How to travel Kota Kinabalu 2024 (with almost NO MONEY)

Reading Time: 5 minutes

As a seasoned traveller, I’ve explored countless destinations, but Kota Kinabalu, nestled on the mystical island of Borneo in Malaysia, has always held a special place in my heart. This vibrant city, a mere stone’s throw from my Malaysian hometown of Kuala Lumpur, offers a unique blend of cultural charm, natural wonders, and budget-friendly adventures.

For those seeking an off-the-beaten-path experience in Malaysia, Kota Kinabalu is a must-visit. In this guide, I’ll share some of my favourite hidden gems that won’t break the bank, allowing you to experience the true magic of this captivating city, even on a shoestring budget!

Important information about Sabah State

Important Travel Information for Kota Kinabalu, Sabah

Kota Kinabalu, the vibrant capital of Sabah, offers a unique travel experience within Malaysia. Here’s some essential immigration information for foreign visitors:

  • Sabah Immigration: Sabah (and its neighboring state Sarawak) have their own immigration controls. If you’re arriving from Kuala Lumpur or another part of Peninsular Malaysia, you’ll likely need to clear immigration again upon arrival in Kota Kinabalu.
  • Traveling Options: You can reach Kota Kinabalu by:
    • Direct Flight: Take a direct flight from Kuala Lumpur International Airport Terminal 2 (KLIA2).
    • Adventurous Overland Journey: Embark on a long but scenic bus ride through Sarawak and Brunei. A fantastic option for adventurous travelers who want to see more of Borneo.

For further details and the latest immigration requirements, please consult the official sources:

The ultimate plan for budget backpackers

Once you’ve arrived in Kota Kinabalu, I would highly recommend you to make a round tour of the region: Kota Kinabalu – Kundasang – Tambunan, Mahua waterfall – Kota Kinabalu

The reason behind this is that not only it gets you to the most iconic places but also away from the tourist croud. Renting a bike/car for this tour will be amazing experience.

Things to do in Kota Kinabalu

Where to stay on your first night

Just landed in Kota Kinabalu and itching to explore? Ditch the stuffy hotels and head straight for the waterfront, where the action is! Here’s why it’s the perfect spot for your first night:

  • Night Bazaar Bliss: The Filipino market sizzles at night, offering a dazzling array of street food and local treasures.
  • Budget-Friendly Massage Magic: Unwind after your travels with a Borneo massage for under 15 USD. Your muscles will thank you!

My Hostel Haven:

I personally stayed at Homy Seafront Hostel, and let me tell you, it’s a backpacker’s paradise. Clean dorms, friendly vibes, and stunning sea views – what more could you ask for?

Island stay: Maldives of Malaysia

highly recommend Gayana Island resort. Not only you can get their free snorkeling gear and hop into the ocean right opening your hotel door and also you get free breakfast. the experience is amazing and not too many tourist. there are also home to the marine ecological research centre where you get to see giant clam restoration sites while snorkeling underneath the floating hotel. price: only rm200 or 50USD per night

Snorkel Like a Boss (Without Breaking the Bank):

Forget overpriced online tours. Head down to Jesselton Point jetty the day before your trip. Trust me, it’s like a haggling haven for snorkelling adventures. You can snag island hopping trips with all the gear for only 60 ringgit (that’s like 15 bucks!). Boom! Three islands, sunshine, and underwater magic for the price of a fancy coffee. Pack your lunch to save even more dough.

Island Paradise on a Budget:

Feeling fancy? Well, you can still ball on a budget! Gayana Island Resort isn’t exactly a hostel, but hear me out. They offer free snorkeling gear and you can literally dive right in from your doorstep. Plus, breakfast is included and there’s hardly any tourist crowd. Score! And the real kicker? It’s only 200 ringgit (around 50 USD) a night. Not bad for your own private slice of Maldivian-esque paradise, right?

Bonus Tip: While you’re snorkeling around Gayana, check out the giant clam restoration sites. It’s pretty cool to see these majestic creatures getting a helping hand.

Remember, Kota Kinabalu is all about hidden gems and budget-friendly adventures. So ditch the overpriced tours, grab your fins, and get ready to explore paradise!


Kundasang, nestled beneath the majestic Mount Kinabalu (the highest peak in Southeast Asia!), offers more than just cool mountain air. It’s a paragliding paradise!

Imagine soaring like a bird, the wind in your hair, and breathtaking views of the entire region, including Ranau, spread out beneath you. It’s an unforgettable experience that will leave you speechless.

Here’s the best part: You don’t have to break the bank to make this dream a reality. I booked my paragliding adventure through Klook: for around 40 USD, and I could guarantee you it was incredible.

The friendly pilots will take care of everything, providing clear instructions and ensuring your safety throughout the flight. They’ll even text you beforehand with all the necessary information and directions to reach the launch site.

1$ Sg moroli Fish spa

I stumbled upon a unique and exhilarating (and affordable!) experience – the Sungai Moroli Fish Spa.

This isn’t your typical spa. Forget plush robes and calming music. Here, you wade into a shallow river teeming with garra rufa fish, also known as doctor fish. These little guys are natural exfoliators, nibbling away at dead skin cells, leaving your feet feeling smooth and refreshed.

It’s a ticklish sensation, and don’t be surprised if the fish are enthusiastic in their task! But trust me, it’s an unforgettable experience.

The best part? The entrance fee is only 1 USD, and you can purchase fish food for just 20 cents to further encourage the fishy pedicure.

Sungai Moroli Fish Spa is a must-try for any adventurer seeking a unique and budget-friendly post-activity treat. Just be prepared for a CRAZY giggle-inducing experience!

Kota Kinabalu has been a magical experience

Kota Kinabalu has cast its spell on me. This vibrant city, nestled on the mystical island of Borneo, offers a kaleidoscope of experiences, from adrenaline-pumping adventures to budget-friendly delights.

While time constraints prevent me from sharing everything, I’ve curated a taste of what awaits the adventurous traveller.

This is just a glimpse into the hidden gems Kota Kinabalu has to offer. Stay tuned for Part 2 where I’ll unveil more budget-friendly adventures!

In the meantime, sign up for my newsletter to be notified, and explore the curated list of hidden gems on this Google Maps link:

Remember, Kota Kinabalu awaits your exploration!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *