Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan 2002

This tour took place in back in 2002. But since I’d only just started this blog to chronicle my future bike tours, I thought I might as well relate some old stories here. As well, I couldn’t decide on Blogger or WordPress, so this retelling of past tales helped me get a hang of managing a blog.

Obviously, WordPress won.

It was my first tour and I didn’t quite know what to expect. I had gotten wind of my friend Thomas Fong’s plan to do this ride and he was quite happy for the company. So, straightaway, I went out and contributed to the bicycle accessories industry by buying a pair of panniers.

The plan was simple – ride from KK to Sandakan, about 400km or so, via the old trunk road. It’s a longer route and half of it would be less busy than the popular route; which meant less cars, and less chances of meeting San Tai Wongs — those 10-wheeler, timber-carrying behemoths that could easily make road-kills of unsuspecting cycle-tourers.

It took us only 4 days to reach Sandakan, and we stopped at 3 places — Gunung Mas, Ranau and Telupid. Gunung Mas is nothing more than the peak of the non-stop climb from KK (where we slept in a treehouse – no kidding), Ranau is a small town, and Telupid, a kampong that pretended to be a glamourous truck-stop.

It was all up and up the first day - all 50km of it.

But the scenery was stunning

The end of this day’s ride was the peak of Gunung Mas.  The accommodation was pretty lofty; not in price but it’s location. It was a treehouse cabin on a hill slope! Very cool – literally – because it was like 16 degrees in the morning!

The cabins are perched precariously on a tree on a slope

The pillar is alive.

The treetop cabins of Gunung Mas

Green, pristine and sparsely populated, the country side makes for a refreshing ride

Rush hour in the boondocks. Not wise to press your horn at these guys. Their grandfather really owns the road.

Rush hour in the boondocks. Not wise to sound your horn at these guys, not when your horse-power is limited. The grandfather ( the black one with the evil eye) seemed to own the road.

The road from KK to Sandakan is generally a smooth one...

...except for this 10km gravel-only section.

...and when its hit by landslides. I hate redundant reminders

...and when it's hit by landslides. Don't you just hate redundant reminders?

I love the remote countryside. The air is always good. And the people have no airs. Like the folks below. When you’re up close and personal with these locals, and when you give them a hungry, exhausted I-just-cycled-500km look, they’ll want to take you home with them.

What's she looking at? Choice cuts of a wild boar, that's what.

Burnt to a crisp - to preserve it or to enhance the taste?

Take my word for it, these were very friendly locals.

The 2nd day’s ride to Ranau was not an easy one. The unpolluted, clear blue sky also meant the sun was merciless with its heat. Hot, thirsty and hungry, we were beginning to worry about lunch as there didn’t seem to be any warongs along the way.

When the sun was directly overhead, we took a break at a little sundry shop manned by a mother and her 3 kids. The lady boss was kind enough to cook us some Maggi mee, with an extra egg on top, for lunch. You know how some meals taste like heaven? This was one of them.

Chatting with the kids while their mother cooked us a sumptuous lunch.

This sundry shop owner wasn't a bloodthirsty Ah Long for sure. We paid up; we didn't pretend.

2nd night saw us at Ranau which offered no excitement whatsoever - a sedate little town that you wouldn't normally stopover for except to stay the night. It did offer a spectacular view of Mount Kinabalu though.

Our last stop before Sandakan was an insignificant little dot on the map called Telupid. I called it Stupid Telupid. Thomas and me remember this place very well. How could we forget when the only accommodation available was the rooms behind a restaurant; or that the room smelled of truck drivers who drove the Trans-Borneo route without stopping for a bath; or that the toilet was so dirty I had to resort to bathing with rainwater?

Telupid Hilton it ain't.

No bathroom, no fan, no tv and no clean sheets and blankets either. My duvet was a lifesaver.

Our bowels froze in shock when we peeked into one of these cubicles.

Our bowels froze in shock when we peeked into one of these cubicles.

Thank Gods for sending down a shower when we needed it most

The bathrooms were just as bad. A late afternoon thunderstorm came to our aid just in time.

The last leg, Telupid to Sandakan, was a 122km ride that started with cool, misty surrounds but as the day progressed, it quickly to turned into a baking session under a mercilessly hot sun. Good thing was it's mostly all flat, but then again, so was the scenery -- palm oil estates that just went on and on and on and on...

Sandakans most famous resident welcoming us as we rolled in to town. The world-renowned Sepilok Orang Utan rehab centre is located here.

Sandakan's most famous resident welcoming us as we rolled in to town. The world-renowned Sepilok Orang Utan rehab centre is located here.

Sandakan is not known for its fresh seafood for nothing. This simple dish of prawns flavoured with rice wine and ginger was so flavourful and the prawns lusciously firm and fresh...

Sandakan is not known for its fresh seafood for nothing. This simple dish -- prawns lusciously firm and fresh and flavoured with light rice wine and ginger was indescribably delicious...

..and so was the accompanying fish and bowl of noodles. Brilliant!

..and so were the accompanying fish and noodles. Simple but brilliant! I would go back just for the seafood alone.

6 thoughts on “Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan 2002

  1. Mike,

    It was Nov 2003 if i’m not wrong. You brought forward a year.:)

    Anyway, nice write-up and amazing pics, i luv it, bring back nostalgia memories.

    Some of my photos are in facebook, just look for thomas fong choon tuck to link it up.


  2. We finally did it! But unlike you, we taxied to Gunung Alab, rode to Tamburan. Onward to Ranau, explored the Poring Hot Springs, ate too much durians and then bused to Sandakan.

    How you managed to climb all the way up to Gunung Mas amazes me. You and Thomas have my utmost respect.

    Al 🙂

  3. Matt, it’s impossible to remember every interesting place and person I have met in my travels but not when I document them as stories with pictures. Then, I have the luxury of revisiting and reliving all the wonderful moments on the road….otherwise, it’s all forgotten …only vague memories left. I’m also very happy when they serve as inspiration and research to others following in my pedal strokes, as Al and company can testify :-))

    P.S. Yes, I was using a digicam to record the pics.

  4. Hi Michael! I hope this note finds you well. I am Kaye, and I would like to request for your permission to use the second image above for our corporate calendar. If possible, please get in touch with me at my email address below. Thanks!

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