The capital of Sabah, Kota Kinabalu is in a great spot for exploring land, water and nearby attractions. It is noted for its neighbouring exotic islands, which are home to great beaches and coral reefs.
Also nearby is the Kinabalu National Park, one of the top protected areas in Malaysia. This park has the lofty Mount Kinabalu as its main attraction and offers great hiking. You can see Borneo's wildlife without going deep into the jungle at the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park, along with ethnic culture at the Monsopiad Cultural Village. Another attraction close to Kota Kinabalu is the town of Tuaran and its stilt houses, while the cities of Lahad Datu, Semporna, Sandakan and Tawau are also suitable for excursions.
Lok Kawi Wildlife Park
This small park in Lok Kawi, near Kota Kinabalu, displays a host of animals from the region. They include elephants, orangutans, gibbons and proboscis monkeys, as well as Sumatran rhinos and tigers. Although it is a pain to get to, the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park is perfect for those with no time to visit one of the big nature parks and is quite compact. If possible, try to arrive early so that you can watch the feeding demonstrations before the animals take their afternoon nap.
Mari Mari Cultural Village
The Mari Mari Cultural Village lies around 25 minutes outside of central Kota Kinabalu and is ideal for a day trip. Three-hour tours begin each day at 10 am, 3 pm and 7 pm, and pass by a number of interesting attractions along the way, including several tribal dwellings. As you are led around, you will learn more about the indigenous people and their culture, whilst trying your hand at making rice wine, blowpipes and even tattooing. Nearby, you may like to pay a visit to the Kiansom Waterfall or the Orchid DeVilla Farm.
Monsopiad Cultural Village
The intriguing Monsopiad Cultural Village is a short distance from Kota Kinabalu, being around 13 km(8 mi) to the south, in the nearby town of Penampang, and really is a must-see for culture-vultures. It displays the traditional way of life of the ethnic Kadazan group, specifically, the Kadazan warrior known as Monsopiad. Many years ago Monsopiad killed dozens of men who attacked the village in the 1700s, and visitors can learn all about this in the Hall of Skulls.
Mount Kinabalu National Park
Located north-east of town is Borneo's best known park, the Mount Kinabalu National Park. This pristine environment is home to one of the highest peaks in South-East Asia, Mount Kinabalu, which towers almost 4,100 m (13,450 ft) high and offers breathtaking vistas, trekking and mountain biking. The Kinabalu National Park is also loaded with many species of plants and animals, and now ranks as a UNESCO World Heritage attraction. Those planning to climb Mount Kinabalu (a two-day trek via either the Mesilau Trail or the Timpohon Trail) will be expected pay to enter the park, for a climbing permit, for insurance and also for the guide. These charges should be paid at the Sabah Parks office, close to the main entrance. Around the park, further attractions include the Mesilau Nature Resort, the Kundasang Memorial, the Poring Hot Springs, and the Saturday Night Market at Ranau.
A small and busy town located some 33 km(21 mi) to the north-east, Tuaran is best visited on a market day, although there are a handful of worthy attractions based here. The Mengkabong Water Village and the Bajau Fishing Village (Penimbawan) are both big draws, and their houses built on tall stilts are quite a sight. The Chinese Pagoda in Tuaran is one of the town's most distinctive structures and is nine-storeys high. If you are simply passing through, a stroll along the spacious tree-lined roads can be quite rewarding and enjoyable.