Kota Kinabalu Travel Guide for Non-Hikers

Updated June 9, 2019
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When people travel to Kota Kinabalu, it’s often to traverse the highest mountain in Malaysia, Mt. Kinabalu. With its unique uneven wavelength shape, you can never miss it on a bright sunny day at the airport. But arriving there, I already knew it was not gonna be a part of our trip. I would’ve loved to be able to say that I conquered it, but it’s just not realistic physically (and financially lmao). So if you’re wondering what else to do in this side of Malaysia, read on and check out how I spent a long-weekend stuffing myself with food and surprises!

We're on Google Maps, this is for show

We’re on Google Maps, this is for show

Where to go?

  • Kota Kinabalu City Mosque
  • Pu Tuo Si Temple
  • Tun Mustapha Tower
  • Pulau Manukan
  • Gaya Street Sunday Market
  • Signal Hill Observatory Tower
  • Proboscis Monkey Sighting
  • Firefly Night Experience

These places are all easily accessible by different mode of transportations. Landmarks with in the city can be reached by walking, local bus, or uber/grab.

Tun Mustapha Tower

Tun Mustapha Tower

If you’re going to take the bus, just ask the locals by showing them a picture of the place, to know which bus to take.

A statue at Pu Tuo Si Temple

A statue at Pu Tuo Si Temple

Uber or Grab are pretty cheap so if you’re willing to spend a little bit more, then why not and go for convenience.

Pulau Manukan is one of the islands you can go to by purchasing tickets at Jesselton Point. It’s best to go there in the morning as boat trips end around early afternoon.

At Manukan Island

At Manukan Island

The last two on the list, proboscis monkey and firefly experience, are tour packages you can easily find on travel agencies at malls (we got ours at Centre Point Mall).

Gaya Street Sunday Market

Gaya Street Sunday Market

Where to stay?

  • Hii5 Hotel

The location was great, there’s a food court just beside the hotel, and lots of amazing restaurants nearby. No bad things to say about this place! It’s a great value for the price.

Wayne at a local bus

Wayne at a local bus

Where to eat?

  • Restaurant Sri Maimunah Bandaran
  • Kim Fah Restaurant
  • Jothy’s Fish Head Curry Banana Leaf Restaurant
  • Jesselton Point
  • Restaurants along Gaya Street

The best restaurant for me in this list is Jothy’s Curry. It’s Malaysian-Indian which is my favorite cuisine in the world. There’s a lot of side dishes, and their sauce for the rice is amazing.

Food at Jothy’s Curry are served on a banana leaf

Food at Jothy’s Curry are served on a banana leaf

Sri Maimunah has great roti and drink selections. My favorite was Roti Susu (roti with milk) and Teh C Special (iced milk tea).

For me the highlight of this trip was trying so much Malaysian food. What’s best about it is that it has a lot of influences so you get to taste flavors from east asia to south asia, fusioned with traditional Malay food. I didn’t get to eat a lot on my first trip to Malaysia because I got sick at that time. So this trip really opened up the cuisine to me which became an easy favorite. Love love love Malaysian food!!!

Roti Sardin at Sri Maimunah

Roti Sardin at Sri Maimunah

Itinerary

Day 0

  • Flight 5J577 Manila to Kota Kinabalu
  • Stay at the airport

Day 1

  • Breakfast at the airport
  • Take earliest bus to the city
  • Leave bags at Hii5 Hotel
  • Early lunch at Kim Fah Restaurant
  • Tun Mustapha Tower
  • Pu Tuo Si Temple
  • Kota Kinabalu City Mosque
  • Explore the area near the hotel
  • Dinner at Restaurant Sri Maimunah Bandaran
Buildings at the city center

Buildings at the city center

Day 2

  • Buy tour packages at Centre Point Mall
  • Gaya Street Sunday Market
  • Take an uber to Jesselton Point
  • Ferry to Pulau Manukan
  • Spend the afternoon in the island
  • Ferry back then dinner at Jesselton Point
  • Walk to Signal Hill Observatory Tower
  • Walk back to hotel
Pink sunset at Jesselton Point

Pink sunset at Jesselton Point

Day 3

  • Check out of hotel, leave bags
  • Brunch at Jothy’s Fish Head Curry Banana Leaf Restaurant
  • Explore the area around Waterfront Kota Kinabalu
  • Take the Proboscis Monkey and Firefly Tour
  • Back at the city at night
  • Get bags at the hotel
  • Take an uber to the airport
  • Flight 5J734 back to Manila
Our guide trying to attract fireflies to fly to our boat

Our guide trying to attract fireflies to fly to our boat

Expenses

Flight Manila to Kota KinabaluPHP 6,973.70
for two
Cebu Pacific
Roundtrip
Hii5 HotelPHP 1,963.48
for two
2 Nights
Own room with double bed
Pocket MoneyPHP 12,000.00
for two
Converted from MYR
TOTALPHP 20,937.18
for two
PHP 10,500.00
per person

Our pocket money was exactly 1,000 Ringgit and it was enough for the two of us. We even had almost a hundred of leftovers after the trip. Kota Kinabalu is a pretty cheap place especially for food and transportation. When it comes to tour packages, you can roam around to compare prices, or even bargain for a lower deal!

Malaysian flags across the street

Malaysian flags across the street

Enjoying this city doesn’t really need to have hiking involved. Especially when you’re like us who are not in the most mountain-ready physical condition. Sometimes, you just taste the food and talk to the locals to appreciate the beauty of a place and culture.

Me at the beach side-trip before we went to the firefly experience

Me at the beach side-trip before we went to the firefly experience

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