SabahBah just recently returned from a holiday to Bali and you know, Sabah isn’t Bali. That’s a good thing.
Kota Kinabalu, bless its slow beating heart, is a city of constants. Regardless of who come whens, business goes on as usual.
Although tourism is a corner stone of the economy here, in case of a dip in tourism things like local shops and eateries would survive, because it ultimately caters for locals who floats most businesses.
Hotels aside, prices rarely fluctuate across seasons here in Sabah, and what is true for food, transportation and drinking costs in the low season, remain true in the high season.
Bali Hai (Prices)
Inflation or the return of tourists? Whatever the reason, Bali is not as cheap as it was a year ago. Large Bintangs (beer, the universal measuring stick) varied from 20,000rp in the convience stores, to 45,000rp in slightly more expensive restaurants.
That’s the equivalent of RM7 – RM15 per big bottle of beer. Large bottles of beer in Sabah vary between RM8 and RM15. Suddenly Sabah’s alcohol doesn’t seem as expensive as you thought.
Where’s the local food
In Sabah, a wide variety of cheap local food is available, in plain sight, right next to more expensive, western restaurants.
A basic, local meal in Kota Kinabalu, arguably more expensive than what rural Sabah is, would cost anywhere from RM5 – RM10 including a drink. Locals and non locals alike pay the same price.
In Bali you have to know somebody to point out a truly local eatery where maybe, just maybe, you will get a meal at the same price as a local. Otherwise you’ll only find local-food-for-tourists everywhere, where tourists pay tourist prices and locals pay local prices.
The cheapest meal on this trip was a great bowl of Bakso soup off the back of a motorbike stall at a temple for 5,000rp (bargained down from the for-tourists price of 10,000rp), which is less than RM2.
Also had was the famous Babi Guling (Suckling Pig) in Ubud, at the for-tourists price of 35,000rp (RM12). I heard locals can get the same for a low as 10,000rp.
In Sabah it’s 1 item, 1 price. This excludes tourist attractions and national parks where locals usually pay less.
Haggle Me Silly – Not in Sabah
Something almost ominously absent from Sabah’s tourism scene are touts and hagglers.
Markets, restaurants, tailors, souvenir shops – you can walk past any of these in Kota Kinabalu, and the rest of Sabah, without anybody saying anything more than “hi, how are you?”.
From an marketing point of view this is possibly a flawed approach, but ask any tourist about how much they like touts or being haggled everywhere they go, and I’m pretty sure you’ll get “not at all” or “very little” as a reply every time.
The only exceptions are KK’s Waterfront where touting is fast gaining on smelly sewerage outlets as the No.1 reason not to go to the KK Waterfront often.
Being constantly on guard makes for a tiring holiday, but Sabah, being a hassle free destination, allows you to drop your guard in that respect.
You can bargain in the markets and even in some shops, but most often you can go around Sabah knowing that the price you’re paying is the price of the product / service.
It’s good to be in Sabah.