Here we are at the start of another week, which means more Malaysia! Last week we recapped our time in George Town (Penang), where the buses are awesome, the street art is cool, and the food is amazing. This week, we’re moving on to the island of Borneo, state of Sabah, and city of Kota Kinabalu (KK). For the Carmen Sandiegos out there, here’s our flight path from Pennisular Malayasia to Malaysian Borneo:
Arrival: The flight from Penang to KK was easy; the disembarking process, however, was anything but. Prior to the moment the “Fasten Seatbelt” sign was turned off, I had always believed that two pieces of matter could not occupy the same space. Clearly, my fellow AirAsia passengers did not buy into commonly-held theories of physics, and the second that little “ding” went off people were running up and down the aisle as if it were the autobahn. I did not have one iota of cultural consideration for this little difference in disembarking process and thought if I just stood firm I could instill into people the age-old School Bus principle– moving vehicles are emptied in exactly ONE fashion: by alternating door side, driver side in rows until everyone is out. No one was impressed by this, and finally one small grandfather who was trying to be the THIRD person standing across the aisle implored to me to move with an annoyed, “Please, hello!” This would become the catch phrase of the rest of the trip.
Night 1: The difference between George Town and KK is similiar to the difference between Portland and Seattle– in this case, George Town is the funky, artsy little town whose quirk and character is apparent on every block, while KK is the more urban, business-heavy city that lacks distinct charm but has a ton of cool, outdoor stuff to do very close by.
We kept hearing about the Hawker Food–street food in a central, usually-outdoor food court–of KK, so we settled in at the modest-but-totally adequate Eden 54 and ran off to a waterfront hawker outpost. JetSet went crazy and ordered grilled stingray (which I had reservations about but turned out to be a great treat), we had some grilled squid, and even an avocado milkshake, all for about $25… yes, for the two of us.
Stingray so hot it steamed up the camera lens
It may look like JetSet and I are enjoying one avocado milkshake with two straws… but actually we are both holding ourselves up on the table to keep our feet clear of the rat who was trying to dine with us. And that’s all I have to say about that.
Day 1: Cooking Class and Sapi Island
We spent most of the first day in KK with a local gourmand, Remie Law, who gave us a tour of an amazing food market and taught us how to cook local produce. We had SUCH a good time with him (so much so that I’ll devote an entire post to our day with him on a future Monday) and learned a lot in our time. We started off the day at a huge food market, where I took approximately 6,000 pictures of food. Just a few:
Sorry, pig lovers
JetSet learning to moonlight in the local 60+ band
After the market, we went back to Remie’s suburban home (complete with awesome organic garden), where we proceeded to fry the ever-living Jesus out of some very worthy produce. We even took a selfie. More on this later.
After our day with Remie, we decided that Ferragosto so far had been heavy on the trekking and far too light on the tanning, so we headed out to Sapi Island, part of the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park. A 20 minute boat ride from KK’s Jesselton Point wharf, these islands were described to us as “just okay.” Exhibit A:
Not too shabby. We enjoyed the sunlight that was left (warning: you will have to move a lot as the sun sets to catch every afternoon ray–better to go in the morning!) and headed back for an Afternoon Caffeinated Beverage at (where else?) the Dunkin’ on the wharf.
For dinner we checked out El Centro, which people who have ever visited the developing world will recognize by the name “Whitey Central.” Despite the advertisements for organized bar crawls and small groups of backpackers, it’s a nice place–good vibe, strong drinks, and not a rat in sight. We had nice salads and a delicious bowl of fruit topped off with champagne cocktails. It was also the sight of a very rare occurence: below, JetSet googles something (concentrating VERY deeply) that proved he was right and I was wrong. It doesn’t happen often, but let the record show it did happen once… though I can’t remember what it was about.
We spent the whole day on Mamutik Island, which was just as beautiful as Sapi. We ate lunch at a restaurant there and watched as people pranced around the beach with Selfie Sticks. Not familiar? Neither was I, prior to this trip. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you— THE SELFIE STICK:
We were pretty much the only people who weren’t walking around with our phone/camera attached to one of these bad boys. We were also the only people who didn’t make peace signs in every shot. Oh–and also pretty much the only people on the beach who weren’t spending our precious time in the sun using a selfie stick to take shot after shot of ourself MAKING said peace sign. We must be old.
Anyway- that night we ate at Kohinoor, another Indian restaurant that was absolutely insanely delicious. They even had fish tikka, which I had often thought should be a dish but didn’t know existed.
After dinner we took a little stroll along the water front, and somehow we landed in a chain resto-pub along the lines of Applebees for a beverage. Luckily we did, because we ALSO stumbled upon an awesome power ballad cover band. The room was pretty empty but we were really enjoying ourselves and sang/danced along to all the songs. They asked for requests, so of course we drafted up this note:
And proceeded to make absolutely FOOLS of ourselves when they played our requests. And yes, we were in a bar called Cock & Bull. It’s true.
Day 3: North Borneo Railway
Every Wednesday and Saturday, one of the resorts in KK runs a restored steam engine to Papar Town. They’ve made SUCH an event of it–everything in the train has been restored to “bygone era” status, and you do feel like you’ve traveled back in time a bit. Breakfast and lunch are served on the train, and there are stops along the way at a temple, a small town, and a large market. When the Kefs were kiddies, our grandparents took us to all kind of train-related things, and so JetSet and I have major nostalgia for the locomotive. Pictures do it better justice than description, but I will say this was one of my very favorite bits of the whole trip. Also, this is pretty much the only time I’ve been on vacation and thought, “Wow, I wish I had kids with me.” All the kids on the train were so cute and having so much fun!
Not sure if they did the whole peace-sign thing in the 1950s, but we’ll go with the anachronism.
Of course, we had to make a spectacle of ourselves
Needless to say, United Airlines could learn a thing or two.
After working on the railroad we wanted to continue our life of leisure out on an island, but as it was already mid-afternoon, it didn’t make sense to take a boat out, chase the sun as it set, and take a boat back… so instead, we just set ourselves up for some sun on the wharf. We thought it would be a major “what the hell are those two doing?” moment, and were both a bit disappointed to find out that no one paid us one bit of attention. Shame.
Come back next week to find our how I almost died on Mt Kinabalu, our bike trip through the jungle, and the time JetSet ate 57 pork products in one sitting.