Almost exactly a year since our last family holiday, we set off again – this time to Kota Kinabalu. Even though I was looking forward to it because KK is my favourite city in Malaysia, I also had very, very low expectations. Unless you’re a Kardashian and can afford to bring along an entourage for babysitting, a holiday with young kids is not a vacation, it’s just a change of location. Beyond booking our flight and accommodation (yay, ShopBack Malaysia!), ‘erm, islands and mountain lah‘ was the extent of our itinerary planning. Some call it being lazy, I call it going with the flow. Tomehto, tomahto. Potehto, potahto.
During the one hour flight from Bintulu to Kota Kinabalu, the kids were super chirpy. I wondered, maybe, just maybe, they’re finally getting what a holiday is all about? And then, Tresa went on a food strike. Next, Anne threw up all over herself and the sheets in the middle of the night. Huh, maybe not.
The Mr and I barely caught more than 3 hours of sleep that night because we kept waking up to check on Anne, worried she had caught a stomach bug. By about 4 a.m. when she was still sleeping deeply, I let myself doze off, relieved that it was probably a one-off puke but resigned to our holiday being doomed from the start. The next morning, except for my poor pounding head, it was as if all the drama from the previous night never happened. The kids were bouncing with energy! Hallelujah!
Best to get going while the going looks good, though. By 8.30 a.m. we were at Jesselton Point, getting our speedboat tickets to Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park. The weather was beautiful, the sea was brilliant and our boat driver was a nutcase. I have never in my life been on a speedboat ride like that before! It literally felt like we were flying over bumps and landing hard on concrete. The kids were terrified, to say the least, and they weren’t the only ones. After a few death stares from everyone on board, the second driver took over and we stopped holding on for dear life.
Within 20 minutes of leaving the city behind, we were in paradise. First Sapi Island and then, Manukan Island. Even though we opted not to go snorkeling, swimming in clear waters with colourful fish that came up to the shoreline was an irreplaceable experience. Totally worth getting roasted under the sun for.
The next day, we drove through the Crocker Mountain Range, past Kundasang and Ranau to a tiny village named Kampung Luanti. We were all tired and cramped after the long ride (almost 3 hours) so it was such a relief to pull up next to a clear, gurgling river – ‘Tagal’ Sungai Moroli. ‘Tagal’ means no fishing in the local language. Depending on how adventurous you are, you can choose to only dip your feet in the water teeming with fish or go all the way for a swim. We chose the dip. And man, those fish were a hungry bunch! If they can’t get their mouths on fish food (sold at the entrance), then they latch on to the best substitute – even if it’s your feet or fingers. Jungle fish spa, anyone?
No visit to Kundasang is complete without a picture with Mount Kinabalu and a trip to the Desa Dairy Farm. I was told that the best views of Mount Kinabalu are before 8.30 a.m.. I don’t know if this is true every day but it certainly was for the two days we spent there. By 8.45 a.m. the majestic mountain was completely hidden behind clouds.
One of the highlights of the trip for me was bottle feeding calves at the Desa Dairy Farm. Obviously, the kids were supposed to do it but I’m secretly glad that they were a little intimidated about getting that close to the animals. And the look on their faces when they realised the stink in the air was cow manure! Ha. Priceless! We wrapped up our visit with Desa’s gelato. So good it would have been illegal to share.
Despite the rocky start, it turned out to be a wonderful family holiday. During this trip, I realised that we have come a long way since our days traveling Japan. It was by no means a honeymoon with all of its mini-dramas and annoying surprises not-so-toddlers are experts at. But now, it was a little less about surviving the holiday and more about enjoying it and creating memories.