Kota Kinabalu, the ocean and a cold from hell.

So we went on a final vacation from the vacation. As our departure date looms in the not too distant future we decided we needed some beach and oceantime. This time we flew to Kota Kinabalu in Sabah on Borneo. We chose the destination because it is easy to get to, Air Asia has about five flights a day from Johor Bahru, and the snorkelling is supposed to be pretty decent. And the flight time is about two and a half hours which is nice when you’re travelling with young (and very active) children. I hate flying and get really stressed which the children pick up on and then the whole family kind of implodes. So a short flight is easier on the nerves.

Senai Airport outside Johor Bahru is small but well functioning. We opted for the slightly more expensive long term parking which meant that the car was parked indoors and with security guards 24/7. Sometimes it is worth to pay a bit more, and feel that the car is parked in a safe place.

We had booked eight nights at the Dreamtel Hotel. Most of the hotels in Kota Kinabalu is located in the central part of the city, or the business centre as they call it. You can find really cheap hostels and very expensive high end hotels. Dreamtel is somewhere in between and was a perfect choice for us. Our room had a view of the city and the ocean, and the very busy road as well as a bus station. If you’re a light sleeper I think you should ask for a room facing the woods instead. Me and the rest of the family can sleep through anything and enjoyed watching the fishing boats, the sunset and all the people walking towards the night market.

On our first day we went to Lok Kawi Wildlife Park. It is a semi big zoo that focuses on Asian animals. They have a show with snakes, birds and other animals which is included in the entrance fee and our children enjoyed it a lot. I liked the two tigers, especially seeing one of them sitting neck deep in the water and looking very happy and relaxed. The park is well maintained but some areas are looking old and worn. The two ostriches did not look happy, and one sun bear looked really depressed. But all the other animals looked healthy, even though I felt that some of the enclosures could have been bigger. Entrance fee was RM 20 for adults and RM 10 for children (below 3 years old free). Well worth a visit if you have the time and have children that like animals. Make sure you eat before going there though, the restaurant was closed and it didn’t look like it was opening again anytime soon.

Our main reason for the trip was snorkelling and on our second day we went to an island about 10 minutes away by speedboat. We actually booked one of those package deals, very unusual for us but we decided to try it. The package included buffet lunch on the beach, snorkelling equipment, transfer to and from the jetty, speedboat, a guide and entrance fee to the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park. It cost us a whooping RM 440 (RM 160 per adult, RM 120 per child, below 3 years old free) and for us it wasn’t worth it.
On the island we went to, Mamutik, the barbeque buffet lunch was really mediocre. I only ate because we had paid for it. When we went there on our own a couple of days later we had lunch in the small restaurant. Much tastier and cheaper!
But the snorkelling was good, the water was very clear and we saw fish as soon as we got off the boat. The children enjoyed our day out and so did we. Close to the beach the coral is stepped on a lot and it is a shame. Tourists that can’t swim that well end up walking around a lot and so they kill the coral. If you swim out further you will find live coral and also plenty more species of fish. My husband actually swam the whole way round the island and saw sharks!

If you want to go to the islands on your own you just take a taxi to Jesselton Point. From our hotel it cost RM 15 one way. Then you buy a ticket for one, or more islands, from whichever vendor you like the best. The price is the same, but they will shout and try to coax you into buying from them. If you go to one island the price is RM 23, then you have to pay a jetty fee of RM 7.50 and the entrance fee to the marine park is RM 10. For children under 3 years old everything is free, for older children you pay slightly less than the adult prices.

We also went to the Manukan island which we also liked but we felt that Mamutik was more childfriendly, or at least felt better for our family. On all the bigger islands there are food and drinks to buy, toilets, changing room and freshwater showers. If you read on Tripadvisor a lot of people complain about the cleanliness of the toilets and changing rooms but I found them to be clean enough. As usual, if you act like a pig the place will look like a stye, if you pick up after yourself and remember such a basic thing as FLUSHING after you’re done it is so much nicer for everyone. And we found the food to be good on both islands, as long as you skip the overpriced buffet lunch.

Going to the Green Connection Aquarium was a big disappointment, do not go there! A lot of tanks were empty, others were filthy and the whole place looked like it was in dire need of renovation. Or being torn down completely. Even our oldest daughter said the place was pretty awful and she is usually very easy to please when it comes to animals. She said the fish looked sad. I felt sorry for the people working there, they were really nice but the place was a huge let down.

I usually have one or two bad colds a year and one of them hit me midway through our vacation in Kota Kinabalu. So I ended up spending two days in bed, watching tv and resting. As much as you can rest with two children that are very attached to their mother and wanted to stay in the room with me for most of those two days. Sometimes I think about the life I had before the children and I realise I didn’t appreciate things like going to the bathroom on my own enough. Or eating a meal without having to chase a wild child in the middle of it, or sitting down and read a whole book in one day…

But hey, you do get a lot of positive things in your life when you have children, and I never forget to be thankful that I got not one, but two healthy children. On Langkawi we met a couple that had, in our eyes, the most amazing life. They were from Holland but most of the year they lived and worked in different countries in Asia. They had no children but were very sweet to ours and as we talked one day they told us that they had not chosen to live without children. They looked at our family and saw something wonderful that they had never been given. And there we were, looking at their adventurous life and thinking it was perfect.

As I lay in that hotel room, watching Night at the Museum with my oldest daughter I thought about that couple and how life takes us on so many different journeys. Our six months away are soon coming to an end and I am very curious as to what comes next. Returning home I will be unemployed for the first time in many years and it both scares and excites me.

But for now I am on vacation, at least for another couple of weeks, and I am going to enjoy every last bit of it.

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