Today we started the most worrying leg of our road trip – the road from Tawau to Keningau.
Why is it worrying?
Firstly, there are no petrol stations along the 340km route. So if you ever drive this road, be sure to fill up a full tank first at your starting point.
We were pleasantly surprised to find this petrol station sign on the road to Keningau, but there’s no petrol station there yet.
Secondly, we read reviews of this road online, and found that there are a lot of heavy vehicles on this road. This meant slower travel time, and poorer road conditions.
We were right. There were countless segments of unpaved roads with numerous potholes. So many that Baby Crab asked Baby Tilapia to stop driving for fear of damaging the car with his inexperience, and she would take over.
The wonderful thing about this road is that when the roads are paved, you hardly see any oncoming cars. Maybe about once every 4-5 minutes.
Most of the drive is you alone with your thoughts. And disappearing motorbikes. One minute he was behind us, the next minute he had completely vanished.
You see some nice bridges too.
The highlight of our ride was when we passed by 2 adult Caucasians, trying to hitch a ride along the very empty Jalan Tawau-Keningau. They also had a young child in tow, so we could be quite sure they were safe to pick up.
And we did.
That’s how we got to meet Dmitri and Catherine, a couple of yoga teachers from Russia, who have been in Borneo since June, and who have been travelling like this for the past five years.
Like us, they too were headed for Keningau. We traded stories of our various adventures. They have been making theirs available on Instagram. Their handle is @sunandsun.family
We were curious. We wanted to know how they funded this lifestyle of theirs.
First, they walked a lot and hitchhiked. Second, they used Couchsurfing and stayed with locals. Third, they taught yoga.
They also told us from their travels in Borneo that if a village has mainly Malays, the animals surrounding the village are safer than if the village has mainly Chinese people. Because Chinese people eat everything!
We shared how locals here told us that what we’ve been doing — a road trip around Sabah — is dangerous. Dmitri said that in his years of travel, he learned that this is political. In the sense that people from one village will say that the other village is dangerous. And when you go to the next village, people there will say the other village is dangerous.
At the end of the day, we’re all humans, and we fear what we don’t know. And the people in charge use fear to control their people, keep them afraid of others, easy to manage and keep them loyal.
Dmitri and Catherine have been travelling together for longer than their daughter has been alive.
We dropped the family off in Keningau where we had a late lunch. We then decided not to stay in Keningau, but to make an impromptu trip back to Kundasang because we loved the weather there.
Dinner at Ranau revealed a surprising observation.
These two dishes cost RM22. It was purchased in an ordinary hawker centre where locals are.
It’s very expensive!
How do the locals live like this, where wages are low and food prices are high?
It’s tough. It’s a more costly standard of living than what people living and working in Singapore face.
More than a few locals have told us, “It’s not how much you earn that matters, but how much you save.”
Words of wisdom for any stage in life.
We ended up staying in the Zen Garden Resort where we first stayed in Kundasang. It’s an OYO hotel, one of the many we’ve been stayed at.
We’ve figured out OYO’s business model. They buy over or enter into partnership with hotels that are not doing well. They spruce up the place, compete on price by having high volume.
We figured this out at Zen Garden Resort where clearly it was once a fairly luxurious hotel that has fallen into disarray, possibly due to the very competitive hospitality industry in Kundasang. There are so many home stays here! And some are so popular that they are no longer listed on Agoda, Booking.com or Hotels.com.
Zen Garden Resort gave us a very decent price for its large hotel room and splendid views of Mount Kinabalu in the morning. So good we stayed here again.
Tomorrow, we head towards Kudat to visit the Tip of Borneo, and make unexpected friends.