City On The Move

Affectionately known as ‘KK’, the city of Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia’s Borneo state of Sabah has no shortage of activities

Published: 07 August 2017, Text by: Deborah Chan, Photos: Mak Po Yi

What To Do

Get to know KK under its skin as you step into Mari Mari Cultural Village, a living museum of five out of 39 indigenous ethnic tribes in Sabah. Learn about the rice-farming Kadazan-Dusun tribe, enter a Rungus longhouse, sharpen the spear of a Lundayeh hunter, dance with the Bajau sea gypsies or listen to the battle cry of the former headhunting Murut tribe.

Take a stroll down Australia Lane where Australian Soldiers first camped when they landed in KK in 1945. Now known as Jalan Dewan, it is filled with vintage print shops and hipster cafés. Venture down the lane and find some stairs leading up to Signal Hill with panoramic views of the city. Catch a glimpse of the only two colonial structures that have stood the test of time since World War II, the Atkinson Clock Tower and the Sabah Tourism Building.

Escape the city’s heat and hike into Inanam’s forest where you can take a dip at Kionsom Falls, a multi-tiered cascading waterfall. Pack some lunch for a picnic in the jungle.

Take a ferry from Jesselton Point and island hop around the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park island cluster. Spend the day snorkelling, swimming or just beach bumming. You can also parasail, kayak and explore the rainforest walk at Gaya Island. Sapi and Manukan are the most popular islands known for crystal clear waters and a dizzying variety of fish.

A trip to Lok Kawi Wildlife Park offers a chance to see some of Sabah’s notable wildlife. Located about 25 kilometres outside KK, the park is home to rainforest animals such as the orangutans, pygmy elephants, Malayan sun bears, and the odd-looking Proboscis monkeys.

Paraglide off one of the hills at Kokol Hills to enjoy the Crocker Range from a bird’s eye view or bask in the cool evening breeze with Champagne in hand while watching the city come to life as night falls.

Hire a quad bike and explore Kiulu Valley or brace the rough waters of Kiulu River. This beautiful village is set against a backdrop of rolling mountains and expansive paddy fields. Stay at Fig Tree for a rugged experience while you have a go at river fishing, rice planting or rubber tapping.

Grab some drinks and head to Tanjung Aru Beach where you will be rewarded with dramatic sunsets overlooking the South China Sea. Escape the crowd and go to Beach III where you will be hanging out with the locals.

Drawn from Sabah’s rich cultural heritage, don’t miss the chance to be soothed by magic fingers using traditional indigenous healing and rejuvenation techniques. Jari Jari Spa and Shangri-La Tanjung Aru’s Chi Spa offer unforgettable spa experiences.

Where To Eat

Sabahan noodles may sound obscure even to Malaysians living in Peninsular. Slurp up some ngiu chap (beef noodles) at Kah Hiong Ngiu Chap, fish noodles or tom yam seafood noodles at Fatt Kee Restaurant on Hilltop, or laksa at the ever-busy Yee Fung Restaurant.

Never leave KK without having a seafood meal. It’s fresh and cheap and you can pick it straight from the tank. Check out Kampung Nelayan Seafood Restaurant or Welcome Seafood around the city or venture further to Gayang or Salut Restaurant in Tuaran with beautiful sunset views.

Retail Therapy

Be ready to bargain for the best price when shopping at the Filipino Market, a great place for pearl and crystal jewellery and handicrafts. The market opens at 7 am, but for an insider’s treat, get there before dawn and watch the fisherman bring in their morning haul at the fish market in Pasar Besar.

On Sundays, the crowd hits Gaya Street for the weekend market. Farmers bring their produce, vendors sell local delicacies, antiques, exotic pets and prized herbs – almost everything under the sun. Get here early to avoid the scorching heat.

Take To The Road

Dubbed as the ‘New Zealand of Sabah’, Desa Dairy Farm, located at the foothill of Mount Kinabalu, offers a pastoral setting of Friesian cows grazing freely in lush green pastures. Watch the cows march into the milking bay, and before you leave, grab some yoghurt, cheese and milk to go. Continue on to Sabah Tea Garden, a tea estate with a charming café and cottages for those who want to stay the night. Take a guided tour around the plantation and factory to learn about organic tea cultivation.

Head to the highlands, where the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Mount Kinabalu stands tall. At the foothill is Kinabalu Park, with umpteen hiking trails and a botanical garden boasting an estimate of 4,500 species of plants, 289 species of birds and 290 different types of butterflies. End the day relaxing in one of the natural hot sulphuric pools at Poring Hot Springs, believed to have curative powers.

The idyllic Mantanani Islands are not only known for azure blue waters, but also for the friendly dugongs that swim near the shores. These islands are approximately 45 minutes by boat from Kota Belud and are fringed by reefs offering at least 20 dive sites.

For a dazzling evening of glittering fireflies and intriguing wildlife sightings, take a boat safari down the Klias River. Be in awe as long tail macaques, Proboscis monkeys, crocodiles and hornbills take centre stage. Don’t forget your insect repellant.

Back in the 1880s, the North Borneo Railway track was used to transport coffee and rubber from the interiors to the city. Today, you can take a scenic train ride passing through palm plantations, under mountains and traversing paddy fields while tucking into a ‘tiffin’ lunch in one of the world’s last few steam trains. You may also recognise scenes from the local movie Ola Bola as you stare out your cabin window.

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