Navigating Airports Through Malaysia to Kota Kinabalu

When you join Peace Corps, you are bitten by the travel bug. You want to go everywhere, see everything, and experience it all. I traveled through four different countries on my way home after finishing my service. First stop was Malaysia. It was a bit unfortunate that I visited the country a mere month after the Malaysia Air flight went missing after takeoff. That was all anyone could converse about. I was even a little hesitant myself to get on a plane when more than 5 countries and 13 military ships couldn’t find the wreckage of the plane that supposedly went down. With that being said, I tried to not let the conspiracy bring down the expectations I had for traveling. A little easier said than done. The nearly two months of traveling involved 9 flights. I took one flight at a time, and enjoyed the each destination reminding myself nothing ever comes from being worried.

If you know me, you know I have everything planned out. I want to know where I’m going, and when I’m going to get there. Something I didn’t research, that now I look back and realize I should have, was airports. I assumed that when you arrived into one airport and you have a connecting flight in the same city, you just need to walk to the gate…wrong. Note to any backpackers who might be traveling through Southeast Asia, or more importantly Kuala Lumpur, and happens to stumble across this post, there are TWO airports. One for any international flight and one for regional transportation/Air Asia. They are not in the same airport, and more detrimental, they are not close to each other. I allowed two hours in between arriving in Kuala Lumpur and catching a flight to Kota Kinabalu. I believe a little over one hour before our flight was supposed to take off, a nice gentleman told us that we needed to get to another airport, 30 minutes away. Queue panic mode.

Air Asia terminals are laid out strangely. They screen your bag before you get to the counter. You check in online, preferably twenty four hours prior to your flight, which is when your seat is assigned unless you pay the extra few dollars to pick your own seat. I have also noticed that when you fly with Air Asia, the first seat they assign you tends to be the seat whereabouts you are assigned for the rest of your travels. I never sat in a row less than 22 which my friend always seemed to be sitting around row 9. When we arrived, t-minus 30 minutes to the terminal, we rushed through the lines trying to get through security before our plane took off. Success!
After a short three hour flight to the island of Borneo, we landed at our first destination, Kota Kinabalu. After checking into our hostel, we went searching for food, and our first meal outside of Madagascar ended up being chicken livers and rice. We found some small hole in the wall place right around the corner from our hostel, and the cravings for rice lead us into this little establishment. Filled with Malay individuals who all gave us a puzzle luck as to why two Americans were eating there, we ate our meal, discussing that although we may have left Madagascar, we never really left our picked up habits.

The entire reason for visiting Kota Kinabalu is to climb Mt. Kinabalu and visit Tunku Abdul Rahman Park second. In order to climb Mt. Kinabalu you need a climbing permit and reservation, something we didn’t get, so that was out. Second choice, Tunku Abdul Rahman Park. A national park of four islands, it is a relaxing place to snorkel and enjoy the ocean. Tour companies will try to sell you a package tour for nearly triple the price of what you would to walk down to the port and buy the boat hopper ticket and snorkels yourself. Backpackers are all about pinching pennies, so walking and figuring out the program yourself means adding a nice meal to your schedule later on. When visiting islands however, make sure you mind the hundreds and hundreds of jelly fish that hang out on the shoreline.

IMG_3276

IMG_3317

IMG_3341

IMG_3299

Kota Kinabalu also has an amazing food night market, one of the best I saw in the two months traveling. Descriptions can’t even do it justice. Just look at the photos. Fresh fish and seafood, coconuts, and very hospitable people working the stations.
IMG_3253

IMG_3261

IMG_3262
(photo creds to Amy Wallace)

There are so many tours taking off from Kota Kinabalu to other locations. We opted to see the summit of Mt. Kinabalu and the Poring Hot Springs for our last day in town. The massive size of Mt. Kinabalu alone was worth the trip, but personally, I felt Poring Hot Springs was completely overrated. It had been commercialized to the point that it lost its raw tourism aspect and felt more like a water park than anything. For those that want to really “experience” the island, I don’t think I would ever recommend it as a destination. For a family outing, it would be perfect. But if you do end up venturing out that direction, you can get a free pedicure in the waterfall behind the rope bridge at Poring from the little fishes that eat dead skin.

IMG_3172

IMG_3175

IMG_3186

IMG_3216

Kota Kinabalu was a fast first stop on the two month adventure, stay tuned for part two: Sepilok and Kuala Lumpur.

Advertisement

Starting my COS trip by travelling to Northern Madagascar

As of April 4th, 2014, I am no longer a Peace Corps Volunteer, but rather a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer. I finished my two years of service and am free to go about as I please, something that has become very foreign to me.

A big part of Volunteers’ services is their COS trip (Close off Service Trip). It is customary for volunteers to spend a good chunk of their readjustment allowance as well as a significant amount of days traveling countries other than the country they served in before returning home. It’s considerable to a rite of passage from being a Volunteer to being back in the American world again. I also like to refer to is a slow readjustment back to American life as well–that might be pushing it a little.

With my amazing friend and fellow stagemate Amy, we made plans to travel to Southeast Asia, hitting the four major countries of Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, in addition to traveling to Northern Madagascar, a part that neither if us had been able to reach due to the long distance and daunting 24 brousse ride. Don’t worry, I flew….that’s what the readjustment allowance is for.

An unexpected event came up that prevented Amy from traveling north with me, but with the plane ticket already purchased, I traveled solo for a week. First stop, Nosy Be, a small island off the coast of the island of Madagascar whose name literally translates to Big Island, ironic because the island is in fact quite small. I was unpleasantly shocked by how different the weather was from the capital to Nosy Be. Dry heat, and lots of it.

At the recommendation of another Volunteer I stayed at Home Sakalava, running me a little under $20 a night. It was very homey and cute, hence the name and very conveniently located in the center of Hell Ville, the major town on the island. I say convenient, but in reality, there is not a bad place to stay. Everything is a walking distance away.

With such a short time in Hell Ville, I started off running. I helped bring a group of girls to a local park named Lemur Land. It’s an educational park for children to learn about the diverse wildlife and animals that can be found in Madagascar. Being so close to town, it was surprising that only one of the twelve had actually been to it. There they were given just basic education on lemurs and their habitat, but it was surprising how many didn’t know common things like, lemurs need space. It’s not okay to capture them and keep them as pets.

The next day, I booked an excursion to Nosy Komba and Nosy Tanikely (Lemur Island and Small Land Island respectively). Lemur Island DID in fact have lemurs, but did anyone in the huge tour group see them…..no. Nosy Tanikely though makes up for any discouragement. Not only is it one of hither most beautiful places I had been to before with crystal clear waters and white sandy beaches, but it was quiet and the home of so many fish and other acquatic animals. I had luck in finding sea turtles to swim with, but I did enjoy the company of dolphins who greeted our group and swam with us for a little.

It is times like this I wish I had a GoPro to document my adventures underwater. At one time, I found myself in the middle of a large school of fish. Large may not even describe it enough, enormous is more like it. They fully encircled me and I found myself “trapped”. I was so afraid to actually touch them that I just sculled in place and admired what I was seeing. No underwater camera for me, but at least I’ll have the memory.

Our guides cooked an amazing lunch for us, and even the animals seemed to know how good it was too. A lemur made it’s way into our area and I caught it trying to steal the mango I was holding right out of my hand. Don’t worry, I didn’t let him steal it. I did give him a banana instead and enjoyed him sitting right next to me while he ate it.

Nosy Tanikely made the entire trip to Nosy Be worth it for me. The snorkeling, the beautiful surroundings, the dolphins, the fish, and the lemurs made those three days worth it. While it can be a little expensive, something Nosy Be makes up that is how friendly they are to foreigners. They don’t harass you, they give you fair prices, and they are eager to help you out.

Nosy Be down and on to my final Madagascar destination, Diego!