Sabah Trip – Eastern Malaysia
Tuesday 22nd of October, 2013 saw me safely home back to Vancouver, BC.
I still have to enter the Sabah, Malaysia four days trip with my high school friends. Today is 26th, I must procrastinate no more.
We stayed in Shangri-La Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa in the state of Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia.
My impression with this town is that, it is much like the New Territories area in Hong Kong about 50 years ago. A lot of greeneries anytime you are 15 minutes from downtown, plantations, rural areas, wide open spaces, unlike the highly populated Hong Kong or big city centers within China.
We boarded a Hong Kong Express Air Bus around 11:30 am in Chek Lap Kok International, on 24th of September, and arrived Saba same day around 4:30 pm. My first impression was relaxation; the airport terminal does not have the hustle and bustle of the HK airport.
We gone over to the money exchangers to get some Malaysian currency, the staff speaks fluent Cantonese, which was a pleasant surprise, I have family connection in Singapore and Malaysia, a lot of Chinese speaking people migrated to southeast Asia in the 30s and 40s, so did my maternal parents. It gave me a sense of our world is in fact “one” and it feels good to be able to reach out and listen to some sounds and vowels that strike a cord now and again.
By the way, the money exchanger preferred US Dollars in large denominations, so all the small bill US bills that I had with me, just has to wait for another trip!
There was a minibus and a guide waiting for us in the terminal and after we rounded up all the strayed team mates, some were in the money changers, some in the bath rooms, we boarded the bus and headed for the hotel.
We stayed in Shangri-La Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa in the state of Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. A nicely done up resort built about 20 years ago, it is well maintained and fully staffed.
My impression with this town is that, it is much like the New Territories area in Hong Kong about 50 years ago. A lot of greeneries anytime you are 15 minutes from downtown, plantations, rural areas, wide open spaces, unlike the highly populated Hong Kong or big city centers within China. Saba – Shangri-La
This Shangri La Hotel was and still is a very nice hotel about 30 minutes from the airport, it has two wings, both facing a bunch of small islands and a nice bay.
Later on I found out that the local economy is pretty much tourism oriented. Road ways are pretty decent, and Malaysian vehicles took on the British road system, all drivers drive on the right side, as is in Hong Kong.
We had a nice welcome from the hotel staff, a nice cool glass of tropical juice and a hot towel, a bit of waiting, and my roommate and I got settled in Room 9704. The number 9 just means the wing to the right hand side of the hotel; we are on the 7th floor.
There was a nice view of the bay waiting in the balcony, and we were told that the sunset view is always breathtaking every single day provided it is a sunny day. Make sense.
We gathered in the front lobby promptly at 6:30pm to get to a seafood restaurant that locals go, and the price is right, restaurant staff were mostly Malaysians that speak no Chinese, it matters none, English is the international language of the day, and we ordered up a bunch of dishes, plus beer, plus a couple of vegetarian dishes that a teammate couple ordered, since they don’t eat anything other than stuff that grow on ground.
The bill came to about 40 dollars HK per head, and it is a most satisfying dinning experience ever.
We had whole steamed fish, crabs, and local seafood dishes; all in all it was well worth the trouble of trying to find the place. We had to hail five taxis separately. It cost 30 Malaysian dollars one way.
Four days went by quickly, the three most outstanding events during this trip that stayed in my mind were:
The evening boat ride in Klias River – Watching Fire-Flies and the Proboscis Monkeys – these monkeys inhabit largely in the coastal swamp forests. These creatures feed on leaves and seeds mainly. Each male Proboscis Monkey would have a harem of 10 females. Lucky guy!
The boat we were in motored ever so slowly in the inland river, the sun was setting, indeed we could spot now and again, Proboscis monkeys hopping from tree limb to tree limb, from quite a distance away though, again I forgot to bring along my binoculars with me.
The fireflies – yes, when I was a young lad ,I read Chinese folklores about fireflies, a poor farm child collect fire flies in a jar so that he could be able to study at night etc. To be honest, I have never seen live fire fires, so I was curious.
The boat operators offered us a basic dinner while we were on board, you might say,” Dinner is served.” The dishes are adequately prepared, even though it is not piping hot, they are quite alright, no body seemed to be too hungry, with the odd person who always scooped up a large portion on their plates, but end up wasting it away in the garbage cans.
Now that dusk turned into darkness, the motor boat somehow finds its way around the various river bends, I couldn’t honestly say there were a lot of fire flies to be seen, certainly not what I got in my mind, like colonies and colonies of them. Just as we were moaning and groaning about the absence of fire flies, all of a sudden, seemingly coming out of no where, a large, perfectly formation of fire flies appeared on a near by tree top on the river bank, brilliant lights, but just in a flash, the lights were gone! The whole boat load of tourists just went crazy, laughing, clapping hands, and talking excitedly like five year olds! Soon after, some technically minded tourists, me included, were talking aloud that “why these little creatures were so well behaved, why they turned on and off their lights in unison, why was there no free flying!
Well, it turns out that one of the tour guides had brought along a white LED multi beam flash light, he would turn it on and off at random intervals just to get his helpless and hapless charges – us , some false hope, and a laugh – among us – afterwards.
The second thing that was a bit overblown in the glossy travelling brochure Kinabalu Summit. It is hailed as the holy mountain in the area. It took a treacherous three hour bus ride on some winding mountain road to get to some designated tourists center, it is alright if one has never been to the sub tropical countries before, flowers are plenty, and they are very colorful, even trees bear flowers, and roads and areas are generally clean and tidy. I was going to buy a local pictorial book about local plants and flowers our guide recommended, unfortunately the one and only place that sell that particular book was closed.
A third thing was visiting Manukan Island. This small island is about 7 minutes boat ride by ten people seats speed boats. The beaches that are designated for snorkeling were full of tourists. I think a very large number of them were tourists from China.
The tour operators have the organizational aspect of receiving and entertaining the tourists fine tuned to the Tee. Different color large tents were set up, each tent has its own color and different tour guide deals with his or her group separately.
The day’s entertainment included a free rental snorkel for those who were interested. A few of my travel mates tried out snookering; it was most interesting, because the tropical fishes in the area were quite used to interact with swimmers, I actually had fishes nibbling at my lower limbs.
It was a pity that the beaches close to our designated tent area was rather rocky; a classmate got his toe cut by some sharp coral unfortunately.
The tour operator organized a self serve buffet around noon in a separate tent, must say I admire their operational skill. There were plenty of food, plenty of cold drinks, even for the few hoarders who like to pile their dishes high, and then end up wasting the food by dumping them, and even they were satisfied.
A casual observation though, a few of my fellow Chinese compatriots in the tents near by still carried on the habit of lighting up a cigarette right in front of their fellow travel mates, inevitably the cigarette smoke would drift to our area, and every body was annoyed, but what can you do other than give them THE look!
The rest of day went by quickly, after trying out snorkeling, showered and changed, and we were transported back to shore around 5pm by the same fleet of speed boat that ferry tourists back and fore between the bay area and those little islands.
There were a very large contingent of Chinese tourists from the main land, small number of Korean and Japanese tourists and independent tour teams like ours.
The day was the third day of our four day whirl wind tour, and we decided to try a different seafood place. Since we hadn’t been to the down town core tourist area, our tour guide suggested we try out so and so sea food palace, and he phoned ahead and booked two tables for us.
We had a long day on the beach, and we were a fair bit tired, so naturally we were very glad to finally get dropped off in front of a very trendy and upscale restaurant parking lot.
We got ushered to two corner tables, some of us got to the wash rooms, some of us sat down taking in the ambience, a few of the more worldly travelers strolled over the fish tanks to check out the pricing of the seafood.
Soon as they checked out the price, word came back quick that the prices were outrageously, astronomically high, every kind of seafood commands a princely sum. How anyone can afford prices like that, no body knows!
So we told the waitresses that we came to the wrong place, and called a hastily retreat. Some of our team mates felt embarrassed that we had to leave. Well, between one minute of embarrassment or a huge hole in our pocket books. We all felt it was the right thing to do by retreating! ( to be continued)