Malaysian Borneo was probably the one destination of our trip we argued about the longest … Bea didn’t want to go there because of the Malaria risk but I wanted to see orangutans in the wild. In the end I was able to convince her by showing her plenty of pictures of cute little orangutan babies 🙂 From Singapore we booked our flights to Kota Kinabalu, which was the only place in Malaysia Borneo we knew, only to realise that our real destination was Sandakan on the far east side of Borneo – a whooping 7 hour bus ride away. So after a short and uneventful night at the Oceania Hotel in ‘Kota Kina’ we headed for our first (but definitely not last) bus trip in South East Asia. The roads across the Malaysian highlands were certainly nothing like a German Autobahn, but in retrospect they were really well maintained compared to some other countries we have been since. The views were a mix of dense jungle, a peek of Mount Kinabalu, palm plantations and endless sheet metal and bamboo villages lining the road.
At the end of the trip we were exhausted and looking forward to some blissful days of luxury at the Sheraton in Sandakan (which was only marginally more expensive than the windowless hostel in Singapore).
Sandakan town itself had not much to offer other than a small harbour front, some ok restaurants and a night market full of exiting food stuff for us to try (meaning that I was constantly buying new things to eat and when it tasted good Bea would consider to take a nibble too :-)). Think fish balls, sticky rice in banana leaf, satay sticks and other things we don’t even know the names of.
On Friday we ‘missed’ the 5:00am ANZAC Day memorial service for Australian and British POW casualties of the Sandakan Death Marches, one of the many reminders of war history in the region we would encounter during our travels.
The next day however we got a closer look of the ‘pride’ of the Malaysian navy during an open day / open ship event at the local navy base. The big frigate with the rocket launchers was supposedly manufactured by an Italian shipyard for Sadam Hussein’s army just before the first gulf war and Malaysia got it for a discounted price when it could not be delivered to the original buyer any more.
But we did not come to Sandakan for its boring town centre, its culture or military but for its unique wildlife and it was finally time to meet the “people of the forrest” better known by their Malay name: the orang-utan!