I love Decembers! Holidays and long vacations are what you really need to reward yourself for all the hard work and stress you overcame over the past year.
My younger sister invited me to go on a very random trip to Kota Kinabalu with her friends. This short vacation was something I did not plan and saved up for but I felt that it was something I’d be willing to splurge for. We booked a flight and a 3-night hotel accommodation in a snap while the promos and discounts were still available. And so, last December, we went on a 4 day trip to the Land Below the Wind.
We arrived in Kota Kinabalu International Airport around 2am and hired a cab to bring us to our hotel. We didn’t sign up for a tour on our first day since we will be arriving very early and we wanted to be able to go around the city at our own pace. Since Sabah Tourism Board was just across the street from our hotel, we decided it was best to ask them how to go around the city and look for tourist attractions near the area.
- Sabah Tourism board – We asked for tourist attractions near the area. They provided us with maps and gave information on how to go around via public transport or walking.
- Atkinson Tower Clock – We walked a few blocks away from Sabah Tourism Board to here. Nothing much to do just view the clock tower, take photos and read general information about the origin of the tower.
- Tried out the public transport (bus) – Compared to how we commute via buses here in the Philippines, this was easier. Their bus stops have maps with bus routes and stops posted so you know which bus you can ride from point a to b. Locals also know how to speak English so we did not have a hard time asking around for directions.
- Jesselton Point – There are rows of restaurants along the port and island tours are also available. We asked around for the best island hopping group tour and water activities which we can do for later during our stay.
- Shopping – Going to Malaysia during December will bring out the shopping diva in you because they have YES (Year-end Sale) scheduled every December. All malls are on sale and slash about 50-70% off on selected (if not all) items. But since it is only our first day, we just looked around/window shopped in Suria Sabah Mall.
- Food – We started late on our first day so we tried out the nearest restaurant across our hotel, Fook Yuen, for lunch. They have a cafeteria style set-up (self-service) with a lot of local food served for our curious palate. For dinner we had KFC and I was a bit disappointed because they do not have the classic gravy. They have ketchup for chicken instead. Before heading back to our hotel rooms, we stopped over at Euro Bakery to buy snacks/breakfast. I love curry so it was natural I became an instant fan of their curry bread. The other breads were great too.
We have booked for Borneo Ecotours online and way before we flew to KK. This was a bit pricey but was a comfortable trip since we had a shuttle bus and a very nice tour guide.
- Kinabalu Park – First of all, we are not pro hikers so our trip to Kinabalu Park was a very short walk. We went around and had an educational trip about the local biodiversity. Maybe in 5 years time, when I am more athletic (ahem), I can go back and do some serious hiking up to the peak (hahaha, in my dreams). I was looking forward to seeing an actual rafflesia but we did not come across at any but there are a lot of interesting plants so it’s okay.
- Poring Hot Spring and Nature Reserve – I was very excited at the context of going to a hot spring (enter Japanese anime hot spring imagination) and was disappointed at how the actual hot spring looked like. It was a public hot spring so a lot of people were here and well, no hot spring relaxation for me. They have private tubs but we were not interested anymore. There are other activities to be tried here so we had our canopy walk and hiked to Kipungit Waterfalls (again, no swimming for us).
- Jesselton Point – We went back and finalized our reservation for the island hopping and water activities for the next day.
- Food – Lunch was served by our Tour and they let us taste some exotic ( I think) mouse deer dish. We had dinner then at Old Town Coffee, a bit pricey but worth it.
I loved this day best. We went on an island hopping tour and enjoyed under the sun. It was a fine day. We started early on our trip and made the most of the day. It was tiring but worth the trip.
- Jesselton Point – Motor boats are docked here and most island tour transactions are done here. Before closing in on any deal, make sure you scouted around for the best price. If you are traveling in a group, do not be afraid to haggle for prices and ask for discounts.
- Sapi Island – I love the beach here. Fine sand, clear waters with corals and fishes swimming even in shallow waters. I love how raw and preserved this island is despite the number of tourists going here. We did our parasailing and snorkeling on this island and it was such a fun experience. Keep in mind though to not step on the corals. Other activities here include: banana boat ride, jetski ride, sea walk and scuba diving
- Manukan Island – The shore here is not as fine as Sapi but snorkelling here is a better. You don’t really need to go scuba diving because swimming alone with your snorkel can give you the fun experience of the underwater nature.
- Food – You can bring food for the island hopping and have a picnic by the beach but if you don’t have boxed lunches, there is an available food stand on the islands where you can enjoy local food. We were back in the city by dinner time and decided to try out another fast food, Kenny Rogers, which I found bland. Oh, and by the way, they charge 1 Ringgit for a glass of house water.
This is our last day. We do not have booked tours and we have not seen all the must-see attractions in the city. So, to compensate for it, we asked our hotel concierge if we can arrange for a cab ride around the city to take us to different locations we had on our list and they happily agreed. The concierge called and booked us for cabs and we agreed on a price with the cab driver. We gave the driver our list of places to go and he gave us the route. I think doing this is a good idea because we were able to go to specific places we wanted to be without the hassle of figuring out the ins and outs of public transport. I am a fan of beautiful architecture so this day had me gushing the whole time.
- Puh Toh Tze (Chinese Temple) – This is a Buddhist Temple with traditional Chinese architecture. It is open for visitors but always keep in mind to respect the place and not make too much noise.
- City Mosque – I love how the mosque seem to be very photogenic in every angle. Anyway, this is also the first time I ever entered a mosque so it felt surreal for me. I thought the interior would be as grand as what I see in other churches but it was not. It was simple and unadorned. Also, we were required to wear traditional Muslim clothing before entering so it was quite an experience for us.
- King Mustapha Tower – It is the second tallest building in Sabah. It is a unique building because of its cylindrical shape.
- 1Borneo Hypermall – Of course, we wanted to make the most of the Year-end Sale by stopping over to the mall and doing a bit of Christmas shopping. Malls here are not as grand and big as malls here in the Philippines but a sale is still a sale and we can’t say no to a good bargain.
- Food – By recommendation, we tried Nando’s at 1Borneo. It is a casual dining restaurant originating from South Africa and has already food chains in about 30 other countries. Popular for their chicken peri-peri, they also serve other chicken dishes and is a restaurant you should try when you have the chance.
Some facts about KK:
- Kota Kinabalu was formerly known as Jesselton, the capital state of Sabah located in East Malaysia.
- The climate in KK is equatorial/tropical.
- Malaysian Ringgit (RM) is the currency used. But if you are travelling and ran out of money, you can have foreign currencies changed for RM at banks or money changers (usually located in malls).
- Local time is +8GMT.
- Bahasa Malaysia is the national language with prevailing dialects while English is also widely spoken so you don’t really need to fear about being lost in translation.
- To enter KK, you only need a valid passport.
Everyone asks how much it costs to go around KK. I have provided, with the best I can, a list of how much I spent during my stay. I must admit, I am not the thriftiest traveler but I tried my best to make the most with the budget I have.
- Air fare and Hotel Accommodation* – Php 9,400.00
- Borneo Eco Tour (For Day 2)** – Php 3,600.00
- Day 1 Total – Php 1,109 (87.80RM)
- Transportation – Php 644 (51RM)
- Food – Php 465 (36.80RM)
- Day 2 Total – Php 190 (15 RM)
- Food – Php 190 (15RM)
- Day 3 Total – Php 2,049.00 (162 RM)
- Island Tour*** – Php 632 (50RM)
- Parasailing*** – Php 885 (70RM)
- Conservation Fee – Php 127 (10RM)
- Food – Php 405 (32RM)
- Day 4 Total – Php 1,115.00 (88.20 RM)
- Transportation**** – Php 645 (51RM)
- Food – Php 470 (37.20RM)
- Others (Souvenirs/Shopping) – Php 5,175 (409.50 RM)
Total expenditure for 4 days – Php 9,634.55 (762.50 RM)
Total cost (including airfare, hotel and Eco tour) – Php 22,634.55
*Airfare was bought with ongoing promo from Cebu Pacific. Hotel accommodation was split into our group. All these were booked early. **Borneo Eco Tour was also booked earlier. Tour cost is subject to change and depends on the places you visit and how many days you will book your tour with them. ***Prices for the Island tour and Parasailing are group discounted. ****Cab fare cost was split into our group.