Exploring Kota Kinabalu and beautiful Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park

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Malaysia is one of those incredible countries where there seems to be a limitless amount of things to do and see, and a perfect example of this is Kota Kinabalu. The city—which many people refer to as KK—is the capital of the state of Sabah in eastern Borneo, and has the enviable geography of lying on the warm South China sea. Despite being home to less than a million people, KK is one of the main industrial and commercial centres in Malaysia. While that draws the business crowd, Kota Kinabalu is also a favourite spot for tourists who want a jumping-off point to explore the stunning nature that surrounds the city.

kota kinabalu boat

Being right on the water, fishing is a big industry in KK. To check out the action first hand, head down to the waterfront where you can see all the fishing boats tied up or coming in from a big catch. And just in case you forgot what’s under the water, there are fish-themed statues sprinkled throughout the city.

kota kinabalu fish statue

While it’s easy to pass a day eating delicious Malay-Chinese cuisine at the food stalls, drinking fresh coconut water, shopping or chatting up the friendly locals, there is also lots to explore outside the city. A popular pastime is to brave nearby Mount Kinabalu, a trek that takes about two days to complete. While it can be a tough haul, watching the sun rise from the peak is worth it—unless you have to run back down early to avoid suffering frost bite!

Looking down from Mount Kinabalu.

Looking down from Mount Kinabalu.

One of my absolute favourite experiences in all of Malaysia was heading to gorgeous Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park. A 20 minute speedboat ride from Kota Kinabalu, it’s made up five spectacular islands featuring white sand beaches, swaying palm trees and crystal clear turquoise water. Our first stop was Pulau Sapi, which is one of the most developed out of the bunch and includes restaurants, bathroom facilities and a diving centre. After paying a conservation fee of about $3 (less if you happen to hold a Malaysian passport) and renting snorkel gear, we threw our beach bags down into the sand and dove into the sea.

Pulau Sapi beach.

Pulau Sapi beach.

We were in awe at the sheer amount of tropical fish everywhere we looked, including water snakes and friendly clownfish—aka little Nemos! We got a kick out of the fact that they kept trying to nibble on our toes, and seemed to be looking for playmates. Truth be told, the snorkeling equipment was completely unnecessary, as you only had to wade about one foot into the water to catch a glimpse of the vibrant underwater life. Just don’t forget your underwater camera!

pulau sapi malaysia

The entrance to Pulau Sapi.

Finally, head back into the city to check out one of the city’s most famous landmarks: the Kota Kinabalu City Mosque. Surrounded by a lagoon, it is fittingly nicknamed ‘The Floating Mosque’ and can hold up to 12,000 worshipers at a time. Visitors are drawn to its vibrant blue roof, and are welcome to explore the sprawling complex any day except for Fridays. Admission is free.

Kota Kinabalu City Mosque.

Kota Kinabalu City Mosque.


Language: Malay and Mandarin

Currency: The Ringgit (MYR)

How to get there: The beautiful Kota Kinabalu International Airport has both domestic and international flights, linking travellers to other Malaysian cities like Kuching and Kuala Lumpur, as well as Asian hubs like Singapore, Hong Kong and Manila. There are also flights to nearby Brunei.

Where to stay in Kota Kinabalu

Le Meridien Kota Kinabalu– It’s worth staying at this luxurious hotel for the pool alone, which has a sundeck outfitted with plush lounge beds and overlooks the sea. The gorgeous suites feature ocean views and modern amenities, and the posh property is within easy walking distance of the main attractions. Click here to book

Hotel Eden54– This highly-rated hotel is a great budget-friendly option, and its location near the port makes it an easy base for heading off on day trips. Click here to book

Hotel Sixty 3– The rooms in this hotel are very spacious for the price you pay and the location can’t be beat. The staff are accommodating and, while you won’t be blown away by this hotel, you will be sure to enjoy your stay. Click here to book


What to do in and around Kuching, Malaysia

Beaches, waterfalls and monkeys in Borneo

Climbing Borneo’s majestic Mount Kinabalu

Top 10 tips if you’re travelling to Asia

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6 Responses

  1. August 19, 2014

    […] to get there: Kuching International Airport has flights that will connect you with Brunei and Kota Kinabalu in Borneo, as well as around Kuala Lumpur on the mainland. There are also international flights available […]

  2. August 19, 2014

    […] Exploring Kota Kinabalu and beautiful Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park […]

  3. August 29, 2014

    […] in the province of Sabah, the mountain is near the city of Kota Kinabalu (KK), which will be your base if you attempt to summit the 4,095 metre […]

  4. November 11, 2014

    […] Exploring Kota Kinabalu and beautiful Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park […]

  5. June 7, 2019

    […] Exploring Kota Kinabalu and beautiful Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park […]

  6. June 17, 2019

    […] Exploring Kota Kinabalu and beautiful Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park […]

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