Kota Kinabalu and area
We had a few days in Kota Kinabalu to take advantage of everything to do in the surrounding area.
When we arrived the weather was really nice, hot and humid so we took a local ferry to Manukan, one of the nearby islands belonging to the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park. The ferry was a small fiberglass boat, and the drivers were crazy. They raced across the ocean towards the islands at high speed. The waves were really high and our small boat went flying at least 3 m into the air, crashing down with a hard landing. This wasn’t just once, but several times in the 20 minute ride, we thought our boat would crack from the force. Manukan is a small island with a nice sandy beach, relatively clean water to swim, a few restaurants and a hotel.
After a day on the beach, we had enough relaxation so we went white water rafting on the Padas River. The trip to the rafting sight was an experience on its own. There are no local roads so we took an old British train left over from WWII. The rails were very narrow and the train shook from side to side as it traveled along the tracks. We were a little worried at the start, but the train moved so slowly that it wasn’t really dangerous. After 1 ½ hours we made it to Padas River. The rapids were grade 3 and 4, and because of Typhoon Khanun, the water was really high making some eddies even stronger. The rafting was tough work, but so much fun!
Mount Kinabalu is a famous trekking volcano that we had intended to climb. The fees to do the 1 ½ day trek are ridiculously high and since we have summited so many mountains around the world already, we decided to only trek around the mountain base. The day turned out to be rainy and the mountain was covered with clouds so in the end we were happy we didn’t climb. When we were trekking we were lucky to see a few Pitcher flowers. They are carnivorous plants with a pitcher shaped flower that is filled with digestive fluids to trap and kill insects.
After Kinabalu we went to Poring Hot Springs where we were even luckier and saw 2 Rafflesia flowers (Corpse flower). These plants are difficult to see as they only flower for 5 days and then the plant dies. The flowers are huge at up to 1 meter across.
Pulau Sipadan and Pulau Mabul
The diving off Pulau (Island) Sipadan is world renown. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site so the area is well protected including the diving sites. They allow only 200 divers a day, so getting the opportunity to dive here isn’t easy. One way to ensure you are able to get one of these spots is to stay at a resort nearby. We stayed at Borneo Divers Resort on Palau Mabul, a 20 minute boat ride away. You have to stay 4 nights at the resort to ensure 1 day (4 dives) of diving off Sipadan, which we did. First we dove for 3 days at Mabul’s dive sites. The diving was good, and we were able to see a lot of interesting fish and coral. Along the shore of Mabul are a few villages of Bajau Laut (Sea Gypsies). They are nomadic and live off the sea in very primitive stilt houses over the ocean.
Diving at Sipadan was awesome! The coral was rich in colour and variety. One dive site, called Barracuda Point is a long, deep coral wall that goes straight down 2,000 m. Throughout the day we saw many different fish including: the usual sharks (white tip, black tip and bamboo), barracuda, jack fish, turtles, stingrays, and eels. And many unusual ones such as: cuttle fish, Napoleon Wrasse (google it, our photo isn’t great), unicorn fish, coral cat shark, crocodile fish and small brightly coloured slugs called nudibranch. Between dives we were able to visit the Sipidan turtle hatchery where there were thousands of eggs buried and another few hundred that had just hatched that day. We had 4 dives on Sipadan in one day so it ended up very worthwhile to come here.
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