Beaches, Snorkelling, Lizards, Orangutans and Withdrawal in Kota Kinabalu

He exited the elevators, the girls and I excited to see him. He looked handsome, a new haircut and casually dressed for a long weekend away with his girls. I watched him walking towards the door, and then BANG, he crashed right into the closed glass door, so hard the imprint of his forehead,  nose and chin were left behind. I couldn’t help but laugh – the guard standing by the doors didn’t even flinch – how I don’t know! Thankfully Neil has a good sense of humour and doesn’t take too much seriously, almost the entire drive to the airport was spent laughing at his misfortune and the mark left on his forehead.


This was to be our first weekend away as a family, Chinese New Year gave Neil two days off and allowed us a long weekend away together. Having been in November, and some sense of familiarity Neil booked us to go to Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, on Borneo Island. The KLIA Ekspres allowed us to easily get to the airport without any traffic, and two hours later we disembarked in Kota Kinabalu.


On the way to the hotel Miss T said her throat was hurting and asked if we had any medicine, as she asked that question I realized that I did not pack my meds, dread filled my entire being.
“I didn’t pack my meds!” I said aloud.
Neil knew what this meant, the withdrawals over the next four days would make it very difficult for me.


We were escorted to our bedroom, walking in we saw two beds, one being a single cot – I could sense the doubts that all of us felt. Neil went out to the balcony, I followed behind, he sat – I could feel the weight of heaviness he was carrying. Things weren’t starting off too well for us. After a quick stroll along the water we came back to our room to turn in for the night. Thankfully by that point we had stopped the pity party and realized how fortunate we were to be here, together!


Our first day was spent lazing by the beach and the pool, relaxing, reading and simply being. I was grateful to watch the girls splashing away together in the pool – seeing them ‘play’ together was something I have deeply wished to see. Miss T has felt the impact of their four year spread in age, Miss A being 15 and her being 11 has really created a distance between them, and here they were playing together – it warmed my heart deeply.



I had begun reading ‘Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand‘ that morning and was captivated by the story of Louis Zamperini. As the day went on, dizziness began to hit – I would all of a sudden feel spaced out and shaky, nausea would come out of nowhere and a sense of fear enveloped me. Reading about Louis helped me step through these physical withdrawal symptoms one deep breath at a time. Thankfully Neil and the girls were aware, observant and gave me grace through each occurrence.


Sleep that night was interrupted, filled with vivid and horrifying nightmares, I awoke numerous times through the night – my body aching – mostly due to the rock solid bed that gave my body no comfort. Then I thought of the conditions Louis faced, and with gratitude I would fall back to sleep.


Neil suggested we go to one of the islands for snorkelling – given how I would have moments of disorientation I thought it best I not be out in the water, for a moment I thought ‘well I could have some quiet time just by myself,’ the thought was fleeting, we were here to spend time together, not apart. So off we went to Pulau Mamutik, a short five minute boat ride from the resort. As we pulled away, the shores that were lined with stilt homes came into view. I would like to learn more about the history of these areas that line much of the coast.

We were instantly mesmerized with the clear water under the dock, swarming with many schools of fish –  Miss T was in heaven. Neil and the girls were quick to don their snorkelling gear and head into the water. At the end of the coral lined beach I could see a bird along the rock face, with my camera off I went. Walking along the beach my eyes were drawn to the sand, beautiful tiny shells everywhere – I instantly thought of how much fun Miss T and I were going to have shell hunting. I found a spot away from the crowds under a tree, the view before me filled my soul, each breath I inhaled the sweet smell of the ocean which helped the queasiness I was feeling.


Wanting to be a little closer to the bird at the edge of the rocks I inched my way ever so slowly, sadly as I got closer some other tourists started yelling and running down the beach and the bird flew off. At the moment I saw something in the corner of my eye, as I looked down there were many little creatures jumping in and out of the water, they were fascinating to watch – I couldn’t wait to tell the girls about these, with that thought I headed back to see if they were back from snorkelling.

When the girls and I headed back to the spot we saw a Monitor Lizard, it was so interesting watching him dig – I’m guessing he was hoping to find eggs, as I’d seen a pheasant digging in that area earlier. Sadly we watched with disappointment as a tourist grabbed a long stick and started poking at him. Thankfully another tourist spoke up and the man backed off.


That night the withdrawal symptoms were coming on strong, I would have an unnerving sense that my brain was moving inside my head, feelings of vertigo and electric shock like feelings in my head (known as brain zaps), I felt agitated. Thankfully my incredible family gave me space – I slept in the single fold away cot while they all shared the other bed. Still, sleep did not come. For four hours I continued reading Unbroken – reading about Louis facing the wrath and inexplicable violence as a POW at the hands of ‘The Bird,’ once again I felt grateful that this was all that I faced.


On our last day in Kota Kinabalu we decided to visit the Shangri-La Rasa Ria Orangutan Sanctuary. Two five year old Orangutans call this sanctuary home until they are rehabilitated to return to the wild. Watching these incredible creatures was the highlight of this trip for me, observing their inquisitiveness, numerous and entertaining facial expressions, and their ability to manoeuvre themselves into the most unusual positions.










During the time spent with the Orangutans I felt wonderful, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face – or the sweat, I was drenched by the time we started heading back down to the resort. After a wonderful lunch and a quick swim we headed back to our resort. The drive back was the most trying time for me this weekend, traffic kept us at a standstill, claustrophobia set in – I wanted to get off that bus more than anything, anger set in – my mind wandered to many different things and all I could feel was anger.


We finally got back to the hotel, and went straight to the room and got changed. Neil encouraged us all to go sit down by the beach – he knows me so well. The girls went and had a swim and Neil and I sat in the chairs watching the remnants of the beautiful sunset. Being by the water calms me, Neil knows that, he asked me what I was going through – and without judgement he simply listened as I shared. Talking it through helped me, having Neil by my side soothed me and reminded me that I’m not alone and I’m loved.


Sitting here in our home in KL right now, I am filled with pride and gratitude. Proud of myself for not allowing the withdrawal symptoms ruin a wonderful weekend, and grateful to Neil and my girls for helping me through this past four days. It helped that we were in a beautiful place, a place that I know we will return to – next time I won’t forget my meds and we’ll climb Mount Kinabalu


Family Favourites:
Neil – Snorkelling with the girls and being with my family.
Lee – Seeing the orangutans, and watching my girls playing together.
Miss A –  Snorkelling and all of us being around the pool, and finishing her book.
Miss T – Favourite part was the snorkelling, because it was really fun and I saw tons of fish and I got to hang out with Dad.







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