Malaysia and the Philippines will always have ties with each other – we are, after all, from the same racial line – we have the same facial features and the same warmth and hospitality that always seem to help us make friends anywhere and everywhere we go.
I’ve been to Kota Kinabalu before so when I was invited by the Tourism Department of Malaysia for a trip to Kota Kinabalu, I didn’t think for one second and just said “Yes!”
Kota Kinabalu or KK as it is more popularly known, is the bustling city of Sabah in the mysterious and alluring Borneo Peninsula. It is a beautiful picturesque marriage of nature and urbanization. It was known as “Jesselton” back in 1881 and was named so after Sir Charles Jessel, the Vice-Chairman of the British North Borneo Chartered Company. Jesselton was also known as Api-Api which literally means “fire-fire” although the real reason behind the name has not been confirmed, some say it’s because of the frequent fires that are caused by the fireworks set off during festive celebrations but others say that it’s from the trees that grow abundantly along the coast that the locals use for firewood. Whatever the real reason is, I believe that it’s because of the warmth and the hospitality that the KK people show that makes the nick name very apropos.
Kota Kinabalu has it all – from luxurious hotels and resorts that have all the amenities and activities you could ever want to wild life adventure where you can meet the beautiful Orangutans and Proboscis Monkeys by the river. Train buffs will be excited to know that the North Borneo Railway still operates a train ride on their original steam train and orchid enthusiasts will go gaga over the hundreds of species of orchids that are endemic to the island. Golfers are treated to perfectly manicured and maintained golf courses that have the sea or the jungle as their backdrop while sea lovers can scuba dive, snorkel, parasail or just lounge by the beach to soak up the rays.
My first stop was at the Tempurung Seaside Lodge in Kuala Penyu, about 2 hours from the airport. Though the place is quite a trip from the airport, Tempurung Seaside Lodge is a place that appeals to those who are looking for privacy, are ecologically conscious and who love nature. The lodge is being run by Borneo Authentic Adventure who also runs the Kilias River Cruise – a dinner and river cruise combo where you can see the famous Proboscis Monkey (I was told he is the playboy of the Borneo jungle) and enjoy a meal after.
I went beach combing and made a couple of friends – both the human and furry kind. Our dinner that night was composed of lovely home-cooked traditional Sabah meals. I completely fell in love with their sambal sauce, which was home made! My first night had a perfect of ending of me being lulled to sleep by the sound of the waves.
We bade our goodbyes to our hosts and as we travel to our next stop, we saw this building that had holes on its sides and was surrounded by water just like a moat would to a castle. We asked Arlene, our guide from Borneo Authentic, and she said that these buildings are put on the land that was given to farmers as some sort of land tax. The buildings are used to attract swifts (or is it swallows?) to make nests inside them. Bird calls are amplified with the use of speakers to attract the birds and then when the eggs hatch, someone from the government harvest the nest to sell and export for Bird’s Nest soup. I thought this was an AMAZING idea! Farming these birds will cause stress on the birds and may affect the quality of the nest. The birds are encouraged to pro-create, they’re protected from insects or other large predators and the people who usually climb cliffs to harvest the nests don’t need to risk their lives in getting them! Wow. That was so brilliant in its simplicity and effectivity.
Driving back to the city, I was deep in thought about how impressive this place truly was. It would seem that they have found a way to perfectly blend and allow the side by side existence of development and nature. On one end, you have these rivers and jungles that have wildlife interacting with the humans. One one hand, I was amazed at how they could peacefully and productively co-exist but on the other, I was fearful that all of this may get out of hand and the balance tips to the development side. I whispered a wish and hoped that would never happen to this place.
The sign on the road said Sutera Harbour and the manicured hedges in the sidewalk gave a rather large hint as to the type of accommodations we were going to have for the rest of the trip. To say that the place is huge is an understatement. It was a city. I wonder if they have their own area code…
The lobby alone seemed to engulf you and lull you into a serene place. The live kulintang player smiled and greeted everyone who passed by and happily posed for photos. Our room was nothing short of impressive but there were more things to see and we won’t be able to see them in the confines of the lovely, elegant and comfortable room. I did do a little bit of exploration but that’s for another post.
We had dinner with the executives and director of Sabah Tourism and Tourism Malaysia. The whole department is gearing up for their new program 1Malaysia and Visit Malaysia 2014. Kota Kinabalu and Sabah were the highlights of the trip but the other interesting holidays and festivals of Malaysia were also presented. I know the boys are excited about the F1 and other sports events but the girls and I were more inclined to go back during their Mega Sales. Jimmy Choo and I need to get acquainted!
After another wonderful meal and great conversations with the Director, we retired to our rooms and started to dream about the island hopping event the next day.
After breakfast, we all walked to the marina to get into the speed boat that will take us to two of the islands that are under the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park, a protected national marine park. I didn’t need to go far as the marina itself seemed to be home to several fishes, sea urchins, the occasional duck and stork.
The largest and most developed of the islands is Palau Manukan. It is also known to be the best place for diving, swimming and snorkeling. There are times though that the tide brings in the not so fun jelly fish so it’s best to wear a rash vest and surfing shorts. The life guards do have vinegar ready if and when you do get stung. The island also has chalets for you to rent if you want to stay overnight, it also has restaurants and other facilities for your creature comforts.
Lunch was at another island where I had a better time snorkeling as the jelly fish were having a conference in the other island and skipped this one. Amazing sea life, I would have to say. The fish seemed to be more curious about us than we were of them as they were the ones who were swimming to us. I wonder if they go to this island as a vacation and go to “see the humans”.
We had to rush back to the resort as we were going to meet the top dignitaries of Sabah and Malaysia. We were guests in the culmination of their Harvest Celebration, the TADAU KAAMATAN.
This is a sacred ritual that culminates the harvest season in the region. Aside from being thankful for the year’s bounty, the festival also signifies a sort of rebirth and renewal. In with the better and out with the bad. I found the whole premise of the festival to be so beautiful and magnanimous. It’s almost as if you can get a second chance because even the gods give it if you’re worthy enough.
Even though the whole program was in Bahasa, we still enjoyed the beautiful dances and performances. I fell in love with this little girl who may pass as my daughter or sister! She was an amazing dancer!
Beautiful Borneo. Mysterious Malaysia.
All in all, the trip was just absolutely amazing. Kota Kinabalu has more to offer than just the usual beaches and trips. The mystery and allure of KK is what keeps the visitors coming back.