For a guided walk of the city's historical centre, try the KK Heritage Walk (012-802 8823; www.kkheritagewalk.com; RM200; B 9am Tue & Thu). The two-hour tour, which can also be booked through several tour operators, explores colonial KK and its hidden delights. Stops in-clude Chinese herbal shops, bulk produce stalls, a kopitiam (coffee shop), and Jin Gaya (known as Bond Street when the British were in charge). There's also a quirky treasure hunt at the end leading tourists to the Jesselton Hotel. Guides speak English, Chinese and Bahasa Malaysia.
You can wander up to the UFO-like observation pavilion on Signal Hill, at the eastern edge of the city centre, to escape the traffic and to get another take on the squatters' stilt village at Pulau Gaya. The view is best as the sun sets over the islands. From the top, it's also possible to hike down to the bird sanctuary on the other side.
The modest timepiece at the foot of the hill is the Atkinson Clock Tower, one of the only structures to survive the Allied bombing of Jesselton in 1945. It's a square, 15.7m-high wooden structure that was completed in 1905 and named after the first district officer of the town, FG Atkinson, who died of malaria aged 28.
SABAH MUSEUM COMPLEX
The Sabah Museum : is centred on a modern four-storey structure inspired by the longhouses of the Rungus and Murut tribes. It's slightly south of the city centre, on the hilly corner of Jin Tunku Abdul Rahman and Jin Penampang.
In the main building there are good per-manent collections of tribal and historical artefacts, including ceramics, and some nicely presented exhibits of flora and fauna. The prehistory gallery even has a replica limestone cave, in case you don't make it to any of the real ones!
In the gardens, the Heritage Village offers the chance to wander round examples of tra-ditional tribal dwellings, including Kadazan bamboo houses and a Chinese farmhouse, all nicely set on a lily-pad lake.
The adjoining Science & Education Centre has an informative exhibition on the petroleum industry, from drilling to refining and processing. The Sabah Art Gallery features regular shows and exhibitions by local artists.
A short walk towards town is another annexe, the Museum of Islamic Civilisation, devoted to Muslim culture and history.
If you're heading east after KK, keep hold of your admission ticket - it will also allow you entry to Agnes Keith House in Sandakan.
To get to the museum complex, catch a bus (RM1) along Jin Tunku Abdul Rahman and get off just before the mosque. Bus 13 also goes right round past the Queen Elizabeth hospital and stops near Jin Muzium.
A fine example of contemporary Islamic architecture, the,State Mosque (Jin Tunku Abdul Rahman) is set some distance from the heat and noise of central KK. It's south of the city centre past the Kampung Air stilt village, not far from the Sabah Museum; you'll see the striped minaret and Octopussy-style dome on your way to or from the airport. Non-Muslim visitors are allowed inside, but must dress appropriately and remove their shoes before entering.
Heading north out of KK, you can't miss the four minarets and graceful dome of the Kota Kinabalu City Mosque (off Jin Tun Fuad Stephens), in Kampung Likas, about 4km north of the city centre. Overlooking the South China Sea, this mosque is more attractive than the State Mosque in terms of setting and design. Completed in 2000, it can hold up to 12,000 worshippers. It can be entered by non Muslims outside of regular prayer times. To get there, take bus 5A from Wawasan Plaza going toward UMS (RM1.50). Just ask the conductor to drop you off outside the City Mosque after the Tanjung Lipat round about. Taxis are about RM15 each way.
LIKAS BIRD SANCTUARY
Opened in 2000 and protected by the WWF, the Likas Bird Sanctuary sits across from the mosque, covering 24 hectares of mangrove swamp. The preserve attracts a variety of migratory birds, some from as far away as Siberia. To reach the bird sanctuary, see the directions to the City Mosque (above).
KK's brilliant Night Market (Jin Tun Fuad Stephens; Slate afternoon-11pm) is a place of delicious contrasts: it huddles beneath the imposing Le Meridien as venders hawk their knock-off wares. The market is divided into two main sections: the southwest end is given over mostly to produce, while the northeast end (the area around the main entrance) is a huge hawker centre, where you can eat your way right through the entire Malay gastronomy. If you've never seen a proper Southeast Asian market, this place will be a revelation.
KK's vast Central Market (Jin Tun Fuad Stephens; S 6.30am-6pm) occupies a long stretch of waterfront real estate in the middle of town. While it's not as interesting as the Night Market, it's fun to wander the aisles and watch as locals transact their daily business.
Sandwiched between the Central Market and the Night Market, the Handicraft Market (Filipino Market; Jin Tun Fuad Stephens; S 10am-6pm) is a good place to shop for inexpensive souvenirs. Offerings include pearls, textiles, seashell crafts, jewellery and bamboo goods, some from the Philippines, some from Malaysia and some from other parts of Asia. Needless to say, bargaining is a must!
On Sundays, a lively Chinese street fair takes over the entire length of Jalan Caya. If you're not digging the KK vibe, this manic market will change your mind.
Beyond the City Centre
Some of KK's best attractions are located beyond the city centre, and it's well worth putting in the effort to check 'em out.
MAR MARI CULTURAL VILLAGE
Located about 25 minutes outside of the city centre, the Mari Mari Cultural Village (019-820 4921; www.traversetours.com, Jin Kiansom; adult/child RM150/130) is the most interactive centre of its kind in all of Borneo. Visitors are taken on a three-hour show/tour (beginning at 10am, 3pm and 7pm), which winds through the jungle passing various tribal dwellings along the way. At each stop, tourists learn about the indigenous way of life, and can try their hand at a variety of interesting (and fun) activities, like traditional bamboo cooking, rice-wine making (and drinking!), fire starting, tattooing, blowpipe shooting etc. But the most fascinating part of the tour is little tribal titbits offered by your guide. For example, in the Dusun tribe, an immense stone would be placed at the entrance of a longhouse as a testament to the strength of warriors living inside. In the Lundaya tribe a knife must always be kept over the mouth of a rice wine bottle to ensure that no evil spirits mix with the wine. A short dance recital and delicious meal (lunch or dinner depending on the time of visitation) are included in the visit - the centre, must be notified of any dietary restrictions in advance. A trip to the cultural village can be combined with a white-water rafting tour (see opposite for more information).
There is also a small chute - Kiansom Waterfall (RM1; dawn-dusk) - about 400m beyond the cultural village, which is easily accessible bv nrivate transport or on foot. The area around the cascade lends itself well to swimming and it's a great place to cool off after a visit to Mari Mari.
MONSOPIAD CULTURAL VILLAGE
In the small town of Penampang, about 13km south of KK, this high-quality Kadazan-Dusun cultural village (088-761336; www.monsopiad.com; RM65; O 8.30am-5pm) on the banks of Sungai Moyog is named after a legendary warrior and headhunter, whose direct descendants established this private heritage centre in 1996. The hefty entrance fee includes a tour, a dance performance and several activities (similar to Mari Mari). The highlight is the House of Skulls, which supposedly contains the ancient crania of Monsopiad's unfortunate enemies, as well as artefacts illustrating native rituals from the time when the bobolian (priest) was the most important figure in the community.
Many tour companies include Monsopiad on local itineraries. To get here independently, take a bus from central KK to Donggongon (RM1 j, where you can catch a minivan to the cultural village (RM1). You can also take a taxi or charter a minivan direct from KK for around RM35.
LOK KAWI WILDLIFE PARK
If you'd like to check out the orang-utans but won't make it out to Sepilok or the Kinabatangan, a visit to Lok Kawi Wildlife Park is highly recommended, especially for those with children in tow. There are plenty of other animals as well, from tarsiers to rhinos. Don't miss the giant aviary at the top of hill, with its ominous warning sign 'beware of attacking birds'!
It's best to arrive by 9.50am at the latest -feedings take place throughout the park at 10am. After the various feedings, an interactive show takes place at the stage around 11.15am everyday. After feeding time, most of the animals take their daily siesta - only the humans are silly enough to stay out in the scorching midday sun.
The 17B minibus goes to Lok Kawi (RM2). Visitors with a private vehicle can access the park via the Papar-Penampang road or the Putatan-Papar road. Travel agents offer half-day tours, or you can hire a taxi, which will cost around RM100, including a two-hour wait.
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