About Kota Kinabalu

Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah, will most probably be the city where you arrive when you visit this State (Sandakan being the other city).

KK, as it is affectionately called by the locals, has a young history, dating back to the 1800s. Then, the British colonised it through the North Borneo Chartered Company. After a fire burnt down its former administration center on Gaya Island, the Chartered Company decided to move inland. The narrow strip of land was named Jesselton, after Sir Charles Jessel, then Deputy Manager of the British North Borneo Company.

Under the Chartered Company's control, Jesselton became a trading hub for local produce such as rubber, rattan, wild honey and wax. A railway line was built to transport goods from the deep interior to the harbour. (The railway has undergone refurbishment and now runs heritage trips inland). The Chartered Company brought about tremendous change to the land and its people by quelling piracy, planting tobacco, developing rubber estates and importing Indonesian and Chinese labourers to work.

Jesselton was under British administration until World War II when a brief Japanese occupation took over between 1942-1945. Towards the end of the Japanese occupation, the Allied carried out numerous bombings. The bombings resulted in Sandakan, the then capital city to be razed to the ground. Only three buildings in KK were left standing from the Allied bombings (two of these buildings are Atkinson tower and the present Sabah Tourism Board building). KK was the selected as the new capital.

After the Japanese surrendered, the Chartered company found that it was unable to finance the enormous cost of reconstruction. The Chartered Company bowed out and North Borneo was handed over to the British Crown and made a colony till 1963.

North Borneo joined the Federation of Malaysia on 16 September. It became known as Sabah, and the colonial name Jesselton gave way to Kota Kinabalu, after Mount Kinabalu (Mount Kinabalu at 4,095m is the highest mountain in South East Asia).

Since then, KK has grown into a reputable financial, economic and tourism center in the region. It has moved on with the times, with numerous deluxe hotels, roads stretching to the west and east coast towns, and modern structures like the imposing Menara Tun Mustapha (formally Sabah Foundation Building) standing as symbols of advancement.

Yet, despite all the progress and power changing hands from the British to the Japanese, to the British, and back to the people of the land, the rich cultural diversity, traditions and customs remain intact.

This diversity is very visible in cosmopolitan KK, where the natives, comprising the Malays, Chinese and some 32 ethnic groups, have assimilated well with the immigrants who flock to the state in pursuit of better opportunities. This multi-cultural trait is well represented in the wide variety of cuisines available in and around town.

KK received its city status on 2 February 2000.

In the vicinity of the city, there are various places of interest including (in alphabetical order):

  • Atkinson Clock Tower
  • Filipino Market
  • Gaya Street Fair
  • Kota Kinabalu City Bird Sanctuary
  • Menara Tun Mustafa
  • Monsopiad Cultural Village
  • Night Life
  • North Borneo Railway
  • Sabah Museum
  • Sabah State Mosque
  • Signal Hill Observatory
  • Shopping
  • Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park
  • Tanjung Aru Beach