Return to Kota Kinabalu and Tunku Abdul Rahman Park

The jetty foot bridge to Palau Sapi
The jetty foot bridge to Pulau Sapi

I remember how excited I was almost 8 years ago when I was finally going out of the country to travel for the first time. Kota Kinabalu was the first stamp on my newly acquired passport and I finally got to experience riding an airplane via AirAsia. It was so memorable as we climbed Mount Kinabalu then,enjoyed some islands and nature parks. A similar kind of excitement was brewing when I joined Zest Air’s inaugural flight to Kota Kinabalu last weekend. There was no climbing this time but I still recall the cold air and the somewhat hangover-state-of-mind while climbing the summit of Mt Kinabalu when I saw the mountain through my plane window. The rain-cloud draped city looks back like a familiar friend but noticeable is the aging state and a few constructions to perk up the city skyline. Off coast, the islands of Tunku Abdhul Rahman Park still looks pristine. I immediately recognized Manukan Island there and remembered our fun beach bumming and snorkeling excusion. Ah yes, its nice to see you again Kota Kinabalu.

Hello there Kota Kinabalu City
Hello there Kota Kinabalu City

Pacific Sutera Hotel

I wasn’t backpacking this time, instead, I was in a pampered group of 17 people on a familiarization tour of Kota Kinabalu sponsored by the Sabah Tourism Board. We were checked in one of the 5-star Sutera Harbor Hotel, the Pacific Sutera Hotel. It has a wonderful location, facing the South China Sea, there’s a golf course nearby, the rooms were generously spacious complete with amenities, a large pool by the beach, a scenic harbor and quite good selection of food for breakfast. Oh! I also enjoy the wonderful ambiance at the lobby at night when I live band would play some soothing music.

Singer, song-writer sir Jim Paredes channeling Titanic on our speedboat to the islands
Singer, song-writer sir Jim Paredes channeling Titanic on our speedboat to the islands

The Tunku Abdul Rahman Park

The water activities on this national park just 3-8 km from the mainland was what I was looking forward on the trip. Tunku Abdul Rahman Park is composed of 5 islands within the 4900+ hectare sea area teeming with rich marine life. The 5 islands here are Pulau Gaya, Pulau Sapi, Pulau Manukan, Pulau Mamutik and Pulau Sulug. Among these islands, I have only been to Pulau Manukan where we spent some time after our climb.

Our first stop was Pulau Manukan and it only took 10-15 minutes with out private speed boat to get there.

The beach and jetty view at Palau Manukan in the morning
The beach and jetty view at Palau Manukan in the morning

Pulau Manukan

As the 2nd largest island in the park, it is also the most developed with available chalets for overnight stays, clubhouse, recreational facilities like volleyball and football and solar-powered public phones by the beach. I like that there’s a wooden jetty as entrance to the park islands. Coming early morning, we caught the island staff cleaning the beach. The golden sand has average grain quality but the waters along it were certainly clear and inviting. Even from the jetty, one could see the sea bed and fishes frolicking by. It’s a good thing we were able to swim here before. Not much has changed despite the development. Even the hundred years old tombstones from the first few muslims who inhabited the island are still there.

Inviting white beach at Palau Sapi
Inviting white beach at Pulau Sapi

Pulau Sapi

Another popular island with a really beautiful scenic white sand beach. The jetty has an incredible number of fishes clumped up amusingly as a welcome party for visitors to see. Even that early, there were already a sizable crowd by the beach snorkeling, seen from the glaring orange life jackets most people were wearing. Some facilities for day visits were available like picnic tables, BBQ grills and toilets. Despite its popular beach, much of the island is still composed of dense forest. Monitor lizards still wander and macaques still roam around.

While Pulau Manukan and Pulau Sapi are really great islands for snorkeling and beach bumming, we only visited them swiftly as we were really heading to one of the new attractions in the park, the largest reef pontoon in Asia.

The Palaue Sapi jetty
The Pulaue Sapi jetty

Essential Info

The Jesselton Point Ferry in Kota Kinabalu has public transfers to the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park islands from 8:30am to 5pm. Counter opens at 8am. The following fee charges apply:

  • Conservation Fee (Non-Malaysians) upon arrival on each island – RM10
  • Terminal Fee – RM 7.20
  • Boat Fare Roundtrip – RM 23 (One Island either Manukan, Mamutik, Sapi), RM 25 (Sulug Island), RM 33 (Two Island Hop), RM 43 (Three Island Hop), RM 53 (Four Island Hop)

Zest Air flies to Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia  every Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday at 9:35am  from NAIA Terminal 4 (formerly Old Domestic Airport) Metro Manila. 2 hours travel time. Zest Air and AirAsia recently got into a strategic partnership. All Zest Air flights can now be booked through

Our room at the Pacific Sutera Hotel
Our room at the Pacific Sutera Hotel
Palau Manukan jetty
Pulau Manukan jetty
There are chalets for overnight stay on Palau Manukan
There are chalets for overnight stay on Pulau Manukan
The lazy monitor lizard at Palau Sapi
The lazy monitor lizard at Pulau Sapi
Palau Sapi white beach
Pualau Sapi white beach