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Kota Kinabalu, affectionately know as KK in Malaysia, is a fascinating and richly “blessed” city. It is situated on the shores of the South China Sea and flanked by lush tropical islands and clear blue waters on one side, and mount Kinabalu on the other. The city is graced by some of the finest sunsets in the world. Originally named Jesselton, the city was flattened during World War II, and has risen from the ashes to become a thriving and vibrantly colourful city. Much of the city is relatively new, but legacies of its Chinese trading history and colonial past can be found dotted all around town, along with water villages and an ever-expanding array of commercial and residential developments.
The centre of town is based around the waterfront area, which is home to a charming mix of old and new – trendy bars, restaurants and hotels line the area, but are contrastingly interspersed with traditional markets, fishing ports and hawker stalls, a great blend.
The melange and variation of culinary experiences in KK is amazing. Being such a multi-cultural city you will find everything from Malay and Filipino hawker food to 24 hour budget Malay and Indian restaurants to exquisite Chinese seafood restaurants as well as top-class international restaurants.
Most of the city’s bars are located within reasonable walking distance of one another, making a varied evening out a comfortable option. The majority of the larger hotels have bars with live bands, although the bulk of the more popular haunts are to be found on the waterfront and on the side streets opposite this strip. KK’s busy nightlife scene is largely based around late night fun pubs and bars, which generally have live bands playing until late, There are also a couple of decent night clubs, and most are located close to one another, so it’s easy to find what suits.
For handicrafts you will find several small shops in the various shopping malls, but for the best bargains, most authentic goods and the most fun shopping experience - head for the handicraft market, on the seafront by the Filipino market; the place is a virtual labyrinth of craft stalls. The old Filipino market is also the best tamu (fresh market) in town, and is a great place to buy local produce and seafood. The biggest shopping centre in town is Centre Point, a huge multi-story centre full of just about everything you could wish for, with electronic goods being a speciality. Further along the main street, you’ll find Wisma Merdeka, another multi-story shopping centre with loads of great shops, this is a great place for bargain clothes, and it has the best “Borneo” bookshop in town – Borneo Books. Dotted between the two major centres you will finds loads of small local shops selling everyday products, while the new and expanding Warasan Square and Asia City are great and plush centres to buy brand name goods. For small souvenirs and budget buys, try the regular night market in Kampung Air, and be prepared to haggle!
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