Sabah Trip 2017

For our annual family holiday this year, we’ve decided to go to Sabah in the east part of Malaysia. For a family with kids in school, going for a holiday anywhere require you to factor in school holidays and costs. I’ve always thought plane tickets to anywhere would not be cheap during school holidays. I mean they’re always on demand during holidays so usually they would jack up the price for sure. My wife however was very resolute and determined to get cheap tickets for this trip. She would constantly look for news of travel deals and promo codes and her persistence paid off when in a stroke of luck she found a return flight to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah for just RM198 each. What’s more she even invited her sister’s family, parent and one other sister for the trip making it a 13-member trip.

To get the promo price, we had to book and pay for the tickets 8 months in advance. Book in March but only fly in October. I didn’t plan for the itinerary until a month before. Eight months is a long time and a lot can happen if I plan too early. I booked for a 2 nights stay in Kota Kinabalu via Airbnb and the Kundasang overnight stay via Google search. Yes this trip is going to cover the state capital and also the Kundasang highlands. We also booked a van and a car for this trip. A 15-seater Nissan Urvan and also a Proton Saga. The van alone could probably fit all 13 of us but it will be packed with passengers and luggages and I’m not sure it will be a comfortable 4 hours return trip to Kundasang hence why we booked the extra car. The van cost RM250 per day and the Saga FLX cost another RM120 per day.

It was going to be a 4 days trip. First day in Kota Kinabalu (KK), second day in KK and Kundasang. Third day in Kundasang and KK and the final day in KK only. We chose to park in Putrajaya Sentral’s Park and Ride facility and take the ERL Transit train to KLIA from there. The parking lot cost only 6 ringgit per day which is pretty reasonable and way cheaper than to park near KLIA itself. The one way ERL Transit ticket cost RM9.40 for adults and RM4.20 for children with further discounts for senior citizens. The train comes every 20 minutes so we didn’t have to wait long and the entire ride took only about 30 minutes. This is the second time we went on a plane, at least for my family but the first time using KLIA. Baggage check in with Malindo Air went on smoothly who provided a generous 30 kilo per person baggage allowance. And after going through the usual immigration security checks we were waiting for our flight to depart at the departure gate.

The flight from KLIA to KK was 2 hours and 30 minutes long. It’s the longest fight we’ve been on and Malindo Air was kind enough to include snacks (pizza slice, cup cake and drinks) for the journey. There’s also inflight entertainment so the kids could occupy themselves with that during the flight. We touched down smoothly in KKIA around 5 o’clock. Immigration into Sabah was also smooth, we just had to submit our MyKad for checking and registration. And since I’m not on any ban list, I could walk in into Sabah without any incidents. Our rental van contact was already on site to hand over the van and the keys. Since it was already dark by 6:00 PM in KK, we decided to stop by for dinner at a restaurant nearby. Just our luck, we chanced upon the most expensive restaurant in the neighbourhood so it seems. A meal cost RM8 on average and for our group, RM120 in total. I know everything is slightly more expensive in Sabah but I never thought it would be this expensive.

Anyway, we checked in into an apartment unit in Cyber City which cost RM202 per night, 20 ringgit cheaper if you contact the host directly. It got 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms with 4 beds and 3 airconds. A pretty good deal for a large family like us. Since its raining and it’s already late, we didn’t go anywhere in KK that first day. On the second day, our first stop was non other than the weekly Gaya Street market. The itinerary says we’ll be spending an hour there tops before heading to Kundasang. But then you know how it is with women, an hour is definitely not enough for shopping.

2 hours later we finally depart for Kundasang, stopping at the famous upside down house in Tamparuli for a while. The funny thing was, we didn’t exactly go into the upside down house but bought tickets into the 3D Wonders Museum next door instead. Entry into the upside down house cost RM10 each but you cannot take pictures and there’s warning abound about fines if you do take pictures. The entire house is not that interesting really, just a regular house with everything fixed and decorated upside down. But the no taking pictures policy was the real deal-breaker. I suppose they want to build some sort of intrigue so that only those who came can really see the interior of the house? Well reading the TripAdvisors reviews, the majority that did so were not impressed. Does the Mona Lisa lost its appeal after being photographed a million times? I don’t think so. So we went into the 3D Wonders Museum instead where they do allow you to take pictures. This one though cost twice the price of the upside down house. Here they make paintings with subtle 3D effects which were interesting to say the least. Personally I’d skip this one attraction entirely but the others were keen to visit so rule of majority.

Annasuha homestay

Our next stop was supposed to be the renown Tamparuli bridge but since we’re already off schedule and we had a lunch appointment with my mother who also happens to be in Kundasang, we had to skip that one. The trip to Kundasang was long and winding and uphill but it’s not bad. Comparable with a trip to Cameron Highlands, including the pot holes and patches of bad roads. One thing for sure its really cold and windy in Kundasang. I learned that it is the windy and rainy season in the highlands this time of the year so it was expected. The temperature hovers around 16°C during the day and drops to 12°C in the evening. That’s even cooler than Cameron Highlands. Apart from that, Kundasang is also way better than Cameron in term of environment and nature. The hills are much less spoilt with vegetables farms and landslides. There’s a lot more greenery than hotels or houses. I hope it stays that way for a long time. We stayed at the Annasuha homestay which cost RM250 a night which is slightly cheaper than the normal rate of RM300 and above for the area. It’s a pretty basic homestay which is attached to the main house but it did have 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. We were alarmed at first to know that there’s no regular water supply from the main pipe and they’re using rain water in blue tanks for the entire house. Thankfully, that was enough to provide water for the duration of our stay. Another grand achievement of the ruling BN government - failing to provide even the basic necessary utilities like running water.

Although late, we decided to visit the Kinabalu Park anyway which was on the itinerary list. The park was already closed at 5:00 PM but we drove in anyway for a quick tour. Actually I have no idea where the park begins or end but I just follow the road uphill until I see the entrance to the Kinabalu trail. It was already dark by 6:00 PM but we managed to snap some photos at the memorial site and also the entrance to mount Kinabalu trail. Next we visited Kundasang town and stopped for a drink and some roti canai. Did I say the place was really cold and windy?

The next day, first thing on our agenda was the Desa Dairy Farm in Mesilau, which is just a short drive from Kundasang. We arrived a bit early at 7:00 AM and the gates didn’t open until an hour later. Entry fee is 5 ringgit for adults and 4 ringgits for children. The entire farm looks really beautiful with the magnificent mount Kinabalu as the backdrop. Sure you can smell the stink from the cow barns a mile away but that’s part of the charm and experience on the farm. We had some fresh milk and gelatos there and went on to feed some calves and kids. Overall it was a memorable experience at the dairy farm.

Afterward we drove for about 40 minutes to Poring hot spring. As you guessed it, it’s a natural hot spring area created from rocks heated from the earth’s mantle. You don’t actually go dip into the actual hot springs, they’re way too hot. They’ve made about a dozen bath tubs with hot water from the spring and regular cold stream water so you can control the water temperature. Apart from that there’s also a couple of artificial pools created from the streams nearby. I would recommend this one. Ticket is only 3 ringgit for adults and one ringgit for children.

From the hot spring we drove straight to Tagal Sungai Moroli fish spa. It is one of those places that I’d be happy to skip if it was up to me. Basically you pay 5 ringgit to let some mahseer fish nibble dead skins off your feet. You’ve seen them in malls but this time it is all natural in the stream. What’s more, to take pictures of the fishes, you’ll have to pay them another 3 ringgit. What a ripoff. Well I did skip this one, I just drove there and let anybody who’s interested with the fish spa go in. After that we head on to the Sabah Tea Garden which is a tea plantation in the Ranau district. It is situated just next door to the fish spa, you take a rough dirt road to the plantation. Unlike the one in Cameron, the Sabah Tea plantation area is not as cool as the former. Perhaps it’s right in the middle of the afternoon when we visit. Either way, we didn’t spend too long there since there’s not much to do except take pictures, walk among the tea plants and buy some tea sachets.

For this Kundasang trip, there’s another two places on the itinerary that we skipped - the Tamparuli bridge and the Kundasang War memorial. As we were leaving the Sabah Tea plantation, it started to rain a little and then quite heavily as we drove by Kundasang. We decided to skip the war memorial and go straight to KK. Driving in the rain was a bit of a challenge, not to mention the heavy fog in some parts. But I survived. Attention to the road and not speeding is key.

In KK we drove straight to the city waterfront for some seafood dinner. My Twitter friend suggested Welcome Seafood in the middle of the city but I chose the waterfront food court instead. I’m not really big on seafoods but since the others wanted it I just went along. We ate at Haji Manja place. For a 13 person meal of fishes and prawns, the damage was RM260. Crazy I know, there’s no way I’m paying that much just for food. However since somebody else is covering much of the cost, I’m not complaining. Before heading back to the apartment, we stopped by the night market and also the filipino market also known as the handicraft market. The wife had to shop for some amplang (fish cracker snack) and other souvenirs for friends and family back home.

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On the final day, we had an early flight back home to KL. From 12:00 PM, it was rescheduled earlier to 11:25 AM so we had little time to do anything much in the city. That said, I still went out just with the wife for a morning stroll in KK. We parked along Gaya street and walked to the waterfront and back. Our van almost got a ticket from the city hall officers. Lucky I managed to run to the van a buy some parking coupons from right across the street. Before leaving, we had some breakfast at the famous Fook Yuen restaurant. The halal dim sum was superb, also the “roti kahwin” toast and cold teh tarik.

Check in and immigration for the return trip went on smoothly. We were on board another Malindo Air flight this time without any inflight entertainment but we still got snacks. Like before, we took the ERL Transit train back to Putrajaya Sentral where we parked our car. The charge for 4 days parking was only RM20 ringgit. A real bargain. 4 days in Sabah is definitely not enough to to explore so many places of interest in the state. Although I get to visit much of the places on our itinerary, there’s so many others that we wished we had visited. A proper visit should take a week at least but then time and budget was not on our side. Overall it has been a memorable visit to Sabah. Will I come again in the future? For sure. Maybe not to Kundasang again but other places in KK and the surrounding districts.

Some notes of my maiden voyage to Sabah:

1. There’s a lot of car rental services provided by the locals. Make sure you get one from a reputable provider. Check their blogs, website or Facebook pages and read the comments. All will require you to pay a deposit and provide some ID and driving license. Take some pictures of the exterior of the car in case of disputes arising later. To get in touch with the one I hired, see the trip itinerary below. Driving an large van like the Nissan Urvan is not that difficult since the controls are just the same as any other manual transmission vehicles. However the seat is a lot higher and the driving experience requires some getting used to. Make sure you don’t fill up with petrol because this one uses diesel as fuel. I’m sure the owner will inform you beforehand.

2. Sabah and Sarawak has its own special immigration policy and although you’re from the same country, you’re still required to go through some immigration checks. Unless you’re a controversial opposition leader or public figure who are somehow on the banned list, you should get clearance into the state with relative ease. All you need to submit is your MyKad/MyKid for checking. And make sure you don’t lose the immigration entry slip that was issued during arrival. You might get into problems when departing if you do.
By the time my iPad finished searching for a network manually, I would have done eating

3. Unifi (Webe) telephone and Internet coverage was excellent and consistently reliable throughout my stay from KK to Ranau. I got LTE in the city and also around Kundasang and Ranau. Other times it 3G but my data connection is still acceptable. My other Umobile line on the iPad however was horrendous. In the city I only got 3G connection and even then the Internet connection was spotty at best and non-existent most of the time. I’d be surprised if it’s not the least popular network provider down there. Away from the city, you’ll be greeted with the dreaded E for Edge sign. Forget about even using Umobile in Sabah.

4. Perhaps its geographic or logistic, but mostly everything in Sabah is a bit more pricey than in the peninsular. We were unlucky to step foot into the most expensive restaurant just outside KK called Restoran Baiduri Thai Seafood. The food was meh but it was expensive AF. Checking on Foursquare beforehand is great to gauge the price and the quality of the food. Too bad I forgot to do that that fateful evening. Cooking is a great way to save on your budget. Find a homestay or guesthouse that provide kitchen, stove and cooking/eating utensils. Although some people said it’s hard to find food in Kundasang, I actually found a few halal restaurants in Kundasang town for us to eat, no problem.

5. When choosing flight time, it is always good to depart early in the morning and return back late in the evening. You want to spend the most time in your destination city and not having to rush to catch the early flight home would be super. That said, be careful if you plan of using the train like ERL Transit. The last train home is 12:20 AM so if you arrive later than that, no train for you!

6. Everything is an hour early in Sabah. Although we’re in the same time zone, everything feels an hour early in Sabah. Sunrise is around 6:00 AM and by 7:00 AM it’s already bright as day. The same applies for lunch time, sunset and dinner. Plan your schedule accordingly. Some places of interest close early so make sure you don’t arrive too late.

7. Inflight entertainment is godsend for flights with kids. However not all flights have it so the good all way of downloading movies and TV shows on iPads and tablets is the way to go. Else you might have a few restless kids on your flight with you and not forgetting the long drive to your destinations.

8. As always, whenever I’m on a vacation, I’m torn between visiting the popular touristy places and paying a premium for something that is in essence a tourist trap or skipping it altogether. Some people would argue what’s the point of visiting a faraway place if you don’t see or do what people usually do? I try to strike a balance between those two. If the place or thing is really unique and interesting, I would pay to go see or do it. If it’s just too cliché or mainstream, I’d probably skip it. As for this Sabah trip, the upside down house and the fish spa are probably two tourist traps that you could probably skip.

Sabah Tour 2017 Itinerary

14/10/17 Saturday
10:00AM depart to Putrajaya Sentral Park and Ride
11:30AM take ERL Transit to KLIA
12:10PM arrive in KLIA, check in baggage
2:45PM depart to Kota Kinabalu Malindo Air OD 1014
5:30PM arrive in Kota Kinabalu, take rental van to apartment
6:00PM arrive at Cyber City apartment
7:00PM sightseeing in Tanjung Aru/Kota Kinabalu
9:00PM buy food for Kundasang

15/10/17 Sunday
7:00AM off to Gaya Street for breakfast and shopping
9:00AM depart to Kundasang
10:00AM stop by Upside Down House Sabah, Tamparuli
11:30AM stop by Tamparuli bridge
12:00AM stop by pekan Nabalu (souvenirs)
12:30AM arrive at Annasuha Guest house. Have lunch
1:30PM go to Kinabalu Park
2:45PM go to Kundasang War Memorial
4:00PM go to Poring Hot Spring

16/10/17 Monday
7:00AM depart for Desa Cattle Dairy Farm
11:00AM go to Tagal Sg. Moroli Fish Spa
12:00PM go to Sabah Tea Garden
3:00PM depart for Kota Kinabalu
9:00PM sightseeing in Kota Kinabalu (optional)

17/10/17 Thursday
7:00AM depart for Filipino market, KK
9:30AM leave for Kota Kinabalu airport
10:00AM check in baggage
11:25AM depart to Kuala Lumpur Malindo Air OD 1007


UMS Aquarium and Marine Museum
Lok Kawi Wildlife Park
Island hopping, KK
Atkinson Clock Tower, KK

More info:

Cyber City Apartment, Kota Kinabalu homestay contact:
Norita +60149528381
Diana +60168381093

Annasuha Homestay, Kundasang contact:
Norhayati +601131649536 / +601116410514

Ruslan Car Rental, Kota Kinabalu contact:
Ruslan +60168215834
Herry +60109417051