Upon arrival in Kota Kinabalu, or KK as it is known, you will not be overwhelmed with stunning architecture or breathtaking vistas (in fact, as we wandered around in the humidity and heat of the day we were overwhelmed by the smells and nearly trod on a dead rat) but scratch beneath the surface and Kota Kinabalu is a great city to start your adventure in Sabah.
There are several different areas and types of market. My favourite was the food market which is filled with all sorts of weird and wonderful fruits, vegetables, meat and fish. I loved the hustle and bustle but beware that you don’t end up covered in a bucket of fishy water as they throw it over the fish to keep them fresh!
The Waterfront in Kota Kinabalu is a stretch of bars and restaurants with views over the South China Sea. It’s the perfect spot to enjoy the sunset.
We ate at a number of the restaurants along the Waterfront and found all of our meals to be delicious. Our favourites included Toscani’s for some Italian-Asian fusion food (I had Tom Yum pasta which nearly blew my head off but was so tasty I had to finish it!), Mai Yai for a selection of Thai dishes, Santan for Asian cuisine and if you’re missing home then the nachos and burgers were great in The Shamrock Irish Bar. I can safely say that my trip to Hard Rock Cafe, which is just along from the Waterfront in Oceanus Waterfront Mall, was the most disappointing meal in KK. My main course was brought to me before we’d even been given the starter and then my main course was kept under a heat lamp for half an hour while I ate the starter. Useless!
By around 10pm virtually all of the bars and restaurants along the Waterfront had live music of varying quality from mediocre to absolutely dreadful. It was very entertaining to watch though and most of them were a bit ‘cruise ship entertainer’ in their style. I’m a big fan of live music but the music here tended to be a bit heavy on the ballads with very few up tempo numbers. I’ve never seen Stuart drink a beer so fast as when he wanted to escape one bar after the band started their set.
Other than eating and drinking on the Waterfront you can go to Seafront Cafe for a reflexology treatment whilst watching the world go by. It’s much quieter in the day if you would prefer a more relaxed atmosphere, although when I was there my peace was shattered as an enormous monitor lizard appear out of nowhere and ran around on the boardwalk. It caused quite a commotion as people scrambled to get on the nearest chair whilst reaching for their iPhone to get a great photo to share on Facebook.
Mari Mari Culture Village
Many countries offer a cultural experience of some kind. I’ve been to a variety of cultural villages, some have been brilliant and some not so much. I have to say that this is one of the best that I have visited. We were collected from our hotel and driven deep into the countryside, as we got further into the jungle the humidity rose and it started to rain as we arrived. It didn’t matter as you could hire an umbrella for next to nothing.
We made our way across a rickety bridge and found a beautiful village set up with wooden huts dotted around, each one demonstrating a different aspect of traditional Borneo culture.
We were guided around and shown a variety of cooking techniques from bamboo cooking to making rice wine.
Some things were tastier than others as Stuart found out when sampling the rice wine.
There were examples of crafts and demonstrations of fire starting and rope making.
We had a go at hitting a target with a blow dart (try not to think about how many mouths have been on there before yours).
And we always relish an opportunity to blend in with the locals.
At the end of the tour we were treated to a show of traditional dancing and music which we thoroughly enjoyed – especially when I got a chance to join in the dancing at the end.
We stayed at Horizon Hotel which was situated about a 10 minute walk from the central market and the Waterfront. The rooms were exceptionally clean with modern decor and there was also a pool and spa area. The Sunday market was in the square at the front of the hotel and who couldn’t love that amazing horse lamp in the lobby.