Sidestep.com – Your one stop travel search engine

Sidestep.comI usually goes to Airasia.com and sometimes Malaysian Airline System (MAS) websites to look for flights, going to and fro Kota Kinabalu. The problem with these individual airline website is that we cannot compare the flight tickets, side by side (although I know that Airasia is always cheaper). A good travelers search engine like Sidestep.com, provides flights from both airlines side by side in one page, enabling you to compare the price differences at real time.

As an example (and I just would like to do some personal experiment), I was looking for roundtrip flights from Kota Kinabalu to Johor Bahru, Johor. Surprisingly, Sidestep.com’s database is really up to date, enabling me to check the airline fares for my search easily. The best thing about Sidestep.com is the capability to check out flight deals from over 150 travel sites and 600 airlines with one click!

Apart from providing cheap airfares, Sidestep.com also provides discount hotels, cruise vacations, car rentals, and vacation packages to popular travel destinations worldwide. They have a very interactive travel guide, which mentioned Sabah as a playground for adventure seekers, extreme sportsters, and bums in search of the ultimate beach. I really agree!

The other special feature from Sidestep.com are the free newsletter and an IE toolbar, which can be use to compare travel prices side-by-side with sites like Expedia and Travelocity, search multiple sites at once for discounts on flights, hotels, rental cars and vacation package discounts (like this Hotels in New Orleans package) and discover deals from travel providers that other sites miss.

Top 7 highest peak on Kinabalu

Ha… I have a very short quiz for you. Select the top 7 highest peak on Kinabalu from the 15 peaks that are there on Kinabalu. The one who could give me the correct answer may receive a free gift from me!

  1. Low’s Peak (Yeah, this one is the highest. Choose the next 6)
  2. King Edward’s Peak
  3. King George’s Peak
  4. Donkey’s Ear Peak
  5. St. John’s Peak
  6. Alexandria’s Peak
  7. Ugly Sister’s Peak
  8. Kinabalu South Peak
  9. Victoria’s Peak
  10. St. Andrew’s Peak
  11. Kinabalu North Peak
  12. Oyayubi Iwu’s Peak
  13. Tunku Abdul Rahman’s Peak
  14. Dewali’s Peak
  15. Mesilau’s Peak

Bonus question:

Name 3 peaks that is situated in the Eastern plateau…

Just drop the answers in the comment box!

10 ways to save your money backpacking in Kota Kinabalu

  1. Travel with somebody else. You may need to use the service from local tour and travel operator maybe once in a while, and most of the time, the budget package that they have is quoted for 2 pax (or a couple). If you are a solo traveler, there will be a 30-50% surcharge for you, and that is almost a standard practice to cover the expanses. If you want to save more, travel with more.
  2. Stay in one of the backpackers/travelers lodge inside the city center. There are more than 10 backpackers/travelers lodges here in Kota Kinabalu city center, and staying in one of the lodges, will cut your cost of moving around. By staying in the city center, you can easily get access to almost all the important places by foot. And it will be easier to get help if you are lost.
  3. Board a low cost carrier. The most popular way to get to Sabah is by air. Boarding a low cost carrier is one of the way to cut your travel cost. Airasia is the sole provider for Malaysian low cost carrier (as at the moment FAX is currently not that reliable). Airasia serve most of the capital cities around South East Asia, including Singapore, Thailand, Philippine and Indonesia. While boarding the flight will cut your cost, you still have to pay ‘some price’ for it. Free sitting, flight delays and small seats and legroom are the common complaints by the passengers.
  4. Sabah Tourism BuildingGet your free travel information from the government. It can be really difficult for you to choose the perfect travel operator for your activities, as there are so many around Kota Kinabalu. Why not head to Sabah Tourism Building at Jalan Gaya, in the city center. It is a Sabah State Government information center for travelers and tourist, where you can get free brochures and information from their information counter.
  5. Use public transport. While renting a car or 4WD may be a good idea (provided that you are familiar with the road here and have an updated map), the best way to travel in Sabah is still the public transport. However, you must carefully choose a suitable transport for you, especially if you plan to travel to Sandakan and Tawau. Some of the buses are really not comfortable, especially if you are 6′ tall!
  6. Eat seafood once in a while. While uncooked seafood is considered cheap in Kota Kinabalu, the seafood restaurants around town serves first class services, which might put a hole in your pocket. And careful with the spices. You might end up purging away your entire trip…
  7. Bring your own first aid kit. Lomotil, Imodium, Brufen and Charcoal tablets can be very useful during your difficult time. It might save you some money from spending it for a medical treatment. Oh, consider anti-malarial tablet also…
  8. Bargain up to 50% discount if you are shopping for souvenirs at the Filipino Market. Filipino Market is the best place to look for local handicraft souvenirs to take back home. Most of the traders will put the price tag almost double, purposely for the more ‘wealthy’ foreign tourist. And surprisingly, most of the time they tend to agree with the price tag for the item. There are 106 traders inside the Filipino market. Find the one that can give you the best price.
  9. Use a prepaid phone calling card. While internet connection and internet cafes are easy spot in Kota Kinabalu, it is a different story anywhere else. If you are heading to some adventurous travel where there are no mobile phone coverage, using a prepaid calling card with a public phone can save you a lot of money. For example, iTalk calling card from TM. You can get a really special rate calling overseas. Handy communication tools for emergency too.
  10. Use cash. While credit card is an easy way to pay for something you like, you have to bear in mind the interest generated. Debit card is not widely use here, so having enough cash is a better way to not get into trouble, especially if you are away in a place where barter trade is still practice…

Happy Backpacking!

Red coloured durian – only in Sabah…


Red durianI received an email from my good friend, Cikgu Ismail yesterday. He attached few photos on the interesting things that he found in Sabah, and not found anywhere else, especially from the Peninsular Malaysia. One of the photo that he emailed me was a red coloured durian – which currently claimed to be found ONLY in Sabah (correct me if I am wrong).

Durian, or the scientific name is Durio zibethinus, is widely known and revered in Southeast Asia as the “King of Fruits,” the fruit is distinctive for its large size, unique odour, and a formidable thorn-covered husk. Its name comes from the Malay word duri (thorn) together with Malay suffix that is -an (for building a noun in Malay), meaning “thorny fruit.”

The fruit can grow up to 30 centimetres (12 in) long and 15 centimetres (6 in) in diameter, and typically weighs one to three kilograms (2 to 7 lbs). Its shape ranges from oblong to round, the colour of its husk green to brown and its flesh pale-yellow to red, depending on species. The hard outer husk is covered with sharp, prickly thorns, while the edible custard-like flesh within emits the strong, distinctive odour, which is regarded as either fragrant or overpowering and offensive. The taste of the flesh has been described as nutty and sweet.

The durian smell…
Quoted from Richard Sterling, a travel and food writer, said:
… its odor is best described as pig-shit, turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock. It can be smelled from yards away. Despite its great local popularity, the raw fruit is forbidden from some establishments such as hotels, subways and airports, including public transportation in Southeast Asia.

You can be fine with durian!Well, as I am a local Malaysian, I don’t think could agree with him. And I don’t think that it smells like pig-shit. Anyway, don’t forget to try one when you are here. If you can’t get hold of the red coloured one (usually available almost all around Sabah), try the original cream coloured one. You can get it almost from anywhere in Malaysia.

Good luck!

Resources: Answers.com

Recommended book – Into The Heart of Borneo

The book is about two educated englishmen who venture to the Island of Borneo determined to capture the the sights of a rare albino rhino. The author sets the humor rolling straight off, and in his sardonic wit, recounts his adventures into the rainforest of Borneo.

Duly noted are the risks to life and limb (and appendages)he must be aware of during his adventure. These lessons are given to him by his good natured guides who taunt and tease the overweight white (very white) man. All in good fun, the banter flows both ways. Descriptions of their meals may take a tough stomach on the part of the reader.

He spared the reader nothing when it came to describing the delights of dinnertime. The recollection of some repasts, especially the gourmet monster lizard meals were among the more memorable (unfortunately). It was amazing what they scrounged up to eat. I will not spoil all the little surprises they had at mealtime, you will know soon enough when you read the book!

Aside from the culinary experience, I found the travel journey delightfully funny and educational. While I know this is NOT the kind of trip I would care to have, I appreciate that the author had the guts to do it. At times, he doubted his stamina, but that is what made the novel work – he was a regular guy doing something outrageously difficult, not to mention dangerous. I can see that this kind of adventure would appeal to many others, but for me, I took his trip in an armchair where I was safe and knew what I was eating for lunch!

He is a charming writer, hooking the reader with teasing references. I admit I learned alot about their culture and some of their more sensitive political and social issures. A quick read, I went out and bought more of his books and look forward to a similar experience.

A review by Janice M. Hansen, courtesy of Amazon.com

4+3 things to learn from Sabahan.com – a cross sectional review

Sabahan.comI got an opportunity from my good friend, Gaman to review his blog, Sabahan.com, when he runs a contest to review his blog almost a month ago. I was not interested at the beginning, but when I saw his latest post saying that he needed another 2 reviews to complete his Group 5 entries, I just decided to give it a shot.

This review of his website will based on my novice knowledge about webmastering and blogging which I learned from scratch for the last 2 years. Most of my reviews will bias towards the few professional bloggers in the blogosphere, as I am going to make them as the benchmark of my review.

I really hope that my reviews can be useful, especially for new aspiring bloggers, as well as the seasoned bloggers. Gaman, hopefully you can take it as a pinch of salt.

Let me begin.

After few clicks on Sabahan.com blog, I can conclude that you can learn 4+3 things from it, i.e. 4 “Good” and 3 “Can Be Improve” features of the blog.

4 “Good” Features:

  1. Uncluttered blog design.
    1. Gaman is using WordPress, that I must admit as the best platform for bloggers, with 2 column and white background.
    2. Black font and white background is the best combination for longer reading time and ease to the eyes (that is why books use white coloured paper).
    3. Almost with no images, it can be an advantage for visitors with slower internet connection, as it will reduce the upload time.
    4. By using his own domain name, the blog gives Gaman 100% control over his blog, as compared to free services like Blogger and WordPress.com.
    5. For blog optimization purposes, I see that Gaman use few WordPress plugins such as Post Teaser, User Online and Subscribe To Comment plugin.
    6. With Google Site Search on the upper right corner of the page header, Gaman gives a good exit options for his ‘lost in his space’ visitors.
  2. Various monetization methods. This is the part which most of aspiring new bloggers wants to know about. I must tell you that Gaman really knows how to use this tool properly. He did not put all his eggs in one basket by having a lot of advertisers. He did it cautiously also. By having relevant ads – the ads that is relevant to his content – makes his blog credible and not seen as an advertisement billboard.
    1. Gaman did not utilize Adsense ads campaign to the maximum, as he only use one Google Adsense 336×280 ad campaign in every post and a 728×15 link unit for the header on every page. He could actually put more ads than that, but I think he tried to avoid cluttering the page with too much ads.
    2. Positioning the Text-Link-Ads links high above the fold on the left sidebar has made the area filled with sponsored links.
    3. Gaman uses ContentLink ads in the blog post (which sometimes some visitors feels it a bit obtrusive), obviously noticeable by double underline phrases with a javascript pop-up when we hover our mouse on the links.
    4. The other monetization methods that Gaman uses are ReviewMe, Chitika, AzoogleAds and some affiliate product reviews. I can’t comment on these as I did not go through all his post to look for it.
  3. He ‘burn’ his feed with Feedburner, i.e. using RSS feed to syndicate his content. By having Feedburner, his loyal computer literate blog readers will easily subscribe to his feed. Nobody should miss the syndication image that can be obviously seen on the top left sidebar. I won’t suggest you to put your number of your feed subscribers, if it is less than 20 (Gaman’s feed subscribers are hovering around 180-200 at this moment).
  4. Link exchange page (he labeled it as ‘Partners‘) . This is a good old webmaster school lesson but still a relevant way to get links from other website and blogs. With social networking platform is building up, link exchange methods like this are usually confined to the traditional static websites. I am not surprised to find that Gaman has only 39 links in his link exchange page, and still can get a PR5 from Google, as most of his inbound links will come from social networking platforms and other blogs. Maybe that is why he put MyBlogLog widget on the sidebar!

3 “Can Be Improve” features:

  1. No photo of Gaman himself. Oh c’mon Gaman… If a professional blogger like Darren Rowse and Yaro Starak put their photo on their blog, why can’t you? My mentor Ken Evoy said that by having your photo on your website and blog, visitors will be more adaptive and connected to you compared to one which didn’t have one. With emerging social networking platform, its easier for the visitors to ‘get connected’ with you in the virtual world with your photo on board. Even a primary school textbook has a photo of the writer at the back of the book!
  2. No favicon. I use Firefox as my official web browser, and the one feature that I like is favicon. I know it is not necessary, but I don’t think there is any harm on having one. Apart from making your URL beautiful, favicon can speed up your time looking for a specific URL in your bookmark folder only by looking at the favicon. Get one free from the numerous favicon generator around.
  3. To get the most out of your older post (which can really become dusty and buried deep in your webhost database), I would suggest that you install Popularity Contest plugin by Alex King. One problem with blog that I notice is that; older post get pushed down and out of the homepage as the day goes by, and this process is even faster if we post everyday.
  • Like for example your Technology>Google category. How would you know which is the most popular post from that 183 post that you have written? Some visitors will judge your blog just by looking at the most popular post that you have written. If they like it, most probably your blog will be bookmarked and they will subscribe to your feed. Put up the link to the 10 most popular post on your blog sidebar. It will keep your visitors a little longer in your blog, and your popular post won’t be dead buried inside your webhosting server. Oh… with that you might need to consider changing your theme from 2 column to 3 column to optimize the presentation.

As a conclusion, I don’t think my review matter most to Gaman, as at this moment, he still could earn a good sum of money (a lot more than what I am earning now!). Mind you that Gaman took some TIME to reach this stage…

If you’re serious about growing your online blogging business

If you have been into internet marketing long enough, I bet you must have heard about Rich Schefren. I downloaded his latest report on Attention Age Doctrine. It really blew up my mind when I read about:

  1. How most of internet marketers failed nowadays NOT because of lack of information, but because of OVERLOADED and CONFUSED with all the information that are available in the internet.
  2. All the rules of business growth, marketing effectiveness and personal performance HAVE CHANGED with the birth of ATTENTION ECONOMY.
  3. Why the Information Age is ALREADY OVER.
  4. Why trying to keep up with the latest information will only keep us DUMBER.
  5. How to THRIVE with information overload.
  6. Why people are getting DUMBER with each new technology release.
  7. What is INTERRUPTION AGE as compared with COMMUNICATION AGE?
  8. Too Many Options Will Paralyze, Delude, Waste Time & Disappoint us.

The other reason why I really interested with Rich’s report is that I saw my mentor’s name, Yaro Starak as one of his student. I am a registered member of Yaro’s Blogmastermind, which I joined couple of weeks back.

For your information, Yaro’s Blogmastermind membership program is a learning class for BLOGGERS who have the vision of becoming a “Professional Blogger” (like Darren Rowse), and how to treat BLOGGING AS A BUSINESS.

If you have a blog and want to get the most out of your blog, I really recommend you to download FREE Yaro’s Blog Profits Blueprint and better still, join his mentoring and teaching class with Blogmastermind. It worth every penny.

Shoes and gears for Kinabalu Climbathon skyrunners

If you think that choosing a suitable footwear for a climbathon is easy, you should think again. I was surfing around for new content for this blog, when I remembered to check the Federation for Sports Altitude website. Apart from knowing that the 21st Mount Kinabalu Climbathon this year will be held earlier that usual, (August 25-26), I also notice a good resource on choosing shoes and gear for the participant/contestant of the event.

So, if you are thinking of taking part in the climbathon, you may find this guide useful.

Shoes and gear – a skyrunner’s mini guide

In the mountains, speed means safety: the ability to move quickly in the face of an oncoming storm or to have to descend rapidly due to hypoxia can be decisive issues.
Variable temperatures, terrain and altitude all require products that are technical, light, thermal, breathable and elastic that protect without restricting your movements and hence, speed.

Skyrunning has helped to revolutionize this concept.
Trail running shoes with a good grip and a protective upper to resist water and snow are a must. See the table below for recommended styles currently available. What to wear? In certain races, some items are compulsory: like full-length tights or long, microfibre pants, a long sleeved top or cyclist’s top with pockets in the rear for a lightweight windproof jacket. Sun glasses, a head band, or gloves may also be listed as compulsory accessories. Ski poles are usually an optional.

Ordinary road running gear – shorts and singlet – is acceptable in shorter races in warm climates without too much altitude. The list of compulsory race material is indicated in the race brochures and in the rules for each race. In training at high altitude, never leave without a windproof vest, tights or microfibre pants, hat and gloves. Away from marked courses an altimeter/compass is useful or take a GPS. Don’t forget a water bottle and energy bars. Technical fabrics and lightweight trail running shoes are continuously evolving – the whole kit has lightened from 3 kg when skyrunning started in the early 90s – to less than 1 kg. Shoes and equipment are featherweight and functional.

FSA choice
The following shoes have been selected by the FSA Technical Committee as suitable for skyrunning.
Rating: good***, very good****, excellent*****
Weight: Based on men’s size 9 (US)

Shoes and gears for Kinabalu Climbathon skyrunners

***This guide is for climbathon athletes, NOT for regular mountain climber***

Vertical Limit – A mountain madness story

I love climbing books. I love climbing movies. Therefore, I was thrilled when this movie came out. It is an action packed, edge of your seat, high altitude climbing film. No doubt about it. There is even a cameo appearance by mountaineer Ed Viesters. The only real problem with the film is the plot. It is downright unbelievable, at times. If, however, you can suspend disbelief, you will still enjoy this film. I know that I did.

The film revolves around a brother and sister, played by Chris O’Donnell and Robin Tunney, who are estranged following the death of their father while climbing. His death scene is a real nail biter, as it deals with a situation that a climber hopes never occurs. Three years later, the sister is climbing professionally, while the brother has retired from climbing and is, instead, working as a photographer for National Geographic.

He and his sister inadvertently meet up on K2, the second highest peak in the world and probably the most perilous to climb, while he is on assignment for National Geographic, and she is there to climb. The sister is set to climb K2 as part of the climbing team put together by a millionaire played by Bill Paxton. For him, K2 is a trophy mountain, and he plans to climb it with the intention of reaching the summit just as the inaugural flight of the airline he owns is flying overhead. He has put together an ace team, but, alas, K2 has a mind of its own.

While climbing, they are overtaken by a storm, after the millionaire disregards his lead climber’s warning that the team should turn back. The sister ends up falling into a crevasse. An avalanche kills off the rest of the team, except for the lead climber and the millionaire, who join the sister in the crevasse. Hypoxic and injured, they maintain radio contact with base camp and let them know of their predicament.

The brother now steps up to home plate. Organizing a six person, rescue team led by a stereotypic mountain man, wonderfully played by Scott Glenn in a standout performance, the brother sets out to rescue his baby sister, and the fun begins. The climbers each set out with a canister of nitroglycerine, as they plan to set off the nitroglycerine in order to get the three surviving climbers out of the crevasse which has been covered over by the avalanche.

Give yourself over to the dazzling mountain views, the stunning, hair raising, mountains madness, and try to ignore the silly plot. Anyone who knows anything about mountains would know that setting off explosives on snow packed slopes is tantamount to an open invitation to avalanche, something no climber wants. Notwithstanding this, get set for an action packed adventure. Despite the silly plot, it is an otherwise entertaining and enjoyable film.

If the crunch of crampons on ice is in your blood, if you love the idea of an ice axe saving you from a fall thousands of feet off a cliff, if the idea of a cornice breaking off, while you are standing on it, is a challenge to your climbing skills, then this is definitely the movie for you. If the words avalanche, hypoxia, and pulmonary edema are all in your everyday vocabulary, then you, too, will enjoy this film. If you just like action packed adventure, make sure you also see this film. I am sure that you will enjoy it.

The DVD itself is an excellent value. It comes laden with a number of special features, including a National Geographic special on K2, featuring Jim Wickwire and Rick Ridgeway who, in 1978, along with Lou Reichardt and John Roskelley, were the first Americans ever to reach the summit of K2. The DVD also shows you how some of the stunts in the film were done. All in all, this DVD is well worth buying, and the film is well worth watching.

Reviewed by Lawyeraau (Balmoral Castle), courtesy of Amazon.com

Brief history of Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, The Land Below The Wind

Kota Kinabalu sunsetKota Kinabalu, or “KK” as it is popularly known, is a pleasant Borneo surprise, set between lush tropical hills and the South China Sea. It is the state capital of Sabah and a resort-city of exciting contrasts – vibrant, serene and hassle-free, with modern infrastructure and many attractions. Strategically situated less than three hours by air from East Asian capitals, KK has direct flights to/from major cities – Kuala Lumpur, Bandar Seri Begawan, Singapore, Manila, Cebu, Hong Kong, Taipei, Kaoshiung, Seoul, Tokyo and Sydney. KK was granted city status on 2 February 2000. It is the eastern hub and getway to Malaysia.

KK traces its beginnings to 1881, as a tiny British settlement on Pulau Gaya, the biggest of five islands directly across the bay from present-day KK city. In 1897, rebel Mat Salleh and his men fought and burnt the island settlement. The British relocated to the mainland at Kampung Gantisan, a small fishing village. In 1899, the British named the new settlement ‘Jesselton’ after Sir Charles Jessel, the Vice-Chairman of the British North Borneo Chartered Company.

Jesselton was also known as Api-Api, which literally means, ‘fire-fire’. It was said that it derived this name from the frequent fires that occurred during festive seasons caused by flying sparks from firecrackers burning the thatched roofs and wooden structures of the shophouses. Some believe the name Api-Api may have derived from the Avicennia trees which grew abundantly along the coasts and were used for firewood (kayu api).

To liberate North Borneo from Japanese occupation during World War II, Allied Forces bombed and completely destroyed Jesselton, leaving only three colonial buildings standing. These were the elegant Sabah tourism Building at 51 Jalan Gaya, the Atkinson Clock Tower and the former Land & Survey Building. Unfortunately, the latter was burnt down in a New Years Eve Fire in 1992.

The Sikh Temple, located away from the town center, was also spared from the bombing. The high cost of re-building forces the Chartered Company to relinquish their land rights over North Borneo to the British Government. North Borneo became a British Crown Colony on 15 July 1946. At the same time, Jesselton was selected as the new capital of North Borneo, to replace Sandakan, which was also destroyed during the war.

Jesselton was renamed Kota Kinabalu on 30 September 1968, for the majestic Mount Kinabalu, the highest mountain in South East Asia, at 4,095.2m (13,435 ft). Post-war reconstruction of the capital saw major changes to its skyline, coastline and land area. Most of KK is built on reclaimed land.

Reference: Sabah Tourism Board

Aerial view of Kota Kinabalu