Now we actually quite liked Kota Kinabalu or KK as it is affectionately known and a good job too seeing as we ended up spending far too much time there!! But, talking to other backpackers as weve made our way through Sabah it seems many of them didnt agree and found it a pretty boring city. Well, were here to prove that whilst KK is not your typically crazy South East Asian city like Hanoi or Bangkok, it has its own charms and is great for spending a few days relaxing between destinations!
1. Visit Atkinson Clock Tower & Signal Hill
These two sites are right next to each other along Australia Place and so are a great way to start your visit to KK and start familiarising yourself with the area! The Atkinson Clock Tower is the oldest structure in KK and sits on a little hill over looking the city centre. It can be quite easy to miss if your looking for a monumental tower…so keep your eyes peeled! Continue past the clock-tower and on your right hand side, just behind Lucy’s Homestay, you will find the start to the Signal Hill Trail. Its about a 15 minute walk to the top and on a sunny day you’ll be greeted with a great view across the city at the top…just don’t attempt it hungover, at midday or try and sit on one of the coffee tables without buying anything…the Lady gets angry.
2. Visit the floating mosque
After a morning ambling the streets and trying out some local delicacies (see our top secret eats here and here!) an afternoon can be spent catching a local bus out of the city a little further to see the beautiful Kota Kinabalu City Mosque. Head to the bus stops opposite the 999 Nightclub and ask one of the bus drivers which number bus you need – it costs RM1 for one journey and the drivers you will ask may have no idea what you are talking about but persevere (Its the white and purple bus). You’ll see the mosque from the bus so you can hop off and explore around and even inside should you wish – just remember to dress appropriately. The mosque is situated behind a lake so that on a sunny day if you walk around to the very front it looks as if it is floating!
Word of warning! DO NOT sit at the bus stop opposite where you get off and expect a bus to come along and take you back to KK…it wont! You have to walk away from the waterfront, take the first right and cross the road! We waited…for 1 hour. Don’t make the same mistake!
3. Go shopping – malls galore!
If like us you have already been travelling a while, KK is the perfect place to stock up on all your essentials and even a few home comforts!! There are SO many malls here but our favourites were the Suria Sabah just along the waterfront before you get to Jessleton Point or Imago which is a little further out of the city but walkable in around half an hour. Both have modern shops and pharmacies to re-stock your backpacks to the brim – Imago even has an H&M much to our excitement! Even if you dont like shopping these are a welcome break from the heat and are always freezing cold… Happy shopping!
4. Sunday Market on Jalan Gaya
Whilst we are on the shopping spree theme, the weekly Sunday market on Jalan Gaya is not to be missed! The whole street is pedestrianised and lined with tons of stalls selling everything from fruit and veg to souvenirs, homeware and jewellery and even goldfish! Take a stroll, grab a coffee or fruit smoothie from our favourite joint and enjoy the buzz! Look out for the puppies on sale for less than £20 and buy one if you can!
4. Go to the cinema
Anyone on the road for an extended period of time will know that there comes a time when you miss indulging in a few of those home comforts – even something like the cinema becomes a real treat! KK is a modern city and so is just the place for a little indulgence! There are a few cinemas dotted around but we visited the one on the top floor of the Suria Sabah mall which had all the new releases, huge screens and MOST importantly cheap cheap deals on POPCORN…our favourite! If you’re travelling as a couple like us this is also a great excuse for date night!
5. Check out the emerging cafe culture
We spent quite a while in KK in between looking for jobs and hopping between the Tip of Borneo and Mount Kinabalu itself and so had plenty of time for checking out the cafe scene and finding the best cosy corner and ice lattes for a day of blogging of course! Our three favourites which can all be found along Australia Place were Nook Cafe, October Cafe and Print Cafe. Nook has the best wifi connection, delicious food, ice teas, coffees and hands down the best cake in KK…we sampled the red velvet and carrot cake on more than one occasion…oops! October Cafe wins for interior and the perfect quiet corners to while away an afternoon. It has a huge range of coffees, some absolutely delicious frappes including mint choc chip green tea and the must try Korean toast but, we often had problems with the wifi in here so check it before you settle in. Lastly, Print Cafe is the most basic of the three but nice for a quiet spot and good cappuccino!
6. Visit an island for the day
The Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park is just off the coast of KK and is home to five beautiful islands all reachable within 20 minutes from the mainland and perfect for a day trip to escape the city and unwind on a tropical paradise. Further north from KK there is the Mantanani archipelago which can also be visited in a day. See our full blog post here on our top three picks on which island you should visit for a perfect day trip…
We hope you enjoy KK as much as we did!
C & J x