Photo: Eat and eat some more.


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We’re not shy, so we’ll say it straight out: Kota Kinabalu is an ugly town. At least, on the surface it is. However, it doesn’t take more than a tiny scratch to find its charms. Kota Kinabalu is the gateway for most travellers’ Malaysian Borneo adventures, but the warmth and friendliness of its laidback citizens will instil the feeling that you are already well in the heart of Borneo.

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KK, as it’s more succinctly known, is built on mostly reclaimed land facing westwards along the South China Sea. The capital of the Malaysian state of Sabah, Kota Kinabalu is a relatively wealthy city. It’s booming, and the seaside condos and shiny new shopping malls may remind you of a mini-Singapore. Most travellers visit Kota Kinabalu for the attractions outside the city, not in it — mighty Gunung Kinabalu, the city’s namesake (well, it actually went the other way around) is the tallest peak in Malaysia, and only 88 kilometres away. The orangutang hotspot of Sepilok is just a short flight or (not so short) bus trip east. But within easy reach, there’s plenty to do around Kota Kinabalu itself to fill up a few days before you hit the jungle.

Grab a Tanjung Aru sunset. Photo taken in or around Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia by Sally Arnold.

Grab a Tanjung Aru sunset. Photo: Sally Arnold

Kota Kinabalu is relatively young. It was settled as an outpost for The British North Borneo Company in 1897, after their former settlement in Pulau Gaya was razed by a local revolutionary. The new location was named Jesselton after Sir Charles Jessel, the chairman of the company. Jesselton was occupied by Japanese forces in 1942, and times were tough. In an attempt to remove the enemy, Allied forces bombed the town, leaving it in ruins. Almost all that remains is the Atkinson Clock Tower, and the former post office, now the Sabah Tourism Board. After the war, North Borneo was made a British Crown Colony. In 1961, the prime minister of Malaya proposed the formation of Malaysia. Votes were cast and deals were done, and on 13 August 1963, North Borneo celebrated its independence from Britain at Padang Merdeka. In December 1967, Jesselton became Kota Kinabalu, named for the mighty mountain that ... Travelfish members only (Around 1,100 more words) ... please log in to read the rest of this story.

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