Backpacking Around Borneo: Mulu & Kota Kinabalu


Kota Kinabalu was the beach holiday-city break part of our trip and it was spectacular. There is so much to see and do here and it is seemingly completely different from the other parts of Borneo that we have experienced. We stayed at an AirBnb with our friends and their toddler, choosing a location close to the city centre, with air con and a roof top pool.

We went on a half day boat trip from Kota Kinabalu wharf and saw three of the beautiful islands: Manukan IslandSapi IslandMamutik Island. We lounged on the beaches, swam in the warm sea and saw loads of fish swimming around us. It was beautiful beyond words.

There were so many markets to visit and I do love a spot of souvenir purchasing, usually coming home with numerous pairs of Thai trousers that I do not need but must have. Sophia loved seeing and tasting lots of exotic fruits and vegetables and we all developed quite a taste for durian, a fragrant fruit which is banned on a lot of public transport because of its stench!

Kota Kinabalu City Mosque was beautiful, serene and we were delighted to be able to see inside. We needed to hire traditional clothes to wear but these could be sourced from the kiosk at the entrance to the mosque. Unfortunately Sophia wasn’t used to wearing such long flowing, elegant garments and started undressing inside the mosque! I’d think we had seen enough by that point and made a hasty exit. So embarassing…

Watching the sunset over Tanjung Aru Beach  is an absolute must. It was rammed with people but there was a street food market, giant bubble wand, bubble mixture for sale and we enjoyed playing on the beach until the sunset.


We went off to Mulu by ourselves for a few days. It was the rustic, rural adventure of the trip and we were so excited to explore the jungle for 3-days. We stayed at Mulu Lodge, right on the edge of Gunung Mulu National Park. It was very cheap and cheerful accommodation, about NZ$25 per night, with no air con or pool but breakfast was included and it was two private rooms with a bathroom. It was very secluded but conveniently located next to the Marriott hotel, where we could use the pool if we bought some drinks or bar snacks. Perfect! The lovely lady who owns the backpackers babysat for us one night and we went out for cocktails at the Marriott and as we walked back saw 100s of fire flies. Pretty magical.

Gunung Mulu National Park

We wanted to visit Gunung National park for its caves, river tours and treetop canopy tours so booked all of these in advance. We did the Clearwater Caves tour, which was a 4-hour tour including a boat trip, a stop-off at a cultural village, swimming in a waterfall pool and hiking through the extensive caves.

We went on a night walk through the jungle to see the bat exodus from the caves. There was a lot of hanging around but it was well worth the wait. The boardwalk was perfect for the buggy and it was spectacular when the bats finally made their exodus at dusk!

Sophia was too young to go on the treetop canopy tour of the national park so Jez and I tag-teamed this whilst the other looked after Sophia. The views and the wildlife spotting were incredible.

Everywhere we went in Asia, people wanted to take their picture with Sophia. It was really cute!

Asia is a continent that we would like to spend a lot more time in. Until next time..

Could not have done without:

  • Uber taxis; it was too hot to walk around and sightsee
  • Air con and swimming pools wherever available
  • Booking Mulu cave trips in advance

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About tripleespresso2go

Jeremy, Katie and Sophia are a family of three from the UK who have a passion for travel, good coffee, music and photography. They are currently based in Penang, Malaysia. Follow their adventures as they taste the finest coffee and photograph their way around the Asia.