Kota Kinabalu: Stress-free City Walk on a Valentine’s Day

KK Day 3. Feb 14. The sun was shining brightly that day, perfect for some DIY city tour. Holding a city map in my left hand and clicking away with my right, we managed to navigate past Gaya street, crossing Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman, and making a stop at the Atkinson’s clock tower.

We continued the photo walk, passing through the city courthouse, city hall, and park then took a rest with a view of the sea at KK esplanade. To sate our inner shopaholics, we went to Suria Sabah Shopping Mall and took advantage of some clearance sales. Dog tired and famished, we ate lunch at Nasi Lemak Antarabangsa Kampung Baru. Laarni ordered Nasi Lemak Sambal Udang Petai. It’s dish consisting of prawns in spicy curry paste with a siding of peanuts, anchovies, egg & nasi lemak or rice cooked in coconut milk. I ordered Nasi Lemak Ayam Goreng Berempah which consists of the same elements as the first dish except that chicken was served instead of prawns. Kept it all down with Tea Tarik or cold milk tea. Many thanks to the Filipina manning the counter; she helped us with our meal choices as well as our Malaysian pronunciation. We then hopped to gaya centre to buy Malaysian simcards since using it made it cheaper to call to the Philippines. We chilled at Fong Ip Cafe while figuring out how to activate it. Whew! The day ended without us even realizing it was valentine’s day. well not really. I got track of the date when I saw a red tback on sale at Suria Sabah. It was fashioned to look like a rose and packaged to be the perfect valentine’s gift. hahaha

KK: Of Strenuous Trails, Fish Spas, Sumptuous Stews and Creamy Teas

A free spirit.That is what I want to be. I want to let go. Feel free and unattached. I want to learn to talk to strangers and not feel fear. I want to be in a new place and not feel alienated. I want to get lost but not break down or complain. Do you know when I get to experience all those things? It’s when I travel. Traveling revives your soul and lets you discover things about yourself. It’s also a very humbling experience. You get to marvel at how beautiful sunsets are and how lucky you are to be able to witness several of them. You come to realize that no matter how many places you’ve set foot on and even if you’ve lived in several of these provinces for a fraction of your life, there are still so many places to discover and innumerable things to experience. You realize that you need not worry about most of the things you’ve been mulling over. You appreciate the slow pace of island life and the simple joys of reading a good book or basking under the tropical heat of the sun. You ask yourself, “Why have I been rushing all this time?”.

Last Feb 12-16, I had the chance to mute the career girl in me and amplify my nomadic tendencies. A free spirit was what I became. My office mate, Laarni, and I availed of the promo flights to Kota Kinabalu (6months prior) and were able to purchase round-trip tickets Clark-KK at a jaw-dropping deal of just 1026pesos (RT/pax). On the day of our scheduled flight to KK, we hopped on a Philtranco bus in Pasay (fare to Clark DMIA is 450PhP). the trip didn’t take that long, just around an hour and a half. Since it was the last day of the Hot Air balloon festival, we were still able to catch a glimpse of the huge balloons.

My first ever AirAsia experience was pleasant. Check-in was a breeze thanks to their web check-in facility in the form of a computer counter that lets you scan the barcode on your itinerary receipt or encode the transaction reference number and then automatically prints out the boarding pass. Hooray! No more long queues! Once you get the boarding pass, you then proceed to the bag-drop counter for luggage check-in (if there are any) as well as document check. They really encourage the passengers to check-in via web; they charge fees for those who still want the traditional/regular check-in.

I always pack light so I can skip the luggage check-in and the additional fees plus I can carry the pack wherever. During this trip, I was able to use my new travel buddy, a 42-L Deuter Futura Pro red daypack which was given to me as a gift. It was more than enough to carry 5day’s worth of clothes and other necessities. Even moreso since I only bring with me light fabrics and mostly shorts, tanktops, and thin cardigans when I go backpacking.

On our first night, we tried Bak Kut Teh which literally means “Pork Bone Tea”. We actually didn’t know anything about Malaysian cuisine when we went to KK but upon strolling the long stretch of Gaya Street and having seen the mob forming outside a certain stall, we went in to try the food. We didn’t know how to order and the waiter found it difficult to explain, so he just led me to where the stew was being cooked up and where the selected cuts of pork are on display. We tried the stomach and ribs and boy the soup was really savory! The distinct taste of Bak Kut Teh can be attributed to the herbs with which it is cooked such as star anise, ginseng, cloves, garlic and fennel seeds. It also came with sidings of fried bread and blanched veggies.

The following day, we went to KK National Park, Malaysia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, (after seeing Mt. Kota Kinabalu from a view deck-cum-souvenir center) and explored the botanical garden (1.5 hrs from the city).

Then we had lunch at Poring hot springs 1 hour from the botanical garden still part of the huge national park. While the others went for a soak to experience the supposed medicinal wonders of the springs, Laarni and I opted for high fashion, quite literally, by following the 30-minute trail to the start of the canopy walkway (definitely not for the acrophobic) covering 4 hanging bridges 100ft high above the treetops.

To ease our sore muscles and wobbly knees, we made our way to Kipungan Falls (though it was discouraged to go there if it’s past 2pm) and dipped our feet in the cold waters, much to the delight of the little fish who feasted at our calluses.

Come night time, it was dinner at the Fong Ip Cafe and tea time, of course. We were already addicted to tea especially Tea Tarik or milk tea (downing at least 4 cups a day). We capped the day meeting up with a friend. Shukri was a Malaysian coal exporter and a young businessman I’ve known through a college batchmate.

It would have been nice to spend a day more at the national park or another two days to hike the highest peak in the Malay Archipelago. With a national park of size twice that of mainland Singapore (yep, I was paying attention afterall to our tour guide!), you can never run out of fun things to do in KK.