Sunday, August 18, 2013

Visiting Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo

It all began with a Skyscanner search. Where could we fly cheaply from Hong Kong to escape the busy city for a week?

“Where the heck is Kota Kinabalu?” Andrew looked back at me blankly.

I read about travel destinations constantly. It’s my industry, but it’s also my passion, as evidenced by the travel guides and magazines dominating our bookshelves. So when I come across a place I’ve never heard of before, I’m immediately intrigued.

After a quick Google search, we were ready to book our flight to a medium sized (450,000) coastal city in Malaysian Borneo. Kota Kinabalu, here we come!

The flight from Hong Kong to Kota Kinabalu (known by locals as KK) was just under three hours, and despite our trepidation at flying with the Asian version of Ryanair, we were very impressed by our Air Asia flight.

We each flew with one piece of checked luggage and a hot meal. Our round-trip cost was about 150 Euro, total. (Yes that does mean the combined total for both of us!). With flights that cheap, we hardly cared what KK would be like. Fortunately it was perfect.

Nearing the small airport, we could see KK stretched along the coast below us. Already we liked what we saw. It was sprawling but colourful, hugging the coast, below a cluster of dark green mountains. The turquoise water was speckled with tropical islands. Yes, we were bound to like this place, a lot.

The tiny airport reminded us of landing in the Bahamas, many years ago. In this instance, however, we did have to pass through immigration, where we were granted tourist visas in the blink of an eye. The customs official even welcomed us with a smile.

A short wait in the taxi queue later and we were headed into town. The palm-lined streets and massive development projects reminded me more of Southern Florida than Southeast Asia but as we neared the city centre, we uncovered more of the Asia I expected to see.

We pulled up outside the Horizon Hotel, so new on the KK skyline google maps still shows it as a construction site. It’s one of only a couple of large, modern hotels in KK and besides the Meridian, the only one not targeting Chinese tourists.

Central Kota Kinabalu is compact and easily walkable, except for two small details. The sidewalks range from shop-fronts spilling onto the street to broken concrete to boards over gaping holes. Then there is the sun, blazing down, ready to blister pasty white skin within minutes.

Dodging from shady corner to awning covered store-front, we explored the city.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Visiting Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo