Kota Kinabalu: Why This Coastal Town Should Be On Your Sabah Itinerary

Kota Kinabalu, the capital of the State of Sabah in Malaysia is not one of the first places to come to mind while preparing a travel itinerary. But you should make it a part of your itinerary, and here’s why:

Beautiful Sunsets

Kota Kinabalu provides an extensive host of opportunities to watch and photograph some of the most beautiful sunsets that South East Asia has to offer. The most prominent location for catching the sunset is the Waterfront, which is a lookout over the ocean with a strip of local bars and restaurants running along it.

Other good sunset points include the Signal Hill Tower which gives you a full view of the city and the Breeze Beach Club.

You can also watch the sunset from the balcony of the Le Meridien Hotel right near the Waterfront!

There are many other resorts like this offering the beautiful ocean view so you’re really spoiled for choice.

The waterfront of Kota Kinabalu city
Kota Kinabalu waterfront. Photo credits: Kamya Buch

Friendly Locals

Malaysia, and in particular the smaller region of Sabah, is well-known for how friendly the local people are and the outstanding quality of service. The origins of Sabah come from tribes, so actually, most people who live there are part of a tribe.

Though they may live in the city, their ancestors did live a proper tribal life and so they have a very tight-knit sense of community which spills over into how they interact with tourists. Kota Kinabalu is one place you want to go if you want to have a great time talking to the locals and being accepted immediately as one of them.

Geographic Centre Point

The city itself is a great starting point for a trip around Sabah because there are so many places that you can access close by to it. A short boat ride away, you’ll find Manukan Island, one of the most beautiful island getaways off the coast of Sabah. And a few hours drive up north you’ll find Mount Kinabalu National Park, with a host of amazing wildlife and trekking opportunities. And if you want to head over the border, not far south lies the Indonesian part of Borneo where you can discover even more tribal culture and natural landscapes.

Tea gardens and hills in Kota Kinabalu
Photo credits: Kamya Buch
the greenery in Kota Kinabalu
Photo credits: Kamya Buch

Diverse Shopping

In Kota Kinabalu, you’ll find a host of opportunities to do great shopping for cheap. One of the biggest malls is Oceanus Waterfront Mall conveniently located along the waterfront. Here you’ll find a range of local and international brands, that will still fit within a small budget.

There is also the Gaya Street Market set up on Sundays which sells all kinds of local produce and items. If you want good and cheap handicraft items, look no further than The Handicraft Market for anything from windchimes, to handbags, to local instruments.

Local food in Kota Kinabalu
Photo credits: Kamya Buch

Cultural Hub

If you want to experience the authentic culture of Sabah, then Kota Kinabalu can offer all those experiences a stone’s throw away from your hotel. One of the local delicacies is the small Sago Worm which people eat alive, and in many restaurants around town you’ll find these worms, and even try them if you are interested! Because the tribal culture in Sabah is quite recent, real and traditional tribal dances are performed in various locations in the city. You can witness the dance of Murut tribe dancing over moving bamboo sticks, and playing their local instruments too. Don’t look further than Kota Kinabalu if you want a real preview into the authentic life of Sabah people.

A local playing traditional instruments in traditional attire in Kota Kinabalu
Photo credits: Kamya Buch

Five Star Service

One of the great things about Kota Kinabalu is that it has something for everyone. You have a range of 5-star hotels, as well as medium range hotels and local guesthouses. If you want a luxury treatment with a traditional touch to it, Kota Kinabalu can offer all of it.

You’ll find all the local dishes made by some of the best chefs locally in 5-star hotels like Le Meridien, and even at the smallest guesthouses. Overall, Kota Kinabalu has managed to integrate the higher end of accommodation along with their local culture so it doesn’t feel forced.

Also read: My review of the Shangri-La Rasa Ria Resort

The pool side and view from Le Meridien in Kota Kinabalu
The Le Meridien. Photo credits: Kamya Buch

Also read, 10 reasons why you should next travel to Sabah

Also read, 5 ultra-cool things to try in Sabah


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