Ultimate Guide for Budget Traveler and Adventure Seeker

Kota Kinabalu is one of the budget destinations in Asia. It offers wide array of beautiful attractions over the city, powdery-white sand...

Kota Kinabalu Travel Guide For First Time Travelers

Kota Kinabalu is one of the budget destinations in Asia. It offers wide array of beautiful attractions over the city, powdery-white sand beaches, tropical rain forests, historical sites, amazing landscapes and its main jewel, the Mount Kinabalu. This simple city is also a famous getaway for tourists and the primary entrance to Borneo Island and Sabah, Malaysia.

Most of international tourists and locals call Kota Kinabalu as KK. Well, it's easy to say and to remember. KK has a lot of things to offer for every types of travelers. From shopping centers, beaches, forests to mountains, you would surely enjoy your stay in Kota Kinabalu. I have listed below travel tips and some of the best places that you should visit in KK.

Sapi Island 

Sapi Island is the smallest island of Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park. It  is a beautiful white beach destination that features crystal clear waters and powdery-white sands fringe with big trees. The views are insanely amazing, a perfect place to unwind and relax. I saw lots of colorful fishes and lovely corals. This paradise is recommended for those who love swimming and snorkeling.

Manukan Island 

Manukan Island is the most popular island in Sabah. It is the most visited island by domestic and international tourists. The island can be reached by a 15-minute boat ride. Just like the Sapi Island, Manukan Island also boasts with powdery- white sands and crystal clear waters. It also features accommodation, restaurants, water sport activities, and souvenir shops.

Mount Kinabalu

Mount Kinabalu is the highest peak in Borneo's Crocker Range and is the highest mountain in the Malay Archipelago as well as the highest mountain in Malaysia. It stands at around 13,000 feet  above sea level. One of the bucket list of some of mountaineers is to reach the summit of this majestic mountain. So, if you are planning to visit Mt Kinabalu, you really need to prepare not only your mind and body, but also you wallet. Climbing Mount Kinabalu is a great experience but an expensive one.

Desa Cow Farm

Desa Cow Farm is a beautiful farm featuring green pastures with cattle all around, a perfect place to view the beautiful Mt. Kinabalu. You can find here a lot of cows eating fresh grasses with picturesque background of hills and mountains. These cows are very adorable! Don't forget to try the farm's ice cream and dairy products. It's really delicious and refreshing.

Poring Theme Park / Poring Hot Spring

The Poring Hot Spring is one of the “must-visit” attractions in Sabah. It features glorious Japanese style baths, rainforest, rafflesia flower, waterfalls, cave, canopy walk, orangutan/ monkey, orchid farm, butterfly garden, etc. The spring’s hot sulphuric minerals have unique healing properties and this is extremely famous amongst the locals.

Maroli River Fish Spa

If you love fishes, this is the right place for you. You can find here big and colorful fishes and see them up close or even touch it. The locals allow these beautiful creatures to swim freely in the river.

Kota Kinabalu City Mosque

One of the famous mosques in Malayasia is the Kota Kinabalu City Mosque also known as the "Floating Mosque". It was officially opened in 2000 following a proclamation of the city status of Kota Kinabalu. The mosque sits on a 14.83-acre (6.00 ha) site at Pasir Road on the shores of Likas Bay, on the South China Sea and partially surrounded by a human-made lagoon.

(c) The Star
Sabah State Mosque

Sabah State Mosque is one of the most outstanding pieces of architecture in Sabah. It can accommodate up to 5,000 worshippers at one time. There is also a special balcony exclusively allocated for Muslim women during prayer time, with room for up to 500. Visitors are advised to adhere by the dress code when visiting places of worship.

Signal Observatory Hill

The Signal Observatory Hill is the highest point in the city, one of the best places to get a good view of Kota Kinabalu. It's also the best spot to watch the sun goes down. You ca find a here a store that sell refreshing beverages and snacks. 

Atkinson Clock Tower

The Atkinson is the oldest standing structure in Kota Kinabalu. It was originally known as the Atkinson Memorial Clock Tower and sits in solitary on the bluff along Signal Hill Road overlooking this seaside city and capital of Sabah, Malaysia.

Sabah State Museum

It's located at Bukit Istana in Kota Kinabalu featuring galleries exhibiting the various themes, including the Science and Education Center, the Heritage Village, the Sabah Art Gallery and the Museum of Islamic Civilization, It has also a garden, a zoo and heritage village.

Where To Eat

If you want to taste of some Malaysian food, I recommend to visit Gaya Street. You can find here a lot of restaurants offering Malay and Halal dishes. There are also some food establishments that serve Chinese, Vietnamese, and Western cuisines.

The KK Waterfront is the best place to chill and drink. You can find hear a lot of restaurants and bars that serves delicious food and alcoholic beverages. Some bars has live performances from the local artists.

Where To Buy Souvenirs

Check out the Pasar Filipino or Filipino Market at the Waterfront, named because it's predominantly run by Filipino immigrants. It's open everyday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and sells handicrafts, like baskets, bags, and souvenirs, as well as traditional medicines and cultured pearls.

What To Do (Activities) 

You can do a lot of things in KK.  It has plenty of natural scenery and activities for adventurers, including trekking (Mt. Kinabalu,), camping, diving ( Pulau Sipadan) ,  island-hopping ( Pulau Gaya, Pulau Sapi, Pulau Manukan, Pulau Mamutik, and Pulau Sulugk), and water rafting (Kiliu River and Padas River ).

Where To Stay

Hotel Grandis sits in the heart of the city, a mere 15 minutes’ drive from Kota Kinabalu International Airport, and right next to the hippest lifestyle mall in town. The room features king-size bed with quality linen, a cozy sofa, cabinet,  air conditioning, flat screen tv with cable channels, ironing facilities and a in-room safety deposit box. It has also a spacious and clean restroom that comes with hot and cold shower, big mirror, hair dryer, bathtub, clean towels, and free toiletries.

If you want to look for cheap accommodation, you may check it via Airbnb.com, booking.com, traveloka.com , agoda.com and zenrooms.com. Use the promo code PINOYTRAVELER to get 20% OFF on your booking via zenrooms.com

Tourism Tax

Foreigners staying at any hotels in Malaysia are required to pay 10 MYR  per night as tourism tax. Locals and permanent residents are exempted for this tax.


If you don't carry Malaysian Ringgit upon arrival, there are ATM and Money Changer facilities available in the airport. You will use Malaysian Ringgit to pay the bus and taxi. I highly recommend to exchange it in your country or outside the airport because currency exchange at the airport is extremely expensive.

Best Time To Visit 

The driest time of the year is from January to March. While the rest of Sabah gets more rain between October and November, KK gets drier, making for another good time to visit, especially if you want to avoid the heat and humidity of the summer months.

Visa Requirements

For Filipinos, there's no need to apply for visa. Philippine passport holders don't need a visa to enter Malaysia. Your passport should have a validity at least 6 months to enter Malaysia.

International Roaming

You can buy a local sim card with 8GB for 7 days which costs around 25 MYR. Please make sure your phone is unlocked to make sure your phone will work with the Malaysian sim card.

How To Get There

Travelling by air is the most convenient and fastest way to reach Kota Kinabalu. If you are travelling from Brunei, you can do it by bus, by ferry or by airplane. You have three options to reach KK but I highly recommend to book a flight because you would save a lot of time.

To get into KK, hop a flight into Kota Kinabalu International Airport, just four miles from the city center. Airlines serve all major cities within the country and international flights to and from Philippines, China, Indonesia,, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore,  Korea and Australia.

From the airport, you can take an airport bus into town, which leave at about every hour. Minibuses are another means to get to the center for a low-cost. While you may opt to take a taxi, but beware that fares may increase 50% between midnight and 6 a.m. 

If you are arriving by bus, the North Bus Terminal is the only one current in use and it's located about 6 miles from the center. Again, fares may increase by as much as double if you take the bus at night. 

Getting to Kota Kinabalu by Ferry (Brunei to Kota Kinabalu)

If you will travel from Brunei to Kota Kinabalu, the only way to reach KK by sea is through Labuan, a federal territory of Malaysia. You can ride a Muara express bus from Bandar Seri Begawan bus station. Bus to Muara leaves every 30 minutes and runs from 6:30 am to 7:00pm. Bus fare is 2 Brunei Dollar. You can take a ferry in Muara (Brunei) going to Labuan. The ferry fare is RM35 for lower deck and RM39 for upper deck.

There are two ferries ply Labuan to Kota Kinabalu every day, the first one starting at 8:30 a.m. and the second one at 1:00 p.m. Ferry fare for Non-Malaysian is MYR44.60 including the tax (business class). The journey takes 3 hours to complete and drops travelers at Jesselton Point Ferry Terminal which is walking distance to my hotel, Grandis Hotel and Resort.

Getting to Kota Kinabalu by Bus (Brunei to Kota Kinabalu)

Another option to reach Kota Kinabalu is via land transportation (by bus). You can take an Express Bus Service from Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei to Kota Kinabalu, Malausia. Bus leaves at 8:00 am and is stationed near BSB (Bandar Seri Begawan ) bust station and Chinese Temple. Bus Fare from  Bandar Seri Begawan (Brunei) to Kota Kinabalu is B$45.

Travel Tips

1. For hassle-free tour packages, you may check Klook and KKday
2. For budget-friendly accommodation, you may check Airbnb.com, booking.com, traveloka.com and agoda.com and Zenrooms.com ( Use promo code PINOYTRAVELER to get 20% off your booking)
3. I recommend to exchange your money in your country or outside the airport because currency exchange at the airport is extremely expensive.
4. Bring Light Clothes,  comfy Rubber Shoes, and Swimwear
5. Bring Universal Adapter Plug

If you have review, blog, opinion or any questions on how to get from Brunei to Kota Kinabalu or going from Kota Kinabalu to Brunei, please leave a comment below.