1. After Semporna, our plan was to head back for Brunei, tracing the route we took a few days earlier but turning left at Ranai in order to avoid crossing the Drockers Mountain Range as its higher points. Given the 600 km ahead, we knew we possibly had to break journey at Tenom, to avoid having to travel in the dark.
2. After breakfast, we departed Dragon Inn at Semporna at about 8 am. Up to Ranai it was straightforward as we were backtracking the journey we took a few days earlier. Other than a coffee and a durian break, it was plain hard driving, with Yeow Pheng and I taking turns. Picture on the right shows a Kadazan lady with her kids manning the durian stall.
3. The road after Ranai was rough as stretches of the road were under repair. A year from now, it would be a beautiful drive, along the slopes of the Drocker Mountain Range, overlooking the valley of padi fields. We reached Tenom at about 6 pm, some 500 km from Semporna, as the sky was getting dark. We checked into Perkasa Hotel, probably the best hotel in town, for RM90 a night. Still, the hotel was in real need for a good round of maintenance.
4. Had dinner at a coffee shop in town, just down the slope from the hotel, which appeared to be very popular with Chinese as one family after another walked in for their dinners. After dinner, we played a round of billiard before returning to the hotel for emails and blogging. Spent a good part of the night at the lobby fighting the mosquitoes while we blogged, as wifi was only available there.
5. At 8 am the next day, we headed for Sipitang and continued our journey back to Brunei. At the Sabah/Sarawak checkpoints, we were surprised that we were required to fill up another immigration card in order to enter Sarawak from Sabah, when there was no such requirement when we entered Sabah from Sarawak a few days earlier. Must admit that it was rather confusing, especially for tourists. By about 11 am, we passed Lakiun Camp in Temburong and took a picture at the gate.
6. After lunch at Bangar (picture to the right) in Temburong, we continued our journey through Malaysia's Limbang and was back in Brunei by 1.30 pm. As it was early, we decided to head for Miri, rather than spent the night at Brunei. But before we did, we met Yeow Pheng's friend, Koh Han Tiong, for coffee at Empire Hotel and Country Club.
7. At 3 pm, we left for Miri, heading West along the first class coastal highway, passing Seria Town ( on the right is a money churning "donkey" at work) and Kuala Belait. Immigration was smooth and we were in Miri before 6 pm.
8. Han Tiong had help booked for us a room at Grand Palace Hotel in Miri. It turned out to be a wonderful choice. Quality was 4 star, and at RM 198 a night including breakfast for 2, it was quite a steal.
9. Oct 24 was hectic, not as hard driving as the day before, but plenty of immigration checkpoints. All in, we clear 10 immigration checkpoints in a day, from Sabah to Miri, Sarawak, passing through Brunei twice; and crossing 2 rivers by ferry. Hope one day the immigration procedures will be made easier for tourists. It is a real hassle and is not good for tourism.
10. I was pleasantly surprised with Miri. It looked a fairly well organised and well run town. Roads are wide and neat, with trees and plants on both sides, and flyovers and circles at appropriate points to manage traffic. Few motorcycles and bicycles on the road, mostly cars. Buildings look clean and fairly well maintained. Overall, it looks like a fairly livable town. Our friends in Brunei, however, warned us to be careful with our car, as cars (esp 4x4) were known to have been stolen in Miri. We told ourselves to be careful but not to feel paranoid about it.
11. We took the opportunity to clear our backlog of laundry at Grand Palace Hotel and iron some of our clothes.
12. Oct 25, Day 12: Went to Miri airport to book a flight to Bario, a small settlement in the Kelabit Highlands near the Indonesian border, accessible only by air, about 45 mins flight time from Miri. Expected to see stunning scenery and stay in the long house. We plan to stay a night there. Cost: RM190 return, per pax. Like the rest of Miri, we were impressed with the airport. Its small, but was clean and orderly.
13. Spent the rest of the morning walking the old town, in the vicinity of Jalan Brookes. It was busy time of the day, as many were out there doing their marketing at the 4 nearby markets. A crowd was gathering around a van carrying durians and people were rushing to buy their share of durians; found this rather strange since durians were everywhere.
14. Opposite the Central Market, beneath the high shelter erected to cover the space between 2 rows of shop, were many senior Chinese spending their Sunday morning playing chess or catching up with their friends over coffee. We sat down for a cup of real Kopitiam coffee. It was the best we had since we started our journey.
15. Near a temple and behind a market, away from public view, was a crowd with young and old people bending over 2 gaming tables and placing their bets. It just confirmed what I read a couple of years ago that, among the various races, the Chinese has the highest propensity to gamble. It was recreation, on a Sunday morning.
16. We dropped by the Tourists Visitor Centre too, to pick up some brochures and find out what Miri has to offer. Jusup, the officer on duty, was very friendly and helpful. Jusup was from Lun Bawang, not far from Bario and spoke very good English.