Quick Things to do in Kota Kinabalu

The first thing I did when I came back to KK was.... exploring it. I tried learning all sorts of things about Sabah and Kota Kinabalu. Whenever my friends come over to KK and starts asking me a million and one question of things to do in KK, [I love hooking people up on things to do] I usually go back to the basics.  I've got a lot of stuff hyperlinked so please feel free to check out the links that I've linked, they're mostly my activities. Please note this is my personal view of a suggestion of a quick guide of doing quick things in Kota Kinabalu, they're emotive, close to heart and not comprehensive of things to do in KK.

I am a very simple traveler. I like my journey full of discovery but very affordable - and fairly impromptu. So chances are,  my suggestions here are like that as well...


I hope this helps some of you who are still in the midst of planning what exactly one can one do in Kota Kinabalu. First of all, welcome to KK! :) It's THE gateway to one of the best destinations [one of the underrated destinations in South East Asia] in this part of the world. How do I say we've got just about anything for anyone without sounding like a marketing copy? Speaking as a native, seriously, KK has got just about anything for everyone. There's nature, there's beaches, there's local immersion, there's nightlife, there's for kids and family, there's exploration, there's sea and probably a whole longer list of things to recommend.

Quick City
Some people make Kota Kinabalu a layover destination to connect to either Kuala Lumpur, Penang or even other bigger destinations like Jakarta, and Manila. So I could understand the idea of wondering what exactly one could do in just merely 24 hours.

- One of the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park or... island hopping up to 3 islands
The beauty of Kota Kinabalu is the fact that it's ridiculously near to the islands. And by ridiculous, I mean 15 minutes away from the city. I couldn't think of any other city, that is so near to their airports and other CBD areas that are as near to their islands than we do [although I'm sure they're plenty]. If you start your day early, or have an early to start with you can consider this.

Pulau Sapi Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park
Pulau Mamutik Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park

- Handicraft Market in the City + Dry Market + Wet Market + Night Market 
Located right smack at the city centre. This whole stretch of local economy + Philipino influence is walking distance from the Jesselton Port the gateway to Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Parks. Still intact with its humility, this place sells all sorts of things from fresh seafood, to fresh dry food, to famous local handicrafts so even if you see tourists around, they're not disgustingly aggressive that yet. It's like gulping Kota Kinabalu in an hour or so. Be wary of some of the dry seafood sellers as they can be quite pushy when it comes to bargaining, but really where's the fun without some bargains!

- Dinner + Drinks at City Centre + Dance 
Since the theme of this post was to cramp as much as possible within a certain time frame, there's nothing like experiencing a waterfront / seaside city like eating seafood! From the dry market to a more famous group series restaurants to the most up market servings of the freshest seafood, KK serves some great, fresh, succulent seafood of all kinds. Other things recommended - Night Market starts from 4pm onwards from the same area as the handicraft market, Welcome Seafood Restaurant is a famous group series restaurant that welcomes bunch of buses every now and then, but I must say as a local it still taste pretty darn good and still very affordable. Anjung Senja is located right infront of Wawasan Plaza and a lot more famous among the Malay local community. Among other things they serve are fresh squids, grilled fish and other Indonesian fusion flavours. You can choose to dine and wine in fancy hotels that dish up and serve great seafood like Le Meridien, Little Italy, OceanView Restaurant.  Among drinks and nightlife suggestions are bars around Gaya Street, Warisan Square, Waterfront, and KK Times Square. The first two suggestions are within the vicinity of the first two point, but honestly, they're all less than 10 minutes drive away from each other.

I go to a local bar called El Centro ran by an American lady whenever they host some Jazz or Salsa nights. So if you're in town just at the right time, please come by and visit and have loads of fun. They're plenty of tourists stringing around there-- but food still are so affordable and quite good. Bear in mind, they're still western food, but you can easily get local munch around the corner less than 2 minutes walk. El Centro's Facebook

If you don't want to go to an Island, you can always go to the local beach 

Called Tanjung Aru. I've seen all kinds of people going to this place for all kinds of activities, chilling out, catching up with friends and families etc.

Please explore yourself. Take a bus up to Tanjung Aru and take a 15 minutes hike.

Quick Local 

- Donggongon 

Sabah is beautiful with its glorious range of ethnicity, and we love the life, and we live in harmony. One of the local town that has made its way through its local "tamu" [which is basically markets] is Donggongon. The natives open up their stalls in the evening right across the Penampang District Library so be fascinated with local greens and even local delicacies like, Hinava, Tuhau and Bambangan. I'm not quite sure whether they would be able to explain to you what exactly they are but they're local fruits and veggies that have been processed in an organic way that exudes its own rich taste. Please give it a chance.

Other things you can consider searching for is the Butod, squirmy fat sago worms that are waiting to be devoured by your fangs [poor guys]. But they're famous for tasting so good cooked with any other normal sauces ie tomato sauces, black pepper, you know like chickens and sort, but worms.


- Take A Train Ride 
When visitors start asking about the train ride, everyone assumes that it's the North Borneo Railway Train. If you can afford the North Borneo Railway Train then by all means, it serves all kinds of great food throuhgout the journey, but if food and absolute comfort isn't really a problem, then take on the local train ride!! Just take a cab / bus to Keretapi Sabah and take the trains to whichever you desire. Trick is, you probably don't know where to go -- so maybe that's a great bet. I've done it if you want to read my account HERE

If you've still got time after all that

If you've got a bit more time in Kota Kinabalu, try going vertical, up or down. Hill or underwater. Most people appreciate Kota Kinabalu as a destination that can bring them to their desired activities. Some people think that upon reaching Sabah you can do some pretty kick ass diving.. yes true, but not Sipadan kick ass if that's what you're thinking. Sipadan is a whole new different game.

But yes, you can do discover diving and basically diving in Kota Kinabalu itself! They're plenty of diving operators that will bring you to some hidden spots or hidden gems around the islands and west coasts. I've got friends telling me they've seen turtles, fancy fishes among many. So if diving is something you can squeeze into your budget, then you might want to consider it.

Or... just the famous Kinabalu Park. But bear in mind, you need 2 hours driving up hill and along the way, make a pit stop to the Upside Down House of Borneo.

Cattle Farm / Upside Down House

Bukit Kokol 

How so few people seem to know about the Kokol Hill amazes me. This is one of my favourite spot, and by favourite spot I meant the one and only resort available there at the moment. I like the drive up there so much, that I would sometimes stop for a minute or two just to take a breather and enjoy the view.

Overnight at Kokol
First time driving to Kokol

If you're here on a Sunday then you must drop by the Gaya Street Market

If you've still got time for all of that and more, maybe more than 3 Days 

Like every other destination the moment you've passed the 3rd or the 4th day mark, it's safe to say that you've seen the basics and have bumped and brush some of the things that you might takeout Kota Kinabalu as. That city that's near to the islands, that seafood place, that handicraft market with Filipino marketers. I reckon, by the third or fourth day you should have at least picked up some sort of rhythm or geographical identification -- and if you still have plenty of time to burn I have only one suggestion to you.

Go to the festivals. Explore Sabah! 

Do not sit around for local guys and girls waiting to come at ya -- you have to create your Sabahan experiences. The best part of it all? The locals are great people. Not saying it as a marketing copy, but Sabahan locals are humble, hilarious and just plain fun.

Among other festivals and suggestions you might want to consider [some links are mine, some not];

Like an out of this world random Corn Festival in Kota Marudu 
See the Sunset Music Festival at the Tip of Borneo 
Road Trips
Stay at a Long House in Kudat 
Randomly jump into a City Run , or maybe some International Run 
Just involve yourself in same regatta sessions in Tanjung Aru , Selfie with the Yachts
Or what about some Borneo Film Festival 
Fly to Sandakan 
Fly back to Kota Kinabalu
Take the fastest airplane ever - Kota Kinabalu to Labuan 
Or maybe, Ferry to Labuan for 3 hours, and bathe in chocolates and alcohol [duty free shopping] or go to the aquaria
Join fishing tournaments 
Catch the colourful Regatta Lepa Semporna festival a competition of the Bajau ethnic's boat dressing competition 
Take a Bus to Tamparuli 
Take a Train to Tenom 
White Water Rafting 
Witness the dragon boat race 
And more... for list of things to in Sabah, check out Sabah Tourism's Website Here 

I hope you have fun, and if there's any other question that you wanna ask, please reach out I will be more than happy :D

Jacqueline Rowena @ Jacqkie.


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