The capital city in Sabah, Kota Kinabalu gives you the feel of man-made land blended together with the nature. Big buildings with beach and rainforest nearby, tons of places for food, night market, it is the gateway to the island of Borneo. In many ways, Kota Kinabalu gives the feel of being around develop part of Borneo, but at the same time, I was missing the rainforest, the endless forest. Like at night, instead of Chkada, Kota Kinabalu had sound of cars. The good part about the city is that anytime of the day, if you are hungry, you will get many options for food. A localite told us that, " Malaysian people love food and hence why you will find many options for food, even in the middle of the night."
For staying, you have 5 star hotels to even budgeted hotels. Another option which many people opting for is renting flat (mostly via AirBnb). These flats are in good society, giving you access to gym, pool and semi equipped kitchen. During my stay, I choose Oceania Hotel. It was a 4 star category hotel with good rooms, but no pool. The good part of this hotel was that they had a daily shuttle going to two prominent malls (City Centre & Sabah Mall) in the city every hour in evening from 5-9 pm. The service was super convenient as we spend our day doing adventure, return to hotel by 5, take the 6 pm shuttle and returning at 8-9:30 pm for a good night's sleep.
There are many local sightseeing which one can do. My personal favourite top two picks are, Day Trip to Gaya Island for Scuba Diving and Day Trip to Mt. Kinabalu with a visit to Ranau (Poring Hot Spring). Apart from these two picks, there is more to Kota Kinabalu then just this two.
Coming back to Kota Kinabalu, you have options to either visit some monuments or do some adventure or relax at beach. Architecture and history lover can head to Kota Kinabalu City Mosque, Sacred Heart Cathedral or visit Sabah State Museum to get in depth knowledge of the people of Sabah. Apart from these, there are many places like Atkinson Clock Tower, Signal Hill Observatory, Pulau Tiga 'Survival Island' visit and so on.
Kota Kinabalu also offers people a chance to do white river rafting. Though these places are 2 hours away from the city, the Kiulu River Rafting is for people who are doing rafting for the first time. Grade 1 with around 2-3 Rapids making Kiulu river rafting level easy or moderate. Adrenaline junkie can head for Padas River Rafting. Grade 3, Padas river rafting will surely make your heart skip a bit or maybe throw you in the water with one quick rapid. Both of these options need half a day and by evening you will return to Kota Kinabalu to relax for your next adventure!
Being a city near to beach, Kota Kinabalu has a lot of docked boats (especially fishing boats) around the main city center. Hence, for good beach, head down to Tanjung Aru Beach or drive to the end a.k.a tip of Borneo, Kudat. Take a sun bath or play in water, beaches near Kota Kinabalu are kids friendly and has amazing view of South China sea.
Apart from rafting, one can definitely go for Scuba diving (one of my favourite activity) or rent a yacht or sea kayaking or go golfing. The options are many, if time permits! Not to forget if fitness permit, then opt climb to Mt. Kinabalu.
After all these activities, your stomach will growl and Kota Kinabalu will not disappoint you with the wide variety of restaurants! Me being vegetarian, I did face some problems as most of the restaurant serves non-vegetarian dishes and very few or none vegetarian options. Luckily, we found one of the unexplored, small and pocket friendly restaurant name ' Devi's'. They had Indian food (Dosa and idle) which I personally thought will not get a chance to see or eat in Kota Kinabalu. Devi's was indeed a homely place. The owner was very sweet person. After our food, we had a chat with him and he suggested a few other places which we can try in Kota Kinabalu. Next day, we tried places like ' Little Italy' which offered good quality Italian food and thank the God, we could customise to eat vegetarian food. Also tried a famous Indian place name ' Kohinoor' which served good quality food but little pricey. Must try and found at many places is 'Waffles', prepared by vendors in the mall or street.
Every city has their fruit which is largely available in that city or country but not everywhere else. One of such fruit we found in Kota Kinabalu and in Malaysia was ' Durian'. Just like mango, Durian milkshake and smoothies are available in every juice shop. Another two unknown fruit to us were Kichai and Kedondong. Their juices were a mixture of sweet and sour, interesting to give it a try.
Activities done, food done, the only thing left is Shopping. Kota Kinabalu has many shops or mall for shopping and generally all types of brand are available. We were looking for some local specialties, but couldn't find one. There is a small town away from the city which showcase the cultural experience of city people and their occupation years ago! It is called Mari Mari cultural village, an experience there will give you a chance to glimpse the civilization of Sabah. You can look at buying tea or White coffee mix which are quite a specialty of Malaysia. One shop which I found unique and innovative was ' Dantsu'. It was basically Japanese shop which had all products from Japan sold at a fixed cost per item. I was amazed to see the kinds of product available in the shop. Obviously those who been to Japan won't find it new, but those who have not been to Japan or any shop like this can surely try place for shopping.
The city is lively yet people do everything at their own leisure time. You will see the diversity of people, yet they are friendly and happy to help you (May not apply to all, we did find some random weird people). The city has many roads and bridges, making it easy to roam around and explore new places.
Kota Kinabalu is connected with all major cities and it is the entry to Sabah from different part of the world. My time was certainly enjoyable and I cherished each day of my holiday in Kota Kinabalu and so do you.