Kota Kinabalu with Kids – November 2012 35

Our trip to Kota Kinabalu with a 4 year old with links to tips on flying with kids and packing lists for the family. 
Plus information on entertaining children at the resort and family day trips out in Kota Kinabalu.

I was all organised with a preparation plan in place for our trip to Kota Kinabalu with kids.  However as anyone who has travelled with children will tell you, it can all go awry with one little hiccup or in our case a stomach virus.

Kota Kinabalu with kids

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We were due to fly out to Kota Kinabalu on Saturday afternoon.  My plan had been to drop Lewis, our 4 year old son at Kindy on Friday, have a relaxing massage and then home to pack in peace.  Lewis had other plans.  At about 1am on Thursday night/Friday morning he started vomiting, which continued every 40 mins.  Not only was he not going to get to school, I wasn’t getting any sleep and there went my massage!

My only consolation was that stomach viruses tend to last about 24 hours.  So with that thought I carried on.  Lewis spent the morning laying on the couch watching ABC4kids while I packed using my packing lists to ensure I did not forget a thing.  I even got enough time to write a quick post about “Tips to Prevent Loss of Luggage“.

Meanwhile my partner Steve headed off to work to finish some last minute items.  Oh to be a man who at the last minute throws a pair of shorts, half a dozen T-shirts and jocks into a bag and declares himself packed.

Just after lunch we were on our way to the airport, you would never know Lewis had been so ill the day before.  It’s amazing how quick kids recover.

On the flight – Tips for Flying with kids

The flight went well with Lewis eating his packed snacks and pre-ordered child’s meal, doing some colouring, watching a movie and sleeping.

We arrived into Kuala Lumpor at 10pm and made our way to the KLIA Transit Hotel.  Around midnight I woke up not feeling well and spending the night back and forth the bathroom.  I was not well!  By morning I was exhausted and Steve began to feel unwell.  But we had a flight to catch at 8am.  It was the longest 2 hour flight; both of us feeling awful and Lewis demanding attention.

Finally we reached Kota Kinabalu, collected our luggage, bought a taxi voucher and were driven out to the  Shangri-La Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa.

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The Resort

Whilst checking in at the lobby we looked out to the pool and thought this place looks amazing – I wish I felt well enough to enjoy it now!

We could see the crystal clear pools over looking the sea and neighbouring islands.  There were families all ready sitting on shaded lounges while watching their kids slip down the slides and run under the various water jets at the splash zone.  Big kids or were they adults enjoying pounding each other with water balloons.

After resting a couple of hours in our room that over looked the lush green gardens around to the sea, I felt better and took Lewis to the kids club.  The staff there were great, they were happy for me to stay with Lewis while he familiarised himself.  By 5 pm Lewis started asking for food.  Poor thing we both had felt so unwell we had forgotten to feed him.  We ordered room service and settled in for the night.

Mountain view room at Tanjung Aru shangri-la

In the morning we both started feeling alot better and ventured to breakfast.  The buffet was one of the best. Including extras like dim sum, home-made yoghurt, and fresh vege juices.  They also had a staff member dressed up in cartoon characters to entertain the kids.

Our daily pattern began to form.  After breakfast I would take Lewis to the kids club for the 10am craft session while Steve relaxed in the room.  Then the 3 of us would head to the pool.  We thoroughly enjoyed the water-slides, splash-zone and water balloon fights.  Eventually hunger would set in and we would order a bite to eat by the pool before making our way back to the room.  At 4pm I would take Lewis back to the kids club for more craft, Steve would meet us there so that I could enjoy the complimentary yoga or floor pilates.  We have learnt to work together allowing each other some down time resulting in a much more enjoyable holiday.

To see more of the Sharngri-La Tanjung Aru and my review click HERE.

Day Trips

Orang-outang Rehabilitation Sanctuary

We took a couple of day trips during our week long stay.  We went to visit the Orang-outang Rehabilitation Sanctuary at the Shangri-La Rasa Ria Resort.  For 30MR each we caught the hotel shuttle for the 45 minute drive.  This gave us an opportunity to see a bit more of Kota Kinabalu.  What really amazed us was how clean the streets were.  No rubbish piled on the verges, no dirt washed across the streets.

Before entering the sanctuary we were advised to apply insect repellent and you really do need it as we heard others complaining of mosi bites.  (So remember when packing for the day and your medical supplies to include children’s insect repellent.)  There is a multilevel viewing platform to observe the orang-outangs and monkeys swinging through the emerald green vines as they come in to eat fruit that has been lay’d out.  It is such a fantastic sight as this is not a small zoo enclosure.  It is a very large natural sanctuary where the young orphaned orang-outangs get to live until they are mature and ready to be released back into the wild.

For more photos about our day trip to the Kota Kinabalu Nature Reserve visit HERE.

(UPDATE 2016: The orang-outans are no longer at the Nature Reserve – the rehabilitian program is now complete.)


Another day we caught a taxi into town and spent the morning shopping in one of the large shopping malls.  Kota Kinabalu is a bustling city with plenty of shopping, eateries and markets.

Exploring Town

We spent a few evenings in the city combining a dinner out with shopping.  It was cooler to get about in the evening and provided us with some additional dining options.

More Things to do

There is so much you can do whilst visiting Sabah including taking ferries out to the neighbouring islands, snorkelling, tree top walks, steam train rides, the list just goes on.  However for us, our holidays are mainly about relaxation and reconnecting as a family.

So whilst the stomach bug didn’t ruin the holiday it certainly slowed us down for a couple of days – but maybe we just needed that.

What is your family’s goal when travelling?

You can see more pictures on Facebook.

See our first You Tube Video of the pool at Shangri-La Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa


About Sally-Ann Brown

I am Sally-Ann the author of Toddlers on Tour. I am a wife and mother who has always had a passion for travel. I love sharing my experiences and lessons learned to help you have a better family holiday or day trip. Read "All About Me" under the "Home" tab to discover my story and what lead me to here.

35 thoughts on “Kota Kinabalu with Kids – November 2012

  • Annie

    That place looks amazing! How I would love to take a holiday like that and just chill out with room service, kids clubs and relaxing by the pool. Alas, the part I most relate to in this story is the gastro!! I have experienced gastro just before trips and the thought of being on a plane is one that fills you with dread – trying to get to the toilet and it being vacant when you do!!

    Lucky you all had a tummy virus that ended quickly and could enjoy what looks like a fantastic holiday.


    Love this post. Love KK! Haven’t been back in years but am desperate to get the kids over to meet their orange cousins! 🙂

    • Toddlers on Tour Post author

      If you do get the chance I highly recommend this hotel with young kids. Keep an eye out in the travel section of the paper – they have been having some good specials to stay in KK

  • Peter Lee

    Your holidays looks awesome. This place is good option to stay with family and kids. I liked your local market visit and these monkey. Kids likes monkey very much. 🙂

  • Seana - Sydney, Kids, Food + Travel

    Oh, I loved reading this post. I stayed near the Tanjung Aru Beach Hotel as it was known for three months in 1987, that’s a long time ago! I had just finished uni and with some uni colleagues was doing a survey of the reefs in the park there. The little islands offshore there are just divine. Is the coral still good out on the islands???

    • Toddlers on Tour Post author

      While we didn’t get out to the islands we spoke to many others who had been out there. They said it was terrific. You could even see the colourful fish swimming as they stood on the jetty.

  • Freya

    That place looks absolutely fabulous. I’m glad you all felt better soon and had a great time. Lovely photos.

  • Ashleigh

    Hi, we are heading to KK in July withour daughter who will be 14months at the time. She is still on cows milk / formula bottles and I am not sure what to take with us in that regard. Any thoughts? Thanks and sorry you were so sick for your trip!

    • Toddlers on Tour Post author

      Hi Ashleigh,

      I still take formula for my son as I don’t trust the cows milk in developing countries.
      I take a small container of preportioned measures in the plane with however many bottles of sterilised water I will need for the flight plus an extra for the first bottle in our room (you don’t have time to source bottled water, boil and allow for it to cool).
      Then I tape the container back up and place in a plastic bag in my luggage.
      When you go through security at the airport declare to the officers that you have sterilised water in the bottles for your toddler. They should let you through. Just double check with the airports website.
      One of the things I love about Malaysia is how wonderful and safe the food is to eat.
      Don’t forget to check out our Flying with Kids pages.

      • Ashleigh

        Thank you, that is a great help!
        A couple of other questions – did you take a stroller / pram with you or purchase on there? Also with regards to taxi travel etc did you take a car seat or is it just a matter of holding them on your lap 😉
        Thank you! I am stressed as first international holiday with the little one.

          • Karen

            Thanks! This is so helpful! I am actually planning for the same trip to KK and possibly same hotel too with my 16-month old daughter. It’s the first time we travel overseas for holiday. How many days did you spend in KK? Is a 4-5 days trip enough?
            Can I also please get your tips sent to Ashleigh, eg. did you need your pram a lot and info about travelling on a taxi? Thanks a lot! 🙂

  • Desire Empire

    Glad to have found your site. Will book mark it for future reference as we prefer to travel with our kids.
    Ps you should do a post on the snow and I replied to your comment on my blog. Thanks for visiting.

  • Erin Mampana


    We are going to Kota Kinabalu in March with a 7month old baby and a 2 year old. We are staying at the Sutera Harbour Resort in KK and then Shangri La Rasa Ria. Im a little nervous about traveling with young children and worry about health and safety but sounds like you didn’t have any problems. Just have a question about car seats. Did you take you own car seats? I want to avoid taking the car seats if possible. We will probably get a private car transfer up to Rasa Ria and they can provide child car seats. Or we were thinking of catching the shuttle bus that runs between Tanjung Aru and Rasa Ria. How did you find traveling in the taxi’s with the children? Is there much traffic, would you feel safe with the children on you lap for the 5min trip into town from our hotel?


    • Sally@Toddlers on Tour Post author

      Hi Erin,

      Kota Kinabalu is nice safe and quite clean destination. Of course when you travel always have your whits’ about you and don’t go into dark, vacant areas – just as you wouldn’t at home (I did hear other travellers comment that the main night markets – not the local fruit and veg on the waterfront – seemed a bit dingy and they advised not to venture there).

      Whilst we do eat out at local restaurants and always find the food very good in Malaysia we stay clear of the street vendors – just in case.

      I did not take a car seat – I never do. For one they can get damaged in the cargo hold and they are not covered by the airline (though the airline should make a report for you to claim on your travel insurance), though if your child is happy in their own seat for an extended period of time you can pre-organise for your seat to be used in their aircraft seat (bare in mind if your child gets sick of the seat you CANNOT have it removed mid flight) my child prefers to lay across the seat and sleep with head and feet in our laps.

      Also consider if you catch a taxi into town and use your car seat what do you do with the seat once you have arrived.

      As you will be staying at Sutera Harbour I think they may offer a shuttle into town – check their website or send them an email.
      As for your transfer email the private car company to see if they offer car seats and for the appropriate age groups eg you do not want bolster seat for a 7 month old.

      We caught the shuttle from Tanjung Aru to Rasa Ria. It was a luxury bus and as safe as any bus. The roads in KK are busy though not as busy as Bangkok. KK is actually quite a bustling town and we caught taxis quite frequently during our stay with our son just sitting next us.

      You may be interested in reading a post I wrote about car seats and travelling: http://toddlersontour.com.au/2013/03/car-seats-and-travelling-help/
      I did a quick Google for baby hire and found this straight away:
      http://www.easyrent2u.com/content/27-kota-kinabalu Hope it helps.

      Good luck and happy travels.
      If you have any further questions do not hesitate to ask.

  • Erin Mampana

    Thank you so much, really appreciate your advise. Its great to speak to someone who has actually been there and has young children. I will definitely use this website in the future and recommend to friends and family.

    • Sally-Ann Brown Post author

      The beaches were white sandy with clear water Lydia and the water was farely calm as it is protected from the nearby islands. As we live in Perth and have some of the best beaches in the world on our door step we son’t tend to swim in the beach whilst away, usually sticking to the pool. But I do love going for long walks along the beach for a bit of exercise.

  • Tonkin-Travel Vietnam

    Your kids look so cute and active. It seems that Malaysia is the destination which is supposed to be friendly to families with kids with so many amusement parks. I always wanna go there, especially Sipadan Islands, but the flight ticket is quite expensive. Thus, up to now I haven’t had the chance to discover this amazing land. Thanks so much for the great post!

  • Amber Hill

    Hi there, I am starting to knuckle down to plan a trip to Borneo in September. Realistically we will only have 7-9 days on the ground. Do you think this is long enough to explore one area of Borneo? Many thanks, Amber

    • Sally-Ann Brown Post author

      Hi Amber,
      Yes I think 7-9 days is suitable for one area of Borneo – but not the entire island of Borneo.
      Which part of Borneo are you planning to visit?

      • Amber Hill

        Thanks!!! I think we might fly into Kuching and explore around there. It looks like there might be more to do around Kota Kinabalu so we might need a full 2 weeks at that end? It’s so hard when I want to go and explore and not just skim the surface!!!

        • Sally-Ann Brown Post author

          Oh, I get that. So much to see, so little time.
          I don’t know that Kota Kinabalu needs a full two weeks but certainly a week:
          Snorkelling on the islands nearby
          Night market
          The train ride to the mountains. Here is a link to a couple of the train rides: https://fave.co/2Huutn5
          The city itself isn’t very big – a couple of malls and the wharf for eating out at night.
          Orangutan tour – here is a link to a day trip tour: https://fave.co/2F48sde

          Please let me know if I can help any further

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