Saturday, July 24, 2010

Malaysia: Island hopping at Kota Kinabalu's Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park (Manukan & Sapi Island)

The Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park is a protected area off the coast of Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. It's composed of coral reefs and five islands namely Gaya, Manukan, Sapi, Mamutik and Sulug. One of the more popular recreation activities in Kota Kinabalu for both locals and foreign visitors are visits to the various islands of the park to swim, snorkel or dive.

I had previously been to Manukan Island, the most popular with local residents, being the most developed of the five. For this trip, I was returning to Manukan and visiting Sapi Island as well.

Boats to the islands leave from the Kota Kinabalu Ferry Terminal in Jesselton Point. There are no slow pump boats here, only speed boats. So expect to be at the islands in 15 to 20 minutes. There are several boat companies which ferry passengers to the islands and between islands. It costs RM23 (RM25 for Sulug Island) for a round-trip ticket to one island and an extra RM10 per additional island. You basically fix your itinerary for the day (time you will transfer from one island to another) while at the ferry terminal. There is an entrance fee of RM10 per island for foreigners and RM3 for Malaysians.

Our first stop for the day was Sapi Island. It has one of the nicest beaches of the park. And it's a popular snorkeling and diving area for tourists. In fact, I did my own snorkeling off the island. What I like about the park is that even close to the shore, you will already see a lot of fish swimming around you.

We stayed in Sapi Island for about three hours before moving to Manukan Island. Since it had the resort facilities and a restaurant, this was where we were going to have lunch. It was a grilled meat and barbecue buffet at the restaurant which costs RM95 per head. Unfortunately we arrived a bit late and some of the grilled meats were not fresh anymore. It's best to arrive there by 11:30 a.m. when the buffet opens.

But if that's too much for your budget, Manukan Island also has a canteen which serves affordable meals. The rest of the afternoon was spent walking around the beach of Manukan Island. The island also has hiking trails through its dense vegetation. If snorkeling bores you, then try the Scuba-Doo which is a motorized scuba bike.

If two islands are not enough for you, you can also visit Mamutik Island on the way back. We were in Kota Kinabalu by mid-afternoon.

Back at the hotel, I took a nap and rested, a perfect way to end a very sunny day at the beach in an otherwise rainy season. Maybe next time, I could stay overnight in Manukan Island.

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