My Yellow Suitcase

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Sabah State Museum – KOTA KINABALU

I took the initiative to travel to Kota Kinabalu as part of our Brunei trip itinerary last year. There are several ways to reach KK from Brunei depending on your personal preferences.  Like what I have discussed in my previous blog, we crossed the border from Serasa Ferry Terminal in Muara Brunei to Jesselton Point in Kota Kinabalu.  We opted to take the ferry because it’s cheap and had the most convenient time for our short trip. Plus we get to see Labuan!


At Jesselton Point


Our guide was not yet around when we reached Jesselton Point Terminal. Apparently, we came earlier than the scheduled meet up time.  So we took that as an opportunity to explore the area and take a lot of photos 🙂 . We spend some time walking around the main square and soak it all in, it felt like we were transported back in time when the Brits still reigns.  Their influence in the architecture, people’s way of life, even on food is still very much evident.  

Having been conserved and kept from urban development the island retains its rustic beauty and simplicity of the past era. I am amazed at how the lush greenery that surrounds the island and the inviting blue water of the sea creates a perfect balance.  It evoked an idyllic feeling – a sense of serenity and a breath of fresh air.  What a way to relax and enjoy the simple pleasures of life eh?  And since Kota Kinabalu is recognized as an island paradise by nature lovers. There’s a big tourist trade running people out to the many islands for snorkeling, scuba diving, island hopping, trekking, and even mountain climbing. But we simply don’t have that much time for that.


Inviting blue water of the sea surrounded by lush greenery (photo:Sabah tourism)


Outdoor restaurant which usually get busy at night

Soon enough our guide came, just in time to keep our enthusiasm and anticipation on fire! We are so excited to tick off the items on our bucket list and nothing can stop us from doing so.  First on the  list – Sabah State Museum. 

The Sabah State Museum is manage and run by the Government of Sabah. It is perched magnificently on top of a hill located at Bukit Istana Lama (Old Place Hill) which used to be the residence of British North Borneo’s governor in 1984. If you want to be acquainted with facts about Sabah’s history, its culture and heritage  without having to go on a different location, then this is the place you should visit.

sabah state museum

Sabah State Museum

The building is designed to depict diverse ethnic groups living in harmony together. Inside are various Galleries such as the Science and Technology Center, the Heritage Village, Ethno-Botanical Garden and the Sabah Islamic Civilization Museum.


This man-made falls will greet you as you enter the complex

As we walked through the complex, I’ve noticed a strange scents emanating from the grounds. Later I’ve learned that the smell was coming from the plants exhibited in the Museum’s ethno-botanical garden. The garden consists of local medicinal, ritual, commercial, ornamental and food plants. 

It’s so fascinating to know how these plants have played an important role in the lives of the people back then.  Imagine Sabah prior to economic boom, maybe back in 1900’s where life is much simpler, when there were more trees than buildings, when there was no advancement in technology yet. Back when the early inhabitants depend mainly on plants for almost about everything – incredible!

Not far from the entrance we saw this old train, canon and vintage cars.  Among them are Vauxhall Velox (1956), Audi (1972), Wolseley (1959), Austin (1960), Ford (1930s – used as a bus) and a Rolls Royce.  I have particularly picked the yellow car because of the color and not of its value haha.  You see, the thing about classic cars is not the style or design but the looks, it’s very unique.  Well, It’s not every day that we come across classic cars, that’s why we were so fascinated by this exhibit. Would really be nice to have one.  LOL 🙂  


Then we saw this really huge wooden basket.  This basket was not only used to carry and transport goods, it was commonly used for selling fruits and vegetables too. We gave it a try, and let me tell you its way too heavy, no wonder women back then were quite short – this might be the culprit!  What do you think?

We also saw this beautiful life-sized model of a sailing boat (perahu layar) from the East Coast of Sabah.  It has a nice intricate motives carved on it. Interestingly, it is quite similar to the boats that can be seen in some parts of Mindanao in the Philippines. 


Huge wooden basket, boat and tools

A few meters down,  we  came across a swaying hanging Bridge.  The bridge itself is small and suspended just a few meters above the lake. It was nothing fancy. This bridge did have more bounce and swing to it than the other swinging bridge which makes it’s a bit scary. Those who really could not tolerate height can walk down the steps to reach the other side of the lake.  But since most of us were scared to cross  and not properly attired for the hilly walk, we decided to turn around and visit the Heritage Village instead.


Hanging bridge

The heritage village is the best area to see and experience the culture and lifestyle of how the indigenous ethnic groups of Borneo used to live in the olden days.  Traditional tribal dwellings have been recreated in the complex and one can just walk around to see how different tribes lived and functioned as a community.


Entrance to the heritage village


Traditional houses


Ceramics, pots and traditional costumes – the exhibit shows Sabah’s early trading system with neighboring countries like China (photo: Sabah Tourism)


Musical instruments, tools and ritual paraphernalia

One of the most interesting exhibit that can be seen here is the history of “Mengayau”, – the headhunters of the olden days. Headhunting was practiced widely in Borneo in the past and it was an integral part of their lives.  It may look horrible and morbid , but that what makes their culture rich and very interesting.  

sabah museum skull

Headhunting exhibit (photo: Sabah Tourism)

A collection of human skull which was hunted by Monsopiad (one of the ancient warrior) can be seen on display in the  recreated traditional “Kadazandusun” houses. The tribe believed that hanging the hunted skulls would bring good fortune – that the more they collect the better their lives would be.  Whew!  It can be a little  scary to live back then, don’t you think? 

While a lot of what we saw was no longer in present times, they serve as an important reminder of where Sabah came from and what life was like then.  Very interesting and it’s well worth a visit!


Admission fees:

  • Malaysian Guests – RM2.00
  • Non-Malaysian Guests – RM15.00

Opening hours:

  • Open daily from 9.00 am to 5.00pm

How to Get Here:

From Kota Kinabalu City Centre:

  • Take Bus No. 13 with fares RM1.00 (one way)
  • Or hire a taxi – Taxi fare: RM10.00 (one way)

I hope you liked this article and if you have any questions, please feel free to ask me as comment below or you can also contact me on my social media page – Facebook  or Instagram as I am constantly updating them regularly.


2 comments on “Sabah State Museum – KOTA KINABALU

  1. Saachi Agarwal
    February 22, 2016

    A very nice article on Sabah State Museum-Kota Kinabalu! Many of your readers who might be thinking about visiting this place will now get a clear picture of the place through your detailed description and attractive photographs. Thanks for sharing it with your readers.


    • Ynah CA
      February 23, 2016

      Thank you Saach! Its a pleasure is mine 🙂


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This entry was posted on January 21, 2016 by in Malaysia and tagged , , , , , .
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