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Kota Kinabalu is the perfect base for Malaysian Borneo.
Located on the island of Borneo, Kota Kinabalu is the capital of the Sabah state of Malaysia and a fast growing tourist destination. It is a coastal city featuring a waterfront stretching several kilometres and a port regularly receiving international cruise ships. Although a favoured destination in its own right, Kota Kinabalu also acts as a gateway to the impressive nearby nature, including its namesake national park. Diving, deep water fishing, plus a whole host of other ocean activities are some of the biggest draws to the region, the city of Kota Kinabalu provides the perfect base.
A diverse city centre with varying architecture
The design and atmosphere of Kota Kinabalu reflects its history rather well, it is a blend of cultures and ethnicities with a strong British feel in certain areas. Atkinson Clock Tower, the oldest building in the city which dates to 1905, is a focal point close to the centre and portrays an excellent visual example of British influence on the city. From here visitors can walk up to the Signal Hill Observatory to gain a panoramic view of the downtown area, a good method to understand the bearings of the city. Another aspect of the cultural diversity can be seen in the city’s religious buildings; churches, mosques and temples stand together in close proximity. The Sacred Heart Cathedral, Sabah State Mosque and Che Sui Khor Temple provide some of the finest architecture in the region and can all be located in the central districts of the city. Indeed, many of the hotels in Kota Kinabalu are also located in the downtown strip, particularly along the waterfront, including multiple large international chains. The area is mostly very developed and hectic, however the somewhat compact City Park provides a slice of greenery amid the skyscrapers. That said, visitors do not have to venture far to either find the beaches or forestry that this region is famous for.
Lively markets and a myriad of local delicacies
One aspect which greatly benefits from the city’s diversity is the cuisine, a wide variety of Chinese, Malay, Brunei and Javanese plus others can be found. The Chinese section of the city is centred around Gaya Street, an area with several restaurants and shops, plus an extensive Sunday street market. Also along this street are multiple Kota Kinabalu hotels, particularly those popular with the young backpacker crowd. As with many modernising Asian cities, there are a host of large shopping centres, often overlooked by tourists due to their homogeneous appearance. However, the food courts they contain are worth exploring due to their range of local cuisine and a chance to experience everyday life in Malaysia. In terms of shopping, one of the most visited markets is the Handicraft Market, located close to the waterfront. Its colourful appearance and welcoming residents create a memorable atmosphere where visitors can find all kinds of souvenirs and artwork. A considerable amount of Kota Kinabalu’s bar scene is also situated along the waterfront, with multiple establishments entertaining travellers with live music and the broadcasting of international sports.
Beaches, diving and fishing
Being a city on the coast, plenty of the tourist highlights involve the stunning coastal scenery. There are a two major beaches within walking distance of the centre, namely Tanjung Aru and Likas Bay, at opposite ends of Kota Kinabalu. Tanjung Aru Beach is a well-frequented spot and the surrounding neighbourhood is ideal for visitors seeking a large resort style hotel. Likas Bay is more of a locals hangout and is a much quieter experience, albeit in a less scenic location and further from most of the hotels. Many of the recreational activities that Kota Kinabalu offers are based around the water, with diving and snorkelling being extremely popular. There are multiple islands situated off the coast of mainland Sabah and the surrounding waters present some of the finest diving areas. These include the renowned Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park, just thirty minutes by boat from Kota Kinabalu. Deep sea fishing is another common activity with a variety of trips leaving the marina, from small day trips to longer week long adventures.
A gateway to nature
Beyond the city limits lie some of the finest nature in all of Malaysia and Kota Kinabalu acts as a gateway for the thousands of tourists heading further into the Bornean jungle. Kinabalu National Park lies ninety kilometres north east of the city and is focused around Malaysia’s highest peak; Mount Kinabalu. Visitors head to the park to explore the dense jungle and rugged nature which contains an array of hiking opportunities including the trail to the summit itself. Closer to the city, one of the most popular day trips is to Gaya Island just a short ferry ride away from downtown Kota Kinabalu. It is even possible to stay in a hotel on the island and take further advantage of the assortment of stunning beaches and fascinating hiking trails. Aside from nature, venturing out of the city also provides an increased chance to sample traditional lifestyles and architecture. There are multiple small villages which tour groups head to, in order to learn about the local culture, but some of the most authentic experiences can be had by renting a scooter and independently exploring.