Sabah in northern Borneo is a treasure of culture and natural beauty. Its busy little capital, Kota Kinabalu, is the perfect place to start exploring this mysterious island. Here’s where to stay in KK.
Flying into the state’s capital – Kota Kinabalu – is the perfect way to find your feet before heading on to Sabah’s less trodden paths. It lowers you into the Malaysian mindset quite gently, compared to the frenzied jolt you get from Kuala Lumpur.
Though if you’re heading to Kuala Lumpur first, here’s our first-timer’s guide to getting the most out of KL.
Unlike Kuala Lumpur, Kota Kinabalu – or KK as its locals like to call it – is set on the coast. On its eastern side, the mysteries of the South China Sea lap at Sabah’s shores and stretch into the distance.
On the west side of KK, Mount Kinabalu – Southeast Asia’s tallest mountain – towers over the city. Its 4,095m peak looms out of the clouds just 30 miles from town and features on Sabah’s state flag.
Where to stay in Kota Kinabalu – Le Meridien KK
As you’d expect of a capital city, there are plenty of places to stay of varying levels of comfort and quality. However, Le Meridien’s KK location provides that perfect mix of western comfort, eastern hospitality and Sabahan culture and warmth.
We were impressed with where the Le Meridien is located in KK. At first we were looking at the Shangri La, but it’s not nearly as central to the city and its western (and therefore sunset) views aren’t out over the water like the Le Meridien.
The Le Meridien is right opposite the night markets, there are bars and restaurants nearby and the port, where you can go to visit the islands like Pulau Gaya off shore, is just round the corner.
Spacious, well appointed and comfortable, the rooms here are what you’d expect from a large Southeast Asian hotel. The beds are enormous and comfy, the décor is professional and luxurious, and the floor-to-ceiling windows give you amazing views out over the harbour.
At sunset, you get box office seats to the sky show, which is invariably stunning.
As soon as you walk through the doors to Le Meridien KK, you know you’re in a quality hotel. The recent renovations, the huge, lofted ceilings, decorated to resemble the fish-filled ocean, and the sophisticated look of the reception welcome and reassure.
To the left are the check-in and concierge desks and to the right are the restaurants. Speaking to the staff, we got the impression that the recent renos have made a significant improvement to the general ambience of the eating areas.
There are three restaurants here on the ground floor – Latest Recipe, Latitude 05 and Favola. Latest Recipe offers a range of dishes native to Sabah. Think fresh seafood, Malay curries and perhaps some of the curious ambuyat – a local yam starch that’s used to dip into sauces. The food here is really worth trying.
It’s also here where you take breakfast. And oh! what a breakfast! One of the best spreads we’ve seen in hotels, you really get an understanding of what a top class hotel this is for the brekkie!
Latitude 05 – named after Sabah’s proximity to the equator – is the hotel bar. It’s the perfect spot to recline and sip a cocktail at the end of a long day’s exploring or grab a well-made coffee to keep you awake during the day. They also serve an unusual selection of ‘infused’ eclairs that you’ll only ever find in KK.
Favola is the most surprising restaurant to find here – mostly because unlike the other places at Le Meridien KK it serves Italian fare. This intimate little ristorante is tucked away and private – perfect for a special occasion dinner. The food is surprisingly authentic, which isn’t what you’d expect to find so far from this cuisine’s origins.
The real gem of Le Meridien KK is its open-air pool. Up above the busy noisy, streets of Kota Kinabalu, the blue shimmer of the pool and its friendly bar make you want to just stay here all day.
Grab a snack or a beer and hang out here looking out over the sea and the markets below. Then as sunset starts, the sky literally glows with beauty and you get to watch daylight dip below the level of the waves.
Jalan Tun Fuad Stephens
For more details on our experiences in Sabah, Borneo, check out our guides and reviews:
Have you ever been to Sabah? What’s your favourite thing about a good hotel? Tell us in the comments below!