Allow us to be frank — East Malaysia isn’t at the top of the list when it comes to places that most Malaysians would want to visit. It’s a fair distance, and flight fares are on par with visiting countries outside of Malaysia. But look at the beauty and rich nature that our eastern siblings have to offer, and you might just change your mind. One perfect place, for instance, is Kota Kinabalu. The capital of Sabah is a hotbed for local seafood restaurants, adventurers seeking to scale Mount Kinabalu, or just to go out to sea for a good dive. Read on for our Kota Kinabalu travel guide and you might just change your mind.
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In Sabah, seafood restaurants reign supreme. The catches are fresh, succulent, and juicy. To truly sample how fresh the seafood is, head over to Fish Market Restaurant in Warisan Square. It’s the first ‘sauna steamboat’ concept in the capital, where the catch of the day is steamed over a boiling broth while its essence drips into the porridge below. You can pick your own live seafood in the aquariums too, in addition to meat and poultry options. It’s the best way to enjoy the sweetness of the meat and later have your porridge chock full of umami from the cooked seafood.
For a more local affair where the heat of the wok extends out to the seating areas, visit Welcome Seafood Restaurant, a Chinese-style restaurant. It’s a restaurant with no bells and whistles — all it wants is to provide you with the best tasting, quality seafood at a price you won’t be able to say no to. Pick out your fresh seafood of choice, weigh them, and then get the restaurant to cook it to your liking — black pepper, steamed, stir-fried with oatmeal, or any way you want. But if seafood isn’t your type of catch, try sampling some indigenous fare in a fine setting. The Latest Recipe Restaurant at Le Meridien Kota Kinabalu has an a la carte menu that includes some ethnic-inspired dishes, including the Latok Seafood Salad that has been inspired by the Bajau people’s traditional food.
There’s a whole list of luxury hotels for you to pick from in Kota Kinabalu. But if we had to absolutely narrow down the list, one of our picks will be the Kota Kinabalu Marriott Hotel. It is a vision of modern minimalism — its rooms are sleek, contemporary, and highlight the visual lightness of wood. Five dining outlets in the hotel are all equally distinctive, from Japanese to surf-and-turf. Be sure to sample their signature cocktail, the Sapi Island Martini on their rooftop bar which overlooks the sea — it’ll be a sight to behold.
The next hotel on our list is the Shangri-La Tanjung Aru. If you don’t like travelling too far from the airport, this one is your pick. It’s a mere 10-minutes drive away from the Kota Kinabalu International Airport. Set in 25 acres of private land, you’ll be able to experience the privacy of a beach resort while still being not too far from town. The resort also overlooks the islands of Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park, which means you’ll be getting a healthy dose of greenery and forest-bathing. There are 492 rooms, four dining outlets, two swimming pools, and a spa that offers Asian-inspired treatments. Yoga enthusiasts will appreciate the open yoga pavilion that has a deck that extends out to the waters.
Kota Kinabalu is the city amongst the natural landscape that is Borneo Island. Thanks to that, you can have a mix of activities both within the city, in the mountains, and out at sea. In the city, be sure to pay a visit to Gaya Street Sunday Market to go souvenir shopping for local crafts, clothes, and antiques. As its name suggests, they only open on Sundays, from six in the morning. Visit also the City Mosque and admire the gorgeous contemporary Islamic architecture of this floating building. It’s open for public visitations daily except on Fridays.
If you’re not prepared to hike Mount Kinabalu, you can still admire its beauty from the Mount Kinabalu Park Botanical Garden. This gorgeous garden is home to over 5,000 plant species, which you can take your time to view. For more flora and fauna viewing, take on the Klias River Cruise — it’s a serene way to take in the rainforest of Kota Kinabalu, but you do need to make a day trip to the Klias Wetlands reserve. Here’s a tip — visit in the evening when it’s nearing sunset and you’ll be able to catch a glimpse of the fireflies.
Out in the waters, be sure to put aside a day to visit Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park. It’s a 20-minute speedboat ride from the city, and you’ll be able to visit the few islands within this marine park: Pulau Mamutik, Pulau Gaya, Pulau Manukan, Pulau Sapi, and Pulau Sulug. There, you’ll be able to enjoy all the water activities you want to your heart’s content. Whether it’s snorkelling, diving, or even long walks by the beach, the marine park is the perfect place to do all these.