resort – 80 kilometres

I can’t say that I was refreshed and well rested as I climbed the first hill of the day. I felt lethargic and my legs tired. No sooner was I out of the mountains and I was into the hills. Up and down the hills I went, past oil palm plantation after oil palm plantation, all in the scorching heat of the day. It was an exhausting day - not only was it hilly but I had to keep my eyes glued to my rear-view mirror for trucks coming up behind me. Often I had to shoot off the road as there was not enough space for me and two trucks. The kilometres past especially slowly and somehow, every time I past a sign board, the phrase “another one down, another one down” popped into my head!! It drove me bonkers; no matter how hard I tried I could not get rid of it…………… “Another one down, another one down”!!!

Then came the biggest surprise of the day!  Into view came a line of traffic disappearing over the hill and into the distance, and they were not moving at all!! At first I thought it’s due to the road works (of which there were plenty). I tried my best to weave through the traffic but there was very little space; trenches were dug along the side of the road and the bit of road that was left was hardly wide enough for two cars, let alone two trucks and me.


I pulled off at a roadside stall and was quickly informed of an accident further ahead, and rooms and a restaurant five hundred metres down the road. How lucky can one be!!! ….”Another one down, another one down!”

24/25 August - JC Resort – Sepilok Orang-Utan Centre - 30km

The traffic was no better on this day and the road was physically and mentally tiring - I was off the road more than on it. Trucks kept flying by in both directions, making cycling rather difficult. Thirty kilometres down the road I got to the Sepilok Orang-Utan Centre turn-off, and was relieved to get off the main road.

Just down the road were various types of accommodation, one being the popular Uncle Tan´s. I needed no second invitation and off-loaded my bike, and soon I was swinging in a hammock under the trees - I was exhausted!! The room was quite expensive but the price included three meals; a good thing, as there was no shops close by.

The following day I went to visit the Orang-Utan Centre and really just lazed around, doing as little as possible. Uncle Tan´s is a wonderful place to do just that - it has a wonderful setting in the jungle, and there is plenty of open space to walk or just to swing in a hammock.

26/28 August - The Kinabatang River Trip


I gave the bike a rest and travelled up the Kinabatangan River by boat to see what is left of the famous rainforest. The Kinabatangan River is the longest river in Sabah, starting high in the Crocker Range and flowing five hundred and sixty kilometres down to the Sulu Sea, on the East coast of Sabah. First, it was a mini-bus ride to the river, and then an hour or so by boat to the jungle camp. 

By late afternoon we took a boat ride down river in search of some wildlife, and saw plenty of monkeys as they settled down on treetops for the night. There was also the odd crocodile and monitor lizard. The place was teaming with birdlife, including eagles, owls, hornbills, kingfishers, and many others I don’t know the names of.


The jungle camp was rather interesting, and consisted of half-open structures with mattresses on the floor and much needed mosquito nets.  At night it was fairly noisy - monkeys, frogs and loads of other sounds I could not identify. The toiles were miles away and not a place I wanted to go to in the dark.

Early morning we were at it again, in search of the elusive Orang-Utans. We did not find any but saw loads of birds again, some crocodiles and plenty of monkeys. We returned for a late breakfast and then went on a walk in the jungle. It was once again fascinating as we walked through the forest, finding tiny insects and interesting plants. That evening we again went in search of some wildlife, and although there was not much along the river banks, it was a pleasant trip. After supper we donned the Wellies and set off into the swampy wetlands, and found many interesting insects and birds (the birds were mostly fast asleep).

The following morning we took another boat ride; this time we did see the Orang-Utan, calmly going about its business while we stared in awe. After breakfast it was time to head back to civilization and I was very pleased that I went. I stayed one more night at Uncle Tan´s, as it was the most convenient place to hang around.

29 August - Uncle Tan´s – Sandakan - 35km

It was time I continued my journey and I followed the rather busy road into Sandakan. The road lead past the water village of Kampung Buli Sim-Sim, the water village around which Sandakan expanded in the nineteenth century. It was a fascinating world and they found me as interesting as I found them. “Farang, farang,” the little ones shouted and ran for their lives!!! (Farang being the Thai word for someone of European ancestry, no matter where they may come from.)

Once in Sandakan I asked around for information on the ferry to the Philippines, but no one could tell for certain when and where it leaves from. In the end I cycled all the way to the ferry port, and once there was told that the ferry only leaves on Tuesdays (which would only be on the 3rd!!)  I so wished that it would be the following day, but there was not much I could do but wait the five days. I cycled back into the city and found a room at the Sandakan Backpackers. I had no idea how I was going to pass the time!!

Little did I know there was a festival in town. “Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka!” Hari Kemerdekaan is a national holiday, commemorating the independence of Malaysia from British colonial rule in 1957. It was a busy and colourful day; food stalls, balloons, jumping castles and parades were all over town. People were out enjoying the festivities and it was hardly possible to walk in the streets. The waterfront area was packed with people, sipping noodle soup and drinking tea. I did not feel so bad taking photos, as a thousand pictures must have been taken of me!! 


The following day the Independence Day celebrations were still in full swing. I had enough of the crowds and headed off to Kampung Buli Sim-Sim. The water village is well-organized and it was fun walking around on the wooden walkways between the houses. Kids came running up, wanting their picture taken, and every now and again I could hear: “Welcome to Sim-Sim,” coming from inside the wooden houses. I quite liked that and felt rather at home, despite being obviously foreign. The Sunday market was once again an interesting place, selling anything from clothing to food and pets.


The following day I bought my ferry ticket, and had to buy a return ticket as the Philippines want to see an onward ticket, may it be by boat or plane. It turned out to be a bit of a pricey affair, but there is not much one can do about it.

3 September - Sandakn, Sabah, Malaysia - Zamboanga City, Mindanao, Philippines - By ferry

At last the 3rd arrived, and although the ticket stated the departure time at 16h00, I was told to be at the port at 18h00. I packed up and left Sandakan Backpackers, which felt like home by that time. Just before leaving it started bucketing down, and the last thing in the world I felt like doing was cycling the short eight kilometres to the ferry in the rain. Fortunately, as rain goes in the tropics, the rain came down hard and quick, and by the time I was ready to leave, it was all over.

Once at the port it was a madhouse of people, trucks, busses and minivans, picking passengers up or dropping them off for the next trip. Once my bike and I was on the ferry I had time to explore, and found double bunk beds on the deck (better than sleeping on the floor). I found my spot, being no. 317, and that was only on Deck 1!!  People kept pouring onto the ferry and it was no wonder that two or more people had the same number for one bunk!! 

It was after 22h00 when we finally departed. The tiny canteen was jam-packed, trying to serve all the passengers; it was hardly worth the wait to buy something. The bunks were rather close to one another and it was a noisy night under blazing, florescent lights. I eventually fell asleep to the snoring, phlegm-coughing, burping and farting of the other passengers.

4 September

I woke rather early to more chattering, coughing, farting, burping and radio’s playing - each to their own tune. Our vessel was moving at a snail’s pace, and I understood from the other passengers that there was some or other problem with the engine. As I was the only foreigner aboard, I had my fair share of attention!!  They had no shame in coming to have a look and some gathered at my bunk, staring openly (no picking your nose discretely!!). At the same time it made it rather social, and the ladies on both sides of me took it upon themselves to take care of me and tell the onlookers when it was time to go… ha-ha. This was a really good thing, as there was always someone to watch your stuff while you were not there.

The hours came and went, and in the end the sun started sinking below the horizon, and still there was no land in sight. I sat on the deck, watching the Moslems perform their evening prayers to the soothing sounds of the (impromptu?) mullah. It was calming and peaceful against the rich colours of the setting sun.
We reached the port of Zamboanga City at around 9.00 p.m. but it was 11.00 p.m. by the time I got off the ferry. The going was particularly slow, as not only did everyone want to get off first, but one had to take a bus to the immigration office. While waiting to get off, one had to be particularly alert as small kids hopped on-board, scavenging for whatever was going - might it be unattended luggage or some leftover food. They were like monkeys, climbing up and down the side of the ferry; it was quite amazing to watch them operate - they were as quick as lightning, and even the on-board security had no chance of catching them!!!  They were under and over the sleeping bunks without the guards even seeing them.

Eventually, I was off the boat and at the immigration building. The queue was snaking from the one end of the building to the other. People were pushing and chafing (not sure where they wanted to go, as no pushing or chafing was going to get them to the front any sooner!). It was stuffy and hot inside the building, and the perspiration was running down our faces; people were fanning themselves with their passports (not that it helped, at all).

By the time I got out of there it was fairly late to go in search of a hotel. There was nothing I could do about it and, in the dark, I cycled off. In the light of my headlamp I followed the deserted streets, with just a few homeless people for company. The first two hotels were full, and the third too expensive. The fourth was more my style, and so it was 1.30 a.m. by the time I was in the room….what a day!!



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