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Gay guide to Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, Malaysia

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:


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.
Stef Seb at Q gay bar in Kota Kinabalu

Stefan and Sebastien surveying the scene in Kota Kinabalu by the gay Q Bar

  • 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).
Stef and Seb at Plutonic gay bar in Kota Kinabalu

Stef and Seb discovering PluTonic gay bar in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia


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.
Soluxe Hotel swimming pool in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah Malaysia

Stefan enjoying the awesome pool of the Soluxe Hotel in Kota Kinabalu


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.

Hyatt HyPride logo

The Hyatt HyPride initiative


  • 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.
Sunset at the Shangri-La in Kota Kinabalu

One of the many beautiful evening sunsets from the Shangri-La 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.
Steamed grouper at Deep Sea Restaurant in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah Malaysia

Stefan and our friend Ken trying steamed grouper at Kota Kinabalu’s popular Deep Sea Restaurant

  • 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).
Winner Hotel Cantonese restaurant in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah Malaysia

Trying drunken chicken at the Winner Hotel along with other Cantonese prizes with our friend Ken in Kota Kinabalu

  • 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:
Seafood platter at Shangri-La Kota Kinabalu Sabah Malaysia

Yes this is all for Sebastien…seafood platter at the Shangri-La in Kota Kinabalu

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!

Tiramisu special at Shangri-La Kota Kinabalu Sabah Malaysia

The Tiramisu special at the Shangri-La served in a tea cup made entirely of chocolate in kota Kinabalu!

Durian cheesecakes at the Tanjung Ria at the Hyatt in Kota Kinabalu

A bemused Stefan ponders the durian cheesecakes at the Tanjung Ria Kitchen of the Hyatt in Kota Kinabalu

  • 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.
Tempura at Nagisa at the Hyatt Kinabalu

Stefan and Ervina tucking into the delicious tempura at the Nagisa Japanese Restaurant at the Hyatt 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.

Sunset at Shangri-La Aru Tanjung in Kota Kinabalu

Stefan enjoying the beautiful Kota Kinabalu sunset from the private beach of the Shangri-La Aru Tanjung

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” (!)

Beergarita at Shangri-La Aru Tanjung in Kota Kinabalu

Stefan and Seb enjoying a romantic Beergarita at the Sunset Bar of the Shangri-La Aru Tanjung in Kota Kinabalu

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.

Stefan at Sapi beach near Kota Kinabalu, Sabah Malaysia

Stefan enjoying the private beach of Sapi island near Kota Kinabalu

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:

Discovering exotic fruits at Kota Kinabalu local markets

Stefan and Sebastien enjoying delicious exotic fruits like the tarap at the local market in Kota Kinabalu

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.

Mari-Mari Cultural Village Kota Kinabalu

The Mari-Mari Cultural Village near 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.

Mount Kinabalu peak

The beautiful peak of Mount Kinabalu

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.

The Buddhist Puu Jih Syh Temple in Sandakan

Peace and serenity at the Buddhist Puu Jih Syh Temple in Sandakan

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.

Dancing in the rain at the Wildlife Music Festival

Dancing in the heavy rain at the Wildlife Music Festival in Sepilok

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.

Esmerelda the Elephant photobombing Seb

Cheeky Esmerelda the Pygmy Elephant photobombing Sebastien

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:


The Nomadic Boys discover the gay life of Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, Malaysia



  1. Great guide, nice photos, love the food, Stef & Seb.
    Mind sharing me your friend’s Ken contact? 🙂

    • Hi Ryan, I think the best thing is if you connect up with me on Facebook and we can chat from there. Search for Stefan Arestis and you’ll find me 🙂

  2. Happy ?

    • Thanks 🙂

  3. Good work! Amazing photos.

    • Thanks Alex 🙂

  4. Great guide as always guys! I actually prefer hitting up gay clubs while I’m traveling because even though I’m straight they’re so much more lively and fun! The atmosphere is less intense than other places and I’ve always had a fabulous time 🙂

    Love your guides 🙂

    • Thanks Meg xx

  5. Let’s all be gay and be merry! We love traveling like you!

    • Awwww – thanks Carol 🙂

  6. Great blog guys, love the photos. Food looks tasty 🙂

    • Thanks Danik xx

  7. Wow, this is so informative. Good to know that there are places in Malaysia that are so LGBT friendly. Is this part of the world generally tolerant? Or only in some places?

    • Thanks Zof. Yes yes – it’s surprisingly gay friendly when you scratch beneath the surface.

  8. Well it looks like you had an amazing time there! I can’t get over that tiramisu in an edible cup?!! SO AMAZING!

    • Thanks Tara.

  9. This is definitely a very helpful guide for the LGBT+ communitiy. It’s great that they have such a vibrant scene in this area, despite the law restrictions.
    Looks like you had a good time.
    Thanks for sharing your experiences!

    • Thanks Kathrin xx

  10. Looks like you had there a great time! And food looks so delicious! What kind of exotic fruits did you try?

    • Thanks! Oh we tried the amazing durian lol. We loved rambutan, tarap and mangosteen the most.

      • Some “Amazing” durian!? I guess you either love it or you hate it. I thought it tasted like creamy garlic!! Bleh!!! Haha I’ll stick to the other tropical fruits though…yum!!!

        • Durian caused us some interesting stories lol. Agree with the other tropical fruits 🙂


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