The islands just outside Kota Kinabalu were really nice but we craved something a bit more remote to round off our Borneo adventure. One of our friends had heard of a beach resort known as Mañana, about an hour’s drive from Kota Kinabalu, so we decided to check it out and spend a couple of nights relaxing on the beach. I have to say it wasn’t anything like what I expected for both good and bad reasons. In a place like Borneo, even just chilling on the beach morphs into a bizarre adventure.
For 120 RM, Mañana sent a car to pick us up from our hostel in KK and drive us for an hour to the boat crossing to get to the beach. Between three of us, this wasn’t too bad a price and it was definitely handy, even if the car did have a worryingly strong stench of petrol fumes. Once we reached the crossing, we waited along with a couple of other groups for the 10 minute boat crossing to the beach. Well… I say boat. It was really more of a dinghy with an engine and a very large puncture. Literally half of the boat was submerged. The driver, Alvin, had to position us all very carefully on the raft whilst we hung on for dear life wondering if it would sink at any minute. Just standard practice in Borneo I think.
I have to admit being a bit disappointed when we reached the beach. Perhaps it was because a thunderstorm was rolling overhead or maybe it was the copious amount of rubbish strewn across the otherwise lovely beach. It was certainly a hodge-podge mix of shacks, huts, half-finished buildings. It looked like it hadn’t been finished yet and was in major need of some TLC.
There was a short term explanation for its slightly shabby appearance. Apparently just days before we arrived, all of the staff had walked out due to their poor working conditions leaving just Alvin and one other brand new staff member to pick up the pieces. Alvin was a Godsend. Boat driver turned cook turned cleaner turned information guru turned social butterfly, he had a pretty raw deal and yet was always cheerful and friendly. There were about a dozen or so guests staying on the beach and he pretty much had to cater to all their needs single-handedly. He really was superb and I hope a pay rise heads his way soon.
He was a pretty fine cook too. Whilst the choices were limited because poor Alvin had to venture on the Titanic to the supermarket each day to pick up supplies, he was able to rustle up some great food for all the guests. Particularly great were the pancakes at breakfast. Adding to the atmosphere was the open air social area which overlooked the clear blue water. By day, it was a fantastic place to sit and eat whilst admiring the spectacular view. By night, it became the social hub of the beach with everyone mingling and chatting after a hard day lying in the sun doing absolutely nothing. Because the beach was so cut off from everything else and there was no Wi-Fi, no running water and very little electricity, you really did end up forming a little community with your fellow travellers, aided of course by the well-stocked beer fridge and the bottle of rum we’d brought over from KK.
Whilst I was far too hungover and sleepy to help out, my friends did an early morning sweep of the beach to eradicate the rubbish meaning our first full day of lounging around was much nicer. The water was beautiful, with random cold patches which were very much welcome in the sweltering heat. I was also particularly chuffed with the inclusion of hammocks as I’m a big fan. Rocking back and forth to the sound of the waves is the ultimate beach experience, even if I did look like a complete pillock getting in and out of it.
The other thing Mañana really had going for it was its spellbinding sunsets, some of the best I’ve ever seen. On our first evening, I swear I’ve never seen the sky turn so many colours: orange, yellow, pink, red, grey, green(?!). It was absolutely dazzling and I felt privileged to have a front row seat. Borneo’s natural wonders never cease to amaze.
Speaking of which, the beach was also home to an array of wildlife. Mañana’s pet dog has got a pretty good deal, lounging round on a beach catching sand flies all day. He was super friendly. A more spine-tingling phenomenon came in the form of luminous plankton. I’ve seen small instances of them before but nothing on this scale. After nightfall, simply gently running your foot along the sand opened up this glowing blue world, as if the stars had fallen into the sand. Maybe it was all the rum I’d drunk but I found it truly magical.
Not all the wildlife was friendly though. We all got bitten to oblivion so bug spray is a definite must if you venture out here. Then, on our last morning on the beach, I got a painful reminder that I can’t travel anywhere without disaster befalling me. My morning swim was rudely interrupted by a territorial jellyfish. Mere minutes after I headed into the water, my entire leg felt like it was on fire. It was agony. I stumbled onto the beach writhing in pain. It was weird as I hadn’t felt anything brush up against me but the pain was all too real.
Once my friend awoke and assured me that weeing on a jellyfish sting is just a myth (much to both our relief), I was told vinegar is the best cure. Still not 100% sure, I just decided to ride it out and after an hour or so of lying out on the beach, the pain was more bearable. When I had internet again later, the NHS website said vinegar does work so I guess I probably should have given it a go. My leg was stinging for a day or so afterwards but it wasn’t too bad, and I had now crossed jellyfish sting off my ‘Horrific Things to Befall Me Whilst Travelling’ bucket list.
In short, Mañana is worth your time. It’s quirky, isolated and really quite stunning. I think it needs some TLC and obviously they need to resolve the staffing issue but there’s something so natural and beautiful about it that even if you were sleeping on tarpaulin and eating bamboo shoots, it would still maintain its captivating appeal.