Thousands of people of all ages climb Mount Kinabalu every year, and after our recent visit to the Cameron Highlands, we knew we could walk for hours on two scones with jam. The first part of the summit trail, 6KM up to the accommodation at Laban Rata, was completed in fair conditions within 4h 20min under the "slow & steady" instruction of our mountain guide, Bunin. We checked in, were assigned a 'dorm' at Panar Laban and went straight to bed! It was an enjoyable afternoon walk but I was still knackered, and knew that opportunities for sleep were diminishing by the hour...
Whilst in Sandakan, we booked on a 2-day, 1-night jungle safari down the River Kinabatangen to see some more of the Borneo jungle. It was a 2-hour transfer from Sandakan to a village just outside Sukau. What struck me most on the journey was the miles and miles of palm tree plantations that we passed. This made me quite sad and even angry, as I had read about how they are chopping down the rainforests of Borneo to make way for these palm tree plantations for money making purposes (palm tree oil is a lucrative business apparently).
Orang Utan - lit: 'Man of the Forest' or 'Forest People'
It took 6 hours to get from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan, and we arrived in darkness at an out of town bus station. Luckily a number of taxi drivers were waiting and although we probably paid a premium at 12RM to get into town, it was a fair price with the driver giving us an introduction to the local area. We also managed to find accommodation for the night without any hassle. Sandakan, much like Kota Kinabalu, did not compel me to take any photos.
Arriving in Kota Kinabulu was disappointing. Not only because our airport pickup never arrived (perhaps due to a small flight delay) and the one working pay phone had volume issues, but the city was shabby and lacked charm or character. This was definitely another side to Malaysia - the Borneo side.
After deciding not to check into the accommodation that didn't pick us up, we headed for the backpacker area, finding an abundance of low cost/low quality establishments, eventually settling into one when we couldn't carry our bags any further.
After deciding that we had seen enough of Vietnam and hopping on a flight to Malaysia, we now went back to the guide book to look at what places of interest to seek out next in this country that had not really featured on our itinerary until now. After a few days in Kuala Lumpur, we embarked on a 6 hour bus journey to the Cameron Highlands, which turned out to be a very good decision!
We arrived into Kuala Lumpur LCCT (Low Cost Carrier Terminal) one evening on an uneventful Air Asia flight. Transit through the modern airport was slick, and thanks to our guide book we had an address and knew to purchase a taxi voucher at the stand near the exit. Immediately people were genuinely helpful, and it became apparent that English was widely spoken. The taxi driver made polite conversation, and there was not a bump in the road. Nearing the city centre, we saw the impressive Petronas Twin Towers lit up at night.
Rather than immediately bang on about how fantastic Kuala Lumpur (KL to the locals) and Malaysia is, it's probably worth taking a minute to reflect on how first impressions of a new country or city are relative to the place you have just left. Arriving in Kuala Lumpur from HCMC (Saigon) in Vietnam was just like arriving in Tokyo after China. Maybe not surprising, considering the similarities of Vietnam and China, or those of Japan & Malaysia, especially their culture of dealing with western tourists.
For one day (whilst still based in Ho Chi Minh City) we escaped the city and joined a day-tour out to the Mekong Delta area, visiting My Tho and Ben Tre. This was a good way to get an easy ride around the Mekong River Delta and Vietnamese countryside.
"An unforgettable way of seeing the Mekong Delta to drive along the provincial roads down on the southern region of Vietnam through Paddy Rice field, pineapple plantation, orchard and small hamlets.
Arriving in Ho Chi Minh City was easy, thanks to the Mekong Express bus service from Phnom Penh. Expecting to be dropped off in some purpose built bus station somewhere on the outskirts (like in Bangkok), we were pleasantly surprised when the bus parked up adjacent to Pham Ngu Lao in the city centre, and the backpacker area Julie had targeted for our stay. We were met by the usual hustle & bustle of taxi drivers, touts and hoteliers, clamouring for our business, but it no longer seemed the hassle this once was.