Huey Yoong discovers the Land Below The Wind without breaking the bank
We often discount local destinations as a holiday choice simply because travelling to the region and beyond has become very affordable, thanks to recent boom in budget airlines such as AirAsia.
However, our backyard that is Malaysia does offer many gems on holiday checklists, from pristine beaches to numerous natural wonders like national parks and mountains. Not forgetting, our diverse cultures to excellent food found almost everywhere and around the clock.
One such destination that offers all of the above and more is the state of Sabah, also known as ‘Land Below the Wind’ which is situated on the island of Borneo. Its capital city Kota Kinabalu (KK) is home to many world-class luxury resorts like Sutera Harbour, Nexus Karambunai, and Shangri-La Tanjung Aru but that doesn’t mean you need to splurge to enjoy this city.
Backpacking Kota Kinabalu
For starters, KK is a haven for budget travellers because of its great range of value-for-money youth and backpacker hostels. The city is not too large, perfect to explore on foot the different sights and sounds like the historical Atkinson Clock Tower on Signal Hill Road. This all-wood, no-nail structure was built in 1903 in memory of Francis George Atkinson–the popular first District Officer of Jesselton who succumbed to a tropical disease during the British North Borneo Chartered Company Administration.
A short stroll down, the famous Gaya Street comes alive every Sunday morning with vendors displaying their colourful goods, street foods, souvenirs and household products, all ready for some haggling action. Filipino Market is also a great spot to hunt for local souvenirs like pearl jewellery, Sabahan tribal crafts and even dried seafood!
For those who love fresh seafood in a relaxing open-air setting, ‘Kampung Air’ and the Filipino Market by the water offer a great variety of fresh seafood selected by you and cooked in the styles you fancy. The experience of dining outdoors whilst choosing your dinner certainly beats the posh, air-conditioned establishments while adding to the local flavours.
Kota Kinabalu and Sandakan (Sabah’s second largest city) are also home to little coffee shops, famous for their local dishes such as Sabahan ‘Tom Yum’ in KK and ‘Special Fruit Mixed Ice’ in Sandakan. But if you feel like a spot of English tea and scones with a view to die for, be sure to head up the scenic hill to the ‘English Tea House’ in Sandakan. Or to Sutera Harbour Resort or Tanjung Aru for more fantastic sunset without paying a cent! Who says picture-perfect views come at a price?
Eco-tourists will surely be drawn to Mount Kinabalu in Sabah but for those who prefer to just kick back and relax without spending too much on swanky resorts, you can explore the three gorgeous islands flanking the city–Pulau Manukan, Pulau Sapi and Pulau Mamutik in Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park–all within a 15-minute boat ride from Jesselton jetty in KK. Costing less than RM30/pax, you can have your piece of paradise of clear blue waters and ultimate R&R on the beach!
Towards Sandakan, budget travellers can explore a different path–atop the forest canopy, that is! You can enjoy the unspoilt rainforest and get close to its wildlife inhabitants from 110 feet above ground. It certainly is a great outdoor nature experience that does not cost much. Meanwhile, the nearby Poring Hot Springs also offers a relaxing soak in natural springs after all the hike and walk. Sure beats paying through your nose for spa treatments.
Sandakan is a lovely town to explore, mainly famed for being the home of ‘Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary’. An effort to rehabilitate the endangered Orang Utan species back to the wild, the sanctuary directs all funds, including the RM30 entrance fee to the running of the sanctuary.
‘Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary’ is also a worthy visit, especially to appreciate the fragility of wildlife in Borneo and to educate the public on the importance of preserving wildlife for the future. All very worthy of the RM12 entrance fee.
Last but not least, eco-homestays from RM150 per week in places like ‘Sukau’ lets animal lovers enjoy wildlife spotting in their natural habitat, while experiencing day-to-day activities with the natives who have been living with the land for years.
So, the next time you’re wondering where you can go for a holiday on a shoestring, why not consider Sabah? A quick book on www.airasia.com and a short flight later, Sabah is yours to enjoy. Just take nothing but memories
This blog entry is part of AirAsia Bloggers Programme.