Malaysia is divided into two regions: the so-called Peninsular Malaysia or West Malaysia and Malaysian Borneo, standing in the western area of the island of Borneo, with the east part belonging to neighboring Indonesia.
The Malaysian Borneo, is divided into two states, Sabah at the north and Sarawak in the south, and remained independent and ruled by tribes until 1963, when it was incorporated into the Federation of Malaya, and the tribal culture, as well as different languages and customs been rapidly eroded by the introduction of the Malay culture.
Situated by the sea, the region of Sabah was commerce site since 700 AD with the Chinese to exchange raw materials with local tribes. In the fourteenth century this region has been dominated by the Sultan of Brunei later ceded parts of the territory to the British that used it for tobacco trade, rubber and wood, after the passage in 1521 of the Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan.
Kota Kinabalu is the state capital of Sabah, and from all this past little remains after the bombings during II World War. What we found now is a modern and organized city dominated by concrete, where is visible the taste for shopping centers and height buildings that creates a barrier between the sea and the dense forest that still dominates the Borneo, despite being strongly threatened by the monoculture plantation of palm trees for palm oil extraction, one of the largest exports of Malaysia.
From the culture of local tribes not much is noticeable nowadays, beyond some local handicraft shops. Kota Kinabalu is a concrete city without much to offer besides the wide gastronomic variety resulting of the presence of a large Chinese community, that settle down here for many generations and also the Malaysian food, that by itself gatherer Indian, Thai and Indonesian influences.
The fish and seafood have a special importance here, with the market located next to the small harbor showing bustling activity especially early in the morning and in the beginning of the evening, with a wide variety of fish and shellfish. Nearby the Central Market buzzes of excitement with hundreds of stalls selling and cooking, being the ideal place for meals, offering greater variety of food with good prices.
Near the area known as “Australia Place” there is a pedestrian access by stairs with about 250 steps, that reaches the Signal Hill Observatory one viewpoint overlooking the China Sea and the islands of the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park, but whose view is strongly compromised by the construction of massive buildings that leave little space to see the sea.
The city of Kota Kinabalu is small and can be done on foot, however the main points of interest are located away, such as natural parks. The most attractive around Kota Kinabalu is undoubtedly the nature, with Mount Kinabalu (Gunung Kinabalu) the highest point in Borneo with about 4000m; yet the choice was for the islands that form the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park, located about 3 km from Kota Kinabalu. The choice was for one of the smaller islands, Pulau Mamutik for offering one of the best places snorkeling, with plenty of corals and marine life. It isn’t required great effort or equipment for a closer look to the fantastic colored fish, moving through the colorful corals and rock covered by anemones dancing to the rhythm of ocean currents.
The stay in Kota Kinabalu is marked by the arrival of the monsoon in the days dawning hot and shine, become cloudy with the sky covered with heavy and dense gray clouds that bring light and thunders, pouring heavy rain over the city. After the storm the air is cooler but soaked with humidity, leaving a trail of cloud in the sky, that illuminated by last sun rays, fill the sky of fantastic colors.
The zone called city of “Australia Place”, located in the east of the city, near the Atkinson Clock Tower and Lorong Dewan is where concentrates most lodging for backpackers budgets, with dorms and with double rooms around 60-70 RM.
Also in this area are cafes and western-style restaurants that offer a pleasant and peaceful place to spend a few hours enjoying a good coffee, sophisticated pastries, air-conditioning and free wi-fi… although a coffee in one of these sites costs around 10 RM (ringits)
Where to eat:
Being a city on the coast, fish and seafood occupies a prominent place in the local dishes, with are several restaurants at waterfront serving grilled and steamed fresh fish and seafood, but where a meal can cost more than 80 RM for two.
However the Central Market, a open-air market, with dozens of the stalls are the most economical option offering wide variety of local food, including fruit, sweets and desserts. A fried-rice costs less than 4 RM.
In the city there are many options in terms of restaurants. The local favorites were the Fong Ip Café (corner between Jalang Pantai and Jalang Gaya) with Chinese food and Malaysian options, and which highlights the laksa, a kind of curry with coconut milk, with noodles, tofu and ginger and here it is served with shrimp. In the opposite corner, in Azlina Sulawesi with Muslim influence, serves typical Malay food, some Thai curries and is a good place to find rotis, a clear influence of South Indian food.
Note that mealtime is limited: while you can have a meal all day, with restaurants open by 7 am they usually close around 21.30h.
To go from Kota Kinabalu to Tunku Abdul Rahman Park
From the various islands of the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park was the choice to Pulau Mamutik for offering one of the best local for snorkeling, watching corals and marine life just with a light gear that can be rented on site.
The boat to the islands start from a small pier near Central Market; the price has to be negotiated with the various touts who are in the area looking for tourist… the price was RM 40 (round trip). The time to come back is agreed with the owner of the boat.
It better take some food, because thre aren’t many options in the island.
How to go from Kota Kinabalu to the airport:
Taxi costs 25 RM.
There are buses that make the connection between Kota Kinabalu and Terminal 1 and Terminal 2 of the airport located on the outskirts of Kota Kinabalu.
The Airport Bus service is located at Jalan Padang, near the Merdeka Field. For those coming from Australia Place, walk five minutes, and you’ll find these buses just after Atkinson Clock Tower.
The first is at 7.30am; between 9.00 am and 19.00 out of every hour, with the last at 19.00
Ticket: 5 RM