Kristin Addis is a former investment banker who sold all of her belongings and bid California goodbye in favour of searching solo through Asia for off-the-beaten path adventures. There’s almost nothing she won’t try and almost nowhere she won’t explore. Please enjoy this week-in-the-life of Kristin in Malaysia!
Day 1 – Sunday
8:00am – I blink my eyes awake a few times in the silence of my dorm room. Neil must already be up making preparations. I am lazily lying in bed hoping for another half-hour of shut-eye when he comes back into the room and asks if I’m ready for breakfast.
Neil and I met several days prior and had ended up splitting the cost of a guide to summit Mount Kinabalu, Southeast Asia’s tallest mountain, together.
Prior to that, I had met Andrew in the same guesthouse. He told me he had grand plans to motorbike around Sabah, the northern state of Borneo. I introduced Andrew and Neil, and a plan came together: we would all bike Borneo together.
10:00am – We find out that taking off prior to noon isn’t happening, as the only two places that rent out motorbikes in Kota Kinabalu are either closed, or having the bikes serviced. We go for some roti canai and iced Milo (a thin, naan-like flaky flat bread with daal and iced chocolate milk) while we wait.
1:30pm – The bags are tied to the back of Neil’s bike and Andrew hops in the driver’s seat of the other. I jump on behind him and we are on our way.
2:30pm – A local drives past and points at our back tire, gesturing that there is a problem.
Sure enough, the tire is flat. Luckily we find a few locals who have a pump and spanner in a little outpost nearby. All we need is a new inner tube. Andrew sets off in search for one – without his wallet.
3:30pm – Andrew drives back with a truck of locals behind him. They lent him money for the inner tube and followed him back to us, about 12km away. We are blown away by how kind they are.
Another local gets started on fixing the tire while his wife chats with me.
“Sister,” she says “I hear you travel alone? You just meet these men?” I explain the situation and my travel style to her and she smiles at me and praises my bravery. I brush it off. I never feel that I’m all that brave, just too impatient to travel with others over the long-term.
3:45pm – A few minutes later he is finished fixing our tire and wants nothing from us for his help. We are again on our way, amazed by how kind everyone in Malaysia is towards us.
7:30pm – After a dazzling sunset while whizzing through rice paddies and getting through sometimes-bumpy roads, the stars come out and we turn towards the back-country road to the tip of Borneo.
The tire pops again.
8:30pm – Several locals with either full or too-small cars have stopped to see if we need help. There’s not much they can do, so Neil carries on to find some help while Andrew pushes the bike and I carry the helmets.
9:30pm – A pickup truck comes to our rescue. We check in at a guesthouse for the night and fall fast asleep.
Day 2 – Monday
9:00am – It’s time to play in the bathwater ocean before we worry too much about the flat tire. We take in the absolute beauty that is the Tip of Borneo. Though I had spent several months traveling around the beaches of Cambodia, Thailand, and peninsular Malaysia, nothing compares to this pristine beach with perfectly clear water, completely devoid of other tourists.
12 noon – Andrew and Neil take care of the tire while I take photos. They are useful in the way that they know best and I’m useful in the way that I know best.
6:00pm – we arrive in the nondescript town of Kota Murudu. Andrew wants to press on, and Neil wants to stay put for the evening as there are nothing but small towns left until Sandakan, 300km away. We decide Neil knows best and stay put for the night, grabbing a few beers and eating Chinese food.
Day 3 – Tuesday
9:00am – We start off early as we have about 300km to cover to get to Sandakan.
2:00pm – We pull off the road as we have gone about 170km through palm oil plantations and are starving. A local woman and a few children come out to greet us. News spreads that there are foreigners around and more children pour in to watch us talk and eat. There is a language barrier but I know the words for ‘noodles,’ ‘chicken,’ and ‘fried,’ in Malay and order us three dishes of mee goreng ayam.
5:30pm – we pull into town after weathering a few storms. We’re streaked with dirt and sweaty, but happy to have made it without another flat tire. Neil runs out of gas and has to wheel himself to the nearest petrol station. It’s all in a day’s journey.
Day 4 – Wednesday
10:00am – We find some breakfast and wander around town. There’s not much to see so we rest a little longer and wait for 2pm to head to the Orangutan Sanctuary where we hear there is a 3 o’clock feeding.
3:00pm – We arrive for the feeding and I’m instantly turned off by the hoards of tourists. It feels more to me like a zoo than a sanctuary.
8:00pm – I negotiate with a local to take me to the bus station in the morning for 3 RM (about a dollar). I meet a guy from Tasmania in our guesthouse lobby and invite him to join us for dinner. I don’t know it yet, but I’ll end up running into him again a week later back in Kota Kinabalu.
Day 5 – Thursday
6:00am – I wake up early and bid Neil and Andrew goodbye. This is where we part ways. They will continue back up to Kota Kinabalu and I am heading south to Mabul Island to dive Sipadan. This is the reason why I initially came to Borneo – it is supposed to be the best in the world.
4:30pm – I pull up in the dive boat to Mabul. It is absolutely stunning. I meet a few fellow divers and we buy a few rounds of Carlsberg beer and trade stories. They tease me for my American accent, and I mimic their English ones. It’s all in good fun.
Day 6 – Friday
8:30am – I roll backwards off the dive boat while holding my gear in place – mask and regulator covered by one hand and my weight belt covered with the other.
We descend down several meters and I see some familiar favorites of mine – puffer fish.
12:30pm – It’s time to dive the Awas site – named ‘caution’ for the boat traffic. I absolutely love this dive and am amazed by the giant sea turtles, one of which is about as wide as I am long, and the adorable sea horses. It doesn’t get much better than this, or so I thought.
8:00pm – It’s time for another round of Carlsberg and debate about the English language. Laughter abounds as well as stories of what each of us saw diving that day.
Day 7 – Saturday
6:15am – Today is the day that I will dive Sipadan. I awake with excitement and make my way to the pier.
12 noon – It all happens more quickly than I can process it. Giant bump head parrot fish swim behind me. A sea turtle swims so closely by me that he almost touches me while I float, completely still, mesmerized by him. Immediately a giant school of barracuda swim past. I narrowly avoid several territorial Trigger fish who are beautiful but have a mean bite. Reef sharks galore swim past us. I am amazed by the sheer volume of beautiful fish in this pristine slice of ocean.
I swim through another school of silver Jack Fish and finally, we pass into the blue – meaning there is nothing above or around us, and I look up at the surface of the ocean above me.
In that moment I close my eyes and feel intensely happy. I always have trouble truly living in the moment, but right now, all I can think about is what is immediately surrounds me. I backwards somersault in the water and can’t help smiling. When I finally ascend, my cheeks hurt from all of the grinning.
Every place I’ve traveled to during my nine months in Southeast Asia has moved me in some way. This week in Malaysia showed me that beautiful, kind people are still out there in this world, ready to lend a helping hand. I wonder if I’ll ever dive in a place as beautiful as Sipidan again. I’ll find out, because in three weeks, I plan to dive in Komodo, Indonesia.
Next up for Kristin is a trip to one of the diving meccas of the world, the Maldives. From there she will continue to explore Southeast Asia, covering countries she hasn’t yet seen, such as the Philippines and Vietnam. You can follow her story on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Kristin is also an avid travel blogger; check out Be My Travel Muse for more.