As it had become common in our trip to Sabah, we woke up early in the morning. We packed up our belongings and checked out. We wanted to explore Kundasang today, perhaps visit some of the cafes here too.
Our first stop was August Kitchen, just 300 metres away from Kinabalu Valley Guesthouse where we stayed the previous night. There are a few plus points to this cafe.
It’s new and clean, and they have these screens on the windows that allow you to view the scenery, enjoy the cool mountain air, but prevents flying insects from coming in. The coffee is quite okay too, at cafe prices. However, it was a very cloudy morning, so there was no scenery to be seen from the window.
Also, the windows are facing the wrong direction. By that, we mean that the windows do not face Mount Kinabalu, but the opposite direction. So if it was a clear day, you’d get a nice view of the valleys and nearby mountains, but not THE mountain that is close by.
Last night, Baby Crab chatted with Connie, who we were under the impression was a staff at Dreamcatcher Homestay, the homestay that we were going to stay at next. In the chat, Connie mentioned that she works at SS Chinese Restaurant 神山中餐厅, which we ate at with Greg and Sook Yeen the previous week when we were here.
We speculated about the possibilities and, given the limited information, concluded for the time being that Connie was a staff of the restaurant, and that her boss gets her to work the morning shift at the restaurant, and her evening would be spent at the homestay, which was probably owned by the same owner of the restaurant. We had, actually, met a Taiwanese lady at the restaurant the previous week, who we thought was the boss. We decided that we would go meet Connie and find out the full story, and at the same time check in.
When we reached Dreamcatcher Homestay, we found that Connie was neither at the homestay nor at the restaurant. She texted us to say that she was instead at Ranau, which is a 15-minute drive away, which struck us as odd, but okay, and that she would meet us at the restaurant when she came back. We told her we would go walk around in town first, and come back in an hour’s time.
There was a lady staying next to the homestay, who held the keys to the rooms, and invited us to pick a room. We chose one on the first floor (second storey), because it had the promise of an amazing view. Granted at this point of time, all we saw were clouds, but it was facing the right direction, that is, it was facing where we thought Mount Kinabalu was.
We chose our room, but did not check in yet, as we needed to confirm it with Connie later. We left our luggage inside our car at the homestay, and we walked out 500 metres to town. It is that close.
Cafe with a view
We walked to Puncak Cafe, which is 650 metres away from the cafe, for some food. We didn’t eat at August Kitchen earlier, because we weren’t going to pay cafe prices for a view of white clouds 😂. The food doesn’t have to be fantastic, but the view has to be amazing, for us to want to eat anywhere in Kundasang. After all, the view here is already so amazing without food, that locals are charging visitors money to take photos of the view in some places.
Puncak Cafe is a cafe, a restaurant, a homestay, and a surau (a place for Muslims to do salah). It’s got a pretty decent view of Mount Kinabalu — but not the day we were here because of the above mentioned clouds. The food is so-so, nothing to boast about, but the flies 😱.
It’s not the cafe’s fault, because it’s fly season in Kundasang, and every eatery here faces the same problem, with the exception of August Kitchen and Hooga Cafe, because these modern establishments use screens to block out the insects. The older establishments should learn from these, because we have seen Google reviewers give bad reviews of a place due to the presence of flies.
Around this time, Connie texted Baby Crab to let us know that she was back at the restaurant, so we walked back there. Along the way, we went to see the flowers and plants, vegetables and fruits, that were being sold at Kundasang Market.
SS Chinese Restaurant 神山中餐厅
Back at the restaurant, we found Connie. Though she had several customers to serve, she sat down with us in between customers, and that’s we got the whole story. As it turns out, we were right in some areas, but wrong in others. What we got right was that the owner of SS Chinese Restaurant 神山中餐厅 (SS stands for ‘Sheng Shan’, which is what Mount Kinabalu is called in Chinese), also owns Dreamcatcher Homestay.
What we got wrong was that Connie is not a staff at the restaurant or homestay. She is, in fact, the owner of both, together with her husband Hary 😱. Connie told us that she originally came from Selangor, where she worked an office job in Kuala Lumpur. The lifestyle there did not suit her, as she often had to work overtime, and her life was filled with just work and home, nothing more. It was soul-stealing.
During a holiday to Sabah, she visited Kundasang and found Hary, the chef at SS Chinese Restaurant which he started, because Kundasang then did not have any Chinese food. Seeing a future life here at Kundasang, Connie moved first to Kota Kinabalu where she worked as a kindergarten teacher. A couple of years later, with no prior experience in the F&B industry, she moved to Kundasang and took a job in Hary’s restaurant, where she learned the ropes. She fell in love, got married, and started her new life in Kundasang.
The couple now has two children, both of whom were pandemic babies. They stay in a wooden house just behind the restaurant. Hary’s mother stays with them, and his brother has a small vegetable farm in the same area. They also grow some strawberries, which she told us is quite hard to grow. She gave us some to eat.
Connie told us that her restaurant business relies primarily on the tourism industry, so during the pandemic period, it was very hard to stay in business. In order to earn income to pay her workers’ salaries, she and Hary sold pork meat in the nearby town of Ranau, where her two children now go to school, which was also why she was in Ranau earlier that morning.
After some time, Connie told us that she needed to go pick her daughters up from school. She left us the key to the room we chose. Baby Tilapia ordered a meal which we shared, before we headed back to the homestay.
A good deal
In the chat that Baby Crab had with Connie last night, we negotiated for a good price. The original price that Connie was going to charge us was RM100 a night, which was 2.5x the price we paid at Kinabalu Valley Guesthouse the previous night. But since the homestay was very few — it opened only in October 2022 — and there was only 1 review on Google, Baby Crab negotiated for a reduction in price in exchange for a 5-star review and two nights’ stay. Connie agreed, and that’s how we got to stay in Dreamcatcher Homestay for the next two nights.
As a new homestay, there are a few things that can be improved. First, edges are sharp. Baby Tilapia cut his leg on the wooden frame of the bed when he got up too quickly. Baby Crab also cut her leg on the sharp edge of a metal table on the balcony.
Second, the blankets are too thin for the Kundasang weather at night. There was one thin blanket that we both shared, but we ended up not being able to sleep well the first night, because we kept waking up from the cold, even though we left open only one small window. In the end we had to close all the windows, which led to the small room being a bit stuffy.
Third, sometimes the water gets shut off, and we don’t know why.
There are many pluses, though. The homestay is very, very new, less than two weeks old when we stayed there. It was previously a dormitory for workers that worked nearby, but has since been converted into a guesthouse. It’s very cozy, and the water heater is brand new and works very well. It’s the first time we were able to have a hot water shower in Kundasang. At other places, our hot water was just lukewarm, or like room temperature water.
It’s also very, very close to town, so that we can just walk there instead of taking the car. We can also walk 500 metres in the other direction to Bataras Superstore, where we can get whatever we need.
However, the best, best, best part about Dreamcatcher Homestay is that it faces the right direction, that is, it faces Mount Kinabalu.
We spent many hours sitting on the balcony, enjoying the view. In fact, Baby Tilapia also set up the camera to take several time lapses to capture the movement of clouds around Mount Kinabalu at different times of the day. This is what we found out:
1. There are usually no clouds around Mount Kinabalu at night.
2. There are usually no clouds around Mount Kinabalu at sunrise.
3. Clouds start to move in and block the view of Mount Kinabalu from about 30-60 minutes after sunrise.
4. Even if no clouds move in from other places, clouds will start to form from water that evaporates from the forests around the mountain.
5. The best time to catch an amazing view of Mount Kinabalu is at sunrise.
For this reason alone, a stay at Dreamcatcher Homestay is well worth it. Every day that we stayed here, we bought fruits from Kundasang Market, brewed hot coffee, and sat down on the balcony to enjoy the stunning view and cool weather.
Actually, it was so unusual for anyone to stay this long in Kundasang that Connie initially asked if we were tour guides! That’s because usually people just stayed in Kundasang for a day, before heading off to wherever else in Sabah that they are going to. But we like it so much! And our stay at Dreamcatcher Homestay made it so much better by giving us the view that we’ve been looking for.
Though our deal with Connie was to provide just one 5-star review, we decided to give them twice as many 5-star reviews, because we genuinely liked the place!
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