A Travellerspoint blog

April 2017

Family time


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It was nice to wake without the alarm today. I had my last mango with a plain pouring yoghurt and muesli before heading down to the nearby Gaya Street Market. It was a very nice Sunday market with lots of atmosphere and many Chinese tourists. There was nothing I needed to buy; there were things I wanted to buy but not willing to carry and they can wait.

I checked out just before the 1200 deadline and Uber'ed to the airport more than 3 hours before the 1530 departure to Kuching [Kuching-travel-guide-1096915] to spend time with family.

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North Borneo Railway ride


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large_5550_14929571225668.jpgThe tourist train still uses the old name "North Borneo Railway".
I had always wanted to ride on the North Borneo Railway (the only rail service in Borneo) but when I last checked, it was not operating. The tracks were supposedly being refurbished and I expected the service would die a quiet death but surprisingly it was back in operation.

I had thought of taking Uber to the station in the morning for the 0745 departure. But my old friend David brought it up last night at supper and he was keenly interested too. He picked me up at 0630 and we drove to the new modern station near the airport.

We waited a while before ticket sales began at 0700. We had a good look around and understood there were three types of trains:

1. The historic train ride, operated by a resort / tour company utilising the old name “North Borneo Railway” (rather than the present name "Sabah State Railway", at MYR345 including meal and hotel transfers.large_5550_14929570948770.jpgThe rickety old carriage which operated our service to Beaufort. In the background is the historic carriage which operates the tourist train.
2. The old rickety carriage which costs MYR4.80 each way to Beaufort with all stops. This was the one operating our service.
3. The modern air-conditioned carriage operating the afternoon service with limited stops. There is a first class surcharge on this but I imagine it is still super cheap.

The train left promptly at 0745 with a few passengers but it sure filled up at the first stop at Putatan a short distance away.

The journey wasn’t very rural at first. But later we had a little jungle, mangrovey sago palms, river crossings, a tunnel, beach, swift houses (for cultivating edible birds' nest), a couple of water buffaloes and anchovies drying in the sun. To be honest, it wasn’t particularly scenic. The most scenic part is from Beaufort to Tenom, as I understand, but it wasn’t possible to do the entirety as a day trip due to the train schedule (outbound, it has a long connection for the onward journey from Beaufort to Tenom).large_5550_14929570972065.jpgThe historic carriage which operates the tourist train.

In Beaufort, we had about 1h15 before the departure back to Kota Kinabalu [Kota-Kinabalu-travel-guide-1096832]. We really had only about 45 minutes for a walk and to grab lunch before heading back to the station and buy our tickets.

The train was quite full when we boarded. It remained that way until Putatan. It rained heavily at one stage and all the windows had to be closed up making it quite steamy. Despite closing the windows, the train leaked through the joins in the wooden window frames.

One of the most memorable sights for me were the old wooden building with shuttered windows at Membakut. These are a rarity nowadays as old wooden buildings (perhaps with old wiring) tend to burn down. And when it is a long row without a firebreak, it spreads :-(

We grabbed a second lunch back in Kota Kinabalu before David dropped me off at the hotel. I rested until coming out for a pre-dinner walk to Centre Point then back to Suria for dinner.

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Back to Borneo


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large_5550_14929571108327.jpgKota Kinabalu does not have significant historic buildings due to fires and also WWII.
I woke before the alarm at 0530 and hopped to check-out. I told the frontdesk to hold off entering my departure into her system so I could continue to use the wifi to order a Uber cab. Unfortunately there was already a small surge pricing at 0600; it would be more expensive than an honest taxi driver but it’s still better than risking a street taxi as I had enough money leftover for just an honest fare.

The driver went around a couple of times as he didn’t see me. I finally boarded and we set off for the airport with a short stop for petrol. His tank was genuinely empty and he put in PHP300 which was about NZD10 only. It just shows that people are quite poor here.

At Terminal 3, there were queues at every entrance. The furthest entrance had the longest queue and I got in pretty quickly.large_5550_14929570711085.jpgKota Kinabalu is a city by the sea. View of the sea from a city food hall.The AirAsia queue wasn’t long but it was painfully slow, as were the kiosks which weren’t compulsory here.

Fortunately passport and security were swift and I made it to the lounge 1h30 prior to departure for breakfast and to refill my water bottles. The flight boarded 40 mins prior and they tried to finalise the flight about 30 minutes prior. Despite the stragglers, we closed up and pushed back 15 mins ahead of schedule bound for Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia ... Land below the Wind (because it is just below the typhoon belt).

A dad on board needed to toilet his little girl during pushback. The crew allowed him to go but had tl delay the safety demo until he was out of the toilet. Recently, airlines in the US have had bad press for being very hard and unreasonable with passengers.large_5550_14929570779721.jpgWaterfront living nearing completion.Just shows that common sense still exists in this part of the world.

The flight took 1h40 on an older A320 with CFM engines which is the norm in the AirAsia group. The plane appears to have served time in Malaysia judging from some of the signage. It appears Philippines AirAsia had a mixed older fleet unlike the other airlines in the AirAsia group.

Before landing, the crew lined up and thanked us for our patronage, put their hands in prayer position and bowed. They did this yesterday too but I don’t recall this happening on my first flight in the Philippines. Their Indonesian counterpart do this too but Malaysians are probably too proud to do this :-)

At Kota Kinabalu, the taxi to town was MYR30 whereas Uber was less than MYR10. Wow! What a difference as in the Philippines, both are about comparable and I found that in Peru, Uber was actually more expensive.

I checked into the Hotel Capital for a 2 night stay. While in a familiar city, there’s little pressure to do anything. I wandered around the Suria Mall for a late lunch, skipped dinner (had muesli, fruit and yoghurt) before being called up by my old school friend David to go out for a cuppa tea and share a little of his supper (dumplings and kaya toast).

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Back to Manila & Parting Thoughts


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Back to Manla

With my flight at 1415 and an 1100 checkout, I took it easy in my room. My congestion was getting worse but it wasn't bad bad. I had a light breakfast of muesli and took my last saltwater (probably brackish rather than pure saltwater) shower before checking out and grabbing a sandwich from the guesthouse.

My tricycle to the airport turned up on time at 1145 and it was about 40 minutes to get there. There was not much queueing and I was airside in no time. Oh, there was a terminal fee of PHP100 which meant that I would be slightly short of money and would have to cash a little (not worth using the ATM for a small amount). Damn! I thought I was going to be "spot on' with what I had left before flying out to Kota Kinabalu tomorrow.

LAG restrictions are in force for domestic flights in the Philippines but it wasn't apparent in at Manila [Manila-travel-guide-885524] T4 where they removed nothing from me.

Here they told me to finish drinking the water. But when they saw me trying to glug down two bottles, they told me I could finish it before boarding. We were entertained by blind singers and their guitars until boarding time; they also led a few prayers ... something which wouldn't happen in many countries.

The AirAsia flight to Manila went smoothly and I took a taxi to Red Planet in Makati for a change of scenery (as opposed to Ermita). The hotel was just outside the glam Makati CBD in a more typical area with more food and gentlemen's entertainment. For dinner I had Subway as I appear to have lost my apetite completely with this flu.

Parting thoughts on the Philippines

It is rather expensive for a third world South East Asian country:

1. To eat anything that's clean or that I'm comfortable with, it is usually PHP70 minimum but typically PHP100+. That's Singapore price, and far more expensive than Malaysia.
2. Then there's the PHP100-200 shakes.
3. Then Philippines AirAsia meals here are more expensive than its Malaysian counterpart.
4. USD35 gets you a nice 3 star place in Thailand or Vietnam but in the Philippines, it is more of a guesthouse standard.

I try to understand why. I reckon the poor are too poor to even attempt patronising any of these places and the pricing reflects what rich Filipinos and foreigners are willing to pay. Whereas in Malaysia, there is a large middle class that will spend.

For me, poverty, beggars and homelessness in Manila and the Philippines seem more apparent than say in Bangkok or Jakarta. Perhaps it is the contrast as the Philippines is nearly first-world in some areas like Makati CBD and resort areas. Or maybe it is because there is no highly visible middle class? Eg. in Bangkok or Jakarta you'd see lots of people with smartphones but here, there are still many old Nokias floating around.

Security is taken seriously in the Philippines too:

1. There are security checks at many malls.
2. There are heavily armed guards at beaches, malls etc.
3. Even my Panglao guesthouse had a guard in the evening.

Then finally one cannot but notice the plentiful number of older men and young Fiipino women. They do stand out as a large proportion of foreigners (backpackers don't make up such a huge percentage compared to say Thailand or Vietnam; and domestic tourists are plentiful). It is tempting to judge both parties involved here but I think everybody is looking for something, be it love, a better life etc. Even within the same culture, people do aspire to marry upwards. When I see an old western man and a young Filipino woman plus the woman's child/children, the relationship is more than just about sex. It takes a rather generous person to bring up someone else's child. Never judge a book by its cover!

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

Another lazy day


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large_5550_14926473303606.jpgAlona Beach is a broad white sandy beach lined with restaurants and small hotels.
I had set the day aside free for lazing around, doing an excursion I hadn't thought of or in case the previous days had been wet. But with my flu growing I decided to do nothing. In any case, the only excursion remaining around here were:

1. an Island Hopping trip including dolphin watching (from boat), Balicasag Island and Virgin Island. Virgin Island was the only one new to me at with an 0600 report it wasn't a goer for me.

2. a whaleshark watching trip in Oslob [Oslob-travel-guide-887608], Cebu whicn would require a 0530 start. It was more money than I'd like to spend at a total of PHP2000. However, it is a "guaranteed" affair as they feed the whalesharks. A little fake for some people!

I stayed indoors till lunchtime when I headed out for a light meal.large_5550_14926473444116.jpgAlona Beach is a broad white sandy beach lined with restaurants and small hotels.I checked out the length of the beach after lunch and found a broad quiet spot at one end where I could put my stuff near some trustworthy people. I walked into the clear water and it was just perfect in temperature. There was a bit of green seagrass near the water's edge but it wasn't a bother. The deep blue parts of the water was due to more seagrass underneath in the deeper areas.

A Spanish couple Manuel and Adriana chatted me up. They're from Oslo. We got talking and seemed to have lots of common interests in travel and diving. Manuel was a dive instructor and had done 400+ dives around the world and he says there's nowhere like Sipadan. "You might as well die now and die happy. There's no need to dive anywhere else unless it is a specialty dive like sharks, mantas etc.large_5550_14926473493010.jpgAlona Beach is a broad white sandy beach lined with restaurants and small hotels.Even Cozumel in Mexico isn't anything like it". Right, I've heard it from someone with authority!

I must have spent about 2 hours in the water chatting with them. A bit longer than I had prepared myself for in terms of sun protection so I was a little red. But it was heavenly in the warm clear calm water. I returned to my room for my rest; I had admin to do but I lacked the motivation perhaps due to my flu.

For dinner, I attempted a healthy meal of fish fillets with broccoli. It didn't quite work out as the fish was battered and fried. In the dim light, the worn photos on the billboard wasn't very clear and I thought it was unbattered fillets.

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