The locals lovingly call their city “Api Api” whereas for the rest of the world it is known as Kota Kinabalu.
That said, on the surface, Api Api is far from a pretty town. However, it doesn’t take more than a small amount of time to find its charms and as Kota Kinabalu is the gateway for most travellers’ arriving for their Malaysian Borneo adventures, the warmth and friendliness of its laid back citizens will instil the feeling that you are already well in the heart of Borneo.
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 orangutan hot-spot 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.
Atkinson Clock Tower
Built in 1902 in memory of Francis George Atkinson, the first district officer of Kota Kinabalu (then called Jesselton) who died from malaria and a subsequent heart attack aged only 28.
The Signal Hill Observatory
A 10-minute uphill walk from the Atkinson Clock Tower, The Signal Hill Observatory offers a great view of the city centre.
The Green Connection Aquarium
The best place to see Borneo's aquatic wildlife without leaving the city is the aquarium. You will find loads to see and do, particularly for children, including touching certain creatures like sharks and snakes or diving into a large tank and feeding the fish within it.
Tanjung Aru Beach
This is probably Kota Kinabalu's most popular beach and is enjoyed by locals for strolls and picnics, especially on the weekends. There are many food stalls and even a couple of bars.
This new 18-acre park in Tanjung Aru was completed during 2011 and features a musical water fountain (with lights), wonderful greenery, children's playground and jogging tracks. The park was built on the land formerly known as Hone Place where the British government quarters stood. Daily fountain shows start at 7.00 pm.
Likas Bay Beach
This is smaller and less pretty than Tanjung Aru beach but offers a view of ships anchored off the city's main port at Sepangar Bay.
Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park
A collection of 5 islands (Gaya, Manukan, Sapi, Sulug and Mamutik) just off the coast of the city. Transfers by speedboat take about 15-30 minutes depending on the island - departing from the Sabah Parks jetty behind Wisma Merdeka, from Jesselton Point Waterfront jetty and STAR Marina at Shangri-La's Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa.
Double Six Monument
Located in Grace Point, Sembulan, this is a memorial site at the location of the 1976 plane crash which killed the state chief minister Tun Fuad Stephens and other state cabinet members. There is a nice food court called Grace Point Food Court offering local Sabah, Malaysian, Indian, Chinese, Korean, Thai and other cuisines.
City Park is the only park within the city centre. It contains the British North Borneo Memorial which commemorates the soldiers who fought and died defending the British Empire during World War I.
Kokol Hills offers a very nice view of Kota Kinabalu, the coasts and the sea from about 30 km away. It is also fast becoming a hotspot for paragliding.
Also known as Gaya Street and located in the city centre surrounding Gaya Street and Beach Street. On Sundays, you will find a popular market here along with many Chinese coffee shops and restaurants. This area, together with the adjacent area around Australia Place, traditionally has the highest concentration of budget hostels in Kota Kinabalu. The name "Chinatown" is mainly a tourism gimmick and the arch gate was only erected around 2005, so many locals still refer to it as "Gaya Street".
Tun Fuad Park
Located on the eastern edge of the city, this is where the city meets the hilly jungles of Crocker Range. The park contains 2 restaurants, hawker centres, the Water World theme park, a lake and jogging track.
Petagas War Memorial
Located about 10 minutes outside the city centre, Petagas War Memorial is dedicated to the 176 members of the Kinabalu Guerillas who attacked the Japanese occupying forces during World War II, in what was known as the "Double Tenth Revolt" (10/10/1943), who were subsequently detained and executed in Petagas.
Kota Kinabalu Wetland Centre
Formerly known as Kota Kinabalu Bird Sanctuary, this 24-hectare mangrove conservation area is used for recreation, education and research.
Located around the confluence of Sembulan and Karamunsing Rivers behind Sadong Jaya, this is one of the newer urban features in KK.
Sabah State Mosque
Located on Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman in Sembulan, Sabah State Mosque is the largest mosque in Sabah. Its dome and minaret are decorated with real gold.
Kota Kinabalu City Mosque
This 'floating' mosque is located along Jalan Tun Fuad Stephens overlooking Likas Bay. Well worth visiting, the mosque has very interesting contemporary Islamic architecture.
Che Sui Khor Chinese Temple
This temple contains an interesting 12-tier pagoda and is part of the Moral Uplifting Society located along Jalan Tuaran at Mile 2.
What To Do Around And From Kota Kinabalu
Wetland River Cruise
Klias River is located within the Klias Wetland Mangrove Forest Reserve - located near Kuala Penyu district which is about 1.5 hours drive away from KK. The river cruise offers visitors a chance to see various wildlife in their natural habitats - most prominently proboscis monkey.
Hike Gaya Island
From Padang Point (which can be reached by ferry from Jesselton point) you can hike about 4km through the rain-forest to Police Beach on the other side of the island. This takes about an hour and a half, as the path is not very well kept and has some steep sections and trees blocking your way, but it's very doable for experienced hikers. Although strictly speaking all Malaysian beaches are public, access to Police Beach is restricted as it belongs to the Bunga Raya resort where you officially need to sign up at the reception as you arrive. However, it is not impossible to sneak through and relax on the hammocks at the nearly deserted white sand beach.
Mari Mari Cultural Village
Located near the jungles in Kianson, Inanam about 25 minutes northwest of the city centre, showcases the culture and lifestyle of various indigenous groups of Sabah.