A bustling coastal city with plenty of charm

Kota Kinabalu, better-known as KK, is the capital of Malaysia’s Sabah state. One of the country’s biggest cities, it affords breathtaking views over the South China Sea and towards the Crocker Range which encompasses the legendary mountain that gives the city its name, Mount Kinabalu. KK bustles with brilliant eats, colorful markets, monuments and museums, all of which reflect the country’s unique diversity. Few cities can rival KK’s sunsets and whether you are sipping on a cocktail or local dragonfruit juice, there is no better way to end a day than by the waterfront.

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What to do and where to eat in KK

A great way to take the pulse of KK is at the Central Market, which sells everything from tropical fruit to fresh fish. Set your alarm clock early to watch the local fishing boats come in with their catch around 5.30am (the market opens at 6am). Witnessing the local residents pick up produce for their evening meal, and bargaining with the sellers is the ultimate local experience.

If you happen to be in town on a Thursday or Friday then the market in Donggongon, in the suburbs about ten miles from the city centre, brings together many of the local indigenous communities showing off their handmade arts and crafts.

Next, head to one of the city’s most iconic sights: the beautiful KK City Mosque, which is surrounded by a man-made lagoon so it appears to be floating on the water. Set among the Art Deco mansions on the eastern side of the city, the Signal Hill Observatory Platform offers beautiful views of the cityscape and coast, making the climb up the wooden stairs and ‘jungle trail’ well worth it. The Sabah State Museum is a great place to get to grips with Sabah’s history and culture. Or, if you want to discover rural Sabah and the stunning coastline, take a trip on the North Borneo Railway which runs year-round on Wednesdays and Saturdays for the Kota Kinabalu to Papar four hour round-trip.

Then, of course, comes dinner, with a mind-blowing array of options. The Filipino Market is a big draw for many locals who congregate here for delicious dishes such as grilled fish pasted in spicy sambal, or chicken satay slow-cooked over charcoal and served with peanut-based dipping sauce. Seafood turns up in every imaginable way, especially at the Sedco Square Seafood Centre where you make your choice from the tanks on the multiple stands and say how you want it cooked. Family recipes have been handed down over generations, meaning food doesn’t get any more authentic.

For two of Malaysia’s most famous dishes, laksa and bak kut teh (pork bone soup) one good options is to head to Yu Kee restaurant on Gaya Street. But however and wherever you spend your time in KK, there’s absolutely no way you’ll ever go hungry in a region dominated by delightful food options.

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