Kota Kinabalu wasn’t really in my travel bucket list but during one seat sale, we scored really cheap fares to this city in Malaysia.
Located in the northern part of Borneo, the city overlooks the South China Sea. It also serves as the capital of Sabah, a state in Malaysia. We thought people go here to climb Mt. Kinabalu, which was also part of our original plan. But since our preparations fell short, we ended up just looking at the mountain from afar and dreaming of climbing it one day.
When we landed a few hours before noon, it was scorching hot. The airport was pretty easy to navigate and it was easy to take a cab. The rate was fixed at RM30 or about PHP350. The driver, while struggling in English, was very friendly.
To begin with, KK didn’t appear to us as vibrant city. It actually felt like we were just in one of the provinces in the Philippines.
But don’t be fooled. The city is actually a good place to spend a few bucks when you just want to escape the hustle bustle. Travelling here is really cheap and most places of attraction are just within walking distance. Take a cab or bus and you could go outside the city and explore more. A ferry ride from the Jesselton Port could also bring you to Brunei.
For this trip, however, we opted to just stay within the state and spent most of our time immersing ourselves with the community.
Here are a few things we did in KK, which we would recommend for those who opt for short weekend trips in the city.
As I have said, most of the places of attraction were within walking distance. We stayed in a hostel in Kampung Air and it’s situated in the city center. The streets were easy to navigate that the only challenges we encountered were the intense heat and the absence of English translations for the signs and names of the buildings.
On our first day, we did some city familiarization. We originally planned to visit the state library but couldn’t find it. Some locals weren’t really big in speaking in English, but they do understand well. We had a handy map so it was easy to locate the other places of interest. We found ourselves along Jalan Gaya, where there are lot of restaurants; and then easily recognized the Atkinsons Clock Tower from afar. After that, we went into the alleys and found some coffee shops and a lot of hostels. I think that place was KK’s version of a backpacking district. We got a lost while looking for the entrance to the Signal Hill Observatory but it was easy to return. We walked up those stairs, partly shielded by the shade of the trees, and finally set our foot to the spot where you can see most of the city.
Other places of interest was the KK Esplanade, where one can watch the beautiful sunset; and a stroll along the boulevard is also a great way to relax.
One of our walks also led us to this 3D art gallery, where we only paid RM20 (about PHP230) to enter and take photos. We had the gallery all to ourselves. There are a lot of similar kinds in the Philippines but well, they’re quite costly.
A visit to the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park is a must when you’re in KK. While we were preparing for this trip, a blogger commented that those who have been to the better beaches (like those in Palawan in the Philippines) would get disappointed with the Sabah beaches.
We only got the chance to visit three islands and we were pleased. For one, the islands were mostly clean even with a number of tourists hopping from one island to the next. There’s a place for everyone – those who want to eat, get a tan, or just take an afternoon nap while enjoying the sound of waves. There are also great scuba diving spots for those who want to explore the underwater.
There were tour packages for this one that would easily cost about RM200-300 (PHP2,300 to 3,500) but we did ours on our own for about RM65 (PHP770), including snorkeling gear and life vest rental.
The food is great. We couldn’t get over the taste of the meals we had – even those at the sidewalks or the food courts inside the malls.
The meals we had were not only good. They were also crazy cheap. One meal costs between RM6-12 (PHP71 to 140), including drinks. Trips to coffee shop ranges from RM8.50-15 (PHP100 to 175).
There were a lot of malls within KK, so many that I’m pretty sure you’d find what you’re looking for somewhere. When we visited the city, many boutiques are offering marked down items. The sale is real – so real we couldn’t stop shopping. Even the supermarkets sell extremely cheap chocolates, both local and imported.
For those who aren’t big on malls, the night market is always an open option. From morning until around noontime, there’s also a Sunday market along Jalan Gaya where you can probably find a thing or two. Some vendors even sell live animals, or paintings.
BOOK HASSLE-FREE TOURS
The only park we visited was the Kinabalu Park, a few hours away from the city center. If you are up for some mountain climbing, you should take the Mt. Kinabalu challenge. If not, the Kinabalu Park is a nice retreat away from the city because of several attractions, among them the Canopy Walk, the Kipungit Falls, Botanical Garden, Butterfly Garden and the Poring Hot Spring.
If you’re lucky enough, you might even catch a rafflesia – dubbed as the world’s biggest flower – in full bloom.
If you’re up for other kinds of adventure, you can also book a tour to the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park and the Mari Mari Cultural Village.
How much do you need to explore KK?
This is my cheapest overseas trip so far. We only shelled out more or less PHP15,000 – including the airfare and accommodation, meals three times a day and late-night trips to coffee shops.
This was made possible by the cheap seats from AirAsia. We booked in September last year when the budget airline had its red hot sale. The roundtrip airfare was about PHP2,500 originally, although we had to pay about PHP400 more because of changes in terminals.
The accommodation was also cheap. We booked a twin sharing room at Hotel Victoria via Agoda for about PHP4,000 – for the entire 5D4N stay, including taxes. The cost, of course, was split into two and it already included breakfast.
Going Around The City
Since the places of attraction were mostly within walking distance, we didn’t really spend a lot for fares. We did, however, rode a bus to the nearest Catholic church and it was just RM2 (PHP25) for the roundtrip.
We only took cab thrice. Two times for the airport transfers, which was RM30 (around PHP350) per trip; and one when we were really tired and wanted to get to Anjung Senja (RM15 or PHP170). The rest of the activities, except for the guided tour, were done walking.
For more information on Kota Kinabalu and was the city has to offer, do check out http://kotakinabalu.com and sabahtourism.com