Gaya Travellers is proud to declare that we now have officially visited all states in Malaysia and we have Tourism Malaysia to thank for that final tick on our checklist! What brought us to Kota Kinabalu (affectionately called KK) was the World Tourism Conference 2010. The conference drew a big international crowd, which included Tourism Ministers, Deputy Ministers, industry players and international media from 43 countries. The conference was deemed a success by the Secretary General of World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), H.E. Mr. Taleb Rifai.
WORLD TOURISM CONFERENCE 2010
Themed “Tourism Success Stories and Rising Stars”, it was indeed an honour to have Malaysia hosting the conference for two consecutive times. The three day conference saw many speakers from the tourism industry sharing their thoughts and experience with participants to help boost the tourism industry in their respective countries.
Tourism Malaysia kindly brought us to several attractions by Malaysia’s Tourism Minister herself, Y.B. Dato’ Sri Dr. Ng Yen Yen. The Gaya Travellers had such fun travelling and exploring places in Kota Kinabalu with fellow travel journalists from Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, Brunei, Thailand, Hong Kong and South Africa.
KIPANDI BUTTERFLY PARK
The butterfly park lies within the Crocker Range at Moyong, Penampang to be exact. The park is on 700-meter altitude. The Crocker Range is mostly covered in primary forest in which at least 8,000 species of plants have been recorded. The entomological (just a fancy name for insects) species within this area is one of the richest in the world. According to its owner, Dr.Steven Chew, over 100 species of butterflies have been recorded.
Apart from live butterflies fluttering about in the park, there is also The Insects Museum where we got to see hundreds (or perhaps thousands?) of preserved butterflies and beetles found within the vicinity up on display.
There is also a special enclosure dedicated to some of the rare and endangered native orchids and pitcher plants of Sabah. This is a joint conservation project with the Sabah Wildlife Department. There are more than 500 species of native orchids here, 28 species of carnivorous pitcher plants, 40 species of Hoyas (wax flowers) and 5 species of lipstick flowers. Botanical buffs would be thrilled!
The Gaya Travellers salute Dr. Chew for his efforts and passion in preserving and sharing his knowledge in the entomological field. It’s a bit of a drive to come here, but let us tell you that it is well worth the effort. We have never met anyone who lives and breathes insects like Dr. Chew. It was indeed an honour to receive a tutorial on Insects and Butterflies 101 from this man.
This park is privately owned and the admission fee is RM20 per person. It is open daily from 9:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m.
KOTA KINABALU HANDICRAFT MARKET
Located at Jalan Tun Fuad Stephen, the Kota Kinabalu Handicraft Market is the place to head to if you’re looking for souvenirs and handicrafts. Not to be missed is the fresh water pearls jewellery. Prices are already reasonable, but don’t forget to test your bargaining skills with the sellers. Other items that can be found here also include t-shirts, keychains, wooden handicrafts and many more.
At the other end of the market is where the dried seafood sellers are located. Good quality dried shrimps, anchovies, fish and other types of seafood can be bought at reasonable prices.
Gaya Travellers were fortunate enough to stay at Le Meriden Hotel Kota Kinabalu – the Handicraft Market is simply a walk across the road from the hotel.
SINSURAN BBQ FOOD COURT
The smoke and wonderful smell of barbecued seafood and chicken led us to the open air food court just next to the Kota Kinabalu Handicrafts Market. This is where locals and tourists alike come to have good ol’ barbecue, KK style. Hawkers will start setting up their grills and stalls at around 4:00 p.m. every evening. Stroll along the aisles to see the wide variety of seafood just waiting for their turn on the barbecue pit – there are lobsters, prawns, squids, crabs and arrays of fish for you to choose from. But there is only one type of chicken part available for barbecuing – neatly arranged wings.
It’s just too bad that we went there with full stomach. However, not wanting to miss out, we selected the smallest portion of barbecued seafood we could find – skewered squids, and a fish as big as our palm. We also made sure that we would not leave KK without first tasting its barbecued chicken wings – we must say that we were surely not disappointed!
The food court faces the sea and you might want to come just in time for sunset. After selecting your food, just sit back and soak up the sights, smell and sounds of the moment. The atmosphere is simply magical.
There is a fresh produce market for you to wander around in case you’re early. The fish on sale here are humongous yet cheaper than what we would pay in KL. We would move to KK just for the fresh and cheap seafood… and we kid you not!
If you’re an eco-adventurer, then Sabah is definitely the place to be. Kota Kinabalu is the gateway to eco-adventures such as snorkelling and diving. Be prepared to be wowed by the vast species of marine life of Sabah. The Gaya Travellers had the chance to experience and explore two out of five islands in the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park.
TUNKU ABDUL RAHMAN MARINE PARK
The Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park is a cluster of islands comprising Gaya Island, Sapi Island, Manukan Island, Mamutik Island and Sulug Island. Gaya Island is the largest of the five and has hiking trails and a five-star resort, the Gayana Eco Resort, home to the Marine Ecology Research Centre (MERC).
We did not manage to visit all of the islands, just Gaya Island and Manukan Island, due to time constraint. So much to see, so little time!
Our first stop of the day was Manukan Island. It is the second largest and most popular island within Tunku Abdul Rahman Park. It is covered in dense vegetation and offers hiking trails, on top of crystal clear waters and beautiful coral reefs that make it ideal for snorkelling, diving and scuba doo.
Blessed with a long stretch of white sandy beach, Manukan promises hours of sea, sand and fun! Guests can choose to stay in one of the single or double storey chalets, should you decide to stay overnight. All chalets overlook the South China Sea and a spectacular sunset is almost a daily affair.
The island is accessible from either Sutera Harbour or Jesselton Point Jetty. The journey takes about 20 minutes. This short journey to paradise makes it very popular with locals and tourists alike, so you might want to head there early.
The Gaya Travellers had always wanted to take up scuba diving, but don’t seem to have the courage (or time) to get the license. So when we heard that there is Scuba-doo in Manukan, we grabbed the opportunity. SCUBA, as you may already know, is an acronym for Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus. The rental fee is RM180 per person for a half an hour session. Though a bit steep, we figured we will try anything at least once. These scooters can go to as low as 5 meters from the surface and it’s easy to handle, even for children. Each scooter will be escorted by a staff member, so no worries of getting lost under the sea. You will also be given a CD of the video recording of your underwater adventure.
After all that fun, the Gaya Travellers enjoyed a hearty barbecue seafood lunch by the beach. We much rather continue to laze around the island on full stomach, but Gaya Island then beckoned, which we wouldn’t want to miss.
Gaya Island means Big Island in the local Bajau dialect. True to its name, it is, in fact, the biggest island of the five in Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park. Like Manukan Island, Gaya Island is also covered with dense virgin tropical forest and has been a forest reserve since 1923. You can find hiking trails and a couple of resorts here at the island. It is also hosts a very large (and growing) stilt village located just opposite the KK waterfront. The tourist crowd is much lesser here compared to Manukan, so we would suggest you come here if it’s peace and quiet you are looking for.
Again, white sandy beaches with crystal clear waters – need we say more? The coral reefs along the entire coast of the island are in excellent condition. The bay is nicely secluded, and the beautiful white sandy beach provides an excellent spot to relax after dives around the bay.
MARINE ECOLOGY RESEARCH CENTRE (MERC), GAYA ISLAND
When we first arrived at the jetty of the Gayana Eco Resort, we thought our visit here would only constitute visiting a posh resort. So it was such a nice surprise when we found that instead, we were given an educational and eye-opening briefing by a group of marine ecology researchers about MERC.
Sabah has always been known for its impressive and diverse marine life. The gazetting of Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park makes Gaya Island a suitable place for a research centre. Here at MERC, there are seven out of eight Giant Clams of the world. These endangered species are under MERC’s Giant Clam Restocking Programme. Thanks to MERC, these endangered shell creatures are well on their way to further flourish like before.
OK, so we were thinking, why the big fuss about these giant clams? Well, for starters, giant clams are also known as the ‘kidney of the ocean’. These clams are important, as they help preserve the water quality of the marine ecosystem by absorbing nitrates, ammonia and harmful organics that may harm the reef and its inhabitants, acting similarly like living and breathing natural water filters, if you may. You might want to think about these clams the next time you order giant clams at fancy seafood restaurants.
There is also a maternity tank where pregnant seahorses rest beside mothering bamboo sharks. How cool is that? But what really got the Gaya Travellers excited was the “touch” tank, where starfish and other sea creatures were just begging (we think) to be touched… and they are huge!
Here, we also got the chance to learn about the Reef Regeneration Programme. Visitors can participate in replenishing back the corals in the reef. If you decide to become more involved in preserving the environment, MERC welcomes scholars of all calibres to partake in its Marine Environment Education Programme.