From 31st October to 11th December, Perth is hosting the Cow Parade, a public art installation which features 40 cows (not real ones!) across the city. Perth just becomes one of the few in the world to host the art event whereby cows that arrived as blank canvasses are painted, crafted and embellished by artists and designers from across Western Australia.
Their works are then displayed on various locations, such as parks, shopping centres, buildings and areas of interests, whilst some will be auctioned off to raise money for medical research.
I never thought I would ever take embroidery as a hobby. Whilst I learned cross-stitching back in uni and finished a few small projects, I abandoned stitching eventually in favour of new interests when I started working.
Last year, I dabbled in adult colouring to pass the time and for the most part, to take my mind away from the stresses of daily living, including completing projects at work, finding my way through corporate life, and putting together documents for my visa applications. However, it eventually lost its appeal in part because it did not work for the purpose that I had initially intended and in part because it became a boring and tedious activity. I still keep a pack of colouring pens and a couple of colouring books handy, but I don’t know when I’ll have the interest again to complete even a single page.
I finally joined my first race in Perth last Sunday at the HBF Run for a Reason 2016. Like most running events everywhere else, this race/fun run supports various charities, and runners had the option to directly donate to specific groups of their choice or set up their own campaigns.
Since I have only been running on and off in the past 10 months and that I wasn’t familiar with how running events were held in Perth, it was starkly different experience from the races that I joined almost weekly in 2014 and 2015. While I was able to put in a few KMs of running prior to our wedding, it was still a shame that I didn’t run as much in spite of the fact that Perth has been designed as if to encourage running, thanks to the miles of bike and foot paths around the suburbs and the many parks that dot the city. So in order to stick to running, I decided to sign up for this year’s HBF event. It also happens that the race that the annual event that the insurance company sponsors is the largest one in the state.
So on the cold morning of 22nd of May, I hauled myself off to the starting line. As I had barely prepared for the race, the 4KM run surely was the only category that I knew I could complete. It was a stark contrast to last year, when a 10KM run was the shortest distance that I would run, and I even managed to complete a 21.8 KM event without much preparation.
I still had fun running with beginners, parents and their munchkins, moms and dads pushing prams, and few differently-abled participants. The idea was simply to keep moving and have fun in the process. In addition to running a different, more scenic and definitely not polluted route, the race was the coldest that I ran so far, as it was late autumn/early winter in the southern hemisphere. I don’t regret wearing two layers of clothing and boy was I glad for packing my 2XU compression pants!
The race started at the heart of the CBD and ended at a horserace track near the WA Cricket grounds. Similar to running events back in Manila, there were plenty of things for finishers to do after collecting their medals, including free photo sessions and mini contests for prizes. I love how organised the run was, especially since organisers even provided runners with free bus rides going back to CBD.
So yay to my first running event in Perth and I hope to collect more finisher’s medals and run longer distances in the future.
Who knew that Kota Kinabalu would be one of the most special places I would ever visit? The week spent in the city famously referred to by locals and travellers alike as “KK” has been one of the most enjoyable in recent memory, thanks to the charm of the place itself, its people, and the company of someone who would eventually claim a special place in my heart (perhaps, my heart itself).
Thanks to the peak travel season in the Philippines in the summer, especially during and right after Easter/Holy Week, everything cost nearly twice as much, particularly airfare and hotel. And so on top of wanting to avoid crowds, this only encouraged us to consider other destinations in Southeast Asia.
Thus, upon recommendations on the Web and from friends alike, we decided on KK, a convenient, tourist-friendly, and very affordable destination. Kota Kinabalu is this little nook on the northwest coast of Sabah, Malaysia, facing the South China sea. Whilst it was one of the more popular gateways to Malaysia, Borneo or the rest of Southeast Asia, KK after Easter was not teeming with too many tourist. We were informed by locals that the city did host a considerable number of visitors a few weeks prior, so I guess the timing for our holiday was just right.
Cebu Pacific and Air Asia fly most days between Manila and KK, and so the best option in terms of schedule and price for me was a red-eye on Good Friday evening. My flight took off from NAIA3 at 11:30PM and we landed a little over 1:00 AM at Kota Kinabalu International Airport.
From Airport to Hotel
A quick processing at Immigration that required visitors to scan finger prints and baggage retrieval later, I was on my way to the hotel via Airport Taxi.
Tickets for taxi can be bought straight from the Airport Taxi booth where visitors can also purchase local currency; tickets are sold at RM30 per taxi, which is good for up to 3 passengers. The commute from airport to hotel or downtown took roughly 15 minutes, but it was past 2:00 AM when I finished checking in.
Relying on Internet reviews, my partner and I chose the Grandis Hotel located conveniently on the outskirts of downtown KK (a.k.a., Jesselton). Whilst the hotel is attached to the Suriah Sabah shopping mall, it is also just a few blocks away from local mom and pop shops, cafes, and the backpacking districts composed of Gaya Street and Australia Lane.
Grandis is perfect if you wish great customer service, pan-Asian and continental breakfast buffet, a massive hotel room, rooftop swimming pool, functional gym, and best of all, watching the sunset while sipping your favourite drink. We could not have chosen a better hotel for price and convenience.
Sunday Market on Gaya Street
Sunday found us amongst the throng of people out for knick-knacks, food, souvenir items, and exotic produce sold at the Sunday Market on Gaya Street. Open until noon, this weekly fair popular amongst locals and visitors, also offers arts and crafts from local artists.
The city’s lively party scene is catered to by various local and foreign cover bands, mostly from Philippines. There are other music bars and clubs in other parts of town, the entertainment centre is still the waterfront and its surrounding blocks. On weekends, drop by the only karaoke place on the boardwalk and be fascinated by different Asian groups vying for their turn at the mic to belt their favourite tunes in their own languages.
On the other hand, if karaoke is not your thing, then go to one of the sports bars for something refreshing while watching your favourite teams and athletes on TV. As my partner is a big fan of Fremantle Dockers, an Aussie Rules football team based in Western Australia, we opted to spend the late afternoon at the Aussie Barbeque and Bar whose manager was kind enough to switch the channel to the Australia network that was showing the match between the Dockers and Port Adelaide. Fremantle surged in the third quarter for a comfortable win against the team from South Australia.
As the match ended towards sundown, the boardwalk proved to be an ideal spot for watching the sunset.
Temples and Retro Buildings
Amongst various attractions in the city and nearby districts are temples and buildings built around the decades Malaysia gained its independence from British rule. As the city expanded beyond the main district of former Jesselton, new structures were built to cater to commercial, residential and cultural purposes.
The cylindrical Tun Mustapha tower is one such structure. Built in 1977, the 122-foot structure features a museum, shops, and a revolving restaurant on its top floor. A quick ride from Tun Mustapha along the coastal highway is the grand city mosque, while on the old district one could find KK’s version of the Flatiron Buildings and the historical clock tower.
We chanced upon the Che Sui Khor Moral Uplifting Society temple and pagoda, which seemed to have been removed from tourist maps on purpose. It’s not necessarily open to public, but visitors can look around the grounds.
No visit to KK is complete without going to the Tunku Abdul Raham National Park, a group of five islands just off the coast of the city. Visitors can choose to visit all five islands — Gaya, Mamutik, Sapi, Manukan and Sulug — or select just a few by arranging for tours at the Jesselton Point Ferry Terminal. Boats that take guests to the islands leave as early 8:00 in the morning, and all trips going back to the city pick up passengers until 5:00 in the afternoon.
With a quick enquiry with any of the tour operators at the terminal, we were able to secure tickets for a three-island tour of the marine park for the following day. Our first stop was nearby Sapi Island, and getting there early proved rather useful as we were able to reserve a spot to set up our beach mats and snorkel before the place became very crowded.
It was also while we were on the island that my partner decided to get tickets for the seawalk; it is a way to go underwater without the need for scuba equipment. It was more fun than I expected, and the crew that managed the seawalk made sure we all had a great time interacting with marine life, and that the whole experience was very safe. Guests received CDs containing photos taken during their walk. For about RM100++ per person, it was a great experience!
Just as Sapi was getting crowded, we hopped onto the boat that took us to the much larger Manukan Island for lunch. For only RM16 for the both of us, lunch included massive servings of rice, curry, veggies, and fried noodles, plus drinks.
I had a better time snorkeling at Manukan, which was probably another reason why we missed our boat that would have taken us to Sapi. (Oooops, sorry babe!) But then again, we couldn’t contact our tour guide and we had delays getting to the floating jetty for the rented jet ski. It was another first for me and my partner and it all proved to be a lot of fun. After the initial fear of getting thrown off the jetski (and all sorts of imaginary horrible scenarios), 30 minutes of powering through wave after wave just off the coast of Shangri-La seemed too short.
Our last stop was Mamutik, from which we caught the last boat that would take us back to the Ferry Terminal.
Two Flat Whites, please
I loved the fact that in addition to having a very varied food scene, KK also boasts of independent cafes. It was obvious that Starbucks was the go-to coffee shop amongst the younger crowd, but for those who were after something out of the ordinary, it was best to give local coffee houses a go.
It was during this trip that I eventually got used to the idea of Flat White, which was served in nearly every independent cafe in KK. Party Play on Gaya Street is an eclectic joint at the heart of the backpacking district that serves great coffee and pastries, but our favourite easily became October Coffee House on the other end of Gaya, or what must be also named Australia Lane. Not only does October serve amazing flat white, but the place itself is Instagram-friendly.
We stopped by October for our fave brew before venturing out to the city ou its outskirts on a number of occasions; it easily became a habit, no matter how short our stay was in Kota Kinabalu.
Getting to know Sabah’s natural beauty
Six days into the holiday, I started counting the time left to enjoy the whole experience with my partner. It was an amazing week because of the many attractions that KK offered, its friendly locals, and most especially, the company. It’s rare to be able to travel with someone whose curiosity and sense of wonder about places, things, and experiences resembles that of a child’s, and I could not be any happier to be in his company as we discovered the rest of Sabah’s natural attractions.
An hour-and-a half’s bus ride from KK took us east of the city for the Klias River Cruise to spot proboscis monkeys in their natural habitat (they’re cute!) and allowed us to watch thousands of fireflies in the evening. Even though spotting proboscis monkeys, macaques, monitor lizards, and wild birds was an amazing experience on its own, watching fireflies was the highlight of the cruise for me, as it had been over a decade since the last time I saw fireflies, whilst it was his first time to see these wonderful creatures.
Those who wish to take the cruise can purchase tickets at Centre Point shopping mall. Prices vary for the half-day tour, which includes bus rides (buses or vans pick up and drop off guests at their hotels), 2-hour river cruise to spot rare fauna, afternoon snacks/tea, dinner buffet, and watching fireflies. Be sure to shop around for the best prices, as there are no standard rates. We were very lucky to discover an operator that sold tickets at half the price as those sold by others for the same package.
Lok Kawi Wildlife Park was among the more prominent destinations mentioned in websites, leaflets and travel brochures, so we decided to give it a shot. Thanks to my terrible sense of direction and distance, I didn’t realise just how far it was from the city until we were tracking it on the iPhone map.
Located up in the mountains at least 30 minutes’ drive/motorbike ride from Kota Kinabalu, the park looked awfully in need of an upgrade. I had the impression that the zoo’s management was taking care of the animals as much as they could, but the zoo could do well with a bit more funding to maintain some of its attractions and facilities. However, for the experience of exploring out of KK, the trip was worth taking at least for a couple out to discover whatever Sabah had to offer.
Apart from us, there were two families visiting the zoo, so it felt like we had the massive place all to ourselves. Entrance fee is RM20 for non-Malaysians, and the park is open daily from 9:30 AM to 5:30 PM.
An Afternoon at the Museum
Appreciating Kota Kinabalu and Sabah also meant getting to know its natural and cultural heritage. An afternoon at the Sabah Museum introduced us to the state’s history — the native population’s origins, its many years under British rule, the Japanese invasion, and its modern history after Malaysia declared independence. Sections of the museum are also dedicated to Sabah’s flora and fauna, and culture expressed through arts, crafts, and hunting implements.
The grounds around the main museum building is dedicated to various tribal groups (which we skipped) and transportation. There was a train that was used in plantations during British rule, as well as old cars used in business and state functions. The time we spent inspecting the locomotive started to give me an idea of just how much he loved trains, thus, one highlight of the trip was a day trip aboard the North Borneo Railways, which I will cover in another entry.
Sunsets and food stops
Choosing Grandis afforded us the privilege of watching the sunset at the rooftop to cap off one great day after another. There was nothing like finishing a glass (or two) of white wine or a good beer as the afternoon sky turned from blue to gold, and then burst into different colours. It was amazing to watch it from the boardwalk, and more so on the 12th floor.
Sky Blu bar at the Grandis Hotel rooftop serves local and continental cuisine, as well as all sorts of refreshments.
No visit to Malaysia is complete without having a steaming bowl of Laksa. As a rule of thumb, it is best to go to places most popular amongst locals, and so it was nothing else but Yee Fung for us. Located on Gaya Street, Yee Fung serves the yummiest laksa in town for only RM7.00.
For great Korean food and friendly customer service, Buga Korean Restaurant down by the waterfront is a good bet for pork barbecue and of course, bibimbap.
This place is also another proof of Pinoy diaspora, if not of the sheer huge number of Filipinos living, working, or born in Malaysia. It had become a guessing game for me whether a waiter or attendant was Pinoy, and so after hearing a few attendants converse in one of Philippines’ many dialects, I talked to one of them in Tagalog. The good kid answered in very formal Pilipino, and shared that he was of Pinoy and Chinese descent, but was born in KK.
Surprisingly, the best Italian meal away from Italy is probably in this tiny part of the world. Also on the waterfront, Gusto is easy to miss for its unassuming, nothing-fancy setup: an open kitchen managed by its Italian Chef and a few tables on the boardwalk. But anybody who has tried any item on their menu will surely recommend the place.
I wish I could extend our visit in KK, as the fun of exploring a place that was equally exotic and modern, meeting people from various cultures who co-existed peacefully, and the bliss of spending time with a loved one was nothing but my very idea of a great holiday.