If you only have 12 hours in kota Kinabalu, East Malaysia’s largest city you need to set your expectations straight. No climbing of Mount Kinabalu, and no diving off Sabah’s underwater gems. With twelve hours you have to be greedy and very selective. For me, the easiest sell of KK is its proximity to the beaches. Tunku Abdul Raman, named after the country’s first Prime Minister, is an easy speedboat ride away from Jesselton Port. Note it’s a speedboat – not those motorised pump boats you normally take island hopping in the Philippines or in Thailand. Part of getting to the islands is the bumpy, water-splashing good time on these bad boys.
There are plenty of islands to choose from, but stick to the main island – if you forgot to bring anything or to pack any food (which I did). Manukan Island directly faces the city skyline of Kota Kinabalu. The majestic mountain ranges were not on show that day, but you get the lush greenery and the deep blues of the sea nevertheless.
Entrance to the park is 10 MYR, and a return boat trip is about 40 MYR. It was a quick thirty minutes from the airport to the white sand shores, and am pretty sure that’s a great sell for any beach bum. Though one can’t complain, it was Hari Raya weekend hence the multitude of beach goers.
If you’re short on time and just looking for a quick half day escape, you can squeeze in a day at the beaches in Kota Kinabalu. Local residents are so lucky. You can finish the day with a leisurely stroll on the boardwalk filled with seafood restaurants, and a great Malaysian food selection.