Kota Kinabalu, Sabah–don’t change in a hurry please

Kota Kinabalu in local Chinese dialect means “City of the Chinese Widow.”

Located in the northwest coast of the world’s 3rd largest island, Borneo, Kota Kinabalu or “KK” as it is known to locals, is clearly different from state capitals in West Malaysia.

Beautiful sunsets–Visitors and locals alike can be seen strolling along the waterfront in KK enjoying the glorious sunsets

The most obvious difference is the way the city is laid out and how it is much cleaner than Georgetown, Penang or Kuala Lumpur.

The slower pace of life is a welcome change.

When I sat down and ordered my food, I didn’t feel like the folks serving me were rushing me to finish so they can clear the tables and make room for the next customer.

Food to die for–The mouth-watering fragrance of of vendors barbecuing fish over banana leaves makes me wish I had asked for their recipe.

On our trip from the KK airport to our hotel, Seri Borneo Hotel in the Sinsuran Kompleks, it was amusing to hear our cabdriver lament that there was a traffic jam ahead when the flow of traffic slowed a little and speeds returned to normal within minutes.

Evening fun–From our 2nd floor hotel room, we had a choice view of the happenings around town. Late night crowds gathered at open air coffeeshops to watch all of things, WWF Wrestling on tv!

Seri Borneo hotel shares the same owner as D’Borneo Hotel located a block away.

If you’re looking for a budget hotel in the range of 80 ringgit for a single room, this is a good choice.

My family of 2 adults and 2 kids slept comfortably in a good sized room with 2 queen sized beds for 147 ringgit a night. That is currently about US $42!

Seri Borneo is walking distance to Center Point where you can find moneychangers, internet cafes and shopping. We especially liked its proximity to the waterfront area which featured pubs and outdoor restaurants.

Right in front of the hotel is where cabdrivers gather, so if you need to catch one, what else could you ask for?

On the same block as Seri Borneo are a strange collection of businesses.

There was a fortune teller, a goldsmith, a couple coffee shops, a pool hall, internet gaming store and even a lawyer’s office.

Paul Kana, owner of Mega Laundry runs a no-nonsense business yet maintains a great sense of humor about things.

But worthy of mention is Mega Laundry. In fact this little laundromat owned by an Indian gentleman by the name of Paul Kana is mentioned in 2 travel books.

Paul’s business is the only laundromat mentioned in the Lonely Planet’s “Guide to Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei.”

Paul’s business is open everyday of the year. I struck up a conversation with this very personable man when I asked about his sign. “Rules of the Shop”

  1. No Utang He doesn’t do work on credit.
  2. No Pinjam He doesn’t loan out clothing
  3. No nonsense
  4. No Politik.
  5. No Smoking.

Great rules to live by if you ask me for any business owner.I brought him 3 kg of laundry in the evening around 5pm, and he had it ready for me a little after noon the next day.

He charged me a whopping 11 ringgit! (US $3.15) And that was for a rush job! Too bad I live so far away in California or he’d be getting all my business.

If I had a word of advise to first-time visitors, it would be to head over to the east coast of Borneo because of the major attractions are a closer drive from the city of Sandakan.

Also if you happen to fly Air Asia, do have their phone number handy. Be sure to call a day before you fly to see if they are any delays.

They had this nasty attitude that they can delay flights on a whim without informing its passengers. And the delay wasn’t just for a couple hours.

Photographer Peter Phun's family enjoy strolling on the boardwalk at KKMy family thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Kota Kinabalu.

The charm of the place was unmistakeable.

No hustle and bustle and the folks were very friendly.

The highlight of our trip to KK, was spending a day at the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park followed by taking the river cruise in the Beaufort/Garama area to see the one and only Proboscis Monkey.

Since this very reclusive primate is found nowhere else on Earth except in Borneo, we really couldn’t say we were here without seeing them in their natural habitat, could we?

This excursion to see these monkeys in their natural habitat by a river included tea when we arrived and dinner following our river cruise cost 145 ringgit (US$52) a child and 185 ringgit (US $53) an adult.

29 thoughts on “Kota Kinabalu, Sabah–don’t change in a hurry please”

  1. Darren,
    Unfortunately I didn’t book our tours through any local travel agent. We just went to the concierge and asked. They, like many hotels, had flyers in their lobby for the various outings. We didn’t have much time to spend so we didn’t get a chance to see more. The Marine park is worth a visit for a day especially if you want to cool off by the warm waters around the South China Sea.

  2. Peter,

    Thanks so much for your advice and map, I am sure it will be invaluable. I will take your advice regarding the Proboscis monkey tour. One last question. Did you find a good local travel agent (with organised tours) that was value for money?
    I will upload some photo’s on my return. Again thanks for your assistance. Regards, Darren.

  3. Hello Darren,
    Welcome and thanks for visiting and leaving your comment.

    I think you will find the hotel is very convenient. Taxi cab stand is right outside the hotel. The hotel is not multiple stars but for my purposes, it was fine traveling with a family of 4.

    I’m sorry can’t advise on night life and nightclubs because I was with my family. I did see quite a few places like bars walking donwtown KK.

    As for food, I headed over to the Waterfront Esplanade. I took the liberty of showing this on a map below. It will give you an idea of where the hotel is from Centre Point Mall and the Waterfront Esplanade where I had my meals.

    Centre Point Mall was is only 3 minute walk from the hotel. See the yellow arrows on the map. Look for grid #7 follow to the right of it.

    Around the city, the one place I felt was a waste of time was the Bird Sanctuary. Maybe it was the time of the day when we visited. But the tour to see the Proboscis monkey was a lot of fun.

    Have a great trip Darren. Do share your pictures and thoughts when you return. Happy New Year!

  4. Hello Normah,
    Thanks for visiting my blog. I hope to visit Sabah again. The pace reminds me of Penang in my youth.

    These days going places anywhere in West Malaysia is always a rush and thinking about traffic.

    I can only speak for myself and my family. We found Seri Borneo to fit our budget and our needs.

    I will check air asia’s website before I make any plans as far as hotels.

    Come back and share your pictures if you post them online please.

  5. Hi Peter,
    I plan to stay in Seri Borneo when I go to Kota Kinabalu next year. Indeed the whole of sabah is a wonderful place.
    Bookings can be made online for this budget hotel through air asia website. Many hotels all over other countries featured on the hotel link of http://www.airasia.com are not bad.
    This is just for your information.

  6. Derrick,
    I didn’t do it online. I called them on the phone. Sorry if I gave the wrong impression. They don’t even have a website, not that I can recall. It’s almost been 3 years since my visit to KK

  7. Dear peter.

    We experiens very variety culture and living style in life.

    Someone feel good inspite of Someone feelg bad.
    (food, facilities, movie,car, male/female …etc)

    For example, I like camping very much but my wife dislike
    I like low cost hotel but my old friend likes only 5star.

    I think important things what I Have to do only experience.

    Mr. Peter and Eric, I appreciate your advice!

    walk, go, see, smell and feel than you will be impressed!

    Good day everyone

  8. Dear Eric.

    Thanks for your advice.
    Its really confused. Im waiting your post the room pic.
    Are you live in standard or superior type?



  9. Hello all.

    I just today arrived to Sabah and live in Seri, Kim..my suggest ..Seri is not good for me, its too old and dirty…
    hope u can change to the other hotel..after i came back HK, i will post the room pic. to U.


  10. Dear Peter,

    Thanks for your advice, hope I have a happy tour.
    Today is a very busy day.
    Now, Im fight with airasia airport.because my mistake about booking!
    I was booking & paid twice(same time, different day) 12,13 sep,
    from sandakan to KLCC!!! How IDIOT!
    I think its also good experience, When FIT…



  11. Mr Lee,
    You should have a wonderful trip. If you enjoy eating out, KK will be very nice. Your sign sounds like it will be a hit.

    Your English is fine. Looking forward to seeing your pictures. Eat some yummy seafood for me.

  12. Good Morning, peter!

    Thank you for a reply.
    I will have a wonderful time,
    and go see Mr. Paul Kana give him your regards.

    I made a sign “Rules of the journey” like a Mr. Paul Kana.

    1. NO hustle
    2. NO bustle
    3. NO dissatisfaction

    How about my sign?

    I’m lucky man because, came to know the existence of your blog.
    My english level so low(oh! my sadness)but expert myself learn and learn!!!

    Have a nice weekend.
    From seoul korea
    (I’m older than you 1day, because here are already AUG)

    Best Regards

  13. Hello Kim Chang Lee or is it “Poli”?
    I’m so envious. I wish I were over there visiting Borneo instead of here in the US. I enjoyed visiting Kota Kinabalu. I think you will have a wonderful time. Yes, after your visit, please share with me your pictures. If they’re online, send me the URL.

    Don’t forget that if you need your clothes washed, go see Mr. Paul Kana the owner of Mega Laundry and give him my regards. He’s located just walking distance from the hotel.

  14. Dear Pete,

    Thank you for a good information.

    Im planning to go kk this sep. booking Seri Borneo hotel.

    your kindly explanation make me smile.

    after visit kk. I will leave picture.

    from south korea.

    nickname poli

  15. Eric,
    Here’s a picture of the front of the Seri Borneo Hotel. When we were there, we stayed on the 2nd floor. It was very pleasant overlooking lots of activity on the street. The taxi stand is just a few feet away on the left of the picture.

    Center Pointe where the money changers are is a block or two going in the direction to the right of the picture.

  16. Dear Peter,

    Thanks for your quick reply, my family – 3 adults(me, my wife and son) and 1 kids 16 (daughter).We have booking with one king size and 2 single bed in a family room. Have any suggest we wiil arrive arond 4:00 PM.

    Where can change the money ?
    Have any other good suggest ?


  17. Hello Eric L,
    Without knowing the number of people in your group/family, I can only tell you what worked for my family–2 adults and 2 kids 12 and 10.

    We got the family room. What we liked about the hotel as I said above is that it was walking distance to food stalls.

    The taxi stand was right outside the hotel. The hotel itself was clean. We even use Paul Kana’s laudromat while we were there. So convenient and great service.

    If you are there, please stop by and give him my regards. I’ll try and post some more pictures when I get to my computer.

    The inside of the rooms are functional and clean. You’re not paying top dollar so I think it’s a good bargain for the money.

    I didn’t take any pictures inside the hotel room. There’s really not much of a lobby. You get your keys from a counter and you walk up the stairs. We didn’t mind that there were no elevators since we were on the 2nd floor.

  18. Hello Peter,

    We will go to Sabah this Aug.? Our family also booking Seri Borneo hotel (family room), but we find in internet, we can’t find more photo about this Hotel ? Have u take any photo in this hotel ? If yes, can u share and post the photo for all the Sabah Vistors.

    Best Regards

  19. Kaleb,
    It’s a little tough to give you a recommendation without knowing a little more about your family, where you live presently, how old your kids are.

    But I’ll take a stab at this. I would say if you’re pressed for time, you should probably head further east towards and make Sandakan your base to explore Sabah. Seems to be more places to see on the east than near KK. Best of luck. Thanks for visiting my blog.

  20. We are planning to go Sabah this July?What can u recommend to us so we will have a nice trip too?We are nature lovers.We are taking air asia flight.

  21. Mr. Kana!
    What a lovely surprise to be in touch with you. Meeting you in KK was one of the highlights of my trip. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and hope to visit again soon. My kids had a trip of a lifetime and with some luck and my pictures, I hope it will stay with them in years to come.

    It is my hope that Sabah remains as close to how Penang was when I was growing up where folks got along with religious tolerance. We both know how the politicians are shrewd and constantly use race to divide the country to their further their own greedy plans.

    I get nostalgic when I think of my youth in Penang when I had good friends from all races. I pray this remains so for the future generations to prosper. Now that you know how to reach me, please stay in touch Mr. Kana.

  22. Dear Peter,

    This is Paul Kana, of whom you have written about. Thank you very much for the compliments. It is only just recently I came to know of the existence of your blog. That is a good article. Indeed Sabah is a beautiful place and the people are exceptionally friendly. But this is only a small fraction of Sabah as it was, known to my generation and the ones before me. Sadly, the greed of politicians has made much of the beautiful landscape and wealth of the state disappear. Narrow minded racial and religious fanatical policies have restructured society on the subtle. So what you saw and appreciated was only a small portion. But, compared to other states and places, Sabah is still a jewel.

    I sincerely hope this little remains for your childeren to visit, see and appreciate.

    Wish you all the best.

    Paul Kana

  23. K.W,
    I actually recommend the Seri Borneo hotel. It is clean and reasonable. Best part is that it’s close to restaurants and if you want to eat on the waterfront, it’s walking distance. You mentioned your 2-year-old. He should have fun looking out the window at the activity outside the hotel.

    Also the taxi stand is right next to the hotel. Convenient.

    As for the cruise to see the Proboscis Monkey, I thought it was well-worth the money. You get to see the fireflies at the end of your day after dinner.

    I hope you have a good visit. Let me know how it went.

  24. Dear Pete,

    I know from your blog you once lived in Seri Borneo hotel
    Would you pls tell me something
    1. How do you know / book the hotel?
    2. The hotel is reasonable clean enough for a 2-year-old kid to stay?
    3. close to the town? (near Centre Point or Jesseltion Point) Scenic spots and eateries are within walking distance?
    4. River Cruise to see Probosics Money is not worth. Right? Did you see fireflies? Okay? Or any other suggestions?

    Sorry for so many questions.
    Thank you very much.


  25. KK was fun. The kids had a kick peering out the window of the hotel watching the folks below gather outside the coffeeshop to watch WWF Wrestling. I suppose it was no different back when I was a kid. I used to love watching wrestling even if I knew the matches were “fixed.”
    That laundromat owner Paul Kana was a breath of fresh air. Hard-working, honest, and no-nonsense. Meeting folks like him gives me hope that Malaysia will do okay. If only the politicians in UMNO don’t get too greedy and power hungry.

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