Long Awaited Travel – Trip to Kota Kinabalu!

29th November 2017
trip to kota kinabalu sunglasses on the beach

Greetings, Savey Readers! I’m very sorry for the lack of writing over the past few weeks. I’ve been swamped both professionally and personally; but now I’ve cleared up time to get back on track to churn out more articles. This particular post will be more laid-back, not too much facts; just me recounting what I did (and how much I spent!) on a recent trip to Kota Kinabalu.

Bruneians are no strangers to crossing the border to Miri or KK. Heck, in 2016 alone we clocked at a startling 1.4 million visits! With a population of just over 400,000, that means statistically you can imagine the each Bruneian going over to Malaysia at least 3 times in 2016! I can’t even tell you how many tourists who would willingly visit Brunei more than once!

The article also mentioned:

Correspondingly, tourist receipts rose by 18.8 per cent contributing RM82.1 billion to Malaysia’s revenue against RM69.1 billion in 2015, which translates to an average per capita expenditure of RM3,068.20.

RM3,068.20 is roughly BND1,000 so that makes the amount leaving Brunei roughly BND1.4 billion. Our GDP in 2016 was BND18.1 billion so that makes the amount going out to Malaysia alone roughly 7.7% of our GDP!

Oops, sorry. I digress. This was meant to be less technical, I swear!

So, this trip to Kota Kinabalu was just me and the missus, getting out for some rest and relaxation away from our little country. We chose KK because of the usual reasons: it’s cheap(er), nearby and the food!

A bit of context

What we did and paid for this trip is not what I would call a “budget travel”. Frankly, it’s more for luxury if I were to tell you outright. There are a bit of context which I think you should know with regards to my spending habit especially for holidays:

  • I rarely take (or rather, it is hard for me to take) leaves, mostly twice a year so we usually save up to up the quality we would like on a holiday.
  • I value time over money. This is true for a majority of my spendings; if I see I can save more time using money, I’ll take it.
  • I’m not a frequent traveller; I might explore a bit, but I can’t compare to people who can basically fit in with the locals.

So please take this article with a pinch of salt. What feels right for me to do, might be different for others because of solely our values.

Journey to Kota Kinabalu

So, for the actual trip, we took a flight over from Brunei. Honestly, I can’t stand to drive down for a 5-6 hours road trip which is the main reason we went with this way. A 45 min plane ride was an excellent timesaver! However, people who do drive down have the extra benefit of mobility as well as getting there for much cheaper.

The flight came to about BND180 per person including insurance. I tend not to skimp on BND15 travel insurance after experiencing a fiasco causing me to miss a connecting flight before.


We wanted to stay at a beach resort near the city because we wanted to chill by the pool and also check out some shopping centres too. High end places like Shangri-La were too expensive for our budget though! So we settled for Sutera Harbour. We split the stay between the resort and a newly opened Mercure hotel. The price was similar to other hotels in the area plus it’s new! Also the experience from staying at other Mercure hotels in other countries gave a sense of what to expect from the brand.

Overall both venues were good and comfortable stays. Sutera Harbour is a bit aged but they maintained it pretty well which impressed me.

Obviously, the resort would be more expensive which pushed the price of accommodation for both up to around BND450 for 4 nights.


I’ve mentioned before that my favourite part of any travel adventures I go on is the food! Out goes any diet plans and welcome the dad-bod with open arms. What we wanted to eat on the trip to Kota Kinabalu were already on our minds before we decided on the trip! There were 3 things on the list: Nando’s, seafood (particularly shellfish) and bak kut teh (a dark, herbal soup with meat). Trying different eateries while going around was a good experience too; though some places were not as good but who expects everything to be perfect?

I was satisfied but the food expenses raked up to around BND250; not too much to be honest! This also includes treating relatives to a dinner one night.


Like I mentioned, we didn’t have the luxury (or actually, more like resilience to handling) of bringing our own car to KK. Fortunately, the missus’s relatives were there and were kind enough to bring us from the airport. Regardless though, my mind was blown away by how well marketed Uber and Grab were over there. Taxis in KK were notorious (at least to me) for not using the meters and charging extortionate amounts per trip.

Using Uber was so convenient and cheap! A scammy taxi ride would cost around RM15 but Uber calculated rates came to about RM6. I made it a habit to add 1 or 2 extra RM to tip drivers I liked who made good conversation.

But then, one of the rides was pretty bad: the driver took a U-turn to make the ride longer and apparently “forgot” to turn into our stop. I simply gave him a low review and reported to Uber. They quickly refunded me the excess paid with Uber credits to offset future rides! These are some things you can’t hope to achieve with riding the normal taxis.

Car rides came to less than RM100 so I’d say roughly BND30. And that’s for multiple trips back and forth from places!


Ah, my wife’s favourite sport. Stuff were on sale and even before that, they were already cheaper than usual! If you check out clothing from Uniqlo, prices in Malaysia is actually a little bit cheaper than the same in Singapore. Plus the fact that many shops participate in GST refund schemes (except Cotton On and Mango, those were very disappointing) is an added bonus!

Needless to say, a spending spree occurred which, fortunately for my wallet, we anticipated and placed a cutoff budget that we adhered to when it peaked. This is one of the times (and usually in hindsight) I’m glad we learned to budget for expenses. Having a good spending habit with a mindset to save when shopping during travels really helps!

You must be wondering how much was spent on this and obviously we hit the ceiling pretty easily. Shopping came up to about BND600.

A side note about Malaysia’s GST refund though. It’s still in its infancy, I think. It’s not as efficient as Singapore where you can get your purchases checked, approved and refunded there and then. Apparently you need to give them a credit or debit card for them to refund into; no cash option. On top of that, they told me it’ll take about 3 t0 4 weeks to process!

Also, I saw the workers at the GST booth inside the terminal (which I think is to prepare for future operations) blatantly watching movies on their laptops. Not sure why they had people posted there when it’s not operational, to be honest. Free money for those lucky people, though.

Total spent on trip to Kota Kinabalu

So how much did we spend?

  • Plane tickets = BND360 for 2
  • Accommodation = BND450
  • Food = BND250
  • Transportation = BND30
  • Shopping = BND600

Total = BND1,690

Apart from shopping budget, the other expenditures were more lax as we wanted an R&R experience while still minimising costs.

It has to be mentioned that the expenses can definitely be lowered to even just BND1,000 if we really tried to limit spending. This can include taking actions such as driving over, choosing cheaper accommodation, finding cheaper eateries and most importantly, shopping less.


As I said before, a holiday trip doesn’t always have to be to a faraway or exotic place. A simple visit to nearby Malaysia was good fun and just chillaxing at a resort for a day was great for recharging my soul.

Hope this gave a bit more insight into how I managed spendings since I have received comments that some of my articles are a little too generalised. I hope to share more things in the future with solid numbers to back them up if you guys fancy that.

Cheers, and stay Savey!

“Travel brings power and love back into your life.”
― Jalaluddin Mevlana Rumi

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