Gone for the Weekend in Kota Kinabalu

atkinson clock, gone fro the weekend, kinabalu park, kota kinabalu, malaysia, mt. kinabalu, poring
I will admit, when P told me that we will go to Kota Kinabalu with our friend T, my initial reply was this: What’s in Kota Kinabalu?  Aside from getting to see Mt. Kinabalu, it seemed like a trip there wouldn’t be that exciting.  For sure, we initially thought of Singapore and all its shopping and gustatory delights but trying to get a cheap flight there on December is like trying to get George Clooney to settle down and get married (read: not gonna happen).  So the cheapest flights of them all is Kota Kinabalu and since all the three of us are itching to make a quick getaway, it seemed at that time that any foreign land will do.  Normally, making a haste decision like that will result badly but we were surprised that KK, as it is lovingly called, gave us one of our most memorable weekends ever.

Kota Kinabalu is the state capital of Sabah.  Formerly Jesselton, it was a British Settlement in the 1800s and is also known as the rain forest city as it is surrounded by lush, green rain forest.  The tall buildings of the city are a striking contrast to the towering trees on the hills surrounding it and it is a melting pot of different cultures making for one very interesting place to visit.


Sabah Tourism Office.  Located right across our hotel, this just seemed too convenient for us.  Inside are people who are well-versed about the ins and outs of Kota Kinabalu and Sabah in general.  We just asked everything from the very helpful man there and he gave us suggestions on spending our days in KK.  It really is like having you own free tour guide to tell you how to go around the city.  Plus, the building is also a historical landmark itself having been one of the three buildings that survived Allied bombings during WWII and being located on the part of Gaya Street that dates back to 1916.

Jesselton Point Waterfront

Jesselton Point Waterfront serves as the main ferry terminal for jetties going to the islands of Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park or TAR.  Here you will find counters of different tour operators offering day trips to any one of the islands of TAR– Manukan, Sapi, Mamutik and Gaya.  We bought our round trip ferry tickets to Pulau Manukan here for MYR 23 each which includes the rent of snorkeling gear.  You will also have to pay MYR7.20 as terminal fee.  Aside from the terminal, Jesselton Point is also a quaint seaside place bustling with other activities.  It has cafes and restaurants and even an indoor soccer stadium!  Around the area you will also get to see old pictures of Jesselton Point back in the day when it was the main shipping port in Kota Kinabalu.

You will also not miss these two red, English-inspired phone booths which has become an attraction in itself.  Kota Kinabalu is a former British settlement and perhaps these phone booths serves as a way to relive that part of their history.  And just so you’re wondering, yes the pay phones inside the booths are working.

I just had to tell you our experience with riding the jetties to Pulau Manukan.  By no means is the ride smooth and pleasant where you can mull over your life as the sea breeze gently caresses your skin.  Nope, don’t expect that although mulling over one’s life can be a possibility as thoughts of it will flash before you when you are almost sure that the jetty you are riding on can capsize.  The waters are choppy and the ride is fast– which is not so much that we got to our destination earlier than expected as it being a furious rush.  If we have bus drivers trying to get as many trips as they can, the lantsa drivers here are the same.  But don’t let my nervous wits tell you that it is extremely dangerous.  They do practice safety by giving you life vests and well… that’s about it.  But if you are able to survive a boat ride to Puerto Galera in an overcapacity boat then you should be able to enjoy this one.

Pulau Manukan.  Pulau Manukan is one of the islands that comprises Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park in KK.  The other islands are Pulau Sapi, Pulau Mamutik and parts of Pulau Gaya.  The man behind the counter over at Jesselton Point suggested we go to Pulau Manukan for its long stretch of sandy beaches and waters teeming with marine life good for snorkeling and diving.

It was a long stretch of white sandy beach alright and for sure there are good snorkeling spots but  the annoying seaweeds right at the shore seemed like barricades we have to get over before getting to pristine waters– it was a bit of a struggle and it didn’t help that T saw a jellyfish swimming around mindlessly. It also didn’t help that we have been to Coron where, while there might be jellyfishes swimming around, it has the most amazing corals and marine life just a few meters from the beach. Here, you have to go farther to be able to see fishes but like I said, the seaweeds are a distraction before getting there.
 But this didn’t matter that much as we have come to be experts at the art of doing nothing and at a beach setting? Perfect!

You know how you’ve always wanted to lie down on an exotic beach with a tree shade hovering above you and let time just slip by?  Well, you can do that here.

There is a resort in Pulau Manukan but you can really just stay there for a daytrip if you are not planning to stay longer.  An entrance fee of MYR10 for non-Malaysians is collected when you enter the island.   There are also restaurants which perhaps serves good and hence, expensive food but we are on a budget and so we settled for cafeteria-like food over at the fast food service area of the island. There’s also a bar which probably comes alive at night  although I highly doubt if the islands turn into Boracay.  Maybe it does, I would not know as we were out of there by 3pm.  Oh, boat rides to and from any one of the islands are only until 5pm so if you are not planning on staying overnight check the clock.

Atkinson Clock Tower

Speaking of clocks… Yeah, I know I was gonna do a good segue but suddenly it seemed futile. Anyway, the Atkinson Clock Tower is a famous city landmark in Kota Kinabalu.  It was built in 1903 in memory of Francis George Atkinson, a first district officer of Jesselton during the British North Borneo Chartered Company Administration (wow that’s a mouthful) who died of Borneo fever which is known these days as Malaria.  I have to wonder if he died around this area because mosquitoes seem to abound on this side of Signal Hill road.  (Just a tip: Put some insect repellent if ever you’ll be around forest-y areas in Kota Kinabalu.  Like in the Philippines, tropical climate countries bring in mosquitoes that bite).  Back to the tower, it is quite amazing that this structure is all wood– as in no nails are used and yet it still stands quite remarkably.  It is also the oldest structure in the whole of Sabah that survived the destruction during World War II.  To this day it still serves to keep the city’s time. 

Signal Hill Observation Tower

After doing Aktinson Clock Tower, you are already near the Signal Hill Observation Tower.  Actually, the clearing in which the clock tower stands is already along Signal Hill Road.  You can just walk up the road for a few meters to the Observation deck.  But see, a few meters is relative and we did take a cab to go here so I suggest you do the same unless you are really looking forward to working up a sweat. 

The observation deck gives you an amazing view of the city and it is best to go here at sunset because if you still didn’t know, Kota Kinabalu has one of the most amazing sunsets in this side of the world.  I think it even rivals the one seen over Manila Bay.

Gaya Street Sunday Market 

A few walks from our Hotel is the Gaya Street Market held every Sunday from 6AM to 1PM.  the whole stretch of Gaya Street is closed for motorist as it becomes a Market filled with stalls selling everything from Sabah souvenirs to fruit slushies to puppies (I have a feeling PETA people will get mad when they see those mutts).  Best to come here early to enjoy your shopping as by the time we are about to leave at 730AM, people started pouring in and the foot traffic can get pretty congested.

Poring Hot Spring

Poring Hot Spring is located in Ranau in the lowlands northeast from Kinabalu Park. It features “mini pools” of Hot Springs where you can soak your feet or your whole body.  The water on the pools have been actually cooled down a bit since the real hot spring water coming from the Mountains is extremely hot.  You can try to touch the actual hot spring water to feel it yourself.  There’s even a picture notice that depicts no boiling of eggs.  Sounds funny, right?  But true enough, our tour guide says that people used to boil eggs here when they picnic around the area.  So you see, its that hot.

Before soaking in the hot springs, we were led by our guide to climb up to the canopy walkway which is a famous attraction in Poring.  The canopy is situated 100 to 200 ft above the forest floor so you can just imagine that a climb up there isn’t going to be easy.  This time, prepare to break up a sweat– lots of it.  Bring in a personal bottle of water to replenish along the way unless you are our tour guide who climbs these stairs about thrice a week.  Seeing him talking on his mobile phone as we are climbing the stairs tells me that I do need to exercise to build my stamina and also, Kota Kinabalu has some of the most amazing mobile phone signals in the world!

They charge a fee of MYR 5 for the use of a camera when you walk on the canopy walkway.  Hmm.. I don’t know why this is, an insurance if your camera happens to fall from the walkway perhaps?  So we paid anyway since of course we want to take pictures that we have actually managed to walk along the quite primitive hanging bridges on the canopy walkway.  Well there you go.  Maybe the fee is a payment for bragging rights! Of course. What else can it be? 🙂

After the walkway we finally got to soak our tired legs and feet on the hot springs. The hot sulfuric minerals in the water are said to have healing properties.  I wouldn’t investigate if they actually do but they did felt fantastic on our sore legs.

Outside the hot springs area we were able to view The Rafflesia which has become ubiquitous to Sabah.  There are also Rafflesia flowers here in the Philippines, but they do have the largest concentration in Sabah.  And we are indeed quite lucky to be able to witness one if full bloom during our trip as this flower takes about 15 months to bud and when it does, it lasts for only 7 days.  Such a rarity.  It is a carnivorous plant, feeding on insects mostly flies.  Popular belief has said that the Rafflesia smells bad but we didn’t smell anything at all.  Our guide says the smell can only be detected by flies hence they are drawn to its center where they will then be eaten.  But you can just imagine what it will smell like what with all the flies that’s been decaying in its mouth. Actually, do not imagine because there’s no way it is not gross.  My friend T has this unfounded theory that it is probably the inspiration for Plant vs. Zombies.  Wouldn’t be surprised if this was true.

Kinabalu Park

A trip to Kota Kinabalu would not be complete without getting to see Mt. Kinabalu.  The so-called HQ of Mt. Kinabalu is Kinabalu Park and is Malaysia’s first World Heritage Site designated by UNESCO in 2000. Various species of Flora and Fauna can be found on the site and various trails depending on level of difficulty can be taken to experience Mt. Kinabalu.  Perhaps our tour guide thought we are not fit for any of the levels at all, which is quite sexist I think but he may be right though, Mt. Kinabalu is one of the most tough mountains to climb in Asia and we have not climbed any mountains at all.  No thanks to our panting during the climb to the canopy walkway, the way we ate like construction workers during lunch and that we slept in the van the whole way going to the park.  Yeah, he made a good judgment on that one.  Anyway, it looked good from where we are standing…

Clouds are already covering the peak though so we did not manage to get a perfect picture.  But there’s always the next time.  And the next time we might even climb it.  High five for my bravado.  Here’s to not eating just what I said.

The park also features a botanical garden which gives you a sample of the various flora and fauna to be found in the forest surrounding Mt. Kinabalu.  We are not good with remembering plant names but there are a lot of exotic looking plants in there.  We also saw a couple of squirrels and a baby snake (yikes!).

Our trip to Kota Kinabalu turned out to be one of the most exciting trips we’ve had in years.  The people are also warm and very friendly, reminds you a bit of the Philippines which cannot be that hard to imagine since Filipinos are also all over the place!  Some Sabahans even know how to speak Filipino.  The geographical distance of Sabah from Mindanao makes sense of this and you feel like you are somehow at home and yet far from it as well.  If you are looking for adventure, communing with nature and also experiencing a vibrant city then Kota Kinabalu is a place for you.

By: K (with P and T)

The food is delicious too!  Watch out for our yummy post on Kota Kinabalu eats!
And our stay wouldn’t be half as nice without staying at HotelSixty3.  Upcoming review soon!

For tours: http://www.sabahaspenholidays.com


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