Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Islands of Tunku Adbul Rahman Park

Most Filipinos go to Kota Kinabalu for the beaches. On the mainland, you have Tanjung Aru and Rasa Ria (resort by Shangri-la). But if you want a real beach experience in KK, head for the islands of the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park, which is composed of five islands off the coast of Kota Kinabalu.

Getting to these islands are easy. The Jesselton Port towards the north of the town center offers a lot of boats that head for these islands. You can take the public ferries, or charter a boat for your group. Since we were 7, we rented a boat for RM200 for one whole day, to visit 3 islands - Mamutik, Manukan and Sapi.

The first island that we visited was Mamutik, which supposedly was the best swimming beach and snorkeling site. As we docked, the island looked like any other Thai island, with powdery white sand and no resorts. There were a lot of sun worshippers and tour groups. Most of the people there were snorkeling, though the corals were dead. You could see more fish in the Philippines. I found myself listening to my ipod under a coconut tree until I fell asleep. We spent a total of 2 hours in the island, and headed on to our next destination, Manukan Island.

Manukan Island was bigger than Mamutik and more developed. It had one resort, the Manukan Island Resort, managed by the Sutera Group (the damn company that had a monopoly on the Mount Kinabalu trek).

Manukan was where most tour groups had lunch, so there was expensive seafood buffets on the beach. We found a cheap place for lunch though. There were just around 6 food establishments. After feeding ourselves, we looked for a spot with a table by the beach. The others took a nap, while I went off exploring the island.

I found a jogging trail, that supposedly led to a sunset view point. The trail was 1.5 km long and after reaching a kilometer, the path was blocked by fallen trees. Disheartened, I went back, as we were scheduled to leave for our final island, Sapi.

Sapi was the last island we were to visit, and it was definitely the right choice for a last stop. The island was the most laid back of the three. There were less tourists who were mostly just having beers or lounging by the beach. When we were approaching the island, I noticed a beach that was secluded by the rocks off the main beach.

So, we trekked across the rocks until we reached the secluded beach. There's just something about deserted beaches that make a beach trek worthwhile. No one was around, and the sea debris made you feel you were thousands of miles away from civilization. I spotted a huge monitor lizard and a weird pineapple looking fruit hanging from a tree. For some reason, I try to head for secluded beaches, where I can just be one with nature.

We headed back to the main beach as the sun was beginning to set. We arrived in the main beach surprised to see it empty already. The boatman was calling us, since we had to be back to KK before 6PM.

All in all, the islands of the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park are perfect for a day of beach bumming, but I think we have better islands. The only difference here is, the regulation is better. Although the park charges conservation fees, I think it's good that the islands are well maintained. Fishing is not even allowed. Each island has a different feel (the other two, Gaya, the largest has a resident population, and Sulug, was closed because of the tide). This makes it worthwhile to visit all the islands, all in just one stress free day.

So that ends our Sabah Adventure. 5 days spent well, and all for just P12,000 per person. I just love it when you can experience a great trip for such a reasonable price. My next entries will be about a backpacking adventure in one of the top destinations in the planet, CHINA.

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