I went on an amazing holiday with 3 great girls: Trish from Australia, Mila from Malaysia (originally from Sabah) and Mary from China. 4 girls from 4 different countries…

The first day, 25 January, I arrived late in the evening, around 9pm in Kota Kinabalu (abbr. KK). Mila picked me up together with Trish and Mary with her father’s car and it was great to see everyone again in Sabah. We were all very excited about our coming adventure. When we came into town, we went to the hotel first to drop off my bags and then we went to the bar. Mary and Mila went back early, Trish and I wanted to go to another bar. They had a live band there and we enjoyed listening to them and catching up (Trish arrived a few days before me). After the live band finished, a Malay boy approached us and asked us if we wanted to go dancing in a nightclub. At first, we were reluctant, because we didn’t know him, but we decided to give it a go. We met an Australian girl who knows him and would join us to the club, so we knew we were safe. We danced the whole time in that club, there was a Philippino girlsband playing with some upbeat music and everyone was very nice. Girls and boys came over to talk to us. We had a great time, but I was tired from travelling and around 2am, we decided to go back. We walked back to our hotel, fortunately Trish already knew her way around and we found the hotel without difficulties.

The next day, Sunday 26 January, we went with a speedboat to a small island Sapi. Mila would teach me how to snorkel. I was scared at first, didn’t want to go very far, but Mila assured me that it was safe and that I could stand on some dead corals if I needed a rest. We snorkeled for an hour. It was a magnificent view, a whole underwater world, I didn’t know about. I saw so many beautiful things: corals, colourful fish,… After resting for a while, we went back into the water to snorkel for another hour. The second time, I wasn’t scared anymore and went further. We saw some swordfish and there were whole schools of fish swimming around me. It was like a fairy tale…
In the evening, we went to the mall to do some shopping and had a nice dinner. We went to bed quite early, because Trish and I were still tired from our night out and the next day we would start our roadtrip.

Monday, 27 January, we started our roadtrip from the west to the east of Sabah. Mila’s brother, Adam, would drive. The whole trip he was very patient with us, being on a roadtrip with 4 girls must not be easy 😛
We drove around 8 hours, with a few stops on the way to eat, have a toilet break and take some pictures of the great view along the way. It was already 7pm when we finally stopped in a small village near the river Kina Batangan. That evening we stayed in a homestay. That was a whole authentic experience to stay with a Malay family and eat together with them (with our hands and yes, I remembered to eat with my right hand 😉 ). There were 4 children and they were all over us. They were like little kittens crawling on my shoulder, my lap, very amusing!

The next day, Tuesday, we got up around 5.30am to go on a cruise with a small boat down the river for 2 hours, then walk in the jungle for 1 hour and go back. Our host family made us a picnic, so we would have breakfast before going into the jungle. The cruise was too beautiful to describe in words. We saw the sunrise behind the trees, saw some exotic birds, like hornbills, and even a couple of orang utans. Our guide told us we were very lucky because orang utans are very shy and difficult to spot.

The beginning of our day in the jungle
The beginning of our day in the jungle

Once we got off, we went into a base camp and ate our breakfast. We got ready to walk into the jungle. Mila wouldn’t join us, because she is scared to death for the leeches. I didn’t know how they looked like and was a bit afraid as well, but hey, we have to overcome our fears, right? At the stairs, I saw a little wormlike animal and I asked Mila if it was a leech or not. She didn’t even dare to look and when someone else confirmed it was, Mila hurried inside the camp and didn’t want to come out anymore. Our guide wore special leech-socks and he too told us that all the locals are really afraid of leeches. We pretended to be brave and told him that we were ok, no problem for us. We tucked our trousers inside our socks and went bravely into the jungle. After a few minutes I saw a leech crawling on my shoe and tried to get it off. I hit it with the bag of my camera and instead of getting rid of it, it crawled inside the bag on my camera. Didn’t feel brave now… I got rid of it in the end, by hitting it and flicking it with my fingers. After that, many more leeches were crawling up our shoes and trousers. We were able to flick them off each time, didn’t feel courageous at all anymore! We entered a cave full of bats and that was again too beautiful for words. We were leech-free for a while. But Mary didn’t feel at ease in the cave, because it was very dark and took my hand the whole time.

A bat cave in the jungle
A bat cave in the jungle

On our way back we had to take the leeches of our trousers again, but back in the camp we checked our body and fortunately, there were none on our skin. OOF!! I, at least, felt a big relief.
We went back to our homestay and had lunch with the family. Then it was time to say goodbye and go to the nearest town. We waited in an Indian snackbar for Mila’s father to take us to Tabin, where he has his rhinoceros research center. Mila and Trish went with her father and another researcher of the center. Mary and I went with someone else, a local who works at the center. He was waiting for 2 other workers who were shopping (Tabin is a remote area and they only go once a week to town to buy things). We waited for more than an hour and he still couldn’t tell when the others would be ready to go. I grew impatient, because we were already waiting for the whole afternoon, but around 6.30pm, we could finally go. It took us around 2hours to get there, through a bumpy road. It was completely dark on the way, but we were still able to see a couple of elephants on the way. We stayed in one of the new visitor’s buildings. It was all new and clean. There was nothing to eat, so we had a lot of snacks with us and some local wine, so we had a great relaxing evening.

The next day, Wednesday 28 January, we got up early, because the rhinos can come early to eat. There are only 2 Sumatran rhinos left in the wild, so the ones we will see are the last ones.

The female Sumatran rhinoceros
The female Sumatran rhinoceros

Fortunately, they are a male and female, but they are so traumatized because the female lost one of her feet in a trap and the male lost his horn. Because of their traumas, they are shy, especially the female, so it’s hard to make them mate. And the female has endometriosis, which is also hard to be pregnant. The researchers feed them and check their health, they are worried that one of them would die without leaving a baby, then the rhinos would die out.

Sometimes, the rhinos don’t come, but we are lucky. When we arrive at the rhino barracks, the male is already there and the female is slowly coming down the slope towards the stable where she will be fed. During the day and night, they live in the forest, but in the morning and afternoon they come to the center to get food. If they wouldn’t show up for more than 5 days, people from the center will go and look for them. We are very privileged to see them, because there are no tourists allowed in these parts. We are feeding the female and see how they check her ovaries. Mila’s father is also very patient to explain us everything about the rhinos’ life and what kind of difficulties they have with the policies according wildlife. I understand it’s a hard and sometimes nerve-wrecking job to let the governments know about the importance of preserving the local wildlife.

In the afternoon, we go back by truck to the town, where we will meet Mila’s brother again to continue our journey. Trish and I are in the back of the truck on the very bumpy road and my behind is bruised after being one hour on that road, but it’s more than worth it: the view is magnificent and to feel the sun on my skin, the wind in my hair while being surrounded by plantations of palm trees (Sabah has a big industry of palm oil) is breath-taking…
In the late afternoon we arrive at Sepilok, Sandakan. We are in a bed & breakfast. We take a family room, Adam is ok to share a room with us, 4 girls, and we have a terrace in front of our room. We will stay here 2 nights, so we have some time to relax. We had a nice dinner at a seafood restaurant and Trish and I bought an extra bottle of wine to take back to our room. On the way back, Mila and Mary went to a supermarket and Mila bought a bottle of gin and cans of tonic. We had a great evening, drank and talked till around midnight, because everyone was pretty tired.
The next morning, we got up early, but not as early as the previous days, to go to the Uran Otang rehabilitation center. The Uran Otangs are fed around 10am, but it’s near our hostel, so we didn’t have to go early. Trish and I decided to walk there just to get some exercise, because we have been snacking and eating unhealthy food throughout the trip and we felt like some kind of exercise to make up for it (even if it’s just a little bit). Mila was asking us if we knew the way, but we figured it couldn’t be that difficult. We went a bit earlier than the rest who would go by car. We enjoyed the sunshine and were taking photos of some beautiful exotic flowers until… we came at a dead end. (??) What went wrong? We looked at the basic map they gave us in the hostel and after looking at it for a few minutes we saw that we had to go to the main road first and then turn right, instead we turned right immediately coming out of the hostel. That was embarrassing and we didn’t want to tell the rest. When they passed us by car while still walking, we just shouted that we enjoyed the view and took many many pictures…

One of the magnificent flowers we saw
One of the magnificent flowers we saw

After that, we went to a restaurant called English tea house and it was decorated in a beautiful upper class English style with a view over the ocean. While waiting for the food, we played some croquet. When our ball landed in the flowerbeds, Trish and I gave up.
We relaxed the rest of the afternoon at the hostel and got ready to celebrate Chinese new year’s eve. Mila booked us a table at a 5-star hotel with buffet. The contrast couldn’t be bigger: 2 days ago we were in the rainforest, covered with leeches and that evening we wore our most beautiful dress and were dining in a chique setting! We finished the evening in the hostel with more gin and tonic.


Our hostel in Sepilok
Our hostel in Sepilok

The center is very beautiful and we could see 2 uran otangs being fed. It’s not as great as to see them in the real wild, but it’s better than seeing them in a zoo. One of them, the youngest, gave us a bit of a show by hanging on the rope, walking around and looking at us. Who are the real monkeys here: the white ones in clothes with cameras looking at them or the ones in their natural habitat looking at us?

The next day, we had nothing to do in the morning. Mila and her brother would visit some relatives that lived close-by. Trish, Mary and I felt like we needed some time to really relax, read a book, write postcards and just do nothing. Around noon, we packed our bags, ate lunch at the hostel and waited for Mila and Adam to come back. We continued our journey to Mila’s uncle and aunt’s house. We would stay there 1 night before returning to Kota Kinabalu.

Mila’s family was very hospitable, they made us a big dinner, the best we had during the whole trip. After dinner, we relaxed, read a bit, but around 10pm we went to bed. Everyone was exhausted.

The next day, we went back to Kota Kinabalu. We arrived there late afternoon, checked into the hotel, had a great dinner and went to bed. Everyone was tired and getting a bit sick. Mila started the journey with a cold, then Mary started to cough a bit, Adam was sick for already a couple of days with a fever and now I started to have a sore throat and cough a bit. Everyone had a great journey, but now we just wanted to relax and not do anything anymore.

Sunday, 2 February, my last day, unfortunately… In the morning, I went to the market near our hotel with Mila to buy some souvenirs for my family. Then, we had lunch in a nice Italian restaurant, 1 of the most popular ones in town with Mila’s father. My plane would leave around 9.30pm. I checked in my luggage first and then we went to the beach to watch the sunset. It was magical!! A great end of one of my best holidays ever!

This wasn’t my last visit to Sabah, I will go back!!
Terimah kasi, Mila, for the great holiday…


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