Everyone is used to seeing Firefly's ATR 72-500 turboprops, so having their corporate bright orange-and-white colors on a larger jet is rather refreshing. The bigger planes also mean longer hauls and better comfort, which makes perfect sense when it comes to their flights to East Malaysia.
Upon touchdown at Kota Kinabalu International Airport (KKIA), we were greeted with a traditional aviation industry welcome, which was a water spraying guard-of-honour. After the welcoming ceremony and press conference, we were taken to Kota Kinabalu's Grand Borneo Hotel, which is part of the 1Borneo Shopping Paradise mall. A simple cocktail party with light food, music and dance followed. And luckily for me, I had a friend who's local; she took me sightseeing around town and beaches at night. Kota Kinabalu is really a town which has to be travelled by car, and it is gorgeous at night.
The next day, we were taken for a preview of Saracen Reef World, which was a reef activity pontoon out at sea. From Sutera Harbour, we took a breezy two-hour-and-twenty minute catamaran ride through Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, where we saw numerous beautiful islands along the way. We were told that the pontoon would be towed more than 40km from its current location to a reef area and be similar to the one at the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Despite it being a preview, we did manage to see a couple of fish underwater and also to get an overall feel of how the pontoon would be like when it is expected to open in May. We later took a much smaller boat back to shore where we joked how we sat like refugees on the floor.
That night, dinner was at Kampung Nelayan, a floating seafood market restaurant. The seafood there was served fresh and the dishes served included fish maw soup, pucuk paku (wild fern shoot), succulent prawns, steamed grouper, crispy chicken and soft-shelled crab. I also experienced tasting a type of snail/shellfish called Siput Tarik, aptly named because we used a toothpick to pull it out from its shell. It was rather daunting at first, but I found it tasted somewhat similar to squid. Not too bad I must say.
We were also treated to a traditional Sabahan cultural performance, where dances like the Daling-daling, Sumazau and Magunatip were presented. The Magunatip or bamboo dance was particularly interesting, as it required precision and skill so that the dancers avoided getting their feet trapped in the bamboo as they danced. Guests were also invited to have a try, with many hilariously getting their legs snapped. We were also given a chance to try the famed sumpit (blow-pipe). Later, my Sabahan friend once again took me around town, bringing me to a lovely Irish Bar that was located just beside the sea.
On day three we took a two-hour drive to Kuala Penyu jetty, after which we set off to Pulau Tiga via a fun and bumpy 45-minute ride on speedboat. Pulau Tiga is also popularly known as "Survivor Island" thanks to its role as the site for the first season of reality show, Survivor.
Upon arrival I was drawn by the breathtaking view of a true island paradise; white sandy beaches and greenish waters. Our rooms were little chalets on stilts, surrounded by jungle terrain and wildlife. I wasn't kidding about the wildlife; we found out there was a family of over 20 giant monitor lizards behind our chalets. These lizards will chase you if they detect sudden movement, as demonstrated by one of the resort staff. Monkeys were also common residents, as seen from all the 'do not feed the monkeys' signs around the resort.
Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Borneo Escapade