Welcome to Malaysia! Our first impression of Kota Kinabalu (locally known simply as KK) was one of relief after arriving from Indonesia, getting back to what felt like a normal city – complete with wide streets (rather than alleyway sized main roads) and a majority of cars rather than bikes that follow road rules.
The absence of bikes and never ending horns also makes the city considerably quieter (save for the deafening thunderclaps as Borneo was entering the wet season).
We spent our first few days in KK figuring out plans for our time in Borneo and running some errands.
While doing this we made some observations about things Malaysia loves (that were only reconfirmed as time went on):
1. Phones – Every other shop sells phones and phone accessories and everyone is playing phone games (usually with the sounds on high).
2. Sugar – If it’s edible it’s sweet. We unsuspectingly learnt this when we bought pizza buns and hot dogs from a bakery that ended up tasting like doughnuts with tomato sauce on and we had to buy a second lunch as we couldn’t finish them.
3. Horror Movies – This is just strange. In our first couple of days we checked out the movie listings at the 2 main cinemas in the city – one with 6 screens and the other with 8, and out of all of these screens only 2 were not horror movies. Later on our 6 hour bus rides to and from Sandakan, 3 of the 5 movies were horror movies (even with plenty of children on the bus).
4. Bruno Mars – Everywhere you go, someone is playing Bruno Mars: malls, restaurants, bars etc. I’m pretty sure we’d heard the entire discography by the time we left.
Our hostel in KK overlooked the old clocktower on one side and the sunday market on the other. The gates on each floor also gave a nice jail cell atmosphere! (Otherwise it was actually a nice place).
We also checked out the Sabah state musuem in KK – we could only take photos outside and in the heritage village but there were many interesting exhibits inside:
The history of Borneo and Malaysia – It was really interesting to read about how Borneo became separated between 3 countries (the Indonesian portion in the south is the area that was mainly governed by Dutch influences in colonial times, while the Malaysian north of the island was governed by the British North Borneo Company – not actually by the British crown, and Brunei is the sole surviving area that is named after a cultural group in the area (although they cover a lot more area than the small area of Brunei)). The history of the island involved many sultans gifting sections of the island to one another and it was hard to keep track. In WWII Borneo was occupied by the Japanese and saw extensive bombing and fighting with many towns completely leveled in the north. After the war the North Borneo Company had gone bankrupt due to the rebuilding costs and Sabah and Sarawak, the 2 Malaysian states, passed into British hands. So finally in 1963, Malaysia was formed with the borders it has today. We later heard from a bartender and confimed with our dive instructor, that there is tension between peninsular Malaysia and Malaysian Borneo over differing values and traditions (which reminded us a bit of Quebec in Canada).
Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Diving in Borneo.