Although not the prettiest city in Asia, Kota Kinabalu is a pleasant town where one can wander freely while absorbing traditional East Malaysian life before heading to the coast or nearby national parks. Borneo’s natural wonders occupies most visitors here and so it is not surprising that many Kota Kinabalu activities revolve around spotting the diverse marine life and fauna that makes the island such as magical destination.
There are great opportunities for snorkelling and scuba diving in Kota Kinabalu with a host of offshore islands teeming with wrecks, coral and tropical fish which are suitable for all levels of diving proficiency. While those that prefer their Kota Kinabalu attractions on terra firmawill delight at the colonial remnants of Jalan Gaya and the Chinese shophouses there.
Scuba diving in Kota Kinabalu and snorkelling
With everything from taster dives, technical diving tuition and live-aboard dive trips, it’s easy to see why diving around Kota Kinabalu remains such big business. Snorkelling in Kota Kinabalu is also great fun for those who do not fancy the hassle and expense of full wet suits
Favourite Kota Kinabalu diving spots include the three wrecks of Usukan Bay by Pulau Mantanani – 30 nautical miles north of the town – which are suitable for leisure diving. Boats generally depart from Jesselton Point or Sutera Harbour and take around two hours. A PADI Open Water Diver or similar certification and previous wreck diving experience are usually required.
Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park offers great snorkelling and diving opportunities only 15 minutes from Kota Kinabalu by boat. While the Gaya wreck lies in 50m of water within the marine park around 30 minutes ride from KK. Mayne Rock features large white boulders of seven to 15 metres surrounded by a coral reef, and is a great spot for both snorkelling and scuba diving in Kota Kinabalu.
Shopping in Kota Kinabalu
One of the best places to find authentic souvenirs in Kota Kinabalu is the handicraft market next to the waterfront. Previously known as ‘Pasar Filipino’, local specialities include Borneo pearls, batik, crystals and home decorations, but remember to bargain hard for the best prices. Next door is the general market and bustling fish market. Gaya Street Tamu right in the heart of town is great for Sunday market shopping in Kota Kinabalu with everything from freshly ground coffee, Malaysian delicacies, t-shirts and handicrafts on offer.
Lok Kawi Wildlife Park
Situated by the small town of Lok Kawi, just half-an-hour south of KK, Orang-Utans, Gibbons, Proboscis Monkeys, Sumatran Rhinoceros, tigers, deer, elephants and a variety of birds call this conservation centre home. It gives visitors the chance to see a good range of contrasting fauna close to the city without heading out to many different premises. Animals are seen much closer-up than in the jungle. (website: www.lokkawiwildlifepark.com).
Sabah State Museum
With a fascinating selection of Murut and Rungus longhouses, this Kota Kinabalu museum contains many grizzly exhibits including skulls from the Borneo tribesmen’s headhunting days. There’s also a natural history section with stuffed animals and displays on Sabah’s ecological marvels. The Ethnobotanical Garden in front of the museum is included in the admission price with a startling array of tropical plants and crafted traditional houses from the state’s various tribes. Free guided tours take place daily at 09:00 and 14:00. (website: www.museum.sabah.gov.my).