DISCLAIMER: Please note that the total costs, breakdown of prices, and foreign exchange may vary.
“I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” A line from the poem by Robert Frost, an American poet.
It was 2010 when we went to the southern tip of Malaysia- Johor Bahru but last summer 2017, me and my sisters decided to travel to the other side, the northern part- Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. Some don’t know this place and some don’t see it as a travel destination so, it was a place less traveled but I assure you, it will take your breath away.
Sabah is romantically known as the Land Below the Wind. Its capital state- Kota Kinabalu, is the largest city in Sabah and is regarded as the international gateway to Borneo.
Sabah is known for its rare animals, birds, spectacular plants, and endlessly varied marine life. Moreover, it has seemingly endless beaches, rocky foreshore, and coastal mangroves.
Mainly, we visited the West Coast Division of Sabah. It occupies the northwest part of Sabah and consists of different districts namely- Ranau, Kota Belud, Kota Kinabalu, Penampang, Papar, and Tuaran.
Here’s how to travel to Sabah, Malaysian Borneo for 5 days with 13,700 pesos only.
We have booked an RT flight with an Air Asia promo amounting to P3216.70. We availed our ticket 1 month before our holiday and we were lucky to get cheap tickets.
It is 2 hour’s travel time from the Philippines.
Day 1 (July 19, 2017)
We departed the Philippines at 9:00 AM and arrived at the Kota Kinabalu International Airport at 11:19 AM. The scorching July sun welcomed us with 31 degrees Celsius temperature.
We booked an Uber Ride to bring us to our hotel for check-in.
TIP: Uber and Grab’s drivers were very helpful on our tour, they were all kind and amiable. We were fortunate because during our stay, Grab had a promo which helped us a lot.
After freshening up, we ate our lunch at KFC, which was a few steps away from our hotel. After lunch, we waited for our booked trip. We availed a Klias River Fireflies Safari Cruise at Klook. Again, we were lucky we booked our Day 1 itinerary weeks before and had the chance to use the “Madness” promo code which cost us 1,767.6 each.
From the Kota Kinabalu city, there is a 3-hour journey to Kota Belud, Klias River’s location. This is a Mangrove Forest Reserve.
At 5:00, we arrived at our destination, we were first served with some appetizers before going for the cruise.
During the cruise, we had the chance to see Proboscis Monkeys or long-nosed monkeys. These are bizarre-looking animals, they are endemic and are reddish-brown.
There are several species of animals to see here, you will encounter different kinds of birds, reptiles, Long Tail Macaques, and Silver Languor Monkeys.
After the cruise, we had our dinner, which was included in the package we availed. After that, we went back to the boat for the display of fireflies.
Surreal was the word to describe this experience, this part of the cruise was very magical. It’s like a fairy tale. Unfortunately, we didn’t have great photos of the fireflies but I can clearly remember what I witnessed.
Day 2 (July 20, 2017)
Our Day 2 is again a trip availed from Klook. It was the Poring Hot Spring & Desa Farm with the same promo code for 1,852 each. First, we had a short stop at a market overlooking Mt. Kota Kinabalu.
Towering 13,435 feet, Mt. Kota Kinabalu is the highest mountain in Borneo.
The Mt. Kinabalu climb takes two days. Sadly, we didn’t have the chance to climb its peak, but I hope sooner or later we can climb it in the future. A package tour for climbing Mt. Kota Kinabalu will cost you roughly 15,000-30,000 PHP. After taking plenty of photos, we went back to our shuttle and travelled 2 hours to reach Desa Cattle Dairy Farm.
Desa Cattle Daily Farm is deemed as the “New Zealand in Sabah”. It is located at the foothill of Mt. Kinabalu.
Yearly, the cattle farm produces about 900,000 liters of milk. We tried to feed the cattle and goats. You can also give them milk. And of course, tasting their products is a must.
We had our lunch at a local restaurant, during this time, we got to know our fellow tourists and we all had a brief conversation during our lunch.
At 1:00 p.m., we went to the Poring Hot Springs. Before reaching the hot springs, you need to have a leisurely walk in nature. Poring in Malay means “pouring”. Numerous pools and baths are available here. You can also try their sulfur bath. Even though we brought some extra clothes, we decided not to take a bath in the hot springs, we just soaked our feet on the water and it was relaxing.
We also tried the famous canopy walkway. The entrance fee is RM3 for Malaysian adults, and RM5 for foreigners. And you need to add another RM5 for your camera fee (each camera).
The canopy walk is one of the most visited destinations in Sabah, it is 175 meters long and is 41 to 43 meters in height, which is higher than an 8-floor building. The canopy walk can take 6 people at a time, it is narrow and is made up of ropes, wood and aluminum planks, nets, and steel cables.
We were dropped off at our hotel early so we decided to stroll around the city. We visited Imago Mall, which was near our hotel, but because of were unfamiliar with the place, we hired a Grab ride us to reach the mall, but then we were laughing at ourselves when we arrived at the mall a minute or two. We also visited the Oceanus Waterfront Mall.
And we didn’t miss the chance to eat an eat-all-you-can dinner at Seoul Garden because traveling is best when paired with great foods.
Day 3 (July 21, 2017)
Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park covers 50 square kilometers and consists of 5 islands namely Sapi, Mamutik, Gaya, Manukan, and Sulug. These islands offer white sand and calming waters. All 5 islands are near Kota Kinabalu, the nearest is just 15 minutes away by boat, and the furthest is one hour away.
You need to go the Jesselton Point to reach the marine park. Jesselton Point Waterfront was formerly known as the Kota Kinabalu Ferry Terminal.
Upon arrival, you will see a building with numerous travel and tour agencies that offer island hopping tours, activities on each island, and equipment used for the trip. You need to haggle to avail cheap packages.
The package we availed was a 3-island tour with transfers and swimming gear. It amounted to 179 RM for 3 persons. That’s 60 RM each (480-600 per person converted to Philippine Peso). Conservation fee per island is excluded, it’s 10 RM per island.
Our first island was the Sapi Island. Sapi is the second smallest island of the Tunku Abdul Raman Marine Park, it is only 25 acres big.
When we arrived at this island, we were all amazed by its beauty. Here, you can do some activities like snorkeling, camping, diving, and more.
On this island, you can ride Coral Flyer, the longest island-to-island zip-line in the world. Coral Flyer is a 235-meter zip-line ride that will take you from Gaya Island to Sapi Island in less than a minute. It was also one of the favorite islands of the tourists, no wonder, it is a bit crowded. After 2 hours, we departed for Sapi and went to Manukan Island.
Pulau Manukan/ Manukan Island is the second largest island in the park. It is the most commercialized island. It is a 1500-meter-long powdery white sand beach for tourists to unwind.
The best view of the beach is the east side. You can also play Frisbee and volleyball on this island.
We ate our lunch on this island and just had a short leisure time After that, we went to our last island- Mamutik Island.
Mamutik Island is the smallest island in the Marine Park. It is not as popular as Sapi & Manukan so expect a less crowded place.
The other 2 islands are the:
- Gaya- The largest island in the park.
- Sulug: This is the farthest island and is an underdeveloped island. It is also known as the “Rocky Island.”
All the islands we went to have different facilities and activities to offer. You can do water sports, snorkeling, scuba diving, swimming, camping & hiking trails. Although a little bit of setback was the comfort rooms on each island are not properly maintained. But of course, all the islands are nice and perfect for relaxation, it is a must to go here.
- Some islands offer camping except for Manukan Island.
- The last speedboat is from 16:00 to 16:30. Be aware of your time.
- 1-3 hours is enough to enjoy each island. Make the most of it.
- Buy foods prior to visit the food prices in the islands are reasonably high.
- Always ask for a lower price when availing of activities and tours.
- Come early. A huge crowd can spoil the mood.
After our island hopping, we visited some famous landmarks around the city.
The Signal Hill Observatory platform offers a stunning view of the city. This is the highest point in the city.
Tip: The best time to go here is sunset.
Atkinson Clock Tower is located near Signal Hill, we walked just a few meters away to reach this. This is the oldest building in the city which was built in 1902 to honor Francis George Atkinson, the first district officer of Kota Kinabalu.
One of the best experiences I encountered on our trip was to visit and dine at Welcome Sea Food Restaurant. You shouldn’t miss this restaurant! I’m going to rate this restaurant as 10/10 all the food here are fresh and super delicious! All foods are mouth-watering.
Day 4 (July 22, 2017)
Our last activity for our holiday was the Kiulu White Water Rafting we availed it at Klook for 1,683 each.
Upon arrival, they will ask you to wear safety equipment and then, they will conduct a safety briefing session and will demonstrate rafting techniques and proper handling equipment before the excursion.
This is the longest whitewater rafting trip in Borneo. The journey will take about 1 ½ – 2 hours of rafting before reaching the ending point.
We also had extra fun because of our professional rafting guide, Zul. After the rafting experience, we had a BBQ Lunch which was also included in the package, it was very delightful and satisfying.
We went back to the city and were dropped off at the hotel early again. So we took a rest for an hour. After resting I went alone to visit the Kota Kinabalu City Mosque. This is the second main mosque in KK.
The mosque is deemed as the “floating mosque” as it sits on a human-made lagoon and has a sublime architectural design. It has a maximum capacity of 12,000 worshipers.
I had a hard time going back since there was no WiFi available. I went to a rental store of Islam Clothes to ask if there are WiFi around, luckily, a store employee, Annissa Tesorio, a kababayan helped me to get a ride. She was from Puerto Princesa, Palawan, and married a local which is why she has been living in KK for more than 10 years now. I am so thankful to her.
After that, we went to the Centre Point Sabah and strolled around the city.
After that, we visited the Filipino Market. These foods are all offered in the Filipino Market. Point it and they’ll cook it for you for a cheap price.
After our dinner, we also bought souvenirs and pasalubongs near the Filipino Market.
Day 5 (July 23, 2017)
We were fortunate to have a flight going back home on a Sunday, so before checking in at the airport and after checking out of the hotel, we went to Gaya, Sunday Market. Every Sunday morning, Gaya Street is closed to make way for the different vendors to sell goods.
Originally Gaya Street is Bond Street, it is located in Kota Kinabalu Central Business District. The Gaya Sunday Market is open from 6.30 am to 1.00 pm.
From footwear, fruits and flowers, everyday clothing, arts and crafts, souvenirs, cakes, even pets and herbs. You can all find it here. This is also a place to buy cheap pasalubongs. In our case, we bought some food to bring home.
At 11:30 AM, we departed Malaysia and went back to the Philippines. It was a 5-day unforgettable experience for us.
Sabah, Malaysian Borneo might be a place less traveled, but if you try to experience it, from the mixture of traditions, cultures, languages, natural wonders, and cuisines you will never regret you have taken the road less traveled.
- Exchange your money in the Philippines or at the airport. Based on our experience this is much better. 1 Malaysian Ringgit (MYR or RM) = 11-12 PHP = .24 USD.
- Kota Kinabalu is a very small city, roaming and strolling around is easy.
- Uber and Grab is the best mode of transportation, they will greatly help you to travel on a budget.
- Only cabs are available around the city, commuter vans (which they refer to as a bus) are for provincial destinations.
- D-I-Y on some destinations is a bit hassle. Book trips online for convenience, especially when going to Mt. Kinabalu Heritage Park, Desa Farm, Poring Hot Spring, and some far destinations.
- Always try great foods. KK offers exquisite cuisines.
- Visit night markets. Aside from the Gaya Sunday Market, this is where you can buy cheap “pasalubongs.”
- It is a Muslim country, except that most restaurants don’t serve pork.
- Islam is the dominant religion in Sabah. Always wear “not-so-revealing clothes” since they are conservative and not liberal.
- Locals consist of Bajau, Chineses, Brunei Malays, Kadazandusun, and immigrants from the Philippines and neighboring countries. There are lots of Filipinos around. They were all kind and will help you a lot.
- Talking to the locals is not a problem, almost all of them speak English well.
- Some locals speak Tagalog, and also, some of our phrases and words and the same as theirs.
Here are some Malay helpful phrases:
- Hello (formal): Hello
- Hello (informal):Hai (Hi)
- Thank you: Terima kasih (tree-muh kah-seh)
- Yes: Ya (yuh)
- No: Tidak (tee-dah)
- Good Morning: Selamat pagi (pag-ee)
- Good Afternoon: Selamat tengah hari (teen-gah har-ee)
- Good Evening: Selamat Petang (puh-tong)
- Good Night: Selamat Malam (mah-lahm)
- Goodbye:Selamat tinggal (tin-gahl)
- Excuse me / I’m sorry: Maaf (mah’ahf)
Lot 14 Jalan Pasar Baru, | Kampung Air,, Kota Kinabalu 88000, Malaysia
The hotel we booked was cheap. We availed our accommodation amounting to 3170.62 (tax and service charge included) for 3 pax for 5D4N with a free buffet breakfast. (That’s 264.22 pesos for each of us per night!)
Here are the total expenses and sample itinerary.