5 places you can visit for free at Kota Kinabalu in 1 day
On tight budget or trying to visit Kota Kinabalu cheaply? how about visit some of the attractions around Kota Kinabalu which do not cost any money. No entrance fees and it’s free to visit anytime. All these places you can visit in 1 day with time to spare.
1) Visit Atkinson Clock TowerAfter a breakfast at one of the many Coffee shop around Kota Kinabalu city, take a visit to Atkinson Clock Tower. Atkinson Clock tower located at the edge of signal hill and easily accessible by tourist
2) Take photo of Kota Kinabalu City at Signal Hill ObservatoryBest place to get the city view of Kota Kinabalu city.
How to get there :
- Taxi charge around RM10 fare from the city
- walk up the trail from the edge of signal Hill.
Discover old Mansion and highest point of Signal Hill, Kota KinabaluHow much do you know about Signal Hill? Do you know there are old building hidden at Signal Hill which use to be the residential building for the colonial officers.
Together with Heritage Sabah, ( NGO about conservation of heritage sites in Sabah), we decide to find the forgotten trail of Signal Hill. We meet up at Atkinson Clock Tower at 9am, the trail is located near to the Atkinson clock Tower.
section of trail become overgrown but mostly passable
after about 5 minutes trekking through the trail, we come to an old building which use to be an colonial officer mansion. The surrounding look eery with fallen tree and green ivy overgrown on the building. A great place for scary movie.
While the building may look scary, few families actually live here, getting electricity from the grid.
We then continue take the trail up to Sabah Theological Seminary at Jalan Pinggir
2 children playing in front of old english colonial quarters which have been turned into a small colony of many families. The building have been extended extensively with materials from construction sites but the window design is still left intact which is from the pre independence period.
the trail to the highest point of signal hill is located behind the colony. After about 100 meters going up a steep hill, we reach an open area which is the highest point of Signal Hill. We can see Likas bay and Kota Kinabalu city on both sides of the hill. Great potential to be one of the lookout point at Kota Kinabalu
After spending 30 minutes at the peak, we trek down hill and come back to the Sabah Theological Seminary. We ask permission to visit the old Basel Church which is more than 100 years old.
we ended our trekking at 11.30am. There are many hidden historical sites at Signal which was abandoned and forgotten. Kota Kinabalu as a city is developing now but we should not forget our past and do more to conserve our heritage sites. A city without past is like a man without story. Hopefully more will be done in the future to promote our past while we moving forward.
To know more about Heritage of Sabah, visit
3) Visit Kota Kinabalu City mosquea stunning mix of prevailing Islamic architecture and contemporary design built on a man made lagoon.
How to get there :
- Taxi charge around RM10 fare from city center.
- take bus No. 5A from Wawasan Bus station to University Malaysia Sabah direction.
4) Tanjung Aru BeachFavourite place to visit for the locals. You can also get the best sunset view here. Tanjung aru is also one of the top 5 places to see sunset in Kota Kinabalu
How to get there :
bus no. 16 from Wawasan Bus Station
Taxi Fare around RM15 from city center
5) Relax : Perdana ParkThis beautiful part built and maintain by a local company is popular among the locals during the late evening. Peoples usually come here for jogging and exercise but there is a musical fountain show every half an hour from 7.30 pm till 9.30 pm. You can be there for the musical fountain show after watching sunset at Tanjung Aru Beach
How to get there :
Located near to Tanjung Aru beach.
10 Attractions in Kota Kinabalu you must visit
Mari Mari Cultural VillageSituated amidst a remote forest setting in Kionsom, Mari Mari Cultural Village offer insight into the living cultures of Sabah. The village is about 40-45 minutes drive from Kota Kinabalu city centre. Visitors are encouraged to participate in the activities at the village and experience the way of life for the 5 local tribes in Sabah. Join a tour from the city or drive yourself to the village but make sure you make a booking beforehand as the village didn’t accept walk in customers. You can combine Mari Mari cultural village with Kiulu White rafting tour.
Floating MosqueKota Kinabalu City Mosque is the second main mosque in Kota Kinabalu and better known as floating mosque as the Mosque appear to sit on a man made lagoon. Do respect the dress code before entering the mosque and outfits/robes/burkas there that you can borrow should you prefer.
Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park5 islands namely Gaya Island, Sapi Island, Manukan Island, Mamutik Island and Sulug Island which made up Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park. The islands are located only 10 – 15 minutes rides away from Kota Kinabalu city center and it offer great island hopping adventure and activities for the locals and tourists.
Sabah State MuseumBuilt in 1985, Sabah State Museum house collection of artefacts and history of Sabah. The museum is located at the top of a small hill and great place to relax and understand about the history of Sabah. Do take a visit to the heritage village which consist of traditional houses of Sabah tribes at the back of the hill.
Signal Hill Observatory PlatformOffer stunning view of Kota Kinabalu city. For the more adventurous type, take the trail leading to the observatory platform from the edge of Kota Kinabalu city. Visit Signal Hill Observatory Platform in the morning as the observatory is facing the west or visit during the late evening for its sunset view over Kota Kinabalu city. You will surely get beautiful photos from your visit here.
Central MarketPlace where locals shop for fresh produce everyday. Best to visit in the early morning and observe the daily life of the locals.
Atkinson Clock TowerThe oldest remaining structure in Kota Kinabalu which survived the destruction of Jesselton town during WWII. Named after Francis George Atkinson, Jesselton’s first district officer who died of Malaria
Tanjung Aru BeachBest place for sun, sea, and beach located 6 Kilometres from City center. Enjoy beautiful sunset scenery on the 2km stretch of beach while drinking from fresh coconuts. There are more than enough space for everyone to chill out on this 2 km stretch of beach.
Filipino Market/ Handicraft MarketBest place for local handicrafts, souvenirs and many other interesting items. Explore over hundreds of stalls offers a variety of good for you to choose from. You could get virtually anything you can think of under the sun from this Sabah market.
Kota Kinabalu Waterfrontplace to chill out at the late afternoon for the spectacular sunset view. The place come to life at night with the entertainment and eatery outlets offer memorable Sabah nightlife experience.
Kota Kinabalu wetland
Located just 2 kilometers from Kota Kinabalu Town center, Kota Kinabalu Wetland is a sanctuary for birds around the world, especially during the migratory season for the birds. This 60 Acres wetland is managed and funded by NGO. I spent around 1 hour walking on the platform circling the mangroves and trying to find some birds and wildlife. A bit disappointed as i’m only able to see some mudskipper and Cranes. The maintenance around the center is not in perfect condition but who cares since the main attraction itself is the mangroves and wild lives.
Entrance Fess : RM 5 for Malaysian and RM 15 for foreign visitor.
How to Get there : From the city of Kota Kinabalu, travel along the Likas coastal highway until you reach the first roundabout at the Likas Bay. Keep right so that you can make a 3 o’ clock turning in to Jalan Istiadat. Travel straight until you reach a cross junction with traffic lights. Before reaching the junction, you will see Likas Square building and Sabah Trade Center building on your left hand side. Remember to keep your vehicle at right lane and turn right after the junction in to Jalan Bukit Bendera Upper which also leads you to Signal Hill. The Bird Sanctuary site is only the third left junctions after the traffic lights.
GPS Location : 5.9881191N 116.087712E
Opening hours : Tuesday to Sunday 8.00am till 6.00pm (Closed on Mondays, except when falls on a Public Holiday); Open on all Public Holidays
Poring Canopy Walkway
While Poring is more famous for its hot spring. One activity you must do on visit to Poring is take a walk at the Canopy walkway. There are few canopy walkway at Sabah and Sarawak but its still worth visiting Poring as its easily accessible and offer good view. I decide to drop by Poring on the way to Sabah Tea Garden
There is another entrance fees of RM3 for Malaysian into the canopy walkway area and if you bring a camera, you have to pay another RM5 for the camera. The canopy walkway is located further up the park so we have to trek about 15 minutes (about 550 meter uphill) to reach the walkway. Do get ready a good pair of walking shoe and travel light.
Big Mangrove tree act as the anchor for the bridge. Do follow the rules of not more than 6 person on any section of the bridge at one time. the narrow walkway and swinging bridge certainly make it an exciting activity for the outing. Looking forward visit more canopy walkway around Sabah.
Semporna – Island Hopping and Meeting the Sea Gypsies
Semporna is an under developed town with a very basic infrastructure which is not ready for tourist. Tourist usually skips staying at Semporna town after flying in through Tawau. High demand from tourists at the water chalet at Mabul, Kapalai and Semporna town creates a spillover effect where new hotels start appearing at Semporna town. The main attraction at Semporna is cheap and fresh seafood and Island Hopping. When mentioning Semporna, most people will think about diving at Sipadan or Mabul. But there are much more islands to explore out there. Mataking Island is accessible from Semporna. There is also the Tun Sakaran Marine Park which comprises of eight islands: Bohey Dulang, Bodgaya, Maiga, Selakan, Mantabuan, Sibuan, Sebangkat, as well as the Church Reef and Kapikan Reef. You will be spoiled for the many great choices.
A boat for a day costs from RM200 to 400 depending on how many islands you want to cover and which operator you choose. The price typically covers the boat fees and snorkeling equipment. On our trip to Semporna, we negotiated with the boat operator for a day trip to Mataking Island, Timba Timba Island, Maiga Island and Bohey Dulang Island.
The sea is very rough. It was really a bone-breaking boat ride to Bohey Dulang. The island is quite far from Semporna that it took 30 minutes to reach.
One of the main purpose to visit Bohey Dulang Island is to trek to the peak for this amazing view. Pay Rm50 (for a group) for the park ranger to guide you safely to the peak of Bohey Dulang Island.
We take a short boat ride to Maiga Island to visit the sea gypsies village. They are also known as Bajau Laut (Bajau of the sea) as they live almost all their entire life on the sea. Some of them get land sick when they move onto the land.
Life is very simple here. It is hard to believe that such place still exist in Malaysia. The young boys and girls row their boats toward us to get some sweets and money. Prepare some sweets if you plan to visit the village here.
Next stop is Mataking Island which is 30 minutes away. Mataking is famous for its diving sites. The water here is clear and clean.
Mataking Kecil Island which is accessible from Mataking Besar Island during the low tide.
And lastly, Timba Timba Island which has a long beach which stretches far away from the island. Great to have the sea on both sides!
Mataking Island is far away from Semporna. It took almost 45 minutes to reach Semporna town from Mataking Island. The sea is rough so it’s better to go for a bigger boat if you are traveling in group. We traveled more than 20 KM on the boat and it was such an unforgettable experience. We didn’t visit Sipadan Island as we didn’t plan to dive. Nevertheless, the other islands at Semporna kept us busy. We look forward to visiting more other islands for another bone-breaking session on the boat.
The best way to end the day at Semporna is having seafood for dinner!
Meeting Two Monkeys (Orang Utan and Proboscis) in a Single Day Trip
A trip to Sandakan is not complete without visiting the 2 famous animals in Borneo: Orangutan and Proboscis Monkey. The most convenient places to visit these 2 animals are Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre and Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary. The best time to visit is during feeding time. To visit both places in 1 day, plan your trip ahead so you can continue to next center after the feeding time.
Sepilok Feeding times
10:00am & 3:00pm daily
Labuk Bay Feeding times
Platform A : 9:30am & 2:30pm daily
Platform B : 11:30am & 4.30pm daily
Getting there: Sepilok- Take bus marked Sepilok Batu 14 from the local bus stand next to the market on the waterfront (RM3.50 , 30 minutes). Last bus leaves for Sandakan at 4:30 pm. Regular buses with Batu 14 and numbers above pass by the junction but you will need to walk in to Sepilok which is about 2.5 KM.
- Taxi from Sandakan Town, one way should cost around RM30. Negotiate with the taxi driver if you want him to wait and bring you to Labuk Bay later.
- Drive from Sandakan town / Kota Kinabalu. Sepilok is located at Batu 14 . There is a roundabout to turn into Sepilok.
Getting there:Labuk Bay
- Take mini-van at Sandakan Hotel at 9:00am. The mini-van will also stop at Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre around 10:30 am to pick up passengers for the 11.30am viewing.
Location map of Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary and Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre
Entrance to Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre.
Entrance Fees : RM1 for Malaysian (18 years old and above )
RM10 for non-Malaysia (18 years old and above )
RM10 charge for camera
Wooden walkway all the way to feeding area
The Orangutan already having their meal when we reached there
Doing some exercise after the meal
An Orangutan at the entrance area looking at the tourist. Feeling bored, he chase after a tourist
After watching Orangutan, we proceed to Labuk Bay just in time for the 11:30 am feeding time at Platform B. You will pass by acres of palm oil plantations before you reach Labuk Bay. Labuk Bay is operated by private company and the entrance fee is more expensive than Sepilok.
RM15 for Malaysian adult, Rm5 for kids below 12.
RM60 for non-Malaysian adult, RM30 for kids below 12.
A few silver leaf monkeys at the viewing platform having their food
They are not scared of human and run around the centre
Proboscis monkeys come all out from the trees for food
You can get close to (but not allowed to touch) the Proboscis monkeys here and see them clearly as they sit on the wooden platform during eating time. The experience is totally different from a river cruise at Klias or Weston. Though you can see the monkeys closer here, it just does not feel right to see animal in an artificial setting.
Mantanani island, made in heaven
Mantanani Island, also known as Mermaid Island ( 美人鱼岛) is one of the top destinations for tourist in recent year. The island only open up for tourists 5 years ago and is more famous to foreign tourists than to locals. I always wanted to go taking photos at Mantanani Island after looking at the beautiful photographs on the internet. So we decide to arrange a day trip to Mantanani with tour company. The cost for one person is RM280 with Amazing Borneo. For the price, We got transport to Kota Belud, return boat rides to Mantanani Island, 2 snorkelling sessions, a buffet lunch and a full day of fun. I’m so happy that I don’t have to drive this time as my friends refuse to drive most of the time we go for road trips. Unlimited drinking water and big cozy bus this time.
We reach the Jetty at Kuala Abai Estuary around 9.30 am. There are already many tourists waiting for boat ride to Mantanani Island.
Good Weather today considering it’s been raining for the past few days. Mantanani Island is located at the open sea and the wave is always expected to be rough. The boat ride to Mantanani takes about 30 to 75 minutes depending on wind and sea condition.
Mount Kinabalu view from the boat
Our Boat Master, David explaining the importance of the captain and also the Do And Don’ts on the boat. He is a humorous person and makes everyone relax and understand the importance of boat ride safety.
Sea condition is very good and we reach Mantanani Island in 30 minutes time. The first thing that welcomes us is a beautiful beach with clear sea water.
If you are lucky, you may see Dugong when you dive. Thats how the island got the Chinese name “美人鱼岛” Mermaid Island.
Mantanani Island, where all things bright and beautiful happen!
2 snorkelling sessions: 1 in the morning and another in the afternoon. Safety jacket is a must when you are on the boat and also during snorkelling session.
Snorkelling time! Don’t jump as the water is shallow
Snorkelling in group to ensure safety. else you may lose your way and end up on another island
Mantanani Besar Island
Mantanani Kecil Island
After the morning snorkelling fun, we proceed back to the island for lunch and take a break.
romance is in the air
Take a stroll along the beach after lunch and enjoy the wind, sands and coconut trees along the beach. I am so in love with this island!
Blue sky and white clouds, perfect setup for a heavenly trip.
We leave the island at 4pm to avoid rough sea at late afternoon. We are very lucky as the sea is calm during our boat ride back to Kota Belud. It takes only 30 minutes today which is kinda record breaking according to our captain. Thanks to our tour guide today, Mr Yuz who gave us plastic bags to waterproof our gears and told us his childhood story about learning mandarin the hard way in primary school with 100% non-chinese classmates. You are the man!
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