Have you ever felt so much thirst for something you’ve never even had before? Well, I had.
It was April 2016 when Cebu Pacific Air offered a promo for Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, pricing their one-way tickets for only 27.12 AUD. So without hesitations, I booked a flight to and fro. Such a glorious moment for me, that is, having the fact that I’ve been itching to try solo travel for the longest time. Everything was unplanned, though. My savings surely weren’t enough to make the travel quite long term, but I had to strategize and think of a way to save and still be able to explore generously.
Believe it or not, I never spent a single cent for accommodations. Well, maybe a bit, only when we had to rent a small house in our trip to the tip of Borneo. How? Thank God for Couchsurfing.
Couchsurfing is a website for travelers – it’s somewhat like a give-and-take relationship. Hosts from different countries offer you their couch and home entirely for free and if you’d get lucky, you’ll even have your own room and be toured around.
Well, I got lucky in this case.
Since I’ll be traveling alone, I depended on the references written about the hosts for safety, and the host I requested for a stay had already gained a total of 196 references (and counting). WOW. Plus, his home was fantastic – you get to have your own room with bathroom, and he also tours his couchsurfers around town.
It was my first day, obviously, when my host took me to an open diner just by the side of the road for some Chinese food. Most of their cuisines are either with noodles or rice. Oh, and they love spicy too. It’s really cheap, way cheap, considering the amount of serving per person. As for the drinks, don’t be surprised to see tea and Milo (famous chocolate drink) in every. single. diner.
- Full Meal (with rice): 1.89 AUD – 3.15 AUD
- Noodles and Snacks: 0.47 AUD – 0.95 AUD
- Drinks: 0.47 AUD – 0.79 AUD
The Sabahan people takes pride of their local products and you’ll see their local-made chips, drinks, and meals almost everywhere. Good thing is, they also sell it for a really affordable price. However, they are also in love with KFC. So if in case you crave for something you’re used to, KFC is just in every corner of Sabah.
From nature, to shopping, to drinking places, they have it. On my first week, my host took me to town to see Gaya Street. It’s a street in Kota Kinabalu where you can find souvenirs, local coffee (Sabah is famous for it), and the best, Sunday Market.
Sunday Market is held once a week – of course, every Sunday. It’s more like a bazaar that sells anything under the sun. Local coffee, pets, flowers, herbal medicines, Sabahan instruments, clothes, and many more. They open as early as 7:00 am and stalls start to close at 12:00pm, sometimes until 1:00pm.
- Souvenirs: 6.30 AUD – 12.60 AUD
- Clothes/Accessories: 3.15 AUD – 14.18 AUD
- Instruments: 0.95 AUD – 11.03 AUD
I have gone to a total of four malls in Sabah and all are my favorite for different reasons.
Centre Point Mall
I’ve been here on my first night just to see the movies. I was told by my host that there will be a Couchsurfing meetup on a Friday night to see the movies and asked if I wanted to join, so, of course I said yes.
The movie house was a bit crowded, chairs are lowered and the distance from the seats below and above you are not that wide, also, some arm rests are broken, but the temperature inside the cinema was just alright.
Even though, it still is my go-to place for the cinema all just because of the price. How much? ONLY 2.52 AUD. That is such a jackpot. I was quite surprised, because you’ll never find a cinema house in my country (Philippines) with that price which shows the latest movies.
Imago is the newest mall in Sabah, and it’s now became the most famous. It is also the biggest mall and a traditional dance is being performed in the middle of the ground floor every now and then for entertainment. Events are mostly held in there, too.
Most international and local brands can be found in there such as H&M, Terranova, and the like. If you want a fancy lunch or dinner, a lot of diners can also be found at the back part of the mall. Every night on a weekend, a live band plays in one of the diners, too.
Suriah Sabah is just located near Gaya Street. After a sweaty shopping around Gaya, you can walk to Suriah Sabah and indulge yourself in a bookstore called Time, with sofas and a very good view of the city – my favorite hiding spot. You can also have a satisfying grocery-shopping in the mall if you feel like cooking for the night.
If you’re not a fan of crowded places, then Oceanus is the place to be. It is where you can find branded clothes, bags, and whatnot. It’s also near the sea and some bars, so if you want a good drink after shopping, it’s perfect to go here. Not much things to see, though, and there’s no available cinema – purely just for shopping and dining.
The most famous place during Harvest Festival for drinking, karaoke, and street food. I was lucky enough to have unknowingly had my trip just in perfect time for the Harvest Festival. The best time to go there is at night, around 10:00PM or so, where the place gets crowded but super hyped and fun. You’ll be hearing a lot of singing voices, people laughing, smiling. It’s just the perfect place to unleash your wild and childish side.
- Beer: As low as 1.36 AUD per bottle
- Street Food: As low as 0.47 AUD per stick (chicken wings)
* Karaoke is free as long as you buy food/beer from them
Sabah is very known for their amazing sunset. Before I went there, I wasn’t really a fan of sunsets – I mean, I didn’t appreciate it that much, but when I got here and saw the sunset for numerous times, it never failed to amaze me that it even made me tear up a wee bit one time. My host took me to Sutera Harbour the first time I witnessed their sunset. I believe not everyone can go in there, but you can still have an amazing view of the sunset in Tanjung Aru Beach.
If you have any interests to go underwater, you also must definitely try scubadiving. My host is bestfriends with one of the owners of the famous company in Sabah that offers scubadiving courses – Land Below the Wind. You can be a licensed PADI diver in less than a week for a way more affordable price. They also let their vacant rooms in the house available through Airbnb so if you plan to go to Sabah just for scubadiving, you may stay with them as well.
- Airbnb Rent: 14.55 AUD
- Open Water Diver Course: 308.80 AUD
The main religion in Sabah is Muslim, and we have to stop incorporating negative thoughts with it. This place has been the safest place I’ve been and lived in so far. The people here are just very generous, trust-worthy, friendly, and hospitable, and it’s actually the people that made me consider about moving here. I’ve been lost some time in my trip and without the help and generosity of some locals, I might have never survived.
Overall, living in this country for a month made me experience and realize that there are so many greater things in life than my cubicle and pay day. It has also proved to me that traveling long term would make me spend so much lesser than just staying in my own city.
Take risks, live life, and make the most of it while you’re still young. All is possible and money is not an excuse for you to not explore the world. Adventure is truly out of your comfort zone.