Friday, 14 August 2009

Asian Adventure 6 :: 6-13 Aug '09 :: Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

Arriving at midday in KK, we were surprised to see the streets and sky laced with a smokey haze, somewhat reminiscent of the fog that persistently shrouds Hong Kong and Shanghai. Was Borneo similarly polluted?

We settled in at our budget hotel and looked forward to obtaining our shameless wet suit tans whilst learning how to dive.

KK was noticeably sleepy with a handful of locals sitting outside the dusty Filipino market area, each with no more than a few armfuls of fruits (rambutans, mangosteen and durians) laid out for sale. No economies of scale here - just sell as much as you can pick.

A few steps further on from the fruit sellers were the all-male sewing machinists. Mending a full range of clothing and any leather accessories, I couldn't help but marvel at this reversal of the Western stereotypical mother ready to darn your socks and patch your jeans.

Staminate sewers

The next morning, after a breakfast of fried bee hoon and ring-stingingly hot sambal chilli squid alongside the usual bread and jam offerings, we were picked up by our dive school, Down Below, to begin our journey to Pulau Gaya in the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park.

We soon found out from our instructors that the hazy atmosphere was being caused by forest fires in Indonesia, the smoke from which had blown across to Borneo and was creating a mystical cloudiness surrounding its neighbouring islands. Added to this, the weather had not been ideal of late which made for murky waters due to the fine sands being disrupted by the rough seas. "Great," I thought, "just what we need."

Over the three day PADI course (with integrated e-learning), I believe I swallowed a substantial amount of the Park's waters during the mask removal training. I hope they don't subsequently find a drop in local sea levels. Having had a serious sense of humour failure on the second day when I found that I hadn't really mastered the mask removal task whilst ten metres below (which caused numerous bouts of aforementioned sea swallowing), I got my act together for the final day and passed with flying colours. I must say, I have to thank Calvinn, the cheese-loving Malaysian Chinese dude who's taking time off from five years spent as a software engineer to teach novices like me how to survive underwater. If I could raise a flipper to him, I would.

Calvinn - he shivers if the water is less than 25 degrees Celsius

We booked a final day's 'fun dive' at North Sulug whereupon we discovered a blue-spotted stingray; Nemo and a number of his friends; and - the pièce de résistance - a hawksbill turtle gently grazing at twelve metres.

Our other adventure in KK was to the Klias Wetlands to visit the Monkey Tops Safari Eco Lodge where we saw proboscis monkeys, monitor lizards and fire flies all hanging out and doing their thing. Our tour was dominated by Japanese and Chinese tourists so it wasn't long before we spied a t-shirt with a typically poorly expressed English slogan: "have a terrific Sensibility" (sic). What does that MEAN?

Can you spy the tree-swinging Nasosus Machedonus?

Eating highlights were (from extortionate to dirt cheap):

- Coast at the Shangri-La Rasa Ria Resort: If you have a special occasion to mark, book a private gazebo here. It is a 40 minute (90 ringgit) taxi ride from the centre of KK, but your delectable menu starts with a champagne cocktail watching the sun set, and comes complete with your own iPod dock filled with suitably chillaxing music, a live acoustic guitarist for a couple of tunes, and half a dozen red roses surreptitiously thrust into the hands of your beau as he returns from the wash room by your private butler, Cuthbert. For real.

A little slice of Heaven on Earth

- Nishiki: Never seen such thick slices of sashimi in my life (and I've lived in Japan). Great food, huge portions (we definitely over-ordered) and mid-range prices to be expected with good quality Japanese food in deepest darkest Malaysia.

- Bella Italia at the Jesselton Hotel: Served up delicious pizzas and pastas for knock-down prices complete with lashings of eminently quaffable wine - a rarity in this region.

- Kohinoor: An Indian gem amongst a number of sub-standard outlets along the Waterfront serving up all your usual favourites to satisfy any longstanding British love affair with their adopted national dish.

- Wisma Merdeka Food Court (Phase 1, 2nd Floor, Wisma Merdeka Shopping Centre) was a god-send for lunches and dinners when we needed a simple Asian meal powered by air-conditioning.

- Filipino Night Market: Famed for being one of the best night markets in Malaysia, the stalls serving an array of freshly barbecued prawns, fish, crab and squid certainly lived up to their reputation. For a meal for two, including rice and excellent fresh chilli sauce, the fine was just 70 ringgit. Thank goodness there was no extra charge for tissue papers. It was by far the hottest and most sweaty meal that we had ever eaten (and we are used to eating in 30 degree heat!). The fact that everything still tasted so good and we stayed until we had finished every last morsel is testament to the excellence of the explosion that tickled our taste buds.

Largest prawns. Ever. Fact.

As a novice dive spot specialising in macro life (the small stuff), KK was a good place to base ourselves. Now that we have our passport to the seas, we plan to get in a few dives where we can around Indonesia before facing the challenges and adventures of Sipadan, often noted as one of the world's best dive sites. Strap on your Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus and we'll see you down below!

No comments: