Travel Guide: Wandering in Kota Kinabalu

People most often say that travelling during the month of Ramadan can be quite challenging especially when you’re there to explore the local culture which includes all that delicious food. If you’ve known me by now, you would probably realize that food is very big on my travel agenda. However I am happy to share with you that even though I am fasting, the entire trip to Kota Kinabalu went smoothly and I managed to enjoy the break of fast with local delicacies.

I’ve always loved Kota Kinabalu because it is a city that fronts the South China Sea and looking at that blue water as you walk along the main road to the Filipino market is just refreshing. Don’t take my word for it though. It’s always best to get first hand experience right? For this first blog post on Kota Kinabalu, I’ll be writing on our experience in the city, before our road trip adventure began.

How to go to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah

Sabah is located on the east of Malaysia and the only way to get there is with an airplane. We were extremely lucky that Malaysian Airlines (MAS) was offering a really good rate to Sabah starting from RM49 one way. Our total flight ticket for both ways turned out to be RM200 per person. Of course there are other flight options but the best fare that we found was from MAS on that day. When we flew back from Sabah, we were seated in the new airplane which comes with an entertainment system and a USB charger port. How convenient! The last time I flew on MAS was in 2010 and that was a really long time ago so I’m happy to experience these new environments with them again.

I love the fact that I can charge my gadgets on the USB port!

I love the fact that I can charge my gadgets on the USB port!

Transportation in the City

Upon arrival, get all the maps you need to roam around Kota Kinabalu and this can be found at the luggage terminal area. The maps are very easy to understand with the landmarks are clearly stated in colourful icons. From the airport you can either take the shuttle or the airport taxi and we chose the later because we did not want to waste time in exploring Kota Kinabalu. You’ll need to get the ticket coupon from the counter which costs RM50 one way to your hotel in the city. What I’ve learned from my partner is that the roads in Kota Kinabalu are all straight and everywhere is within walking distance if you are familiar with the area. We were located slightly further from town and we had to take a cab to the city and back to the hotel for RM30 each way. That is a bit expensive but we made sure we explored the city before we headed back so that we wouldn’t be going back and forth a few rounds. You could also opt to rent a car like we did from any of the local rental owners. Our personal recommendation is to go for AHSB Rentacar Sdn Bhd (Claudia, 016-832 2750) who was very helpful when our first car rental option went MIA on us the morning we were supposed to be travelling out. She had recommended the Peugeot 207 which costs the same price as the MyVi and so we decided to take the former instead.

Where to stay?

We decided to spend less on accommodation as we would be moving around therefore our choice of hotel in the city was Tune Hotel located in 1Borneo Hypermall during our first day there and back to 1City Hotel in town, on our last night in Kota Kinabalu. Of course there are plenty of hotels in the city but you will have to do some research to find your preference. Meanwhile here’s our take on where we stayed.

Tune Hotel: They have a policy of charging extra for things like TV, aircond and meals hence the cheap room rates. We were allowed to check in early but only if we paid an additional RM15 for each room. We decided to pay, get our keys and walked towards the mall, up the elevator near the public toilet, into our rooms on the second floor. The room was clean and had basic amenities like bathroom, a bed, along with a spot to hang clothes. Everything else was extra. I like how the mall is just downstairs and we could go down to get food or spend our time roaming around the mally while waiting for the break of fast. The only drawback is that it is far away from town. The good part is having a free shuttle services for anyone stayed there in the hotel area.

1City Hotel: This hotel was surprisingly pleasant with its big bed and spaciousness that comes with TV, aircond and water heater. The staff was very friendly and didn’t mind when we lugged our takeaway (food) from the Ramadan Bazaar up to our rooms. Certified by Trip Advisor as one the best places to stay in Kota Kinabalu, I would have to say that they are right. Even though from the outside, the hotel looks dodgy sandwiched together with other shop lots in a block of shops but the interior and rooms seemed otherwise. It’s also a walking distance to the Philippine market, Gaya street market, malls and restaurants.

Where to go?

Island Hopping: This seems to be one of the must-do activity when you’re in Kota Kinabalu namely because of its’ beautiful beaches which was just a boat away. Alas, when we arrived at the Jesselton Pier to book our tickets, we were told that all the boats were out or fully booked for the day. They however had one boat available at 130pm and we decided to have some beach time on one island for this trip. The cost for one island hopping was RM23 and it doesn’t include the tax and entrance fee to the islands. The water was magnificently choppy that day. My back ached from the hard thump as the boat rises and smashed down on the sea, all the way to Manukan Island. What used to be an area of colourful fishes was replaced with empty bottles thrown into the beautiful clear blue water. With many tourists getting onto the island for snorkelling activities, it seems challenging to maintain its’ beautiful and natural surroundings. We parked ourselves on the beach and wrote cliché words in the sand while an elderly couple (tourist) slept on the beach with his head on her shoulders. Behind us, a father was busy asking his children to do ‘jump’ shots while another group of female tourists held on to colourful scarves blown hard by the wind. We didn’t stay long on the island and followed the boat back to town at 3pm.

Manukan Island is good for snorkelling activities.

Manukan Island is good for snorkelling activities.

Filipino Market: This is a favourite spot for most people who visit Kota Kinabalu as the market consists of food, fresh produce and souvenirs. The location of this popular market can be reached by walking from our island hopping adventure at Jesselton Pier. As the sun was on our backs, we decided to not stay long and bought snacks such ‘Kuih Karas’ made of palm sugar, ‘Kuih Cincin’ and ‘Amplang’ which were balls of fish. There were also fresh vegetables, souveniers which you could take home for the family and friends back home.

1Borneo Hypermall: I likened this place to our local MidValley megamall due to it’s large scaled shopping mall which seemed endless. It was also filled with international as well as local brands such as MNG, Zara, KFC and such. One can spend the entire day in this mall from level to level if one was not fasting. Hehe. We had our break of fast at a Restaurant called CFC and watched the new animated movie called Turbo before we ended the night on our first day. Be aware though that people tend to talk loudly in the cinema and that is why we were glad to choose a seat that’s not close to other patrons.

Gaya Market: This local market begins at 6am during the weekends and we got up early to see if there was anything interesting to be found. Stalls were arranged in two long rows which covers items from food, souveniers, roasted coffee (you could smell the aroma a mile away), tools, kitchenware, herbal medicines, plants and even pets such as turtles, chickens, cats as well as puppies. The locals definitely do a lot of shopping here as seen by the numerous plastic bags they have with them. We managed to get a T-shirt and more local biscuits for the family, even though our bags were already packed for the flight home. Thank goodness for carry-ons. If you wish to explore the markets here in the city, make sure the dates fall on weekends as most of it happens then.

So many chicks seen in Gaya Market.

So many chicks seen in Gaya Market.

Where to eat?

Bazaar Ramadan – Sembulan: When we came back to the city on the last day of our road trip, we had a car so and roamed the streets in search of a Ramadan Bazaar. Thanks to my sister-in-law who gave tips on this location, we found the colour canopies from the main road on Gaya Street. There was a line of stalls with food from ‘sayap ayam’ (chicken wings), kuih muih (local delicacies), rice with an assortment of side dishes together with colourful drinks. The price of the food here was still affordable and the most important thing was that it all tasted good!

The busy Ramadan Bazaar at Sembulan area.

The busy Ramadan Bazaar at Sembulan area.

Fook Yuen Bakery and Cafe: My travel blogger friend, Diana who hails from Sabah, brought me to this cafe last year where I had the popular ‘Roti Kahwin’, a slap of butter and kaya on a toasted bread. We decided to come here again to try the same bread except I had forgotten to tell them to toast it and when the white bread came, it didn’t taste as good. Also it could be the fact that we were still full from the food we had during the break of fast. Besides bread, Fook Yuen also has a menu consisting of dim sum, fried noodles, fried rice and mixed rice. You should give this menu a try if you don’t have any dinner plans for the night.

Fook Yuen Bakery and Cafe. The bread would have tasted better toasted.

Fook Yuen Bakery and Cafe. The bread would have tasted better toasted.

About Yafieda Jamil

A Malaysian girl currently working abroad in Phnom Penh city. I love a good road trip, hot cappuccinos, spicy food and staring at old buildings. My mission is to inspire people to see the world differently before we all get any older. Oh and giraffes are the most beautiful creatures on earth.

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