You read right - we left China and are now in Malaysia, on the island of Borneo in a city called Kota Kinabalu. Its 85 F (30 C) degrees with 70% humidity as I sit here in the hotel lobby typing this blog. For now it's a MUCH welcome change from the 25 F (-3 C) degrees in Beijing.
So why the big change? Well, we weren't planning on making this big of a jump but two themes kept replaying. First, after getting to China and investigating the many sites and activities across the country, most of them would just be better with nicer weather - hiking, biking, exploring parks and temples, boats down the Yangtze, etc. So, with Steph's just-in-case planning in getting us a double-entry Chinese visa, we decided we would see Beijing now and then come back and enjoy the rest of the country in a couple months. Second, we were just flat tired of the cold!
We found a shockingly cheap flight on JetStar to Singapore and then another cheap flight over to Borneo. Done. Now the new plan is to work our way back up South East Asia where the weather is warm.
With our cheap fights to Kota Kinabalu, we had an odd 2:50am departure from Beijing and a long transfer in Singapore. However, we did get one small surprise. Singapore Airport. This is a dream airport for a layover. It's geared to be peaceful and help you pass the time. They have a tropical butterfly garden (photo above), free foot massages, free movie theatre, roof top swimming pool, koi fish pond, outdoor cactus garden, sunflower garden, little crafts stations, the works! Plus to top it off they play serene tranquil music throughout the entire place. Lounging around you feel like you are floating on cloud 9. For all the stress in travel, this is a good place to relax.
Upon arrival in Kota Kinabalu at 9pm we had one big problem. We didn't have ANY warm weather clothes. Shorts - no, Sandals - no, and it was 79 degrees...at night.
First things first, we put on the only t-shirts we had and headed to the outdoor clothes market to pick up some shorts (and a dress for Steph). A little bad haggling later we both had a new, more suitable outfit, changed clothes and headed for dinner.
Across the street was a huge fish restaurant / market. I really don't know how to describe this place. It's a big outdoor structure with a mass of tables in the middle and fish restaurants surrounding it to make 3 sides of a square. Out front of all the restaurants are lots of aquariums stocked full of seafood where you choose what you want to eat. Talk about a new experience. On top of the normal 10 people all trying to get you in their restaurant, you had to choose the live fish you wanted to eat! The selection was huge but we had no idea which fish was what. After finally choosing a place and sitting down to see the menu, we settled on a Black Pepper Beef dish with vegetable fried rice (because the seafood seemed strangely expensive and we weren't up for the challenge at 10pm). It turned out to be a good decision not only because our dish was very tasty but the hostel owner told us afterwards that you could easily be ripped off buying seafood.
To eat seafood there you must always do the following: Choose your exact fish from the tank. Literally point to it and watch them take it out of the tank. The fish is priced per 100 grams so you have to watch them weight it and get an exact price for that fish. From there the haggling kicks in. You can negotiate a better price for the fish and all the extras you want with it - cooking style ( fried, boiled, steamed, bbq ), side dishes, dipping sauces, the works. Once you agree a final price then you just have to hope they bring you the same fish on the plate.
Here is a short video clip of the Night Fish Market here in Kota Kinabalu to give you a better idea.
Sounds interesting for sure, but we think we'll now opt for the restaurant the hostel owner recommended to us - its much cheaper he said.
Now off to source a new tropical wardrobe...