Insider’s Guide: 10 Things To Do in Kota Kinabalu Before/After MELTA International Conference



We figure most of you conference attendees would spare an extra day or two, before or after the conference to check out Kota Kinabalu. So we, the Kota Kinabalu MELTA Chapter decided to write an ‘Insiders’ Guide’ to show how to spend your time here and enjoy what Kota Kinabalu has to offer.

To think of it, some of the attractions here could be done over dinner time, during the conference itself. So feel free to plan up your free time and work on the list below!

#1 Enjoy Local KadazanDusun Cuisine at D’Place Kinabalu

Location: Lot 2.01&2.02, 2nd floor, Plaza Shell Kota Kinabalu

D’Place has been a local institution for KKlites when it comes to enjoying local KadazanDusun fares, traditional style.

Feel free to swing by during the dinner time, and enjoy scrumptious dinner, and watch cultural performances too.

As a start, consider an ambuyat set with condiments, Hinava, sambal, bamboo shoot, soup and basing fish (deep fried fish), and enjoy that with rice.

To those more adventurous and daring, ask the staff to prepare a plate of Butod for you! I won’t tell you what it is to not spoil the fun 🙂

Located in the heart of KK itself (at Plaza Shell), it is easily reachable from the conference venue at TH Hotel. Drive your own way, or hail a Uber ride!

#2 Enjoy Sunset at Tanjung Aru

I have been to many places, and nothing beats the sunset in Kota Kinabalu. In fact, many locals seem to have their own ‘best sunset watching spot’.

If you have a local to take you around, go with their suggestion. If you are on your own without local support, start at Tanjung Aru beach. The First Beach is a good place to watch sunset.

However if you are to ask me, the best place is at Sunset Bar, Shangri-La’s Tanjung Aru. Grab a drink (non-alcoholic options available), watch the sunset while listening to the amazing jazz from the local live band.

#3 Sunday Stroll at Gaya Street Market

Location: Jalan Gaya, Kota Kinabalu

Landing in KK early for the conference? If you are around on Sunday morning, consider taking a stroll at the Gaya Street Market.

In earlier days, it is the lifeblood of commerce in Jesselton (older name for Kota Kinabalu), where farmers bring their produce, traders showcase their wares for the city dwellers. These days, it has a more touristy feel.

Start your day by looking for your breakfast – My personal favourite is the Bakso at Restoran Azlina Sulawesi, although there are tons of Kopitiams/cafes around, serving local, Chinese, Western fares. If you are on a hunt for souvenirs to take back, this is the perfect place too.

#4 Explore Sabahan Traditional Cultures at Mari-Mari Cultural Village

Location: Jalan Kionsom, Inanam, Kota Kinabalu

What is the point of visiting Sabah when you don’t understand its local culture and traditions? So here comes #4 for you – Explore the Mari Mari village.

Sabah is a land of 30 over ethnic groups (more then 100 if you consider the subgroups too), and Mari-Mari Village is a wonderful opportunity to discover, and gather knowledge about the regional cuisines and the ethnic lifestyle of the people. Witness their hunting skills and their precise fishing techniques.

Play some local traditional games, sample local food and drinks, dan the local Sumazau, and even hone your blowpiping skills!

Tickets are purchasable at the entry gate. For larger groups, prior bookings could be arranged.


#5 Go Sea Walking at Borneo Reef World Pontoon

Location: Speedferries leave from Jesselton Point, Jalan Haji Saman, Kota Kinabalu

Diver at heart? Underwater adventurer? Sabah has you covered. Just hop on a boat from Jesselton Point Jetty, and look for speed ferry to Borneo Reed World Pontoon. (Boats available every half-hour from 9AM to 10.30AM)

Voted as one of the best destinations for diving, you can experience and see beautiful underwater life right in Kota Kinabalu itself. Best of all, even if you do not scuba dive (nor swim even!), it’s not a problem!

Change into a diving suit, put on your oxygenated helmet, and start your walk, with a guide! see the colourful reefs, amazing array of underwater life, and if you like it, play hide and seek with a clown fish!


#6 Take A Nostalgic Train North Borneo Train Ride

Nostalgia seekers? or have you been reading a lot of British ‘train riding’ novels? Around The World in 80 days perhaps? Then you will love this!

Take a ride on the North Borneo Railway and relive the nostalgic romance of British North Borneo (Sabah’s name before Merdeka Malaysia 1963). Passengers hop on a steam train straight out of the 1900s, with colonial-style refurbished interiors. The train will run along the tracks from Tanjung Aru, through Kinarut before arriving in the Rice Bowl of Sabah, Papar.

Along the way, enjoy the classic Tiffin-style breakfast and lunch, straight from the days of Charles Dickens. As you tuck into your meals, soak in the green vistas of sprawling paddy fields, traditional village homes on stilts and buffaloes ambling in the distance.

Train leaves every Saturday and Wednesday, and bookings need to be done at least a day in advance. A round ride from KK-Papar-KK will take around 4 hours. Book your seats here.

#7 Go Island Hopping

Location: Speedferries leave from Jesselton Point, Jalan Haji Saman, Kota Kinabalu

Sabah is very well known for it’s amazing nature, so amazing you can access them right here in Kota Kinabalu!

A usual island hopping trip involves exploring the 4 major islands in the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park – Sapi, Manukan, Mamutik and Gaya Island. Each islands have their specific attractions, but as long as you enjoy white sand, blue sea, and amazing sunny days, you will enjoy this trip!

Many tour companies run daily tours to these islands, just sign up for one right at the Jesselton Point Jetty! Here’s an insider’s tip – get here early at 8-9AM to avoid long queues, most tourists n groups usually arrives from 10am onwards. Of course, stay away from the ticket barkers!


#8 Indulge In Seafood

Welcome Seafood Restaurant: G-15 – G-18, Asia City, Jalan Coastal, Kota Kinabalu
Gayang Seafood Restaurant: Jalan Sulaman, Kota Kinabalu
Restoran Nelayan: Jalan Kolam, Bukit Padang, Kota Kinabalu

If you enjoy seafood, (and have extra space of cholesterol and uric acid to spare), KK has an breathtakingly rich display of live seafood, ready to be picked by the customers and freshly cooked to be savored. Fishes, eels, crabs, oysters, crabs, clams, you name it and it will be available at these outlets. This certainly is one of the best things to do in KK.

Ask every local in KK and they will tell you their favourite place to eat seafood. If you have a local friend, go along with their suggestion. If you need extra tips, Welcome Seafood at Asia City and Restoran Nelayan at Bukit Padang are my own personal favourites. They are decently priced, and smack in the heart of KK itself. To those more adventurous, drive yourself out of town to Gayang Seafood, about 20KM north from KK.


#9 Enjoy The Nightlife

BB Cafe: Jalan Gaya, Kota Kinabalu
The Loft at Waterfront KK: Jalan Tun Fuad Stephens, Kota Kinabalu
Tavern Kitchen at Imago KK: Off Jalan Coastal, Kota Kinabalu

Anjung Senja: Jalan Tun Fuad Stephens, Kota Kinabalu

Kota Kinabalu has one of the best nightlife in Malaysia, albeit in a different manner.

Here, it is not about dance clubs and International Superstar DJs, but chilling out over dinner and drinks with friends while listening to live bands playing classic to popular tunes. Feel like belting out some Whitney Houston? Frank Sinatra? Write a note to the band leader, and the band will get ready and invite you on stage!

To those uninitiated, the BB cafe at Gaya Street is a good place to start. Looking to hop around? then consider The Loft at Waterfront KK or Tavern Kitchen at Imago KK! Anjung Senja is also another booming nightlife centre as well.

#10 Go To Signal Hill For Amazing KK View!

Location: Jalan Bukit Bendera, Kota Kinabalu

Signal Hill, the highest point in the city, is one of the best places to get a good view of Kota Kinabalu. Just a couple of minutes drive from Padang Merdeka will bring you to the airy deck where you can get amazing views that extend to the outlying islands of the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park and further.

If you ever feel wanting some physical challenge, consider hiking your way up! it takes less than an hour, and shortcuts and trails are available.