A week ago, I was in Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah. This ‘fresh as a daisy’ city (as I saw it) is located in the northern part of Borneo. One of the facts that I must share here is that the island of Borneo is the third largest in the world and largest island in Asia and is owned by 3 countries- Brunei, Indonesia & Malaysia. This was my first time in Sabah, a Malaysian state, the one known for its incredible wildlife and diverse ecology. I was there to attend a ‘Mega Fam program’ in conjunction with PATA adventure 2020. Delegates from 11 countries were there and I was representing India along with 7 more writers.
In total we were 36 travel enthusiasts from 11 countries. Well its obvious that the theme of the conference and the mart was adventure, it did not mean that we had to jump off cliffs and prove our mettle. The idea was to exchange ideas around different perspective of adventure, get acquainted with a new culture and explore offbeat offerings of the island. And in my view, Kota Kinabalu was just the right place to indulge and inspire. From gorgeous sunsets to lovely river cruises to proboscis monkey sightings to river rafting, we did it all.
Not to forget, the fear of coronavirus was there but I must say Malaysia Tourism handled it very well. They gave us masks and wipes in our welcome kit. We were reminded to wear masks and sanitize our hands frequently. And most importantly, our temperatures were checked almost everyday. Even PATA took up this topic on the stage and rightfully mentioned that it was high time that we all became more aware of our surroundings and advocate safe and healthy travel.
Delhi to KL to Kota Kinabalu
Kuala Lumpur is one of my favorite capital cities and Malaysian Airlines is my preferred carrier. This time, I was more than glad to travel a little further to Kota Kinabalu. After a layover of three hours, a 2 hours 40 minutes flight from Kuala Lumpur flew me into the region of beaches, rainforests, tribes, unique flora & fauna, mystic sunsets, scenic charm and blossoming street art. In no time, the small town charm, the blend of rustic with swanky malls, cute night markets and unadulterated wilderness grew on me and 5 days felt less.
There are some places which win over your heart with their little charms and you really don’t want to board the return flight too early. Kota Kinabalu was one place which gave me such temptations. I wanted to stay back but it wasn’t possible this time. Hopefully I will return soon.
Highs of my trip!
I must say the trip to Kota Kinabalu turned out to be fabulous because the itinerary was very thoughtfully crafted. There was no rush of any kind. Wherever we went, we had all the time to soak in the little pleasures and enjoy our time purposefully. Slow travel was practiced and I feel its important to focus on quality than quantity. One must pick experiences as per interests and do them well. The theme of our trip was nature, wildlife and adventure. Here are my six highs from the recent Malaysian sojourn.
1. Gorgeous Sunset and Evening Cruise with North Borneo Cruises
The first evening was planned on a North Borneo cruise ship and it set a perfect mood for the rest of the trip. A massive spread of food, medley of songs, great ambiance and breath-taking sunset, everything made for a perfect evening. I had heard that one gets to see amazing sunsets in Sabah but I had no clue that it could give a new meaning to my understanding of joy and blessing. When I saw it myself, I was left both, dazed and awestruck. The aura of the sun, the fiery nature and the changing dynamics of the sky spelled magic. There were moments when I literally surrendered to the surroundings and thanked God for His kind blessings.
2. Visit to Tagal Tinopikon Park
Tagal means no fishing zone and villagers here do not indulge in fishing. This activity acquainted us with the concept of rural tourism when we got see and spend a couple of hours in a forest village in Malaysia. We not only basked in the lap of nature but also hiked to a nearby waterfall, learned about rubber tree sap collection, played local games, did some batik painting and ate fire cooked meal. All in all, it was a very relaxing and immersive experience. Some of my friends enjoyed making friends with toothless fishes and gave their feet to them to chew on. The villagers are prohibited from fishing to keep the habitat of the Moyoq River going. It is one of the most beautiful rivers in Sabah.
3. Klias Wildlife Safari River Cruise
The Klias wetlands are situated 112 kilometers away from the Kota Kinabalu city and they are worth a visit for your love for wildlife. This is the place where one gets to see the proboscis monkey, long tailed macaques, the rare silver languor, and other local inhabitants while taking a cruise ride along the banks of the river. I was really looking forward to seeing these fascinating monkeys for their unusually large nose, a reddish-brown skin color and a long tail. They are endemic to the southeast Asian island of Borneo and are found mostly found in these mangrove forests, where we were cruising.
Initially I thought it would be difficult to spot them but soon we saw the proboscis monkeys as well as long tailed macaques too. In the evening, the sky was lit again with a splendid sunset. After the dinner, we were back in the waters to see the fireflies. I bet, it was a night of realization where we all gave in to the little pleasures of nature.
4. Visit to Mari Mari Cultural Village
All those who swear by cultural experiences must do this. In the remote forest setting in Kionsom, Inanam, this is the walk that will take you through the traditional homes of 5 important Sabahan ethnic communities—the Bajau, Lundayeh, Murut, Rungus and Dusun.
Mari Mari means come, come and this place is a real gem which invites tourists and travelers to come and learn about the cultural diversity of Sabah. I thoroughly enjoyed the little observations inside the houses, the delicacies of the tribal groups and their lifestyle. I would rate Mari Mari cultural village as one of the most authentic experiences in Sabah. This is like going back in time and looking at man’s tryst with evolution.
5. Kiulu River Rafting
It was a green and thrilling Valentines day for me as I did 8 kilometers of river rafting in Kiulu river. On the day when people all over the world were getting mushy over love, I celebrated it by living my passion and doing a little adventure in a new place. This is the longest white water rafting experience in Sabah and its not scary at all. The rapids are of class I and II and therefore this is the place where you can warm up, learn before going for the high grade ones.
The rafting, the lunch, the sun bath and the whole experience of spending the day, amidst the incredible wilderness of Sabah (very close to Mt. Kinabalu too), was incredulously pampering for the mind and body.
6. PATA conference and BORNEO night
The PATA Adventure talks and sessions were meant to discuss anything and everything related to adventure. It was a platform to inspire travel consultants to craft experiences which inspire today’s travelers. The sessions ranged from ‘identifying adventure tourists’, ‘what is adventure tourism’, ‘need of the hours’ to ‘creating meaningful adventures’. All in all, it was an event where every word had a relevance. Each one talked about better future for adventure seekers and travel enthusiasts.
My favorite night of the trip was the Borneo night where everything spoke of the place we were in. The wildlife, the food, art and craft exhibitions, everything resonated with the theme and reminded of island’s verdant forests and traditions.
A detailed version of my river rafting experience, Mari Mari cultural indulgence and street art trail will be shared in the coming up blogs.