Kota Kinabalu is the capital of the state of Sabah on Borneo. With an estimated population of 532,129 in the city and 700,000 in the urban area, it is the largest urban centre in Sabah and the sixth largest in Malaysia. It is located close to Mount Kinabalu, the highest mountain in South-East Asia.
Cherating is the only real backpacker hub at the east coast of the peninsula on the mainland. Offering plenty of affordable chalets and a relaxed atmosphere, it is good place to stop for a night or two on the way up or down the east coast. The beach itself is not that spectacular and misses the palm directly at the beach. But it has a good vibe and few things you can do like taking a tour or renting a kayak up the river into the mangroves. There is also an active surfer scene when the waves are right. Cherating is located about 30km or 1h by local bus north of Kuantan.
Johor Bahru is the state capital of the state of Johor and the second largest metropolitan area in Malaysia. Most tourists don't stop here and just pass through the city on their way to or out of Singapore. JB is a major local transportation hub however. Since it is just across the causeway from Singapore, some travellers use it as a hub to visit Singapore from here (lower accommodation prices) or to board the train, bus or airplane.