5 Things you MUST DO in Kota Kinabalu
1. Climb Mount Kinabalu
This was our second time to Kota Kinabalu, known simply as KK to Malaysian locals. The first time we were there, we took a bus and made the 2 hour+ trip down to Mount Kinbalau. It’s relatively easy to climb and requires just 4-6 hours if you’re fit. It’s not for everyone though and you’ll need at least a day. You get rewarded with a stunning view from the summit.
I wish i could say we did climb Mount Kinabalu but we ended up just exploring the base trails and tickling the mountain. Also, Chloe is like a Disney princess and climbing mountains and Disney Princesses don’t mix.
Picture from wikipedia
2. Filipino Market / Handicraft Market:
Previously known as the Filipino market, it has been renamed the more politically correct sounding handicraft market in recent times. The market is in the heart of KK city so this is the thing to do if you’re going to the city. There are actually three markets next to each other here, the handicraft market, wet market and central market.
The handicraft market is where you can get souvenirs and other things tourists like. The real find here is the wet and central market where you get tuck in to authentic local food and check out all the fresh produce.
You should check out Jensen’s Kota Kinabalau photo journal here for more of his gorgeous pictures of the markets.
3. Island Hopping from Jesselton Point
Just a 15 minute speed boat right from Jesselton Point in the city centre is the land of free foot spas – normal people call it the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park. Its a group of islands great for snorkeling and diving. Its fun to just hang out in the clear waters while hopping across the islands and its what we did the first time we were in KK.
Oh yea, the secret to getting the fishies is to get some bread! NOM NOM NOM!
4. Turn your world upside down at Rumah Terbalik
We only knew of this place thanks to Jensen who visited the upside down house at Kg. Telibong, Batu 21, Jalan Telibong Tamparuli, 89208 Tuaran in KK recently. Its one of only 5 upside down houses in the world so do check out his Upside Down House blog post for more information.
5. Enjoy the Luxurious Resorts
Sabah is HUGE and East Malaysia is nowhere near as populated as Peninsula Malaysia. This results in the resorts here being super sized luxurious retreats. In fact, some people travel to Kota Kinabalu just to experience these resorts!
We stayed at two of the most famous resorts in KK while we were here. The first was Shangri-La’s Tanjung Aru and the second Shangri-La’s Rasa Ria. They cater to quite different types of guests so I’ll be sharing a bit about these resorts below.
Shangri-La’s Tanjung Aru
Tanjung Aru is just a 15 minutes ride from the airport and 10 minutes ride to the city centre. So its very accessible with plenty of things to do both in and out of the resort. Being located on its own little island surrounded by sea, you can walk right into the beach from the resort and get straight into their water activities.
It doesn’t look that big from the picture above, but the whole resort actually spans 25 acres – Yes that’s roughly equivalent to the size of 25 american football fields.
At the bottom of the above picture, you can see their Chi Spa on the left and Sunset bar on the right both on their own little islands. I’m going to be gushing over Tanjung Aru quite a bit because its one of our all time favourite beach resorts now.
This is one of the coolest bars we’ve ever visited. It’s amazing enough that this resort has their own little island. But to have a bar on its very own island within an island and its own little walkway against the backdrop of a perfect setting sun? Its one of those moments that just takes your breath away.
Hands down the best Chi Spa we’ve been too. Located on the other island within an island, this Spa area is big enough to be a resort of its own. Yes, all these pictures above are just from the Chi Spa! The landscaping here is stunningly beautiful and each spa has its own private villa and jacuzzis.
The STAR Marine is where you can take up diving classes and all sorts of water activities. We hear many people come to KK just to learn diving because its relatively cheaper and there are some amazing dive spots here. The STAR Marina was very well stocked with all sorts of classes been taught and activities to do. They have their own pier just outside!
The pools here are something else too. There are slides and the big bucket of water of doom for children to play with. Then there is also the infinity pool which overlooks the ocean made magical looking by clever landscaping.
Coco-Joe’s Bar & Grill
If you come here you HAVE to try their signature “STAR burger” from Coco-Joe’s Bar & Grill. It’s one of the best burgers I’ve had. Btw the way STAR cleverly stands for Shangri-La Tanjung Aru Resort.
Shangri-La’s Rasa Ria
Rasa Ria is designed more to be more of an all inclusive resort surrounded by hundreds of acres of Sabah’s natural environment. It’s about one hour away from the airport, so it takes sometime to get to. But this also means its the nearest 5 star hotel to Mount Kinabalu.
Its a lot more exclusive and if you thought Tanjung Aru was big being the size of 25 acres, well here is where things get ridiculous. The total surrounding area of the resort spans over 400 acres and the resort has an 18-hole golf course and even has its own 64 acre nature reserve!
While Tanjung Aru is more mainstream, this luxurious resort caters more to the honeymooners and guests who want more privacy and complete relaxation in a lush natural setting. Because in all that space, there are just 416 guest rooms.
We went on both the Sunset Cruise and Sea Gypsy Cruise while we were here. The Sea Gypsys are one of the indigenous tribes of Sabah. Sabah itself is made up of many such tribes with their own culture and languages. This particular tribe used to live in houses on the water so I guess that is where their name comes from.
It was quite unbelievable, after about 40 mins of slow cruising along the river we thought we were somewhere far away. However, we looked across the river and we saw one of our fellow passenger’s husband playing golf right across the river. She excitedly called out to him. Yes the resort is THAT huge!
She was also really thoughtful and brought along some treats for the Sea Gypsy children who were playing in the water.
Other activities include Sailing, Wind Surfing, Horseback riding, tree-top canopy walks and white-water-rafting. They have a daily board of activities so you basically will never run of out things to do here.
Orang-Utan Nature Reserve
This has to be the star attraction of the resort. Said passenger I mentioned earlier told me she brought her whole family down here for a week just because of the Orang-Utans! They are the only resort in the world I know that has this making it a one of a kind attraction.
Well it technically isn’t just an attraction because this reserves serves a very important purpose as a rehabilitation centre. They plan to introduce these Orang-Utans back into the wild at some point. We saw them at feeding time but the Orang-Utans we getting bullied by smaller wild monkeys who were stealing their food. I think it will be a long time before they are ready to go back into the wild.
I personally hope the Orang-Utans stay here forever instead of endangering themselves in the wild. Because they are already in a very natural habitat here, there is plenty of space and they will be well looked after.
Dinner at Tepi Laut
Tepi Laut serves up local cuisine buffet style and having dinner here on a Sunday and Wednesday is a must. Because on these days they specially arrange tribal cultural dance performances from the tribes in Sabah.
It was one of the highlights of our trip watching them perform their cultural dances and at the end Chloe had a chance to take part in the dancing too. The coolest part? These dancers are actually part of the Rasa Ria staff too so you may see them around house keeping etc.
Here are some other pictures of our time spent at Rasa Ria, starting with the outdoor bathtub in the Balcony of our room!
Bye Bye KK!
And that wraps up our week in Malaysia! What an amazing time time we had! If you’re looking for more ideas on what to do in KK be sure to check out the Kota Kinabalu Eat Play Shop Guide!
Video Highlights of our trip
More from our One Week with Shangri-La Malaysia series:
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