Travel Guides & Tips

Kota Kinabalu and Beyond: What you should see and do more of in this amazing town

Landing at the Kota Kinabalu airport, it was hard for me to contain my excitement to revisit all the places I did the last time I was here few years ago, and some new places as well. The first thing that hit me was the traffic. Just when I thought I was escaping the nightmarish traffic of Kuala Lumpur, I was stuck in one (and many more over the next few days). I wasn’t about to let a little bit of traffic to dampen my mood, though.

The first order of things was to visit the The Waterfront. Looking at the bobbing boats alongside huge malls is an interesting experience. A walk along the pier brought me first to the ‘Australia Place’, a stretch of waterfront bars named such as the Australian soldiers were known to have first landed there in 1945.

For the next four days and three nights, here’s what I managed to explore:

1) The markets 

There are so many markets in Kota Kinabalu town, you might want to set aside half a day (and some extra cash) to get through them all. You can find almost anything at these markets. Dried and fresh seafood, fruits, souvenirs, clothes and even pearls. Some of the must-visit markets are Gaya Street Sunday Market, Filipino Market and Sinsuran Market.


2) Kota Kinabalu Wetlands 

Not many know of this hidden gem located only a 20-minute ride from the city centre. The 24-hectare mangrove forest is a haven for birdwatchers and those who love nature. There’s even an area built for birdwatchers. Be sure to dress appropriately as the final 500 meters of the 1.5-meter walkway is muddy, an intentional effort by the wetlands operators to give visitors a chance to ‘feel’ the swamps.


3) Gaya Island 

Just a boat ride away from the Jesselton Terminal, Gaya Island is great for a day trip or a few days’ stay at one of the resorts there. A part of the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park, the island boasts clean beaches and has plenty of activities for the adventurous such as parasailing, banana boat, snorkeling and even diving. If you would rather sit back, relax and enjoy the sun and surf, stay closer to the resort or take a relaxing walk away from where all the activities are offered.

Pro tip: Buy your boat tickets from legitimate vendors as there is a surcharge for any unauthorized boats that stop at the island.


4) Tanjung Aru Beach 

Some of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen is from this beach. Despite the cloudy and drizzly weather, I headed to Tanjung Aru hoping to catch a spectacular one, and I was not disappointed. You can also watch the wonderful view from the beachside restaurant and bars in Shangri-La Hotel while sipping on a drink.

5) Day trip to Kundasang 

Take a scenic ride up the Kota Kinabalu mountain towards Kundasang. The roads are winding and sometimes steep, so be sure you’re confident behind the wheels or hire someone to drive up. Some of the must-visits on the trip are:

  • Kota Kinabalu Park

    This is where most trekkers start their arduous trek up the mountain, but the less inclined can take a walk along much shorter treks, taking in the view (and a couple of snapshots) of the majestic mountain.

  • Kundasang Town

    Many stop here to just stand and wonder at nature’s beauty. If you need a toilet break, some food to kill your hunger or just to stretch your legs, this would be the best place to do it.

  • Desa Dairy Farm

    Dubbed “the New Zealand of Malaysia”, you will be mesmerized from the moment you approach the gates of the farm. The rolling green fields dotted with cows, the quaint farm with the mountains rising majestically over it is one image that’ll stay in your memories for a long time. Don’t forget to try the fresh milk and yogurt ice cream while you’re there.

    Pro tip: Check the weather before you go. I lost the chance to get the perfect picture as it started to rain and the mist obscured the view.

  • Poring Hot Spring

    The experience of taking a dip in a hot spring when in cold weather is definitely not to be missed! Not only is the hot water relaxing, it is also believed to have healing properties. You can also visit the butterfly park where the Raja Brooke butterfly can be spotted, or simply trek through the canopy walk.


    By Walterericsy/


  • Upside Down House

    If you have time to spare on the way back to town, stop by Malaysia’s first upside down house, the perfect place to capture Instagram-worthy pictures. The interior is thoughtfully designed with items that will remind you of years gone by and you can even spot an upside down Perodua Kancil outside the house!

    By Tan Yang Song/


6) Day trip to Kudat 

Our main reason for visiting Kudat was to visit the Tip of Borneo, better known as Tanjung Simpang Mengayau among the locals. The three-hour drive was scenic, with views of the mountains, acres of paddy fields, small towns and villages with herds of cows being a part of the traffic. Unfortunately for me, it was pretty much raining the whole way despite the weather reports saying otherwise, but the trip was amazing nevertheless. So what else did I see on our way? Here’s a list:

  • Tip of Borneo

    The name should indicate how deep into the villages you have to go, so be prepared for bad roads and to lose signal on your phone. The signages are accurate, so don’t worry if you can’t get access to a map. When you reach the beaches and eventually the tip, the trip would be worthwhile, trust us. I’m not sure if it’s my imagination (doubt the huge maps we see would show such small details) but the tip does look a little bit like a lion’s mouth on a Sabah map.For those who want to enjoy the beach a little longer, there are several resorts here you might want to check out.

    My amateur attempt at capturing the image of the ‘mouth’.


  • Gombizau Honey Farm

    To be honest, there isn’t much to do here. But if you’ve got time to spare, it’s quite interesting to see how bees are harvested and how the locals make them ‘dizzy’ (coconut husks are burnt in a container and the smoke created is used to disable the bees). You may even get to hold a honeycomb with live bees still on them! Don’t forget to buy a bottle or two of the fresh honey at the stores as you leave.

    Pro tip: If you’re parking in the village, be sure not to park in a muddy area. I would probably still be stuck there if not for some kind-hearted locals who pushed my car out of the mud.

  • Sumangkap Gong Factory

    Does it take a whole village to make a gong? Of course not! But the main livelihood of this village is through gong-making and visitors are welcomed to watch how they are made. The shops are not open on public holidays and weekends so plan your visits beforehand.

There are plenty more to do in Sabah, of course. Which is why we’ll definitely be going back very soon! If you’re planning a trip yourself, book your trip on Traveloka here!

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