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Information as at 23 February 2011
Kota Kinabalu has many direct connections to various places. You can fly straight to international destinations such as Singapore, Brunei, Bangkok, Guangzhou, Hongkong, Cebu in the Phillipines, Tokyo (not sure if this one is current), Sydney, various destinations in Indonesia and many local and national destinations, including Kuching, Labuan and of course, Kuala Lumpur.
Airport taxes are usually included with the ticket that you buy, so nothing to pay on departure.
Kota Kinabalu International Airport - Terminal 1
The most frequently used entry point by volume is the airport. Kota Kinabalu has only one airport, also called KKIA, with the official IATA Airport Code being BKI. It does, however, have two terminals, which has completely separate access.
The main terminal, Terminal One, is where all international traffic arrives and departs from and is also used by Malaysia Airlines for domestic flights. All road markings and directions that point to the Airport, will usually take you to Terminal One. It's not a very big airport or terminal, with the basics you'd expect. There's a KFC, McDonald, OldTown Cafe, bookstore, souvenir and Duty Free shops. Malaysia Airlines and a few other airlines also have service offices here. The check-in desks are at the centre of the building. Things get a little crowded, so it's well advised to be there earlier than the stated check in time.
Outside the arrivals exit is where you will find taxis, as well as other companies that will arrange transfers and tours. You have to visit the taxi counter, inform the staff your destination and purchase the Taxi Coupon.
Kota Kinabalu International Airport - Terminal 2
The second terminal, not surprisingly called Terminal Two, is the low-cost carrier terminal. Currently used by only AirAsia, this terminal is a small, no frills terminal designed to enhance the low cost, fast turn-around business model of AirAsia and any future low cost carriers. Access to this terminal is gained from an entrance which is near the Tanjung Aru beach, on the way to the Shangri La's Tanjung Aru Resort. Road signs usually point to T2 or Terminal 2. This terminal has a eatery serving mostly local food, KFC, seafood shop, Duty Free shops, an AirAsia service office and some tour operators. Arrive early to avoid the crunch and bring a magazine or three because many passengers opt for budget flights. You could go online using Web Check-In service to avoid long queue. You could drop off your luggage at a special counter after Web Check-In.
There is local bus service either in the form of a mini van (purple colour with 16A and written Tg Aru) or actual buses (one has poor air-condition and the other is properly equip - CityBus) It will cost you around RM1.20 to get into town. The final stop is at the Bus Terminal next to Wawasan Plaza. It is close vicinity to most hotels and service apartments.
Similar to KKIA Terminal 1, you will have to purchase Taxi Coupon before hop onto one. Transfers from the airport to your hotel, unless included in your package or otherwise pre-arranged, will cost between RM10 - RM18. The exceptions are Shangri La's Rasa Ria, the Nexus and other outlying resorts which will be significantly more expensive, as they are about 40 minutes or so drive from the airport. Check with your hotel who will often arrange transfers at an extra cost.
Taxis are plentiful and have rundown meters, which they do not use or faulty. Instead, prices are zoned, fixed by the local authority - PRECAUTION: enquiry about the cost when you get in, otherwise taxi drivers can be cheeky with the actual fare particularly night time. Taxis station at hotels generally fixed price and they do not dare to alter price. Taxi drivers are courteous, friendly and honest representatives of Kota Kinabalu and Sabah and are happy to strike up a conversation.
Luckily KK city center is walking distance. So, save some money in town and go green. Taxi could charge you RM9 just for a short distance of less than 10 minutes walk. Walking in town is safe but do avoid having your valuable dangling visible for temptation.
There are 2 CityBus buses which run 2 different routes within the KK CBD. It only cost RM0.50 for any stop within the city center. However, it can be packed like a tin of sardine at time. Other buses (usually in the form of mini van without air-condition) run the suburbia of KK. Free shuttle buses are available to visit between Warisan Square and 1Borneo. Ask your hotel reception for more information on the free shuttle buses.
Foreign Currency Exchange
You will find both KKIA Terminals do have local Maybank ATM which accepts VISA and Mastercard, Cirrus and Maestro from which you can extract the local currency. There is a foreign exchange desk too, but only operates during office hours. You will find better rates at the money changers in town. There are 2 well known foreign currency exchange shops at Wisma Merdeka; one located behind Nike shop and one near by an entrance facing Wisma Sabah. Check out those 2 shops before you decide.
The two main destinations to arrive from are Labuan and Brunei. From both destinations you will arrive into the Immigrations terminal at the harbour. Labuan is a federal (duty free) territory and Brunei another country, both of which requires you to clear immigration before entering Sabah.
Departures to these destinations are fairly frequent. Labuan has about 5 a day and Brunei around the same. The journey time to Labuan is 2 to 3 hours, whilst Brunei will take 1 to 2 hours extra, as you have to go via Labuan. Speed depends on your choice of ferry.
The harbour is located to the one side of the CBD, but still in town. It's walking distance to the Hyatt for instance, although walking distance is about 1km. Not advisable on a hot day with luggage, so grab a cab.
The same harbour can also be used to launch a trip to the islands. The resorts of Shangri La's Tanjung Aru & Rasa Ria and the Sutera Harbour Resort all have their own facilities for these excursions, but the public harbour is usually cheaper. The drawbacks are you have to travel to the harbour from the resort, as well as the boats usually wait to fill up before they depart. This is often not a problem though, as there are enough people around wanting to take the journey.
Excursions can be negotiated for one island, or islands hopping. The boat operators are also courteous and friendly (it's a Sabahan thing), are licensed and should provide you with life jackets. You can often hire snorkeling equipment from them too, but you are better advised to do this on the island, as their equipment's hygiene is sometimes questionable.
North South Borneo Highway is complete hence there are coaches from KK to Miri (Sarawak). This highway stretches from Tawau in the North East corner of Borneo, down through Sabah, Brunei, Sarawak and into Indonesia. Going to KK from Kuching, you have to first reach Miri (Sarawak) then enter Brunei at Sungai Tujoh. After that exit Brunei and into Limbang (Sarawak) at Kuala Lurah. Near by Limbang town enter Brunei (Temburong District) then exit Brunei again into Lawas (Sarawak). You will collect a total of 8 stamps on your passport because Brunei is cut into two parts and is entirely surrounded by Sarawak.
From Lawas there is a trunk road that goes all the way to Sindumin (Sabah-Sarawak border). You will have to clear immigration at Sindumin because Sabah and Sarawak, even though they are part of the Malaysian Federation, state wise, they have special autonomous regulation for non-local. Malaysian could use MyCard but they (not born from the state) are required to retain a slip of immigration paper until they exit the state.
Traveling from the Bruneian border (Kuala Lurah) along sealed road which winds through some patches of tropical jungle and lots of oil-palm plantations, often a lonely stretch of road with only villagers in sight. Eventually you reach the town of Limbang, which is still in Sarawak, but close to the theoretical border of Brunei. One of only a few filling stations here, so make sure you have a full tank. Here, they don't force you to stop, but the Immigration stamp is compulsory and you have to find the Immigration building which is a tiny little outpost near the harbour area. You must collect what is the exit stamp (although you're not on the border).
You then continue onwards on a road which is not blocked off by any border posts and at some point you will suddenly find yourself in Brunei. It is possible to miss the Brunei check point, because it's a hut on the side of the road, not a border post in the traditional sense. It will be apparent to you, however, when you reach the other side of this little strip of Brunei and get stopped, not by a border post, but rather just a police line consisting of 3 law enforcements officers on motorbikes. They will inspect your passports, notice you don't have the stamps and send you back some 10 or so kms to collect it.
The road after that may still not be sealed, but in 1999/2000 was then in fairly good condition. You will two cross strips of river using a ferries, which are relatively painless.
Then you will cross into Sarawak again, but later on, the border of Sabah is clearly marked, and though again it wasn't a compulsory stop, at least you know you have to stop to collect your entry stamp into Sabah. The drive from here is once more on sealed road and is more high-way'ish, winding it's way past Beaufort and along the Crocker Range of mountains towards Kota Kinabalu.
The entire journey takes 8 hours to complete, (mid-week, not much traffic,in a Diesel Toyota Land Cruiser and flying like the wind). A more sedate pace and stopping to enjoy the villages and scenery will make this an overnight trip, stretching into a 2 day exploration if you like.
There are sufficient towns and facilities along the way to make this
possible and would actually make for quite a pleasant drive. You don't
really need a map, because it's pretty much a straight road. The road
network of Sabah is sufficiently developed with roads leading all along the
West Coast to Kota Kinabalu , Tuaran , Kota Belud and as far north as Kudat ,
near the most northern tip of Borneo.
Follow the road into the interior to the Mt.
Park near Kundasang , past to Ranau to Sandakan
on the North East coast, near the Sepilok Oran Utan Sanctuary and departure
point to Turtle Island. Continue along the
eastern coast down to Lahad Datu , Semporna and finally Tawau in the South
Eastern corner of Sabah near the border with Indonesia.
Everywhere is reachable by mostly sealed roads, with some strips being better than others. Potholes are not uncommon, neither is livestock crossing, or sleeping on the roads, at random. Outside Ranau especially, be weary of goats, cows and waterbuffalo lounging around on the road during the night and day. Always be weary of pedestrians, even where they'd usually be unexpected, often wearing dark colours. Filling stations can be found in all major tows along the way.