Sitting on a plot measuring an estimated one acre, Ukkay, a bed and breakfast (B&B) resides in a two-storey former plantation house. The house has been restored with a brand new facade while still maintaining the integrity of its original structure.

The B&B is able to accommodate up to nine guests with a maximum of 12 guests on the premise that the three additional guests come with their own sleeping bags, jokes Samantha Fernandez, who co-owns the business via a joint venture with the owner of the property where the B&B resides.

The name Ukkay, which is pronounced Ohk-hei, was inspired by the Cantonese way of saying Home. Fernandez has been running this bed and breakfast accommodation since 2019. 

The idea of Ukkay began when Fernandez was on a solo trip in Europe. 

“Travelling in Europe can be expensive, especially on accommodation. I stumbled upon a platform where I could stay at an accommodation for free with the task of taking care of the house,” she shares, as she remembers her days on the continent, trying to spend enough time to get to know each place she had been to.

Upon her return in 2017 and inspired by her travels, Fernandez set out to emulate the eccentric European experience in Sabah itself. 

Initially, Fernandez was looking for properties in Sabah’s capital, Kota Kinabalu (KK), but found that there would not be much appeal amid the city’s hustle and bustle.

After sharing her idea with her friends, one of them told her of a dilapidated house in Kudat, which is about 170km away from KK.

Kudat is located in the northernmost point of Sabah. The sleepy town's economic activity is mostly centred on agricultural works. 

Sleepy and laid back, travellers enjoy Kudat for its sandy white beaches. During the high season, the town welcomes seasoned divers and surfers who enjoy their shores. 

Being inspired

When she visited the house, it was clear to Fernandez that the house had been abandoned and left untouched for many years, judging by its state at the time. However, the state of the house did not deter her. In fact, Fernandez saw the potential of the property, which was tucked away in the rural area, which provides a quaint and idyllic backdrop for her dream B&B.

Once she set her mind to it, Fernandez shared her idea to the owner of the property and was given the green light to proceed with it. Renovation works started in 2018 and were completed around six months. Overall, about RM100,000 were spent on the cost of renovations. 

“It was costing that much because of the state of the house. We were being careful with the structure of the house as I did not want to change its original design. I also wanted to retain some original parts of the house if possible. So there was a lot of careful consideration to be made,” she says, adding that the renovation process was one of the most arduous tasks she faced while setting up the B&B.

Being based in KK, Fernandez had to travel up to eight hours between KK and Kudat, which made monitoring the renovation process difficult, since she could only come up to Kudat once a week.

Before its transformation as Ukkay the B&B, Fernandez managed to catch a glimpse of the house’s past when she managed to meet the relatives of its previous owner. 

Built somewhere around the 1950s, the house had belonged to a family who used to live in the former coconut plantation. The house had since been abandoned as their children decided to move into the city looking for better job opportunities. The parents then followed suit. 

She added that the house used to be surrounded by coconut groves as the original owners used to be coconut cultivators. However, remnants of the coconut plantation are no longer visible as the current owner had cleared the land. 

To be sure, coconut was one of the main agricultural products in Kudat before it was taken over by the commercial appeal of palm oil. Yet, visitors will still see a number of these coconut groves during a drive around the town.

When Fernandez decided to rent the place, she introduced a new life on the land by planting her own garden with various fruits, vegetables and flowers. 

Operations started in 2019 and the B&B started receiving positive responses. Her clients were mostly international travellers looking for a relaxing getaway away from the city, and some from West Malaysia. 

She detailed her interaction with one of her guests whom she had befriended: “One time, I had a guest, university student, who rented a room for four days. In those four days, he was able to finish his thesis and he told me that the place was so idyllic.” 

Instead of renting the B&B out as a whole, Fernandez rents out rooms only, as she wanted to promote the interaction between the guests that come from different walks of life, she explains.

However, its way of doing business changed when the pandemic hit. Deemed unsustainable to continue its business, Ukkay went on a temporary break as international borders were shut. It went full steam ahead again just recently in December 2021. 

“I have received quite a lot of inquiries ever since I decided that it was the right time to welcome guests again. December was quite busy for Ukkay. Surprisingly, Chinese New Year was quiet.”

Since the reopening, Fernandez has received many inquiries from local Sabahans too. This is something she expects as the country focuses towards strengthening domestic tourism. 

While the reopening is good news, Fernandez also shared that she was not able to continue her previous hostel-like concept and instead caters to big groups of people to rent the entire house now.

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