The first stop on our recent vacation was to Kota Kinabalu (or KK, as the locals call it), a little city in the Malaysian state of Sabah on the island of Borneo. After spending just a couple days there, both David and I feel strongly that everyone should visit Borneo. It’s a hidden gem!
Great food, beautiful beaches, dense rainforests, amazing wildlife, developed cities, friendly locals, and bonus: virtually everyone speaks English! What more could you ask for?
Here’s a breakdown of our first few hours in Malaysia…
For the most part, we consider ourselves a pretty well-traveled pair, but even we make rookie mistakes….this trip started off with an expensive (and embarrassing) mistake.
After a series of unfortunate events — i.e. a delayed flight from Chiang Mai, our confidence that a one-hour layover was plenty of time to make a flight connection, and AirAsia’s ridiculous policy of closing check-in a full hour before departure — we ended up missing our connecting flight from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Kinabalu.
The most frustrating part is that we actually would have made our second flight on time if AirAsia had simply let us check in when we got to the counter. Our plane was literally sitting on the tarmac for a full 35 minutes while we were stuck at the counter begging them to let us check in. But in the end, AirAsia wouldn’t budge and we were forced to pay a $125 USD penalty fee to get tickets on the next flight.
Incredibly annoying for any budget but especially when that fee is about 15% of your monthly salary. Ugh.
Arrival at KK Airport
Luckily, we only had to wait an hour for the next flight to take off, but when we went to grab some cash and eat while we waited, we learned that literally all of the ATMs in the airport were broken. Then it was the same story at the KK airport. So for our very first activity in KK, we had to exchange some money at a currency counter (something we usually try to avoid since they usually have unfavorable exchange rates).
Pro Tip: If caught in the same situation at KK airport, make sure to exchange your money at the yellow Maybank counter, not the other place in the airport (can’t remember its name, but their sign is red); Maybank’s exchange rates are way better and they sold smaller bills.
After getting some cash, we hopped into one of the airport-sanctioned cabs for the 15 minute drive into city, which cost 30 MYR (about $10 USD). We tried to get past the annoying delays and ATM issues, and we focused on our excitement to finally be in Borneo.
Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Borneo: Southeast Asia’s Hidden Gem.