Friday, October 14, 2011

Backpacking in Kota Kinabalu - Part 2

The Cebu Pacific Backpacker’s Challenge was perhaps the most adventure-packed and physically-draining three days that I’ve ever experienced in years. Nevertheless, it was also a fun and memorable experience.

The goal was to visit as many places and do as many activities as we could with the least amount of money spent. To win the challenge, we have to document (through photos and videos) the activities and keep all receipts. The team with the most interesting discoveries and activities with the least money spent, wins six round trip tickets to any Cebu Pacific international destination plus a three-night hotel accommodation in Kota Kinabalu.

For the first day of the challenge, we did the city tour. To save money, my team partner Jonel Uy (of ) and I opted to walk around the city and find our way to the city museums and mosques using only maps as guide. If we were not certain of the route to take, we would flash our friendliest smiles and ask directions from the locals. Most of the time, they were very helpful but there were times we ended up getting more confused and lost so we were left with no choice but to familiarize [ourselves] with the maps. It turned out to be a good decision because by Day Two, we could almost name the major streets in the city. I would joke that the next time we visited KK, we could work as tour guides. But of course, there’s much more to see and learn in KK than what brochures and maps offer.

The long, adventure-packed three days

For lunch, Jonel suggested that we try the Tambayan at Kainan ng mga Filipino (bar and restaurant) downtown. Yes, it was owned by Filipinos and they serve 100 percent Filipino cuisine. We tried their rendition of Halo-halo, which was served in a big bowl. For someone who hadn’t had a decent meal that day, it was more satisfying than refreshing, although it could’ve tasted better had they used ingredients from the Philippines.

In the afternoon, we took the free shuttle from the city going to One Borneo Mall (the largest mall in KK), which was around 20-minute trip from the city. After window-shopping for about an hour, we decided to get on the next bus and go to Tanjung Aru Beach, which was near the airport and a bit far from the city. Our mistake. By the time we learned from a fellow passenger that we had to go back to the city to catch the bus going to the beach, we were already on board and we had no idea where it was heading so we asked the driver to stop the bus and we got off right away. We ended up going to Masjid Bandaraya Mosque, went inside to observe and then walked for a good one hour and a half to the Wisma Tun Mustapha, formerly known as Sabah Foundation Building. That was perhaps what my gay friends call as ‘monumental walk'. It was late afternoon when we reached the sparkling 30-storey tower, which is one of the few buildings in the world built using a single column structure.

Change of plans

It was almost dark and we were both tired and thirsty from a long day of walking and documenting (through photos and videos) the sites we’ve visited and activities we did, so we agreed to take a cab back to the city. I was only too glad to be able to rest en route to the city.

I was looking forward to stretching my legs, relaxing and perhaps enjoying coffee upon reaching the city when Jonel suddenly said that we had to visit the museums, mosques and temples around KK to maximize our time. We both wanted to win—I guess all the other teams as well—and I knew the four other groups were very competitive. So even if all I wanted was to call it a day, we still walked our way to the Sabah State Mosque, All Saints Cathedral, Sacred Heart Cathedral, Sabah Museum, Museum of Islamic Civilization and Sikh Temple. We didn’t stay long in each of those places but by the time we decided to go back to the hostel, it was pitch dark... and raining.

We made it to Lucy’s Hostel in one-piece albeit soaked and really, really tired from several detours along the way (we stopped for a beer at a boulevard-bar and tried some local fares in some small restaurants). It was almost midnight when we reached the hostel and I was too tired and sleepy even to make myself some coffee though it was for free.

Trekking in Kinabalu Park

The plan was to dedicate half of the day to Kinabalu Park and the other half in Poring Hot Spring, both of which are too far from the city and the fare going there would definitely take a huge chunk from our fund. Turned out, we wouldn’t be able to do both on the same day since going to Kinabalu Park itself is around two-hour trip already then another hour going to Poring Hot Spring. We opted to go to Kinabalu Park.

The rainforest-clad Kinabalu Park is indeed beautiful, despite the fog and rain shower that seem to follow us wherever we go. Kinabalu Park is Malaysia’s first World Heritage Site and home to one of Southeast Asia’s tallest peak, Mount Kinabalu. And although I would love to do mountain climbing, there wasn’t just enough time for it. Plus we weren’t wearing the right outfit.

We chose one of the shortest trails for trekking and instead of joining a group trek—which would have required us to pay—we did it on our own using a trail map as guide. As expected, we weren’t able to finish the trek for lack of time. It was way past lunch when we reach the reception office of the park. We decided to take our lunch in a restaurant outside the park, since it was cheaper. To save money, we split taxi fares with two Korean foreigners who were also going back to the city from Kinabalu Park.

Later that day, we went to Tanjung Aru beach and although it was raining and my feet were hurting already, we did have a good time there. We later tried different satays in the hawker-style village in Tanjunbg Aru and then went to Kinablu Golf Club before deciding to call it a day. Unfortunately, it was way past 8 p.m. already and according to some locals, the last bus going back to the city left at 7 p.m. Good thing there was a kind-hearted tourist bus driver who stopped on us and let us hitched a ride back to the city. That moment was bliss.

Island-hopping on the last day

For the third and final day of the challenge, we decided to go island-hopping. A Filipino we met at the Seafood Market the day before has a friend at the Jesselton Port who gave us a good discount for a four island-visit. Instead of giving the usual amount of RM108 per head for two islands, she only charged RM35 for each of us. It was probably the greatest bargain we were able to haggle for the entire challenge.

It took 20-minute motorboat ride for us to reach our first stop—the Gaya Island or Pulau Gaya. There wasn’t much to do in the island except swim and have some Tom Yam noodles. Around 30 minutes after we arrived, the boat that would take us to the next island was already waiting for us.

Continue reading at: Backpacking in Kota Kinabalu - Part 2

Also see: Backpacking in Kota Kinabalu - Part 1

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