Kota Kinabalu area (Malaysia)

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Kota Kinabalu area (Malaysia)

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Review of "Kota Kinabalu area (Malaysia)"

published 10/07/2009 | Muffin_the_Mule
Member since : 08/01/2002
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"Arithmetic Is Bad For Your Wealth"

Somewhere between packing our bags on our way out of the Shanghai Sofitel Hotel and unpacking them in Hong Kong, we’d somehow managed to properly lose all of our remaining collection of foreign cash resources.
I don’t mean the sort of lost where the money pouch turns up after a heated discussion about financial responsibilities under a pair of flip flops at the bottom of the suitcase.
I mean the sort of lost where it’s actually gone.
It’s former money. Money from memory only. Ex-money.
We’d managed to collect together every article of clothing and every device that we set off from the UK with and had successfully secured them within our bags where they had remained. Except for the money.

Admittedly, since leaving home we had increased our number of accompanying suitcases by 100%, partly due to the seven chopstick gift sets, five decorative tiles, one stuffed toy panda bear, a pile of free China Daily English language newspapers, numerous badly re-folded City maps and an utterly unintelligible but pseudo novelty Chinese pamphlet about tea, but our main reason for the 2 wheeled cabin bag purchases?
The fact that the more often I had to re-pack my suitcase, the more progressively lazy I became and the careful folding and placing had quietly relaxed into chucking then lobbing and things were becoming close to stuffing.

It was probably my fault, and we down by $100 US and $500 HKD, with muttering and reluctance, I worked out that we were roughly £120GBP worse off, which just shows you how complicated exchange rate can be.

I did go to an ATM in Hong Kong to replenish spending supplies, but after my transaction was denied for the second time, we had to resort to bashing the plastic wherever possible, which is not a euphemism.
Like real life bondage enthusiasts, we were strapped for cash. Temporarily at least.

Magically, my mobile phone started ringing at 6am local time as we were waiting to board yet another flight, and answering it more through curiosity of Chinese telephone sound quality than interest in the actual caller, I was a little surprised to hear a Scottish lady from the National Westminster bank telling me that she was from the Fraud Team and it was a courtesy call to inform me that they had had to stop my card working because someone over in Hong Kong was trying to access my account.

That’d be me then.

It was all thanks to this collective demonstration of idiotic money borne drama that I made our driver in Borneo go all soft and weepy.

He’d kindly collected us from the unexpectedly modern Kota Kinabalu Airport, loaded our luggage enthusiastically single handedly into his little green minibus and driven us for 10 minutes to our lodgings at the stunning Shangri La hotel, before insisting on unloading all our bags himself into the hands of the concierge service.
Ordinarily I wouldn’t mind this behaviour because it saves me doing it, and he’s only doing it to supplement his income with tips. The trouble this time, as I desperately rummaged through the pockets in my shorts, I knew I only had a $10 HKD note on me.

I offered it thinking he’d laugh at the funny foreigner with the wrong money, but he accepted it like I’d paid for his future grandchildren’s education.
It did make me do more pressure sums as I tried to calculate what I’d just gifted to the helpful man, and this time you can try too.

At the time of travelling, GBP to HKD was an exchange rate of approximately 1:11.
While GBP to RMB was 1:5.

So I reckoned I’d given him about 96p or 4 and a bit RMB, about enough for a Bigmac meal or a pack of 20 Marlboro.
I was very glad all that A-level Maths had stayed with me. No one at school says you need Maths to do travel.

His reaction did convince me for a considerable period of time that perhaps I’d unwittingly stumbled across an international financial loophole, where Hong Kong Dollars were worth Millions in Malaysian Ringgit when directly exchanged, and part of me is still wondering.
You may have noticed that in Borneo, they have the completely made up name of Ringgit for their currency. I didn’t choose the name, it’s genuinely called Ringgit.

Walking up the dozen or so wide steps into the huge open-fronted foyer of the hotel, we both quickly realised that this was a hotel like no other we’d seen.

Standing proud in the middle of Reception was an 8 foot tall flower display creation made entirely of pink and white lily’s based, I assume, on the shape of a giant camp Dalek. I don’t think they had this in mind when they put it together, but it did have a definite close resemblance to interstellar killers. Albeit nicely scented.

We sat on one of the sofas gawping at the exposed beams of the huge vaulted ceiling whilst we were privately checked in by a member of guest relations, who no sooner had sat down then told us that the room we were booked into was rubbish because it only had a limited sea view, blocked entirely by trees and if we wanted, we could have a completely uninterrupted view and free drinks from the lounge if we upgraded to a suite for 2100RMB, for the two of us for the 8 days.

I was tired, it was very humid, there was some hypnotically tranquil music being played by a talented man on an instrument of mini gongs called a ‘Kulintangan’ that sounded like an enjoyable Trance Tune : Lullaby Remix, plus I’d only just done maths not 5 minutes before, so we agreed to pay and went to see what we’d won before I actually sat down with a calculator to discover I’d just signed over about 470GBP for a room that had a separate lounge area, a slightly better view, and some drinks.

It took us until the following morning to decide that, as the driver had shown such excitement at 5RMB, then we should move back to our original room and go spend the 2100RMB on experiences outside the hotel instead.

Our room with no view turned out to have 6 spindly palm trees blocking the sea, and as we were on the third floor, you needn’t even look at the trees if you didn’t want to. The rest of the room was still large enough to be comfortable, and although we’d swapped the lounge for a 2 seat sofa in the corner, we actually preferred it.

Kota Kinabalu is the capital of the Sabah region of Borneo, an area 4 times the size of Wales, although only a tiny part of Borneo itself which is so big it has to be looked after by both the Indonesian and Malaysian Governments, who own and operate about half each of the third largest island on the planet.

For 15RMB (£3) we took a cab for the 15 minute journey into the centre of KK, and not being equipped with any local knowledge or even a map, we asked the driver to drop us wherever all the other tourists go.
He promptly told us about the new shopping mall, that was close to the restaurants and sounded spirited enough to commend a look.
The shops are open late in the mall, until 9pm.
We arrived just after 9pm, so everything was closed and the only places open for trade were a downstairs supermarket and the few fast food restaurants.
Looking around the interior of the mall, considering the taxi driver described it as ‘new’, it certainly wasn’t New in the terms I understand like “recently opened.” It was a bit like the Arndale Centre in Manchester, from the early 1990’s – including the indoor market bit, a little bit tatty, but in an endearing way.
The supermarket was joyously cheap, with a can of coke costing about 12p and biscuits were 30p for the most unusual looking ones.

Deciding to take a wander on the streets outside, looking for the restaurants, but succeeding in the dark only to get a bit lost and find ourselves talking to a girl, who I thought was a boy, who gave us directions to the taxi rank before taking a huge snuffle of glue from a plastic bag.
We didn’t feel threatened or outraged, just a bit sad as she appeared to be quite young, and she wasn’t so addled that her directions were wrong and we felt slightly guilty returning to the luxury surroundings of our hotel.

We did return in daylight to KK, on market day, and had a much more positive experience. The market was set up in streets all around the centre and was bustling almost exclusively with locals, and only a peppering of western faces looking at the stalls that were selling tropical fish, or carvings, or CD’s or souvenir hats or just about anything you want, including meat cleavers.
I had to stoop to look at some of the wares on offer as some of the stallholders had the
“If it’s big enough for me to walk under, it’s big enough for anyone”
approach to deciding how low the tarpaulin roofs should be. This is fine if you are also 5’6”, but expect lawsuits if not.
For dinner, we found the restaurants that we’d heard about in an area by the sea that had at one end, local people with barbecues who would cook and serve your freshly caught or bought fish, and just a short walk away was a collection of restaurants that offered the choices of Indian, Italian, Chinese, Australian, and the obligatory Irish bar.

We were looking for something local, but had been warned to check for the rating of the restaurant before sitting down to eat. All restaurants are rated either A, B or C for cleanliness, ‘A’ being very clean and ‘C’ being lucky to be open. All of the barbecue stalls were ‘C’ and therefore perfectly avoidable.
We found a place rated ‘A’ and were invited to pick our own meal from a wall of fish tanks full of different species of crustaceans and fish that were priced by the kilo..
For 100RMB (£20) including drinks, we ate four dishes, as well as a delicious red snapper that I’d condemned to death with a wave of my finger 10 minutes earlier. It was so good that Birdseye fish fingers have been completely ruined for me.

The weather improved in the second part of the week and we finally had the chance to lie on a lounger under blue skies and toast under the sun reading our books. The pool was large and free formed, with a lagoon section that was hidden away from the volleyball net and the boisterous Japanese wedding party who repeatedly insisted on cheering in unison.
As there was a Spa connected to the hotel, we could have taken the opportunity for some extra pampering treatments, but the treatment prices were on a par with paying for a spa weekend in the UK, at up to £200 for a day’s rubbing with oil, so we spent our money in other ways instead.
Kota Kinablu is nice, if a little underdeveloped compared to European standards, but the shabbiness only adds to the charm of the place and everyone we encountered, even if they were on glue, were extraordinarily friendly and welcoming – there is a custom the locals have to place their hand on their heart each time they say Thank you, or Hello, which gives the impression that they really mean it, and there’s none of the “Have a nice day” Pontin’s false cheerfulness.

Of course, there is really only one reason we chose to spend the second part of our Honeymoon in Borneo and that is the Orang-Utans.
We had already booked one trip to see the orang-utans in Sepilok, and went for two more visits to Rasa Ria with one visit leaving a 9 year old girl with a story to tell her friends that they’ll probably never believe…

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This review was read 492 times and was rated at
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Comments on this review

  • flyingllamas published 10/07/2009
    Good review of an interesting area.
  • blackmagicstar4 published 10/07/2009
    Fab review x
  • HarryKgh published 10/07/2009
    Nicely wriiten review sounds like a nice place.
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Product Information : Kota Kinabalu area (Malaysia)

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Listed on Ciao since: 01/01/2001