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  • Writer's picturePete

Beginner Guide Visiting Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.

Another post on Kota Kinabalu. Visiting a new place could be overwhelming which involves planning and budgeting as well.

Choosing an Area to Stay

For a more details explanation, you can visit my post here on Best Area to Stay in Kota Kinabalu. If you are a first-timer, it would recommended that you stay in the Central Business District which covers Gaya Street to Imago Mall. This is because it has access to malls, clinics, food, and access to tourist sites. Although it is quite busy and touristy, you can find everything that a basic traveler needs here. If you book via OTA (,, or any OTA Site) search nearby landmarks such as Suria Sabah Mall, Gaya Street, or Api-Api Center.


Now, depending on your travel itinerary, if you plan to visit tourist attractions within the city center or a little bit outskirts, you can use Grab or a Taxi. You don't have to worry about commuting through a traffic jam or even finding parking during peak hours in the city. Personally, the public transportation system in Kota Kinabalu is currently still under improvement, and with a new terminal and upgrading roads projects on the way, hopefully, can elevate the user experience once it's completed. If your itinerary involves activities further out from the city like visiting Mt Kinabalu, I would suggest that you rent a car. Sometimes it might cost a bit, but you will reach more tourist spots and travel according to your own pace.

Top Place to Visit

I will elaborate more on top places to visit and I also have a KK Itinerary page, you can check out here to find out more. Briefly, as a first-timer, you must put this in your itinerary.

Near the city Center

  • Sabah State Museum

  • Tunku Abdul Rahman Park (Island)

  • Upside Down House

  • Tanjung Aru Beach

  • Mari Mari Cultural Village

  • Lok Kawi Zoo

  • Kota Kinabalu City Mosque

  • Gaya Street Sunday Market

  • Kota Kinabalu Handicraft Market

Further Up (Can include this)

  • Desa Kettel Dairy Farm

  • Poring Hot Spring

  • Rabbit Farm

  • Sabah Tea Garden

  • Strawberry Garden at Kundasang

The list can go on and on and on as Kota Kinabalu has many places to visit but, above is my recommendation if you are a first-timer. It covers what Sabah is known for - people, culture, and nature.

Must-try Foods

Wherever you go, people & food are always the heart of everything. If you visiting Kota Kinabalu or Sabah generally, make sure you prepare you're to stomach for these delicious foods!

Non-Halal Section

  • Sang Nyuk Mee

  • Sinalau Bakas

  • Pork Burger

  • Pan Mee

  • Bak Kut Teh Gaya Street

  • Bosou

  • Tapai (not food but can )

  • Beaufort mee

  • Tuaran mee

Halal Section

  • Hinava -a dish of raw fish cured in lime juice

  • Tuhau -is a type of wild ginger.

  • Ngiu chap (mixed beef noodles)

  • Pinasakan - braised basung fish.

  • Nonsom -freshwater fish mixed with rice and then pickled in salt and then fermented.

  • Bambangan - is a type of wild mango.

  • Ambuyat - sago mixed with starch powder in boiling water.

  • Seafood - why not because that is what we came for.

  • Latok-Seaweed.

  • Butod (sago worm)

  • Mee Sup KB - Clear chicken soup with white noodles.

  • Roti Kawin

Certain types of Non-Halal foods (Pan Mee, Tuaran Mee, etc) are also made available nowadays by using Halal ingredients to cater to our Muslim friends.

Safety Guide

Wherever you go, regardless if you travel to the safest places on earth, you are still exposed to danger. In Kota Kinabalu generally, it is safe to travel alone. The city is pedestrian-friendly and has a police station or booth nearby at City Center and 24-hour clinics. However, it is advisable to avoid walking alone at night, especially in the Sinsuran area & Kampung Air area or anywhere that is dark. You are highly encouraged to remain vigilant at all times like what you practice anywhere on earth. Take note of scammers as well. Avoid children begging to carry your items for you, a mother tries to earn you sympathy by asking for a donation & people offering ridiculously cheap tours. However, Kota Kinabalu is generally a safe city and if you take care of yourself and follow rules and regulations, you will be fine.


Below are tourist-friendly clinics due to their location in the city center and open 24 hours

  • Permai Polyclinics, (Opposite to Suria Sabah)

  • Gleneagles Hospital (Near Imago Mall)

Language and Currency:

  • The primary languages spoken in Kota Kinabalu, are Malay (Sabahan) and English. Knowing some basic Malay phrases can be helpful. However, worth knowing that some phrases are different from traditional Malay in west Malaysia.

  • Despite different Immigration Laws, the local currency is (the Malaysian Ringgit) and visitors can easily access ATMs or currency exchange services in malls (Centre Point, Suria Sabah Mall) or various licensed money exchange shops in the city center.

Kota Kinabalu welcomes you with its vibrant blend of culture, nature, and delectable cuisine. Whether you're exploring the city center, venturing into the outskirts, or savoring the local flavors, this destination offers a rich tapestry of experiences. Remember to embrace the warmth of the people, respect the local customs, and immerse yourself in the beauty that Kota Kinabalu has to offer. Safe travels!


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