Mt. Kinabalu: We’re On a High

Being on top of the mountain brings me that certain kind of high… but it was quite the opposite with Baba. Descending back to the rocky plateau to rest a while, he looked worst for wear – bluish and not looking very elated with the experience. This is his first climb ever, quite ambitious of us to do this but we did it!    I feel kind of selfish now looking at him, assuming he agreed to do it only because I wanted to do it. He is having altitude sickness and we want to go back on flat lands to end it.

After soaking ourselves up with chilly mountain air, we started walking down despite feeling like old women with a nasty arthritis attack. I admit not being too prepared for this climb, and like my previous climbs, descending had always been the part I dislike a lot. Slowly, cautiously we arrived at the cliffs and the ledges. What we’ve been walking on earlier is steep cliff with only those white ropes to anchor us and prevent us from toppling over amid strong winds. Baba said, it was good that summit assaults are made while it’s still dark, so we can’t see how scary the fall would be lest we do fall…

We must be one of the last batch of people to arrive at Laban Rata after climbing from the summit. It was around 10am and we need to check out at 10:30 – gone was Baba’s wish for shut eye before the long walk back to Timpohon. We organized our things and settled down in the mess hall for our breakfast. Baba seemed to feel better and we can smile in our pictures. We explored the hall and amazed ourselves with the events that led to the fame of Mt. Kinabalu climbs. We read about the unsung heros of Laban Rata and the climbathons that were held in this mountain. 

Once again we joined Ilya and Irina’s guide because ours excused himself once more. We haven’t reached the first rest area when batches of climbers started to pass us. Those fre*k*ng stairs are starting to torture our abused limbs more. Baba and I had to control our grimace with every step and try to smile at the excited bunch of climbers passing us.

We ceased our whining and complains when we met porters that carried so much heavy loads on their shoulders. Baba’s limited Malay vocabulary lead to some interesting conversations with the local porters and our guides. We learned that our guides make about 2 to 3 climbs in a week if the tourist influx is heavy. The porters on the other hand can do 2 climbs from Timpohon to Laban Rata in a day!

It started to rain, thankfully Ilya had an extra poncho for Baba. It was colder than ever and the view is obscured by the clouds. We are indeed very lucky to have started the climb the day before and were able to see the views. Several more hours on the trail, we met exhausted climber yet they managed to get excited with our tales of magnificent views on top. We tell them that it is truly worth every step they took.

It was almost five in the afternoon when we reached Timpohon Gate and another 15 or so minutes more to get a taxi and ride back to the park. The Balsam Hi-Tea Buffet was already closed and we were only given a pack of Yang-chow to eat. Our group was quiet. 
We all decided to wait for a bus to Kota Kinabalu and luckily got a ride. The ride back to town as quiet. I slept all the way through, waking only to snuggle closer to Baba. It was worth it. We are worth it. The price we paid, the sacrifices, every ounce of pain involved in every step of the way – they were all worth it. 

Mt. Kinabalu: Scrambling Through the Darkness

Something woke me, yet I snuggled deeper into Baba’s embrace feeling the chill of dawn. I felt sore and achy all over and I tried to claim back my slumber until realization hit me — oh no, I haven’t rested enough and today will be another excruciatingly long day once again.

Baba stirred awake and we both scrambled to get dressed the warmest possible way we can. Ilya and Irina commented that they feel like they are back in Siberia with this cold, yet they looked like they are wearing only light clothing compared to us having two to three layers on.

Laban Rata is all awake at 230AM. We tried to stuff ourselves with food in preparation for the difficult assault that awaits us, but being unused to eating heavy brekkie, I only managed a toast and some coffee to Baba’s displeasure.

It was pitch dark outside but the lighted trails have started to twinkle with hikers wearing their headlamps. We followed the line going up, it was all stairs and rocks and very cold wind that welcomes you. It was so darn cold, my fingers are starting to tingle. I felt my nose start to drip several meters after leaving the warmth of Laban Rata. My legs, still sore from yesterday’s 7-hour walk seem to complain with shots of pain at every step. I didn’t dare voice it out, Baba would surely drag me back to the lodge with just a single word.

I that worried my calves would burst anytime soon. Baba was always asking me if I can, and giving up would rely on me – the realization of this would be my call. I am stubborn and I would die before I give up. Not even the dark cavern of nothingness at the edge of  what we walked on scared me. I held on to the rope and we continued to walk up, stopping more and more to rest.

Slowly, dawn began to break, and lighted the way to the peak. We sat on the rolling plateau of rocks to admire the magnificent panorama that is laid before our eyes. I held my breath and hold on to Baba’s hands. My hands felt numb and Baba placed them in his armpits to warm them. I noticed Baba’s purplish hue and started to worry.

All the time, he was thinking of me and the struggle I have to overcome this. He scolded me for being mule-headed and for not bringing that wool scarf to warm my neck and offered his even if it leaves him freezing his ears out! Of course I am mule-headed and I did not take it. All the while, he kept his eye on our guide to ask for water when I request for a time out.  And all the while, it was him who’s not feeling well and is on the verge of loosing it!

We almost decided not to continue to Low’s Peak and just sate ourselves with the view. But after reassuring ourselves that we can do it, we started our way up once more. Despite the pain, I smiled inwardly, we are both stubborn I guess. When it comes to our goals we’d never back down. We climbed slowly until we can see the tip, with each step closer to the peak, we seem to gain more strength.

Finally, we are at 4,095 meters above sea level – the highest point we’ve been in our lives with our feet still firmly at the ground. It felt freezingly cold and the bunch of Japanese are taking too long with their photo shoot. Ilya and Irina made it to the top minutes ahead of us descended quickly back to the plateau. Them Japanese offered to take our picture and we were grateful! After a couple of shots, we hurriedly climbed down and sat on a more manageable spot.

Once again we stared in awe at the expanse of land as far as our eyes can see. We have made it. We may be both mule-headed, but this time it is for a good cause. Baba and I will give our all when it comes to us, our dreams and our relationship. On the hike the day before, Baba asked me to remind him that he have something to tell me when we reached the top. When I asked him then, he simply said, “I love you so much…”

High places do calm me, I offered a silent prayer of thanks to our Creator. I felt his presence strongly while on top of the mountain, I felt him listening intently to us, to what our hearts are truly saying. I’ve had many challenges in my life, I always survived alone and came out of it stronger.

Yet this mountain manifest a lot more challenges in my life that I need to overcome. Scrambling through the darkness, I hear his voice above the shrill of the wind, I felt his hands securing me on dangerous ledges thus, I am even more grateful now that I have Baba with me to face all of it. And starting today, I am sure would never go through these challenges alone.

*** a lot of thank yous to Ilya and Irina for some of the best photos at the peak! 🙂

Where to Relax in Kota Kinabalu: Le Borneo Spa at Gaya Street

Kota Kinabalu is a vibrant city that you can easily explore on foot. Some places of interest are best discovered and visited by walking around. Though there are several bus routes that can take you around the city and the nearby  towns of Likas and Karamunsing, you’re best to walk around busy streets downtown and the waterfront.

My first time in Kota Kinabalu was spent going around and around the city trying to look into each mall, each shop and sampling every fare offered at the kedai kofi and bah kut teh shops. There are several major malls in the city and all of them are near the waterfront. There’s the Wawasan Plaza,  Warisan Square, the Merdeka, the Centerpoint and the Suria Sabah. After walking the whole length of the city, I found myself truly exhausted and I could not feel my feet anymore.

Luckily we found someplace to rest our tired feet. Le Borneo Spa is a new spa located at beside the Peppermint Cafe and Resto in Gaya Street. They offer different massage styles and they are one of the most affordable ones we’ve discovered. The first time we visited, Baba and I were placed in different rooms. He was serviced by a male masseuse and I was with a lady. We both liked the service here though we thought we may never came back.

sabah tea was served after the massage

After three months, we came to Le Borneo Spa soon as we descended from the Kinabalu CLimb. We accommodated together in a room for a couple spa this time. I warned the lady who is going to massage me that my legs and calves hurt so she should go slow. I think the one who’s going to massage Baba heeded my warning and was very careful with the man. It was only afterwards that Baba complained that he could not feel that he was massaged or maybe he was feeling to battered and bruised to feel anything!

Off to the Islands: Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park

The five islands – Palau Manukan, Mamutik, Sapi, Sulug and Gaya make up the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, a favorite activity by tourists and vacationers who come to visit the vibrant City of Kota Kinabalu.

The island’s proximity to the city makes it easily accessible via speed boats from the Jesselton Point Ferry terminal. After a hearty breakfast at Fook Yuen in Gaya Street, Baba and I prepared for our day trip to the islands. We left our packs in our hotel and just told the staff that we will pay for any extension if we come back late after visiting the islands.

We walked the length of Jalan Fuad Stephens in search for the elusive port. Some guys offered us a ride to the islands for a lesser fee while we walked but we declined and preferred to take the ones from the port. After a long and hot walk, we finally reached our destination. I was impressed with the place and how organized they were.

We bought a ticket for 3 islands and waited for the speedboat to take us island-hopping. One good thing about being in Kota Kinabalu is that many people here speak Filipino. Its proximity to Mindanao and Palawan also makes crossing easy for some Filipinos and Malays or Sabahans.

Tunku Adbul Rahman Marine Park

The islands nearness to the city center makes it a favorite activity of both locals and tourist with a few days or a weekend to spare. It was another first time for us to ride a speedboat, and we thought that the Philippines would benefit greatly if we have this kind of service especially for island hopping.

Everything looks lush as the islands kept their vegetation healthy. The water is clear and you can see fishes even while you walk on the planks. he boat dropped off passengers who only opted for the island of Manukan first before bringing us to Palau Mamutik.

I love the wooden docks in the island and Palau Mamutik have clear waters with plenty of fishes that are tame and swims with the tourist.

Baba can’t stop snickering and teasing for leaving the goggles in pack and in the hotel because now we can’t enjoy looking at the fishes under the water. So we simply relaxed at the beach and contented ourselves with people-watching, taking pictures and dipping into the cool crystal clear waters every now and then.

After a while, our designated guide picked us up from Palau Mamutik and took us to Palau Manukan where we will have our lunch.

There are several options for different types of tastes. An island cooperative serves cheap meals and snacks a few feet from the dock.

Further down is the barbeque buffet being hosted by Sutera Harbor. You can ask for this from the boat operator from Jesselton Point and that is quite cheaper than getting it when you are already in the island. Since we don’t know this, Baba and I decided to try the ala carte meals from the Sutera restaurant.

We order Rendang and some Nasi, I’m not sure but they good enough. Baba find the spices and herbs a bit weird-tasting but we don’t have much choice.

We explored more of the islands after lunch and admired cabins under the Sutera management. We want to try staying in one of those but they’re probably rip off our budget anyway. 


Our guide informed us that he still can’t find a boat that will take us to Sapi, the last island on our list, but that was okay. We are enjoying the views and the seascape in Palau Manukan.

We walked the sandy beach, took pictures from the wooden dock, the beach and  whatever else took our interests. The place is so picturesque that it’s perfect for any photo shoots!

The islands also allow campers to stay and there are even tents for rent at RM30 per night.  Soon it started to drizzle, Baba and I are now feeling tired so we decided to call off the visit to Palau Sapi and head back home. 

Brekkie at Fook Yuen Cafe, Jalan Gaya

Baba and I woke up early at 6:30am on my second day in Kota Kinabalu. We are excited to explore around even this early and we decided to search around for a place to have breakfast. Just when we’re about to go out, Baba can’t find our keys… and only did we realize that we left it in the doorknob last night!


We walked towards Gaya Street and peeked at what the stores offer this early. We turned and found ourselves in the direction of the esplanade and then back to the Gaya. We ended in Fook Yuen, a cafe near the end of Gaya, just beside Old Town. I found myself drawn by the bread creations at his cafe because they looked like those from Breadtalk. We also decided to try out the noodles (goreng) and the different bits and pieces that’s eaten with it.

For coffee, I ordered kofi susu for both of us. Coffee from this side of Asia is truly heavenly and really cheap too! Kofi susu for only RM 1.20 each! I can just stay here and drink this yummy brew three times a day! The cafe is packed with early locals and tourists alike. I started noticing that the crew and the cashiers are but minors. Most people here in Kota Kinabalu also understands the Filipino language, so getting our thoughts across was not very difficult.

Our brekkie costs only around RM10 for everything and we still had take outs too boot! This cafe is something I would always come back to when I visit Baba  After filling our tummies, we headed back to our hostel and prepared for a trip to islands.

The Land Below the Wind: Kota Kinabalu Accommodations and Itinerary

Last October 2012, I was able to book cheap flights from Clark, Philippines to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah Malaysia. Roundtrip airfare costs only Php3,200 and Baba and I were both excited for my visit.

A month before the trip we constantly chatted to arrange our schedules and itinerary since he would need to file leaves from his work in Papar. I’ve searched online on how others spent their visit to Kota Kinabalu (KK) and wondered at how much we’ll spend for our trip.

We made advance booking for our hostels via Agoda, and because we can’t decide where exactly we want to stay, we booked three hotels for our three nights there (this Baba hope we won’t do again). Three days accommodation costs in these hotels totaled more or less P4500:

1. City Park Hotel (Jalan Pantaii)
 Double Room Rate in Agoda: RM 73 (at time of booking)

We liked this hostel a lot, the staff are friendly, the room is clean and spacious. We asked if we can extend a little like an hour after checkout because we’re going for the islands, we came back much later yet the lady in the reception did not ask for additional fee for our lapsed time.

2. Borneo Gaya Lodge (Jalan Gaya)
Double Room Rate (without windows): RM77 (at time of booking)

Baba thinks this hostel is over-rated in Agoda. The room we got was very basic for the price. It was just a room with a bed and a bathroom. No television and no windows and the wi-fi was so-so. Only good thing with this hostel is that it is located right in Gaya St where Sunday street market happens.

3. Cititel Express (Asia City Complex)
Standard Room with Sea View: RM 120 (at time of booking)

We wanted something fancier on our last night. There were negative remarks about this hotels’ room sizes but Baba and I just loved it. Their resto however is just an express diner so we just headed out to the waterfront for our candle-lit dinner date.

I think the price is just right for the comfortable room and convenient location of this hotel. We just hope that wi-fi would be free!

Itinerary for 4 days and 3 nights

Baba and I made our itinerary with both of us looking up the internet for things we wanted to do, foods we want to eat and places we wanted to visit while I’m there. He’s already three months in Sabah, but he haven’t really explored the city yet. So this is what we have prepared.

Day 1 (Friday)
1505 ETD from Clark Airport
1705 ETA in KKIA
1800 Check in at City Park Lodge in Jalan Gaya
1830 Head to Filipino Market for Dinner
1930 Check out nearby landmarks
2100 Night cap at BB Café in Rainforest Lodge
2300 Back to lodgings
Day 2 (Saturday)
0700 Check out and Breakfast at Jalan Gaya
0830 Jesselton Point jump off to Manukan/Sapi/Mamutik Islands
1130 Lunch at one of the Islands (Manukan)
1400 Back to city and check in at Borneo Lodge
1530 City Tour (Blue Mosque, Atkinson Tower, Signal Hill Observatory etc)
1800 Head to Tanjung Aru Beach to watch the sunset/Dinner
1930 Mall (Centerpoint/Wisda Merdeka)
2100 Coffee/Nightcap at Old Town White Coffee
2300 Back to lodgings

Day 3 (Sunday) Option 1

0600 Breakfast
0700 Bound for Kinabalu Park
0900 Explore Kinabalu Park
1300 Leave for the City
1500 Movie/Mall
1700 Sunday Mass
1800 Filipino Market for Souvenirs
1900 Dinner Date
2100 Back to Lodgings

Day 3 (Sunday) Option 2
0700 Breakfast
0800 Sunday Mass
0900 Explore Gaya Sunday Market
1000 Mall
1200 Early Check in at Cititel Express/Lunch
1300 Lok Kawi Wildlife Park
1500 Monsopiad Cultural Village
1700 Pacific Sutera/Shangrila (Sunset/Dinner)
1900 Back to City Center
Day 4 (Monday)
0700 Breakfast at Hotel
0800 Head to Filipino Market/Shop
1000 Mall
1100 Lunch then Airport
1540 ETA Clark

Baba did not allow me to change any peso to ringgit because he said he’s prepared for the expenses. When I got there, he handed me a bunch of ringgits that was our budget for the whole trip.

So do you think we were able to stick to our IT? Will post more about my first ever out of the country trip soon!