Travel Budget: Kota Kinabalu

One of the reasons why I was having second thoughts about going to Sabah was money. I had some unexpected expenses last January and I have several trips lined up in the coming weeks, so I figured it’d be better to cut my losses at Php 1,289 (my airfare) instead of spending so much more on the trip. However, in the end I threw caution to the wind and went to have an awesome trip.

Kota Kinabalu is pretty cheap compared to other Malaysian cities. Sure, the taxi drivers are averse to using the meter, but KK is so small you can just walk anywhere (except to the Mount Kinabalu Park and other attractions because it’s FAR). I’ve had a couple of expensive meals over the weekend, and I was surprised that my end total is just Php 1,337. Shopping in Kota Kinabalu is not too exciting, except if there are sales I suppose. Some of the items sold in Peninsular Malaysia is also available in Sabah, but there are also a number of brands and products that are locally produced like teas and cigarettes.

There are a number of souvenir shops in the shopping centers, but if you’re looking to buy Sabah tea, it’s best to check the supermarket, as the prices are much cheaper. There’s also the handicraft market, or the former Pasar Filipino (Filipino market), where local souvenirs are sold (batik, wood carvings, anything and everything made with sea shells).

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A final note on Sabah: if you’re bringing US dollars, make sure that they are series 2006 or more recent. Money changers do not accept dollars from earlier years, which is a real pain. There are plenty of ATMs that accept VISA and Mastercards, so you can make a cash advance if needed (some hostels, like the Lavender Lodge does not accept credit card payments).

Kota Kinabalu
February 13 – 16, 2010
MYR 1 = PHP 14

in local currency in Philippine Peso
Air transfers
Air Asia PHP 1,289.00 PHP 1,289.00 1
Philippine Travel Tax PHP 1,620.00 PHP 1,620.00
Airport tax PHP 600.00 PHP 600.00
Transport to and from DMIA PHP 740.00 PHP 740.00 2
Transport to and from KKIA MYR 55.00 PHP 770.00 3

Lavender Lodge
Twin room MYR 70/night MYR 210.00 PHP 2,940.00 4

Ferry MYR 23.00 PHP 322.00 5

Food Expenses
Meals (Manila) PHP 400.00 PHP 400.00
Meals (Kota Kinabalu) MYR 95.50 PHP 1,337.00 6

Travel Insurance PHP 368.00 PHP 368.00
Admission MYR 16.00 PHP 224.00 7
Tour MYR 185.00 PHP 2,590.00 8
Souvenirs MYR 20.20 PHP 282.80 9
Shopping MYR 52.70 PHP 737.80 10
Total PHP 14,220.60
1 Bought last August during an Air Asia seat sale. This includes fees for check in baggage, but no food.
2 Cab to Megamall, then Php 300 each way on Philtranco
3 MYR 30 taxi from the airport, MYR 25 from the lodge. Forgot to ask about the free airport transfers!
4 Originally reserved a twin room, since I was supposed to travel with Melo, but ended up going alone. The room is huge for hostel standards.
5 Ferry to the islands cost MYR 13 for one island, additional MYR 10 for 2.
6 Breakfast is included in the lodge, so this is mostly lunch, dinner, snacks and drinks.
7 Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park fee is MYR 10 for all islands, plus MYR 6 government tax
8 River cruising tour to see the proboscis monkey. Quite expensive, but well worth seeing the monkeys in the wild. Fee includes transport, guide, snacks and dinner buffet (drinks apart from coffee and tea not included)
9 Another sarong, a magnet and a couple of post cards
10 Couldn’t stop myself from buying the Slumdog Millionaire novel and this cute doo-something.
Article by Nina Fuentes

Nina doesn't aim to travel to every country in the world -- she just wants to travel to the places that means the most to her. She started traveling in 2006, and hopes to travel for as long as she can. Her travel blog, Just Wandering won the Best Travel Blog in the 2010 Philippine Blog Awards and in the 2011 Nuffnang Asia Pacific Blog Awards.

This Article Has 27 Comments
  1. estan says:

    I had problems with the $100 dollar bill before (but forgot which series it was) when I passed by Hat Yai enroute to Ipoh, Malaysia. The money changers there didn’t accept my money and got scared that I don’t have much money. Fortunately, someone saved me at the bus. :)

  2. AudMraz says:

    Hi Nina,

    I was in the Phils (Banaue and Manila) from 13-16 Feb so looks like we ‘swapped’ places during the Lunar New Year :) .

    Taxi rates have been increased since end of last year, so it’s good to choose a place where they offer free airport pickup.

    Buzz me the next time you visit KK ya?

  3. nina says:

    Estan: Really? That blows. This is the first time this happened to me, and I was so relieved that I have my credit card on standby (and that their machine accepted my card without problem! A friend of mine wasn’t able to use his card in KK’s ATMs, and he only had US$50 for the entire trip!)

    AudMraz: Definitely going back and will remember to tell you when I’m going :D

  4. Winston says:

    woooot! I want to go back to KK. The wasn’t able to explore much the last time I was there. :D

  5. nina says:

    Tara Wins, punta tayo! :D

  6. I will be needing this… :) Although it is still a few months away (July ti be exact) but this will definitely be a good reference. And I will remember Lavender Lodge as well. Thanks Nina!! :)

  7. king says:

    What’s the best and cheapest way to go from the airport to downtown 1CityHotel, we are a group of 6 anglers with plenty of baggages, going there for fishing, 3D/2N, staying on a chartered boat, eat and sleep also?!?

    What kind of cars do they have over there, any big vans? How much would they cost, airport to hotel?

    Any and all comments, suggestions, recommendations by anybody will be highly appreciated. Thank you in advance.

  8. this is superb!! :) Babalikan ko ito for the July trip…

  9. Bethel Grace says:

    My frnds and I will be going to Kota this coming Jan 2011…I just want to know if nice ba yung mga tao dun?i mean yung tipong di ka nila lolokohin sa mga prices like tours, stuffs like that?Thanks

  10. Dundee Adriatico says:

    Hi Nina, Would you know if money changers there are
    accepting PHP as well in exchange for MYR? Thanks.

    • nina says:

      Dundee, I can’t remember if they do, but there’s a chance that they accept peso for exchange since there’s a lot of Filipinos in Kota Kinabalu.

      If you’re bringing US dollars, be sure to bring notes that are series 2006 or more recent.

  11. Lans says:

    Great site.. got addicted to reading your posts :)

    Went to KK last June 2010 with my friends and it was great. They exchange PHP to MYR pero it’s better if you just bring dollars.

    as for the the tour, try to book it where you are staying, if i remember correctly we were charged PhP 1200 each for a whole day tour, island hopping with free buffet lunch..

    as for the cabs – we never took one, walkathon to the max because downtown KK is not that big naman.. saka there are free shuttle going to that one big mall wherein i forgot the name again sheesh.

  12. leonie may panes says:

    hi i’ll ask about the tour package…where can i book for it?going to KK this june…thanks

  13. K says:

    Hi. very informative!!

    I am so thankful to have come across your site, especially this post because I’m planning a trip with my bf in december, we’re attending a wedding in KK and we’ll be there for 7 days.

    from your budget breakdown, it seems you didnt spend so much, a good thing. so how long were you there?? my target budget for kk is PhP30k (just me, i dont know how much my bf’s budget will be) this is not including airfare and travel tax…

    do you think thats more than enough?? for food, transportation, and hotel accommodations?

    thanks.. hope to hear from you soon!

    • nina says:

      I was forced not to spend much because I had problems with exchanging my US dollars to ringgit and not a lot of places accept credit card for payment. But KK is actually pretty inexpensive, so your 30K will go a long way.

  14. G says:

    This is really helpful :) I’m planning a ‘budget’ trip to KK. I’m just wondering if the Philippine Travel Tax and Airport tax are to be paid in the airport. I think I saw the Airport tax included in flight I booked.

    Thanks a lot!


  15. […] card proved useful when I found myself unable to find an open money changer upon arriving late in Kota Kinabalu and specially when I found out that the US dollar bills I bought were practically useless as the […]

  16. Dyan Christine says:

    Hi! Nice review! Just wanna ask where is the best (and not very expensive) place to stay at KK which is near to attractions and airport. Will stay for 4 days. Thank you in advance for replying! :)

    • nina says:

      I’ve only been to Kot Kinabalu once, so I can only recommend Lavender Lodge. Its location is okay — not central, but you can walk to the jetty, the morning market, etc. The airport is far from the city center.

  17. Madz says:

    Will be going this Feb. Do u think prices are quite the same since you last came?

  18. Hello,

    I bumped into your blog searching for ideas about travelling to Kota Kinabalu. I know I should ask Tourism or gov’t offices for safety-related travel issues especially after Philippines (Mindanao, specifically)-Sabah rift over land ownership. But do you think it would be safe for a woman, planning to travel ALONE to go there now? I plan to go on the January 31st Philippine holiday on 2014.

    I’ve always been a coward traveller, procrastinating I can’t do it alone, but I want to give it a go to prove to myself that I can do it (or God help me, hope there are kind-hearted bloggers around the Philippines who may be planning for a KK trip, please let me go with you? LOL!). I always have been travelling with a “shell” because my husband was always with me when we went Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, but for some reason now, I’d be travelling alone.

    Plus, promise, last question, how does it go with immigration? I am coward (again) with immigration people, not that I’m guilty of intending to stay illegally – but in fact the reason exactly why I am scared! because I do not intend to stay long, planning for 3 nights, and with stories of women/people stopped and withheld at airports because of suspicions of illegal stay, omg I don’t know what I’d do if that would happen to me. So how did yours go?

    Thank you so much for sparing time. Sorry for so many questions!


    • Nina says:

      Hi Fritz, I can’t remember having problems with immigration there (or at any other countries I’ve been to). Just be confident and since you know you’re not guilty of having plans of staying illegally, there’s no need to be scared. Just smile and greet the officer good morning/afternoon/evening as you hand over your passport.

      I know some people who went to KK when the dispute was at its peak, and they didn’t encounter any problems either.

      Do try traveling by yourself. Some enjoy it, some don’t, but you won’t find out until you finally do it.

  19. yajero says:

    Hi! May i know where did u book for that river cruise to see the proboscis monkey? Is it the klias? Can u pls give some info for i am currently making myitinerary. Thank u very much. Your blog is such a big help.

  20. Brandy Gay Durano says:

    Wow! You are belong to the rich as your hotel is out of the ballpark for budget travelers like me. Thank you so much for this article.

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