Paradise found at the tip of Borneo

March 7th, 2011 | Posted by greg in Travel

Night butterfly on the wall

We were told the rainy season was about to be done, so rightfully, we were expecting rain patches here and there. With luck, the only rain we witnessed was either at night when we were fast asleep, or on the last day, on our way to Kota Kinabalu airport.

Just in case we didn't know!

The first surprise we had was to find out how remote our rented house (Hibiscus Villa) was from the rest of Earth. It was a (very) bumpy 3.5 hours drive from Kota Kinabalu during which sleeping was not an option. A good part of the road was just stones and gravels and the house itself is located amongst a local village where people still go to a common water well to do their cleaning. We arrived in Kudat and drove a further half hour to find our splendid accommodation.

We were 5 minutes away from the tip of Borneo. Beautiful scenic spot where offshore winds and tranquility meets.

Our villa was straight in the middle of the jungle, full of hibiscus plants and other unreal gigantic trees and flowers. Without hunting for it, there was plenty of wildlife around… I could photograph a black squirrel, giant grasshopper, (loud) frogs, night butterfly, but wasn’t fast enough (..ok, ok… I stopped breathing for the whole 2 minutes encounter hoping the snake would go away!) to shoot a photo of the Spitting Cobra we’ve met on our way to the tip of Borneo

Beside that stunning and immense demonstration from Mother Nature, I could also witness first-hand the incredible stupidity of human and the damages from the wrongly-named palm tree bio fuel industry left in the area. It has nothing bio about it. On the opposite of the Indonesian Masarang palm tree community, I could see huge scars through the native rain forest with places where my eyes couldn’t see the end of it covered with growing young palm trees. An economy that is just luring the poor local community into a dead-end trail. They are not to be blamed of course, but rather the authority who makes them believe this is the future. It takes 30 years to obtain a fully grown palm tree, and the damage that have been done to the rain forest are simply irreversible.

The local markets

On the first day, I was eager to discover what the local food was all about. Our villa manager, Howard, proposed a visit to a few local markets, including the fruit and vegetables market, the fish market and the surrounding local craft market.

The markets were absolutely amazing, full of life and genuinely friendly people. Everything seemed so cheap for us, coming from Hong Kong and Switzerland. As I was strolling down each aisle, needless to say that I made some merchant very happy on that day! We bought tons of food, not really knowing what we would do with everything, but with lemongrass, curries, spices, local vegetable, garlic, coconut, local rice, pandan leaves and a stunning freshly caught fish – there was little that could go wrong!

The fish market was great! Lots of freshly caught fishes and seafood. It was the season of squid and we’ve had a lot of them. Amongst the amazing selection there was one let down; a hammer-head shark without his fins. We all know what happened and it made me sad to see this.

We also tried the local tobacco rolled in dried pandan leaves. Although we selected the finest tobacco leaves available, it was a bit acidic and without much flavor.


The food

Talk about truly Asia! Wow! I loved the food from day one. We had a local chef coming to our villa on request and although we tried to ask him to cook something more western for a few lunches, I guess our luck was that he couldn’t cook much western food. So we ended up having Malay food in every sense of the way! Any type of fish he would do, including the amazing fish soup he did with ginger, scallion, coriander and chili or the sort of local Ceviche (sorry, I am very bad with name) raw fish, cooked by lemon juice with lemon grass, chili, shallots… were simply stunning!

Curries were also part of everyday meal: Chicken, fish, beef, you name it. Different flavors, balances, beautiful…

The most impressive ingredient I tried there was the local honey. I can only imagine that with such a powerful ecosystem in place the bees must be in paradise too! The honey was a pure work of art. Liquid, of dark gold amber, filled in a glass bottle resembling a clear glass beer bottle, it had an acidic touch, yet a gentle finishing flavor. In one word: unique!

Our drink snack was freshly harvested peanuts, very pleasant, cheap and almost addicting! We also had these giant coconut wafers! Better than any cookies around!

Desserts were local rice based desserts; not my favorite, but Chef prepared local fresh fruits such as pineapple, papaya or pomelo that were all very good indeed!

Another surprise we had was the visit of the coconut king! Or how they say in Malay “Kalapa King”. He climbed bare foot and bare hands a few coconut trees that were at least 25 meters tall. He lifted down a few bunch of young coconut for us to sip by the pool. It doesn’t get any fresher than this! The wind was blowing and the tip of the tree was balancing quite a lot. If I ever was able to climb up there, I am sure of 2 things: 1) The tree would have broke under my weight. 2) I would have fainted by the simple motion of the tree in the wind! That young man was simply amazing! After drinking the coconut milk, the king of coconut split the shells in halves and we munched happily on the fresh coconut meat – succulent!

I am writing another post to talk about the local community, Howard and the Emmanuel Homes. A touching story with people needing our help.

Below are the photos packed in a slideshow – no special effect whatsoever – it’s all real Malaysia!!

[picasa width=”700″ height=”500″ bgcolor=”#000000″ autoplay=”1″ showcaption=”1″ user=”” album=”es_TheTipOfBorneo”]


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4 Responses

  • I love the market, beautiful flowers, fresh coconuts, what a paradise ~ can feel how u enjoy the trip !

  • Natnatf says:


    It’s really an interesting and a stunning travel experience!!!

    If I were you, I thought I would faint in front of the Cobra which must be very scary, OMG!!!

    The local market sounds very attractive, did you find anything new or good for baking or dessert making?

    Thanks for sharing with us about your trip, looking forward to watching the Part II !

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