Traveling to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah Malaysian Borneo

Beyond the sights, tastes, and smells of the new places that we visit, the essence of travel is really that of learning about different cultures and histories. Our first time in Kota Kinabalu was but a sneak peak that beckons us to return again and again to learn more about this interesting capital of Malaysia’s largest state, Sabah.

With all that has been reported in the news about Sabah, it is but natural for people to feel hesitant about flying to this island. I’m glad that I did not opt to pass up the opportunity to visit Kota Kinabalu.


What greeted us as we alit from our plane cannot be further from the truth. Sabah is peaceful and welcoming. The people, the food, the beaches, the natural attractions, and the cultural heritage give every tourist something to look forward to during their vacation.


On this trip, the Malaysian Tourism team took us to Pacific Sutera, the Sabah Museum, the Cocoa Factory, the Kampung Nelayan, the beautiful islands around the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, the Pontoon, and the Mari Mari Cultural Village. It may sound like a lot but there are still other attractions in Kota Kinabalu that tourists can visit. The trip was both educational and enjoyable for everyone in our group.

Getting to Know KK
Perhaps unknown to many, Kota Kinabalu or KK is the capital of Sabah, which is the second largest state in Malaysia. It is located in the West Coast Division of Sabah, lying on the northwest coast of Borneo. Owing to its location south of the typhoon belt, this state is called “The Land Below the Wind.” The city has a population of only about half a million people. Formerly known as Jesselton, this East Malaysian city was razed to the ground during World War II. It was not until 1967 when the city was rebuilt and named Kota Kinabalu.

Credit: Sabah Toursim

This city has evolved into a major fishing destination for people within the locales of Sabah and Borneo. Tourists have likewise discovered the area and choose to bask in its pristine beaches during their vacations. Those who visit KK will find out that this place is more than just the sparkling white sand beaches and calm fishing waters. KK has also grown to be one of East Malaysia’s major industrial and commercial centers. As this place continues to gain international attention, there is a need to balance progress with preserving its natural landscape and scenic attractions.

Credit: Sabah Tourism

Sabah’s Natural Attractions
In the outskirts of the city of KK are beautiful natural attractions waiting to be discovered. These attractions are what draw international tourists to Sabah. There are adventures for those who wish to scale heights or plunge into depths. Mt. Kinabalu, the region’s highest mountain, is accessible to tourists through KK. Visitors can go mountain climbing and see some wildlife in the reservation and conservation areas. Tourists might get a chance to see the proboscis and the orang utans of KK in the wilds. KK is also home to the world’s largest flower species, the Rafflesia. There is a Rafflesia Forest Reserve that’s located within a few kilometres from KK.

For a taste of the waters, tourists can go island hopping at the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park. Swim with the marine life in the waters and enjoy the welcoming atmosphere of the various islands within the park.

Visitors can dive into the ocean and go on a sea walk at The Pontoon. After snorkelling, swimming, and diving, tourists can have a picnic and enjoy the sun and sand at the beach.

Immersing in the Culture of KK
Loving the people in KK is not difficult. They are warm and hospitable. While their language has similarities with the Filipino language, their culture is uniquely colourful. There are over 30 different ethnic races thriving in Sabah. Although their population is culturally diverse, these people have succeeded in preserving their age-old traditions and customs.

Visitors can get a glimpse of this culture at the Mari Mari Cultural Village. The architecture of homes remain faithful to that of the homes in olden days. People also wore the traditional costumes adorned with antique bead necklaces and hand-engraved silver jewelry. Belts were often made of strung silver dollar coins. While in the village, I had a henna tattoo done by one of the tribesmen. He said he put the word Sabah on my tattoo so I would not forget them. Everyone knows that I don’t need a tattoo to remind me of my wonderful experiences in this place. I learned a lot of things about Sabah and KK. My tattoo has already faded but this place has left a mark in my heart.


My Henna Tattoo
My Henna Tattoo

The language in Sabah is very similar to Tagalog. The accents are also so close that when the waitress at Café Bole asked me if “tapos na kayo?” I thought she was a Filipina. She was asking if we were done eating. She learned the phrase because she has a Filipino partner. I felt at home in Sabah from the moment I got off the plane. Maybe it’s because of the many similarities with the Philippines. I even learned a few words that sounded like Tagalog words. Some of these were mahal for expensive (a word that comes handy when bargaining for discounts), biawak for monitor lizard, and kucing for kitten. There are slight differences though as I learned that sayang in their language means love. In tagalog, this word means regret.

The food in Sabah is also diverse. The modern restaurants and dining facilities might offer continental fare but the local cuisine is still our food of choice. Sabah’s seafood promises nothing less than the best – it’s not known for fishing for nothing. The seafood are always freshly cooked and served to perfection. There is no better place to enjoy the bounty of the sea than at the Kampung Nelayan floating restaurant. Every diner’s palate will be treated to the delicious tastes punctuated by subtle flavors and spices.

Opening KK to the World
Sabah and Kota Kinabalu has opened itself to the world. It has one of the busiest international airports in the region. Its airport services flights from major air carriers across the globe. As tourists continue to flock to KK, I hope that they continue to preserve their natural attractions and their rich traditions. My Sabah experience is priceless. The most valuable things I brought home with me from KK are not material. I left Sabah with a smile. I came home with loads of learnings from a culture that is giving, from a culture that offers itself for the world to experience. I will definitely be back to explore and experience more of Sabah and Kota Kinabalu. From the deepest part of my heart, terima kasih (thank you) Sabah!


Tourists can reach this destination through the Kota Kinabalu International Airport. This airport is the second busiest airport in Malaysia, next only to the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Travellers can go to other Asian destinations such as Shanghai, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, Taipei, Manila, and Cebu from this airport. Zest Air flies to this airport every Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. More information about their budget fares are available in their official website.


Related Articles:

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Where to Eat and Where to Buy Pasalubong in Kota Kinabalu

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Mommy Iris

I'm a lifestyle and mommy blogger from the Philippines. Pinay Ads was created to share bits and pieces of my life and my family. I have a wide array of interests that include entertainment, movies, music, gadgets, traveling, food, baking, and more. So, I hope you’ll stick around and enjoy reading!