compass Mallrats compass Poring and Kota Kinabalu compass

Crossing a river in Poring

June 30

We slept in a bit and then enjoyed breakfast in the open air restaurant. I really wish we had booked one more day. Wandering back to our dorm to pack up I asked if we could go peek at the fancy chalets down another wing (dock). The dorms were $9 CAD per person and the chalets about $60 per room. It was empty and quiet…so when we startled a monitor lizard and it took off under the dock I jumped and grabbed at James catching him around the neck. Now I’ve lost a bit of weight but I guess not enough for his neck to support me and he was in pain most of the day from what he called a “wrenched neck”. Oooppsss, sorry.

About 1 pm we found ourselves waiting again at the side of the road, this time for an orange bus marked express. Sure! It eventually came and we were off on a side trip to Poring Hot Springs before making our way to KK.

The guide book was a bit confusing about Poring Hot Springs and where to stay so we found ourselves in Ranau looking for a room. The book is clear, and correct, when it says there is no place decent to stay but it is the closest town to Poring Hot Springs. It started raining just after we got off the bus so we headed to the KFC and while I had a bite to eat James went looking. His standards are much lower than mine so when he came back and said he wouldn’t stay in any of the places he saw I got a bit worried. We tried calling a place out of town but the mini busses didn’t run this late and a cab would be $33. Yikes. I offered to try to find a cheaper cab but instead got a name of a place from three girls at an ice-cream shop. It turned out to be clean and safe. The Ranau Inn – in case you find yourself in the area and need a room.

July 1

Happy Canada Day!

We woke up this morning excited and ready to go. The difficulties (rain, crappy hotels, lack of cabs) the night before were forgotten (kinda) and we went off in search of the mini-vans that would take us to Poring Hot Springs. The guide book, the hotel we called last night and the guy at the Raneau Inn said it would cost 5 RM /person. The drivers started at about 20 RM /person and would only come down to about 15 RM /person. Hmmmm…that’s only about $5 CAD vs $1.70 CAD but honestly this gets so annoying. We walked away to find an alternative. We found a bus stop and waited for a few minutes before someone told us there was no local bus to Poring. We walked back and asked in other areas of town….nothing. We even tried standing on the side of the road (I mean hey, any other time I stand on the side of the road EVERY mini-van stops) but to no success. “sigh” We ended up sitting on a bench thinking of just grabbing our bags and heading to KK. And I know this sounds sucky but getting ripped off from cab drivers, bus drivers, tuk-tuk drivers…is so frustrating. Once we’d pouted for a few minutes and moaned and groaned we decided to give it one last try.

We walked back to the mini-van area and almost immediately a cab driver asked us where we were going. Private cabs were supposed to be about 100 RM (about $33 CAD) for tourists, but he offered 20 RM. Okay! As we were walking off with the cabbie the first mini-van driver we spoke to that day laughed at us, not a friendly “glad you are on your way” laugh, but a “we knew we could get you” kind of laugh. He had no idea what we were paying so didn’t know we weren’t getting ripped off but still I had a not so nice moment. I simply explained that if he came to visit my country I’d never treat him so horribly. Yeah, not my finest moment and what does he care…but I felt better.

Our seasoned jungle guide

So we were on our way….the drive was beautiful and the cabbie chatty and even told us a bit of information about the area. He dropped us at the gate to Poring Hot Springs and by then we’d gotten back the excitement we had earlier. There was a big hand painted sign pointing down the road to see the blooming Rafflesia flower. The Rafflesia can grow up to one meter in diameter and when in bloom gives off a nasty smell (like rotting flesh) which attracts flies and other insects. It has no specific season and takes nine months to mature and flower, lasting only about 4 or 5 days. It is a parasite with no roots of its own but attaches itself to a vine and sucks all the nutrients it’s needs from that plant. Sounds a bit like kids.

We walked down the road and were waved to follow a guy in bright yellow rubber boots. At a brisk walk he led the way down a dirt road to a small covered stand where a family was hanging out. The asked for 20 RM each and a small kid about 8 or 9 (in flip flops) took over and even quicker took us through a few winding jungle paths. From what we could tell the paths were marked with twigs and string. After about 20 minutes he stopped, turned around and pointed. There, lying on the jungle floor, was the famous Rafflesia Flower. The one we were looking at was about 2.5 feet across and red with white splotches. James kept saying it was supposed to smell like rotting human flesh…but this one gave off more of a rotting cabbage smell. We were very excited, this side trip to Poring Hot Spring was in hopes of seeing this flower, and we’d picked this park over others actually, and were one of the lucky few.

Navigating the jungle with the half-assed sign posts
Beautiful and stinky giant flower and a few buds

Entrance to the bat cave, where I did not go

After admiring the beautiful flower we followed the kid back to the road and entered the Poring Hot Springs park. The park has tons of stuff to do, and you can even stay right in the park; hotel, lodge and dorms are available. We decided to go find the bat cave (no surprise there) which was a very nice walk through the jungle and past a waterfall. It was a bit wet and I fell once slicing my hand on rocks – any idea how painful a paper cut type wound hurts full of jungle floor dirt? Lots! But I survived. The cave was a bit anticlimactic and we couldn’t actually go in but James got to see lots of bats.

We headed to the canopy walk next which involved walking up about 15 stories to reach it. Once there I was a bit nervous. The “walks” comprised of mesh, ladders, rope and steel wire. No worries, James said, it seemed mostly safe. What is mostly safe? Anyone? It turned out to be breathtaking, the sights of the surrounding mountains and valleys a beautiful green with wisps of fog. There were about 5 rope bridges supported by trees that were unbelievably big and must have been hundreds of years old.

The mostly safe canopy walk

Back down on solid ground we decided to try out the water slide and were more than a little shocked when we jumped into the pool and the water was colder than the lake in April. Seriously, are we at a hot spring? There were a bunch of teenagers having a blast so we sucked it up and took a few turns.

Soaking our ankles (bottom half of the ankles at least) in the hot tub

Shivering, we finally headed to the hot baths. There was a communal pool type place where you could sit in but it was very busy and kids and families were crowding it so we headed to the tubs. We dropped our stuff, found one with a plug and turned the tap on…and I am giggling as I write this. The tub is pretty big and the tap pretty small and I think you are supposed to turn the tap on and go see the park and come back…hours later. We ended up sitting in the empty tub for about 1-2 hours and it only filled about 4 inches (James says 6). It was hot and felt amazing and I tried splashing it on myself as best I could but it is a bit cooler in the mountains and we both just sat shivering. Our butts, backs of our legs and heels are really soft though.

Smaller, not so stinky, flowers at Poring

Reluctantly we got changed and headed to the front gate to try to find a way home. The park is a great way to spend a day. Out front we tried to find the mini-vans that we were told you could catch all day at just about any time. Funny one…no such thing existed. So we stood on the side of the road until a guy in a car stopped and offer to take us back for 20 RM. Travel Hint: This standing on the side of the roadthing seems to work best.

It was raining by the time we got back to Raneau so we grabbed take out and a few beers and curled up to watch some tv. A bumpy start but a great day.

July 2

We managed to pull ourselves out of bed at a decent hour and caught an early mini-van to KK, sorry, Kota Kinabalu. James and I talked about lying through this part but hey – as my friends and family you should not judge. We booked into the Courtyard Hotel at the 1Borneo Mall. Yes, I said mall. We priced downtown but it was a tiny bit more expensive to stay at the mall and included buffet breakfast, shuttle to town centre, free wifi, was a boutique hotel and most important; was steps away from banks, grocery stores, movies and shops. Yeah…we had errands to do and this seemed the most convenient way to do them.

The mall advertised 3 shuttle pick-ups in the city so we got dropped off at the closest…and soon found out that they actually only do one to the town centre. Oh well..cab it is. Checking in I had to bite my tongue and might for the first time ever write a complaint to the hotel. The receptionist asked for our printed confirmation that all sites say to print but we never do and no one asks or insists on it. In this day and age pretty much everything in done on the computer or in smaller places in a big book. She would not budge and sent us to the business centre (a desk in the corner) and had us print the four page confirmation. FOUR freakin pages so she could get the confirmation number that we had written down. I can hear the trees in the jungle cringing.

Anyways we got checked in and headed to the mall to start on our list. We wanted to look into white water rafting in the area, getting to Mulu National Park, pick up some groceries, pay some bills (finally we had invoices) and had the horrible task of buying me a new bathing suit. UGH!

Our stomachs won out eventually and we treated ourselves to chicken Caesar salads, that oooppsss had genuine Caesar salad dressing complete with anchovies and gave James a belly ache. But it still tasted good! A few hours in the mall and we headed back to our room. Now it was a bit early but anyone who has stayed in a room with no window knows it can be anytime of the day and it’s like night, so we turned on the air, crawled under the real duvets and watched bad movies (James’ Note: Roadhouse is not a bad movie). Ahhhhhh…..

July 3

I think the only thing that got me out from beneath the cozy duvet was the breakfast buffet. It was on the 6th floor and half of it was open air with a view of the city, not a bad way to start the day. After breakfast we caught the free shuttle downtown and had a great day wandering around the streets- even though we had errands marked on the map.

The Sunday Market was going on which was an interesting mix of touristy crap, food stalls, new and used clothing, plants, animals and a few tables of tools and household items. It was packed mostly with Malay families out for the day. We stopped at the tourist information centre and got some great information then headed toward the waterfront. KK is a small city but quite nice. After a yummy late lunch we caught the shuttle back to the mall. Lol

Closed for the night, and protected by leaves?, a morning nap in a wheelbarrow and KK's port is a working one

I buckled down and went swim suit shopping and did not give up until I found one and was first surprised I fit into Asian swim suits, second that they had bikinis in such a strict Muslim country/city and third found a “free size” that fit me (I almost bought it just for that fact). (James’ Note: Susan shouldn’t have been surprised by the bikinis, every grocery store has a huge condom and lube section right by the checkout, any busy street is filled with knock-off viagara peddlers as soon as the sun goes down, and every lingerie store we passed seemed to have a surprisingly high percent of crotchless panties- which also explains the huge hair removal section in every pharmacy)

James and I had a movie date night with caramel corn and pop and to be honest added with the errands we did today it didn’t feel so much like we were on vacation.

July 4

Today was another day of errands. It seems like we had a lot but even the smallest thing seems to take forever. On a short trip you might put stuff off or even have it done already but at some point in extended travels they add up. Yuk! We both hate errands back home! We started out trying to pay an invoice which took visiting 3 banks and about an hour of paperwork and waiting for them to process (hence the staying at the mall where it’s all under one roof, it was raining again today).

Next was to find the post office. Once there the guy informed us that they were out of boxes, a common thing we are finding, so off we went in search of the book store he said might have them. We found it and asked the guy who promptly took us to a wall of old boxes. We found one that fit and he charged us 1RM, not a bad deal and good on him for selling his recycling. So back we go….to be told we are in the wrong building. Anyways to make a long story short it took us about an hour and a half to mail a box – said with a smile. Next was a ferry ticket to Brunei. We’d decided to skip white water rafting because it was an almost 12 hour day with only 2.5 hours of rafting, a bit much even for us. We wandered around KK a bit more, popping into shops and just enjoying the busy streets before heading back to the mall.

We decided to treat ourselves to take-out pizza and standing in the restaurant ordering my mouth was watering. Unfortunate we ended up having cup a soup and peanut butter sandwiches. The cashier didn’t understand the pin thing on James VISA and, without asking us for help, she punched in her own code and froze his card. Now that wouldn’t be a problem except I had frozen my own the morning before at Starbucks when the cute cashier there was practising his English with me (ooppsss, James was not amused btw- about the card, he couldn’t care less about the cashier). “sigh” So we added another to the to do to the list.

As it turned out we bought time on our Skype account (a very cheap way to make telephone calls internationally) and not only called VISA but called my parents and James’ and had a great talk. We also made a few calls to hostels and parks and got our route in order, if not completely booked. I was feeling very productive.

Once the VISA’s were fixed we decided to have pizza as a snack, wings were the deal of the day...how could we pass that up! After our snack I went to bed early because I was feeling a little stuffy, I really hoped I wasn’t catching a cold but guess I am lucky we aren’t diving anytime soon.

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