1. Climbing Mt. Kinabalu with Will Ferrell’s Doppelganger and No Pants
After spending a week hanging out in Hong Kong during monsoon season, I thought it was time to get out of the muggy city rain and off to somewhere…else. I took the extremely silent train to the Hong Kong international airport and boarded the first plane leaving to a South East destination – KOTA KINABALU, MALAYSIA!
When stepping down from the airplane I was hit in the face with the apocalyptic heat and humidity SE Asia is so well-known for – I had no idea what I was going to do or where I was going to sleep that night. No worries.
In the immigration line I realized I forgot to fill out a landing card – I kindly asked the man behind me to hold my spot in line while I grabbed a landing card. When I returned, the man asked me if I was an American – I took one look at him and I thought to myself, Oh my god, Will Ferrell’s doppelganger is hitting on me in the immigration line.
“Excuse me, are you from America?”
“Yup, I’m from California. You?”
“Oh, that’s awesome! I’m from Florida…what are you doing here?”
“Dude, I have noooo idea. What about you guys?” I looked at the small, sickly man standing next to him.“Well, if you’re looking for something to do – my friend Scott here got really bad food poisoning and can’t go mountain climbing tomorrow, so I have an extra spot if you want to go.”
“Wait…there’s a mountain here?! OKAY, I’ll go!”
I was really lucky to meet Will Ferrell. Apparently you need reservations months in advance to climb this 13,435 ft. mountain during peak season. Will and I exchanged emails and promised to meet at the “North Bus Station” at 7AM the next morning.
Well, as luck would have it – the “North Bus Station” doesn’t exist and it was actually called some other complicated Malaysian name. Spending too much time haggling and miscommunicating with cab drivers, I ended up missing the 7AM bus. When I finally arrived to the bus station my cab was SWARMED & SURROUNDED by touters – I had to bat away the little brown hands that were grabbing at my backpack and forcing me out of the cab – their weird aggressive way of showing hospitality. As a solo female traveler it was kind of an overwhelming experience and I was ready to judo chop anyone that would try and jack me.
I finally found my way onto a bus for $15 to the base of Mt. Kinabalu. When I arrived, the ladies at the front desk asked me for my reservation.
“Uh….I’m with P. Ranger.”
“But P. Ranger has left already with his guide. And Scott S. has canceled.”
“But…I’m taking Scott’s place. I have to climb the mountain.”
“But do you have a package?”
“No…but P. Ranger said it was Okay for me to climb the mountain.”
Oh, the power of name-dropping. After 15 minutes of saavy Changsuasion, I convinced them that I was fast enough to catch up with Will Ferrell and start the mountain climb alone.
I climbed for about 2 hours completely alone and was sweating my ass off. Should have brought my iPod. On my way to the half-way point Laban Rata, I saw little Malaysian men carrying backpacks twice their size while smoking cigarettes. I also saw some old ladies with canes. How the hell? I’m like dying.
I finally caught up with Will Ferrell at the half-way point. The half-way camp was filled with what looked like hardcore mountaineers. I wasn’t feeling sociable and gorged myself in Malaysian food and passed out at 7PM – then we woke up at 3AM to begin our climb to the summit. I had to buy gloves and rent a headlamp. Mr. Ferrell let me borrow his beanie and long socks. Everyone made fun of me for wearing shorts. So KIND!
4 hours later in the bitter, cold darkness we made it to the top! The sunrise was beautiful but I was freezing my ass off too much to enjoy it. I felt like a badass wearing only shorts, as I looked around the hoards of people wearing snowboarding-like gear. They had their hardcore hiking shoes; I just had my Aasics running shoes. Pfff, I did this in my sleep. Take that, old cane lady!
The terrain was so interesting – long stretches of flat rock and weird rock shapes that reminded me of Salvador Dali’s abstract paintings. It was really different from the bottom half of the mountain – all jungle-y and wild. Will was cracking me up, he kept filming himself while we were climbing the mountain as if we were in a documentary film. Will post videos soon.
Will & I decided to take on the WORLD’S HIGHEST VIA FERRATA! A 5-hour technical climb alongside Mt. Kinabalu – basically hanging off the side of the mountain with only 2 cables and a harness attached to you. It was fun, grueling, and not that hard compared to climbing UP the mountain. Check out the rest of the Mt. Kinabalu photos set.
8 hours later I found myself at the base of the mountain, saying farewell to Will Ferrell as he sped off to complete the next phase of the package deal: hot springs. I later found out that the hot springs sucked and wasn’t worth the money.
I was sitting by the side of the road with crystalized sweat drying on my forehead. Most people stay at the hotel after climbing the mountain – but me, I didn’t have a reservation. The area was desolate save a trucker-stop type of restaurant across the highway. I went in and asked if there was a way to get back to the city. Apparently they sell bus tickets but I could also buy it when I get on. I felt lazy so I just sat around waiting for the bus. But it never came.
2. So I hitchhiked.
As I loitered on the side of the road, these two Malaysian-born Chinese guys rolled up in a black SUV and asked me where I was going in broken English. I noticed that one of the guys was drinking a Guiness and had a tooth missing. I told them I needed to get back to the city, Kota Kinabalu. They were headed that way too……..So I hopped in their car. We got to talking and I learned that Mr. Gap-tooth was Andy, the #1 supermarket store-owner in his town – his competitive advantage? He’s the only guy in town that sells ice! The driver, who spoke better English – he wore a cheap plastic watch on his left hand with Tom & Jerry cartoon characters on it. You guessed it, his name was Tom. How could these two Malay guys have such Americanized names? Apparently that’s a common trend in Malaysia – they’ve all got American names. I soon realized this when the two random kids sleeping in the back popped out of nowhere and scared the crap out of me. These two little random Asian kids were named Amanda and Gregory. Normal panicked thoughts were going through my head: Okay, so should I save these kids…or…what the heck is going on? How tall are these guys? Can I take them? I can take them. I just climbed a mountain, will I be able to run? OMG.
Turns out, these people were the nicest ever! When we got back to the city, Andy picked up his wife Sandra and they took me out to dinner – Chinese style! They really appreciated that I was an American-born Chinese person, and they felt like they could relate to me – they couldn’t speak Chinese either. It was nice to eat Chinese food because in my opinion, the Malaysian cuisine wasn’t very good – kind of like vegetarian slop that’s been sitting out for awhile. I wish I had photos, but they were on my old iPhone which got stolen in HK. We’re totally Facebook friends now, though. So after I sid good-bye to my new pseudo family…
2.5. I Rode a Moped w/ Tamas &realized there was nothing to do in Kota Kinabalu. Except creepy Karaoke.
‘Nuff said. I peaced out shortly thereafter.
3. Scuba Diving Off an Old Oil Rig – Mabul & Sipidan Island
I booked a flight out of Kota Kinabalu and flew to Tawau Airport, the southeast side of Borneo/Sabah part of Malaysia. I hitched a ride with this Australian family and rode 2 hours to a dirty-ass town called Semporna, the rancid pit-stop that ALL people must stay overnight in, before heading out to Sipadan/Mabul Island for world-class scuba diving. Semporna is a tiny, heavily polluted town filled with dive shops and a couple of eateries and shops. Worst place ever, it totally sucks.
Next morning I hopped on a speedboat, and for about 40 RM (hefty price, I know) I was able to get a ride to Mabul Island, where I couchsurfed for the night. WORD OF ADVICE: If you want to dive at Sipadan, you should most definitely book a package deal including airport, transfer, overnight stay in Semporna/Mabul Island, dives, and back. It was the worst logistical nightmare to do it the way I did and the dive shops are very inflexible when it comes to letting stragglers like me mess up their system. I’m not a package-deal fan, but in this case it would have been easier.
Mabul is a micro-tiny island – you can walk around the entire island in 40 minutes, at a leisurely pace. One half of the island is occupied by a beautiful resort, the other half is scattered with poor rickety long houses made out of plank woods on stilts. Naked kids running around, the occasional stench of septic tank (at least there was one), and plastic trash along the beach. For an island that caters to the scuba diving community, it was shocking and surprising to see that the island and water around it was so filthy. Still, it was cool to see professional scuba divers and local islanders co-exist on such a small plot of land. I even got to watch a soccer match between the island-folk and was eaten alive by mosquitos. The best thing I saw on Mabul island were these two girls that caught a swordfish:
The next day I got a boat ride to Seaventure’s Oil Rig – man, this was like the Hilton of dive resorts in Malaysia. For about 500RM ($150) per day, you get unlimited house reef dives, 3 Sipidan dives, DELICIOUS FOOD all day long, A/C, towels, locker, scuba diving equipment rental and an awesome staff that plays a cover band. It was heaven to have life be so easy on this oil rig. I stayed here for about 6 days and didn’t want to leave! I got to see the blue-ringed octopus, one of the most venomous creatures in the world – as well as turtles, flamboyant cuttlefish, school of bumperhead parrotfish, and white-tip sharks. Check out my Sipadan scuba diving underwater photos – I used the Canon G11 Powershot with the Canon underwater housing. I also got to meet three lovely Norwegian boys, who I ended up visiting later on in my travels.
So that pretty much sums up one of my most spontaneous traveling experiences. If you have any other questions and if you would like more information on the places I stayed at, post a comment and I’d be happy to help you.