Borneo's Kota Kinabalu Travel Pictures
Holiday Tour Malaysia Borneo starts in KK
At last! Borneo Kota Kinabalu (KK)! My first holiday in Malaysia, albeit on Borneo, the easternmost island furthest from Kuala Lumpur (KL). My tour of Borneo Island started here, in Kota Kinabalu, where the international flights arrived.
From KK, I flew to Sandakan to see the Orangutans at Sepilok, tour Libaran island, and Turtle Island, do the canopy walk in the treetops at Poring Hot Springs, hike the trails at Mt Kinabalu and stay at the Kinabalu Mountain Lodge.
Welcome to Kota Kinabalu ~ Along the bay lined with palm trees
This is the view of the bay as we left the airport to head west to the Nexus hotel.
My early-morning Dragon Air flight from Hong Kong was not full, so I was able to move to an empty row for the 'smooth as silk' three hour flight south to Kota Kinabalu.
Since no fruit or plants would be allowed into Sabah, I ate my apple from my hotel lunch box, and waited to land, just after noon.
At Kota Kinabalu airport, baggage claim and customs were easy to navigate, and in a few minutes, the tour company van was heading past the lovely bay to the hotel.
Kota Kinabalu Borneo
I hadn't realized that the first ever Survivor reality show location is near Kota Kinabalu. Now you can stay there, too!
One couple on the same tour was booked into the Sutera, which is located in KK proper, not far from the airport, and they said they liked it very much.
I was booked into the Nexus, that I, too, was very happy with.
The Nexus is about a 40 minute drive from the KK airport, which means Nexus guests are the first to be picked up to go into KK airport and the last to be dropped off coming from KK.
Just so you know, it's a longer haul, though you can pay for a shuttle bus from the hotel into KK for shopping etc.
Kota Kinabalu streets and traffic
I arrived in KK on a Saturday, so the streets were perhaps busier than usual, though I can't say for certain.
My first impression was that KK is a clean city -- perhaps due to the regular downpours.
Hot and humid, about 32C (90F), the air conditioned van was very welcome.
We drove past a few market vendor stalls along the road, and one good sized shopping mall.
A riot of blooming colors everywhere I looked.
Rainy season usually starts May 1, and in late April, I was cutting it close. Tours go year round, though, and uptake any day of the week.
KK Riverside homes - Malaysia Borneo
Continuing west, the main highway followed the river, which was very wide in parts.
Along much of the grassy riverbank, there were clusters of one storey homes on stilts. Some of them looked very poor and ramshackle.
In contrast, we also passed much new construction -- modern homes, shopping malls, office buildings and condos.
Apartments to the left of the highway (going west, the south side ) were lowrise.
On each building, on the outside, large blue tanks, filled with water for household use, clung to the walls. Water water everywhere and nary a drop to drink.
Riverside House close up view West of KK Sabah Borneo
As you move further from KK and the golf courses and resort hotels, the river homes bring you back from romance to reality.
One can only hope that the trickle down effect from tourism and construction will provide opportunities for work.
Sabah is a lush agricultural state on a beautiful island that is a magnet for visitors from around the world, and from Malaysia proper.
I met many people who live in KL (Kuala Lumpur) who come here on holiday.
Kota Kinabalu University of Malaysia Campus
UMS the University of Malaysia Sabah, as universities go, is very new.
[My apologies for the fuzzy picture, but the driver couldn't stop on the expressway for me to snap a clear photo. The university site has a clearer picture.]
The UMS campus is about a 20-minute drive west from KK. If you stay at a resort in town, you'd likely never see it.
UMS occupies 999 acres; the permanent campus construction started in 1999 and was completed in 2000.
My Nexus Hotel room west of KK Borneo
After a fairly straightforward check-in (I am always happy when tours I book online from Canada go smoothly when I show up), I headed to my room, some distance from the lobby and on the second of two levels (elevator access), in the west wing.
The room (photo) had a broad balcony overlooking the grounds and the beach beyond.
In-room, a very nice coffee and tea service, a large wardrobe, with in-room safe and discreet drawer with a half-dozen condoms in wrappers.
King bed, sofa, and separate writing desk, and good television reception, including the (fabulous) default channel tourism video about Sabah.
Tucked away in the west wing, close to the golf course and mountain views, I didn't hear any noise from the several night clubs on the resort.
Nexus Ensuite bath - Where I stayed in Kota Kinabalu
The ensuite bath, too, was very nice, with marble walls, a separate soaker tub and oversize shower (left), plus all the amenities -- lotions, potions, super thick robes and towels -- you expect from this calibre of hotel. Scrupulously clean, too.
At this point, I wondered why I hadn't had the foresight to plan a longer stay.
Compare this room with my rooms at Kinabalu Mountain Lodge, and Libaran Island lodge (yes, I know they are very different situations, but perhaps you can appreciate how I missed my satellite TV, room service and luxe bathrooms -- the crutches of the solo traveller!)
Nexus hotel room KK ~ views from the balcony
Overlooking the hotel grounds: Arriving in mid afternoon, I walked down to the beach, where a sign advises guests that although the lavish sand flies can be a problem, the hotel refuses to spray chemical insecticides.
I whipped out my bottle of insect repellant, as I had prior experience with sand flies in Roatan, Honduras, but the sand flies didn't seem to be around this day.
I continued exploring the hotel grounds, finding the luxury spa that, a week later, I made good use of on my return from Royal Mulu before heading back to Hong Kong.
The business center in the hotel had good internet access, and was the only access I had for the week.
Nexus Hotel room service menu items
Like most hotels in Asia, breakfast is included in the room price.
Nexus breakfasts were varied and tasty buffets.
When I had to miss one breakfast, the staff -- at 4:30 a.m. no less! -- provided me a wonderful box lunch, and fresh coffee and pastry to tide me over.
Dinners, I ordered from room service, as the prices were the same as the dining room.
One meal was Thai Mango Shrimp Salad (about $6 US), with 4 jumbo shrimp, spicy but very tasty, the perfect Thai salad, and Chicken Satay (on black plate in this photo, 2 of 6 original skewers remaining, about $10 US).
Also shown here is a spicy potato dish (right). Portions were ample, and I couldn't finish it all. I would return to Kota Kinabalu in a heartbeat. My only regret is that I did not plan to stay longer, not only here but also in Royal Mulu in Sarawak, Borneo.
Named Api Api and Jesselton, then finally, Kota Kinabalu
Kota Kinabalu has been home to fishing and trading settlements since time out of memory, but has had several names. No wonder 'Kota Kinabalu' as such, was new to me. In the late 1600s, this area was part of Brunei. When it was a pirate port, it was known as Api-Api (Fire Fire) for the many times it burned to the ground.
The British North Borneo Company came to Api-Api, and named it Jesselton, after a company manager Sir Charles Jessel, a name that endured until Japan took over in 1942, and reverted to the name Api-Api. In 1945, Allied bombings again flattened the town; when the British took over, they changed the name back to Jesselton. In 1968, Jesselton is named Kota Kinabalu, after nearby Mount Kinabalu. Kota means city or fort.
Even the name 'Sabah' is fairly new in offical state names; the former North Borneo became 'Sabah' on September 16 (Malaysia Day), 1963, when it became one of the Federation of Malaysia. See Borneo main page for general Borneo Malaysia travel information.
I booked this holiday simply because I liked the name of a place. Kota means city or fort, and Kinabalu means a collection of boulders. To me, Kota Kinabalu means beautiful, exotic and hopelessly romantic. I had seen Kota Kinabalu on the location map in the seat-back television on a flight from Hong Kong to Cairns, Australia.
If KK (as the locals refer to the city) rated inclusion on Cathay Pacific's flight locator map, how come I had never heard of it? What did Asian travellers know that I didn't? As I discovered, they knew Kota Kinabalu was a fabulous holiday destination, and a great place to start this Malaysian island holiday tour.