Sunday, 28 March 2010

Into Sabah

After breakfast on 'Pandaw' on Sunday, we were all going our separate ways. Transport to Sibu Airport had been arranged for us by 'Pandaw', with departures from the ship at different times, to suit the flight each group was booked on. I was booked to leave the ship at 8.30 a.m. to catch the Kota Kinabulu flight, travelling in the same minibus as the American Party who were flying to Kuching. Most of the crew and our guides were on hand to say goodbye as we drove away from the landing stage. There are a few pictures on the journey here.

On arrival at Sibu Airport, we were assisted as far as check-in by one of the friendly minibus drivers and then directed into the 'Otis' lift to the first floor to go into the Departures Hall. The Americans were able to go straight into the Departures Hall but, because I was flying to a different state (Sabah), I had to wait for the immigration officials to come on duty. Once the immigration staff were present, I caught up with my American friends as we waited for our flights to be called. More passengers from 'Pandaw' arrived, either booked on my flight or later flights to Kuching or Kota Kinabulu. My pictures at Sibu Airport are here.

My MASwings flight was called a little late. We walked across the apron to our aircraft in broiling sun. The aircraft was one of their new ATR72-500. I took my seat - the other eleven seats in Business Class were empty but the rest of the aircraft appeared full. I had a simple but pleasant enough meal during the flight and then we descended to Kota Kinabulu airport.

I was surprised at how large the terminal building was - it was clearly quite new. My pictures of the airport are here. When we disembarked, we had a fair walk to baggage reclaim and, once I'd retrieved my bag, it was into the Arrivals Hall, where I quickly spotted a man holding up a sign with my name. As we set off from the airport, I asked how long the journey would take. 'Depend on the traffic' he replied 'Maybe one hour'. Whereas Kota Kinabulu airport is quite close on the south side of the town, Shangri La's Rasa Ria Resort lies some distance north of the town. We did lose some time in Sunday traffic jams negotiating the town but the driver pointed out some features of the town as we passed - all shopping opportunities.

Kota Kinabulu is rather as I imagined Kuching would be - lots of modern development catering for foreigh tourists and most of the original buildings lost. In this case, I gather it was bombing during World War 2 which destroyed the buildings. I hope it's not too unkind to say that it struck me as a cross between Las Vegas and Dubai, built on a budget. My pictures are here.

Eventually, we passed the Dusit Golf Club and the Rasa Ria Resort was a little further on. All the hotel staff on hand welcomed me and it was only after my luggage had been unloaded and my car had gone that we discovered I was at the wrong reception. Shangri-La now have two hotels side by side. The Garden Wing was opened in 1996 and has about 100 rooms but about three years ago, they added the Ocean Wing to one side with another 90 rooms together with its own access and reception. However, all the other facilities, like restaurants, are within the original Garden Wing. The girl on reception was most apologetic that they'd not spotted the error before my car had left, but she summoned a hotel minibus to transfer me and my luggage across. Whilst waiting, a number of the 'Pandaw' passengers arrived from the airport in their minibus and I greeted them briefly before taking the short additional trip to the Ocean Wing.

Although everybody was charming and I was given a welcome drink whilst the formalities were completed, two aspects of the process grated with me. Firstly, although the room charge was prepaid some time ago, they insisted on taking a 'security deposit' of around 150 USD to cover incidentals. Secondly, I had to sign what I regarded as a rather broad indemnity absolving the hotel from most of what you would have thought were its reasonable responsibilities. I always feel that these signs of mistrust by a hotel undermine their other efforts to make you feel welcome.

The room was fairly spacious with a decent bed. The bathroom was well-appointed and the W.C. was fitted with a Royal Toto RB900 made in Korea, I think, the land of the Etiquette Bell. The shower was a decent size, with fixed and moveable shower heads. But who decided to put the two-person tiled bath outside on the balcony? It seems a nice idea except that all the balconies on five floors face the swimming pool and various footpaths, so are in fairly plain view. They've 'fixed' this problem by fitting two electrically-operated blinds which give some privacy but also cut off the view when you're in the bath. My pictures at Rasa Ria are here.

The room came with a plug-in LAN connection running at 1GB/s which gives reasonably good internet access, so I was able to upload a fair number of pictures and correct at least some of the problems I'd been having because of the rather erratic internet access on 'Pandaw' and the problems with my Notebook computer.

I slept well (although not for very long) unsure whether I'd want to face the long journey into Kota Kinabalu the next day or whether I would just savour the facilities of the Resort.