We should have gone to the Phillipines...
Sandakan, Malaysian Borneo, is a strong candidate for the ugliest city on earth. For some reason we selected Malaysian Borneo from the alternative choices of Sulawesi and the Philippines as the location to meet 3 of our friends from home who were flying out for a week of sun, sand and fun. In retrospect, this was the wrong destination on all accounts. Sun: it was monsoon season; sand: beaches were apparently scarce and inaccessible; fun: being an Islamic state, alcohol was hard to come by and night life barely existent. Still, we endeavoured to make the most of it...
We arrived in Sandakan at 6pm on a weekday and were dismayed to find that the town was dead except for 2 canteens which promptly closed before we had time to finish eating. Trusting the Lonely Planet's description of the neighbouring night life district which was apparently packed with clubs and bars, frequented by expats - we headed down there in search of better things. Disappointingly, this in fact turned out to be a few empty clubs and karaoke bars-cum-brothels bursting with Chinese hookers in obscene hot pants and overweight, sleazy Chinese men (with a distinct absence of expats or in fact respectable human beings of any description). Needless to say, we stuck out like a sore thumb. Braving the karaoke we decided to make the most of the situation. The first blow came when we discovered that they only served beer; it then became clear that we were actually expected to participate in karaoke...at least our attempt couldn't be any worse than the screeching with reckless abandon we had already borne witness to...we hoped.
The Kinabatangan river was our next destination and is one of the main attractions in Borneo where wild elephants and crocodiles, among other wildlife, roam freely in abundance and are guaranteed to be seen on a boat ride through the river (so we were informed). After the third boat cruise and witnessing the 50th kingfisher, with no manifestation of elephants or crocodiles we were quite frankly losing the ability to be excited by tiny, colourful birds (also it had failed to stop raining for the entire time).
Despite being a tropical island, Borneo has a distinct lack of accessible beaches. Nevertheless, the Lonely Planet (yes, foolishly we still trusted their recommendations) described an untouched island close to Sandakan that was easily reached by boat. Excited by the prospect of a beach (and the fact that it stopped raining for all of 4 hours), it was hardly the tropical paradise we had expected....Barely 10cm of sand, littered with trash. Our ever hospitable boat driver offered to take us to a 'better' island for double the price (clearly it had been an elaborate scam from the beginning). Out of desperation we agreed to this arse rape of a deal. After approximately 1 hour of waiting around, changing boats, an exchange of cash between too many hands and a painfully slow boat ride through coral, we eventually reached the 'better' island. Indeed, so much better that it had a 3 metre patch of sand without any trash.
Collectively, we have never been so happy to leave a holiday destination. Warning: if you're considering going to Borneo - just don't. Go to the Phillipines instead.