5 things you must do in Kota Kinabalu

Kota Kinabalu is an incredible and beautiful place, home to a melting pot of cultures, races, native tribes, amazing landscapes, pristine islands, food and shopping, and really, so much more. It is one world's hidden treasures now slowly coming out to the world.

As a native Kota Kinabalu, born and bred and having the privilege to travel to many places, I have curated a personal list of recommended things to do in Kota Kinabalu. This list includes personal favorites, childhood specials with a mix of typical tourist attractions for the FOMOs (Fear-Of-Missing-Outs) 😁

This is especially useful for a short / limited time holiday.

Mummy overlooking Kota Kinabalu city 😚😚

#1 Eat local breakfast 

I love food, and it's safe to say food loves me too! 😝 The best way and some say the fastest way (please don't choke) to know an exciting city like Kota Kinabalu or Sabah, is through -- FOOD! From kon lau miens, to hinava, to laksa, to sang nyuk mein, to eggs and toast, to dimsum in a small coffee shop.

Some of the most famous, and best breakfasts are available within the Kota Kinabalu CBD strip itself and within walking distances. If you have the stomachs (get it get it) for it, you can try and indulge on all of them.

Below are my personal favourites;

Half boiled eggs, toast and coffee (anywhere in a small coffee shop)
Laksa Yee Fung (Gaya Street, near DBKK - Dewan Bandaraya Kota Kinabalu) 
Sang Nyuk Mein Kim Hing Lee (Sinsuran Street, behind Le Meridien Kota Kinabalu) 

#2 (City Tour) Take a stroll along Gaya Street - Segama Sinsuran - Wet Market - Handicraft Market - Waterfront 

If you could fit a city into a small pocket, it would probably be Kota Kinabalu city. It is one of the most walkable city in the world with everything within steps from one another, with quaint buildings as old as 100 years old (Sabah Tourism Board building) surrounding the area and the sea to the other hand. Making it an easy breezy walk for those who love to, especially in great weathers.

Start your walking trip / tour from Gaya Street where most breakfast coffee shops and parlours are available. And then head to Segama Sinsuran where you will find more small shops that sell vibrant things like affordable clothes, materials, more local food.

Next to this area begins the wet market which is connected to the local handicraft market. The wet market is a colorful, vibrant place to see fishermen bargain enthusiastically for your attention, to see fresh catches of the day and ask as many questions about the catches if you like. If you stay in a house or an apartment with kitchenettes, and would like to experience eating fresh seafood with your own recipes, this is the time to buy them! They're at abundance!

Within 5 minutes walk, ahead of it is the handicraft market famous for souvenirs, local bargains and handmade. I would visit this market when I ran out of my pearl earrings.

See from this map how everything or every where is close to one another.

#2 Catch the sunsets 

If you've got four evenings in Kota Kinabalu, try and do sunsets on ALL FOUR evenings! Trust me, each and every sunset in Kota Kinabalu is breathtaking, one better than the other. Here are some of the places that I loved watching sunsets from!

Voted as one of the best place to view sunset in the world by the Huffington Post,

My favourite place in the entire world to catch the sunset, after 30 years of doing so, is the Tanjung Aru Beach. There was once in my life, when I would catch the sunset every evening just to calm myself down. It was like my best friend I never knew I needed.

First of all, Tanjung Aru Beach, is FREE. Which is why, these days, they're SO MANY PEOPLE/ TOURISTS in the evening. Many people spend their evening here at leisure, playing frisbee, building sand castles, eat ice cream, play kites, bike, walking their pets and so forth. There are hawker stalls around the area, with coconuts, ice creams, fresh fruits and other delicious sweets and snacks for sale.
Update: the hawker stalls have moved to Tanjung Lipat Likas, en route to One Borneo area. So they're no longer there. 

Always, always, get a car / book a cab after the sunsets. This place is undergoing development discussions at the moment with some areas without electricity, which makes it fairly dark after sunset.  It is still very safe, if not, you could probably even share the ride with other people who are looking out to head back to town!

It is in only 5 - 10 minutes drive to main city center.

 ^The Perdana Park (I usually catch these sunsets after a walk)

 ^The Sunset Bar, Shangrila Tanjung Aru, with drinks at hand and live music

^The Breeze Bar, Sutera Harbour

^Or take a cruise, via the North Borneo Sunset Cruise

#3 Visit the islands - Mamutik, Sapi and Manukan 

Most people come to Kota Kinabalu also due to its close proximity to the beautiful islands. Enjoy the boat ride from Jesselton Port, which is an exciting ride and a story on its own, and arrive to your preferred islands in just 10 minutes. I have heard some people talking about reaching to the main town in Thailand, only having to traveled via boat for another hour or so, but not in Kota Kinabalu. Which makes it really, a preferred destination these days.

Choose from Mamutik, Sapi and Manukan islands, or do all, or 2/3 islands if you're indecisive 😁

Many start their day from as early as 8am, and end the day at 3/4pm. You will be baked, and burnt with just enough crisp after a day out in the islands. There are not many restaurants in the islands (maybe even none), so my quick advise to you is, bring your own food!!

Read here Pulau Sapi @ Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Parks 

#4 Seafood or local Sabahan food for dinner 

I quite like ending the trip or dinner with a BIG dinner. Something for the family to gather around and enjoy a drink or two after a long day of out and about. The local buffet food at D'Place Plaza Shell (don't worry, no one is paying me hehe) is a comfortable restaurant, family friendly environment and on weekends, they have additional local dancing experiences! Which to me, is a bonus!

Eat and immerse in local culture all in one go, is always a better experience.

Or if you're a seafood obsessed like my friend Yuen, who practically eats everything she sees from underwater, try Welcome Seafood (the one in Penampang / Bundusan not city center). Reason being, the one in city center is always cramped up with tourists.

It is only about 10 minutes drive/ Uber or Grab. Which probably cost less than RM 10 ride from the city center.

#5 Day trip to Kundasang 

Touted as one of the most photographed destination in Kota Kinabalu, and even in the entire of Malaysia. This small highland town has been considered as the "New Zealand of Malaysia" with its picturesque landscape of greens, valleys and mountains. It has a cooler climate especially at night, dropping to 14 to 16 degrees.

Located approximately 2 - 3 hours away from the main Kota Kinabalu city, depending on the traffic, there are few main places of interest that should be on your list. I recommend staying overnight, because Kundasang at night with its cool climate is a relaxing experience. It is serene, and peaceful.

a. The Desa Fairy Farm 

Initially a milk producing farm, this golden goose of a tourist attraction became super popular on Instagram and Facebook when many people start posting it's beautiful landscape background. Me either hehe.

b. Flower Nurseries

Due to its cool climate and healthy soil, many flowers blossom and originate from the highlands of Kundasang and Ranau making it a perfect place for pictures. And obviously to bring some for home. Mum bought sunflowers and many others.

c. Pekan Nabalu before Kundasang 

Famous for selling fresh vegetables off the land, the string of local hawkers selling fresh items at bundled and discounted price are worth the experience. Also, it is always better to support local hawkers. 

I hope this has shed some light on where to start for your trip. If you need more information, or suggestions, you can always ask me in the comment or email me. All the best in planning your Kota Kinabalu trip! Please let me know if you have thought or did better alternatives, and I'm happy to help or include your suggestion!

Jacqueline Rowena @ Jacqkie.


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