Although Kuching's backpacker scene is a bit more design oriented, KK delivers with sheer volume. Hostels proliferate faster than horny rabbits in Sabah's gateway city, and intense competition equals lower rates. If you want to window-shop before dropping your rucksack, head to 'Australia Place' when you arrive in town. This area, orbiting the Sabah Tourism Board, is stacked to the brim with pleasant budget options.
Recently, a group of budget hotel and hostel owners have banded together to form the Sabah Backpacker Operators Association (SBA; www .sabahbackpackers.com) in an effort to help shoestring travellers in the region. Check out their website for discount deals on accommodation and tours.
Lucy's Homestay (Backpacker's Lodge; 088-261495; Lot 25, Lg Dewan, Australia PI; dm/s/d incl breakfast RM18/45/50) We have a soft spot for lovely Lucy and her homey homestay in the Australia Place. There's loads of charm here, with wooden walls smothered in stickers, business cards and crinkled photographs. If you're looking for a quaint home away from home, you'll find it here. Laundry service starts at RM15 per load.
AkinabaluYouth Hostel : Friendly staff, fuchsia accent walls and trickling Zen fountains make this a solid option among KK's hostels, particularly if you find a quiet time to take advantage of the gratis internet and DVDs. Accommodation is mostly in basic four-bed rooms, with windows facing an interior hallway.
Summer Lodge : Summer Lodge feels a bit like a bed factory, with mattresses indiscriminately stuffed behind every door. Quality varies so you'll probably have to check out a few rooms before you find a comfy one. The friendly owners also run a hostel (dorm beds/doubles from RM25/60) near the base of Mt Kinabalu (1.5km away). Transport between accommodation costs RM17 (oneway).
Step-in Lodge :This popular spot wins the award for KK's smartest hostel with larger-than-normal bunk beds, comfy mattress, real coffe at breakfast, and an excellent (not to mention knowledgeable) staff. These clever touches make Step-in feel much more homey than some of the factory-style operations nearby. Ask about special rates for families.
Green View Lodging : Green View is trying something new by offering simple private accommodation at the lowest price possible. Beds sit on low-slung box springs and there are mini plasma TVs,in the deluxe rooms. To reach central KK, it's a RM10 taxi ride, or jump on bus 16, bus 16A or the Penambang bus - all three stop near the front door.
Other backpacker options include:
Borneo Backpackers :This long-running backpackers just got a fresh coat of paint (although if s still a bit cramped).
Borneo BeacHouse : Rooms are uber-basic, but it's one of the only options around with self-service kitchen facilities, and there's a supermarket down the street. Located near the airport (15-minute walk).
Borneo Global Backpackers : Feels a bit like a warehouse, but nonetheless popular with the budget crowd. Located at the southern end of town. Ask about tours to Semporna and Sungai Kinabatangan.
Hamin Lodge :A great find. Ten-bed dorms are cramped, but basic private rooms are good value.
Travellers' Light : Only a few rooms here, but they're spick and span.
Lately, KK's midrange options seem to be sliding towards either end of the budget spectrum. Although backpacker hangouts and top-end treats are in great proliferation, there are still several spots around town suiting those Goldilockses out there.
Rainforest Lodge : rainforestlodgekk.com; dm/s/d/ste from RM30/98/128/148; O 10) Fire-engine-red facades are currently luring curious travellers - it's the newest place in town. The deluxe double rooms are quite attractive, but the windowless ones fall a bit short. There are a few overpriced dorm rooms, but this place has much more of a midrange feel.
One Hotel : Just outside the city centre in the Sadong Jaya complex, this newer hotel has a cache of small en suite rooms at record-low prices. It's a RM10 cab ride into town and there's a taxi rank conveniently located near the entrance. Wi-fi available.
Kinabalu Daya : Hallways leading to nowhere and strangely placed elevators give Kinabalu Daya a certain 'ten-year-old's-Lego-project' vibe. Nevertheless, tonnes of tourists swear by this midrange stalwart - and we can see why - it's smack dab in the centre of the action and the Best Western branding ensures a certain amount of familiar comfort. It's your best bet for RM140.
D'Borneo Hotel : The 'D-apostrophe' gives this downtown option a certain je ne sais quoi, but there's nothing particularly boutique about it. The two biggest draws are the exceptionally friendly staff, and the spacious deluxe rooms that feel larger than most rooms in the same price range. Free wi-fi sweetens the deal.
A 'hypermalT complex, 1 Borneo, located about 20 minutes north of the city centre, has a few chain hotel options geared towards business travellers (there are roughly 900 hotel rooms on the grounds). A free shuttle bus connects the development to the city centre. Tourists who seek an international standard of comfort and don't mind being removed from the action should consider staying at one of the following options:
Novotel : A real stunner, but stunningly far from the city centre.
Tune : Great for small budgets and business travellers.
Central KK has several full-facility hotels vying for the lucrative top-end trade. Hefty promotional discounts frequently apply outside high season, so you'll seldom have to pay full price if you're looking for a little luxury.
Jesselton Hotel :Mock-colonial wood and marble give the place plenty of character, and the single suite even has its own fishpond! There's also a very good restaurant, coffee shop, business centre and a red London cab to shuttle you to the airport. Go for a nonsmoking room, even smokers will probably find the puff-friendly rooms too 'fragrant'.
Le Meridien Kota Kinabalu : 'If you can't undercut 'em, outclass 'em' seems to be the motto at KK's most central five-star venture, which just reeks of luxury, from the complimentary internet access to the flatscreen TVs and DVD players. The eye-watering prices come down a little in low season, and may even get as low as RM200 if you catch the right discounts.
Promenade Hotel : Very popular with international tour groups and Malaysian business travellers, this mammoth hotel near the south of the city is right on the foreshore and commands great ocean views. Amenities are plentiful, and discounts of 30% or more make it a solid bargain.
Shangri La Tanjung Aru Resort : The Shangri La is the perfect choice for those who want to combine the attractions of Kota Kinabalu with the features of a tropical resort. It's a sprawling complex, dotted with swaying palms and metal gongs, located in the Tanjung Aru area about 3km south of the city centre.
Sutera Harbour :While not as 'old-world Asia' as the stunning Shangri La, Sutera caters to big spenders with a cache of five-star amenities orbiting the vaulted lobby. Some of the rooms (especially those with car-
peting) feel a bit tired, so don't hesitate to ask to see a couple of options. A second on-site tower, the Magellan, offers additional rooms.
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