Thursday, September 1, 2011

[KOTA KINABALU] That’s Like, So Halimaw sa Banga

Kota Kinabalu is our perennial stopover, the city of the connecting flight to Sarawak since there are no direct flights from Manila to Miri. Our usual routine here is to get a taxi after clearing immigration, head to the hotel or guest house, sleep, grab a taxi the next morning, and fly out. For some weird reason, I have flight bookings to and from Kota Kinabalu which would entail a few days of stay here. My parents have been consistent in persuading me to just rebook my Air Asia flight so I could go and stay with them longer. I declined. This time I'll explore. This time I'll get to know KK.

It only took the whole afternoon to visit the few tourist spots clustered around the Bandaraya. KK’s city center is compact, and like your tourism leaflet will tell you, you can get from one edge to the other in just 30 minutes on foot. I did exactly that in just 20, although I was in a hurry because it was drizzling. The guest house was located near KKIA’s terminal 2 which is near Tanjung Aru beach. All of them are within walking distance from one another. The city center can be reached by bus, 16A to be exact, but they are not frequent. I tried walking from Tanjung Aru to the city center the next day and it took me around 45 minutes. By bus it would take you around 25 if you factor in time spent on stops and fare collection by the driver. Most of the guest houses are located at Australia Place towards the center of the city center, which make them oh so accessible to the malls and other tourist attractions in the vicinity.

If you are staying somewhere else far from the city center, like near the airport, the bus would most likely take you to Terminal Warisan which is the common terminus for almost all of the buses in the city. This terminal is located across a mall near the coast. If Jesselton Point (ferries) occupies the northeastern edge of the city center, Wawasan Terminal occupies the northwestern spot. Walking time between the two is around 30 minutes on average. You can check the many malls nearby or just take a stroll at the unfinished boulevard along the bay. A mall will soon rise in that area as indicated on a giant billboard facing Hotel Promenade.

Walk all the way to Jesselton Point and you'll see some interesting sights such as the Marina Court (group of condominium buildings facing the bay), more malls like Warisan Square (open air like Alabang Town Center) and Centre Point behind it, as well as the Waterfront which is an area where night clubs and karaoke pubs light up the bay in the evening. You’ll know you have reached the middle of the road when you see the giant sword fish statue which is the centerpiece of the roundabout. Continue walking towards Jesselton Point and you’ll find yourself at Suria Sabah, a newly constructed mall that looks like most malls in KL.

The Atkinson Tower looks tall in photos. It’s not. Pictures are good liars, and even buildings know their good angle. Still, it is a sight to behold. In fact, a couple was posing in front of it while I was hiking. Cool. Once you reach that tower, Signal Hill will be nearby, or maybe that depends on your definition of near. There are no buses plying that route on the hill so the only alternative is via taxi. As for me, I just walked and got there in less than half an hour. The view is from the observations decks is not that spectacular but just enough to give you a good bird’s eye view of KK's City Center. When you go downhill, you will see the observation decks from below if you stand by the Sabah Tourism Bureau, a building that also merits a space on your camera’s memory card.

En route to Penampang between the City Center and the airport are other tourism attractions that you might want to visit. Most of them are museums but one of Sabah’s mosque’s can also be found there. Since I had nowhere to go and I was so lazy to travel, I decided to just check them out during my third day of stay. No hassles, just pure walking and sightseeing.

Entrance to the Heritage Village is inclusive in the fee that you pay upon entrance to the museum. I am now going to let you in a few secrets. Pinoys and Malays (those who are neither half-Indian nor half-Chinese) look alike. What does this mean? Shut up when it’s your turn at the counter and just withdraw your wallet. The ticket boy will most likely issue you a ticket meant for locals which is much cheaper than what they charge for foreigners. What gave me away? I was supposed to ask “Heritage Village dah termasuk?” but somehow what came out of my mouth was “Is Heritage Village included?” The ticket boy suddenly gave me a confused look and realized what I really was. Foreigner ticket for me.

There is nothing much to see in Sabah Museum because some areas are under renovation. There is a giant skeleton of a whale as a centerpiece for the lounge. That one is just huge and I can’t keep my gaze off its jaw. I could fit in there. I’m so whale food. Head left and you'll find an exhibit on local costumes worn by different tribes. Most of the clothes in there are for wedding purposes. They are nice to look at and the headdresses look exquisite too. Upstairs are jars. Burial jars.

You might want to visit early if you are interested in those things. As for me I dread the idea of getting locked in that museum with the company of those burial jars and playing tag with Katutubo Ghosts. Sorry, but that is so not my idea of fun. Hello, that’s like so Halimaw Sa Banga. Mother Lily is to blame for this, not because she sort of resembles a Katutubo Ghost, but because she’s responsible for those 90’s horror movies. Big jars, regardless of their design, have always had the same impact on me. I always tend to imagine that Lilia Cuntapay would suddenly jump out from one of those and chase me across the living room. Regal shocker.

The Heritage Village will bore you if you are already used to seeing Nipa Huts. Assuming that you also come from the Philippines, I think we’ve seen enough from where we come from. Besides, most of them look similar: wooden material, thatched roofs. You know the drill. However, there is one area there where there is a big pond surrounded by the houses. A pavilion can be found at the middle connected to the surface by bridges. It won’t give any Chinese pavilion-on-the-pond attraction a run for its money, but the setting just looks lovely. The mosquitoes think so too, while they feast on your blood.

An interesting attraction is that Nipa Hut that houses human skulls hung on the ceiling. I might try to contact the interior designer when it’s time to build my own abode. Why skulls? Apparently, it is believed in some cultures that hanging skulls like trophies is a sign of prestige. I wonder if the individuals to whom those skulls once belonged thought so, too. But then what really is the point of caring when you’ve already been beheaded anyway, right?

Entrance to the Islamic Museum is not included in the fee and the building itself is a bit far from the other museums, although they are connected by several inroads. If you are interested in Islam, I think that museum has a lot to offer. I just snapped a photo of the building and walked away towards the City Center to check out KK Times Square, half of which is still under construction. There is nothing much to see there unless construction cranes amuse you.

Walk farther west to reach Sutera Harbor where two hotels (Pacific Sutera and Magellan Sutera) as well as a golf and country club can be found. Entrance to the hotel lobbies are probably free. Just act like you are a potential client and dress the part. It is said that ferries to Manukan depart from Sutera Harbor, although the fees charged must be higher than Jesselton’s because of the location.

After this, there really won’t be much left to see in KK unless you go on bus trips that'll eat up more than an hour of your time. You can see Rafflesias if they are in bloom, climb Mt. Kinabalu or visit Borneo’s Malaysian islands, one of which, Pulau Tiga, was used as a venue for Survivor. These can be found in the South China Sea. On the other side of the coast are more islands like Sipadan. Perfect for diving! Just make sure that no Abu Sayyaff is diving with you.

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