|Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah known
fondly by the locals as KK, is commonly described by Sabah Tourism as
Malaysia's Borneo. To many, the very mention of Borneo still conjures up
images of unexplored jungles and wildlife roaming free. If this is what
you came for, you won't be disappointed. But anticipate extra surprises,
as KK, with its expanding cityscape and growing population, is also
strikingly modern, bustling and quite happening!
Situated by the sea, against the backdrop of the majestic Mount Kinabalu and within easy reach of the mountainous inlands, present-day KK has a population of more than 200,000 made up of Malays, Chinese and some 32 local ethnic groups. The city is also a magnet for immigrants from the neighbouring countries, who flock the land in search of greener pastures. This amazing mix of cultures, reflected in the daily frenetic atmosphere in the city, will either stun or shock you, but this perhaps is where the real charm of KK lies.
The city centre, covering approximately 350 sq km, is small enough to explore on foot in less than one day.
Signal Hill and the Old KK town, now a major financial district, lie on at one end of the city. Here, especially along Gaya Street that comes alive every Sunday, concrete buildings line the thoroughfares together with Chinese shops selling herbs and medicines. Items for sale hang down from the stores? ceilings or are arranged in wooden wall racks. Business, it seems, is still pretty much done the old-fashioned way. Aside from these shops that are typically made out of planks, you will also find the old post office building and the Atkinson Clock Tower, the only two salvaged structures that bear testimony to the capital's colonial past.
The commercial areas of Segama, Sinsuran and Bandaran, occupy the other end of the city. The buildings here, comprising mainly four- and five-storey shophouses and offices, are visibly more contemporary. Retail shops, entertainment outlets, day markets and department stores adorn the area, as do a handful of budget lodgings and major hotels like the inexpensive DeLeeton, sea-facing Promenade Hotel and the upscale Hyatt Regency Kinabalu. Further up are the newly established business hubs of Asia City, Karamunsing and Sadong Jaya, where many of the capital's bigger corporate and office buildings, hotels and other newer infrastructures are located.
Across the sea, less than 20 minutes away by boat from the city's main jetty behind the Filipino Market, is the beautiful island cluster of Tunku Abdul Rahman Park. Blessed with beautiful beaches and magnificent underwater corals, this marine park is a popular picnic spot and playground for a wide range of water sports. If, however, a boat ride would make you sick, then head for the Tanjung Aru beach resort, a convenient retreat just a short drive away that's popular with the natives and tourists. Its mile-long beach, lined with casuarinas, is a hit not just with day-trippers and picnickers, but also water sport enthusiasts and avid golfers who patronize the nearby Yacht Club and Kinabalu Golf Club. Discerning diners, on the other hand, throng the place in the evenings to relish the delight of al-fresco dining under the stars.
Kota Kinabalu's outlying suburban areas are as varied and scattered as the population, and offer plenty more things to see and do. These can easily be reached by bus, car or, for more convenience, via organised tours.
Likas & Inanam
Apart from being dense residential districts, Likas and Inanam also serve as major industrial areas for the KK precinct. Amidst shops, offices and factories, several tourists attractions make these districts a must-visit for the traveller, such as the Kota Kinabalu Bird Sanctuary, the Sabah Foundation Building, Likas Floating Mosque and the scenic Likas Bay, where the annual Dragon Boat Race takes place.
Largely a residential suburb, Penampang is less than 10 minutes away from the city, and is predominantly populated by the Kadazans, the largest of the 32 ethnic groups. Closer to the city, the houses are the typical terrace and semi-detached concretes seen in many modern suburbs. Drive further towards the Monsopiad Cultural Village, however, and you will come across various villages, where folks still live in wooden houses built on stilts.
Look out for the Hongkod Koisaan along the Penampang Road. This is where the Kadazandusun Cultural Association holds its yearly Kaamatan celebration in May. It's a day of merry-making and features enthralling displays of cultural performances.
Closer to Likas is Tuaran, a growing district that now boasts two comprehensive luxury resorts?Shangri-La Rasa Ria and Nexus Karambunai, each with a private beach and golf course. The Club Sabah, a recreational retreat, is also found here, providing visitors a wide array of water and indoor sports facilities. Meanwhile, the nearby Mengkabong Water Village offers a pleasant glimpse of the local fishermen's lifestyle.