Welcome to Borneo: Kota Kinabalu

Kota Kinabalu is the capital city of Borneo’s north-eastern state of Sabah. Some people see this busy coastal town as the gateway to the sprawling Bornean national parks and jungle reserves. On the surface the city itself is a business capital, with most tourists needing to explore outside the city limits during the day to find activities to keep them entertained, with options including ‘Cultural Village’ visits, jungle trekking and boat tours to the offshore islands.

At night the city seems to come alive with the central night market, which sells anything and everything, every night, come rain or shine, and also a maze of food stalls that seem to appear at the waterfront, selling the amazing selection of seafood caught by the local fishermen that day. This was obviously the destination for both evenings that we spent in KK (Kota Kinabalu), wandering through the smoky stalls picking at a variety of different culinary treats. Yum!

The epic waterfront food market in full flow

We spent our first day (late afternoon, after arriving from Penang) just finding our feet, and working out where everything was in relation to our cosy little homestay accommodation at Lucy’s Homestay. As the centre of the city is not too large, this did not take long, so we set about eating our way through the market for the rest of the evening, until sufficiently stuffed, returning back to our home from home to collapse under the weight of overfull bellies.

We decided that on our second day we should take up KK’s offer of a bit of touristy sightseeing, and after opting for an island trip instead of the (blatantly) cringe ‘cultural village’ – dodgy loincloths and headdresses galore, I’m sure! – we discovered a range of overpriced day tour options for ‘island hopping’ between a few of the different islands. Nice idea, but financially, fuck that. So, we set out to the Jetteson ferry jetty to do it on our own and book a boat directly to one of the islands. After a slightly alarming, drawn out booking process we managed to book a return boat trip to Sapi Island, which worked out well, at a much cheaper price.

We arrived at the jetty on Sapi Island, overlooking the main beach, and to our ‘horror’ it was not the quiet paradise we were expecting. It was in fact the wallowing ground for many, many Chinese tourists, who all strangely wear life jackets to snorkel, and even when they are just sitting in the shallows. I am not sure if they cannot swim, they are extremely careful, or someone has told them to keep their jackets on and they just do what they are told. The knock on effects of communism I suppose!

So, a bit disappointed with the main beach we set off on the island’s jungle trail, which apparently no one else was interested in, as we saw no one else along the way, but it was great. Straight away we came across the two biggest monitor lizards I have ever seen. One lurked ominously in the bushes, and one decided to block the path for a short while before skulking off. A bit on edge, we continued along the trail, wiggling up through the jungle to the top of the island and along to the main viewpoint. A bit further along the track we discovered a stunning, untouched beach, free from any other floating tourists. Excellent! A great place to spend some time having my own, life jacket free, wallow.

Sapi was beautiful (when you can get away from everyone else), but a tiny island. So after a few hours, my stomach growled and Soph started to become a bit hangry, and the time came to return back to the mainland. With only one more night left to stuff my face at the food market – sad times – we set out eating an unholy amount of fish, before another night at Lucy’s, then we boarded a minivan (waiting for half an hour for all the seats to fill – one girl had been waiting for an hour and a half) to get over to Mount Kinabalu National Park.

Photos from Kota Kinabalu:

All ready for our speedy boat ride over to Sapi
The view of the islands from the boat
Trekking through the jungle on Sapi
One of Sapi’s many monitor lizards
One of the island’s cliff viewpoints
The secluded beach we found whilst trekking in the jungle
The view of the clocktower from our homestay balcony
Sunset at the waterfront
Soph at the water front
Another sunset at the waterfront
Downtown KK