Compared to traveling in Kuala Lumpur and West Malaysia, I have to say that Kota Kinabalu was pretty easy to maneuver around – even if you’re a newbie. We arrived in Kota Kinabalu at around 6.30pm the same day after taking quite a bumpy ride from DMIA, Clark. Yancy, Renz’s friend from Davao had already booked us for a night at the Borneo Backpackers Beach House in Tanjung Aru. Before we left Clark, it was the only thing I researched about Kota Kinabalu, so it was a good thing that it was only located a few minutes away from the airport.

I thought Kota Kinabalu would be like Kuala Lumpur, busy, crowded and impossible to go around in a few days. But after just a few hours of research (during early morning, instead of working), I was done with my research about where we could go and how I could backpack the place in the cheapest way possible. If you’re like me who’s willing to do anything in order to save, you might want to try these tips:

Take the bus


take the bus at RM 1 around the city

Taking the bus in Kota Kinabalu is not that different from Manila. Their bus station was huge and a little disorganized, but still easily navigable. Unlike how Wikitravel advised, there are now only 2 city buses that goes around the city – one that will go along the main streets and the Waterfront, and the other that goes along Jalan Gaya, the street filled with backpacker’s hostels and Australia’s Place. We took the one going through the main street (Sektor 1, Selangor, Laluan, 1Borneo), although the other one going through Sepanggar is more closer to our hostel. Even so, we were able to walk easily, from Wisma Merdeka going to Jalan Gaya where the hostels were located. Buses cost only RM 0.5 – RM1 so if you take the bus, you can save so much more than the RM 30 fare for a taxi.

Walk the city

how to go to kota kinabalu

walking our way into the city

Our ride from Wawasan Plaza to Wisma Merdeka took us about 30 – 45 minutes. If we’d walked all the way to our hostel, we’d have gotten there in about 20 – 30 minutes light walking (only under the sun). Yes, you can definitely walk the city. Do that, especially at night when it’s not too hot to care.

Island hop with a group

we weren’t exactly a group…but we made sure we had one.

The best way to get yourself a good deal is if you’re with a large group of people. If you don’t have one, find one! My friends and I were able to get a good deal, along with our new found friends from the hostel. Not only did we get a good deal, we were able to get to know each other better too. If you go with a group, you might be able to save around RM 5 – 10.

Stay at a hostel

stay at a hostel

This is the major difference that I found between Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu. The hostel I stayed at in Kuala Lumpur was tiny, small, smelly and located in a crowded place. Our hostel was fully air conditioned, with breakfast and a homey atmosphere that I truly enjoyed. All for the price of RM 30! That’s only about P400/day. I didn’t even mind sharing with others because, heck, the place was already so comfortable! I also loved the fact that we had free coffee and tea all day. Oh, and the fact that we had NatGeo and Discovery Channel.

Try local food

tea tarik/ teh tarik/milk tea at only RM 2

Why go to another country and NOT try their local food? Not only are their best foods the cheapest, but you’ll also get a hint of the local cuisine. You have to try local food in Kota Kinabalu. Nasi Lemak is delicious, black pepper chicken, Bak Kuh Teh, even Tea Tarik (milk tea) is cheap at only RM 2 – 3. Why try other cuisines, when here you are, in a country of delicious food?

However, if you’re still looking for a taste of Filipino food, there is a Filipino market just near the Waterfront.

Stay for the Sunday Market

Best of the best? If you love to shop for souvenirs, cheap items, the Sunday market is definitely one to do it. It was so weird, I slept at around 2am on Sunday and then when I woke up a few hours later at around 6am, when I looked outside Jalan Gaya from the window, the tents for the mini-shops had all appeared out of nowhere. I mean – where the heck did those come from? The Sunday market sells shoes, clothes, bags and even souvenirs at RM 10 for 3-5pcs. They have dresses that cost only RM 10! How cheap is that?

The market also has several cute dogs, although that would cost you an arm and a leg before you can take them on your flight.

Thought Kota Kinabalu was expensive? I thought so too. I only spent approximately around P11,000 all in all for 5D4N, including my P3010 RT ticket from Air Asia. Here’s a complete list of my expenses in Kota Kinabalu.

Brenna is the sole owner of The Philippine Travelogue, an online journal of her travel adventures and experiences. Brenna is a freelance writer, online marketing and social media specialist and a blogger with a constant itch for adventure and thrill. For inquiries, suggestions and invitations please send a message.

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