Sunday, November 11, 2012

Kota Kinabalu

We just returned from a lovely holiday in Kota Kinabalu.  While it accomplished our goal (to find a place to relax, with sun, fresh air, pools, fun for girls with a dash of eco-tourism), I can't exactly recommend it.  I found the mosquitoes, sand flies, and the fact the girls couldn't actually go in the ocean (due to stinging jellyfish) troublesome.

After I found out about the jellyfish, I asked the hotel staff if there was anywhere I could take the girls to see the fish (I had heard the scuba and snorkeling was supposed to be amazing - one reason I picked Kota Kinabalu) and she said "the fish market."  Not exactly the answer I wanted to hear.

So anyway, there are two Shangri-Las - one in Sabah Borneo (where we stayed) and one in town (Kota Kinabalu).  The Shang where we stayed was beautiful, the people were lovely, but it was in the middle of nowhere - 45 minutes from the airport (making Mads car sick).  The bonus is that it backs up onto a Nature Reserve and Orangutan rehabilitation center - which was the main draw for us.

I have to say that I was struck by how groomed the land was on the way out of town, perhaps because seeing trash by the side of the road in Hong Kong is common.   I'm not sure why, but I was expecting it to look like Bali, when it didn't at all.  I must also say there are a ton of things to see/do in Kota Kinabalu, and that we chose not to do them for various reasons.  For example, there was a steam train that went back into the mountains and stopped in a craft village.  We elected not to do it because it was USD300 for the trip, and quite frankly Hubs and I are utterly burned out on local craft markets and handicraft villages.  There are loads of little islands you can go out to - but not being able to get into the ocean made that idea less attractive.  Plus it was very, very hot and the sun was very, very strong.  We had to keep the girls in the shade from 11am - 3 pm every day to keep them from burning to a crisp.

As our return flight to Hong Kong departed quite late (8:50 p.m.), we decided to spend the last day at the Shang in Kota Kinabalu as it would give the girls a change of scene (with water slides, lounge chairs, pool-side dining, kids club) and we would be able to drop our bags with the concierge.  That way we could shower-up at the end of the day and take a quick ride to the airport - also we could compare the two hotels for ourselves.  This turned out to be a great idea, and I would highly recommend it to people staying at the Rasa Ria.

En route to Rasa Ria from the airport, we passed the floating temple, which was lovely ...I would have liked to explore a little but girls were fussy...

Upon arrival at the Rasa Ria, we received cold towels and a gorgeous peach tea ... mmmm....

The view from reception...

Happy girls...

After a day of sun and fun, we signed Chase up to be a ranger for the day.  In order to do this, she needed long pants and long shirts (lucky I packed some) and she had to have a health check from the hotel doctor (temp, throat check, breathing check), as one of her duties was to cut up the food for the Orangutans   She was also responsible for feeding the ducks and goats.  When asked how it went, she said, "it was kinda boring."  I was really hoping for a more enthusiastic response, like "wow, it was great!" or "I want to be a ranger."  Oh well, she did look cute!

So off she went, while we waited for the informational video to start.  The idea was that we would all meet her up at the platform where they feed Orangutans  We had no idea how many mosquitoes there would be.  Swarms and swarms.  We had three different kinds of bug spray on and we were eaten up.

On our way up to the monkeys, we saw a pit viper (light green with dark green stripes) with two hatchlings, who was an arm's length away.  I really don't like snakes, and I really don't like pit vipers.

The Orangutans were awesome! It was a short hike uphill.  Unfortunately I had to carry Madoc the entire way, so I was in a full sweat by the time we got to the platform.

And then it was back to the kids club to give the girls a way to cool off.  I was impressed with the staff and the activities at this kids club.  I must say the facilities didn't seem quite so bright and cheerful when we were there - it seemed kind of dark and a little musty, but the photo came out quite nicely.  At any rate, Chase loved it.  She would ask to go back and we were delighted to have it as an option - plus it was free except a couple activities (always a bonus).


There was a lovely little goat habitat right next to the kids club and the girls loved the goats.  I wanted a goat by the time we left.

And one of the best parts about this trip, was that due to the kids club, Hubs and I spent a couple hours everyday with each other, just the two of us, hangin' out.  It was really so wonderful.

Here are the pictures of the Orangutans by Chase and Madoc.

And then I let them buy a little stuffed Orangutan as a keepsake.  Little did I know they would be given one later by the kids club and then would actually win more later.  So we ended up with six of them.  Four of them had bikinis on.  Weird.

On the last night, Chase really, really wanted to participate in the "lighting ceremony" at the hotel.  And so we  left her to it, and when we arrived she was all dressed up.  And then the kids all proceeded to a small platform where they basically stood there, for about 10 minutes.  While a guy came out first with a knife and did a weird dance (I admit, I wanted to pull her off the stage and run for shelter).  And then the same guy came out with a fire stick and waved it around (again, a little scary for small kids and nervous parents).

And the next day we were off to the Shang in Kota Kinabalu.  Also lovely, but much smaller.  Way more pools, shade and water slides - along with a crazy kids water play area - it was kind of a mini water park.  We opened a tab there and hung out all day moving from pool to pool.  Definitely the better hotel of the two for families with kids, as it had a very big, very shallow pool area with shade cover.  I had also heard the kids club was amazing - maybe it was just the day we were there, but there was very little going on and it seemed really empty with not much to do except watch TV (they had about 5 flat screens all lined up).  They also had a good baby section with big plastic toys, but for Chase and Mads they didn't seem to have much to do.  Hubs and I agreed we liked Rasa Ria better, but that in the future, we would actively look for places in the future where the kids can go into the ocean.

And just before it was time to go, the sky grew dark and a few drops of rain fell, and then we saw this...