At the north western tip of Borneo, Kota Kinabalu (KK) sells itself as the gateway to Sabah; this may be true, but it’s not the gateway to all of Sabah, and the would be visitor needs to bear this in mind…
KK is a great base for trecking up Mount Kinabalu (no actual climbing involved – apparently), for visiting the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park and it’s islands, and for relaxing in one of the beach resort hotels on the outskirts of town.
KK is not a good base for many of the wildlife activities you may associate with Sabah; in particular the Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary; this lies some way to the south nearer to the town of Sandakan. It is possible to make the Sepilok centre on a day trip from KK, but this will involve either a 6 hour drive each way or a 45 minute flight (the flight package will cost around RM 1000 per person, all in – £200 at todays rates), and you will only be at the centre for about 45 minutes; for feeding time.
Sandakan seems to be a better base for many other wildlife visits; there is an elephant park nearby as well as a Langur monkey sanctuary.
But back to KK. The first thing that needs to be said, is that this part of Sabah needs more road signs. We stayed at the Nexus resort, a large complex probably capable of accommodating some 500 guests and the only sign from the main road is a small one indicating the name of the area the hotel is in – not the actual hotel name itself. I know that most visitors will come as part of a tour, but it does seem rather remiss…
This ‘lack of signage’ reached a spectacular peak when we attempted to leave the Borneo 1 shopping centre, and it took 45 minutes to find the car park pay booth – I kid you not; at one point we had to have a sit down for some refreshment.
Not only was the bloody thing not signed; none of the staff seemed to have the faintest clue as to where it might be.
KK itself is only worth a short visit, there are a few bars and restaurants, but otherwise nothing much of note. Most of the town is post WW2 (and most of it looks post 60’s) as it was virtually flattened during the war.
The Borneo 1 complex is about 7km to the north of town and is very ambitious; doesn’t look much from the road, but stretches back a long way and is on several levels – this place must double the retail space in KK and frankly I wonder if there is enough business to support the shops – there are some very upmarket brands in here and its not the sort of stuff that tourist buy on a whim.
There is a ‘wildlife option’ called Lok Kawi, which is not far from the airport. This has Bornean elephants, Orang Utan, Proboscis monkey and even a tiger.
Basically its a zoo, but the park is well laid out and the enclosures are mostly spacious, it’s run by the Sabah Wildlife and the Forestry Department, so should be OK – as far as zoos go…