BORNEO MALAYSIA TRAVEL GUIDE: Kota Kinabalu
Welcome to Part 3 of my Borneo Travel Guide. My husband and I spent two weeks exploring Malaysian Borneo in July 2015. We had a great time, and would definitely recommend it. We had a few ups and downs, mainly due to the environmental damage we saw pretty much everywhere, it was terribly sad to see so much deforestation. I probably wouldn't have noticed it if I was traveling with anyone else, but Farmboy was an environmental consultant is his former life and so was more aware than me (I thought there was a lot of green but what I thought was natural vegetation was 9 times out of 10 palm oil plantations). We also knew very little about Borneo (apart from the fact that it is one of the last places where you can see Orangutan in their natural habitat), and actually ended up deciding to go there because it had the cheapest flights and seemed like a very unique holiday destination.
You may be thinking of heading to Borneo soon (or sometime in the future) so to help you plan your trip, I have put together this travel guide, as well as some tips from our stay. Please keep in mind that my husband and I may travel very differently to you, and have different likes and preferences for things. I prefer the more luxurious path, while Farmboy would stay in a hammock for the entire trip if it was up to him. So we plan accordingly, and of course, try to stick to the budget.
We spent the first part of our holiday in Kuching (2 days), moving onto Bantang Ai lake (3 days), then Kota Kinabalu (4 days) and then onto Semporna (2 day) & Mabul Island (4 days). As there is so much to say about our trip I am going to break up these posts into different parts. In this part (Part 3) I will be talking about Kota Kinabalu and in Part 4 I will be talking about Semporna & the scuba diving we did on Mabul Island.
After a wonderfully relaxing 3 night stay at the Batang Ai Hilton Resort (click here to read more about that part of our stay), we arrived landed in Kota Kinabalu at around 9pm. And now for the luxurious part of our trip to Borneo. When Farmboy and I travel, we like to book a few nights at a really fancy place, and that's exactly what the Shangri-La's Rasa Ria Resort & Spa is. We didn't have the best weather to be staying at this incredible resort, but even with the rain and storm clouds we had a wonderful time.
I hardly used my camera during our stay at the Shangri-La because the weather was so gloomy, so the photos of our stay at the Shangri-La were all taken with my phone.
We arrived at the resort at around 10pm, and were blown away by the 'welcome ceremony'. A huge gong was tapped to announce our arrival, and we were served a choice of drinks while completing our late check in (super classy!)
We usually avoid resorts like the plague, but when I stumbled across a special on on Expedia that included breakfast for $270 for two people per night (I know! I told you this was the luxurious part of our trip!) we just had to stay there.
Plus, if you go onto Pinterest and search for Kota Kinabalu, apart from the blue floating mosque) the first thing you'll also find is the Shangri-La Rasa Ria, mostly due to it's gorgeous water front decor and setting.
I was very sad that it rained so much when we were there, so that I wasn't able to capture the iconic setting sun from back of the resort, but it was a wonderful relax, AND it was where we were finally able to see Orangutans (keep reading to find out more).
I mentioned that the highlight of our stay at the Shangri La Rasa Ria was seeing the Orangutans. If you read Part 1 & Part 2 of this travel guide you'll know that we were terribly unlucky and hadn't caught a glimpse of these majestic creatures. We were finally able to see 2 young Orangutans at the Shangri La Rasa Nature Reserve. The rescued orangutans undergo initial rehabilitation at the Shangri La Nature Reserve before they're taken to Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary for further rehabilitation.
I am sad to say that I recently read about a number of petitions to "Stop the Stop the Shangri-La Orangutan Exploitation" (click here to read one such petition). Farmboy and I are animal lovers, and make it a point NOT to visit any animal 'sanctuaries' that we feel are exploiting animals, so I am terribly sad to read about this now. So many 'sanctuaries' thrive off of exploitation and the general naivety of tourists who 99% of the time are unaware that they are playing a role in their exploitation.
I also, just found out that as of 8 April 2016, both the remaining orangutans (the same two that we saw on our trip) at the Shangri-La Rasa Ria Resort have been sent back to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. Apparently the resort won't have any more orangutans in their Nature Reserve the reasons. Again, who knows the truth behind what's really going at the resport, but it saddens me that I may have played a part in exploitation. Due to this new information, I debated posting the photographs I took there on the blog. I stayed at the resort and queued up with all the other tourists for our 20 minutes of Orangutan sightings. I am as much to blame for the exploitation (if indeed that is what was going on at the Shangri La Rasa Ria). Please use your own common sense and good judgement when traveling to Borneo in search of Orangutan. We were told about the Orangutans at the resort by a wonderful and knowledgeable taxi driver who used to be a nature guide. He had nothing but good things to say about the work done by the resort and that is why we were so excited to join the tour of the nature reserve at the Shangri La Rasa Ria.
We spent two nights at the Rasa Ria Shangr- La and then caught their shuttle bus back into Kota Kinabalu. Something to bear in mind you do choose to stay at the Shangri la is it's location. It was about a 30 minute taxi ride from the airport. We were very easily able to get a taxi at the airport to take us there when we flew in from Kuching. Taxis are all regulated in Malaysia, and we simply went to the taxi desk at the airport exit and told them where we wanted to go. You then pay the booking desk and are issued with a receipt which you then show to your driver. No worrying about getting ripped off or dealing with change, it was a real pleasure to catch a taxi in Kota Kinabalu.
We spent our next night in the city itself, staying at a very budget friendly & comfortable guesthouse called Lavender Lodge. It was basic, but very clean and the staff were very helpful in guiding us around the cWe timed out stay in town so we were able to coincide with one of the local markets which we always enjoy wondering around. Another highlight of our stay in Kota Kinabalu was seeing the Blue Floating Mosque (sometimes called the Kota Kinabalu City Mosque) or Masjid Bandaraya Kota Kinabalu in Malay.
The Kota Kinabalu City Mosque is open for public visits daily except Fridays from 8am to 5pm. There are no fees charged to visitors. We didn't actually go inside as the views from outside were spectacular. We chased a storm and managed to get there just in time before the rain hit.
I wish someone had mentioned online how difficult it actually is to get to get to a good photography view point. We ended up jumping a few walls and found ourselves on a scraggly path covered by bushes just to be able to get to a good enough view point to capture the mosque in all it's glory. Anyway, after a bit if a rough and tumble through the long grass and trees, the view was absolutely worth it. See for yourself:
Getting to the Mosque
The Kota Kinabalu City Mosque is located about 3 kilometers from Kota Kinabalu City (10 - 15 minutes drive away).
1. Bus (No.5A , direction to UMS)
Fare: RM 1.50 per pax/way
Station : In front of Hotel Shangri-La
Remarks : 6.30 am - 8.00 pm
Fare: RM 12.00- RM 15.00 per taxi
Station : Any taxi point in Kota Kinabalu City
We had a full day to explore Kota Kinabalu and so, after the morning market we walked around town and then a long winding path to an observatory view point. It was an interesting view and a stark contrast of the rainforest vegetation behind us, the sprawling city, and the ocean and harbor.
After our time in Kota Kinabalu we were more than ready for an escape to the ocean and our first experience of scuba diving; which we did over the next 6 days in Semporna and Mabul Island.
Stay tuned for Part 4 of this Borneo travel guide, where I will be talking all about our favourite part of our 2 week stay.
Have you ever been to Borneo? Do you have any tips or recommendations for readers of this blog? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!