Saturday, May 23, 2015

Tips on island hopping in Kota Kinabalu

While Kota Kinabalu (KK) in Sabah state, Malaysia has a vibrant nightlife and charming nature reserves, its most popular tourist spots are its islands. Tourists from neighboring Brunei, Indonesia, and other Malaysian states travel to KK to go island hopping.

So when my friends and I made a side trip to KK from Brunei, that’s exactly what we did – island hopping in Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park. Aside from the fact that it was the peak of summer heat, my friends and I really love beaches so we thought it would be nice to hit one on our first group trip abroad.

When I was researching about our itinerary prior to the trip, I had a difficult time looking for information about island hopping. I got the details of where to go and what to do but I didn’t know the most important thing to consider – the cost!

The government websites gave different information and some blogs are outdated. So I decided to compile this list of tips to save on cost, effort, and time when planning to bask in Kota Kinabalu’s famous islands.

1) Be early.

Jesselton Point (JP) is where you’ll find all the boats going to the islands. If you travelled by ferry from Labuan or Brunei, this is the same terminal you arrived in.

It’s best to be in JP early – around 8am to 9am – to skip the long lines of tourists booking boats, especially if you’re going on a weekend. If you weren’t able to eat in your hotel, don’t worry. There are many food stalls that serve delicious Malaysian food at cheap prices in JP.

Many tourists tend to arrive an hour or two before lunch time so you might have to wait long for boats or pay more for “private boats.”

The weather in Sabah is quite consistent so this is applicable almost all year round. This won’t be as big a problem if you go on a weekday but it’s still best to be first in your chosen island, right?

Tip: KK is a pretty small city. Taxis don’t even turn their meters on when you ride them. You should not pay more than MYR 15 to MYR 20 (if it’s really far) from your hotel to JP.

2) Book your trips in the ticketing center.

There are many barkers outside of JP who will try to sell you a ticket or book you your own boat for the day. The prices here are very high compared to the actual prices of tickets – I also saw tour agencies online that ask MYR 400 for 4 people for 2 islands.

While this can be tempting, especially if there are many tourists lined up, you can save a lot by just being patient. Thankfully, we went island hopping on a Monday so there weren’t that many people. We just went straight to the ticketing counter.

The actual price is MYR 25 for a return trip to one island. You will need to tell the agent what time you want to go home – or if you’re planning to visit more islands, what time you’ll transfer. Two islands will probably cost around MYR 35. The last trip going home is at 5pm.

There’s an MYR 7.20 terminal tax for JP and an MYR10 (price for foreigners) conservation fee for each island. You’ll pay the terminal fee when you pay for your fare and the conservation fee every time you dock on an island.

You’ll join other tourists in the boats when you book through the counter. Unless you’re a big group and you plan to see as many of the islands as you can, I don’t think it’s necessary to book your own boat for the day. Remember to keep your ticket from getting wet. You’ll need it to board your boats.

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