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Driving in Sabah


This is the third in a series of more in-depth posts on our trip to Borneo. February 14, 2009

Anxiety runs in my family. I was not afraid to drive in Sabah but I was very anxious about having my car delivered to the hotel. I tossed and turned during the night wondering if the delivery would go smoothly. Normally, we drop by the car rental city center office and pick up our car. I realized it was a little bit different in KK when I stopped by the rental office to do the paper work. The cars are only at the airport - not in the center of town. Several people on Trip Advisor mentioned that they had the car delivered to the hotel so we decided to do the same. We will also have them picked it up when return from Mt Kinabalu. Would everything go smoothly? What an item to lose sleep about!

We had breakfast, gathered our bags and went down to the lobby to check out just before 9am. We sat down and waited just a few minutes before the representative showed up. Right on time - just a few minutes after 9am. No reason to stress at all. We finished the paper work, swiped my credit card and walked us out to the car. He showed us the car and verified that it met our approval. It only had a 1/2 tank of gas (4 notches). He mentioned that if we returned the car with more gas, that he would be very happy. We signed off and loaded up our luggage. I adjusted the mirror and we were ready to go - once I figured out reverse.

Malaysia is a former British colony and they drive on the left. One thing we learned from our previous trip to Australia was, if possible, to rent an automatic car in left driving countries. There are two large Malaysian car manufacturers - Proton (a subsidy of Mitsubishi) and Perodua (subsidy of Daihatsu). We got a Perodua Viva 1000c automatic. It was pretty small but we have a small Honda Civic Hybrid at home and are used to driving a small car. But was going to be really interesting going up hill.

I do not mind driving on the left and driven on the left on most of our recent trips. I find it easier to get used to driving on the left than remembering to look left when I walk across streets. Of course, there are a couple of things that do take a bit of adjusting such as remembering which side of the steering wheel are the turn-signals located. I don't know how many times I turned on the windshield wipers when I wanted to turn! The other drivers thought I must have been crazy flashing the windshield wipers at them. It is also a little hard to adjust to looking to the left for the rear view mirror but I must say the side mirror does a good job.

Our first stop was Orchid de Villa just on the outskirts of KK. I had emailed them for directions but I never received a reply. They had pretty good directions on their website and we asked at the Sabah Tourism Bureau how to get there. They said it was signed but warned us that it was a dirt road. Okay...

It was pretty easy driving out of KK. . I printed out a couple of Google maps for our route. I studied them before I left to become familiar with how get to Jalan Tuaran and Jalan Kiansom. Many of the roads are not signposted so you need to know the landmarks - Chinese temple, supermarket, church. We did pretty well until we got to Jalan Tuaran. Where do we turn? Are we in Inanam? Have we missed our turn?

Suddenly I noticed one of the supermarkets noted on the map on the Orchid de Villa website and pulled into the right lane. There it was - a sign for Orchid de Villa. We had found Jalan Kiansom and turned. We traveled along it checking off the landmarks and then saw another sign for the road for the village - Kampung Kawakaan. Now the fun began. I was so glad that I knew it was a dirt road. The sign said we had 3KM to go. It was pretty rough but nothing worse than what I've driven before on a PNW logging road.

It was very interesting to see the small houses and farms. It felt similar to small country farms in the US but the houses looked very different. And the plants were so exotic.

We found the nursery and parked. The guide told us the entrance was 20rm and offered to show us around. She knew just where to look for the orchids in bloom. Part of the nursery is a cut flower nursery for the local florists in KK. They mainly grew dendrobium orchids and were very busy preparing cut orchids for Valentine's Day bouquets. On the property, there is also a large pond which is fed by a cascading stream. This is where many of the local orchids grow. It was very interesting. We spent about 2 hours walking through the nursery. It gave us a good base knowledge of the orchids to look for on our travels. But it was time to move on.

Orchid de Villa

Orchid de Villa Office and our little Perodua Viva

Orchid de Villa
Showing us around Orchid de Villa

Lovely Dendrobium orchids

More exotic Arachnis orchid

Orchid de Villa

I had not printed out directions on how to get from the nursery to Mt. Kinabalu. I thought we had enough information in the guidebook and the map we had gotten from the tourist office. George felt it would be best to return to the junction with Hwy 1 although I was pretty certain we could continue on Jalan Tuaran and join up with the highway without having to backtrack. But he was the navigator so we went the way he felt most comfortable with.

Of course, we ran into several traffic snarls. First was the traffic jam at the Chinese school on Jalan Kiansom. It was just getting out at noon and traffic was being stopped to allow parents to pick up their children. It took us a little bit to understand what was going on. But this was nothing to the backup we ran into back in Inanam on Jalan Tuaran. The traffic seemed to not be moving at all. It just sat for about 5 minutes and then moved a bit. What was going on! I was starting to panic. Was this normal? Why did we go this way?

We finally started to make some progress and realized what was going on. The light was out at the major intersection where we needed to turn and a traffic cop was directing traffic. He let each way take their turn which is why it was taking so long. But finally after a 30 minute delay, we were on our way. Yeah!

We pulled off and filled up the tank. We had instructions which told us to fill up before heading to Mt. Kinabalu. We didn't see any gas stations after leaving Tuaran so it was a very good reminder. It was about 1.8RM per liter - not that much different from the US prices after calculating the per gallon price and exchange rate ($1.8USD). We continued to Tuaran and then turned off to the highway to Mt. Kinabalu.

The two lane highway continued for a few miles passing farms and small villages. One interesting village we passed was Tamparuli. It is known for the big weekly tamu (market and flea market) and an interesting swinging bridge. The market wasn't on Sunday so we didn't stop. The road started to climb. The grade was steep and road was windy but fortunately, it did not have a steep drop off on the edge. This is the major road between KK and Sandakan. You frequently come up behind diesel trucks with the truck beds loaded with heavy material such as lumber, rocks, etc. They crawl up the road at a very slow pace - maybe 20Km/h. You have no choice but to pass them on this curvy uphill road. Thank god for the passing lanes. Our little Perodua Viva had very little power to pass them so most of the time we just chilled out until the next passing lane.

On the Road to Mt Kinabalu

Passing on the road to Mt. Kinabalu

On the Road to Mt Kinabalu

One of many slow trucks we had to pass

On the Road to Mt Kinabalu

Mt Kinabalu peaking through the clouds and smoke from the farms

We caught glimpse Mt. Kinabalu in the cloud openings. The road sides were over grown with wild bananas, impatiens, bamboo and other tropical plants. Soon we became familiar with the Sabah dogs. They had a tendency to sleep on the road - close to the road edge or be found investigating the road edges close enough that you had to swerve to miss them. They seemed to be everywhere so I stayed alert. We kept climbing until we came to the main turn off for Mt Kinabalu. We had only traveled about 70km but we were almost at 4,000ft. The road now curved along the mountain side passing various hotels. This area is a popular area for hotels just outside the main park gate. The view opened and we saw the deep green terraced valley of the Kundasang area - our destination for the next 3 days.

Kundasang is at 1600 ~(5200ft) meters and much cooler the KK. The hills are terraced with vegetable farms growing a wide variety of different fruits and vegetables such as cabbages, tomatoes, and squashes. At the turnoff for the road to Mesilau, the roadside was lined with covered wooden stalls filled with fresh vegetables, fruit and snacks. We watched for the sign for the Golf Course to know where to turn. It was hard to see where to turn. The area was chaotic - filled with people, cars, buses, dogs going every which way. We slowed and crawled along waiting for an opening so we could turn. It was Sunday afternoon and everyone was preparing for the work week. Once on the Mesilau road, we passed seed and nursery stores more evidence that this was a major farming center.

We kept watch for more signs to the golf course to point us the way. The road steeply angled up and our little car struggled up the road. We passed the Kundasang diary and knew we were getting closer. Suddenly we noticed the large expanses of grass. This must be the golf course. The road to Mesilau cuts right through the course. We found our turnoff and drove up our home for the next three days - Magic Mountain Country Home. The owner, Lily, and her two dogs came out to great us and showed us the way to our room where we relaxed and unwound from the drive.

Dinner was wonderful as expected. We had a great steamed fish with ginger, tofu, and a vegetable similar to spinach except with more firm stems. Lily sauteed it in garlic. It was so yummy.

We also tasted some wonderful tropical fruit - snakeskin fruit and fresh jackfruit. The snakeskin was very good and so different . It is large about the size of a plum but in a tear drop shape. You peel the scaly skin and the firm fruit is in segments similar to a clove of garlic. It is similar in taste to a cross between pineapple and apple. It is also very crunchy. Lily also bought us some mangosteen but haven't tried them yet.

The evening was cool and we were both very sleepy after our wonderful dinner. We had to say good night early and fell asleep right away to the sounds of the wind in the trees.


Fruit stands along the road in Kundasang

Kundasang  Fruit Stalls

Wide variety of fruit and goods under the shade of the wooden roofs

School Girls in Kundasang

Schools Girls in Kundasang

Kundasang  Road

Mesilau road at Kundasang

Comments (8)

Barb Cabot:

Marta, So fascinating and exotic. Love all the photos and incredible close ups of orchids.

That post was fascinating!


Marta, thanks so much for writing all this up--and those photos are amazing! Makes me long to throw myself onto a plane bound for someplace tropical and exotic.

Love that photo of the Arachnis Orchid!
And the photo of the schoolgirls in their beautiful uniforms. Guess I'll re-read now while I wait for installment four.

I missed your posts on Borneo (busy with visiting family and a wedding) but I'm going to set aside some time this weekend to read them. Your photos are spectacular. Love the orchids and the cool photo of the hanging bananas in the market.

Fascinating post and gorgeous photos!

I would have never thought of looking to the left when crossing streets in countries where they drive on the left. The orchids are gorgeous! I love the Dendrobium orchids. I think we might have them here (or at least something similar). You are very brave to drive. I would have been lost for sure!

Oncidium orchids are among the most popular orchids in the world because there is a wide variety of orchids to choose from and these plants are universally easy to tend to at home. Top Orchid Care Secrets

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