Kota Kinabalu ~ Sabah Borneo

Arrival at KKIA

Kota Kinabalu is the gateway into Sabah as well as its capital. The KKIA (Kota Kinabalu International Airport) has flights coming in from internationally you can fly direct from Singapore with Silkair; Manila (Clark) ; from Bangkok with Thai AirAsia;; from Hong Kong with Dragonair; from Brunei with Royal Brunei Airlines; from Taipei with Far Eastern Air Transport and domestic flights by Malaysia Airlines. Malaysia 's low cost carrier ie Air Asia and Maswings arrive at terminal 2.

However, getting into Sabah, doesn't necessary have to be through KKIA. From KL there's Sandakan if you wish to get to the Kinabatangan, Sepilok Orang Utan, Selingan Turtle Island ; and Tawau if you're thinking of Sipadan, Mabul, Kapalai, Langkayan. And if you're really adventurous and want to get to Danum Valley or Tabin Wildlife Reserve ~ There are flights to Lahad Datu..

The old Terminal 2 with its original characteristics, now used for cargo only. As of December 2015, Air Asia flights now also arrive and depart from Terminal 1

KKIA is 7km from the city centre and costs about RM30 per taxi. There is now an Airport Bus that takes passengers to town for RM5. But if you're looking for something cheaper, there's a busstop out on the main road that can take you to town for RM1.50. Flag any of the buses passing by, they all head to town.

Shuttle Schedule

Airport - City

AM 08:00, 08:45, 09:30, 10:15, 11:00, 11:45

PM 12:30, 13:15, 14:00, 14:45, 15:30, 16:15, 17:00. 17:45, 18:30, 19:15, 20:00, 20:30

City - Airport

AM 7:30, 08:45, 09:30, 10:15, 11:00, 11:45

PM 12:30, 13:15, 14:00, 14:45, 15:30, 16:15, 17:00. 17:45, 18:30, 19:15

The last point of the bus is Padang Merdeka. From the airport to Padang Merdeka it is only 15-20 minutes during off peak hours

Jesselton's History

KK as is known is sited on a perfect location with the Crocker Range rising to the back of the city and the South China Sea right in front. In the early years, only Sandakan and Jesselton (as KK was known then) were the only 2 towns that showed any signs of promise for expansion in North Borneo.

The British half expected North Borneo Chartered Company to close down and for a decade, it remained a flailing company. Unlike Sarawak which was ruled under a 'sovereignty' ; James Brooke, North Borneo was a governing concern. Brooke took pains to develop the people and an administrative concern. North Borneo Company was plagued with financial constraints. Their mere existence was only supplemented by revenue and export taxes derived from jungle and sea products supplying to the Chinese markets. In the 1890's, their income stabilised, aided by the development of timber and tobacco sectors.

In 1899, the site for setting up a base on the mainland was named Jesselton, after Sir Charles Jessel - the vice Chairman of the Chartered company. Soon after the administrative centre was moved from its location at Gantisan.

All went well for Jesselton, right until the Japanese Occupation on 9 January 1942 during WW11. Times were very difficult for the residents and in their final surges against the Japanese, the Allied Forces bombed Jesselton. The Japanese troops retreated on 15 th October 1945 and left the town in ruins.

The North Borneo Chartered Company were unable to rebuild their investments after the war and ceded their rights to the British Government. The British Colony moved North Borneo 's capital from Sandakan to Jesselton.

With the township growing, reclamation of land began. In 1957, about half a mile of land was claimed from the sea and by 1970, about 7330 acres of coast was reclaimed. Land is still being reclaimed along the coast and what was the original coastline, just a little distance from the Atkinson Clock Tower.

Atkinson Clock Tower

This clock was erected to commemorate the first district officer of Jesselton, Mr. Francis George Atkinson who died of Borneo Malaria in 1902 at the age of just 28. The construction of the clock tower was mostly funded by Atkinson's friends and possibly partly by visiting vassals. The tower was originally built from Merbau wood, a local hardwood most likely harvested from the jungles nearby.

After the Japanese troops retreated in 1945, there was not much left of Jesselton. The Atkinson Clock Tower was one of very few structures left standing. Located on a little hill, the clock tower used to be a point of reference for visiting ships. It's not so obvious these days as it's location seems to have been pushed into the background due to intense land reclamation.

Australia Place

Just down the road from the Clock Tower is Australia Place . This is the site of the original old Chinese timber shophouses. However, the area is named as such because the Australian Liberation Army made camp in this area after they landed in 1945. There is a coffeeshop here called Museum Kopitiam that serves traditional charcoal toasted bread and kaya (coconut jam), a good cup of coffee and very sweet biscuits called the ANZAC (this is an acronym for Australia and New Zealand Army Corps.)

Opening times for Museum Kopitiam:

Mon - Sat 7.30am till 12.00mn ; Sun closed

24, Lorong Dewan, 88801 KK. t:+6 088 272 945

Shopping around town

~ Dive Shops & Tours

There are a number of outlets at the Plaza Jubilee that cater to last minute travels etc at this shopping complex. If you plan to visit Mount Kinabau Park, climb the mountain, spend a night at Poring Hot Springs or Manukan Island, there's the booking office here; Sutera Sanctuary. But then if you're here to make your holiday hassle free...then book in advance. It's difficult to secure accommodation especially at Mount Kinabalu during the busy months from June until October/November.

This plaza is located just further down from wisma merdeka. Wisma Merdeka is a favourite with the locals. There is a particularly interesting Book shop on the ground floor called Borneo Books. This place sells a variety of books on Sabah, its fauna and flora and anything else associated with Borneo. However as of October 2015, Borneo Books no longer exists as a shop. But you may still be able to get your books, they are now an online bookstore at http://www.borneobooks.com

If you're thinking of climbing Mount Kinabalu and need some basic supplies like woollen caps, gloves etc - there's a departmental store that sells reasonably priced clothing. Or KK Plaza would be a good place to shop for warm clothing..

~ Local Handicraft direct from the indigenous people

Information taken from Gerai OA page at https://www.facebook.com/geraioa . This is a volunteer group who has been around for a decade or more and its aim is to help the indigenous people develop the value of their handicraft work to ensure their marketability and with that in hope to to preserve the indigenous minorities’ craft heritage.

"there's a cluster of permanent craft stalls which opens daily within the Donggongon township. These stalls begun trading in 2015, 'hidden' in between the nearby rows of shophouses (past the 'bundle' clothes traders and nearer the Petronas station). They have a decent range of Sabah crafts. Do drop by and support them if you're in the vicinity!"

"Today we travelled 35 minutes by minibus No.13 to Donggongon in Penampang to visit the local "tamu" (native market). Open every Wednesday & Thursdays, this "tamu" is an interesting blend of produce from the interiors & market goods. Crafts are available, if you know where to look. We found some Dusun women from Taginambur, Kota Belud - 3 hours away, who came to sell assorted traditional baskets including these beautiful "basong" back-baskets made from "rumbia" palm sheaths"

"One of our first stops in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah yesterday (4/5) was at the Segama overhead pedestrian bridge near KK Plaza. It's one of the places you can buy Rungus beaded accessories and other Sabah crafts, plus local tobacco & betel leaf condiments. The women usually trade 'tamu' style (on the floor) nearer the General Post Office section of the bridge but since April 2016 were moved towards the Central Market side."

Sabah Tourism Building

Just a little distance from Australia Place is the Sabah Tourism Information Centre which is housed in an old two-storey building (one of only 3 remaining buildings which escaped the bombings of WW11). This building was constructed in 1916 specifically to house the printing office. The office here has pretty comprehensive information on travels around Sabah and the staff are very helpful.

Opening times are :

Monday - Friday: 8.00am - 5.00pm

Saturday: 9.00am - 5.00pm

Sunday: Closed

51 Gaya Street, 88000 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah Malaysia Tel: +6088-212121 Fax: +6088-212075, 219311, 222666 e: info@sabahtourism.com

Jesselton Hotel

Back trekking up Gaya Street is the Jesselton hotel. This hotel has played host to Pope Paul 2 and Muhammad Ali in the earlier years. Lady Mountbatten even dined here. The hotel maintains a small, personal boutique hotel and since opening its doors in 1954 its had a major refurbishment and an additional floor was added to this 2 storey building. The bar is a good place to hang out on hot afternoons where a cocktail will push back the tropical heat and the cool air condition will keep even the most hot tempered at bay.

Gaya Street

old shops line Gaya street; old barber shop on Gaya street

Originally called Bond Street, this street is lined with old Chinese businesses.. sundry shops, barbers, stationary shops, food places and a couple of very popular back packers hostels. On Sundays, this place turns into a Sunday Market which starts 6.30 am to 1.00 pm


Along the waterfront are a row of restaurants, pubs and cafes. Although when I was there, it wasn't drawing as many people as I thought it would.

Handicraft Market

Also known as the filipino market; is cramped into a single storey warehouse and with many,many small shops in this tightly laid out grid. The handicraft are mostly from the Phillipines with anything from pearls to wooden toys to ethnic materials. It is indeed an interesting place where much haggling goes on. Most of these shops sell the same stuff so shop around for the best quality and price.

time: 09.00am to 04.30pm daily

Tip: never ever buy without haggling

Fish Market

At the end of this waterfront is the fish and open food market. Right next to affluence, is a contrast of the poor trying to make a living. Most running their businesses here are from the Philippines . and many are illegals. These illegal immigrants may also have lived here for decades and most children are not illegible for school. So you see young boys running errands, stacking, pushing crates of fresh fish on trolleys and other menial jobs so that they can bring home some earnings for their expanding families.

The seafood here is fresh. In the late afternoon, you may be able to see the odd trawler at the docks, unloading their catch. Many local visitors buy seafood from this fish market and have it iced pack for their trip or flight home.


This is the Sabah Tourism Board's handicraft shop selling all sorts of works from various tribes across Sabah . Beaded wear, jewellery, basketry, wood carvings, T-shirts, traditional wear etc can be found here.

Opening times are :

Monday - Friday: 8.00am - 5.00pm ; Saturday: 9.00am - 5.00pm ; Sunday: Closed

Lot 5, Ground Floor, Block L Sinsuran Complex, 88000 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia . t: +6088-232121 f: +6088-265540, 219401 e: kadaiku@sabahtourism.com

If you need more information on your travels in Sabah, just pop next door. There's an information booth stocked with loads of brochures etc.

If you need to get a taxi from here, there's a taxi stand just across the road from Kadaiku.

Outskirts of the city centre

Sabah Museum

the Sabah Museum is the Sabah Museum Complex which is located on 43.3 acres of re-planted jungle and is located on a hillock also named as the Old Palace Hill (Bukit Istana Lama). This was the place where the British North Borneo Governor's 'Palace' was once located. The complex is houses the museum, an ethnobotanic garden, a zoological garden and a heritage village.

photo courtesy of sabah museum

The Heritage Village displays replicas of 11 different traditional houses of the local communities from various areas in Sabah . For example the Murut House, Rungus longhouse, Sulug house etc as well as a Lepa Lepa boat - a houseboat used by a local community in the Semporna District

Opening hours:

The Museum opens daily from 9.00 a.m. - 5.00 p.m.

Admission fee to Sabah Museum :

Malaysian Visitors RM2.00

Non-Malaysian Visitors RM15.00

Department of Sabah Museum, Locked Bag 2015, 88566 Kota Kinabalu t:(60) 088-253199, 225033 F:(60) 088-240230 E: Muzium.Sabah@sabah.gov.my w: http://www.mzm.sabah.gov.my

Getting There

By bus

Take the No.13 (towards Penampang) from either bus stations in front of City Hall or Wawasan Plaza in KK and indicate your stop to the driver. You will have to walk up to the main building. (Bus fare is RM1.00; exact fare required)

By taxi

Fare is approximately RM12 - 15 per taxi.

Kota Kinabalu Wetland Centre

Located two kilometers north-east of Kota Kinabalu City at Likas or ten minutes from the KK City Centre, the Kota Kinabalu Wetland Centre (KKWC) covers 24 hectares (60 acres) of mangrove forest .

A strange wetland area where once water collected and drained into the sea but because of the reclamation of land, the protected area seem to have moved inland some.

Getting There

Take the No.1 bus towards Likas from the bus stations in front of City Hall or Wawasan Plaza to Likas Square . At the traffic lights there, turn right towards Signal Hill until you get to the third junction on the left. (Bus fare is RM1.00; exact fare)

Opening Hours

Tuesday to Sunday 8.00am till 6.00pm (Closed on Mondays)

Admission Fees

Malaysians and Permanent Residents : RM3.00 (Adult) ; RM2.00 (Student)

Non Malaysians : RM10.00 (Adult) ; RM5.00 (Student)

Below 6 years - Free

Tel : 6 088 246955 Fax : 6 088 247955 Email : kkcbs@streamyx.com

Penampang - Kadazan traditions : the Menhirs or Megaliths

a small menhir or megalith found at the edge of a rice field on the way to monsopiad cultural village

The name penampang in Kadazan word means "big rock" which in turn gave name to an old village in the area and eventually the area. Large rocks were easily found within the vicinity of the village a long time ago. There use to be a many of these carved rocks, also known as Menhirs or Megaliths. These menhirs stand in varying girths and heights, in padifields and small plantation plots. they were strongly ingrained into the customs and folklore of the lowland Kadazans even into the early 20 th century. The menhirs served different purposes from signifying the passing of a land-owner who had no children to acting as oath stones and boundary markers. They were also believed to have resident spirits in them which could be called upon to settle disputes among the village folk. The menhirs were revered and respected but are now very much in danger of extinction due to urbanisation of these rural, precious agricultural land.

St Michaels Church

St. Michael's Church is also located in Penampang and is an integral part of the Kadazan community here. The guide we were with mentioned that there is a traditional Kadazan burial site close to the Church which is now guarded closely due to vandalism that occurred to the aged burial jars which were laid there.

Monsopiad Cultural Village

Please refer to our article on the Monsopiad Cultural Village for more