Nowadays, when low-cost airlines in the Philippines announce seat sales, expect a very low base fare and get hit by all kinds of surcharges when you’re about to pay.
In 2010, however, one of the glory years for solo travelers like me, seat sales really meant cheap flights.
The best deal I’ve had was to Kota Kinabalu from Manila. The return ticket cost P870 (US$22)–I mean, how cheap can you get?–so I didn’t hesitate to buy a ticket for the weekend.
Here are my solo travel tips to Kota Kinabalu.
Stay in a hostel and strike up a conversation with fellow solo travelers.
I stayed in a dormitory in Borneo Backpackers just off Gaya Street. Although the room was a bit small for 10 beds, it was good enough for me at the price (around RM25 then).
(For other cheap accommodations in Kota Kinabalu, check via Agoda.)
I met Alice there, an American teaching English in Seoul. We established that we were both solo female travelers, both Couchsurfing members, and both into adventure travel. We had our meals together and then went off the next day for whitewater rafting in the Padas Gorge, where we met other travelers as well.
I loved the adrenaline rush; too bad I didn’t have an underwater camera, so I never had any pictures of myself there, nor of the people I’d met!
Meet locals through Couchsurfing.
In my three days and two nights in Kota Kinabalu, I met a lot of Couchsurfing members, both locals and foreign visitors alike. We had dinner together, and some of us stayed up the whole night watching the championship game of the World Cup!
One of the most interesting persons I’d met was an older woman who had been sailing around the world with her husband. At that time, she had just lost him; he passed away while they were docked somewhere in the Philippines.
I couldn’t imagine what she felt then; would she still continue sailing without her partner of over 30 years? How would it feel to lose someone you’ve been with for decades?
I met a couple there, too, Shell (from HK) and Sam (from the UK) who was later hosted by my host in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Truly, the world of travelers is a small place!
Don’t forget to carry a photocopy of your passport with you.
Prior to my India trip, I had always been cavalier about my safety. I walked around Kota Kinabalu even at midnight, loving the fact that there were almost no people on the streets around that time.
When my Couchsurfing friends heard about it, they were scandalized, and made me promise to always bring a photocopy of my passport. It seemed that there were (are?) a lot of illegal immigrants there, and if I couldn’t show my passport, I would have had a lot of trouble with the police!
Enjoy the other things Kota Kinabalu has to offer.
Walk around the city; it’s the best way to get to know this place. Eat nasi goreng, have coffee, watch the sunset at the Jesselton Point. You can also go see the State Mosque, walk along the waterfront, or buy your souvenirs at the Filipino Night and Handicrafts Market.
I, myself, haven’t been to half the attractions in Kota Kinabalu (check out my post: Things to Do in Kota Kinabalu). I was too busy meeting up with Couchsurfers to go to all the must-sees in this small city.
However, I have no regrets. I might not have seen those beautiful structures or wonderful vistas that all tourists must see, but at least I will always remember the times I’ve spent with the people who shared my love for travel.
Have you been to Kota Kinabalu? What do you suggest doing there?
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Aleah Taboclaon is a freelance writer and editor. She likes running (completed one marathon, training for the next!), diving (PADI open water diver), and traveling with her Kindle. Connect with her on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. You can also email her; she would love to hear from you!