The WA Now and Then Overseas Travel Blog


Kota Kinabalu - Sabah - East Malaysia

Kota Kinabalu


East Malaysia.


Our Thoughts.


Kota Kinnabalu is obviously popular in the Philippines, China, Korea and Japan as that is where the majority of tourists we saw came from. Why Europeans seem to be ignoring it as a destination is beyond me. Probably less than 5% of the tourists we saw in KK were European.

KK is a fantastic place to visit. There is heaps to do, a huge variety of food, all levels of accommodation and all sorts of interesting things to see and do. If you want relaxation then there is no shortage of places to just veg-out and enjoy. If you want adventure you can go scuba diving, white water rafting or even climb Mount Kinabalu.

It is also very cheap for most Europeans as the exchange rate can see your spending power increase from 3 to 5 times. For Australians it was 3.2 ringgit to 1 dollar when we were there in 2017.

The city isn't huge and it is easy to get around. It is a very attractive place with offshore islands and the highlands offering a different experience to KK town.

Sabah is different to 'mainland' Malaysia as there is a more relaxed atmosphere. Due to the large tribal influence the cultural make-up is much more varied. West Malaysia has really only three main cultural groups, Malay, Chinese and Indian. There are also tribal groups but they are all but invisible. Sabah is almost the opposite as the tribal connections are much stronger and more evident.

We highly recommend Sabah as a destination and the Magellan Sutera as a wonderful place to stay while you are there. Sabah is the perfect jumping-off point to explore more of Borneo and we would certainly like to return.


Kota Kinabalu
Kota Kinabalu


Getting Around.


We stayed at the The Sutera Harbour Resort that is situated just outside the main centre of KK and is a bit too far away to walk. The only options were to use the hotel shuttle or to catch a taxi.

The shuttle was inexpensive (3.20Rm per head) and operated at 10am, 2pm, 4pm and 8pm. We would love to see a 6pm service added to this schedule to make dining in town a little easier.

The shuttle stops at the Imago Mall (very upmarket and expensive with little else around it), The waterfront opposite Centre Point and the Wisma Merdeka Mall. It would be handy to have a couple more stops added to this list as it can be quite a walk to get to other areas in town. Even so, KK isn't a huge city and most people can walk around the central area without a great deal of effort.

The hotel shuttle can arrive either early or late at the pickup stops depending on traffic. This can be as much as 15 minutes either way and the bus can't wait so be there early if you don't want to miss it.

Traffic in KK seems to be very bad on Fridays and Saturdays but the rest of the week it seems more reasonable. There are far fewer motorbikes on the road here than in west Malaysia.

Taxis charge flat rates around town which can be quite a rip-off. It costs 15Rm to get from the hotel to the Wsima Merdeka (the furthest point the shuttle reaches) but for some reason closer sites like the Museum or Karamunsing cost 20Rm!

Taxi fares add up quickly so a cheap meal in town that can be as little as 20Rm for 2 people can have 30Rm added for taxi fares.


Shuttle bus
Shuttle bus




In town there is an amazing variety of different types of food available.

The markets offer one of the most interesting (and cheap) sources of food. I have never understood people who go overseas and eat nothing but McDonalds and KFC or the same food they eat at home. Surely part of the travel experience is to try the local dishes. Ok so I have had Bali Belly, Phuket Belly and all the bellies in-between but these days I just bring a packet of broad spectrum anti-biotic pills and take one each day until I am home.

If you are in KK during one of the many festivals then look out for local food stalls that may not normally be available. We were visiting during Ramadan and there were a lot of Malay food stalls in the streets in the evening.


Malay street market
Malay street market


There are a great number of different restaurants and prices vary widely.

At the cheaper end are places like 5 Star Hainanese Chicken and BBQ Pork where you can get a decent meal for under 10Rm.

There are Japanese restaurants that have set lunch menus (Nagasaki opposite Suria Sabah Mall) that are under 20Rm or others like Sushi King (Centre Point) where you can pig out at a buffet for 43Rm.

The best Dim Sum can be found a bit out of town at Lintas at a restaurant called Foo Phing. Prices per dish ranged from 4Rm to 6.50Rm. Dim sum is a morning food so don't turn up too late.


Foo Phing Dim Sum
Foo Phing Dim Sum


Markets and Shopping.


The night markets along the waterfront have to be experienced as the atmosphere is like nothing else in KK.

Smoke from satay stalls, crowds wandering around and everywhere seafood and places to eat.

Walking along from Centre Point towards Wisma Merdeka will get you to the Filipino Markets, then Central Market (closed at night) and then even more markets and there are all sorts of things available for sale.


Evening market
Evening market


Each Sunday there is a morning market at Gaya Street.

The market is very well known and there is a lot on offer including some fresh fruit, dried fish, vegetables and a lot of general products, touristy stuff and a few food stalls.

There isn't a lot of ready to eat food and the emphasis seems to be on clothes, ornaments, household goods and some locally produced souvenirs.

We were a little disappointed in the market but it was worth the time to at least have a look and see what was there.


Gaya Sunday market
Gaya Sunday market


There are six large shopping malls in the centre of KK.

Starting at the southern end is the very up-market (and expensive) Imago. Very modern and dedicated to those who love real brand name products and have the money to pay for them. We visited once, looked around and fled never to go back. We are not up-market people.

Next in line is Oceanus Mall. This is also a nice modern shopping centre that is yet to be fully occupied with shops. It has been around for a few years but doesn't seem to attract shoppers like the other malls in KK.

It is right by the water but despite the good location and nice modern facilities, it just hasn't found favour with shoppers.


Imago Oceanus Mall
Imago and Oceanus Mall


Not far away is the much more popular Centre Point. This is one of the three 'local' shopping centres that are most popular with the people who live in KK.

There is a good supermarket on the basement floor and a number of places to eat. Our favourites were on the 4th floor and included 5 Star Hinanese Chicken and BBQ Pork, Beaufort Dim Sum and Sushi King.

Along the waterfront a bit further north is KK Plaza. This also has a supermarket in the basement but we preferred the one in Centre Point.

The two shopping centres are very similar in what goods are on offer and have similar prices but Centre Point seems a bit more modern and attractive.


Centre Point KK Plaza
Centre Point and KK Plaza


The last of the three 'local' malls is Wisma Merdeka. This was the first big shopping centre in KK and its age is showing.

There is no supermarket (and no basement) but the one thing tourists will find useful here are the money changers. There are apparently 7 of them and they are usually all within half a cent of each other.

There are some eateries on an upper floor including a second branch of 5 Star Hinanese Chicken and BBQ Pork (to be really honest we liked the one in Centre Point better).

We didn't find much that we wanted in this mall but ended up there a number of times simply to get money changed.

Across the road (north) are a large number travel agents where you can book local tours. There is quite a bit of competition between them and prices can vary 20Rm or more.

A little further north again is the last of the main city malls. This one is Suria Sabah. It is not as up-market as the Imago but it is a few notches up from Centre Point, KK and Wisma Merdeka. There is a supermarket here and in line with the general look and feel of the place, it too is more fancy and prices are up a bit from KK Plaza and Centre Point.

There are other malls out of town including 1Borneo but it can cost 40Rm (one way) just to get there. One mall worthy of mention that isn't too far out is Karamunsing. Here you will find all the tech gear your heart desires.

The one rule of shopping in KK is, never accept the first price given, even in 'proper' shops. always ask for the best price and you may be surprised at how much you can save. In real touristy places like markets along the waterfront, bargain hard and you may get things for less than half the marked price.


Wisma Merdeka Suria Sabah
Wisma Merdeka and Suria Sabah




City Tour.


There are a lot of tours available but we only did three while we were in KK.

A city tour is a good one to do first as it gives you a general idea of what is around.

We organised a city tour through the hotel. It was 180rm for the taxi and this allowed for up to three hours. You can more or less select the places you want to see as long as it takes a total of three hours.


Lookout Hill Wetlands Centre
Signal Hill and the Wetlands Centre


The first stop was a lookout at Signal Hill where you get a great view of KK. From there is was a short ride to the wetlands centre. Entry is 15rm per head. This would be a great place for bird-spotters to hang out for the day as there is a 1.5km walk with seats and shelters scattered around. There is a bird hide and a tower BUT at high tide you cannot do the circuit walk so you have to return the way you came in.

There are certainly a lot of birds here and if you have the time to sit and wait, your patience will be rewarded. If, like us, you are on a schedule, then it really isn't much more than a walk through a muddy swamp.


Menara Yayasan Sabah complex
Menara Yayasan Sabah complex


Stop number three was the Menara Yayasan Sabah complex. There are a couple of rather interesting buildings but sadly it wasn't possible to go up into either to take photographs of the view. A bit of a missed opportunity to earn a few extra tourist dollars.

Stop four, the 'floating' mosque wasn't a patch on the one we saw in Shah Alam. It is pretty enough on the outside as it is surrounded by water (hence the name 'floating') but there isn't much to see inside.

Our last stop was a Chinese temple and it was a rather small example of its type. We were given a free lunch that was an unexpected bonus but we did see a much larger (and possibly much more interesting) temple on the drive back to the hotel.


Weston River.


The tour bus turned up and we met our guide Sam. It was a long two and a half hour drive south of KK to the river area where we were due to see Proboscis monkeys and later on, fireflies. There was a short rest break on the way and we bought some dodol (a type of Malay sweet) and a couple of ice creams.


Weston River Tour
Weston River Tour


First we had some drinks and light refreshments and then it was on to the boat and along the river to find the monkeys. They weren't all that hard to find a some were even sitting right across from the jetty where we boarded the boat.

Our guide Sam was great and knew a lot about the area and the monkeys. He gave a running commentary that was interesting and informative.

Then it was back to the restaurant for dinner that was all tasty local food and back to the boat after dark to view the fireflies.


Proboscis monkey
Proboscis monkey


In this area the fireflies are active all year and they put on quite a display. They are quite small and the light show they put on is for mating purposes.

Then it was back to KK where we arrived about 9:30pm.

It was a long tour but it was very worth while and thanks to Sam, very entertaining.


Weston River Tour
Weston River Tour


Mari Mari Cultural Village.


There are a number of tours organised by different companies and the one we picked was from River Bug. The cost was 180rm per head and included lunch at the village. Other tours give lunch in different places but we wanted it to be actually at the village. Shopping around can save a bit of money as the tour is often up to 200rm a head.

The tour was excellent and should be on everyone's 'to-do' list.


Mari Mari Cultural Village Mari Mari Cultural Village
Mari Mari Cultural Village


The village covers the 5 main tribal groups in Sabah of the 42 groups that exist. Each style of house is on display and they differ from communal long-houses to individual family groups.

There is a chance to try some of the local food and drink and learn a great deal about the different cultures.

After being guided through each of the 6 houses there is a cultural show and then lunch. We chose to take the early tour as we didn't want to be wandering around in the heat of the afternoon.


Mari Mari Cultural Village
Mari Mari Cultural Village


Magellan Sutera Resort.


The Grounds and Facilities.


The Magellan and the Pacific Sutera are set on their own large grounds with the marina and country club situated between the two hotels.

The Pacific Sutera is more of a typical high-rise hotel while the Magellan being a resort style.

There are three pools, two are for relaxation and one large Olympic sized pool is for those who like to swim laps.

Each hotel has a number of different restaurants (which are a little on the pricey side for us) and there is another restaurant at 'The Club'.


Magellan and the Pacific Sutera
Magellan and the Pacific Sutera


Guests from both hotels can use the club facilities and the facilities associated with each hotel. It is only a short walk along the marina from one hotel to the other but there is also a free shuttle service as well for transfers within the resort.

Facilities at the club include a full bowling alley, movie theatre, tennis courts, squash courts, badminton courts, gymnasium, kids club, quiet room (Chart room) and more.


Bowling alley Theatre
Bowling alley and Theatre


Some facilities are free to guests while others do incur a small fee.

There is a golf course next to the hotel and all the usual golfing facilities are provided for those who enjoy that particular activity.

There is a shop in the Magellan and we were surprised to find that it sold snacks and drinks as well as the usual souvenirs and tourist goods. Some items were reasonably priced while others were quite high compared to shops in town.

It was certainly useful to be able to buy some cool drinks and munchies on site instead of having to go into town for them.


Magellan Shop
Magellan Shop


If you are staying at the hotel during the right day (Saturday about 7pm seems to be the right time) then you will be treated to some local cultural performances including fire eating and the bamboo dance.

In the evening we happened to go down to the lobby and found there was a performance of bamboo dancing going on. This dance involves the main performer jumping between long wooden poles laid across the floor as the people holding the poles smack them together. For most people it would be the perfect way to get a broken or badly bruised ankle but for these guys it was like a walk in the park.

Then we wandered out to the pool area and found fire eaters doing a performance. Luckily I had the camera on me and managed to get some pictures and footage but it was all chance. We had seen no signs anywhere in the hotel advertising these performances and it would have been a real shame to miss them. Other guests we spoke to shortly afterward did miss the shows.


Fire eaters bamboo dancers
Fire eaters and bamboo dancers


Room and Housekeeping.


The room we were in was 7415 so our comments on rooms relate only to that particular style.

I have to say that house-keeping was a little bit variable. Some days everything was spot on and nothing was missing but on other days the bath mat vanished or there was only one bath towel. The service did improve over the two weeks we stayed as by the second week nothing was forgotten.

The staff were always very helpful when we explained what needed doing and rectified things but newspapers were a bit of a mystery, sometimes they turned up sometimes they didn't.

This was only a minor problem though and the room was really very nice. Compared to most places we have been, this room is very spacious, facilities are excellent and the view looking out to the islands was perfect.

The best feature of the room was the bathroom. A little different to the usual square or oblong shape and very roomy. There was a huge bath and an excellent shower. The toilet has a bidet and it is the first one we have had in any hotel we have stayed at.

Louvre windows opened out into the main living area and all the usual facilities were included including fridge (no freezer), air-conditioning (individually set temperature), iron, ironing board, hair dryer, safe, wifi internet, large flat screen TV with multiple language channels, robe, slippers and the beverages and toiletries everyone associates with hotels these days.


Deluxe room Deluxe room
Deluxe room bathroom


One interesting feature was a phone next to the toilet. Obviously someone had heard of 'Murphy's Law'.

Lighting was good with nice bright lights when you need them and gentle dimmer lights when you want to just sit and relax. One nice feature is small blue indicator lights on the light switches that illuminate when the light is turned off. This allows the switches to be easily located in the dark.

The balcony had two chairs and a small table and it is a lovely spot to sit and watch the boats moving around on the bay.

Because drinking water from the tap needs to be boiled, the hotel supplies bottled water and it would be a good idea if they put the initial 2 bottles in the fridge so that guests have nice cool water to drink on arrival.

Wifi was also good and there were multi-connect sockets so that you can plug in devices from just about any country. There was even a 110v outlet for our American cousins and others who use that rather odd voltage.

There were a few short power outages while we were in the room but they only lasted a few minutes and were not a concern.

The room was nice, quiet and having an off-set balcony meant that even if the neighbours were outside (which was pretty rare anyway) you didn't see them directly and it felt much more private than rooms where the balconies are next to each other on a flat wall.


Deluxe room
Deluxe room


The curtains were nice and opaque so if you wanted to sleep in you could easily do so without sunlight intruding.

Furniture in the room was attractive although a second comfortable chair or a small lounge instead of a single lounge chair would have made more sense.

The bed was excellent. Sleeping comfortably is one of my biggest concerns when travelling and this king sized bed was nice and firm with a soft pillow top that gave a great nights sleep. As I have back and joint problems, a good bed can make the difference between a good holiday and a bad one.

There is a turn-down service where you get a couple of chocolates but honestly, I don't see the need for this. Just leave the chocolates as part of normal room service and forget the bit about turning down the bed - it isn't really necessary.

The addition of a pillow menu and plush bathrobes and towels would add just a touch of extra class to the already excellent room facilities.


Deluxe room balcony view
Deluxe room balcony view


All the staff we met were very friendly and helpful. Not all staff spoke good English (especially housekeeping) but that is only to be expected. All front office and direct contact staff could communicate well.

The only other comment I would make is that the Concierge staff should have better knowledge about the local area. This service is very important to guests and an excellent knowledge of local food, entertainment and attractions is really very important.


Food at the Hotel.


We only had buffet breakfasts at the hotel so can't comment on other options.

The breakfast had a wide variety of dishes and generally there is some western food such as sausages, baked beans, toast, muesli, cereal, a small selection of salad and some sliced cheese but most of the food (thankfully) has an Asian origin and curries, rendang, fried fish, nasi lemak and paratha are available daily.

There is also yoghurt, tinned fruit and fresh fruit plus a selection of cakes and pastries.


Buffet breakfast
Buffet breakfast


We were less than impressed with our first breakfast as much of the meat was dried out but on all other days the quality had improved greatly so perhaps it was just a one off problem.

One item that really wasn't great was fruit juice. There are usually 4 types available and all were rather poor and had a watered down taste. Thankfully there was usually soya milk available so that was what we usually had instead.




The Magellan Sutera is a wonderful place to stay in KK. It has everything a visitor could want and the peace and quiet of the resort areas, set as it is, away from the hustle and bustle of the city, gives guests a chance to relax in a way that is not possible with city hotels.

Any concerns we had were very minor and we can highly recommend the hotel as an excellent place to base yourself in KK.


Buffet breakfast
Breakfast by the pool was a great start to the day.


Getting to Sabah.


Malindo Airlines.


We had never even heard of Malindo before this trip but they are supposed to be placed somewhere between Air Asia and Malaysian Airlines with regard to service.

There are two very different sides to this airline, the administration and the in-flight service and our opinion of each differs greatly.

Initially we chose Malindo because they were inexpensive and had the shortest lay-over of any airline in Kuala Lumpur.


Malindo Airlines
Malindo Airlines.


Not long after we had booked and paid for our tickets there were several changes to the flight schedule. This saw our 2:55 lay-over in KL turn into 7:10! To say we were less than pleased would be the under-statement of the year.

We tried to get Malindo to either upgrade us or put us on a different flight from KL to KK but there was nothing suitable available and they did not upgrade us.

As we had booked a package deal it was impossible to cancel and get a refund so we just resigned ourselves to the long wait in KL before catching the domestic flight to KK. The following is the text from my journal:

"After a long day just waiting for time to pass 9:30pm finally came and we were picked up by Brian who operates Baldivis Private Ride. Wow, what a great service and so much cheaper than taxis and even Uber!

We had a horror of a time to fly, 1:20am! So it was just a matter of checking in at the airport and waiting. We were about to do many hours of waiting as there was a 7 hour lay-over in Kuala Lumpur.


KL Airport
KL Airport.


The night flight was every bit as horrible as I thought it was going to be. Trying to sleep in aircraft seats is something I am very bad at so it was a long five and a half hours until we touched down at KL.

Eating options at KL domestic airport are pretty miserable so we settled down at KFC for the long, long wait.

KFC isn't particularly high on my list of culinary delights but it was convenient and cheap when we wanted something to eat or drink so we just pulled out the computer and watched some TV shows we had recorded.

Finally it was time to board the flight to Kota Kinabalu and after another two and a half hours we touched down in northern Borneo.

It was 6pm before we finally reached the Magellan Satura, it had taken 20.5 hours in all."


Although we had been less than impressed with the admin side of Malindo, the aircraft and in-flight service were all very good.

Seats were large enough and comfortable, the food was limited but certainly adequate and we were happy with the flight and facilities although the in-flight entertainment (international flight only) was too limited and the selection of movies was rather pathetic.

Malindo did have one more surprise is store for us on the return flight to Perth. We had disembarked from the KK flight at KL and had a 4:50 lay-over so we made our way to the allocated gate and settled down to wait.

Our flight to Perth was due to leave at 6:45pm but by 6pm there was no sign of other passengers. There had been no announcement of a gate change and the staff at the gate (to whom we had shown our boarding passes when we arrived), did not tell us anything.

After getting the gate information checked we found that Malindo had indeed switched gates and the one we needed was way on the other side of the airport.

In the end we only just made it and were quite lucky to get on the flight.



More Photographs.


Chinese temple
Chinese temple.


Floating mosque
Floating mosque.


Pacific Sutera gardens
Pacific Sutera gardens.


Street food
Street food.




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