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By this Author: alexchan

To the breakaway republic


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Today I flew to Singapore (which I jokingly call the breakaway republic for historical reasons). It was a cheap way to get to Phuket and actually costs about the same as transiting in Kuala Lumpur. It is less efficient in terms of time but I get to spend some time with my aunt.

Singapore culture has evolved differently from its neighbours'. I noticed some interesting signs.

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Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

End of my Circle Borneo sub-trip


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large_5550_14695042991249.jpgDrive 4h from Tip to Kota Kinabalu then fly 1h25 to Kuching my home town.
I woke early again and set off around 07345after breakfast. The drive from the Tip to Kota Kinabalu [Kota-Kinabalu-travel-guide-1096832] took about 3h15 this time to Inanam [Inanam-travel-guide-1088862] and a further 40 minutes to the airport. So, basically, it was 30 minutes shorter than the outward journey which had really bad traffic; the traffic was bad within KK itself too this time.

I had good views of Mount Kinabalu [Mount-Kinabalu-travel-guide-1310205] on the drive and stopped for some photos and then took a rest at the Taliban Food Centre in Inanam ;-)

The car return went smoothly about 1230 and I did my bagdrop with AirAsia; they had implemented the self-service bagdrop which I had trialled in Johor Bahru [Johor-Bahru-travel-guide-1088907] some months ago.

From there, I went to the Malaysia Airlines office to arrange for the refund of my KCH-PNK flight which was cancelled due to route withdrawal. There was a bit of a wait; some staff were hanging around at their desks but not serving customers.

My turn came and the fare component to be refunded was no surprise. However, the lady told me that the tax had been used up; apparently the tax was undercharged at the time of purchase. I asked for a copy of the original fare calculation which put her on alert; when she did the final calculation there was a refund on the tax component too which was to be expected.

I was told the refund could take 6 months (many airlines take 6 weeks for a partial refund). As it turns out, I got an email that evening saying that they have a new online process which will “only” take 3 months.

With that done, I went airside to the lounge for some lunch before boarding the flight to Kuching [Kuching-travel-guide-1096915].

This marks the end of my Circle-Borneo sub-trip. It had been more enjoyable than I had expected. I had expected it to be an experience to explore my own backyard but it was actually enjoyable in part due to the kindness of Indonesians.

I consistently find Indonesia to be one of the friendliest countries in the world. Over the years, Indonesians all the way from Aceh to West Papua have shown themselves to be friendly, chatty and hospitable; well-informed on their local surroundings; knowledgeable about the world (despite their lack of English); and helpful with suggestions and advice (eg. minibus drivers help their passengers get to the right stop, cleaners help visitors with what to see and do).
In the rush for riches and development, basic kindness to other human beings (especially strangers) seems to have been lost in many countries.

The kindness of everyday Indonesians help me overlook the challenges of a country that is hot, humid, basic, impoverished in many parts, lacking in good variety of food in rural areas despite having an awesome cuisine, and often suffering from proper rubbish disposal.

I hope to explore more of my home island again, reaching into the parts that I couldn’t cover this trip. Also, I’d like to use modes of transport other than flying wherever possible, eg. Tarakan – Nunukan – Tawau. But I will need a bit more time!

I was picked up by my brother and his family and we had Indian for dinner. My step-bro and his family were visiting from Houston and I caught up with them too at my parents’ place.

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Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Tip of Borneo


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large_5550_14693607317620.jpgTip of Borneo.
I woke around 0600 to an overcast morning. The sun does rise early here being in the far east of the time zone but it wasn’t so apparent. I had breakfast after 0700 which was way before the official start time of 0800.

The tide seemed quite right for swimming but I didn’t want to go for a dip then walk to the Tip of Borneo [Borneo-travel-guide-1307503] wet. So I decided to walk to the Tip, 1 km away first. I twas my way of getting a little exercise instead of driving.

The name Simpang Mengayau is derived from the native Rugus name Sampang Mangazao meaning Junction and Battle respectively. The area was apparently visited by Chinese traders and Magellan.

There were at least two hotels and some eateries closer to the Tip than my place.large_5550_14693607386660.jpgRare selfie; at Tip of Borneo where the South China sea meets the Sulu Sea.A bronze globe monument stand in the area that leads to the actual Tip, accessed by a footpath. The actual Tip could be subject to tide and crashing waves and is supposed to be in accessible but there isn’t any kind of barricade, only a sign.

The nearby area provided a good view of my beach. The sun was getting brighter by now and it illuminated the water nicely. I returned to my beach for a swim. The water temperature was perfect, the sand fine white and powdery.

After a brief rest, I drove to Kudat [Kudat-travel-guide-1096916] town about 40 minutes away for lunch. The town had a waterfront which was packed due to festivities. Parking was difficult and the skies were very dark, so I moved on. I grabbed some noodles in a local cafe and it started pouring.

I sat it out and drove back to the Tip with a short detour to Kudat Marina. It was small and a little pitiful. There were a few visiting catamarans, augmented by some fishing and patrol boats because there was so much spare space.

It wasn’t even 1700 when I felt hungry. I tried to stave off my hunger but couldn’t fight it and ordered dinner before 1800. I had the healthy stirfry veges last night. While it was very nice, i was tempted by the burger in-house. It was a bad choice; the meat was processed meat cut from a dog-roll but the chips were very good.

Overcome by guilt of that meal, I went for a walk to the far end of the beach and back which took a little less than an hour. I didn’t feel so full after that.

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Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Leaving Kalimantan for Sabah


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large_5550_1469504191649.jpgThe 30 min flight is a good alternative to the 2h speedboat to Nunukan, then a 2h speed boat from Nunukan to Tawau.

This was my latest wake-up since leaving Auckland over three weeks ago. I woke at 0700 after retiring after midnight. Quite a change from the 2030 bedtime and 0330 wakeups I have been having in order to catch early flights etc and then it just continued.

Today I leave Kalimantan after two weeks, flying to Tawau [Tawau-travel-guide-1099078] then Kota Kinabalu [Kota-Kinabalu-travel-guide-1096832]. I would have loved to exit by speed boat which would take 4h to Nunukan then another 2h to Tawau. But then It would be hard to squeeze in the trip to the tip of Borneo [Borneo-travel-guide-1307503] (near Kudat) which would require an onward journey to Kota Kinabalu then the tip itself.large_5550_14695041935086.jpgI'd like to be more adventurous but I have limited time. I'm moving on to the northern tip of Borneo today by way of an onward flight to Kota Kinabalu and then a 3 hour drive. Unlike what Google Maps thinks, there is no direct flight.

I had managed to get a good airfare all the way to Kota Kinabalu, then a rental car for the 3h drive to the tip near Kudat.

Breakfast was taken as late as possible as the two flights are kinda over the meal time and with the drive, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to squeeze in lunch.

I took an angkot to the airport before around 0945 for the 1135 departure. As I was the only person on board, the driver took me off the main road and all the way into the airport, and charged me accordingly. It was still less than the airport taxi. It didn’t seem like a 5 minute ride today and the airport was slightly further than it seemed yesterday.

Check-in was open already for my MASwings flight to Tawau even though it wasn’t the 90 minutes prior to departure yet. I was third in the queue. There was a hiccup because my KCH-PNK coupon hadn’t been flown due to the airline withdrawing from the route. I also heard the PNR and the ticket number had somehow also been disconnected from each other.

The ground staff said it wasn’t a problem and it could be fixed. But I think technically it was a little complicated and it took them a while. I went through to the small waiting area before the immigration counter to await the immigration and security staff.

When the immigration counter opened, I had to return to the airline desk to get an immigration form because I didn’t have the departure card butt. They had waived the formality of an arrival card (with the departure butt) when I arrived into the country.

With the form, I finally went through immigration, security and soon after boarded the 35 min flight to Tawau. We left about 10 minutes early and arrived about 15 minutes early.

It was the same plane continuing to Kota Kinabalu but passengers had to go into the terminal to be processed into Malaysia. We walked up to the counter, got our passports stamped and then walked back the way we came. I recall it is similar in KK for flights like HKG-BKI-KCH, whereas in Kuching [Kuching-travel-guide-1096915] there is a proper channel for such connections so that passengers are properly processed through immigration and security-checked again.

The 1h flight left on time and arrived about 20 mins early. There was no view of Mt Kinabalu due to cloud today. It was spitting a little when I disembarked. My bag arrived quickly and I was out in no time to collect my rental car from Green Matrix.

The rental car people were at the kerb waiting for me. We did the paperwork on the bonnet and they had a mobile credit card terminal to collect the payment and authorisation. I was off at 1400, some 30 minutes earlier than expected.

This company rents out cars empty and you can return them empty too. I had some trouble with all forms of card payments at the first petrol station (unusual) and had to go to another which didn’t have Pay-at-Pump.

That, along with bad traffic around KK meant that I didn’t leave the greater city area in earnest till over an hour later. By that time, I was ready for lunch and took a 20 minute break.

Thereafter, I drove to Tommy’s Place at the Tip of Borneo. The ride in total (including the 20 min break) took 4h45 rather than the 3h20 indicated on Google Maps. Outside of the city there were a few slow moving trucks, underpowered tiny cars, and I had to slow down for lots of cows too. Near Kota Marudu, I noticed the hillside was covered in what I call "African-looking" trees. I liked the stalls on the roadside in some places which sold lots of fruit, especially bananas and also grilled corn on the cob.

Tommy’s was about 30 minutes off the main road and I got to it just before darkness set in. I was ready for a glass of wine to accompany my dinner. My first glass in nearly a month. At MYR15 (NZD3) a glass it was the same price as at the food hall in Auckland.

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Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

My last stop in Kalimantan


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large_5550_14695040783295.jpgToday, I fly from Berau to my last stop in Kalimantan, the island and town of Tarakan. The 25 minute flight replaces 2h30 by bus to Tanjung Selor followed by 1h30 by speed boat to Tarakan.
I woke relatively late today at 0600 and had breakfast at 0630. It was a good spread at Palmy Hotel for brekkie. They offered a free shuttle to Berau’s flash new airport. The airport was decorated with Dayak motifs and nice sape music was streaming through. I like how so much of Kalimanatan (except Banjarmasin) celebrates the Dayak heritage.

I had arrived just before the counter opened for my flight to Tarakan [Tarakan-travel-guide-870969] (my final stop in Kalimantan) and it was only a short wait.The check-in clerk advised of a delay as the flight from Samarinda [Samarinda-travel-guide-869709] hadn’t taken off due to bad weather there.large_5550_14691969808091.jpgDowntown Tarakan with the Grand Tarakan Mall in the background.

Waiting at the departure lounge, with free internet, I managed to do a fair bit just between check-in time and original departure time. There was a flight going to Samarinda which was delayed and someone rumoured that it was the same aircraft that would come back and take us to Tarakan, meaning that it would be another 2h, which was also approximately a 2h delay. Hope not.

I managed to get lots of admin done with reasonably good internet. We departed about 1h50 late for the 25 min hop to Tarakan. It would only be marginally slower to take a car and boat via Tajung Selor (2.5h plus 1.5h).

Taking off, we flew over the open cast coal mine before heading towards Tarakan. I smelt smoke during the flight. I guess the pilot was smoking on the ATR but I didn’t want to say anything as it didn’t smell electrical or plastic. Soon enough we were descending into Tarakan. The waters surrounding the area was murky due to large rivers nearby.

Deplaning, I asked the crew how many sectors they were doing. Answer: Twelve. The other day when they did nine, I don’t think they had a single rest or meal break so I wouldn’t expect anything more today. I’m glad I was on the third flight of the day rather than the twelfth!

The ride into town took five minutes but was a set overpriced rate. The Milia Hotel was very nice. I managed to find a place for lunch across the road where I got a big dish of capcae kuah. I needed the veges so much after Derawan. When I went to pay, it was meant to be IDR20K for the vege and IDR6K for the juice but the man said it was only IDR20K because the juice was free on Fridays!. What refreshing honesty!

I retreated to my room to escape the afternoon heat and emerged in the evening. My hotel is in the epicentre of town, next to the Grand Tarakan Mall and the cross-road of the most happening places in town. The once-grand mall appeared disused; don’t know what went wrong. There wasn’t much in terms of “happening” or even eating places. No wonder the latest version of the guidebook has left out Tarakan!

I had a look at KFC and got tempted by their chicken fillet burger. It seemed too cheap to be true, and quite rightly so, it was tiny. I wanted something else and found a Pempek Palembang stall down the road. Oh dear, more fried food. I capped it off with an Es Campur in a dessert shop nearby before calling it a day, a rather lazy day.

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Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

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