“Kota Kinabalu has the best sunsets in the world.”
This is a phrase I was told many times over the past three years since when Malaysian Borneo’s biggest city was introduced to me. The Royal Brunei crew told me it, Brunei locals (many who holidayed there) said it, fellow bloggers told me it, and – of course – so did many of the Malaysians I met.
They encouraged me to go visit. Finally, I listened.
Yet as I stared out the windows of my room at Le Meridian Kota Kinabalu all I saw was a monochrome palette and heavy raindrops. I had visited during rainy season…
Still, I waited. Day one, nothing. Day two, the grayness seemed to engulf the sunset that wanted to appear. Day three, I was beginning to give up; On day four I got a call from a friend inviting me to join them for a sunset cruise in Kota Kinabalu. I looked out the window at the heavy clouds waiting to burst but said yes anyway.
With fingers tightly crossed, and my umbrella stowed in my bag just in case, I set off to the docks.
My friend Chris was waiting, sitting on a bench staring at his phone. Typical. I called out to him and he looked up, said “Hi” and looked at his phone again.
Looking at his screen I saw why he was so distracted. Pokemon GO. “We don’t have it in China!” was his only argument as we hugged.
As the rest of the group for the cruise began to arrive we began to meander down to the docks with our guides to Sabah. Chris and Ben, my guide for the week, stopping every time a Pokemon popped onto their screens declaring victory as they caught new monsters. I was looking forward to being out on the water, away from the distraction of Pokemon GO.
A new experience offered by Amazing Borneo tours, the Sea Tango sunset cruise departs on a custom-built catamaran and sets off into the South China Sea just before sunset daily. The rain was holding off and I was quietly confident I’d finally get to experience one of Kota Kinabalu’s amazing sunsets which I’d heard so much about.
After welcoming us onboard and running through a safety check, while everyone got stuck into the generous array of canapés and sundowners, I spotted beanbags at the bow of the boat and quickly claimed it, creating the perfect seat for the cruise.
It was the perfect spot to get panoramic views of the sea as we crossed the bay and got closer to the Sea Gypsies Water Village I had a prime spot to take photos of the locals returning from the city by speedboat, children waving at us, listen to the sounds of the call to prayer blaring from the mosque, and the panoramic view of the village and beyond.
“Nicole!” Ben pointed down from the upper deck of the boat. I couldn’t quite make out his words as they were whipped away by the wind before I could make them out but could see the bird he was pointing out. I gave up my bean bag seat and climbed atop the upper deck throwing out my arms as the winds embraced me. I was perfectly content.
Leaning against the railing the boys checked for Pokemon and we chatted. What Chris had seen in Sabah so far, Ben’s favourite places in Sabah to show guests, and where Cassie recommended we go shopping (because Sabahans love to shop!)
The sunset was not ‘perfect’ but sometimes it’s the moment that matters. While Chris and I snapped away, we also rekindled a friendship neglected by distance. That’s no excuse in the day we live in, but it happens.
It was also about spending time with new friends, especially Ben, my guide for the week and Cassie, my host. It was a chance to get to know them outside the often formal office environment and hear their stories about their city, their home.
As the sun quickly sank we headed back towards the city. The Le Meridien shone bright and I could just make out people gazing from their windows. I gave up on taking photos as the darkness fell, they were all blurring with the rocking of the boat, and so I stowed my camera and people watched.
The markets along the foreshore were bustling. Steam rose from BBQ’s as fresh seafood was grilled and hungry locals and guests ate their fill. My stomach growled excited by what food I could taste that night.
Slowly, very slowly, we made our way back to the harbour along the illuminated foreshore.
“We’ll have a drink when you are back in Australia,” I said letting him go from one last hug. He chuckled and waved as we said goodbye.
Sea Tango Sunset Cruise
Tours last for 3 hours and require a minimum of 2 people to book.
Cost: Prices begin at MYR180 per adult and MYR90 for a child. Pick up and drop off is at a hotel in Kota Kinabalu City.
How to get to Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia
Sabah is situated in Malaysia, on the island of Borneo which is divided among three countries: Malaysia and Brunei to the north, and Indonesia to the south.
There are no direct flights to Kota Kinabalu (BKI), Sabah’s biggest city, from Australia but it is easy to connect in Kuala Lumpur (flying Malaysia Airlines or AirAsia), Bandar Seri Begawan (flying Royal Brunei Airlines), or Singapore (flying Singapore Airlines connecting with regional sister airline SilkAir).
There are also a number of direct flights from South Korea, Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, the Philippines, and other regions of Malaysia to Kota Kinabalu.
For more information on travelling to Sabah, check out the Sabah Tourism website.
I was a guest of the Sabah Tourism Board.
All thoughts, opinions, and cheeky jokes at Chris’ expense were, as always, my own.