A weeklong trip eating through the streets of Penang and climbing the highest free-standing mountain in Southeast Asia in Sabah.
AsiaMalaysia7 days / April 2019
Highs & Lows
Watching the sunrise atop Mount Kinabalu, Sabah
The food in Sabah, though good, doesn't compare to Penang
Splitting your time in Malaysia on the cultural gem Penang and the wild Sabah.
The first 2D2N is spent in Penang eating and sight seeing, before the rest of the 5D5N is spent island hopping in Sabah as well as hiking Mount Kinabalu!
Penang is an island on the west coast of mainland Malaysia that is the crossroad of cultures. It was a British colony and a busy seaport that makes it a melting pot of culture. From the picturesque old town of Georgetown to the delicious fusion food, Penang is a must see in Malaysia.
Day 1 - explore George Town's street art and Penang Hill
George Town has undergone a state of gentrification with the addition of its street art being the most famous. Grab a map at the tourism office and hunt down the most beautiful murals.
Grab lunch at the Perut Ruman Nyonya Cuisine and try the delicious Chinese and Malay fusion food - my favourite is Otak Otak!
In the afternoon, head up Penang Hill - a former colonial hill station under the British with sprawling grounds and a beautiful temple.
Dinner must be done at the Red Garden where there are dozens of vendors with different food vying for your attention.
Day 2 - Entopia by Butterfly Farm, afternoon tea at Eastern and Oriental Hotel, and Gurney Drive
Have breakfast at New Cathay like a local, with a steaming bowl of Bah Kut Teh. Enjoy a trip to the insect paradise Entopia, great for adults and families before afternoon tea at the Eastern and Oriental Hotel.
Shop and watch the sunset at Gurney Drive before having dinner at the hawker center there!
Kota Kinabalu is the capital of the state of Sabah, Malaysia. Famed for its mountains, beaches, and nature, it’s a great base or starting point for those who want to adventure around Borneo. While it doesn’t have many heritage sites compared to Penang, it makes up for it in variety.
We spent the first day island hopping:
The Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park is where the best beaches of Sabah is. The park consists of 5 islands: Gayan, Sapi, Manukan, Mamutik, and Sulug Island. You can get tickets to island-hop at Jesselton Pier and I visited the Sapi and Manukan Island.
You can bring your own snorkeling gear but it's also possible to rent it from the vendor.
And explored the town on the second day:
Gaya Street Sunday Market
The biggest event of the week, the Gaya Street Sunday Market is both an affair attended by locals and tourists. Vendors start setting up around 4am and even some sleeps there overnight to open for business bright and early. They sell everything and anything from homeware, antiques, souvenirs to pets.
Pillars of Sabah
An art project in conjunction with the WWF, the Pillars of Sabah are about 5 minutes’ walk from Jesselton by Jalan Haji Saman (in front of a HSBC bank). Each pillar represent an endangered specie found in Sabah and designed by a local artists – there are 30 of them in total. It’s a great educational stop and also pretty good for photos.
Atkinson Clock Tower
One of the oldest surviving buildings from the Jesselton era, the Atkinson Clock Tower is just about 15m tall standing on a small hill by Jalan Istana. The wooden clock tower was built to commemorate the death of British district officer Francis Atkinson by Malaria, erected in 1905. It’s quite difficult to get a good look of the clock tower unless you are directly across or under it – and you can’t visit the tower itself as the section is gated.
Signal Hill Observatory Tower
A free observatory tower accessible by a flight of red stairs, you might be a little disappointed if you are hoping for a sweeping panorama of the ocean, since most buildings are as tall, if not taller, than the observatory tower itself.
Kota Kinabalu Waterfront
Want to watch a glorious sunset? It’s as simple as walking to the waterfront. The whole stretch of area from near Jesselton Point to just past the Marlin Statue are all great spots to watch the sky turns pink.
The best food in Kota Kinabalu includes Sin Kee Bah Kut Teh, chicken rice at Wiya Nasi Ayam Dan Kedai Kopi, and breakfast at the historic Kedai Kopi Yee Fung.
Mari Mari Cultural Village
Start the morning with a half-day visit to the Mari Mari Cultural Village. Although it is built purposefully for tourists, the village showcases the traditional houses and customs of the five aboriginal tribes in Sabah and provide cultural information. Here is an overview of the five tribes:
- Dusun – farmers and largest population
- Rungus – communal living farmers
- Lundayeh – river people who also practice headhunting
- Bajau – the merchant and horseman tribes
- Murut – the infamous headhunter tribe
Lunch was included as well as a dance performance!
Sabah Tea Restaurant and Tea Shop
About half an hour from Kinabalu Park is Sabah Tea. it is the only organic farm in the region and offers so much more beyond that. Not only do they have a great restaurant and a gift shop where you can buy their products, they also offer various trekking as well as tea plucking activities and factory visits.
Kundasang War Memorial
During WWII, Sabah saw many soldiers from around the world coming over to fight the Japanese. The Kundasang War Memorial was built to commemorate the Australian and British soldiers who had died in the nearby prisoner of war camp as well as the suffering of the indigenous people.
Arguably one of the most challenging two day one night hikes in Southeast Asia, Mount Kinabalu is the highest mountain in Borneo and Malaysia with an iconic rugged summit. It stands at 4095 m above sea level that takes trekkers from lush jungles to barren rock sea. Only a limited number of hikers are allowed to ascend per day and even then not all make it to the summit!
You start the day early in the morning at 7am, setting off after breakfast and arriving at the Panalaban Base Camp before 4pm (ideally, and a MUST if you want to take part in any of the two Via Ferrata routes, which must be booked along with the package pre-hike, usually months in advance).
The next day begins at 2 am to ascend to the top and watch the sunrise, which is a 3-4 hours hike. Then, you have breakfast once you get back down before hiking all the way back down to the starting point.
Returning from our hike from Mount Kinabalu in the evening, we have an early flight to catch and stayed at Dock In, which is close to the airport but an easy Grab ride to the city center.
Our first order of business is a shower, then it was time for a massage:
Located on the second floor of a row of shops and apartments, Eden Reflexology is a simple and clean massage place that hits the spot. The inside is subdivided into smaller, private rooms for massage and it was easy for me to book a few hours in advance via Facebook Message. They have a few two hours deal but we only had time for a one hour massage. Their oil massage was heavenly after hiking up Mount Kinabalu and I will definitely recommend them.
Q & A
What would you have changed?If time permits, I would also visit the Poring Hotspring in Sabah or add a day trip to Langkawi.
Anything go wrong during the trip?We ended up taking too long to descend Mount Kinabalu and missed dinner.
Restaurant recommendations?The food in Penang was fantastic, I've recommended the best restaurants in the itinerary.
Packing tips?Bring thermals for Mount Kinabalu as well as sturdy hiking gears as it is a technical hike and cold on the top.
Transportation Tips?Download the Grab app which is the Uber of Southeast Asia and an affordable way to get around Malaysia.
Booking details?Pre-book Mount Kinabalu hike months in advance as it has limited spots per day - I went with Sutera Santuary.