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Kota Kinabalu

"The Harbor City of Sabah, Borneo"

View of Borneo water
Kota Kinabalu Sabah

Visit Kota Kinabalu in the state of Sabah!

This is why you should visit Kota Kinabalu (KK):

  • KK is located next to the South China Sea. Grab some Tiger beers and watch the amazing view of the ocean at the KK harbor. It's so damn peaceful!

  • KK has one of the best cuisines in Malaysia! And the best part: it's cheap!

    We tried several Nasi dishes and we just loved it! The state of Sabah has historical links to the Philippines, and the Filipino food is also clearly represented at the colorful markets in KK.

  • Visit the islands of Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park!

  • Or go trekking to the KK mountain!

Probiscis monkey in KK, Sabah, Borneo
Kota Kinabalu Sabah - the rare Probiscis Monkeys
One thing for sure:

When we first arrived at KK, I was destined to discover the real KK. Yes, it's beautiful with its lovely harbor, great people and great food.

But there's more to it...

We stayed at Global Backpackers Lodge at the far west of KK. We decided to just walk -- without maps and everything. Our goal was to get to the city center. But I don't think my coordination was doing well this day…

We ended up walking in the slums of KK. This was apparently the home of the sea gypsies!

The slums of the sea gypsies in Kota Kinabalu
Kota Kinabalu Sabah -- Who can live like this?!
It's probably the worst sight I've ever seen of Malaysia's reality... Poor people who are living under these kind of circumstances!

My boyfriend started to get worried while I was just saying:

"Let's just walk through this, and find a way out!"

The city of slums was built on wooden planks and they served the slums as very narrow paths.

We tried not to look down because of the sewage-and-methane-gas-infected water. Some of the wooden planks were broken at certain areas and we had to jump a lot -- hoping that we wouldn't fall into the disgusting water!

And to make things even more interesting...

While the unbearable smell of the water was penetrating our noses, poor kids started to run after us, or more correctly after my "white" boyfriend, asking for money.

Sea gypsies slums in Kota Kinabalu
Kota Kinabalu Sabah -- Home of the sea gypsies
They kept shouting: "Money, money, sir." And my poor friend didn't know what to do. We just kept walking.

Finally we found a way out, and this time we found the right direction to downtown KK. My boyfriend was in a state of shock and was angry at me. I just kept laughing it away.

When we got home again, we both laughed at the experience! He was just glad that we managed to stumble upon the the true side of Malaysia, and not the glorified one…

No wonder all the travel brochures and advertisement for Malaysia keep the dark secrets for themselves…

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How To Get To KK

By air: Book a flight through Air Asia from Kuala Lumpur to KK. The domestic flights leave LCCT Terminal (= Low Cost Carrier Terminal).

The airport is located about 8 km (10-15 minutes by taxi) from downtown Kota Kinabalu. A pre-paid taxi cost about RM 25. Extra charges apply for night hours.

Cheap flights to Kota Kinabalu:

By bus: Buses from Sandakan, Mount Kinabalu, Tawau and Semporna arrive at Inanam bus station (North bus terminal). Buses from Beaufort, Lawas, Sarawak, Brunei and Sipitang arrive at the South bus terminal called Padang Merdeka.

How to get to LCCT from KL - LCCT to KL:

Buses for LCCT leave the KL Sentral Station.

Where is the bus stop at Sentral Station?

The bus stop is outside the Sentral station and it's on the ground floor. I don't want to say that you should follow the signs inside the Sentral Station, because they were honestly just confusing us. We ended up asking the nice man at one of the ticket booths, and he just pointed in the right direction.

Which buses can I take?

You can either take the Skybus (RM 9) or Aerobus (RM 8). We tried both companies and both of them were effective. By that I mean that we arrived at LCCT after 40-50 minutes when in theory it should take an hour and 15 minutes. The buses don't make any stops and don't stop by KLIA (KL Internatinal Airport).

From Sentral Station/LCCT: The buses leave every 15/30 minutes depending on the season and what time of the day you're leaving.

Buses from LCCT to KL are standing 10 meters from the LCCT main entrance. You can't miss the large red buses!

Map of KK downtown:

View Larger Map

A: Centre Point Mall
B: Jesselton Point (harbor)
C: Jalan Tun Fuad Stephens (Filipino Market)

Volunteering Sabah -- Sandakan

Borneo child aid society
Kota Kinabalu Sabah -- Borneo Child Aid Society
Photo courtesy of BCAS
On your way to Sandakan?

There are approximately 50,000 children in Sabah who don't receive proper education.

Borneo Child Aid Society is a Malaysian NGO, which provides education to children who don't have access to government-run education.

  • You can teach English to primary aged children

  • You can run activities and games for the children

  • You can educate the children about the environment in a weekly club

  • You can reduce the chances of the children being illiterate and child laborers, and giving them a chance to realise their dreams.

For more information, visit Borneo Child Aid (opens in a new window)

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Leaving Kota Kinabalu (KK)

Inanam bus station in Kota Kinabalu
Kota Kinabalu Sabah - Inanam Bus station
By airplane: If you're going to Semporna, book a ticket through Air Asia to Tawau airport (Tawau is about an hour from Semporna).

By bus: If you're heading for Sandakan, Tawau or Semporna (Sipadan Islands) - take a long-distance bus from KK's North Bus terminal in the town of Inanam.

We preferred the bus so we could actually watch the luscious nature and pass the small villages of Sabah! ;-)

For Sandakan, the buses leave Inanam between 7 am and 2 pm. The last bus leaves at 8 pm.

View Larger Map

These are the companies you can use:

Tungma Enterprise, Sida Bus and Diyana Bus. The journey to Sandakan should take 6 hours.

For Semporna, the buses leave 7.30 am and 7.30 pm from the bus terminal.

With Dyana Express to Semporna, it will cost you RM 75. There was no hassle using this bus company. We had leg room and got complimentary drinks and snacks (water and fruit). The ride to Semporna took 9 hours (in theory 7 hours).


When you arrive in Inanam, several touts will approach you and ask if you want to buy a ticket from them.

To save yourself for nagging, you should call the companies to reserve seats the day before!

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Let's begin with important places to know about in Kota Kinabalu Sabah:

  • Tourist Police Phone nr: 6088-450402
  • Medical + Police matter Emergency Phone nr: 999
  • Sabah Medical Center/Hospital Phone nr: (emergency 24 hours) (6088) 322199. Address: Lorong Bersatu, Off Jalan Damai
  • Banks and ATMs are easy! We found several banks centered around Jalan Pantai near the Tourist Information Center at the far east of KK. There are also ATMS at malls and along the waterfront.
  • You can get internet access at the guesthouses in KK.
    Price per hour: 1-2 RM

Kota Kinabalu Sabah

Borneo global backpackers in Kota Kinabalu

Where to sleep

Don't know where to stay for the night in Kota Kinabalu?

Here are reviews of the guesthouses we stayed at in KK!

CLICK for accommodation in KK!

Nasi kampong in Kota Kinabalu

Where to eat & drink

Try the delicious food in KK!

It's cheap and you won't exactly get bored by the vast selection... ;-)

Come here! Come here for Restaurants!

Ticket to safe backpacking ebook

Map Your adventure and Asia Planners FAQ

Shopping in KK

Ready for shopping?

KK offers you markets, malls and shops!

I've also gathered prices for various items!


Welcome to Shopping in Kota Kinabalu

Monkeys in Kota Kinabalu

Activities in Kota Kinabalu Sabah

Climb the mountain of KK, or spend your hours in the water and snorkel in the island of Tunky Abdul Rahman National Park!

This is so exciting! ;-)

Coming soon!

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