Friday, January 28, 2011

Malaysia First Impressions



The hotel offers a simple breakfast of Western and Asian fare. First item on the agenda is to find a SIM card for the Malaysian phone which will require a walk in to town. Kota Kinabalu, a coastal city and capital of Sabah, was most certainly not designed for foot traffic. We don’t see a traffic signal for many blocks and the sidewalks are uneven and absent in areas. Crossing the main street in front of the hotel is a major challenge and we quickly learn that standing on the edge of the road waiting for traffic to clear is not the correct solution unless you have an entire day to spare. We end up doing the quick dash across the 3 lanes of traffic and as the day goes on, learn to do the lane by lane crossing method of the locals. The plan is to go to the Jettison Harbor and take a ferry to one of the islands. At the harbor office, we discover that Gaya Island, the largest island is a private resort, accessible only through the resort boats. In order to get to the opposite side of the island where people live in traditional houses on stilts, we would have to charter a ride with a private boat and we are somewhat leery of doing so. The other islands are forested with beaches for snorkeling. After spending some time on the pier, we decide to walk the town instead. Walking does not appear to be a favorite pastime of residents as it is warm and very humid; the shopping mall is where most people hang out. I now understand why Ray spends his life in a shopping mall when in Malaysia!

We walk through the large city market, a covered expanse of small stalls selling fruits, vegetables, dry goods and meats, and we see how local Malays shop. You can find just about any kind of foodstuff in the street market.

In contrast, the mall is a 8-10 story affair, with offices on the top 4 levels and an assortment of shops on the lower 4. As you go up the levels, the stores are more upscale, with Starbucks, Puma, Adidas etc. on the upper level. I am delighted to find some sandals at a price of $8US.

Sitting at Starbucks, we surf the net and find a well rated place for dinner. It is a bit of a challenge finding it and we sort of end up there, not realizing where we were. It is a bit like an open market with restaurants along the inside walls, a corrugated metal roof on top and whirring fans. Tables are shared by the restaurants. Fish tanks are at one end. You select your fish, and place your order. The food is acceptable, not fancy, but filling and fresh; the ambience interesting. The hotel employees are having their annual party and we laugh as we walk by - all of them are dressed in Western gear, cowboys in jeans and hats. Thus ends our first day in Malaysia.

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