Monday, June 27, 2011

Kota Kinabalu ..... It takes a hold on you....


Eric, the 22 year old driver who drove us up from KK to Kampong Luanti, in Ranau, suggested that Kinabalu really originates from the Kadazandusun word "Aki Nabalu" which means "Revered Resting Place". And, that the story of the chinese (Kina) widow (Balu) were made up just so people do not associate the capital of Sabah to death.

Interesting, and I think that appealed to me more than the tale of the abandoned wife of a Chinese Prince, who climbed up to peak to wait (and eventually died there) for her husband who went back to China and never returned.

Anyway, this was the third day of our vacation to The Land Below the Wind. We arrived on a Wednesday and was greeted by Halim. our chauffeur for the day. He brought us around KK but, since my wife and I are quite familiar with the town, we only went to the floating mosque.....
because it wasn't there when I was posted here for three months in 1994, and the Sabah Foundation Building or Menara Tun Mustapha.......
because we never went there when I was here in 1994.
 
There were other places we could visit, but we got hungry, so we decided to have lunch and Halim took us to a house, which is really a restaurant... but you'll never know it's a restaurant because there is no signs or anything that says or even suggest that it's a restaurant. We sat on the floor and ate our fill of rice with steamed fish and prawn fritters and stir fried veggies. The bill came to about RM150.. not bad for 6 persons.



After that, we checked into Le Meridien.. but we were too early. Our rooms weren't ready, so we took a walk across the street to the Filipino Market. I never really like going into this cramped market place where they sell handicraft, pearl, brooches, t-shirts and other souvenirs. Not much changed since the last time I was here. Although, what caught my attention was the frog purses which looked like they were made from real frogs... were they? I did not ask.

When I got back to the lobby of the hotel, about an hour later, our rooms were still not ready. So, we went to the lounge to get our welcome drinks. Fruit juices and my mother-in-law had some tea and biscuits.

When the front desk lady came to tell us that our room is ready, I went to look for our luggage which was loaded onto a trolley when we arrived but it wasn't there. I found it neatly stacked in our room when I got there. Our room faces the sea, and below we can see the swimming pool.


After taking in our spacious rooms (we got two connected rooms), the children and I get into our swimming gears and went to the 2nd floor to dive into the clear waters of the pool. A Mat Salleh couple was in the jacuzzi when we arrived. The minute they left, I climbed over into it and sat in the bubbling pool for awhile....

That night, Halim came and took us to the Fisherman Village seafood restaurant. We got a table not too close to the stage at my request. A cultural performance starts every night at 8pm, Halim told us, and the performers have the habit of pulling diners from the table up to the stage to dance with them. Hence, the requested distance from the stage.

My wife and I went to the front of the restaurant where there were two rows of aquariums (on on top of another) with sea creatures awaiting execution. We chose a fish... kerapu I think... three crabs, a bunch of prawns, and shellfish... We also ordered some Sabah vegetable, to be stir fried.

When they arrive, we realized that we ordered too much......

But, we manage to finish most of it. Simply because they are so fresh. I ignored all my self-imposed diet restrictions and dug into everything, loving every bite, especially those prawns. Wish I can have some now.

Then we got the bill.. RM370.... We made a resolution... fast food only for the rest of our vacation.

Back at the hotel... I fell asleep almost the second I lay my head on the soft fluffy pillows... Tomorrow, we go to the islands...

******************************************************************************

KK has a certain scent. I can't really describe it... like an old building.. musty.. That's the morning air smelled like to me, as we stepped out of the lobby of Le Meridien and go next door to the mamak restaurant for breakfast. Le Meridien provides breakfast of course, but at RM47 per head, and the mamak shop so close, we declined and made some savings in the hotel bills.

Restoran Mars offers the same fare as any other mamak shop plus fried stuff (rice or noodles) or Soto (which tastes like a normal soup, but nice anyway).

Then we went back up to our rooms and got into our swimming trunks and suits, and wear our normal clothes over them. Hisham, the owner of the tour agency we engaged for this trip, was already waiting for us outside the lobby to take us to the jetty.  At the jetty (behind Shangri-La in Tanjung Aru) we were allocated our snorkeling masks and life jackets. My son and I didn't get flippers... they don't have it in our size.

I've always enjoyed boat rides to the islands. The wind in our faces, the bumpy ride as we skimmed over waves and wakes of another passing boat... I love it.

We docked at Manukan Island and we were awed by the number of fishes swimming around the jetty area. I have been here before some ten years ago.. although, there seemed to be just as many fish (in number and variety) I saw also there isn't much corals left and there's a lot more garbage...


We found a spot, near a "Beware of Jellyfish" sign, plopped our stuff, stripped to our swimming suits, put on the mask and walked gingerly into the clear water.

We had to swim quite a distance away from the shore before we can see the fishes... but, we enjoyed it.. a new experience for my children. My daughter said her official favorite activity is now snorkeling.

Time flew quickly, and we got our stuff together and go back to the jetty so we can have our barbeque lunch...at Pulau Sapi. This was part of the whole package (boat ride, snorkel gear and barbeque lunch) for RM95 per head.... cheap or expensive.. I don't know...

The last time I came to Pulau Sapi, the island was almost deserted... but when we got to Pulau Sapi, it was crowded.  And lunch wasn't ready yet, so my children and I decided to go snorkeling.. again. The corals and fishes are better here, but looking at the number of people there that day, I think, Pulau Sapi will soon follow the fate of Manukan.

After lunch, we had a choice of going snorkeling again or go back to the main land. We were tired and full by then, so we decide to go back to the hotel.

Got back at the hotel around 2:30pm... See my mother-in-law safely back to the room, then we went back down to the swimming pool. Another hour of splashing around, since we have the pool to ourselves, except for another mat salleh couple working on a tan by the poolside.. then back up to our room, a nice shower and a refreshing nap.... (sigh) this is the life...


*********************************************************************************

Dinner was either KFC or McD. KFC won by simple majority. We walk around Center Point, bought some more food stuff at the supermarket and then pack KFC for dinner back at the room.

I thought that was the end of day 2, but my wife, insisted that I go see the seafood offerings behind the Filipino Market. I wasn't too excited about it. Our driver did not recommend it. We went anyway... I was a little curious.

It's just like a night market. There's the section selling vegetables, fruits, food (fried noodles, kue teaw etc) then there's the seafood grill section. There were six or seven rows of long tables and chairs, the head of each are semi grilled seafood laid out to be chosen by the throngs of people from all over the world. Yes, there were mat sallehs and Japanese and Koreans and Taiwanese and Hongkys (I think but they didn't look local). On the menu are basically fish and prawns and squids, from the normal sized ones to giants costing as must as RM40 a piece.

We bought one squid and one medium sized prawn, brought it back to the room.. what's left of it.. since we ate a major portion of it while walking around the rest of the night market.

End of day two....

*********************************************************************************

Here we are, on the trail up to the highlands of Sabah. Our first stop is a small road side town which I didn't catch the name. It's the compulsory stopping area for all tourists going our way, either to Kinabalu Park, in Kundasang or all the way to the tip of Borneo Island.

From this spot, we can see clearly the peak of Mount Kinabalu. And, that's all we can do... accept maybe relieve ourselves since we are not sure where or when we'll get to the next washrooms.

Eric said half and hour stop, but after fifteen, we got restless and call Eric on his cell to get us (since he when off after dropping us at the viewing point).. but he was in the toilet...

Off again, and one hour later, Eric stopped at a village called Kampong Luanti Baru. Our first real activity for the day - the Tagal... or Fish Spa.. or feeding your feet to fishes. I've seen these fish spa. Where you put your feet into fish tanks and and let cute little fishies nibble on them.


We didn't see any fish tanks. We bought tickets; RM5 for adults and RM2 for Aiman. And some fish food... We walk up the path alongside the Moroli River, and wait our turn. After about 15 minutes of waiting and hearing screams coming from the other side of the fence separating the waiting area and the river, we took off our shoes and walked towards the river bank. And, there there were... a swarm of huge fishes splashing and writhing in the water, waiting for our feet. I was a little unsure.. but, the guide said to put the fish food in your hand and submerge your hand under water near your feet. I did that and these big fishes started to viciously attack my hand... like piranhas.. except that they don't seem to have any teeth.... It felt like a thousand kisses... My wife couldn't get herself in the water, but my youngest son... well, the fishes love him..


That was fun.. just 15 fifteen minutes though, before the lady with the bullhorn told us time's up.

After Luanti, Eric drove us back down to Poring.We had lunch and then took a jungle trek to the canopy walk. To get to the starting point of the walk took some climbing, but we all made it, even my 76 year old mother-in-law... bless her. We had fun here too. The walk way was just one plank wide and the drop was 30 feet. The first two bridges was ok.. but the third one gave that feeling you get in the groin area when you look down from a height...

Wish I took a picture from the the middle of the bridge but it was shaking about too much...

That's was the last activity for the day. We were supposed to stop by Kinabalu Park, but the traffic got really bad and by the time we got there.. it was closed. So we went back to the hotel....

That night, my wife said she wants to eat at the night market again. We went there, to the same stall we went the night before, took one medium fish, one small fish, ten small squids and a couple of medium sized prawns... it was enjoyable but  I can't help wondering would we eat here if the lighting was better.... Anyway, the bill was RM88. Boleh laaa....

Back to the hotel.. I showered because I was smelling like grilled fish. Besides, I love the showering at the hotel... using the message option on the shower head.

Sleep came easily....

********************************************************************************
Final day... we had breakfast in the room, pack our things.... hang around for a while, take some pictures.. then called the bellboy for our luggage, paid the hotel bill and call a cab.

Everytime I come to KK, I have a hard time leaving it. I don't know why. There just something about this place that begs you to stay. I know a few of my friends who've come here and stayed on. One friend even got married here to a local kadazandusun lady.... his wife in KL do not want to share so they got divorced because he wants to stay in KK.

I can't speak for the rest of my family.. but, I'd come here again... and again and again...