The flight went smoothly and I actually arrived 20 minutes ahead of schedule. On the way into Sarawak (the half of Borneo I landed on), I needed another passport stamp. This one limits me to a one month stay in this half of the island. I got a couple of questions (“Business or pleasure? How long are you staying?”) but in a very pleasant manner which went with the “Service with a smile” badge the officer was wearing. America, please note – you don’t need to intimidate people and give immigration jobs to brain-damaged gorillas. Nice people can make your guests feel far more welcome.
As I landed so late, I needed to catch a taxi into the town as the buses stop running at an annoyingly early time. As it happened, I got to the taxi desk at the same time as an Italian couple who were heading to the Hilton. The centre of Kuching is quite small, so I asked if I could share with them and saved myself around 20 Ringgits on the fare.
The hostel I’d booked was only a five minute walk from where I was dropped off and I strolled via a 7-Eleven to get some much needed milk with chemical additives (strawberry flavouring). The Borneo Seahare Hostel is very close to the Borneo B&B and the Borneo Hotel, but hard to spot without directions. If you find the Borneo Hotel, walk to the next building uphill and you’ll spot the tour shop that it’s above.
My welcome there was one of the warmest I’ve ever had at a hostel outside of Hanoi. Wesley and Teresa who run the place are a local couple (brother/sister? Partners? I’m not sure) who helped me with my bags and got me checked in promptly. Then they sat me down in the kitchen and went through the guidebook map, asking what I was interested in doing while I was here. Their knowledge is very deep, and they’re great to talk to. I felt more like I’d arrived at a couchsurfing host than at a hostel.
After my head was filled with bus numbers, prices, destinations and a brief history of the island I crashed in the lounge area and chatted to an Irish guy (travelling with his girlfriend) and an English guy (who was catching up with his as she’s been working out here for a month). Between the two, I got a lot of ideas and hints on how to proceed up the island. The main thing was “book in advance”. Already it was hopeless trying to get an overnight stay in Bako National Park unless I wanted to wait till the 12th. And the mountain climb in Kota Kinabalu needs a week or more to book (especially as it’s coming up to the annual “Challenge” weekend which I think will coincide with my arrival. D’oh).
I then stayed up till 3:30am finishing then novel I was reading. Very silly as I had an 8am rise.