Friday, November 02, 2012

48 hours in chilled out Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

A traveller's first stop in Borneo, the world's third largest island, should be Kota Kinabalu.

It's the capital of Malaysia's Sabah state, with nearby islands and forests, scrumptious seafood, tribal cultures and a history of Japanese rule during World War II.

Yet this coastal city often gets ignored as most travellers make a beeline to Mount Kinabalu, Southeast Asia's tallest mountain at 4,095 metres (13,435 ft). So stop by KK, as the locals call it, for a relaxed 48 hours after the trek from Borneo's rooftop.


530 p.m. - Start your weekend with a pretty spectacular sunset in KK, a seaside city also seen as the gateway to Sabah's steamy jungles and tropical islands. If you just won the lottery, head to Sutera Harbour Resort and charter a luxury yacht for a sunset cruise with fine dining and champagne.

Or keep it simple and head over to Tanjung Aru beach with the locals and toast the sunset with an avocado shake. If you are feeling adventurous, try hinava -- a dish of raw fish mixed with bird's eye chilli, lime, grated ginger and salted bitter gourd -- at nearby Grace Point food court. This is a favourite of the Kadazandusun people, whose tribes used to dominate Sabah.

7 p.m. - Time for a southern Filipino seafood barbecue at the KK night market on Jalan Tun Fuad Stephens. Much of the seafood is caught and grilled by Filipino fishermen who either legally or illegally moved to Sabah for a better life.

Just head to one of long tables piled with seafood and point to what you want. As you wait for the stingray or prawns to be grilled, mix your own dipping sauce from lime, chilli paste, salt and sugar. Best served with hot rice.

10 p.m. - Go a little crazy with Sabah's lively pubs and clubs where bopping your head to a local or Filipino live band is the way to go. Check out Bed at the waterfront esplanade and rock on.


9 a.m. - Book a guided, two-hour heritage walk through Kota Kinabalu, shaped by years of British rule, a brutal Japanese military occupation followed by Allied forces restlessly bombing the city during World War II.

Here British colonial buildings stand by side by side military monuments, Chinese coffee shops or kopitiam and wet markets in this seaside city also seen as the gateway to Sabah's steamy jungles and tropical islands.

1230 p.m. - Now for the first of many seafood feasts. Head to Kedai Kopi Fatt Kee on Jalan Bakau or Bakau road for crispy salt and pepper prawns and stir fried jungle ferns, popularly known as "Sabah veggie," with hot shrimp paste or garlic.

230 p.m. - Peer into a wooden house of ancient skulls collected by Monsopiad, a famous head hunter with magical powers from one of the Kadazandusun tribes. His descendents set up Monsopiad cultural village where visitors can get a snapshot of Kadazandusun life with rice wine making, tribal dances and cooking classes

You can also make your way through a tangle of jungle and rice fields to Monsopiad's final resting place. The famous warrior was put to death by his tribe after he developed too much of a blood lust for cutting off heads.