Saturday, April 3, 2010

East Malaysian Borneo: Sandakan

This former capital of British North Borneo is a 6-hour bus ride from Kota Kinabalu.Though two of Sabah's main tourist attractions can be found here, the Orangutan Rehabilitation Center and the Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary, the city still remains a not so beaten track.

Sandakan, a bustling port town.

After checking out of Summer Lodge, we walked from Jalan Gaya to Jalan Padang across the state library. Shervin read online that buses for Inanam should be stationed there. We did find the terminal but we didn't see any buses heading to Inanam. We asked around and one local said "Wawasan".

Not knowing where it is exactly, we made our way to the Central Market (the local kind of pointed to its direction). In between the Handicraft Market (Pasar Filipino) and the Central Market is a busy station, that's where we asked once again about Inanam. One conductor motioned us to board a bus while he spoke to the driver in Bahasa. We assumed he was instructing him what to do with us next.

The bus circled around Kota Kinabalu center, taking and dropping off passengers until we reached Wawasan Terminal. It's located just beside Plaza Wawasan and Parkson. The ride only costs .50 sen.

Not all buses and minivans have placards of their respective destinations. And so again, we asked for the Inanam bus. A local teenager assisted us. While Shervin was verifying with the driver if it was indeed going to the North Bus Terminal, the guy sneakingly asked if I wanted his number. I laughed while shaking my head. Uhm, if he only knew he was probably half my age and that I'm married and 7 weeks pregnant!

Anyway, we finally found our bus. The North Bus Terminal in Inanam is 10km away from the city center. The trip takes 20 minutes. A taxi will cost RM20. Far more expensive than a RM1.50 bus ride, even if 4 of you will be sharing the cab.

North Bus Terminal in Inanam.

It was a Monday, yet when we got to the terminal, the next trip (Sida Espress) which leaves at 11:00AM was already booked out. Chinese New Year was just celebrated over the weekend, perhaps some Sandakan locals spent their holiday in Kota Kinabalu. The lady selling the tickets told us that if a couple of passengers don't show up 10 minutes for departure, they'll let us board.

Luckily, we were able to get on. The road to Sandakan traverses through a mountainous area of Sabah (buses also pass by the entrance to Kinabalu National Park). The 6-hour trip (RM35) consists of almost 90% zig-zagging roads and a one 20-minute stopover. I've been to Sagada so many times yet the bus ride never made me dizzy. But this one's a killer. Or was it just my 2-month pregnancy?

Heading to Malaysian Borneo's far east. Arrow doesn't show actual bus route.

We arrived at Sandakan's long-distance bus station around 5-ish, without me throwing up. Instead of taking a cab, we started walking to the direction of the city center (still 5km away if I'm not mistaken), searching for a bus stop. A non-aircon bus (1RM) with an English speaking teenage conductor picked us up. He interviewed Shervin, starting with the usual questions 'where are you from?' and 'is it your first time here?'. He suggested we go to Harbour Square, right smack in the middle of city action, where a couple of B&Bs can be found.

It wasn't difficult to find it, since it's by the water - and just about 150 meters from where the bus dropped us off. We first saw Sandakan Harbour Square B&B and checked in straight away after the receptionist told us they have vacancy. I was still dazed from the bus trip and would gladly take any room. It's housed in a block-long building behind Gentingmas Mall, across KFC.

Left: Sandakan Harbor Square B&B's reception. Right: Our hospital room-esque accommodation.

Our fan room is very basic. At least decent for RM38 (common toilet/bathroom) and with a small harbour view! The B&B has a 24-hour reception service, a kitchen and balcony on the 4th floor, and its own tour operator. But what we loved most about it is its location. It's right by the water, where there are various cafes and restos lined up. The set up reminded me of the ol' merry Baywalk in Manila.

Dinner was at Kedai Makan Wong Seng. Nasi Pataya, Lemon Chicken and drinks for RM13.20 (each entree is only RM5). We enjoyed our meal under an orange sky. No more evening strolls after, we went straight to bed. I was still dead exhausted from the hellish bus trip.


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May 6, 2010 at 5:41 PM

so, the twink boy got mesmerized! haba ng hair, abot sa peak ng mount kinabalu, hahaha

pinoy boy journals said...
May 6, 2010 at 8:39 PM

gaye, sandakan is close to southernmost part of the philippines right?

☮Pinay Travel Junkie☮ said...
May 7, 2010 at 5:49 PM

Hahaha! Ron, your comment made me laugh out loud!

☮Pinay Travel Junkie☮ said...
May 7, 2010 at 5:52 PM

Yes Jerik, very close to Zamboanga. And if I am not mistaken, until now there are overnight ferries to and fro Zamgboanga and Sandakan. Pretty cool, ei?

pinoy boy journals said...
May 9, 2010 at 12:26 AM

i know very cool,, random question if possible are you willing to do this route? it could have been a gateway for travelers coming from malaysia going to the philippines without having to fly to manila first if not for security reasons down south.. tsk tsk

☮Pinay Travel Junkie☮ said...
May 9, 2010 at 4:49 AM

I am not so interested with this route mainly because I have already been to Zamboanga and Sandakan - but it sounds really exciting.

And I totally agree with you, that border could have been very useful if not for security risks for foreign travellers. Mindanao's a great place to explore.

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