A round of Sabah

Since the country Brunei is split in two, both parts enclosed by the sea and Sarawak and because Sarawak is a partially autonomous province of Malaysia with its own immigration policy and thus its own ‘stamp’, the bus ride from BSB, Brunei to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah is quite an experience. There are no less than 4 borders to cross within just one hour. Each border means getting out of the bus twice, passing through a small customs office twice and the same questions being asked twice and two stamps. That’s a way to fill up our passports!

The entire journey takes eight hours and for a change does not end about 10 kilometres outside of the city in a remote town but in the middle of the city centre of Kota Kinabalu, to good Malaysian use abbreviated to KK. As we explore the city, we find out about a promo by AirAsia in one of the shopping malls. We are being told that the promotion is also valid tomorrow and a lot of flights are offered with a 20% discount. In the course of the evening we decide to skip the two day bus ride back to Kuching and book a cheap flight. Being in a planning-mood, we tackle the Indonesian Consulate as well. Armed with passports, the necessary copies, passport photos, faked air tickets (we do not want to book a flight from Indonesia) and a long trousers we head for the consulate and fill in the application forms for our visa. At the end of the day we pick up our passports, with visa!

The flight to Kuching is booked for July 3, so we have almost two weeks left to explore Sabah. Since there are great dive sites off the coast of Semporna in the south of Sabah, that will be our next destination. During the ride to Semporna we catch a few peeks from the Gunung Kinabalu, the mountain that has been in the news during the last few weeks because of the earthquake and the nudes of a group of tourists. The mountain is not yet accessible, so unfortunately there is no climb in it for us.

Once arrived in Semporna one thing becomes clear: There are plenty of things to do around here, as long as you stick with diving. We visit a number of dive shops and decide to book a package at Sipadan Dive Center. Three nights in a beach hut, six dives around Pulau Mabul and Kapalai and food and drinks included. We experience six amazing dives with dive master Ian at different locations and are treated to a few large turtles right on our first dive. With a visibility of more than twenty meters and beautiful coral only the sun sometimes lets us down so the colours are not always as beautiful. But actually there is really nothing to complain about. After four days we set sail to Semporna and buy two bus tickets to Sandakan, heading back in the direction of KK.

Sandakan is a nice town with an inviting ‘waterfront’. On the hill behind the city we take a look at the huge cemetery where there are sections for different religions but especially for trees, shrubs and weeds. Sandakan played an important role in the Second World War, so we visit a few monuments and a park in memory of a Japanese prison camp. From Sandakan thousands of British and Australian soldiers and local resistance heroes were sent to Ranau on so-called death marches. Except for six escaped Aussies, no POW survived the trip.

Our time in Sabah is beginning to dawn. The next bus ride brings us back to Kota Kinabalu, just in time for a tasty snack on the food market, because at 7:00 PM the last bus goes to the airport. Once we arrived at the AirAsia terminal we put together two rows of seats, secure our backpacks and spend the night at the airport. At eight o’clock the next morning we fly back to Kuching and our trip around Sarawak, Brunei and Sabah after five weeks almost comes to an end.