Kota Kinabalu..a feast for the senses

Although i was full of good intentions to keep up my blog as a travelogue whilst we were away over Easter, it just didn’t happen. Not even for lack of time, but perhaps because i just wanted to enjoy the moments. So much of what we do is documented to within an inch of its life, and we miss the moment because we are videoing, photographing or blogging it. We spent a week at the gorgeous Shangri-La Tanjung Aru resort in Kota Kinabalu which was blissfully relaxing…well appointed rooms, fabulous views, spacious grounds and great facilities including a boat service to the outlying islands which make up the Tunku AbdulRahman Marine Park. A highlight of our stay was a day on Manukan Island with its soft white sand and crystal clear waters, where the kids snorkelled amidst the tropical fish, rays and coral. The hotel provided everything we needed from beach towels to snorkelling equipment and a picnic lunch.

The last time I was in Kota Kinabalu was on a school trip at the age of 11… the days before mobile phones and when our parents waved us goodbye and we saw them 5 days later. Half of our group climbed the mountain, and half went to see the Rafflesia (and we smelt it before we saw it) and the Hot Springs. Accommodation certainly wasn’t five star! On this visit we decided to keep sightseeing to a minimum but did try to search out the elusive Rafflesia flower – not flowering, and spent a morning at the Mari Mari cultural village learning about the different tribes of Borneo. This was a great tour which took in five tribes, ending with the most violent headhunters and learning how to grate coconut and use a blowpipe! It kept the two teens entertained and interested for 3 hours which is quite a feat!

Sabah and Sarawak are famous for their pepper. Malaysian pepper is unlike anything you can get in the UK – its sharp and fiery with a distinctive flavour, and is always on my list to bring home.  The main market in Kota Kinabalu was bustling when we went along in the evening. There was quite a crowd standing at the waterside watching the sunset, whilst others were wandering around the market, the hawkers stalls and the seafood restaurants with their live produce! The largest Cinnamon sticks I have ever seen were on the market stalls, along with a myriad of other dried spices, and every type of dried fish imaginable. Seafood was a big feature  and a typical seafood restaurant involves choosing your crab/fish/prawn which are then weighed and cooked to your specifications – steamed with ginger, deep fried, barbecued.. the choice is yours.

My family tend not to stay in a hotel to eat in the evenings – we like to go out and see whats going on. The town was buzzing and we found some really good places to eat – from traditional seafood joints to Chinese dim sum and a great Hawker Centre which always keeps everyone happy! Our favourite dishes of Kota Kinabalu? Fresh papaya for breakfast, Cha Tow Kway (fried radish cake with egg & beansprout), Barbecued chilli stingray – cooked on a banana leaf with just the right amount of chilli, lemongrass, garlic and lime, Steamed Garouper with Ginger & Spring onions and fried rice with crispy garlic.

There’s so much to take in – the sights, smells, flavours and above all, the heritage and culture of Kota Kinabalu and the surrounding area… we literally just had a taster of this vibrant town.

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