Why go to Kota Kinabalu? It’s not much of a destination in itself, but as a beginning or end point to Borneo, it does the trick! While it doesn’t boast too many sites outside of an airport, you can relax and enjoy spectacular sunsets, navigate your way through crowded fish markets, or plan the next leg of your trip. For us, our Borneo adventure both started and ended here.
The hands down highlight was the sunset. We’d walk over to the water’s edge and find a front row seat (and usually a beer) to watch the sky change magnificent vibrant colours and the clouds create fantastical shapes. In fact, I am not sure KK has ever had a less than spectacular sunset (at least not during our time there)!
One of our frequented spots was a lively pier lined with restaurants. Smack in the middle of here we found a tented massage area. I treated myself to foot reflexology and one of the best back massages I’ve ever had while Matt was able to recline beside me with a large bottle of beer and take in either the busy boardwalk or the movie screening on the tent’s ceiling. (That’s what I call win-win!) It was a little odd flipping over and taking off a shirt in the middle of a crowded area for the back portion, but it was so relaxing I couldn’t of cared less in the moment.
Another memorable point was boating over across choppy waters to one of the nearby islands for (allegedly) the world’s longest island-to-island zipline. It was exhilarating! After building up apprehension in my head and full on fear in my knees making it hard to walk (and breathe) the thrill of conquering the scaredy-cat inside and the rush and the view made everything worth it…and a little wobbly.
On the food front, random local restaurants serving up satay were the best. For a great meal out, we went to Mad Ben, a clean-hipster-looking restaurant near our hotel, and were very pleasantly and tastily surprised. It was also surprisingly reasonably priced! I had a warm watermelon salad that came with apricot, feta, and nuts. It tasted fresh and light and was evenly dressed (which is a make or break component to a salad). Matt opted for the steak tacos and he had nothing but praise, noting that he would never think of adding a somewhat sweet salad dressing to the lettuce but that it worked well. Because it caught our eye on the menu and we were craving a little comfort food we also shared a side of creamy mashed potatoes with gravy which disappeared almost as soon as it touched the table. For dessert, we shared a rich almond chocolate cake covered in ganache and chopped nuts. It was indulgent and delicious!
While Kota Kinabalu might not be the glitziest destination ever, it certainly isn’t the worst place you could spend a night or two while transiting to and from Borneo; in fact we quite liked it!