Things to Do in Kota Kinabalu
Few beaches offer the same picturesque white sands and crystal blue waters that travelers will find on Pulau Sapi. Its coral reefs and clear waters make it ideal for snorkeling, and the surrounding epic landscapes and unmatched beauty make it one of the best spots for travelers seeking an island retreat.
Whether it’s enjoying picnic shelters and BBQ pits with family and friends or watching crab-eating monkeys gather along the shore, there’s plenty to see on a visit to Sapi. And travelers won’t be disappointed by the para sailing, scuba diving and underwater adventure they’ll find here, either.
Located within easy reach of Kota Kinabalu city center, the Sabah State Museum is a comprehensive museum exploring the heritage, art, culture, and daily life of Sabah and its people.
The museum is made up of the main building, along with galleries exhibiting the various themes, including the Science and Education Center, the Heritage Village, the Sabah Art Gallery and the Museum of Islamic Civilization. Natural history, ceramics, ethnography and archaeology are among the many displays, along with a centerpiece whale skeleton.
The Heritage Village features traditional tribal dwellings of the different indigenous groups of Sabah set on a lake, including Kadazan bamboo houses and a Chinese farmhouse, all set on a lake. The Science and Education Center next door has an interesting exhibition on the petroleum industry, while the the Sabah Art Gallery features exhibitions by local artists.
The second largest of the islands that make up the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park, Manukan Island is just a short boat-ride from Kota Kinabalu, attracting a large number of locals and international visitors alike.
Manukan Island boasts a beautiful coastline, some stunning coral reefs, and areas of lush vegetation. The main beach on the southern side of the island is a huge stretch of white sand facing a bay of crystal-clear ocean. The water is calm and safe, making snorkeling and swimming the most popular pastimes for visitors to the island. Meanwhile, a network of walking trails leading inland allow keen walkers to explore the island’s natural environment without getting wet. The island caters well to tourism, with various facilities and services on offer, from accommodation and restaurants to gift shops and a diving center.
Travelers in search of a true cultural exchange need look no further than Mari Mari, a cultural village situation in a remote forest on the island of Borneo. Here, visitors can learn about the indigenous Sabahan people, explore their traditional homes and witness fire-starting, blowpipe-making and tattoo-making demonstrations.
In addition to sharing their cultures and traditions, representatives from the Bajau, Lundayeh, Murut, Rungus and Dusun people also cook ethnic delicacies for travelers with an adventurous palate to sample. While some visitors say the village can feel a bit too touristy, others argue it’s the perfect way to experience the vibrant cultures and traditions of Borneo in a single stop.
More Things to Do in Kota Kinabalu
Recently reopened in 2011 after a nearly five year closure, the North Borneo Railway is a historic bit of Malaysian transportation as well as the only rail line currently operating in the state of Sabah. Originally constructed in 1896 as a means of transporting tobacco from the lush interior of the island to the distant coast, the North Borneo railway now serves as a semi-practical means of moving passengers and cargo in the same fashion it once employed for nearly a century.
Unless you’re a train buff, it’s difficult to discern whether or not the North Borneo Railway can be considered a tourist attraction. Running from the town of Tanjung Aru near Kota Kinabalu to the town of Tenom in the lush interior, the entire journey takes a little over two hours and passes through landscapes which range from the Sabah coastline to open fields cleared by deforestation.
Kinabalu National Park hugs the base of Mount Kinabalu like a lush, thick blanket. Sharing the same incredible biodiversity and UNESCO World Heritage status as the mountain that towers above it, Kinabalu National Park is recognised as one of the most important biological sites in the world.
For those who can’t conceive climbing Mount Kinabalu’s challenging slopes. Kinabalu National Parks presents an excellent alternative. Home to an estimated 5,500 plant species, including several hundred varieties of orchids and pitcher plants, 326 bird species and over 100 mammals, a walk in the park has never been this diverse.
There are 11km (7mi) of marked and graded trails across the Park, many of which cut across the mountain forest vegetation, which ranges from from rich dipterocarp and coniferous forests to montain oak and alpine meadow plants.
Mount Kinabalu towers over the eastern Malaysian state of Sabah. At 13,435ft (4,095m) above sea level, Mount Kinabalu is the 4th tallest mountain in the Malay Archipelago, drawing travelers the world over to climb its slopes in search of the perfect sunrise.
But it’s not just for the views from its summit that travelers come to Mount Kinabalu. This UNESCO listed World Heritage Site is recognised as one of the most important biological sites in the world. An estimated 5,000 to 6,000 plant species call Mount Kinabalu, and its surrounding National Park, home. Many carnivorous plants and orchids grow on its slopes, which also attract 326 species of birds and over 100 mammals, including orangutans, Black shrews and the gloriously-named Bornean Ferret-Badger.
The wetlands of the Klias Peninsula are known for containing lush mangrove forests full of unique wildlife. There are dozens of tropical bird species, as well as monitor lizards, Proboscis monkeys, long tail macaques and silver Languor monkeys, all endemic to Borneo. A visit to the wetlands is particularly interesting at dusk, when the tree-dwelling monkeys become active for feeding.
After sunset, it possible to see fireflies dotting the sky with their light. Water buffalo, tree snakes, and eagles are a few of the other possible wildlife sightings, though the bizarre behavior and appearance of the Proboscis monkey is what most come to see. There may also be crocodiles lurking along the river! It’s a chance to be immersed in nature and see many of the unique species of Sabah in their natural environment. Leisurely boat cruises on the river are the best way to see the area.
The Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, located near the town of Sandakan, is one of only four places in the world set up to preserve and protect orangutans. Established in a corner of the Kabili-Sepilok rainforest reserve in 1964, the center has expanded in recent years as news of its work began to spread and the number of orphaned and abandoned orangutans continues to grow due to ongoing destruction of their natural habitat.
These endearing creatures, with their orange hair and intelligent eyes are cared for at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre until they are strong enough or old enough to return to live independently in the Borneo jungle. A raised wooden walkway takes you to the observation deck where orangutans emerge from the rainforest to be fed by the rangers. The Sepilok center supplements their rainforest diet with two feeds at 10am and 3pm. While not all the orangutans make an appearance at feeding time, this is the best time to see them.
From picturesque beaches to illegal settlements, the island of Gaya is home to diverse people, landscapes and history, which make a visit to its scenic shores perfect for any traveler. The well-known Police Beach boasts one of the most pristine stretches of white sand on the island, and travelers say it’s the perfect place to escape the chaos of city life and relax on sandy shores or take a dip in crystal blue waters.
A visit to nearby Kampung Lok Urai, a Filipino colony the state government refuses to recognize, offers travelers a different look at this storied island’s darker side. Located on the eastern shore of Pulau Gaya, Kampung Lok Urai is filled with stilt houses and walkways made of well-weathered planks. While it’s considered a high-risk travel area by police, it’s also home to a unique way of life found only on this popular island.
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