Kota Kinabalu

The capital of Malaysian Borneo, and gateway to the Sabah region, Kota Kinabalu is a relatively tidy South-East Asian city of half a million people which has enough to see to fill a day or two.

A great vantage point over the city is from the Signal Hill Observatory, just a lookout by the side of the road with views over the CBD. The buildings are uniformly relatively low as the airport is very close to the city centre…

Only two buildings survived WW2, the post office which is now home to the tourism board, and the Atkinson Clock Tower dating from 1905, an attractive if somewhat stranded structure.

The religious buildings are the most interesting in the city, particularly the mosques. Al Khauthar Mosque was the first I visited, a pretty out of the way place which got more interesting with distance, with the golden dome contrasting with the nearby silt houses. Though there was generally a little less rubbish than I’ve seen in other South-East Asian cities it is obviously still a significant problem here.

I walked back toward the city centre along a shared pathway, melting in the early afternoon heat and humidity having arrived a couple of hours earlier from a considerably cooler Auckland. The Muslim Cemetery was overgrown but interesting to see the contrast from Christian cemeteries.

The Sabah State Mosque was quite wonderful, with striking architecture. Dating from 1975 it is the second largest mosque in the city, able to hold up to 5,000 worshippers.

The largest is the newer Kota Kinabalu City Mosque, better known as the floating mosque for the reflections from the moat that surrounds it. The inside is quite underwhelming (and mostly closed to visitors) but it looks pretty stunning from a distance across the water. The looming storm clouds made up for the lack of crisp reflections due to the wind. I suspect the best views would be early in the morning.

Malaysia is majority Muslim but it has substantial communities of other different faiths. In Sabah about 35% of the population are non-Muslim. The Sacred Heart Cathedral was sizeable, if closed when I visited late afternoon. The Sikh Temple Guruduwara was open, and very welcoming, with a local lady who had studied in New Zealand showing me around and offering food and drink.

Gaya Street is the better known name of Chinatown, nicely done if not particularly exciting during the daytime, but it comes alive during the night markets every Friday and Saturday.

The Sabah State Museum and nearby Sabah Islamic Civilisation Museum and replica regional buildings were mildly diverting but little more. Whale bones are always a striking way to start a museum though.

There is some street art around the city, most notably thirty columns of a burnt out building opposite the main city mall, which show thirty native endangered animals painted by different artists.

The City Park is the only park in the city, a small formally laid out space, home to the British North Borneo Memorial commemorating soldiers who fought in WW1.

To end with where I spent my final night, at the Sky Blu Bar, which offered great sunset views of the islands of the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park (which I didn’t have time to visit) across the water. The clouds got progressively darker, before thunder and lightning, and a surprisingly short burst of heavy rain arrived.

Leave a Reply