If you have ever thought about traveling to Borneo/Malaysia, stop thinking and book your flights! Myself and four girlfriends flew from Adelaide to Kota Kinabalu, onto Kota Bharu and finally Kuala Lumpur before returning to Adelaide with Air Asia for around $750.00 AUS each.
MOUNT KINABALU – The highest mountain in South East Asia
We arrived in Borneo and headed straight for the mountains for a two day hike up the famous ‘Mount Kinabalu‘ with our lovely guide ‘Jamel. From the base it was a two hour drive up to 1790m and from there it’s up to your own legs. We carried our overnight backpacks with extra layers of clothes, rain gear, head torches, water bottles and of course a toothbrush.
It’s hard work climbing up giant steps with no relief of any downhill. Imagine the burn you feel at the end of a gym class when they push you that little bit further, now imagine you have that feeling and need to walk 8km up steps into altitude. Well it was all worth it! However we didn’t know it at this stage.
We arrived at our overnight accommodation just before dark. We had throbbing headaches, achy bodies, hungry bellies and were hilariously delirious at this point. The company we booked through had organized us a smorgasbord of food for dinner, we ate as much as possible, finished with some choccy and then it was straight up to our 3 degree bunk room for a short 5 hour sleep. Due to the high altitude and lack of oxygen in the air it was really hard to sleep. Any who – we soldiered on, packed up, had a 2:15am breakfast then we ascended further.
When you looked ahead you could see a lovely trail of lights, it was a hard climb but a great experience in the dark. Unlike Australia, Borneo have lack of Occupational Health & Safety (OHS) policies, we made it to the summit … JUST. (Visualise climbing up flat rocks holding onto a dodgy piece of rope in the pitch black with no helmets or safety gear.)
But Jamel looked after us very well and we made it to summit just on sunrise. IT WAS INCREDIBLE! The altitude was hardcore, I could only walk 4 steps before feeling light headed and exhausted. The terrain was granite with the colours of the sunrise reflecting, the views were breath taking it was so stunning, almost unreal. Feeling very average we took some great photos and memories at the summit #photocredittojamel and then it was time for the descent. I swear you could feel the pressure around your head decompressing!
Obviously walking down was a lot faster, we made it to the bottom, jumped in a cab and headed back to a beautiful resort near Kota Kinabalu called the ‘Nexus’. Climbing Mount Kinabalu was a great experience; I recommend working on your stair climb fitness before enduring the hike though. If you decide to book with a company, (which ensures you a place on the mountain, as only a certain number of people can be hiking at once). You should ask to walk via the ‘Mesilau Nature Trail’ otherwise they automatically book you on the same hike up and return.)
We spent the next 5 nights eating at the local markets in Kota Kinabalu. For the four of us it would cost about $8.90 and that included a bowl of rice each, a couple of entrees, 4-5 mains to share and 4 fruit smoothies. We were gob smacked with the price and amazed at how delicious the food was.
Lots of people worry about eating the street food or at local markets however it was all fresh and cooked in extremely hot woks in front of us. We ate at small card tables with checked plastic table cloths and mix match camp cutlery but it was all part of the experience.
Thinking about it now brings me back to the amazing cooking smells, the fruit and veg smells, the seafood smells, the busy market atmosphere sounds, the children running around helping their families at the stalls, the 5c desserts which we had never seen before and the fact that it was Ramadan at that time of year so when the sun went down it was time to hook in to our food.
If you have never heard of Ramadan before, it is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. According to Islamic beliefs, Muslims fast for a month to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad. They fast from dawn until sunset. Not only do they fast from food but also drinking liquids, smoking, sexual relations and many other things.
As well as the night atmosphere within the markets we explored a couple of islands just of Kota Kinabalu during the days. The water was a stunning clear aqua colour, the sand was a beautiful white colour with millions of little white coral rocks covering it. The islands were dazzling however unfortunately there was a lot of rubbish floating around which gets picked up in the ocean currents from the mainland and ends up on the beaches of the islands. (The locals try to clean it up regularly)
Mid-way through the trip we flew from Kota Kinabalu, Borneo to Kota Bharu, on the mainland of Malaysia (Mid North East). We then drove to Kuala Besut jetty and caught a 45 minute boat taxi to the Perhentian Islands. We arrived to the most stunning island (Palau Perhentian Kecil). It seemed very untouched and we felt great vibes! Pristine waters, small wooden boats, helpful people and the four of us ready for 6 days of relaxation; book reading, tanning, eating, drinking and exploring.
I cannot rave enough about the Perhentian islands, we explored both islands, walked around Kecil to find different restaurants, diver’s accommodation, beach volleyball courts, affordable food, stunning views and lovely locals. One night we met some backpackers and organized a volleyball game 4 on 4, Girls Vs Boys. (We won !)
We booked a small tour from the main beach to explore the colourful coral in 5 different snorkel spots. Our guide was a legend and took us to a great lunch spot where I enjoyed a large fresh watermelon smoothie. We were lucky enough to swim with the turtles which was a highlight for me!
The Scuba diving was also amazing! I dove with a young dive master from the Philippines who had been living/working the dry seasons for the past 4 years. I would 100% recommend going for a dive or even attaining your ‘PADI Open Water’ Scuba Diving certificate whilst you stay at Kecil. (There are many dive resorts with great staff who know the best dive sites)
Late mornings we would walk over to the other side of the island, ‘dripping in sweat, chaffing between the legs’ to (Long beach) where the sand is white and it is perfect to cool off in the ocean. It is a lovely spot for tanning and very peaceful place for reading a book. Later at night long beach transforms into a hippies dream. Lots of backpackers appear, the live music cranks up, the drinks are being poured and the fire dancers begin.
Leaving the island was a sad day, my thoughts exactly>> ‘I will defiantly be back here one day!’ And I still plan to return. We caught what we thought was going to be the last taxi of our life to Kota Bharu for our flight to KL. The driver was a mad man! Over taking police at 80km around corners and laughing at us gasping in the back seat. We live to tell the tale.
To finish our trip we stayed in Kuala Lumper to explore the city and the sales. There were hundreds of shops, Sephora, Zara, Forever 21, Mac, H&M, markets and many more. We checked out the Petronas Towers, which are twin towers, currently ranked the tallest twin sky scrapers in the world. At night we went to the Petaling Street Markets where we discovered more delicious, well priced food and a great night atmosphere.
After spending the rest of our holiday savings at the shops it was time to head home. A cruisey 7 hour, overnight flight home feeling very relaxed and rejuvenated after our amazing time away in Borneo and Malaysia.
Have you visited Malaysia or Borneo? Share your insider tips with our readers below in the comments!
By We Are Travel Girls Contributor Cassie Evans
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Great article! Makes me want to jump on a plane and go!