I've been dreaming about exploring Borneo since I heard about Indonesia's best kept secrets. Of course, the ultimate dream would be to go deep in the jungle for a long expedition, but for some obvious reasons (such as: we are traveling with a baby and we only had 4 days off), we chose to fly to Kota Kinabalu and to make it our base.
There are many reasons why we decided to go on a trip in Kota Kinabalu. The first being the direct flights from Hong Kong. Then there's Malaysia, this mysterious country where we've never been to, and Borneo and its legendary lush jungle. We got there all excited, with no real expectation. Eager to explore.
In the end, our trip in Kota Kinabalu revealed a charming and surprisingly artistic little city, and a great destination for a long weekend.
What to do in Kota Kinabalu? Itinerary day by day
Situated north of Borneo Island in the Malaysian part of the island, Kota Kinabalu is situated just below Palawan, Philippines. So of course, there are some dreamy beaches around... but not only.
Day 1: island hopping, dragons & coconut shake
Go to the pier in front of the Marlin statue and negotiate for a ride to the islands. With only a day to spare, we decided to go to Pulau Sulug and Pulau Manukan. The islands are stunning, if you can forget the hundred of tourists floating on the water with their ridiculous life jackets. As usual, it's best to have more time and go further away on the archipelago and avoid the crowds. Pulau Manukan was more authentic, from far our favorite. Prepare some cash for the entrance fee, RM10 on each island (in June 2018).
The craziest part of the trip was the giant Monitor lizard we saw -that looks a bit too much like a Komodo dragon. He was lying on the beach, a few meters from the tourists. About 2 meters long. Not kidding. He was MASSIVE.
+ I've been told by locals that Bunga Raya and Gaya Island are beautiful too.
Day 2: mosque, trendy cafes, street art & old clock tower
Once upon a time, the Kota Kinabalu City Mosque was one of the highlights of Sabah. That was until a group of smart tourist ladies decided to record a sexy dance in front of the monument, making it officially closed to any tourists -and even forbidden to take pictures from the outside. We didn't know that, so we had time to take a few before the guards warned us. But there's still a lot to explore in the city!
You can go see the mosque then get to Jalan Dewan for a nice cafe / brunch (see the places to see below), spot the best street art pieces, explore the markets, walk up to the Signal Hill Observatory and to the Clock Tower, eat like a local and finish the day with a beer by the Waterfront.
Day 3: an adventure in borneo
jungle -with the monkeys!
Honestly, that's why you come to Borneo: for the jungle! There are different kind of expeditions, we chose to go to Klias River, which is only a two hours drive from the city. You go there to see the monkeys, usually in the end of the afternoon. It's 4 hours drive overall within the day, but it's totally worth it. See our adventure in Borneo jungle below.
an exploration of borneo jungle: a cruise on river klias
After a long drive on the country side, the van stops by the road. We all get down and walk by a river for a few minutes,
to finally get to a terrace where a boat awaits. Here it is. The wild Borneo.
We were worried to find a place packed with tourists, but we're only about 15 people per boat, and a couple of boats in the water.
Everybody is quiet aboard, we are all waiting for the monkeys to show up, impatient and excited. There they are, having their dinner, the proboscis monkeys. They jump from tree to tree with an incredible dexterity. They obviously don't care about us, except that one monkey showing off with his cool tricks.
We cruise under the rain for about an hour, spotting different species of monkeys playing around,
giant lizards resting on the trees and beautiful tropical birds singing.
The noise of the jungle is incredible.
Insects, monkeys and birds all together create
a perfect soundtrack to our beautiful adventure.
Once the sun has set, a whole different atmosphere set in the jungle.
The noise seems to be even louder as we can't see where it come from. We can only see the shape of the trees...
Then we finally see them... the fireflies.
They light the trees like a giant Christmas garland, all synchronized.
It's one of these moments, when nature is so great it makes you feel insignificant.
PURE MAGIC. Noah is asleep in my arms, and I cannot help but think we're in a middle of a fairytale story.
our 10 good addresses in kota kinabalu
- Karamell Almondo: delicious green tea ice creams in Jalan Dewan
- Woo: good food made with fresh products, delicious desserts - Jalan Dewan
- Nook Cafe: perfect for a brunch or a coffee - Jalan Dewan
- Camaca Gelato: natural ice cream + beautiful place
- Magellan: great for sunset drinks - Sutera Harbour
- Lido Food Court: excellent local place to eat
- Filipino market: mango heaven!
- Gaya Island Resort: DREAM hotel, we're still dreaming about it (waaay to expensive for our budget)
- Mai Yai Thai Orchid: very good Thai food by the waterfront + cool staff
- Le Méridien Kota Kinabalu: that's where we stayed for the weekend. We enjoyed the situation right by the water and the pool with its cosy lounge chairs.
+ kota kinabalu with a baby
Malaysia is a great destination to travel with kids! As usual when traveling in Southeast Asia with a baby, people are friendly and always happy to help. They bring hot water to warm the bottle and high chair within a second, they do everything they can to make our stay easier.
Smart tips on traveling to Borneo with a baby:
- Don't forget the mosquito repellent. Even though it wasn't as bad as we thought in the jungle. We barely got bitten. But, still, for a peace of mind...
- Don't bother taking sweet baby purees, there's all kind of delicious fruits in the Filipino market
- Go with the baby carrier, once again forget about the stroller, this is Southeast Asia we're talking about!
- Hat, sunscreen, light onesies, sunglasses, water spray, mini fan... don't forget your summer baby essentials.
- Good news: it wasn't even that hot in June. We even felt "cold" one evening when it was raining (we live in Hong Kong, so below 25°C is cold for us ;))