Kota Kinabalu-11766

What to do in Kota Kinabalu – Malaysian Borneo’s Port City

We took a 20 RM taxi from the Harborside Backpackers (there is no public bus) to get to the Sandakan long distance bus terminal in time to catch the 9am (43 RM) bus to Kota Kinabalu.

When we travelled there was very little online booking available for buses, trains and ferries in Malaysia and South East Asia – the folks at Easybook have now remedied that – check timetables and book tickets online now – its WAY easier!



“No need to buy a ticket ahead of time” we’d been told, just turn up.  Yeah yeah.

The Bus "station" - Tung Ma run buses to Kota Kinabalu
The Bus “station” – Tung Ma run buses to Kota Kinabalu

And so we did. No seats left. We took two of the last ones on the 10am bus. Now it’s possible to book the tickets onine with easybook, so don’t make the same mistake that we did.  While we’d originally planned to stop at Kundasang (35RM from Sandakan) en route and pay respects at the War Memorial there, we decided on the spot, that the delay meant we’d probably not get a bus out of Kundasang the same day, so we took a bus straight through.

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And so I spent my birthday on a bus. And a bouncy old bus it was too. Or maybe that was the road.

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It’s easy to see how stunning Borneo would have been before the rainforest was replaced by Palm Oil plantations. Even now there is green as far as we can see. Sadly it’s the wrong type of green.

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It’s an uneventful bus ride of about 6 hours, with one stop at a little scuzzy roadside stop, where we bought crisps and coconut pau to hold us until we get to Kota Kinabalu (KK), where we intend to do justice to the Filipino Night Market – famed for it’s seafood – tonight.

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We’re dropped at the long distance bus station, which in true South East Asian style is in the middle of nowhere useful, we ask about buses to the city and are waved in a usual fashion, which could be anywhere in a 180 degree direction, but which really means, “why can’t you just take a taxi like everyone else?”


Three people and about 400 meters later, we find a minibus heading to central KK. They must know it’s my birthday because they’re blaring music at 20 decibels louder than the speakers can handle and everyone is ignoring us. Still it gets us to within 10 minutes walk of where we’re staying and for a bargain 1.5RM.



The seafood at the Filipino Market is good, (not as good as the Million Dong Meal on Phu Quoc, Vietnam of course) – there are prawns, Parrot fish and a ceviche like marinated fish called Hinava.

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Hinava – available at the Filipino Night Market

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We find happy hour beers at the Aussie BBQ and bar, despite the reviews of the scary owner on TripAdvisor. It’s 38 RM for two large beers, and we’re looking forward to getting to Labuan Island tomorrow – it’s both an International Offshore Financial Center and a duty free island.

The next morning brings another lesson in planning ahead, especially in peak season on Borneo.  It’s a Sunday, we have checked out of our hotel, walked the 40 minutes to the ferry and it’s not even 7am. There are no tickets on the two ferries to Labuan today. We should be happy that they have free wifi at the terminal though, so we can figure out where to look for a bed for tonight after we’ve bought a ticket for tomorrow’s ferry.

We check into a room at the Tropicana Lodge, which on first glance has me not wanting to touch the walls – or the floor, but heck the wifi works and that mantra that everyone who’s traveling learns pretty quickly, “It’s only one night”.

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Closer inspection reveals its clean, just somewhat worn. What? Yes, I know I lost you at “the wifi works”.

We spend the afternoon buying a USB wifi adapter for the laptop, which has suffered a catastrophic wifi card failure, getting it to work and catching up on “stuff that you need the internet for”.

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Then heading out for dinner, we manage to make it BB’s Café just before the heavens open and stay open for long enough for us to enjoy fab pizza slices and “cheap” (for Malaysia) beer (30 RM for two large Tiger) at BB’s and Prezzo?? Pizza before an early night, we DEFINITELY have a ferry to catch in the morning.

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Don’t forget to book your buses, ferries and trains – and confirm your travel. Easybook have the largest network in South East Asia!

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