Kota Kinabalu

The city Kota Kinabalu (KK, formerly known as Jesselton) has a population of 600,000 and lies directly at the South China Sea. It is a lively city with some great places to eat and if you are into good, fresh and cheap seafood the filipino barbecue stalls at the large night market may very well become one of your favorite spots in all of Borneo. There are many good restaurants at the waterfront east of the market but they are all made for tourists and pretty expensive. Some of the chinese coffee shops in town offer pretty cheap beer in the evenings (3 cans for RM12) and we had a quite few sets with Leon and Julie.

Sunset at the waterfront

We absolutely loved the sweet, yellow mango they sell at the markets btw. Beware if you‘re german and like Mangos though, you won‘t touch the stuff they sell in Germany again after you had one of these!

Near the jetty, KK

KK also has some good beaches, some west of the city at the coast and many more on the 5 tropical islands of Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park, which can be reached in 30 minutes from the jetty in the eastern part. It is also the city closest to Kinabalu National Park (90km, 2h by bus or minivan) which surrounds the impressive 4095m mountain that towers above Sabah and gave both the park and the city their names: Mount Kinabalu.

The city has more tourists than any other place we visited and almost everything costs a bit more there btw. And it has by far the worst traffic.

Houses in KK

We stayed in KK for 7 nights but this number is misleading because it includes 3 day trips to Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park, 1 day trip to Kinabalu National Park and a tour to Lok Waki Wildlife Park. The latter was surprisingly good with many local animals and a great aviary.

large Birdie at the aviary, Lok Waki Wildlife Park

Sumatran Tiger, Lok Waki Wildlife Park

Salt water crocodiles, Lok Waki Wildlife Park

Bandar Seri Begawan

Bandar Seri Begawan is the capital of the tiny and oil-rich state Brunei. It’s not far from Miri in Sarawak, the long distance bus took about 3h. The city center doesn‘t real feel like the center of a south-east asian city: it has no narrow streets with tiny and chaotic shops but looks planned and almost has some business district feel to it during the day. We didn‘t feel at home there at first but the city turned out to have some interesting spots and we had 3 great days there.

We already caught a glimpse of two of the great mosques of the city from the bus and both are definitely worth visiting. You can‘t miss the elegant Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque right in the city center. It’s close to the water villages in the western part of the city center and makes an impressive sight both at day and at night, when it is lit in orange and green.

Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque

The Jame‘Asr Hassanal Bolkia Mosque is a 15 minutes bus ride from the center. It’s the largest mosque of the country and looks very impressive with the surrounding gardens and the golden roof. Non-muslims are allowed entrance outside of prayer times.

Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque at night

We were a bit lucky I guess because we arrived some days after the Sultan’s 65th birthday and thus got to see parts of the celebrations. I even managed to get a photo of the man himself! ;) He is a great hero and the city was paved with photos of him. You can check all the presents he was given by important people like the Queen of England in the Royal Regalia Museum (beware of the air con though, a pullover won‘t hurt in there — even though it’s hard to imagine wearing one on your way there).

It’s the Sultan!

A large and good night market with good and cheap food is held (daily it seems, but maybe it was related to the Sultan’s birthday) around Taman HJ Sir Muda Omar Ali Saifuddien, some small stadium-like open space used for official ceremonies directly in the city center.

Speed boat and water villages (Kampung Air)

When you get close to the waterfront boat drivers will offer you 1h tours of the water villages of the area for 20 Brunei dollars per boat (~12€, we went with 4 people). These tours are definitely worth it as you‘ll get a close-up view of this large part of the city and see the floating mosques of Brunei. They aren‘t exactly floating but built on stilts like all the other houses and buildings in the area including fire and police stations, schools and petrol stations.

Houses on stilts at the water village west of the city center

On our last day in Brunei we took the speed boat to Bangar for a great ride through a narrow maze of passages in the mangroves. We considered to go to the Peraayan Forest Reserve from there but everything was closed, most likely due to the Sultan’s birthday. So we had lunch and went back to BSB after a very short look at the small town.

Gunung Mulu NP, Part 2: The Rainforest

The caves are what makes Gunung Mulu stand out from other National Parks in Borneo, but the rainforest is also pretty good. There are and 3 longer trails which require a guide and will take from 2 to 4 days: the Pinnacles Route to the Gunung Api area, The Headhunter’s Trail towards Limbang and the Summit Trail to 2300m Gunung Mulu. Access to these trails is limited by availability of guides and accommodation, especially at Camp 5 for the Pinnacles and Headhunter’s. We had 5 days at the park and tried to book one of them immediately when we arrived but all were fully booked, so we explored the area around park HQ in detail and did some adventure caving.

Apart from that there are some ok trails around park HQ, most of which branch off the 3km plankwalk that leads to Deer Cave. The first path on the left after leaving park HQ is a small and winding plankwalk through an interesting forest section (there is a sign that reads ‚Nighttrail‘). It meets with the Moonmilk Trail after about 1km and if you walk left at the junction you‘ll come back to park HQ after another 400m, making this a circular path. We took this trail several times, both at day and night with a very bright torch. We found various lizards, geckos, cicadas, stick insects, leaf insects, several tree frogs species, spiders, giant crickets and many other strange insects.


Some insect

molting cicada

My favorite find was Wagler’s Pit Viper though:

A juvenile specimen of Wagler’s Pit Viper (Tropidolaemus wagleri)

The Paku Waterfall Trail leads to a small waterfall (surprise!) and it is the only path that is neither a plankwalk nor paved near park HQ. The waterfall is not that exciting so the path is the goal. We took the path twice and the second time it started raining like hell when we were at the waterfall, about 2.5km from HQ. Puddles formed and merged until the path resembled a swamp but we had forgotten to bring the umbrella and where completely soaked anyway so in the end we gave up on trying to avoid the mud and water and just walked straight through. It was fun, the forest was interesting and we met very few people on this trail (not only when it rained) so this ‚Rain trail‘ is highly recommended. ;)

Tree frog

The last trail is the one that passes through Moonmilk cave and onwards to Cave of the Wind and Clearwater cave. It follows the river you cross when entering the park in a straight line of about 2km. We saw tons of lizards, a small brown ground-dwelling snake and many large and very colorful butterflies. Bring a torch for Moonmilk Cave.

Butterflies on the trail to Moonmilk Cave

There also is a bird watching tower close to park HQ (get the key for a deposit at HQ) and you can sign up for a canopy skywalk, which is great and shouldn‘t be missed. We went at 7 in the morning and were alone with our guide. We saw squirrels, small birds and an impressive pit viper, enjoyed the forest in silence and had a great time.

Canopy Skywalk

adult specimen of Wagler’s Pit Viper (Tropidolaemus wagleri) resting in the canopy