June 1-27, 2018: We spent a whole month in Kota Kinabalu before flying back to Canada for our annual summer visit. Being in a new city meant we had to get our bearings.
Of course, food always seems to be our biggest priority. KK has a nice mix of Malaysian, Indonesian, Chinese, Indian, Thai, Korean, Japanese and western restaurants to choose from. We made it our mission to find the best food around.
On our hunt for good food, we got a chance to check out a bunch of different restaurants. About the only thing we couldn’t find was really good pizza. (No Pizza Hut doesn’t count.) Here’s a sampling of our favourites.
We hit the “Rat Hole” with Dwayne and Kelly, who passed through KK briefly on a monohull delivery from Thailand to Hong Kong. This is a down-to-earth Chinese restaurant within walking distance of the marina. We’ve been back a few times now but, despite the nickname, have yet to spot any rats.
Our dock neighbour, Grant, took us up into the hills for views overlooking Mt. Kinabalu and the city from the Kasih Sayang Health Resort. It was downright cool up there in the evening; such a refreshing change from the humidity at the coast, although I wished I’d had a sweater. The menu had a wide range of choices. Chris tried the curried lamb and I chose the chicken and mango dish. Both very tasty. They also had a wide selection of fresh juices, smoothies and herbal teas. The drive up here through the jungle is pretty cool too.
We tried El Centro (Mexican) and Sin Kee, another Chinese joint that specializes in a regional dish called bah kut teh, a soup dish comprised of fatty pork bits and spices. They also had a tasty “dry” pork dish, with some unidentifiable pork tidbits in it. Both spots got return visits.
Eating in KK wouldn’t be complete without checking out the various waterfront hawker centres. There are several to choose from, each with dozens of small restaurants vying for our business. We started at Anjung Senja then made our way further along to the Kota Kinabalu Waterfront, a collection of more upscale pubs and restaurants overlooking Pulau Gaya. The location is spectacular, but the prices reflect it and, on the downside, sometimes the stink from the stilt village across the bay spoils the ambiance if the wind is blowing just so. We stuck to beers at the Shamrock Irish Pub and sat inside to take advantage of the AC. Sadly, smoking is still accepted inside in many places, which always ruins it for me.
Next along the row of waterfront hawker centres is our favourite, the Night Market. This is one of the busiest of the bunch, which is a decidedly good thing when you want the freshest seafood around. It’s pretty basic and mostly locals eat here. Further along there is the Todak Waterfront Hawker Centre, which we have yet to try. These last two places are pretty makeshift affairs. If it rains, the tarps overhead may leak.
At the Night Market, part of it is dedicated to a wet market with vendors selling fresh fish and seafood, and part of it has vendors selling fruits and vegetables. But the big draw is the area with dozens of food hawkers. It’s hard to decide where to eat. Although some places sell cooked chicken and other delicacies, we wanted seafood. We’d wander around checking out the fresh seafood displays until one of the vendors went out of their way to get our attention. Then it was a matter of picking what we wanted, specifying how we wanted it cooked and deciding how hungry we were. Everything here is priced by the kilo. Some places listed their prices openly. Other didn’t. It’s best to ask first or you might get a big surprise when it comes time to settle the bill. They don’t normally sell beer to wash it all down, but some sellers did go out of their way to find some for us. Otherwise we’d opt for iced coffee with milk and sugar.
Also along the waterfront is the big central market. I couldn’t pass up a chance to explore it. The building is huge and I’m still learning where the best vendors are, but I can get pretty much all the fresh fruit and veggies I could possibly want and fresh chicken too. There’s even a pork room, although it’s tucked way off at the end of the building away from the rest of the vendors. Surprisingly there is very little fish here. That’s usually available in the wet market starting in the afternoons. Apparently the best fish is brought down daily from Kudat.
We also scouted out a couple of different supermarkets. Some are much better than others, and I’m still trying to hunt down some items. We have yet to find a really good selection of cheese, wine is more expensive than we’re used to, and Australian imports (i.e. Vegemite) are easier to find than North American ones (i.e. corn tortillas). I’m sure we’ll adapt. When we’re finally ready to stock up MOKEN’s freezer and pantry for the next leg of our adventure, provisioning won’t be too difficult.
Chris’ birthday fell just two days before we were due to fly out. Although sunsets from the back deck of MOKEN at Sutera Harbour Marina are pretty spectacular, we decided to shake things up for a change. We heard that sunset is best viewed from the beach bar at the Shangri La Resort. It was definitely a good place to watch everyone taking sunset selfies. After polishing off our sundowners, we headed back downtown for sushi. Chris certainly deserved a new pair of flip flops for his birthday, after the soles finally wore through on his last pair that he kept together for almost a year with the help of twine and washers.
Although it might seem like all we did in June was eat, we did do a few other things too. Chris tested our hookah dive system and then made plans for some modifications he wanted to make. Meanwhile, I cleared out our freezer and fridge and donated all our perishables to the crew on one of the boats down the dock. We were also in communication with Full River Battery in China to get a quote to replace our house battery bank and upgrade from six to eight batteries. Then there was the usual cleaning and maintenance on MOKEN to get her ready for locking her up for a couple of months. Plus we had to find someone to take care of Nukaat while we were away. That turned out to be more of an ordeal than we expected. Perhaps Nukaat will tell you about that one day.
It’s super easy to get around KK making use of Grab drivers or the local variation, called MyCar. Our exploration beyond KK into the heart of Sabah will have to wait until after our return from Canada when we can rent a car and get outside the city to explore.