In this blog post, we will tell you about the day trips we made from Kota Kinabalu during our Borneo itinerary.
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How to get in Kota Kinabalu
We flew from Mulu to Kota Kinabalu with Malaysia Airlines. They operate daily flights with a short stop in Miri.
Kota Kinabalu has an international airport with daily flights from Kuala Lumpur, Kuching, Seoul, Hong Kong, and Shanghai.
The city of Kota Kinabalu
Most of this blog will cover sights around Kota Kinabalu as the city itself has not that much to offer. That’s why we did some Kota Kinabalu day trips. A walk through the main street will take you along the Jesselton hotel and some other tourist spots. The night market downtown is worth a visit as well and a nice place to taste some street food.
The city mosque pictured below is situated somewhat remote but still worth a visit.
Where to stay in Kota Kinabalu
Where to stay in Kota Kinabalu
Le Meridien Kota Kinabalu
Le Meridien Kota Kinabalu lies right opposite the markets and just a short walk away from the riverside promenade. Spacious and Comfortable rooms. Beautiful pool.
Watch the sunset from the pool area.
Premium Comfortable hotel
Mercure Kota Kinabalu city center
The Mercure Kota Kinabalu lies in a great location close to the Baywalk area with lots of stores and restaurants. Small but comfortable rooms. The hotel has a small swimming pool on the roof, with great city and sea view. You can also enjoy a beautiful sunset from here.
The Klagan Hotel
The Klagan hotel lies in a wonderful location. There are lots of restaurants and shopping within walking distance. Modern and comfortable rooms.Good buffet breakfast. You can enjoy sea view while having breakfast.
Day trips from Kota Kinabalu
Climbing Mount Kinabalu
The ascend up Mount Kinabalu could theoretically be done in one day but most people make it a two-day trip. A tour guide is mandatory. Many tourist agencies in KK offer both the 1 and 2-day trekkings to the top. You can book this in Kota Kinabalu but just to be sure I would make arrangements in advance as space is limited.
We didn’t do it ourselves but you can find more information about climbing Mount Kinabalu here.
Tunku Abdul Rahman
We weren’t here for the mountain but we went snorkeling in Tunku Abdul Rahman. Tunku Abdul Rahman Park is a combination of 5 islands.
All trips leave from the ferry pier known as Jesselton Point. Several travel agencies have selling booths at the pier. They all offer more or less the same trips for the same price. You can choose to visit a maximum of up to 3 islands in one day.
You can just walk to the pier and buy your tickets at the moment you plan on leaving. There are plenty of boats, no reason to buy tickets upfront. If you plan on leaving right away it may be worth to check a few different agents as not all boats leave at the same time. It may win you some time to spend at one of the islands instead of the pier.
Recent boat fares can be found at the website of Jesselton Point. You will have to pay the boat fare + the ferry fee when purchasing your tickets. If you need to rent snorkeling gear you can arrange this as well when you buy your tickets or you can rent snorkeling gear on the island.
The price is the same either way.
The entrance fee for the national park will need to be paid once you arrive at the (first) island.
Make sure to keep your ticket if you will be island hopping. The entrance fee needs to be paid only once but you will need to show the ticket as proof of payment.
The boat fare to visit Sapi en Mamutik in 2013 was RM33.
Once you have your tickets and snorkeling gear you can continue to the boat dock. At the boat dock, you will experience the organized chaos you may have encountered in other places in Asia. Best is to wave your ticket to people that seem to organize the chaos and they will be able to tell you if you have to wait or which boat is yours.
Sadly enough, what we hoped to be a nice snorkeling experience, turned out to be a disappointment. Heading to the island our boat navigated through loads of floating garbage ranging from plastic bottles to life vests. Once at the island it looked like they have cleaned the beaches by throwing all garbage on heaps at both sides of the beach. The beach itself is clean but once at the edge of the beach, you’re confronted with the sad sight of piles of garbage in what’s supposedly a national park.
The islands are fairly crowded and that makes for a less enjoyable snorkeling experience. It’s very hard not to collide and the furious peddling by children and not so advanced snorkelers causes poor visibility. Because of the shallow water and the poor snorkeling habits and techniques of some the coral is mostly dead. Neither on Sapi nor on Mamutik did we see any fish while snorkeling. We did see fish near the pier where tourists fed them, something that is not allowed, but some tourists, unfortunately, did not take much notice of this ban.
The highlight of our day was found on land instead of underwater. It were the Monitor lizards on Sapi Island. You won’t have a hard time to spot them as they just wander around the BBQ area that’s set up near the beach. Impressive animals of about 1m30! You will encounter many more of these prehistoric animals when you take the short hike that starts at the beach.
Both the start and end of the hike are fairly steep but in between the path is almost flat. We managed to do it on our flip-flops in 30 minutes. Once away from the beach it feels as if you have the island to yourself.
Tambunan Rafflesia Reserve
As we were sure the Rafflesia was blooming we headed to Tambunan Rafflesia Reserve on our second day in KK.
The tourist information center will be able to tell you if the flower is blooming or not. You can find the tourism board at 51 Gaya Street in Kota Kinabalu.
It is about a 1.5 hours drive on a winding road in the mountains before you arrive at the park. At the tourist office they told us that a taxi would cost about RM300 (back and forth including waiting) but after some negotiation, we agreed on a price of RM150.
It would still be cheaper to use the minibus but this does not run very frequent.
The park is expensive. The guide fee is with a whopping RM100 the most expensive fee we paid in Malaysia. On top of that, you need to pay your entrance fee of RM5 and another RM5 to take pictures. Those are very reasonable amounts and clearly show how outrageously high the guide fee is.
You’re allowed to share a guide with a group of 5 persons but as the park is not that popular chances are slim that somebody will show up. Your best bet would be to go early and just wait. The park closes daily at 2 PM.
Our visit lasted about 30 minutes and we saw 3 flowers. Depending on where the flowers bloom it may be that your visit takes 1h. The park is more like a dense forest with only a few trails. We would have never found the flowers without our guide. He abandons the trails to take you to the flowers.
You can see the Rafflesia flower at different locations across Malaysia. The flower is impressive and I would certainly encourage everybody to visit one of the parks, just not this one. Alternatives are Gunung Gading National Park or Mount Kinabalu.
Kota Kinabalu was the only disappointment on a very beautiful and impressive journey through Malaysia. In Tunku Abdul Rahman I was really deprived by the mountains of waste. It’s sad to see that people that come here to enjoy nature show so little respect for it. The snorkeling experience was also disappointing but our day was saved by the impressive lizards.
I am certainly glad that I saw the Rafflesia flower, but that also felt like a rip-off.
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