30.04.2011 - 07.05.2011 32 °C
We decided to only stay for two nights in Singapore as we wanted to spend more time in Malaysia and also reckon we will return again sometime since it is one of the main hubs for the far-east. The unbelievable humidity hit us when we stepped out of the airport but we were impressed by how nice and clean the city seemed as we transferred to our hostel.
Singapore has an impressive waterfront where the famous Marina Bay Sands hotel and shopping mall is located. The hotel puts on a lighting show each night which was pretty good. There seem to be shopping malls everywhere, most are huge too, which is great when walking around the city to cut through to get out of the humidity into air-con. There is also the Chinatown and Little India areas that are good to visit and for some cheap shopping. The best thing has to be the food though, as everything we tried was superb and really cheap.
We didn't really do much when there apart from spend the day exploring various areas of the city and do a bit of shopping. We hope to return again though to go to the zoo and also do the night safari as these are meant to be really good.
We stupidly booked our flight to Borneo from Johor Bahru, a city just north of Singapore but in Malaysia. We thought we would visit another city until people kept saying that it was a dump. There was a cheap deal online for a five-star hotel out beside the airport so we decided to treat ourselves and stay the day and night there instead of in Johor. It is in a big golf resort, although Del didn't get the chance to play, and has an outdoor olympic size swimming pool, good gym and other facilities that we took advantage of. After the four buses we took to get from Singapore across the border we thought it worthwhile. However, we have never been so close to missing a flight as the following morning as the airport was a total shambles. Thankfully we just got on or else the journey we took over there would have been a complete waste of time.
Our flight took us to Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia Borneo, which was also ridiculously humid. As soon as we arrived at our hotel we met up with one of Del's mates from uni, Graham Henderson (Hendo), and his Danish girlfriend, Rikke, for a few beers. He is working for Shell in Borneo (and not as a spy as rumour has it) and works south-west in a place called Bintulu. They just happened to be on holiday here with his parents who we met briefly before they had to leave to get to their next destination, Mount Kinabalu. It was great catching up although a bit random on an island on the other side of the world.
The city of Kota Kinabalu was pretty disappointing and certainly not what we were expecting of Borneo. It was dirty, really smelly and was not picturesque in the slightest. It did have a fantastic night market where you could get superb local food and amazing tiger prawns and fish. There didn't seem that there was much to do there so we only stayed two nights before getting a bus over to Sandakan on the east coast of the island which is also still in Malaysia.
Again, Sandakan was disappointing and made Kota Kinabalu look nice. There was a Japanese cemetery at the back of the town but outwith that there wasn't really much to do in Sandakan itself. However, it was a good base for us to do various trips to the orangutans, proboscis monkeys and turtle island (blog to follow on these) so we based ourselves here for five nights. The best thing in Sandakan was a great cafe at the waterfront (called Harbour Bistro Cafe for anyone planning a trip there) which made amazing Malaysian and oriental dishes for about a pound. We ended up eating there every night and witnessed some impressive thunderstorms on a few of the nights whilst we were eating.
It was certainly worth-while going to Borneo for the trips that can be done, but the cities / towns are not good to stay in for any length of time. The locals also give you a lot of attention but it is more funny than off putting and everywhere seemed really safe. We definitely want to return someday to see more of Borneo and do some diving / snorkelling further south in Semporna, which is meant to be one of the best places in the world for this.