November 1-5, 2018: We welcomed our first guests on MOKEN since we moved the boat from the Philippines to Malaysia. Betty and Peter joined us from Subic for a whirlwind five days packed full of road trips, diving, hiking, monkey spotting, sunsets and lots and lots of food. Here are the highlights.
We managed to stay awake into the wee hours to meet Peter and Betty at the airport in KK. There’d be plenty of time to catch up over coffee on the back deck in the morning. Our pillows were calling.
After morning coffee, we wandered around Sutera Harbour then drove up into the hills for lunch. Mount Kinabalu was being very elusive, so we enjoyed the views of the coast as we updated each other on everything that’s been going on since we last saw each other in May in Puerto Princessa. Soon it was time for sundowners at the posh beach bar at the Shangri-La Resort, followed by dinner in town. It was an early night. We were going diving the next day!
We downed our coffees quickly and grabbed some snacks for the road as we had a two-hour drive ahead of us. After turning off the main highway, we wound through small villages and farmland until we came to the end of the road at a village on stilts over the water. This was our pick up point. We had to wade out with all our gear to a small open boat waiting in the surf. A dry bag would have been a good idea.
From here, it was just a few minutes by boat across the bay to the dive resort. There’s no road in to the place. We met Hannah, our dive guide and sorted out gear and weights. And then we were shuttled out to the dive boat. It would be just the four of us today. We had the whole boat to ourselves.
Our first two dives were at Mayne Rock and Mayne Reef, a good 45 minute boat ride from the resort and well offshore. Again, Mount Kinabalu was in hiding and we had to bounce along in some big swell out to the dive sites, which were very exposed. We had no idea what to expect, but Hannah figured we might see some reef sharks.
Both of the morning dives had nice healthy reefs and lots of small fish. Plus we found spotted rays, sharks, nudibranchs and cuttlefish. There was quite a bit of current, some surge and the visibility was only okay, but overall the dives were great.
After our morning dives, we returned to the resort for lunch. At least we were going with the swell this time, so the ride was a lot more comfortable. We lounged, we ate, we played with fluffy puppies, we enjoyed the view. We were ravenous and plowed through a big pot of pasta and a tray of watermelon.
Since the first two dives were so good, we decided to make a third dive after lunch. This site was much closer to the mainland. The visibility got so bad part way through the dive that we ended up calling it off. It was too hard to see much of anything as we spent all our time trying to stay together in a group. I have no idea what the reef was like.
Despite that setback, it was a good dive day and we were shuttled back to the shore after rinsing all our gear at the resort. Then it was time for the long trek back to KK. We made it back just in time for sundowners on the back deck of MOKEN before showering and heading out for dinner.
KK is very centrally located, but a lot of the more interesting points of interest are quite long drives. Our next day was no exception. We all piled back into the Pajero after breakfast. This time we were going south up into the Crocker Range to find a hike, as I figured hiking up above 1,000 metres would be a bit cooler than hiking down at the coast.
By the time we got to Crocker National Park we really needed to stretch our legs. We popped into the visitors’ centre and the ranger suggested the jungle trail starting up by the cell tower. Three of us donned our trainers. Chris opted for flip flops. From the car, we had to hike up the road to the cell tower. That was the hottest and hardest part of the trail. After that, it was mostly downhill through the jungle. The trail was good in some sections, in need of work in others, but soon we were down to the low point. There was supposed to be a waterfall around here somewhere, but I guess only after it rains. Chris did manage to find his first leech. Ewww. From here we had to climb back up to the car. Even up here in the mountains it was still hot and humid. We were soaked by the time we made it back to the ranger station.
After stopping for lunch at the Crocker Park pass, we did a quick detour to check out a Buddhist temple with views over the valleys and hills around us. And then back into the car for the drive to Beaufort and a walkabout the old downtown core and market. We were just killing time before heading to our next stop, but couldn’t find anywhere to grab a coffee.
We arrived at Kota Klias a bit earlier than necessary and we were the first guests at the large lodge run by Klias River Cruise. This is one of the original operators on the Klias River, but far from the only one. We were served coffee and local cakes and had a chance to check out the setting before the tour busses arrived. The big draw here are the river cruises to see monkeys, especially proboscis monkeys, in the trees along the river at dusk and it’s a popular tour for the hordes of tourists staying in KK. After a big buffet dinner, a second cruise takes you out to see fireflies. We were introduced to our guide/driver.
I think we were all pretty glad that we had booked a private boat. After grabbing life jackets, our guide took us up the river. Before long we were catching glimpses of monkeys high up in the trees along the river banks. At first we saw mostly macaques, but eventually we came across a couple of large groups of proboscis monkeys with their big potbellies and funny noses. Binoculars are a must to get a really good view, but taking photos wasn’t easy because of the light, the distance and all the branches that kept getting in the way. We’d find a group and soon after another boat would move in for their turn at getting a peek. Some of the boats had up to 40 people on them. I don’t know how they managed to see much.
After sunset on the river, we returned for the buffet just as the skies opened up and there was a tremendous, albeit short, downpour. We were the first back but soon found ourselves fighting our way through the crowd to get at the buffet. People were moving in both directions, ignoring the queue or elbowing their way in to reach the food. Madness. At least they sold cold beer, so that made it all a bit more tolerable.
Next, our guide ushered us back to the boat for the firefly cruise. Once away from the lights of the town and the cruise lodges, we could start to see the glimmer of lights up in the trees lining both banks of the river. It was magical. Although we couldn’t help but comment about how much work it must have been to string all those LED twinkle lights up in the trees. They seemed to flicker in unison to some unheard music. Every so often, one lone firefly would venture out into the river and fly around us, shattering the illusion that it might not be real.
Totally pleasantly surprised by our adventures on the river, we bundled back into the car for another long drive back to KK in the dark.
The next morning was Sunday. We decided to make it a day of rest, as in no driving. We needed a break from our break. We caught a Grab into town and went for coffee and pastries at Tong Hing, wandered through the Gaya Street Market for a bit. Then we went for dim sum overlooking the harbour and Gaya Island. Back at Sutera, we went for a swim in the afternoon and shopping at the mall. Today’s sundowners were at the beach bar at the resort.
For Betty and Peter’s last day, we tried once more to get a glimpse of Mount Kinabalu. Back in the Pajero we headed north and then on the road up to Kinabalu National Park. For most of the way, a hitchhiker joined us. A wee gecko clung to the window for dear life. I hope he likes his new home up in the hills.
Finally, Mount Kinabalu was in full view this morning. But it didn’t last long. By the time we reached the park, it was socked in once again and had started to drizzle. We were not deterred and were looking to find a hike, but the trails in the park were not in the best of condition at this time of year, so we opted for a stroll through the botanical garden instead.
After lunch, we piled back in the car and drove even further to Poring Hot Springs. That place was crazy busy. We walked straight past the hot springs, opting instead for the hike to the waterfalls and on to the bat caves. The crowd thinned out the further we went. There was another waterfall further on, but we didn’t have enough time to make it there and back, so we retraced our steps and went to the canopy walk instead.
The day was getting on, so we had to be on our way. We drove the loop road back to KK rather than retracing our morning route. It may have made the drive a wee bit longer, but there was hardly any traffic.
We didn’t quite make it back in time for final sundowners, but not to be deterred, we still enjoyed a cold beer or two before heading out for a farewell dinner. We really did try to play cards, but most evenings we were so tired that it was really hard to stay awake. All too soon, it was time to send Betty and Peter off to the airport. We hope they’ll come again when we get to another new destination.
It was great to see each other again and spend some time being tourists in KK. Needless to say, the Belgian chocolates didn’t last long, but we are still enjoying the corn tortillas they brought us from Subic, which are impossible to find in KK. Thanks guys!