Kota Kinabalu

Gateway to Borneo

Kota Kinabalu also referred to as KK is located on the northwest coast of Borneo, in the Malaysian state of Sabah. Kota Kinabalu, which was once formally known as Jesselton is the state capital of Sabah. The location is an ideal base to explore the northern region of Borneo.

Borneo

Borneo is the third largest (non continental) island in the world. Located in South East Asia, and surrounded by the south China sea to the north and northwest. The Island is divided by three separate countries. Indonesia, Brunei and Malaysia. Brunei has the smallest portion of the Island. The Malaysian part of the Borneo is split between two different states, Sabah and Sarawak. The Indonesian state of Kalimantan controls the largest portion of Borneo.

Borneo is a nature lovers playground. The majority of the island is covered by dense rainforest, with a great richness of species diversity. This rainforest is one of the oldest rainforests in the world! Estimated to be 140 million years old. Home to a range of unique fauna and flora, and the center of evolution and distribution of many species. It is understandable that a lot of ecological research is conducted here. With this, Borneo is also home to a number of sustainable, conservation and responsible travel projects. The Island of Borneo is a really unique and magical place.

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Four days in Kota Kinabalu

Kota Kinabalu was our first introduction to this amazingly unique island. Spending four days in this city was truly wonderful, the only negative was that it was not enough time! We stayed at a backpackers hostel, close to the center of the city. As we arrived in the afternoon, our first day was spent walking around and taking in the atmosphere of the city. Our first evening was spent at the night market, then on to an all you can eat buffet – and buckets of beers, the price was ridiculously cheap. The next morning, we woke up and started to explore more of the city. In addition to visiting the  sights and attractions of KK, the majority of our stay was spent island hopping, which included snorkeling and hiking adventures.

City highlights and attractions

KK water font and times square

With crystal clear waters and sunny skies the waterfront is gorgeous to walk along. Times square represents the commercial downtown area of Kota Kinabalu.

Sabah state mosque

Located close to the city center, the mosque is worth a viewing. The architectural design is very impressive.

Signal hill observatory tower

Provides gorgeous views of the city at the highest point.

Atkinson clock tower

This is the oldest standing structure in Kota Kinabalu. The towers sits on a hill overlooking the city.

Central market

A vibrant and busy market located on the waterfront. A great place to explore and take in the atmosphere of the city.

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Tunku Abdul Rahman Park

The Tunku Abdul Rahman park is a marine park with a cluster of five islands (Gaya, Manukan, Sapi, Sulug and Mamutik) located off the coast of Kota Kinabalu. These islands are easily accessible. The distance ranges from three to eight kilometers off the coast, and you can take a 15-20 minute speedboat ride from the Jesselton point ferry terminal.  Plus, all of the islands are a short boat ride from each other. Island hopping was the highlight of our time in Kota Kinabalu.  We were able to visit many stunning beaches, go snorkeling, hike through jungle trails and see some pretty impressive animal and plant species.

Kota Kinabalu, with its tropical islands and stunning landscape is a nature lovers playground, and is rapidly becoming a more popular tourist destination, due to the city being a cultural hub with natural beauty. Kota Kinabalu was the perfect introduction to the island of Borneo. I am so eager to return and explore even more of the Island. I would love to experience a wilderness trip, absorbing the true remoteness and adventure that Borneo can offer.

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Kuala Lumpur

Muddy confluence

Kuala Lumpur, also referred to as KL by the locals is the capital and largest city of Malaysia. Located close to the center of peninsular Malaysia in the Selangor state. The name Kuala Lumpur translates to “muddy confluence” and the city is called this, as it is located at the confluence of the Klang and Gombak rivers!

Kuala Lumpur was once a small Chinese village, with the locals working within the tin mining industry. The city has come a long way from this once sleepy village.  The city is described as being the cultural hub of Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur is a cultural melting point, the mix of Malay, Chinese and Indian communities brings this city to life.  The city is vibrant and full of energy. From modern skyscrapers to ancient temples, the mix of old and new is impressive. From the sights in and around the city, the modern shopping options and dinning experiences. Kuala Lumper is a great city to explore for short stays or even for a stopover.

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Five days in KL

We had just spent two and a half weeks exploring parts of Thailand; PhuketPhi Phi Island and Bangkok and we had the chance to explore a new country before flying to London for the beginning of an eight month work and travel experience in Europe.

We stayed at a guest house in the Bukit Bintang district, the ‘trendy’ area of the city. The Bukit Bintang area is well known for its shopping and entertainment. From fancy shopping centers/malls to night markets. The nightlife is also happening here, with many cafes, restaurants and bar options. Popular among the local youth and tourists, this is probably the best area to stay in for a first time visit to Kuala Lumpur.

Five days was enough time to explore the city and see most of the sights, we were also able to enjoy two day trips from the city.

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Highlights and must sees

The Petronas towers

The most famous landmark in Kuala Lumpur. These towers are very impressive, both from the ground and from the top! Standing at 451.9 meters tall and with 88 stories. These towers were once the tallest buildings in the world, from 1998 to 2004. They still remain the tallest twin towers in the world.

Kuala Lumpur bird park

A great way to escape the heat and humidity of the city is by exploring  this eco tourism park! The worlds largest free flight walk in aviary, I was very impressed.

Perdana botanical garden

A nature sanctuary in the city, another option to try and escape the heat! This makes for the perfect early morning or late afternoon walk.

Kuala Lumpur butterfly garden

This park is so impressive, walking around lush gardens in amongst 6,000 butterflies! Show casing 120 species.

Sultan Abdul Samad Building

Impressive architecture and represents a historical landmark of the city.

Menara KL tower

Another well known landmark of the city. Sitting at 421 meters tall, this tower offers impressive views of the city.

Chinatown

Vibrant and filled with energy. The perfect place for bargain hunt shopping and to enjoy the nightlife.

Jalan Alor

A strip representing the city’s local cuisine. The perfect place to explore the various food options.

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Day trips from Kuala Lumpur

Batu caves

A limestone hill over 400 millions year old, containing three caves and a series of cave temples. Batu caves is a place for hindu festivals and pilgrimages. This place is well worth a visit. We took a train from the Kuala Lumpur central station and travelled for approximately  17 km, north of the city to the Batu caves train terminal. A very easy and affordable (50 us cents)  journey.

When you  arrive, the first sight is the impressive statue of the Hindu God. After climbing the steep staircase you can enter the caves and explore. The limestone formations are impressive and I also enjoyed watching the cheeky monkeys.

Kanching rainforest waterfalls

A refreshing break from the heat of KL, we took a local bus from the Kuala Lumpur central market bus terminal to the Kanching rainforest waterfalls. The falls are located inside a forest reserve. It was nice to walk through this park, and a great hiking experience  to see the waterfalls. A couple of the waterfalls had a pool large enough to swim in. Many monkeys occupy the area, I know that they are a nuisance for some people, they are not for me. I was disappointed to see the amount of rubbish people left in this beautiful place. Remember, if you’re traveling, don’t leave your mark and take only memories.

I enjoyed my time exploring the city of Kuala Lumpur and the nearby areas. Hopefully one day I can return and explore more of Malaysia!

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Mekong Delta

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Nine dragon river delta

The Mekong delta is located in southern Vietnam, a four hour drive (196.5km / 121 miles) south of Saigon. The area covers 40,500 square kilometers (15,600 square miles) of southwestern Vietnam. Incredible. Extending south and west from Saigon / Ho Chi Minh City to the gulf of Thailand and also to the border of Cambodia. The Mekong delta is a low laying plain, only three meters above sea level, and contains a maze of canals and rivers.

The Mekong delta is described as the food bowl of Vietnam. The agricultural importance is huge. The delta is able to produce more than a third of the countrys’ annual food crop! As, approximately 10,000 square kilometers of the Mekong delta is under rice cultivation. In addition to rice, the ecological diversity found here can also produce other crops/food. Not only does the Mekong delta provide food to the people of Vietnam, this area is also one of major rice-growing regions of the world.

The biodiversity found here is incredible,  from rice paddies, dense jungle to mangrove swamps. Home to not only  people, but over 1,000 animals species can be found here and not to mention the rich plant life. With such rich diversity, the Mekong delta is also under threat from climate change and over exploitation. Environmental protection is required to protect this amazing region and its inhabitants.

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Two day, one night tour

As we were based in Ho Chi Minh City we decided to take a tour to visit the ecologically impressive Mekong Delta. The Mekong river is one of the most impressive rivers in the world. The Mekong river is the 12th largest river in the World, the 7th largest in Asia and the largest river in southeast Asia. The river flows from the Tibetan Plateau to the southeast through Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, finally flowing out to the south China sea.

Day one

We departed Ho Chin Minh City by mini van and drove for two and hours, arriving at My Tho, the gateway to the Mekong delta. Our guide was very informative, telling us about the local region. At My Tho we boarded a  boat to take a cruise around the Mekong delta. We stopped at an island, where we departed the boat to walk around the lush gardens and sample some of the local fruit, so delicious and refreshing. Next stop, a local coconut candy factory, here we tried samples and learnt about the local industries from the people who lived in the nearby villages.

After lunch from a local restaurant, we transferred into small rowboats, and rowed through narrow canals of the delta. This was an incredible and surreal experience. After this, we transferred back onto the bigger wooden boat and sailed to My Tho, here we continued on to Can Tho by mini van. In Can Tho we stayed at a hotel for the night. Can Tho is a city based on the southern bank of the Hau River, we had time to explore the city before and after dinner.

Day two

We woke up in Can Tho and had an early breakfast, before boarding another boat for a 40 minute journey to reach the impressive Cai Rang floating market. This is the largest floating market in the Mekong Delta. Floating markets are so amazing to see in person. We continued on to visit a noodle and rice paper factory  learning about this trade. Then  it was back to Can Tho for lunch! After lunch to was time to head back to Ho Chi Minh City.

The Mekong delta is a really fascinating place, the biological diversity is incredible and meeting the local people who live and work here was so rewarding.  A must see.

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Ho Chi Minh City

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Saigon

The largest Vietnamese city by population is located in the south-eastern region of Vietnam, 1,760km (1,090miles) south of Hanoi. The city has undergone several name changes, which reflects the settlement of various ethnic groups, and the various political and cultural groups. Ho Chi Minh City is the official name of the city, however the former name of Saigon is still commonly used.  When Saigon was the official name of the city, it was the capital of the French colony of Cochinchina before becoming the independent republic of south Vietnam. In 1976, Saigon merged with the Gia Dinh province, which surrounded the city and was officially renamed Ho Chi Minh City, named after the revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh.

Ho Chi Minh City has a lot of history. The area that reflects the city was once a part of the Kingdom of Cambodia. In the 18th century, relations with France began. Even when the Japanese occupied Saigon, the French still continued to administer Vietnam until 1945.  Although the city of Saigon was relatively unaffected by world war two (compared to other areas of Vietnam), it played a huge role in the Vietnam war, the fall of Saigon is described as  marking the end of the Vietnam war and as illustrating the beginning of the transition period of the unification of Vietnam.

This city has undergone so much change, and nowadays resembles city life, full of pulsing energy. The city is bold and dynamic.

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District one

We left the beaches of Nha Trang on an overnight train to the largest city of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City. Our train ride was about nine hours long. We arrived early and checked into our guest house and set out to explore the city. The city is separated into twenty four districts, we were staying in district one. District one is the commercial and financial center  and is a very popular district for travelers. District one and district three is home to the majority of sights and filled with bars and restaurants.

With its rich history, fascinating culture and ever growing into a modern city, Ho Chi Minh City is very interesting  place to explore. The city has a mix of old new, from buildings with the classic French architecture to sleek new skyscrapers, from the typical vietnamese street food to fancy rooftop bars and restaurants, plus the charm of the ancient ornate temples and pagodas. This city was different from the seemly reserved capital, Hanoi, and contained different vibes from the other places that we visited on our journey through Vietnam. It was so interesting to see the diversity throughout Vietnam.

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Highlights and must sees

Ho Chi Minh square

Surrounded by stunning French colonial buildings, this historic square is a symbol of history of south Vietnam during the 19th and 20th century.

Independence Palace

Also called “Reunification Palace”  and was a significant government center during the war.

Saigon Notre- Dame Palace

Represents the French architecture and charm of the city. A cathedral built by the French.

Saigon opera house

Elegant French architecture, I was in awe of its beauty.

Central post office

A remnant of French colonial times, withs its stunning architecture.

War remnants museum

A museum which greatly documents and showcases the brutal impacts that war has on the civilian victims.

Ben Thanh market

A huge market, a great place to buy local art and souvenirs. I enjoyed walking around amongst the chaos of this busy market.

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The end of this backpacking adventure

We spent seven nights based in Ho Chi Minh City, after exploring areas of the north and central region of Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh City was a great place to finish the trip, we were able to explore the culture and beauty of the city and enjoy the nightlife, with both the local people and other travelers.

Mid way through our stay in Ho Chi Minh City we took a one night, two day tour to the amazing Mekong Delta .  Another great tour and very easy to access from the city.

Traveling through Vietnam was a really enriching and enjoyable backpacking journey. My knowledge of the history of Vietnam greatly increased. I loved experiencing the diverse climate and different landscapes throughout the country.  This was a really rewarding and memorable trip, arriving in the north at Hanoi and traveling throughout the country to reach the south. From looking into the effects of war, to the breathtaking world heritage sites, Vietnam has a lot of beauty to offer. From the history, culture, people, diverse environment and the delicious local food, Vietnam is a great country to explore.

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Nha Trang

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Riviera of the south China sea

Nha Trang is a coastal resort city, located on the south central coast of Vietnam.  This city is also the capital of the Khanh Hoa province. Nha Trang is well known for its beaches and water activities. The coastline stretches for six kilometers, with the palm trees, sandy beaches and mountain backdrop, Nha Trang is so stunning. 19 islands are located off the Nha Trang coast, so this destination is also perfect for island hopping and scuba diving experiences. Historically the city was known as Kauthara and is now often described as the Riviera of the south China sea!

Nha Trang has been a popular backpackers destination for years, and has recently became popular for luxury travel too. With its cosmopolitan feel and high energy, it is easy to see why Nha Trang is so popular.  Beautiful beaches, trendy restaurants and chic boutiques Nha Trang makes for the perfect getaway destination, and was a nice change of scenery on our backpacking journey.

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We departed Hoi An and took the over night bus travelling for ten hours to reach Nha Trang, Vietnam’s premiere beach destination.  We arrived very early in the morning, and relaxed on the beach until our accommodation was ready. We stayed in Nha Trang for four nights at a backpacker hostel. Meeting more backpackers to party with during the night. Nha Trang is well known for its nightlight and it did not disappoint, with options ranging from local dive bars to luxury restaurants and cocktail bars.

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Highlights and must sees

Island hopping

With 19 Islands just off the coast of Nha Trang, Island is a popular is an easy and enjoyable activity to do here. The options to snorkel and scuba dive are also great.

Vinpearl amusement park

This unusual large scale theme park is located on an island just across from the Nha Trang beach!

Thap Ba hot springs

A hot thermal mud center offering mud baths, and other spa facilities such as massages, it is a great way to relax and unwind.

Nha Trang cathedral

Beautiful architecture and also the largest church in the city.

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Po Ngar temple complex

Another rewarding experience  while you are visiting Nha Trang is to take a break from the beaches and nightlife and visit the Po Ngar temple complex. A charming complex to walk around and explore history. These temples were built by the Cham people (The cham people once ruled the central section of Vietnam) between the 8th and 11th century. Another outstanding visit to a historical site, during our travels of Vietnam.

After relaxing and exploring the city of Nha Trang it was time to continue our journy, next stop Saigon

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Hoi An

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Hoi An ancient town

The old town of Hoi An is a well preserved example of an old port. During the 15th to the 19th century, Hoi An was an major trading port. Hoi An has over 2,000 years of history. Hoi An was also a principal port of the Cham kingdom. This kingdom controlled the spice trade with Indonesia from the 7th to the 10th century.  As a result the culture and history of Hoi An is strongly influenced by the Cham people.  The second major influence of this charming town is from the Chinese. The buildings represent a unique blend of style from both foreign and local influencers. Hoi An old town is listed as UNESCO world heritage site and is well worth a visit.  The old town is so charming to walk around and to explore the rich history. The greenery that is covering the ruins is also so impressive, and makes the place so much more magical.

Hoi An is located in central Vietnam, in the Quang Nam province.  This area is a popular tourist attraction. People visit to see the charm of the old city and to relax at the beaches nearby. From Hue we travelled by bus for three hours to Hoi An, we stayed at a hostel at a nearby beach.

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An bang beach

As we were craving the sun and beach, we decided that we would stay at a beach close to the old town of Hoi An. We stayed at a backpackers hostel along the An Bang beach.The hostel was great and we met up with some other backpackers, and enjoyed the nightlife with them. Hoi An old town was easily accessible from this beach town, so we were able to make the most of visiting the ancient ruins and enjoying some time in the sun. You can also catch a glimpse of the Cham Islands from the beach!

Next stop on our backpacking journey through Vietnam is further South, the coastal resort city Nha Trang

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Hue

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Ancient city

After exploring the north of Vietnam, we departed Hanoi by train, and travelled south. Next stop, Hue which is described as the most royal city in Vietnam! Hue is located 700km (430m) south of Hanoi, in the Thua Thein Hue province, in central Vietnam. Hue was once the capital of Vietnam, founded in 1802 by Gia Long who was the first king of the Nguyen dynasty empire. Hue remained the capital of Vietnam under the Nguyen dynasty until 1945. This powerful family ruled the then capital from 1802-1945. To this day the influence of a royal lifestyle and royal customs have had a huge impact on the characteristics of the people in Hue.

The city has a rich and interesting history,  with the affects of war still very present today. Visiting the city was very enriching and very different from other parts of the country that we visited.

We stayed at a guest house for two nights and three days, exploring the ancient ruins during the day and  then enjoying the Hue nightlife.

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Highlights and must sees

The Perfume river

This ancient city lies on the banks of the Perfume river. So beautiful to see on a clear and sunny day. The Perfume river is surrounded by the ancient sights of Hue. It is also perfect for people watching, taking in the river life of the people who live here. We were also grateful to witness a stunning sunset over the ancient capital, while sitting at the banks of the river.

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The Tomb of Khai Dinh

This tomb was built for the twelfth emperor of the Nguyen dynasty, Khai Dinh. The tomb is located in Chau Chu mountain, on a steep hill near the city of Hue. The architecture is a mix of western and eastern influence and took eleven years to build!

Thien Mu Pagoda

Translates to the Pagoda of the Celestial Lady and is considered to be the unofficial landmark of the city, with its iconic seven story pagoda. In addition to its rich history, the Pagoda also looks out to the gorgeous Perfume river.

The Mieu

A place to worship ten of the Nguyen dynasty kings. The Mieu is an ancestral temple to Vietnams emperors.

Imperial city (The Citadel)

The former residence of the royal family. Now, listed as an UNESCO world heritage site. This site is a large complex of hundreds of monuments and ruins. Rich in history and devastated by the Vietnam war, this former site of the old capital has a moat and ten ornate gates guarding the palace, temples and tombs.

Hue, was much different from the rest of our backpacking journey through Vietnam. I enjoyed the history and culture of this ancient city. The next stop after Hue, is further south – Hoi An

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