Gay guide to Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, Malaysia
Kota Kinabalu is the main transport hub gateway into the treasures of Sabah, Malaysia on the North of Borneo island. We stayed here for 2 weeks as a base to explore the region and discovered a vibrant gay scene, with even two gay bars to add to our gay guide to Kota Kinabalu:
GAY BARS AND HANGOUTS
Kota Kinabalu has gay bars! This truly shocked us. It’s a city of just over 200,000 and in a country like Malaysia where gay is illegal, we were delighted to discover there was a vibrant scene.
- Q Bar: is the most popular gay bar. By bar, it means don’t go until after 11pm where it’s more of a dance venue. It’s located in the city centre, at 15 Gaya Street.
- PluTonic: the second gay bar in the city, which also draws a late crowd, located in KK Times Square at G-40-1, Block G. PLU stands for “People Like Us” (a popular way for gays in Asia to refer to each other).
GAY FRIENDLY PLACES TO STAY IN KOTA KINABALU
There’s a variety of options for all budgets.
SOLUXE HOTEL Book online
- Good budget option with a pool and gym, located in the business district of Putatan, close to the airport.
- Rooms start from 110 ringgit (£17 / $26) a night.
an excellent high end gay friendly hotel, based in the city centre and with its own Hypride initiative in support of the LGBT community. Rooms start from 476 Ringgits (£75 / $115) a night.
- The ultimate luxury experience in Kota Kinabalu at this stunning hotel with famous private beach famous throughout the region for its sunsets.
- Rooms start from 731 Ringgits (£115 / $176) a night.
OUR FAVOURITE PLACES TO EAT IN KOTA KINABALU
Malaysians of all kinds are extremely passionate about food and Kota Kinabalu is no exception with plenty of awesome places to eat. Sabah is also famous for its excellent sea food. Here’s some of our favourites:
- Deep Sea Restaurant: is great for seafood, located at 3S Centre, Taman Hilltop, where our local friend Ken took us to try gems like steamed grouper.
- The Winner Hotel Cantonese Restaurant: this unassuming hotel is popular with locals for its excellent Cantonese food. It’s located at Level 2, Winner Hotel, 9 & 10 Jalan Pasar Bary, Kg Air. Our favourite dish was the drunken chicken (ie cooked with lots of rice wine).
- Shangri-La Tanjung Aru: the Shangri-La Tanjung Aru has a few excellent restaurants, particularly for seafood and desserts. We tried their signature seafood platter, but stupidly only ordered one to “share”…a word completely anathema to greedy Sebastien:
The tiramisu was one of the best and most unique we’ve ever tried. It’s served in a teacup, which is literally edible chocolate!
- Tanjung Ria Kitchen at The Hyatt Regency Kinabalu: a mix of excellent local and Western food with a beautiful open kitchen taking the centre stage. Stefan got quite bemused with the durian cheesecake on offer.
- Nagisa Japanese Restaurant: is also located at the Hyatt Regency Kinabalu hotel and is well known for its sashimi and sushi. It was voted by Malaysian Tatler as one of the best Japanese restaurants in the whole of Malaysia. We particularly loved their delicious green tea ice cream and tempura.
ACTIVITIES IN KOTA KINABALU
1. The Sunset Bar of the Shangri-La
Every gay local recommended The Sunset Bar of the Shangri-La as the place to watch evening sunsets and for good reason.
The Sunset Bar is located in the Shangri-La Tanjung Aru’s private beach, perched at the edge of the South China Sea. As well as the magical sunsets, it also has the most memorable cocktails we’ve ever encountered…check out their “Beergarita” (!)
2. Island tours
There are several islands near Kota Kinabalu, particularly: Gaya, Sapi, Manukan, Mamutik and Sulug. You can easily visit them as a day trip and arrange tickets yourself from the main port in the town centre.
Sapi island is the most popular with an area for snorkelling and a fun zip line ride linking it to nearby Gaya island. Sapi island also has an excellent secluded beach to get away from the crowds.
3. Handicraft and local markets
There are a few markets nearby to stock up on some handicrafts and artisan souvenirs like the nearby Gaya Street Fair market on Sundays.
The Filipino market is another good option, located centrally and open every day of the week. It has a fascinating wet market, where you can enjoy barbecued fish and try some exotic fruits like tarap:
4. The Mari-Mari Cultural Village
The Mari-Mari Cultural Village is located around 30 minutes outside of Kota Kinabalu and is an excellent way to learn about the culture and lifestyle of the indigenous communities.
You can also try bamboo cooking, rice-wine making (and drinking!), fire starting, tattooing, blowpipe shooting and much more over a 3 hours show tour.
ACTIVITIES AROUND KOTA KINABALU
1. Trekking to Mount Kinabalu
Mount Kinabalu is one of the main draws of the Sabah region of Malaysia. It is a World Heritage listed site and at 4,096m / 13,438 ft high, the highest mountain in the country.
When we visited in September 2015, the trails still hadn’t fully reopened but is expected to by November 2015.
2. The sun bears and orang-utans at Sepilok
Sepilok is located around 6 hours away by bus or an hour by flight and is an excellent based to see the sun bears and orang-utans in their respective rehabilitation centres. The nearby city Sandakan is an excellent base for trips to Sepilok.
If you’re here in August, look out for the annual Rhythms of Rimba Festival, organised by Future Alam Borneo. We attended and had an awesome time enjoying great music in a rainforest environment, complete with the intermittent tropical rain.
3. The rainforest around the Kinabatangan River
The Kinabatangan River is located in the Sabah region of East Malaysia on Borneo island. It is the second longest river in Malaysia and a popular destination to experience the surrounding rainforest. You can also see some incredible animals in their natural habitat, like the orang-utans, proboscis monkeys, pygmy elephants and many more.
For more inspiration of about the best activities to do across Sabah and around, check out Waking Up Wild’s awesome post about the highlights of Borneo.
Watch the highlights from our adventures through Malaysia here:
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