Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia | Cruise port of call | CruiseBe
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Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

The capital of the state of Sabah located on the island of Borneo, this Malaysian city is a growing resort destination due to its proximity to tropical islands, lush rain forest and

Mount Kinabalu

. Constantly referred to as KK, it is located on the west coast of Sabah within the West Coast Division. KK is one of the smallest districts in Sabah but has the largest population and is the largest city in the state.
KK lies by the coast overlooking the South China Sea on a narrow flatland and occasional hills bordered by the

Crocker Range

which hosts Mount Kinabalu. Hence the urban sprawl is concentrated along the coast towards the north and south of the city.

Kota Kinabalu... Read more

Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

The capital of the state of Sabah located on the island of Borneo, this Malaysian city is a growing resort destination due to its proximity to tropical islands, lush rain forest and

Mount Kinabalu

. Constantly referred to as KK, it is located on the west coast of Sabah within the West Coast Division. KK is one of the smallest districts in Sabah but has the largest population and is the largest city in the state.
KK lies by the coast overlooking the South China Sea on a narrow flatland and occasional hills bordered by the

Crocker Range

which hosts Mount Kinabalu. Hence the urban sprawl is concentrated along the coast towards the north and south of the city.

Kota Kinabalu is a growing city of around 500,000 inhabitants. Recent economic growth has resulted in the urbanization of the city reaching adjacent districts of Penampang and Putatan with a total population of almost 800,000. Recent growth and importance is due to being the administrative capital, a major transportation hub, growing port, manufacturing hub, growing tourism as well as being the major gateway into Sabah and East Malaysia. Kota Kinabalu was granted city status in 2000 becoming the sixth city and also currently the sixth largest urban/metropolitan area in Malaysia.
​Kota Kinabalu was previously known as Jesselton while under British colonial rule from the late 1800s until 1963 when the British left and after Sabah became part of Malaysia. Most of the town was destroyed due to bombings during World War II hence there are not much pre-war historical sites around the city. Before the British arrived, the area was also known by a number of other names such as Deasoka (below the coconut tree), Singgah Mata (pleasing to the eye), Api-Api (fire!) and Gaya Bay.
The people of KK consists of Chinese, Kadazandusun, Bajau, Brunei Malays, as well as the significant migrant population from Indonesia and Philippines, many of which are naturalized citizens. There are also many migrant/expat population from India and a growing number from Korea.
Central Kota Kinabalu is often referred to as Kota Kinabalu City Centre or the Central Business district (CBD) or simply Downtown KK and is located on the narrow coast overlooking Gaya Island. This is where most hotels, travel agents, transportation bases and most of the action are found. Most of the city center lies on reclaimed land due to a shortage of land in the area as it is blocked by Signal Hill (Bukit Bendera). Areas which lie within the city center includes Kampung Air, Api-Api, Segama, Sinsuran, Bandaran Berjaya, Gaya Street, KK Port and towards the south are Karamunsing, Sembulan, Tanjung Aru and Sutera Harbour.
Due to the lack of land in the city center, other important commercial areas have sprouted outside CBD. Some of these areas have been long in existence as small townships (pekan) such as Luyang, Inanam, and Menggatal and in adjacent districts of Penampang (Donggongon) and Putatan while some are recently developed residential-commercial areas such as Alam Mesra, Kingfisher and 1Borneo near Menggatal; Lintas, Penampang Baru and Bundusan.
The climate in KK is characterized by a uniform year-round temperature of 32°C (avg. high) and 22°C (avg. low). Rain falls quite often with occasional dry streaks. Low rainfall begins in January till April, increasing in May till August, intensifying in September till November and slows down in December. 

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Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia: Port Information

Kota Kinabalu is a port of call for many cruise ships passing through east Asia such as Queen Victoria, Queen Mary 2, Diamond Princess, MV Arcadia, and SuperStar Virgo via cruise lines such as Cunard, Star Cruises, Princess Cruises, and P&O Cruises. Cruise ships will usually dock at Kota Kinabalu Port north of Jesselton Point Ferry Terminal.

Liners dock at the port about 1.25 miles from the city center. Taxis are waiting at the port entrance.
Larger vessels anchor offshore and passengers are transported ashore by tender boats.

Get around Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

By foot

The city center is quite small, and you can walk from one end to the other in less than 30 min. Safely crossing the street can be an issue, but most streets are at least equipped with sidewalks. You can also walk to and from the airport (1-2 hr each way). Even the highways outside of town usually have a walking path or a wide grassy shoulder to walk on.


Haggling is absolutely vital in order to get a fair price. Many taxi drivers in Malaysia are infamous for raising their fare prices, even after a price has already been determined by thorough prior negotiation. They frequently attempt to manipulate and deceive unknowing tourists by feigning ignorance and delivering tourists to the wrong hotels, which sometimes provide kickbacks to the drivers. Mentioning a call to the authorities may resolve the situation quickly.

Bus and minibus (van)

The main depot for buses and minibuses from the city center to the suburbs such as Putatan, Tanjung Aru, Kepayan, Luyang, Penampang, Likas, Inanam and Menggatal is the Wawasan Bus Terminal opposite Wawasan Plaza. All buses coming in from the suburbs can only stop in this depot to avoid congestion in the city center.

Wawasan Bus terminal also serves as a depot for long-distance buses towards the south of Kota Kinabalu. A new southbound long-distance bus terminal has been planned for construction near Terminal 1, KKIA in Kepayan. North- and east-bound long-distance buses departs from the North Bus Terminal in Inanam, 25 minutes from the city center. There are shuttle buses between the terminals.

To travel within the city center, the City Bus is used. The green and yellow City Bus departs from Wawasan Bus Terminal and circles the city center using 4 routes: Route 1A, 1B, 2A and 2B. City Bus fare cost RM0.50 and are quite frequent. However the conductor and driver often encourages more people to get on the bus until totally crowded before it leaves.

  • Route 1A: travels along Jalan Tun Fuad Stephens until Jesselton Point and returns along Jalan Tun Razak and Jalan Coastal.
  • Route 1B: travels along Jalan Coastal and Jalan Tun Razak and returns along Jalan Tun Fuad Stephens.
  • Route 2A: travels along Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman via Karamunsing and Jalan KK Bypass all the way to Sabah Trade Centre in Likas and returns the same way.
  • Route 2B: travels along Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman until the roundabout near Australia Place and returns the same way.

Sabah State Railway recommenced operations in February 2011 using new air-conditioned trains on a single 134 km route from Tanjung Aru south of the city centre to Tenom in the interior via Papar, Kimanis and Beaufort. Four trains operate daily except for Sunday, when there are only two trains, running between Tanjung Aru station ☎ +60 88254611 and Beaufort, where you change trains if you want to continue your journey to Tenom. Journey time between Kota Kinabalu and Beaufort is about 2 hr, making it more attractive for travellers to take the bus for part of the journey. The train stops the following places: Kota Kinabalu (Tanjung Aru), Putatan, Kinarut, Kawang, Papar, Kimanis, Bongawan, Membakut, Beaufort, Saliwangan, Halogilat, Rayoh, Pangi and Tenom.

A leisure train service known as North Borneo Railway caters to tourists and uses an old steam train and designed to resemble trains in the colonial era. This is a joint venture project between Sabah State Railway and Sutera Harbour Resort. Currently trains only travel up to Papar. Tickets cost RM270 and RM170 for children and includes breakfast and lunch. 

By boat

There are speedboat services from KK to the islands in

Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park

just off the coast of Kota Kinabalu from Jesselton Point Jetty with regular departures to Manukan, Sapi, Gaya and other islands. Cost per person is between RM17 and RM40 depending on island. There are also departures from the Sabah Parks Jetty behind Wisma Merdeka and Sutera Harbour. There are also speedboats for charter where travellers can have the flexibility of time and destination.

Go next

  • Labuan - duty free paradise, fairly decent karaoke nightlife, offshore banking and Pulau Kuraman.
  • Head to the Mount Kinabalu National Park 80 km east of Kota Kinabalu and hike the 8.9 km to the summit.
  • Kundasang, outside and nearby Mount Kinabalu is a cool place with various markets, plantations, farms. Many resorts here. Popular with locals from all around Sabah during weekends and public holidays.
  • Tenom Farmstay Holiday visitors can stay in the homes of local farmers, allowing them a unique opportunity to experience an entirely different way of life.
  • Head to the cities of Sandakan, Tawau, Lahad Datu and Semporna in the East Coast, either by plane or by bus, for wildlife and world-class diving.
  • Fly to Layang Layang Island in the disputed Spratly Islands for diving.
  • Kuala Penyu district located about 2 hours southwest along the coast contains Klias River, Pulau Tiga (site of the first series of TV show "Survivor") and Menumbok jetty (to get to Labuan by car or boat).
  • Maliau Basin, Sabah's "Lost World", located in the middle of Sabah somewhere between Kota Kinabalu and Tawau; said to be one of the oldest undisturbed rainforest in the world.
  • Experience rural lifestyle around Kudat, Tambunan, Tenom, Kota Belud, etc. all along the west coast of Sabah and within 2-4 hours drive from Kota Kinabalu.
  • Gunung Mulu National Park, a World Heritage Site in Mulu, Sarawak, is 20 minutes away by plane.

What to see in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

  • Atkinson Tower (on a hill beside Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman, just a few min away from the city center). Built in 1902 in memory of Francis George Atkinson, the first district officer of Jesselton, as Kota Kinabalu was then called. He died of a tropical disease in the same year at the young age of only 28.
  • Signal Hill Observatory (10 min walk up hill from the Atkinson Clock Tower). Offers a good view of the city center.
  • The Green Connection Aquarium (located 10 min outside the downtown area by taxi), ☎ +60 88-263326, fax: +60 88-263327, e-mail: enquiry@aadcgreenconnection.com. M-F 8:30AM-5PM. The best place to see the aquatic wildlife of Borneo without leaving the city. Help conserve Sabah wildlife by visiting here. Lots of things to see and do - touch a shark, stroke a snake, watch a turtle. Opportunities for interns & volunteers or simply to dive in the giant tank and feed the fish.
  • Tanjung Aru Beach. A 10 minutes drive from the city center is the most popular public beach in the city. Usually frequented by locals for weekend stroll or picnics. There are many food stalls and a couple of bars.
  • Likas Bay Beach (along Jalan Tun Fuad Stephens). This smaller and less pretty beach is also popular among locals. An interesting site where the beach is surrounded by the city with a view of anchored ships off Sepanggar Port.
  • Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park. A collection of 5 islands (Gaya, Manukan, Sapi, Sulug, and Mamutik) just of the coast of the city. Travel by speedboat takes about 15-30 minutes depending on the island and departs from the Sabah Parks jetty behind Wisma Merdeka or from Jesselton Point Waterfront jetty.
  • Double Six Monument, Grace Point, Sembulan. A memorial site on the location of the 1976 plane crash which killed the state chief minister Tun Fuad Stephens and other state cabinet members. There is a nice new food court on site called Grace Point Food Court offering local Sabah, Malaysian, Indian, Chinese, Korean, Thai and other cuisines.
  • The northern coast of Kota Kinabalu contains undisturbed scenic geographical features including Karambunai and Dalit Beach and behind these beaches is a lagoon-type estuary containing Mengkabong and Salut rivers. The Lagoon Park in Karambunai could be a good place to start in order to explore this area as there are boat rides or jet-skis for rent. The Mengkabong water village is also an interesting sight to explore. Salut contains two popular seafood restaurants situated by the lagoon/lake in Salut called Salut Seafood and Gayang Seafood. Nearby Borneo Kellybays offers various watersports and camping activities around mangrove forest, river and beach.
  • City Park - a small park and the only park in the city center located opposite the court complex. It contains the British North Borneo Memorial which commemorates the soldiers who fought and died defending the British Empire during World War I. The memorial was built in 1923.
  • Kokol Hills in Menggatal offers a very nice view of Kota Kinabalu, the coasts and the sea from about 30 km away. The hills are pretty undeveloped but the road is good and new. As of January 2012, there is only one resort and restaurant called Kasih Sayang Resort. Kokol is also fast becoming a hotspot for paragliding. 
  • Lok Kawi Wildlife Park (about 30 minutes south of Kota Kinabalu). 9:30 AM-5:30 PM.
  • Inobong Visitor and Research Center perched 600m above sea level in Penampang is a Crocker Range Park substation and the nearest access to the Park from Kota Kinabalu.
  • Kinarut a small town 40 minutes south of KK contains quiet beaches, Pulau Dinawan, the 'sininggazanak' statues, and still existing wooden shophouses built around the 1930s to 1960s.
  • Tambalang Racecourse, ☎ +60 88-25 2705. Is a horse-racing track operated by Royal Sabah Turf Club in Tuaran.
  • Chinatown, also known as Gaya Street, it’s located in the city center surrounding Gaya Street and Beach Street. There is a Sunday market here and many Chinese coffee shops and restaurants. This area together with the adjacent area around Australia Place near the city police station has the highest concentration of budget hostels in KK. The name "Chinatown" is mainly a tourism gimmick after the arch gate was erected not more than after 2005, so many locals would not know what Chinatown is. Use instead "Gaya Street".
  • Tun Fuad Park (located on the eastern edge of the city, 15 minutes drive from the city center). Where the city meets the hilly jungles of Crocker Range. The park contains 2 restaurants, hawker centers, the Water World theme park, a lake and jogging track.
  • Perdana Park, an 18-acre new park in Tanjung Aru completed in 2011 featuring a light and musical water fountain, greenery, children's playground, and jogging tracks. The park was built on the land formerly known as Hone Place where British government quarters stood. Fountain show starts at 7 PM.
  • Petagas War Memorial, located about 10 minutes outside the city center, is dedicated to the 176 members of the Kinabalu Guerrillas who attacked the Japanese occupying forces during World War II, in what was known as the "Double Tenth Revolt" (10/10/1943), who were subsequently detained and executed in Petagas.
  • Kota Kinabalu Wetland Centre, formerly known as Kota Kinabalu Bird Sanctuary, is a 24-hectare mangrove conservation area used for recreation, education, and research. It is located in Likas along Jalan Bukit Bendera Upper just 5 minutes drive from the city center (15 minutes walk from Signal Hill Observatory). The area is managed by the Sabah Wetlands Conservation Society. Tel: +60 88-246955.
  • Sembulan Riverfront, located around the confluence of Sembulan and Karamunsing Rivers behind Sadong Jaya, is the latest urban feature in KK.

Museums, galleries and libraries

  • Sabah State Museum located in Jalan Kebajikan, has 3 storeys of exhibits. A good place to understand the history of Kota Kinabalu and Sabah. The museum complex also features the Science and Technology Museum, Sabah Art Gallery and a heritage village. Tel: +60 88-253 199. 
  • Islamic Civilization Museum, ☎ +60 88-253 199. Located behind Sacred Heart Cathedral and nearby the State Museum on Jalan Menteri has a history of Islamic civilization in Sabah.
  • Science and Technology Museum located within the State Museum complex.
  • Sabah Art Gallery, ☎ +60 88 268798. Contains artworks by local artists. Also located within the State Museum complex.
  • Borneo Art Gallery, ☎ +60 88-280707. Located in Asia City Complex, contain art works by local and regional artists. Art works are for sale.
  • Sabah State Library (SSL), manages and operates most public libraries in Sabah. In Kota Kinabalu, SSL has a library between City Hall and the court (KK Regional Library), Suria Sabah (Library@Suria; Level 4) and the State Library along Jalan Penampang near Luyang (biggest; SSL HQ; 10 minutes drive from city center). Tel: +60 88 214828.

Places of worship

  • Sacred Heart Cathedral, a Roman Catholic church located along Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman. It is the seat of the Archdiocese of Kota Kinabalu and the cathedral is one of the largest in Sabah.
  • Sabah State Mosque - located on Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman in Sembulan is the largest mosque in Sabah. Its dome and minaret is decorated with real gold.
  • Puh Toh Tze Chinese Temple, located along Jalan Tuaran near Kolombong.
  • Kota Kinabalu City Mosque, a 'floating' mosque located along Jalan Tun Fuad Stephens overlooking Likas Bay is another major mosque in the city with interesting contemporary Islamic architecture.
  • Sri Pasupathinath Alayam Hindu Temple, one of two Hindu temple in the city. Located in Bukit Padang about 20 minutes drive from the city.
  • Sri Subramaniar Hindu Temple, a small south Indian-style Hindu temple located about 40 minutes away in Lok Kawi.
  • Che Sui Khor Chinese Temple, contains an interesting 12-tier pagoda and is part of the Moral Uplifting Society located along Jalan Tuaran at Mile 2.
  • Gurdwara Sahib Sikh Temple, the only Sikh Gurdwara in Kota Kinabalu. Located along Jalan Mat Salleh near Sembulan.
  • St. Michael's Church, located in Donggongon, Penampang, was built around 1940-1950s which still retains its old-style architecture.
  • Tzer Ying Buddhist Temple, a pure Buddhist temple located along Jalan Kolam Minintod near Bukit Padang.

What to do in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

Scuba diving & snorkeling

Try dives, leisure diving, technical diving, and snorkeling are all available from Kota Kinabalu.
Several interesting dive sites can be enjoyed as day trips from Kota Kinabalu with nearby World War II wrecks accessible for scuba diving. Some are in the 24-45 m depth range whilst other wrecks are only suitable for technical diving. Advanced and basic diver training courses are run from Kota Kinabalu by several dive center operators.

Dive destinations

  • Usukan Bay near Pulau Mantanani, suitable for recreational diving. Located near the fishing port of Kota Belud 30 nautical miles north of Kota Kinabalu these dive sites are ideal day trips from Kota Kinabalu. Boat trips north from Kota Kinabalu normally depart from Sutera Harbour Marina or Jesselton Point and take approximately 2 hr. These dives are only suitable for divers that already have PADI Advanced Open Water Diver or similar certification and some previous wreck diving experience is advised. There are three popular wrecks spread over a distance of about one kilometer lying 7 n.m offshore.
  • Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park offers many snorkeling and scuba diving opportunities between 20 and 30 min from Kota Kinabalu by boat. Dive operators depart from the Jesselton Point Jetty and Sutera Harbour Marina. Islands and beaches are beautiful, even though the watercolor is very green and not transparent. Underwater visibility can be an issue around the entire park: It sometimes drops below 3m due to dirty river water from Mt. Kinabalu by everyday-pouring rain. If you are used to snorkeling or diving in good visibility, you may be disappointed.
  • The Gaya wreck lies in 50m of water within the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park and is a 30 min boat ride from Kota Kinabalu. The wreck is thought to be that of the Japanese ship Nittetsu Maru.
  • Mayne Rock has large white boulders rising 7 m-15 m from the ocean floor and is surrounded by a coral reef.
  • Palau Tiga offers coral reef dives.

Dive operators

  • Asia Dive Holidays (Asia Dive Holidays), ☎ +60 88 257 669, fax: +60 88 264 639. PADI Dive Courses and Diving holidays in Kota Kinabalu's Tunku Abdul Rahman Park, Lankayan Island, Pulau Sipadan, Pulau Mabul, Kapalai & Mataking. Full PADI dive training from open water course to divemaster. Trips to the Semporna area and other dive sites available. Multi-Lingual dive staff: English, Malay, Chinese, French, German, Spanish, etc. Diving permits to Sipadan.
  • Scuba Junkie KK, G23a, Ground Floor, Wisma Sabah, ☎ +60 88 255816, +60 145618947, fax: +60 88 255816, e-mail: scubajunkiekk@gmail.com. 8AM-6PM daily. 5 Star Gold Palm IDC PADI Licensed Dive Operator. Arranges daily dive and snorkel trips to over 15 islands in the Kota Kinabalu (KK) area including the world famous KK Marine Park (Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park) which features 5 amazing islands including Gaya Island and Sapi Island. Whale Shark Dives in the blue and wreck diving also available. PADI dive courses from Discover Scuba Diver up to Instructor.
  • Borneo Dream, F-G-1 Plaza Tanjung Aru, Jl. Mat Salleh, ☎ +60 17 811 8149, fax: +60 88 244 931, e-mail: info@borneodream.com. A boat transfer service is available to Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park for snorkeling or diving trips. Over 20 sites for diving and protected areas for snorkeling. Suitable for day trips. Goes to four of the main wreck dive sites on a regular basis. PADI Dive Boat, 10mx4m catamaran and a 9mx3m RIB, SDI resort dive center, BSAC diver training center, TDI resort dive center, and IANTD facility. Also, offer SCR courses and training certified via the PADI with both a semi-closed rebreather diver specialty course and closed circuit rebreather (CCR) training courses.
  • Downbelow Marine & Wildlife Adventures, Lot B-3-12, Kota Kinabalu Times Square, Jl. Coastal, ☎ +60 12 866 1935, fax: +60 88 485 300, e-mail: dive@divedownbelow.com. PADI 5 Star IDC Dive Centre is based on Gaya Island in the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park. The dive center offers learn to dive courses, advanced courses from PADI Advanced Open Water Diver up to PADI Master Instructor & PADI Course Director, snorkeling, sea kayaking, and jungle trekking. 1 on multi-day diving in the TAR Park and diving Pulau Tiga. Island facilities cater to individuals, groups and corporate events. High staff-to-diver ratios with professional, highly trained & experienced staff and quality, regularly serviced gear and equipment.
  • Sabah Divers, G27, Ground Floor, Wisma Sabah, ☎ +60 88 256483, +6 12 8339901, fax: +60 88 255482, e-mail: sabahdivers2u@yahoo.com. 8:30 AM-5:30 PM daily. Provide SDI courses in English, Mandarin, and Cantonese. Diving tours to popular dive destinations all over Borneo, such as Sipadan and Layang Layang. Tunku Abdul Rahman fun dive packages available departing Jesselton Point Jetty including equipment, boat transfers, and 2-3 dives. No shower facility. Guests will be left alone to walk back to the office after TAR fun diving. Beware - they ask credit card numbers including CVC for advanced booking. Notorious for arrogant office staff.
  • Sensi Borneo Diving Resort & Tours (Diving Live-Aboard ‘Orient Explorer’), ☎ +60 88 788 111, +60 17 402063, e-mail: info@sensiborneo.com. Provide scuba diving trips and PADI courses. Also operate the 796 ton, 56.6m motor yacht Orient Explorer as a live aboard and floating hotel offshore from Kota Kinabalu. Originally launched in 1943 it has a dive deck, passenger cabins including family cabins, luxury and economy cabins, a restaurant, bar, lounge, and a sick bay. The dive services offer a full range of PADI scuba diving courses from open water, divemaster, technical diving and rebreather courses. Trips to the Usukan Bay wreck dives and many other dive sites are available.

Deep sea fishing

Kota Kinabalu is also one of the best and cheapest places in Malaysia for exciting deep sea fishing trips. Boats depart from the makeshift jetty next to the Kota Kinabalu Central Market, the boats are to be found behind the small night market/parking lot.
Trips of all kinds can be arranged with the charter operators. Most boats take around 10 persons per trip. Locals usually head to the Mengalum and Mantanani islands or near some oil rigs that are all a few hours away from Kota Kinabalu. Beginners can also opt for shorter trips to fish in a shipwreck off Gaya Island. For the very adventurous and advanced anglers, there are also several fishing competition held annually. The most popular one is the Labuan IGFA Competition which is usually held around the Layang Layang island (Swallow Reef) area.
The boats are mostly pretty rudimentary medium-sized wooden fishing vessels, don't expect any luxury or too much comfort for those prices. Basic toilets are available on board, but you won't be able to shower for the duration of the trip. Basic meals are also usually available and included in the hire price. Rental of fishing equipment can also be arranged by most of the boat charter providers. Do ensure that life vests are provided for all occupants well before setting out.
If you want to check out the boats before you head out, just drop by the open air parking lot near the Central Market and Hyatt Hotel, most of the fishing boats for hire are parked there. You can also see some of the catch for yourself when the boats return from their trips at around 2 PM. You will probably see more boats coming and going on Sunday or Monday.

  • Borneo Crystal Sdn. Bhd. (Borneo Crystal), ☎ +60 17 860 32 05, e-mail: borneocrystal@yahoo.com. Offering private charters, diving trips, island/sunset cruises as well as deep-sea fishing tours on a 60ft American Sport Fishing Yacht.

The boat is berthed in one of the most beautiful marinas in South-East Asia - Sutera Harbour Marina.

  • 7 star fishing. A more expensive option but the website has some nice pictures and videos to give you a glimpse of what you can expect from a fishing trip in Kota Kinabalu
  • Mr. K.K. Law, ☎ +60 16 826 4588, e-mail: elhh82@gmail.com. A budget-friendly option popular with the locals. The boat owner himself will be happy to come on the trip himself or help you arrange for more people to fill up the boat if your group doesn't have enough people. 

White water rafting

The nearest place for rafting would be in Kiulu River, Tamparuli, about 1 hour away (by coach and 2 open-door trains) from KK. The white water is classified Grade 1-2 which is suitable for beginners. A more adventurous rafting experience is Padas River near Tenom which is about 2-3 hours away from Kota Kinabalu. Padas is classified as Grade 3-4. There are many tour companies offering day packages for rafting in Kiulu and Padas and would normally include return transfer and meals.

Wetland river cruise

Klias River is located within the Klias Wetland Mangrove Forest Reserve which is located near Kuala Penyu district about 1.5 hours away from town. The cruise offers visitors a chance to see various wildlife including the proboscis monkey and fireflies. There are also other river safaris nearby Klias in Garama and Weston which are also interesting in their own right albeit slightly further away from KK.

Sailing and yachting

The main starting point for sailing or boating is in Sutera Harbour Marina which has 104 berths. Yacht charter is offered by North Borneo Yachting. Tel: +60 88-318888 9 Kinabalu Yacht Club in Tanjung Aru offer various boating activities. Tel: +60 88 240070 10.

Parks, walks and traditional village visits

  • Lok Kawi Wildlife Park. Located near the small town of Lok Kawi a short distance south of Kota Kinabalu. It features Orang-Utans, Proboscis Monkeys, Gibbons, a Sumatran Rhinoceros, some tigers, local deer, various birds in a large aviary, elephants, and other animals. A reptile section will be opened soon. A good alternative to visiting the nature reserves around Sabah for those on a tight schedule, as well as giving you the chance to see the animals much more up close than you would in the jungle. It is a little difficult to get to as there is no public transportation that goes right to the park, and it is about 10 min drive outside of Lok Kawi (and about half an hour outside of Kota Kinabalu). It is advisable to get the phone number of the taxi driver or arrange pickup from the park at a set time to go back to Lok Kawi as there are no taxis or buses at the park. 
  • Monsopiad Cultural Village. Located about half an hour south-east of town, this small park shows the traditional way of life of the Kadazan ethnic group and tells the story of Monsopiad, a Kadazan warrior who lived some 300 years ago and who killed 42 men who attacked his village. The 42 skulls can be viewed in the Hall of Skulls. To get there you can hire a taxi from Kota Kinabalu and arrange to be picked up some hours later.
  • Eco and Natural Tour. Explore the rich and diversified treasure of nature on the island.
  • Mari Mari Cultural Village. Located near the jungles in Kianson, Inanam about 25 minutes northwest of the city center, showcases the culture and lifestyle of various indigenous groups of Sabah. The tour offers visitors the opportunity to see and experience the culture and lifestyle of how the indigenous ethnic groups of Borneo used to live in the olden days when electricity had not yet been introduced in their land. The village features five different ethnic tribes: the Kadazan-Dusun rice farmers, the longhouse resident Rungus tribe, the Bajau hunters and fisherman, the cowboy and sea gypsey Bajau tribe, and the famously feared headhunting Murut tribe.
  • Stilt villages, are houses found along the coast of ethnic Bajau, Suluk, Iranun, Malays, and Ubian people. Some villages are made up of people who have been here since 15th -18th century from Sulu Archipelago (now the southern Philippines) who are considered natives under Sabah law. However massive influx if new migrants from this same region beginning 1970s have occupied these same villages mostly due to similar heritage and ethnicity as these local inhabitants. Some new migrants are illegal with no proper documentation. Illegal migrants would normally occupy deeper parts of these stilt villages in slums. These slums are significantly dirtier and dangerous since the people and their homes are illegal. Stilt villages can be found in Kampung Tanjung Aru, Kampung Sembulan, Kampung Kasuapan (Pulau Gaya) and Kampung Pondo (Pulau Gaya). Since there is no real boundary between a traditional stilt village and the slum, visiting these places is generally considered dangerous and very dirty and not recommended even for locals unless accompanied by tour guides. There may be stilt villages further out of the city such as in Mengkabong which are safer and cleaner. If you are interested in slums, perhaps some speedboat drivers in Jesselton Point Jetty who live in Pulau Gaya would be pleased to show you around their stilt village/slum for a little extra fee.

What to eat and drink in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia


Kota Kinabalu is a cultural melting pot. Here Chinese meet Malays and Bruneis, Javanese, Filipinos and even a couple of Europeans, all of whom have brought along their own cuisine. Try out the many specialties offered at the various kedai kopi (often in buffet form making it easy to order) and shun fast food chains.
For meals, head to the outdoor food stalls fronting the sea or coffee shops along the streets. The less adventurous could make a beeline for fast food outlets in the Centrepoint shopping center while those with deeper pockets could try the pier-side restaurants just after the open air fish market. The promenade restaurants between the Filipino Craft Market and the fish market are poor value and only frequented by tourists. Try SEDCO Square in the evening for top value.


The main entertainment areas in Kota Kinabalu can be found in KK Waterfront (opposite Warisan Square) and Times Square. Other areas include Beach Street, Jalan Datuk Salleh Sulong and Tanjung Aru (First Beach). There also smaller bars concentrated in the areas of Inanam, Lintas, Donggongon and Penampang Baru. Types of drinking places popular in Kota Kinabalu are coffee shops (kedai kopi), cafes, normal bars, karaoke joints, and nightclubs. Most nightclubs and some bars would have live bands performing almost every day except Mondays. Some karaoke joints have private rooms for big groups who prefer some privacy. Some nightclubs and karaoke bars have hostesses especially for male customers in exchange for buying them 'ladies drink'. Intuition would be needed if you need to look for or avoid these establishments as they are not explicit.

Shopping in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

  • Kota Kinabalu Handicraft Market (Next to the waterfront). Formerly known as "Pasar Filipino". Synonymous with pearls, local handicrafts, home decorations and lately crystals. Don't forget to bargain for good prices. The attendants here are very friendly and will always greet you with a warm smile. You can also find souvenirs such as keychains, t-shirts with Sabah themes, carved wooden statues, batiks and sarongs, rattan handicraft and floor mats, Islamic calligraphy and broaches. Some of the items are imported from Australia and others from neighboring Asian countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and Korea, and there is little actual Sabah handicraft available, but it is a very colorful place that will stay in your memory as a 'souvenir' from Sabah.
  • Gaya Street Tamu, Kota Kinabalu's Sunday market with everything from Malaysian delicacies, ground coffee, t-shirts, handicrafts, hardware to anything in between at bargain prices. Held every Sunday morning, 6 AM-1 PM, along Jl. Gaya right in the heart of town.
  • 1Borneo Hypermall, the largest mall in Sabah and possible the whole of Borneo. Located about 20 minutes drive from the city center. There is a free shuttle bus from the city center from Warisan Square.
  • Suria Sabah, the newest and most modern mall in Sabah located between Wisma Merdeka and Jesselton Point. The food court, located on the 4th floor, offers a nice view of the sea and Pulau Gaya. The shop consists of mainly branded goods compared to other malls in KK.
  • Wisma Merdeka, one of the oldest and smallest malls but still very popular.
  • Kompleks Karamunsing, an older but large mall specializes in computers and electronics.
  • Centre Point Sabah, a large mall adjacent to Asia City, Api-Api, Warisan Square and Sinsuran.

Safety in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

Kota Kinabalu is a very safe city by Malaysian standards. The crime rate is lower than in the likes of Kuala Lumpur or Johor Bahru, or any city of similar size in Peninsular Malaysia. Violent crime is especially rare, and it's generally safe to roam the streets at night, though of course, it's still best to remain alert as you would in any other city.

Language spoken in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

Like most other Malaysian cities, Kota Kinabalu is a melting pot of various cultures. Almost all locals are able to understand and speak at least basic English. There is an emerging community of educated locals who are able to converse in fluent English and, in fact, speak English as their first language. As almost 50% of Kota Kinabalu's residents are of Chinese descent, visitors who speak Chinese will not encounter any language problems. The main dialect spoken by Kota Kinabalu's Chinese community is Hakka, but Mandarin and Cantonese are also widely understood and spoken. Unlike many other Malaysian cities with substantial Chinese communities such as Kuala Lumpur and Penang, the Hokkien dialect is not in common use among Kota Kinabalu's Chinese residents. In addition to English and Chinese dialects, Bahasa Malaysia (Malay) is also widely spoken, albeit with a distinct Sabahan flavor. Some residents also speak the languages of native Sabahan races such as Kadazandusun and Bajau, but these are not commonly used in daily conversation. Additionally, a small number of the younger generation speak limited Korean and Japanese.


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