This morning, I woke up determined to write about our trip to Malaysian Borneo, as promised. But then I couldn’t figure out where to start, so I decided to just write a post for each of the three districts of Malaysia’s Sabah province that we were able to visit.
First Stop, Kota Kinabalu!
As always, we booked our Cebu Pacific tickets to KK on a seat sale months before the actual trip. Ironically, CEBU Pacific does not fly to Kota Kinabalu from – you guessed it! – CEBU. It’s annoying, I know, especially since KK is quite geographically close to Cebu! But for the love of travel, we decided to just go via Manila.
Incidentally, Malaysian Airlines flies from Cebu to KK direct, but it costs an arm and a leg. It might be worth looking in to, though, if you think it’s too tedious to have to go to Manila and deal with their more expensive (P200 more!) terminal fee.
Getting to KK ended up being a whole day affair because we had a layover in Manille for a few hours (it was worse coming back). We arrived in the capital of Sabah at about 8 in the evening, and we took a taxi straight to our guest house in the city center for RM30 (about P400), which we paid at the airport taxi counter.
FYI, KK taxis have meters but apparently, they never use them. Instead, they charge per zone. When I was in Pulau Penang in 2007, they had the same system. So it’s always best to negotiate with the driver before you even set foot in the cab.
There are, of course, buses that ply the city routes, and I’m sure they’re a cheaper way to get around. But if you ask me, Malaysian names are just too long and too confusing, so it’s definitely easier to either walk or take a taxi. We weren’t exactly penny-pinching, so we figured, if we can’t walk it, we’ll cab it. Thankfully, we did more walking than cabbing.
But I digress. The taxi ride to the guest house was rather pleasant. Before we knew it, we were already pulling up in front of our guest house.
The Lavender Lodge
Weeks before the trip, I was already looking for places to stay. Considering that the last couple of overseas trips that I took were to Singapore and Hong Kong where even the grubbiest hostels cost upwards of $20, I was quite delighted to find that KK hotels and guest houses do not go crazy on rates. There were plenty of options, but I finally decided on The Lavender Lodge because of all the great things I read about it. It did not disappoint.
I made a reservation for 3 nights (the 25th, 28th, and 29th of May) in a private room with en suite bathroom for RM75 (about P1,100) a night. We ended up staying in a different room for each of the 3 nights that we were there because they were rather overbooked. For our first night, we stayed in a room that had an en suite toilet but no shower, so we had to use the shared showers down the hall.
Now, if you know me, you probably have a good idea of how freaked out I am by bathrooms, especially shared ones. Well, I had absolutely no problem with the shared bathrooms of Lavender Lodge. They were huge and spotlessly clean, so to me, they were perfect. It also didn’t hurt that they provided rubber slippers for the guests, unlike the hostel in Singapore that my sister and I stayed in in March where we had to go barefoot, even in the bathroom. Ick. But that’s another story.
Moving on, for our second night in Lavender Lodge (which was our fourth night in Sabah, but more on that in the next post), we finally got our private room with the en suite bathroom. We had 2 more nights with them and we really would’ve preferred to stay in that room until we left, but unfortunately for us, someone already paid for the room for the next day. We had to move to another room the next morning – this time, the family room. It was absolutely massive and we had a surplus of 3 beds. However, it was back to the shared bathrooms for us by then, but hey, no biggie.
Normally, I would’ve gone ape-shit because I did specify that we wanted the private room with en suite bathroom for all 3 nights and I suppose they screwed that up somewhat by overbooking. But the staff was fantastic and the facilities were wonderfully clean (and I suppose I was quite in love with the place), so I really didn’t mind, not one bit. In fact, The Husband and I have already decided that we will stay there again when we go back to KK. But I’ll make sure to pre-pay our reservations then, for good measure.
The Lavender Lodge has free wifi and free breakfast. There’s a common room in the second floor with a pool table and a TV, which is usually overrun by backpackers. At least two of the receptionists were Filipinos – Bisaya, pa jud. They were really sweet, even when I bombarded them with questions every time I saw them. They can also book tours for you, if you don’t feel like DIY-ing.
We were starving by the time we finished checking in. Right across Lavender Lodge, there was a big food court type place that served fresh seafood. You know, the kind that keeps live lobsters and prawns and crabs in tanks, so you can pick and choose
and be a party to murder. I don’t eat seafood, so that really didn’t do anything for me.
We walked to the east of our guest house that night to look for grub, but only found a KFC and some local restaurants that seemed to serve the same things – duck, chicken, and seafood in various kinds of curry and noodle combinations.
We ended up having a late dinner in the coffee shop right beside Lavender Lodge.
The Husband had lemon chicken and some sort of duck noodle thing:
I had roast chicken (which was a bit icky) and a very blah egg tart:
Even my favorite cold milo was bland:
To be honest, I was quite disappointed with the food in Sabah. It was always either curry this or curry that, and by the time we got back to KK after 3 days in a jungle camp (next post!), I only wanted a cheeseburger. I am embarrassed to say that I ate nothing but double cheeseburgers and chocolate milkshakes from McDonald’s the last couple of days we were there.
We also discovered fairly late in the trip that going west towards the harbor would take us to the, umm, happening part of town. On our last night, we ended up in an Irish pub where my date had a proper – and expensive! – Irish stew. Yep, we were definitely in tourist central.
As far as I know, there really isn’t a whole lot of things to do and see in KK. Well, obviously, you can shop and eat and enjoy the nightlife like in any city. There’s also the Tanjung Aru Beach, but if you’ve been to a lot of great beaches, this is nothing to write home about.
There’s a group of 5 islands within the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park that’s just a stone’s throw away from the KK harbor where you can go snorkeling and stuff, but we decided to skip this. We heard that though it was okay for beginning snorkelers, it can be quite disappointing for those who have snorkeled in richer reefs in the past.
There are, of course, day trips to parks, wetlands, rivers, etc., but it takes several hours to get to most of these places. Suffice to say, you will really have to leave KK to make the most out of your trip (which we did).
Kota Kinabalu, In A Nutshell
KK is pretty diverse – quite modern in some areas, old-fashioned in some. It’s clean and quite orderly, so I couldn’t help but be pleased, especially coming from grubby, stressful Cebu.
The people are quite lovely, too. Just by looking at them, you already know that they all come from different backgrounds and religions, but they get along okay. It’s tolerance, at its best, and it kind of makes you wonder why people in other areas of the world can’t do the same.
There’s also a lot of Filipinos working not just in KK, but the whole of Sabah. It seemed to me that our countrymen have taken over most of the local jobs. There wasn’t a single establishment that we went to in KK alone that did not have one or two Filipinos working in it. Convenience stores even carried this:
Considering the island’s proximity to the Philippines, I suppose it’s completely logical. I just hope they’re legal. Although I did hear tell that most of the inhabitants of Pulau Gaya (one of the islands of the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park) were illegal Filipinos. Sigh.
Tomorrow, I’ll be writing about the highlight of our whole trip! Stick around.