The City of Kota Kinabalu is the capital of Sabah. Located on the west coast of “the Land below the Wind”, under the watchful eye of majestic Mount Kinabalu, and on the fringes of the South China Sea, Kota Kinabalu is the bustling and colourful gateway to Sabah. Here you find an international airport, world class hotels, innumerable restaurants and cafes, shopping malls and business districts. We call this fast developing and modern city with some 350,000 inhabitants simply and affectionately KK!
There are a few heritage buildings and areas retained since the colonial era such as Atkinson Clock Tower, Sabah Tourism Building, Buildings along the stretch of Gaya Street. Transportation wise, there is a feeder bus that circles the inner city area but all areas with the city area can be covered by foot. The nearby Tunku Abdul Rahman Parks serves as the nearest island attraction points for visitors and locals.
The state capital has many places of interest. It is a city popular with foreigners and locals alike, and the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park, adjacent to the city is one of the top tourist destinations, perfect for relaxing, snorkelling and a wide variety of water sports. Other places of interest include the Signal Hill Observatory, offering a bird’s view of the city; the Tun Mustapha Tower – a unique 30-storey building (it is a circular structure supported by high tensile steel rods, an architectural and engineering marvel, and one of only four such buildings in the world; it is Sabah’s highest tower); the State Mosque, resplendent with its majestic domes and golden motifs is the central place of worship for KK’s Muslim population; the new Likas Mosque, the largest in the state; and the Likas Bird Sanctuary.
The State Museum – based on the architecture of Murut and Rungus longhouses has several galleries exhibiting, among others, a cluster of human skulls from Sabah’s headhunting past, totemic figures, old photographs, valuable ancient pottery from all over South East Asia and antique Korans. In the Heritage Village of the museum you will find numerous life-size replicas of the traditional houses of the many ethnic entities in Sabah.
The Sabah Tourism Board building is a heritage itself, formerly serving as a postal office and once facing a beautiful stretch of sandy beach now reclaimed lands with a former railway tracks that used to be behind it is now a tightly protected symbol of the once short-lived British Colonial Era. The building is the first tourist helpdesk which unfortunately isn’t 24 hours operational but the locals will be glad to help you bump around.
Major shopping malls are located along the main artery of Kota Kinabalu, and you can find just about anything from branded goods to local handicraft. Recreational activities in KK includes diving, a mere 15 minutes from the city in the crystal clear waters of the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park! The ferries to the park leave from Jesselton Point at the northern end of the City.
KOTA KINABALU MAP
Founded in 1996, Reef Check is the world’s largest international coral reef monitoring programme involving volunteer recreational divers and marine scientists
Signal Hill Observatory Platform
Gaya Street Sunday Market
Tunku Abdul Rahman Parks Island
Atkinson Clock Tower
Sabah State Museum
Aquarium & Marine Museum
Double Six Monument
Jesselton Point Waterfront
KDCA Cultural Village
Kota Kinabalu Wetlands
Lokkawi Wildlife Park
Monsopiad Cultural Village
Tanjung Aru Beach
Sabah Tourism Building
ATKINSON CLOCK TOWER
One of only two structures in Kota Kinabalu that has survived the World War II bombings, the Atkinson Tower was built in 1905 in memory of the town’s first district officer who died of ‘Borneo Fever’ at the age 28. It is located in an area that was the first developed part of the city, then named Jesselton. Just below to the left of the tower is where a very well known hotel stood in the 1930s (now the old police station). The tower is also the land mark to look for if you wish to board a private long distance taxi or bus to destinations such as Kinabalu National Park, Kota Belud, Kudat and Keningau.
HANDICRAFT MARKET (FILIPINO MARKET)
A hit amongst tourist, the Handicraft Market located near the Central Market is the place to purchase local, Indonesian and Filipino handicraft. Other items such as local fruits, shells, cascading macrame hangings, woven baskets, wood carvings and sunhats are also available here. Look through all the items and you never know you might find something you like for your friends or to decorate your house. Be sure to bargain!
GAYA STREET SUNDAY MARKET
If you are in town on Sunday, the colourful Gaya Street Sunday Market is a must! Come as early as seven in the morning and you find all sorts of items available for sale by locals. Some come from the far interior of Sabah to offer their produce. Here you find also a rich assortment of antiques, handicraft, potteries, batiks, fruits, pets, plants, flowers and much more. Local fast foods and snacks are also available. If you like a local breakfast, try out the variety of shops along the street : Laksa, Nasi Lemak, Noodles, Dim Sum… the list goes on and on. The street gets very crowded, but by midday the fair is over!
LIKAS WETLANDS – KOTA KINABALU CITY BIRD SANCTUARY
Designed as a bird sanctuary in September 1996, this 24 hectare remnant patch of mangrove forest is located just two kilometers north east of Kota Kinabalu. The sanctuary is the only remaining patch of an extensive mangrove forest that once covered most of the coastal area where now Kota Kinabalu is. Maintained and developed by WWF Malaysia, this sanctuary is a refuge and feeding ground for many species of birds, as well as several migratory species from Northern Asia. Acts as the much needed green lung for the city, and strategically located as an environmental education centre, serving the public at large.
SIGNAL HILL OBSERVATORY
A 15 minutes walk from the old quarters of Kota Kinabalu takes you to Signal Hill, a look out point from which you enjoy a breathtaking view over the whole city. This is the ideal place to take photographs of Kota Kinabalu. From the Signal Hill one can also see Tunku Abdul Rahman Park and some of the traditional villages built on stilts in the sea. The entrance is free.
TUN MUSTAPHA (YAYASAN SABAH) BUILDING
This 30 storey circular glass building is supported by high tensile steel rods throughout its structure, an architectural and engineering marvel. It is one of only four such buildings in the world. It is also the the official office of the Chief Minister of Sabah.
TUNKU ABDUL RAHMAN MARINE PARK
This unique park comprising five idyllic islands is only 20 minutes away from Kota Kinabalu by speed boat. It is home to a variety of flora & fauna, both land and water. With stretches of white sandy beaches, crystal clear waters and diverse coral reefs, this is an ideal spot for divers and for snorkelling, as well for picnicking. Various tour operators are located on the islands and provide a myriad of water sports and other activities such as parasailing, sea walking, and BBQs.
UMS MARINE AQUARIUM & MUSEUM
Located at the scenic seafront, the Marine-Aquarium-Museum complex houses colorful and beautiful marine life. It is one of the key components of Marine BioValley of University Malaysia Sabah (UMS) dedicated to inspiring ocean conservation through education, research, innovation and exploration.
Learning about marine life is more interactive, interesting, and worth enjoying in a real life situation. It instills a sense of respect towards the marine environment and inculcates an understanding of the importance of marine environment in the life of mankind.
KK WATERFRONT (ANJUNG SAMUDRA)
The newly completed Anjung Samudra is already popularly known as ‘The Waterfront’. During the day you will find some fine foods, and maybe the best seafood restaurant in Sabah, the Port View. The Borneo Trading Post is a lofty and inspirational souvenir shop with a local twist, not to be missed either. The place really comes to life in the night: it is the place to be and to be seen, for locals and visitors alike. The Waterfront boasts some of the best nightclubs in town, and a wide variety of pubs with an excellent choice of music, drinks and food.
TANJUNG ARU BEACH & STAR
The Tanjung Aru Beach and the Prince Philip Park are popular places among the local Sabahans. It is the place to hang out in the evening or at night at one of the many food stalls along the beach. Coconut drinks and local fruits are also available here. During the weekend, this beach is crowded with locals for swimming, picnicking and other recreational activities for the entire family. At the fringe of the beach is another majestic land mark of Kota Kinabalu – the Shangri-la’s Tanjung Aru Resort (STAR), Sabah’s first five-star resort, and has evolved into another world famous resort destination for the rich and famous. It has won countless awards over the years & boast world class facilities and operates a marina and water sports recreation centre.
LOK KAWI WILDLIFE PARK
Situated about 25km from the city centre, this park has recently been officially open for the visitors this year. The park is managed and operated by Sabah Wildlife Department under the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment. While most of the visitors viewed it as a zoo, it is actually a small wildlife rehabilitation centre. The 280 acres of land hosted nearly 100 species of plants, birds and wild animals. The botanical garden which is located near the end of the zoo is managed by Sabah Forestry Department.
Open daily from dawn to 5 pm, the city Central Market is a place to visit. Wander through this market and you will find all sorts of foods, vegetables and essential items that Sabahans eat and use. It is exciting as you may discover many tropical vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices that you have not seen before. Climb upstairs and there are food stalls and a dry market where you can have your breakfast or lunch.