While first impressions of KOTA KINABALU, which everyone calls KK, may be of a rather utilitarian concrete sprawl, many visitors end up charmed by its lively buzz and the friendliness of its citizens. As well as good places to eat, it also has excellent transport links and is the headquarters of most of the main tour operators.
The best of the city’s few specific sights are its markets, the Sabah Museum and the Mari Mari Cultural Village. A further highlight lies offshore in the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park, whose popular islands are just a short trip away by boat.
Modern-day KK can trace its history back to 1882, when the British North Borneo Chartered Company established an outpost on nearby Pulau Gaya. After followers of the Bajau rebel, Mat Salleh, burned that down in 1897, the Company chose a mainland site – a fishing village called Api-Api – to develop as a new town. Renamed Jesselton after Sir Charles Jessel, the vice-chairman of the Chartered Company, the town prospered. By 1905 the Trans-Borneo Railway reached from Jesselton to Beaufort, allowing rubber to be transported efficiently from the interior to the coast.
The Japanese invasion of North Borneo in 1942 marked the start of three and a half years of military occupation; little of old Jesselton survived the resultant Allied bombing. In 1968 the name was changed to Kota Kinabalu and city planners set about expanding outwards into the sea. Interconnecting concrete buildings have been constructed on the reclaimed land – the Sinsuran and Segama complexes and Asia City in particular have developed their own identities. Progress has been startling, and today, with a population of over a quarter of a million, KK is a beehive of activity once again.Read More
A lively street market is held along Jalan Gaya every Sunday morning, with stalls selling items as disparate as herbal teas, handicrafts, orchids and rabbits. In addition, a huddle of markets on the waterfront are open daily, and together form one of the city’s highlights. Approaching from the northeast, you first reach the labyrinthine Central Market, which includes a fish market that’s at its best very early in the morning. Next comes the Handicraft Market, also known as the Filipino Market thanks to the ethnicity of many of its stallholders. Around sundown, the area west of here becomes a gargantuan night food market; further west still is the waterfront parade of bars and restaurants.
Sabah State Museum
Sabah State Museum
Styled after Murut and Rungus longhouses, the buildings of the Sabah State Museum are set in grounds that also hold several splendid steam engines. The botanical garden in front of the museum is bordered by finely crafted traditional houses, representing all Sabah’s major tribes and known as the Heritage Village (Kampung Warisan).
The other highlight of the complex, the ethnographic collection in the main building, includes human skulls dating from Sabah’s head-hunting days, and a sininggazanak, a totemic wooden figurine placed in the field of a Kadazan man who died without heirs. Photographs in the history gallery depict the city when Jalan Gaya still constituted the waterfront, lined with lean-tos thatched with nipah-palm leaves.
Exhibits on oil drilling in the Science and Technology Centre next door are less than gripping; head instead to the Art Gallery upstairs, where the centrepiece is a giant string of Rungus beads, created by Chee Sing Teck, hanging from the ceiling.