Popular Places in Kota Kinabalu Sabah

Popular Places in Kota Kinabalu Sabah

Popular Places in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah are created for travelers who want to see the best of KK city in a short time. As you know, Kota Kinabalu or KK as it is commonly called, is a seaside city where there are quite a number of interesting things to do there. I frequently visit KK for work and hence have come up with a list of popular places you can go in KK. It may be subjective but then again, only a guide.

Kota Kinabalu city can be covered by foot in under two days, that is considering visiting the very popular tourist places around KK. Some attractions may require driving there but this can be arranged by any of the local registered tour counters found in the city. They are usually in shop lots or shopping mall kiosks. A general reminder is never to sign up with an unregistered tour guide or company as it can lead to all sorts of complications.
Suria Sabah Kota Kinabalu
Suria Sabah, a popular shopping mall in KK town

Shopping in KK

From modern shopping malls to bazaar style markets, you get the best of both worlds in one city. For the shopping mall fans, there are about five main malls in KK town which are Suria, Wisma Merdeka, Centerpoint, Warisan Square and KK Plaza and all can be easily accessed by foot.

Just around the vicinity there are bazaars and markets like the KK Handicraft Market (Old Philippines Market), KK Wet Market, Salted Fish Market and Fruit Market. Bazaars are found in the old area of Sinsuran, Segama and Kampung Air. One recommended popular Sunday Market is held at Gaya Street from 6am till about 3pm. Here you will find an interesting variety of local produce and handicraft to all sorts of everyday items including plants, flowers and even natural herbs.

Many other new shopping malls are built outside of the city which can take anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes drive. Notable ones are 1Borneo Shopping Mall, City Mall KK, Mengalong Mall Penampang and soon to open Oceanus Waterfront Mall at the KK Waterfront.

Hinava Fish
Hinava, a popular local Sabahan rice dish that can be found at certain places

Eating in KK

As many travelers love to eat or try new foods, Kota Kinabalu city is well known for their Seafood and Chinese food and also a mix of other local and international food. Seafood is mainly popular by the KK Waterfront while Chinese food can be found at numerous places. Gaya Street is one place to start exploring, especially the old coffee shops as this is the main Chinatown of Kota Kinabalu. Most of the restaurants and coffee shops here serve Chinese food and are non-halal. The best time to explore Gaya Street is in the mornings right through lunch. In the night, a number of the popular places sell the famous Sabah Bak Kut Teh.

Kopi Botol Photo
Kopi Botol
For your breakfast or tea break, there are a number of Cafes and Coffee Shops to explore around Gaya Street where some notable ones are the Museum Kopitiam Restaurant at Australia Park, try the Kopi Botol or Bottled Coffee.

Another two at Gaya Street is called Foong Ip Cafe and also Fook Yuen just next to the Sabah Tourism Board office. Great coffee and decent variety of local food which are pork-free. So Muslims can eat here.

One interesting place to explore is the Grace Point Food Court or Double 6 Food Court which is at Grace Point, Sembulan. This is about 5-10 minutes drive from KK town and the Double 6 Food Center is quite modern with a nice touch of design.

It is clean, spacious and the choices vary from local to international. There is a Seafood Restaurant and Japanese Restaurant here as well. Usually, I visit this place to have my fix of local Sabahan Kadazan Food, the Hinava Rice as in the picture above and the place is very recommended by me and many other Sabahans. 

For the seafood lovers, check out Welcome Seafood Restaurant at Asia City in KK while another local popular place are the seafood restaurants at Sedco which is like a giant food court in town. At the waterfront, Ocean Seafood seems to be the popular one while the most famous seafood restaurant would be Nelayan Seafood Restaurant which is out of KK town.This is a themed restaurant with cultural performances so if you are up for it, catch the local Sabahan Cultural Shows while having your dinner here.

A 10 minutes drive from the city center will take you to the Tanjung Aru Beach and this is the most popular public beach in the city. Usually frequented by locals for weekend stroll or picnics. There are a number of food stalls and a couple of bars located here. Asia City is another place to explore as there are various coffee shops and restaurants available there. The Fook Yuen Cafe is a recommended place for all day dining. Asia City is located across the road from Center Point Shopping Mall in KK.

There is also an open food area at the KK Waterfront where a myriad of local Muslim stalls sell all kinds of fresh seafood that are either cooked or barbequed. You can find this place behind the Handicraft Market at the Waterfront area. Rows of stalls sell BBQ fish, crabs and huge prawns. Other local dishes are available as well but the seating conditions are outdoor and basic. Avoid if you have a weak stomach.

Kak Nong Restaurant in KK
Kak Nong Restaurant in KK
Image by queeniechamber.wordpress.com
For Halal food or Muslim food in KK, it is not that easy to find a full Malay cuisine restaurant in Kota Kinabalu. However, there are some within the city areas.

One popular place is called Kak Nong Restaurant at Harbour City which is just opposite the junction to Sutera Harbour. This is a halal Malay award-winning restaurant too.

As for more Muslim Food in KK, there a a number of choices found around the Api Api Center in KK which is where the McDonald's is located. For international cuisines, there is Italian, Mexican and Western restaurants found around town and at most hotels, but seriously, Western food when you visit KK?

Mari Mari Cultural Village Kota Kinabalu
Murut 'Warriors' at the Mari Mari Cultural Village in KK, Sabah

Places to visit in KK

For sightseeing, there a limited places but some interesting spots like the Atkinson Clock Tower, KK War Memorial, Signal Hill Observatory, Sabah Museum, Jesselton Pier and of course, the KK Waterfront. There is also a KK heritage walk tour available from some tour companies.

Slightly out of Kota Kinabalu is the Mari Mari Cultural Village, 20 minutes to be exact, you step into the living museum of Sabah where you can see the main ethnic races in their traditional settings. Worth a visit if you like to know more about the people of Sabah. It is also a half day trip here.

For a nostalgic trip on an antique steam locomotive, try the North Borneo Railway that offers guests trips from KK to Papar town and back in just 4 hours. The tour can be arranged by most tour companies in town. It is operated by the Sutera Harbour Resort which is a five star resort.

Manukan Island Picture
Manukan Island in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah

Island hopping at Kota Kinabalu is one of the most popular things to do as the only group of islands under the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park (TAR Park) is only a 15 minute boat ride from KK where you can get clear blue waters and white sand beaches. Manukan Island, Mamutik Island and Sapi Island are very popular for day trips as tour companies offer packages from Sutera Harbor jetty and Jesselton Jetty in town. Day trip packages include boat transfers and a lunch. Best to go in the morning and back to the main land after lunch.

One of the latest attraction at Sapi Island is the Floating Marine Pontoon Reef in KK which is priced at RM295.00 per adult RM195.00 per child. This Pontoon is a floating platform with the largest reef activity in southeast Asia and located at Sapi Island which is only a 10 minutes speed boat from city of Kota Kinabalu. You can spend a good full or half day here with undersea activities like diving or snorkeling with food and beverages included in your package.

Upper Star Cafe KK
Upperstar Cafe in KK town near the Waterfront

Entertainment in KK

A few good entertainment places in Kota Kinabalu are available for those looking for nightlife here. The Waterfront is one of the oldest places where there are numerous clubs, restaurants, bars and discos. For one of the best experiences, one should have dinner at the Waterfront while watching the famous Kota Kinabalu Sunset and then end the night with some drinks here. Further across the road, you can find one of KK's top clubs - Shenanigans with slightly higher prices. 

Slightly out of the main city area is the KK Times Square with quite a few new bars and clubs but you need a short taxi ride there. Irish Bars, Clubs, Cafes, Restaurants and more can be found here. There is also another project next door called KK Times Square 2 which is soon to be opened.

Did you know Hard Rock Cafe Kota Kinabalu is opening somewhere in late 2013 or 2014? Yes, the Rock Shop is already opened just by the new Oceanus Waterfront Shopping Mall or KK Waterfront 2. Speculation is that the HRC KK will open by year end 2012 or early 2013, depending on the speed of the construction which is on-going now. Another landmark is the Promenade Hotel where the Rock Shop is just opposite. 

With the above, I do hope that you will make the best out of you trip to Kota Kinabalu and if you need more information, you can always visit the Sabah Tourism Board Information Centre as they have full information about the entire Sabah Borneo. My last trip to KK was back in April 2013 and I do plan to make another visit in the coming months. I conclude here and hope that you enjoyed the list of popular places in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.


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