“Make sure you get yourself a window seat and watch where you land”
KK’s airport is right off the beach and the view of the islands dotted around the coastline from the plane window is such an amazing welcome.
Adventure Alternative Borneo offer a huge variety of trips into the rainforest, the national parks and the islands around Sabah that you would need to fly into Kota Kinabalu for. I would seriously recommend planning to stay in the area for a couple of days before of after your trip to really make the most of what this city has to offer.
The vibrant, bustling waterfront has everything to offer with the most beautiful views of the islands. A huge variety of international cuisine served on the decking until the early hours. The most fantastic sunsets and views of the fishing boats coming into harbor, it makes you feel like you are right in the center of the action. There is the market running along the length of the waterfront, selling everything under the sun, tailors working with their sewing machines on the streets. You are not hassled in the same way as many other markets.
Kota Kinabalu does feel much more westernized than the southern state Sarawak, it is much further ahead in terms of development but it is still easy to find the bars and restaurants serving local cuisine. Although this could be the perfect place to secure that last fix of western food before your trip into the jungle!
One of the days must be spent on the islands, they are only 20 minutes off Jesselton Point, very easy to organize, and cheap to get to, a return being 40RM (£8) return. Sadly the litter in the waters of Malaysia is a bit of an issue. They are currently trying to drastically reduce the use of plastic bottles; so hopefully that movement will help things. When you first leave the harbor to the islands you will notice a depressing amount of litter but it does go down towards the islands. Snorkeling off these islands is completely wonderful with an abundance of multi-colored fish all around you and MASSIVE water monitors peacefully prowling around, looking terrifying but being harmless.
There are 4 islands to chose from, or if you are feeling organized you can visit more than one in a day if you are willing to spend a bit more.
We visited Sapi Island, where there is a zip line connecting the neighboring island for (68RM). The island is small and can be crowded but we walked a little it away and found a tiny private beach to enjoy.
The water is crystal, turquoise clear and as wonderfully warm. The last boats leaving the islands are at 4 pm so I would recommend waking up early to make the most of the day, then when you come back, stop by the bars on the waterfront for a beer with the sunset.
If you plan to stay more than one full day here there is the Orchid and Butterfly park to visit where you can easily spend half a day taking in the completely beautiful tropical flowers. Also there are a number of places offering high quality diving trips from Kota Kinabalu and very recent sightings of Whale Sharks off the islands. The companies also offer night dives to really see what is in the water if you are feeling adventurous!