Friday, October 07, 2011

Backpacking in Kota Kinabalu

I’ve always been competitive when it comes to physical challenges especially those that require serious trekking, walking or running. That’s why when the most trusted low-cost carrier in the country, Cebu Pacific, in cooperation with Sabah Tourism Board, invited select members of the media and a couple of bloggers to participate this year’s Cebu Pacific Backpacking Challenge in Kota Kinabalu, I felt a sudden surge of excitement.

It was like being back on the track again after a long hiatus. Backpacking is something that I’ve been meaning to do but just couldn’t find the right time to do so. Suddenly, the opportunity came and I just had to pack wisely and then we’re off to Sabah, Malaysia.

The Land below the Wind

East Malaysia comprises two states—Sabah and Sarawak—and a federal territory, Labuan. The region is known for vast expanses of rainforest, mist-capped mountains and UNESCO World Heritage Sites like Kinabalu Park, Gunung Mulu National Park. Kota Kinabalu, popularly known as KK, is Sabah’s capital city. It is known as the gateway to eco-adventures such as diving, river cruising, mountain climbing, white-water rafting and caving.

KK was formerly known as Jesselton and most parts of the city have been reconstructed after World War II. Its population of nearly 3.1 million is made up of 32 ethnic communities, including Filipino Muslims who have been staying there for the past 30 to 40 years. Aside from the scenic spots, what makes KK beautiful is its friendly and hospital people.

In many ways, they reminded me of my own race. Perhaps it’s because the Philippines is near Sabah and for centuries, Filipinos and Malays haven trading. Evidence of this can be seen in one of the several museums in KK where an old decorative banca, which was used by Malays for trade here in the Philippines, is displayed in the entrance area.

The region lies at the northern part of the equator so the climate is tropical but pleasant. Because of its location, KK is generally free from climatic disturbances and it lies under the typhoon belt, thus the name Land below the Wind. It’s generally sunny in KK whole year round although people may experience rain showers during the months of September to February.

The [major part of the] challenge

We were divided into five teams, two members for each. Our team was called Kinabalu team and I thought it was very appropriate since our goal was to conquer Kota Kinabalu—well, ideally. My team partner, Jonel Uy of was last year’s winner in the CEB Backpacking Challenge held locally so he had some tips to share based on his experience.

Prior to the challenge, my team mate and I planned our itinerary for the first day of the three-day challenge. He had been to KK once but according to him, he never really got the chance to explore the city so we had to research a lot about the must-visit places and must-do activities in and outside of the city.

I didn’t do my homework but it was a good thing that maps and fliers that contain information about tourism in KK were handed to us by the organizers not to mention that they are also available for free in the airport.

Continue reading at: Backpacking in Kota Kinabalu

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