Sabah, like the rest of Malaysia, is flush with affordable cars and often it seems as if all of them are on the road at the same time.
Public transport in Sabah is under developed and loosely organised at best. Even so, for tourists and those of us without cars, there are public transport options available of various efficiencies. Just don’t rely on it when you’re in a hurry.
Here’s a roundup of how to get around for those otherwise transportaly challenged.
Taxis in Kota Kinabalu
Kota Kinabalu’s taxi industry is a hard one to negotiate – taxi drivers refuse to use the meter and charge high rates that are not based on any guideline issued by government or one they can, or want to, explain.
If you’re taking a taxi in Kota Kinabalu, be prepared for the following:
- Standard taxis are traditionally white-on-red, but all sorts of funky colours are now on the streets. Watch out for the “Teksi” sign on the roof.
- The “Teksi Bermeter” sign on the roof means metered taxi, but in an ironic way. All taxis are supplied through official channels, pre-fitted with meters, but over the years taxis in KK have gone through waves of using and then not using their meters. Currently they are not using their meters. When taking a taxi play the game: How does your taxi driver hide their meter. It’s usually under a hat on the dashboard, or hidden under a casually draped garment in front of the gear stick.
- In spite of government regulated fares, your taxi driver will come up with what they think you should pay. If you can’t be arse to haggle, download a ride-sharing app like Uber.
- Officially, according to the transport department, regulation states its RM10 flag-fall for 3km + 12c per additional 100m. Shorter distances seem expensive, but longer distances should be better value. Use SabahBah’s Fair Taxi Tool to calculate an estimate of the real rate, and then bargain down as close as possible. Especially in low season, taxis by far outnumber customers in Kota Kinabalu, so be determined when you bargain.
- Still insist on a metered taxi? Well, the best result for negotiating rates can be had when flagging taxis on the road or when drivers are alone. Taxi drivers at taxi ranks always seem less eager to leave the comfort of their rank and they’re unlikely to lower prices when watched by their colleagues;
- Fixed rates apply to / from the Airport and are displayed at the taxi counter at the airport. When you’re at the airport, go to the counter, buy a coupon for your destination and hand it to the driver at the taxi rank outside. On the way back from the same spot, the fare should be the same. Uber works here too.
- Normal taxis carry up to 4 adults and bigger taxis are licensed for 7 passengers.
- In normal taxis, surprise surcharges to and from airports and resort hotels may apply and from midnight to 6am, technically, a 50% surcharge applies to all fares – but 50% of what? Made up fares? Surcharges are the one directive taxi drivers do follow.
The prices below are copied from taxi counter at the Airport’s Terminal 1 and Terminal 2 – last sighted on 7 April 2016, but can change without notice.
Zone 1 @ RM25
Prince Philip’s Park, Tg. Aru Beach, KK Yacht Club, Tg. Aru Town, Sembulan Town
Zone 2 @ RM30
Kota Kinabalu town, Winner Hotel, Jesselton Hotel, Sutera Harbour, Api Api Centre, Asia City, Centre Point, Karamunsing, Jesselton Point Ferry Terminal, HSBC Bank, Taman Fortuna, Sabah Muzium, Colonade Condo
Zone 3 @ RM35
Likas Sport Complex, Signal Hill, Putatan Town, Likas Square, Taman Hilltop, Damai Centre, Lintas Ssquare, Foh Sang
Zone 4 @ RM40
Beverly Hill Apartments, Pekan Donggongon, Bukit Padang, Sabah Golf & Country Club, Inanam Town, Yayasan Sabah, Sabah Medical Clinic, King Fisher Park, Kolombong
Zone 5 @ RM45
Menggatal, University Malaysia
Zone 6 @ RM50
Pekan Kinarut, Kinarut Beach Resort
Zone 7 @ RM55
Telipok, Putera Jaya, Bukit Setia
Zone 8 @ RM60
Sepanggar Bay, ILP, Telipok Jaya
Prices sighted at the airport on 7 April 2016
Kota Kinabalu’s minibuses might not be reliable or have a schedule, but once you get familiar with the public transportation system, you will discover a quick, very cheap and relatively easy way to get around the city.
Short Distance Mini Buses
These are either the mini-van type buses or the slightly bigger mini buses, which are all white on top with a coloured bottom. The destination is displayed on the side of the bus, but do ask the (mostly) friendly bus driver if he’s going your way.
The collective Bus Terminal next to Wawasan Plaza has been under renovation for several years, so currently buses to different destinations are spread out around the city.
In front of the Marina Court / Promenade Hotel / Oceanus Waterfront Mall you will find orange and red bottomed buses going to Damai, Beverly Hills, Donggongon, Sutera Harbour, Tanjung Aru (past Airport Terminal 2) and those going out Putatan way (past the Airport Terminal 1).
On the other side of the city along the hill (near Bandaraya, back of Asia City) you will find mostly blue and a few purple bottomed busses going to Likas Stadium, Likas, Kolombong, Inanam, Menggatal, King Fisher, Sepangar and beyond.
Buses run on straight-line routes with Kota Kinabalu (A) being the hub. So getting in and out of Kota Kinabalu is easy along an A to B, A to C, A to D system. The hassle comes when you try to get from B to C or C to D as there are no real cross-routes.
Buses leaving from a start / end point usually wait until they’re full or near full before leaving. It stops along the route when a button usually fixed to the ceiling rings a bell, or somebody on the road flags them down. There are a few actual bus stops, but really any convenient (or not so) place along the road.
Charges vary from a minimum 80c for a short distance up to just RM4 for surprisingly long distances.
Most buses are not air-conditioned although some of the newer minibuses do use aircon on occasion.
Longer Distance Buses
The mini buses are good and well for getting around the greater Kota Kinabalu. If you want to go further afield out to Beaufort, Kinabalu Park, Kota Belut or Kudat, you need to go to 1 of 2 other spots.
Near DBKK / Sabah High Court in the centre of Kota Kinabalu, you will find a small bus terminal, sometimes called the Southern Bus Terminal from where big, long-distance buses depart to Beaufort, Menumbok, Lawas, Sipitang and even Brunei and Kuching, all of which are to the south of Kota Kinabalu.
Prices vary depending on the route, but is pretty reasonable. A ticket to Beaufort, for instance, is around RM12 (2015).
For most other destinations, and they tend to all be towards the north of KK on Sabah’s west coast, you will go to the bus terminal on the other side of DBKK along the hill near the town field called Padang Merdeka.
Here you can catch a mini van, long-distance taxi, or bus to destinations such a Kinabalu Park, Ranau, Kota Marudu, Kudat, Lahad Datu and the like.
The bigger buses run on a set schedule, and you can buy tickets and ride in air-conditioned comfort.
The mini vans operate on the depart-when-full principle, so for those it’s best to arrive early in the morning to ensure a better chance of an on-time departure. Buses to Mt. Kinabalu are popular and cheap, so arrive as early as 5:30am. The minibuses are usually not air-conditioned and charge a small, additional fee for big backpacks.
There are also long distance cars or MPV taxis, that also operate on the depart-when-full basis. They’re a bit more expensive, but require less people and are air-conditioned. The taxi is a set price, which is divided by however many passengers are on-board.
Long Distance Buses
Lastly, if you’re heading to Sabah’s east coast for Sepilok, Sandakan, Tawau and Semporna, you need to head out to the Inanam Long Distance Bus Terminal (you can use one of the blue-bottomed, short distance mini buses to Inanam or Menggatal, or a normal taxi for ±RM40 to get there – beware rush hour, for the already congested route is littered with construction work).
From this terminal you will find a regular schedule of big buses departing for the east coast. It’s best to book your ticket in advance if your schedule is do-or-die, otherwise arrive well before the bus departs, as seats are assigned and it’s quite a busy route. It’s adjacent to a shop lot cluster that features some decent local restaurants for a coffee or snack and to while away the time if you’re there very early.
A one-way journey to Sepilok / Sandakan is around RM45 (2015) per person and takes about 6 hours. Road, traffic and weather conditions can affect journey time.
The buses are air-conditioned, relatively comfortable and some have toilets on board. They do not serve food or drink on the bus, but do stop about halfway for refreshments at rustic rest-stops, which are more often used than cleaned.