We used Kota Kinabalu as a base for exploring some of the other great things that the area has on offer. It was a great way to get a taste of Malaysian Borneo without spending too much time travelling around. Below are my five favourite things we did whilst there.
A morning with the orang-utans at the Shangri la Rasa Ria resort.
It takes about 30 minutes in a taxi to get to the hotel. Taxis seem very expensive compared to Bangkok and they never use their meters! This can be frustrating, but it’s still a lot cheaper than London cabs. It only cost around 70 Malaysian Ringgits each way (14GBP). The hotel’s nature reserve is around a ten minute walk from the hotel and they have feedings at 10am and 2pm each day. It’s important to phone the hotel and book ahead as it’s very popular, there were around 30 people when we were there. After watching a short video on the conservation work that is happening in Borneo, it’s another 10 minute walk up a hill to the viewing platform. The orang-utans at this centre are very young as it’s the first stage of rehabilitation before returning then to the wild. There is nothing more amazing that sitting in the jungle and watching them swing in the branches above you. They are not afraid of humans so come surprisingly close. We were also lucky enough to get close up to a very young orang utan who was still getting to grips with climbing and swinging. We got to spend around two hours with the orang-utans in total. It really is a great way to get up close to these creatures if you don’t have time to go further afield.
White water rafting on the Kiulu River
I have always wanted to go white water rafting so when I found out we could do it on a river an hour outside Kota Kinabalu I was very excited. The rainy season had just started so the river was scarily fast in the eyes of complete novices. We were very lucky to have to boat to ourselves with our guide Sem. He navigated us down the river introducing us to the delights of body rafting which is being thrown around the river with only your life jacket to protect you from the rocks and swirling water and even did some planned capsizing. I hadn’t laughed so much in a long time.
A day on the Islands
Around fifteen minutes from Kota Kinabalu by boat lies some very beautiful small Islands which are perfect for a days relaxing. A lot of people visiting them seemed to be Island hopping but we decided to stick to one: Sapi. We went on a Saturday so it was quite busy on the main beach, but there was a smaller beach just around the corner which was perfect for a days swimming, snorkelling and napping in the shade. The Island also has bathroom facilities and food, but we chose to take packed lunches from town. The snorkelling is some of the best that I have done since arriving in Asia. The waters are really warm and there is still a lot of coral and lots of fish. I was very lucky and managed to spot a family of clown fish whilst snorkelling – it was very exciting to finally see Nemo.
A day in Kota Kinabalu Park
Even though I had no desire to spend a few days climbing the mountain it was very nice to spend a day in the Park. It does take a few hours to get there, but we were very lucky to have our own minivan and lots of space to nap. After a wonder around a local market (with lots of dried fish and amazing mountain views) we headed into the jungle to do the canopy walk. I loved being up in the trees walking along wobbly bridges. We spent a good hour walking in the jungle and up in the trees. On our way down we got to experience Poring Hot Springs. The water smelt like sulphur and was very hot, but even after 30 minutes are little bath tub had failed to fill up. The springs were far more functional than I had been imagining but it was still a worthwhile experience. During our drive back we stopped at one of the small villages and I got to see the Rafflesia flower, which is about the size of a car wheel and takes a year to grow, pretty impressive.
Explore the Town
Okay, the town itself is not particularly picturesque but it has a good set up for tourists, with good tour operators and some nice restaurants. We spent a good few hours exploring the new malls that had opened at each end of town, and I managed to purchase some new dresses and shoes. We also spent far too long in Coffee Bean and Old Town. Coffee Bean had litres of Chai Tea Latte and huge tasty scones (I live in Bangkok so I am allowed to eat Western food in these places!). Old Town was cheap yummy local food: Curry with Roti, Noodles with duck, delicious juices with Spirulina. Another place I would recommend was a restaurant called El Centro. We went there on two occasions and they were both delicious. Big salads, huge piles of chips and extremely friendly staff.
I really enjoyed my time in Malaysian Borneo. It was the perfect mix of adventure and relaxation, things were easy to find and work out but you weren’t surrounded by Tourists. Borneo had never been on my list of must see places but it is certainly somewhere I would like to return to, hopefully to see the beautiful sites on the East Coast.