I’ve included Borneo travel on my South East Asia tour last summer. Where is Borneo?, people would often ask. Borneo is located north of Australia and South of the Philippines. It is the 3rd largest island in the world and is divided into 3 countries : Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia. Due to time constraint, I have focused my trip to Sabah, the second largest state in Malasia. And when you mention Sabah, perhaps the tourist destination that comes to mind is – Kinabalu.
Kota Kinabalu ( formerly Jesselton and also called KK) is a the capital state of Sabah, Malaysia and is the most famous tourist destination in Sabah.
The charm of KK city can be attributed to its proximity to scenic islands with white sand beaches and aquamarine water, a beautiful sunset, bustling bars and cafes, cheap markets, and the warmth of its locals.
Unfortunately, due to the World War II destruction, a little is left of Kota Kinabalu heritage. Nevertheless, there are still few surviving structures for KK sight seeing tours. It is highly suggested that you get a free map either from the airport, your hotel or guesthouse or at the Sabah Tourism Board before you start with your do-it-yourself Kota Kinabalu city tour.
Kota Kinabalu Attractions: Signall Hill and Australia Place
Atkinson’s Clock Tower is a prominent landmark along Signal Hill Observatory which was built to commemorate Francis George Atkinson, the first district official of Jesselton (Kota Kinabalu). It is the oldest living structure in Sabah that survived the destruction of Jesselton town during World War II.
Signal Hill Observatory is located on the same stretch in Jalan Bukit Bandera around Australia Place, just a few minutes walk up the hill and you’ll get a stunning view of the city.
Australia Place is called such because this is where the Australian Liberation Soldiers (Australian soldiers) camped when they arrived in Jesselton (Kota Kinabalu) in 1945. It’s a quaint street bustling with original Chinese shophouses , the downtown police station and the 2 famous backpacker’s hostel – Lucy’s Homestay (a cozy cluttered house owned by a friendly mother Lucy, where I stayed) and Borneo Backpackers which has a coffee shop-cum-museum called Borneo, 1945 with wartime photographs of Australian and Birtish Soldiers, and replicas of war memorial plaques in Sabah, though I find nothing really special about their food.
Kota Kinabalu Attractions: Gaya Street and the Sunday Market
Jalan Gaya is located one block away from Australia Place and it is KK city’s most famous street crowded with Chinese shophouses most of them serves as Chinese kedai kopis (local coffee shops), the Jesselton Hotel – Kota Kinabalu’s oldest and finest hotel, banks, legal offices and the belien-tiled Old Post Office which now houses the Sarawak Tourism Board. I’ve accidentally discovered one great cafe called Fook Yuen cafe and bakery that offers delicious yet cheap Chinese dishes; dimsum, noodles, kaya, etc. and cakes and pastries. It was introduced to me by the young Chinese tourists I met on the streets while I was headed to Jesselton port. It is just one block away from Jesselton Hotel.
Do check out the lively street market called Gaya Sunday Market, the entire street is closed on Sunday mornings for this grand street fair. Traders set up stalls here to sell all kinds of goods such as batik, sarongs, oversized-umbrellas, handicrafts, trinkets and souvenirs, herbal teas and the famous Tenom coffee, fruits, vegetables, and fish, cut flowers and orchids, antiques, books, toys and even rabbits among others. The Sunday Market is open every Sunday from 6:30am to 1:00 pm only this is one of the place that you shouldn’t miss in your Kota Kinabalu tours.
strong>Beach Street (connecting Jalan Gaya with Jalan Pantai) is the so called backpacker KK, a street filled with cafes and fast food outlets. Wisma Merdeka, a local mall is located across Jalan Pantai. In this four-story building you’ll find boutiques, retail stores, coffee shops, and an excellent food court on the top floor serving Malay, Indian and Chinese dishes. Then there’s also Wisma Sabah where many tour operators offers Kota Kinabalu tours and Sabah tours for nature and diving.
Kota Kinabalu Attractions: Jesselton Point Ferry Terminal
Jesselton Point Waterfront serves as the ferry terminal for Labuan-bound passengers as well as the main (and cheapest) boat terminal for the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park and Gayana Island. Jesselton Point Ferry Terminal is open daily from 6am up until 2am; the ferry and boat terminal operates daily from 6am to 6pm. It offers casual dining, leisure and shopping. Don’t forget to try out authentic Indonesian cuisine, Thai dishes and even Arabic foods there!
Sapi and Manukan Islands Tour
- Explore 2 of Malaysia’s most beautiful islands Manukan and Sapi
- Take a dip in the transparent waters of Manukan Island with its sandy beaches and great recreational facilities
- Use your free time well: go kayaking, parasailing, jet skiing, try Sea Walking and more
- Enjoy a delicious barbecue lunch by the beach
Kota Kinabalu Attractions: The Waterfront and Around
The Waterfront in Kota Kinabalu is located at Jalan Tud Fuan Stephens, just a short stroll in the city. It is home to myriad of dinning and entertainment center and is a good spot in Kota Kinabalu city to catch the sunset over the South China Sea. It is also a popular after hours hang out and houses the big dance clubs in Sabah.
Strategically located along Jalan Tun Fuad Stephens beside the Central Market at the same stretch of the Waterfront is the Filipino Market and Handicrafts Market. For Filipinos, you will feel at home because everywhere you will meet fellow citizens from the Philippines working here. The Filipino Night and Handicrafts Market is teeming with ornate wood carvings, exotic wooden masks, native handbags, wall panels, photo frames, pearl jewelries and accessories, trinkets, etc. This rustic market is run by Filipino and Indonesian immigrants and is open from 7:30 am to 7:30 pm daily. At night the market transforms into a warren of food stalls serving satay (barbecued dishes), rice, noodles and vegetable dishes.
KOTA KINABALU ATTRACTION: SABAH STATE MOSQUE
Sabah State Mosque is a stunning mix of prevailing Islamic architecture and contemporary design. It is one of the must-see attractions in Kota Kinabalu City. It is easily recognized by it’s eye-catching egg-like dome with gold inlay motiff.
How to get to Sabah State Mosque:
Take a city bus from jalan Haji Saaman or take a taxi from the city centre for approximately RM10.
However, this can also be reached by walking (around 20 minutes) southwest along Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman, past the Catholic Sacred Heart Cathedral.
General Rules while at the Sabah State Mosque:
- All tourist are required to enter from the front entrance or the main entrance (not at the back or side door) for safety of their belongings.
- Tourists / Tourist guides must report to the Security Officer/Information Officer prior to entering the mosque.
- Tourists are NOT allowed to enter the mosque without permission from the officers mentioned above.
- All tourists / tourist guide must be properly dressed e.g no short pants for male.
- For the female, they are required to wear robes and head scarf.
- All shoes must be removed and left on the stair case in front of a security guard.
- Tourists are required to be silent at the mosque.
Visiting time for Sabah State Mosque
(subject to change from time to time as to suite the prayer time):
Monday to Thursday : From 8.00 AM to 11.00 AM & From 2.00 PM to 4.30 PM
Friday : From 8.00 AM to 10.30 AM & From 2.30 PM to 4.30 PM
Saturday & Sunday : From 8.00 AM to 11.00 AM & From 2.00 PM to 4.00 PM
KOTA KINABALU ATTRACTIONS:
SABAH STATE MUSEUM AND HERITAGE VILLAGE
The Sabah State Museum consists of the Main Building, Science and Technology Centre, Conservation Centre and Heritage Village. Paid RM1 because at that time there’s not much to see due to a pending construction inside. But I did enjoy walking and taking pictures of the longhouses and lotus at the Heritage Village adjacent to the museum.
How to get to Sabah State Museum and Heritage Village:
By bus, take the No.13 (towards Penampang) from either bus stations in front of City Hall or Wawasan Plaza in KK and tell your stop to the driver. You need to walk up to the main building which is just a few meters away. Bus fare is RM1 (USD 0.50). By taxi, the fare is approximately RM12 to 15.00 for up to 4 persons.
Sabah State Museum Opening Hours:
Daily from 9.00am till 5.00pm. Picture-taking is only allowed outside the buildings and at the Heritage Village.
KOTA KINABALU: TANJUNG ARUNG
Tanjung Aru is the beach of the Kota Kinabalu locals and is famous home of the sprawling Shangri-La Tanjung Aru Resort. Its name is derived from the casuarinas or aru trees growing on its fine sands, the beach itself is just okay but is said to be the sight of the most beautiful sunset in Kota Kinabalu. It is located past the Sabah State Museum.
How to get to Tanjung Aru Beach, Kota Kinabalu:
Take the bus with the sign ‘Tanjung Aru Beach’ from the bus terminal across from the City Hall (DBKK) Building / State Library / Court House or Wawasan Plaza. Bus fare is RM1.50 per person and takes about 20 mins. You can also go by taxi, at RM15 (up to four persons).
KOTA KINABALU: MONSOPIAD CULTURAL VILLAGE
The Monsopiad Cultural Village was constructed from traditional materials like the way Kadazandusun built their houses. The living museum is founded in memory of the reknowned Kadazan head-hunter Monsopiad. The skulls of his victims are on display at the “House of Skulls” which also serves as a museum. The village has handicraft workshop, granary and main hall where cultural perfomances are held. The entrance fee though is a bit hefty.
You can also visit Sabah’s oldest church along the way – St.Michael’s Catholic Church on Kampung Dabak.
How to get to Monsopiad Village:
Bus# 13 leaves hourly from KK’s Jalan Tugu bus station for Penampang suburb (Doggongon town). From here, catch a regular minivan to Kampung Kandazon to the Monsopiad Cultural Village. Just ask the driver to drop you off there. Alternatively, you can also take a cab for your convenience.
Open daily from 9:00 Am-5:00 PM; Entrance fee: Rm 35 without cultural show; RM65 with cultural show; guided tours 10AM, 12noon, 3pm and 5p, cultural dance, 11AM, 2PM, and 4PM.
MARI MARI CULTURAL VILLAGE TOUR
Address: Kampung Kuai Kandazon, Peti Surat 740 Malaysia, Penampang, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah
Open Hours: 9:00 AM -5:00 PM
Enjoy a truly authentic experience by observing the lives of 5 indigenous Malaysian tribes by booking a hassle-free tour.
Kota Kinabalu Attractions: Likas Bay
The City Mosque is the largest mosque in Kota Kinabalu located in Likas Bay. It is a charming floating mosque with blue dome with a man-made lagoon surrounding it.
How to get to City Mosque: This can be reached by taking a cab for around RM15 or a Bus. No.5. Bus station is found in front of Wawasan Plaza, just ask bus driver or conductor for the drop off point. The City Mosque is open from 6:30 AM to 8:00 PM.
Menara Tun Mustapaha (also known as Yayasan Sabah Tower ) is a 28th floor glass sculpture and the second tallest building in the island of Borneo. It is tasked with protecting and managing some of Sabah’s most precious natural environment and houses Atmosphere Revolving Restaurant and Lounge which slowly spins to provide a complete view of Likas Harbour.
How to Get to Menara Tun Mustapaha :
Take the UMS bus No.5A from the bus stations in front of the City Hall or Wawasan Plaza in KK and indicate your drop-off point to the driver. Fare is RM2.00 to RM2.50 one way. Any taxi will take you there for RM15.00 – RM20.00 one way.
FOR A MORE COMPREHENSIVE LIST OF KOTA KINABALU ATTRCTIONS, READ HERE:
BUDGET HOTELS IN KOTA KINABALU
Here’s a list of some of the top rated budget hotels in Kota Kinabalu around the Central Business District.
Lintas View Hotel
5th & 6th Floor, Lintas Station Complex, Jalan Lintas, Central Business District, Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia
Szhnn Vacation ApartmentApartment
Lot No. 8, Block D, 2nd Floor, Apartment Angkasa, Kampung Darau, Menggatal, Central Business District
Asia Adventure Lodge
112, 1st Floor, Gaya Road., Central Business District, Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia