Aug 29, 2012

Kota Kinabalu Travelogue : Islands Hopping (Day 3-19 May 2012)

The night before was a torturing one; I forced myself to puke so that I can sleep in peace and it went on repetitively for an hour or two before I slowly dozed off in exhaustion. Awaken by natural call and bright lit drapery, I was astonished by the fact that it was just 6am! I stood in front of the beautiful morning scene, scanning the vicinity and indulging in a few seconds of curiosity. As people were bustling around the pier, here I was, standing here, enjoying my chilly air inside a cozy hotel room and wishing that my blissful holiday was longer.


The morning pier around 6am

After lazing around in bed for an hour or so, my empty tummy couldn't hold itself together anymore. Hence, we decided to grab our quick breakfast, which was not included in the package, at Circle in Le Meridien Kota Kinabalu before our island adventure entailed.  The variety of breakfast buffet spread was somewhat satisfying but the food was mediocre. The turnover for used plates was very slow though. However there were several things I found intriguing, which were the idea of serving yoghurt, customized fruit juice, and bottled honey in the breakfast buffet spread.  We whacked several portions of eggs, a glass of fruit juice each, and random try-outs. Before we left, we smuggled few bottles of honey to help with my sore throat too!

After donning on my bikini, slabbing on sunblock, poking my contact lens into my cornea, and grabbing our camera and some water, we headed to the sunny street with our macho sunglasses on and walked towards the jetty to grab our boat to islands of our choice. The sun was shining mercilessly above us and every inch of my skin nearly screamed in agony if it wasn't for the sunblock. The pungent smell welcomed us as we drew closer to the morning seafood market.


The splashing fun awaits!


Before we were even close to the jetty, several locals had already tried to sell us their island hopping packages. We ignored the first two as they seemed like a con man because of the sunglasses they put on
(I am serious!). When this forty looking local approached us at Waterfront, somehow we were sold. Not only we bought his boat transfer services, we bought his parasailing package too! I couldn't remember how much it costed us exactly but it came up to RM70 per pax for 2-island hopping and parasailing.

The boat quota was filled within 10-20 minutes, however, we were left to wait for another 10 minutes or so in the scorching hot weather. I could feel the heat even though I was fully shaded. Imagine we were going to be on the sea for several hours! As soon as the Malay couple, whom we were waiting for for past 10 minutes, arrived, we were led towards the direction of the seafood market and finally we saw a small pier where boats were parking alongside. A small fee was paid to the "pier caretaker" before we boarded the boat and each of us was given life jacket and mask aboard which we would be using it for our snorkeling.


Mamutik Island, We Are Here!

Our first stop was Mamutik Island, where we did our parasail before free and easy snorkeling. The view was breathtaking and it reminded me that it had been a year that I was away from an island since my diving trip last year. We were blessed in a way as the weather was perfect for outdoor activities. We boarded a special boat for parasailing and headed to the middle of the sea before it halted and the boatman and his assistant started to fly the parachute. We stepped onto the flying platform and geared ourselves up. Too bad our camera was foggy due to the extreme temperature between our hotel room's and outdoor's. Now come to think of it, we should have asked the boatman to take pictures with our phones instead.


The wind was pretty strong and we were taken aback when the parachute caught hold of the gushing wind. The only thing that keep us tied to the boat was the rope connecting to the parachute. That was exciting, I thought to myself. Once we were released to the maximum height, the boatman started to showcase his driving skill by making abrupt swerves. Perhaps I concluded way too early; even when the boat made sharp turns, we were suspended on the air undisturbed (boring...). I guessed the boatman felt our boredom and he purposely lowered us and let our dangling legs scraped across the surface. Whoa, that was fun!


The swarming fishes

After 10-20 minutes of parasailing, we put on our life jacket and mask and walked towards the sea, getting ready to meet up with Mr and Mrs Fishies! It did not take us too long to find them as we spotted blanket after blanket of corals not too far from the shore. For your information, where the corals are, where the fishes will be! We saw plenty of tiny colorful fishes; some were donned in hot pink, fluorescent yellow and bright blue. Some of the fishes were nearly transparent while some of them swam in a group. I did send them scattered away at times. There was so much to be mesmerized by the life forms in the sea.

The only thing that was really inconvenient to island hop here is no locker is provided so you might risk losing your personal belongings. We waited for another 10 minutes for our boat to pick us up and drop us at our next destination, i.e. Manukan Island. Compared to Mamutik Island, Manukan Island is more touristy, hence you would find yourself having hard time walking on the shore due to the pieces of dead corals laid around.


Manukan Island

To avoid disappointment, head to the pier and swim to the sea alongside the pier where I came across little orange Nemo and "Paddle Pop"! Stay close to the pier as you could concentrated coral population, hence the fishes! Watching this naughty little Nemo busy fluttering its tail against the petite and vibrant leafy coral tickled my heart; through it, I saw how adorable naivety can be. I saw tiny and almost transparent barracudas swimming in a group; I admitted it was a little scary due to its pointy mouth. As we were half way snorkeling, we bumped into this rather "friendly" baby pink fish, which we named it, "Paddle Pop". As we tried to reach out for it, it ran away in its lightning speed; as we turned around to head back to shore, it swam closer to us, attempting to "attack" us. Amused we were, we kept trolling the little fella; it went on and on until we felt the exhaustion and decided to rest at the beach.


Yours sincerely with her tanner half

Unfortunately we had to stay put at Manukan Island until 4pm as the boat just made its way back to the main land not long ago. An hour plus it was. We ended up fiddling with our phones, taking pictures, playing games, chit chatting, disturbing one another whilst enjoying the breeze and gentle sunshine. It felt like a real holiday; nothing bothered us and we could do anything we want :)


Reflection, taken in Manukan Island

It was great to be back on the main land after being stranded for more than an hour. The distance from the pier to Le Meridien Kota Kinabalu was less than 1 km; I wouldn't say it was tiring on its own but after hopping for almost half a day, I just wanted to have a long shower and get some rest. However we had an important task to settle before we were to retreat to our room of comfort, i.e. early dinner. Our lunch was merely a can of 100 Plus and Coke light and a packet of potato chips at Manukan Island before our second round of snorkeling.

Hoping that Seng Hing Coffee Shop was still opening, we quickened our foot steps but luck wasn't on our side. We were left to hunt for next alternatives on our hunting list but in the end, we resorted to some hot but not so spicy fried chicken from KFC in Centre Point. Hunger was dissipating but the satisfaction did not stack itself up the way it usually does.


The Sunset from Le Meridien Kota Kinabalu

I took a long shower under the rain shower, hoping it could wash away my exhaustion. Nonetheless, it was a trip that truly worth our time, money and exhaustion. In fact, I had gotten myself a fresh pair of natural bikini too! Changed into some loose and clothes which smelled of fresh laundry, I sat myself quietly on the study table and scribbling on my CFA Level II Practice Exams (Oh, I am official CFA Level III candidate now. Yeap, I passed!)

We waited for an hour plus for the rest of my 8 group mates to join us for dinner at Sri Mutiara Seafood Restaurant at Kompleks SEDCO (Kampung Air). The location was perfect for meet up as it is located approximately the same distance from Le Meridien Kota Kinabalu and City Park Lodge. Since all of them were famished, we ordered almost one dish each, which summed up to ten dishes for our table!


Fried Squid Rings

Judging by the outlook, the batter was just right; it promised the right level of crispiness yet enabled squid rings to unveil what it had got to offer. If I had to pick one thing to comment about, it would be the thickness of the squid rings. It is a matter of personal preference but I do think a "thinner" squid ring would strike a better balance between crispiness and chewiness. Flavor wise, it leaned towards saltier side but complemented well with the squid rings.


Kung Poh Chicken

The tenderness of chicken was prevalent; it was juicy, soft and lean, just the right texture and choice of meat for me. Weirdly so, I couldn't recall how it tasted like exactly but it was not bad at all. The reason why we ordered it because one of us does not eat pork yet she is Chinese. Hmm, weird weird weird.


Local Vegetables cooked with Belacan

There is something about local vegetables that I find it amusing. How many of us really know what is it called? How many of us really can identify it in forest? It could be one of the ferns that crawls and prospers on the tree. That aside, I find myself liking local vegetables for its firm and crunchy texture; I find myself liking the belacan style for its muted spiciness and tempting fragrance. Do I like it? Of course!


Salt Baked Slipper Lobsters (perhaps?)

The flesh resembled prawn's and crab's; a little chewy yet flaky. Do I like it? Hmm, not totally. I liked the salt baked style as it left a coat of salt on the shell which complemented the lack of flavor in the lobster flesh. What I did not appreciate much was the texture of flesh. However, it was much easier to eat this compared to crab.


Steamed Fish

I would say it was a pretty simple dish among all yet the forgetful me failed to get the name of fish used. I liked my steamed fish just the way it was served. Nothing fancy but soy sauce, spring onion, parsley and most importantly fresh fish. Smooth and slightly chunky, it had met my expectation of a steamed fish. Most of the flavor came from the soy sauce, which was flavorful yet complementing the freshness of fish.


Crabs

Nothing really blew my mind but all in all, it was decent; the local vegetables cooked in belacan, the steamed fish, the slipper lobster were the few I love the most. I did not try the crabs as it did not look tempting and my group mates whom tried commented that it was not nice too. The total bill summed up to RM50 per pax, hence I wouldn't say it was not too "cheap".

After dinner we walked to the nearest Orange to grab some mineral water and also breakfast for the next day as we would be heading for water rafting. One thing I realize is there are more Orange than 7Eleven in Kota Kinabalu AND Orange's product prices are slightly cheaper than 7Eleven YET both operates 24 hours. So guys, now you know where to grab your necessities even in the middle of the nights!

The rafting adventure awaits :D

Aug 5, 2012

Kota Kinabalu Travelogue : The Amazing Le Meridien (Day 2 - 18 May 2012)

The boss of City Park Lodge was kind enough to extend our check out time to 2pm after knowing we would be switching to Le Meridien hotel in the afternoon. We have got to stay in the room chilling and doing more research as I slowly packed and grabbed a short nap before we made our way to Le Meridien, Kota Kinabalu. 1.1km did not sound much of a taxing walk initially but every inch I made on the tar road made me felt like dying in my own pool of sweat as I was carrying more than 20kg of luggages while maneuvering against the traffic.

Being greeted with soothing lemongrass aroma and blasting cool air, I was alive once again the moment we stepped into Le Meridien. There was a short queue of two or three person in front of us and I was rather annoyed by the fact that Le Meridien's front house was being slow in having guests check in and also helping us with our luggages. When it was our turn, again, it was another 10 minutes of wait for the processing of our bookings. To make things worse, I was nearly died of thirst and there wasn't any welcome drink (just tap water also works fine for me) as I waited impatiently for the front house to get things done. Moreover, being a Starwood Privilege ("SPG") member, I was expecting some special treatments, at the very least, an special check in counter that can facilitate speedier check in.


Deluxe Sea View Room 

Albeit the disappointment with Le Meridien's front house, my heart was lifted once again when I stepped into the deluxe sea view room that we were going to stay for TWO (2) NIGHTS! Practically we paid 50% of the off rack rates and it summed up to about RM750 with one of the complimentary vouchers for SPG members. No breakfast was included and minimum two (2) nights stay was the stated condition. It was the call of my tanner half to indulge a little, considering that we would be spending a week in Kota Kinabalu. Brilliant call, I must say!


The Duo Reflection

Apart from the spacious room that we could literally dance and whirl around, the smell of fresh linen,   the rejoice of our feet against the soft carpet, and the nice scent in the room were poising stark contrast against City Park Lodge, which was comparatively constricted and smelt of dust. We spent 15 minutes or so checking out what we had and photographing the awesome room we were going to stay in before we settled down on the comfortable and inviting white fresh linen and enjoyed the view from our bed.


Sea View, Tell You So!

We couldn't be more glad about our decision to get a sea view room. The slight premium charged was worth every penny we spent and I couldn't imagine how unimpressive could a garden view room be! The crystal blue sky against the puffy white clouds, the fishermen boats (which were steering away to some unknown places) against the tranquil sea, and the bustling fish market near the pier were something we hardly see every day and here we were, watching over the horizon at ease from our cozy hotel room.


 The Toiletries

On the right of the our room entrance was our huge bathroom, which takes up about a quarter of the whole room. The icy cold marble set up, against a wide mirror facing the corridor and the glass up shower partition against the bath tub were exactly what we would have wished for. The complete set of  toiletries was great addition to those who travel light and we had one set for each :)


Sunset 

Time fled as we casually enjoyed lying down on bed, chilling while watching some random channels on the wide television screen and it was soon the time for the sun to pronounce the end of the day. Both of us grabbed phone and camera and camped at the window to witness and capture the magical moment from almost same level with the horizon. I could feel the warmth on my skin as the sun shared its love for the world generously.


The Colorful Horizon

Even when it was gone, what was left behind was this beautiful moving canvas that kept changing as every second ticked. Awed we were, even when we were behind the frame capturing the best picture to do justice of the beautiful canvas. We waited until the sky turned dark and our tummies growled before we made our way to Flames, the  considerably new steak house in Kota Kinabalu. As I recalled, we did make reservation few hours in advance but when we reached Flames, we were told that the restaurant was fully booked. Hence we were left with no choice but to be seated at the lounge. I supposed they should inform us earlier, what if we were planning to celebrate an occasion?


The Bread with Vinaigrette Oil, Butter and Tuna  

As expected, we were served with warm bread loaf with three different spreads as a welcome gesture or appetizer. Compared to the bread served in Favola, Le Meridien Kuala Lumpur, this was nothing fantastic. Out of the three spreads, what I liked most was the butter spread which casually delivered extra dose of surprise; followed by the tuna spread which was much tender and moistened than I thought so. We waited for quite a long while before our appetiser was served and before we noticed, the whole loaf of bread was gone!


Fish Head Consomme with Prawn Tortellini and Chinese Watercress [RM20]

Our expectation was precedented by the awesome double boiled chicken consommé we had in Mulberry (formerly known as Speakeasy). The amount of time and effort spent on this clear broth and almost oil-less soup, namely consommé, is something worth paying for. However a little disappointed we were, looking at the horrifying oil "layer". The color resembled the one we had in Mulberry. Flavor wise, the intensity seemed lacking, so was the approach. The prawn tortellini came in rather pitiful amount and if I remember well, the other two pieces were fish fillet. Fresh, crunching, and mildly flavored, the prawn tortellini was decent but the skin was slightly thick to my liking. The use of watercress was aptly. Not only the hearty aroma, it balanced the soup with its humbleness in flavor and contrast in texture.


Seared Portobello Mushrooms [RM15]

The way Flames serves their steak is similar to Prime, Le Meridien Kuala Lumpur, i.e. no side dish is complimentary. Therefore, you are strongly advised to order side dishes which could go well with the steak. When my tanner half looked at the side dishes menu, he straight away saw what he wanted. The portobello he wanted came in two medium pieces. Seared and topped with some unknown sauce, it smelled and tasted a little smoky. Juicy, flavorful and chewy, there was almost nothing I could have complained about the portobello apart from its size.


Garlic Mashed Potatoes [RM10]

To tone things down a little, mash potatoes would always be the ideal candidate. Since they did not serve truffle scented mash potatoes, we resorted to the next best alternative, i.e. garlic mashed potatoes. Judging by the outlook, this mash potatoes was definitely not an easy going fella but one with a little character. Though garlic is something common to me, the taste of garlic mash was lovely and the touch of parsley was aptly.


220g Medium Rare Black Angus Ribeye with Caramel Balsamic Shallot Juice [RM108]

Here came the highlight of the night. As I am known to be a small eater when it comes to steak, my tanner half told me, "let's share a steak and try out their consommé". Medium rare was just the perfect level for both of us as it is neither too raw, nor too cooked. My fork testified its bounciness but it wasn't too hard to nail the beef down. My knife did not need to force its way to cut through the strands of fat and look, I had a nice pinkish beef cube! No doubt, this ribeye had the capability to stand out on its own but caramel balsamic shallot juice ignited the inner character in it with its subtlety but variety in flavor. Both of us were two satisfied men at the end of the night.

As a SPG member, supposedly my tanner half is entitled to 50% discount for dining in two. However, we were informed otherwise. Manager came to reaffirm our understanding that we were only entitled to 20%. We obliged, considering the rationale that it was a newly opened steak house which they did have their special rule. Few months later, it turned out that we were right, i.e. 50% discount is applicable across all SPG hotels' restaurants. All money was refunded and practically we ate good stuff for free!


Some We-Time

After four (4) hours of lazing around in our spacious room before dinner, we decided to take a stroll around the hotel after dinner. We went across the road to the flee market to check out what is the buzz about. Almost every stall sells seafood but we did not try any as both of us are not a big fan of seafood, in general. It did not take us too long before we decided to head back to hotel as it was humid outdoor due to the proximity to sea. We continued to laze until we were tired and dozed off.


Yours Sincerely

I wished it was that easy for me. Around 10pm, my tummy was hollow and I thought, "I must be hungry". I refused to address that "hunger" until the nausea started to kick in and doomed I was, I puked several times till midnight. I suspected it was the free chocolate dipped strawberries dessert the manager gave it to us over the dinner. It did not matter as sunny beach and bikini girl would be the theme for the next day.

Till then, another blog post would ensue.

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