Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

Known by locals as the ‘land below the winds’, Kota Kinabalu is the capital of Sabah and a popular resort destination on the west coast of Borneo. It’s the sixth largest city in Malaysia, but by no means is it a sprawling, bustling metropolis. Despite being the major government and business district for the island, the city has a relaxed, unperturbed atmosphere that many tourists fall in love with.

Kota Kinabalu is a popular base destination for travellers throughout Borneo, whether they’re planning to trek the impressive Mt Kinabalu, dive the reefs in Sipadan, or explore the thick, tropical jungle that comprise the acclaimed Kinabalu National Park.

Lovers of ancient architecture should be warned that historic buildings are few and far between in Kota Kinabalu. The city was bombed extensively during World War II and much had to be rebuilt. It’s a surprisingly modern-looking city, considering it was established in the 15th century.

There’s not a lot of nightlife in Kota Kinabalu, but the local Chinese, Malays and indigenous Kadazan know how to cook and an evening in one of many restaurants enjoying the spicy fare will not be soon forgotten.

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Port Location

Kota Kinabalu Port Passenger Terminal is located just north of the central district of Kota Kinbalua. This is a thriving part of the city with plenty of hotels, shopping malls, restaurants and cafes within walking distance. This fairly new terminal replaces the old Kota Kinabalu port wharf, the name by which some of the locals still refer to. 

Port Facilities

The modern Kota Kinabalu Port Passenger Terminal is a delight for cruise ship travellers eager to explore the exotic island of Borneo. Smaller cruise ships dock right at the port, while larger ships anchor offshore and their passengers are transferred by tender.

Facilities include:

  • Air-conditioned passenger lounges
  • Public toilets
  • Cafes and restaurants within walking distance
  • Taxi terminal
  • Public transport terminal.

How To Get Around

As the main city area of Kota Kinabalu is only 3 kilometres wide, many tourists prefer to set out to explore the region on foot from Kota Kinabalu Port Passenger Terminal. If you would rather drive, there are also plenty of taxis or shuttle bus hire options at the port and throughout the city.

Travel times from the port:

By car/taxi:

  • It is a 5 minute journey to Kota Kinabalu CBD by car
  • It is a 13 minute journey to Kota Kinabalu International Airport by car.

On foot:

  • It is an 18 minute journey to Kota Kinabalu CBD.

There is also a train line on Borneo that departs from Tanjung Aru, a ten-minute drive from Kota Kinabalu Port Passenger Terminal. The train line stops at a number of villages and cities on the way to Tenom, a town in the Interior Division famous for its fruit.

General Information

  • Currency - The local currency in Kota Kinabalu is the Malaysian Ringgit (RM). Notes are available in RM1, RM5, RM10, RM20, RM50 and RM100 denominations. Coins are available in 5, 10, 20, 50 sen denominations (100 sen is equivalent to RM1).
     
  • Time Zone - Kota Kinabalu is on Malaysia Time, which is eight hours ahead of Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). 
     
  • Weather - Kota Kinabalu has an equatorial climate, although due to its elevation, the island does not experience monsoonal weather to the same extent as some of its neighbours. The weather is fairly hot and humid all year round, with temperatures averaging between 22 degrees Celsius and 30 degrees Celsius year round. The wet season lasts from May to December; however, rain usually only falls for 15 minutes to 2 hours each day.

Highlights

  • Lok Kawi Wildlife Park - Borneo is world famous for its orang-utan populations, and Lok Kawi Wildlife Park makes it possible for travellers to experience these wonderful creatures up close. Primates aren’t the only attraction at the park - Sumatran rhinos, tarsiers and the hundreds of exotic birds in the aviary are all popular with visitors. Guides are on hand to direct guests through the park and host a number of feedings and stage shows throughout the day.
     
  • Sabah State Railway - The only train system on the island, Sabah State Railway is a historic railway line that traverses from the beaches near Kota Kinabalu into the island interior. The train moves as a leisurely pace, taking four hours to travel the 134 kilometres from Tanjung Aru to Tenom, affording tourists the opportunity to really soak up the beauty of the landscape. The final stretch near Tenom is particularly spectacular as the tracks follow the churning Padas River through a picturesque gorge.
     
  • Sabah Museum - For an insight into the lives and culture of the local people, the Sabah Museum near the centre of Kota Kinabalu is a must-see destination. The museum is home to all manner of artefacts from the ancient Rungus and Murut tribes. There’s also replica tribal dwelling in the Heritage Village on the pristine grounds around the museum. If you have a greater appreciation for the modern world, then a visit to the neighbouring Science and Education Centre will be of interest.
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