A short airplane ride from the Philippines brought me to Kota Kinabalu, the state capital of Sabah. It is another exhilarating destination in Malaysia on the tropical island of Borneo. I arrived on a Saturday night and was so happy to meet my hotelâ€™s representative who picked me up from the airport. I was surprised to find out that my hotel in Kota Kinabalu was only a short ride from the airport.
Upon checkâ€“in, I immediately asked the hotelâ€™s concierge on what Kota Kinabalu attractions would be suitable to be explored by a first time visitor like me. I found out that my timing was just perfect as the following morning would be a great chance for me to experience the famous Jalan Gaya Street Fair. It is during this time when about a half kilometre length of Gaya Street is closed to traffic to make way for a different kind of Sunday â€œparty.â€ Hearing that surely got me so curious that I found it hard to sleep because of the excitement of what the morning will bring.
I was told the night before the Gaya Street Fair is open each and every Sunday from 6:30 am to 1:00pm and that going to the Sunday Market is a great way to jump start my stay in Kota Kinabalu. So, I woke up that morning with my heart filled with so much anticipation. I immediately prepared to leave my hotel early to try and see what the great things were in store for me in the highly recommended Sunday Market.
Gaya Street, which used to be called Bond Street, is considered the main road of Kota Kinabalu. Because of the great potential of the area, the place underwent a major facelift back in the 1950s and 1960s. The traditional shops were transformed wherein the ground floors were occupied by different shops and the second floors were turned into residential units or hostels. Nowadays, Gaya Street is still considered the commercial and business district in all of Kota Kinabalu. This is where you can find the most number of banks, other financial offices, and legal offices. It is lined with so many hotels, hostels, specialty shops and restaurants that operate 24 hours a day. A lot of these commercial establishments have been in existence for so many years and some are family businesses that have been passed on from generation to generation.
A short 10 minute leisurely stroll from my hotel brought me to Jalan Gaya. Upon entering the welcome arch of this street, I was greeted right away by some sort of organized chaos that was totally indescribable. I was engulfed in the peculiar sound of eager voices of vendors and delighted haggling of early bird shoppers. That was a wonderful sight!
When I asked around, I found out from some vendors that they rent that space from the city government for quite a minimal fee. Every Sunday, they head over to Jalan Gaya to set up their stalls. They also have the option to sell anything and everything.
I had a blast going through the stalls that were selling different coloured snacks that were packaged in clear plastic bags. The best part was, some friendly vendors even invited me to taste the goodies for free! I suddenly realized that I havenâ€™t had breakfast yet when I smelled the aroma of freshly baked Japanese cakes that were being sold in a nearby stall. I just had to buy some and try them for myself.
Some stalls, that sold fruits, vegetables, meat, different kinds of seafood, various herbs and spices, were frequented by the locals who were purchasing ingredients for their Sunday lunches. Any fashion lover would lose track of time going through numerous stalls that sold clothes like sarongs, footwear of various styles, and fashion accessories like belts, sunglasses, watches, etc. Some stalls also sold different plants and lovely flowers. Pet lovers frequent this place as some vendors sold adorable puppies, kittens, rabbits, fishes, tortoises, birds, and hamsters. Another stall sold framed photographs, paintings, and even interesting sea shells.
As for me, I could not pass up the chance to buy some souvenirs like refrigerator magnets, mobile phone charms, and key chains that I can bring home. I also bought some homemade local layered cakes plus a few kilos of the well-known Tenom coffee.
At around 1:00pm, the vendors started to pack their things and close their stalls. I headed back to my hotel with heavy plastic bags that are filled with bits and pieces of my Jalan Gaya Sunday Market Experience. That was truly a perfect beginning to a perfect day.