aerial view kota kinabalu sabah

Kota Kinabalu is the capital of the Malaysian state of Sabah (map) which occupies the northern corner of the island of Borneo. ‘KK’, as the city is locally known, has arguably one of the most beautiful locations of any city in Malaysia. It faces the gorgeous emerald-coloured South China Sea while its harbour is protected by a chain of beautiful islands. From the city, rolling hills stretch into the hinterland where they become a towering, mist-shrouded mountain range that includes Malaysia’s highest peak: Mount Kinabalu (4,100m or 13,400 ft). This stunning mountain, an ancient volcano, forms an unforgettable backdrop for the city. See Mount Kinabalu from the air.

Aerial views of Kota Kinabalu

The flight approach into Kota Kinabalu Airport passes many islands.

Kota Kinabalu attractions

KK is a bustling city with many markets, shops, restaurants and hotels. A promenade runs along a large part of the waterfront and is a lovely place to have a meal or a cold drink. The views of the sea and the nearby islands are simply enchanting.

Just south of the city centre lies Sutera Harbour, with its beautiful yacht harbour and two five-star hotels, Magellan Sutera and Pacific Sutera.

sutera harbour kota kinabalu photo
Sutera Harbour as seen from the Pacific Sutera Resort. Magellan Sutera lies on the other side of the yacht harbour.
sutera harbour coral reefs photo
I love strolling around Sutera Harbour to see the corals and many colourful fish.
Lots of fish and corals can be seen in the harbour.

One of the biggest attractions of KK is its proximity to some of the most astounding nature in the world. At its back door, ancient rainforests harbour unique flora and fauna that is still being studied by scientists from around the world. At its front door are some of the best beaches and dive spots in the region. The many islands that dot the coast, such as Mantanani, Tiga (location of the very first ‘Survivor’ series) and Layang Layang are some of the most beautiful islands in Malaysia. The emerald waters, blindingly white beaches, pristine corals and abundant marine life has every visitor spellbound.

Kota Kinabalu also has amazing sunset views!
The glorious sands of Mantanani Island, north of Kota Kinabalu.

Kota Kinabalu from a plane window

I took some shots of KK and the surrounding islands on a recent visit. I was sitting in row ‘A’. As the plane took off (in a northerly direction), the first landmark that came into view was the lovely Sutera Harbour, with its twin hotels (Pacific & Magellan) fronting the sheltered yacht harbour, and the adjoining golf course. 

Aerial view of Sutera Harbour
Aerial view of Sutera Harbour right after take-off.

The plane then banked to the left and we were treated to stunning views of the ‘floating villages’ (villages built on stilts above the sea) on Gaya Island, the shimmering KK harbour and the city centre in the background. We then flew over the chain of islands that hug the coast such as Sapi, Manukan , Mamutik, and later Tiga island and a series of amazing coral atolls.

aerial view kota kinabalu sabah
Aerial view of Gaya Island with its floating villages.
kota kinabalu plane window view
A view of Kota Kinabalu from the plane window.

If you’re visiting Malaysia, I strongly recommend setting aside some time to explore the state of Sabah. The wildlife is magnificent, the scenery is outstanding and the food is awesome! Read more about things to do in Sabah, the Kinabatangan river safari and my visit to the Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary.

See other ‘Plane Views’ articles.


11 Responses

  • Thank you Tom for your comment. I appreciate your opinion but please allow me to ‘correct’ a few inaccuracies in your comment. I wasn’t sitting in First Class – for the simple reason that Air Asia doesn’t have a First Class. Sitting in row ‘A’ doesn’t mean it’s First Class. Secondly, my flight wasn’t comp-ed. In addition, I have close to 700 posts on my blog. You’re entitled to call it the “worst generic travel blog” but I think that’s a harsh, perhaps premature view especially if you based your opinion on one post.


  • Without question, that story is one of the worst, most generic, not-even-worthy-of-a-pr brochure I have ever read. Climbing Mt. K is a popular adventure tourism activity. You take a picture from row A, a compted first-class seat. Yuk. This is the worst generic travel blog out there.

  • […] Kota Kinabalu (KK) vies with other Malaysian cities such as Kuala Lumpur and Penang for having the country’s best cuisine. Many visitors, in addition to using the city as a base for exploring the rest of the state, also come here to savour the fresh (and cheap) seafood (dozens of types of fish, clams, mussels, oysters, lobsters, crabs, prawns, etc…) that is prepared in many mouthwateringly tantalising ways. For some of the city’s best seafood, head for Ocean Seafood restaurant. You choose your seafood from the large tanks and decide how it should be cooked. Having a meal here is definitely one of the highlights of a visit to KK. […]

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  • Wow, excellent photos! We loved our time in Sabah. It is such an amazing place for adventure travel and climbing Mount Kinabalu was a highlight.

  • Hi Mindy,
    Thanks for the comment. You’re right. I should’ve mentioned it but there’s more info. about Sabah’s amazing attractions in the embedded link in this article. This includes the Kinabalu National Park.


  • Great post, velvet! You didn’t mention it, but Kinabalu National Park (a World Heritage Site) is one of the most spectacular rain forests you can visit, and climbing the mountain is a regular activity for many Malaysians (and tourists too).

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