Kota Kinabalu? What strange and exotic name is it? For my part, I had never heard of it before receiving an invitation from Thai Airways and the Malaysian Tourist Board to discover this place. The unknown aspect of this destination has all the more fueled my curiosity and my desire to make this trip. In addition, it was my first time on the island of Borneo, known for the exceptional richness of its fauna, such as orangutans and monkey monkeys, and its flora with its equatorial forests. Borneo is divided into three countries: Malaysia in the North, Indonesia in the South, and the small state of Brunei on the North West Coast.
Kota Kinabalu is the capital of the Sabah region, also called “The land below the wind” because it is protected from typhoons. It takes its name from the nearby mountain: Mount Kinabalu , which with 4,095m above sea level, is the highest point in Malaysia and one of the highest peaks in Southeast Asia (see photo above). We did not have the opportunity to climb it during this trip, but it is one of the best in the region, even if it’s quite physical given the high altitude.
The main interest of Kota Kinabalu, also known as “KK”, is that it is the gateway to discover northern Borneo. The airline Thai Airways has recently opened a new line to connect Bangkok to Kota Kinabalu and wants to attract more travelers. There are also currently promotional flights from 615 euros (Paris-Bangkok-Kota-Kinabalu A / R) for departures until December.
Visit Kota Kinabalu and discover the traditions
The city itself of Kota Kinabalu does not have much interest. It is a large agglomeration of more than 500.000 inhabitants, modern, developed and very concreted. Originally an old British port, but following the Japanese occupation during the Second World War, it was massively destroyed by Allied bombing, hence the lack of historical heritage. What struck me was the impressive number of construction sites and buildings under construction. We can see that it is a booming city. The roads are in very good condition, modern and comfortable cars, recent infrastructures. The level of development is really much higher than in neighboring countries like Indonesia or Thailand. Malaysia is one of the richest countries in Southeast Asia.
There are still two tours worth visiting: Kampung Warisan Traditions Village and Kota Kinabalu Heritage Museum . You can visit reconstructed traditional houses, made entirely of wood and bamboo. You can also see the traditional clothes of the ancient tribes, their tools, the musical instruments … With the explanations of our guide of the agency Asian Trails , we learned there the history and the traditions of the peoples of this part of Borneo which have also been formidable cutters!
Gaya Island: beach, jungle and relaxation
Located just opposite Kota Kinabalu, a 10-minute boat trip, Gaya Island is ideal for enjoying the pleasures of the beach and discovering the equatorial jungle. The island is actually occupied by several hotels and you have to stay in one of them to enjoy it. For our part we were at Gaya Island Resort , a beautiful 5 star hotel, perfect for a romantic and quiet couple stay (approx 200 euros per double room). You can easily spend three days as there are plenty of activities to do beyond just enjoying the pool or the various beaches. The ideal is to go on a boat trip to go snorkeling. The seabed is sublime and you can see tropical fish of all colors. You can also kayak through the mangrove.