Touching down in the bustling state capital of Kota Kinabalu
On my most recent trip to SE Asia I visited three countries: Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia – specifically the Malaysian state of Sabah in Borneo. I had visited Sabah’s major hub Kota Kinabalu before, but that was seven years ago and so I was interested to see if the city had changed in any way. Fortunately, Kota Kinabalu has retained its character and has not changed dramatically simply in order to accommodate the tourist market. In fact, fewer tourists visit this region of SE Asia than the mainland, so it could be argued by choosing to visit here you are having a more authentic Asian experience. The flight from Taipei to Kota Kinabalu was only a few hours, and considerably cheaper than if I had flown from Tokyo. So if you do live in Japan – and are wanting to go deeper into SE Asia – make sure you check flight prices from Taipei as quite often you can get a cheaper ticket if you are willing to change planes there.
Arrival in Kota Kinabalu. Check-in at Grandis.
Many cities in the world are notorious for their transfer times to and from the airport. It can take up to two hours by train from downtown Tokyo to Narita, and in densely populated cities such as Jakarta and Manila it’s often advised to set off five hours before your flight. In terms of proximity to the city, Kota Kinabalu airport couldn’t be better – taking just 15 minutes by taxi to the centre. The high-to-mid-range Grandis Hotel has received steady reviews since it opened and it’s easy to see why. Attached directly to an upmarket shopping mall, it is ideally placed just a five-minute walk from the ferry terminal where you can catch speedboats to the islands. Check in was smooth, and it was good to be back in Kota Kinabalu after a long absence.
Room & View
My room overlooked the South China Sea where I could see boats coming and going from the islands. I actually arrived just as the sun was setting, and so my first real introduction to Sabah was a gorgeous sunset right from my room. A welcome note and a bowl of fruit completed my check-in experience. The room itself was spacious, with a separate living space beside the bed.
The Grandis Hotel, Kota Kinabalu
Deceptively small from the outside, the Grandis is actually a pretty big hotel – stretching back across the complex and rising right up to the roof. In the restaurant each morning I was able to choose from a breakfast buffet that included Western favourites as well as more traditional Malaysian options. The beef randang was very good, as were the pastries. Cooks wearing chef hats were busy manning the egg stations, and platters of fruit were constantly being replenished by the staff. On both my days I ate early and spent the rest of the day out and about exploring – but it was good to come back in the late afternoon to use the gym and watch the sunset by the pool up on the roof.
In the heart of the city
If you are visiting Kota Kinabalu and looking for a mid-range option that ticks all the boxes of location and facilities, The Grandis is a very good choice. There’s a Japanese restaurant just across the street, and a cinema on the top floor of the adjacent mall. In terms of food, the night market is just a quick five-minute walk along the boardwalk. Here you can choose from about 20 restaurants all serving fresh seafood, as well as lots of other little stalls selling everything from butter chicken to durian. The jetty is also just a five-minute walk away, whisking you away to the beaches of Sapi and Manukan. That’s the beauty of Kota Kinabalu – city and island life, all rolled into one.