Beautiful Kota Kinabalu & Its Compromised Future

November 16, 2017

After relaxing so much in Miri, we were well overdue for some action. Therefore, we decided to end our Malaysian Adventures (click here for our full journey) by embarking a turboulous flight to Kota Kinabalu. On arrival, we checked-in at our accommodation as usual, and dropped our bags before going our next adventure. In KK, we stayed at the Bunk Boutique Hostel, fabulously located on Gaya Street, close to EVERYTHING.

Enjoyed our time at this hostel!

The market lover I am, was pleased to visit the Filipino Market a few hundreds meters away, and then walk to the Handicraft market. After a good look, we ended the crawl at the Night Seafood and Wet Markets for a snack. Our belly full of seafood (or torturing Wyliam, your pick), we strolled accross Durian Street (don’t know what a Durian is click on that link). Now, we don’t really like Durian as it as a strong putrid smell. It was still a delight to look at all the stalls lining the street and watching people sitting for a durian meal. We ended our evening back on Gaya street for some local deliciousness at Roots (which according to Google is now closed…). Wyliam ate a hainanese chicken and I went for nasi lemak Both are delicious and widely common in Malaysia, and the nasi lemak is even recognize as a national dish.

On Saturday night, we had an event to attend: the Kota Kinabalu Tattoo Covention. After visiting a small convention in Miri, we were please to see all the many international artists at this one. All of them are talented, but Iris Lam from Gazelle Tattoo Hong Kong retained my attention. Her style is peculiar and original, and I might just book an appointment with her soon! We also met a gifted french artist with who we spent the rest of the night, as well as the next one, eating and drinking. When we decided to head back home, many people where starting to crowd the street to prepare their stands. Little did we know, this would be a huge market.

And few hours of sleep later,

It got pretty hard to sleep as the Sunday Market was in full swing outside. Wyliam simply plugged his ears and kept sleeping. I couldn’t do other than get up and dress to attend, yet another market. This one was the best of them all thought! The Gaya Street Sunday Market is the perfect place to indulge in some fresh fruits while strolling along the street to look at the many stalls. Clothes, fruits, arts, souvenirs, local delicacies, and pets (!?), are line in four rows to cover the entire street.

Having slept so little, I was a bit grumpy at first but that was quickly fixed when I bought some delicious and cheap Jackfruit (click on me if you are wondering what in the world I am). Quick intro to this fellow pal: ripe jackfruit pods have a creamy custard like texture, and taste like a banana, a pineapple and a mango had a children. YUMMO! So on I went eating my pods while looking at all the diverse goods around me. I bought a really nice rompers (which sadly shrinked in the washing), some more fruits and henna.

I came back at the hostel (which doorstep was directly in the market) to a lovely sleepy face in need of breakfast. What would be better than a high tea for a late brunch? Nothing, exactly! That’s why we went on our way to Cafe Fifty5 at Tong Hing at the end of our street. The menu is extensive and they offer bistro food from all over the place. From Japanese pastries to French egg Benedict passing by Italian risotto, you are covered.

We sat down in the sunlit cafe, passed our order and waited patiently while planning with our dear Lonely Planet book. As Wyliam’s first high tea, it went pretty well. He even said he would be ready to repeat the experience…YAY! After that, we had a look at the fine imported foods isles of the joined supermarket, to stock up for our apéro. Even if the products are priced on the high side, they are good quality and just what we wanted: wine, good quality cheese & baguette and fine cold cuts.

We continued the evening on a high standard of food with a stop at Kedai Kopi Kinabalu. This place was like a small gathering of three hawkers in a local. With plenty of locals there days and night, we decided to give it a go. I went for the classic Sarawak Kuching Laksa and all its marvelous flavors, while my other half went for Ngiu Chap, basically noodles and beef. Both our meals were delicious, and it was a nice place to relax after a long day.

Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park Tour

Early the next day, we headed to the Jesselton Point Ferry Terminal to buy tickets and take the ferry for Island hoping. As we discovered in the Lonely Planet Southeast Asia on a Shoestring guide the day before, island hoping is the THING TO DO in Kota Kinabalu. Surely we couldn’t miss the opportunity!

When you arrive to the ferry, they give you a few options like how many islands of the park you want to visit, and a choice of gear to help you enjoy the day. We went for a two island tour, namely Sapi and Manukan islands. We didn’t get any snorkeling gear, life jackets or anything else they were offering, but we should have. On the islands they also present you such gear. And for the same price. But, you have to leave it on the island before you board for the next one. Bummer. I would have like to take the snorkeling equipment I rented on Sapi to Manukan. The gear you rent at the ferry, give you the option to be kept all day. Go for it, and learn from my mistakes.


It was a cloudy day, but the sun still managed to come out while we visited Sapi. The sun rays really made a difference, as the water got crystal blue and shinny. So off course, I had to rent some snorkeling gear to discover the famous coral of these waters. Wyliam is not a fan of underwater exploration, so he went for a swim while I was at it. After a bit, we came out of the water to hike one of the track of the island. During the 30 minutes walk, we passed trough dense tropical jungle and saw other coasts of the island. Back at the port, we had to give back the gear before taking the boat for the next island.

Reckless Behavior on the Islands

Manukan Island was a bit more crowded than the first island, and with reason. There is a resort on it, as well as basics shops & cafes and various water activities for tourists. We went for simplicity and indulge in a long swim in the muddy looking water (bye, bye sun!). While we were at it, a group of local were busy removing rubbish from the water, and pilling it on a kayak… This might just give you an idea of the state of the water. True to our curious nature, we couldn’t help but ask where all these debris came from.

They told us it was all the garbage from the residents of Gaya Island who littered the water so badly. Having no knowledge of their impact on the environment, they throw all their dump in the water. While we helped them collecting the waste, one of the guys told us they do that every morning and afternoon because there is so much of it. Plus, they find plain everything: light bulbs, plastic wrappings, clothes, name it and they will find it.

The city council of Kota Kinabalu is well aware of this littering, and take initiative to clean the water to retain tourism in the area. The minister of tourism, culture and environment, is scared that all this pollution might drive tourists to other destination if there is no improvement in the near future. Unfortunately, the rubbish doesn’t stay on the shores of Gaya Island but floats away to the other islands and mainland. The boys also said they are not the only one taking initiative as a good part of their community helps with it too. They have hope for the future, and the Gaya island environment education.

Boarding the boat one last time, we enjoyed the tumultuous ride (trust me, don’t eat before) with an opened eye on the reality of the water surrounding us.

All things considered,
Getting ready for our last meal in KK @Party Play Lifestyle Cafe on Gaya St

Ending our Malaysia journey in Kota Kinabalu was a great idea. I had the chance to splurge in my market love, we ate highly tasteful local dishes and learned about the pollution reality. KK, we will see each other again!

If you’ve been to Kota Kinabalu, we would like to hear from your experience! If on the other hand, you want to go, and have questions, don’t be shy and ask them!

À plus,


Don’t forget to Pin me before you go!

By Lea Tess

Right after graduating from a Arts & Science Bachelor in 2015, I took the first plane to China with my partner. Since then, we have visited many countries, lived in Australia and, currently, in New Zealand. I am passionate about food and making memories!

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