During my school days I had read that Borneo is the third largest Island in the world, and that the islanders had been influenced by Hinduism. I had also learnt that it was occupied by the Japanese during the Second World War. Borneo is now divided between three countries – Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei. Since I wanted to see Mt. Kinabalu, the tallest mountain in Borneo, I decided to visit Kota Kinabalu (KK), which is in the province of Sabah in Malaysia.
We arrived at KK on a Sunday. As we checked into our hotel, the receptionist suggested that we visit the Sunday market at Gaya Street, a big tourist attraction.
Gaya Street is very crowded and reminiscent of our own weekly "santhe". Amusing items such as were pups, rabbits, cats, birds, herbal medications, fish in polythene bags, food items, honey, local fruits, plants, musical instruments, flowers, trinkets and others were on sale. The market was overflowing with tourists and it was very hot and sultry. We purchased some trinkets and returned to our hotel.
There are many things to see and do in KK. We chose island-hopping first. There are four islands 5kms off Kota Kinabalu, which together form Tunku Abdul Rahman National Marine Park. The first island we visited was Gaya, known for its tropical forests and hiking trails. The next was Manukan, famous for its beautiful white sandy beaches and water sports.
Mamutik is the smallest island of the Marine Park, but its beaches are popular with tourists. The fourth island, Sapi, was full of tourists, as it is most popular for its scuba diving and snorkelling. The islands have resorts, bars and restaurants. After thoroughly enjoying our visit, we returned to Jesselton Point, the jetty from where we took the speed-boat to the islands. KK was earlier called Jesselton when British ruled it for over 150 years.
In the evening we proceeded to Kokol hills on the outskirts of the town to get an aerial view of KK and to see the sunset. Since it was raining, we came back disappointed. Tourists go to Kokol hills for paragliding also.
The next day we left our hotel early to see Kinabalu National Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Midway through our journey, the majestic mount Kinabalu came into view. This mountain, the tallest in South-East Asia, is part of the park and attracts climbers from all over the world.
To climb the mountain, one has to go on a 23-km long mountain trail. On arrival at the park, we decided against climbing but took a short jungle walk to see the varied flora and fauna of the tropical rain forest.
Later, we went to Kinabalu Botonical Gardens and spotted many orchids, pitcher plants and various botanical species found in the rainforest.
Kundasang is a town 10kms from Kinabalu National Park and is famous for its War Memorial. During the Japanese occupation of Borneo, 2500 prisoners of war from the UK and Australia were held in camps in Borneo. In 1945, the Japanese ordered 536 prisoners at their camp in Sandakan to walk to Ranau (260kms). During this walk, called the 'Death Walk', almost all prisoners died. While a separate memorial park is at Sandakan, Kundasang (near Ranau) also has a memorial, which is built by a New Zealander and is a private property. It is divided into three gardens namely, Australian Garden, English Garden and Borneo Garden and has a plaque containing the names of the martyrs.
After paying homage to the departed, we set off to see Poring Hot Springs located 40kms away. Poring is famous for its hot sulphuric springs known for its therapeutic properties. A number of tanks are constructed where visitors can have a refreshing bath.
When I went to explore a waterfall near the hot spring, I saw a horticulture nursery. The officials there showed me the biggest flower in the world known as Rafflesia Arnoldii. I was told that this rare flower grows up to 7 kilos. The flower does not have any leaves or root or stem. I was fascinated by this flower which survives only for a couple of days. Fully satisfied with the outing, we returned to KK in the night.
The next morning, we saw local attractions City Park, Sabah State Museum, Sabah State Mosque, shopping malls, and later returned to the airport for our return journey.