Landing on the outskirts of Sandakan at 8am, it is already a toasty 28 degrees in the shade and today threatens to be proper scorchio.
A taxi into town reveals a hot, hectic world I have not encountered since leaving Mumbai almost two years ago.
It is market day. The roads are heavy with traffic, the streets teem with people and the early morning sun sparkles off the coloured cloth and headwear of the Muslim inhabitants.
I even find something reminiscent of my Indian sojourn in the poorly laid pavements and the occasional stink of unsealed sewer pipe that gets into the depths of your nasal passage and causes an involuntary half-wretch.
The background noise is that particular hubbub of blasting music from large street side woofers, the rumble of pollution emitting exhausts, and vendors touting wares that suggest we have stumbled upon a Siamese twin of underdevelopment.
After traipsing the streets in the heat with our full set of travel gear strapped to front and back with “The Boy” riding in his pushchair, we get little initial success in seeking some form of suitable accommodation.
The options we find are unacceptably grotty and overpriced so we push on, eventually settling upon the less than idyllic setting of The Mayfair Hotel.
Located on a corner of a ramshackle street and non-descript back alley of the town, the facade promises little, yet upon climbing its entrance staircase,
Set right amongst the hustle and bustle of the street market, but offering a relative oasis of calm and some immaculately clean bed sheets for a shade over £10 per night per room, we seem to have struck lucky.
Our room consists of twin beds with an additional mattress for “The Boy” and is decorated in some unfetching shades of blue almost as though it was a maritime theme room whim gone wrong.
The walls are adorned with warning signs such as “No Smoking”, “No forbidden fruits” (referring to the smelly Chinese favourite of durian fruit and not to acts of a homosexual nature) and my personal favourite “Children must not wet the bed. Thank you!!”
The coup de grace in what is otherwise a pretty spartan setting is the widescreen Panasonic LCD and Sony DVD pairing that provide an anachronistic juxtapose along one side of the room.
There is also the option of borrowing up to five DVD’s per night from the owner’s extensive and well-catalogued library that includes drawers labelled “James Bond 007 Movies”, “Animal Documentary Movies” and “Gigantic Monster Movies”.
No original Bob the Builder, so the yank voice over spectre is going to rule the roost once more when it comes to pre-school entertainment.
After a day spent exploring the seafront and central area on my todd, we take a late afternoon walk up to Sandakan’s only in-town tourist attractions, The Agnes Keith House & Museum and the adjacent English Tea House.
The Tea House is a colonial era building set in manicured grounds above Sandakan’s impressive natural harbour and offering a glimpse into a bygone utopia of warm days, fan-cooled verandahs, high tea and cocktails.
We treat ourselves to scones, cucumber sandwiches and a pot of what is promised to be the best tea in Sabah. To add a degree of decadence to the procedures, we also order a glass of Pimms each which we sip with great pleasure in the cooling afternoon breeze.
“The Boy” once more becomes the centre of attention, noticeably
having moved on from his Singaporean preference for scantily clad Hooters girls to display a penchant for a maids outfit. I must say, I’m beginning to appreciate his style.
We also have the opportunity to engage in a little family game of croquet, though “The Boy” is more interested in hoisting himself up using the mallet to get into an assisted walking position from where he intends to shuffle between hoops.
By the time we descend back to The Mayfair, the market is winding up and the town is far less intimidating than when we arrived that morning.
Our afternoon came as a welcome oasis from the hectic town centre and fulfilled our desire for “proper food” for the first time in almost a month. It was one of those slices if not of normality, then certainly of British tradition, slap bang in the middle of our Asian adventure that we probably won’t get the chance to enjoy that often.
I look forward to our next cream tea.