Ever since, I’ve always wanted to spend my birthday by way of an out-of-the-country trip with the people I love. So when I learned about this Air Asia seat sale early this year, I immediately booked four seats to Kota Kinabalu – an emerging tourist destination in Sabah, Malaysia.

Kota Kinabalu (KK) has intrigued me for quite a while. I have read some blogs about KK and somehow I can’t forget the beauty that it has to offer. Back in 2010, it’s already in my list of must-go places. A perfect birthday treat for myself this year! And what made it even more special is that I’m with three of the most important people in my life.

This blog is an overview of our 4day-3night trip in Sabah and a description of how we were able to explore the city in the cheap by foot and by boat, and how we experienced luxury and pleasure after. Either way – it was a trip to remember, with a different flavor – which makes it truly unforgettable.

DAY 1 – Clark International Airport, Air Asia, Lavender Lodge, and Birthday Dinner at Seri Selera

Our flight leaves at 4pm via Clark so we had to take the 12pm Philtranco Bus in Megamall. This is the 2nd time we took this route since our Cebu Pacific flight via Singapore last April 2010 was also via Clark so I’m quite familiar with this already. For the second time, we did not make prior reservations but I still suggest to do so especially during peak season. After two hours, we were already at the Diosdado Macapagal Clark Airport.

This is my first time to ride an AirAsia plane so I’m also quite concerned with the actual flying experience. Quite frankly, being a budget airline, I was expecting small planes and delayed flights but luckily I was wrong! AirAsia planes are very nice, and never were our flights delayed. I will definitely choose them again next time.

By 6pm, we were already at the Kota Kinabalu Airport. The queue to the immigration is quite long, since they have this biometric system going on. The immigration asked us basic questions and put mini-stickers that will serve as identification during our stay in KK. After passing thru the immigration, we went straight to the tourist booth to get a copy of the city map, and then to the taxi booth. Taxi fare to Lavender Lodge is RM 30.

For the first 2 nights of our stay, we were billeted at Lavender Lodge. I chose this place after an exhaustive research of affordable but safe places to stay in KK. Booking at Lavender Lodge is hassle-free and easy. I just filled-up the reservation form in their website and after one day, they replied already. And for RM 80 per room (with en-suite bathroom) per day, it was quite a steal!

@Lavender Lodge: common shower area, stairs to upper floors, lobby where the computers are, dining hall, facade, common area

After checking in and freshening up a bit, we went out to eat our very first seafood meal in KK. We were lucky that just across Lavender Lodge is Seri Selera – one of the biggest and most popular seafood dining places in KK.

Clockwise from left: Garlic-Buttered Shrimp, Inside Seri Selera, on of the aquariums, Old Village Restaurant, Seri Selera Facade, Red Egg Crab

Seri Selera is like our own “dampa.” However, the prices posted in each of the aquariums already include the “cooking charge.” We were given a discount though, because the attendant is Awang, a Filipino who has been living in KK for so long, he already looks and speaks like a local!

After our super delicious affair with Mr. Crab and Mrs. Shrimp, we walked to Centerpoint Sabah to look for a money changer to exchange our dollars and peso to ringgit. It was raining by the time we reached the hotel, and it was also past 11pm already, so we decided to call it a night already.

DAY 2 – Tunku Abdul Rahman Park Island Hopping and Klias River Cruise

We woke up early the following day because we are aiming to do two major activities – Island Hopping and Klias River Cruise. Free breakfast of butter toast and coffee comes with our room, so we ate first before heading out to Jesselton Port. Jesselton Port is about 5 minutes away by taxi from Lavender Lodge. We paid RM10. We could’ve walked, but we were in a hurry. Upon arrival at Jesselton, we went inside where the booths for the ferries are, and amongst all the booths, our feet led us to Borneo Ferry Tour and Travel Booth.

Due to very limited time (we need to be back at the hotel by 1pm to catch the bus going to Klias), we only chose to explore 2 islands – Manukan and Sapi. Fare depends on how many islands you want to go to, and in our case, fare is RM 27 each for adults and RM 15 for kids. Aside from this, we also had to pay the terminal fee and entrance fee on the islands. We also rented snorkel gear for Angelo which costs RM 20.

Clockwise from left to right: Manukan Island, jumpshot at the dock, Another shot at Manukan Island, Pulau Sapi, Cottages at Manukan, Sapi Island beach

My verdict? Both islands are nice. Sapi is more private and appears to be the favorite among foreigners while Manukan is more crowded. I just wished we brought beach mats because there are no cottages in Sapi. But Angelo had so much fun snorkeling by the shore. There also are other water activities available like parasailing, diving, etc. But due to limited time, we had to skip it.

Our boat picked us up exactly at 12 noon to bring us back to Jesselton Point. We went back to the hotel to change to more comfortable clothes and after a while, our tour bus to Klias River Cruise arrived to pick us up. The Klias River Cruise tour was arranged by Lavender Lodge per our request. The tour operator that they partnered with is One Borneo. Tour costs RM 160 per head (10% discount for kids) inclusive of bus transfers to and from hotel, tour guide, river boat, snacks, and buffet dinner.

The goal of River Cruise is to spot proboscis monkeys and other wild animals in Klias. We had so much fun spotting monkeys on top of the trees!

Clockwise from left to right: Garama Base Camp, the wooden walkway going to the river, the boat, one of the proboscis monkeys, our merienda of sticky rice and fried banana, our friendly tour guide

We were home already by around 9:30pm. Since it’s still early, we went back to Seri Selera to have a bottle of cold beer to unwind. We chose Beck’s over Tiger Beer and got our fix for the night!

DAY 3 – KK City Tour and Nexus Karambunai Resort and Spa

We woke up early again on our 3rd day. We are about to transfer hotels so we had to cram the city tour in the morning. Normally, city tours last the whole day so we had to just pick the destinations that we want to see due to the very limited time we have. We did not hire a cab already since Ate Nora told us that we can reach some destinations by foot. In 4 hours, we were able to buy pasalubong at the Handicraft Market, see the Waterfront, Atkinson Clock, Sabah Museum, and Heritage Village. We also went to Warisan Square Shopping Mall where we got to taste their famous Avocado Ice Drop. Yum!

yummy local avocado ice drop!
clockwise from left to right: the mosque, atkinson clock, museum sabah, waterfront, heritage village

By 12noon, we checked out at Lavender and Ate Nora helped us to book a cab going to Nexus Karambunai Resort, where we are staying on our 3rd and last night in Sabah. We spent Php12,000 for a one-night stay in Nexus, but it was well worth it! Our room is very comfortable. The view provided picturesque backdrop to our pictures in every angle.

Around Nexus Karambunai Resort and Spa

The pool and the beach is very relaxing. The food was just okay though. What I love most about the resort is the view from our balcony at night.

Day 4 – Goodbye Sabah!

Our  flight back to Manila leaves 1pm so we had to check-out of Nexus by 10:30. Good thing, we made arrangements already with the taxi that dropped us off the previous day, because if we will get the service from the hotel, it will be more expensive. Fare from Nexus to airport is RM 85. There are not much choices for lunch inside the airport once you’ve checked-in, so our next meal was at Megamall already. Which is okay because after 3 days of not being able to eat pork, we were craving big time for sisig, sinigang, and crispy pata!

All in all, I really enjoyed our Sabah Trip. There’s just a lot of room to play around with how you want your trip to be. In our case, we were successful in being backpacker-like on our first few days, then acting like touristy tourists the other. Surprisingly, in spite of all the activities that we’ve managed to cramp in 3 days, there are still a lot to do in Sabah – and maybe someday, we’ll be back to climb Mt Kinabalu. Till Next Time Sabah!

6 comments on “Buendia Avenue Birthday Special: Exploring the Best of Both Worlds in Sabah, Malaysia (A Narrative Itinerary)”

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