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.
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.