Saturday, April 11, 2009

East Coast Adventures Part 1 - Tawau and Semporna

My very short trip to the east coast had me spending most of my time in Mabul, a truly breathtaking piece of His creation. 

Let's start from the very beginning.

I arrived Tawau town at about a quarter to noon, taking a bus from the airport in a 40-45 minute journey. I didn't expect the airport to be that far from town. Once in town, I was feeling rather gung-ho and tried to locate some landmarks for my walkabout. I thought I saw Chester Street, which I remembered was one of the oldest street in Tawau and named after some one in the British administration then. Yupp, it looked kinda like the 'old town' section, walked along and found Hotel Tawau, again I think one of the oldest, if not the oldest, hotel in Tawau. Went in, got the rates and phone numbers, and left as I have not decided yet where to spend the night.

I think this used to be a movie hall / cinema? It reminded me of King Kong the old movie I don't know why.

Tawau reminded of of shopblocks like Segama and Sinsuran; oh and there were many people walking on the streets. Maybe coz it's a weekend? I managed to take this amusing signage below - I actually laughed when I saw it. And when I took the picture, the man nearby did a double-triple take and asked me 'Ambil gambar apa?'. I said 'Gambar itu lah'. He sort of mumbled something like 'itu pun mau gambar?' and shook his head. Ha ha ha.

Yes. Take Heed. Jangan Melekat.

Next on the agenda was to fill my (g)rumbling tummy. I remembered reading about a famous chicken rice shop, I was unsure of the name but vaguely remembered Mongolian or something like that. Pretty confident it would be easy to find I trundled along the street; alas it proved not to be so. Had to ask a few times, set off across this and that street, finally after asking I think the right people, I found the shop (well actually it was a stall in a Chinese coffeeshop); and it was actually on the same street, albeit different block, where I started. Dah dee dah duh.

Mongolian Chicken Rice, in Kedai Kopi Len Sheng, Chester Street.

After a quick lunch there, I thought, hmm, the town didn't look like there's anything interesting to do; should I just zip over to Semporna then? I decided in 5 seconds and quickly asked where to get the bus to Semporna. 

One thing I felt made my trip easy here in Tawau was that people were very helpful. Coming here without much preparation meant I had to ask around. And I guess people tried their best to help. I got directions to the Semporna-bound bus stop (the same place I passed by earlier I noticed). The man said 'oh kena jalan lebih kurang 20 minit lah', when I asked how far the bus stop was. I walked along and actually reached it under 10 minutes. I think my walking speed is improving haha.

Got my seat and waited for the bus to fill up, then we left for the 1 1 /2 hour journey. Quite a long way and I wasn't sleepy, too bumpy to read so I just resolved to sit back and enjoy the landscapes as we passed by.

Oh gosh. The whole stretch of the road, left and right, seemed to be endless acres of oil palm plantations, as far as the eyes can see. I've heard this before, yet it was one thing to see it with my own eyes. It makes 'the environmentalist' in each of us want to speak up and shout 'hey stop all this what are you doing to mother earth?' 

I wonder if the locals there think the same thing. These plantations  created thousands of jobs and other resulting small businesses. In other words, opportunity for them for a better life and opening the doors to development. Dilemma of the modern world. And I'm afraid I'm torn between opinions. Hmm.

Anyway, with a few stops in between to drop off the locals, the bus reached Semporna at about 2:30 pm, or earlier? I can't remember the time now. Challenging myself not to ask for directions until I absolutely needed to, I walked a little bit downhill towards what seemed to be the market area. Can't be too difficult lah, I thought. So reaching the small roundabout I looked around for billboards ofr buildings or some shop name that could help. Turned left and saw that I was heading towards what can be called the diver's little corner of the town where all the diving companies and lodges were located.

SOTC from a distance.

The diver's zone of the town, seen from SOTC side.

I checked out lodgings and rates at Sipadan Inn and Scuba Junkie, then walked further up to the Semporna Ocean Tourism Centre (SOTC), where all the structures are built on water. Found out boats to the islands leave only in the morning unless they're chartered. Wanted to find out the rates for Dragon Inn but changed my mind coz, hmm, what was I going to do there at night if I slept there? Walked to Uncle Chang's to find out day trip rates and some other info. Could see Seafest Hotel, a 3 star, the town's best, at a distance and decided not to walk over there since it was too hot. Went into the Borneo Divers' office and sought some info from the man who was sitting there. Pretty soon we were joined by a few of his colleagues, all seemingly curious that I was from KK yet knew very little about this town and of diving. One of the guys - whose father has a engine powered wooden boat, they call it 'bot kampung' - offered an island hopping trip (wherever I wanted to go), but the price was rather steep and I was alone. If there were others and I could share the expenses, plus have some sense of security, I would've. In the back of my mind, a bell rang to remind me that : I am alone, a girl, first time in a strange town not unknown for 'incidents'; so better be careful. Thanked them for all the info and chat and went ahead undecided.

Walked back towards the diver's zone, and thought I'll have a light snack at Mabul Cafe, a quaint little cafe that didn't look too bad I must say. I can spend afternoons sitting here watching the small world go by. It's located on the first floor so from the balcony one could view the goings-on on the street level too. Took some pics :

Waiting for my food. I don't know why my head was 'senget' like that.
Wilted under the heat I guess ;). Oh, wearing current fav tee, my red BBKK.

Sandwich and Iced Tea at Mabul Cafe

View from Mabul Cafe, across the street.

After that I decided to stay at the Sipadan Inn - I like it that it was very clean and new. Room was small and cozy, 2 bottles of water, aircon, small TV, hot shower, towels, soap, Dove shampoo (!), extra pillow already in the room. Internet was free at the reception, max 30 mins in consideration of other users. And they had HBO and ESPN and StarSports! And I thought best of all was that the door had three (!) security features ; the lock itself, a chain lock and a bolt lock. I felt safe immediately :)

Where I stayed.
My room - nice loud stripey bedcover.

I caught the the last bits of a Jennifer Garner movie (don't know the title), and saw that In Pursuit of Happyness will be on at 9 pm later. Took a shower and napped; when I woke up later I went out for a walkabout around that part of the town. Didn't find much to see or do; returned to Sipadan Scuba Dive Shop a.k.a. North Borneo Divers (located in the same row as Sipadan Inn)  to book my Mabul trip tomorrow. I then went to Guardian (woh, got Guardian in Semporna!) to buy sunblock coz I forgot mine at home. 

Walking a bit more I saw a shop that offered massage and manicure/pedicure, so I decided to get my fingernails cleaned up since I did not manage to do that in KL :). Went back to my room to read and write and nap some more. Woke up just before 9 pm, felt hungry and went out to the nearby mamak shop (Restoran Al Nafisah?) across the street for dinner which was, after much contemplation, Maggi Goreng. Got back, watched Will Smith as Chris Gardner in "..Happyness". I thought it was a very good movie, and Will did very well in a non-comedy, non-action movie for once. Slept early, in bated anticipation of a 'sempurna' day tomorrow. 

That's my story the first day in the east coast.

Part Deux to follow !

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