Monday, May 10, 2010

Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia

Wife and I went to Kota Kinabalu three weeks ago, thanks to Air Asia’s promo fare at Php 500/pax from Clark Airport to Kota Kinabalu, booked last October 2009. We stayed at City Park Lodge which is at the city center along Jalan Pantai for just RM 80/night. 

The hotel has a perfect location since major areas are just within 10-minute walk away like Seri Selera, Atkinson Clock Tower, Jesselton Point, seaside food stalls, handicraft market, and all the 5 shopping malls. There is a grocery store and taxi stand in front of the hotel, money changer and cellphone shop at the ground floor, while inexpensive restaurants and bus terminals are just below the hotel and within the block.

Arriving on a Saturday night, we tried claypot and nasi lemak dinner at Sugarbun Café just below the hotel. The claypot chicken and 3-layer tea tarik were good, while the nasi lemak’s sambal sauce tastes too fishy for me. A live Malaysian band was performing that night on the foodcourt, but they’re not as good as a regular Pinoy band. 

The experience is not bad for a RM 24 dinner for two. We bought food supplies and RM 20 sim card with top-up load before getting upstairs to the hotel. The local prepaid sim card with load allowed us to make 30+ minutes of calls to Philippines, during our combined 4 days of stay in Kota Kinabalu and Kuala Lumpur.

The following morning at 7 am, we strolled along Gaya street with their regular Sunday market. Wife bought a souvenir t-shirt after our barbecued pork-duck breakfast for RM12 in a Chinese coffee shop along the same street. There’s a large variety of items available in the Sunday market from food, clothing, souvenirs, pets, plants, even live eels and turtles.

After exchanging our peso to ringgit, we proceeded to Jesselton Point as takeoff point to Tunku Abdul Rahman island park, which is just along the same street of our hotel. The hotel gave us discount voucher of a boat operator, so instead of spending RM 50 for a 2-island tour per head, we only spent RM 29 per head, all including RM6 tariff and RM10 environmental fees. I also rented snorkeling gear and lifejacket set at Jesselton for only RM 15, cheaper by RM 10 if rented on the islands. 

Boat operators will ferry tourists on the islands thru the speedboats as long as there are at least 2 passengers. We spent our first 2 hours at Sapi Island with its short stretch of beach, so tourists are quite cramped there. The beach and seafloor are clean but the restrooms are despicable. There is a restaurant offering lunch buffet at RM 40/head, while another restaurant sells packed meals starting at RM 8. That's my back on the picture below while registering at Sapi island, hehe.

At a pre-arranged time of 1 pm, the speedboat transferred us to the bigger Manukan island with its long stretch of beach and plenty of picnic tables and food stalls. We took our lunch there which starts at RM 4.50 per meal, but the food at Sapi island looks more appetizing. The restrooms are clean and well-maintained. We also saw an adult monitor lizard roaming peacefully along the tourist grounds. 

Fishes are more plentiful on this island but there are some trash (cans, snack wrappers) on the seafloor. Other than that, I really enjoyed my hours of snorkeling and shooting a video while feeding the fishes underwater. We left the island at 4 pm and we’re back at Jesselton Point in less than 15 minutes, where we bought ice creams before walking back to the hotel.

Here's a sample of underwater video while snorkeling at Manukan island:

We went mall hopping afterwards but I was not able to find good batik shirt without collar. Prices are similar to Manila prices and there are limited choices of clothing styles. Dinner was grilled squid and nasi goreng ayam for RM20, along carinderia-style seaside market. The 4 big grilled squid was too spicy, and at first we thought we won’t be able to finish the 2 huge servings of nasi goreng. 

With the hot humid weather and spicy food, I craved for ice cold drinks which are available just across our chosen stall. Cutleries are given, but most diners eat using bare hands washed with plastic water pitcher and matching “portable sink” underneath. We ate same “kamay” (bare hands) style with the locals, but this place is only for “cowboy” like us who are not too particular on hygiene issues.

On our way back to the hotel, we took the long route passing thru Wawasan, Seri Selera, and night market. Not much variety on night market, but the souvenir shirts are cheaper than in Sunday morning market at Gaya street. We also passed the city park, bus terminal, and city hall. Late night snack is a pint of durian ice cream.

Next morning after our RM 8 breakfast, I took a walk along the 6 blocks encircling the hotel. I noticed that local coffeeshops are enjoying good business, since all the 20+ restaurants I passed are mostly packed with local customers. I was able to see the Atkinson clock tower on the street at the back of Gaya street, then I checked the breakfast buffet at seaside Hyatt Hotel near the sailfish statue.

Before I went back to the hotel, I have negotiated a 3-hour city tour for RM 90 on a taxi driver in front of the hotel. It was a good deal since city tours from tour operators start at RM 92/head. Taxi driver’s name is Nick, speaks good English unlike most locals, and gave me a business card with contact details or mobile 014-6779513.

First stop on our city tour was the iconic cylindrical Mustapha building at the northern part of the city. Next is the Chinese temple with a leaning Buddha. Third is the city mosque on southern part of the city, which is our first time to enter a mosque. They lent a scarf for my wife to cover her hair, before we entered the mosque on foot. 

Last stop is the Sabah museum where I was able to negotiate for a local entrance fee of only RM 3/head, instead of RM 15/head for foreigners. Aside from having a glimpse of Sabah’s history and endemic animals, I find the excavated burial boat coffins dating back to 17th century as the most exciting. Unfortunately, cameras are not allowed inside the museum, so I was only able to take photos of the masks on their souvenir store.

Lunch is at Wisma Merdeka’s foodcourt for less than RM 20. Taxi fare back to the airport’s terminal 2 was negotiated at RM 20, cheaper than standard airport taxi’s RM 30 fare during our arrival. There are many Filipinos working in KK, as well as Tagalog-speaking Sabah locals. Due to some similarities of Bahasa words to various Filipino languages and dialects, it is easier to converse with locals in Tagalog, than in English.

Selamat Datang!
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  1. i've been planning to go to KK and Brunei. your blog is really the bomb. xD

  2. Thanks for visiting this blog. Air Asia has promo ticket of Php 1,500 for 2 now to KK and KL from Clark airport.

  3. great one, this will be our guide as itinerary on our trip to kk very soon :) thank!

  4. How much po yun palitan dun na 1MYR - PHP?
    Saan kayo nag pa money exchange?

  5. Hi, Jien. Its been 2 years since we went to KK. I brought US dollars and found that the exhange rates in the downtown is better than at the airports (KK and Clark).

    In the KK downtown, the highest exchange rate I saw is at forex shop located along Jalan Pantai, on the way to Jesselton port. Next is at the forex shop below the Rainforest lodge.

    Hope this helps.

  6. your blog is really helpful hopefuly mr nick will reply to me. our sched trip is on sunday. aug 19.

  7. Hi, Geejay. I hope that Nick could get back to you before your trip tomorrow. Enjoy KK!

  8. hi noel, thanks for sharing this, i found your link thru pex...i'll use this for our trip this fri (nov 30)

  9. Hi, Miguel. Thanks for visiting the blog, and I hope that the info are still accurate. Enjoy your time at KK.

  10. hi Noel, thanks for sharing your experience in KK

    me and my 6 collegues will be in KK this sunday dec 9 til dec 12. can you help us build our itinerary?

    dec 9 4:00pm clark to KKIA
    dec 12 1:40pm KKIA to Clark

    Thanks in advance!

    1. Hi, Santi. Looking at your flight sched, here's my suggested itinerary:

      Dec. 9 - dinner at seaside near the sailfish statue and Hyatt Hotel after check-in.

      Dec. 10 - island hopping at Tunku Abdul Rahman islands, then dinner at Seri Selera or seaside carinderias

      Dec. 11 - Visit the Kinabalu hotspring or do the city tour. Check the night market for pasalubong

      Dec. 12 - Walk around the hotel block, try the nearby cafes' breakfast offerings. See Shangri-La KK before going to the airport

      If I return to the place, I will climb Mt. Kinabalu at 4,000+ meters above sea level, perhaps on 2014.

      Enjoy Kota Kinabalu!

  11. Weekend is coming.. Dont have any activities to do..?
    How about Climbing Mt. Kinabalu? here in kota kinabalu sabah malaysia. or doing some like White Water Rafting or Island hopping, kinabalu park and poring hot spring, city tour etc. to spend your weekend.. watzup +601125337696.
    half pilipina poh aku.. I can help u guys.. gmawa poh aku ng tours.... sana kita kitz tayo dito. salamt pohh