Going to Kota Kinabalu was like a leap in the dark. I never knew what to expect there, except that its name sounded exotic enough. After the hustle and bustle of KL, this place was genteel and serene. The people seemed to be supremely at peace with themselves and I can only be a satisfied tourist not having to deal with a single rude encounter (plus somebody returned my wallet!) The city itself was pretty, with its focal points like the jetty, the market and the esplanade, facing the waterfront — South China Sea to be exact! The lack of any tall building is also remarkable, and I like the fact that one can go to the city, with its shopping malls, to the islands – with their white beaches – in 15 minutes. This is notwithstanding the fact that there are a number of five-star resorts around. With its privacy and picturesque details, Kota Kinabalu now gets my vote as a place where I would spend my honeymoon, supposing The Honeymoon Man is around, harhar.
FYI, KK is the capital of the province of Sabah in Borneo which is very much accessible to our countrymen in the south, being only an overnight boat ride away from Zamboanga. So KK was all about..
1. Filipinos everywhere. They were to be found in the restos, the shops and the handicraft market which was alternately called the Filipino market.
2. Mount Kinabalu, the highest point in Southeast Asia at 4095 meters.It is framed by the heritage site Mt. Kinabalu Park which can be reached via a scenic two-hour drive from KK.
3. Orangutans, proboscis monkeys and the like. KK’s diverse rainforests provide an interesting study in zoology 101.
4. Island-hopping. Via speedboats or a fast ferry, one can ride from the city to the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park in 15 mins. The park covers the islands of Manukan, Sapi, Mamutil, gaya and Sulug from where one can spend the day snorkelling or just plain lazing around in the white sand beach.
5. Shopping. Okay, so I thought KK was probinsya all the way, only to find out that its upscale malls have Mango, Vincci, Guess, Elle, Esprit, Adidas and other global labels. Check out Warisma Square, Palm Square atop Centrepoint and other shopping destinations.
6. Food-tripping. Found here are the usual Malaysian fare like nasi lemak and satay. KK has a number of scenic restaurants along the water strip but I was happy enough to try cheap sumptuous seafood at the open-air SEDCO complex from where one can order the freshest catch of the day (still swimming in the aquarium actually). Also relished kopi and roti kahwin (kaya toast) at my favorite kopitiam, The Olde Station, in Warisan Square. Lest you think KK is provincial again, the place is host to a few international franchises like Starbucks, Coffee Bean &Tea Leaf, Delifrance, KFC, etc.
7. Old taxis, old cars. Most of the vehicles (“Proton”) plying the streets were really old, and the owners just didn’t seem to care about it.
8. Jesselton Point. This is the name of their marina or jetty from where the boats are docked and depart for their islands. At least the local government took the effort to “prettify” the place and give it some character. The design kinda reminded me of the Subic Bay Yacht Club. Now, if only all our terminals can look like this huh.
9. Tanjung Aru. A few minutes drive further off the city is this suburb which hosts a vast Shang-Ri La Resort, a number of beach theme restos, the Kota Kinabalu Yacht Club and Golf Club. Worth checking out if you’ve got extra time.
10. The people, don’t forget the people. Knowing that I’d be travelling alone somehow gave me the creeps but one would be glad to know that the place is relatively safe and devoid of even petty crimes. That’s because most of the residents seemed happy and content with their lives.
11. Pearls, precious pearls. Most of the designs are really “matronly” but if you’re looking for necklaces, bracelets, brooches and other items made of genuine freshwater pearls, head on to the night market or the handicraft shops and get a good bargain from these jewels of the sea.