5 days, 1161kms, 1bike 2 very sore bums - Day 1
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Where I stayed
Sin Garden Hotel
One of the biggest attractions of Sabah is the Sepilock Orangutang Rehabilitation Centre. It's near a city in the North-East of Malaysian Borneo named Sandakan. Being a large city, there are several public buses, countless tourist buses and even fllghts running between KK and Sandakan. All these transport options may seem perfectly sensible to the average punter, but not to Penny and I. We wanted something more unique, something more challenging, something much longer and more painful. So we headed to Go Go Sabah Motorcycle Hire.
Now if anyone's been to a South-East asian country before and thinks we're made because of the insane drivers, Malaysia isn't that bad, the drivers for the most part, follow the rules.
We spoke to an extremely friendly, extremely helpful, Joel Low. Joel thought our plan of riding to Sandakan on that day, going to the Orangutans on the next day and riding back on the third day was absolutely mad. He explained that the ride, although only 350kms was extremely mountainous and slow going and that it would take us at least 9 hours. We decided to take his advice, and devised a plan with him of riding about 150kms that day to the Sabah Tea Garden, stay there and then head to Sandakan the following day. This way it would take us 2 days either way, taking a total of 5 days, with one day at the Orangutans. This sounded like a pretty easy plan so we hired a tiny little 125cc "semi-automatic" (actually just an auto clutch like a postie bike) Modena brand scooter thing. It felt a lot littler and more rattly than the bike I'm used to but Penny jumped on the back and we scooted of for the town of Raneu (near the tea garden).
After getting out of KK town we started ascending into the Kinabalu National Park, home to the world famous Mount Kinabalu (the tallest peak in SE Asia I think). The bike struggled a little up the steep parts, but usually we were usually stuck in a huge line of cars behind big trucks struggling even more than our little bike. This was to become an ongoing theme of the trip. At this stage however, we weren't too worried, as we were surrounded by some of the most amazing scenery of jungle covered mountains as far as the eye could see. The jungle came right up to the edge of the road. We were amazed at the insatiable greenery and life of the jungle. Even the new-looking power poles on the side of the road were covered in vines. This was the Borneo from the postcards.
After a good 2 hours on the bike we reached Ranau a small town lonely planet describes as "a collection of concrete shop blocks....its interest mainly as a transport junction". We stopped here for lunch, with only about another half an hour to the Tea Garden. Despite the Lonely Planet's disinterest in this town we thoroughly enjoyed our little experience. After having lunch at a small local eatery, we went next door for an iced Malay Coffee (like a normal iced coffee but with heaps of sweetened condensed milk - a bit gross in my opinion but Pen loves them). There were 4 girls working at the little outdoor drink stall. They all giggled and spoke in Malay as the made our coffees. It was obvious that the joke was on us as they kept looking over. Finally on of the girls was obviously pushed into approaching us and asked where we were from. When I answered she turned to the other girls, let out a little squeak then jumped in the air and shouted "AUSTRALIA!" We weren't quite sure of the meaning of all this, but it had a very friendly, playful feel to it. We sat down at a table surrounded by local teenagers to drink our coffees. Half way through our coffees we were approached by a middle aged man with a huge grin. Offered us a handshake and when we both gave him one, his already huge grin doubled in size. White folk were obviously a novelty in this part of town.
We jumped back on the bike ready for our short ride to the Sabah Tea Garden, where we were to stay in a cabin. We arrived at the main building after riding up a winding dirt track through a massive tea plantation. It looked classy. Very classy. The restaurant/Tea house was huge,
We arrived at Telupid, a town not even mentioned in the Lonely Planet after a long 80kms. After riding around this tiny town, it seemed that there was only one hotel, a grubby concrete block, painted pink in the middle of town. The three ladies at reception seemed to find it a hard concept to grasp that we wanted to hire a room. At first they offered us a family room we tried to explain that we only needed a double, but they weren't going to budge, so we just accepted the family. Pulling out my wallet to pay they then told us that the hotel was full and that we couldn't have any room. Confused, but accepting we jumped back on the bike and headed off to find a petrol station. We found a little cage full of 44 gallon petrol drums.
The ride to Sandakan was literally hundreds of kilometers of palm oil plantations. Plantations bring trucks. Big slow trucks. The sun began to set. I was not comfortable riding in the dark but the only other option was sleeping on the side of the road. We arrived in Sandakan well after dark. And checked into the first hotel that we saw, the Sin Garden Hotel. This establishment was right across the road from an entertainment venue named The Pink Lady. We may have been on the wrong side of the tracks, but we were too tired (and I was too stressed) to care. 9 hours after we had left KK, we had a shower, washed the black layer off our arms (not sure if it was dirt or diesel fumes stuck in suncream) and went to bed. Orangutans awaited us tomorrow.