Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia: Things to Do

Kota Kinabalu is a fast growing tourist destination. It is blessed with tropical islands, lush rainforests, and sandy beaches. The Kinabalu National Park is the pride of the city and it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Aside from the natural attractions, the city also houses several historical and cultural landmarks, museums, and religious sites. With Kota Kinabalu's array of attractions, there are plenty of things to do and see in the city. Nowadays, it is a cultural melting pot and a major tourist gateway to explore the northern region of Borneo Island.



Kinabalu National Park

The Kinabalu National Park is Malaysia's first UNESCO World Heritage Site. The national park is housing the 4095 meter high Mount Kinabalu, the highest mountain in Southeast Asia. Mount Kinabalu is the centerpiece of this 754 square kilometers national park. A trek climbing up and and descending back to the foot of the mountain may take 2 to 3 days. On a clear day, you can see the Philippines in the distance from the peak.

Climbing Mount Kinabalu is a heart pounding trail. There are two trails that leads to the peak of the mountain: the Timpohon Trail and the Mesilau Trail. For beginners, take the Timpohon Trail as it is easier than the Mesilau Trail. For experienced hikers, Mesilau Trail will be a challenging climb. After the strenuous climb, a soak in the Poring Hot Springs is a good help to relax those aching muscles.

Aside from the mountain, Kinabalu National Park is a botanical paradise. It is a home of the world's largest variety of nepenthes, carnivorous pitcher plant. The national park has a collection of Borneo botanical jewels including the 1,200 species of orchids, 26 species of rhododendrons, and the nepenthes.

The surrounding area of the mountain is worth exploring. The Kundasang War Memorial and the Ranau night market can be spotted here.

There are admission fees to the park. The fees are of different value to foreigners and locals. For the park entrance fee, foreigners are charged 15 RM for adults and 10 RM for kids and the locals are charged 3 RM for adults and 1 RM for kids. The climbing permit for foreigners costs 100 RM for adults and 40 RM for kids, while locals are only charged 30 RM for adults and 12 RM for kids. The guide fee is 85 RM for a small group and 100 RM for a large group. There is an extra fee of 10 to 20 RM if taking the Mesilau Trail. The national park is open everyday from 7 am until 7 pm.

To get to the Kinabalu National Park, there are shuttle buses from Pacific Sutera, Magellan Sutera, and Wisma Sabah that leaves early in the morning. A taxi from the city center has an expensive fare that ranges between 140 RM to 160 RM.

Beaches & Islands

Sabah has an astounding array of sandy beaches and beautiful islands that are mostly located in Kota Kinabalu and its outskirts.

Tanjung Aru is just a 10-minute drive from the city center. The name Aru means Casuarinas in Malay. It is a stretch of tranquil sandy beaches with casuarina trees everywhere. The beach has a wonderful view during sunset. There are plenty of food stalls along with a variety of seafood restaurants.

Another beach is the Likas Bay Beach. It is also popular for some of the locals. The beach is smaller compared to Tanjung Aru. It is surrounded by the city with a view of ships at the Sepanggar Port.

The northern coast of Kota Kinabalu has several beaches including the Karambunai and Dalit beaches. Behind these are the rivers of Mengkabong and Salut in a lagoon park.

The Palau Layang-Layang is located 300 kilometers Northwest of the city. This is an island of beautiful and pristine surroundings away from the bustling city. It is also a great diving destination that includes sharks, stingrays, and coral fish. There are even dolphins and whales in the area.

The Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park is a cluster of small islands within a 10-minute boat ride with each other. Beaches are very tranquil. In its shallows waters lies the variety of coral gardens. It is a paradise for divers. There is a season in this archipelago where plankton are abundant in the waters that attracts the colossal whale shark.

Island hopping is a popular activity in Kota Kinabalu. Other nearby islands are the Turtle Island, a nesting ground for Green and Hawksbill Turtles; the Palau Kapalai, a sandbar that sits upon the Ligitan Reefs; the Palau Lankayan; a small island with sandy beaches and a variety of fish species including leopard sharks and stingrays; the Palau Mabul, a primary diving destination; the Palau Mantanani, an archipelago of three islands with a large array of sea creatures such as seahorse and octopus; the Palau Mataking, the home of Magic Rick, Mantis Reef, Alice Wall, and 27 more dive sites; the Palau Sipadan, a renowned tourist destination with more than 3,000 species of fish and corals; and the Palau Tiga, a reserve for natural wildlife and a diving site.



Natural Attractions

The Lok Kawi Wildlife Park is at about 30 minutes away from the city center. It is located along the Jalan Penampang in Papar Lama. It has two zones: the zoological and botanical areas. The park is open from 9:30 am until 5:30 pm daily. Entrance fees are subject to change, but it is approximately 20 RM for adults and 10 RM for kids.

The Likas Bird Sanctuary is the only remaining area of once a large mangrove forest. It was a State Cultural Heritage Site. The park is a host to a variety of migratory birds. It is located in the Jalan Bukit Bendera Upper and it is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm. Admission fees are 10 RM for adult and 5 RM for kids.

Cultural & Historical Attractions

The Monsopiad Cultural Village is located at the south of the city. It was named after the legendary warrior, Monsopiad. The main attraction in this cultural village is the Monsopiad House of Skulls that houses 42 skulls of pirates and some notorious thugs who unfortunately fell into the hands of Monsopiad. This cultural attraction is open from 8:30 am until 5 pm with an admission fee of 65 RM.

The Atkinson Clock Tower was built in memory of Francis George Atkinson, the first district officer of Jesselton (Kota Kinabalu) in 1902. It is 15.7 meters high located at the foot of the Signal Hill. The summit of the hill has an observation deck where views of the entire city can be seen.

The Sabah State Museum is located in the capital city. History and culture of the early migrants can be reflected from the exhibits. It also features Science & Technology Museum, Sabah Art Gallery, and a heritage village.

Religious Sites

Kota Kinabalu has several places of worship including the mosques, temples, and churches.

The Sabah State Mosque is the largest mosque in the state. It has an elegant decorations and its dome is covered with real gold. The mosque is located in Sembulan.

Another mosque is the Kota Kinabalu City Mosque. It is a floating mosque located along Jalan Tun Fuad Stephens. The mosque has a contemporary Islamic architecture.

The Sacred Heart Cathedral is one of the largest cathedrals in Sabah. This Roman Catholic church is the seat of the Archdiocese of Kota Kinabalu. It is located along Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman.

The St. Michael's Cathedral is an old church that was built in the early 1940s. Today, it still retains its old and ancient architectures. The church is located in Penampang.

The Sri Pasupathinath Alayam Temple in Bukit Padang and the Sri Subramaniar Temple near the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park are the only Hindu temples in the city.

The Puh Toh Tze Temple in Jalan Tuaran and the Che Sui Khor Temple with 12 tier pagoda are the most visited Chinese temples in Kota Kinabalu.

A pure Buddhist temple located along the Jalan Kolam Minintod is the Tzer Ying Temple.