Kota Kinabalu Best Travel Guide: 13 things you need to know about Kota Kinabalu

Kota Kinabalu
Kota kinabalu ultimate travel guide

Table of Content

  • Overview of Kota Kinabalu
  • How to get to Kota Kinabalu
  • When is the best time to visit Kota Kinabalu
  • Best Places to stay in Kota Kinabalu
  • Things to do in Kota Kinabalu
  • Places of attraction to visit Kota Kinabalu
  • Kota Kinabalu Food Guide
  • Shopping in Kota Kinabalu
  • Average Cost to travel in Kota Kinabalu
  • How to travel around Kota Kinabalu
  • What to prepare before going Kota Kinabalu
  • Kota Kinabalu Travel Tips
  • Closing Thought

Overview of Kota Kinabalu

When we talk about Kota Kinabalu, many people will immediately think of challenging the peak. And, most importantly, I always believe this is one of the to-go list travelling around the world. Besides climbing the mountain, there are lots of activities you can explore there.

Kota Kinabalu is the capital of Sabah. It is famous because of its Mount Kinabalu and Kinabalu National Park as well as other attractions. 

How to get to Kota Kinabalu?

Good news, there are more than 10 direct flights every day flying from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Kinabalu. If you are flying in Malaysia, you can compare these airlines for the best pricing, such as Airasia, Malaysia Airline and Malindo Air.

When is the best time to visit Kota Kinabalu

I think the best time to go is from December to April every year. You have the best weather to explore the beach activities and mountain climbing.

Best places to stay in Kota Kinabalu

We have listed accommodations based on budgets.

Affordable accommodations below RM100 per night with good reviews

1. The Atelier

It is a 3 star accommodation. It is strategically located in Kota Kinabalu:

  • 1.6km from Tanjung Aru Beach
  •  5km from the Filipino market Sabah
  • 3.3km from Imago Shopping mall
  • 3.5km from Tunku Abdul Rahman park
  • 3.5 km from Kota Kinabalu International Airport

2. Skypod hostel

If you prefer hostel life, you can consider this hostel.

  • 6 minutes drive away from Sabah State Museum
  • 14 minutes drive away from Tanjung Ara Beach
  • Tune Hotel-1Borneo Kota Kinabalu

The prices starts from RM80 per night. It is also located nearby

  • 30 minutes away from Mari Mari Cultural Village
  • 19 min aways from Atkinson Clock Tower
  • 23 min from Handicraft Market

Good accommodations with excellent reviews

1. Shangri-La Tanjung Aru, Kota Kinabalu

It is a five star hotel, starting from RM700 per night. It is a private getaway for your family. It is just

  • 15 min walk from Tanjung Ara Beach
  • 14 min drive from the Satay Legeng Lok Kawi

You must swim in their 2,000 sqft pool.

2. Kota Kinabalu Marriott Hotel

Beautiful  Gaya Island seaview from the room as it is strategically located. Best for those who love shopping

  • 9 min walk from handicraft market
  • 9 min walk from Night food market

Things to do in Kota Kinabalu

1. Climbing Mount Kinabalu

Kota Kinabalu Best Travel Guide: 13 Things You Need To Know About Kota Kinabalu | Reviewbah
Mount kinabalu

Source: Mount Kinabalu

Mount Kinabalu is known as the tallest mountain in Malaysia and one of the highest mountains in Southeast Asia. The Summit which is known as low peak, sits at around 4,000 meters above sea level. If you plan to conquer the peak, you can opt for the 2 days 1 night mount kinabalu climb package. Please note that there will only be 150 climb permits issued by Sabah park every day. 

2. Leisure Kayak at Tembara Jetty

Kota Kinabalu Best Travel Guide: 13 Things You Need To Know About Kota Kinabalu | Reviewbah
Tembara jetty

Source: Sabahtravel

It is best to explore the Serusup Bay either morning or during sunset. Normally the kayak session will take around 3 hours. You can catch the breathtaking sunset view while paddling along the river. After having a good and leisure kayaking session, you can take a stroll at the sandy beach or just relax there.

3. North Borneo Cruise

Crave for a cruise for a long time? You can opt for either Sunset dinner cruise or KK dinner cruise. The cruise takes around 2 hours where you can enjoy their dinner buffet and live entertainment on board. Prepare your camera when you enjoy the magnificent view of city night lights and the soft breeze of South China Sea.

4. Explore Sabah’s Culture at Cultural Village

Mari mari cultural village and KDCA cultural village can be some of the places you go to explore Sabah culture.

Mari Mari Cultural Village

Kota Kinabalu Best Travel Guide: 13 Things You Need To Know About Kota Kinabalu | Reviewbah
Mari mari cultural village

Source: Mari Mari Cultural Village

If you are curious and keen to learn about rice-wine making, technique about blow-pipe shooting and fire-starting, Mari mari Cultural Villages is the right place to go. Don’t forget to try out the Sabahan delicacies and snacks while watching the traditional performance.

Address: Jalan Kionsom, Inanam, 88450 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah

Official website: https://marimariculturalvillage.my

Ticket: RM100 for adult and RM90 for child

The package includes entrance fee, in-house guide, visit to 5-ethnic traditional houses which I think is very unique, traditional demo and activities as well as cultural performance.

KDCA Cultural Park

Kota Kinabalu Best Travel Guide: 13 Things You Need To Know About Kota Kinabalu | Reviewbah
Kdca cultural park


KDCA cultural park gives you an opportunity to understand the history, culture and tradition of Kadazan. You get to explore 11 different ethnic cultural houses in 1 village.

Address: Hongkod Koisaan, KM. 8, Jalan Penampang, P.O Box 408, 89509 Penampang, Sabah, Malaysia

Official website: https://kcv.kdca.org.my/ethnic-houses/

5. Water sports at Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park

There are five islands in Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park that you can go to for water sports, such as Manukan, Sapi, Mamutik, Gaya and Sulug. You can always opt for snorkelling, diving and parasailing here.

Places of attraction in Kota Kinabalu

1. Manukan Island

Known as the second largest island in Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, it has some of the best beaches here, best for snorkelling, swimming and diving. If you happen to stay in one of their chalets here, you can also try out their recreation facilities such as volleyball, swimming pool, sepak takraw courts.

2. Low Kawi Wildlife Park

If you bring along children for this trip, you can bring them to this family oriented park where you and your family get to see Borneo Pgymy elephants, Proboscis monkey and Malaysian tiger.

Their fee structure:

Malaysian (Adult)RM10
Malaysian (Child)RM5
Foreigner (Adult)RM20
Foreigner (Child)RM10
Fee Structure of Low Kawi Wildlife Park

3. Tanjung Ara Beach

This is one of the best places to be during sunset where you get to picnic, build sandcastles or even just take a leisure stroll or fly a kite. There are a number of stalls nearby where you can get local snacks while watching the sunset. The night is always young and you can get a drink at the nearby bars.

4. City Park

Always want a leisure stroll? Even though the city park is a small park, there are some spots you can take pictures with. There are a pair of water buffalo statues, North Borneo War Memorial and  pergola draped with creepers. It is a place to go after a heavy meal when the weather is not that hot.

5. Sabah State Mosque

Sabah State Mosque has attracted lots of visitors with its magnificent architecture. Its majestic dome and gold inlay motifs, give a unique combination of Islamic architecture and modern design.

6. Shangri-La Orang Utan Care Project

Special callout to all wildlife enthusiasts, you must visit this project that focuses on rehabilitation and conservation of orangutan. You can get closer to them and take some memorable pictures with them.

Kota Kinabalu Food Guide

1. Roti Cobra at Kedai Makan Islamic Restoran 

At this restaurant, you must try their roti cobra that comes with a beautiful egg with soft center yolk, vegetable, plenty of meat and gravy. Remember to eat this with Teh Tarik, i think it is a perfect match.

Address: Centre Point Sabah, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.

Operating hour: everyday 10am to 9.30am (Perfect for supper)

2. Fishmarket restaurant: Sauna Steamboat

Want fresh seafood, you get all you want here at this restaurant. This is the first sauna steamboat restaurant in Sabah. You can pick the live seafood from the aquarium and taste their fresh and original taste here.

Address: No.A-G-2,Ground Floor,Block A Phae 1,Lorong Sutera,Sutera Avenue sembulan,88100, Sutera Avenue, 88000 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia

Operating hour: Monday to Sunday 12pm to 12am

3. Yee Fung Laksa 

This kopitiam is good for lunch. I love their laksa as it is not that spicy and the portion is decent. 

Address: 127, Jalan Gaya, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia.

Operating hour: Tuesday is off, other days 6.30am to 5pm

4. Sin Kee Bak Ku Teh

Especially during a rainy day, bak ku teh hot sup is the perfect dish to have. Remember to order char kueh, it matches with the soup perfectly.

Address: 26, Jalan Pantai, pusat bandar, 88000 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia

Operating hour: Monday to Sunday 12pm to 9.30am

5. Tuaran Mee Restaurant

Tuaran Mee is a must eat dish in KK. It is a stir fried noodle that mix with locally made alcohol drink.

Address: mile 6, Jalan Tuaran, Inanam, 88450 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Jalan Tuaran, Inanam, 88450 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia

Operating hour: Monday close, other day 7am to 2.30pm

Shopping in Kota Kinabalu

1. Kadaiku – Sabah Souvenirs & Handicrafts

You can get all locally made souvenirs here, ranging from accessories, handicrafts, wildlife and sea plush toys here.

2. MountKinabGear- Sabah Souvenirs & Batiks

You can get some batiks here and bring them back as gifts for your friends and colleagues.

3. Imago Shopping Mall

It is a one-stop premium mall, offering high and midrange products. There is a food court, karaoke bar and cinema.

4. Suria Sabah Shopping Mall

It is a famous and modern mall. If you come during the festive season, their decoration is quite pretty and worth taking photos.

Average Cost to travel in Kota Kinabalu

FoodAccommodationTransportationAverage cost per day (RM)
Average cost to travel in Kota Kinabalu

The table excludes fee to visit attractions and nightlife.

How to travel around Kota Kinabalu

  • Taxi: such as grab in the towns, from airport to your hotel
  • Bus: Inanam Bus Station terminal, Kota Kinabalu Bus station terminal
  • Train: North Borneo Railway. You can experience  Sabah’s lush coastal and rural landscape. This takes around 6 hours.

What to prepare before going to Kota Kinabalu?

If you plan to go Mount Kinabalu, these are the items you should bring:

  • Waterproof backpack and raincoat (in case it is training)
  • Comfortable Clothing
  • Comfortable hiking shoes
  • Head Torch for night hike
  • Repellent (in case lot of insects)
  • Hiking sticks

If you plan to go for watersport,

  • Sunblock
  • Bug spray
  • Motion sickness pill (travelling to island)

Other items such as

  • Masks
  • Money (Prepare extra for hotel deposit and tips)
  • Boarding ticket
  • Medicine 
  • Umbrella

Kota Kinabalu Travel Tips

Please beware of scam websites or illegal operators while signing up for Mount Kinabalu climb packages. You can always get more information from Mount Kinabalu Booking and Information center page and apply for the legal permit there. 

Besides, it is best to respect the mountain and do not misbehave. There was an incident where tourists posed naked on Mountain Kinabalu and were blamed for the earthquake. As a consequence, all these tourists were given jail terms and fines.

Take good care of your belongings, when you are travelling with public transport. The bus station might be crowded and sometimes there will be pickpockets.

Closing thought

Kota Kinabalu is a safe place to travel. People here can speak English so there is no problem for foreigners travelling here. Even if you are a female, travelling here solo, you just need to make sure you have booked everything in advance from the proper agency. Kota Kinabalu is definitely one of the places in my bucket list.


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