Summer is coming and it is good news for sun-lovers. I, personally, prefer cold than hot but I do sometimes enjoy lying under the summery sun, listening to the sound of the waves and going for some exciting sports like surfing! One of my favorite of such tropical destinations would be Cancun, Mexico (in December, please); since the weather in December was still bearable – even a little bit cool, and the resorts by the coastline was just simply great.
There are lots of cool destinations in Southeast Asia, too! Kota Kinabalu is a very popular vacation ‘hotspots’. I was once spent a couple of days there just to enjoy and relax.
The city area of K.K. is “just a city”; but the surrounding islands and nature is magnificent. Plus, it offers many direct flights to lots of major cities in the area, and the airport is merely 15-20 mins drive away from the city center. I went to two of them, one close and the other, farther.
Sapi / Manukan Island
The city center of Kota Kinabalu does not directly connect to nice exotic beaches. Travelers may book a room in the resorts away from the main streets, or hop on the boat to the outlying islands. Sapi and Manukan islands are basically the most assessable with its close proximity to the city center. Ferries that travel to these islands depart from the Kota Kinabalu Ferry Terminal – “Jesselton”. The ferry terminal is at the north end of the downtown area; if the hotel you stay in is not closed by, you may need to grab a taxi to get there (Some may have shuttle services).
Once got out of the taxi, we entered the hall and there was a bunch of ticketing booth. They were different companies but technically they were selling very similar “island hopping” packages for the nearby islands including Sapi and Manukan islands. Try to bargain and they may lower the price a little bit. Generally speaking, Sapi is the hub connecting all islands and Manukan is a nearby island that is more secluded and quiet. There were a few resorts built on the island, too.
For a one-day experience, it is most common to choose 2-3 islands; arriving the Sapi island first – join some beach activities and then hop to another island after lunch. We were just going for the beach and we got to Sapi a little bit earlier than the normal crowd; we had some peace and quiet on the beach before the giant group of visitors (and kids) “occupied” the beach.
The beach in Sapi is not big, many beach-goers came here for water activities – jet ski, snorkeling, para-sailing….. etc. I had a dip in the water and saw a lot of fish in the shallow area (Some traveler stuffed bread in the plastic bottles to lure the fish but feeding is actually not permitted.) Really, it was quiet in the morning until lunch time the entire beach area was full of people!! They were fully clothed and they were talking loud, eating around you, and we would know it was time to leave.
I would really recommend Mantanani Island – just to get away from the crowd and truly admire the tropical beauty. It takes about 3 hours to get there, but it’s totally worth it. We joined a ‘local tour’ and mainly they arranged a coach bus to take our group to the island. We arrived at the dock after 2-hour drive from the city center and there was another 2-hour drive to the island. On the boat, we look back and we saw the entire Mount Kinabalu!
Once we arrived on the island, we settled down on the small lodge built on the sea. People then scattered to take some pictures of the bluish sea. The water was so clear that we could see the coral and fish in the sea – it was amazing. Then the groups were separated – snorkeling, swimming, scuba diving, etc.
Don’t worry, they have snorkeling mask, swim fins, floating stuff and life jackets to borrow on the boats. We were prepared and we bought a water-proof phone case to take pictures (or video) of the underwater world! After a 45 mins diving, we were picked up and get back to the lodge for lunch.
The tour has two sections (before / after lunch), after lunch, you could go back to diving, or spend some time lying around on the beach. We were taken to a nearby backpackers lodge and the facilities were for people to take lessons for their diving license. If you enjoy such an environment, it would be nice to stay a couple of days away from the bustle city life and embrace the ocean ~