The capital state of Sabah, Malaysia, Kota Kinabalu is a popular getaway destination for Malaysians and foreigners alike. From island hopping to immersing yourself in nature, to shopping and trekking, there’s a wide range of activities for the adventure in everyone.

Whether you are visiting with your friends or family, there’s bound to be something that fits right up your alley. Forget the bustle and the cold skyscrapers, and unwind in the greenery, clear skies and warm beaches in Kota Kinabalu. Here are 17 things to do, visit and have fun in Kota Kinabalu!


Go Island Hopping

  1. Tunku Abdul Rahman Park

Gaya Island from a bird's eye view
Image Credits: Gaya Island Resort

The Tunku Abdul Rahman (TAR) Marine Park is a composite of five smaller islands: Gaya, Manukan, Sapi, Sulug, and Mamutik. Water-based activities are abundant here, such as snorkeling and diving, as each island offers a great beach to soak up the sun and waves. Some of the bigger islands such as Gaya and Manukan offers a light jungle trekking if being surrounded by greenery is your cup of tea. Some islands house their own luxurious resorts, perfect for those who wish to stay overnight. On the other hand, campers will be thrilled to know that camping is allowed in designated premises, provided that a permit has been granted. The best part – they’re all a short boat’s ride away. Don’t miss out on the seafood in the area as well!

Most resorts on the island offer a booking package that comes with the ferry ride.

Details:

  • Admission Fee: RM10 for entry, and additional RM10 when heading to another island.

Immerse & Learn About Wildlife

  1. Lok Kawi Wildlife Park

Lok Kawi Wildlife Park entrance
Image Credits: francisgoh | Pixabay.com

A wildlife park that has both a zoo and botanic park, Lok Kawi Wildlife Park covers a total of 280 acres. Visitors get to observe Borneo Pygmy elephants, Orangutans and Malayan Tigers, among other species available. Guests can also go for a jungle trek along the 1.4km botanical trail, viewing birds and plants along the way. Families with children will be thrilled to know that a Borneo Elephant ride is available, as well as an animal show, educating and entertaining zoo-goers at the same time.

Details:

  • Address: W.D.T No.63, Jalan Penampang,
    89507 Penampang, Sabah, Malaysia
  • Admission Fee: Malaysian RM10, non-Malaysians RM20
  • Opening Hours: 9.30am – 5.30pm
  • Contact: +60 88 765793
  1. Tabin Wildlife Reserve

The cabin stays at Tabin Wildlife Resort
Image Credits: Tabin Wildlife Resort

The Tabin Wildlife Reserves sees a large variety of flourishing wildlife and flora, including some highly endangered animals. Find the Borneo Pygmy Elephant, Sumatran Rhinoceros, and Tembadau, as well as up to 300 species of birds. Surrounded by a rich ecosystem and environment, one can also take a nature trek and check out the mineral-rich mud volcanoes in Tabin. Popular activities to do here includes bird-watching and jungle exploring; guests can also customize your personal adventures with the staff. With such thriving nature, this is a perfect spot for photography enthusiasts.

Details:

  • Address: Lot 11-1, 1st Floor, Damai Point, Jalan Damai, Kota Kinabalu
  • Packages: 2D1N stays start at RM1610, email to enquire at enquiry@tabinwildlife.com.my
  • Contact: +60 88 267266
  1. Sepilok Orangutan Rehab Centre

Orangutan observing something by the log
Image Credits: Alician2010 | Pixabay.com

A rehabilitation site to care for orphaned and confiscated orangutans, as well as pockets or other animals such as gibbons and elephants, Sepilok educates their guests on the rehab process and conservation efforts. To prevent disturbance of the rehabilitation process, strict rules are enforced by the center. Feeding is done by the care-takers professionally, and handling of the apes is not allowed for the safety of both the guests and the orangutans. Instead, sit back and watch as the orangutans make their appearances, swinging from branch to branch with flashes of orange among the greens. About 60 to 80 orangutans are currently living within the reserve.

Details:

  • Address:Batu 14, Jalan Labuk Sandakan Sabah
    WDT200, 9009 Sandakan Sabah
  • Admission Fee:
    • Above 17 years old, RM5 for Malaysians and RM30 for Foreigners
    • Below 17 years old, RM 2 for Malaysians and RM15 for Foreigners.
    • Additional RM10 is charged for bringing cameras into the compound.
  • Opening Hours: 8:45am – 4pm
  • Contact: +60 89 531180
  1. Bornean Sun Bear Conservatory Center

Bornean Sun Bear resting in its natural habitat in Sabah
Image Credits: Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre

The Sun Bear is the world’s smallest bear, and tends to be an under-appreciated animal when it comes to wildlife observations in Sabah. They are actually the second most endangered bear species, falling just behind the beloved Pandas. Loss of habitat, poaching, and illegal trafficking as pets are primary reasons for their dwindling numbers.

The Bornean Sun Bear Conservatory Center (BSBCC) then, is a place where visitors can observe the rescued Sun Bears in its natural habitat, and learn more about their conservation efforts.

All proceeds from their admission fees and merchandise go to the Sun Bear conservatory efforts.

Details:

  • Address: Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre
    PPM 219, Elopura, 90000, Sandakan, Sabah
  • Admission Fee:
    • Free for children under 12.
    • RM2.10 for Malaysians aged 12-17, RM 5.30 for Malaysian adults 18 years and older
    • RM15.90 for non-Malaysians ages 12-17, RM31.80 for non-Malaysian adults 18 years and older.
    • An additional RM1,000 is charged for camera with lenses 500mm and above.
  • Opening Hours: 9am – 3:30pm
  • Contact: +60 89 534491

Museums, Galleries & Exhibits

  1. Upside-down House & 3D Wonders Museum

The Upside Down house in Sabah, Malaysia, Rumah Terbalik.
Image Credits: Rumah Terbalik

The first upside-down house in Malaysia, the Rumah Terbalik puts a fully equipped, traditional Sabah kampung house upside down for a fun, immersive view. Right beside the Rumah Terbalik is another illusion exhibit, the 3D Wonders Museum. The museum features interactive artwork with a local touch, such as the myth of the man-eating Rafflesia. In fact, the theme of nature and conservation could be found throughout the 3D museum, allowing visitors their share of fun while gaining new knowledge of the Sabah ecosystem.

Details:

  • Address: Batu 21, Jalan Telibong – Tamparuli, Tuaran Sabah
  • Admission Fee:
    • Rumah Terbalik: Malaysians RM12.70, foreigners RM19.10, children (aged 4-12 years old) RM5.30
    • 3D Wonders Museum: Malaysians RM 24.40, foreigners RM35, children (aged 4-12 years old) RM15.90
    • Combo of both: Malaysians RM31.80, foreigners RM47.70, children (aged 4-12 years old) RM19.10
    • Children age 3 and below have free entry.
  • Opening Hours:
    • Rumah Terbalik, 7am – 7pm
    • 3D Wonder sMuseum, 7am – 6pm
  • Contact: +60 88 783911
  1. Sabah State Museum

The entrance of Sabah Museum
Image Credits: @sy_park85 | Instagram.com

An old museum that houses an array of exhibits, including one of the largest ceramic collections in Southeast Asia. The museum complex also houses a Science and Education Center, an art gallery and a Heritage Village. Immerse and learn about the history of Sabah as you wonder the complex grounds. Photography is not allowed within the main building. Regardless, there’s a lot to see around the area as well, including flora and birds as you move from spot to spot. Don’t miss the Heritage Village, where traditional houses of different ethnic groups are on display. From time to time, cultural performances and celebrations are held as well.

Details:

  • Address: Jalan KebajikanKota Kinabalu 88998, Malaysia
  • Admission Fee: RM2 for Malaysians, RM15 for non-Malaysians
    Free for Malaysian students in uniform, disabled guests, senior guests and taxi drivers
  • Opening Hours: 9am – 5pm
  • Contact: +60 88 253199

Food & Shopping

  1. Gaya Street Sunday Market

Gaya Street Sunday Market in Kota Kinabalu
Image Credits: @junmyy | Instagram.com

Every Sunday, sellers from around the area sprout up on the 350m stretch of road down in Gaya Street. Starting in the early hours of the day, find fresh harvests and clothes like batik sarongs, as well as unique souvenirs and handicrafts in the area. While tourists could be found in the area, soaking in the sun and haggling away, lots of locals drop by for their weekly purchases as well. This gives the Sunday Market a sense of cosiness without an overly touristy hype nor gimmicks.

Details:

  • Address: Kota Kinabalu Central Business District
  • Opening Hours: every Sunday, 6,30am – 1pm
  • Contact: +60 88 232121

Great Views Above Ground & Across Seas

  1. Scale Mount Kinabalu

Mount Kinabalu at the summit
Image Credits: mountkinabalu.com

The pride of Kota Kinabalu, Mount Kinabalu has a series of impressive titles with its peak. The first UNESCO heritage site in Malaysia in addition to being one of the tallest peaks in Southeast Asia, Mount Kinabalu is a challenge to conquer. For the serious trekkers, the climb to the summit takes an average of two days. Upon reaching the top, however, comes a sweeping view of the Kinabalu park below and fluffy clouds, as well as the glorious morning rays. For the leisure travellers, there are other packages and easier trails as well. One can also visit the Desa Cow Farm or Poring Hot Springs on their trip.

The recommended period to visit is the dryer seasons between March to August.

Details (Mount Kinabalu Climb Info & Booking Center:

  • Address: Lot 1-37, Star City North Complex, 1st Floor Jalan Asia City, 88000, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia
  • Contact: +60 88 448709
  1. Bukit Tengkorak, the Hill of Skulls

The view from the top of Bukit Tengkorak
Image Credits: @mayanntang95 | Instagram.com

As intimidating the name sounds, Bukit Tengkorak does not actually have any skulls on display. Bukit Tengkorak is an archaic volcano rim and the site of the largest pottery-making arena during the Neolithic period in Southeast Asia. That’s 3000 years ago! While the road to the top and the archaeological site is a trek on its own, there are lots to see along the way that takes away your weariness. Besides being littered with potshards, the flora on the hill is different from the rest of Sabah due to the volcanic soil. Once at the top, a great view of Semporna beneath your feet, as well as the ocean’s horizons.

The Hill of Skulls might not be a tourist hotspot, but it sure is for the locals. Not as suitable for the elderly folks, this is a great spot for the photography enthusiasts and history nerds.

Details (of the archaeology site):

  • Address: Bukit Tengkorak Archaeological Site, C/o Muzium Wilayah Pantai Timur
    2nd Floor, Wisma Warisan, 90000 Sandakan, Sabah
  • Opening Hours: 9am – 5pm
  • Contact: +60 89 222679

Other Activities

  1. Tandem Paragliding at Kokol Hill

Guide helping someone with their parachute for paragliding
Image Credits: Pixabay.com

Just a 40 minute ride away from Kota Kinabalu City, enjoy the scenery as you’re lifted in the air via tandem paragliding. Taking off some 800 meters above sea level, take in the sights of the skies, forested areas beneath your feet and the spotted colors of the Menggatal town below. Guests is not required to have paragliding experience, as a professional guide will be on the ride with you.

Details:

  • Address: pickup available at Menggatal town
  • Admission Fee: 
    • Malaysian RM300, non-Malaysians RM400. Sunset paragliding standard rates at RM500.
    • In addition, GoPro Video is RM50
    • Transfer from KK Hotels (up to 6pax) is RM100
  • Contact: Enquire at your travel agency.
  1. Visiting the Mari Mari Cultural Village Tour

People of different ethnic tribes in their traditional outfit
Image Credits: Mari Mari cultural Village

The Mari Mari Cultural Village features five different ethnic tribes and operates as an interactive museum to preserve Borneo ethnic cultures. They aim to share the history, culture, and traditions of these indigenous ethnic tribes to their visitors to promote cultural understanding. The tribes are the headhunting warriors, Murut; hunters and fishermen Lundayeh; the Bajau tribe, known as the Cowboys of the East for their horseriding and Bajau Laut, the sea gypsies; agricultural farmers Kadazan and Rungus.

The session will also feature activities like bamboo cooking and fire making demonstrations, alongside dance performances. For those going for the evening 6pm sessions, an additional Fire Show will be performed.

Details:

  • Address: pickup available at Menggatal town
  • Admission Fee:
    • for 10am and 2pm sessions: 
      • Malaysian adult RM160, child RM140
      • non-Malaysians adult RM180, child RM160
    • for 6pm sessions:
      • Adult RM200, child RM180
  • Contact: 01133884827 or mmcvinquiry@gmail.com
  1. Full Steam Ahead with North Borneo Railway Train

Two train guides blowing the whistle to announce the arrival or departure of the North Borneo Railway.
Image Credits: Sutera Harbour Resort

Hop onto a steam train as it brings you onto a journey through Kinarut before stopping by the town of Papar. Lush paddy fields, traditional village houses on stilts and livestock comes into view through the windows. The ride is also accompanied by a Tiffin-style breakfast and lunch, truly bringing the nostalgia of a 1900s movie. The full trip takes about 4 hours in total, and booking has to be done at least one day before departure.

Details:

  • Address: The Magellan Sutera Resort, Level 2, 1 Sutera Harbour Boulevard,
    Sutera Harbour, 88100 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia
  • Admission Fee: RM380 for anyone 4 years and older. Children 3 years old and below gets a complimentary ticket.
  • Boarding hours: Wednesday and Saturday 9.30am.
  • Contact: +60 88 308500 or nbrinfo@suteraharbour.com.my
  1. Unwind at the Poring Hot Springs

The outdoor springs at Poring Hot Springs and Nature Reserve
Image Credits: @ajaneeey | Instagram.com

Located in the lowlands of Kinabalu Park, soak away the aches and tensions in your body with the natural hot, sulphuric minerals. The hot springs is a popular spot for locals and tourists alike and are often crowded on the weekends during holiday seasons. Prep your swimwear and extra towel and set to change for the full immersive experience.

The butterfly farm, Rafflesia flower site, and waterfalls are all located within the same Kinabalu Park as well, so don’t forget to check them out en route.

Details:

  • Address: Poring Hot Spring & Nature Reserve
  • Admission Fee:
    • Malaysian adult RM3, below 18 years RM1
    • Non-Malaysian adult RM15, below 18 years RM10
    • Additional RM5 per camera and RM30 per video.
    • Other costs such as enclosed bath tub applies.
  • Opening hours: 7am – 6pm
  • Contact: +60 88 878801

Special Events in Kota Kinabalu

  1. Regatta Lepa (Late April)

The decorated Lepa for the Regatta Lepa in Semporna
Image Credits: Regatta Lepa Semporna

The Regatta Lepa is a festival hosted in honour of the Bajau Laut, the nomads of the Sea, otherwise known as the Sea Gypsies. The Lepa is a long sailing boat traditionally used by the community as a mode of transport and a roof over their heads; the Regatta Lepa then, is a festival and water parade where decorate boats sail late into the night. There are performances showcased on the boats, and activities like dragon boat racing, tug of war and fireworks will be available. Do catch the ‘igal-igal’ dance of the Bajau people, named after its eagle-like dance movements, and a trademark of the tribe.

Details:

  • Address: Semporna
  • Opening Hours: 7am – 11pm
  • Dates: in April annually. Check Sabah Tourism Board for more info.
  1. Sabah Fest (Early May)

Woman in traditional costumes as she looks out into the sea for a musical at Sabah Fest
Image Credits: Sabah Fest

The largest cultural event to celebrate Sabah’s mix of history and traditions, the Sabah Fest held annually in May showcases musicals, exhibits and a bazaar for visitors. Enjoy music and dance performances from local talents, and have a taste of authentic cuisines from the 30 ethnic groups as they gather at one place. On top of that, don’t miss out on the craft pieces handmade by local artisans as well. The full-day event is bound to leave you reeling in the highlights of what the locals have to offer.

Details:

  • Admission Fee: RM50 per ticket
  • Dates: in May annually. Check Sabah Tourism Board for more info.
  • Contact: +60 88 232121
  1. Tamu Besar Kota Belud (End October)

Wares being sold at a Tamu in Kota Kinabalu
Image Credits: Taun Gusi Village Homestay

The famed Kota Belud holds a weekly open-air market (Tamu) where local sellers gather to sell their wares. Delectable homemade cakes and handcraft items can be found on display. Annually, they host a Big Market (Tamu Besar) where the best of the best are presentable by traders from Kota Belud and beyond. Expect a vibrant blend of cultures as you roam the displays.

Besides the bazaar, don’t miss the Cowboys of the East, as Bajau horsemen parade the place with their horses decked in costumes. Traditional sports such as buffalo racing and the crowning of Beauty Queens also takes place.

Details:

  • Address: Kota Belud
  • Opening Hours: 6am – 2pm, as per usual ‘Tamu’ timings.
  • Dates: 27 Oct 2018 – 28 Oct 2018

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Which of the above have you been to, and where do you want to head to next? Let us know!

*First Published: 21 Oct 2017, Last Updated: 23 Oct 2018