Yesterday I visited the most beautiful sunrise in the world. Yes, I said it. And I stand by my claim. It was at the Masjid Bandaraya, more commonly known as Kota Kinabalu City Mosque.
Sunrise at City Mosque: One of the Best Things to do in Kota Kinabalu
Kota Kinabalu is the capital of the state of Sabah on Malaysian Borneo, a predominantly Muslim region. Gorgeous mosques of modern and ancient architecture, white walls, and beautifully decorated domes dot the land between creeping vegetation from the vast Sabah rainforest and it’s white, sandy beaches.
Though not Muslim, I do consider myself a student of world religions and love to visit such displays of culture and art when traveling. We’ve seen the whole array of Buddhist temples while in Asia the past 8 months, and I’ve been excited for something different. I knew the famous City Mosque (or Floating Mosque) had to be on my list of things to do in Kota Kinabalu.
City Mosque is not the largest, or main, mosque in KK. It’s the second behind the Sabah State Mosque, but far more famous due to one striking feature: A wide moat separating the decorative front half of the mosque from the busy street and beach beyond. The moat is commonly referred to as a lake and makes the mosque appear to float, hence the nicknames “Lake Mosque” and “Floating Mosque”.
The best time to visit City Mosque is just before 6:00 a.m. (or generally 30-40 minutes before sunrise at any time of year). Why would a mosque be worth waking up before dawn to someone who isn’t Muslim? Simple: The sunrise.
Borneo sunrises and sunsets are famous around the world for their vivid colors and intricate cloud patterns. It’s literally the only place we’ve visited where people advertise the best sunrise and sunset views! The top sunrise spot we’ve heard of is at KK City Mosque, because the sun rises from behind the mosque, illuminating the sky above it and reflecting onto the surrounding lake.
Sunrise at Kota Kinabalu City Mosque
I woke up around 5:00 a.m., bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, thanks to my good friend Jetlag on our second day in Sabah. Instead of lazing in bed for the next two hours I immediately knew what to do in Kota Kinabalu at that hour: watch the sunrise at Floating Mosque.
Camera in hand and lightweight, modest clothing on, I summoned a Grab (Asian Uber) to take me on my adventure.
I arrived at City Mosque well before sunrise, which gave me plenty of time to find the best sunrise photography spot. Only one other early shutter bug was at the site, and I knew he’d chosen the wrong spot. A quick walk around the parking lot and then onto the wide grassy strip between lake and road gave me exactly what I needed. I love showing up early to scout photography locations!
I snapped a few night pics from my designated angles then laid in wait at my preferred spot- directly in front of the mosque- for the first streaks of sunrise.
I’m far from professional, but here’s my note to other amateur photographers: Snap away during sunrise and sunset, as the camera interprets light and color differently than the human eye. My naked eye saw the sky gradually get lighter with faint color during sunrise, but the pictures from my camera showed dimension, color, and intricacy I wasn’t able to pick up on.
For the record, I left my camera on the auto Sunset setting, because I’m using a Sony a6000 and it’s auto functions are smarter than me.
How to see Kota Kinabalu City Mosque at Sunrise:
- Find “Masjid Bandaraya” in your Grab app to call a driver
- Drive to Jalan Pasir, Jalan Teluk Likas, Kampung Likas, 88400 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah on your own
- People will be milling about as sunrise is just after the first call to prayer
- There is a guard station at the entrance of the parking lot, but you are allowed to enter and walk around with no problem
- You are allowed to enter the mosque before or after your sunrise photography session, but you’ll need to register with a guard waiting at the mosque and be fitted with traditional clothing
- Please be respectful of the Islamic religion by wearing modest clothing which covers shoulders and knees (preferably down to wrists and ankles)
- You can access the spots I photographed by walking the wide, grassy lawn on the left side of the mosque
- Do not try to swim or play in the lake while visiting!
- You can bring a tripod if you’d like, but there is a stone fence between the lake and the lawn which you can easily rest your camera upon. I did, and was very happy with the stability I was able to achieve!