Kota Kinabalu, in Malaysia, is mostly perceived as just a transit stopover for those wishing to head to the beautiful coral reefs of eastern Sabah or the wild jungles in the northeast. However, Kota Kinabalu (or KK as referred to by the locals), offers a whole gamut of sights and experiences – from breathtaking mountain sojourns and sighting orangutans to pearl shopping and eating delicious durians. Here is a rundown on the top ten things to do in Kota Kinabalu.
1. Visit the majestic Mount Kinabalu:
While you might not favour climbing the 4,095m summit of Malaysia’s highest mountain (usually done over three days to facilitate acclimatizing), do take the time to make a trip to the Botanical Garden’s nature trail at the mountain’s base, along with a dip at Poring Hot Springs.
2. Lounge on an island beach:
Some of the best beaches are found on the islands of the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park. Only 10-15 minutes away by speedboat, the beaches are great for sunbathing and snorkeling. And don’t forget to photograph the enormous resident monitor lizards.
3. Take a walk through the old town:
Formerly a British era trading post, Kota Kinabalu was completely destroyed in the Allied bombing during World War II with just three buildings that escaped damage. Today, the old buildings thrive as a street art centre with fantastic graffiti made mostly by the Cracko Art Group of North Borneo.
4. Capture a breathtaking sunset:
A trip to a tropical paradise is never complete without the perfect sunset picture. The Tanjung Aru Beach and the Signal Hill Observatory Platform are two places from where you can capture a spectacular sunset.
5. Relax on the Klias River Cruise:
Located at a distance of about 2.5 hours by car, cruises offered on the Klias River are worth the time and money. The four-hour cruise will give you a glimpse of several animals in their natural habitat, including the silver leaf monkey, the long-tailed macaque, the proboscis monkey and several varieties of birds. After dusk, you will also get to see hundreds of fireflies- a truly wonderful sight to behold.
6. Feast on seafood and tropical fruit:
Seafood is aplenty in Kota Kinabalu. Take your pick from dining at posh restaurants to fresh catch prepared right before your eyes on the local beaches and in the Night Market. The only thing that rivals the seafood is the abundance of tropical fruit with the debatably delicious Durian being sold everywhere.
7. Shop for pearls and traditional handicrafts:
Kota Kinabalu is the right place to pick up traditional handicraft items. Favourites include batiks, woodcarvings and colourful sarongs. Well known for their quality, texture and colour (available in peach, black and natural), Sabah pearls are sold in strings or already mounted on jewelry. Do bargain and beware of imitations.
8. Spend some time with the orangutans:
Although the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in northeast Sabah is the best place to observe the endangered species, you can also get to see the these gentle creatures in their natural habitat just outside Kota Kinabalu at the Rasa Ria Nature Reserve. Something of a halfway house, the nature reserve houses orphaned orangutans until they are ready to integrate with their brethren at Sepilok.
9. Ride on the heritage railway:
The North Borneo Railway, originally built to transport tobacco from Sabah’s interior to the coast for export, now operates a four-hour round trip. The tour includes breakfast, lunch, and stops at Kinarut (which is famous for its Chinese temple), and Papar, via lush paddy fields and traditional stilt villages.
10. Get a taste of tribal life:
Around 30 minutes drive from the city, the Mari Mari Cultural Village offers tourists an insight into the traditional tribal life via a tour of the conventional dwellings of the Bajau, Lundayeh, Murut, Rungus and Dusun tribes. Alternatively, you can also learn about the indigenous people at the Sabah State Museum, which exhibits traditional costumes, pottery, handicrafts and replicas of tribal longhouses.