5 days of summer on Borneo

As cold months arrive, I guess we all develop a yearning of going somewhere warm, me being no exception. So my friend and I decided to head somewhere exotic before winter is over, and after all discussions, without any further complicating, we booked our tickets to Kota Kinabalu, not really knowing much about it, except being on an island in Malaysia. Well, it turned out that this island is no other than Borneo, 3rd biggest island in the world. Yet, you can easily tell why it's north with province of Sabah doesn't sound so familiar to us. Majority of the tourists there were obviously coming from closer Asian countries. Once on our bus going to the tour, and being the only Europeans, we were even asked, how come we didn't choose to go to Thailand. Well, that was our initial plan, but this is how most of my plans work out, and excitement of the unknown can turn out for even better.

We had a long stopover in Guangzhou, China, and even with it being in same timezone as our final destination, we soon weren't very sure which day it is anymore. We arrived in Kota Kinabalu on late Monday and once accommodated in a very cosy hostel right at the sea front, we just couldn't wait to head out and look around. We discovered the closest surrounding, consisting of many shops and markets and ended up in a bar right above the sea, where the warm summer weather was just calling for a treat of fresh pineapple, while enjoying the night view of boats and islands.

''Floating'' mosque

Since we were here for only 5 short days, despite a great time difference, we got up pretty early (based on my standards), and firstly headed to the tourist office for some of the basic orientation around.
Our next stop became top of shopping mall, where from a glass bar with a terrace you had a wonderful view to the hill rising above the city. Along the way we also stopped at the local fruit market, and for a very low price gathered some mangoes, avocados, mangosteens and a small durian, one of the most famous fruits around. It's spiky look, significant taste and smell convinced people to turn it into variety of things, from ice cream to coffee.

Variety of spicy chillies sold at local market

In the afternoon came the time for our first trip, to mangrove forests, growing by the mixture of sweet and salty water. Area offers the only habitat for proboscis monkeys, the one with big noses and long silver tails. We sailed up and down the river to observe their every day routine on their sacred land, where man are forbidden to lay the foot on.
Proboscis monkey

Our adventure was topped with a lovely dinner including full crabs, that were a real challenge to eat for amateurs like us.
At the end, when the night already fell, we board the boats once again, this time searching for the fireflies. It was incredible to see, how many of them live there, with whole bushes glowing out of the dark, looking like real magic of nature.

The city of Kinabalu got it's name from the Kinabalu mountain, the highest mountain in south east Asia, with its peak located at 4095 meters. It's surrounded by national park, where you can see variety of plants, from bamboos, edible berries, to the corpse lilies (Rafflesia arnoldii), the biggest flowers in the world.
Corpse lilly in the second day of blooming

After admiring the mountain from the view point at Pekan Nabalu, we had short walk trough the forest on one of the trails leading to the top of the mountains, usually taking 2 days to reach its peak.
View at Kinabalu mountain in the clouds, from the Pekan Nabalu view point

Our last stop were the poring hot springs, where you can regenerate yourself in the small tabs of very hot water, take a walk on swinging bridges between the trees, 41 m from the ground, visit a bat cave, hidden between the rocks... Or enjoy my favourite, a beautiful waterfall with little fishes swimming in its tolmun and giving you a nice foot massage if only you stand still.

One easy way to get familiar with the town is taking place in free walking tour, that will acknowledge you with all the most significant places and rich local history. Starting from one of the 3 remaining buildings from pre-war times, now turned into tourism board, we visited ruins of Land and survey department, it's columns still standing as part of the history and made into art displays. 
Columns as art, remains of the Land and survey department building

Another stops were Atkinson memorial clock tower, the oldest building of the city, still remaining from the time before the wars in memory to their first district officer, and
 memorials dedicated to victims of both wars.
Atkinson's memorial clock tower

We climbed on the hill overlooking the city, from where we could see it's spreading over the sea, stopped by the oldest hotel named Jesselton (after original name of the town), that in it's long history hosted people from different local and foreign politicians to Mohamed Ali after his match in Kuala Lumpur.

But to get in touch with islands most primitive traditions, there's a whole cultural village located only 30 minutes drive from the city, giving you opportunity to get the insight of old costumes in different interactive ways.

Mari mari cultural village consists of 7 traditional houses representing different  tribe. At each of them you'll be welcomed by tribal people, wearing their signature clothes, and ready to show you daily life routines, from hunting technics, fire making, tribal hierarchy and wedding rituals to tobacco rolling, creation of fabric from palm bark and hena tattoos. And (my favorite part), you're also treated with special food and drinks, such as in bamboo cooked rice, pickled mangoes, different sorts of fried pastry, tea and rice wine.

The whole tour is finishes with show, presenting music and dances, and also a feast of some exotic dishes and fresh fruits.

Island hoping
What is a summer getaway without a proper beach! As you might not find one right in the city, visiting some close by islands is an amazing opportunity to get you in the holiday mood. Pristine sea water over the white sand and bright greenery in the background is live version of the view from the postcard.

Our first stop was at island Sapi that offer some great snorkelling opportunities. You can spot corals and variety of fishes of different colours, most of them leisurely swimming between the tourists in the shallow water (and you might even get softly biten by some). Another animal that's interesting to observe in nature were monitor lizards, more than 2 m long reptiles, that would crawl out of the woods and maybe even swim in the water. 
Monitor lizard
Another interesting thing in Sapi is the zipline, connecting it to the biggest Gaya island, that is actually the longest zipline between two islands in the world.
The second stop was at Manukan island, with a long sandy beach and many cosy places to hang out, where tropical fairy tale came even more to life.

Since during the modernisation, instead of up the land, city was build outwards, over the water, the most central part unfortunately doesn't offer any beach. Therefor, for our last day, that without any special plans, we wanted to spent as proper tropical tourists, we headed towards Sutera resort. An area consisting of golf court, several hotels, marina, and various places to hang out, offered just a perfect getaway from the heated concrete. We settled in the Breeze beach bar with the most perfect view, sand beneath your feet, exotic treats, such as fresh coconuts and of course, a beach.
Location is also known as one of the best sunset spots in the world, as you can watch sun sink into the sea between two islands, while the burning sky is framed with the tall palm trees.

But end of light certainly wasn't end of the day yet. With ''moonlight hours'', DJ, (and people paying for your drinks) we just had the most perfect ending of our vacations.

Quick guide:
  • How to go around: Grab, Southeast Asian version of Über, offers very cheap prices (the ride from airport to city centre costing about 2 GBP).
  • Where to eat: local market offers great variety of food, full meal starting at price lower than 1 GBP.
  • Where to drink: seafront promenade consists of line of bars, all one next to each other, with variety of offers and direct sea view. Prices here are more tourist like.
  • Where to stay: Homy seafront hostel is a very cosy place in walking distance from town center, harbour, market and other most important places. With modern vibe, extremely friendly staff and direct sea view, accommodation with breakfast costs you less than 8 GBP/night.
  • How to start: visiting tourist center in old town will fill you in with great range of information and tour offers. Free walking tour, taking place every second day at 9 in the morning is also great to give you initial orientation around the city.



  1. Wow it sounds like you had an amazing time, the sea is SO blue xx


  2. I'm with Gemma- that water is too gorgeous!

    Le Stylo Rouge

  3. I need a holiday tooo... From the food to the beach. Wonderful experience!


  4. Wow, it looks like it was such a great holiday! I am in awe of those gorgeous ocean views!


  5. hooray for Southeast Asia! I'm from the Philippines so I hope you can visit our country too :) Seems like you enjoyed your short vacay! Anyway, just dropping by to say hello! I hope you can drop by my blog too and follow along if you like. Have a nice day! :)

    xoxo, rae


  6. wow I love this place :)

  7. Oh wow what an amazing trip! Everything looks so beautiful, so special that you got to go there! :)

    Hope you have a great weekend ahead of you :) We have a busy but fun one planned!

    Away From The Blue

  8. Oh wow you really went all over this area of China. Your trip looked like such fun. How exciting to travel to China. I have only been to Canada and Europe.

    Allie of

    1. I traveled to Borneo, we've only been to China few hours at the airport.

  9. This summer photos are so nice

  10. I absolutely love Borneo, the best sunsets I've ever seen were on this island! You captured your trip so beautifully! xx


  11. What a great trip! I love that it has beach front and mountains. The sunset is gorgeous and that blue water! I need a beach trip :/ I think my favorite thing is that you can visit an area of villages and go back in time....oh, and the eating and drinking along the beachfront.


  12. I can relate to that. When it is cold, we all crave summer. This island looks so beautiful. I'd love to visit Borneo some day. Thanks for sharing.


  13. Honestly I never heard before about this island in Malaysia. But I see it is fantastic there and I can feel the summer vibes! Thanks for sharing!
    xx from Bavaria/Germany, Rena

  14. it seems an amazing place!!


  15. This nature looks spectacular! I've never been to Borneo but it's on my list now.

    xx Simone
    Little Glittery Box

  16. Enjoyed reading

  17. un posto magnifico la tranquillità *_*

  18. This is one of my favorite destinations! I wish I could visit it very soon!

  19. beautiful shots....love them
    have a great day

  20. Pretty! This has been a really wonderful post. Thank you for providing these details.

    Nahid | https://bestclicknow.com


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