The capital of the state of Sabah located on the island of Borneo, this Malaysian city is a growing resort destination due to its proximity to tropical islands, lush rainforests and Mount Kinabalu. Generally referred to as KK, it is located on the west coast of Sabah within the West Coast Division. KK is the largest city in the state in Sabah and is the main gateway into the island of Borneo.
KK lies by the coast overlooking South China Sea on a narrow flatland and occasional hills bordered by Crocker Range which hosts Mount Kinabalu. The urban sprawl is concentrated along the coast towards the north and south of the city.
Kota Kinabalu is a fast growing tourism destination. Many packaged tours to attractions in Sabah depart from here.
What to see:
- Tips of Borneo.
- Atkinson Clock Tower – Built in 1902 in memory of Francis George Atkinson, the first district officer of Jesselton, as Kota Kinabalu was then called. He died from malaria and a subsequent heart attack that year aged just 28. The tower is on a hill beside Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman.
- The Signal Hill Observatory is a 10 minute uphill walk from the Atkinson Clock Tower and offers a good view of the city centre.
- Tanjung Aru Beach – Kota Kinabalu’s most popular beach. Frequented by locals for strolls or picnics, especially on the weekends. There are many food stalls and a couple of bars. 10 minutes by car from the city centre.
- Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park – A collection of 5 islands (Gaya, Manukan, Sapi, Sulug and Mamutik) just of the coast of the city. Travel by speedboat takes about 15-30 minutes depending on the island and departs from the Sabah Parks jetty behind Wisma Merdeka, from Jesselton Point Waterfront jetty and STAR Marina at Shangri-La’s Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa.
- Double Six Monument – Located in Grace Point, Sembulan. * It is a memorial site on the location of a the 1976 plane crash which killed the state chief minister Tun Fuad Stephens and other state cabinet members. There is a nice new food court on site called Grace Point Food Court offering local Sabah, Malaysian, Indian, Chinese, Korean, Thai and other cuisine.
- Kokol Hills in Menggatal offers a very nice view of Kota Kinabalu, the coasts and the sea from about 30 km away. The hills are pretty undeveloped but the road is good and new. As of January 2012, there is only one resort and restaurant called Kasih Sayang Resort. Kokol is also fast becoming a hotspot for paragliding.
What to do:
- Visit Kinabalu National Park – The eponymous mountain within the park is the highest mountain between the Himalayas and New Guinea, and is located 100km east of Kota Kinabalu. Home to many endemic species of flora and fauna. Arguably Borneo’s most well-known ecotourism destination.
- Visit Desa Cattle Dairy Farm on the way to Kinabalu National Park.
- Visit Tips of Borneo and tribal village,
- Mari Mari Cultural Village, located near the jungles in Kianson, Inanam about 25 minutes northwest of the city center, showcases the culture and lifestyle of various indigenous groups of Sabah. Tickets cost RM100 – RM150.
Where to Eat:
Kota Kinabalu is a cultural melting pot. Here Chinese meet Malays and Bruneis, Javanese, Filipinos and even a couple of Europeans, all of whom have brought along their own cuisine. Try out the many specialties offered at the various kedai kopi (often in buffet form making it easy to order) and shun fast food chains.
For meals, head to the outdoor food stalls fronting the sea or coffee shops along the streets. The less adventurous could make a beeline for fast food outlets in the Centrepoint shopping centre while those with deeper pockets could try the pier-side restaurants just after the open air fish market. The promenade restaurants between the Filipino Craft Market and the fish market are poor value and only frequented by tourists. SEDCO Square is a popular hangout for dinner for tourists because of their wide selections of seafood. Their rates may be higher but the wide variety of fresh seafood available more than made up for it.
Where to shop:
Kota Kinabalu Handicraft Market (Next to the waterfront). Formerly known as “Pasar Filipino”. Synonymous with pearls, local handicrafts, home decorations and lately crystals. Don’t forget to bargain for good prices. The attendants here are very friendly and will always greet you with a warm smile. You can also find souvenirs such as keychains, t-shirts with Sabah themes, carved wooden statues, batiks and sarongs, rattan handicraft and floor mats, Islamic calligraphy and broaches. Some of the items are imported from Austria and others from neighbouring Asian countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and Korea, and there is little actual Sabah handicraft available, but it is a very colourful place that will stay in your memory as a ‘souvenir’ from Sabah.