Top 10 things to do in Kota Kinabalu with kids

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Planning for a short holiday within Malaysia? Look no further, book that ticket and head to Kota Kinabalu (KK), the charming capital of Sabah state. Part of the huge island of Borneo, Sabah is well-known for her breathtaking land and seascapes with the towering Mount Kinabalu at full sight on clear day and world-class underwater reefs. There are a few things to do in Kota Kinabalu that are suitable for even the little ones.

Whether you want a relaxing break for the whole family, or if you’re looking for something a little more adventurous, there’s somewhere for everyone in this top 10 list in and around Kota Kinabalu!

1. Get close to wildlife at Lok Kawi Park

A trip to Lok Kawi Wildlife Park offers a chance to see some of Sabah’s notable wildlife. Located about 25km outside KK city, the park is home to a variety of rainforest animals such as the orang utan, pygmy elephants, Malayan sun bear, and the odd-looking proboscis monkey.

2. UMS aquarium

Tucked within the campus of University Malaysia Sabah, the aquarium is lesser known to tourists but this small and compact aquarium is home to a few marine turtles and other beautiful sea life. As you step into the entrance you will be awed by the underwater tower and the touch pool. Exhibits and viewing room will keep your children occupied for a couple of hours.

3. Mari Mari cultural village

Get to know KK under its skin as you step into Mari Mari Cultural Village, a living museum of five out of 39 indigenous ethnic groups in Sabah. It’s a fun, educational and experiential trip and one of our favourite things to do in Kota Kinabalu. Learn about the rice farming Kadazan-Dusun tribe, enter a Rungus longhouse, sharpen the spear of a Lundayeh hunter, dance with the Bajau sea gypsies and listen to the battle cry of the feared headhunting Murut tribe. The half-day tour to Mari Mari includes a meal and cultural performance at the end of the tour.

4. Sabah State museum

The museum is a great place to learn more about Sabah, her history, people and the land. It has lots of interesting exhibits including an impressive whale skeleton at the entrance. There is even an area just on Sabah’s wildlife. Outside the museum is a beautiful garden peppered with traditional houses of Sabah’s main tribes. Walk on the hanging bridge to get back to the main building and visit the museum shop for souvenirs and books.

5. Island hopping

Take a ferry from Jesselton Point and island hop around the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park island cluster. Spend the day snorkeling, swimming or just beach bumming. You can also para sail or kayak. Pulau Sapi and Pulau Manukan are the most popular islands known for their crystal clear waters and dizzying variety of fish.

6. Sunsets and picnic at Tanjung Aru beach

Grab some snacks and drinks and head to Tanjung Aru Beach where you will be rewarded with dramatic sunsets overlooking the South China Sea. Escape the crowd and go to Beach 3 where you will be hanging out with locals.

7. Panoramic views from Kokol hill

For adrenalin junkies, para glide off one of hills and enjoy the Crocker Range from a bird’s eye view. If you’re looking for a relaxing escape, simple settle in one of the many hillside retreats for hot cuppa and watch the city come to live as night falls. For the best views, head to Kokol Haven or Kasih Sayang Resort.

8. River cruising and fireflies at Kampung Sambah

Take a 40 minutes drive to the nearby Tuaran town where you can take a boat to the secluded Kampung Sambah, a floating village home to the Bajau community. Explore the life, sights, and sounds of rural living and witness colonies of magical fireflies twinkle in the darkness. This recreational tour is a wonderful way to educate children about Sabah’s rich natural biodiversity while having fun!

9. Go wild and rugged at Kiulu farmstay

Hire a quad bike and explore Kiulu Valley or brace the rough waters of Kiulu River on a river tube or water raft. This beautiful village is set against a backdrop of rolling mountains and expansive paddy fields. You can also spend the night at Kiulu Farmstay for a rugged experience while you have a go at river fishing, rice planting or rubber tapping. Kiulu Valley is only 45 minutes from KK city.

10. Horse riding at Sabandar

Fancy some horse riding? There is a little cowboy town  just off Tuaran (40 minutes from KK) complete with remodeled horse carriages, vintage cars and wooden stables that make for great photos. Then venture into the adjacent mangrove forest for a walk where you can spot freshwater crabs, monitor lizards and monkeys and finally settle in the forest restaurant for a meal while enjoying the cool breeze. Before you head back to KK city, make a quick detour to Sabandar beach where you will be rewarded with sweeping views of the white sandy beach and blue waters.

This article is written by Deborah Chan. Deborah lives in Sabah writes about her travels at Ardent Traveler. You can follow her on instagram here.

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