Despite being Malaysian and living in the country all my life, I have never crossed the South China Sea from the Malaysian Peninsula to visit the Borneon state of Sabah. This was my first visit to the state’s capital of Kota Kinabalu — and I spent two days in the city visiting some of the tourist spots and sampling the local food on offer. This is my itinerary of the fun (and delicious) things I had!
Kota Kinabalu, Sabah
The capital city of Sabah, Kota Kinabalu is located on the northwestern coast of Borneo. Formerly known as Jesselton, and lovingly called KK; the city is known for its food, its lovely sunsets, the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park, and the majestic Mount Kinabalu — Malaysia’s highest mountain.
As it was my first visit to the city, I was completely taken with its mix of old and new — brand new malls and hotels; set among the old shophouses, and the seafood stalls and fishermen boats along the waterfront. It is possible to walk around the city and be amidst its hustle and bustle — a little humid of course, but nothing unexpected of the Southeast Asian weather.
I took the early morning flight out of Kuala Lumpur, reaching Kota Kinabalu just in time for late breakfast. Upon arrival at the Kota Kinabalu International Airport, I decided to rent a car to drive around the city — there’s nothing like having my own transport to travel around as I wished! Waze (and also Google Maps) made it really easy to navigate around the city.
Breakfast at Kim Hing Lee Coffee Shop – Sang Nyuk Mian
First stop in KK — Kim Hing Lee Coffee Shop for some Sang Nyuk Mian (pork noodles). The city is famous for this dish, and the first shop believed to be the first one to serve it (with a history of over 30 years) is Kim Hing Lee. I thoroughly enjoyed my bowl of pork goodness; especially with the generous amount of pork lard added into my noodles.
Lunch a Seng Hing Coffee Shop – Tuaran Mee
After a quick check-in and a short rest in the hotel (I stayed in the colorful Hotel Capital for its central location) — it was time to eat again! I headed over to Seng Hing Coffee Shop to have a taste of Tuaran Mee, another popular local dish. Tuaran Mee is actually just fried egg noodles from the town of Tuaran (about 30km north of KK). I liked the version at Seng Hing because I had a choice of having my noodles with either char siu (roast pork) or seafood. The Sarawak Laksa and Tom Yum Meehoon here are pretty good too.
Lots of time to see a little bit of the city after lunch — so I did a drive around to admire its old and new buildings. I also headed up to Signal Hill, the highest point in KK. Honestly, the viewing platform does not offer much (except for a small cafe and the deck) — but since entrance is free and it’s a good place to get a bird’s eye view of the city; there’s nothing to complain about! I went back to enjoy the night view too.
Sunset on the Waterfront
I heard that the KK Waterfront is one of the best places to witness the city’s famous sunsets. I really didn’t know which part of the waterfront to head too — so I just took a short stroll from my hotel towards the sea. There were a lot of people gathered around the promenade — so I decided to join in the crowd! I also walked towards the many many small seafood stalls along the seafront. Fishermen were still bringing in their catch of the day, and the stalls were already serving up seafood dinners.
The sunset at the promenade was truly magical. I love sunsets, and can never get enough of watching (and taking photos of) the big ball of fire as it slowly makes its way over the horizon. The big sailfish at the roundabout and the huge “I Love KK” sign make great photo-ops too!
Welcome Seafood for Dinner
For dinner, I went to the city’s most famous seafood restaurant (and highly recommended on many websites and blogs on KK) — Welcome Seafood Restaurant. The place was packed with locals and lots of mainland Chinese patrons; but it was large enough to accommodate everyone so it wasn’t that difficult to get a seat. Orders are taken at the seafood counter (where all the aquariums are) — and because the restaurant is so busy, service isn’t the best. Food was pretty alright though. I ordered spicy crabs, steamed clams, asam steamed fish, stirfried paku pakis (fern), and the restaurant’s signature tofu.
Supper at Fook Yuen Bakery Cafe – Roti Kahwin
After dinner and back at the hotel — I felt a little peckish later in the night and decided to take a short walk over to Fook Yuen Bakery Cafe. Open from the break of dawn till midnight, the cafe is most famous for its Roti Kahwin; or simply put, white bread with butter and kaya. Good for breakfast, and of course, supper — the bread was exceptionally fluffy and soft. Out of the two choices, I preferred the steamed bread over the toasted.
I realized that most of my time in Kota Kinabalu was spent eating! Ah well, I was still in Malaysia after all; and all we really do is eat, find good places to eat, and then eat again.
Breakfast at Yii Siang Coffee Shop – Curry Beef Noodles
Early morning, and already thinking about food. I’m a big fan of beef noodles, and upon hearing there was a curry beef noodle shop in KK — I decided to hunt it down. Yii Siang Coffee Shop is located just a little out of the city center, but with a car (or a taxi), it wasn’t hard to get to. In business since 1993, Yii Siang serves up the most generous portion of beef ever. And it was really good too.
Kota Kinabalu City Mosque
On the way back from breakfast to the city center, we passed by the Kota Kinabalu City Mosque. The huge white mosque sits above a man-made lagoon, and is therefore also known as the Floating Mosque. The public are allowed inside the mosque from 8am to 5pm (except Fridays), but proper attire has to be observed — you can rent a robe and a headscarf (for ladies) at the entrance. I decided not to enter the mosque, and just took a picture from the outside.
Lunch at Yee Fung Coffee Shop – Laksa
Yee Fung Coffee Shop is located along Jalan Gaya (famous for its Sunday Market, but unfortunately I wasn’t in the city over the weekend) — one of the many generations-old cafes, restaurants and shops in the area. It is famous for the Yee Fung Laksa, the restaurant’s take on curry noodles. I liked that the broth was filled with coconut milk, and wasn’t too spicy. The beef noodles are popular too.
Handicraft Market + Filipino Market
After lunch, it was time to do some shopping! A popular place to get some local souvenirs and snacks is at the city’s markets. If you’re not in KK on Sundays (for the Jalan Gaya Sunday Market) — just head to the Handicraft Market and the Filipino Market by the KK Waterfront. Both markets can be a little bit overwhelming — it’s a little chaotic and messy; and honestly, I didn’t really enjoy walking around. I found the ‘tailor’ section of the market pretty intriguing though — a whole row of tailors sitting by their vintage sewing machine, all ready to sew or alter your clothing on the spot!
Sunset at Tanjung Aru Beach
No better way to end another day in KK than with another gorgeous sunset. I decided to head to the Tanjung Aru Beach to join a whole bunch of people waiting to watch the day end. The public beach was so busy with bus loads of people being constantly dropped off, and vendors selling fruits (including durian) and souvenirs by the side of the beach sidewalk. Not a peaceful way to see the sun set, but a beautiful sight nonetheless.
Sin Kee Bak Kut Teh for Dinner
Final meal in the city, and I couldn’t miss the Bak Kut Teh restaurant just beside my hotel! Sin Kee Bak Kut Teh was always filled with people every time I passed by, and it was no different that day; but I was lucky to get a seat without waiting too long. The Bak Kut Teh was pretty decent — the herbal broth was not too thick, and the pork parts were soft and tender. I enjoyed the claypot dish too.
I ended the night (and my visit to KK) with a night view of the city from Signal Hill… and then it was back to Kuala Lumpur the next day!