Selamat datang is a Malaysian greeting that means welcome. In Kota Kinabalu—the capital of the state of Sabah, Malaysia—locals say selamat datang in the warmest of ways to make each visitor feel their inherent kindness.
In October, a group of nine Philippine journalists experienced the best of Malaysian hospitality first hand when Air Asia Zest organized a three-day familiarization tour of Kota Kinabalu. The trip not only highlighted the endearing manners abundant in this Asian nation but also its rich history, tradition and culture.
Headed by Pax Paloma, Air Asia Philippines’ marketing officer, the media group arrived in Kota Kinabalu in the eastern part of Malaysia on the island of Borneo after a comfortable one-hour and 40-minute flight on the budget carrier.
A tour guide named Jasthy Jawanting from the Sabah Tourism Board welcomed the delegates, and after the proprietary selamat datang, ushered everyone aboard a brand new bus called Borneo Authentic.
On the way to an authentic Malaysian lunch, the media group were able to take in the sights of the city skyline, comprised of government offices, banks, malls, and other commercial establishments. Almost every corner of the streets is filled with infrastructures—a sign that this metropolis is fast progressing.
Tour guide Jawanting made sure to introduce his beloved city to his guests the best he can and so started off by sharing Kota Kinabalu’s history.
According to him, since the 15th century, Kota Kinabalu was under the influence of the Bruneian Empire. In the late 1800s, the British North Borneo Company (BNBC) began to establish colonies throughout North Borneo. In 1882, BNBC founded a small settlement known as Gaya Bay, which was already inhabited by the Bajaus, who in turn would become the ancestors of Kota Kinabalu’s people.
However, as history records, the Bajaus’ original land was destroyed by another tribe, the Bajau-Suluk freedom fighters of Mat Salleh. Thus, BNBC decided to relocate the settlement to Gantian Bay (now Sepanggar Bay) in 1898. It was named Api-Api Fishing Village.
A year later, Henry Walker, a land commissioner, relocated the settlers once again to a 30-acre land opposite Gaya Islands. By the end of 1899, the construction of shops, government buildings and a pier began. This area was renamed Jesselton, named after Sir Charles Jessel, one of the directors of the British North Borneo Chartered Company (BNBCC).
After the World War II, Sabah became a British Crown colony specifically from 1946 until 1963 when it was granted independence with the Federation of Malaysia.
On September 30, 1967, Jesselton was renamed Kota Kinabalu, named after Mount Kinabalu situated about 50 kilometers east-northeast of the city. On February 2, 2000, Kota Kinabalu was proclaimed a city and the capital of the State of Sabah.
One of the media familiarization’s first activities was a visit to the Mari Mari Cultural Village. This is an idyllic village located in Kionsom, Inanam that serves as museum preserving Sabah’s five major ethnic tribes—rice farmer Kadazan Dusun, cowboys and sea gypsies Bajau, feared head-hunting Murut, longhouse resident Rungus, and fishermen Lundayeh.
Mari Mari, which simply means “come, come,” is a well-preserved depiction of the culture and tradition of Borneo, amid a beautiful rain forest.
Approximately a three-hour tour, the Mari Mari experience takes visitors to each of the five tribes’ houses showcasing how diverse their cultures are from one another. From tasting their food—distilled rice wine, traditional delicacies like Jala, and pandan juice—to witnessing such abilities as making fire without matches and their particular art of henna tattoo, there is so much to take in from the single stop.
The second day was hectic yet filled with fun and adventure as Jawanting led the media group to Gaya and Sapi Islands, accessible via the Marina Sutera Harbor Jetty Port.
Adventurous delegates took on the challenge of the Coral Flyer—a 250-meter zip-line connecting Gaya to Sapi Island. Located at the beautiful Tunku Abdul Rahman Park, the ride offers a stunning view of the islands above crystal clear water.
For the faint of heart, “sea walking” was the best option, challenging still with the use of a 35-kilogram helmet that allows underwater breathing. Even without mastery of scuba diving, sea walking allows an individual to experience the underwater world and marvel at colorful marine life up close.
A river cruise at Weston Wetland Park. One-hundred-twenty-two kilometers from Kota Kinabalu, the town of Weston takes tourists back in time with endless rows of old shops, a 100-year old jetty, and the site of the longest preserved wooden school in Borneo. Besides heritage, biodiversity is also protected in Weston with its wildlife boasting of proboscis monkey, silvered langue, birds, snakes, and more. Various aquatic species such as mudskippers, otters, crocodiles and river prawns also thrive in the Weston River.
No trip is ever complete without souvenir and pasalubong shopping. The last day of the tour was spent at the Gaya Street Sunday Market. The best pieces and flavors of Kota Kinabalu to bring home are Sabah tea, Durian coffee, and, Orang Utan chocolate, and many more.
With history, culture and adventure overflowing in Kota Kinabalu, the Malaysian city is definitely a “welcome” respite for Filipinos looking for a short, nearby yet worthwhile break.