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Full Circle

Day 105: Sandakan, Sabah

Michael Palin - Full CircleThe first buildings slide into view. The silver-grey minaret and dome of a thoroughly modern mosque dominates the northern headland, a Chinese temple straddles the ridge behind the city and along the shore is a long line of houseboats. Then the unlovely concrete blocks of Sandakan begin to emerge from the wet low cloud. High-rise blocks, grander than anything in Zamboanga.

The docks are at the far end of town. They are scrupulously clean. The stevedores wear matching green anoraks with black hoods. A police vehicle with a dog in the back waits on the quayside. There are two or three other people buttoned up against the rain. After Zamboanga it's like a morgue.

We are met by Philip Yong, a studious Chinese in his early forties, born and brought up in Sarawak, who will be our guide through Malaysian Borneo. He it is who tells me that this continuous rain is quite common. The state of Sabah may be just south of the typhoon belt, but it's not quite far north enough to avoid the monsoon. Borneo in a monsoon sounds exotic but the streets of Sandakan could be in Surrey. Raised kerbstones, neat road-markings, clipped verges, lawns, herbaceous borders and civic clocks abound.

After the rigours of the Danica Joy, the Renaissance Hotel is a palace. After a hot bath and a good scrub, I stand at the window marvelling at the soaring beauty of the rain forest outside. Tall, elegant trees with bare chalky barks rising from thick, impenetrable cover. An emerald forest indeed.

Fall asleep to the steady, persistent sound of rain plopping onto my balcony.
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  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 105
  • Country/sea: Malaysia
  • Place: Sandakan
  • Book page no: 149

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