How Did I Get Here? Originally from Kota Kinabalu, I flew to Kuala Lumpur for the first time 13 years ago for a job training. Little did I know this city will be my permanent home. There are thousands of Sabahans like myself who found solace, opportunity and success in Kuala Lumpur. Some lucky few even found love. It’s true what they say “The grass is greener on the other side”. As much as I love my fabulous fast-paced lifestyle and the big bright lights of this city, KL can sometimes feel more like a stage. But Kota Kinabalu, that’s my hometown, it’s my root, my history and my escape back to reality. It’s the place I go back to feel grounded again.
When I was in my 20’s, going back to my hometown meant clubbing all night, sleeping all day and if I managed to sober up, then it’s at least a show-face at Sunday brunch. Now at 35, both older and wiser, I’m excited to fly back home once a month to spend time with my family, get fat on home cooked meals and get re-acquainted with my hometown.
“You can take a girl out of her village but you can’t take the village out of the girl”.
To some people we are known as the village people. Not the YMCA-Village-People of the song that was popular in the 70’s but the kind of people that’s also known as aboriginals. Probably because of our slow economic development compared to West Malaysia, our endless thick forests, our ‘family’ the Orang Utans, our strong accent and, of course, rumours that we also live on trees. That maybe a rumour but one thing is for sure, growing up in Sabah means the forest is your playground, the endless beaches and islands are your showers and road trips are your weekends.
Sabah is known as the Land Below The Wind because it’s located near a typhoon-prone region. Kota Kinabalu is 2 and half hours by flight from Kuala Lumpur (excluding the 40 mins airport journey, possible flight delay and oh-so-slow baggage claim). Located right by the South China Sea, we are spoilt with endless choices of fresh seafood. Needless to say, most local delicacies are made from seafood. Here are some of my favourite when I go home to my mum’s place. Some of these food you see is local delicacies only known to Sabahans.
Sabahan loves soupy dishes. It’s our our comfort food, it’s our hangover cure, it’s our breakfast, lunch and dinner. We don’t care if it’s raining or if it’s 37 degrees outside, we will have our soup noodles for breakfast if we feel like it. Here are my personal must-haves when I’m back in town:
Philippino Market is right next to Sinsuran, just along the road of Waterfront. So after you had your bowl of Tom Yam, just walk across to the market for a little shopping. Best to leave your expensive jewelleries and high heels behind because the market is not the most glamourous place to shop at but it is the best place to find local chips, cookies, souvenirs and gifts and of course, Sabah’s very own fresh-water pearls at a bargain. This is also the market where locals go to to get their fish, fruits, herbs, spices and groceries. Like most markets in the world, bargaining is a skill you should use here and of course, keep your belongings safe.
Sunday Market at Gaya Street takes place every Sunday morning. This market has been here every week since I was a child. I used to hate being woken up by mum to accompany her early in the morning but now I look forward to it because I know I can find many local gems at the market. From house decorations to fresh plants and flowers, you can find everything here. Don’t worry if you skip your breakfast, there are plenty fresh food and drinks to nibble on while you walk along. Just be mindful of pickpockets because as the sun goes up this place gets packed like sardines in a can.
Sunset drinks at Tanjung Aru Shangri-La Beach Hotel & Resort, enjoy the setting sun, the cooling breeze while being entertained with live music and cool cocktails. There’s even Barbecued chicken wings and snacks to order to if you want to have nibbles.
Langkah Syabas at Kinarut is a must visit if you’re a cheese lover. Head there for some lunch and local cheese hand-made right there on site. I’m going to be honest and say that it’s not the cleanest or the nicest beach but it does have a niece sea breeze. Friendly service, good food and a nice place to enjoy a relaxing lunch while enjoying the sea view.
Seafood Galore at Kampung Air – Last but not least, this is what we’re famous for – affordable eat-till-you-drop fresh seafood galore. There are few restaurants to chose from in this area but my one and only is always Suang Tian. It’s the first restaurant that was opened and I’e been coming here since I was a kid. This restaurant is clean, you’ll get excellent quality food and great service. I would suggest that you wear your most casual, loose-fitting clothes so you can enjoy the full finger-lickin good experience. Don’t forget your wet tissue. It is essential. If you’re allergic to seafood, don’t worry. There’s also grilled satay, barbecued chicken wings for you to enjoy and other dishes you can order . If you’re not sure what to have, just call for the ‘Captain’ and ask him for recommendations.
Road Trip to Tip of Borneo
We took a trip to the Tip of Borneo on my recent trip back home. Also locally known as Tanjung Simpang Mengayau. It is the northern most tip of Borneo located in the district of Kudat, in the state of Sabah, Malaysia. It takes about 3 hours of relaxed driving along smooth roads from Kota Kinabalu to the Tip of Borneo.
Tuaran Mee in Tuaran. I’m not trying to make a rhyme but it’s a type of noodle from the little town it originated from. On our way, we made a stop in one of the older towns called Tuaran for breakfast. Every restaurant in Tuaran serves Tuaran Mee so we went in to Tai Fatt and ordered ourselves some seafood Tuaran Mee.
3 Hours Drive is what it takes to get to the Tip of Borneo, so after breakfast, a quick stop at the petrol station for gas and restroom break and stock up on snacks, we start our relaxing journey passing green pastures enjoying the view of hills and mountains.
Everyone kept telling us that the Tip of Borneo is in Kudat. With that info bearing in mind, we drove along observing the signs. Kudat: 110 Km… Kudat: 80km… Kudat: 35km… that we almost missed this junction to the Tip!
Tommy’s Place conveniently located right before the Tip of Borneo. I have no idea who Tommy is but you do see many signboards directing you to to his place. In fact, they have more sign boards than the Tip of Borneo! After driving for 3 hours, we finally made a stop here to stretch our feet and use their restroom. Tommy’s Place is actually a small beach-facing motel with amazing white sandy beach and clear aquamarine water. The staffs were very friendly and the rest stop is rustic, clean and very relaxing. You can also order freshly cooked meal, have a cold beer or even a cold shower after swimming in the sea. My only regret is not bringing my bikini with me. I’ve traveled to the many beautiful beaches around the world but little did I know that one the beautiful ones can be found right in my state!
After our breaks, we continue driving up to the Tip. When I was here 20 years ago, this place was a rough drive up to the hill with no place to rest or park. But now, it’s an easy walk on proper road to go up to the landmark. There are little gazebos where you can have a picnic with the most amazing view above the sea. So bring some food, loads of water, wet tissue, and perhaps a cooler box with loads of ice and beers. We reached the top at 12pm and it was scorching hot!
After an hour at the Tip, we made another stop at Tommy’s Place for another restroom break and head back to town.
To know more about the yearly event, Sunset Music Festival at the Tip of Borneo, visit: http://www.sunsetmusicfest.my/. Perhaps I will see you there next year?
If you’d like to know more on what to do, where to stay, what to eat or where to eat when you’re in Sabah, the official website you can checkout is http://www.sabahtourism.com/. You can also leave a comment or message me if you prefer hanging where locals hang, doing what locals do.
Hope you enjoy my story. Thanks for reading.