Gaya Street

Gaya Street

Food and history in one street

More on Kota Kinabalu

Gaya Street, the oldest street in Kota Kinabalu, has been the best place to shop and eat since the early 1900s. In its early life, known as Bond and Dunlop Streets, the area was filled with Chinese traders, and it’s still buzzing today.

Travelfish says:

Gaya Street was all but razed during World War II, with only a couple of structures remaining, including the old general post office, now Sabah Tourism Board. The first permanent modern shophouses were completed in the early 1950s and as the town grew, the city’s oldest hotel, The Jesselton, was added to the landscape.

A popular spot. : Sally Arnold.
A popular spot. Photo: Sally Arnold

A red Chinese-style gate at the start of Gaya Street is a nod to the traders who originally settled here. Today it’s the tourist heart of the city with cafes, bars, backpackers hostels and boutique hotels. It’s still a great place for Chinese food, and many of the noodle and dim sum restaurants are generations old.

Since early times, a weekly tamu (market) was held in Gaya Street. Highland farmers and immigrant traders would meet to barter their products. The traditional continues today and every Sunday Gaya Street is closed to traffic from 06:00 to 13:00 to become Kota Kinabalu’s busiest street market.

Nope, we are not sure what it all is either. : Sally Arnold.
Nope, we are not sure what it all is either. Photo: Sally Arnold

It’s a great place to rub shoulders with a cross-section of the local population. Under shady trees and umbrellas, hawkers offer everything from predictable tourist tat to the unusual and sometimes bizarre. Stalls worth seeking out include the numerous ubat kampung stalls — selling traditional medicines that range from colourful bundles of sticks, and snake oil to the not so PC, dehydrated seahorses and mystery animal parts.

Try the readymade bright yellow bottles of jamu (traditional tonics). Huang Poh Lo, the epitome of multicultural Malaysia, is an Indian man skilled in Chinese and Arabic calligraphy. He does a roaring trade, with queues of lovesick young Chinese waiting for romantic messages to be inscribed.

Should fit in your pack no worries. : Sally Arnold.
Should fit in your pack no worries. Photo: Sally Arnold

Multicoloured striped kek lapis (layer cake) is cut into pieces to try. Strings of pearls, exotic fruit seedlings and colourful and rare orchids are all on display. Black and gold traditional Dusun clothing sits next to “I’ve climbed Mt Kinabalu” T-shirts. Handmade traditional gongs, wild honey, and breastmilk soap (yes, human breastmilk — they have five local suppliers!) are all there for the bargaining. And there’s even an ice-cream truck. Try some local fruit — the unique tarap is sweet and gooey. It’s native to Borneo and doesn’t travel well so this may be your only chance. If it all gets too much, squeeze into one of the nearby buk kue teh or Laksa shops for a bowl of steaming deliciousness.

If you happen to be in Kota Kinabalu on a Sunday, it’s well worth spending an hour browsing the stalls — you may pick up a bargain or two.

Contact details for Gaya Street

Address: Gaya Street
Coordinates (for GPS): 116º4'37.91" E, 5º59'2.42" N
See position in Apple or Google Maps: Apple Maps | Google Maps
Admission: Free

Reviewed by

Sally spent twelve years leading tourists around Indonesia and Malaysia where she collected a lot of stuff. She once carried a 40kg rug overland across Java. Her house has been described as a cross between a museum and a library. Fuelled by coffee, she can often be found riding her bike or petting stray cats. Sally believes travel is the key to world peace.

Tours in Malaysia


These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.


Our top 10 other sights and activities in and around Kota Kinabalu

Taste of Borneo cooking class
Taste of Borneo cooking class

Food, culture and a happy tummy

KK  Heritage Walk
KK Heritage Walk

Walk and learn

Sunsets
Sunsets

The best part of the day

North Borneo Railway
North Borneo Railway

Trainspotters unite!

Sabah Museum
Sabah Museum

Rainy day distraction

Kota Kinabalu Wetlands
Kota Kinabalu Wetlands

Take a breath of fresh air

Masjid Bandaraya Kota Kinabalu
Masjid Bandaraya Kota Kinabalu

Serene and beautiful

Proboscis monkeys and fireflies tour
Proboscis monkeys and fireflies tour

Wildlife near the city