BORNEO MALAYSIA TRAVEL GUIDE: Kota Kinabalu

BORNEO MALAYSIA TRAVEL GUIDE: Kota Kinabalu

Welcome to Part 3 of my Borneo Travel Guide. My husband and I spent two weeks exploring Malaysian Borneo in July 2015. We had a great time, and would definitely recommend it. We had a few ups and downs, mainly due to the environmental damage we saw pretty much everywhere, it was terribly sad to see so much deforestation. I probably wouldn't have noticed it if I was traveling with anyone else, but Farmboy was an environmental consultant is his former life and so was more aware than me (I thought there was a lot of green but what I thought was natural vegetation was 9 times out of 10 palm oil plantations). We also knew very little about Borneo (apart from the fact that it is one of the last places where you can see Orangutan in their natural habitat), and actually ended up deciding to go there because it had the cheapest flights and seemed like a very unique holiday destination. 

You may be thinking of heading to Borneo soon (or sometime in the future) so to help you plan your trip, I have put together this travel guide, as well as some tips from our stay. Please keep in mind that my husband and I may travel very differently to you, and have different likes and preferences for things. I prefer the more luxurious path, while Farmboy would stay in a hammock for the entire trip if it was up to him. So we plan accordingly, and of course, try to stick to the budget.

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Borneo Travel Guide: Kuching

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Farmboy and I headed to Borneo for 12 days in July last year. We had a great time, and would definitely recommend it. We had a few ups and downs, mainly due to the environmental damage , it was terribly sad to see so much deforestation. I probably wouldn't have noticed it if I was traveling with anyone else, but Farmboy was an environmental consultant is his former life and so was more aware than me (I thought there was a lot of green but what I thought was natural vegetation was 9 times out of 10 palm oil plantations). We also knew very little about Borneo (apart from the fact that it is one of the last places where you can see Orangutan in their natural habitat), and actually ended up deciding to go there because it had the cheapest flights and seemed like a very unique holiday destination. 

We spent the first part of our holiday in Kuching (2 days), moving onto Bantang Ai lake (3 days), then Kota Kinabalu (2 days) and then onto Semporna (1 day) & Mabul Island (4 days). As there is so much to say about our trip I am going to breaking up these posts into different parts. In this part I will be talking about Kuching. In part two I will be talking about Bantang Ai Lake; Part 3 I will be talking about Kota Kinabalu and finally in Part 4 I will write about Semporna & the scuba diving we did on Mabul Island.

 

You may be thinking of heading to Borneo soon (or sometime in the future) so to help you plan your trip, I have put together this travel guide, as well as some tips from our stay. Please keep in mind that my husband and I may travel very differently to you, and have different likes and preferences for things. I prefer the more luxurious path, while Farmboy would stay in a hammock for the entire trip if it was up to him. So we plan accordingly, and of course, try to stick to the budget.

Map of Borneo

Borneo is the name given to the biggest island in Asia (it's really big!) and is actually made up of 3 countries; Malaysia, Brunei & Indonesia. Malaysia & Brunei are far more geared to tourism (this has its perks but at the same time means that places are very touristy) whereas the Indonesian side is a lot more rural and natural. As we only had 2 weeks for our holiday we decided on Malaysian Borneo. If you are looking for a more authentic Bornean experience and you have more time, look into traveling around Indonesia Borneo. Also bear in mind the different visa requirements for Borneo & Malaysia before you travel.

Borneo Malaysia Travel Guide CityGirlSearching

Kuching

We flew from Incheon into Kuching (with an overnight layover in Kuala Lumpur). If you do have more than a 4 hour layover at night in Kuala Lumpur, I highly recommend booking into the new capsule hotel in Kuala Lumpur Airport (click here). It was fully booked when we arrived and we spent a very uncomfortable 6 hours sleeping under a cold concrete bench, hanging onto our belongings for dear life. The hotels in and around the airport are expensive and get booked up fast. You can book per hour at the capsule hotel and looked like a really fun experience.

Getting a taxi at the Airport

We arrived in Kuching at 8am and got a taxi to our guesthouse in Kuching. Most of the taxis in at the airports in Malaysian Borneo are regulated. You stand in a link and tell the teller where you are going and they then issue you a taxi voucher. You then give this voucher to the taxi driver and off you go. No dealing with cash or bargaining or being taken advantage of. It was such a different experience to Bali, Vietnam, Cambodia & the Philippines.

Accomodation

We spent 1 night in Kuching at Travellers Homestay in the Chinese Quarter of Kuching. It was a wonderful place, clean and so beautifully decorated and the host, Mai, was just wonderful. Such a warm and welcoming lady and we loved our stay at her guesthouse.

*W20 000 a night for a double room with aircon

The guesthouse is above the family run restaurant, and she is in the process of opening up a cooking centre to offer cooking courses to guests. The food was great and I highly recommend staying there if you're in Kuching.

Things to do in Kuching

We spent the day wondering around Kuching. Kuching is known as the City Of Cats. We walked from Travellers Homestay into the centre of town and spent some time wondering along the harbor. That night there was a food festival in town which was fun to wonder around. 

Semenggoh Nature Reserve

Our main reason for visiting Kuching was to see the Orangutan at the Semenggoh Nature Reserve. The Nature Reserve is home to the Orangutan rehabilitation centre, where you have a high chance of seeing Orangutan. The orangutans there are semi-wild which means that they live in a large area of trees around the reserve and feed themselves. Food is put out twice daily by the staff at the nature reserve to supplement that feeding. This means that during fruiting seasons when food is plentiful within the trees, the orangutans may have no need to (and don’t) visit the platforms. There are two feeding times a day (09h00 and 15h00) but best to get there early. The Oragutan are incredibly shy animals, and it's not guaranteed that they will come out at feeding time. We unfortunately were around a very noisy group of tourists who just wouldn't keep quiet. As the Oragutan are very shy, I'm sure the noise put them off. We had terrible luck and didn't see any oragutan, but travellers we met along our trip had seen the King, Reggie and a number of females with babies. We were really sad to miss them.

The Semenggoh Nature Reserve is easy to get to from Kuching by local bus.

From Kuching town centre, you want the number K6 or 6 from bus station number 2 which is near the mosque. Mai, our host at Traveller Homestay dropped us at the bus station. The bus leaves Kuching at: 7h20am, 9h50am, 1pm & 3pm. Returning from Semenggoh Nature Reserve at 8.20am, 11.15am, 2.05pm & 4.05pm (correct in August 2015). 

Tickets are RM3 per person each way, and the bus ride is about 45 minutes (but up to 1 hour). The bus adrops you right in front of the ticket office.

If you don't mind forking out some money for a taxi, it's about RM30 per way per taxi.

Entrance is RM10 per non-Malaysian adult for a single entry ticket. There are toilets just behind the office here. From there you walk about 20 minutes to get to the feeding area. It’s a nice walk with lots of trees, plants and animal calls to keep you entertained but it is just along the main road so be careful of the cars and tour buses which wizz pass you.

Once you’ve reached the actaul entrance to the Rehabilitation Area there are more toilets, a shop selling drinks and this is where you will congregate to hear a briefing. This is a safety briefings you need to listen to as they tell you what to do and what not to do to in terms of behaviour to ensure you’re respecting the environment of the animals but also to make sure you’re not seen as confrontational or a threat by the orangutans.

After a very disappointing few hours, we walked back to the entrance to the park where we were picked up by our hotel (Hilton Bantang Ai) in their shuttle to make the 4 hour journey to Bantang Ai. Even though we didn't see Oragutans it was still a nice way to spend the morning, and walking through the lush jungle of the National park was fun. 

Look our for Part 2 of our trip where I will be talking about Bantang Ai Lake and our stay at the Hilton.

Malaysia Travel Guide and The Perhentian Islands

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Farmboy and I visited Malaysia in August last year (2013).  You may be thinking of heading there soon (or sometime in the future) so to help you plan your trip, I have put together a travel guide for the places we visited, as well as some tips from our stay. Please keep in mind that my husband and I may travel very differently to you, and have different likes and preferences for things. I prefer the more luxurious path, while Farmboy would stay in a hammock for the entire trip if he could. So we plan accordingly, and of course, try to stick to the budget. 

Malaysia is predominantly a muslim country, this is something to keep in mind for a few reasons. Alcohol is very expensive there, and in some places forbidden. Also, try and research which national or religious holidays are happening during your trip. This may seem obvious to some people, but it was something I had never thought to research. We were there over Ramadan and were staying on the Perhentian Islands at the time. The island we were on basically shut down for the week and we could only find a handful of places to eat at. Bear that in mind when making your final bookings.

We spent 8 days in Malaysia. After landing in Kuala Lumpur, we headed straight to the Perhentian Islands by overnight bus and spent the rest of our trip there.

CityGirlSearchingMalaysiaTravelGuide

Perhentian Kecil

The Perhentian Islands are made up of 2 islands, Kecil & Besar. Besar is the more family friendly island, and Kecil is the livelier island made up of backpackers and part goers. We spent 5 nights on Perhentian Kecil in a range of accommodations. We weren't able to find any places to book online and so had to join the hoards of people on the first boat in who had to walk up and down the beach in search of a place to stay. We were envious of the French couple who whipped out their booking confirmation on the boat, and then proceeded to amble their way to the only fancy looking resort on the island. We were insanely jealous, as the rest us on the boat kept eyeing up the competition to see who would make it off the boat first in search of a room for the night. This is why we now try to book at least 60% of our accommodation before hand. From Kuala Lumpur you can take an overnight bus to Kuala Besut which is where you then catch a small boat to the Perhentian Islands. Once on the islands there are plenty of taxi boats that you can take to get from one island to the other for about US$15 one way if needed.

MalaysiaTravelGuide

We caught an 8 hour overnight bus from Putra Station to Kuala Besut (-+US$20 pp) which stopped at the port at about 4am. We found out later that AirAsia has numerous cheap flights from KL - Khota Bharu, from there it's an hour taxi ride to the port at Khuala Besut.

From the port it's a 45 minute boat ride in a small, fiberglass boat (watch your belongings...everything gets wet!). The speedboats take you just short of the shore, from where you take a mini 'taxi' boat to the beach. It's completely unnecessary, but unavoidable as the main boat won't stop any closer to the shore. It's a cheap transfer (about US$2 a person) but still very annoying. From there it's a short wade ashore through knee-deep water with your bags (keep that in mind when packing!). When leaving the islands, there is a jetty from which you leave from, which makes things easier for the return trip.

Kecil Island is small enough to explore in one day. There are 2 main beaches, Long Beach (usually where you are dropped off by the boat) which houses all the backpackers and night life. And then Coral Bay. Coral Bay is the place to go for spectacular sunsets, slightly cheaper prices, and small private beach coves. The snorkeling is better at Coral Bay, but the swimming is better on Long Beach. It's only a 15 minute walk through the Jungle from one side to the other.

I highly recommend staying at Ewans Place (click here for his facebook page). His was the only restaurant open during Ramadan and he was so helpful in organising us a last minute room, after a few pleads and batting of eyelids. The rooms are simple, but clean and more than adequate. Nothing fancy, but they are situated in the middle of the island, away from all the noise of Long Beach. 

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While both Kecil & Besut Island share the same diving sites, the dive operations on Perhentian Kecil are slightly cheaper than those on Perhentian Besar. Daytime dives can be as cheap as US$25 each depending on the company and distance to the site; night dives cost around US$40. We don't have our diving licenses, but packed our own snorkels and goggles from Korea so we have the freedom to snorkel wherever we want to.

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Khota Bharu

After our stay on the Perhentians we headed back to the mainland port of Kuala Besut and caught a taxi to the airport at Khota Bharu. We had booked flights using the AirAsia app on our iPhones (having our iPhones with us has been a life saver on many a trip, their GPS location mapping and the apps for booking hotels and flights with the click of a few buttons have made traveling so easy). There were 4 of us to share a taxi (about $20 for the hour long trip but you can haggle the price). Once we got to Khota Bharu we had some time to kill and headed to the main market in the town square. It was such an interesting experience, well worth a stop at.

A FEW TIPS

  • If you're short on time, look to see if you can find cheap local flights on sites like AirAsia (this has saved us so much time and we have been able to book flights for reasonable prices). Download the AirAisa app, it's super easy to use. For Malaysia we booked our internal flights for about $120 last minute for two people from Khota Bharu to Kuala Lumpur
  • When booking flights be sure of what is included in your flight booking, especially with Air Asia. We booked flights for Malaysia for really cheap, and then only after booking did we realise that we could only take carry on luggage (which was restricted to 7kg's a person, and they were super strict at the airport, weighing all our bags including my big camera bag).
  • Take your smart phone with you. We didn't have data, although we were told that sim cards were readily available and pretty cheap. But we were able to jump on some free wifi in cafes. The GPS function on our iPhones was an absolute life saver, as it functions in helping you navigate, even when not connected to wifi.
  • Jot down your expenses, this helps you stay on track. We took only cash for our 2 week trip and writing what we spent where helped us to stay within the budget 
  • Download the Orbitz and Hotels.com apps on your phone. By booking through the app you usually can get good discounts discount and can book last minute. When we were there in 2013 there were no places on Perhentian that you could book online, but this might have changed by now.
  • Visa Requirements: For South African/UK/US/Canada/New Zealand/Australia passport holders, no visa is required for 90 days. You need to have a passport that is valid for 6 months after your departure date, so if you arrive on the 1st of the month and leave on the 30th of the month, the passport should be valid for 6 months from the 30th of the month.  If you passport is not fully valid your airline may not allow you to board and the immigration authority will not permit you to land in Malaysia.
  • Pack a sense of humour. You will get lost. You will fight with your husband/boy friend/friends. You will get sick at least once and you will have an amazing holiday all the same. 

Is there anything I've left of the list? Any places you'd recommend in Malaysia? Or any tips you think should be included here, pop me a comment below. 

If you have any questions about our trip feel free to leave me a comment below and I'll get back to you soon.

Happy travels!

[This is the second travel guide I have done, click here to see my guide to Vietnam]

The Wonderlust Tag

CityGirlSearchingTravelBlogWonderlustTag

I saw this tag on Emma's blog (Emma is a fellow English Teacher & blogger based here in Korea and blogs over at Cupcake Traveler) and it inspired me to write a post using the Wonderlust tag too. If you do a post on your blog, please do drop me a link so I can read it, or link up on my Facebook page, I'd love to know more about you x

CityGirlSearchingTravelBlogWonderlustTag

1. Your most treasured passport stamp?

I had to spend a bit of time thinking about this question. I think it would be a mixture of my first South Korean stamp which I got when moving to Korea the first time back in 2010, and then the stamp for Greece which we got when we went on honeymoon in 2012. 

2. Can you recite your passport # from memory if asked?

Ummm...no. I might be able to if I didn't have to also try and remember 2 sets of South African ID numbers, passport numbers and Korean ID numbers...now I have to rely on scanned coppies of all of the above in my emails.

3. Preferred method of travel; planes, trains or automobiles?

Planes, trains, bikes and feet! I don't really have a preference, I think time would be the only limiting factor for me. Trains are great when you don't have to be anywhere in a hurry (especially the overnight train we took in Vietnam). Also, we have spent a fair amount of time in buses too as they tend to work out better for our pockets (and of course when time is a again not too much of an issue). As I am quite little (5'5 to be exact) I can usually curl up easily anywhere, and so legroom on planes/buses isn't too much of a problem for me....I guess it also helps having someone who doesn't mind having me leaning on him ALL THE TIME.

CityGirlSearchingTravelBlogWonderlustTag

4. Top 3 travel items?

Down travel pillow, kikoy (a cotton towel/sarong/blanket/) and my iPhone (for quick snaps and it's indispensable 'maps' & hotel booking app features).

5.  Hostel or hotel?

Both. If it were up to my husband, we would never stay in a hotel. But, I am, as he calls, rather 'precious' and he doesn't mean it in the princess kind of way, and I have a habit of breaking out in rather unsightly rashes and bites when staying in hostels. But, I love the experience, and right now our budget only caters for hostels, and we have had all sorts of adventures staying in them. I may be a city girl, but I am rather adaptable (and with the help of my own pillow) can sleep anywhere.

6. Are you a repeat visitor or do you explore new places?

We have yet to go to the same place twice, there are just far too many places to explore in this world, and not enough time to see anything more than once. Having said that, the one place we would go back to, again and again, would be Greece.

You can see photographs from some of our travels by clicking here>>> Vietnam, Malaysia, Greece, Cambodia, Hong Kong & the Phillipines)

CityGirlSearchingTravelBlogWonderlustTag

7.  Do you read up on your destination (culture, history, safety) or do you wing it?

We pretty much wing our holidays. I don't think this is the best way to travel, but we enjoy feeling like we are the first people to experience something or see a particular place. It's not for everyone, but we enjoy our travels and so far so good!

I usually do a quick search for the top things to do in a particular place, and then rely on locals and their recommendations for attractions/restaurants and activities. As we don't get very long for our holidays, we find ourselves constantly on the move (which we enjoy as we like to jam pack as much as we can into a trip, knowing we will mostly not be returning).

8. Favourite travel website?

I spend quite a lot of time on Trip Advisor, and then highly recommend apps like Orbitz and Hotels.com for great deals on places to stay (they often have amazing discounts for using the app too!). I spend a lot of time on forums and personal travel blogs, but it can all get very daunting when first researching a country. I like to have a pen and paper out, as well as Google Maps open so that I can start to get a feel for the place first. Once I have a basic idea of where I want to go, I create an excel spreadsheet and get to planning the finer details. We don't often book accommodation in advance (this has worked both well, and worked terribly in the past!) but again, we like to wing our travels and not be too tied down, as often we will really like a place and want to stay much longer there, or really not like a place want to cut our stay shorter. Having a good skeleton planned in Excel helps a lot, and then allowing yourself breathing room when it comes to accommodation works for us. 

9. Where would you recommend a friend to visit? Name the city & why

Here is a small list:

Hoi Ann in Vietnam for their tailors, incredible night life and delicious food

Lazy Island, Koh Rong Saloem in Cambodia (just off Sihanoukville) for the wonderful, quiet & relaxed beach atmosphere and their incredible hosts. They have a small selection of beach bungalows and the island is small and peaceful, the perfect place to unwind.

Buan, South Korea our current home town. It's small, and very much in the countryside and gives you a real feel of genuine Korea. It's close to the beaches and not too far from the major cities. And we live here and can show you around :)

10. You’re leaving tomorrow, money is no option, where are you going? 

On a roadtrip in a vintage (but carefully checked by a mechanic) comfy RV motorhome to explore America. 

CityGirlSearchingTravelBlogWonderlustTag2

Malaysia in black and white

Here are a few  black and white photographs of our recent  trip to Malaysia in August this year. 

There's something special about black and white photography, too much and its over kill, but just the right amount and its perfect. 

I used to think black and white was the lazy photographers best friend, but I have since changed my mind. 

Sometimes, simple is best. 

Here are my favourites:

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The Perhentian Islands {Malaysia}

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Here are some of the highlights of our incredible holiday in Malaysia. We landed in Kuala Lumpur and speedily made our way straight to the Perhentian Islands on the East coast of mainland Malaysia.

These are my photographs of our trip, from our afternoon in Kuala Lumpur, to the Islands, and to the incredible market in Khota Bharu. Later this week I'll try and post Farmboys photographs too.

For information on getting there, where we stayed and other useful travel info, head on over to our travel blog Farmboy & Citygirl where I'll have a post up soon on the nitty gritty of our trip.

Enjoy

x

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I'm back!

Farmboy and I have just settled back into our little apartment after an incredible week in Malaysia. 2 flights, 3 taxis, 2 buses, 1 subway & copious amounts of walking...we finally touched back down on Korean soil this afternoon...what a journey home, I'm shattered!

I can't wait to share the photographs with all of you, and let you know what it was like. Here are a few instagram snaps until I get editing. I hope you are all having a wonderful relaxing weekend.

x

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All of these photographs were taken with my iPhone, and most were edited with the wonderful #ABeautifulMess app. Click here to find out more about more about it.

{b}logging off for a week

I hope you are all enjoying the eighth month of the year. As I'm sure you're all thinking, this year has truly flown by...next month hubby and I will be celebrating our one year wedding anniversary, I can't believe it. It's all gone incredibly fast and I love him more and more each day. How he puts up with all my nonsense ill never know, but I'm so glad he does :)

We are spending the night in the fashion capital of the world, Seoul, before catching an early flight to Malaysia tomorrow....eek! So excited! We are heading to the Perhentian Islands for our summer holiday here in Korea.

I won't be on the blog until we get back, and I'm looking forward to some quality time away from all the social media (although you might catch the odd instagram pic here and there if you follow along @roxypearce that is if we manage to score any wifi).

Wishing you all a wonderful weekend and a good start to the end of the year.

x

Here's our new headgear for next week :)