Let’s ride a motorbike through Borneo
“I was thinking to myself, this is crazy. I’m riding a motorbike through Borneo with two people I met only a few days ago.”
Neil had a valid point. We had only met a few days before, randomly, in a dorm before deciding to climb Mount Kinabalu together in one day. A few days before that, I had met Andrew, a guy from Scotland who had told me he planned to motorbike around Sabah, the northern state of Malaysian Borneo, for a few days. The three of us ended up meeting up by chance back in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah’s largest city, and decided to take the trip together.
Things started to go awry before we even took off. It seemed there was no real need to book a couple bikes ahead of time, so we didn’t. When the morning came that we wanted to get going, of course, the bikes had been rented out. A few were getting fixed in the shop and would be back in the afternoon. We waited.
Finally the bikes arrived and we were off, albeit much later than planned – stopping once in search of rope as the bags were slipping out of place on the back of Neil’s bike. Some friendly locals gave us some and we were on our way again.
The series of unfortunate events
All seemed to be going well until, an hour out of Kota Kinabalu, the back tire of the bike Andrew and I were riding went flat.
Extremely luckily, there was a small convenience store a few meters away that happened to have a pump and spanners. Andrew took the good bike and rode 12km to the closest town in search of a new inner tube for the tire.
Without his wallet.
The shop owner’s wife sat and had a conversation with me while we waited. She called me ‘sister’ and seemed astonished that I had truly traveled the whole of Southeast Asia solo. She expressed concern that we were motorbiking all the way through Sabah. “Very dangerous,” she warned. I assured her that we had known that getting into it.
An hour passed and I started to get a bit concerned. Finally he showed up with a truck following him. A pair of locals had lent him the money for the tube and followed him all the way back to the bikes. Another local fixed the tire for us, expecting no compensation in return.
I had encountered such friendliness amongst locals all over Malaysia, but still, we were blown away.
The rain came and went. The sunset in the sky was brilliant. The surrounding rice paddies and natural beauty was astounding. Just as it became dark, we found ourselves 30km from the Tip of Borneo – our first stop.
Just as we turned onto the bumpy and rocky back road to the tip, the tire popped again.
Neil went ahead with the good bike while Andrew and I stayed behind with the broken one. He pushed the bike and I carried the helmets. We knew it would all work out, and casually admired the starry sky and spoke about life and travels.
Thirty or so minutes later, a pickup truck arrived to save the day (er, night, as it were).
The Tip and the 300km adventure
The next day brought me the most beautiful beach I have encountered in Southeast Asia. I know, I know, I say that all the time, but this beach was simply incredible, almost deserted, and full of white sand and clear blue water.
Neil and Andrew got to work replacing the tire and I got to work taking pictures, because that’s what I do best in these kinds of situations.
See how helpful I was?
From there it was time to take on the next 300km of the journey through palm plantations and general nothingness. The roads were somewhat rough in places, but we managed without breaking any limbs.
Which, I understand, is a good thing, given Andrew had heard that “if you’re going to crash a motorbike in those remote jungles, you’re better off dying than going to a hospital.
The worst was that Neil ran out of gas only a half a kilometer outside of the coastal town of Sandakan, where I parted ways with the boys. They were heading back up to Kota Kinabalu and I would be heading south to dive in Sipadan.
In the end I was thankful for the adventure. Through flat tires, rice paddies, beautiful sunsets, skies full of stars, rainstorms and filthy clothes, it was something I’ll always be glad I did.
Andrew and Neil, I’m left with the same quote running through my head, said by none other than Winnie the Pooh: “As soon as I saw you I knew an adventure was going to happen.”
Do it Yourself:
- There are two places to rent motorbikes and scooters in Kota Kinabalu: Bunibon Backpackers and Gogosabah (be advised this is closed on Sundays). The other option is to rent a car from a stall near the jetty for the best rates.
- Be sure to take extra petrol. We tried to fill empty water bottles at a Shell station and were told ‘no’ by the attendant. They didn’t care at the smaller, more remote petrol stations, however. We needed to fill 4 1-litre bottles to make it between gas stations.
- Bring a rain jacket as you most likely will get rained on.
- Bring an adventurous spirit.