Around Kota Kinabalu

After spending a day doing pretty much naff all yesterday, I decided to do a little walking. My targets were the Sabah Museum and the nearby mosque. They’re near enough each other, but a bit of a hike from the hostel. On the way I passed the clock tower, which also used to act as a lighthouse until the town grew massively early in the last century.

The museum’s not bad, covering all aspects of Sabah lifestyle, history and natural life. It’s the first museum I’ve been to in Malaysia that charges an entry fee, though. MR15 (around £2.50 – locals pay MR2) isn’t a lot for the size of the place, but if you’re feeling really tight you could see a lot of it for nothing. Just don’t go into the entrance of the main building. There are several sections and the only place my ticket was checked was right opposite where I paid for it.

I’m getting Oz Syndrome with the museums – each one seems to have a lot of similar material to the last one. The main museum building is impressive and houses stuffed animals, pottery, a fake cave (the area around here has some large natural ones) and a history area. There are also tribal costumes and the like. All well and good, but I’ve seen far too much of it elsewhere.

The science and art gallery wing is OK, the bulk being taken up by a history of the railway and yet another Shell-sponsored “this is how we drill for oil” exhibit. In fairness, this is probably the most impressive one I’ve seen, but all the information (and in fact, some of the material) is a direct copy of that in other museums.

By far the coolest area is outside, where you can find plants labelled with what they are and what medicines they’re used in; a “history” of plant life; and a selection of traditionally-built structures detailing how many of the indigenous population still live out in the jungle areas. It reminded me of a similar area outside of the Ethnology Museum in Hanoi though none of the buildings here are as large as the ones there.

If you’ve not done another museum in the area, this is definitely a good one. However, it’s a little repetitive if it’s your umpteenth in Borneo.

A few minutes’ walk away is the Sabah State Mosque, so I took a squint. The tower is pretty enough, but the inside is typically functional and plain. I did find one prayer room and I’m not sure if I was meant to go in (though nobody and no signs said I couldn’t) so I had a squint inside. Nice enough with the inside of the dome to see, and a huge glittery chandelier. All very nice.

By this time – mid-afternoon – I was a bit peckish so started the walk back to the hostel. On the way I passed one of the three cinemas in the area and saw they had a performance of Death Race on shortly. I picked up a ticket for MR8 (Saturdays are the expensive day…) and had time to wolf a very small KFC beforehand.

Not a bad film, entertaining enough, but Malaysia cuts its films for violence and dubs out bad language. This is very frustrating when watching a film, the primary reason for which is to enjoy some carnage. The cuts are very clumsily done as well. And don’t even get me started on the people who had their mobiles on for the whole film. They never answered them – just stared at the screens and let them ring out for a minute at a time whenever someone called. Back home they’d have been ringing their supplier for a new one and trying to explain how the last one had become lodged up their back passage in the first place.

I think it’s about time to consider heading for Semporna. I might catch the early bus tomorrow, and start my Rescue Diver course the day after. I’m still looking into Dive Master courses but there are so many inclusions, exclusions, accommodation deals, park fees and so in depending on where you look it’s hard to figure out where is cheapest!

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You can’t trust anyone

A lovely young couple here woke up this morning to find that someone had rifled their bag and taken a mobile phone… and approximately 500 Euro in mixed currency. The bag had been left in a communal area at the hostel here by accident. A small mercy is that flight tickets and passports weren’t stolen.

However… we have suspicions as to who did it. Another couple, who checked out very early this morning and cancelled their return booking. The bag was found outside their room, which also raises eyebrows.

I’m in Kota Kinabalu and they were due to return in 10 days after doing a trip of some kind. We reckon they’re still in Sabah, and Vincent is doing the rounds on the phones checking every tour operator and hostel he knows.

Just on the off-chance anyone else in Malaysia is reading this – perhaps in Semporna or wherever – please can you check to see if the following people are staying at your hostel or hotel:

Carmen Scherbaum (passport number 9118106765) and Thomas Scherbaum (passport number 9118108002) from Germany.

The details could be false, we don’t know. If you do have an idea of where they are, please send me a message via the link to the right.

And, folks, don’t leave your bags lying around. Stories and experience tell me that other backpackers are amongst the most likely to rip you off when you’re travelling. You know I won’t. I know you won’t. But what about that guy in the other dorm? If your hostel has lockers – use them. And don’t carry/withdraw huge amounts at one time if you can avoid it. If you do, spread it through several bags and pockets.

It’s easy to say after the incident. I’m only glad that more inconvenient articles weren’t stolen.

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Back in the water

Small post and a few photos and videos, so they’re all at the bottom. I didn’t get to dive with the girls this morning as their dive boat was full. I took a walk across the road and found most of the other dive shops shut. One, Sabah Divers, had an open door but the staff were busy preparing for the day. I sauntered in anyway.

They quoted me MR281 for 3 dives including kit hire, which isn’t too bad. The girls got theirs for 250, but a fiver extra for a walk-in is fine. My dive master was Russel, and there were a few others in the group including a young guy from Singapore doing the last day of his Open Water course.

We boated out to one of the nearby islands in the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park where there are many reefs around. All three dives were in excess of 40 minutes, visibility was superb in the morning (first two) and a little more limited in the afternoon as a storm closed in overhead and took away some sunlight.

Still, we saw some pretty good stuff and I managed to get my camera down there on the third dive. Dive 1: tested the casing. Dive 2: took camera, spotted case leaking at 6m and the other dive master took it back to the boat for the. Dive 3: all OK and I’ve got what I hope is some good video of a cuttlefish.

Russel certainly knows his stuff and where to find it. Sadly we didn’t spot the hairy frog fish which has been lurking around recently, but plenty of other things from starfish to octopi and the now-mandatory “Nemo”.

Between dives we retired to a resort on the island for drinks and food and chat. The staff and other divers were a good bunch and the lengthy surface time breaks seemed to fly by.

Oh, and I got my foot licked by a 2m long monitor lizard, which was cool.

Not a bad day considering it was all decided on at the last minute. The guy who runs the hostel took five of the guests to another tiny island, so had I not managed to get a dive I’d still have had a good time by the sound of it.

I caught up with the girls again later and it turned out they were the only two on their boat apart from the dive master and the boat operator. They had a great time, and they had lunch included. I should have found out what company they went with. However, they didn’t land on the island – they stayed on the boat all day. We’d intended to go out for dinner, but by the time we met we’d all eaten. Diving does make you hungry! Plus, we were all exhausted after too little sleep and too much exercise!

Kota Kinabalu is shaping up as a town which in itself isn’t really spectacular, but which has a lot going on around it. And at £3.20 per night for accommodation, I can handle staying here for a night or two more.

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Short day

After staying up till 5am chatting to some guilty parties online, I crashed out and got up around one in the afternoon. As I surfaced, the girl on reception handed me a note – it was from Nydia and Christine, the German girls I’d met in Kuching. They were in town and would meet me in the evening for some food. Excellent.

I spent the day running a couple of errands. A package was sent home with backups of my photos in – after I went to the post office, bought a box then realised I couldn’t remember the address so had to walk back to he hostel. Then back to the post office. Argh.

For those posting things from Kota Kinabalu, the staff there are really helpful. If it’s a small-ish package (less than 5kg or so), they sell boxes for a couple of Ringitt at a smal counter immediately to the left of the entrance. Take the boxed package to window number 7 where they’ll weigh it, take your cash and give you the stamps and customs slip. Fill in the usual garbage (“heroin, cocaine and three dumper trucks – Value £1.27”) on it, stick it on and hand it back in at number seven. Job done.

Postcards were also found (not an easy task, surprisingly) and will be winging their way tomorrow. Lunch was in Burger King (I really have no appetite for rice or noodles at the moment) and I sat and read a bit in the hostel. Vincent, the chap who runs the place, had sorted me out some dive class prices in Semporna. I just need to work out when I’m going.

I caught the girls at a café next door to BK, which I can’t recall the name of. A shame as I’d recommend against going there as the service was dreadful. Apparently the night before, their waiter had stood there and basically asked for a tip once they’d paid – even though the bill includes a 10% service charge. Tonight, he was just rubbish. The girls ordered a pizza and 45 minutes later there was no sign of it so we just asked for the cheque. No pizza on the bill, so we can only assume he’d completely forgotten (or not bothered) to sort it out at all.

Instead, we walked to Pizza Hut which was remarkably cheap. I’d had pizza the night before so went for a pasta dish instead.

The girls had booked diving for the next day and I decided I’d get my bum out of bed early and see if I could jump onto the same trip as them. It may be full, in which case I go back to bed. Or I might get a couple of practise dives in before I make my trip to Semporna for the Rescue Diver course. Not a bad idea as it’s almost 13 months since I was last underwater!

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…and back into Malaysia again

I stopped out to watch us batter Manchester United and really scupper the start of their season. And then updated the Ubuntu installation on my laptop. And talked to one of the café staff for half an hour. As a result, I got to bed around 2:30am with a 6:00 rise. Whoops.

As ever, though, I did wake before my alarm went off and gathered my things. All I had to pack was my toothbrush and toothpaste. I’d done everythign else the night before to ensure I didn’t wake my roomies. I’m nice like that.

It was only a quick walk to the bus stop where Mel and John were already waiting. Our bus was delayed slightly, but took off like a rally car once we were on board. The “you are going too fast” beeper in the driver’s cabin must have needed new batteries by the time we got to the ferry terminal.

The ticket was $15 and there’s also a $1 departure tax you pay a few metres further on so do be prepared with that extra buck for when you’re leaving the country!

The boat we got onto, the Seri Anna, was nice enough and spacious with TV screens – like a more comfortable ocean-going version of the river boats. With only 45 minutes or so of travel, it’s surprising they bothered putting a film on but they did anyway. Not that it mattered. I conke dout and awoke as we were approaching the ferry terminal at Pulau Labuan.

Our ferry back to the mainland and Kota Kinabalu wasn’t until 13:00 so we had some time to kill. My travel buddies headed for the war cemetery – from the photos, very similar to the one in Kanchanaburi – and I walked to the museum. Quite small and quite nice. They’ve even changed some of the signs, correcting inaccuracies. It’s predominantly about the history, geology and geography of the island. It’s had quite a history, being owned and run by various different parties before becoming the second Federal State of Malaysia – the status it currently holds.

I still had a little time, so walked out to the Marine Sports complex. This isn’t too hard to find – continue past the museum till you reach a sports field. Cross or walk round this and you’ll join another road with a huge bright red “fire water tank”. Go down this road about 100m and it’s on the right.

My reason for walking here was predominantly to see the marine museum it holds. Again, quite a small one but very nice with plenty of tanks with some interesting sea creatures inside. There’s a ton of information and more details on the four wrecks off the coasts, all of which are diveable. However, I don’t believe anyone runs trips to them at present, though this might have changed.

As the sun beat down, I walked back towards the ferry terminal only pausing for a large Pepsi at KFC (new landmass, new KFC…) where I couldn’t get the free wifi to work. If I had, you’d be reading this minutes after I typed it! Instead, I’m just about to pack up and walk over the road to the ferry terminal and collect my rucksack from left luggage.

More later…

OK, now it’s later (that was quick, wasn’t it?). The ferry journey from the island to the mainland was almost three hours, but fairly smooth. We were inflicted with the first Fantastic Four film and the second recent Zorro one. I’m rather glad I was tired as I just slept with the sounds of Disturbed and Dragonforce ringing in my ears.

Arriving in Kota Kinabalu meant that I was in another state of Malaysia – Sabah. This is the touristy one, and by all reports is busy at the moment. We did see a fair few tourists (obvious Europeans) kicking about, but it didn’t seem that hectic, in all honesty.

A short walk brought us to the Tropicana Lodge where I’d made a booking. Vincent, the owner/landlord/whatever was in a bit of a state as he’d been out on a night boat and had barely slept since returning. Regardless, he answered all my questions and started on sorting me out a dive class while I ditched my kit and met J & M for a beer downstairs.

From there we made our way over to Little Italy for a pizza/pasta fest. Expensive, but great food. A point to note in KK (and possibly all of Sabah) is the incredibly irritating “all prices subject to 10% service charge and 5% government tax” notice, usually dropped on a sign somewhere, or the bottom of one page of a menu. If all prices are subject to it, then why not just list it as part of the published price the way we do VAT in the UK? America, also take note with your flipping sales tax. If I see a price sticker saying “Snickers 40c” I expect to pay 40c at the check-out. Not 40c plus whatever your state’s sales tax is. Get it together, people.

Anyhoo, the meal was good if expensive. Melissa was tired, so John and I had one more beer before heading back (they’re travelling elsewhere in the morning) and I latched onto a German couple who were walking to the night market. We prowled the identikit stalls (wallets, sunglasses, cheap jewellery… repeat ad infinitum) then gave up and walked to an open air bar for a beer. Two large bottles of Tiger for MR21… plus the aforementioned tax and service. Good grief.

It seems I’ll be doing all my diving from Semporna. Apparently it’s cheaper and I can get a Rescue Diver package any time I want. So that means cutting my stay here short and doing the climb of Kinabalu in a couple of weeks, perhaps after I’ve achieved Dive Master. Plans are fluid as always, but I’ll keep you up to date!

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