Sunday, April 18, 2010

Tanjung Aru Beach

To cap off our 9-day northwest and eastern Borneo vacation, Shervin and I spent our last dusk sauntering along Tanjung Aru Beach in Kota Kinabalu. Each of us only shelled out P11,749.20 for the entire trip (including roundtrip tickets, terminal fees, my travel tax, accommodations, food, transportation, souvenirs and admission fees). By executing well-thought-out decisions, I proved to myself that the preggy Pinay travel junkie can still travel on a shoestring budget - without sacrificing comfort.

Sunset view from Tanjung Aru Beach.

I will set aside Tanjung Aru for now and let me share with you first how we ended up there. Back in Sandakan a day before, I nervously counted our remaining ringgit bills and coins. It was still a decent amount and should last us until we leave Malaysian Borneo, including accommodation. But we definitely won't be able to take a cab from Kota Kinabalu city center to the airport for our flight to Manila. We needed to figure out a way to get there by bus.

I remembered my friend Christine, who recommends Borneo Beachouse in her blog. It's where she and a couple of backpacking mates stayed for the Mt. Kinabalu International Climbathon last year. It's a mere 20-minute walk from the airport (KK International Airport is situated 7-8km southwest of the city center). Since we have pretty much covered Kota Kinabalu's city sights, we've decided to try the accommodation and see what the beach has to offer.

On the day of our trip back to Kota Kinabalu, we checked out of Sandakan Harbour Square B&B at 7:00 AM. We still had time for breakfast and were ecstatic that the Habeeb Restaurant across Gentingmas Mall was already open that early. It's a resto that serves local and authentic Indian food. Very popular. And it's obvious that the business is doing oh so well because they got numerous branches scattered around Sandakan. They even have B&B now.

Just a side note: KFC I believe is the next most popular. In Harbour Square alone, there are 2 KFCs in just one block and both are always packed! I wonder what's wrong with the Malaysian fried chicken, Shervin and I absolutely adore it. Or perhaps it's just a 'be seen place'?

Left: Roti with curry and lentil dip. Plus insanely sweet kopi susu (coffee with milk) for an instant morning buzz. Right: Sandakan long distance bus station's ticket booths.

A plain roti with two dips is just RM1.50. Other variants have onions, cheese, garlic, herbs, etc. Most interesting on the menu is the Roti Cobra. Don't be afraid for it's just a name. The dish is made up of plain roti, egg and vegetables. Coffee or milo is RM 1.50-1.90. Price depends whether you want hot or cold.

After that cheap but filling brekkie, we crossed the street to a terminal which is also just in front of Gentingmas Mall. We asked for a bus that will take us to the long distance bus station (4km away) in Batu 2 1/2. One driver nodded upon our query and we hopped on his bus. Fare is just .90 sen.

Calvin, our Couchsurfer host who graciously drove us around Sandakan for two days, helped us reserve tickets the night before. He suggested we book with Tung Ma express because their drivers are Chinese. Shervin and I never asked what's the deal with Chinese versus Malaysian drivers and just followed his advice.

We were able to choose our seats. Luckily, we scored the front most row. I was never prone to motion sickness before, but ever since I got pregnant I get easily nauseated in any closed/air-conditioned vehicle.

The bus left on the dot, 8:30 AM. The ride was uneventful. There was again, only one stop for passengers to eat. The climax of the bus ride for me was when the conductor played Avatar on its not so big TV - which we watched for the first time! Unfortunately for Shervin who had diarrhea that time, the highlight of the ride for him was when he was able to convince the driver to do an emergency stop so that he could... uhm... let it all out behind the bushes in the middle of highway nowhere. His note to himself: Do not eat too much lansones ('Philippine lansones' was just RM3.50 per kilo in Sandakan!).

3:00 PM we arrived at the Inanam bus station, 10km from Kota Kinabalu City center. There's a stop just across the main road where we took a bus to Wawasan Terminal, fare is only RM1.50 (20-30 minutes). Buses come by frequently, no need to hire a cab.

From Wawasan Terminal, we transferred to another bus to Tanjung Aru, which by the way passes by KK International Airport Terminal 2. So if you don't want to take the cab to the airport, just take a bus from the station in between the Handicraft Market and Central Market to Wawasan Terminal.

Our bus driver dropped us off on the road right by Tanjung Aru Beach and we walked a few meters to Borneo Beachouse along Jalan Mat Salleh. A double room's RM60. Dorm's cheaper, RM18 per head for fan bunker rooms and RM24 for air-conditioned, but they don't mix males and females.

They have a spacious garden, self serve kitchen (you can put your drinks in the fridge), common TV area, free WiFi, luggage room, and laundry service. The staff provides helpful travel information. There's a weekly activity schedule posted at the reception, and guests are highly encouraged to join. You can participate in frisbee and football games by the beach, or sign up for barbecue night (held at their garden).

Upon arrival, they showed us our spacious double room. We happily accepted it and paid for one night (additional RM10 for key deposit). It was almost 5:00 PM and we found the common areas to be deserted. Everyone was out. Soon we were too.

Because of my crazy pregnancy cravings, we walked to the airport just to buy french fries from KFC. Shervin shook his head in disbelief and pointed out that when we were in Sandakan, our B&B was literally beside KFC but I never thought of eating them. And whaddaya know, he ate half of my fries. He stopped complaining, then we were beach bound.

Left: Deserted TV room at Borneo Beachouse. Right: With my KFC fries at the airport!

Tanjung Aru Beach is not famous for swimming. Couples and families flock here to simply hang out, watch the sunset and buy cheap but tasty food from the hawker stalls (open 'til late night). That's basically what we did too, but didn't stay long. As soon as the sun dipped in the horizon we went back to Borneo Beachouse. I was still dazed from the 6-hour bus ride from Sandakan.

Left: First Beach Tanjung Aru's row of posh restaurants. Right: The cheaper alternative, hawker stalls.

I entrusted our remaining budget to Shervin, after all we were about to leave the next day. He had a beer while I was Facebook-ing by the garden that night and assured me that we got enough money for food.

Well, morning came and I found out we only had RM5 left for brekkie and lunch. Not enough for a couple especially if a woman's pregnant. I tried not to be upset with Shervin for buying beer the night before. He actually felt guilty and promised he'll find a way to buy us enough food. He left, unsure where to go.

Shervin came back after 45 minutes with a 5-pack instant noodles and a liter of water. We cooked the noodles in the B&B's kitchen. Though it was tummy filling, it didn't satisfy our taste buds. We were itching to get back our RM10 key deposit. Our check out time was 5:00 PM. We paid for a half day extension since our flight's 8:15 PM.

It's good that we brought our laptop with us. I busied myself playing online games. Perfect activity to pass the time, it won't make you too hungry. Quarter to 5, we already checked out. We asked them to keep our bags while we eat. They handed us our RM10 deposit and we sprinted to the hawker stalls to buy spicy barbecue chicken wings and rice. It felt good to eat a real meal.

Almost sunset, we bid goodbye to the beach. Picked up our bags from the B&B and thanked the friendly staff, then strolled to the airport. We wondered when we will see Borneo again. Hopefully, we get to explore Kalimantan, is Indonesia's territory.

And oh, we were hassled at the Cebu Pacific check in counter. The Philippines is once again strict about return/onward tickets. We explained that Shervin will ask for a Balikbayan Visa from the Philippine Immigration, which shall give him a free one year stay in the country. We argued with the girl for about 15 minutes, but she remained calm and helpful. She kept glancing at a piece of paper (could be an immigration guideline), perhaps looking for such exception. Then she radioed an immigration officer and asked for help.

We were asked to step aside and wait for the guy so she can accommodate other passengers. We again explained our situation and showed him our marriage certificate. He told us about a French national who was fined P50,000 for entering the country without an onward ticket. But he photocopied our passports and marriage certificate and gave the Cebu Pacific girl the go signal anyway.

His warning got us worried. Even though we got through, Shervin booked a Cebu Pacific onward ticket online (there's an internet shop on the second floor) without paying for it. He chose the option to pay via bank deposit. This will give you a confirmed flight date but the actual booking is 'pending'. We didn't know if it was good enough but at least we had something.

The whole flight I was worried that the Balikbayan visa will not be granted. Only a few people knew about it, and it's not really promoted by the Bureau of Immigration. The main purpose of our Borneo trip is to get such visa. One condition of this visa is that my non-Filipino partner and I should arrive in the Philippines via the same flight or vessel.

Thank goodness our plan worked! Because if it didn't, Shervin shall be applying for a Temporary Resident Visa and will pay P10,000+, good for one year. Too many requirements and such cumbersome process (will include a 'hearing').

Things didn't run so smoothly as we expected but I can still say, "Mission accomplished!".


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pinoy boy journals said...
May 26, 2010 at 10:57 PM

gay, its good your writing this, i think a lot of people are asking the same questions regarding citizenship. since you're married why is your hubby still having problems. write a post for this naman.. me, i am not affected but its very interesting to read. back from cebu, bantayan island is gorgeous will write it. after marinduque which is taking forever to write. Cheers! congrats pala sa baby girl!

☮Pinay Travel Junkie☮ said...
May 27, 2010 at 6:05 AM

A foreigner can never be a Filipino citizen even if he or she is married to a Filipino. Taray di ba? I may write about it if and when I update my Temporary Resident Visa (TRV) post.

Yup, Bantayan is indeed a gem. Me too! I need to write about it soon. But I will be editing and re-posting my SE Asia blogs first. My friends are demanding for more detailed how-to-get-tos and stuff. Pressure!

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