Traveling to Malaysia

We all have that very first trip out of the Country. At least, I hope everyone should have the opportunity. Nonetheless, we all have a trip that is our first, one that sets in motion the desire to continue doing trips like it. Mine was going to Malaysia.

It was my first time out of the country and I really had no idea where I wanted to go. All I knew is I wanted to go and to go somewhere non-touristy. This meant somewhere rural, somewhere lost, but still accessible with enough research. A few choices later I landed on Kota Kinabulu Malaysia, on the Borneo Island.

My flight took from Colorado, to Las Angeles, a lay over in Seoul Korea, and then finally into Kota Kinabulu. Now, I have to say, if you ever get the chance to go through Seoul's airport you are in for a treat. It is by far the best airport I have been through. Like a huge mall, there is a ton of shopping and food to explore while you wait. Efficient as well, I don't think I waited more than 10-15 minutes the whole time. Heading to the other side of the planet means you typically have a layover somewhere and lucky for me it was here in Seoul. Incheon International Airport knows this and offers half day and full day bus tours to a couple of different areas....for free! They even stored my baggage while I was on tour. I had a 9 hour layover so I chose the Seoul full day tour. Since this is a blog post about Malaysia, I will leave Seoul Korea here and offer you just a few photos from there:

Kota Kinabulu

After many hours travel I finally arrive late into Kota Kinabulu. Here is my first rookie mistake. Knowing I was going to arrive late I should have pulled cash out before arriving just in case. I was staying at a hostel and they offered me a ride so I didn't think I had anything to worry about, plus there were ATMs. Sure enough, I couldn't reach the hostel so I had to go to the ATMs. There were two in this small airport and neither would accept my card........F%$#k.

Lucky for me, a taxi driver working late that night had been watching me to no avail calling the hostel and not being able to pull cash out. Pretty sure he could tell I was new to this. He asked where I was staying and waited until he got a fare heading in the same direction. He told me to get in and he would drop me off after he dropped his other fare. I wouldn't really recommend anyone else by themselves doing this, but for me it worked out just fine. The kindness of this elder gentlemen was amazing. He got me to the hostel and wished me the best on my trip. I wish I had a photo of him to remember, but nonetheless his gesture has had a lasting effect on me.

Day 1

The first day in Kota Kinabulu was getting acclimated to the area, paying my hostel (since i didnt have cash and my card was not working), and just exploring the city. Being right on the coast there was a ton of fishermen and a daily open market near the harbor to buy the freshest of fish.

Day 2

Early the next morning I embarked on the next part of my Journey. I left Kota Kinabulu and headed west to Beaufort where my tour placed me on one of the most questionable trains I have ever been on! It was rickety and had no doors. Some carts didn't have any seats so people just sat on the floor. Even so, the train took us through some of the most lush and green forest I have ever seen. It was a long trip with multiple stops along the way. Come to find out, this train is the main source of transportation from the villages along the river to the main city. Our destination would take us rafting down the river. So much fun!

Jungle Haze

Deep into the jungle of Sabah Malaysia there are endless trees and vegetation. This was taken on a rafting trip where you could easily see the haze from the fire on the mainland of Malaysia

After a great day of rafting and some lunch, it was time time to head back to the coast for my evening at the Borneo Tempurung Seaside Lodge. It is exactly what I needed after a long day of activity. Or so I thought, they had a atv rental that I could not resist haha! I slept well after play, food, and finally some relaxation after watching the sun set beyond the horizon.

Day 3

I woke to the sounds of the waves rolling into shore. Breakfast was good and I had a cup of coffee. It was time to drive north and catch a ferry to Pulau Tiga. This is the site where the first show of Survivor was filmed. You know the show, people surviving, playing daring games, and getting voted off the island. The ferry is a slightly chopping ride for about 30 minutes. There are two accommodations on the island. One, is the site of Survivor (where all the staff and workers stayed), the other is a more touristy location that was built years after the show. Booking with Busat I was able to stay at the original show location and it was great! This is by far my favorite part of this entire trip.

When you arrive you are greeted with turquoise water and a wall of palm trees. It is hot and humid walking along the pier to the shore where the main lodge is located.

There are a couple of the original Survivor statues to meet you as well!

After getting settled and eating some lunch I was able to go trekking through the forest and go to the mud volcano. The island itself isn't very big and being flat the trekking was pretty easy. There is a small black and white bird that unfortunately i didn't see but its sound was unforgettable. It was a mix of a blow horn and static siren. Very loud, but as you neared them they became absolutely silent. Apart from them it was the rustling of Macaws jumping from tree to tree or the occasional monitor lizard. Here are some of the sites around the island:

After trekking it was time to relax in the mud volcano! Now its not a volcano in how you would picture a volcano. More likely its a large hole filled with melted chocolate. A pool of mud for you to lay in. The properties of the mud are said to have unique healing attributes for skin. Often visitors will pay for bottles of it to take back. It is a weird feeling at first entering the pool and its thick enough that you are able to lay back in it with no problem and just "float" there. It was just me and my tour guide on this day so it was very peaceful. Quiet and still with only the sound of birds in the distance.

After relaxing for a while it was time to clean up. My guide was kind enough to carry my stuff back to my room so that I can run right into the ocean! All the mud washed off and I was swimming in the clear turquoise waters. The water is warm as well which was quite nice compared to the shores of California where the waters are cold. I could swim in that water all day and into the night! Take me back haha!

That evening would probably be one of my most memorable evenings. So still, the sounds of the insects in the trees and the waves washing in. The sky with the haze turned red as the sun set which then turned green and a deep blue until on the lights of the pier could be seen. Fishermen took to the waters around this time in paddle boats and cast their nets out for the fish jumping at the mosquitoes. The nets hit the water gracefully and all I could see is the floating lights at the end of their boats. I just sat there on the pier and took it all in.

Days 4 & 5

I combine these two days as there was a lot of traveling involved so my tours took me to half day events. After an amazing day 3, it was time to take the ferry and travel back to the mainland where I would take a short drive to the river. Here, after some dinner, we would take a river boat up and down the river to see some monkeys! Specifically the Proboscis Monkey is what we were after. Luck was on my side as we were able to see multiple of them as well as the Macaws and silver backs. I am amazed at well these guys can negotiate the trees. They are so fast and make absolutely amazing leaps from branch to branch. After an exhilarating time watching these guys it was time to let the sun set and go out under the cover of dark to see the trees light up with fireflies. Coming from Colorado, this isn't something I am used to seeing. They gathered in the trees and lit up with a slight strobe these trees. The moon was full on this night and it made for an amazing night.

Day 5

I traveled from Kota Kinabulu to Mt. Kinabulu. Now, I initially booked this whole trip with the intention of hiking this mountain as it was the highest mountain in southeast Asia. Unfortunately due to some quakes in the area the trail to the top actually became blocked. There were no tours up the mountain until everything was cleared. So, I had to accept to be able to drive around it and go to the botanical gardens near the trail head. I stayed the night at a hotel that had a front seat view to the mountain. I watched the clouds move over its peak for what seemed like hours as the sun set. Absolutely beautiful area, and even though climbing wasn't possible I am thankful for being able to visit the area!


Thank you for going on this journey with me. I hope you enjoyed and got some ideas of places to go if you head out to Malaysia. See you in the next post!

Written by ~ Derek Garcia

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