Saturday 15 November

My spare day, since I was late booking the holiday and the scheduled return flight was already full. I meet Helen, Steve, and Nancy at breakfast, and arrange to retrieve my geckos from Helen in exchange for some bananas.

I say my final goodbyes, and then strike out for the long distance bus station where I plan to catch a bus to the Rafflesia Forest Reserve, as recommended by Martin. I am besieged by taxi drivers, who all seem to want to take me back to Kinabalu National Park, but I manage to get on board the 9.30 am bus.

As we head out of town, I’m starting to have doubts that I am on the correct bus. When we turn directly away from Penampang, my fears are confirmed. I speak to the driver and discover that this is the bus to Kinabalu Park, not the Rafflesia Park after all. The driver lets me off at the next opportunity (since we would not arrive at Kinabalu National Park until noon) and points me across the road in the direction of a bus stop for the return journey to KK. He kindly assures me that I can obtain a full refund for the RM15 ticket if I present it back at the bus depot.

Walking back down the road (in the middle of nowhere) I can see no sign of a bus stop, but two telephone engineers assure me that I am going the right way. I finally find the corrugated iron shelter of a local bus line and do not have long to wait for a bus. The fare is RM1, but the return journey takes considerably longer than the outward journey. When I see the Beverly Hotel out of the window, I press the button and hop off at the next stop. It is now 11 am and I’ve given up on the Rafflesia plan.

Instead, I nip back into the hotel to pick up my map of Kota Kinabalu and then walk to the Sabah State Museum. I have a hard time finding the entrance and end up asking at the state telephone company gatehouse. The security guard is clearly used to giving directions, but it is still a considerable walk round to the other side of the hill where the museum entrance is.

The museum is reasonably interesting, but very quiet, especially considering that it is a Saturday. It is however not exactly in a prime location, and if my difficulties are anything to go by, other potential visitors could still be wandering about in the street. There is a rather poor exhibition on ghosts and spirits folklore but the natural history section is much better.

(magnify) Traditional Iban longhouse

Alongside is a science and technology exhibition, with an interesting section on the North Borneo Railway, built in the 1890s between Kota Kinabalu and Papar and providing the only transport link into the interior for over half a century. There is an extensive park adjoining the museum complex, including a “cultural village’ – reconstructions of a variety of houses from the various ethnic groups of Borneo. Pride of place is taken by a replica thatched Iban longhouse of the kind I had hoped for at Rumah Bala Lasong.

After the museum, I begin walking towards the water village just behind the hotel to see the stilt houses. But I must have taken a wrong turning after the State Mosque, and end up trudging miles in the sweaty heat along the edge of a dual carriageway.

(magnify) The water village and the Beverly Hotel

Retracing my steps, I finally emerge on the edge of a foul tidal mudflat upon which the village stands. There is rubbish strewn on the mud underneath the houses, which are generally shabby and make-shift in appearance, increasingly so as I walk along the central raised walkway in the direction of the hotel. By the time I near the far end, it has degenerated into a slum, and boards are missing from the walkway. The hotel rises up before me across a broad stretch of water, but I can’t see any connecting route to firm ground from where I am standing. My map is not much help and the walkways have degenerated into a maze of narrow planks nailed precariously above the filthy ooze.

I ask for directions and a young lad offers to show me the way out. Suddenly feeling very vulnerable, I follow him across narrow planks and between shacks, until suddenly I can see the last few planks connecting to dry land. I tip my guide RM1 (he wants $10 but I just smile, thank him and give him the RM1) and with great relief find myself on the main road.

I cool off with a shower back in my room and then go down to the pool for a gentle swim. The pool is on a rooftop terrace. Across the river I can see the slum. The contrast could not be more stark.

Later, I walk back into the city centre for dinner and to have another go at the night market. I want to buy a belt, but most of the ones on display have enormous buckles and designer labels. I finally find something less ostentatious, and then return to the Restoran Sri Melaka to eat.