Prior to going to Kota Kinabalu in Borneo, I had a few people tell me to get out of there as soon as I could. From what I had heard, Kota Kinabalu – or KK as the locals call it – has nothing to offer and is one of those places that you immediately want to escape from as soon as you set foot there. But since KK is the closest city to Mount Kinabalu (here and here), I had to go there, but I didn’t expect to stay there for long.
I arrived in KK two nights before my mountain climb, which meant that I had time to check the city out and figure out if I wanted to come back there after the climb. I went to the hostel that I had booked, paid for it and started unpacking, when I realized that their wifi didn’t work. Bad start. Thankfully, I was able to get my money back and tried my luck in another part of town, where there were more hostels and therefore more backpackers. I chose the cheapest one I could find and got a dorm with three other girls in it: Flo from England and Sara and Lo from Sweden. We all got on really well and since they were staying in KK for a week, I decided to do the same.
Sometimes the people you meet are more of a reason to stay than the place itself 😉
The next morning (well, midday…), I went for a stroll around town, went shopping for some hiking shorts and ate some really healthy fries at Burger King. It was a lazy day, but I needed to relax before the big physical challenge awaiting me the next two days.
When I got back from the mountain, there was a letter waiting for me from the girls, saying that they had all got bitten by bedbugs and had therefore moved to another hostel nearby. I was quite sure that I had been bitten as well (I was itchy all over), so I was relieved to be moving hostels.
After having said goodbye to Josh, who I met on the hike, the girls and I went out for a night of fun, karaoke and drinks at the waterfront in KK. Unfortunately, it was quite dead already at 1 AM, but we had a blast in each other’s company. Especially when Lo and I decided to sing karaoke and I was certain that I knew the words to Elton John’s “Circle of Life”… Which I didn’t. But it was good fun!
The next few days were spent doing absolutely nothing. We had planned to go river rafting, but since there had been no rain for a month, the rivers had dried out. I could’ve spent the days exploring KK, but to be honest, there really isn’t much to see there, plus I really needed to relax my legs after the mountain climb. And the city was really smelly, so I didn’t feel like spending much time outside. I later heard that the smell was because there had been no rain to clear out the sewers, so even the locals were suffering with the unusually bad smell.
There is actually one thing of touristic value in KK; the City Mosque known as the Floating Mosque, but even that I didn’t find interesting enough to snap a photo of. It’s a beautiful building, but it’s only 16 years old and therefore has no historic value. I guess I could blame the lack of photos on my laziness in those days, but it was actually really nice to relax for once with good friends by my side. Our evenings were spent checking out some of the restaurants in KK – Beyond Veggie is a personal favourite because of their large vegetarian menu and great food for almost nothing – and going to the cinema.
On our last day, we decided to get out of KK and headed to Pulau Sapi, a small tropical island that is easily reached by boat from the harbour in KK. We spent most of the day there; soaking up the sun, swimming with millions of harmless jellyfish and chasing enormous lizards in the forest.
Going to Pulau Sapi was a really nice way to end our time together, before we all went our seperate ways: Flo flew to Sandakan to work with orangutans, Sara and Lo flew to Vietnam and I started my journey towards Brunei. Thankfully, the world is a small place, so I know that we’ll all meet again someday!
So did I enjoy Kota Kinabalu? As a base for the mountain and for meeting fellow backpackers it was great, but there isn’t really anything worth mentioning in the city itself. For places like that, it really depends on what you do there and who you’re with. I didn’t like KK as a city, but I loved my time there because of the people that I met.