Chinese New Year holiday trip, when I escaped the outbreak of novel corona virus in China!
  • Day16

    Last day in KK

    February 8, 2020 in Malaysia ⋅ 🌧 28 °C

    This morning, I was the only guest in the hostel so the owner, Ray, decided we should go together on the free walking tour of KK (he wasn't exactly busy!). We had a diverse group and a lovely guide.
    After the tour, Ray took a group of us for lunch at his favourite Chinese-Malaysian restaurant. I got a few tips on things to do in Kuching from a lovely German couple, and was able to share some ideas from my own adventures in Sabah
    Now at the airport, again... This time heading to Kuching, a city in the Western part of Malaysian Borneo, an area called Sarawak. Here's hoping for a smoother experience than last time!
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  • Day14

    Safely back in Kota Konabalu

    February 6, 2020 in Malaysia ⋅ ☁️ 29 °C

    Made it safely back to KK. I've checked into a lovely new hostel, found a great cafe to get on with my school work, managed to access my Chinese money, and had more wine and some pizza by the waterfront. Feeling so relaxed and content I almost feel like the whole Singapore situation was a dream!Read more

  • Day14

    Singapore - the saga...

    February 6, 2020 in Singapore ⋅ ☁️ 28 °C

    Wow. It's been a pretty intense 24 hours. I'm just about to board a flight returning to Kota Kinabalu from Singapore airport, having been denied entry to Singapore. Here's what happened...

    Yesterday afternoon (Feb 5th), my school's HR department told me not to return to China yet, but to stay outside and wait for more information in the next few days. "Perfect!" I thought, "Now I can spend a few days in Singapore before going back."

    My flight to China was due to transfer in Singapore and the airline's website said free changes or cancellations were available on flights to China. It seemed so simple - just cancel the second part of the flight and stay on in Singapore, no visa needed for up to 90 days. I was very pleased with my plan!

    The first challenge came in contacting Scoot (the airline). Their call centre numbers outside of Singapore were out of service, and they were not responding to emails. "Never mind," I thought, "I'll sort it out face-to-face with a human at the airport. Easy" So off I went.

    At the airport, I discovered I wasn't allowed to enter Singapore without proof of an onward journey booked. To save time at check-in, I said I'd keep my original itinerary until arriving in Singapore, so I could get online and book a bus ticket out while waiting for the plane. The ground staff were happy with that and I continued on my way, with about 1 hour to eat, change my cash and book my bus and accommodation before boarding. It all seemed fine.

    Then, of course, my bank card got declined while booking the bus... I had a notification to say Halifax would be contacting me, but of course they couldn't reach me on my English number. That's when I started to panic - I knew I wouldn't be permitted to enter Singapore without that ticket booked, and I was running out of time. My Halifax app kept crashing and I ended up in a queue to speak to a real person through their online messenger. Meanwhile, I changed my remaining ringgit to Singapore dollars, went through another security check where I had to empty the water bottle I'd just refilled, and joined the queue to board the plane.

    While on board, I ignored instructions to turn phones to airplane mode, desperately waiting for a response from Halifax, which came just in time! They unblocked my card and I booked my bus ticket and a place to stay as the plane lined up on the runway. Thank goodness! I was really thirsty and stressed, but had nothing to drink as I'd emptied my bottle to get through security, and stingy Scoot wouldn't refill it for me on board. However, it seemed that everything was going to be ok, so I settled into my flight.

    About ninety minutes later, the cabin crew began the decent and landing announcements. "Blah blah blah.... Blah blah blah... And please be aware that passengers who have been in China within the last 14 days are not permitted to enter Singapore..." WHAT? I did a quick count on my fingers... 12 days since I left China... Noooo! I called for help and two flight attendants puzzled over my situation together. Told not to reenter China, but not allowed to enter Singapore either... They finally concluded I would have to declare myself to immigration, and they'd probably send me back to KK. Great. They wished me luck as I disembarked and headed to the Scoot transfer counter to see what could be done.

    Of course, the employees a the counter didn't really know much. The weren't sure what countries I could enter, telling me just to Google it (Google did not help). They also couldn't change my flight and wouldn't let me use their phone to call the call centre, telling me to go use a pay phone instead.
    Feeling a little hopeless, tired and thirsty, I found an information desk and told them my predicament. They kindly let me use their phone to call the Scoot hotline.

    Nearly 2 hours later, I was still on the phone. It was gone 1am and the lady on duty needed to close up and go home. I had spent most of the time on hold, doodling and half listening to the various complaints and questions of all the other passengers requesting help, from the totally confused to the downright rude! I must say, it was interesting to witness first hand how the information desk employees handle their shifts. Complain after complaint rolls in, grumpy, ungrateful or simply rude passengers demand things from them constantly, and they take the blame for an endless stream of problems that were not their fault. Yet they just keep smiling and helping people out calmly and politely. I was really impressed by them.

    Finally, the call centre employee returned to the line. She had found me a return flight to KK and was booking me onto it. We were so close to finishing, I was so ready to get some sleep, drink some water and have a pee, when the line cut out... I almost cried.

    I returned the phone to the information point employee so she could end her shift, and headed back to the Scoot transfer desk. This time, I demanded they let me use their phone to call their company's call centre. While I like to go through life being friendly and polite, that was my first experience of how, as a customer, anger and disappointment can sometimes solve problems that politeness can't... After 40 more minutes on hold, they decided they could contact someone else directly to help resolve the issue, and another 30 minutes later I finally had a boarding pass to return to KK.

    I got a few hours' sleep on the airport floor, had a very tasty egg, mushroom, pepper and cheese wrap for breakfast, and headed off to board my escape flight back to KK. Fingers crossed they don't change any rules while I'm in the air and they let me back in.
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  • Day12

    Kota Kinabalu again

    February 4, 2020 in Malaysia ⋅ ☀️ 28 °C

    Back in KK for one night before my flight out tomorrow. I managed to get a ride in a shared taxi with some locals from Kundasang, which was much more straight forward than I'd expected. Now I'm treating myself to wine, olives and a beautiful sunset at an Italian restaurant on the waterfront. Back to China via Singapore tomorrow.

    On my final morning, I visited the Kota Kinabalu wetland centre, a large area of mangrove inside the city, where I saw I couple of birds and hundreds of crabs. I then went for a final lunch at a specialty restaurant serving traditional Kadazandusun food. The flavours we're more intense than anything I've ever had before! Citrus and coriander and chilli and salt combined with fruit, veg, fish etc. in combinations that were almost too much to pallette. But it was an interesting experience and looked beautiful.
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  • Day12

    Kundasang

    February 4, 2020 in Malaysia ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    I stayed in a town called Kundasang for two nights, as it's close to the entrance to Kinabalu National Park. The town was basic, as was the hostel, but I will always remember it as one of the friendliest and most beautiful places I have ever been. The people here are so welcoming, helpful, cheerful, and the location is just magical.Read more

  • Day11

    Kinabalu National Park

    February 3, 2020 in Malaysia ⋅ ☁️ 17 °C

    Hiking around Kinabalu National Park. I hitched a lift from Kudasang with a man taking his son to school. We travelled at snail's pace in his very old car through thick cloud to arrive at the park. When I arrived, the clouds were so thick I couldn't even see the entrance! Thankfully, after I'd had a coffee in the cafe they had lifted enough for some exploration...Read more

  • Day9

    Orangutans and sun bears in Sepilok

    February 1, 2020 in Malaysia ⋅ ☁️ 30 °C

    Early on Saturday 1st Feb, I took a local bus from Sandakan to Sepilok, known for its orangutan and sun bear sanctuaries. On arrival at my hostel, I met a German named David also travelling alone, so we joined up to explore the area.
    First we headed down to the orangutan sanctuary, but it was just after feeding time and none had chosen to hang around in the area. The sanctuary raises orphaned babies and cares for any others needing support, but as soon as they're ready they're released into the surrounding area. However, the sanctuary still provides a meal twice a day for any orangutans living nearby, and some of the younger orangutans choose to come back for it regularly.
    Having had no luck with the orangutans, we headed back to the hostel restaurant for some fantastic lunch, then went to try the canopy walk at the Rainforest Discovery Centre. A couple of giant tree squirrels and a pig-tailed macaque later, we hurried back to the orangutan sanctuary for 3pm feeding. This time, we had much more luck! Three young orangutans came for food, and they seemed to have a lot of fun entertaining us with various clambering and climbing antics all over our observation platform!

    The next morning, without any high expectations, we headed for the sun bears. However, they turned out to be well worth the visit! A guide working at the centre had brought his very high-tech lens to get some publicity shots of the bears, and he was more tjan willing to help us point our phone cameras through it for some amazing close-ups. All bears at the centre were rescued from various forms of captivity, and most are released into the wild as soon as they are ready, far away from areas inhabited by humans. They were incredibly cute and full of character, and our time was made more exciting by the presence of two troupes of macaques, both long-tailed and short. We had to wait about 20 minutes for a vicious alpha short-tailed macaque to clear out before moving along the walkway between enclosures, and our time was otherwise divided between bear-watching and monkey-dodging!
    A quick lunch later, I was setting off down the road with my backpack, hoping to catch the bus I'd booked in Sandakan which would take me from Sepilok to Kundasang, a town nestled up in the Crocker Range. Only about 30 minutes later than expected, we were off to the mountains!
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  • Day7

    Kinabatangan river and jungle trip

    January 30, 2020 in Malaysia ⋅ ☁️ 29 °C

    Many places in and around Sandakan offer a trip to Kinabatangan river, where you can take some boat trips along the river to search for wildlife and stay in a lodge in the forest.
    I paid for one day and one night and, after stopping for lunch at a lovely resort in Sepilok, three of us headed off in a minibus for the river. I was with a very nice Dutch couple named Germana and Lorenzo.
    My room at the lodge was pretty basic with only fans and no AC, but I had all six beds and two bathrooms to myself!
    That afternoon, we had our first trip down the river with a guide to help us spot the wildlife. We saw four different types of monkey, hornbills and stalks, a few crocodiles and, just after sunset, a distant orangutan.
    That evening, a group of us went on the night walk. We had to don leach socks and wellies and listen to a warning about avoiding fire ants and not touching plants. At the end of the lecture, I stood up to discover a hundreds of fire ants had chosen to migrate across the bench I had sat on! They had made a big arc around where my bum had been, but luckily they must have mistaken me for a tree as I got away completely unscathed. Heading into the forest, we saw some stunning sleeping birds and a couple of wild cats, and the bats were flying so close to our heads that we were clipped by a wing from time to time. Sadly no tarsiers or slow lorises, but still a pretty exciting adventure.
    The next morning, three of us got up early enough for the 6am morning boat tour, where we saw more macaques, proboscis monkeys and crocodiles. Then it was time for breakfast and the bus back to Sandakan.
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  • Day6

    Sandakan

    January 29, 2020 in Malaysia ⋅ ⛅ 31 °C

    After a seven hour coach ride from KK, at least three hours of which was through winding mountain roads, I arrived in Sandakan. There was a lady in my dorm called Mae, and the next day we went to the Sandakan War Memorial together. It was incredible. Such an underreported and tragic story of British and Australian POWs kept in a Japanese camp and eventually forced to march over 250km to Renau. Only 6 of more than 2000 survived to tell the tale.
    After the memorial, we headed with excited anticipation to a place called 'The English Tea House', right next to the former residence of an American Author named Agnes Keith. The whole experience felt like a day at the National Trust, just set on a tropical island...
    We finished up our day with Malaysian hotpot, known as 'steam boat'. They had a great rule at the restaurant - pay 10 ringit for every 100g of wasted food! We wasted nothing.
    It was a wonderful day in Sandakan 😊
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