My trip to Taiwan a few weeks before was lackluster as I got sick the day after I arrived. You know the feeling of getting back from abroad and not feeling or remembering anything significant? That was how I felt a couple of days after that trip. With a lot of pocket money leftover and a week with no big boss around, my fingers were back at the keyboard looking for a good deal. And guess what I found? A round trip to Manila-KK flight for only Php 4,000! It was one of Zest Air’s newest routes. “Asia’s most refreshing airline” had partnered with Air Asia which explained the low fare. Actually, I hesitated a couple of days as I have one too many trips already this summer (yes, I still get guilty sometimes about all that traveling) but what the heck.
Asia’s most refreshing airline. NOT.
“Terminal 4 has an international departure and arrival section?” I wondered as I looked at my ticket and double checked with an Air Asia representative over the phone that my flight wasn’t cancelled after receiving an email notification about a flight change (it referred to my December Taipei flight). After waiting at the sun-exposed waiting area outside the terminal, lining-up at the chaotic check-in counter and cramped immigration booth, I vowed to avoid Zest Air in the future unless they changed terminals. It was definitely NOT refreshing. Draining was more like it. I think I should write about this experience in more detail in blog of its own. As the un-refreshing experience extended all the way to the cabin when I almost had to change seats (which I paid for in advanced) due to an error in seat assignment (they assigned me and another person in my seat!). Whew!
Fortunately, the ride was smooth and pleasant and in an hour and a half we touched down at Kota Kinabalu. It felt pleasant to be in familiar surroundings.
Auntie and Asia Adventure Lodge.
I booked my stay at Asia Adventure Lodge via Booking.com as all the reviews were in praises for the owner. It was true. “Auntie” and her daughter runs the 2-storey guesthouse located off a small lane at Jl Gaya. The accommodations were really nothing to crow about. It was the usual private and dorm rooms with shared bathrooms. I got a spacious single room with a large double bed and cold a/c. But what really made my stay enjoyable was spending some time in conversation with Auntie who looked after me and the rest of the guests like her own kin. Auntie had originally come from Laguna! When she was 11, she was petitioned by her mother who had married a Sabahan in KK to come live with them. So she was more Sabahan than Filipino. In fact, since leaving the Philippines, she had not gone back since. She had recently retired from being a nurse and now runs her own guesthouse. Cool. She was really very very nice. At the lodge was a young Japanese woman who stayed mostly in the lodge. I learned from Auntie that she had “rescued” her when she passed-out in her room after the stitches from her recent operation had opened-up and some minor complications arose. No wonder, they were like mother and daughter.
TIP: Bring earplugs as the lodge is in an area close to bars and the sounds wafts all the way to the rooms. A bonus is that the Sunday Gaya Market is just a few steps away.
I spent the rest of the afternoon at the Sabah Museum. I had been to KK a couple of times before but had never ever gone to the museum. It had very good and informative displays on Sabah’s indigenous population and its natural flora and fauna. Beside it was a small complex of traditional houses set around a pond which made for a nice walk that included crossing a suspension bridge.
TIP: Take bus 13 or 13a at Wawasan Terminal (50 sen) and get off at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital bus stop not at the Sabah Museum bus stop. On returning, just cross the street and walk a few meters to the bus stop.
For the next two days, I took the local bus (13a) to Penampang for the e 2-day Harvest Festival or Pesta Ka’amatan This state-wide celebration is annually held on the 30th and 31st of May at the complex of the Kadazandusun Cultural Association in Penampang.
I really had a good time at the festival as it was filled with so much music and dancing plus I got to interact with some music-instruments makers and managed to purchase some. Plus you get to see the Kadazondusun in all their traditional regalia. Awesome.
Taking the bus back to KK, it was surprisingly easy as there weren’t much people waiting for the bus. It seems a lot of the locals bring their own vehicles as I see a lot of them leaving but not taking the bus. Since the venue was the second stop, the bus only had a few passengers so I always had a seat which was not the case on the bus heading to Penampang as I always had to stand.
That evening, I had dinner at the Night Market. It was my first time there and it was an experience. Quite expensive, though (compared to having the same thing at home). I bought nasi goreng (RM 4) from the Malay section and RM 10 worth of grilled squid and RM 2 worth of sea weed. It was delicious, though and as fresh as fresh can be.
Kota Kinabalu is in the same league as Phnom Pehn of small capital cities I like. Major sights are short but the charming waterfront and good food always makes-up for it. It’s one of those place that makes you just want to stop, stare, and smile.