Saturday, February 01, 2014

Discover Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, on the island of Borneo

WHILE many Australians may first think of Kuala Lumpur when considering a visit to Malaysia, the quieter city of Kota Kinabalu in Sabah is a nice alternative.

With Malaysia Airlines flying to Kuala Lumpur from Australian cities including Darwin, Melbourne and Sydney, now is a great time to catch a connecting flight in the Malaysian capital to the home of orang-utans.

As a guest of the airline on the inaugural flight from Darwin, I spent six days seeing the sights and experiencing what the state of Sabah on the island of Borneo has to offer.

KK is less developed than its big city cousin across the South China Sea but it still boasts more than half a million residents and a central business district that has several hotels being frantically built to meet growing demand.

Located on the northwest coast of Borneo, the city is a seafood haven where local markets abound and everything that swims in the sea can be found on restaurant menus. But if seafood isn't your thing, you may have to look a bit harder to find something you like.

In the city, I stayed at the comfortable Le Meridien which was close to local night spots and markets. The food on offer here was tasty, served in buffet format, especially the breakfast.

The best part of the hotel was that it was only five minutes from a strip of pubs and clubs on the waterfront.

My pick was a bar named the Cock and Bull, voted Best Entertainment Outlet three years in a row in the mid 2000s.

But we did not know this when we went in for some beers and cocktails, it just seemed welcoming with its pool table, sports on television and solid drinks range.

If the pace of the city isn't your thing there are other options. One is to hop on a boat and head out to the Bunga Raya Island Resort - an ideal place for honeymooners, with 48 timbered villas tucked away into the side of a tropical island surrounded by trees.

A few minutes away is the Gayana Eco Resort where many of the overwater villas have glass floors to watch the marine life.

The Alu-Alu Seafood Restaurant is a highlight here and a must-visit for a feast.

Next door is the Marine Ecology Research Centre where marine biologists are fighting to save the giant clams, with seven of the eight species worldwide in Malaysian waters.

Visitors can tour the centre and take part in conservation by adopting coral.