Top 5 things to do in Penampang

A visit to Penampang gives you the chance to experience the culture and learn about the history of the Kadazan people. Your Malaysian trip is incomplete without  a visit to its natural spectacles.

Penampang: A land of wonder

Penampang lies nine kilometers out of Kota Kinabalu. A long time ago, Penampang was a place where traders going from the interior to the coast stopped over to rest. The trail still exists till today and is one of the many tourist sites Penampang is known for.

The district of Penampang is located on the west coast of Sabah. Its capital is Doggongon which means resting place. This alludes to its history as a stopover for coast-bound travelers.

How to get to Penampang?

The easiest way to get to Penampang from Kota Kinabalu is to fly in from Kota Kinabalu International Airport and then take a taxi to Penampang. A taxi ride lasts approximately nine minutes.

Penampang weather

The weather in Penampang is mostly warm. The best months to visit are from December to May, when the rains are less and the weather is warm.

Where to stay in Penampang?

Picking the right place to stay in Penampang  depends on

  1. Your budget 
  2. Your location 
  3. Your activities

There are luxurious lodgings as well as comfortable places for a modest fee. 

It is advisable to book a room at a resort or hotel before arriving at Penampang. Here is a list of places to lodge during your stay:

Things to do while in Penampang

Penampang might not be as popular as other tourist destinations in Malaysia. However, there is never a lack of what to do in Penampang. Here are the top 3 things to do when you visit Penampang. 


  • Visit the Tagal Tinopikon Park


One of the first things to do in Penampang is to pay a visit to the Tagal Tinopikon Park. The first sight that greets you at Tagal Tinopikin is a suspension bridge. In the Moyog river below, you will see more fish than you can ever hope to find in a Penampang river. This is because it is illegal to fish in the Moyog river. 

“Tagal” means prohibition in the language of the Kadazandu people. Through this system of prohibition, the river regained lost fish in a few years. The prohibition also extends to littering so be sure to try not to dump anything by the river or you will pay the same fine that awaits anyone who fishes in the Tagal Tinopikon park. This park is managed by the community. 

The Moyoq river is serene and clear. If the water is not disturbed, it will be clear enough to see fish moving about. The fish are friendly and are very likely to swarm around you, waiting for a snack. They are also known to kiss the guests. Their kisses are painless because they are toothless Kelah fish. This is known as the fish massage. 

Kampung (village) games are part of the activities you get to enjoy at the park. You can enjoy a jungle trek through the lush forest that ends at the Tombokou Waterfall. It is small in size but still beautiful to see.

And if you have questions about the life of the villagers, you can visit the homes of the people. Their homes are built on high stilts to avoid flood waters. The people are friendly and might offer your homegrown fruit. The villagers also give visitors Sumazau dance lessons. This dance imitates the movement of a bird in flight. you will also get to see how rubber trees are tapped.

The tour includes a meal prepared kampung (villagers) style by the villagers. It is a buffet style meal and it is one of your best chances to enjoy a Kadazandu meal. It is cooked over firewood with locally sourced ingredients giving it a unique and delicious taste. 


  • Visit Kipandi Butterfly Farm


Photo by Jimmy Chan from Pexels

High above Penampang, stands Crocker Range. Within it lies Kipandi Butterfly Farm, the home of over 1,500 butterfly specimens.  To get to Kipandi Butterfly park, you will need to drive to Tambunnan and take the road uphill to one of Penampang’s most scenic locations.

The park opens by 9 am and closes by 4 am. You have to pay a ticket fee to access the park. From then on it is a total immersion in the insect kingdom. Although it is named Kipandi Butterfly Farm, there are many other insects that live there. Beetles, praying mantis, millipedes, cicadas, centipedes and spiders. Preserved between glass, you can stare at these insects for as long as you want and ask questions about them.

The main attraction is the butterfly garden.This is where the insects live and eat. Numerous flowers have been grown specifically to keep the butterflies busy with nectar.

You might have a hard time getting a picture of the butterflies as they keep fluttering around. But you should focus on enjoying the fresh air and the sight of micro life all around you. You will get to see different types of butterflies and moths as well as caterpillars. The best time to see the butterflies is at noon.

Kipandi Butterfly Farm has another attraction, the pitcher plant, the largest plant on earth. These plants are housed in a special enclosure along with the rare and endangered species of Sabahan orchids.

The exhibition room in Kipandi Butterfly farm has a vast collection of bug specimens, both local and foreign.


  • Visit Lok Kawi Wildlife Park

Penampang is also home to the Lok Kawi zoo. It is situated at the old Penampang-Papar road, 15km away from Kota Kinabalu. A visit to the zoo has to be one of the things to do in Penampang if you enjoy watching wildlife from up close. It is also a great place to take the children to as it is a family oriented park with a children’s zoo.

Some animals you are sure to see at the Lok Kwai zoo are orangutans, Asian elephants, proboscis monkeys, tigers, deers, rhinos and hornbill birds.

The zoo is not only for animals as there is a part dedicated to the botanical life of Penampang. The botanical area has a trail of about 1.4 kilometers for visitors to walk through and see the unique plants of Lok Kwai wildlife park.


  • Visit Monsopiads’s Heritage Village


The Monsopiad Heritage Village is named after a Kadazandusun hero who fought off pirates and threats to his people. A visit to this village will teach you about the history and culture of the Kadazan people as well as the life and times of the legendary head-hunter warrior Monsopiad.

The structures in the village stay true to their roots, made from local materials. Ancient artefacts are on display for you to see. The Moyog river also flows through Monsopiad’s Heritage Village and you can get across by using the suspension bridge.

There are many activities to join in at the village. One of the things Monsopiad’s Heritage Village is famous for is the House of Skulls. In this place 42 skulls are on display, trophies from Monsopiad’s battles. Pay a visit to the Bobohizan, the village doctor and learn about Sabahan history.

For a small price, you can visit the cultural village. The fee covers a guided tour, a cultural performance, a welcome drink and a look at the exhibition on display. You can watch the Sumazau dance of the Kadazan people. Make sure you try out the wines that the people have prepared. Its peculiar taste comes from the rice it is processed from. Monoliths dot the open grounds of green grass at the cultural village. You can take back a piece of Monsopiad’s Heritage Village with you in form of a souvenir such as a beaded bangle.


  • Visit KDCA cultural village


Kadazandusun Cultural Association (KDCA) cultural village showcases all the culture of the Kadazan people. KDCA cultural village exhibits the culture of four major Kadazandusun tribes. There are 11 ethnic houses which are the exact replicas of the homes of the people of Penampang many years ago. 

From methods of cooking to how they danced, you can experience the everyday lives of Sabahans from many years ago. Just like all the other tourist sites at Penampang, there is a suspension bridge at KDCA cultural village. The bridge hangs over clear water and leads to the tribe houses.

There is also a handicraft center, a pond besides the landscape garden and a stage for cultural performances. You can enjoy local dishes at the cafe. 

KDCA cultural village is 15 minutes away from Kota Kinabalu and is open daily. 

These are just some of the top 5 things to do in Penampang but there are many more experiences that await you. From the Doggongon farmer’s market every Wednesday to Friday to a visit to the oldest church in Penampang, every visitor can anticipate an adventure in this beautiful town.

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