Kota Kinabalu is a popular gateway to Sabah and the island of Borneo. This part of Malaysia boasts of beautiful islands and beaches and scenic mountain vistas. Here a collection of attractions you may consider in planning your trip to KK (in no particular order as I love all of them!). I left out the islands and beaches for they deserve a separate post.
Sunrise at the City Mosque
Masjid Bandar Kota Kinabalu is one of the beautiful mosques in Malaysia. Once you see it, it will be obvious why it’s nicknamed “The Floating Mosque”. It’s beautiful anytime of the day but you have got to see it during sunrise! I loved the place so much I actually went there 3 times! Two sunrises and one afternoon visit.
Splurge on seafood!
KK has some of the freshest and cheapest seafood I’ve come across. Make your way to Pasar Malam Sinsuran (next to the Pasar Kraftangan Kota Kinabalu or KK Handicrafts Market) for some grilled goodness. The choices can be daunting even for seasoned foodie; they have everything from large prawns to squid to crabs and other fresh catch and fresh seaweed. The stalls usually open from 5:30PM until around midnight.
Shop for souvenirs
The Pasar Kraftangan Kota Kinabalu or Kota Kinabalu Handicrafts Market , which is right next to the Night Food Market, is the perfect place to look for handicrafts, souvenir t-shirts, ref magnets, and whatnots. The souvenirs here are way cheaper than the ones you can get at the malls, but there is always room to haggle ☺
Head up to Kundasang
If you have your sights on climbing Mt. Kinabalu in Sabah, Malaysia, chances are you have come across Kundasang in your research. Situated right at the foot of Mt. Kinabalu at an elevation of 2000 meters above sea, this small village (part of Ranau district), with its cool clime, is a popular mountain resort destination.
I wanted to climb Mt. Kinabalu. With the number of climbers and the limited rooms in Laban Rata, it would not be a surprise if Laban Rata is fully booked months in advance. Six months in advance. OK maybe more.
So I changed our itinerary to the next best thing: a couple of days in Kundasang with a daily view of Mt. Kinabalu while enjoying whatever Kundasang has to offer. Most folks make Kundasang a day trip from KK, but I strongly suggest spending a few days here to really enjoy what it has to offer.
Fresh fruits in Kundasang
Kundasang is said to be the fruit and vegetable basket of Sabah. You’ll know they are not kidding about this when the bus finally stops in front of Kundasang’s fruit and vegetable market and you get to see the village’s fresh harvest. Somehow this has become the unofficially stop for buses heading to Ranau or further to Tawau.
Kinabalu Park's botanical garden
Situated about 7km from the town center, you'll pass by the park before you reach Kundasang. Most people who head here have one goal: climb Mt. Kinabalu. The park (Timpohon trail) is one of the two jump off points, the other is in Mesilau (Mesilau trail). The Timpohon trail more popular [and shorter by 2km], but some would argue that Mesilau trail is more scenic. And I wouldn't know. I found out the halfway camp at Laban Rata could easily be fully booked months in advance.
So what's the next best thing when in Kinabalu park? Hiking trails and the botanical garden.
Kundasang's flower farms
If you are the horticulture type, you'll love the flower farms in Kundasang. Some are just a few minutes walk from the town center and there is a few more further down the road heading to Mesilau.
One farm I was able to visit had this amazing cacti collection.
Desa Dairy Farm
Desa is a state-owned dairy farm and can be reached via the road heading to Mesilau. Its practically at the foot of Mt. Kinabalu [well technically the whole of Kundasang is!]
The best time to see the milking process is at 3PM. They have a viewing area right next to the pumps. They also have a petting zoo if you want and up close encounter with the milk cows, or calves to be exact, and a few goats.
Not advisable if you are lactose-intolerant, but you can knock yourself out with their fresh milk products, cheese, and ice cream.
Kundasang War Memorial
The memorial was constructed to honor the fallen Allied POWs during the death march in WWII. There are four gardens inside the memorial: the Australian Garden, the English Garden, the Borneo Garden and the Contemplation Garden and Pool.
The Contemplation Garden offers a great overlooking view of Kundasang, as well as Mt. Kinabalu's jagged peaks.
It is quite accessible as it's just on a small hill at the back of the public market.
Rafflesia: world's biggest flower
On the day we were supposed to head back to Kota Kinabalu, my wife and I decided to make a short side trip. We rented a public van to take us back to KK, but told the driver we will stop by Ranau first, some 30 km away, in the opposite direction :). [Ranau is both the name of the district and the town]
I wasn't sure if we'd see one [a fellow tourist said he spotted near Poring Hot Springs but it's in a late stage of blooming] but decided to try our luck. The plant, a complete parasite of a specific type of vine, takes 6-9 months for its single flower bloom and will decompose in less than a week. [Rafflesia is the state flower of Sabah]
Luckily we saw a sign by the roadside announcing a "first day bloom". I later found out it's common practice to put up these signs and indicate how many days the flower has been blooming, as well as how many flowers are there.
A short hike from the road and we saw this single bloom: a Rafflesia arnoldii. Its supposed to be foul smelling (smell of rotten flesh) but maybe because it's just the first day, it does not smell of anything at all. A Singaporean kid unabashedly declared: "Mom, I think the books were lying. It does not smell bad at all!"
Wild durianAnd while on the topic of foul smelling things in Ranau, keep an eye out for these small wild durians being sold at the road sides. These wild durians, "harvested" in the surrounding jungles, are small (just about twice the size of a man's fist) but potent in smell and taste. For durian lovers, foul = heavenly.
Sabah Tea Plantation
Picture this: green undulating hills surrounded by rainforest and a view of Mt. Kinabalu as well. A trip to this plantation is not just for the tea lover.
Sabah Tea boasts of being organic - the only one in Borneo and one of the few in the world. You can observe how they process the leaves [although photography is not allowed] and well as taste their finest graded tea. Check out their website if you are planning more than a day trip.
There is one obvious attraction that I missed - Poring Hot Springs, because we ran out of time. A Sabah tourism website declares: "a trip to Kinabalu park will never be perfect without swinging by Poring Hot Springs, some 40 kilometers away". So I guess my Kundasang trip fell one attraction short of being perfect :).
There is more in Malaysia!
Yes! I have quite a number of places in Malaysia in my bucket and I can’t wait to plan my next trip there. But here’s a little secret: soon we experience more of Malaysia via Tourism Malaysia website: http://www.tourism.gov.my/en/my.
You’ll be able to discover the beautiful things happening in Malaysia at any given time of the day - for 24 hours! Be sure to check the site starting June 8, 2015 and keep an eye out for the hashtag #beautifulMalaysia in your favorite social media platforms.