Heritage Walk 101

Words by Yeo Li-Sha
Photos by Yeong Hui Min & Yeo Li-Sha

Kota Kinabalu (KK) as the capital city of Sabah is attracting an increasing number of tourists, of those include 14 travelers from School of Arts and Social Sciences of Monash University Malaysia. Upon arrival, the thirteenth installment of the ‘In Search Of’ series commenced with a 3-hour heritage walk around KK town with the founder of KK Heritage Walk, Grace Leong. 

Grace has undertaken several various professions such as a travel clerk, an accomplished salesperson for an international corporation, Rank Xerox Ltd and even a branch manager for a local company called Mulpha. Despite the numerous work experiences obtained, she finally ventured into her dream job as a professional tourist guide. She had attained her touring license in October 1989 and had been working as a professional tourist guide ever since.

The tour began with Grace handing out booklets of notable information that provided an extensive insight of the city. After that she started off with an interesting historical background of Kota Kinabalu. Boasting a population of 3.4 million that comprises 42 main ethnic groups and 200 sub-ethnic groups, Sabah was once nicknamed the “Land Below the Wind” 500 years ago when the Bajaus, who were seafarers from the southern part of the Philippines, seek shelter from typhoons and decided to eventually settle down in Sabah. This presence lead to the formation of Kampung Air –  a ‘water village’ with houses built above water.

A few of the places visited throughout this heritage walk included:

  1. Padang Merdeka (Independence Field)

Padang Merdeka is located in the city centre of KK and it is the exact location where the formation of Malaysia on 16th September 1963 was declared. It was originally named Recreation Field that was set aside for the British’s recreation purposes. On 8th August 1901, it held its first football match. Moreover the architecture building consists of several multicultural meanings; such examples included the rooftop with a crisscross at the top that represents the Bajau tribe, used to ward off evil spirits and the front pillars represent the 3rd largest native group, the Muruts – the designs on the pillars are seen as a representation of their signature tattoos.


  1. Atkinson Clock Tower

The Atkinson Clock Tower is the only wooden clock tower constructed in the whole of Malaysia. Completed in 1905, it is also the only structure left standing out of four others after the Second World War. It was built in remembrance of the First District Officer, Mr Francis George Atkinson. He was a well-liked officer among the people who unfortunately passed away on 6th December 1902 due to Borneo fever (malaria). The clock tower served the purpose of a lighthouse for the seamen back then.


3. Atkinson Clock Tower

  1. Australia Place
    1. Museum Kopitiam

The name Kopitiam (Chinese for coffee shop) serves as a reminder of World War II, in particular the Australian Liberation Forces in 1945. The 2-floor building now serves as a rest house for backpackers, with a coffee shop on the ground floor. The coffee shop is unique for their old-fashioned charcoal-toasted bread and also ANZAC (Australian New Zealand Army Corps) biscuits. Museum Kopitiam has recently closed and another cafe has set up shop there.


4. Museum Kopitiam

2. Kota Kinabalu Community Centre

The Kota Kinabalu Community Centre was built in 1958 and was later renamed Independence Building. This building is not to be removed because all the records of COBBLOD were stored in it, hence the building is preserved for remembrance of Sabah’s history.


  1. Yuit Cheong

This coffee shop originally operated on Gaya Island, but was burned down as part of Mat Salleh’s dispute with the British. Hence, the owner of Yuit Cheong shifted its business to Jesselton along with other British settlements. The shop not only serves scrumptious kaya and butter toasts but also kitchai ping (fresh lime juice) that quenches the thirst. One interesting fact about the shop is that although the owner is of Chinese descent, the Malay neighbours share the same shop without any dispute regarding halal issues. In the morning, the Chinese hawkers would sell their pork fried noodles as well as Javanese food which is halal. In the afternoon, there will be a stall selling satays by the Muslims. The ability to share the same coffee shop despite the interest in food (halal or not) is a display of distinct cultures being able to live harmoniously together.

5. Original Board

  1. Malaysia Monument

On September 1963, the Malaysia Monument was built to commemorate the independence of Sabah joining the Federation of Malaysia. It is located next to the City Council building that was originally built in 1902 as the Jesselton Sanitaty Board under Mr Francis George Atkinson to oversee the administration of the town. 


6.Malaysia Monument


  1. North Borneo War Memorial

There are three war memorials used to commemorate the brave ones who lost their lives during the war. On 8th May 1923, the first memorial was unveiled for the 13 soldiers out of the 79 from North Borneo enlisted in the British Forces during World War I. The second memorial was to commemorate members of the Australian Armed Forces (1939-1945) who passed away during World War II. Additionally, the third memorial was engraved behind the second plaque in remembrance for the Malaysian Armed Forces who fought during the Indonesian Confrontation from 1963-1966. Previously located at the centre of Gaya Street, the memorial now can be found in front of the City Council building.


7. North Borneo War Memorial

One word to describe the whole heritage walk would be overwhelming, because our tour guide was very informative and provided a very in-depth explanation of the whole history of Sabah that are not necessarily included in textbooks along with a full tour of the heritage sites.

Hot chocolate with marshmallows, waffles and dance feeds that fiery determination to achieve greatness in Li-Sha. Greatness in puns and pranks that lights up the room.


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