If a month ago, somebody would’ve asked me, “Do you see yourself going to Malaysia in the near future”, my answer would’ve been an indefinite “no” followed by thoughts of a constrained time schedule, a silent curse at the capitalist economy we live in, a buried yearning and an abrupt image of Kuala Lumpur’s skyline.
But, just when you think you know what’s coming, doesn’t the world always have a surprise in store for you?
Who would’ve thought in a few weeks’ time, I would still be plagued with the same thoughts- but while taking a stroll in a paradise for travel junkies and food lovers while I, being a direct progeny of both these lines- fell in love with this place called Kota Kinabalu.
Being a member of a group of 54 Indian bloggers who participated in the Digital Travel Influencers’ Convention organised by Travel Earth and Sabah Tourism Board- Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah and the land of rich cultural heritage, accepted me for five days.
These handful of days passed by in a flurry as all of us began to acquaint ourselves with the quaint lanes and vast forests while managing to survive the adrenaline rush of scuba diving, rafting, mountaineering and trekking (well, almost surviving in some cases) and before we knew it, Kota Kinabalu had cast a spell on all our hearts.
While I was in Europe, I got my tickets and invitation to attend the conference. I right-away got to work and got myself an eNTRI visa online from Malaysia’s Official Website for $20 which gave me a 15 day visa.
DAY 1: FLIGHTS, JUST FLIGHTS
The first day got over before I could blink. Landing in airport after my Europe trip, I took another flight via Malaysia airlines to reach Kuala Lumpur (5h30m), and then another flight to the Kota Kinabalu airport (2h45m). On my way, I saw a brief vision of the clear blue skies and lush greenery before heading to the hotel and spending the entire day checking in and unpacking.
DAY 2: TAMAZA, WATERFALLS AND FIREFLIES
Hence, began the day of happenings. After my Euro trip, the beautiful island of Sabah felt like a much needed recourse and Kota Kinabalu felt like the tucked away secret haven you escape to when you become tired of the familiar large crowds and bustling streets, yet want to stay in touch with the instruments of a modern life- its charm lied in its great nightlife and modern energy along with a beautiful harbour and its beating heart- the natives. The place had a typical vibe of “You’re not my enemy, so you’re obviously my friend” which grew onto me after I met up with local guides and natives who felt like an extended warm family.
Our tour operator was this amazing lady Alicia, who ran her tour business under the name of Avasi Borneo. Her team ensured we had a smooth journey from point A to point B. Before heading to Tamaza, we stopped over at Kedai Kopi Ban Hing for our cup of Kopi Susu followed by a light breakfast. We bought a local sim card for RM 20 to stay connected to the digital world.
You cannot visit Sabah and not talk about its people and scenery as the impact it leaves, makes you feel like every person should have a fair experience of this. The cradle of mountains that circled the island, lush rainforests and small, happy moments like watching the fireflies in the dim moonlight- rendered us with tales to tell.
Once such memory was made in the Adventure Cultural Village of Tamaza headed by Terrence, a local guide of the region and a great friend made on the journey, who took us trekking across several rivers (and also saved me from drowning) and to a waterfall, about 1.5 hours away from Tamaza.
Having been divided into a group of 12 people, we bought time and treated our eyes with a visual feast. We spent most of our remaining time catching up with each other and having lunch by the waterfalls, and then we headed back to our base camp for Dumb Charades, and a game of Truth and Dare.
DAY 3: RIVER RAFTING, PADDY FIELDS AND MASJID BANDARAYA
This was the day of exploration and adventures. First thing in the morning, we were taken out by our local guides and the band of 15 people made its way for our first taste of the multiple activities Kota Kinabalu had to offer. RIVER RAFTING, IT WAS! Although, most of my vivid recollection of the time now is devoid of any concrete physical experience of the time, I can still remember the exhilaration and our soaring spirits.
We later on proceeded to a beautiful landscape dotted with paddy fields in the middle of lush greenery and spent a good amount of time, soaking in the tropical heat of the exotic landscape and sightseeing the rich Kingdom of Brunei as well.
While the mornings took away our breath (literally and figuratively), the evenings and nights were reserved for a more serene absorption of KK’s culture. Be it wandering through the night markets, listening to live music, or dining at the seafood restaurants by the waterfront- Kota Kinabalu never ceased to disappoint.
Half giddy by the overflow of constant experiences in one day, we finally stepped into the famous Bandaraya Mosque or as it is alternatively known, the floating mosque of Kota Kinabalu. Opened in 2000, the same year that Kota Kinabalu was granted city status- the mosque boasted of huge minarets and deep blue onion domes on them. We first had to check in at the kiosk for registration and proper attire, before entering. The mosque also had a rental shop for clothing,. After a short guide tour through the prayer room areas, washing areas and common halls, we were left to our own devices.
After having seen the breathtakingly beautiful mosques of Turkey, this was the second time, that another place had managed to leave the same imprints on me.
DAY 4 : BEGINNING OF THE TRAVEL INFLUENCERS CONVENTION
Insightful discussions, food for thought, discourse on latest trends and creative workshops marked the entirety of my fifth day in Kota Kinabalu. Hosted at Shangri-La’s Rasa Ria Resort and Spa,the convention hosted around 50-100 participants, judges and industry stalwarts from all over the country.
Day 5: AWARD CEREMONY
The convention culminated in the Earthy Awards ceremony that involved onsite awards and self-nominated awards, while the most engaging activities were awarded with an Earthy. The 20 award categories were judged by a panel represented by veterans of their own fields, the likes of whom included marketing gurus like Ramesh Srivats, Partha Sinha, and Jessie Paul, innovative entrepreneurs like Bobby Joshi, visual editor Dinesh Krishnan, and distinguished bloggers like Shivya Nath and Siddhartha Joshi.
While Saumya Rai, the woman behind the blog “Road to Taste” won the “ Travel Influencer of the Year” award, other Earthly Award winners included-
- Rising Star of the Year – Aakash Malhotra (Wander With Sky)
- Travel Photographer of the year – NavaneethUnnikrishnan
- Best Instagrammer – Sunny Gala (Worthashott)
- Travel Blogger of the year – Amrita Sen (Tale of 2 Backpackers)
- Best Story (Culture) – Amrita Sen (Tale of 2 Backpackers)
- Best Photo (Environment) – Veronica Gera
- Best Photo (Food) – DeebaRajpal (Passionate About Baking)
- Best Photo (People) – Rakesh Pulapa
- Best Story (Wildlife) – Jyotsna Ramani (Wander with Jo)
- Best Photo-Story – KeertanaIyer (The Next Checkin)
- Best Short Story on Travel – Ajay Sood (Travelure)
- Best Travel Writer – Vijay Nagaraj Rao (IMVoyager)
- Best Vlog – PriyankaChandola (DesiTraveller Girl)
- Best Youtuber – PriyankaChandola (DesiTraveller Girl)
- Caption Queen – Vandana Yadav (The Glowing Edge)
- Best story on website – Khushboo Motihar (Munni of all Trades)
- On-site Award for Overall event coverage – Deena Pinto (Skinny Girl Diariez)
- On-site award for Best Story on Airline – Tushar Panchal (Bombayiger)
- On-site Award for Best Food Picture – Rohan Khanna (Radio ka Rohan)
- On-site Award for Best Story on a Tour Activity – Joshua Karthik
- On-site Award for Best Post on Sabah – Sundeep Bhatia (Delhi Fundos)
- On-site Award for Best Sunset Photo – Vikram Soni (The Vogue and Fit)
- On-site Award for Best Photo at Rasa Ria – Veronica Gera
- On-site Award for Best Caption Story on Sabah – Seema Wadhwa (Curiosity Cult)
We spent our last day in KK exploring the beautiful streets and for some local shopping in the Handicraft market.
Then we left for the airport to catch our respective flights back home.
Until then Bye Bye KK. Looking forward to exploring you more!