Before leaving Kota Kinabalu, we telephoned ahead to our next lodging – the Kuala Penyu Tempurung Seaside Lodge – to arrange a pickup once we arrived in Kuala Penyu. We needed to do this, since there are few transport options in the area around Kuala Penyu- even taxis are difficult to find.
We were told to ask our bus to stop at the “Turtle” roundabout in Kuala Penyu, so-called because of the 3 stone turtles in the center (see image above). Kuala Penyu actually translates as Turtle Estuary. The pickup would cost us RM15 from the roundabout.
Travelling from Kota Kinabalu
We walked from the Oceania Hotel to the main bus stop in the center of Kota Kinabalu, located in a little green park area. After purchasing our bus tickets from a booth, we waited in the shade of the trees for our bus. It took around 2 hours to travel down the coast to our destination, where our bus driver dropped us off on the Kuala Penyu roundabout.
After just a few minutes a driver arrived from the lodging we’d booked, and we were on our way again: this time only around 15 minutes.
Arriving at the Kuala Penyu Tempurung Seaside Lodge
The Borneo Tempurung Seaside Lodge is built into a steep mountain overlooking a sand beach that stretches as far as the eye can see in both directions. The place was very quiet when we arrived, and we manoeuvred our way up a steep and narrow wooden gangway to reach the reception.
We were given a basic but comfortable lodge high up on the hill. The young staff were friendly and helpful, and we were looking forward to our stay. In all, we had a 4-night stay at the Kuala Penyu Tempurung Seaside Lodge. The cost was €66 per night for 2 sharing a lodge, including breakfast and evening meal.
During our staff, the place never got very busy, which suited us fine. Most guests seem to stay for just a couple of nights, and the weekends tend to be a little busier.
Each evening, our table was beautifully prepared for us on the large veranda overlooking the sunset. The food comprised simple Malay recipes, and was very enjoyable. Beer and wine is also available, with a decent selection of Australian reds (drinks were billed separately, though they offer complimentary tea/coffee and water).
Breakfast was also prepared in the same way, with a choice of Asian or Western food (simple toast, eggs, coffee/tea, fruit). One night, they arranged a barbecue including a variety of fish and meat.
You are quite cut off from everything here: There are no bars or restaurants for many miles around, and the closest shops and market are in Kuala Penyu. There are also very few tourists, and although the Lodge offers an variety of excursions (trekking, river cruises, island visits, etc) the main attraction here is the unspoilt nature itself.
Inside the Lodge, you can find a pool table and tv room/library.
The Kuala Penyu Beaches
We spent literally hours on our first day exploring the beach in an easterly direction. We covered around 6 miles before turning back. In that time we saw no more than a handful of locals, fishing or beach combing.
The sea can be a little rough in places, but its easy to find a quiet spot suitable for shallow bathing. If you love seashells, you’re in for a treat, though you may not be able to bring them back through customs.
On another day we tried exploring the beach in the opposite direction. This particular bay is gi-normous, from any one spot, it spreads out in an arc for miles on both sides. On our 2nd beach trek, we discovered an area of rocks and jungle that descended all the way to the sea-edge, almost cutting off the headland.
We didn’t travel much further than here as we didn’t want to get cut off by the sea on our way back.
The Paradise Flying Snake
It was while we were investigating a sunken cave under a jungle overhang that we had our first encounter with the indigenous wildlife. I heard a short scream, and turned to see my wife beating a hasty retreat into the sea. At the same time I could see a thin yellow object wiggling its way off the sand – back up and out of sight into the undergrowth.
“The snake attacked me! It flew down on top of me from the trees!” she cried.
At first I couldn’t figure it out. It was only a week or so later in Sepilok that I found out about the Paradise Flying snake (Chrysopelea Paradisi). Apparently, these creatures climb high into trees from where they launch themselves at prey or at other interesting objects. By gyrating in mid-air as they fall, they can extend their reach by quite a distance, which is how they got their name.
My wife was wearing a shocking pink beach dress, which may have drawn the serpent’s attention. These snakes are not huge, but their bite is strong enough to immobilize small animals (and we were 2 hours from anywhere).
We decided to head back to the Lodge for an early dinner.
Kuala Penyu Town
On the 2nd day, we booked the house taxi from the Lodge to take us into the center – Kuala Penyu – to checkout the shops and market. We planned to spend a couple of hours looking around, and then catch a taxi back to the Lodge.
However, it wasn’t market day: Only a small section of the market was open, and almost all the shops were closed. After 20 minutes, we’d seen it all (twice), but there were also no taxis, trikes or buses to take us back.
In the end, I called the Lodge and asked them to come get us (our hostess had thoughtfully given me her mobile number, and fortunately I had a local phone card). In the meantime, we found a small cafe by the river, and had a drink while we waited.
The following day, our hostess visited the market to do some shopping, and brought back for us some soursop fruit, which we had been unable to find there. This is our favorite tropical fruit: the flesh consists of an edible, white pulp, some fiber, and a core of indigestible, black seeds.
The flavor is a combination of creamy strawberry and pineapple, with sour citrus notes.
For a change of tempo during our stay, we arranged to go white water rafting on the Padas river around 50 km inland (see Borneo Wavehunters). This was one of the highlights of our trip, and is highly recommended if you enjoy a few thrills and spills. It also really gets you out into the wilderness of the mountain rain forests.
For the rest of our time here we just relaxed, enjoying a few early barefoot morning runs along the edge of the seashore where the sand is solid and there are few stones/shells.
Towards the end of our stay, a group of local Christians arrived from nearby Labuan Island for a 2-day gathering. They were a very sociable group, and enjoyed themselves singing and studying the bible.
The next destination for us would be Sandakan on the north-eastern coast of Borneo. We were going to discover some of the larger species of indigenous life in Borneo – The Wild Man himself.
If you enjoyed Kuala Penyu Tempurung Seaside Lodge, check out our East Malaysia & Borneo adventures. You may also like: