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A weekend of adventure in Kota Kinabalu City, Borneo

A weekend of adventure in Kota Kinabalu City, Borneo

Kota Kinabalu city, affectionately known as KK, is a 2.5 hour flight from Singapore. It is the capital city of Sabah state in Borneo Malaysia. With a population of 500,000, the city is the 3rd most gazetted in Malaysia

KK city is locally known as the ‘Land Below the Wind’ as it is located just below the tropical typhoon belt. The tropical city stays within a warm 22-35ᵒC all year round and is right next to Tunku Abdul Rahman Park and UNESCO-listed Kinabalu Park.

You’ll enjoy a cityscape alongside the South China Sea while being at the gateway to Malaysia’s Borneo, one of the best places to visit in Asia for first timers.

Kota Kinabalu Day 0, Friday – Arrival in Kota Kinabalu

7 or 8pm: Arrival

Arrive at Kota Kinabalu Airport, check in at your hotel and freshen up.

9pm: Head down to the Waterfront for dinner and drinks

The Waterfront is a popular location for both locals and tourists. There are plenty of bars and restaurants to choose from overlooking the ocean. We recommend The Beer Factory, which serves a large variety of local, Western and fusion food. Pair it with some local beers and it’s a perfect way to start your trip.

Kota Kinabalu Day 1, Saturday – Rafting and relaxing

7.30am: Enjoy an energetic breakfast at your hotel

8.30am: White water rafting by Amazing Borneo

Get picked up by Amazing Borneo from your hotel and drive for an hour to the river adventure centre. There are two courses for white water rafting: One down the Kiulu river, a grade 1-2 river that is mildly adventurous. You get to relax and swim on the slow moving sections of the river. You will raft through 5 small rapids, in calm slow moving flat water. You do not have to paddle the entire course. For the more adventurous, the Padas river is grade 3-4 with 8 wild rapids over 2 hours. There is far less ‘resting’ time on these rapids, and you will be paddling for most of the course. We suggest pre-booking this tour as spaces run out fast. The Kiulu river costs SGD 55 -65, while the Padas river costs SGD 75-93 depending on how many people are going.

We were prepared for a wild ride, but we found the Kiulu river raft very relaxing for the most part. The rapids were mostly small, and were easy to navigate through. It was more a relaxing paddle down the river, which we very much enjoyed. You can see villages built by the side of the river, and locals going about their daily lives. We enjoyed seeing the many birds, and we even stopped to look at a snake in the tree. There was also a pit-stop midway on a sand bank, where you can relax or go for a swim. Bring an extra change of clothes as you will get wet. Your tour bus will meet you at the end of the course, so you can leave your change of clothes and belongings in the car. There are bathrooms and showers at the end of the course.

12pm: Lunch

You will end the course at the adventure centre. Here, you can enjoy a local buffet lunch.

1.30pm: Depart for Kota Kinabalu City

2.30pm: Visit the Kota Kinabalu City Mosque

Amazing Borneo can also organise full day journey. Prices vary depending on where you want to go. Alternatively, you can take a taxi or Uber to the Kota Kinabalu City Mosque. The Kota Kinabalu city mosque is the largest in Sabah, and can hold up to 12,000 worshippers. The design of the mosque was inspired by the Nabawi Mosque in Medina. It is surrounded by a lagoon, making it one of the most picturesque mosques in Malaysia. It is open for visitors all days except on Friday which is the day of worship in Islam. You are required to be covered up when entering the Mosque, only having hands, feet and face uncovered.

At the entrance, there is a small shop in which you can rent a slip on Baju Kurung, traditional Malay attire and head scarf for females. For males, you can rent a Baju Melayu, a slip on tunic to be worn over long pants. Clothing rental is SGD3.

4pm: Massage at Jari Jari Spa

Try the award winning  “Dusun Lotud” at Jaru Jaru Spa, a traditional massage from the Dusun people, the largest indigenous group of Borneo. This massage consists of deep tissue techniques that are focused on pressure points around the neck, shoulder and back. Feel instantly revived after relieving all the tension and stress.

7pm: Dinner Cruise with North Borneo Cruise

Board the luxury North Borneo Cruise boat from the Sutera Marina Jetty and cruise along Tunku Abdul Rahman Park Islands and Kota Kinabalu City Waterfront. Feast on an international buffet dinner and live band entertainment as you enjoy the dazzling views of the city. The cruise costs SGD 66-122 depending on the peak travel season. There is also a sunset cruise from 5-7pm.

10pm: Cocktails

Continue the night with cocktails at Sutera Harbour Resort

Kota Kinabalu Day 2, Sunday – Culture

8am: Breakfast @ Fook Yuen Café & Bakery

Have a sumptuous local Chinese Dim Sum breakfast together with some fresh baked bread from the bakery. This café is popular among the locals.

9am: Mari Mari Cultural Village

Get picked up by Amazing Borneo and head to the Mari Mari Cultural Village. Learn about the traditional ethnic groups of Sabah on your way to the village. This cultural village was voted Sabah’s best countryside tour for 2 years running. You get to explore five different villages and learn the local ways of making rice wine, cooking food, hunting and starting fires.

12pm: Enjoy a traditional Dusun buffet lunch

Enjoy a traditional Dusun buffet lunch at the village cooked by locals in the area

2pm: Get dropped off at the hotel and relax

3pm: Klias River cruise to see Proboscis monkeys

Get picked up by Amazing Borneo and drive to Klias River Cruise where you can spot the funny proboscis monkeys. This tour costs SGD 58-63 depending on how many people are travelling. Cost includes pick up and drop off at your hotel within the city. This is a long drive of 2-3 hours depending on traffic to Klias, so bring some entertainment for the ride.

Proboscis monkeys are an endangered species that are endemic to Borneo. They are unique due to their unusually large nose and flat belly. The cruise takes you down the river to spot these gentle animals in the trees. If you are lucky, you might also be able to spot the Silvered leaf monkey or ‘Beckham’ monkey known locally for its unique hairstyle. There is also an abundance of birds that you can spot as you travel down the river. There are mosquitos in the area, so bring some insect repellent.


Chinese and Malay buffet dinner on the jetty served by Klias River cruise operator.

7pm: Head back on the boat to see fireflies

Once it gets dark you will see another side to the river life. It takes about 10 minutes for your eyes to adjust before you start to notice the ‘Christmas’ trees. These trees are covered with thousands of fireflies that flash a bright yellow light. This is truly a spectacular sight that you do not want to miss.

10pm: Return to hotel

Kota Kinabalu Day 3, Monday – One last view

8am: Breakfast at Keng Wan Hing

Try the famous local pineapple buns at Keng Wan Hing, made by the owner fresh every morning. Pair it with a local ‘kopi’ (coffee) or ‘teh’ (tea).

9am: Signal Hill

It is a 10-15 minute walk to the start of Signal Hill where you can enjoy impressive views over the city and the islands of Tunku Abdul Rahman Park. There are 2 trails, one starting from the Atkinson Clock Tower and another from the community hall. We recommend the one starting from the Atkinson Clock, as it is a slow picturesque walk up the hill.  

11 am: Spoil your loved ones with local souvenirs from Kadaiku

Kadaiku provides a wide variety of souvenirs ranging from local food products to traditional handicrafts. They have a large selection of intricate beaded necklaces, handwoven tapestries, baskets and beautiful pearl jewellery sourced from the surrounding waters of Sabah.

12.30pm: Head to Kota Kinabalu airport for your return flight home

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Places to Stay in Kinabalu City

There is never a shortage of hotels in Kota Kinabalu, these are our picks for each budget.


The Hyatt Regency Kinabalu Hotel boasts incredible views of both Kota Kinabalu cityscape and the ocean of the South China sea. There are 6 different restaurants and bars to choose from, as well as an outdoor swimming pool and cabana. 

Price range: SGD 170-200

For photos and the latest rates and availability visit HotelsCombined or Agoda.


The Jesselton Hotel is located close to the markets and heritage buildings. It is the city’s first modern hotel after WWII. It boasts a polished lobby and British-Colonial style rooms. The Jesselton has been visited by many famous luminaries like British aristocrat Lady Edwina Mountbatten and boxer Muhammad Ali

Price range: SGD 70 – 90

For photos and the latest rates and availability visit HotelsCombined or Agoda.


KK Suites Hotel is located just across from Sabah’s infamous Gaya Street Market. There is a quaint little café in the Hotel itself where you can get your morning coffee fix with local Sabah coffee.

Price range: SGD 35-50

For photos and the latest rates and availability visit HotelsCombined or Agoda.

Getting around Kota Kinabalu

Most tour operators offer pickup and drop off at your hotel. Buses are the most economical mode of transport and take you to most parts of Sabah.

The fastest way to reach most places is by taxi. Both Uber and Grab  are also operating in Sabah, and can be used in remote locations that do not have many taxis.

Other important notes

Best months to visit

February to April is the best times to visit, as they are non-monsoon months and rainfall is scattered. Avoid October to January as it brings frequent, heavy rains.

What to pack

  • Insect repellent for Klias river cruise
  • Swimwear for white water rafting
  • Sunscreen
  • Raincoat or umbrella

Useful numbers

Ambulance/Police: 999

Fire department: 994

Airport: 088-238 555

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