Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Borneo 2012

Back to Borneo again this year for another Sabahtical with my friend Jeff Miller, ten days of rotis, riding, and relaxing in Malaysian Borneo. We visited both Sabah state and Sarawak state, and also transited Brunei. Click on read more for pics and story..... (warning: very photo-intensive, may have to wait til the pics load up!)

We flew in with our bikes bagged and began our trip by assembling them right at the airport, an activity that always attracts on-lookers. The bikes were an extra NT$750 charge on AirAsia (NT$700 for the return), the cut-rate airline based in Malaysia. They have a direct flight to Kota Kinabalu, capital of Sabah, from Taipei. Round trip tix for this trip were just NT$6072. In ten days I spent another NT$11,250 (we save a bundle by avoiding the touristy stuff and riding bikes instead of taking transportation). Thus, the entire vacation came in well under NT$20,000. Lots of fun for very little money.

We headed out around the airport and south to Papar, our destination about 35 kms away. Had to get used to driving on the left again...

Eventually that rain did hit us.

Plenty of smiles from everyone.

Jeff takes a break for a photo.

The first night we stayed at her guest house. She was a bit nonplussed by the foreign guests...

Then it was our first meal of rotis and curry. Yum.

A local Filipino lad befriended Jeff.

The Asian Sign of Picture Taking has spread to the far corners of the earth.

Morning in the local community.

Day 2 began with breakfast and happy greetings from some schoolboys out on a voluntary litter cleaning activity.

Breakfast of champions.

Then we hit the road. We originally intended to go all the way to Sindimun on the border of Sarawak state, about 130 kms away. The best laid plans....

Between Papar and Beaufort, the major crossroads town to the southwest of Kota Kinabalu, the road is flat and straight. We had some lighthearted moments with local signage -- you'd see the milestone for BEAUFORT 54 and then the very next milestone, a kilometer away, would read BEAUFORT 50. This sort of thing happened several times. Unfortunately as we headed south we ran into a headwind that eroded our energy the entire ride....

Making a stop for mangosteens (usually around NT40 a kilo) and rambutans (as cheap as NT20 a kilo).

There is a massive Chinese presence in Borneo and Chinese temples are common (bonus points if you can name Asia's first republic, established on Borneo in 1777 by Hakkas). Most of the shops are owned by Chinese and it was easy to find people to speak Mandarin with.

Taking a break for fruit and water.

At lunch we rode into Beaufort looking for a place for rotis and curry.

This trip we came equipped with Kindles.

Around ten it had begun to get hot, and after lunch the sun was brutal. Out of Beaufort you climb a long shallow grade. In the heat and against the wind, we stopped many times for rest and water.

The local drivers were incredibly courteous. They'd always give us a wide berth, and would slow down and wait until the other lane was empty before they went around us.

A house along the road.

Everywhere signs for the Christian churches said "Merry Christmas!"

Around 3 we rolled into Sipitang which has a lovely little waterfront park, and went in search of a snack.

From the waterfront you can view the fossil fuel infrastructure out in the South China Sea, and watch the oil tankers come and go.

Making a roti for our snack.

After eating we rode another 18 kms to Sindimun through some lovely farming country.

Locals hard at work.

The road to Lawas in Sarawak. We hit Sindimun around 4, and found to our sorrow that it was merely a collection of houses around the Sabah-Sarawak immigration control checkpoint with no place to stay. Rather than head back to Sipitang, we decided to power on to Lawas in the gathering dusk. That turned out to be a mistake -- it was only 32 kms, but after riding 125 kms into a headwind under the sun, we were beat. Worse, the road was up-and-down. As it started to rain, we flagged down a passing pickup which gave us a ride to a point near Lawas town, and then we continued from there, arriving just before sunset with 135 kms of riding on the day.

Lawas town, the river. I love to get up early and take pictures of a town waking up. Day 3 was one we were both looking forward to -- we would leave Lawas for Trusan about 23 kms away, enter Brunei at the immigration checkpoint, then cross Brunei and re-enter Malaysia. We hit so many immigration checkpoints that day it was like we had broken into a tollbooth exhibition. But service was excellent, delays minimal, and the road was in perfect condition.

It was Mohammed's birthday, and the locals were all dressed in their finest clothes for a celebration.

Waiting for breakfast in Lawas.

Hitting the road out of Lawas...

At bus stops everywhere there were signs warning about purse snatchers.

Entering Brunei.

The roads in Brunei were in first world condition. Riding along next to the jungle, we could hear countless bird calls, monkeys, and insects.

Farmland in Brunei.

Small water craft are ubiquitous.

We had lunch in Bangar, about 20 kms from the border, the administrative capital of the area. Then we rode another 5 kms to re-enter Malaysia. Here we pause at Brunei immigration control for pics.

The ferry at Puni as you re-enter Malaysia, which surely must qualify as the world's shortest ferry ride. You could almost take one giant step across the river. Fortunately they didn't charge us.... but for cars it is 10 ringgit.

Jeff on the ferry.

Striking out for Limbang just 15 kms away, this young lad gave us a send-off after we exited Malaysian immigration control.

The road to Limbang.

Limbang town. We stayed in a double at the best hotel in town, the Purnama, for a whopping 1000 NT, or 500 apiece.

Durians in a local evening market.

Picking up fried snacks for dinner.

Like all the towns we visited, across the water from Limbang there is a stilt village which generates a constant flow of river traffic.

Waterfront in Limbang.

A father and daughter taking a break by the river.

One of the students in the English conversation club at the university is from Limbang, so naturally we met up with her in town.

Night market, Limbang. The town rocks with frenetic, unstoppable energy until about 7 pm and then it suddenly becomes a ghost town.

The next day we caught the 8:00 am ferry out to Labuan Island, a place we really enjoyed last time.

The ferry cruises upriver before entering the ocean, and they let us out on the narrow deck so we could enjoy the views.

Mangrove swamps and tidal flats. Alas, the crocodiles were a no-show.

Oil and gas wells litter the bay.

At lunch we floated into Labuan town and went off in search of rotis.

Shopgirl, Labuan town.

In the afternoon we did another 50 kms circling the island looking for a place to stay near the ocean, away from town, but struck out.

Returning to town, we stopped to image the stilt villages inside the harbor.

Dinner at Choice Indian Restaurant. A local Indian assured me it was the best Indian restaurant on the island. He seemed dead right to me. Delicious.

We stayed that night at Hotel Victoria, but that place is living on past glories, so we switched to the new and clean Hotel One across town early in the morning. I caught some egrets assembling on the mud flats in the harbor.

Our hotel room offered excellent views of the harbor and we enjoyed watching all the speedboats racing back and forth to the stilt village on the other side of the water.

We took that day off from riding, resting like this cat.

Waiting for breakfast.

11:00 am beer + Kindle.

The next day we headed out past the stilt village to explore the island's road network, intending to circumnavigate. The morning rain quickly cleared.

I love the colorful houses.

Down a dead-end road we stumbled across this community far from anything. It appeared to be some kind of relocation community.

Our appearance caused quite a stir in the community. We bought soft drinks and had a good back-and-forth with the kids who poured out to say hello. One of the reasons I enjoy Sabah so much is that there are plenty of kids about, unlike child-starved Taiwan.

They took us out to their community beach, accessible only by this path on the land side.

Bike with outrigger.

Circumnavigating Labuan Island.

Stopping at the WWII surrender memorial.

The lovely northern end of the island is ringed with beaches and parkland.

Stopping for ice cream and water.

Unfortunately after about 50 kms of leisurely riding in a light coastal breeze, Jeff's chain snapped as he was changing gears on a hill. He had to push his way back 17 kms to the town. Of course it happened at the point farthest from town...

We couldn't get the chain repaired on Labuan Island, so the next morning we hopped the 8:00 am high speed ferry to Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah state, always a great place to hang.

And you know what that means: rotis and curry.

In KK town it is always a pleasure to hang out at the waterfront, where there are restaurants, markets, and great views of the islands just offshore. I love to image the fishing boats, colorful and variegated.

In a nearby market, a man makes bundles of long beans.

Down by the textile area, there's an evening market where the vendors make take home meals.

BBQ in the night market by the waterfront.

Catching some Zs while Dad works.

Fishing boats, night.

The night market by the waterfront.

Are you my mother?

The day market down by the waterfront.

In the food court on the second floor of the day market, Jeff was pestered to take pictures.

Second breakfast one day: mangosteens and McDees' coffee. Purrrrfect.

A lunch spread.

I caught a nasty cold, so we rested one more day, then decided to climb up the road to Tambunan into the mountains.

Heading out to the mountains.

Jeff scouts for water in a local shopping center.


We turned back after about 25 kms, rain imminent.

Stopping at suspension bridge.

The road follows this river. Back to Kota Kinabalu we went for a couple more days of hangin'....

Restaurant worker in KK town.

Hanging by the waterfront.

Fish seller in the market.

Visiting the Gaya Market. Too crowded, and little interesting merchandise. But there was a historical exhibition about the area being held, and that was quite interesting.

Street in Kota Kinabalu. Within a one block radius of this point there are at least 25 hotels.

Seaweed for sale in the morning market.

Main drag, KK town.

Then, too soon, Mt. Kinabalu was waving good-bye to us....
Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums! Delenda est, baby.


Michael Cannon said...

Jeff, Michael - I'm very envious of your trip as I sit here in the snow. My morning -5C ride looks so pale compared to your guy's smiles and happy bellies. Thank you for sharing the photos and story. Ride safe.

Geoff said...

Thanks for posting the photos Michael I am very surprised that it is so "civilised" compared to the impressions of Borneo depicted in the media. I am a bit gobsmacked by how cheap your trip was. If I took a trip there the cheapest ticket I could get would be about NT$33,000! Very inspiring, well done. Geoff

Michael Turton said...

Thanks, Michael and Geoff.


Kaminoge said...

Fantastic! Makes me want to go there too!

P. S. said...

Great tour, thanks for showing what that area is like. Lots of warm smiles of people, there. What's the level of English, or can one get by using Mandarin? Also, how did you box the bikes for the return trip?

Anonymous said...

Very cool, thanks for sharing MT. Glad you are back online.

Michael Turton said...

P.S., we spoke English, sometimes we had problems, but usually ok.

We bagged the bikes, we brought bags with us.

Bakeling said...

Enjoy reading your post and photos of Borneo although I have never been there before !