A place where the monkeys seem strangely familiar
We took a Hana Tour jaunt to Borneo, Malaysia. And Hana has a reputation for taking its clients on endless excursions, where shopping is the main item on the bill.
Our trip was titled a “freedom tour,” and it lived up to its billing.
We wanted the “freedom.”
Of course, being free, we shelled out a few hundred thousand won (a few hundred bucks) to take two tours. So, who is the sucker?
The whole trip came about when friends of ours told us glowingly about their trip to the island of Borneo in Malaysia.
Warm weather. Beautiful beaches. Exotic animals. And, most importantly, inexpensive. Plus, by a happy accident of scheduling, I had a two-day workweek so it was easy to get the vacation time.
My wife, who speaks Korean, found the deal on Hana, 550,000 won per person for airfare and four days, four nights in paradise. And breakfast. We traveled with a 3-year-old and an infant, which, by the way, I would not recommend. Seriously. Don’t do it.
Our five-hour plus flight seemed to take days. The kids didn’t sleep so neiher did their parents. The good news is that we flew Korean Air direct to Kota Kinabulu.
At the airport, our cheery Hana representative picked up ourselves and one other couple, even though it was close to midnight. She gave us a rundown of what to expect on the island and some tips. Even better, she didn’t seem fazed by shouting over our 3-year-old’s screaming temper tantrum. He wanted to ride the bus, not the Hana van that took us to our hotel.
Now, fair warning, Hana did try to get us to upgrade our hotel when we booked the package.
However, we declined.
It would have cost 600,000 won more (200,000 won per person) for the trip and just didn’t seem worth it. Our hotel, the Beringgis Beach Resort, seemed fine on the Internet.
Well, this is not exactly shocking, but the Internet can be misleading.
The grounds of the hotel were lovely, with a pretty courtyard, a clean pool and a setting along the South China Sea that produced two of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen. One night, a herd of domestic water buffalo strolled past on the beach. We also saw horses several times streaking past. The kids loved the pool, which had a slide, and the included breakfasts were tasty. The staff at the hotel were great.
The biggest frustration? Location, location, location. We were in the middle of nowhere. It was about a 25- minute cab ride (about $15 each way) to Kota Kinabulu. And since the hotel had no ATM, and we hadn’t thought ahead to bring cash or traveler’s checques, we had to make the trip into town twice just to get cash.
Plus, the restaurants were limited. The beach resort had only two, and one was reserved every meal for a group of Malaysian teachers staying at the hotel for a conference. The food at the other restaurant, next to the beach, was disappointing. The satay chicken with peanut sauce was a keeper, but most of the rest of the dishes we ordered were uninspiring. The meat tended to be overcooked and overspiced. Our 3-year-old even ignored the pizza, which was basically a piece of thick bread with some melted cheese on top.
After getting our bearings and a nice, red sunburn on the first day, we took our first tour on day two. It was a trip to Sapi Island.
After another quiet day of dodging intermittent rain, our final day arrived. We relaxed until about noon, then started a crazy journey. We hopped on a bus, took a 2-hour ride and found ourselves in an open air boat. Unfortunately, other kids grabbed the smaller life jackets, so there were only adult ones left for us. It ran down to our 3-year-old’s ankles. Then it started to rain.
As we were moseying down the yellow-colored Garama River, we saw plenty of monkeys in their natural habitats. It was unspoiled nature, with no homes around. Then our guide casually mentioned that he often sees pythons and crocodiles in the river.
Despite it all, the cruise was probably the best part of the trip. Seeing proboscis monkeys ― said to look like Westerners because they have a giant nose and a pot belly ― in their natural habitats was a real thrill. We scarfed down dinner, then got back on the bus and went straight to the airport.
Two hours later, we were on a plane heading back. This time the kids slept and I did, too. My poor wife stayed awake, holding the baby in her arms.
By Brian Breuhaus Deputy Editor