We took the Air Asia flight from JB airport to arrive in the capital of Borneo state of Sabah, Kota Kinabalu or KK as it commonly termed. This is my second visit, having last visited it in October 2011.
We stayed in the Gaya Central hotel, which is in the city. The convenient location allows us to walk to many shopping areas and eating places in KK. The hotel has rooms with seaview, and it is worth asking the hotel receptions for such rooms if these are available. The hotel is clean and the room size is adequate, and one of the best features is the buffet breakfast.
The highlights of Sabah visit are snorkeling near islands off Kota Kinabalu and the drive to Mount Kinabalu National Park. We hired a boat to visit the three islands in the Tuanku Abdul Rahman Marine Park which are just off the city. These are the Manutik, Mamukan and Sapi islands. The boat hire cost for the day cost MYR200. The local Bajau people operated the boats for visitors and guided us around the islands. We truly enjoyed the watching the marine fishes below and around us while snorkeling.
The cost of hiring snorkeling gears (including vest) is about MYR15 per person. Diving fins were hired seperately from the island rental shops. I highly recommend the use of diving fins, as they would provide better propulsion in the water especially when current is strong, and also protect the leg from being cut by sharp rock and corals. The Mamutik and Sapi islands have corals and thus provide better snorkeling experience than Mamukan.
KK is also famous for seafood, and we truly enjoyed the range of fresh seafood available. Prawns and crabs are relatively cheap, but fishes are not cheap though. The main reason is that there is insatiable demand in HK (main export market) for fish from Sabah. Thus the most prized fish, the mouse grouper (lau si ban) which cost MYR240 a kilo is hardly affordable to most people. We settled for the tiger grouper, which is half the price of the mouse grouper. It was the best steamed fish we ever had, and the next day we came again despite having to pay MYR100 for a plate of the fish. (Note: there is cheaper alternative at the native night market at the esplanade, which is close to the central market. You can bargain there, and a barbecued snapper just cost around MYR25 a kilo)
We also drove to the Mount Kinabalu National Park and to the interior town of Tuaran. It was a cloudy day and drizzling at times, and thus our hope of viewing the famous mountain of Sabah was quashed by the low clouds.
Overall, we enjoyed our trip to KK very much. Tourism in Sabah is truly booming, given the surge in visitors from China and Korea. A a result, it is becoming more commercialised by the day. One of the ill-effects is that as people become more wealthy, they are also discarding more rubbish, particularly by the inhabitants that live close to the sea. It is my hope that the authorities put more efforts into tackling this issue.