This year, Husband embargoed our family from travelling before Christmas as he was involved in a Christmas event at church. Prices of hotels & airfare tend to rise after Christmas as this is a popular period for travel. Hence, we decided to try to go somewhere nearby. This was also because we had Esther with us, and she's still not yet 2.5years old.
Kota Kinabalu seemed like a relaxed, laid back place, only a 2.5 hour flight away. We had read about the fantastic beaches in islands just a skip and a hop away from the waterfront, and true enough, Sapi Island was stunning. We stayed at the Pacific Sutera, a hotel that together with the Magellan and the Pacific Marina, form a trinity of hotels by the waterfront. On the first day, we went island hopping and it was so convenient to be able to hop onto a boat just outside the hotel.
It was Daniel's and Benjamin's first time snorkelling. Daniel was able to do it quite quickly, but Ben found the snorkelling mouthpiece very uncomfortable. It was probably too big, so he ended up snorkelling with just goggles, a life vest and flippers. I really liked snorkelling as a family! It was nice to hold hands while floating in the water, and frantically jab at fish all around us while our life vests safely held us up & we could breathe easy through the mouthpiece. Esther, of course, stayed by the sand--Husband's sister was travelling with us, and both her & Esther had lots of fun sunbathing. Check out the pictures around here.
The other amazingly fun thing we did was to take a steam train ride on the North Borneo Railway. This railway is an old school steam train that has been retrofitted much like the Orient Express, only it is much more affordable. The train left Kota Kinabalu, hugged the coast for a while (providing stunning views), then stopped at 2 Malay towns. Husband bought kampung durians to try, while the kids begged us to buy BEYBLADES they found at an open air market in one of the towns!! The service provided by the train was excellent. A cold towel was provided everytime we alighted and boarded the train again. They also served breakfast and a lovely tiffin lunch, with more than enough food for us. And... this really sold it--they served ice cream after lunch!!!
It was super fun being on a train, riding aimlessly into the forest, going through ancient tunnels, and wandering through Malay towns. The kids kept occupied with the colouring & sketch pads I had brought along, while the adults had some downtime to just sit, enjoy the breeze and scenery and chat. This was definitely the highlight of the trip for me--a totally nua but very enjoyable experience! Check out pictures around here.
The last activity we really enjoyed was the river cruise down the Klias River, where we spotted proboscis monkeys & fireflies. The boat we travelled on was nice and huge, sturdy enough for active kids. To get to the boat & the river, we had to take a 2.5 hour bus ride from the hotel--I was bit nervous about this, but turns out, all my kids feel asleep quite easily on the bus, including Daniel who never naps these days! The nap came in handy as the tour ended around 7, and we got back to the hotel by 9+! Although it was such a tiring outing, I totally enjoyed the fireflies, which lit up the trees like Christmas trees. There were just so many of them, and they were all sparkling and twinkling away. It was really wonderful! Though I didn't manage to capture pictures of the fireflies, you can check out our boat ride here.
All in all, I enjoyed Kota Kinabalu though I must say that it is a very very laid back town and the downtown area looks much like Johor Bahru, or (possibly) even more run down & dirty. It is definitely not a bright lights-big city type place, and don't expect great shopping or delicious food or anything. Local food consisted mostly of soupy noodles or fried noodle. Yaaaawn.
That said, it was definitely a nice relaxed break and we were glad that the kids had enough to do to last a few days. I'm not sure if we'd go back, especially because the highlight of Kota Kinabalu--the climbing of the mountain itself--is something our kids won't be able to all do till later. But thank God for giving us an enjoyable holiday!