Our tropical Christmas in Kota Kinabalu

Whenever I imagined a tropical Christmas, I had this – oh so romantic – vision of celebrating on a white, sandy beach under palm trees with our toes dipped into the salty sea water. Reality though was somewhat different. The fact that we celebrated in Kota Kinabalu (KK) – in hot and humid conditions – was pretty much the only tropical element to our Christmas festivities. But tropical or not, our Christmas turned out to be lovely. Far from the norm, but lovely:

On Christmas Eve, we moved house, stopped at the supermarket, filled our trolley with yummy treats, beautified our rather puny looking, artificial Christmas tree, set the table for Christmas brunch, drank children’s wine and wrapped the carefully chosen, space-saving pressies. On Christmas day, we feasted on the brunch buffet (there was even Zopf, THE Swiss Sunday bread), opened the presents (much to the delight of the kids), fooled around with our red hats for a little Christmas shooting, went to the movies to watch “Ferdinand” (very cute!) and… I hardly dare to say this… had “dinner” in the fast food restaurant with the big, yellow M on the outside wall. But what can you do if the kids fancy French fries for tea in a city dominated by rice?

But there was much more to our ten days in KK than Christmas. We explored Kota Kinabalu and beyond, stayed in homely apartments and enjoyed the varied food options a bigger city has to offer. Thank you KK – you definitely helped us to recover from our temporary low. We are back on track and up for many more adventures.

Choosing some Christmas decorations.
Roti break.
Freezing cold pool #1.
That’s where we stayed… in an AirBnB.
At CowDung, they serve…
…the most extreme ice-creams…..not dung!
On the night market.


Kota Kinabalu


Freezing cold pool #2.
Wetland Centre
Watching the birds.
Christmas Day


Thanks for my present! xx


Christmas Dinner


Freezing cold pool #3 at the bottom of a waterfall.


Mari Mari Cultural Village’s honey bees.
Making fire.
Sophie and Lilly in the wedding suite.
A trampoline in the house – how fantastic!
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The girls getting their first tattoos…


While having dinner on the waterfront.


KK water village

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A little bit of swissness in the middle of nowhere.


At the upside down house: Sophie hanging from the ceiling…
… and John hitting the ceiling ๐Ÿ™‚
Strong Lilly.
On the boat to Pulau Sapi.


Another water village.
Tajung Arung sunset beach.



Some of our highlights:

  • Strolling through and eating at the night market. We had fried bananas, donuts with red bean filling, juicy mangoes, exotic mangosteen, hairy rambutan, fresh fish and a monstrous tiger prawn in a bustling, smokey atmosphere. A real feast for all the senses. Definitely our favourite market of the trip so far.
  • More food! Sampling the different sweet and savoury Chinese steamed buns (fillings: BBQ pork, peanut, pineapple, coconut, red beans) at Keng Wan Hing on Gaya street.
  • Finding and buying Zopf at the Shangri-La Resort. We were back twice, just to buy Zopf. Heavenly.
  • Getting everything ready for Christmas, watching the girls’ excitement grow.
  • Taking it easy on Christmas day.
  • Visiting the Mari Mari Cultural Village, learning lots about the five primary Borneon tribes, enjoying a short but intensive dance performance and getting a traditional henna tattoo.
  • Watching the sun set on Tanjung Aru Beach – along with hundreds of Asian tourists. Not the most romantic thing, but a nice spot to see the sun disappear on the horizon and turn the sky into a pink-orange painting.
  • Marveling at the different water villages. Some houses on stilts were impressive, others quite shocking: Half derelict and standing in mud and litter.
  • Turning the world upside down in Sabah’s Rumah Terbalik (upside down house). Not John’s and my fave, but the girls really enjoyed this oddity.
  • Eating butter chicken with naan bread in the Kohinoor restaurant on KK’s waterfront. It was nice to eat some Indian food for a change. We turned into regulars and ate there two nights in a row.
  • Swimming in turquoise blue water with some colourful fish (and again: a lot of tourists!) on Pulau Sapi. Very crowded, but still a pleasant, easy trip from KK.

The learning curve:

  • Not only the tourists turn up in their droves on sunset beach… SAND FLIES!!
  • Sand fly bites itch more and for much longer than mosquito bites. Ouch!
  • On Christmas Day, life seems to go on as usual in KK: The people go to the shopping mall. I was looked at very strangely, when I asked if there are any supermarkets open on the 25th of December. In the most modern shopping malls, leasers even have to sign that they are open 365 days a year from 10 till 10.
  • No need to book accommodation with pools. The water is so cold even our girls stay away.
  • Forget about rush hour. There’s always a traffic jam when driving through KK.
  • When asking to pay, don’t expect a bill, but a calculator.



14 thoughts on “Our tropical Christmas in Kota Kinabalu

  1. Brilliant blog entry, fascinating.. Happy belated Xmas.. You did more than me :-)Just how many fabulous sunsets did you all see? never too many to get tired of I bet.. safe travels .. ( I see you have sourced a new honey supplier.. waiting for THAT sample to appear here in Frohock Towers ๐Ÿ™‚ )..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Very happy you like the entry, Dave.

      To be honest with you: We have not seen so many sunsets. But when we saw one, it was usually wonderful. And no, we are not getting tired of sunsets. Bring them on. Many more…

      Unfortunately, they did not sell any honey at the Mari Mari Cultural Village. So no honey from Borneo for you – sorry ๐Ÿ˜ฆ


      1. Did Fro specifically ask for a jar of honey from Borneo? Carting even a small jar more than half way round the world seems like a burden too far to me!! Even for a few nights ‘rent’ at Fro’s campsite. (Looking less like a campsite now, especially as its now heated!). And would it be allowed into Oz?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I did expect to see a separate bag on the return of the Lillie and Sophie that has honey ‘samples’ from all the places visited during the world tour… little disappointed that does not look like the case now ;-)..

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Fascinating; water villages; swiss stall; cold pools; night market; tropical xmas; super pix, and COOL TATTOOS!!! Never a dull moment.

    Like the image at market of the woman head-butting a bucket while the fish is sliced! (using a large blade that appears to have no handle!?)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sounds like you had a fantastic time. What is the beach around kk like? I’ve heard it’s not good for swimming?! I was also going to look at an air BnB with swimming pool, but I’ll pass based on your recommendation ๐Ÿ˜‰. Marie x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Marie.

      I finally found the time to check your blog out. I was very happy to see the things to do on a rainy day on the Isle of Man. We never struggle to find things to do when we are over and the weather is nice… nut when it’s raining, it is a different story.

      The beaches around KK are not the best, we have to say. We visited Tanjung Aru (sunset beach), but only on some evenings to see the sunset. The girls enjoyed running in and out of the shallow water, but we did not go swimming there. There were a lot of sandflies there – so bring some strong insect repellent.

      Another beach we visited was on the island Pulau Sapi. The water was nice enough to swim in, but the snorkelling and swimming area is very limited and quite crowded. Maybe some of the other islands around KK would be less crowded.

      One day, we stopped briefly at Karambunai beach, north of KK. The beach looked alright, but just as we arrived, it started raining and we did not really go swimming.

      Yeah, it was funny, but after some really cold experiences, nobody really fancied a swim in the pool. But a lot of the AirBnBs in KK come with one anyway. Maybe the water temperature wil be a bit different when it is not rainy season. Here are the airbnbs we can really recommend: https://www.airbnb.ch/rooms/17692880
      They are both run by Jovi. We stayed in both of them. One is a 2 bedroom, one a 1 bedroom. Of course, the 2 bedroom is more comfortable, but the 1 bedroom comes at a better price and is okay for a few days. In the 1 bedroom, John and I slept on the sofa-beds in the living room though, because we stayed up later and wanted the girls go to bed at a reasonable hour.

      If you have any more questions, just ask… More about the east of Borneo will follow ๐Ÿ˜‰


      1. Found it!! Thanks so much for the advice. Yes, had read about sand flies!! Fabulous, I’ll check out the accommodation. It’s great to get first hand experience from similar travellers!

        Enjoy, we’ll be following closely ๐Ÿ˜Š

        Marie x

        Liked by 1 person

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