Backpacking in Kota Kinabalu

I stumbled upon this article from Manila Standard Today online news. An article about the experience of Filipino backpackers on their backpacking trip in Kota Kinabalu Sabah. I was a backpacker before and I still remember backpacking in Australian and New Zealand on budget strapped mode in 2003. It took me 1 year to explore New Zealand and Australia.

Anyway this backpackers from Philippines had just arrive here in Kota Kinabalu. I believe there have more stories to tell in the next a few days about their backpacking experience in Kota Kinabalu.

Backpacking in Kota Kinabalu
by Joba Botana
I’ve always been competitive when it comes to physical challenges especially those that require serious trekking, walking or running. That’s why when the most trusted low-cost carrier in the country, Cebu Pacific, in cooperation with Sabah Tourism Board, invited select members of the media and a couple of bloggers to participate this year’s Cebu Pacific Backpacking Challenge in Kota Kinabalu, I felt a sudden surge of excitement. It was like being back on the track again after a long hiatus. Backpacking is something that I’ve been meaning to do but just couldn’t find the right time to do so. Suddenly, the opportunity came and I just had to pack wisely and then we’re off to Sabah, Malaysia.

The Land below the Wind
East Malaysia comprises two states—Sabah and Sarawak—and a federal territory, Labuan. The region is known for vast expanses of rainforest, mist-capped mountains and UNESCO World Heritage Sites like Kinabalu Park Gunung Mulu National Park. Kota Kinabalu, popularly known as KK, is Sabah’s capital city. It is known as the gateway to eco-adventures such as diving, river cruising, mountain climbing, white-water rafting and caving.

KK was formerly known as Jesselton and most parts of the city have been reconstructed after World War II. Its population of nearly 3.1 million is made up of 32 ethnic communities, including Filipino Muslims who have been staying there for the past 30 to 40 years. Aside from the scenic spots, what makes KK beautiful is its friendly and hospital people. In many ways, they reminded me of my own race. Perhaps it’s because the Philippines is near Sabah and for centuries, Filipinos and Malays haven trading. Evidence of this can be seen in one of the several museums in KK where an old decorative banca, which was used by Malays for trade here in the Philippines, is displayed in the entrance area.

The region lies at the northern part of the equator so the climate is tropical but pleasant. Because of its location, KK is generally free from climatic disturbances and it lies under the typhoon belt, thus the name Land below the Wind. It’s generally sunny in KK whole year round although people may experience rain showers during the months of September to February.

The [major part of the] challenge
We were divided into five teams, two members for each. Our team was called Kinabalu team and I thought it was very appropriate since our goal was to conquer Kota Kinabalu—well, ideally. My team partner, Jonel Uy of letsgosago.com was last year’s winner in the CEB Backpacking Challenge held locally so he had some tips to share based on his experience.

Prior to the challenge, my team mate and I planned our itinerary for the first day of the three-day challenge. He had been to KK once but according to him, he never really got the chance to explore the city so we had to research a lot about the must-visit places and must-do activities in and outside of the city. I didn’t do my homework but it was a good thing that maps and fliers that contain information about tourism in KK were handed to us by the organizers not to mention that they are also available for free in the airport.

The challenge was to discover the best of Kota Kinabalu with a limited budget so each team has to have as many interesting discoveries and experiences as possible in each stop. The team with the most number of experiences and the least amount of total expenses incurred wins six round-trip gift certificates (three plane tickets each) to any CEB international destination plus a three-night hotel accommodation for two in KK. Each team was given a pocket money of RM 1000 (P14,090), for accommodation, food, transportation and activities for three days. For the budget to last three days, our team should not spend so much on food and transportation and if possible, we need to find the cheapest (but safe) accommodation in the city. That was the real challenge for me— to budget RM500 for three nights. I can run a good long distance or trek a mountain trail for hours but to be deprived of little indulgences such as good coffee and coke for three days was too much to bear. But since it was a challenge and my team mate was also intent on winning, I tried--although with little success--to forget about those guilty pleasures.

Kick-off

The kick-off area of the challenge was at the Sabah Tourism Building, which is also a tourist spot itself being gazetted as a heritage building in1991. It was in the zero kilometre marker that our three-day journey begun. Our plan for the day was to visit all the tourist spots in the city and find out what interesting activities we can do in each. So from Sabah Tourism Building in Gaya Street, we walked toward Jesselton Hotel, the city’s oldest building. Then we went to Australia Place,where Australian soldiers camped when they landed in Jesselton in 1945. It is here that we found a cheap but neat and nice back-packer hostel where we would stay for the night. We were fortunate enough to be able to book for a dormitory-style room for RM23 each. Later on, we found out that two other teams were booked on the same room so the whole room, which was good for six persons, was occupied by three backpacker teams. We thought it was better and happier that way than having to share the room with other tourists. After leaving some of our clothes in the room, we set off to continue with our ‘city tour’ with only the map as our guide.

We visited Signal Hill, which gives an amazing view of the whole city. At the foot of the Signal Hill Conservatory is the Australia Place. Just a few walks from Lucy’s Homestay, where we booked for the night, is the Atkinson Clock Tower, built in memory of the first district officer of Jesselton, Francis George Atkinson, who died of Malaria at the age of 28. We also went to the Jesselton Community Centre, now known as Dewan Merdeka or Independence Building, the venue for many important and historical events in Sabah.

(Trekking in Kinabalu Park, Island-hopping and lot more activities, discoveries and challenges next week)
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