Blessed with Pristine Beaches and Handsome Ranges, is Kota Kinabalu (Still) Malaysia's Most Underrated Tourist Destination?

August 8, 2019

Sabah has a reputation for being an 'unspoilt' destination. With our first visit to its capital almost a decade ago, our memories there were vividly comprised of Crocker Range's natural beauty, the bucolic air of its placid water village and the pristine white sand of Shangri-La's Rasa Ria resort. We had also sampled a red flesh durian that had the texture of sweet potatoes and the odious aroma of curry leaves.

 

 The pristine beauty of Sabah's nature right at the doorstep of Shangri-La's Rasa Ria resort

 

Having revisited Kota Kinabalu a few weeks ago, we are happy to report that its handsome ranges and stunning beaches are still well-managed and in general, time seems to have stood still out of the urban confines of the city centre. Adding to our current memory of this serene destination are the wonderful street food of this city, and our renewed fondness of what is very likely Kota Kinabalu's best resort.

 

 Famous Yee Fung curry laksa is a cherished dish for locals and tourists alike

 

Street food is a major attraction in Asian destinations and in Kota Kinabalu noodles seem to be the preferred staple. Over an afternoon we sampled 3 varieties of local noodles including the famous Yee Fung curry laksa, Tamparuli mee and sang yok mee and found them all excellent renditions. The fruits of the land are also highly tempting, this being durian season and the king of fruits is making its rounds throughout the city. But it was the extreme sweetness of Sabahan pineapples and the unique flavour of the local Tuarap that stole our heart.

 

 Extremely sweet Sabahan pineapples photographed with Crocker Range in the backdrop

 

Owing to its long coastline, Kota Kinabalu is essentially a resort destination. During our decade long absence not many new luxury hotels were added to this tropical enclave. A return to the remotely planted Shangri-La's Rasa Ria resort made it clear that the property is still the luxury address to check into here. Little had changed in close to a decade save the expansion of its Ocean Wing. The suites here still come with plush balconies set with a huge jacuzzi pointing towards sunrises and sunsets that roll into motion resplendently every day.

 

 Excellent resort elements of Shangri-La's Rasa Ria resort make it one of Sabah's best luxury address

 

Gourmet cravings are also well satiated by a handful of well-conceptualised restaurants installed at the resort. This being a key Shangri-la property, there are options for sizzling Teppanyaki at Kozan, fiery curries at Naan and hearty pastas at Oceano. Sunset cocktails at Sampan Bar will set the mood for the advent of a tropical respite. Oceano also serves a fabulous breakfast spread boasting the best of east and west in the morning. The melange of tropical fruits is oh-so-tempting.

 

 Spirited performances at Sampan Bar set the mood for yet another spectacular sunset in Kota Kinabalu

 

 

The natural experiences curated by the resort's team are also designed for fond memories. Over our night trek into the adjoining forest we chanced upon a very still (and intent) keeled Borneo viper, a slumbering binturong, numerous tarantulas as big as my face and some of their equally large cousins the Malaysian black scorpions. This night adventure was followed upon by a very early trek to a nearby peak for sunrise breakfast. The glowing vista of the the rising sun over Mt Kinabalu in the distant was so magnificent that an errant macaque's incursion for my morning pastries didn't sour my pensive lull.

 

 A bubbly bath at dusk courtesy of the dedicated service team at Rasa Ria resort

 

The birds of the neighbourhood are equally full of character. An oriental magpie robin commenced his warbling at 230am on the night of our arrival. He did not let up until around sunrise when he stopped abruptly just as he was expected to sing.

 

 Breakfast at the crack of dawn preceded by an invigorating morning trek. The view of Mt Kinabalu from a distance is inspiring to say the least

 

 

 

 

 

 

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