I have, in the past, made many trips to The Land Beneath The Winds, Sabah, and sad as it may be, the furthest I have ever been inland has been to Ranau, and even that was enroute to Mount Kinabalu. If passing thru can be considered as ‘been to’, that is.
But then again, that should not come as a surprise, as I can safely say that since all these trips were business trips, to fly in and fly out again within a space of less than 24 hours, is the norm.
Since time is a priceless commodity and to therefore be able to spend time catching the sights is just that : priceless.
Therefore, Sabah, for me thus far, has always been about Kota Kinabalu and as any Sabahan can and will tell you, Sabah is much, much more than that.
Especially if they are NOT from KK, as Kota Kinabalu is often referred to. And that I must totally agree. Even before this trip.
This time around, the trip I am taking is no different from my trips in the past with the exception that this time, I am off to the parts of Sabah I have never been to : the eastern coast of Sabah. Scheduled for five days, it is a working trip with overnights scheduled at Lahad Datu, Semporna and Tawau.
Since I was going to be in Sabah for more two days, amongst the more important things that I had to prep myself was the fact that the sun rises early in Sabah as compared to Cyberjaya or Johor Bahru, for that matter.
Not only were the towns of Lahad Datu, Semporna and Tawau lie further east than Cyberjaya or Johor Bahru, and that the sun DOES rise in the east, there is also that little matter of the clocks in Peninsular Malaysia being synchronized with Sabah’s and Sarawak’s since 1 January 1982. Hence, a little adjustment to the body clock would be required.
My journey began from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KUL), boarding a Malaysiaairlines flight to the Kota Kinabalu International Airport (BKI), from where I then took a flight onwards to Lahad Datu (LDU) via Mas Wings, a subsidiary of Malaysiaairlines specifically serving destinations in Sabah.
Thanks to technological enhancements, checking-in was done in the peace and quiet of my humble SoHo in Cyberjaya, making my main concern thereafter was to make my way past security, in time to catch my scheduled flight to KK.
The experiences and the knowledge gained over the last one year, of flying in and out of Malaysian airports, stood me in good stead.
In that time, I have gotten quite adept at taking off my belt, emptying my pockets, taking off my watch and putting them back on or in again, all of which with improvingly good times.
All in the name of security and catching my flight in good time.
The flight to KK was nothing out of the ordinary, even for the few bumps somewhere up there somewhere. The pilot, being THE pilot, assured us that it was nothing out of the ordinary. Must have learnt that in flying school, assuring skittish passengers whenever there are bumps up in the air.
Upon landing at KK International and getting immigration issues out of the way, I proceeded to the waiting area for the onward flight to Lahad Datu.
Boarding the Mas Wings connecting flight to Lahad Datu was no different to boarding FireFly flights, the other subsidiary of Malaysiaairlines.
If the cabin crew of FireFly adorn those bright orange attire, the Mas Wings cabin crew were likewise strikingly attired in their bright green blouses and navy blue pants.
The forty-minute flight to Lahad Datu was non-eventful and took us over green covered hills. However, it being that time of the year, it would inconceivable if we did not experience a few bumps as well as we made our way to Lahad Datu.
To be honest, I did not know what to expect when I finally get to Lahad Datu, what with the memories of the 2013 Lahad Datu Incursion still fresh in my mind, if not most. So fresh that I so much so half expected to land at a Lahad Datu airport fully manned by military personnel.
Having landed at Lahad Datu Airport, I made my way on foot to the interior of the airport. No frills and as I entered the airport’s interior, lo and behold, the only guy in full uniform that I saw was this friendly elderly policeman, dressed in Royal Malaysian Police blue.
The airport itself is nondescript and personally, I would not blame anyone if they had thought they were at a bus terminal and not an airport. Judging by the main building itself, that is.
I did not hail for an e-ride to the hotel, but took an airport taxi instead. The taxi ride to the hotel was an eye opener. Like I said, I did not know what to expect but from what I can make out, Lahad Datu is no different to any other, and forgive me for saying so, small town that you can find all over Malaysia : slow paced. Except for the presence of an airport, that is.
Yep, that one is different.
For all purpose and intention, Lahad Datu is a town in the process of rejuvenation. New additions to the old town of Lahad Datu are being slowly but surely put into place, with emphasis on commercial and small businesses to shift the local economy up a gear. Businesses that we from the ‘big towns’, take for granted. Like a cinema.
I half expected to see lots of military personnel in and about town, when I first set foot in Lahad Datu. From the locals, I gather that there is still a military presence in Lahad Datu but they are well hidden from public view, to sort of give a perception of everyday life as per normal as possible.
Since Lahad Datu is a coastal town, a visit to the waterfront is a must. Tide was in and what with the rain and all, it made for a good photo op : dark skies and all.
It might be some time before I set my foot in Lahad Datu again. If ever that opportunity presents itself, that is. But I hope when that day comes, Lahad Datu would have woken up from its enforced slumber, with the 2013 incursion firmly a footnote in the history books. So much potential there and would hate for it to go to waste.