Kota Kinabalu Destination Guide
Kota Kinabalu Holidays
Looking out across the South China Sea, Malaysia's Kota Kinabalu is the island paradise nature-lovers dream of. Capital of the state of Sabah, Kota Kinabalu is the gateway to some of the most impressive natural ecosystems in the world – beautiful coastal beaches and lush, wildlife-filled rainforests are easily within reach. A rose by any other name, Kota Kinabalu was known as Jesselton under British colonial rule and at various stages took on the pseudonyms Api-Api (fire), Deasoka (below the coconut tree) and Singgah Mata (pleasing to the eye). The city is finding its stride as a growing resort destination and, as a result, Kota Kinabalu tourism is thriving with an impressive range of ecological attractions.
One of the most unique things to do in Kota Kinabalu (for the adventurous traveller) is climb the city's namesake, Mount Kinabalu. Looming large at over 4,000 metres above sea level, the mountain is mecca for enthusiastic climbers and not one for the weak-willed. If you prefer to stay at a lower altitude, get to know Kota Kinabalu's past at the Sabah State Museum which has an onsite Heritage Village showcasing traditional customs and culture. Kota Kinabalu is also a great destination for snorkelling and scuba diving, with underwater shipwrecks and stunning coral reef to explore amid the many surrounding islands – Gaya, Sapi, Manukan, Sulug and Mamutik islands all offer a little something different from sunbaking to bird watching.
There is a wide spread of cuisine among Kota Kinabalu restaurants from Filipino to Italian, Thai to Indian. Kedai kopi (coffee shops) are popular spots to socialise with friends over a teh tarik (frothy tea made with condensed milk), while Sedco Square is the place to be of an evening for alfresco dining – food stalls set up shop from 5pm and you can choose your seafood dinner fresh from the tank! Seafood is a main theme in Kota Kinabalu cuisine and it is easy to find cheap, tasty dishes based on prawns, clams or crab. Kota Kinabalu's entertainment is concentrated along the Waterfront district where live bands play throughout the week and raucous karaoke continues on into the night.
Where to Stay
Kota Kinabalu is known as a resort destination so it makes sense that accommodation is both plentiful and diverse. There is a good selection of backpacker and student lodges conveniently located in the 'downtown' area, such as the cheap and colourful Step-in Lodge. Another option in the same price range is Lavender Lodge, also in the CBD, which has all the facilities necessary to rest your feet before the next day's trip. More upmarket Kota Kinabalu hotels include the Shangri-La Rasa Ria Resort, with luxurious 5-star beachside style. Complete with an eco-friendly golf course, day spa and orangutan sanctuary, the Shangri-La has an impressive range of rooms for executives, families and honeymooners alike.
Your introduction to shopping in Kota Kinabalu begins at the Gaya Street Tamu (open-air market) on Sunday morning. Wooden shops with thatched rooftops have disappeared, but an old school charm remains at Gaya Street where families and tourists rub shoulders, tasting fresh produce and admiring local art. Your next port of call should be the Kota Kinabalu Handicraft Market (aka Filipino market) where you can bargain over unique souvenirs like pearl jewellery, traditional musical instruments or colourful sarongs. Kota Kinabalu also has a number of shopping centres including the enormous 1Borneo Hypermall, packed with chain stores, restaurants and whatever else you could possibly need. Finish your retail jaunt with a culinary trip to the Night Market.
Kota Kinabalu like a Local
Kota Kinabalu, or simply KK to most, is located on the northern end of Borneo, which is made up of three countries – Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia. Of a weekend, locals take advantage of their coastal position and flock to the beach for sandy strolls, ship spotting and picnic lunches – the most popular spot is Tanjung Aru Beach. If you are a fan of consistency, you will love Kota Kinabalu weather with a year-round tropical temperature not budging much past 30 degrees. While most locals have a solid grasp of English, speaking a bit of Chinese and Malay will serve you well. Book your flights to Kota Kinabalu as a launching pad for wider Borneo exploration.