Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah on the island of Borneo in eastern Malaysia, is a far cry from Kuala Lumpur. Instead of cloud-high skyscrapers and noisy traffic, this rural city is defined mostly by its waterfront shops and restaurants, craft markets and the neighbouring South China Sea and rainforest, where lush jungle trails and abundant marine life beckon sightseers.
Kota Kinabalu serves as a base for exploring Borneo's surrounding countryside. The city is considered a gateway to Kinabalu National Park and Mount Kinabalu – Malaysia's tallest peak. Nature lovers are drawn to the mountain's diverse plant and animal species, while experienced hikers come to tackle the 13,435-foot summit. Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park is another natural wonder – a cluster of five islands off Kinabalu's coast whose pristine waters and coral reefs provide excellent conditions for diving, snorkelling and sailing.
In Kota Kinabalu, there are plenty of opportunities to immerse yourself in the local culture. At the Filipino Market, vendors sell everything from woven baskets to cultured pearls to fresh seafood. History buffs dedicate hours to the Sabah State Museum & Heritage Village, whose exhibits showcase Asian artefacts including weapons, ceramics and musical instruments as well as a natural history section.
If you're interested in venturing farther from the city, the North Borneo Railway offers a scenic way to see the island. Originally constructed in 1886, the railway has been restored as a scenic passage that carries travellers by steam train through rice fields, market towns and along the coast.