How’s your week so far? I hope everything is great.
It’s been almost a year since my friends from Shang and I decided to book a flight to Kota Kinabalu. Months after, my college friends got the same flights, and I couldn’t be more excited for what the trip will entail. The months of waiting ended, but due to some unforeseen events, the original group whom I planned the trip with wasn’t able to go. I guess we’ll just wait for another get together.
With the help and encouragement of friends and family, I decided to push through with the plan. It’s not like I’ll be missing out on a great opportunity such as this.
Day 1 started with a little of catching up: inside jokes, past travels, work. In an instant, it felt like nothing really changed. The empty boarding gate was then filled with our laughter.
After a smooth 2-hour flight from Manila to Kota Kinabalu, we found ourselves lining up for our visa stamp. The line was long, but we entertained ourselves nonetheless.
Originally, we all wanted to buy a local sim card, which is very advisable if you’re traveling with a group and need to navigate around a foreign country. Malaysian networks offer up to 10GB of mobile data for a week for 25RM. However, since it was our first time to travel abroad as a group, we wanted to take the chance to do some exploring. Sticking together is more fun anyway.
The best foreign exchange rates are usually offered in the malls (1USD = 4RM), but the one offered in the airport was also competitive (1USD = 3.7 RM).
Before checking in our Airbnb for the next couple of days, we decided to grab lunch at Center Point, one of their city malls. The bus ride costs 2RM as compared to a 30RM taxi ride. You can get your ticket in the airport just before the exit. Some places we passed by were so familiar, it felt like we didn’t really leave Manila.
A lot of hawkers are in the lower ground floor of Center Point. You can enjoy Malaysian, Chinese and Indian cuisines for 2RM and above. I also liked drinking their lemon iced tea while my friends fell in love with their milk teas. They said it tasted a lot better than the varieties they’ve tried before.
From Center Point to One Borneo, we rode 2 cabs that costs 30RM per car. The place we stayed in was a two bedroom air conditioned condo with great balcony views, 2 full baths, WiFi, a kitchen, and living and dining spaces, situated on the highest floor of One Borneo. It was so convenient because a huge mall was just floors down our place. Being on the 25th floor, you can easily capture the surrounding mountain range and some developments in the area.
Although we had an itinerary and some ideas on where to go, we wanted to save our energies and explore One Borneo, since our new found friends mentioned that it’s the biggest one they have. In fact, they have Trick Eye, Laser Tag, bowling arena, archery range and some other activities in the mall. Such activities cost around 30RM and above.
While going around, we spotted Nando’s. I know it’s not a local restaurant, but we all agreed to try it before leaving Kota Kinabalu.
The next morning, we met our tour guide, Sam, who provided our transportation for that day. First stop was at Nabalu Park, which is 12 km away from Kota Kinabalu Park. The journey to the park is long, but you’ll definitely appreciate the roadside scenery. Their market is filled with local handicrafts and food stalls. It is also an amazing spot if you want to have a photo of Mount Kota Kinabalu. The majestic sight of the mountain demands to be captured and appreciated. Although locals said that it’s practical to go there between 8 and 9 in the morning because the mountainscape is usually covered by mist.
You can also have your toilet break and breakfast here so it’s technically a designated stop for tourists.
Visiting the Botanical Garden was next on our list. Different kinds of orchids are cultivated there. Some are even taken from the mountain, and since it’s a heritage site, removing anything from the place is strictly prohibited.
Sam even showed us the Kerosene plant, and a vine that grows thicker as it reaches the ground. He also mentioned that you can use that vine as a source of water, in case you get lost in the woods.
Morning was over in a breeze. Next thing we know, we were already having lunch in front of the Poring Hot Spring. The meal was included in our tour so we didn’t have to worry about it.
After having lunch, Sam informed us that a nearby garden has a living Rafflesia. Entrance was 30RM per person because according to him, the largest flower in the world takes a year to fully bloom and has a lifespan of about a week.
Before trying the Hot Spring, we went to the Canopy Walkway. You’ll be asked to pay 10RM per photography equipment, mobile phones included, if you plan to take images during the activity. Video recording will cost you 30RM per item. Admission fee is 1 to 3RM for Malaysians, and 10 to 15RM for foreigners.
It is advisable to do some stretching before starting on the upward route, and wear some comfortable shoes as some areas are muddy. I did enjoy it because it felt like a great leg workout.
We were happy when we reached the hanging bridge that we gladly handed our tickets to Sam. Excited and scared at the same time, I decided to take things slow. Crossing bridges that are almost 8 to 13 floors above the ground is no joke for a newbie. I did relax after taking the first one.
The weather forecast did warn us, but it was so funny that the heavy rain poured down while we were crossing the bridge. Luckily, Niko brought a dry bag with him.
You can take a detour to the Butterfly Farm before going to the Hot Spring. However, because we got drenched on our way down, we decided that relaxation was timely.
Park visitors can readily access the public hot springs from 9am to 5pm daily, the same time that the complex is open. There is also a nearby changing room and toilet for the tourists. Although we opted for the private sulfur bath that costs 15RM per room per hour, and can accommodate up to 4 persons at a time. They say that the sulfur bath has therapeutic properties that can improve health and cure skin diseases.
The entire tour is about 180RM per person per van, exclusive of camera, private hot spring room and rafflesia garden fees.
We started our third day at the Sri Latha Curry House which is 15 km away from One Borneo. Uber was our main means of transportation during the day, since a taxi ride will cost you around 30-60RM.
A variety of lunch sets comprised of chicken, prawn, mutton, fried fish, and more is typically served on a banana leaf that comes with 4 types of vegetables, a soup and a dessert. They are also known for breakfast food that includes a selection of rotis. Meals range from 1RM to 13RM. Situated near the terminal, the curry house is very popular to tourists and locals alike.
Visiting a museum is always part of my wishlist. The Muzium Sabah (Sabah Museum), part of a cultural complex, is only 2.6km away from the Sri Latha Curry House, as Google Maps would say. Although we did walk all the way there, I wouldn’t recommend exerting that extra effort to anyone.
Open from 9AM to 5PM daily, the museum houses a collection of vases, preserved animals, bones, vintage cars, and other artifacts. The museum was under construction when we got there so we weren’t able to explore the entirety of the building.
Ecstatic to see the famous Tanjung Aru sunset, we hurriedly left after the closing announcement. We met Alvin, another new found friend, on our way to the beach. He even recommended a fruit drink that includes dragon fruit, avocado and mango. Although mine didn’t include milk for obvious reasons, it was still heavenly. You should try the one offered by Fruit Juice Stall No. 6.
The sand at Tanjung Aru is so fine that walking along the coast is something you should try. My friends even enjoyed dancing along the beach. The cloudy weather wasn’t able to hide the beauty of the panorama. The gentle waves matched by the dramatic sunset is something that I will truly remember.
Up for more sand and sea experience, Alvin brought us to Jesselton Point early the next day. It’s where you ride a speedboat to the nearby islands. You can also purchase packages that include water sport activities from the booths. Your effective haggling skills will be tested here. The bigger the group and the number of activities you include in your package will affect their offers. Better compare prices before you make the purchase.
If you plan to maximize your time on the islands, ask what types of activities does each island offer. For water sports and snorkeling, Manukan and Sapi Island are what they will recommend. I’d say do your water sports in Sapi, then get the earliest boat ride to Manukan. It’s a larger and more organized island. Snorkeling is also better there. Lunch in Manukan is also satisfying.
I really enjoyed my first banana boat ride. I think I can still go for another one, despite being thrown overboard during the last stretch. I guess the daily WODs paid off.
Again, we were very lucky because while we were strolling around Sapi, we saw two proboscis monkeys. People would usually pay up to 300RM just to see one, and we saw two for free! Incredible!
My friends even spotted a large monitor lizard in Manukan. Sadly, we weren’t able to budget our time in the island, and left even before we enjoyed the sea. For safety reasons, guests are monitored based on what you booked in Jesselton.
To keep our spirits high, Alvin brought us to the City Mosque, Masjid Bandaraya, which is the second main mosque after the State Mosque floating on a man-made lagoon near the South China Sea.
He even bought ice cream for us! Amazing!
Afterwards, we went to the Signal Hill Observatory Tower, where you can enjoy an unobstructed vista of Kota Kinabalu.
We decided to cut our trip short to save energy for packing stuff and cleaning the unit, in time for our flight the day after. Still, we rewarded ourselves that night with a delicious dinner at Nando’s. Oh, that chicken was something else.
Before going to the airport, Alvin brought us to Gaya Street’s Sunday Market. Local products such as food, toys, artworks, souvenirs, scarves and other things can be found there. The ladies definitely did the majority of the shopping.
One booth that really inspired us was that of Huang Poh Lo’s. He is the only known Indian Chinese Calligrapher in the world. He graduated with a degree in economics, but fell in love with the arts so he pursued it because that is what his heart desires. His booth offers personalized bookmarks and cards for 5 to 10RM. It was so cool to watch him do our names in different characters. He even spoke to us in Filipino!
Alvin then drove us to Sinsuran Sang Nyuk Mee, a restaurant in Penampang popular for their pork noodle soup. Matched with their tofu with minced pork stuffing, our warm brunch was satisfying. The noodles were smooth and the meat was tender. You will not taste or smell the greasiness of pork, even in the soup that featured some innards. The broth tasted clean and a little sweet. The food was also perfect with their black soy sauce, and it will only cost you around 7.50RM or so.
Before bidding goodbye, Alvin gave us some key chains and a bag of bicho bicho-like food with white carrot filling.
I’m really happy that I was able to join this trip, despite the lack of proper planning. Learning new things, seeing wondrous sites, meeting great people, and of course, gaining new experiences with friends truly make the travel worthwhile. I guess I will put more trust in the flow of things, and enjoy the moments. As Dana and I would say, Carpe Diem!
Big thanks to Phoebe of Airbnb, Sam of Kota Kinabalu Tours, and Alvin!
Later days, everyone! Thanks again for reading!
Niguel is an experienced creative and marketing professional pursuing his dreams while growing with infinite possibilities.