Kota Kinabalu or KK as it’s called by the locals, is a culturally diverse city which sees Muslim restaurants sit side by side with Chinese Malaysian coffee shops and coconut shake bars that channel 1950s hipster rock. Make sure you’re traveling with an empty stomach because KK has a lot to offer in the food stakes. It’s an easy city to walk around and if exploring in the heat becomes too much, there are lots of malls to nip into for a touch of relief.
You’ll find people will smile and strike up conversation with you wherever you go- Kota Kinabaluans are a friendly bunch- it’s a welcoming city with lots to offer. But if you’re limited on the time front, here are our KK must eat spots and things to do…
Note: all addresses & directions for restaurants, activities and sights are listed at the bottom of this post.
Watch our video where we explore the food and sights of Kota Kinabalu…
Start the day with a hiss and a roar for your tastebuds with breakfast at Kedai Kopi Yee Fung (address below). This local restaurant specialises in curry laksa, a bowl of creamy coconut broth laden with rice noodles, shredded chicken and prawns. Finish it with a squeeze of kitichai (calamansi) and wash it all down with a frothy teh tarik (pulled tea). This local favourite is the perfect introduction to eating in KK- lively restaurants and flavoursome food.
After breakfast take a wander around downtown Kota Kinabalu. Along the waterfront lies the wet market where locals shop for their weekly fresh groceries together with the Filipino handicrafts market. Grab a thirst quenching coconut juice as you bargain for souvenirs.
It’s time for coffee at one of the oldest coffee shops in town. Yuit Cheong (address below) has been serving their brew since 1896 and the kopi-c (coffee with milk) plus a side of their kaya toast (they make their own bread) is a great mid-morning snack. But lets call this lunch so you can order satay from Satay Jawi who have a grill out the front. These are a MUST EAT!
Choose from beef, chicken, or beef stomach, you’ll find these satay extremely addictive and you’ll be moping up every last bit of the satay sauce it’s so good. We can’t decide which satay are the best so grab a selection. Yuit Cheong is run by an extremely friendly gentleman who will help you dissect the menu if you’re still feeling peckish.
The heat is probably getting to you right? Well hop foot it to Suria Sabah mall in downtown KK and hit up Jari Jari. This spa specialises in traditional Dusun (the largest indigenous group in North Borneo) techniques, but if you don’t want to spring for the whole shebang the one hour full body massage will see you leave floating on air. The spa is extremely clean, the masseuses know their stuff and the spa’s wooden decor is soothing. It’s one of the best massages, in one of the most appealing environments we have had in Asia!
Onwards! It’s time to find a spot to view KK’s sunset. If you’re feeling far too relaxed after your massage to walk, grab an Uber to the top of Signal Hill Observatory. With a view of the city streets framed by the ocean you’ll understand why KK’s sunset has been lauded to be one of the world’s best.
Hungry again? KK has a lively night market on the waterfront (Sinsuran Night Market) and it’s a fantastic spot to sample some of its famous seafood. This dinner spot is loud, smoky and invigorating- choose from the pre-grilled seafood on display or the fresh stuff which you can get cooked to order. Remember to leave room for a couple of grilled chicken wings from the row of vendors who stand swathed in plumes of smoke- the chicken is sticky and charred to perfection.
But you better not be full yet! You can’t leave the market without sampling the green coconut pancakes, the gula melaka filled coconut rice balls or an ABC (a shaved ice dessert). Most Malaysian desserts are represented here and you’ll have a ball choosing what concoction to devour.
If you’d prefer a restaurant rather than a night market experience then you must eat at Fatt Kee or Ang’s Hotel (address below) as it’s commonly known. This Chinese Malaysian restaurant is famous for its sticky oyster sauce chicken wings but everything is good, we’ve never had a dud dish here. The seafood is fresh and each dish is packed with flavour. You can order dishes in ‘small’, ‘medium’ or ‘large’ which means even if you’re a table of two you can sample lots of different things. Ang’s Hotel is well worth a visit!
24 hours in Kota Kinabalu, DONE!
We hope this Kota Kinabalu travel guide has helped you eat and explore like a local, not a tourist.
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If you’re based in downtown KK, it’s easy to walk most places. If you’re going a little further afield say to the Inaman Bus Terminal outside of town, then catch an Uber- they’re plentiful and much cheaper than taxis.
We use the app Maps.Me to guide us around cities by GPS using offline maps.
Chasing a Plate’s Pricing Guide
$ under 10MYR/$USD per person
$$ around 30MYR/$USD per person
Eat like a traveller:
Kedai Kopi Yee Fung $
127, Jalan Gaya, Pusat Bandar Kota Kinabalu
Open Monday to Friday 6:30am to 6:30pm, Saturday and Sunday 6:30am to 4:00pm
Kedai Kopi Yuit Cheong $
No. 50, 3rd Floor, Jalan Pantai, Sabah, 88000 Kota Kinabalu
Fatt Kee/Ang’s Hotel $$
28, Jalan Pantai, Pusat Bandar Kota Kinabalu, 88000 Kota Kinabalu
Open for dinner
Note that there’s no system in terms of waiting for a table. It’s every man for himself! People don’t tend to linger here so have a table you want to nab in sight and once they’re done be ready to pounce!
Explore like a traveller:
Signal Hill Observatory
Jalan Bukit Bendera, 88400 Kota Kinabalu
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