Saturday, March 19, 2016

I am Aileen - Top Things to Do in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia


A couple of months after I made the decision to quit my job and start a travel lifestyle, I was browsing through cheap flight options with Jonas so that we can plan a quick getaway. During our search, a trip to Kota Kinabalu caught my eye and it quickly piqued my interest.

You see, if you’ve ever thought of Malaysia, I bet that the top destination that comes to your mind is Kuala Lumpur; so for sure, it intrigued me what might be there to see in Kota Kinabalu.

So without further ado, we booked the flights and spent 3 days in this Malaysian city. After days of exploration… I was in bliss. Our whole trip was ‘low key’ and tranquil, but it was clear that Kota Kinabalu can be a charming destination for just about anyone due to the existence of lush rainforests, paradisiac islands, and of course — Mount Kinabalu.
Facts About Kota Kinabalu

  • Kota Kinabalu or KK is perched on the northern west coast of the island of Borneo and it is the capital of the state Sabah (one of two states of East Malaysia).
  • It is actually named after Mount Kinabalu, which is located about 50 kilometres northeast of the city and also the highest mountain found in Malaysia.
  • This is deemed as the largest city in Sabah and it is also the main gateway into the island of Borneo.
  • Islam is the most professed religion, that’s why Malaysia as a whole is fairly conservative. Rest assured, most cities are liberal so you should have no problems wearing shorts for example (and besides, they would understand since you are a foreigner). However, it helps to not bare too much flesh with very revealing clothes or whatnot, most especially if you go to rural areas.
  • The citizens are comprised of Brunei Malays, Bajau, Chinese, Kadazandusun and immigrants who are mostly from Indonesia and the Philippines.
  • The languages used in the island are: Malay, Mandarin, Cantonese, English, and Hakka dialect. (Rest assured, almost everyone can speak English so it shouldn’t be a problem for you as a tourist).

Top Things To Do in Kota Kinabalu

#1: Island hop in Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park

Named after Malaysia’s first prime minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park or Marine Park is comprised of 5 islands and a trip to this area will only take you 15 to 30 minutes by speedboat from Kota Kinabalu. The islands are namely…

  • Gaya: The largest island in the park and the closest to downtown Kota Kinabalu. In here, you can find a lot of hiking trails so it makes for a scenic stroll since it is a dense virgin tropical forest reserve after all. Resorts are also speckled across certain areas, and of course there is one beach stretch that you shouldn’t miss: Police Bay which has immaculate white sand and turquoise waters. Other activities to try are scuba diving and sea walking.
  • Sapi: Located just on the south-western part of Gaya, this also has one of the nicest beaches in this marine park! A lot of tourists flock here to do snorkelling, diving, barbecuing, and even camping.
  • Manukan: The 2nd largest island in the park and arguably the most popular destination for Kota Kinabalu locals. Perhaps because of this fact, Manukan has the most developed tourist facilities. (TIP: for the best beach, go to the eastern part)
  • Mamutik: This may be the smallest island of the five but it is the perfect place to go if you want to escape the tourist crowd.
  • Sulug: This is the farthest island which makes it the most remote and underdeveloped of them all. But cerainly, that doesn’t stop some travelers from stopping by and enjoying the ‘peace’.

NOTE: There’s also an island in the south called as Pulau Tiga that you can travel to if you want to see a mud volcano and if you want to do more snorkelling and coral reef dives.

#2: Visit the Mari Mari Cultural Village

If you want a closer look into the life of 5 ethnic communities present in Sabah — the sea gypsies of Bajau, the rice farmers of Dusun, the fishermen of Lundayeh, the hunters of Murut, and the longhouse-builders of Rungus — the Mari Mari Cultural Village is a definite must-see.

In this village, you will witness a programmed showcase of their various traditional homes as they also present to you their cultural habits, customs, performances, and food. It may deem as a bit touristy, but it’s a great immersion and presentation of the traditional lifestyle of the Sabahan tribes (who currently have mostly turned into modern living).

NOTE: Entrance fee is around $35~ (Php 1,800~) and the tour spans for 3 hours during 10AM, 2PM, and 6PM intervals.

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