SABAH - The Land Below the Wind
Updated: Feb 27
In year 2006, my application to further my study in university was accepted and I was assigned to University of Malaysia Sabah in Kota Kinabalu, a city in my own country that sound familiar yet stranger. Many myth surrounding this small town boy who is fascinated by this state which is located in Borneo, the third largest island of the world which has world's oldest rainforest and Golden Triangle of Coral. The 3 years in this state is the happiness days of my life. And here I am, introducing the must do activities in this wonderful places.
View from the top of Mount Kinabalu, the highest peak in Southeast Asia
Similar but different
“Kopivosian means Hello in local Sabahan language”
Sabah, although is part of Malaysia, yet it is unique in term of the culture and languages used. Although Bahasa Malaysia is the official language of the state and is widely spoken, but it is different here because of its unique accent that always ends with a -ba such as Boleh ba kalua kau meaning, it is ok just for you.
Apart from this, unlike Peninsular Malaysia where the Malays are the majority, Sabah is made up of up to 40 different ethnic groups with their own unique culture such as the Kadazandusun, Bajau and Murut. #culture
However, over here, the locals never identified themselves as Kadazandusun or Bajau. Instead they proudly call themselves SABAHAN. Over here, all the races are equal regardless of their ethnic groups which is something hardly be seen in Peninsular Malaysia where we still prefer to group ourselves as Malay, Chinese or Indian.
Must Do in Sabah
To fully immerse in the local culture, it is recommended to spend at least 2 weeks to explore the hidden beauty of Sabah. Below is the itinerary for 2 weeks. #itinerary
Before that, let's have some quick tips about SURVIVING THE FUN in Sabah
Generally all telcos have good coverage. However, Celcom and Digi have the best coverage in the remote area.
Winds in Sabah are strong because it is located just below the typhoon belt near the Philippines.
The number of illegal immigrants from nearby countries have made Sabah their safe haven. Most of the time, they are harmless people but to prevent unwanted attention, do not show off your wealth
Bring along natural insect repellent such as lemongrass mosquito patch if you plan to venture into the jungles
Most of the time, the weather in coastal city is the opposite of that in the mountain. For example, if it is sunny in Kota Kinabalu, most likely it is going to be rainy at Kundasang (foot of Mount Kinabalu), so plan your trip accordingly
It is recommended to rent a car with cc of above 1300. Roads in Sabah are generally in good condition. But be careful when driving in the stretch of Ranau-Kota Kinabalu because it is mountainous and foggy. Be careful
March to October often is the best time to visit Sabah because of its favorable weather. Besides that, major local festivals such as Regatta Leppa Semporna (April) and the Pesta Kaamatan (Harvest Festival - end May) will be celebrated during this period as well. #festival
Entrance fees to marine park and national park under the government vary for locals and foreigners. And the differenes is significant.
1st Stop - Semporna, Sipadan/Mabul/Kapalai Island
“The sea, once it casts its spells, holds one in its net of wonder forever” - Jacques Yves Cousteau
Home to one of the most beautiful underwater world, welcome to the town of Semporna, the gateway to world renowned diving destination. If you are here in April, don't miss out on one of Sabah's major festival, the annual Regatta Leppa. #sipadan
Enjoy the world famous Barracuda Tornado or mingle with the local Bajau Laut community in their stilt house built on the sea.
Total day :3-4 days
2nd Stop - Kinabatangan
Hop onto local buses bound to Sandakan and drop off at Kinabatangan town to start your next adventure on the second longest river in Malaysia, the Kinabatangan River. Here, you may enjoy various river wildlifes such as Orang Utan, Proboscis Monkey, Crocodile and Borneo Pygmy Elephant. #river #wildlife #kinabatangan
Stay in one of the numerous local resorts that offer river excursion and night safari. Wake up early in the morning to see huge crocodiles sunbathing and local monkey species looking for food. In the evening, cruise down this majestic river and enjoy the beautiful sunset. Don't miss out on the night safari. Imagine being surrounded by the beautiful voices of animals in the middle of world oldest rainforest in the middle of the night.
Total day: 2-3 days
Stop no 3 - Sandakan
A town also known as little Hong Kong, Sandakan is the second largest town in Sabah. Here, you can indulge yourself with cheap seafood. A visit to Sepilok Orang Utan santuary is also must here. Orphaned Orang Utan are rescued and sent here to be rehabilitated, so they can be released back into the wild in the future. If you have time to spare, drop by to Gomatong cave where if you are lucky, you may witness how the locals harvesting bird nest using bamboo, rattan and rope stilt. #sepilok #orangutan
Visits to Rainforest Discovery Center, Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Center, Sim Sim water village and Puu Ji Shih Temple will complete your trip here.
Total day: 2-3 days
Stop no.4 - Kundasang
Kundasang is my favorite place in Sabah and also the heartland of main ethnic group of Sabah, the Kadazandusun. At almost 1900m above sea level, it is the highest settlement in Malaysia. Climb the highest mountain in Southeast Asia, the majestic Mount Kinabalu via 2 trails (Timpohon and Mesilau - closed since the 2015 earthquake). I would personally recommend you to climb via Mesilau trail as the scenery there is much more beautiful where you can across many gigantic pitcher plants. If you are staying in Kinabalu Park, you can enjoy multiple hiking trails available within the park itself. #kinabalu #kundasang
After the exhausting climb to the peak, rejuvenate yourself at Poring Hot Spring. If you are lucky enough, on the way to Poring, you may come across sign boards along the route stating, Rafflesia is blooming. Rafflesia is the world's largest flower with diameter up to 1.1m. As this flowers are blooming on private land, you will need to pay entrance fees to the local. It will be advantages if you could speak local Sabahan dialect. #flower #hotspring #rafflesia
Remember to visit the butterfly park, waterfall and canopy walk (175m long and 40m high). Once you are done, proceed to Sabah Tea Plantation to have a cup of tea. Next up is Desa Cow Farm (aka Little New Zealand). For history lover, you may drop by Kundasang War Memorial. End your trip here by visiting the local market located in the center of the town to buy some fresh vegetables, fruits, flowers as well as local products such as pure forest honey, dry strawberry and red durian.
Total day: 3-5 days
Stop no.5 - Kota Belud/Kudat
The heartland for another local ethnic, the Land Bajau. You can come here directly from Kundasang or from Kota Kinabalu. First, make you way up to Tip of Borneo, the northernmost point of Borneo Island where South China Sea and Sulu Sea meet. Gentle warning, the wind here is strong. Beware of your hat from flying away. #sea #tipofborneo
Stay a night in the traditional long house where at night, you can participate in the local dance such as Magunatip aka floating bamboo dance. Be careful and don't get your leg stuck in between the fast moving bamboo poles. End your night with local dinner and tapai (local rice wine). #longhouse
On the way back to Kota Kinabalu, you will pass by Gong making village, Bead making village and Bee Farming village. If you have time to spare, why not dropping by and have a look on how local products are manufactured by family based village industry.
Total day: 2 days
Final stop: Kota Kinabalu
Kota Kinabalu is the capital city of Sabah. This is where you could board your flight to next destination. However, the city itself have numerous attraction such as Filipino Market, Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, Floating mosque, University Malaysia Sabah (my alma-mater), Mari Mari cultural village, Lok Kawi Zoo, Kota Kinabalu wetland and Signal Hill observatory where you can see the sunset. #kotakinabalu
And oh ya, if you happen to be in town on Sunday, please visit the local Tamu (market). The most happening Tamu will be held every Sunday at Gaya Street in the middle of the city. Experience shopping the local way.
If you have time left, let's get yourself wet by doing white water rafting at the nearby Kiulu or Padas River. I would recommend Padas River as it is more challenging and it is where you can take the only train in whole Borneo Island and the most 'primitive' train in Malaysia. #whitewater #rafting
If time is not a limit, i would like to recommend the following places in Sabah as well.
Kuala Penyu - Gateway to Pulau Tiga, the Survivor Island
Maliau Basin - The lost world of Sabah
Danum Valley Conservation Area
Respect the locals
While in general local Sabahans are tolerant, certain behaviours such as naked dancing in local's sacred places such for example, Mt Kinabalu or inappropriate dressing in the mosque or getting drunk in the middle of the street is off limit.
“A nation's culture resides in the hearts and the souls of its people - Mahatma Ghandi.”
As per Mahatma Ghandi, please respect the locals as we are just visitors to their home. I hope you will enjoy travelling in this land. Should you have any question, feel free to contact me. Tumoodo no