Kota Kinabalu or KK as its commonly referred too is a great combination deal! It gives you the opportunity to enjoy the laid-back life of a seaside town, soak in the beauty of gorgeous island beaches and a chance to scale the towering Mt Kinabalu. The capital of Sabah, one of the two states of Malaysian Borneo, KK is one of the main points of entry for those looking to explore the interiors of Sabah. I spent a packed 3 days in KK earlier this year and here’s my pick of the top 10 things to do in this city and around.
1. Watch the sunset from the waterfront – KK will spoil you for choice with many options where you can sit and watch the drama of a picture perfect sunset unfold. The Tanjung Aru beach roughly 6 kms from the city centre is popular both with tourists and locals. The beach derives its name from the Aru or Casuarina trees that are found there in abundance. The 2 km stretch has many bars, restaurants and other entertainment options available.
KK also boasts of a paved promenade by the seaside called Anjung Samudra. Open gymnasiums, play areas, parks and a cycling track find many takers especially in the evenings.
2. Savour the sights of Filipino Market and buy souvenirs at the Handicrafts Market – Local markets find great favor with me, simply because they give one a fantastic insight into local life. I wandered through the Filipino wet and dry market a couple of times as it was right across my hotel. Read about it here. The handicrafts market located right next door is the best place in KK to find souvenirs to take back home.
3. Spend a day on one of the pristine islands of Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park – KK might be one of the few cities in the world that can boast of giving you the chance to get to a tropical beach paradise in less than 20 minutes. Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park comprises of the 5 islands of Gaya, Sapi, Manukan, Mamutik, and Sulug. I visited Sapi island as a day trip and zip lined from Sapi to Gaya. Read about my experience here.
4. Climb Mt Kinabalu – At 4095 meters Mt Kinabalu attracts several thousand climbers every year. The granite peaks, often swaddled in clouds are believed to be the resting ground of the spirits of the ancestors of the Kadasan Dusun – Sabah’s largest ethnic group. Three days is the ideal time that is required to scale the mountain. An astounding 5000 to 6000 plant species are found here, making Mt Kinabalu and its surrounding areas one of the most important biological sites of the world. To plan your click here.
5. Explore Kinabalu’s rich flora and fauna at the Kinabalu National Park – One of Malaysia’s first national parks and Malaysia’s first World Heritage Sites as declared by UNESCO, Kinabalu National Park offers visitors a chance to explore the region’s biodiversity firsthand. There are many trails around the park headquarters and a fantastic interpretation center that’s worth a visit.
6. Feast on local tropical fruits – By virtue of being a tropical country, Malaysia is a haven for fruit lovers. From the most loved (or hated) Durian, luscious mangosteen, pomelo, rambutan, pineapples and many other fruits are found in abundance here. Most of these are available in the Filipino market, but the real fruit markets are found outside the city at Pekan Nabalu (Pekan meaning town) and at Kundasang. Nabalu is a pit stop that almost everyone makes on their way to Mt Kinabalu. It offers fantastic views of the mountain and is a perfect place to stretch out before heading further to Mt Kinabalu National Park. There is a small market that sells handicrafts and food items particularly fresh fruit from the farms nearby. Try the pineapples here, they are juicy and delicious.
Even if you aren’t fond of fruits make a pit stop of Kundasang a small town that comes en route from Mt Kinabalu National Park to Poring hot springs. The rows of fruit and vegetable vendors will blow your mind away. I have never seen such a variety of fruits together ever. The colors and textures had me clicking away for what felt like eternity.
7. Walk among the tree tops at the Poring canopy walk – A series of walkways suspended from trees, give you the chance to view the jungle from 40m above the jungle floor. The walkways are suspension bridges with wooden planks at the rung and extra netting on the sides. Once I steadied myself on the walkway I loved the experience of being surrounded by the jungle. Looking up at the trees that seemed to reach out to the sky was a humbling experience. The girth of the trees is simply astounding and I had this overriding desire to just put my arms around one and to revel in the thought that they would never meet.
8. Spot the elusive Rafflesia – The world’s biggest flower is a treat to behold, especially because spotting one is akin to spotting a leopard in the wild. This was my second visit to Malaysian Borneo and I had no expectations of seeing the Rafflesia. While walking around Poring canopy walk I noticed a sign that said that a Rafflesia was in bloom. Though the flower we saw was carefully enclosed and guarded, it took away none of its charm. A parasitic plant, the Rafflesia is found only in South East Asia. Its hard to predict when a bud will bloom and when it does, it lasts only for a few days. As the flower begins to decay it emits a strong foul ordour to draw insects. Named after Sir Stamford Raffles the flower today is at the verge of extinction.
9. Soak in natural hot springs – After a hectic day at Nabalu, exploring the jungles and walking among trees at the poring canopy walkway, let all the tiredness wash away as you take a dip in the hot springs situated in the Kinabalu National Park. Rich in sulphur and other minerals, the steaming water that arises naturally from the Earth’s surface has been channelled into pools where visitors can soak themselves.
10. Observe the orangutans – While Sepilok and Semenggoh are the best places in Borneo to see the endangered orangutans, in KK you can see these amazing creatures in the Rasa Ria Nature Reserve. Established by Shangri-La’s Rasa Ria resort in collaboration with Sabah’s State Wildlife Department, the centre is a place where you can learn about the orangutans, their natural habitat and conservation and rehabilitation efforts that are carried out there. For more information on timings and costs click here.