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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Ha Long Bay

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Bay of descending dragons

The famous Ha Long bay is an absolute dream.  A UNESCO world heritage site and often included in lists declaring the natural wonders of the world. Sailing through this bay is a must do. Ha Long translates to the “bay of descending dragons” – the bay is located in the gulf of Tonkin and consists of thousands of monolithic islands rising from the ocean and topped with dense vegetation.

Ha Long bay is located 170km (105 miles) east of Hanoi in the Quang Ninh province. The Bay is of great biological interest and was really fascinating to see in person,  especially for someone who has studied Wildlife Biology and Conservation and as true nature lover. Ha Long is an area of 1,553 km2 which is mostly uninhabited and unaffected by humans – and it needs to remain this way to preserve this magnificent beauty. The bay consists of 1,600 limestone monolithic islands, which have gone through 500 million years of formation! The evolution of the karst has changed via the impact of the tropical wet climate, very impressive!

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Three day tour

We joined a small cruise for a tour of Ha Long bay – there was 12 of us for a 3 day, 2 night tour. We departed from Hanoi in a mini bus.  The first day was spent sailing through the breathtaking bay, our first glimpse into this beauty. When we boarded our ship, lunch was ready to be served, a full Vietnamese buffet. After lunch, the ship arrived at the gorgeous Sung Snot Cave, we were able to get out and explore. This cave is one of the largest in Ha Long bay. Walking through the cave was incredible, and we were also exposed to some amazing views looking out at Ha Long Bay from inside the cave! So incredible.

After exploring the cave, our ship continued on, sailing past the the amazing limestone monolithic islands, so much beauty to take in and try to capture on camera. Later on in the afternoon, our ship docked for the night. Here we were able to take kayaks out and kayak through the bay, this was amazing.  Our night was spent on the cruise ship, where  we enjoyed another Vietnamese buffet, we were able to jump off the ship and swim around our area and later on had drinks on the top deck of the ship. The rooms were small and each had their own bathroom, I found sleeping on a ship for the night to be quite relaxing and charming.

The next morning, the ship set sail and continued on through the stunning bay. After lunch, we were able to get off the ship and explore Monkey Island, here you can swim at two beaches and take a hike up the mountain for some great views! And yes, you do get to see monkeys! The afternoon was very enjoyable. Next, we moved on to our beach bungalow for the night. I loved our accommodation, the Island we stayed on was tiny, so it felt like a nice getaway and the bungalows were gorgeous. Here we met some other backpackers, and enjoyed a meal and drinks with them. The next day was spent sailing back through Ha Long Bay, then to our mini bus to return to Hanoi. This trip was amazing and extremely memorable. A highlight of my travels.

 

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Tam Coc

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Three caves

Tam Coc located in the Ninh Binh province, is located 100Km (62 miles) south of Hanoi and 5km (3 miles) from the centre of the Ninh Binh town.  This place is breathtaking. The landscape consists of limestone outcrops and rices paddies along the Ngo Dong River. Tam Coc is essentially a flooded karst system, with three long tunnel caves eroded by limestone hills. These three natural caves are named Hang Cam, Hang Gialla and Hang Chateau. Often referred to as the Ha Long bay on land! A trip to this natural beauty, will have you row boating along the charming and peaceful Tam Coc system, rowing past rice paddy fields and into the mouths of the caves! Inside the mouth of a cave you will witness the gorgeous stalactites and stalagmite formations. It is easy to see why Tam Coc is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site.

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Day trip

As we were based in Hanoi, we chose the option of taking a one day tour to Tam Coc. Our tour was with about eight other people, we departed Hanoi in a mini bus. Our first stop was at the Hoa Lu ancient capital, here we were able to visit King Dinh and King Le’s Temples. Hoa Lu was the capital of Vietnam in the 10th and 11th centuries, so it was really interesting to see this historic location.

Next stop, the Tam Coc wharf were a Vietnamese buffet lunch was part of the agenda. After lunch, we rowed through the gorgeous Ngo Dong river, also referred to as the green sea!  I was in awe of the incredible scenery. The views are stunning. Seeing these formations was one of my highlights from the whole trip to Vietnam.

After the sailing tour, we were able to bike ride around the village before departing for Hanoi. The biking tour was fun, as we rode past the rice paddies and were able to see the local area.

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Bangkok

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Bangkok, crazy, chaotic and absolutely fantastic! I have visited this wonderful city twice, and would go back for more, given the chance! This city is amazing to explore. Culturally rich, friendly locals with a great city vibe. There are many different areas of Bangkok to explore, gaining varying experiences from each.  In amongst the craze there are many hidden gems. From Royalty, temples, markets, canals, shopping, street art and a vibrant nightlife, this city has something for everyone. The food is also wonderful; local, fresh and healthy.

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Sukhumvit

For our first visit to the capital of Thailand, we stayed at a guest house in the Sukhumvit district of Bangkok. I loved this district, so vibrant and full of life. The nightlife was amazing, from night markets to classy bars. The shopping was fun, street markets and easy enough to get to the luxury malls to look around. Also, Sukhumvit road is the longest road in Thailand, and one of the longest boulevards in the world, pretty cool. Our stay felt authentic and we were able to hang out with the locals, which is always so fulfilling and gives you a better learning experience about that destination.

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Khao San Road

For our second visit, we decided to stay at a backpackers on the famous Khao San road. Located in the northern part of Rattanakosin. Described as the backpacking hub of South East Asia. It was crowded and full of partying. This was fun to experience for a day or two, however I did prefer our first stay in the Sukhumvit district, which gave us a better feel of how people actually live in Bangkok. I would love to return to Bangkok and have the opportunity  to stay in a different district. Bangkok has 50 districts, and these are split up into 169 subdistricts! So there are plenty of areas to stay in and explore.

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Highlights and must-sees

  • Grand palace – The official residence of the Kings of Siam. Located in the Rattanakosin area (the old city of Bangkok).
  • Wat Phra Kaew – Temple of the emerald Buddha. Located in the Phra Nakhon district (the historic center of Bangkok).
  • Floating market-the closet one is Taling Chan which is fairly small. If you have time and want to travel outside of the city, the top rated floating markets near Bangkok are the Damnoen Saduek floating market and the Amphawa floating market.
  • Yaowarat road – Bangkok’s Chinatown, which is located in the Samphathawong district.
  • Wat Po- Buddhist temple complex located in the Phra Nakhon district.
  • Chao Phraya River – The “river of kings’ that flows through the city. Provides scenic views of the city and you can use boat transportation to get around to the different districts.
  • Chatuchak– a weekend market and one of the largest markets in the world! A popular shopping center for the local people, is now becoming popular with tourists.
  • Nightlife – Bangkok has a very vibrant nightlife. The best areas to go – Sukhumvit, Khao San road and the royal city avenue (RCA).

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