A dizzying eight border crossings starting from the Islamic Sultanate of Brunei left me widely unsure of which country I was actually standing in most of the morning I finally arrived in Kota Kinabalu. If you only have one day in Kota Kinabalu here is what you should go see and where to eat. If you prefer to take a tour check out this 3-hour guided experience with a local resident. I spent most of my time in KK out on Manukan Island and enjoyed daycation at Shangri-La’s Tanjun Aru. As I love architecture and discovering local eats I focused on seeing the various houses of worship and finding good eats.
I stayed downtown in KK on the main drag, Jalan Gaya. Downstairs from my Airbnb rental was a fantastic juice place where I had fresh pressed juice and smoothie bowls on the daily. Fruto Juice Bar is the best place to start your day. They don’t serve coffee though so grab your juice to go and head over to Pang’s Cafe for delicious coffee. Or, if you’re swinging by for a fruit fix around lunch you’re welcome to take your juice inside Grabbing Hands Cafe, an awesome spot for a tasty meal just behind Fruto Juice Bar. Don’t miss out on the truffle french fries!
After breakfast set out to explore the many different religious sites in KK. Malaysia is Muslim-majority, and Malaysians are considered Muslim by law, but there are many other practicing religions in Kota Kinabalu including Christians, Buddhists, and Taoist. We used Uber to get around and explore. Our first stop was the Buddhist Puh Toh Si Chinese Temple. This is the main Chinese temple in the city and was erected in 1980. A cheerful Guan Yin statue greets guest at the entrance. Guan Yin is the goddess of mercy worshiped by Mahayana Buddhists. My favorite aspect of the temple is the numerous statues around the perimeter. It is free to enter the Puh Toh Si temple, be respectful and remove your shoes and stay out of the way of anyone who is there to worship or meditate.
Nearby is the Kota Kinabalu City Mosque. The stunning building appears to float on water as it is surrounded by water. The aquatic references are iconic in Islam and are also represented in the teal blue tiles of the qubba, or dome. We arrived during the prayer time so did not go inside, although guests may tour the mosque at any time. I find it a bit disrespectful to visit places of worship during ceremonies unless you’ve been personally invited inside to witness or join the prayer time. The mosque must be absolutely stunning at sunset but we didn’t have the time to come back at dusk. If you do please send me photos, I’d love to see what it looks like in the golden hour!
After exploring these two religious sites head back to downtown KK for lunch at a local dining spot. Luckily our Airbnb was situated across the street from one of the most famous lunch spots popularized by both locals and foreigners. Yee Fung is known for a killer Laksa and their rendition did not disappoint. It was creamy with coconut, spicy with red pepper, flavorful with lemongrass, and savory with shrimps. The place was packed so brave the crowd and grab empty seats, even if you have to share a table with strangers! If they’re locals they’ll probably be able to give you some great insider tips on things to see and do in Kota Kinabalu!
With full happy stomachs, I headed out to visit the other prominent mosque in KK, the Sabah State Mosque. I was drawn to this mosque due to the golden chevron qubba and minaret. It is also free to enter this mosque and non-Muslims are welcome. Women will be provided burkhas to wear while within the mosque as your body and hair must be covered. I think everyone should take the chance to visit a mosque and learn more about Islamic culture, design, and religion.
End your day in Kota Kinabalu at Latest Recipe at Le Meridien. Here you can treat yourself to an upscale dining experience that won’t bust your budget as it is still wildly affordable considering you’ll be having a meal at a world-renowned hotelier. Latest Recipe at Le Meridien Kota Kinabalu is actually the only international restaurant that sells local cuisine in the city. The decor at the restaurant is ultra chic with golden bar stools and family-style tables. I loved watching the open kitchen and seeing the chefs at work creating an assortment of western and Malaysian dishes. The head chef used to operate his own restaurant and is so well-known in the community than even locals come to have dinner at the hotel restaurant. They are fanatics for his Nasi Lemak. Julio tried it for dinner and understands why people flock to have this meal which is quite unique as it is served with pandan infused rice. I had an assortment of my favorite Malaysian Bornean dishes–sauteed fern, hill rice, wild mango, and umai. Make sure to order one or two of the unique iced teas at Last Recipe. My favorite was the fresh coconut lychee tea and they also make a great traditional Moroccan mint tea. Outside of the hotel is a hawker market where you can go taste some local desserts.
Thank you, Le Meridien, for inviting us to a delicious dinner. All opinions and photos are my own. This post contains affiliate links, please read the Miss Filatelista disclosure policy for more information.