Kota Kinabalu: Sabah’s Capital City

 A picture of Kota Kinabalu from somewhere high.kk

Kota Kinabalu or commonly called “KK” for short. KK was granted city status on the 2nd of February 2000. It is the Eastern hub and Gateway to Malaysia.

                        Brief History

KK traces its beginnings to 1881, as a tiny British settlement on Pulau Gaya ( Gaya Island), the biggest of five islands directly across the bay from present-day KK City. In 1897, Mat Salleh and his men fought and burnt the island settlement. The British relocated to the mainland at Kampong Gantisan, a small fishing village. In 1899, the British named the new settlement ‘Jesselton’ after Sir Charles Jessel, the Vice-Chariman of the British North Borneo Chartered Company.

Jesselton was also known as Api-Api, which means, ‘fire-fire’. The name has two sources. One was said that it was named for the frequent fires that occurred during festive seasons caused by flying sparks from firecrackers. The second one was said that it is because the Avicennia trees which grew abundantly along the coasts and were used for firewood ( kayu api).

To liberate North Borneo from Japanese occupation during World War II, Allied Forces bombed and completely destroyed Jesselton, leaving only three colonial buildings standing. These were the elegant Sabah Tourism Building at 51 Jalan Gaya (Gaya Street),STB.jpg

the Atkinson Clock Tower,ACT.JPG

and the former Lands & Survey Building. Unfortunately, the latter was burnt down in a New Year’s Eve fire in 1992. The high cost of re-building forced the Chartered Company to relinquish their land rights over North Borneo to the British Government. North Borneo became a British Crown Colony on 15 July 1946. At the same time, Jesselton was selected as the new capital of North Borneo, to replace Sandakan, which was also destroyed during the War.

Jesselton was renamed Kota Kinabalu on 30September 1968, for the majestic Mount Kinabalu, the highest mountain in Southeast Asia, at 4,095.2m (13,435 ft).


Post-war reconstruction of the capital saw major changes to its skyline, coastline and land area. Most of KK is built on reclaimed land.

                              Gaya Street

Gaya Street.JPG

Originally known as Bond Street, this is the main street of KK. Fully rebuilt in the 1950s and 1960s, the shophouses were used in the traditional way, with shops on the ground floor and residential units on the upper floors. Today, Gaya Street has the largest number of legal offices, banks and financial institutions of any street in Sabah. It also has many eateries open during the day and night.

The Gaya Street Fair

Every Sunday morning, Gaya Street is closed to traffic for the Gaya Street Fair. For a small fee, traders set up stalls for the morning to sell almost anything – fruits and vegetables. fish, cut flowers & plants, puppies, rabbits, books, clothes, toys, souvenirs & handicrafts, antiques, home-made local cakes & kuih-muih, food, the famous Tenom coffee, and traditional medicine. There are also mobile health clinics offering minor check-ups. It’s amazing what you may find at the Gaya Street Fair.

Read more on the next blog post.


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