Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Borneo (Part I & II)

 The last hour of the flight into Kota Kinabulu we flew over lush green mountains which got me more excited for all the rainforest time I have ahead of me. KK is located in the north east part of Malaysia Borneo. I took the public bus from the airport into the city getting off at the last stop near Gala street, where all the hostels are. I wanted to stay at Akinabalu Youth Hostel, but it was full, so instead I stayed down the road at Stay In Lodge for 20rm ($5.50) a night. The hostel is a dump- a dirty walk-up with a slow drip shower, dirty sheets and a loud bar next door; but I’m trying to save money after expensive Indonesia so I have nothing to complain about.

After checking in I went for Chinese food downstairs at 5 Star Hainanese and had mixed vegetables with pork. It was the first Chinese I had in a long time and it was delicious. Not as cheap as I’d like though- the dish cost $4. It was 9pm by then so I just headed back to the hostel to plan out my Borneo schedule. 

 I woke-up in the morning and spoke to my hostel director as well as a few guests and quickly learned that there’s not much to do or see in Sabah (the east section of Malaysia Borneo where I am now.) The two main attractions I have already applied for permits and am not scheduled to do until later in April. I had thought Kota Kinabalu was going to be a major city but was wrong about that too and there’s actually nothing to do here. So unfortunately I made a mistake by coming and booked a flight to Kuching in Sarawak (the west side of Malaysia Borneo) for tomorrow morning.

After scheduling I walked towards the water and saw all the fishing boats, then walked towards the town center which all together took less than 15 minutes. 

   Sabah is mostly Muslims but there are also a handful of Chinese and Malay on the streets. At the center of the city is a large mall. It is old, outdated and dirty like the city. I decided to see a movie at Growball Cinemax just to kill time; I saw Cinderella, which was one of the three movies in English. After that I walked back to the backpacker Gaya street where my hostel is. I stopped at Yee Fung Laksa, a local crowded Chinese restaurant, and ordered the chicken wonton noodle soup. The restaurant only has six things on the menu so I figured it’d be good but it was a bowl of fish broth with noodles and bland chicken wontons. No garnish.

Later that evening I walked back to the waterfront for a seafood dinner. There are two rows of outdoor street food restaurants. Tables are lined up full of fresh seafood and grills. Most of the vendors and shoppers were Muslim. In general the area was pretty quite and I wonder if it’s any busier on the weekends; the whole city seems quite. I ordered mini-squid and sautéed greens for 17rm ($4.50.) It was alright but not worth that much money. 

     The next morning I headed back to the airport for an 8am flight. The public bus doesn’t run that early so I had to pay $10 to get there by taxi. KK ended up being a huge and expensive mistake.


I returned back to Kota Kinabalu and this time I stayed at Asia Adventures Lodge also on Jalan Gaya (Gaya street.) Vermont and I stayed in an AC dorm. This hostel was much nicer than Stay Inn across the street and I paid the same price. We met two boys from Australia in our hostel and ended up spending our next 24 hours with them.
We went to the waterfront market for dinner and chose to eat at Glam’s station which was full with customers. We joined a communal table and I got up to choose my fish. I picked out a seabass and had it grilled with chili sauce. 

After dinner we stopped at Upperstar for beer. We got two large Tiger’s for 19rm ($5,) a steal for Malaysia. The Australin’s paid for my beer as a birthday treat. On the way home I bought a chocolate strawberry Magnum ice cream bar as my Bday dessert.

The next morning the four of us woke up and headed to the ferry terminal to spend the day on one of the islands off the coast of the city. We bought a ticket for one island to save money. We waited in the waiting area for 30 minutes and finally realized they were never going to tell us when our boat was there. After complaining and refusing to sit back down we were put into a boat.  We arrived on Manukan Island around noon, giving us four hours on the beach. The island is small and can easily be walked in twenty minutes. We spent our time snorkeling and laying out. We took a walk around and I found a bunch of beach glass. It’s nice searching on a beach where no one else cares to look for it.   


   We got back on the pier at 4ish for our 4pm ferry back. It wasn’t until 4:30pm and two phone calls later that a ferry actually arrived. We learned never to book through Borneo Ferry company again.    When we got back to land we rushed back to the hostel through the market, which was actually open this time. The Central market was also open and the streets were crowded. This was much different from the last time I was here. This time I actually liked Kota Kinabalu. 


I showered and then sprinted with all my stuff to the public bus station in front of the Shangri La Hotel, almost a mile away from where I was. I was told I had less than 15 minutes to catch the last bus to the main bus station. I was dripping wet with sweat when I got there but at least I made it. I boarded the bus and it didn’t leave for twenty minutes. I easily have walked there if I had known.

The public bus went through the suburban towns of Kota Kinabalu. The houses were a mix between modern and rundown but the area was clean and western for the most part. I got to see a beautiful coral sunset on the way. 


I arrived at the North Bus Terminal in Inanam and bought a ticket for the next bus to Sandakan at 7pm for 43 rm. The bus ride was a riot. There was a young driver and three of his friends in the front, one of which sat next to me in the front row. They blasted clubbing music and were dancing and occasionally flicking on and off the bus lights to the beat. I will never understand why bus drivers in Asia sometimes have their friends join. And I wonder if they get paid or not too.
On top of the constant noise the bus was ice cold. All the boys were wearing winter puffer jackets but all I had was my zip-up and elephant pants. I asked if they could turn down the air but they refused. They were in their own world and disrespectful of everyone else who were freezing and trying to sleep.
The ride took 6.5 hours instead of 5.

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