Monday, August 01, 2016

Escape: Borneo has spectacular beaches, city sights and one of the most diverse culinary scenes in South-East Asia


Meeting the magnificent orang-utans and Survivor-style jungle adventures top the list of essentials for visitors to Borneo. But there is much more to the world’s third-largest island, from spectacular beaches and city sights to one of the most diverse culinary scenes in South-East Asia.

Sabah’s capital Kota Kinabalu is often just a transit stop for travellers heading deep into the rainforest, but why not stick around the jungle gateway city.

ISLAND HOP

The five islands that comprise Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park are just a 15-minute boat ride from Kota Kinabalu. Catch a boat service from Jesselton Pier and revel in this picturesque and peaceful mini-archipelago.

Sapi and Gaya islands are two of the best options for snorkelling among tropical fish, lazing on uncrowded beaches or kayaking through azure waters. A zip line connects the two islands for thrill seekers, while monitor lizards, wild boar and the occasional proboscis monkey and macaque are among the local inhabitants on each that will please the nature lovers.

Sapi Island is one of the best options for affordable family fun, with a kiosk on site from which you can buy all the ingredients for a traditional beach barbecue then cook it yourself on the sand.

Gaya Island is a little more up market and includes the luxury Bunga Raya Island Resort & Spa and its sister-property on the other side of the island, Gayana Eco Resort.

Hike through the jungle up the rocky cliffs of any of the islands – Manukan, Mamutik and Sulug are the others – for some of the most undeveloped and spectacular photo opportunities you will encounter.

HIT THE LOCAL MARKETS

If generic mega malls are not your thing, you’ll find plenty to enjoy at Kota Kinabalu’s vibrant and eclectic open-air markets. On the waterfront, the city’s Central Market is open all day, every day, selling everything from exotic fruits to fresh and dried seafood.

Buy a durian from one of the hawker stalls then grab a plastic chair at one of the outdoor tables for an authentic local eating experience – just remember you can’t take it back to your hotel. If you’ve never tried this exotic fruit, one whiff of the aroma and you probably never will.

Walk a few steps south and you’ll hit the Handicrafts Market, where artisans create clothing, beading, jewellery and other local crafts in situ. The Handicrafts Market is one of the best places in Kota Kinabalu to pick up inexpensive souvenirs.

FAMILY FUN

Le Meridien Hotel in Kota Kinabalu has one of the best guides to children’s activities in Borneo.

Ask for one at the concierge desk, then let your little ones guide you with their preferences.

Visit the Rasa Ria Nature reserve and discover some of the endangered species of Borneo, and those endemic in Sabah.

Catch a boat to the Marine Ecology Research Centre on Gaga island and give your little ones a hands-on exploration of the live touch tank, including star fish, corals and giant clams.

Aspiring Bindi Irwins will thrill at the farm accommodating more than 1000 crocodiles in nearby Tuaran and Perdana Park is the perfect spot to take an evening stroll with your children and sing along to its dancing musical fountains.

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