There is so much to see in Kota Kinabalu (abbr. as KK) aside from climbing the highest mountain in Southeast Asia. During our 2013 trip, we familiarized the small city by walking 6km from the airport to Gaya Centre Hotel where we stayed the first night. It was a great idea to warm-up with our backpacks, but the truth is—we don’t have enough ringgits for a taxi!
KOTA KINABALU DIY CITY TOUR
Touchdown. Walk from the airport with backpacks to have a free and easy tour to the city’s central district. This allows you see sites such as magnificent mosques and their baywalk. This way you also save Ringgits instead of paying for a taxi. Get a free map from the tourism kiosk at the malls, or from the airport, or download one in your smartphone and ask around locals for directions in simple or broken English or basic conversational Malay.
During our trip, we arrived past midnight so we decided to just sleep in the airport. By sunrise, we started our morning exercise by walking down their streets. Selamat Datang.
Food. Eat local food at the food court at the malls or near the night market or at the Baywalk. Try Bak Kut Teh at Jalan Gaya. It is an exotic tasting Chinese broth soup mixed with herbs and spices. It literally means “meat bone tea”, popularly served in Malaysia and Singapore. As a supertaster, there was this lingering taste I didn’t like from one of the spices, probably white peppercorns. Also, its side dish ‘yu choy sum’ wasn’t particularly appealing to my taste buds. But drinking lemonade helped me handle it!
On another evening, we treated ourselves at Little Italy—the pasta and pizza corner at Capital Hotel, Jalan Haji Saman. The place was full packed—no wonder because they serve divine meals! We couldn’t help but laugh out loud because our friend’s mouth got inked from eating squid pasta, Al Nero di Seppia. That was a delightful carbo-loading dinner to prep up for our upcoming mountain hike. Eat to your heart’s content!***
Accommodation. During the first day in KK, we stayed at Gaya Centre Hotel with a nice overlooking view of the bay and is conveniently located near a shopping mall which is just across and a few steps away from restaurants at the Baywalk. It is an affordable place to stay with great service.
Later at evening on Day 1, we toured around and scouted for a cheaper accommodation in Gaya Street and found Sensi Backpacker’s Hostel. We stayed there after our Mt. Kinabalu climb. The hostel is clean with shared bathrooms. They offer free bread and coffee in their kitchen for breakfast. There’s a bookshelf nicely displayed near the front desk and I was lucky to bring home old books left by the previous travelers! We had no trouble speaking to the staffs because they were Filipinos and they were very helpful in giving us tips on what to do after our Kinabalu climb.
Other Activities. Aside from climbing Mount Kinabalu and other nature trips, why not visit heritage villages like Mari-Mari Cultural Village. Sensi Backpacker’s Hostel offers different tour packages like Tambunan Rafflesia Reserve, Kiulu White Water Rafting, Proboscis Monkey River Cruise and Fireflies tour, Turtle Island Park etc.
I could only wish we had more days in KK. We were supposed to join the Rafflesia tour but we arrived late from an earlier city tour, so we missed it and diverted to the Mari-Mari Cultural Village evening tour which was cheaper and worth it. The cultural tour included a superb native food dinner buffet. It was a great interactive learning experience.
Sabah State Mosque
We were glad to walk on foot and passed by the beautifully constructed State Mosque at Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman.
The state museum showcases Sabah’s art gallery, archeological artifacts, Islamic civilization and history, ethnobotanic garden, archetype cave with a zoo and a heritage village nearby. The 64ft long skeleton remains of Bryde’s whale welcomes you inside.
Atkinson Clock Tower
The clock tower, completed in 1905, once served as a lighthouse to guide sailors. It is one of the oldest structures in Kota Kinabalu.
Kota Kinabalu Baywalk Sunset
Don’t miss the glorious sunset at their baywalk. There are many food stalls and restaurants around and a nearby market.
A great place to visit in the evening, where waterfront restaurants are located. Jesselton is the former name of Kota Kinabalu, the capital of the state of Sabah.
Gaya Street Sunday Market
You can buy souvenirs and other cheap items at their Sunday market. We bought our t-shirt souvenirs here. There were lovable cats, rabbits, parrots and other pet animals in the cages for sale. However, I don’t support buying souvenirs made from marine life–starfish, shells and other ornaments from the ocean.
There were protesters for land title rights that time, but it was a peaceful rally meeting. Also, there were politicians with their supporters campaigning as their election day was nearing during our visit. I don’t look like a tourist at all, so they gave me a campaign flyer, smiled and shook hands with me.
Mari Mari Cultural Village
Mari Mari Cultural Village is amidst a rich spectrum of greenery wetland about 40-minute ride from Gaya Street. Mari Mari means “come, come” in English. It will take you back to Borneo’s tribal way of living.
In the village, you can find the archetype houses of the Borneo’s five tribes, namely: Dusun, Rungus, Lundaye, Bajau and Murut.
Go visit during the night so you get the eerie feeling of a forest with the custom welcome ceremony by the chief and his warriors. Here you will choose a leader in the group to make hand gestures with the chief for acceptance. What makes it interesting and fun is that you get a taste (literally) of their tribal culture.
Engage yourself in tribe’s daily activities: learn how they cook with bamboo stems, bake cookies and eat it, learn how to start a fire using bamboo saw, how to make honey, ropes and vest from scratch, drink rice wine and pandan juice, try shooting using a blowpipe, get a free henna tattoo, dance and jump with other tourists at the lansaran (trampoline) in hey-sexy-lady beat.
Mari-Mari Cultural Village Photo Gallery:
I love Kota Kinabalu! Terima Kasih.
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