A vibrant melting pot of culture, art, history and natural beauty, Kota Kinabalu or KK as it’s fondly called is positively bursting with adventure.
The thriving capital of Sabah is renown for its friendly locals and welcoming spirit and whether you’re relaxing with drinks and watching spectacular sunsets, shopping at the bustling markets, enjoying spas and five-star hotels on the beach or immersing yourself in its rich heritage, jungle villages and captivating marine world, new experiences abound around every corner.
Easy to get around on foot, the social hub of the city is KK’s buzzing Waterfront. Take a seat at one of the cocktail lounges and watch the kaleidoscopic display as the sun melts across the South China Sea at sunset. Or, if you want to make even more special memories, take to the water and enjoy a sunset cruise along the coast. North Borneo Cruises’ dinner cruise is a great way to see the picturesque coast and city, all in the warm glow of golden hour!
Back on land and with a multitude of restaurants and eateries serving everything from authentic Malaysian dishes to fusion cuisine, the Waterfront is the place to relax and have a good time. Visitors can dine at seafront tables or enjoy the fun-loving karaoke bars, while in June and July the KK Arts Festival and the KK Jazz Festival host fantastic open-air events along the boardwalk.
For those visitors looking for gifts and souvenirs to take home, KK’s shopping scene is an enticing mix of old and new with charming markets and colourful stalls. Originally named Bond Street, Gaya Street is the place to be every Sunday. This historic street has been a centre for traders for over 100 years and today family businesses still line the road selling everything from vibrant batik sarongs, dresses and handmade crafts to cakes, art and even pets. Soak up the local atmosphere and grab a fresh coconut water or fruit platter as you wander around.
A favourite for locals and tourists alike, the KK Handicraft Market will hit the sweet spot if you’re looking for local gifts and artisan wares. The bustling stalls set up along Jalan Tun Fuad Stephens and are brimming with wooden crafts, handmade gifts, local bags, rafts of colourful sarongs and local pearl jewellery. Whatever you’re on the hunt for, friendly bartering is encouraged in Sabah’s markets.
Of course, it’s impossible to talk about Sabah without touching on its natural beauty and bountiful wildlife. Set on the azure coast and partly surrounded by luscious, verdant rainforest, Kota Kinabalu is the perfect introduction to the beauty of the Malaysian state of Sabah.
Few cities in the world can claim to be a heartbeat away from luscious jungle or unspoilt beaches, but KK has both! Virgin coral reefs and mesmerising isles lie offshore while mountainous peaks and jungle are located between 20 minutes to 2 hours drive inland. Travel bucketlists can go sky high in KK’s Kinabalu National Park; home to Malyasia’s tallest mountain. The magnificent 4,095 metre Mount Kinabalu and park is Malaysia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site and a nature lover’s paradise with more than 5,000 spellbinding species of flora and fauna including the rarest orchid in the world; the Rothschild Slipper Orchid.
What lies beneath…
Take in the views, spot native animals and fauna, trek up to the summit of Mount Kinabalu, try your hand at rock climbing and paragliding or head up on the rather daredevil Mountain Torq; the world’s highest and Asia’s first Via Ferrata or ‘iron road’ at 3,800m above sea level for a walk in the clouds you’ll never forget.
Once you’ve taken on the jungle, it’s time to see what lies beneath and if you’re a water baby at heart, KK definitely won’t disappoint. Sabah boasts some of the most richly diverse marine environments in Asia so catch a scenic boat ride to Tunku Abdul Rahman Park (just minutes from the city port) to scuba, snorkel, kayak and see if you can spot the blue-spotted rays, scorpion fish, bright blue starfish, sea fans, cuttlefish, and mantis shrimps. The marine park’s five islands; Pulau Gaya, Pulau Sapi, Pulau Manukan, Pulau Mamutik, and Pulau Sulug, are teeming with rainbow-coloured fish, corals and picturesque beaches. The largest island, Palau Gaya, is known for its gleaming sands and vivid corals, Sulug is loved for its secluded peace and quiet and Sapi’s white sands are hard to beat, but why not beach hop to all five and then choose your favourite? KK itself also boasts some great spots including Tanjung Aru beach, which is great for relaxing while in the city.
For wildlife enthusiasts the list goes on and on with jungle treks, turtle hatching tours and orang-utan sanctuaries within driving distance. Wander through the mangroves along the boardwalks to spot rare wildlife and birds at the Kota Kinabalu Wetland Centre, a particular favourite among birdwatchers.
While activities and adventures abound, the cosmopolitan capital city of Kota Kinabalu also has a rich heritage. Often referred to as the floating mosque because it sits above a man-made lagoon, the Kota Kinabalu City Mosque is an ornate and outstanding piece of architecture located around 5km from KK. Popular with visitors from around the globe, the mosque can hold up to 12,000 worshippers and is a must visit.
Culture and History
In the centre of KK, guided walking tours charts the settlement’s history, passing Australia Place (one of the oldest parts of the city) and landmarks such as the Atkinson Clock, Community Centre, Jesselton Hotel, Malaysia Monument, War Memorial and the City Council Building. Art lovers will also be spoilt for choice, with the Sabah Art Gallery displaying more than 3000 paintings, carvings, and sculptures and local artists showcased at at the Borneo Art Gallery, where the art is also for sale.
Tribal history is a key piece to this region and the Mari Mari Cultural Village showcases the traditional homes of several Sabahan ethnic groups. Discover fascinating traditions and heritage on the tour around dwellings in this remote jungle location. An up close experience; try your hand at at fire-starting, bamboo cooking, rice wine making, and blowpipe shooting. Then watch a dance performance and taste some tribal delicacies.
A rich and colourful hive of adventure and authentic experiences, Kota Kinabalu has so much to offer avid travellers and the warm, sun-drenched welcome is sure to set your Sabah holiday off to a great start.
*The above fares are per person from London Heathrow/Manchester and include the price of the air ticket, as well as associated taxes and surcharges, correct as at 19 December 2018, subject to seat availability and currency fluctuations. Tickets are non-refundable and date changes are allowed but may be subject to an administration fee. Other terms and conditions apply.