Tuesday, January 4, 2011

1MB Travels: Sabah, Malaysia Adventures

Now that I've covered the priority reports on good eats during our family vacation, wanted to share some other cool things we did while at Sabah.

Day 1: With our tour package, we get a 2.5 hour massage / spa treatment in Kota Kinabalu. Most people save this for the end of the trip when they are tired from water activities, sightseeing etc. and need the after sun treatment. We went up front, as we were exhausted from work! After the awesome massage, we headed with the group to Borneo Wildlife Preserve in Beaufort (about a 1.5-2 hour drive outside Kota Kinabalu).

After we were served snacks - mainly fried fruit like bananas that seem like they have been sitting out too long - we set out on a small boat in search of the famed Proboscis Monkeys that are unique to Borneo, and on the endangered list.

Not sure why we were expecting to be able to see the monkeys close-up, I think in our minds there was going to be a portion of the tour that would be walking through the preserve and being potentially in close range to the animals - but in reality of course as they are endangered, we stayed in the boat the whole time, and though we did see several monkeys - they were swinging from the treetops so we could barely see their silhouettes.

The below was about as close as we got to seeing their faces:
Photo taken at gift shop at hotel
It was still fun though, and entertaining to see the kids on the tour go bananas whenever they spotted a monkey (and were able to identify the butt color of each one via zoom lens or binoculars). 

Thanks to the tour guide's sharp vision, we were also able to see a lizard up close - they pulled the boat right into the brush so we were just maybe 15 feet away from it!   At first our fellow passengers joked it's probably a plastic prop placed there for dramatic effect, but then as if on cue, the lizard stuck its head up and posed for photos.

At around dusk, we docked back at the 'lodge' (which feels a little like the Blue Bayou at Disneyland with the lights up) for dinner before heading out to see the fireflies.

Dinner was served buffet style with picnic style tables in the 'lodge', and included local veggies, coconut rice, and small crabs.  It was billed as 'private dining' but was of the quality you would expect at a place whose primary function is not food service, but wildlife preservation.  Though the beef short rib soup was a standout - very clean broth that's rich in flavor and made fragrant with lemongrass.  But if we were to go on this tour again I would definitely try to eat beforehand.

The fireflies tour was great - we basically went down the river in the dark, and periodically the tour guide would shine a huge spotlight on a tree that he suspects houses many fireflies, and for a brief moment we would question whether they are there - then seconds later, pinpoints of light burst into life all over the tree, so that it looks like lights on a Christmas tree - except the lights move around to create a magical, shimmery effect.  Again it was too bad we couldn't see them up close, and no photo opps with this one either - but kind of a fun thing to do in conjunction with other activities at the preserve (we decided we wouldn't have wanted to drive all the way just for the fireflies).

Day 2:  We also checked out the waterfront markets in Kota Kinabalu's city center. From produce stands to sellers of everything you can make out of coconut, to dried seafood and no-label secret recipe hot sauce at Central Market to handmade bags and accessories and anything you can bead, crochet or build out of shells at the Craft Market - this is ideal for anyone looking for local foods / goods and interactions.

While some vendors are more open and will happily pose for photos, others do not welcome photography at their booths - we just played it by ear and erred on the side of asking for permission before snapping pics (or captured photos quickly and discreetly).

Where we ended up buying the most souvenirs was at the Wawasan Plaza shopping mall near Api-Api center.  There were stalls selling everything a tourist would want to bring home as gifts - hand-dyed sarongs, Kota Kinabalu tees, monkey-themed gifts, all kinds of keychains and charms, crocheted seashell 'windchimes' and much more.  At one store, I scored 5 sarongs for RM100 or about $32 US!
Day 3: Our tour package offered an add-on for a snorkeling excursion, but it required meeting up at 7am for a 2 hour ride out to the ferry before another hour or so ride to the island, and we just weren't up for it, especially as I was the only one who would be snorkeling. 

The good news is, we discovered when wandering around Sutera Harbour Resort that they have a professional water activities agency on-site called Sea Quest, and among other offerings they run boats out to three islands at nearby Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park throughout the day, and will rent you the appropriate equipment from beach mats to snorkel / diving gear.  The most awesome thing?  There were boats leaving as late as 11:30am, 12:30pm and into the afternoon - they leave straight from the Marina Club in the resort, it's a 15 minute ride, and they take walk-ins.  The total cost for one person to go to Mamutik Island with boat fare and full snorkel gear rentals was RM80 or about $26 US (inclusive of entry fee into the park).  As a hotel guest at the Sutera you can also get a 'loaner' towel from the booth steps away from the Sea Quest counter.  So convenient!  Granted, the variety of marine life and quality of the snorkeling/diving experience at the Tunku Abdul Tahman Marine Park will not compare to that of Semporna, one of the Top 10 dive sites in the world - but it also doesn't take an hour plane ride and boat ride either - and is ideal for families looking for short half day excursions with minimal travel time.

The beach on Mamutik island was beautiful - though the picnic areas further back are a bit too densely populated, the beach itself was great.  Sea Quest provided transportation and gear, but leaves you alone to enjoy the water as you like (there isn't a guided tour for snorkeling), which is perfect for us. 

We were already excited, at the pier to be able to see huge schools of fish swimming below (hard to see in this picture with my point and shoot...but you can roughly see their numbers and visibility up near the top right corner).

With Sea Quest, you book a spot on the return trip as well before you depart, but can change it if you like - just head to the pier to let their staff know 20 minutes prior to the originally scheduled departure time.  Love the flexibility!

(You can also use the 'island hopper' deal to check out two of the three islands in one day - the boat stops by each island anyways like a shuttle.  Next time we would like to try Manukan, which seems a little more resort like than Mamutik.)

After exhausting work by or in the water (i.e. snorkeling or swinging in the hammock, beach-side) all day, and feasting on the freshest creatures from the sea - it was great to cool down with a Super Ice-Cream Potong. There were tropical fruit flavors, of course, plus some flavors unusual for ice cream, like avocado, yam and sweet corn.  Before tasting these frozen treats, I expected to like sweet corn the least - it didn't sound like something that would make a delicious ice cream flavor - but with that set-up, I'm sure you've guessed by now - yes, sweet corn turned out to be my favorite flavor of the bunch.

And those were some of the highlights of our trip!

All in all, loved Sabah for all that it had to offer - and there's so much more that we didn't see - hope that we will have a chance to go back again!


  1. Love the blog, very informative and well written. I like how you added so much detail and the costs involved when traveling, which makes it easier to plan my holiday trip. Thanks for posting it. Enjoy the rest of your trip Happy travels 2011.

  2. Thanks! I like to share the info that I find important ;) Good luck with your trip planning and have fun!



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