Kota Kinabalu

Photo © GSensible

Travel Guide Asia Malaysia Malaysian Borneo Sabah Kota Kinabalu



The floating mosque at sunset

The floating mosque at sunset

© All Rights Reserved Spinky

Kota Kinabalu is the capital city of the Malaysian province of Sabah, on the island of Borneo. Kota Kinabalu is unlike any other Malaysian city. The architecture and ethnic mix of people is quite distinct from other places in Western Malaysia.



Sights and Activities

Most of the activities in Kota Kinabalu are centred along the corniche, where most of the restaurants and shopping malls are located.

A quick ride on a speedboat from Jesselton Piont, north of town, will take you to the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park, a group of islands off Kota Kinabalu's shore. It is 23 ringitt return to Manukan Island plus park admission fee of 12 ringitt.

Four other islands are grouped around as well: Pulau Gaya, Sapi, Mamutik, Sulug and one can buy a tour of the islands or choose to camp either on Gaja and Manukan.

It is a good escape from the heat of Kota Kinabalu. On Pulau Manukan and can lay on the nice beaches, walk on a trail around the island or hire finns and snorkel to see some coral fish or indulge under shady trees with the beach restaurant's delicacies.



Events and Festivals

  • Mount Kinabalu International Climbathon - First to the summit of Mount Kinabalu wins. A gruelling race, with competitors aiming to complete the 21-kilometre course (up and down the mountain) in under 3 hours. This annual event is usually held in the month of August or September.
  • Thaipusam - This annual Hindu festival commemorates the birthday of Lord Murugan. Over a million devotees and visitors throng Batu Caves on this eventful celebration, every year.
  • Chinese New Year - Chinese make up about a quarter of the total population and in honour of the Chinese New Year, Malaysia has declared the first two days as public holidays. In the Gregorian calendar, Chinese New Year falls on different dates each year, a date between 21 January and 20 February.
  • Hari Raya Aidil Fitri (Eid ul-Fitr) - This Muslim festival marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan and is celebrated by 60% of the population. The first two days are public holidays, and most people take extra days off to spend time with family and visit relatives and friends.
  • Mid-Autumn Festival - Alternatively known as the Lantern Festival or Mooncake Festival, the Mid-Autumn Festival falls on the full moon day (15th day) of the eighth month of the Chinese calendar – usually in September.
  • Deepavali (or Diwali) - A significant Hindu festival also known as the Festival of Lights, celebrating the victory of good over evil. Based on the Hindu luni-solar calendar, Deepavali typically falls between mid-October and mid-November.
  • Christmas - This joyous day is declared a public holiday in Malaysia. Year 2000 census indicates that almost a tenth of the population are Christians.




Kota Kinabalu, like the rest of Malaysia, has a tropical climate with hot and humid conditions year round. Temperatures usually are around 32 °C during the day and around 24 °C at night. Two prevailing monsoons characterize the climate of this part of Sabah, the Northeast Monsoon and the Southwest Monsoon. The Northeast Monsoon occurs between November and March with cooler temperatures and less rainfall, while the Southwest Monsoon occurs between May and September, which brings warmer temperatures and more rainfall. There are also two successive inter-monsoons from April to May and from September to October. Temperature variation throughout the year is small. However, April and May are generally the hottest months, while December and January are often the coolest. Rainfall varies markedly through the year. February and March are typically the driest months while rainfall peaks in the inter-monsoon period around October. Relatively humidity is quite high throughout the year. Torrential rain is possible at anytime and sometimes up to 500 mm of rain a month is not unheard of.

Avg Max30.4 °C30.7 °C31.5 °C32.2 °C32.1 °C31.8 °C31.5 °C31.6 °C31.4 °C31.2 °C31 °C30.9 °C
Avg Min22.9 °C23 °C23.4 °C24.1 °C24.3 °C24 °C23.7 °C23.7 °C23.7 °C23.6 °C23.5 °C23.3 °C
Rainfall104.8 mm73.4 mm50.5 mm114.2 mm216.2 mm279.4 mm262.7 mm270.3 mm285.2 mm345.8 mm302.4 mm242.3 mm
Rain Days87681213131314161713



Getting There

By Plane

Kota Kinabalu International Airport (IATA: BKI) is Sabah's international gateway and is located 8 kilometres from the city of Kota Kinabalu. It is the second busiest airport in Malaysia. Airlines with flights servicing Kota Kinabalu include Malaysia Airlines, Air Asia, Dragonair, Korean Air and Silk Air.

There are many daily flights to Kota Kinabalu from Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Johor Bahru in the peninsula; Kuching and Miri in Sarawak; Sandakan and Tawau in Sabah. The flight duration is approximately 2.5 hours from the peninsula. Malaysia Airlines and Air Asia service these routes but book at least a month ahead to get good rates. AirAsia and other budget airlines operate from the Terminal 2 of the airport.

By Train

There is no train service going into or out of Kota Kinabalu.

By Car

The city is linked by roads to towns around Sabah and these routes from Kota Kinabalu include:

  • Kota Kinabalu - Tamparuli - Kudat - Kota Marudu
  • Kota Kinabalu - Tamparuli - Ranau - Sandakan - Tawau - Serudong (part of the Pan Borneo Highway)
  • Kota Kinabalu - Keningau - Lawas - Brunei - Miri - Kuching - Sematan (part of the Pan Borneo Highway)
  • Kota Kinabalu - Keningau - Kalabakan - Tawau

By Bus

There is a regular bus service to Sandakan from Kota Kinabalu, and there are also regular connections southwards towards Sarawak and Brunei, sometimes with a change of buses (or boats).



Getting Around

By Public Transport

The public buses do not serve a large part of the city, so taxis are better, but also more expensive. Still, if on a tight budget and fancy a walk, from the airport the cheapest ride to town is by bus. Walk about 600 metres to the right out of the airport and at the junction take right again. About 60 metres and across the street there is a bus stop. It will cost you 2 ringit to the bus terminus on jl Hail Salman in the core of KK

By Train

Take the famous local toy-train, originally built by the British to haul sugar cane, from Kota Kinabalu to Tenom.

By Foot

One can probably walk around the corniche as most of the shopping plazas and the coffee shops are located there.




One dish that you should definitely check out while in Malaysia is satay, which is pretty much the national food. Start the day with a breakfast of "roti canai" and kopi (coffee).

On Sunday mornings try cheap local taka away food and fruit at the Bazar or local market along Jalan Gaya or in the late afternoon on Jalan Sembilanbelas (between the waterfront and Jl Tun Razak) where, with 5 ringgit, one can walk away with bags of food such as bananas fried in front of you and rice with various sides.

You will constantly smell a sweetish scent in the air where food is been cooked. It's the odour of the Palm oil used in every Malaysian preparation for deep frying and cooking.

Try the local small "lady finger" bananas. One can buy a bunch of 6/7 of them at the Bazar. The flavour is sweet and tasty as no other bananas you have ever tasted and the colour of the pulp is yellow almost like its peel.





  • Aunt Lucy's hostel is located in the centre of the town. It's a good, cosy place, but quite small. It has great views of the city from the balcony.
  • Akinabalu Youth Hostel is highly recommended. Good location, clean, friendly and plenty home comforts. Book ahead.
  • Borneo Global Backpackers provides dorm and private rooms. (Location: Lot No. 29, Karamunsing Godown, Jalan Karamunsing. Ph: 088 - 270976)
  • Summer Lodge is clean and well run. Rooms/dorms are quite small.
  • Borneo BeacHouse Backpacker - Convenient if arriving late, you can spare the 15/25 ringit taxi ride since it's located 10 minutes by foot from the airport 30 metres past the junction with the main road. It is clean and with a nice garden, veranda and living room. Big kitchen for self catering. A large double bed room with fan and woodden floor for around 55/60 ringit. Ph+60-88218331 borneo.beachouse@gmail.com

For more information about budget accommodations in Kota Kinabalu including travellers ratings:


A lot of upscale accommodation can easily be booked into with most of the top hotel chains open.

View our map of accommodation in Kota Kinabalu or use the form below to search for availability (Travellerspoint receives a commission for bookings made through the form)




Keep Connected


You'll find internet cafes in Kota Kinabalu and several places have wifi as well.


See also International Telephone Calls


Pos Malaysia is the national postal service of Malaysia. Rates for sending a standard letter locally is 30 sen (20 gram) to 40 sen (up to 50 gram). International airmail has minimum rates ranging from RM1.00 to RM2.00, depending on destination. It costs 20 sen to send a postcard or aerogramme locally, or 50 sen to send a postcard or aerogramme to anywhere in the world.

Expedited Mail Service (EMS), branded locally as Poslaju, is available for both domestic and international destinations. Domestic EMS has a next day delivery guarantee. International EMS guarantees mails and parcels to be delivered out of the country by the following day. The time required to arrive at its destination will depend on clearance by authorities and the postal service of the destination country. For most countries, delivery of documents can be done in 3 to 5 days.

Generally, post offices are open from 8:30am to 5:00pm Monday to Saturday, except the first Saturday of the month. They are closed on Sundays and Public Holidays.


Quick Facts


  • Latitude: 5.972669
  • Longitude: 116.070503

Accommodation in Kota Kinabalu

We have a comprehensive list of accommodation in Kota Kinabalu searchable right here on Travellerspoint. You can use our map to quickly compare budget, mid-range or top of the range accommodation in Kota Kinabalu and areas nearby.


as well as Peter (13%), Hien (8%), gloriacvz (8%), dr.pepper (6%), joffre (1%), sulemaniya (1%), scubajunkiekk (1%)

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This is version 50. Last edited at 15:20 on Mar 12, 19 by Utrecht. 29 articles link to this page.

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