10 Reasons Why I had a Memorable Trip to Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia and Brunei

This was supposed to be a trip entitled “Don’t tell my aunts I climbed Mt. Kinabalu”.

My high school classmates and I have been chatting about going on a climbing trip before arthritis hits us.  Before the New Year started, two of them invited the batch to a trip to Kota Kinabalu which includes climbing Mt. Kinabalu. I was unsure if I could climb the mountain but I booked the trip anyway as soon as I saw a promo fare being offered. My cousin booked also. Another friend booked later after several annoying reminders from me. We had 5 months to prepare for the trip. We had this impression that it is easy to climb Mt Kinabalu. It is just a 6-hour trek to the base camp where there is decent lodging. We do not have to pitch in a tent and cook our own meals.   We could hire a porter to carry our bags. No sweat. However, one of  the classmates who is going to this trip with us, went on a 6-hour trek in Brunei and she shared that a 6-hour trek is not joke. She was the most athletic of the group and she did not think the climb is easy so we postponed the climb- not on this trip. It is still on the bucket list though.

Because we have 5 days for this trip, we thought we might visit Brunei as well. We hit two countries in one trip. We spent two days traveling to and from Brunei that I did not  feel like we have done a lot on this trip. Nevertheless, it was a memorable trip. This is the kind of trip that we did not get stressed about the number of sights to see or activities we to do.

Here are the reasons why the trip is memorable:

1. Relaxing vacation. We arrived at around 130AM in Kota Kinabalu and we were able to doze off at 3AM.  I slept well. The hotel was nice and clean. I recommend Hotel Eden54. It rained on Day2 so even if we woke up early and had our breakfast early, we went back to the hotel and waited for the rain to stop. So I slept. Oh, we also ate the brownies my friend baked which she brought from Brunei.

2. Tagalog.  There were many Tagalog-speaking people.  The people in Kota Kinabalu are warm and friendly. I think they can spot Filipinos a mile away for we were often greeted in Tagalog.  Geographically, Kota Kinabalu is in Sabah which is just south of Mindanao, Philippines. There are many Filipinos who migrated in this part of Malaysia. Still, I still get pleasantly surprised when Malaysians speak Tagalog to me especially when I have switched my brain to speak in English.

3. Food.  My friend treated us to a vegetarian meal at Beyond Veggie. Who would have thought tofu can be this delicious? I am a meat-eater yet  I love this dish.


Photo from my cousin’s instagram. Follow him: bong2begood

This is what I ordered. It arrived when I was already full from tasting what others ordered. This is a taro dish and I am sorry I was not able to finish it.

We love our breakfast at Old Town. Below are kaya and peanut butter toast, soft boiled eggs and coffee.

old town

Photo by my friend, Imma.

My friend’s husband let us try Kopi Luwak. Kopi Luwak is made from coffee beans passed on by a civet cat. Yes, the coffee beans passed through the civet’s digestive system. The beans that were excreted were processed  and the end product is Kopi Luwak. It is an expensive coffee so buying a bag is out the question for me. I just want to try what it tastes like. It still tasted like coffee to me with a hint of nuttiness. The difference is in the after-effect. I slept at 1 AM. Good thing I woke up early. We were leaving Brunei that day.


Kopi Luwak by bong2begood

My friend’s brownies are too die for! She baked salted caramel brownies for us which we brought to the beach. On day 2, it rained and we were stuck in the hotel, it was my comfort food. I was saving the last piece for later time but my friend Imma beat me to eating it. Huhuhu!  Follow my friend on instagram via Abbyzzoven. She is so good that a real princess orders from her. Too bad she lives in Brunei.



4. Sights and Activities. We did not visit a lot of places because of the weather but my cousin took awesome photos so I will just share them here.  We went island hopping in Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park. But we called it an ‘island hop’. We only visited one island because we went there in the afternoon. We visited Sapi island.

To get to the island, we need to get to Jesselton Point which  is a walking distance from the hotel.

Jesselton Point

We went snorkeling on Sapi Island. Well, not on the island, how can I snorkel on  land? You know what I mean. 😀

Pulau Sapi

This is the Sapi Island in color. Stunning.

Photo by Bong Flores

Photo by Bong Flores

We only had one day in Brunei. My cousin took this shot of the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque.

The Mosque

And friends played paintball with some Filipinos (and a Malaysian) in Brunei.

5. Hotel.  We love Hotel Eden54! The rates are affordable. The rooms are clean. The people are nice. Since we were traveling to Brunei, we left  some of our things there because we would be taking the Kota Kinabalu-Manila fight home. They allowed us to stay in their receiving area when we came back from Brunei and offered that we can take a shower in their bathroom. We even unpacked and packed our things there. Imagine our clothes and what-nots sprawled over the place like our own home!

6.  Accessibility. Everything is so near in Kota Kinabalu.  The ferry terminal is just a block away from the hotel. Suria Mall is also a block away from the hotel.  We easily took the ferry to and from Brunei.  In Brunei, my friend drove us around since it is difficult to get around Brunei in a taxi. I do not even remember seeing one.  My friend said that there are as many people as cars in Brunei.

7. Duty Free Freebies. There is a duty-free shop in the Labuan Terminal. Labuan is the port town in Malaysia where we took the ferry to Brunei.  When we came back from Brunei, we bought chocolates there. A lot of chocolates that are on sale were about to expire in July. I bought 6 Cadbury chocolates of different sizes which are packed as one on sale. My friends bought more.  When we paid for the chocolates, the Filipino staff gave us toblerones and boxes of pralines. I got one large dark chocolate Toblerone and 3 boxes of pralines. My friends got more since they bought more.  The catch: the chocolates they gave for free were about to expire that week which is fine by me. Chocolates do not last for more than a week in my house.

8. Immigration. While filling up the immigration form in Manila, my cousin got too excited of the trip to Kota Kinabalu. In the country of destination, he was starting to fill up the boxes. He wrote the letter ‘K’ on the first box and started counting the spaces. He complained to me, ‘Ate, di kasya.‘ ( The letters won’t fit in the boxes provided.) To which I replied, ‘Kuya, country.”  He quickly realized his mistake.

I love that I do not have to fill up forms in Malaysia. You just have to show your passport and all they ask of you is to put your forefingers on the scanner.

In Brunei, it was a different story. When we arrived at the immigration area, we went to the side to fill up the form. We were careful about what to write and thoroughly checking our forms. Halfway through filling up the form, an immigration officer came to us and exclaimed, “You, Filipinos, are wasting my time. What are you still doing there?”. We replied that we are filling up the forms.  She asked, “Why didn’t you fill that up in the boat?” “They did not give us the forms.” “Why didn’t you ask for the forms?”  My friend, who is a Brunei resident for 14 years already,  was speechless.  We quickly filled up our forms. While being interviewed by the immigration officer, we asked to show them our money. I have not experienced such ‘request’ in other countries like Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and Macau.  The officers asked us to count our money in front of them. It is now a running joke in our group that if we go to Brunei next time, we will bring  money in $1 denomination so that when they ask us to count the money, we will waste more of their time.  😀 Kidding aside, we can only reflect on what happened.  Taking the ferry is not a common route for tourists. Aside from two Chinese before us, we were the only foreigners in that ferry. There may be prior incidents of illegal immigrants taking that route.  We should have asked to talk to the supervisor and report the incident. That was really rude for the officer to snap at us. We are not wasting her time since she is paid to do that job.

9. Laughter. We survived rain, grumpy immigration officer and long boat rides through laughter. We laugh at ourselves and at each other. We rib at each other over our obsessions: a friend got excited at Pandora and another one went  on a ‘shopping spree’ at Rip Curl. I laughed at my cousin’s mishap on the speedboat and for forgetting our hotel room number.

10. Friends. This trip was a mini-reunion for us high school classmates, two of whom I have not seen in 20 years. A lot has changed yet we still get along like nothing has changed. We updated each other about our lives. We reminisced high school memories. I also have to commend my cousin for getting along well with my friends. They got along well that you would think they have been friends for a long time.  If budget is not a problem, I will not hesitate to travel again with this group.


 Cheers to friendship!


The Tale of Two Hotels

Hotels are pretty expensive in Singapore. I was ready to book a hostel and share a room and bathroom with other tourists. Staying in a hostel sounds  fun. You get to meet fellow travelers. And based on the photos I have seen, hostel guests really have fun. However, my aunt was not too keen about sharing personal space with strangers.  She feared that something bad might happen us for which I quickly replied, “Singapore is a city of fines. They penalize people for acts as simple as chewing a gum or eating in a bus. Imagine their penalty for grave crimes. ” Nevertheless, I looked for hotel for us.

South East Asia Hotel is highly recommended by Filipino tourists in the two forums I frequent.  The advantage is that I do not have to pay in advance which is a plus point for a non-credit card user like me.  Room for 2 costs only SGD100 a night.  This is expensive than the hostel rate in Hong Kong so I looked for savings in other ways like sleeping in the airport and taking a bus trip at night.

All I had to do was e-mail the hotel and reserve a room. In less than two days, I got a reply and it was agreed upon that they will reserve the room for us as long as we arrive at the hotel before 9 AM on the date of our arrival.

I am a DIY traveler so bloopers are expected.

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sotheysaytome/7058982879/


We walked quite far before realizing that there is a shorter route to the hotel. We entered the hotel through the adjacent vegetarian restaurant. HA!

I was wondering why there was no one manning the reception and the guy in the restaurant did not bother to accommodate us.  Good thing the lady in the reception noticed and called us.  The room was not yet ready so I just paid the fees and we left our bags with her while we set off to our itinerary for the day.

We were back in the evening and a different lady was in the reception so I informed her that I already paid for our room but I do not know what the room number is and that we also left our bags this morning. She gave us our key and told me to go to the other door to get our bags.  She opened the door and she was untying the strings on the luggage near the door which isn’t ours. I was quick to say, “These are not our bags.  Those are ours”, pointing to the bags near the table. So I walked to pick them up for which she sternly replied, “You stay in the door.” Oops, I might have trespassed into unauthorized area.  It was just two steps! Anyway, she handed me the bags. I asked her our room number since we do not know. She replied in the same stern voice, “Where is your key?”.  Then I saw the room number. Then, I asked again, “Where are the rooms? What floor?”. (Humirit pa ako!) She told me to look at the keys again.  Then,  I saw the number 4 before the room number. 4th floor.  Sorry po. Tao lang. 

Ignorance is bliss, they say. Bloopers kept on coming. When we arrived in our room, it was dark. There was a flashlight in my bag. It was locked so I searched for my bag’s keys to unlock. Using the flashlight, we were able to find the switch but the lights won’t turn on. I decided to go back to the reception area and braced myself for a little scolding from the unaccommodating receptionist.  I grabbed the keys and after I locked the door, I realized I grabbed my bag’s keys and not the room key. Argh. We were locked out. Oh my! I was prepared to be shouted at.  I had no choice.


God heard my prayers because the unaccommodating receptionist was busy. Another person helped me. And I found out that we only have to do this on the box near the door for the lights to turn on. HA! Probinsiyana-moment!

The room size was just right.

Sorry about the mess. I was unpacking.

There was a water heater for the coffee and tea they provided.

There was also a hotel phone which I used to call my friends’ cellphones. When I checked out, I was only billed SGD0.20 for the calls. That’s around Php7 only!

Overall, the hotel experience was okay. I will book this hotel if I travel to Singapore again with people who want to stay in a hotel. Otherwise, I will try those fun hostels. 😀

The Casa Blanca Guest House Experience

Since this post says “The Tale of Two Hotels”,  here goes the other hotel story. Actually, this is not a hotel. It is a guest house- a house that is converted into a transient space.  We stayed overnight in Malacca and I picked this place because it has a room with an ensuite bathroom and it has  good ratings in Agoda.

By the way,  my Agoda experience was a breeze. I have read of other people experiences- complaining about their unsuccessful bookings with Agoda. I was a bit apprehensive. However, we were only staying for one night so there was not much loss in my part. Luckily, I never experienced such an inconvenience. I was glad they accepted Paypal payments.  Because I had a pleasant experience with Agoda, I will book with Agoda again next time I’ll need a hotel.

We rang the doorbell and nice Chinese gentleman greeted us at the door. He knew we were arriving and showed us how to open the front door. It had an automatic lock system. A button near in the wall should be pressed before going outside so that the door will be opened. Along with the room key  was a card to use to open the front door. All we need to do was to press the card at the security box outside the door for it to open.  (Take that, SEA hotel!)

The room was spacious. I could do cartwheels inside (if only I still knew how).

I was not crazy about the bathroom design. That said, we were more than happy with this clean bathroom.

The host admitted that he knows little English. Excellent service makes up for incorrect grammar. Communication is shared understanding and I understood this sign well.

There is a self-service kitchen. Guest can help themselves with anything available here. For breakfast, I made coffee and got some bread here.

There was also a bike for rent in the porch.  Roaming around Malacca is more convenient with a bike, if only I re-learned how to ride one.

I will definitely recommend this guest house to friends.

Two type of accommodations, two different experiences, two enriched travelers.

10 Memorable Moments about our Singapore-Malaysia Trip

We only only had four and a half days to explore the two countries. Unlike the Hong Kong-Macau trip,  I only finished my itinerary two days before the trip. The forum thread for Singapore and Malaysia were not as thorough as the Hong Kong thread. Nevertheless, we were able to wing it.

Because we do not remember the days, we remember the moments.

Source: http://www.polyvore.com/

Thus, I have a list of the memorable moments in this trip.

1. Meeting friends. Two of my good friends live in Singapore so I made an effort to catch up with our lives. I also met my childhood playmate. I wish I met up with my grade school friends and my former boss but I did not have time. There is always a next time.  I got these presents from friends. I am so spoiled.

2. Staying at South East Asia Hotel.  I specifically chose this hotel because it was recommended by a number of Filipino tourists. Plus, they do not require payment for reservations. As long a we show up on the agreed time and date,  the room is reserved for us and only then are we asked to pay the room rate. The one manning the reception when we arrived was a nice lady. However, the lady in charge of the reception in the evening was unaccommodating. I will write more about this experience.  Nevertheless, it is easy to forget about that little incident because  of the hotel’s excellent location.  It is very accessible via the Bugis MRT.

It is near this tiangge area. Whenever we pass by this area, we would buy fruit juices sold at SGD1.  My favorite is the sugarcane juice.

The hotel is located on a pedestrian street so there is less noise from the sounds of vehicles.

It is located beside a Chinese temple so we had a restful sleep.

3.  Walking to Sentosa.  The last time I was in Singapore, we went to Sentosa via the cable car.

Can you see the cable cars?

This time, we used the boardwalk.

There is a walkalator so you won’t get tired of walking the one kilometer stretch. SGD1 will be charged at the end of the walk way. One can also ride the bus or the monorail (Sentosa Express).

4. Visiting the Universal Studios. Four years ago, this part of Sentosa was still under construction.

 I think we only spent 4 hours here because we skipped all the roller coasters like The Mummy ride…

… and Battlestar Gallactica.

Can you see their feet dangling in the air? They were shouting for dear life.

5. Sentosa beach area.  My aunt was too chicken to try the skyride, tiger tower or any other activity in Sentosa so we just visited the beach area.

Nothing spectacular. The Philippines has better beaches. However, it is worth noting that we reached the Southernmost point of Continental Asia.

We reached the area by crossing this hanging bridge.

6. Sunset at Marina Bay. We did not have the opportunity to take a touristy photograph near the Merlion because my aunt is already tired. I am happy with the sunset.

 The Louis Vuitton store in the area is on a unique structure. I cannot afford anything from that store so I am content with just this photograph.

7. A day with animals. We spent the morning at the bird park and we went to the zoo in the afternoon.

8. Comfortable bus ride to Malaysia. Bus seats are recliners with massage options. I have motion sickness when I travel by land. Even an hour-long bus ride can get me puking. I did not experience that in this trip. Thank you, God!

9. Visiting Malacca, Malaysia. The Dutch Square is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

This is Casa Blanca Guest House where we stayed.  This was booked through Agoda and I was happy about our accommodation here. I will review the place soon.

We love this egg-shaped ice cream on Jonker Street.

10. Getting lost around Petronas. The Petronas twin towers is a very imposing site in Kuala Lumpur. The area is so big that looking at the map with the Petronas tower as a reference point proves to be difficult.

We got lost trying to find this for the Hop-On/Hop-Off bus tour.

Getting lost is tiring so we did not hop off the bus until we reached the shopping area the second time.  Most of my photos in the tour were taken from a tinted glass windows hence the blue hue in the photographs.

 What a trip!

Source: pinterest.com via Kris on Pinterest

P.S. I am not travel blogger so those who want our itinerary or have questions about this trip, just email me at admin [at] theunstressed.com or leave a comment. I do not have the itemized expenses. Roughly, we spent less than Php18K per person.

6 Reasons Why I was Able to Afford a Singapore-Malaysia Trip

I went to Singapore and Malaysia last week. I made a little goal last year that I should travel to at least one foreign destination and at least one Philippine destination every year.  Thanks to promo fares, this little goal of mine is achievable.  Beyond the promo fare, the reality of having to spend Philippine-earned money in a foreign soil proves to be a challenge. I am budget traveler.  I cannot afford luxuries. Thus, I find ways to spend as little as possible.

Here are ways I employ to afford a trip abroad:

1. Advanced booking.  Promo fares are cheap because they are booked in advance. The downside: they are non-transferable, non-refundable, non-rebookable. The upside: there is no backing out. I got my June tickets as early as November last year.

The roundtrip ticket for 2 to Singapore from Manila  only costs Php 4,700++.

2.  Sleeping at airports. Our flight to Singapore arrived at 11:55PM.  To save on hotel costs, I told my aunt that we should sleep on the airport.  Many people sleep on airports. According to this website, Singapore’s Changi is the best airport for sleeping in 2011. Well, I got excited with this idea only to find out that the cool amenities are inside the transit area which can only be accessed after the immigration counter.  This means I need to have a ticket that flies out of Changi to be able to access the cool sleeping areas.  Still, I stuck to my sleeping-in-the-airport plan. We hit these chairs in the arrival area.

3.  Traveling light. Because I do not want to earn my 15 minutes of fame by berating an airport personnel for losing my luggage, I travel light. Light travelers also save a few hundreds of pesos form their ticket cost.  Pang-value meal na rin yung ma-save. Traveling light prevents me from shopping.

3. Free meals! I have friends in Singapore that I wanted to meet. They were generous enough to pay for our yummy meals. Below is our lunch at Din Tai Fung. My friend picked up the tab. Another friend treated us to breakfast and another one to dinner.  Thanks, Gail, Maea and Jill!

4. Efficient Public Transportation. These Asian cities have a very efficient public transportation system. We used the MRT and buses to get around.

5. Bringing food.  We brought instant noodles, biscuits, candies and coffee  in case we get hungry. My aunt  is not adventurous with food so looking for a familiar dish can be difficult.

6. Walking around. I like walking. It makes me feel like I am one with the locals. It is easier to find my way by walking. It is a form of exercise at the same time.  However, I traveled with a 67-year-old. I often forget that important fact. Movement was a little slower when traveling with a senior citizen. I got dagger stares whenever my navigational skills failed me. HA!

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