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When I told my Malaysian aunties that we were going to Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, they were equal parts curious and perplexed. “But why…”, they trilled. “You’ll be bored…”, they mused. “I don’t think they have any decent malls there…”, they fretted. And then they just laughed and put it down to us being so intrepid and crazy.

Well, dear aunties who have never ventured to Sabah, I’m pleased to tell you (and anyone else who cares to listen) that though we didn’t come across many malls, we certainly weren’t bored! Quite the opposite actually… we spent five action-packed days in Kota Kinabalu doing such a mix of activities and experiencing different aspects of the culture, and still… I don’t think we even scratched the surface of what Sabah has to offer!

Sabah felt different to the other parts of Malaysia I have visited; it’s much quieter, greener, and has more of a focus on nature and adventure. If hiking mountains, traipsing through jungles, and diving in the oceans in your thing then Sabah definitely has to be on your bucket list. That said, even city slickers like us fell in love with the culture of the Bornean tribes and the lush surroundings! Here are my top ten things to do for first time visitors to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah; they might just convince you to book that trip now…

1 – Visit Mari Mari Cultural Village

At this interactive village just outside of Kota Kinabalu, you will be able to get your first glimpse into tribal life in Sabah by learning about each of the five main tribes: Bajau, Lundayeh, Murut, Rungus and Dusun. As we visited each tribe’s house, we learnt about their rituals and way of life – we sampled their freshly prepared food and drinks including a local rice wine, watched one of the tribesmen create fire with little more than a few sticks and a lot of skill, and even got to test out our blowdart skills. At the end we were treated to a traditional dance show and a spot of afternoon tea!

2 – Indulge in a Fresh Seafood Dinner

Kota Kinabalu is awash with seafood restaurants but one of the most popular places to get your fix is at Welcome Seafood. It’s in the heart of town, absolutely huge and always teeming with hungry and happy diners. Even with just two of us, we managed to have quite a feast of kam heong crab (stirfried in curry leaves, curry powder, garlic and chilli), butter prawns, and one of the restaurant’s specialities, Mongolian chicken!

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