Kota Kinabalu area (Malaysia)

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Kota Kinabalu area (Malaysia)

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Review of "Kota Kinabalu area (Malaysia)"

published 11/08/2017 | Mac83
Member since : 01/04/2011
Reviews : 133
Members who trust : 19
About me :
Hello Spring! Looking forward to the summertime, more travelling ...more reviews! :)
Pro Good choice of things to see
Cons Orangutans moved out of the reserve in KK
Value for Money
Ease of getting around

"Things to Do in Kota Kinabalu (Malaysian Borneo)"

Kota Kinabalu area (Malaysia)

Kota Kinabalu area (Malaysia)

Our stay in Kota Kinabalu (KK) was for a week at the Shangri-La Rasa Ria Resort and Spa, a great hotel - you can check out my review on the resort if you are looking for inspiration of where to stay. We did however tear away from our relaxing resort to discover what’s out there. So here’s a small guide on a selection of things to do to give you ideas when booking or deciding on whether Kota Kinabalu is the place you want to book on your trip to Borneo.

Now just a brief about the place, Borneo is a large island located in the South East of Asia, and divided into three regions - Brunei, Indonesia’s Kalimantan and Malaysia’s Sabah and Sarawak (East Malaysia). Kota Kinabalu is in Sabah, and is the state’s capital. Borneo as a whole is the third biggest island in the world and contains one of the oldest rainforests which the endangered Orangutans are inhabitants of, which is why this specie is so important to Borneo.
Flight to Borneo

A flight to Borneo is around 15 hours from the UK, however we had a stop-over in Kuala Lumpur (KL) – the stop-over usually depends on which countries airline you are travelling with. Malaysian Airlines will always have their stopovers in KL. If you are staying in KK, then you will land at Kota Kinabalu International Airport where there is a taxi counter so you can complete your journey by getting a taxi from there to your accommodation. This will cost roughly MYR 90 one way which is around £17, so not the cheapest taxi ride, but for the sake of convenience it’s better to book your taxi as you arrive at the airport as opposed to pre-booking.

What to do in Kota Kinabalu?:

Our hopeful expectation of the cost of things in Sabah was for it to be similar to most other Far Eastern destinations we’ve travelled to, however the prices in Sabah are even higher than Malaysia’s capital city of Kuala Lumpur. So whatever you choose to do in KK, you may want to pick your choices wisely! They also do not haggle down prices in stalls so we wouldn’t expect to pay lower than the quoted prices unfortunately!

So whether you are visiting for a few nights, a week or a couple weeks, these are some of our choice of what to do when you’re there!

The currency used here in Sabah is the Malaysian Ringgits (MYR)
Firstly meet the Orangutans!

This will probably be the biggest amount you will spend if you go out to the sanctuary especially if you are located in KK. The nearest sanctuary from KK is in Sandakan (The Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre) and to get there, you will need to book a flight to Sanadakan Airport which altogether, if you book through your hotel like we did, will cost around £150 per person return (including entry fees to the rehabilitation centre). Also, not to forget the taxi ride from airport to the reserve, which may cost a further £7.00 - £8.00. Putting aside the expense of this however, we did enjoy our time there and this is what Borneo is really all about, being here in the surroundings of the Orangutans. They are sparse in numbers to see at times, but we did see some during feeding time where they are being fed fruit and veg by the staff, and actually we were well aware before arriving that we won’t necessarily see as many as expected. There is a video at the start to help understand the place and the work involved behind the conservation. And generally during the day as you walk through with your guide, you will see Oranguatans swinging from tree to tree and it really is an amazing experience. We spent as much time here as possible and as much time as our return flight tickets would allow which was up to around 2.00pm and we found this to be more than enough time. The opening times for the sanctuary are 9.00-12.00am, closed in-between, and then 2.00-4.00pm – so you need to arrange your visiting times based on these. A really great experience overall and a definite must-do!

Price per person: Altogether approx. RM400 (around £80-£90) depending on cost and timings of flight / To put into perspective, the admission fee is only RM30 which is around £5.00 - £6.00. The amount of time needed here is around 2 ½ to 3 hours
Next take a cultural education and interactive visit to the “Mari Mari Village”

This is a trip that you can book separately either via your resort/hotel or through the booking company and for ease of booking we booked the trip through our resort. You can select the morning, afternoon or evening visit, with either lunch, afternoon tea or dinner included, depending on which slot your book for. “Mari, Mari” basically means “Come, Come” and visit the village! This trip is a good few hours out to learn about the culture and tradition of the local people. We made our way there at 9.00am and returned back around 2.00pm. You will go from one dwelling to another while they explain the tribe who would ideally have lived in this type of house and as you go from one to another there will be interactive things like drink or tasting samples or jumping on a springy board or shooting an arrow! At the end of the visit, there is a 20 minute dance performance with all the different tribes and hunters together and finally a meal included and ours was lunch. On the whole, this may not be the most unique experience, as other excursions always have similar things to represent or visit their traditional tribes. The only difference with this one is that as far as we are aware the tribes don’t actually live here and it’s just really an exhibition for viewing. I’ve attached a photo of one of their interesting houses as an example to show what they looked like. The people we see in the houses are dressed up and are performers as they are involved in the dances later on. Overall though, this was a really fun and interactive outing and we would really recommend experiencing it to get an idea of their culture.

Price per person: RM200-250 / £35-45 – and the amount of time needed here is as long as the guided tour lasts, so normally would be around a couple of hours, not including the performance and lunch.
Check out this weird attraction...the Upside down house

This sight called ‘Rumah Terbalik’ is purely just a bit of fun – some people might wonder what is the point of visiting it if it’s not historical and just created for tourists, and we did wonder that too and the answer is that really there is no point of it and the only reason we visited it was because it was listed on TripAdvisor as one of the things to visit when nearby Kota Kinabalu! It has a very inexpensive entrance ticket cost, and also it just happened to be a place that someone at the Shangri-La Rasa Ria Resort we stayed at, recommended to us – also we thought there was no harm in checking it out and worth finding out what it was about! There are two different prices for the entrance – one price for Malaysians and another for Non-Malaysians (see below) which can be quite frustrating considering the big price difference between the two. But anyway when you go into the house you will see everything upside down, the furniture and house items will be on the “roof”, and outside the car is also upside down in the garage. One quite significant thing is you are not allowed to take photos inside – but then again if photos were allowed, they would all be on TripAdvisor and probably here on Ciao, and then there would be no point in going to see it as there will be no visual surprise left to this very simple attraction! Still, we enjoyed our trip out to see this very unusual attraction.

Price per person: Malaysians and Non-Malaysians so a ticket for the house will be around MYR 19.10 which is only around £3-£4 whereas a ticket for the Malaysians is around MYR10 which is a meer £1.80 - £2.00.
Wander around at the local Sunday Market

This Sunday Market takes places in the morning until the afternoon in the town centre of KK. You can take a taxi from your hotel to the market, however the resort we stayed at offered Shuttle Bus services to the market which we used instead. Once you are there, you will most likely be hit with the heat and the hustle and bustle of the outdoor market. It’s not the most impressive market to be fair, and nothing compared to the China Town street market in Kuala Lumpur, but it’s worth having a wander about because this is one of their biggest outdoor markets in the area. You can pick up souvenirs from here, but there isn’t much else that took our fancy in terms of buying, like the fruit and veg, the hardware products and the sweets, so we walked around the entire market, which wasn’t too big and enjoyed the experience anyway. The things in market were generally not as reasonably priced as expected and they definitely will not be haggling down any of the prices like I mentioned earlier, so you should be prepared to pay the price they ask for. Overall, it’s worth checking out this market and this was definitely on our to-do list for the Sunday morning.

Price per person: Doesn’t cost anything! Apart from the cost of your transport to the market, and depending on the distance the taxi cost could vary between £5-£10 per person. You need around 1 – ½ hours here.
And finally relax at one of the stunning spa resorts!!!

After you have done all the exploring and visiting of the interesting places in KK, there’s only one thing left and it’s time to chill. There are a few fantastic resorts at KK that offer luxury experiences – Shangri-La Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa, Sutera Harbour Resort, Nexus Resort and Spa Karambunai are a few to name, all of which are in Kota Kinabalu, but the one we can share our experiences on is the Shangri-La Rasa Ria Resort and Spa, where you will be able to achieve one of the things you set out to do – relax!

Why go Kota Kinabalu?

The main reason why people are attracted to Borneo is the Orangutans in Borneo’s rainforests and Kota Kinabalu is one of the places you could stay at and easily travel to the nearest sanctuary. However Kota Kinabalu is probably not the best place to be if the only reason you are choosing Borneo is to visit the Orangutans (which for most people will be the case), as you will need to pay for flights out to the reserve, so you would definitely be better off staying near or in the town of Sandakan, as this is where you will be flying to anyway. Kota Kinabalu, however, has some amazing resorts and if there is a resort accommodation that really makes you feel it’s the parasial place for you, then it’s going to be worth booking! Because the resort is a huge part of the experience of the holiday and that’s what played a part in making Kota Kinabalu so special for us.
Any negatives to Kota Kinabalu?

Again, the only negative is the fact that it’s quite a distance from the Orangutan sanctuary (although easily reachable) and the fact that the nearest Orangutans were at the Shangri La Rasa Ria resort but moved away. The only other negative is the cost of things around KK – it’s all quite expensive in comparison to other places in Malaysia, so you will need to be prepared to convert a lot more GBPs to Ringgits than anticipated, as you will quickly run out.


Overall, it’s worth looking at the tours around the Sabah and then decide where you would like to stay, as KK may not be the right location for you. But then again, if you look at the all the deciding factor of where to stay in KK, you may find Kota Kinabalu the right place for you when you combine together accommodation, the distance to airport and the ease of reachability to the places you mostly set out to see. But as you can tell from my review, we thought Kota Kinabalu was a fantastic place to be during our holiday in Borneo!

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Comments on this review

  • catsholiday published 16/09/2017
    We stayed our 3 nights in Borneo at the Rasa Ria - very luxurious but tr wasn't cheap. We saw orangutans a couple of times as we stayed near the sanctuary then went down the Kinabatangan river. The fire flies were a good trip too - I have reviews on those and the hotels . Congrats on your diamond for this
  • Chippytarka published 22/08/2017
    Fab reviewx
  • kiss_me2070 published 14/08/2017
    Exceptional review and enjoyable read.
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