Beautiful Pulau Sapi.

My Sabah Five

My visit to Malaysian Borneo ended on Monday. Truthfully, I should have waited to book my flight onward so I could have stayed longer.  Sabah is beautiful, and really unique compared to the rest of Malaysia.  Despite my little accident on Saturday, I thoroughly enjoyed my time off the peninsula.

Rather than ramble on for paragraphs, I thought I’d try my hand at making a list about Sabah. A little more meat on the bones than a Buzzfeed list, but not so long that you’re sitting there thinking, “damn it, John – make it stop.”

So here they are… my “Sabah Five.”

Boats docked at Jesselton Point in Kota Kinabalu.
Boats docked at Jesselton Point in Kota Kinabalu.

1. The people of Sabah know that hospitality is their primary industry. Everyone. As a result, the experience of being a guest here is much more intimate than I found it to be on the peninsula.

From baristas who bend your ear as they brew your cup of coffee (with amazing charm), to tour operators who – once you get past the shouty-ness of getting lured over to their booth – take ample time to make sure you’re happy with the adventure they’re going to take you on. Overall, you’ll find people just to be more chatty, interested to talk.

2. Down the street from the hostel is a 7-Eleven. Me and my dorm mate Catt dropped in there to grab a few necessities on our way back to the hostel after island hopping on Friday. A little kid saw us in there and was trying to strike up a conversation. We smiled at him and left back to the hostel.

When I met up with Catt again in the common room, she told me she saw the little guy outside. He followed us back.  I’m not sure why, but maybe his intention was similar to the kid who was hanging around the hostel a couple days later, wanting to help the guys who run it for cash.

In fact, we ran in to a few people who’d be quite friendly in saying “hello,” but then ask if we could give them money.  That really put in to perspective that while Malaysia seems inexpensive for westerners, there are still people who don’t have enough here – just like at home.

3. It seems like everyone smokes. More than on the peninsula. While smoking indoors is off limits at shopping malls and chain restaurants, you don’t see an outdoor patio without piles of ashtrays. It’s not a judgement call on my part, though – I get that if culturally that’s what people do… that’s what people do. But as a non-smoker, after a couple of days you really do notice it.

Hanging out at Pulau Sapi. A beautiful beach with powder white sand.
Hanging out at Pulau Sapi. A beautiful beach with powder white sand.

4. Fun fact : you get a new stamp in your passport when you come to Malaysian Borneo. There is separate passport control to get in to this part of the country. From what I’ve read, it’s to ensure that Sabah – which is gorgeous – isn’t overrun with people wanting to emigrate here from the peninsula (since developable space appears to be already pretty tight). For foreigners – like me – all it means is another stamp in the passport.

5. Mount Kinabalu is a pricy, exhausting temptress. I talked to one girl who was in my dorm who had just got back from going up – and she said it was a quite the journey to get up the mountain. Catt is climbing it this week, and the price is rather high compared to other activities on the island. But, from what I understand, sunrise is pretty amazing up there. Maybe if I can get back there…

Farewell, Sabah.
Farewell, Sabah.

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