What to do in Kota Kinabalu, Borneo

Kota Kinabalu (known locally as KK), lies on the North West of Malaysian Borneo (in the state of Sabah). It has a major international airport, and serves destinations such as Singapore, Manila and Hong Kong, and is the second busiest airport in Malaysia, after Kuala Lumpur.


It is often the first Port of call for those travelling to and around Malaysian Borneo, and I made it mine, as I travelled there a few weeks ago.


Like many places I’ve been in Malaysia so far, it appears that KK is undergoing a state of constant development, to fit in with the increase in tourism. What struck me most was the development of a huge shopping and apartment complex being built right next to a traditional Malay water village.


I did very little research for my trip there. All I knew was that there was an awesome Mountain; Mount Kinabalu (the highest peak in SE Asia), that could be climbed. However, after I discovered that it was going to cost at least 1000RM ($335) plus I’d need to buy long pants, a head torch and some warm layers, I was put off the idea. That said, I’d love to return and climb it, when I’m more prepared for a tramping holiday. I still spent a few days in the city at the beginning of my trip, and at the end. So here is what you can do in KK, apart from climbing  Mount Kinabalu.

1. Museums and Mosques



Museums are often free and a great way of discovering the history of a city, in a nice air conditioned building. I visited the Sabah museum, which, upon arriving looked very overgrown and shut down. This museum was not free, it cost 15RM (approx. $5) and you were not allowed to take photos. It was a good activity to do, as it happened to be raining at the time. The art gallery was supposed to be in the same site, but it was moved out of town a few weeks previous.

The Floating Mosque (KK City Mosque), is also a great one to visit. Its a little out of KK itself, but you can jump on a public bus costing 2 Ringgit. Its beautiful blue and white colours reflect in the water surrounding it. Quite beautiful. You can also go inside, but I couldn’t at the time of my visit due to Ramadan.


2. Signal Hill Walk

Signal hill, sits perched overlooking KK town. It is accessed in the middle of the town, near to the clock tower, and takes a good 15-20 minutes to walk, but you get a nice view over the city from the top.

3. Outdoor adventures There are many outdoors activities you can do in KK from cycling tours to rafting, to an eco zip line. I didn’t do any tours whilst in KK, but their helpful Tourist Information centre (or your accommodation) are always happy to book you into things.

4. Food markets at the waterfront

(oddly I don’t have any photos of the food markets)

Along by the waterfront in KK, which is fairly pretty, lies a whole row of food markets, with a variety of foods to try. Often teenagers will be seen hanging out on skateboards at night, but otherwise it is quite pleasant for a walk and some cheap eats.

5. Island Hop If you are unable to make it to the islands so famous for diving on the East Coast, do not fear .. KK has three local (small) islands which are perfect for a day trip. I went to Sapi Island, on my last day for a but of sun, and time spent relaxing. The ferry costs 30 Ringgit return (about $10), you can also hire snorkel gear.

(tip – bring your own water/snacks, as the prices are double what they are in KK)


Getting around KK

Kota Kinabalu is a very accessible city. From the airport catch the airport bus to the city, which takes about 20 minutes, will drop you close to your accommodation, and it only costs 5RM. Do not get a taxi (like I did on my first night). Public mini buses are also a good way to get around, if you don’t mind being cramped in with the local. They usually cost between 1-5RM, depending on how far you’re going.

There is also a long distance bus station if you want to get out of KK. I travelled from KK to Sandakan, on the west coast, not long after I arrived, and it was easy and cheap to do so.

KK, wasn’t my favourite spot in Borneo, but I had enough to do and stayed in a great hostel (Masada Backpackers). Worth a visit, even if you’re just in transit through.

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