Kota Kinabalu is booming and this means every level of accommodation has had to up their game. Many new backpacker as well as five-star joints have popped up, and the older ones have undergone renovations, meaning several good choices are now available. Gaya Street and Australia Place remain the chief backpacker haunts, but a handful of new hostels and budget hotels in the Banderran Berjaya area are giving them a run for their money. The city centre of KK is small and all is walkable, so it really doesn’t matter where you stay.
Just remember, the question to ask is, “Does the room have a window?” Not only are the many windowless rooms soulless, they are often smelly due to the difficulty of airing them, even in the better hotels.
Fancy resorts are found a bit further out of town, and over on the islands of Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park.
Popular Horizon Hotel has the best value sea view rooms in Kota Kinabalu. The spacious lobby presents a life-sized horse with a lampshade on its head, designed by Swedish design group Front (or at least a copy of one), so you know it’s not going to be just an average room you find yourself in. When you head to the rooms, make sure you haven’t had too much to drink — the swirling carpet... Read our full review of Horizon Hotel.
Dreamtel sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb — it’s the tall multi-storey building next to Padang Merdeka, right behind the long-distance bus station. This 160-room midrange three-star hotel offers good value rooms. None of the standard rooms here have windows, so go for a superior or deluxe. The higher up the floor, the better the view. All rooms are air-con with hot-water... Read our full review of Dreamtel.
Fat Rhino was the new kid on the block when we visited Kota Kinabalu in early March 2016 — they had not yet opened their bar or rooftop sunset viewing area — but their spacious dorms are some of the best we’ve seen in KK. In rooms that don’t have that prisoner-of-war-camp-feeling that many in KK do — there’s plenty of room to swing a rhino – you’ll find very solid wooden bunks.... Read our full review of Fat Rhino Hostel.
Hotel Sixty 3 is likely the most geographically central hotel in KK and offers smartly styled rooms. It’s directly opposite the historical kilometre zero marking on Gaya Street, just minutes to many local restaurants and the waterfront. The large midrange hotel has 100 air-con rooms, all spacious and decorated in a tasteful contemporary style in warm neutral tones. Plush carpeted floors and... Read our full review of Hotel Sixty 3.
The Jesselton Hotel was Kota Kinabalu’s first post-war hotel. Built in 1954, it was refurbished in 2008 in pseudo-colonial style, which today is looking a little dated. Regardless, it’s extremely well maintained and oozes charm. The central location on Gaya Street is hard to beat, unless a sea view is required. Entering the marble foyer you are transported to another era — think plump... Read our full review of Jesselton Hotel.
Right in the heart of Gaya Street, KK Suites Hotel is an excellent flashpacker choice. Of the budget hotels in KK, this is definitely our first choice simply for its great location and comfortable airy rooms. Other rooms may offer better facilities, but this has all you need (unless you need a minbar and swimming pool) and the price is very good value — plus even better deals can be found... Read our full review of KK Suites Hotel.
Luxury may well be what you need after a hard slog up Gunung Kinabalu. This chain five-star can offer just that. When we visited in early March 2016 the rooms were looking tired, but a renovation is due to be completed on some floors by the end of April 2016, and will be ongoing during 2016 for other floors. If it’s anything like the renovations of the lobby and function rooms we were shown... Read our full review of Le Meridien.
Set above a small hipster cafe, The Bunk offers excellent private pod-style bunks and is a top budget traveller pick for Kota Kinabalu, with friendly staff rounding out a good hostel deal. When we walked into the cafe on Gaya Street that serves as reception for hostel upstairs, one traveller warned us that this was a hostel unlike any other. As we climbed the stairs, this was confirmed —... Read our full review of The Bunk.
Unic Hotel certainly nailed it with their name (you know, except for the spelling). Rooms are unusual to say the least and they are all different. The entrance to this midrange hotel offers a little taste of what’s to come, with contemporary furniture and lighting and a round rainbow rug. It’s a little glam, a little space age, perhaps with a touch of Austin Powers. Enter the lift and red... Read our full review of Unic Hotel.
We think Basic Hotel have sold themselves short with their name. Yes, it is basic, but thought and effort has definitely been spent to make this hotel warm and welcoming. Opened in February 2016, it was brand new when we visited a few weeks later. Spread over three floors without a lift, the small air-con rooms are smart and clean. Cheaper rooms have no window, and it’s worth paying five... Read our full review of Basic Hotel.
We almost didn’t enter Green Apple Boutique Hotel, as their foyer looks a little cheap and nasty, with stark white tiles and apple-green reception desk. But we are glad we did, as the rooms are very good. Opened in early 2015, Green Apple was still looking brand new in March 2016 when we stopped by. There are a mix of double, twin and family rooms, with and without windows. Windows in the... Read our full review of Green Apple Boutique Hotel.
A big hello to Halo Hostel, fully renovated in August 2015, and one of several welcome newcomers to the hostel scene in KK. The hostel is positioned above a handy and yummy Northern Indian cafe — so hello curry dinners, too. At Halo you’ll find one of the cheapest dorm beds in KK, but don’t be put off — it's cheap only in price. Rock bottom is the fan-cooled dorm for 20 ringgit. Dorms... Read our full review of Halo Hostel.
Hii-5 Hotel is a budget city business hotel in the heart of Kampung Air, close to some great seafood restaurants and minutes away from the city centre. Renovations were ongoing when we visited in March 2016, and the rooms we saw were new and clean. Hii-5 Hotel offers a range of air-con rooms, most with windows that open, but some without. If you are a solo traveller the single room is good... Read our full review of Hii-5 Hotel.
Hotel Sri Iskandar doesn’t look much from outside, but enter the foyer and you will find a sweet and friendly budget hotel. Sri Iskandar provide twin, double and family rooms all with air-con, but not all with windows. Windowless rooms are the same price, so check first. Simple rooms are small, but cosy, clean and comfortable. Rooms are painted a tasteful neutral and a striped brown-toned... Read our full review of Hotel Sri Iskander.
Lucy’s Homestay is a KK institution. The thing about institutions is that some people love them, and others, well, they do not love them. Lucy certainly divides the crowds. Lucy opened her home to travellers in 1995 as the first backpacker lodge in Kota Kinabalu. Lucy’s Homestay hasn’t really changed since — it’s basic and very old school, but stacked to rafters with charm. Small but... Read our full review of Lucy's Homestay.
Comfortable and cosy Masada Backpacker is a 10-minute walk to pretty much anywhere in central KK. They offer a mix of air-con dorms and private rooms with a shared bathroom. Not all rooms have windows, however some are decorated with large wall-size photos of beach and mountain scenes — almost as good. Dorms come with four or six beds and small lockers, large enough for a laptop. Bunks are... Read our full review of Masada Backpacker .