Published: August 15th 2009August 8th 2009
Our arrival into Borneo didn’t go exactly as we had planned...our flight was delayed because the incoming flight was late in arriving (yep, that’s usually how it works isn’t it?!) but we didn’t have to worry because we had booked into a hostel in Kota Kinabalu which offered an airport pick up...or so we thought!
The airport pick up didn’t arrive though and after an hour of waiting and talking to a girl at the hostel with the quietest voice on the quietest telephone line ever and drawing a complete blank, we got a taxi into town. Our first observation about Borneo is that the taxi’s are bloody expensive...it was 30 ringgit for the 7km journey (that’s just over £5, so by Asian standards it’s expensive!). After a bit of a heated discussion at the hostel (Borneo Backpackers, by the way) we were told something went wrong (really?!) and were promised the money back which we had spent on the taxi the next day and we were shown to our room. The room turned out not to be the one we had booked...it had bunk beds rather than a double bed - the hostel had decided to give our room
away too! Again we were promised that everything would be fixed the next day, at this point it was 10pm and we were too hungry to argue so we dumped our bags and went out to search for a restaurant.
Things immediately picked up, we easily found a decent restaurant where Neil got his sinuses well and truly cleared by the spiciest, but delicious, beef rendang dish. We then had a quick wander around before heading off to bed.
Kota Kinabalu is the capital of Sabah state and it’s quite a unique city - it’s sandwiched between the Crocker mountains and the South China sea and not too far away is the famous Mount Kinabalu the highest mountain in SE Asia; there are also offshore islands in the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park. Kota Kinabalu is a very hot and steamy city, even for us who are more than used to the heat, the humidity was unbelievable (80%!) so we had a very hot time wandering around the city. An interesting fact for us was that the British bombed Kota Kinabalu (then called Jesselton) at the end of World War 2 during the Borneo campaign to stop the
Japanese getting control of it...there were only 3 buildings left standing and the whole of the city had to be rebuilt by the British.
The city is very clean and organised, it’s not huge and very easy to walk around...even Donna commented she couldn’t possibly get lost there (well she probably could as she gets lost everywhere). We had a hot and sweaty time walking around and seeing the sights, finding the fantastic food courts in the shopping centres and the markets with gorgeous fruit and veg for sale cheaply. We managed to find Granny Smiths apples, which we haven’t had for 3 years...we have only had red apples so that was a bit of a novelty! Of course Neil managed to sniff out McDonalds where we indulged in ice cream cones - well it was so hot we just had to!
In our research of Kota Kinabalu we had keep reading about this Italian restaurant and how it had won best restaurant in Borneo awards and that it was amazing. Deciding to treat ourselves we headed there for a meal...we say treat ourselves because it was expensive - 23 ringgit (£4) for a 12 inch pizza and
Atkinson Clock Tower
One of only 3 'buildings' standing after World War 2
20 ringgit (£3.50) for a basic pasta dish, then on top of this was a 10% service charge and 5% tax...the drinks were 4-5 ringgit for non-alcoholic drinks. We were quite disappointed with the meal, the pizza (although the base was nice and thin) was a bit tasteless with what seemed like cheddar cheese with just a little bit of mozzarella and far too much olive oil on it and the roasted vegetables with pasta was also tasteless needing a lot of salt, pepper and Tabasco sauce to make it taste of something. So if you are heading to Kota Kinabalu and are considering eating at Little Italy, our advice is not to bother...it’s overly expensive for what you get - we paid 69 ringgit (£12) for our meal with a non-alcoholic drink and we thought the food court meal we had for lunch of basic Malay food was far better for 14 ringgit (£2.40)!! The publicity was certainly doing Little Italy some good as the turnover of people going through that place was huge.
We took a trip out to one of the islands of Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park, we were fascinated that a city like Kota
amazing beaches and yet so close to the city!
Kinabalu could have islands with such nice beaches so close. We made an early (ish) start and made our way to Jesselton Point jetty to catch the 10am speedboat to Mamutik island. We chose Mamutik as we had heard it was relatively small and the snorkelling was really good; so we paid for our tickets (17 ringgit each return), the terminal fee (6 ringgit each) and went to get fitted out with our lifejacket for the boat and pay for the hire of snorkelling gear (10 ringgit each).
At this point we’re going to take a little detour from our trip to the beach to (again!) make a comment about our fellow travellers/backpackers. For the entire time we were in Kota Kinabalu we said ‘hello, hi, how are you’ etc to other people to just get stony stares and silence in return...we think it was in one of our India blogs which we mentioned this last. We were having our friendliness thrown back in our face - Neil said good morning to someone in our hostel when we were having breakfast to just be completely ignored. We are getting a little bit fed up of this now, we are
just trying to be friendly and all that is required in return is a ‘hello’ back but people are obviously incapable of this! We aren’t sure if people just don’t realise how rude they are being or whether they are just in their own little world but sorry to say this but people have become increasingly ruder.
Anyhow, back to the story. At the jetty, we both joked around with our lifejackets, posing for photos and generally having a laugh at the fact we had been given lifejackets while our fellow passengers looked down their noses at us being silly. We boarded our speedboat and we were away, whizzing off over the South China sea heading for the island - see the video Neil took...it was great fun! We got to the island and we were immediately impressed, the water was so clean and we could already see lots of fish, so we had high hopes for the snorkelling. As we stood on the jetty taking pics of each other, there was another couple who was on our boat...we asked if they would like a pic together which Donna took, she gave their camera back and they actually took
their camera and walked away with no word of thanks and we had to call them back to ask if one of them could take a pic of us together! How rude is that?! Now that’s our last word on the rudeness of others in this blog, we promise!! So we headed to the ‘office’ at the end of the jetty and paid our 10 ringgit each entrance fee and headed off down the beach so we could put our things in the shade and get into the water for some snorkelling.
The snorkelling didn’t disappoint...we saw so many fish and the visibility was amazing. The coral was relatively intact too probably because the Malaysian government is quite strict with conservation. We saw parrot fish, bat fish, angel fish, about 4 different types of clown fish (or nemos as Donna still insists on calling them), we even saw a barracuda which scared us a little bit as the teeth on it were razor sharp! There were lots of other fish we couldn’t even begin to name and it made us wish we had an underwater camera so we could take pictures. After working up an appetite snorkelling we headed
for the island cafe for a bite to eat...considering this is the only place to eat on the island the prices are actually reasonable and the quality was quite good too! The rest of the day was spent lounging on the beach and snorkelling some more before our 3pm speedboat pick up back to the city. The 3pm speedboat turned out to be a 3:30pm speedboat and was really busy so we ended up right at the front...Neil had great fun on the journey back, Donna wasn’t so keen especially when the boat kept leaning to one side! You can stay on the beach here, hiring tents but we decided to give this a miss as we didn’t have sleeping bags or anything suitable for camping - it would have been an amazing place to stay the night though!
Safe on dry land we headed to the market for more Granny Smith apples and had another leisurely walk around the city with McDonalds ice creams before going back to the hostel for a shower and change before food. That night after food, Neil was most pleased when we were wandering around the supermarket to find some cheap Cadbury’s whole
nut chocolate and we bought a few bars (ok we bought 5!!) to keep us going for a while. We had an early night ahead of us with rain and thunder rumbling around us, as we had a very early start the next day as we were heading to Sandakan for a visit to see the orang-utans at Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre...we were very excited! We loved our time in Kota Kinabalu - great food, friendly people, nice beaches and clean city - and we hoped that Sandakan would be as good.
There are more photos below