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Kota Kinabalu is one of the fastest growing cities in Malaysia, and for good reason. Not only is it the perfect gateway for people visiting Sabah and Borneo, but the city itself offers many exciting things to see, do and eat. Perched on the edge of the stunning turquoise ocean, with beaches, jungles and vibrant culture all around, Kota Kinabalu really is a tourists’ paradise.
This bustling city offers all the excitement of markets, architecture and nightlife, whilst boasting the unique position of providing easy access to the wonders of the jungle. Wild orangutans, outstanding seafood, and spectacular culture (both ancient and modern) are just a few things that this delightful gem of a city has to offer.
The jungle surrounding Kota Kinabalu is one of the best places in the world to see wild orangutans. Guided hikes into the jungle are a breath-taking experience, although there is no assurance that you’ll spot one of our ginger primate cousins. The jungle offers an abundance of opportunities for spotting wildlife, however, and you’re unlikely to feel like it was a wasted trip.
If you want more assurance that you’ll see an orangutan, the Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary is just a short flight away from the city. It is possible to make the trip in one day, and with regular feeding times, it would be unusual to not see some of the orangutans that the sanctuary is preparing for re-release into the wild.
Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park
The best beaches in Kota Kinabalu are actually on the islands of Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park, which can be accessed by a 15-minute speedboat ride from the city. Manukan Island is the most popular among the locals, and for good reason. It has some beautiful stretches of beach, the best being at the eastern tip of the island, whose coral reefs offer outstanding snorkelling and diving.
Signal Hill Observatory Platform
The best place to enjoy spectacular views across the city is the Signal Hill Observatory Platform, which can be accessed on foot or by taxi. The ten-minute walk up winding wooden stairs to reach the platform is the perfect way to burn off an indulgent dinner, and the stunning sunsets offer ample reward for your hard work.
Snorkelling around the Kota Kinabalu islands is an essential activity, with the Sapi island offering the best in the way of marine life. Snorkelling gear can be hired from the city before you set off for a small price. The southern part of the island is best for snorkelling, where coral reefs are more plentiful and you are very likely to find Nemo the clown fish!
Mari Mari Cultural Village
The Mari Mari cultural visit is a fascinating insight into the everyday traditions of the five Sabahan tribal communities present in the area, especially as many have now turned to a more modern way of living. The Bajau sea gypsies, Dusun rice farmers, Lundayeh fishermen, Murut hunters and long-house builders of Rungus all give demonstrations of their cultural traditions. These include customs, performances, cooking demonstrations, and other insights into what life would have looked like on the island before international travel became popular.
Klias River Cruise
A cruise down the Klias river is the perfect way to see the island’s abundant wildlife in a relaxing setting. Tours take place regularly, and often include snacks and an evening meal. As well as proboscis monkeys, long tail macaques, silver languor monkeys, and a huge variety of exotic birds, an evening cruise will also allow you to witness the magical sight of fireflies lighting up the waterway.
Seafood Night Market
Kota Kinabalu is famous for its mouth-watering seafood, and what better place to sample it than the spectacular night market? With every variety of seafood you could imagine for sale, fresh from the sea, it’s heaven for anyone with even the smallest appetite for the fruits of the ocean. Fish and rice are cooked to order in front of you and, along with salad and a soft drink, they make a very reasonably priced feast.
When visiting Kota Kinabalu it is essential to try the local Durian fruit, a spiky green ball with a scent oddly reminiscent of both bananas and an old sock. Don’t let this put you off, however, as the soft flesh and delicious flavour more than makes up for its dubious stench. It can be found at most markets, with many stalls offering small tables for you to sit and enjoy your prickly purchase!
Noodles for Breakfast
If you want to feel like a local, visiting one of the city’s coffee shops and indulging in a steaming plate of noodles for breakfast should definitely be on your to-do list. Ang Kim Lam Coffee Shop is a favourite among residents, and their kon lau mee (stir fried noodles in a dry, dark sauce) is to die for. Be sure to get there in good time as they stop serving at 10am.
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