Kota Kinabalu

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For a number of years I have wanted to visit Borneo, and the city of Kota Kinabalu on the northern coast is an interesting city from which to explore the State of Sabah. First I had to persuade the OM John that it was a good idea, as his idea of a holiday is sitting (or sleeping) around reading or doing nothing, and mine is to visit new places and make the most of my time away.Le MeridienLe Meridien
Our flight left in the early hours with the idea that we would sleep a bit on the plane, but it was very difficult for John, so we will try to avoid that in the future. A quick stopover in Brunei, and half an hour later we landed in Kota Kinabalu, at the large modern airport. The airport transfer had us quickly at our chosen hotel, Le Meridien in the city centre, and we were able to try the first of the magnificent buffet breakfasts, before a well earned rest in the room The resorts here are out of town, and one especially about a 45 minute drive, but we particularly wanted to be in the city, so that we were free to explore ourselves easily, and we were very pleased with the hotel. We chose the slightly more expensive sea view room which overlooked the street running along the esplanade, the covered markets, then a concrete area, which every afternoon became the night markets, and finally the bay. As with any harbour, there is always something happening and changing. We also spent time just looking in the small shops, the supermarkets and department stores, window shopping mainly, and seeing all sorts of interesting items, some long since disappeared from Australia, and others unique to Asia.Car ParkingCar Parking
The buffet breakfast included with our hotel room was all you can eat, so we sampled some of everything:- curry, rice, noodles, all types of eggs, bread, toast, pancakes of various types. Then there were salads and fruit, cereals, juice and pastries. This kept us going all day, and we tried a number of different places for our evening meals throughout the city, mostly where the locals ate, some catering for the tourists, and finally on the last two nights, our favourite, a very busy place with basic Chinese cuisine, but delicious and cheap.BreakfastBreakfast
Before we left home we had contacted Steve 9M6DXX who has lived in Kota Kinabalu for about 5 years, but often heard from other locations, especially IOTA’s. He was very happy to meet us for dinner on our first evening, as he was off to Sarawak for WPX contest that weekend. We had another night out with Steve and Eva on our last evening at the Tanjung Aru Resort after viewing our one and only sunset. We enjoyed meeting them both very much, and it was great to get some local perspective and ideas.
The first trip we did started in the afternoon with a drive for a couple of hours along the coastal plain to the Klias Wetland. We were taken in a open boat along the river on the lookout for Probiscus Monkeys which live in the low lying rainforest near the river. There were a surprising number of other boats also filled with tourists, so we thought we wouldn’t have a hope of seeing any. At first we saw some quite a distance away, and up high in the trees, but eventually we were able to glide quietly to the bank and a few of them came down lower and closer to the river. Just as the sun was setting we headed back to the base camp for a typical local meal of chicken curry, rice, noodles and deep fried banana in a light batter. Another short trip on the river to view the fireflies in the trees, and then the long 2 hour trip back to the city.
As an alternative to the long and expensive day trip flying to Sandakan to visit Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary, we organized to see the orang utans being fed at the nature reserve belonging to the Shangri-la Rasa Ria Resort. A 20 minute video beforehand explained that they work in association with the Sepilok Sanctuary, and have young orangutans in the first stage of rehabilitation. After a short walk through the forest up to the feeding platform, the guide called out and two orangutans came up to the clearing.OrangutanOrangutan For nearly an hour we were able to observe them at close range, and even though they are supposed to be wild, they put on a show for us all, swinging from tree to tree, along a rope and playing games. We were free to wander through the resort and beach afterwards, and then we caught the shuttle bus back to the city.OrangutanOrangutan
On a Sunday one of the main streets is closed off and a street market is held, and all manner of items are for sale. Some fruit and vegetables, plants, second hand clothes, and also puppies, kittens, chickens, and baby rabbits. Of course, every day there were the undercover handicraft and food markets along the waterfront, and at night there were even more stalls with fresh fish and seafood of all shapes and sizes, and chicken as well. We decided to try chicken on a stick from the market, and were asked if we would like chicken, chicken liver, chicken kidney or chicken arse! We stuck to plain chicken. Another day, on hearing drumming, I discovered there was a street parade celebrating some sort of Chinese cultural or religious festival, as there were groups of people in the uniforms and costumes, and also a couple of Chinese dragons.
The final “tourist” thing we did was, on the advice of Steve and Eva, hire a car to drive up Mt Kinabalu to the National Park, Poring Hot Spring and Canopy Walk. After looking at the various options, we decided on hiring a car with a driver, for only $30 extra. This meant that John could get to look around more and not worry about the road or driving (this was the theory anyway). Mt Kinabalu is the highest mountain in Asia at about 13,000 ft and can be walked up (by the young and fit). Luckily we took a couple of photos of the mountain from the coastal plain, as that was the last we were to see of the top of the mountain that day. Mt KinabaluMt KinabaluThe road was in quite good condition, and just kept on winding up and up the mountain until the park entrance at 5000 ft, taking about an hour and a half. On the way is a small market town where all the tours stop no doubt, as there was a viewing tower specially built, but on the day we were there, a great view of the clouds. We went as far as the town of Ranau and tried to get money out of the ATM but they were not working that day, and were lucky enough to have some cash to change. Next stop was the Canopy Walk which is in the area of the Poring Hot Springs. After a small entrance fee to both the springs and another for the walk, there was a short steep and hot walk up to the shelter for the first of the four swing bridge type walks between the trees. I’m not sure if it was because of the number of people and noise that day, but we only saw tree tops and the river below, and no animals or butterflies, but nevertheless a great way to see the forest.Jungle Canopy WalkJungle Canopy Walk Yet another enjoyable curry in the local restaurant, and we were only our way back the way we had come. Before long it started to rain, and when we arrived at the war memorial at Kundasang it was raining heavily. However, we paid the small entrance fee and walked through the memorial to the British and Australian soldiers who were forced to march to this area from Sandakan by the Japanese. Only 6 survived by escaping into the jungle. The highlight of the day was to be some walking in the National Park, but by the time we arrived at the entrance it was really raining, and already 3 o’clock, so we decided to give it a miss. Then the scary part of the day, driving down the mountain in a downpour. Our driver managed to refrain from overtaking on bends and white lines, but this didn’t stop the other drivers, and I was secretly happy when he got stuck behind a slow car, and we eventually reached the bottom in one piece.
The final two days were taken up with some more window shopping and testing out of the local eating establishments. We made a short trip to Sutera Harbour to check out the marina and boats, and also a visit to the museum, which had a small display of the local history and culture.
One great aspect to our visit was the lack of “touts” trying to sell anything and everything, and generally people were very happy that we had visited their city, and were not trying to get anything from us. It was also extremely safe, even walking around in the evenings was no problem at all. Even though alcohol is sold, the most common being rice wine, we saw very little evidence of its use in public. During our holiday the weather was not as hot as we thought it would be. It was overcast most days, humid and rained every afternoon or evening, sometimes only lightly. When it got a bit warm in the middle of the day, we spent a couple of hours relaxing in our air conditioned room.
Kota Kinabalu has a number of other attractions to fill your time such as a cultural village, snorkeling and diving at the offshore islands, white water rafting and some more extended trips into the more isolated parts of Borneo.Sunset at Tanjung AruSunset at Tanjung Aru