I never thought I’d visit Borneo. Who goes to Borneo? All I knew is that the first ever season of Survivor USA was filmed there. So it just seemed like the kind of exotic, faaaar away place you see in documentaries, but would never actually go visit.
Well, here we are. Kota Kinabalu, or KK as it is called, is the capital of the Malaysian state of Sabah. It is actually named after Mount Kinabalu, which is located about 50km from the city and is the highest mountain in Malaysia. The island of Borneo is pretty massive – the third largest island in the world behind Greenland and New Guinea. It is split into three countries. Indonesia, followed by Malaysia, followed by tiny Brunei.
I’m not really sure why we chose Borneo. Probably because the name Kota Kinabalu was really fun to say(for me at least) and secondly because Sabah is known for world class diving and snorkeling(which is exactly what we spent most of our time doing). Borneo is also one of the last places on earth where you can still see Orangutans in the wild.
One of my absolute favourite experiences on this trip was visiting and snorkeling the 5 breathtaking, crystal-clear turquoise water islands of Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park. They are only a 10-15 minute speedboat ride away from the city. You will need to buy your ticket and pay for your snorkeling mask and vest at a counter at the ferry terminal called Jesselton Point. There are several counters and all you need to do here is to check if an operator goes to the island(s) you want to go, and then just bargain, bargain, bargain!
We visited Sapi, Manukan and Mamutik island where we did a lot of snorkeling. We were in awe of the amount of tropical fish everywhere we looked! (word to the wise – don’t try to play with clownfish. We got bitten by Nemo!)We also laid on the beach, did a short walk around the island, had a truly Malaysian lunch at a small “eatery” on one of the islands and also particularly enjoyed watching the Asian tourists try to swim! 😉
The Kota Kinabalu City Mosque is considered to be one of the most beautiful in Malaysia. From a distance, the Mosque seems to be floating on the water, hence it was given the name “The Blue Floating Mosque”or Masjid Bandaraya Kota Kinabalu in Malay.
Kota Kinabalu town is located right at the edge of the ocean so it is heaven for those who love fresh seafood. Don’t miss the night market with fresh fish, prawns, squid, crabs, lobsters and PLENTY more at really affordable prices. The seafood night market is located beside the Filipino market, between Jalan Tun Fuad Stephens Street and Lrg. Gomantong Street.
The city’s diverse cultures include Brunei Malays, Bajau, Chinese, Kadazandusun and immigrants mostly from Indonesia and the Philippines. Languages spoken are mainly Malay, Mandarin, Cantonese, Hakka dialect and English. The local currency is the Ringgit (RM). Islam is the biggest religion and that’s why Malaysia as a whole is fairly conservative. Most cities are quite liberal though so you should have no problem wearing shorts and skirts for example(seeing that you are a foreigner) however it still helps to try and not bare too much skin.
First breakfast in Malaysia!!! (roti and curry).
Did you know the words ‘sosatie’ and ‘piesang’ as used in my home language, Afrikaans, actually come from Malay?!
Nasi Goreng is one of their staple dishes and translates to fried rice.
Pisang Goreng = fried bananas yum!
Me being touristy and all.
As usual I raved about the awesome street art in the city.
Some more Malaysian cuisine at a local street café.
The name Orang-utan translates into “person of the forest”. These primates are highly intelligent and are human’s closest relatives. There are only 2 places left in the world where Orangutans still exist in the wild, one being Borneo and the other Sumatra.
Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time in Borneo to go see Orangutans in their natural habitat, but we did visit a wildlife sanctuary called Lok Kawi one day where we got to see them. The park also had a wide variety of birds, reptiles and mammals indigenous to Malaysia such as the Malaysian Bearcat(literally a cat with a bear face and ears), Pygmy elephants, Proboscis monkey(trust me you don’t want to miss this funny looking one) and the Malayan tiger. There is also a botanical garden you can stroll through to see indigenous plants such as the famous Rafflesia – the largest and rarest flower in the world. It is only found in Borneo and Sumatra and is actually a parasite. You can only find it blooming for a few days a year.
The park is about an hour drive from KK and you can drive yourself or take a taxi to get there. Visit www.sabahtourism.com for more info.
The Rafflesia – the worlds largest and rarest flower.
Photo courtesy of Google.
My time here was too short. There’s truly a lot more to discover here in laid back Kota Kinabalu. More places to see, flavors to experience, more people to meet and even a famous mountain to climb! Sometimes having no idea where you are going leads to the best travel adventures! If I’m ever lucky enough to return to Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur and Penang would be next on my list. Thanks for reading 🙂
Selemat tinggal Malaysia!