Top Places to Visit in Sabah, Malaysia
Our Kota Kinabalu hike is beyond words! It was more than fantastic and it was a truly great experience, especially when hiking with our son. But, we just can't finish our trip with that. We decided to go around Sabah.
NOTE: Everywhere you go, there is a local visitor's fee and a foreign visitor's fee. And some places really charge a hefty extra for foreigners. Maybe you want to practice a bit of Malay to go around Malaysia.
I really don't know where to start! Standing at the foot of the mountain staring up the Mount Kinabalu is exhilarating. My family is thrilled to finally start our climb to the peak of Mount Kinabalu. We've been waiting for this trip for the past eight months and here we are! Finally making our way up top! This is going to be one of the highest peaks my son has climbed yet and, though young as he is, he is super excited.
There were lines of support to help climbers up the crevices and trails but we can't help but slow down the trek up because the picturesque view is really breathtaking. The guides are super nice and were very careful to watch over our son take those difficult trails. They offered multiple stops for us to take a rest and enjoy the view.
We took a break at Sayat Sayat to breathe in the fresh cold air of Mount Kinabalu. The cold weather is a complete contrast to Kota Kinabalu's crazy tropical heat. After a fulfilling tummy reload, we made our way to our last height at kilometer 8. The rock formations are phenomenal. Despite not reaching the top, you can see a sea of rainforest down below. Surrounded by peaceful floating clouds and watching rivers dissolve under the trees, this place can just really leave you speechless and breathless and all you can do is soak up the great experience.
Poring Hot Springs
I was taking a picture of my son walking down the trail in Mount Kinabalu when I heard other foreigners talking about heading to Poring Hot Springs for a dip. I got interested because it isn't on our list of places to visit and it is just nearby. I asked around about the Poring Springs only to find out that it is a popular spot for the locals to swim and unwind. I told my son about it and—like all other kids—he is excited to go and swim.
Our son was so excited to put his swim shorts on, but was easily met with dismay when we decided to go to the canopy walk first. Turns out, we didn't make the wrong decision because he had a blast. He was so excited to see beautiful birds and even monkeys trying to hide from him. The canopy walk was fantastic, by the way, because it's literally a hanging bridge over the rainforest. And off to the pools, we go. There are plenty of pools in Poring Hot Springs; it has slides and tons of gazebos to rest in.
Since it is a hidden getaway, it's great that it isn't crowded at all. It also has a butterfly garden and a bat cave; although the bat cave is a bit far but the rainforest trek is an adventure itself. It's overall a good relaxing experience and will definitely recommend the place.
Tambunan Rafflesia Reserve
In our list of places to go was Mahua Waterfall but since it is a swim spot in Kota Kinabalu, we decided to go the Tambunan Rafflesia Reserve first. Luckily, there were some flowers blooming! The reserve is big dedicated to the world's largest flower. Apparently, each flower pot is a bit far from each other and every time you get closer to a fully blooming Rafflesia flower, it has that rotting egg kind of smell. It was not pleasant at all especially with a child who is very vocal about what he feels and thinks. You would definitely hear a lot of 'eww' and 'that stinks!'. The most you can do around the park is the trek from one flower pot to another and that's probably about it. I did appreciate it a lot though. The reserve was beautiful and the trek to each flower pot was also great. We were lucky that we were there when the flowers were blooming. We didn't take long because it was raining and that was about it. I would have loved to go further and see more flowers out there.
This is a popular scenic spot included in our package. The Mahua Waterfall is beautiful, we love how the air smells so fresh and you can hear the splashing of the water from when you enter the area. It already has a boardwalk going to the waterfall itself so going there isn't difficult at all. But I did end up having to strip my son down because he can't help but go for another dip in the water. Kids and water—what can we do? It is open for swimming but we only took off our shoes and decided to walk through the fresh water. It is relaxing and the trek to and from the waterfall shows a beautiful boardwalk inside a scenic view of the rainforest. We weren't lucky to spot any animals along the way though—that's a bummer.
Kota Kinabalu Boardwalk
We went back to Kota Kinabalu for the day and found ourselves in the most amazing boardwalk we've been to. The scenery was fantastic, watching the sky and clouds turn purple until the sun sets. The view of the South China Sea and a great dinner right at this beautiful corner of the earth is awesome.
Signal Hill Observatory Tower and Eco Park
Waking up really early in the morning to explore Kota Kinabalu, we definitely wanted to see more of Sabah's capital. When I asked to go to Signal Hill, I didn't know there were tons of Signal Hills around the city. So, we went to the Signal Hill Observatory Tower first. I got confused with the name because when we got there, I couldn't find the observatory. It does, however, flaunt a scenic view of Kota Kinabalu. I was looking for the observatory only to find out that it was actually referring to the observation deck. It was misleading but it was a great morning view of Kota Kinabalu.
We didn't want to take long since we have a huge day ahead of us so we went straight to Signal Hill Eco Park. The Eco Park is an organic farm with a floating restaurant over the pond. It is a beautiful place to have breakfast and the food is fresh and simple—all veggies you eat are grown in the eco farm. It's quaint and simple and the meal was satisfying. I really didn't like that you have to add a few extra cash simply because you are a foreigner—I kind of find that unfair though. Anyway, we quickly made our way back since we are going to Gaya Island!
First of all, the boat ride to Gaya Island was smooth and really exciting. I wanted to book a hotel in Gaya Island but the price tags on the hotel are jaw dropping compared to those in Kota Kinabalu. So, I guess we just have to settle for a day trip to Gaya Island instead. There are tons of activities on the island and one thing we really loved is going snorkeling. Fishes and coral reefs and tons of anemone! I love just how nice it is to see the view underwater as compared to the rainforest we've just trekked through the day before.
We also went zip lining to Sapi Island. And to my surprise and my son's surprise, we saw a monitor lizard creeping right beside us. Sapi Island is significantly smaller than Gaya Island and the Zipline crossing is really a fun experience. We went back to Gaya Island by boat and went kayaking in the mangrove trails. From the tropical beaches to the mangrove forest, I can see monkeys flying over our heads and much to our son's delight.
The Island is filled with boardwalks through the rainforest. This way, you can see most of the island for a shorter period of time and exerting less effort. I would love to go trekking with my family though but I guess that's just how it is there. It is made for tourists to enjoy the entire island with less effort.
Sabah State Museum
To know more about the cultural side of KK, I opted to go to the Saah State Museum to start our day. The architecture is surprisingly wonderful! I was so used to seeing a box-shaped museum but not this one. It is designed after the popular Malaysian Longhouses in the indigenous area. It is complete with its own pond, fountain, boardwalk, and a seemingly endless list of places to go. It feels more like a compound where you go from one rural area to the nest featuring long houses, floating huts, and even a short canopy walk to represent that Sabah rainforest.
Puh Toh Tze Buddhist Temple
Not far from the Gaya Street Fair is the Puh Toh Tze Buddhist Temple. It is actually the largest Buddhist temple in Sabah. It's right off the main road so it's not difficult to find. I may not know a lot about Chinese or Buddhist Temples but I do know how to appreciate great architecture. I've been to many places and I've seen Chinese Temples of different kinds but this is really a massive one.
It has beautifully lined stairs leading up to the temple. Although, we love going for hikes and treks walking up a series of steps under the open humid air, and hot weather proved to be really difficult. Anyway, we made our way up the temple and find a picturesque Chinese temple.
Menara Tun Mustapha (Sabah Foundation Building)
It used to be called Sabah Foundation Building. This building is known to be Sabah's icon like that of KL's Petronas Towers. I can see why it's a tall circular building sitting at the edge of a wide park right by the Likas Bay. Honestly, it first looked to me like a huge water tank but once we started to get closer, it a really pretty building. You can walk it yourself inside to have a better view for less time but the experience itself is worth the gentle turn. Besides, my family and I got to have a full view of Likas Bay and Likas Harbour—which is phenomenal by the way.
Sabah is known to be mostly populated by Muslims. And obviously, one of KK's most beautiful buildings is the city mosque. It's near Manera Tun Mustapha or Tun Mustapha Tower, so it wasn't difficult to find. Walking outside the mosque rewards you with great architecture. And unsurprisingly, it's really modern looking. I've seen other mosques but most of them were modeled like the old stone or marble buildings for Muslims to worship. However, this floating mosque is really unique and definitely worth a visitor's stroll.
We wanted to go around more and explore the wonderful state of Sabah, Malaysia but because of lack of time, we weren't able to explore all of it. We really wanted to go to Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center but it meant a 5-hour drive or a direct flight from KK. Time just wasn't on our side at all and I just hated to see the disappointment in my son's eyes when we said we couldn't make it in time. Anyway, I think it's all for the better because it means opening up a new adventure with my family next time we plan to go back and visit Sabah! There are so much more things to look forward to and so many untapped adventures that we still have to experience. So, KK, we will return!