KK Free Heritage Walking Tour Experience!


    By Glory


    Did you know there’s a free Heritage Walking Tour in Kota Kinabalu for locals and tourists? In collaboration with the Sabah Tourism Board and the Sabah Tourist Guides Association, this free walking tour offers a chance to discover Kota Kinabalu and its historical sites. In the hustle and bustle of #kkcity, it’s easy to overlook Sabah’s fascinating history.


    This walk is important because it helps us appreciate and highlight Sabah’s rich history, heritage, and culture, which have shaped the lives of people in Kota Kinabalu. Catherine guided our tour, and we enjoyed the company of enthusiastic participants from Singapore, Scotland, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom, enriching our cultural exchange and exploration.


    Time for some walking and sight-seeing!


    The Itinerary

    1. Sabah Tourism Board

    To begin this exciting journey, we all registered inside the Sabah Tourism Board Building. At 9 a.m, we gathered outside at the 0KM Starting Point. This plaque was placed as a mark on the ground by the Royal Institute of Surveyors in 2011 to indicate it as the starting point that measured distances of the areas within proximity in Sabah.


    The Sabah Tourism Board’s building first housed the Government Printing Department in 1918, the small unit later accommodated the Treasury, Audit Office, a bank, and the Post Office. The building is also known to be one of the surviving British colonial buildings left from the Second World War.


    2. Kota Kinabalu Community Hall

    As we headed to the KK Community Centre, we were briefly informed about the nearby Jesselton Hotel, Kota Kinabalu’s first post-World War II hotel. Opened in 1954, it started as a small establishment. Fun fact: Celebrities like boxer Muhammad Ali and Lady Edwina Mountbatten have stayed there.


    We proceeded to our destination and, upon reaching the interior, were greeted with a historical panorama of Kota Kinabalu. Our guide explained that before Malaysia was formed, societies from small villages collectively gathered in this ‘dewan’ or ‘hall’ for communal meetings. Moreover, the lands in Kota Kinabalu were actual coastal lines before the land was reclaimed and developed into existing roads and infrastructures.


    3. Australia Place

    Located at the foothill of Signal Hills, this historic lane got its name after the brave Australian soldiers who camped here when they landed 60 years ago in 1945, towards the end of the second world war. Australia Place continues to be a popular spot for tourists as it is home to one of the first companies that produced printing and plastic such as Tian Sing Printing Co. Sdn. Bhd., which still practices the traditional “pressing” printing method.


    It even has a painting of the famous waterfall, the “Maliau basin” on its walls. The Maliau basin is a conservation area in Tongod District of Sabah, representing the geological catchment. The painting tells a story of a stunning waterfall surrounded by a natural aura so enchanting that, if you look closely, you can spot the endangered helmeted hornbill and the white-rumped shama!


    We continued to walk further until Cafe Biru-Biru came into sight. The two-story building currently operates as a rest house for backpackers with a coffee shop located on the ground floor. The cafe below proudly displays a memorial tablet to commemorate the Australian Liberation Army that assisted in liberating Sabah from the Japanese occupation. To know more about the contributions of the Australian Liberation Army, you can read their experiences in the book, “Blood Brothers”, written by an Australian historian, Lynette Silver. The book depicts the hardships the Australian soldiers forego during the Japanese occupation in Sabah. You can find a copy at Kadaiku.


    4. Atkinson Clock Tower

    Our day wouldn’t be complete without highlighting the iconic Atkinson Clock Tower. In the past, Kota Kinabalu was known as Jesselton. The Clock Tower was built to honour Francis George Atkinson, the first district officer of Jesselton, who tragically passed away from malaria, also known as yellow fever or Borneo fever, at the young age of 28.


    In tribute to her son, his mother, Mrs. Mary Edith Atkinson, presented Jesselton town with a two-faced clock. Later, it was agreed upon to construct a clock tower to commemorate Atkinson’s contributions. With that, the structure was commissioned on 20 April 1905 being made out of Mirabau Wood. It’s also incredible to note that this wooden building is one of the two constructions that survived the World War II bombings!


    5. Merdeka Square

    Located at the Signal Hill Observation area, our tour guide led us to Merdeka Square. There, she pointed out that although Sabah does not have its own sultan (king), it still has an istana (palace). In addition, it was in Merdeka Square that the late Chief Minister Donald Stephens announced the establishment of the Federation of Malaysia in Merdeka Square on 16 September 1963.


    Upon its completion, the stadium was the largest in Southeast Asia at that time. And as of now, the stadium is a national historic site. Fun Fact: The stadium’s cultural value and representation of a single independence declaration ceremony earned it the 2008 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Award for Excellence for Heritage Conservation.


    6. Gaya Street

    One of the many iconic places to visit in Kota Kinabalu is Gaya Street, renowned for its Sunday street market where vendors gather to sell their produce to locals. Gaya Street is also known as the “Chinatown” of Kota Kinabalu due to the abundance of Chinese eateries and coffee shops there. But during the British colonial era, the street was known as Bond Street. It was created in 1902 following the completion of shop house construction. The market used to be regarded as the “heart” of Jesselton due to the bustling business activities that took place there.


    Since then, farmers, regular people, and fishermen from the coastal districts have traveled to the market to sell agricultural products and other items. The market sells local food, souvenirs, handicrafts, shoes, antiques, and even pets in addition to agricultural goods. In 2005, as part of its development, an arch gate has been constructed at Gaya Street.


    Now, Gaya Street still operates as a famous food place especially for tourists who are looking for a bite to eat in the evening as the street is usually packed at night due to the Api-Api night food market. Api-Api night market is open every Friday and Saturday from 6 p.m. until 12 a.m., so you don’t have to worry about going hungry even late at night!


    7. Malaysia Monument

    Located at Lintasan Deasoka just across the Horizon Hotel, this special monument was built in September 1963 in conjunction to celebrate Sabah and Sarawak joining the federation of Malaysia. The monument was constructed by the local Chinese community, who played a significant role in the area’s development due to the large number of Chinese residents and businessmen.


    8. North Borneo War Memorial

    This North Borneo War Memorial Stone was constructed by The North Borneo Chartered Company in 1923 on Bond Street, which is now Gaya Street. The monument is currently the oldest standing structure in Sabah, having been built on 8 May 1923. It was meant to honor the 51 British soldiers who lost their lives in combat. However, the monument was extended to honor 61 Australian servicemen after the Second World War.


    The decoration included a carved in the stone inscription, “To The Glorious Dead 1914-1918”, with a marble plaque listing the names of 13 fallen from the First World War along with the opposite side of the marble inscribed as “In Memory Of Those Men Of The Australian Armed Forces Who Gave Their Lives In The Defence Of Sabah (British North Borneo During The Second World War 1939-1945”.


    We continued to walk further until our guide introduced us to a row of mini Kiosk vendors selling some of Sabah’s produce. Some products were rare to find, such as the Betel nut used for quid chewing which traditionally plays an important role in social customs, religious practices, and cultural rituals among the indigenous groups in Borneo, and dried tobacco.


    9. Central market

    Our next destination was the  “Pasar Besar” or Kota Kinabalu’s central market. Before reaching the central market, we crossed the pedestrian overpass bridge connected to the market’s top floor. The central market is a bustling spot for people watching and locals going about their daily business. Some traditional Sabahan foods can be found here, such as our locally made “Tuhau” or “wild ginger” and “Bosou”, which is rice being mixed with fresh water fish that is already garnished with salt and placed into the container layer-by-layer alongside some garlic.


    10. Fruits Market

    Next to the central market along Jalan Tun Fuad Stephens are three smaller markets, namely the Fruits Market, Handicraft Market, and the Dry Sea Product Market. The Fruits Market went about their day with a lively buzz, vendors calling out their fresh produce and customers looking to buy their goods. Here, you can find a collection of fruits from Borneo and other commonly found fruits such as grapes, watermelons and papayas.


    11. Kadaiku

    The walk would not be complete without having a peek inside of Kadaiku! Translating to “my shop” in the local Malay dialect, Kadaiku is a hidden gem filled with trinkets that captures the spirit and charm of Sabah. It was our final stop, where we browsed through their array of local handicrafts and souvenirs – a perfect way to cherish memories of our trip or pick up copies of the books mentioned during our tour.


    Kadaiku aims to promote Sabah’s handicrafts by offering high-quality goods and providing a platform in Kota Kinabalu for local craftsmen and entrepreneurs to sell their products. They specialise in 100% genuine traditional handicrafts, making shopping at Kadaiku a meaningful cultural experience.


    Furthermore, Kadaiku supports new and emerging local crafters, showcasing both traditional and modern Sabah designs. Every purchase at Kadaiku directly helps rural and urban artisans, preserving and celebrating Sabah’s rich heritage, traditions, and culture.


    Experience the free Heritage Walk firsthand, starting at 9:00 a.m. every Wednesday (English Session) and Saturday (Mandarin Session). Each session accommodates up to 15 participants, so early booking is recommended. There’s no booking fee required. For more inquiries, please contact the person in charge, Grace (012-802 8824).