And the Fun Continues...
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Before we get started on my latest travel adventures here is a quick geography lesson: Borneo is the world's third largest island, but is divided among three different countries: Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia. Apparently, they even filmed a season of Survivor here. During my trip I’m only visiting Malaysia and Brunei. Nothing against Indonesia, but it would’ve been a little too much to accomplish in 2 weeks.
Remember how I commented that I got a good deal on a flight to Kuala Lumpur? Well, the nice thing is that Kuala Lumpur is the hub for Air Asia, an Asian budget airline. Thanks to Air Asia I have been able to fly around Borneo for little cost (about $30 - $50 roundtrip) from city to city rather than take bus transportation. However, because I booked these great deals a few months ago and hadn’t really had time to research where I was going or what I was doing, I am back tracking a little bit. Oh well. My first stop was in the little touristy area of Kota Kinabalu for a few days.
I found a cute boutique hotel for a reasonable price (thanks tripadvisor.com) and settled in. As much as I really want to be just fine staying in a hostel saving money in a dorm type room with 8 or so other strangers sharing a common bathroom, I just can’t. Actually, I’m not sure if there ever was a time that I would’ve been okay with that. It’s just that the coming and going of travelers in the room at all hours, no personal privacy, the random hooking up of the couple in the next bunk, the need to lock up your belongings or chain them to you, and the drunk person in the bathroom just does not appeal to me. To all those who do enjoy/tolerate the hostel experience, I salute you, but I’ve worked that private room and bathroom into my travel budget for sure.
As I had just a few days in Kota Kinabalu and only one full day, I opted to take the white water rafting tour. Many of the other options I had done variations of before or just wasn’t all that interested. But white water rafting…well that was a first. And it was so much fun!! After signing my life away on some release form, putting on my life jacket and helmet, I was ready. I figure the release form would never hold up in court as my handwriting was completely illegible (more than usual, thank you) due to completing it out while driving on an extremely bumpy road in a minibus with no suspension whatsoever. When we arrived the guide diplomatically or some variation of that divided us up by who looked most alike. There was a family so they had a boat together, then he assigned the couple from Hong Kong and the couple from Korea to be together and then that left the rest of us white people. My boat ended up being a couple from the UK, a couple from Sweden, and me. The guide immediately recognized my superior rafting skills (must have been all the dragon boat racing I did) and assigned me to the front. Little did I know that the being in the front is like standing on the bridge of that huge water ride at Six Flags: you get SOAKED. If I wasn’t getting water dumped onto my lap from the rapids, I was getting splashed in the face with friendly water fire from surrounding boats. See when we had arrived at a calm part of the river, members of the boat (me excluded, I was like Switzerland) would engage in splashing each other. Only thing is that when the other boats retaliated their aim was off and the water landed on me and not the jovial guy from the UK behind me.
We did have a guide with us, but other than taking up space, he really didn’t offer that much assistance as we were regularly getting stuck on huge rocks. I’m not sure how much he even paddled and it’s a good thing those rapids were a grade 3-4 because that allowed us to paddle a little less. We all thought the guide would’ve well, guided us more during our trip but he didn’t. When we were paddling we struggled to stay in rhythm with one another. If only we had the dragon boat drum as our cadence. Anyway, as we were going through one turbulent rapid our guide fell out of the raft and the guy from the UK yells out, "Bloody Hell, we’ve lost our teacher!" I just laughed and was thankful it wasn’t me. The guide caught up with us and the crisis was averted, but our boat paddling was still out of rhythm or maybe we were just all highly uncoordinated.
Following Kota Kinabalu, I flew to the little country of Brunei. Oh Brunei, how you bore me!! It was a tough decision on whether or not to visit Brunei. (Yes, I realize for many of you that my travel destinations are never on your list to visit and you can really thank me now. I took the travel bullet for you and went to Brunei so now you never have to go. And you’re welcome. ) On one hand I was so close and it would be another country to add to the passport, yet I knew there wasn’t much to do at all once you got there. It definitely is not set up for tourists and there was little to no information online from travelers, etc. to help guide my adventure or lack thereof. The decision was made when I found out how cheap it would be to fly over there even though upon arrival it’s not all that much cheaper than the States. I justified adding this stop to my travels because going to Brunei was about the same cost as it would’ve been to buy malaria meds. Yes, some recommend that you take malaria meds while in Malaysia Borneo but there are just as many who feel they aren’t necessary or aren’t worth the risk due to potential side effects. I figured I wasn’t going trekking nor really into the jungle so I decided to take my chances and opted out of buying the malaria meds. Besides you’re supposed to take the meds at least two weeks before you leave and well, I made the decision not to get them about 2 days before. They wouldn’t have been completely effective anyway. And while my mom and grandmother are probably freaking out reading this, I can tell you that I’m halfway through my trip and I’m wearing the occasional long sleeve shirt and pants with bug spray containing DEET and I haven’t even seen a mosquito. So I thought Brunei over malaria meds was a good decision, but I was so wrong. Which is worse - malaria or Brunei? It’s a toss up?
I had read that there were about ˝ day’s worth of sites to visit in Brunei and well, if you walk fast like me then, it’s only about 2 hours. The best part of the whole trip was a water taxi ride I took to visit the water village. There are approximately 22,000 people living in the water village and most of the houses have plumbing, electricity, internet, and even cable. They’ve got several of their own mosques, schools, and even gas stations. My water taxi driver was helpful in explaining his life in the water village. One of the nice things about hiring my own water taxi driver versus taking a tour is that we could go and see whatever I wanted. We also went down the river and saw skyline views of the sultan’s palace and eventually a number of proboscis monkeys. I even had the opportunity to see a mom and baby proboscis monkey playing in the tree. Unfortunately, my camera did not catch all of the action. So the water village was my main activity while in Brunei for 48 hours. Other than that, I spent a significant amount of time in a coffee shop and when it started pouring I headed back to the hotel and watched a movie in my room. There wasn’t even any good food to try or things to buy! So the point of these last two paragraphs is that you don’t need to go to Brunei – ever.
This is the first trip on my own and of any length that I’ve traveled with a laptop. Previous summers I’d just camp out in the internet café paying a $1/hour to communicate with family and friends. I didn’t own a laptop of my own so it never really was an option nor did I know what I missing. With the purchase of a net book this past year, I’m all about finding out who has Wi-Fi and hanging out at that location - all in an effort to stay in touch, of course. (My mom emails almost daily to ensure that I still have both of my kidneys. Don’t laugh, I’m serious. ) On this trip, thus far, I’ve spent a significant (more than I care to admit) amount of time (in all countries) at The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, a chain coffee shop. I’d like to support the little guy, but their internet connection is just not reliable so therefore, I support the big corporation. I think I’ve almost memorized the menu and sadly if I have to drink another cup of their coffee (blended, iced, or whatever) I think I might puke. The coffee shop staff and I in Brunei became quite close due to my stationary spot for hours. And that my friends, is yet another reason you never need to visit Brunei.
Just a quick side travel rant: Whoever thought using toilet paper as a substitute for paper towels was a good idea has never spent 5 minutes trying to remove the wet clumps from their hands. It’s an infuriating experience that doesn’t leave your hands any drier. Someday I’ll learn that I should just use my pants. SE Asian public bathrooms are just gross. Yes, that is a blanket statement, but I have traveled extensively around SE Asia so I can back that comment up. You know you’re in trouble when you can smell the bathroom before you ever see a sign for it. I do appreciate the option for a western toilet that many of the public toilets offer compared to just the hole in the floor but the gesture is all I appreciate. Many, many trips ago I learned to carry tissue or toilet paper with me wherever I go along with lots and lots of hand sanitizer. As if the bathrooms weren’t disgusting enough, there is rarely running water, much less soap to wash your hands. These governments don’t seem to support hygienic bathrooms; however, they have full body temperature scanners as you enter customs. Basically, if you’ve got a temperature you’ll have a difficult time getting in, but if you’re hands are full of germs and you’re going around touching everything – WELCOME!
Oh, and most of the stalls have this hose in there. Just imagine the hose attached to your kitchen sink to clean the dishes. This little hose is multi-purpose. You can use it an attempt to clean yourself (a cheap version of a bidet and hence the reason for no toilet paper) or clean the bathroom. I’ve never used one, but have experienced the aftermath and it’s well, disgusting. There’s water everywhere, or what you hope is water, making me grimace with every step wishing I had closed toe shoes on rather than my flip flops. These bathrooms could benefit from the reminder I saw in so many teacher restrooms in Texas, “If you sprinkle when you tinkle, be a sweetie and wipe the seatie.” The whole experience is painful and you just want to go and take a shower afterwards.
Now I’m back at the Kota Kinabalu airport headed to Sandakan to visit an orang atun rehabilitation center and do some other things as well. I’m staying at some kind of lodge on the edge of the jungle and the pics from their website look very um, rustic. I’m not sure what else I’ll accomplish while in Sandakan, but I will be watching the World Cup final tonight! I’m not a huge soccer fan or anything, but it is fun to watch it with a bunch of other travelers from around the world.