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An occasionally belligerent mother of five and an autism parent / advocate who believes that traveling, good food and good company are vital to keep one sane. I've worked as a news writer/newscaster, a quality systems auditor, a ISO9001 consultant, an FM radio DJ, a Filipino tutor, TOEFL reviewer and have gone into the food industry both as an entrepreneur and as a mommy chef, giving a sponsored demo on healthy cooking in a mall and on local TV. My favorite job however, is being a mom and a wife.

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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Caught Up With Kota Kinabalu

KK, Sabah, Malaysia..a  few minutes after sunset

Situated in the tropical island of Borneo is the the state capital of the Malaysian State of Sabah. For us Pinoys who know their history, you may remember that Sabah used to be a part of the Philippine territory, and, sans wishy washy diplomatic and economic decisions, would still have been a part of this country. In a way, TMW was somehow still visiting and appreciating  the beauty of the Philippines when we set foot at Kota Kinabalu (KK).

last travel destination via plane, for the year

A two hour flight from Manila is all it takes to reach KK. As it is quite close to the Philippines, the flight path allowed us to fly over Puerto Princesa before we veered right towards our destination.
MAX raring to go to our next destination
Language won't be a problem as most of the locals we met were quite fluent with their English. If you're Asian, standing out from the crowd would be difficult as Malaysia in general is a melting pot of cultures. Chinese, Indians, Malay and a lot of Filipinos (probably those who decided to stay behind when Sabah became Malaysian territory) may be found. A handful of Caucasians may be seen enjoying the coastal town's lazy charm as well.
MAX at the Tunku Abdul Rahman Waterpark

KK is a nature lover's paradise. With its lush rain forests, beautiful beaches in KK's islands as well as housing the highest mountain in Southeast Asia, Mt. Kinabalu, there are so many sights to see and things to do in the area. The flora and fauna is also something to rave about. Here's a list of the places to go for some nature-tripping (see below, from Wikipedia):
stress free, unlike that one time at the HK airport
and that mean immigration dude
Booking our flight through a budget airline, our plane disembarked at the smaller, older Terminal 2 of the Kota Kinabalu International Airport. Immigration officials were warm, efficient and friendly and going through customs wasn't stressful too. The airport is fully equipped. In fact, upon arrival, we went to the nearest ATM to get some local currency. A foreign currency exchange counter is near the ATMs just in case this is more to your liking. After getting some dough, we headed on to the information desk near the exit to purchase some prepaid fare for our taxi. (**haggling and non standard rates may be a problem with cabbies in the area. It cost us MYR 30 to get to our hotel, and MYR 60 going back to the airport when it was time for us to leave, despite a shorter distance).
a cab ride (which was nearer to the airport than our hotel)
cost us MYR 60. What's up with that?!
Nearly all the key places in the city are 10-15 minutes away from each other. The are lots of maps available for free at the arrivals lobby at the airport.  The roads and signages are quite excellent especially if you have plans of renting a car (cab rides are quite pricey). Being a former Brit Colony, the locals still adhere to the English way of driving at the left side of the road, so you may want to take note of that whether you're a driver or a pedestrian. I'm not sure about the speed limit,  and I've always felt that fast rides should be the norm, but riding a cab and crossing the street at KK may unnerve you a bit. Buckle up and seriously look both ways before crossing the street! 
the hotel's structure was really that of a palace's

After getting into a cab, we went straight to The Palace Hotel, our home for the next 3 days and 2 nights. The place had great service, a friendly, competent staff and a location that was within walking distance to an IT mall (quite big, lots of shops and restaurants).
the mall across The Palace Hotel.
There's even a shortcut to get to the mall from the hotel
Our superior room was quite inexpensive (less than  MYR 200). There were about 9 tv stations (half were in English), and the room was quite new (though the lobby and the hallways looked a bit worn though modern), air conditioned with a small yet tidy bathroom that did have hot water.
everything about our hotel room was new
The hotel also has a pool and it's own restaurant, as well as a souvenir shop. A breakfast buffet came with the room too. 
chicken curry for breakfast?
don't knock it till you've tried it :)
laksa in the morning is actually great on those with rhinitis
Meehon was just too Meh-hon for me
steamed chicken and red bean buns
good ol' reliable cereal
Gravlax...could've used a bit more fennel 
The breakfast buffet tried to cater to the various nationalities of it's guests. There was Taiwan styled congee (porridge with  boiled egg and dried fish as condiments), cereal, laksa ( noodles in a coconut and chili broth), meehon (think stir fired noodles without meat, similar to the Philippines' bihon and a supply of various breads and spreads plus fried rice, orange and mango juice, tea and brewed coffee, as it's constants. A chicken dish is always available as the only meat (in deference to our Muslim friends) e.g. chicken sausages, chicken curry (with an assortment of condiments) and chicken nuggets. Like I said, a little of everything for everyone. 
a mall resto...closed a little before 8 PM
The great thing about Kota Kinabalu is that despite being a city, it still gives off that provincial vibe (even with  those maniacal drivers). Shops will tend to close early, especially the restaurants in malls as people are normally in their houses by 8 PM. For a city of 600 thousand plus people, that was quite surprising. I guess being a predominantly Islamic town, happy hours aren't that popular.
Suria Sabah Shopping Complex,
just beside Jesselton Point at 6:30 PM..
excluding us, Where's everybody?!
There are a lot of big malls in the area, with all the international brands we may know and love, but not a lot of people shopping.
check this store out at the Centrepoint Mall as well as Suria Sabah Shopping Complex.
Grab stuff from H&M,  Mossimo, Mango, GAP, Old Navy and so much more
at bargain prices.  (think 2  H&M dresses at around PHP 750)

For souvenirs, head on out to the night market at Kampung Air. We ended up there on a weekday, so that was probably why there weren't a lot of stalls to buy from even if it was only 7 in the evening. I did get to pick up some souvenir items at 1/3 of the price they give you at the malls and tourist destinations. As always, haggling is your best ally.
night market at Kampung Air
got an "I love KK" shirt for MAX at  MYR 20 at the mall
got 3 for MYR 20 of similar shirts at the night market

Given the many options of things to do in KK versus the short duration of our stay, we only managed to see, aside from the shopping complexes we visited, the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park and the harbor where to catch a boat going to it, Jesselton Point. 
Jesselton Point
great place to see a sample of the old KK
when it was occupied by the Brits and called Jesselton
As it was the highlight of our trip, I shall be posting another blog detailing our Tunku Abdul Rahman Park visit.
checking out lots of pretty fishes
as we wait for our boat to leave for the
Tunku Abdul Rahman Park
Since Malaysia is a melting pot of cultures, one can find almost every type of food from the various cuisines offered by the various ethnicity in the area. When all else fails, you could always find a trusty Mickey D nearly everywhere. (they may have a slightly different menu though but the burgers are available).
...or chicken...again!
enjoyed the black currant juice but never got
to try their chicken porridge

Should you forget to buy souvenirs and pasalubongs for the people back home, fear not! The airport's got inexpensive local treats that you could purchase as well as the usual souvenir items. There's also a shop (no pictures were allowed to be taken inside) that had both dried and frozen seafood that can be packed and ready to go even if your flight is 6-8 hours long. The frozen seafood is packed in ice and packed in a Styrofoam box. These items may be a bit expensive though compared to similar shops in and around KK.
got all my Malaysian delicacies for home, right here
As we left "the land below the wind" I really felt that I had missed out on a lot of things. Perhaps an extra day or two would have been ideal (we arrived in the evening on our first night  at KK, so there really wasn't time to do anything but head out to the mall). Maybe not climbing Kota Kinabalu (even without our toddler, it would've still been a definite no for me), but I would've loved to visit the park around it. See an orangutan sanctuary or visit more of the flora and fauna and perhaps eat in that huge fresh seafood restaurant near the Promenade Hotel (2 floors of live seafood waiting to be caught and cooked to your liking).
so many things to do...so little time (sigh)
Would I want to visit Kota Kinabalu again? You betcha! I still get restless whenever I see a "Malaysia:Truly Asia" ad, seeing how much I've missed :-) MAX, Phil and I loved every moment we spent in KK, without any regrets, except going to the places that we missed! 
heading back home...see you again KK!
From TMW, may all your wanderings be better than ours!

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