Tanjung Aru, Sabah: A Perfect Beach Trip from KK

Six kilometres west from Kota Kinabalu, the capital city of Sabah, the South China Sea washes upon a long, wide stretch of dark yellow sand fringed by casuarina trees and tall palms. Known as the Tanjung Aru beach, the sunset views here are legendary, drawing both tourists and locals.

The beach and island vistas along Sabah’s coast afford some of the most eye-catching and rewarding experiences in the world, including spectacular marine life.

The Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park of Tanjung Aru spreads over 4,929 hectares and covers five islands located between 3km and 8km off Kota Kinabalu. The islands (“pulau” in Malay) are Gaya, Sapi, Manukan, Mamutik and Sulug. These offer soft white sands and are excellent spots for diving and snorkelling. Island hopping is a popular activity here 

Getting To Tanjung Aru From Kota Kinabalu

Tanjung Aru Beach is a mere 8 to 10-minute ride from Kota Kinabalu using the local taxi services. It is 5.7km by road from KK International Airport to Beach 1. Local bus services leave from stations across the KK City Hall or the Wawasan Plaza terminal. The bus trip takes 20 minutes.

Tanjung Aru Attractions

Following are some of the most popular places that you must visit when you’re in Tanjung Aru:

1. First, Second And Third Beach

The beach area, more than 2km long, is categorised by the local residents as Beaches 1, 2 and 3. While the beautiful sunset can be viewed from all three beaches, Beach 1 in particular is the spot to head to if you are looking to savour a wide array of local foods from the hawker market and seafood restaurants in the district.

Beach 1 stretches onto Beach 2 with its share of street food and open vistas.

Beach 3 is generally the quietest. If you decide to avoid the main buzz, plan for a family picnic, beach sports, a relaxing run or some navel gazing along this stretch. All the beaches, though, have far fewer people during the day and the warm shallow waters are inviting enough for a dip anytime. In the distance, the offshore islands of Sulug and Manukan can be seen silhouetted in the horizon.

2. Prince Philip Park

The Prince Philip Park is near Beach 1 and the food stalls. It affords simple relaxation for families with kids. There is a roller skating rink here, while bird watching enthusiasts may be tempted to bring their binoculars along to spot colourful winged natives like the pied hornbill.

3. Tanjung Aru Perdana Park

There is another park nearby known for its lake and peaceful landscaped surroundings – the Tanjung Aru Perdana Park at Hone Place. 

It boasts a musical fountain at the centre of the park. The fountain light shows come on three times, between 7pm and 8.40pm, and the visuals, along with the timed music, are a nighttime attraction in the area. The park has jogging tracks going around the lake, and there are also playgrounds and cafes. After you’re done with the show, take a stroll back to Tanjung Aru beach for a late night supper.

4. Tanjung Aru Library

The Tanjung Aru Library opened in 2019 and offers five floors of reads catering to all ages. This modern striking building is huge, a space of 62,000 square feet, and the exterior is adorned with indigenous ethnic motifs. 

The library is in Plaza Tanjung Aru beside Perdana Park and children as well as adults can find some reading material to while away a lazy afternoon.

5. Tanjung Aru Railway Station

The railways in Malaysia have a very interesting history and North Borneo is no exception. To relive some of the old days of steam engines, get aboard the North Borneo Railway at Tanjung Aru Rail Station

The classically-styled old world interior of the coaches is reminiscent of a bygone Colonial era, significantly the early 1900s. The British Vulcan steam locomotive is around 123 years old. The engine’s power is derived from burning logs and the whistle and puffs of steam make for great Instagram shots.

The five-hour journey takes passengers along Sabah’s verdant countryside past villages, a forest reserve, plantations and along the beautiful coastline. The train stops at Kinarut Town where the Tien Shi Temple with its beautiful statues can be visited, then Papar town for its market and old-fashioned shophouses. Here’s the chance to go bargain hunting or just enjoy it as a spot for people watching. 

The rustic experience aboard the steam train includes a light breakfast and an old school tiffin carrier lunch served by train stewards in spotless colonial era uniforms.

Launched in 2000, The North Borneo Railway, the oldest running steam train in North Borneo, makes its trips twice a week. Alongside this experience, there is also the North Borneo Yacht Charter’s luxury vessel, Puteri Sutera, available for charter by the hour.

6. Sorinsim Waterfall

If you can’t get enough of watery pursuits, take a 131km road trip from Kota Kinabalu to Sorinsim (or Serinsim) Waterfall. Swimming in the crystal clear cold mountain water, jungle trekking and caving are among the activities popular here.

Serinsim substation lies in the northern part of Kinabalu Park, which stands as the  first UNESCO World Heritage Site of Malaysia. So the substation is a nature park 15km away from Kota Marudu town. Experience the diversity of rainforest flora and fauna. The third highest mountain, Mount Tambuyukon, is here. It rises to 2,579 metres above sea-level. There’s also a long cave called Bat Cave. This adventure requires a Sabah Park guide.

As for accommodation, available here are hostels, chalets and camping facilities.

Eating Options At Tanjung Aru

By evening, Beach 1 and some of Beach 2 are usually thronging with people visiting the open air food court, stalls and eateries. As the sea breeze blows in, the aroma of grilled meats on skewers (the delectable satay), barbecued chicken wings, steamed corn, stir fried cockles, noodles… the list of eats is endless… mingle in the air.

You’ll find the tables and seats being quickly occupied. Even the wide selection of fruit juice concoctions can leave one scratching the head when deciding which to drink. They’re all delicious! Pick your fruits and customise your drinks, or settle for one of the vendor’s creative mixes.

For more formal dining, the restaurants and cafes dotted along the seafront serve fresh catch from the sea in a variety of cooking styles. You can even choose your own seafood catch at certain places which have mini aquariums with live fish. Eateries and hawkers here stay open till late at night.

Shopping At Tanjung Aru – Malls And Markets

Tanjung Aru Plaza is a 20-minute walk from Beach 1 in Tanjung Aru. It has a Korean supermarket, a reflexology centre and various other outlets.

For a more trendy shopping outing, venture into the city where there’s Imago The Mall at KK Times Square. Here, the selection of international food franchises and restaurants offer familiarity and variety. The shopping is appealing with branded clothing and jewellery stores, IT and electronic outlets and many more, featuring all the trappings of a modern mall.

The small wet market at Tanjung Aru caters to local residents. You may get seafood and dry provisions here, if you’re up to cooking a meal or two at your airbnb, if it has kitchen facilities.

1. KK Chocolate House

Meanwhile chocolate lovers may wish to take a 2.7km drive from Beach 1 to Cocoa Kingdom – KK Chocolate House at Lorong Bunga Telur, where local cocoa is used to make a variety of chocolate. 

Learn about the history of cocoa plantations in Malaysia as you take a guided tour. Children will be drawn to the interactive activities. After all the education is digested, take a breather at the café or stop by the souvenir shop for your pick of chocolate goodies.

2. Gaya Sunday Street Market

The Gaya Street Sunday Market on Gaya Street at the city centre is particularly delightful for browsers and serious shoppers. It has interesting wares including local delicacies, handicraft, clothing, antiques and unique items.

3. Filipino Market

The Filipino Market at Jalan Tun Fuad Stephen is filled with food stalls. Your shopping expedition should not miss the Handicraft Market that is located on the other side for the hall. They offer a range of affordable souvenir items such as pearl jewellery, sarongs, shawls, native musical instruments, blowpipes, hats, bags and trinkets. 

Put your bargaining skills to the test!

4. Jesselton Artisan Market

At Jalan Riverson 1, Kota Kinabalu. It is a curated showcase of KK’s artisans creations, contemporary and traditional. Delight in the well-crafted jewellery, artwork, innovative and comically named food creations, charming clothing and much more. 

Local musicians add to the rhythm of this upbeat mix.

Places To Stay In Tanjung Aru

The district of Tanjung Aru has various types of accommodation, ranging from vacation rentals, backpacker hostels and budget hotels to the ultimate pampered stay in luxury hotels.

Shangri-La’s Tanjung Aru Resort & Spa 

The Shangri-La Tanjung Aru Resort & Spa is a mere kilometre away from the popular beach spots of Tanjung Aru. The five-star rated hotel has six gastronomic dining and wining choices in which even the most demanding of foodies can satiate their appetite for Bornean heritage cuisine, Western, and Asian creations.

From this “home” base, take advantage of the resort’s STAR Marina professional water sport services, and boating and cruise facilities, which also boasts a learning centre for dive enthusiasts. 

Borneo Divers is adjacent to the resort and overlooks the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park. It has a multilingual team, and caters to beginners and experienced divers alike. They even provide night dives.

Diving in waters off Sabah is a very unique experience as the sea is home to myriad marine life, one of the most diverse in the world. The colourful corals are a sight to behold. Swim past schools of clown fish and groupers, gawk at sting rays and moray eels, turtles and black tip reef sharks.  

The resort also arranges day trips to neighbouring islands. Beach activities are also on the menu. Its CHI the Spa offers a multitude of body rejuvenating treatments after the day’s thrills are over.

Here are a couple of other places to stay at in Tanjung Aru

  • Hilton Kota Kinabalu: 5.6lm from Beach 1, at Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman, Asia City, 88000 Kota Kinabalu  https://www.hilton.com/en/hotels/bkikkhi-hilton-kota-kinabalu/
  • C’haya Hotel: Lot 7, Jalan Tanjung Aru, Tanjung Aru, 88100, Kota Kinabalu. https://chayahotel.com/
  • Aru Place Hostel Kota Kinabalu: No. 159, Jln. Datuk Willie, Tanjung Aru, 88100 Kota Kinabalu. Call 016-830 4392https://www.google.com/travel/hotels/Kota%20Kinabalu/entity Call 016-830 4392
  • The 3-star Crown Borneo: No. 23 Jalan Pinang, Tanjung Aru, Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. The Sabah State Museum is a 7-minute drive from this hotel and so is Sutera Harbour. The rail station is an 18-minute walk while the international airport is a 12-minute drive away.

Final thoughts

The word “extraordinary” does not even begin to describe the beauty of the beaches and natural charm of Tanjung Aru. From mystic sunsets to vibrant shopping places, this destination has everything to satisfy a traveler’s quest.

Plan out a stay in Tanjung Aru and we bet you’ll remember it for the rest of your life.

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