What to do when in Kota Kinabalu? Climb Mount Kinabalu, of course. But we weren’t about to do that. The fact that we only have 19 hours in the city coupled with our abhorrence for anything physical demanding, like climbing the highest peak in the whole of Malaysia, generated vigorous shrugs of heads. No. No. And no.
|BOATS ALONG KOTA KINABALU’S WATERFRONT|
What we have in mind is something more relaxed. A walk in the city. But with the sweltering heat of the midday sun, it turned out to be not that relaxing either. But its either that or we simply lounge around the pool at Horizon Hotel. Which was quite tempting too, lol.
|WHITE EGRETS, KK’S MASCOT|
It was a good thing our lodging of choice in KK was within proximity of the sights in the city. Our hotel was only a few strides away from the The Great Egret Rotunda [GPS MAP 5.982356, 116.075423]. The bird is Kota Kinabalu’s official mascot and I kinda find it cute for a city to adopt a mascot, tee hee.
|JALAN GAYA OR GAYA STREET, THE CITY’S CHINATOWN|
The heat of the city was immediately evident but we pushed on to Sabah’s Tourism Board at Gaya Street [GPS MAP 5.985530, 116.078197] to get free maps. It turned out that the building itself is a historical structure. Kota Kinabalu has been bombed for over six months by the Allied Forces during World War II and it was surprising that any of its old structures are still standing today, but miracle of miracles, three were left standing. And this is one of them.
Tourist spot number one, checked!
|KILOMETER ZERO RIGHT OUTSIDE THE TOURISM OFFICE|
The 1916 building has been used for all sorts of government offices; printing, audit, town board, district office, attorney general’s and post office, before being finally designated as KK’s tourism office. It has a simple white facade set with a red clay roof. It wouldn’t be out of place at all if you set it among the Spanish colonial houses in Vigan City. Outside, Kota Kinabalu’s kilometer zero can be found.
|COLORFUL RANDOM FOOD STALL|
Our next query was the Atkinson Clock Tower [GPS MAP 5.982176, 116.077253], a structure peeps from our hotel insisted we visit. The oldest structure in Kota Kinabalu, they exclaimed. We would oblige them anything except climb Mount Kinabalu, lol.
With maps on hand, we navigated the streets of KK, turning this way and that, eventually getting lost along the way. We politely asked a lady, do you know where the clock tower is? We know they’re not really native English speakers so we rephrased it a bit, you know, like the tower with a clock? That got her laughing and we eventually found the 50-foot structure poking its red pointed roof amidst a canopy of trees.
|THE ATKINSON CLOCK TOWER, FINALLY|
The tower, named after Francis George Atkinson, a district officer of Jesselton (KK’s original name, by the way), was made by her mother for her son who succumbed to malaria. The regal tower is originally made from merbau wood but has been replaced over the years with other kinds of wood. Well, we’re no wood experts but it still does look regal, though not regal enough for us to climb Brace Hill where it was set on.
|YEE FUNG RESTAURANT’S OPEN KITCHEN|
|HUGE BOWL OF LAKSA WITH FREE SOUP REFILL ~ MYR 8.00 (PHP 91.00)|
What can be more apt for a walk across the simmering asphalts of the city than a hot soup (not!). Our host recommended a place that serves a mean laksa, Yee Fung Restaurant along Gaya Street [GPS MAP 5.982397, 116.076483]. So, even if we’re already drenched in sweat, we trooped to the noodle house and ordered a huge piping bowl of laksa.
It was creamy. It was hot. It was spicy. We sweated some more. We were done with hot and spicy food!
|NASI LEMAK AND KOPI AIS (MYR 2.00 OR PHP 23.00) AT FORTUNE COFFEE SHOP|
We wanted relief from the heat and headed to another place recommended to us, Fortune Coffee Shop [GPS MAP 5.984310, 116.076680], thank goodness it’s a café! And no we were not about to order hot coffee, we knew exactly what we wanted, kopi ais (iced coffee) and teh tarik ais (iced pulled tea). Besides being blessedly cold, it was as good as those we’ve tried at Kuala Lumpur’s food street, Jalan Alor!
|THE NARROW ALLEYS INSIDE KK’S HANDICRAFT MARKET|
Cooled down, we crossed the road to the Handicraft Market along KK’s waterfront. The area is replete with dried seafood (ala Cebu’s Taboan Market) and wares we could bring back home as pasalubong and souvenirs. I wasn’t that surprised to find Filipinos, mostly from Mindanao, manning the stalls at the Filipino Market (which I visited a year ago, another Kota Kinabalu day tour), which made haggling for prices easy.
|DRIED SEAFOOD AND WHAT-NOTS AT THE HANDICRAFT MARKET|
|SEPAK TAKRAW BALLS AT THE MARKET|
With dangling keychains, shiny ref magnets, rattan sepak takraw balls and some shirts, we happily crossed the road and wended our way back to the comforts of air-conditioning (or our hotel, if you must). Tour over! Bali, you’re next!