Thursday, January 16, 2014

Kota Kinabalu

Our final stay in Malaysia was Kota Kinabalu (known as K.K. In the traveller community), the largest city in Malaysia Borneo. Our shared taxi dropped us off at the guesthouse we had reserved in advance, and which turned out to be decent. There isn't a whole lot to be said about KK as, in a similar way to Kuching it's a fairly indistinct, modestly sized city.

We arrived late afternoon and made a bee-line for a highly recommended restaurant which served great vegetarian food and pretty decent home-made cakes. Unfortunately for Monique, apart from that restaurant KK offered almost no veggie-friendly food, so it goes without saying that we visited that restaurant again before leaving.

The highlight of KK for me was the local market which spanned a considerable length of the city's coastline. The market was roughly split into two halves: one half sold a huge variety of great looking fresh fruit and vegetables which made it all the more frustrating for Monique that the local restaurants seemed unwilling to cook vegetables; the other half featured hundreds of stalls selling freshly barbequed meat and fish. I had some fantastic spicy and sticky prawns and some chicken wings that were so good I had to go back to spend our last few Malaysian ringgits to get some more before we left. I also gave in to curiosity and tried some chicken buttocks after declining the opportunity to try them in Kuala Lumpur; the verdict – better than they sound, but I'll stick to the wings in future.

While we were at the market we bumped into an interesting guy whom we had first met on the way to Gili Air in Indonesia and then subsequently saw a couple of times while we were there. Small world! Even more remarkably we encountered a local guy wearing an Aston Villa shirt! Obviously I had to stop him and ask for a photo. To be honest I don't think he really understood my excitement or my interest in his shirt, or what his shirt even meant, but we need all the support we can get these days.

Apart from that the only things of note were a walk around a rather depressing mall (not greatly dissimilar to Birmingham's Pallasades), a trip to the decent Sagan State museum (despite the never-ending musak version of Celine Dion's “My heart will go on” that nearly drove us mad and prompted an angry comment card from Monique) and a beautiful sunset from an area of bars and restaurants along the coast.

 Monique also befriended yet another turtle.

For many people KK is a stopping-off point for the sights and activities further East on Sabah (which we had already done) or for the islands just off that part of the Borneo coast. The islands which we could see from KK (and which we had seen when we flew into KK first time around) are apparently very quiet and offer decent snorkelling and diving; however we didn't have time to visit them before we were due to leave for the Philippines, and in any even we had done plenty of top-quality snorkelling in Indonesia, and planned to do plenty more in the Philippines, so didn't see the need to squeeze them into our time in Sabah.

Our flight out of KK was a late one, and our guesthouse weren't willing to allow us a late check-out, so we were left with lots of time to kill in a city without much in the way of activities. The solution was a highly enjoyable film double-bill at the cinema atop the depressing mall. On our previous travels through Southeast Asia we had enjoyed a few trips to the cinema as the combination of air-conditioning and an element of familiarity is often welcome when travelling for an extended period of time. However we had not gone to the cinema on this trip so far (with the exception of seeing Iron Man 3 in Hyderabad which I have chosen not to count because Monique's dengue fever was breaking and the experience was therefore not a good one) so we were actually looking forward to this excuse to watch films without feeling guilty for missing more cultural activities/sights. Our chosen films – Elysium and We're the Millers - were perfect for killing time in that they were both light-hearted and pretty good. They left us with just enough time to grab some food before taking a taxi to the airport.

We had definitely enjoyed Borneo Malaysia more than Peninsular Malaysia, despite it being a bit of a mixed bag. The nature we had seen was nothing short of amazing, however we had been frustrated by the prohibitively high prices and bad weather that prevented us from seeing everything which we had wanted to see, and the cities were unremarkable. We had arranged our plans to give us as much time on the Sabah side of Borneo as time allowed, however in hindsight we had both enjoyed the Sarawak side more and wished that we had spent some more time there. That said, seeing orangutans in the wild was a big tick off my “bucket list” and was as great as I had hoped so our time in Borneo was more than justified.

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