Matt Hayden: to know him is to love him. He is a “party in a box” as Mom puts it. I could not have been more excited for his visit to Singapore, because he is my buddy and we always have such a fun time together. I had also just said goodbye to Roisin (best friend here in Singy) that week, so I was in need of a pick-me-up. Matt Hayden was just the guy to do it!
Prior to his trip here I was crazy hectic at work, trying to schedule a trip to Kuala Lumpur on behalf of a travel client whose project I recently kicked off. So I was quite last minute about planning the adventure we’d have together when he came to visit me in Singapore. I knew I wanted it to be in Malaysia, as there are several places I’d heard great things about (like Penang and some of the beaches as well). With Matt on a budget, it was also a great shoestring option for travel.
I settled on Kota Kinabalu because I had heard nice reviews from friends on its beautiful mountain (Mount Kinabalu) hiking, flawless beaches and nice snorkelling. Well, let me tell you, our experience was quite different.
Kuala Lumpur was fun but short lived, as I was there just for a night on a work trip. We explored the city at night which was fun. It was funny that Matt was surprised the prices were so high (he had just finished a three-week trip in Thailand), whereas I was amazed at how low they were (Singapore life).
We flew into Kota Kinabalu airport and surveyed the town a bit on our way to our hotel—not our style, but we dropped our bags and chilled out a bit before heading out with open minds and open hearts to see what we could find. The answer? A McDonalds. It was truly the best the city had to offer, which was okay because we were in the mood for a taste from home. We feasted and felt terrible afterwards, in typical McDonalds fashion. The next day I arranged a snorkelling trip for us, which was fun and got us out on the water, which we both love. Matt is working on his scuba certification now and wanted to go with the dive team, but as we were flying out the next day, it was a no go. We headed off to Gaya and Sapi Islands, both of which had more diverse tropical fish than either of us had ever seen. We were really amazed at the wildlife!
As there was nothing much to do in the city itself, following our snorkelling adventure we had to make a game plan. I was thinking we could go to Kota Kinabalu to spend the night in the mountain town, and hike the mountain in the morning before our flight. But the drive there was a harrowing three hours, and the hotel that was recommended to us by the concierge at a major hotel chain which I shall not name was epically wrong about the appeal of the place. No Wi-Fi, super thin walls, nothing nearby, blech. We slept in and decided to bag the morning hike in favor of sleep, which we were both desperately in need of. It was beautiful to sleep in and wake up feeling well rested, but we headed out after coffees and didn’t see much of Kinabalu. Luckily, our hotel was atop a mountain itself, so we did get quite nice views of the surrounding area, including Mount Kinabalu.
It turns out, Kota Kinabalu is a place that requires advanced planning, and minimum two days to venture outside Kinabalu to find the pristine beaches, etc. We didn’t exactly plan this one well, but I was thankful to be spending time with Mr. Matt anyway.
Things started looking up the moment we arrived back in Singapore. I took Matt also to Marina Bay Sands for a drink on top of that epic rooftop bar, and we sipped on whiskey and tequila and caught up on news from the last few months (we chat nearly everyday via text, but it was so much different when he was there with me!). We also stopped by Gardens by the Bay, and I took him to a famous hawker called Lau Pa Sat for some chicken satay and some Chang beers. Good, old-fashioned street food. During the day, Matt explored on his own and found himself at some very cool spots, like the Buddha’s Tooth temple in Chinatown.
On the last night of Matt’s stay, we did a bit of bar hopping around the Orchard area, and had a little too much fun at a bar with dangerously good specials. It was the perfect sendoff and representative of our time together: too much fun. I was sad to send him off to the airport, knowing that my family visits had come to a close, but felt super grateful and so happy at the end of it all knowing I have family members that would fly across the world to see me. And Christmas is just around the corner!
Some photos from Matt’s trip here: