This June, we decided to go somewhere we had wanted to go for a long time, Kota Kinabalu. It was a short trip and although I didn’t get to go to many places, it certainly left an impression of me.
First of all, I highly recommend the highland town of Kundasang.
When we talk about Kota Kinabalu (KK) it is usually referring to Mount Kota Kinabalu which is domineering in its presence. However, the mountain is huge and the more well-known Kota Kinabalu city is actually not right where the mountain is located. I was surprised but the town at the valley of the mountain was actually Kundasang.
At Kundasang, you can experience breath-taking views of Mount KK. Which is a good thing because the mountain air is so fresh and cool and you can take deep breathes as soon as the views take it away.
Desa Dairy Farm
Desa Dairy Farm is literally the only tourist attraction in the whole of Kundasang. It became very apparent to me that this is not Cameron Highlands. If not for Desa, there will be absolutely nothing to do. Well, except golf, but who does that???
Try the Weird and Wonderful Fruits of Sabah: Cheese Avocado
I find that the fruits here are very interesting! This is Buah Mentaga (translated to Butter Fruit). The market will label it as Cheese Avocado for obvious reasons but it does not taste at all like cheese or avocado. The taste is like steamed sweet potato and it is so good that the ones we brought back were polished off by our family and friends within minutes. Do try it if you are there!
This is a Suriname cherry but it is quite sour and has a medicinal aftertaste.
You can try a variety of other fruits from the fruits market in the town center. Some are familiar, some not, but all are good!
Kota Kinabalu National Park Visitor Center
There is a tiny museum of sorts but you really do want to come here because it has a beautiful restaurant and this is where hikers register for the Mount Kinabalu Summit and you can learn more about the local flora and fauna. It was fun hearing my dad recall his previous hikes (he’s climbed the mountain four times so far!) and his experiences. Unfortunately, we are not very fit so the climb was out of the question, but there are forest trails into the jungle which could be very fun if it were not raining the whole time we were there.
Staying in Kundasang
Kundasang is a little backward when it comes to development. You will not see Marriotts or Hilton’s or any 3-5 star hotels here. I learnt that the government of the area prefers locals over foreign investments and encourages them to be enterprising and open homestays and hotels etc, but they are not well-funded or have enough government support so they are more than likely to be rundown and neglected. Our hotel was absolutely nasty so I’m not even going to talk about it. Just read the reviews before you book one. Since there are MANY homestays, you can also just drive into town and look for one as they are not always available on hotel booking sites.
Kota Kinabalu City
The Market Life
Like any major city in Malaysia, markets are always the best place to get a feel of the city. They may look the same but they have their own uniqueness. Besides, it is a great place to get snacks and fruits.
Signal Hill Eco Farm
This little spot in KK is quite nice but I have honestly been to better farms. The signature dish is their tongkat ali and danggui fed chicken but even that was not to our taste. It was expensive, and very tough and chewy. The kale juice wasn’t bad but as it wasn’t the proper climate for nice lush and juicy kale, they looked small and dry. Unfortunately the farm wasn’t very exciting despite all its great reviews. I guess when you are at east Malaysia, you have to lower your standards a little.
The rich and beautiful waters of the South China Sea offer the freshest seafood so when you are at Kota Kinabalu, be sure to try some!
Kota Kinabalu is just another Malaysian city, like KL or Johor Bahru. There are a few good shopping malls and it is a nice stopover if you are on the way to Sandakan and beyond. The city by itself isn’t very iconic nor unique and doesn’t offer much in the way of tourist attractions.
Bonus: Tenom Coffee
Because we drove from Brunei to Kundasang, we passed through a few small towns, including Tenom. If you like brewed beans, Tenom coffee is rather good and worth a rest stop and buying a few packets of coffee back for family and friends.
You can see how coffee is made from the two factories in Tenom.
I feel like I have not explored Sabah enough to give a full and thorough review and I will have to revisit after the Pan Borneo Highway is complete, hopefully in 2020. At the moment, the car journey to KK and beyond is quite a marathon, and I was unlucky enough to be sick the whole time so I couldn’t be at my best. That said, what I have experienced so far will certainly bring us back!