20 Places to Visit in Kora Kinabalu, Malaysia 2023
Natour, cultour, and adventour are just a few of the sustainable tours offered by KK, as it is affectionately known. conquer both the land and marine national parks. While exploring the cultural villages and museums, immerse yourself in Sabahan culture. Get carried away (figuratively) by the rivers’ raging torrents. Explore the vibrant undersea environment.
Even if Kota Kinabalu isn’t on your list of places to visit, allow it to leave you speechless. Here is a list of activities to do and places to visit in and around Kota Kinabalu in case you’re wondering what awaits you in this region of Borneo.
The largest peak in Borneo and one of the tallest in Southeast Asia, Mt. Kinabalu protrudes ominously from the forest at a height of 4,095 meters (or 13,435 feet). The most well-known tourism destination in Sabah, with its lush surroundings and rugged mountain terrain, draws both domestic and foreign hikers. It’s one of the main reasons I go back, along with many others who missed the opportunity to climb it the first time.
It sustains hundreds of species of flora and animals dispersed over many zones, all nestled within the dense expanse of Kinabalu Park, a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site in Ranau District. The highest peak, Low’s Peak, and the rough, rocky region that leads up to it are geological wonders.
The expansive Kinabalu Park, which has a total land area of 75,370 hectares, is a hotspot for terrestrial biodiversity, providing habitat to over 100 species of mammals, 350 species of birds, about 100 species of reptiles, 80 species of amphibians, more than 1,000 species of insects (others are yet to be specified), and more.
The majestic Mount Kinabalu, a popular trekking and tourism attraction in Southeast Asia, is the aspect that stands out the most. Kinabalu Park is the first national park in Sabah and was formally established as one in January 1964. It covers the Kota Marudu, Kota Belud, and Ranau districts. The natural ecosystem and features, the water catchment region, and its cultural and historical heritage were all intended to be protected, preserved, and conserved when the national park was created.
Aside from Mount Kinabalu, other features are the following:
- Mount Tambayukon
- Poring Butterfly Farm
- Mount Kinabalu Botanical Garden
- Poring Orchid Conservation Center
- Natural Hot Sulfur Spring Water
- Rafflesia Conservation Center
- Poring Bamboo Garden
- Bird watching activity
- Poring Ethnobotanical Garden
- Canopy Walkway
Nature Trail Options:
- Kiau View Trail
- Liwagu River Trail
- Bundu Tuhan View Trail
- Silau Silau Trail
- Mempening Trail
- Bukit Burung Trail
- Pandamus Trail
- Bukit Ular Trail
Tanjung Aru Beach
Tanjung Aru is a 2 km beach that is located outside of the city center and stretches from the Kota Kinabalu Meteorological Office on the southern end to the Shangri-La Resort & Spa on the northern end. The beach evolved into a well-liked beach hangout spot as a result of its proximity to the city center. With its back to the South China Sea, it offers spectacular sunsets that, depending on the weather, paint the sky with splashes of different hues and intensities.
Beach wandering, people watching, food sampling, kite flying, having a picnic, and watching the sunset are just a few of the popular pastimes.
Mari Mari Cultural Village
This enormous open-air museum, which opened in December 2008, displays the history and culture of Sabahans. It includes various traditional homes from each of Sabah’s five main ethnic groups: the agricultural Dusun and Rungus, the hunters and fishermen of the Lundayeh, the herders and sea gypsies of the Bajau, and the warrior tribe of the Murut.
The Main Dinner Hall, Souvenir Shop, Dining Hut “Leka-Leki,” and Performance Hall, where an amazing indigenous dance performance is presented, are additional notable locations in the cultural village.
Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park
The Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, which covers 4,929 hectares, is home to five islands, as well as the waters and reefs that surround them in Gaya Bay. After Kinabalu Park, it was designated a protected area in 1974, becoming Sabah’s second national park. Only Gaya Island and Sapi Island were initially a part of the marine park. Sulug Island, Manukan Island, and Mamutik Island were later added in 1979.
White sand beaches, unspoiled islands, snorkeling and diving locations, and more can be found in the park. Swimming, island hopping, beach lounging, water sports, boating, diving, snorkeling, and the Coral Flyer zipline—which connects Gaya Island and Sapi Island—are all popular activities. Additionally, there are lodging options on the islands, especially on Gaya Island and Manukan Island.
JSK Borneo Reef – Pontoon
The JSK Borneo Reef, commonly referred to as the “pontoon,” is billed as the largest reef activity pontoon in South East Asia. It is 12 meters high, 24.5 meters wide, and 37.5 meters long. Up to 300 people can fit into this two-level recreation area, where they can participate in a variety of sports like swimming, kayaking, snorkeling, and sea walking (also known as helmet diving), which involves walking on the ocean floor while donning an underwater helmet.
Manukan Island, which has a crescent form, is a 1.5 km long island paradise with beautiful white sand beaches, willowy Casuarina Pine trees (Agoho trees), and turquoise waters ideal for swimming, snorkeling, and scuba diving. With 20 cabin units, a few restaurants, stores, a diving center, a museum, a clubhouse, a swimming pool, and sports fields for football, volleyball, and sepak takraw, it is the second largest and most developed protected area.
Gaya Island, is the largest of the five islands, with a total land area of over 1,500 hectares. The term “big” in the Bajau word gayo is where the name originated. Additionally, via Jesselton Point Ferry Terminal, it is the closest to downtown Kota Kinabalu. Gaya Island is one of the top snorkeling and diving locations in Sabah because of the island’s abundance of vibrant coral reefs.
With hills across the entire island and a 20-kilometer hiking track that includes a plank walk through a mangrove forest, its beautiful hilly topography rises to a height of 300 meters.
The smallest of the five islands, the triangular Mamutik Island is only a kilometer south of Manukan. While the majority of the island is surrounded by sandy beaches, its western side is distinguished by a rocky shore. For those who prefer a more remote but equally calm location, it offers an alternative beach experience that is less crowded than the others.
Be ready to encounter some of these marine beauties while swimming or snorkeling in this area, including stingrays, surgeon fish, rainbow fish, anemones, and clown fish.
The smaller Gaya Island is like the remora fish swimming beneath the larger Sapi Island. This heavily forested island, which is almost 10 hectares in size and is located approximately two meters southwest of Gaya Island, is undoubtedly dwarfed but not overshadowed by its larger sibling. When the tide is low, the sisters join their arms together to form a sandbar.
The dense vegetation offers guests cover. Around the main beach area are numerous picnic shelters and tables. Swimming, snorkeling, and diving are all common pastimes. The southeasterlymost point of the island is the greatest location for diving. Stingrays, cuttlefish, zebrafish, clownfish, and moray eels are just a few of the aquatic creatures that can be seen around the coral garden.
Kadamaian White Water Rafting
The entire rafting section is around 10 kilometers long and has rapids classified as Grades 1-2, making it ideal for beginners. Visitors can go whitewater rafting at Davao and Cagayan de Oro, both of which have rapids that are rated at Grade 4, the highest level for fun whitewater rafting.
The richest oceans on earth encircle KK, supplying the city’s well-known eateries and cuisine meccas like the Waterfront Seafood Night Market along Jalan Tun Fuad Stephens and the Api-Api Night cuisine Market at Gaya Street with delectable richness. They are deliciously grilled, deep-fried, steamed, or as a garnish for your preferred noodle meal.
Kota Kinabalu welcomes visitors from many cultures and acts as a major entry point to the North Borneo region. Due to the fusion of native flavors with those from China and other Southeast Asian countries, Sabahan food became diversified.
An everyday dish that is more of a comfort food, bak kut teh is typically served for dinner. The scorching hot light broth was, however, traditionally drank by farmers early in the morning before they went to the fields. The pork is cooked or added (when meat is already partially cooked), literally translating to “pork rib tea,” in a murky herbal broth. In addition to pork, some restaurants also serve beef, fish, and chicken. Dimsum balls and innards are optional additions.
You get char kway (fried dough) with your Malaysian bak kut teh. The meat is typically eaten by locals by dipping it in soy sauce mixed with chile and minced garlic. Many eateries serve bak kut teh in Chinatown (or Gaya Street area), including Sin Kee, which we had the pleasure of trying when we were there.
Additionally, the city is home to several restaurants serving Filipino cuisine, such as Tambayan at Kainang Pilipino at Api-Api Center. This restaurant, which is open around the clock and is owned and operated by a Pinay immigrant, features a variety of sizzling plates of sisig and frosty desserts like halo-halo on its menu.
This thriving strip of businesses, both new and old, was first established in 1902. Initially known as “Bond Street” during the British colonial era, the street developed from a freight trading railway track — transporting rubber between Tenom and the wharf in Jesselton Harbour, which was then the main gateway to North Borneo before the availability of commercial flights — into a bustling commercial street where many shops and dining establishments flourished.
The region is also known as the Chinatown of Sabah since it extends from Lintasan Deasoka and is home to historic family businesses that have been passed down from one generation to the next. The majority of these companies are coffee shops and restaurants run by Chinese families. A Chinese arch near the KK City Hall signifies the end of the roadway.
The entertainment and dining options at Plaza 333 range from locally-owned eateries to national fast-food chains to bars and restaurants. Despite being situated outside of Kota Kinabalu, more than six kilometers south of the city center, it continues to draw customers of all ages to its many restaurants. It is also one of the residents’ preferred nightlife hangouts.
The destination for mementos is here! It is also referred to as the Filipino Market and is made up of businesses run primarily by locals from the Philippines.
This waterfront market is a favorite place for locals and visitors looking for specific things and even intriguing pieces that they “suddenly need” because of the stalls that surround a portion of Tun Fuad Stephens Street. Smile wink. It is impossible to walk away empty-handed with a seemingly unlimited variety of possibilities.
Local handcraft, musical instruments, clothing, fabrics, traditional clothing, jewelry, accessories, key chains, and other items are among the goods sold here. If you become hungry, there are seafood stands and food trucks everywhere.
Kota Kinabalu City Mosque (The Floating Mosque)
Masjid Bandaraya Kota Kinabalu (also known as Kota Kinabalu City Mosque) occupies an area of roughly six hectares on Pasir Street near the shores of Likas Bay and ensconces in a diamond-shaped artificial lagoon. The mosque connects to the lagoon’s southeast side, which is also where the entry lies.
The mosque inaugurated in February 2000 after Kota Kinabalu received city status. It also draws tourists in addition to worshippers with its four minarets and blue and gold dome. The Nabawi Mosque in Medina, the second holiest mosque in Islam, served as the model for contemporary Arabic architecture. Kota Kinabalu is also a well-liked subject for photographs.
The Sabah State Museum began in a small shophouse on Gaya Street in 1965. Today, it occupies a 17-hectare plot of land at Bukit Istana Lama (former residence of the British North Borneo Governor).
The museum’s prized possessions grew from George Cathcart Woolley’s collection into a vast assortment of artifacts, installations, and exhibits. They house numerous galleries organized by category, including history, arts, ceramics, brassware, and Islamic civilization.
The complex also includes a zoo, a botanic garden, and a history village of Sabah’s indigenous people. The Sabah State Mosque is next to the museum.
Signal Hill Observatory
Signal Hill is among the greatest locations to enjoy sweeping views of the city. Both Padang Merdeka and Gaya Street serve as trailhead access sites. Gaya Street serves individuals who choose to travel there on foot. Padang Merdeka primarily also serves tourists who like to travel there by car. The Sabah Tourism Board office is on the side where the trailhead from Gaya Street sits. Between the Old Town Coffee Shop and the Jesselton Hotel, it is at the end of the street.
Monsopiad Heritage Village
The history Hamlet situates where the illustrious warrior lived nearly 300 years ago. It is available to the public and features cultural events. This includes the Sumazau dance, Kadazan cuisines, the traditional bamboo fire lighting, and the rich old culture of the Kadazandusun.
The House of Skulls (Siou Do Mohoing) displays 42 skulls as trophies and evidence of Monsopiad’s prowess and might. The enormous monolith, the suspension bridge, the traditional café, Tangkob, and Monsopiad’s Main House are other attractions. Here, objects like padi grinders, pottery jars, bamboo tools, and costumes display in addition to the Main House.
Mantanani Island Snorkeling & Cruise
This trio of islands off the shore of Sabah’s northwest coast is easily accessible from Kota Kinabalu. Visitors enjoy different beach spot opportunities to soak up the sun and go swimming in a secluded tropical paradise. Diversification, snorkeling, and birdwatching are popular pastimes in addition to swimming and lazing on the beach.
A few scuba diving resorts are located at Mantanani Besar, the largest and most populated of the three. On the island, there are also numerous nature trails. The other two islands are Lungisan and Mantanani Kecil. Coral reefs, dugongs, and other marine life situates near the islands.
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