Kota Kinabalu, which was previously called Jesselton, is the capital of the state of Sabah, and is the arrival port for the vast majority of visitors going over to Malaysian Borneo. To be honest it’s not really the prettiest of places with the vast amount of the town being built from dull slabs of concrete. This is very much a gateway for the further attractions of climbing Mount Kinabalu, or going to see the Orangutans.
As with most of Asia, you will find a host of street markets in Kota Kinabalu, many of which come to life after the sun goes down. Up towards the harbour is a food market where locals cook up an amazing array of locally caught fish, along with plenty of chicken satay skewers. Anyone who knows me will correctly assume I stuck to the skewers. With pretty much everything being fried, the air was thick with smoke and the scent of cooked spices. Most of the stalls had a collection of table and chairs behind their stoves, and we eventually chose a place to sit down and eat. Despite Kota Kinabalu being very much on the tourist trail, the locals still eye you with some curiosity.
A few minutes walk south, there’s another huge market. This one selling not just cooked food, but tons of exotic fruit and veg, along with a lot of local craft. What struck me was how many stalls were selling exactly the same thing with nothing to differentiate themselves from one another. I can’t imagine they turn much of a profit. You also notice that a lot of these markets are selling the same local handmade items. I saw the same bits of local craft here in Kota Kinablau, and also at markets in Kula Lumpur. This does make you question just how handmade they are.
It’s not all food and drink though, as a number of the stalls were also selling clothes and jewellery. Unfortunately, most of this is just fake replicas with very little of it being of any interest. It’s hard to say whether these markets exist for tourists or locals, but it is sad that they believe it’s these fake Western products they believe might be of most interest to you. It was at this point that we were subject to a massive torrential downpour whilst walking through the market. At the first sign of a breeze getting up, the stall owners were quickly packing up their goods, but despite being well practised they still hand’t finished when the heavens opened. We managed to take shelter under a stall canopy for a short while but ultimate had to leave, and ended up getting completely drenched on a 5 minute walk back to the hotel.
However, Kota Kinabalu isn’t just all markets. Just off the coast and reached via a very bumpy and violent bumboat ride, are a number of small islands. We paid a visit to two of the smaller ones, Pulau Manukan and Pulau Mamutik. There is some snorkelling here, although the coral is unfortunately largely dead. Despite that, there were still a good number of tropical fish swimming around who had no qualms in giving you a little nip with sharp teeth.
Two nights in this town, is probably enough.