5 days in Kota Kinabalu with kids

Borneo always had a distinct exotic flavour and after travelling through China we were expecting a challenging but adventurous couple of weeks.  However, we were surprised when we realised that everyone spoke English!  We hadn’t realised it part of the commonwealth and was once part of the British colony.  It certainly made exploring Kota Kinabalu with kids an easier experience.

We enjoyed the slower pace of life here and the chance to enjoy the beaches, as well as the street life and markets.   We felt that 5 days was more than enough to spend in KK.  Here’s what we got up to.

Where to stay

We arrived at our, halo hostel. It was situated at the top end of town, but as the city isn’t big (well not compared to China standards) its easy to walk where you need to go.  

The rooms were all pleasant, mainly dorm rooms. We were first placed in a 7 bed room so had lots of space but moved 3 days later up allow a larger group to have that room. It was a nice area to stay in Kota Kinabalu with kids. The hostel offers trips around the area, but we already had our activities planned out.  

As part of the stay we also received a free breakfast of eggs, toast, sausage, coffee and tea.  Not a bad start to the day.

There are a number of hostels around the area, all with similar reviews on the booking sites.

Staying connected

As we purchased a data only 3 SIM before we left, this has been only the second country we’ve purchased a SIM card. It’s very straight forward. We opted for Red card and a Xpax card. They were both similar in price, but we found that Xpax had a better coverage when we travelled to Kinabatagan.  

Where to eat

The location of our hostel was ideal as there were a number of restaurants outside the door.  We visited a number of these and all were just as easier as the other.  Check out my Borneo blog for information about local foods.

You’ll also find plenty of minimarts here too, like orange and 7 eleven.  Normally I wouldn’t even mention these, but having travelled through China this was soooo easy and nice to have everything on your doorstep!

Things to do in the area  

KK waterfront

We stopped along the waterfront to enjoy a sundowner beer (although they were pretty expensive for the area!!).

There are plenty of bars and restaurants dotted along this boardwalk area. However, the prices are much higher, so avoid if on a budget!

Tajung Aru beach

We headed here for an afternoon/Sunset stop. Unfortunately the beach was not somewhere you can lie back and let the boys play in the water.

The beach was littered with rubbish and the sand was covered in bubble crabs which popped up everywhere. They made a beautiful pattern on the sand though!

Instead we walked along the beach and found an area of grass, where we sat and the boys joined some locals and started collecting crabs and hermits.

As the sun started to disappear the locals all seemed to turn up.  There were a few snack stalls setting up and a couple of guys with bubble makers.  The boys asked if they could have a go and for 50p, who could say no!  In the end the guy gave them a lesson and kept giving more and more bubble mixture – they loved it!

Later we stopped at Lucy’s restaurants for some dinner, which was the only place on the beach front. It was part of the golf club and seemed quite busy as most people waited for the sunrise!  The food was ok and meant we could enjoy the sunset without having hangry children!


Tunku Abdul Rahman National park

This is a short 15 minute speed boat ride away.  We literally bounced our way across the water. It was hilarious, and a little bit scary at times too! Check out our video here.

There are a number of Islands to choose from or you can island hop. We opted for Sapi island, but there’s 5 Islands to choose from.

It was perfect for the kids as the reef was directly off the beach and was filled with beautiful fish in clear waters! We all had a fabulous time.

But please check tides before you go. At 1pm the tide went out and the beach ‘reef’ closed as it was too dangerous. This could determine what time boat you return on.

You book your tickets in the building on the right as you enter the main pier. There are lots of companies offering the same service for the same price. You just need to go to a booth and book. They also rent snorkels which we got 3.

Mount Kota Kinabalu

Many people travel here to climb mount Kota Kinabalu, but it’s not an easy, or cheap climb. It takes a few days and is very challenging.  We didn’t stop in the area, but most tours to this area included the hot springs and canopy walkway in Kinabalu park.



KK is known for its abundance of markets, such as:

Gaya market

If you plan your visit to be there on a Sunday, there is a huge market set up in the streets around KK old town. It’s massive! We only walked through but you can pick up anything and everything here!

Indoor market

As well as Gaya market there is also an indoor and very narrow market stall. It’s quite cramped but there were tourist merchandise and sarongs, jewellery, keyrings etc everywhere.

Night market

Also known as the Philippine market, no visit would be complete without a visit to the night markets in Kota Kinabalu. They are ace, even better when you’ve had a beer on board. We enjoyed some banter with the locals and purchased a number of food items such as banana fritters, chicken satay, samosas and BBQ fish. It was great! A real lively place. Delicious!!


There are also a large number of modern shopping malls in the area. We visited centre point a number of times which had electronic stalls downstairs, which led to a huge good court, which we ate at and was delicious! Then upstairs there are bigger shops!



Well aside from water monitor lizards and bearded dragons that we saw in the city, there is lots of wildlife tours you can enjoy. As we were going to kinabatagan we didn’t do any tours but there’s an option to go to Klias River and see probiscis monkeys and fireflies.

We loved our time in KK. If we’d had time we’d have travelled up to the northern beach area near the tip of Borneo and stayed on Mantanani as it looked like it had even better snorkeling!


I would recommend 4 days in Kota Kinabalu.  If you have time to escape to the northern tip of Borneo then it was highly recommended, as was turtle island. In short, we are definitely going to be returning and exploring more of the area and Islands.

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