I love Air Asia. It’s an airline for the people that gives everyone the opportunity to fly. The constantly affordable ticket prices and professional, friendly service from the flight crew always make my travel to Asia a pleasure. From Australia, I’ve taken over 25 flights with Air Asia and visited about two thirds of the destinations on their route map. Friends and family are often amazed when I tell them how much my air travel is costing. If I could read minds they’d probably be saying ‘wait a minute…if that’s all you’re paying I could be going with you!”
The Air Asia route map has so many exciting destinations that it is almost impossible to choose a favourite. I’ve seen some of the world’s greatest temples, beaches, historical and cultural sites. I’ve met some of the most beautiful people imaginable along the way which is always a travel highlight in itself. All these people and places have combined to create a wonderful array of photos, memories and new friends. All have enriched my life in a unique way.
The Air Asia hub is in Kuala Lumpur so I do have a special affinity with the people of Malaysia. Often I simply transit through the hub on my way to another destination but I’ve taken the time to explore the many wonderful places it offers. A place special in my heart is Borneo where I got to see the orang-utans in their natural environment. But the highlight of my two excursions there must surely be climbing the highest peak in south-east Asia, the magnificent Mount Kinabalu.
I was blessed to even get the opportunity because I naively arrived in the school holidays without a booking. As luck would have it, there was a cancellation at the time I needed it and I found myself quickly putting what I needed into my pack and joining three new friends for the ascent to Laban Rata. Sitting at 3272m above sea level, this is a warm and comfortable place to rest before making a quest for the summit the following morning.
Our hike the first day was through misty cloud that obscured any hope of a view. But as we had dinner the cloud cleared long enough to reveal the spectacular alpine scenery around us. We gazed up at the imposing granite peaks, and contemplated what lay ahead of us. It would a challenging task to get to the top. As darkness began to fall, we retired to the warmth of our beds with a sense of apprehension and excitement.
The first alarm broke the morning silence at about 2am. I don’t think I slept at all but the anticipation of the day had me feeling fine. It was cold but I was so excited to see a clear black sky, studded with stars and a half moon. It would be a magnificent sunrise and our mission was to be standing at the peak to see it. I dressed in all the clothing I had and put some water, a torch and camera into my bag. I was ready.
Clinging to a rope in the darkness and using it to haul yourself up a granite slope through a bitterly cold wind does make you question your sanity a little. It was tough work and not everyone was destined to make it. Sadly, the girl in my group was one of them. Just 200m from the summit she succumbed to the classic symptoms of altitude sickness. She had been brave, but with a headache, breathlessness and nausea she couldn’t go on. We made sure she had enough water and was sheltered from the wind and pushed on.
The beast was tamed at 5.24am, which was in perfect time to watch as the sun broke the horizon away to the east. It’s a fine line – you want to be in time for sunrise but you don’t want to spend too much time up there waiting because it was very cold! As I looked down I could see a long line of people trudging with grim determination to where I stood on Low’s Peak. They’d be too late for sunrise, but a great moment awaited them just the same.
From this vantage point of 4100m above sea level, I could see the city of Kota Kinabalu looking much closer than its distance of 90km and the South China Sea beyond. In other directions the first rays of the morning sun were hitting the huge granite slopes and offered spectacular views of the Borneo hinterland below. As the sun finally began to warm us, we took our final photos and started the knee-crunching descent back to Laban Rata for breakfast. Then it was back down to the Mount Kinabalu Park headquarters where hugs and handshakes brought an end to our adventure.
When I climbed the steps onto my Air Asia flight the following day I realized just how sore my legs were. I didn’t care because I was so happy. As my last view of Borneo slipped away beneath the plane, I reflected on what had been a truly unforgettable experience. I always hope that when I leave a place that I’ll be able to return one day. Sadly, I know it’s not always possible but if I never get to Borneo again, I’m very content in the knowledge that I’ve already had the time of my life there.