Thursday, November 5, 2009

Kota Kinabalu in the Tropical Island of Borneo

Kota Kinabalu, a.k.a. KK or Api Api (fire),  as fondly called by the natives, is in the northwest part of tropical Borneo. As you know, Borneo is owned by three countries - Indonesia, Brunei and Malaysia.
Long long time ago, when blogging was not yet fashionable, just like most of us, Borneans were not in the habit of recording their history.  But according to relics found, as early as 640 AD, they had been doing business with the Chinese.  The Chinese are very  business-minded people, they probably traded Borneo's spices with Ciallis.  Aside from spices,  Borneo also  has gold, camphor, horn bill ivory, tortoise shells, etc.  A country like that  with so much to offer  attracted many invaders traders.  Aside from the Chinese, others also came - the Spaniards, the Dutch, British, and  the Americans. Kota Kinabalu was also called Jesselton before.  Don't ask me why.  I will not bore you with too much history and Geography.  Admittedly I'm having nosebleed already,  talking about history.   No offense to Borneo, I love Borneo.   The Philippines love Borneo, in fact we were claiming Sabah as ours. But that's another story.  Wikipedia has a wealth of information about Borneo and Kota Kinabalu.
So we flew there through Air Asia, bless them for their promos.
We stayed in Summer Lodge.  Dave had stayed there before and he likes  the place.  It's a backpackers' favorite.  The room rates are reasonable; the staff,  friendly and helpful.  It's also in the center of the business area, walking distance to  restaurants, hotels,  parks, banks, malls, government offices.
It also offers free use of computers and internet, free breakfast from 7-9 AM, with TV in the communal dining room.  One drawback, there's no bathroom and toilet in your own room, you have to share those with fellow guests. There are a number of them in each floor, though.  We did not have to wait or line up to use any one of them.
Isn't this cute that you have to remove  your slippers and put them on shoe racks before you go to common areas - cashier, dining table, living room, internet area.
In case you forget, there's a gentle reminder:

I like it too that smokers are not allowed in the main areas:
Speaking of cute, here's another:
The telephone is called helo? It figures......

Now to the great outdoor adventures:
1.  Padas White Water Rafting
Summer Lodge made the reservation for us.  We were fetched by the van at 7:00 AM. We then fetched other Padas enthusiasts in different hotels and proceeded  to Tenom town  where we had lunch.  After lunch, the trolley ride to Pangi.  
From Tenom town to Pangi is an unforgettable experience, navigating the railroad by trolley.  The guy at the left is our "driver".  You could guess how he uses the pole he's holding.  He uses it like a paddle.  Only one person could ride in trolley.  A trolley is made of about six or seven thin boards of wood, some have holes on them too. It's about twenty kms. of travel through the trolley.  It's upward climbing in some areas and downward in some, wherein the driver could rest and sit with the passenger. There were about seven trolleys for our group.
Upon reaching Padas River, we were offered light refreshment - sweet watermelon.  We were briefed by our team leader, who liked to be called  Spiderman,  from the River Junkies group. He was funny, strong and good-looking.  I later learned that he is one of the grandchildren of the Sultan of Brunei.

Padas white water rafting which costs MYR170 per person including lunch,  is the  ultimate in white water rafting. It is classed as III - IV river, whatever that means. There is another one in KK,  the Kiolu River White Water rafting where you could go at half the price of Padas.  Many fellow tourists from the U.S., Europe and neighboring Asian countries attest that Padas is not surpassed by any other white water rafting places.  The water in Padas river is brown and muddy.  It's clean though.  Dave was concerned that because the river water is brown, it could be dirty and  there might be so many malaria-carrying mosquitoes.  Not so, the river is so volatile for the mosquitoes to stay and produce eggs.  Be afraid of crocodiles and cobras,  although we did not see any.

We were seven in a boat, and there's also another couple with us from Netherlands.   Padas river  rafting  takes about three hours, one way.  It is 200 kms. in length and holds seven exciting rapids.  I was so scared and excited, I didn't like to go, but I don't like to be left alone in the village.  The trip is A to B;  the group will not be going back to the village.

The locals named the rapids:
Headhunter rapids 
Scooby doo
Cobra Point
You could guess why they are named as such.   Like at the Merry-go-round, our raft went round and round until Dave was thrown out of the boat. He said it took a split second to be thrown out, he was paddling like a macho darling that he is, next thing, he's on the water with his paddle thrown away too.  Of course we rescued him and went back to get his paddle too.   Our team leader always warned us whenever we're nearing one of the rapids.
"Watch out, we're approaching Cobra Point. There are cobras on this area, so be very careful not to get thrown out!"  or
"We're approaching Lambada, the waves which are bigger and higher than  Summer Lodge,  will be swallowing us".  That's super adrenalin rush for you, so we paddled like our life depended on it.  It actually did.
To make the short story long, the husbands were all thrown out of the boat, so we wives raised our paddles to cheer, "Yayyy to women power!!!"
One other boat,  full of young and goofy Koreans,  capsized.  They intentionally had their boat spinning by paddling in all directions.  Fun, fun, fun......
Our team leader informed us,  "Chances  that you'd be thrown out of the boat or your boat will capsize is 50-50, and the first thing you do after this happens, is to smile, keep afloat, don't lose your helmet,  and be assured that Spiderman will rescue all of you".  Ain't he neat.
Going back, we rode in an antique train, circa 1800s and enjoyed the flora and fauna of the mountain we passed by with fellow passengers.
2. Poring Hot Spring
As the name suggests, it boasts of hot spring water:

One could share the hot spring water on the pool or you could soak in a bath tub alone or with your companion.  In the picture below, father and son:

There is another cool place to go inside the Poring Hot springs Resort.  Their canopy walk, 41 meters high, 158.7 meters long,  is a real chill.  In fact the Norwagian couple who were with us puked when they reached the other end.   

Dave, the daring one,  even shook the canopy his hands free!
Inside Poring Hot Springs, if you go upward, there is  waterfalls.

We went there for the view and to cool our feet.  Curiously, Dave felt something nibbling at his feet!  Looking down he saw a number of small fish eating away dead skins of his feet.  This is a new thing in  trendy spas.  You pay a high price for the fish to nibble at your feet's dead skin,  and here it is free.
4.  Butterfly farm
Dave does not ever get tired of butterfly farms, even when we went to hundreds of them before - in Tagaytay, in Baguio. He had to see the butterflies, because they were there. 
3.  Tour to see Rafflasia 
We were about to go to another spot, when the guide asked if we're interested to see a very unique flower.  Dave, a connoisieur of flowers, readily agreed. Rafflasia, we were told is the largest and the stinkiest flower ever.
At its full bloom, it's bigger than your toilet bowl, and  it closely resembles one.  After seven days it will be rotting and it would smell  like shit.

5.  Monsopiad Cultural Village, also called the Head Hunter's Village
Coming inside, you are given rice wine for a welcome drink.  They served the best rice wine, promise.

The tour guide, Crystal related how rice wine is made with the implements below.

These are the ingredients: rice, ginger, pepper (!), yeast.  the best tip she gave is: While making the rice wine, think only of beautiful and pleasant thoughts. lest your rice wine become bitter.  If it does, you could use it as a vinegar. 

Above is a bamboo bridge inside the Monsopiad Cultural village.
They have a cultural presentation inside their auditorium.  Dancers tell stories with their dances. They even had me dancing with them on stage. Their dances resemble Filipino folk dances, especially Tinikling where they use two big bamboo sticks  and you have to skip in between the sticks, being careful that you you're quick enough to take out your feet as the other two dancers will do their best to snap at your feet.  Of course, while dancing and worrying about your feet,  you have to appear joyful and  be graceful too.
We posed with the dancers. Yeah, it's blurred...don't blame me, it was not me who took this picture!
Why is Monsopiad Cultural Village also called the Headhunter's Village?  Here we go again with history.  Just ask Crystal, our tourist guide.
Okay, if I remember right, 300 years ago, there was a brave warrior named Monsopiad,  who defended his village from robbers and invaders by cutting their heads with sword.  To show the villagers how brave he was and to also warn other thieves, he'd hung all the heads in front of his house.  The birds ate all of the meat until only the skulls were left.  He then brought the skulls home to hang from his ceiling, making the spirit of the dead his own relatives.  He prayed to these spirits to protect him and his family and to bring him luck.  Below are some of the skulls.

 6.  Lok Kawi Wildlife Park
This is a 70-hectare park, also known as Lok Kawi Zoo.  Their aviary is fantastic, their monkeys which they call proboscis,  have high nose.  I told Dave, this is a Caucasian monkey, he looks just like you.  You will find all kinds of exotic animals there, like the elephants below.  There are also zebra, giraffes, tigers, lions, etc.  Enough now, lest I remember how the zoo stinks, even though it looked clean.

The aim of this park is to have the people realize that they must preserve the endangered animals, and to treat the animals right, not to cramp them is small places like cage.  True enough, the animals there were fooled that they are in their own natural habitat.  The place is so BIG, it takes time for you to look where the sound of the turkeys or pigs  come from.  The government spent RM30 million to fool these animals.
They also have botanical garden inside.

Time to go home, I am getting tired.
In an attempt to make small talk with our driver, Dave asked him how long Kota Kinabalu had been independent; how many local rulers or presidents have they had now; what  percentage of accidents happens in the street we're plying which the driver reacted by scratching his head.  I glared  at my husband and whispered, "Stop giving him quizzes, would you like us to be a part of accident statistics"?

Aside from enjoying the food in KK (I always enjoy food wherever I am, and please don't look for food pictures because I always devoured them in less than 10 minutes......then I realize I should have taken pictures first!), the fun part is ---shopping!

Their market is clean.

Many of their food is just like Filipino, but prepared in a different way.
I love so many things in KK, so even at the airport, I bought more goodies.

We are definitely going back to Kota Kinabalu. 


  1. silver, we'd love to go. can you recommend a place wherr4 you get your own private bathroom? we will pass on the rapids (against my will) but all else seems nice. any elephant rides or bike trails?

  2. Monissima, we can't recommend anything that we have not tried yet...., but this is a good site :)

  3. OMG Malou...hahahahahah....butterflies just love your nose!!!! hhaahahahha!!! Was that scary?? Having a butterfly land on your nose like that??? :)

    That photo of the father and son in the bath like that is SOOOOO funny!!! omg!!!! hahahahaha!!!

    I always love to read how Chinese were doing business since ancient times, with all the other civilizations!!! It's like, all throughout history, you look at all these timelines of wars, and etc...and during all that/through all that, the Chinese were just doing business...I love that... :) Yes, Chinese are a very gently people who do not look for warfare but then that is ironic, because the Chinese invented gunpowder!!! :)

  4. C, the buterflies are not scary at all :) They did not bite, in fact they were in a hurry to fly away. there were just put where they are by the butterfly keeper for photo op for tourists like us :)

    Re the father and son, you'd laugh more to this - Dave would like to join them there. They both looked at Dave with that funny expression as Dave was asking them, "May I join you?'. What goofiness :P

    Yes, the Chinese gunpowder but only for celebration - fireworks, hehehe. but you know that.


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