May 23, 2013

[Kota Kinabalu Travel Series] Quick Guide - What to Know, What to Do, and Where to Eat

And.. I am back with more stories about Kota Kinabalu!

My first blog entry is here where I talked about the maiden flight from Manila to Kota Kinabalu, and in here you can read about the Pacific Sutera Hotel where we stayed.

There are so much stories to tell, and to make this post more valuable to the readers, I made a quick guide so your visit to my blog will be much more worth-while.

Flying to Kota Kinabalu

Kota Kinabalu has an international airport which makes visiting from different parts of the globe easier - most of the carriers are from the other Asian Countries. In the Philippines, you may now fly directly from Manila to Kota Kinabalu through Zest Air. Flights is every Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. You can check out the flight schedule here.

Flights are housed in Terminal 4, which is the old Domestic Terminal.


For most of the countries, it is a requirement to have a passport valid for more than 6 months at the time of arrival and departure in the host country. The rule is the same for Malaysia. Do not risk traveling with expiring passport. You might be lucky to get a departure stamp but re-entry to Philippines might be a problem. There was once a traveler who denied re-entry or departure from the host country because his passport is less than 6 months valid. He was held up until he was able to secure a new passport from Philippines - which means additional expenses and trouble.

Depending on the country of your passport, you might as well check what documentation would be needed to enter Malaysia. For Philippine Passport holders, no VISA is required to get to Kota Kinabalu.

Don't mind the Visa picture, that one is for my work permit in Indonesia :)

Click Read More to know what else you need to know about Kota Kinabalu..

Once you landed in the airport, don't get too excited to take pictures of every spot especially in the immigration area. Unlike most of the immigration process in which the officer takes a picture of the traveler, Malaysia has a different way of identification process. You have to visit Kota Kinabalu to find out! But no, no undressing is required ;)

Money - Forex

1 Philippine Peso is equal to 0.72 Malaysia Ringgit
1 Ringgit is equal to 13.70 Philippine Peso

If you find it hard to do the math, or if you are coming from a different country, you can always check the exchange rates at

You may exchange money from the airport or hotel, or check local Forex centers in the mall. Like what I always tell my friends, better to exchange from the hotel to avoid getting counterfeit money.
Just exchange enough Ringgit, so there wouldn't be much loss on currency exchange once you are back in Manila.

It was funny that during our trip, I only had Php500 peso in my wallet as I meant to withdraw peso in the airport - unfortunately, Terminal 4 doesn't have ATM machines so I flew from Manila to Kota Kinabalu with only Php300 and a few spare US and Canada Dollars. I so much relied that my credit cards can save me. I have a funny (horror) story about credit card transaction (just keep on reading..)

Major credit cards are accepted like Mastercard and Visa, but I cannot recall if American Express is widely accepted in Kota Kinabalu.

Getting Around

We were treated like kings and queens when we arrived in Kota Kinabalu, that getting around and moving from point A to B was such a breeze.

For D.I.Y. travelers, getting around Kota Kinabalu can be done by walking. The streets are safe and less polluted as even main roads have trees and nice landscapes. Although traffic can be bad too. But I wouldn't mind commuting here.

Taxi service are negotiable from the airport to hotel. Price starts at RMB 10.

Major transport mode is bus (standard fare is RMB .5 to RMB 2).

For drivers, you can rent a car and drive as long as you have your driver license. Please note though that you will be driving a right-hand drive car, and car flow and traffic may be a little different.

Where to Stay? 

For a small state like Sabah, it is not a surprise to see many lodging places in the area as Kota Kinabalu is now one of the top destinations in Asia. There are hotels from backpackers inn, standard hotels and luxurious resorts.

Popular chain hotels like Le Meridien, Hyatt, Shangri-la and even Tune Hotels have a branch in Kota Kinabalu.

If there is any recommendation I have to make, I would say, stay at Sutera Harbour Hotel. Check out my review here.

Our tourist guide told me that there are hotels which are near the beach, near the shopping areas, or near the city which travelers can choose from depending on what kind of activities they want to try. An interesting observation is that there are no sky-high buildings in Kota Kinabalu. Probably this is a strategy so tourist can see more of the city no matter which floor you are on.

Knowing the History of Sabah and Kota Kinabalu

I used to hate going to museums when I was younger, but now that I am older - I suddenly feel the joy of visiting old houses, and museums, looking at encased artifacts, reading history that dated several years ago, and looking at my own amazement from the reflection I can see through the glass casings.

Philip, our tourist guide brought us to Muzium Sabah for a quick tour of the old Sabah history. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures inside, so I just kept my memory working.

Admission fees

Malaysian Guests - RM2.00
Non-Malaysian Guests - RM15.00

When we entered the museum, we were greeted with a 24-meter long Bryde’s whale skeleton. As we walked through several sections and hallways, I got to better understand the history of Sabah, and how much similar it is with our country. The way of living, from hunting, pottery, beadwork and ceremonies are somewhat similar to the ethnic groups in the Philippines. However, like what I learned from my previous trip in Indonesia, no matter how similar two countries appear, it is the people which made the difference.

The interesting things that really caught my attention about the Sabah history are the traditions and ceremonies which include the unique way of burying deceased bodies, and be-heading as a mark of power and respect among tribes. I was quick to process this information - especially when Philip keeps on telling me to watch my head. Well, that is because I am tall and some areas have low ceilings and fragile displays. ;)

It is in the Sabah Museum I got to appreciate the unique wildlife and rich flora and fauna of Sabah. They got cats that look like a tiger, Orang gutan, a baby elephant - Borneo Pgymy Elephant - the smallest elephant in the world!, a monkey with a big nose called Proboscis Monkey, and even Tarsier (but ours look healthier!).

They have 600 plus species of birds - don't ask me to name them all, and we haven't even gotten to the marine life. And off we go to the next section..

The Beach and Marine Life

Our exciting island-hopping adventure actually happened on Day 2, but let me just share with you the nice pictures here. A trip to these islands would be perfect if you have half day to spare.

Imagine, we boarded a speed boat and off we invaded the beautiful islands of Tunku Abdul Rahman Park. It is actually a marine park composed of five islands - Pulau Gaya, Pulau Sapi, Pulau Manukan, Pulau Mamutik and Pulau Sulug and it is just a good 10 minute boat ride - well depending on how competitive captain is!

We got to visit two islands and alighting from the speed boat is like walking down the red carpet!

First stop is the Pulau Manukan..

What you can do here? Swimming, snorkeling, and Scuba-Doing!

Here are the nice cottages..

How cool to try this?! 

Scuba-Doo! Rental for half hour is RMB 180! 
How cool is that! 

This is for the party people!

There are phone booths that you can use 
in case your mobile phone died out

Fast Food Center and Souvenir Shops

We had a quick tour, and it is time to go.. but we couldn't miss a group shot! 
As taken by Sir Jim Paredes' Camera

Then off we went to the next island.. the Pulau Sapi

Lookie, they all gathered to welcome us!

Pulau Sapi means cow - and it is named as such because the island's shape is like a cow. Unfortunately, I do not have an aerial view of that, but here is the beautiful sand view.. 

This island which is the most developed is perfect for photoshoots. There is also a spot where you can view and observe monitor lizards.

After a few snap shots, it was time to board the speedboat again and go to the Pontoon (also known as the Borneo Reef World!). 

When Philip announced that we will stay in this place to explore the water, I felt my heart did somersaults! The weather was perfect with the sun shining the brightest. 

Looks like our stay in Borneo Reef World deserves a separate blog post. To give you an idea on what you can do here, it is the perfect place for those who:

  1. Wants to see the fish but don't want to get wet and doesn't know how to swim.
  2. Wants to see the fish but don't want their head to get wet
  3. Wants to see the fish but don't know how to see but is willing to get wet
  4. Wants to see the fish, and get totally wet

Okay, that should be fun! Which one are you? 
Please watch out for my separate post about this site!

Food - Where to Eat?

They say Filipinos are hard to please when it comes to food because we have such an adventurous tastebuds and we almost got to try all the wonderful cuisines that the world is offering. 

But, the Sabah Tourism Board didn't fail to impress us when they invited us to Kampung Nelayan Seafood Restaurant. 

It was our first night. It was raining when we arrived, and we had to climb a few steps to reach the restaurant entrance. It is as if we are climbing up a temple When I got inside, the place was full of diners from all over the world - it is not just Malaysians, or Asians. People of different color, race and religion were enjoying the food. I wonder if anyone even tried eating with their hands to really enjoy the seafood. 

I got worried that we wouldn't have a table reserved to us, but we were ushered to Puteri VIP Room. I am getting used to this kind of treatment, but meeting the friendly people of Malaysia makes me feel more little. The Sabah Tourism Board team welcomed us with the most sincere smile - they were happy to see us, and we were happy to be there to share dinner with them. 

We watched a video presentation/introduction of Sabah Tourism and I once again got amazed with the beautiful sights and scenes of Sabah. 

At one point I felt if I deserve this? God is good to grace this place such a rich culture, natural beauty and friendly people - and I feel blessed to experience all this. Reality is good. 

I got so distracted with a beautiful setting and dinner waiting for us, that I failed to see the Cultural Show happening at the stage on the other side platform of the restaurant. 

What a great way to showcase talents and ethnic dances! I wish we have something like this in Manila other than the singing cooks and waiters. 

Looking at these condiments, I was anticipating what 
we would have for dinner.. 

Chicken Lemon Grass Soup was perfect for the rainy weather 
and cold room temperature. 
Although I am not a fan of ginger, it is just perfect to 
tone down the sour flavor. The taste is truly Asian. 

I only ordered for a can of soda, as I needed caffeine, but 
usually I prefer water to go with my food to really taste
and experience each dish's flavor. 

This is the infamous carrot juice
of John (

To whet our appetite, we were served with shrimps!
They were not kidding when they said they do not serve fresh 
seafood but alive. 

These are sweet and fine pieces perfect with chili sauce!

The team has a secret! How did they cook this Deep Fried Red Snapper
to make it crunchy and flakey good inside? One serving of rice is not enough 
for this dish! We were so happy with what we were having. 

I would have died after this was served!
Baked Oysters with Cheese!
The cheese toppings are generous, and underneath
is the fresh oyster flesh that melts in my mouth. 

Look at how it was presented. 
 A bird made of taro towering and watching
as if it is a sin to take another shell!
I wish I were forgiven. 

Tender Beef with Pepper is for foodies who want tangy dish. 
The beef are tender and the mix of green and red peppers are just perfect. 
Spell healthy!

Here is another white meat dish - Chicken with Chestnuts
This might be a fusion dish but it is just so good with rice. 

By the time this was served, we were already full. 
I asked the server how many more dishes, she said 3. 
And we all dropped our jaws and felt our tummies bloating. 

Deep Fried Soft Shell Crabs!!!
Notice the exclamation point?! Well, it is that good!
Even before this was served, we know something good is coming. 
Sir Jim Paredes from the other table already gave us a hint -
the crab is good.
And everyone dived after taking a pic. 
I do not know what adjective to use to describe this dish. 
Just good. 

To add some veggies in the meal, we were served with 
Kacang - which is more like our Sitaw
It is crunchy and is surprisingly good. 

Then came this leafy dish that is best to cap the meal 
to add some fiber in our diet. It is sauteed and just perfectly seasoned. 

But wait, there is more.. don't forget the dessert. 
The team does know how to end a good meal. 
A Coconut Gelatin served in the coco shell. 
I love the presentation! 

It is like a Coconut Flavored Gelatin - the white color 
looks so fresh and enticing, and it is so soft that it literally melts 
in my mouth. Sooo good! 

 Happy Diners!

We only had to taste Malay Cuisine in just one seating and it was like love at first sight as each dish has a unique characteristic and flavor that reminds us of our own culture and opens up our senses to a whole new experience and heritage. 

The ingredients, way of cooking and tradition may be the same for what we have in the Philippines (we are from the same roots anyway), but there is something unique about the food and its flavor that is hard to pin point - maybe that is Malay's little secret that truly theirs. 

Words are not enough to describe how wonderful and awesome this dining experience was. Thank you to the wonderful officials and people of Sabah Tourism Board for letting us see the beauty of Sabah and taste its unique offering.  Thank you to the wonderful gifts too! I feel so little!

I mean to add another section on this blog post - Shopping! But I think that one would require a new blog post. 

I have more stories to tell - our Borneo Reef World experience and trip to Mari Mari Cultural Village!

To be continued.. 

To know more about Sabah, visit 
Sabah Tourism Board
(Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment Sabah)
Mail Bag 112, 88993 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah Malaysia
Location: 51 Jalan Gaya, 88000 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia
Telephone Number: +6088212121 Fax: +6088222666, 219311

To know more about the restaurant, Kampung Nelayan: 

To know more about Sabah Museum:

** Planning to go to Kota Kinabalu? Fly through Zest Air from Manila to Kota Kinabalu - flight schedule every Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday -  check out Zest Air and Air Asia sites. I might catch you on the same flight! Who knows, I might go back!

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