7 Days in Borneo : Best Vacation So Far

This is my second time in the Malaysian part of Borneo. I first came here last March ‘09 with another friend and we had a blast wandering around Kota Kinabalu and Sandakan which is nearer to Mindanao.

The cheap food and accommodation, warm and hospitable people and the nature are the main reason why I love this place very much.

I will try not to be too talkative. Here are the highlights of our trip.

October 22, 2009 Day 1 : Arrival in KK
With very minimal budget, we initially planned on taking the public bus with a terminal that is a few minutes away from the airport (after exiting the airport doors, walk straight ahead, cross the street and walk towards your right side. Bus stop is a couple of blocks away). After waiting for about 15 minutes and no signs of the bus, we decided to walk all the way to the city center. We figured it was good training for the upcoming climbathon. We didn’t know exactly how to get there because the directions I have were for taking the public bus. It was a good thing we were able to grab free street maps from the airport.

The walk was a total of 7KM, 6 bus stops from our left and 5 from our right side. We arrived at Lavender Lodge all sweaty but still with full smiles. The lady at the reception didn’t act surprise when she saw us. She turned out to be Filipina and she told us our friend (Cons, who had gone one day ahead of us) was already waiting in our room.

We grabbed dinner after freshening up. We decided to play it safe and ate at KFC, less than 5 minutes on foot from our lodge. By the way, Lavender Lodge is a great place. It’s squeaky clean, provides towels, has an amazing location – banks nearby, rows of seafoods fronting the area, 24-hrs convenience store located 2 or 3 blocks away.

October 23, 2009 Day 2 : Travel to Kundasang and Briefing for the Climbathon
We arrived at Summer’s Mountain Lodge a little before lunch time by taking a shared taxi with 5 other passengers from all over KK. It cost us 20 Malaysian Ringgit each and supposedly the quickest way to get to Kundasang because they pick you up from your lodge. You can book it from the reception of your lodge (not sure if all lodges offer it, but apparently, a lot of people take it).
Getting to our lodge was an adventure in itself because we had to go up four hills and hike .8 KM from the main highway where the taxi dropped us off. I say hike because the terrain consisted of cement and a little gravel. We were surrounded by views of the mountain on both sides. The weather up there reminded me so much of Sagada and Batad.

A guy followed us on our way there and he turned out to be a staff from lodge. We didn’t know he worked there because he just smiled at us as we began hiking and didn’t even talk to us so we just assumed he was from the area.

We had a little difficulty talking to him because he doesn’t speak any English. Good thing we printed our reservation from Hostelworld and we pointed the remaining balance to him which we had to pay when we checked in (policy with most hostels in KK).

Our room was situated in the second floor in the middle of all the other rooms which seemed unoccupied. During our length of stay there, we didn’t see any other soul, not even the staff (he lives in a hut below the lodge) and had the entire place to ourselves. We had a lot of realizations in that lodge (my friend Jules joked that the only thing we found there were ourselves because we were so secluded from the rest of civilization – no tv, radio). The only noise we heard up there was the noises we made and the rain which poured on the second night. For three days and two nights, no one else was in the lodge but us.

We had a brief lunch after we settled in (yeah, you better bring food up there and other provisions because the nearest restaurant is at the Halleluyah Retreat Center, about 10-15 minutes away on foot, traversing up and down the hills). The lodge sells drinks but the staff isn’t always there. We love the man though. He has a kind aura. There’s also no hot water in the shared bathroom so better bring body warming oil.

The registration for the race was at the Liwagu Restaurant which is approximately another 2KM walk from our lodge. We felt a little shy to register because we don’t look entirely “climbathon” ready. There’s a certain body type that fit runners possess and when you look at a person, you can immediately know if they’ve been training a lot. With flabs here and there, I looked like I was just joining a fun run. We were able to register quickly and even met two members of the friendly Philippine contingent – Sid and Nina. Nina was wearing an Iron Man finisher shirt. We gulped when we saw the shirt because we were just there to try it out and have fun while a lot were serious, competitive runners. We took a mental note of letting the serious runners pass us by during the race.

After that, we decided to test the trail from the starting line up to Timpohon gate which was at 1,866.4 MASL. There we met a participant for the Men’s Veteran along with his allies who took a picture with us (ah, a taste of fame).

We got down, cold and hungry about an hour before the briefing. There we met the entire Philippine contingent for the Climbathon. Sir Lito Cinco, a member of the Philippine media, incidentally sat next to us during the presentation and overheard us talking in our native tongue.
October 24, 2009 Day 3 : Climbathon Day – Women’s Open and Men’s Veteran
We set our alarms at 3:00am – taking a bath was entirely dismissed. I woke up in disbelief as I was shivering like a cold puppy. To think I already wore two jackets, socks and had the blanket over my body the whole night. Thank God for J&J’s Body Warming oil which you can buy at the local groceries. It saved us.

We left the lodge three hours before the race since our lodge was in a faraway land.

The climbathon started at 7:00am. (Climbathon is basically running up and down a mountain within a specific time frame; For Women category: Starting line to the summit within 3 hours 30 minutes and Summit to finish line within 3 hours).

Since Mt. Kinabalu is 4,095.2 MASL, higher than Mt. Apo, air was really thin and made breathing a little bit challenging. In about four hours of mainly hiking, I reached Laban rata which 3,272.7 MASL. Race was already closed and we had to go down after taking pictures.

More story about my climbathon experience here :

October 25, 2009 Day 4 : Watching Climbathon – Men’s Open; Travel back to KK
We decided to wake up late – a feat which is difficult for me since we slept at around 8:00pm due to fatigue from the race and from my little fall. I didn’t fall during the race, I fell while walking back to our faraway lodge. It rained a bit so the cement was pretty slippery. We walked in the midst of the fog and everything was dark. Thank God that Jules brought the high-powered flashlight I gave her last Christmas.

I woke up at 5:00am. I tried to sleep again, but I just couldn’t. My good friend Jules agreed to for me to turn on the lights and chat. Hehehe! I’m like a granny. I sleep early and wake up very early. Like last night, I slept at 9:00pm and woke up at 3:00am.

After taking a bath, I felt sleepy again, and this time, Jules was wide awake. I didn’t feel like leaving the bed but when she mentioned about checking out the hot guys at the Men’s Open, I bolted straight from the bed. Oh yes, it was the day for the men’s open. Men of all ages, shapes and sizes. What a great reason to wake up.

We headed straight to the finish line where we again saw our new found friends from the Philippine team. They were really nice and down to earth. Quite easy to get along with. Sid had already finished. He’s the popular one armed runner who I often see training in Ultra.

A free buffet lunch was served after the race. It was held in a huge hall near the Climbathon secretariat office. The awards were given and I am proud to inform you that the very beautiful Pinay from Cebu – Liezel Limindas placed 6th in the women’s open. She received 700 US Dollars as prize money. Way to go!

We took the free shuttle back to KK. Yay so we saved some more moolah, then had dinner again at KFC. What can I say, I love, love, love chicken. The KFC in KK is much juicier than the one in Sandakan. The gravy is also good and here, they have bigger servings! A satisfying KFC meal will cost you around 6++ Malaysian ringgit and it includes a Pepsi (considered as Large size in the Philippines).

We checked in at Borneo Beachouse located in Tanjung Aru, walking distance from the terminal 2 of KKIA (where Air Asia is).

It’s also very clean and has a very young, energetic staff. It does look more like a beachouse than a lodge and has a homey feel to it. We met David (half Malaysian-half Irish) and Mark (half Malaysian-half Pinoy who happens to be multi-lingual). David gave us a brief tour of the house and was rudely interrupted by, no other than yours truly. I couldn’t help it. We were walking along the garden and it was a bit dark and I tripped on a patch of grass. Dave was in the middle of his “briefing” and he turned around and said, “What was that?” (Ha! Di man lang, who? What talaga!..hehehe). He resumed with his litany of the beachouse after I said “Sorry about that. I’m okay!” . Ha! I should have just pretended it wasn’t me.

October 26, 2009 Day 5 : Beach Day!
We went island hopping in Pulau Sapi and Manukan. We paid 27-30 Malaysian Ringgit each which included a round trip fare back to Jesselton Ferry Terminal. I’m not a beach person, honestly, though I’ve been to a lot of great beaches and enjoy swimming in the ocean. I prefer seeing the green stuff like mountains, hills and valleys. It was a relaxed day. I had a lot of laugh in Pulau Sapi because there were these fishes that attack people. Not in a “Jaws” way, just the playful kind of attack. They charge at you and nibble on your skin. There was this funny fish that tried attacking me on the leg. At first, I thought it was just a pebble hitting me, but then it banged at me again. He couldn’t do the munch thing because my legs are a bit firm and quite big (hehe). Ah, the poor fish. I had to move away fearful for its safety. It felt like he was banging his head on an aquarium glass. If he charged at me one more time, there might be blood in the water already and that would freak most of the kids snorkeling in the area.

Lunch was at the beach front. We found a stall in Pulau Manukan (our last stop) and ate with cold drinks while staring at the beach. We even ran into a member of Yati's family who we met at Borneo Beachouse. They're a very warm, friendly Malaysian family from KL (not sure about KL though).

We got back to the city at 2:00pm and went around the malls after that.

October 27, 2009 Day 6 : Wandering Around Tanjung Aru
Did nothing much, searched for the postal office in the morning for Jules’ mail errands, which was a few blocks from the beachouse and a bit challenging to find.

In the afternoon, we chatted with the staff of Borneobeachouse and got acquainted with almost everyone. They truly felt like family. They were warm and talkative. After that, me and the guys did a little football in the driveway, just passing the ball to each other in a quicker pace.

I incurred two bruises from that because Hans’ ball (his soccer ball that is) didn’t have adequate air in it and I just had socks on.

After that, we had our final dinner. During our entire stay in Tanjung Aru, we ate at the complex near the beach. A few minutes walk from where we stayed. We had our walang kamatayang, Nasi Goreng Seafood which is like Yang Chow but with fresher and bigger portions and it tastes so much better too. It costs about 4-5 Malaysian Ringgit and is good for two people who doesn’t eat a lot of rice. This time, we ate with Jules’ new found friend who hails from New Zealand, Jo.

October 28, 2009 Day 7 : Early Pack-Up and Chillax
I was eager to go home but it was hard to say goodbye to Borneo Beachouse because of the people who made our stay there extra special. It was the first time I felt emotionally attached to a place and I would love to go back there again. What can I say, it’s my home in Borneo.

By the way, I’ve compiled all the list of information I have on KK, Brunei and Sandakan. Please check it out here:


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