Built along the South China Sea, Kota Kinabalu – more succinctly known as KK and formerly known as Jesselton – is the capital city of the Malaysian state of Sabah. Thanks to its international airport, Kota Kinabalu is the starting point for most travellers beginning their Borneo adventures and smashes any preconceptions of this jungle island. Kota Kinabalu is a relatively wealthy city and with its seaside condos and new shopping complexes it may remind you of a mini-Singapore.
That said, most travellers visit Kota Kinabalu for the attractions outside the city, not in it. Mighty Mount Kota Kinabalu, the city's namesake and the tallest peak in Malaysia, is just 88 kilometres away and there are frequent buses and flights east to the orangutan hot-spot of Sepilok and the scuba-diving mecca of Sipidan Island.
The city does have a few charms including an excellent night market, historic Gaya Street and the enlightening Sabah State Museum. For a quick escape, take a speedboat to the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park for snorkelling and sunbathing on white sand beaches, hang out with former headhunters at the Monsopiad Cultural Village or take a joyride past stunning mountain scenery on the North Borneo Railway.
Kota Kinabalu is also a last chance to enjoy some creature comforts before heading into the wild. Buy a new pair of hiking shoes, stock up on mosquito spray and enjoy a wood-fired pizza at one of the city's excellent Italian restaurants and then let the adventures begin.
With more than 500,000 residents, Kota Kinabalu has a great deal of urban sprawl, but visitors will find everything they need in the city centre.
The city centre is bounded to the north by the South China Sea and to the south by Signal Hill. Jalan Tun Fuad Stephens runs along the waterfront and is lined with shopping malls, five-star hotels and fish markets.
Parallel and a few blocks south is Jalan Gaya – KK's main tourist drag – where you'll find international restaurants, travel agencies, budget hotels and the Sabah Tourism Board office. Slightly south near the base of Signal Hill is a cluster of budget places to stay, known as Australia Place.
If you're looking for some travel advice, the Sabah State Tourism Office is located in the heart of KK on Gaya Street and is an excellent source of information.
The airport is seven kilometres west of downtown and Inanam long-distance bus terminal is about 10 kilometres east.
Sabah State Tourism Office: 51 Gaya Street, (88) 212 075, www.sabahtourism.com, 08:00-17:00 Monday to Friday, 09:00-16:00 Weekends and holidays
Text and/or map last updated on 30th October, 2013.
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