A Travellerspoint blog

Monkey Business in Sandakan

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View Karl & Paula's Adventure (so far...) on karlnpaula's travel map.

After making the trek up the hill from our hostel in Mount Kinabalu with our heavy backpacks we waited for the bus heading to Sandakan, which we were informed would take roughly 3 hours. In actual fact the journey took 4 hours and 30 minutes. The bus itself was very comfy and the long journey would not have been much of a problem if it wasn’t for the dramatic speed at which the bus was moving or by the constant ‘beedy eyes’ staring back at me. Just to mention this is my first trip to Asia and Karl had warned me to be prepared for the staring locals as “they are not used to seeing white people with blonde hair.” For the first week of my trip I am not going to lie I found the staring extremely uncomfortable. KK was my first experience of this. Everyone stared! From the children’s curiosity stares, the female evil stares and the men I just want to suck your blood stares. I began to wonder how I would handle this new found celebrity status!

Anyway back to the point, arriving in Sandakan was easy as we were travelling with Jo (an English girl) who was recommended a great hostel in the thick of things. We arrived in the city centre by taxi at 8pm and got settled into our room. Sandakan Backpackers was a great place to stay and I felt a lot more relaxed here than our first dodgey hostel (Borneo Global Backpackers, see blog 2) as there was no ‘beedy eyes’ here as they were just accommodating backpackers. Once we got settled in, we went for a late night meal at the waterfront and it became very apparent that I am just going to love the seafood in Borneo. It was just so fresh, tasty and CHEAP! I thought Australia was good for seafood, but this was on a whole new level.

Sandakan is located in Far Eastern Boreno and is a major shipping port. Apparently Sandakan was once home to the worlds largest amount of millionaires, but the city certainly didn’t give off this affluent impression as most of buildings appeared to be almost falling down. However, the main reason we came all the way to Sandakan was to see the Sepilok Orang-Utan rehabilitation centre. We were on a tight schedule but as I am here with Karl this means that tight schedules become even tighter. And of course in the morning I was up, showered and raring to go, Jo and Karl on the other hand were still in bed sleeping so peacefully. Long story short we missed the morning bus (thanks Karl), so had to get a taxi which was 10 times more expensive than the bus (thanks Karl). Taxi rides in Malaysia have so far not been normal, well in comparison to the Western World. For example, as we were in a rush to see the orang-utans, our Malaysian driver decides to take a detour and stop at the local shops to pick up his wife who greets us with a toothless smile “Hellooo welcome.” Then (all ready very late) he decides to stop for petrol with his wife still showering us with that beautiful smile. Long story short, we get to the centre at 10:30am to be told by the not so polite man behind the desk that we will not see any orang-utans as we have missed the 10am feeding, and we must wait until the 3pm feeding. This was when we said our goodbyes to Jo as she was heading on a jungle safari and it was back to me and Karl. We then had to make a decision, is it worth staying here for 4.5 hours in the middle of nowhere with nothing to do in the deadly heat? Not even a book to read!


It was worth it! The orang-utans are one of the most endangered creatures in the world and can only be found wild in Borneo and Indonesia, however seeing them in the forest rehabilitation centre was just like seeing them in the wild. We got so close to a young male who was just dancing about in the trees sometimes hanging down from branches right in front of our noses. He was a total attention seeker and we later saw other orang-utans who all had very distinctive personalities.


After the tour, we took the bus back to our hostel and headed out for another great meal. This time we were accompanied by a singing waiter with a guitar, who was just hilarious, but was short lived as he only played three songs and became very annoying. There’s only so much pretend smiling you can do.


The next day, we left Sandakan to head back to KK and again, this was an experience. We got the same taxi driver who already had his wife in the car and I must say I was growing fond of her cheeky gummy smile. They then helped us out and made sure we got the cheapest bus back to KK. On arriving in the bus station we were greeted by a dozen screaming men running at the taxi, pulling my door open and grabbing my bag. Luckily Mr and Mrs Taxi shouted at them and retrieved my bag as I was a little taken a back at the fastness of it. They were just trying to get you to spend your money on their bus. The bus journey was a tad strange, it was empty so Karl and I took a row of seats each but every time we picked someone up, they would try and sit down next to me even though there were loads of other available seats. First an old lady then a pregnant lady? What can I say I must just look inviting? Thankfully, there were no ‘beedy eyes’

Until next time....xxxxxx


Sandakan, Borneo.

Posted by karlnpaula 11:47 Archived in Malaysia Comments (2)

Trials and Tribulations of Mt Kinabalu

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Kinabalu National Park is one of Boreno’s main attractions and having spent two days here I can see why. Located in the tropical rainforests of North Eastern Borneo (see map), the national park is home to Mt Kinabalu – South East Asia’s tallest mountain. The mountain stands proudly and ominously at a whopping 4095 meters above sea level. For those of you who aren’t regular mountaineers (such as myself...) this equates to being half, yes half, the size of the Mt Everest and in Scottish terms, four times the size of Ben Nevis – the British Isles tallest mountain. In short, altitude sickness is common, it typically takes 2-3 days to climb (depending on fitness levels) and it is regarded as one of the world’s most spectacular climbs. As I struggled for air in the unrelenting heat, with my newly accumulated Australian beer gut weighing me down, it was quite clear that even Warner might have bitten off more than he could chew with this one. What I forgot to mention was we were still at base camp trying to organise the climb for the next day.


To embark on the climb, there is a lot of bureaucracy (some would call it health and safety), which is very untypically Asian. Firstly, you need to organise a climbing permit and compulsory guide. This is due to the fact that it’s bloody difficult and the second day commences at 2AM (in darkness) so you are able to catch sunrise on the summit. Organising a guide was a not a problem, there were plenty of them. The second task is you need to book compulsory accommodation midway at Laban Rata which is the only rest house on the mountain. This is where you are meant to sleep for the night, adjust to the altitude and obviously rest. Excusing the pun, things started to go rapidly down hill from here. To our shock, the only rest house was fully booked, not for a few days, but for 4 weeks. As we stood around national park HQ (observing and talking with other travellers in the same situation) it became clear our adventure to visit Borneo, to specifically climb Mt Kinabalu, had turned into a slight disaster. The only other option was to try and complete the climb in a day by departing at sunrise and returning for sunset. This was however unadvisable for inexperienced climbers due to altitude sickness, the late-afternoon thunder storms and the obvious risk of getting stuck on the mountain. Again we arrived unprepared, expecting everything to fall into our laps and this simply doesn’t happen in Borneo. Disappointment was an understatement.

Instead, we opted to do the Liwagu Trail which is the most strenuous of all the trails in Kinabalu NP. The trail took over 6 hours, and as we hiked ‘around’ the circumference of the mountain, we trekked through jungle, avoided snakes, crossed over rivers and waterfalls and overall, it was a worthwhile experience.


Nevertheless, (and not be ungrateful) it was a substitute for the real thing. For example, it was like turning up to Hamden Park (Scotland’s national stadium) having bought a fake ticket from a tout, to be told by the ticket inspector to watch the game in the pub next door. Or getting on a flight and walking through the business class cabin thinking ‘oh this is nice’ to realise your economy seat is at the back of the aircraft. Or chatting up a beautiful girl in a bar to find out she has a boyfriend once you have spent all your time, money and energy, but at least she wants to be friends. Overall, this was all slightly annoying.

But I hear everyone say...’Poor Karl and Paula, how did you recover from such a setback and mishap?’. Well on the next day when we should have been making our Kinabalu descent, but still with our PMA (positive mental attitude) hats on, we decided to search for bigger and better things to do. We then spoke to a local who said, ‘You must go to the Poring Hot Springs – they are one of the world’s natural wonders – my taxi friend will take you for special price!’. As we had nothing better to do, we negotiated a special price and after a 1 hour taxi ride, we arrived at the Poring Hot Springs. While in the Taxi, I had this image of relaxing in a volcanically powered hot spring in the middle of the jungle, blinded by natural beauty, and only slightly distracted by the ‘egg-ey’ smell of sulphur. Instead we turned up to this:


Yes a range of bathtubs, some full, but mostly empty. Basically, we travelled 60 miles for a hot bath. In all fairness the hot water was from the springs, but who in their right mind in the +35 degree heat wants a hot bath. Well obviously the locals (and Japanese) do, they were going nuts for it. Filling their bath tubs up, laughing, chuckling, giggling, snapping like crazy to running tap water on their Cannon SLR’s, it was quite obvious they were having a grand old time. Unfortunately, I struggled to share the same sentiment. My theory for this is a hot shower, never mind a bath is a total rarity in Borneo, so the masses must congregate for this luxury. The Japanese on the other hand is a mystery. Thankfully, we decided to do a few treks and accidently stumbled upon a massive waterfall which led onto a freshwater creek. We then discovered some Western tourists, all of whom where bemused by the purpose of the Poring Hot Springs. After our refreshing dip, we then went for food at a local restaurant and ordered the old faithful Malaysian curry. As we thoroughly enjoyed our meals, we put the day down to a ‘memorable experience’ and headed back to the national park, to catch our bus to Sandakan to embark on the next stage of our trip. Karl’s top tip for today, if your visiting Borneo for a short space of time, plan beforehand and make sure you come prepared.




Mt Kinabalu, Borneo.

Posted by karlnpaula 11:28 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Rocking round KK

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It is often said that travelling is a rollercoaster ride. Sometimes you are on top of the world and sometimes you are down. As this is my second entry and I have only been here for less than 5 days, it may seem a little premature to ‘be down’...already. The good news is I’m not, but I was at least for an hour a day when things have recently went wrong. I have fastly realised that Borneo is a different breed of travel (one that I have not experienced before) especially for the unprepared traveller when you are battling with a time budget. When we booked our flights to Borneo, we allocated one week to climb Mt Kinabalu and see the surroundings. After that, our intended plan was to fly from KK (Kota Kinabalu) to Penang (Northern mainland Malaysia) where we will chill on a paradise island congratulating ourselves after the hefty climb. It sounded full proof, but we quickly discovered things aren’t that easy over here.

On our first day in KK, we decided to explore the city by foot. We decided to take a local bus from our hostel instead of taxi for two reasons. The first was the bus ride only cost 13 pence (yes 13p, 25 aus cent) and it was cool to mix with the locals. As soon as we stepped on the crowded bus, a number of kind gentlemen offered Paula their seat. It seemed it was rude to refuse, so she accepted and I was stuck sandwiched in between 30 Malay men with a burning sensation underneath my feet, which developed into a slight fear that the gear box was about to give way at any moment . Thankfully it didn’t.

The first task of the day was to find an ATM and get money. Once we located the main shopping mall, I inserted my card into the ATM, typed in my pin, hit withdraw 400 Ringgit (£125) and waited for the cash which kinda looks like Euros minus the King with the big hat who sits proudly on the notes...to receive ‘Your card is not supported and inactive’. Great, just what I needed. I think it’s also important to stress that Paula transferred all her money to my bank account before we left as I receive free international withdrawals. Also, using credit cards aren’t exactly widely accepted at stalls or food courts so it was slightly inconvenient. I then tried another 4 ATM’s to receive the same message. Overall, this was slightly annoying. We then decided to walk around the mall aimlessly, lost and not knowing what to do with ourselves. As we sat down, I then realised my backpack was slightly open and after immediately checking my bag my heart stopped (for probably 2 seconds, maybe 3, possibly 4),... my yellow folder which holds my passport was missing. I nearly died. No money, no passport, first day in Asia, all within 2 hours, it could only happen to Warner! I then tried to retrace my steps, spending time on the squeezed bus with the friendly locals, walking round the streets like a lost puppy, a White tourist hovering around every ATM in every bank. Someone had nicked my passport right under my nose, it was our first day and I was totally rooted.

We then paid for a taxi with our final cash, raced back to our hostel to check if my passport could someway be in our room. Although this only took 10 minutes it felt like a lifetime. When we arrived in the room, a cataclysmic overarching level of joy raced through my veins, the god dam folder was sandwiched in-between my uni work. I then recalled thinking, ‘I won’t be needing this today’ and removed my uni work and someway my passport folder got stuck amongst my work. Hallelujah!!! A ridiculous gut-retching low turned into an unprecedented high just as fast as the Aerosmith Rocking Rollercoaster does 0-60 in 2.5 seconds in MGM studios, Orlando, Florida. On that note, if you haven’t been to MGM studios you really should – the Rocking Rollercoaster is brilliant!


You may be thinking, ‘But what happened about your money Warner?’? Well, I telephoned my bank immediately once the office opened at 8AM UK time and it went a little something like this...

Bank: ‘Good morning, you’ve reached Bank*** how can I help you [in a very unenthusiastic, depressed Southern English accent]?’

Warner: ‘Yes, my name is Mr. Karl Warner, please do not put me on hold, I am calling from Sabah, Borneo, near the jungle, I am stranded here with no money as my Bank*** ATM card isn’t working, I’m not very impressed [in a very disgruntled but firm Scottish accent]!

Bank: While probably chocking on her extra large Costa Coffee with extra shot, ‘Oh dear, lets see what we can do Mr. Warner...’

As expected, the bank cancelled my card, but they were able to reactive it and I was cash rich once the telephone call ended. On the up, we then strolled around KK and stumbled on the marina to view the most spectacular sunset (as pictured) I have seen in a very long time.


We then incidentally bumped into Jo (who we shared a taxi with) and went for an amazing Malay curry and decided to travel to Mt Kinabalu together the next day. And there you have it, our first day in Asia rocking round KK...rollercoaster style!


Kota Kinabalu, Borneo.

Posted by karlnpaula 07:28 Archived in Malaysia Comments (1)

Goodbye Beautiful Brisbane

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We’re in Kota Kinabalu, Borneo. It’s only been 48 hours since we departed Australia but it already feels like a decade ago. On our final weekend, we jetted down to Brisbane from Cairns on the Saturday evening where Rish and Anna kindly picked us up from the airport and took us for curry. We then spent our final day packing and walking around Beautiful Brisbane saying our goodbyes to friends and the city. Our flight from Brisbane-Singapore was not until 2:45AM so we had a lot of time to burn. This time was best spent with our Aussie friends in the Plough Inn, a Queenslander pub which has direct outdoor views of Brisbane’s modest but mounting skyline. The only cause for complaint is there was a slight 10 degree chill in the air which made me realise I had been here for a full year and the dreaded Queensland 6 week winter was about to arrive. Thankfully, we were escaping for hotter times.

Spending another year here has made my affection for Australia and particularly Brisbane only grow. It’s safe to say Australia is my second favourite country I have visited as Scotland will always be a tough one to beat. Not to ramble on about Australia for much longer, but in my view, I think it’s important to note that out of all the cities I have visited, I would have to say Brisbane is the most ‘liveable’ city (on paper) I have come across. The climate is wonderful, the Queensland architecture is very unique, big business is knocking on the city’s door and most importantly, the Queensland pubs take 365 day alfresco drinking to a new level. There is one catch however (as there is always a catch) Australia is becoming expensive so if you want to experience it, get in fast. The Australian expat-British journalist Clive James, once said and I paraphrase ‘Australia is like Britain but on Prozac – same people at heart but minus the depression’. I would agree with this to a certain extent, but there is so much more to this country than just sunny weather. Sure the commonwealth holds together some cultural ties, but Clive’s comments can only be fully unearthed when you consider geography. Britain can fit into Australia almost 56 times (so size is a difference), but I think the real cultural distinction is when you consider the land, wildlife, marine life and Australia’s Oceanic and South East Asian neighbours. Sure escaping to Europe for a holiday is concentrated with rich cultural diversity similar to Asia (arguably more), but there is one fundamental difference – Asia is bonkers, Europe (and Australia) is not. With this in my mind, this is what makes Australia even more special as you have a country rich in Western values, but is located adjacent to a chaos that can only be considered organised when you have directly experienced it through backpacking and travel. I write this confidently as I visited the SE Asia exactly five years ago with my good friend Steve Wenzel. Having spent less than 48 hours here, I’m reassured nothing has changed.


Okay now that I have wrote something about my last 11 months, I feel I can move on. In sum, getting to the Island of Borneo was a nightmare. After departing Brisbane at 2:45AM we had an 8 hour flight to Singapore (which Paula was unable to sleep) and a 9 hour stop-over in Singapore waiting for our flight to Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. For our 9 hours free time, we decided to explore Singapore. The first thing which I forgot about was how hot, humid and clean it was. It is an amazing ecologically efficient city and a model example for the rest of the world on how countries should be run. On a quick visit, it also seems significantly cheaper than Australia for food and transport which is always a bonus in Warner’s world. After walking around the city sweating and half asleep, we decided to call it a day and headed back to the airport to catch our connecting flight. If you don’t get a chance to visit Singapore, I would at least recommend visiting the airport – it’s the next best thing, it really is. The airport is amazing as it offers free internet and WIFI for all passengers, there are comfy couches and it apparently has a gym with a pool if you a fancy a swim. I never discovered the gym, but that’s the airport word on the street.

We arrived in KK (Kota Kinabalu) at 9pm local time with no booked accommodation and it was dark and smelly. Probably not the best idea to start our trip (especially being awake for 30 hours), but we survived. Thankfully, we bumped into an English girl from Norwich who had been travelling independently around India and South East Asia for 4 months who was organised enough to have booked a hostel. We agreed to share a taxi and gatecrash her hostel. The hostel was called Borneo Global Backpackers and looked like something out of the film The Beach. The hostel was located close to a shanty town and felt slightly uneasy. The good news was it was only £2 per night for a private room (no windows unfortunately), so we padlocked the door and headed to bed.


In the morning, we thankfully woke alive, fresh and unscathed. I then realised we had finally arrived in South East Asia. From the kitchen window, I could see a local fish market, wild dogs, cats and chickens running around and locals honking their horns on un-roadworthy scooters. It was also clear the location of the hostel was fine, but darkness and the smell of rotten surge bring on a new sense which is not unearthed when walking around the West. The purpose of the day was to explore KK and plan our climb of SE Asia’s tallest mountain Mt Kinabalu. I think this is best served for my next entry. Until then I hope everyone has enjoyed my first post.


Kota Kinabalu, Borneo

Posted by karlnpaula 07:09 Archived in Singapore Comments (2)

Welcome to our Travel Blog

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Hi Everyone.

Firstly, we both like to thank you for taking the time to click on the link and welcome to Karl and Paula’s South East Asian Travel Blog. We know the blog title is a bit naff, but it will most likely change as we visit more places, countries or perhaps continents. But for now, welcome to our travel blog and we both hope these readings will find you well, perhaps envious, but hopefully inspired to check out this ridiculously manic but wonderful part of the world we have just landed in.

Over the past 11 months it is safe to say we have both been avoiding the radar when it comes to staying in touch with friends from Scotland and beyond. For anyone who doesn’t know, we have been living/’researching’/working in Brisbane, Australia. The year went far too quick and we both feel we have been very sloppy in keeping friends informed of our Australian adventures. We hope this 6 week travel blog will compensate for our sloppyness!!! The way the blog is going to work is we will write individual posts depending on where and what we are doing and who has the energy to write. No doubt this will encourage mixed perspectives where you are likely to get (un)interesting hard hitting facts from Karl and emotional/sensitive posts from Paula. That is the plan anyway, and we will see how things fair over the forthcoming weeks.

As you will discover, we both had an amazing time in Australia, were very sad to leave and we’re both sure this will become apparent in our posts. To fill everyone in, we spent our last two weeks in Northern Queensland sailing the Whitsunday Islands, white water rafting along the grade four Tully River, scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef, trekking (but mostly sunbathing) in Captain Cook’s Cape Tribulation and partying in Cairns. It’s been a tough couple of weeks but someone has to do it!

Once again welcome to our travel blog and we look forward to seeing/speaking with everyone very soon.

Mucho Luv,

Karl & Paula. X


Posted by karlnpaula 22:45 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

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