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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Conquer Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

Travel Factor is a saving grace when i'm itching to go someplace but has a few buddies to go with and when I'm too lazy to plan.  This time, I'm off to Kota Kinabalu (KK) with two other friends with Travel Factor to go river rafting and island hopping for a package price of P11,000 excluding meals and airfare.  But felt ripped off after counting how much the tour actually cost, we'll that's the price you pay for convenience.

Backpacking KK

It was my first international flight on budget carrier Cebu Pacific Air and Air Asia.  For someone who is no frills, I don't mind it at all, in fact, it doesn't spell much difference in terms of service.  Travel Factor is likewise a budget tour organizer so we were checked-in Summer Lodge - a backpacking hostel along Jalan Gaya.  Our room was a corner room on the 5th floor sans any elevator.  It was quite noisy when the band at the bar outside was playing.  The split type aircondition was cool but temperature controller is not provided.  Blanket is only provided upon request so on the first night, we woke up laughing that our roommate used his bedsheets to protect himself from the cold.  Although a private room and bath is preferred, their common toilet and bath was bearable.  At least for me, but not for my first timer friend who's used to traveling in luxury.  The Rainforest Lodge on the lower level looks much cleaner though.

Padas River Rafting

We were picked up from our lodge by Borneo Ultimate or Busat at around 8am.  On board a tourist bus, we were joined by three other group from mainland Malaysia, Hong Kong and locals from KK.

From KK city center, the bus ride to Beaufort town was about 2 hours where we took an old train to Pangi for an hour.  The train ride was a little rough with a scenic view of the river.  The river is brown due to soil errosion, which prompted me to change clothing, to something I don't mind disposing thereafter.

Light refreshments (watermelon and water) were provided upon our arrival while they prepare the raft and equipments at the starting point. A safety briefing was given by our guide Amin prior to our rafting adventure.   Helmet and life vest is provided, the raft is slightly worn out with no foot hold, there was no dry bag, good thing I brought one.  The Padas River rafting covers about 17km in distance (approx.  2hrs30mins) until we reach the ending point at Halogilat Station. The river was low and the current was fast so it took us less than two hours to complete it.  The waves are high at some point, which tipped us all off.  It's my first time to fall off the raft after 3 different river rafting adventures. The first was in Cagayan de Oro in 2002 and the second was in Davao in 2007.  Those experiences has somehow kept me calm inspite of being in the dark under the raft and thrown into the current.  Presence of mind is essential under these circumstances.  Packed lunch didn't look appetizing but it was a generous serving of chicken, lamb, noodles and fried rice.  It was served after rafting at around 2pm. Our journey back to the city center, was an hour train ride to Beaufort Town and  2 hour drive.  Whew, twas a long ride, longer than the time spent rafting.

  • Rafting fee: 200RM pp
  • Price Includes: Transportation(train ticket and vehicle hire), rafting equipment, refreshments, lunch, river guide and certificate (oh!  we didn't have one).

Island Hopping Taman Tunku Abdul Rahman:  Manukan Island, Sapi Island, Mamutik Island

The next day, we were off island hopping.  Jesselton Point is the jump off point for island hopping in KK.  Among the three, Manukan Island has the longest stretch of shore.  The waters looked inviting but I was so unprepared to get stung.  It must be the time of the year, no wonder the lifeguard has several bottles of vinegar on hand to treat sea stings.  However, it was very deceiving, it doesn't itch until the next day.  Sapi and Mamutik Island were better for snorkeling with lots of corals even in shallow waters.  The lunch buffet included in the package at Sapi Island was delicious with generous selection of seafood.   For someone coming from the Philippines, nothing compares with our beaches but in terms of facilities, KK is better equipped.  Each island has a common shower room and toilet for use with a good water supply, a good docking area and picnic tables.

Tourist fees for non-Malaysian:

  • Chartered boat: RM200 / scheduled trips: RM17 per person for each island
  • Terminal fee: RM6
  • Conservation fee 10 RM for foreign adults and 6 RM to 18 and below
  • Diving fee: RM50
3 island package price including lunch is about 180RM

Food Tripping

One thing I enjoyed most about KK was the experience to eat where the locals go and to chat with them as well.  It was a welcome challenge to converse in the common language we know, that is, to speak Mandarin Chinese and Fookien.

Along Gaya Street (Jalan Gaya) within the vicinity of Summer Lodge where we stayed, we tried out the laksa, and tea tarik in Fong IP Cafe.  We had a lenghty chat in Mandarin (nosebleed!) with the owner, he seemed amused with our company, it earned us a free strawberry pudding.  We were prepared to say it was good even before we could taste it since he was looking on, but true enough, it tastes good.

From our room window, we could see the Five Star Hainanese Chicken and BBQ Pork,  many locals come to eat, it's always safe to assume that good food is served when there are a lot of locals in a restaurant.  We gave it a try and it speaks for itself.

Next door is Kedai Kopi Yee Fung.  It's only open for breakfast and lunch. We had brunch with chicken claypot, beef noodles and ice lemon juice with Hamkit (whatever that means, it tasted like dried plum) were something different.  Our last meal before we head to the airport.

The KK Esplanade is also a cool place to hangout with several bars along the strip.  Although the bars doesn't appeal much for someone (me) who doesn't drink, our travel mates found the place very cozy with frequent toast of a good local beer.  I'm happy I wasn't obliged to sit down and watch them drink through the night.  We separated from the group and hanged out for dessert at the Hyatt Regency Kinabalu.  We were surprised to know that desserts are selling at 50% off before 9 in the evening (just before the dessert shop closes).  That's 4 ringgit for a piece of cake.  We stayed in the hotel lounge until late in the evening, I had not a cup but two huge pots of fresh camomile tea.  That was really good, I've never drunk that much tea!  I ought to be thankful for a 5-star restroom at the Hyatt - a rare find in KK. :D

KK has good infrustructure yet it remained simple and laid back.  My trip didn't appeal to my peers.  Frankly, I've been to nicer places but each place can't always be better than the other.  Through the years, I've learned that travelling is not only to see the place but more importantly to explore and experience it and that's exactly what we did.  Woah, I'm surprised with such maturity... I'm turning into a seasoned traveller and not just an ordinary tourist.  :)

Monday, May 3, 2010

Trekking in Mt Pinatubo, Capas Tarlac

The day after the exciting 15th hot air balloon, in Clark, Pampanga, we drove ourselves from Fontana, Clark, Pampanga to Capas, Tarlac and get off in Pinatubo Spa Town to register.


Here's a roadmap to Mt. Pinatubo Registration Station:


Simply register at Capas Tarlac town center.  We registered at the Pinatubo Spa Town. You may book in advance through the president of the 4x4 Association, Wendell Mercado at or +639196084313.

Pay the applicable fees before the start of the tour:
  • P3750 for 4-wheel drive with capacity of 4 to 5
  • P500 tourist guide fee per vehicle
  • P50/head conservation fee
  • P500 skyway toll fee per vehicle
  • = roughly P1000/head for group of 5
Bring your own lunch pack, only a few snacks and drinks are for sale by the crater.

    It's an hour rough ride on the 4x4 through lahar stricken town.

    Picture stop half-way.
    If you are up to the challenge, you may opt for a longer path: a choice of an hour, two or three hour trek.
    or opt for the shortest route like I did.
    Picturesque view of the crater.

    P350 per head optional rowing.  
    Make sure you pay at the registration station before the start of the trek, they don't accept payment up here.

    Be back in town before sundown, after the bumpy ride and long walk, experience the Vulcanic Ash Spa, Mud Pool and a massage at Pinatubo Spa Town for P500 for each service.