Kota kinabalu

Island Overview

Kota Kinabalu is the capital of the state of Sabah located on the island of Borneo. This city is a growing tourist destination due to its overwhelming beauty, friendly locals, breathtaking sunset, rich culinary, proximity to tropical islands, lush rainforests and Mount Kinabalu.

Generally referred to as KK or Api Api by the locals, is located on the west coast of Sabah within the West Coast Division. KK is the largest city in the state in Sabah and is the main gateway into the island of Borneo.

Mount KK Photo: Tourism Malaysia

Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park Photo: Tourism Malaysia

Tip of Borneo Photo: Tourism Malaysia

Historical Overview

Sabah is the second largest state in Malaysia. The beautiful blue ocean with its fantastic underwater world, the mighty mountains, and its green forests with wild Orang Utans are a few attractions on this beautiful island. Sabah has so much to offer and the most famous landmark is the mighty Mount Kinabalu, 4095 metres high, with a green flowered National Park surrounding

Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park. Photo: Tourism Malaysia

The capital of Sabah is Kota Kinabalu, formally known as Jesselton. Besides Jesselton, there are also other older names for Kota Kinabalu. The most popular is Api-Api, or simply Api. Situated at the west coast, KK is an amazing place with lots of things to do and see. Tropical Islands are just in front of the city centre, and just around the corner tropical rain forests. The city itself is a mix of colonial and modern buildings

Orang Utans. Photo: Tourism Malaysia


There is so much to experience in and around Kota Kinabalu. Here are the “Must Go”, attractions that you shall not miss when you visit Kota Kinabalu.

Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park

This Marine Park with wonderful tropical islands is only minutes away from the city, so at least one of the islands is a must to visit. Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park is just off the coast of Kota Kinabalu and is made up from 5 islands. From large to small the islands are Gaya, Manukan, Sapi, Mamutik and Sulug. Manukan, Sapi and Mamutik are the top 3 most popular among daily island hoppers because of the white sandy beaches, BBQ buffets and snorkeling on the shallow corals.

Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park Photo: Tourism Malaysia

Signal Hill Observation Platform

Signal Hill Observation Platform is a lookout point above the city that offers a prime view of Kota Kinabalu and great views of the sunset.

Photo: Tourism Malaysia

Gaya Street Sunday Market

Originally named Bond Street, Gaya Street located in the Kota Kinabalu Central Business District has been the centre of business for over a hundred years. Every Sunday morning, the length of Gaya Street is closed off to traffic to make way for the Fair. Shop for anything under shady trees and over-sized umbrellas, like batik sarongs, fruits and flowers, arts and craft, footwear, antiques and souvenirs, cakes, even pets and herbs!

Photo by: wikitravel

Photo: Tourism Malaysia

First Beach Tanjung Aru

Located just a few kilometers south of the city and not far from the airport, Tanjung Aru Beach is the jewel of Kota Kinabalu. There are bars, cafes, numerous stalls and restaurants that offer western and local delicacies. Late afternoon is one of the best time to be here for a drink, and enjoy the cool sea breeze and magnificent sunset in the evening. Photo by: Cjames Fotografia

照片来自Cjames Fotografia

Lok Kawi Wildlife Park

The Lok Kawi Wildlife Park is a collection of Borneo wildlife and animals from other parts of the world; one way to experience some of Sabah’s animals up close. With all the animals being in not-so-large enclosures, sighting them is almost guaranteed, ensuring that you will get a glimpse of Sabah’s and Borneo’s most difficult to spot jungle creatures. Lok Kawi Wildlife Park showcases endangered animals such as the Bornean Elephant, to raise awareness of their plight. Other animal exhibits include proboscis monkeys, orangutans, gibbons, zebra, ostriches, a variety of birds, including hornbills, a menagerie of lizards in the Snake Park, sun bears, tigers and other smaller cats, and a variety of antelope from across the region.

Photo: Tourism Malaysia

Kinabalu Park

Kinabalu Park became the country’s first World Heritage Site in 2000. Established in 1964, the grounds stretch out across 754 sq km (291 sq mi) and surround Mount Kinabalu, the highest mountain in the country. There are over 4,500 species of plant and animal life can be found here, including endemic species like the Kinabalu giant leech, the Kinabalu giant earthworm, and the Nepenthes rajah. Photo: Tourism Malaysia



Flyboarding is an adrenaline activity for those who are not afraid of the water, or of flying. A board, similar to a wakeboard, is connected to a pressurised water system, which propels the flyboard rider out of the water. Using your weight and balance to control the board, you can soar through the air like an albatross… or splash around in the waves like a seal. Either way, Flyboarding in Kota Kinabalu is a fun activity that will leave you wanting more。


Photo by 3rd Eye Photographer link

Tandem Paragliding

The Tandem Paragliding activity takes place in Ranau, Sabah. It’s as close to flying as you can get near Kota Kinabalu. It’s is an adventure activity involving two people suspended below a parachute-like canopy. One person is an experienced, professional tandem paragliding pilot, and the other one is you! Although the paragliding aerofoil looks like a parachute, the design is slightly different, making it perform more like a wing. The wing relies on wind currents, called updrafts, to lift the aerofoil and allow the participants to stay airborne without an engine.

Located in the hilly terrain at the far foothills of the back of Mt. Kinabalu, the Tandem Paragliding activity takes advantage of the Ranau district’s hills and valleys. It’s the ideal topography for the type of updrafts required for paragliding. Ranau is located about 45 minutes past Kinabalu Park, about 2 – 3 hours from Kota Kinabalu.


Zipline and Island Hopping

Coral Flyer Zipline is the longest island-to-island flying-fox activity in Sabah and Borneo, spanning the sandy straight between Gaya and Sapi Islands in the Tunku Abdul Rahman (TAR) Park. The TAR Park is only about 10 minutes or so by boat from Kota Kinabalu city, and the double-span, 250m long Coral Flyer Zipline that accommodate 2 flyers at a time aside, is also home to magnificent beaches and beautiful reefs. If weather conditions are optimal, speeds of over 50 km/h can be reached while flying over the clear waters in the narrow channel that separates the 2 islands in Kota Kinabalu’s marine park.

Photo by: Tourism Malaysia

Proboscis Monkeys & Fireflies River Cruise

The Proboscis Monkeys & Fireflies River Cruise is the ideal opportunity to experience Sabah’s jungle wildlife in one of Borneo’s beautiful wetlands, not too far from Kota Kinabalu. Here you’ll have the chance to see Sabah’s unique wildlife, one of the highlight being the Proboscis Monkey with its distinctively large, protruding nose. Other mangrove wildlife that you might spot are the long-tailed macaques, river otters, a variety of birds including the brightly coloured kingfisher. Village panoramas and snippets of local life along the river banks will fascinate you equally. Reaching after nightfall Nanamun river, you’ll be amazed when thousands of fireflies emerge from the darkness to create the “Christmas Tree” effect that brightens up the otherwise black, mangrove forest.

Photo: Tourism Malaysia

Kiulu River White Water Rafting

Kiulu River White Water Rafting is the family-friendly alternative to the raging Padas River. The Kiulu River is only an hour drive from the city and, depending on what Sabah’s weather has been up to, offers grade 1 or 2 white water rafting over a course of 7 – 15km of exciting river rapids. Whatever the grade of rapids on offer, Kiulu River white water rafting in Sabah is an exciting, safe & fun activity in beautiful surroundings run by knowledgeable professionals.

Photo: Tourism Malaysia

Mount Climbing

Mount Kinabalu, a World Heritage Site with a tremendous ecological diversity. As Malaysia’s highest point, its summit (Low’s Peak) reaches 4,096 m (13,438 ft) above sea level. Provided you’re in good condition, you don’t need any special equipment for the accessible ascent to the top. Elsewhere on the mountain, several rock climbing sites offer challenges for experienced climbers. The protected mountain and national park that surrounds by around 6,000 species of plants, 326 species of birds, and more than 100 species of mammals including the huge Rafflesia plants as well as the endangered orangutan. For this reason, it remains one of the world’s chief sites of interest for scientists, nature-lovers, and conservationists.

Mount KK Photo: Tourism Malaysia

Travel Information

The airport

Kota Kinabalu has the second busiest airport in Malaysia after Kuala Lumpur, the airport is the central gateway into Sabah and situated around 7 km from the city centre. Kota Kinabalu International Airport, KKIA, has flights coming in from Kuala Lumpur and international destinations such as Shanghai, Shen Zhen, Hang Zhou, Seoul, Bali, Jakarta, Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo, Manila, Bangkok, Taipei and Brunei. There are also domestic flights to and from other Sabah cities as Sandakan, Tawau and Lahad Datu. There are two terminals: the main KK International terminal and Terminal 2 (serving low cost carriers as well as full service airlines), both use the same runways, but different terminals.

From Kota Kinabalu Airport

A taxi cost around RM 25 and takes only ten minutes to the city centre 8 kilometres away. There is no urban bus service at the airport but you can catch a minibus at the main road to the city centre that will cost RM 1.50. Alternatively, book an airport shuttle (from RM 40 in a shared minicoach).

Bus Service

There are three main bus terminals in the city that operate regular bus services. Two of them are central, the terminal along Jalan Tun Razak provides internal bus services towards different part of the city and its outskirts. If you are going south of Kota Kinabalu (Papar, Beaufort, Tenom, Keningau, Tambunan and others) go to the terminal near Bandaran Berjaya that provides intercity services. If you are going to any destination north, north east or east of KK, there is a new teminal, Kota Kinabalu North Bus Terminal. The buses there will take you to Tuaran, Kota Belud, Kudat, Ranau, Sandakan, Lhad Datu and all the way to Tawau, Semporna and other places. There is also an alternative public transportation system with vans or minibuses.


There is no general taxi contact number, as they are plentiful, and all hotels will be able to book one if required. Destinations like the resort hotels are often fixed and general prices should vary between RM5 to RM10.

Getting Around

Getting around Kota Kinabalu is easy, thanks to the bus system, and that it is also easy to get a taxi. Another fact is the city centre which is mostly a south-north and west-east system with crosstown streets. There are also ferries to the islands and will you visit the boroughs, the buses will take you there.

Central Kota Kinabalu has many great assets, one is its walkability. To walk is in many ways the best way to see and feel a city. Most of the city centre is flat, it is only Signal Hill that is a little higher up. It is only a 15 minutes walk to Signal Hill from the old quarters of Kota Kinabalu and we can guarantee you a breathtaking view not only over the whole city but also some ovet of the islands.

Or why not take a walk along the harbour, there is the fish market there, and the ferries to the islands leave from here. You can also take a little longer walk south to the Mengkabong Water Village.

There are also bicycle rentals in hotels and in the city. If you are planning to travel outside Kota Kinabalu by car it is easy to find the right direction as the three main roads are going north, north east and south.

Travel Tips


It’s hot and humid in Malaysia all year round so casual clothing is the norm unless you are headed to a fancier restaurant. Although you may come across women covered up on the beach, bathing suits are perfectly acceptable, especially at resort beaches. Shoulders and legs should be covered when entering certain places of worship. You should generally remove your shoes before entering someone’s home. Use your right hand to pass and accept anything, as the left is considered dirty. To point to a person, close the right hand into a fist with the thumb on top, using that to single someone out.


Sabah has two seasons: rainy season from September to January and the drier season is from February to August. However it cannot be stressed enough that the distinction between seasons is not very marked, and the weather patterns and rainfall levels are unpredictable. Sabah generally has uniform temperatures throughout the year with an annual variation of less than 2°C. Rainfall in southern Sabah is lower than in the north, and falls quite evenly throughout the year, with just a slight dip in millimetres between February and April. Due to its altitude, Kinabalu National Park is always much cooler than the surrounding lowland regions.

When to Go

Peak season is typically mid-December through mid-February, and then June through mid-September. Festive seasons such as Christmas, New Year, Chinese New Year, and Ramadan are peak seasons with flights and hotels booking up and prices higher than non-peak season. The weather is lovely during winter peak season, but avoid travelling during Chinese New Year. Note that Christmas Day is a national holiday in Malaysia and in addition to higher hotel rates, some restaurants and shops will be closed. Though the temperature changes little year round, it’s always hot and humid. The coasts suffer during the rainy season (November through March for the east coast, and October through November for the west coast). Visitors will find many island resorts shuttered and the water too choppy and unsafe for swimming or water sports. Shoulder season varies across the country depending on rain, winds, and school holidays.


Biggest Shopping Mall at KK is 1Borneo 8km from downtown. You can take a shuttle from some of the hotels or outside Warisan Square. Wisma Merdeka, Warisan square and Centre point 4th floor are the best shopping centres in KK. Business hours for Shopping centres vary, Monday - Friday: 10 am - 9 pm. For local handicraft, food and snacks visit the handcraft market daytime on the waterfront to the left behind the post office. Good night market in Kampung ayer - middle of downtown or Gaya Street Market on Sundays only.

Islands Hopping

Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park made up from 5 islands: Gaya, Manukan, Sapi, Mamutik and Sulug. Manukan, Sapi and Mamutik are the top 3 most popular among daily island hoppers because of the white sandy beaches, BBQ buffets and snorkeling on the shallow corals. Mamutik island has a quieter, relaxing beach. Great for snorkelling. Manukan Island is more commercialised resort style. You can get to these islands quite easily by getting to Jesselton Jetty. Get your tickets to the islands from 1-3 islands in a day. But it will better to just select 1 or 2 islands per day. You can choose to stay on the islands too, by camping or staying at the chalet or resorts


ATMs are available at the airport, malls, and shopping centers, and at many large hotels. Although credit cards are accepted in most hotels, restaurants, and shops, discounts are often given if you use cash. All night markets accept only cash, and having small bills on hand will help you get better deals.

Currency and Exchange

The local currency of Malaysia is the ringgit. Notes come in RM1, RM5, RM10, RM20, RM50, and RM100; and coins are 5, 10, 20, and 50 cents.


GST is 6%, and hotels and restaurants generally charge an extra 5%–10%.


Tipping is not part of Malaysian culture.

Passports and Visas

Visitor passports must contain a minimum of six months validity beyond the period of intended stay. Parents traveling with children should carry birth certificates to avoid trouble.

Sunset view

You will get to see nice sunset along the waterfront about 6.30pm, of course dependent on the weather.


The standard voltage used in Malaysia is 240 volts, and most modern hotels use UK style 3 pin plugs, but you may also often find 2 pin sockets and plugs.

Time Zone

GMT+8, Standard Malaysian Time.

Tourist information

Sabah Tourism Board, 51 Jalan Gaya, Kota Kinabalu. Tel: +60 88 212 121 Opening hours: 8 am - 5 pm week days, 9 am - 4 pm weekends.


Malay is the national language spoken across ethnicities, although the spoken Sabahan dialect of Malay differs much in inflection and intonation from the West Malaysian version. Chinese Mandarin as well as the Chinese dialects of Hakka and Cantonese are widely understood. In addition, Kadazan-Dusun, Bajau, Murut and other minor races also have distinct ethnic languages. Sabah also has its own unique Sabahan-slangs for many words in Malay. In tourist centres many Malaysians will speak some English. The urban and tourist centres are very well developed, but in the countryside, services can still be pretty basic. A predominantly Muslim nation, Malaysia and Malaysians can be quite conservative. Nude bathing is frowned upon.


Basic travel tips for every tourist to know before visiting Kota Kinabalu

? Before leaving for Malaysia visit your family doctor to check health warnings for the area you intend to visit. If you intend to do any hiking or rainforest walks then you will need to start taking malaria tablets around a week before your departure.

? Malaysia is a very safe country. While petty theft is a problem in the major tourist centres, violent crime against foreigners is particularly rare. Use your common sense when out in the evening and stay in control.

? The penalties for drug use and/or possession in Malaysia are fierce.

? Mosquitoes around Kota Kinabalu are particularly vicious, so insect repellent is a must. Long sleeves and long trousers are also advised around the times of dawn and dusk. Those planning on touring the jungle should bring some decent walking boots and a small backpack for sunscreen, insect repellent, sunglasses and a hat.

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