The Gaya Street Sunday Market in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah
By Lara Dunston
FOR many visitors to the state of Sabah on Malaysian Borneo, Kota Kinabalu is the base for seeking out monkeys and marine life in other parts of the island. However, the lush, laidback little city of Kota Kinabalu is also a formidable base for exploring Borneo’s culture and cuisine.
While the night markets are alive with the sounds and smells of chicken grilling and seafood sizzling, the early Sunday morning market on the downtown’s main thoroughfare of Gaya Street offers up a little bit of everything that makes this city worth far more than a stopover before seeking out macaques and morays.
Generally quiet during the week – apart from a few well-regarded traditional Chinese shop-house eateries – the street roars to life on Sunday mornings when vendors selling everything from iPhone cases to fluffy kittens stake their claim.
While surrounding streets are home to ad-hoc markets selling fresh fruit and vegetables, Gaya Street runs the gamut either side of the road. Coffee is grinding with improvised Honda generators, impressive knives and kitchen knick-knacks are being demonstrated by vendors with the polish of a TV chef, while cute kittens and puppies sweat it out in cages as they await a new home.
As tourists haggle over Malaysian-made clothes, jewellery, accessories, and souvenirs, locals jostle for tables at few of the highly fancied local eateries along the strip.
A local shop-house eatery called Yee Fung, specialising in laksa (a famous, spicy Malaysian noodle soup), is extremely popular, as is a collective shop-house food-court style restaurant selling a mix of noodle dishes (a must-do in Malaysia), as well as steamed Chinese buns, and coffees. Spotting a table amongst the rush, we settle in for a feast of spicy noodles, soft buns, and sweet and strong Malaysian coffee.
As the market traffic passes by, locals call in to buy some take-away pastries and coffee to take back home for their own Sunday brunch. For us, the simple setting is reason enough to give the hotel buffet breakfast a miss and enjoy a very special experience in this underrated little city.
If you enjoyed this article and would like to find out more about travelling to Malaysia, please visit the Tourism Malaysia website
About the author…
Australian-born, Dubai-based travel writer Lara Dunston and her photographer husband Terence Carter have been living out of their suitcases since 2006, bouncing around the planet on assignment for publications from National Geographic Traveller in the USA to The Independent in the UK. The couple also have a popular travel blog Grantourismo, where they blog about slow and sustainable travel, local travel, and experiential travel.