Kota Kinabalu is the state capital of Sabah. Referred as KK by locals; this city is also home to the ever famous Mount Kinabalu, the 3rd highest peak in Southeast Asia. This modern city offers tourists’ with world class accommodation options. One thing about KK is that it is extremely well connected in terms of transportation. Travelling out of and within the city is made easier with the availability of taxis, buses, trains, rental cars, e-hailing and also flight services. KK also poses as one of the best food hubs in Sabah especially seafood due to its location near the South China Sea. Tourists’ can also indulge in various activities like heading to Tanjung Aru beach to see captivating sunsets, visit the Mari Mari Village and Atkinson Clock Tower, or if you’re into hiking, then you can hike up Mount Kinabalu.
Distance - 451km from Tawau
Car: via Jalan Tawau, Keningau (7 hours 40 minutes with average traffic)
Bus: Salam Bumimas Express (10 hours 43 minutes starting RM60)
The Atkinson Clock Tower is one of the main landmarks of Kota Kinabalu and dates back to 1902. It was built in honour of the former district officer Francis George Atkinson during the colonial period in Southeast Asia. Even after his passing in 1902, the tower still stands in memory of his contribution to the founding of Kota Kinabalu. To get to the tower you need to walk up a scenic hill which is located off Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman and which gives you scenic views over the rest of the city. Walking up the hill wouldn’t be a walk in the park, but trust us you’ll lose your breath when you take in the view it has to offer when you reach the top.
Klias River is over an hour and a half away from the city of KK. It resides and flows through the Klias Wetland Mangrove Forest Reserve. If you head here, you will be able to take up the cruise that goes on the Klias River and absorb the natural environment around you by seeing the variety of animals that come to the river to bathe and relieve their thirst. From the viewpoint on the cruise, one particular animal to look out for is the species of Proboscis Monkeys native to the land, and you will be able to enjoy the fireflies that appear in the soft light of the afternoon.
Mount Kinabalu, the most famous attraction in Sabah encompasses rich ecosystems that make you want to experience it in person. The mountain is believed to be sacred by the locals and is located on a range named Crocker Range that stands at about 13000 feet above sea level. The UNESCO World Heritage Site sits snugly right in the centre of Mount Kinabalu's National Park, where the starting point leads up to the summit. You can trek up to the tip of the mountain to reward yourself with a view that definitely will not disappoint. Several routes are available but you will have to sleep overnight if you want to catch the breathtaking sunrise at the top.
There are miles after miles of beautiful sarongs and pareos here that will make you dizzy with choices. They’re ideally a must for a tropical holiday in Sabah! A great experience at the Handicraft Market is the fact that you’ll always be amazed at the treasures you might discover throughout your visit. Many visitors have gone home with authentic local crafts along with the sparkly wonderful line of pearl pieces of jewellery and handicrafts. An important tip to remember is to BARGAIN when you’re at the market! Get used to some of the local lingos and improve your skills, you’ll possibly bag up something great!
Hop on the steam engine train that is just like those of the 1900s and enjoy the views of paddy fields, traditional villages and the relaxing buffaloes throughout the journey. Aboard the train, passengers are served Tiffin-style breakfast and lunch, making up of Asian and Continental cuisines. There are two weekly departure trips on Wednesday and Saturday and make sure to make a booking at least one day earlier before the departures.
On the East side of Sabah, lies a strategically placed Lahad Datu. It sits between Tawau and Sandakan and can be accessed by roads from major cities, including Kota Kinabalu.
If you’re visiting Tungog Rainforest Eco Camp, the Borneo Rainforest will captivate you with its beauty and grandeur. There’s a secretive lifestyle of the region's natives not known to many people and you can stay in observation platforms to watch and understand their local lifestyle. The rainforest has a restoration project which aims to generate zero waste, optimise conservation and utilisation of water. Visitors are encouraged to help out financially or physically. It is heaven for outdoor lovers because of the marshes, terrain and the cluster of trees to explore. Otherwise, feel free to rest and relax.
Mabul Island is a small yet well-known island nearby another famous Island, Sipadan, located off the South Eastern Coast of Malaysia. This island is especially popular for sea sports enthusiasts because of its diving site. The area is home to marine life big, small, and exotic. It’s also in high ranks in the Indian Ocean for stops to view the many species, including cuttlefish, the bobtail squids, as well as the blue-ringed and mimic octopuses. Resorts are also available on the island, six which are all-inclusive.
The eastern part of Sabah is where the largest wildlife reserve in the country is located. It was formed to save the animals that lived in the area, particularly those that were highly endangered. The largest mammals in Sabah, along with three cat species and nine primates, can all be found here. Interestingly, four bird families containing more than 300 species have also been recorded, placing the reserve on the 'Important Bird Area' list (IBA: MY027). Tabin's active and mineral-rich mud volcanoes are the main reason for attracting regular visits to wildlife and therefore making it a perfect location for bird watching and bird watching.
Sungai Kapur is a wetland nestled in the North-East of Tabin Wildlife Reserve, the only remaining sanctuary for the Malaysian Rhinoceros. This wetland is shrouded in an old-age mangrove forest and jungles that separate the Eastern rainforest of Sabah and the Sulu Sea. Exploring the river is safe with locals due to their expertise and knowledge of the area. They work closely with the local authorities to ensure safety measures and reinforcement of the area’s securities are met.
Mount Silam is the highest point in Lahad Datu and atop it, a structure towers over the Sapagaya Forest Reserve (Protection Forest Reserve). Built and launched in April of 2012, the tower is 30 meters high, situated at the top of Mount Silam at 884 meters above sea level. The outlook from this spot gives visitors a picturesque view to Darvel Bay Islands and the town. Nature lovers would be pleased to find that this platform offers a great view over the forest and the birds soaring over the trees. The complex has already attracted locals and foreigners alike to the compound due to the nature trails, camping grounds, and guest houses encompassed in it as well.
The green-blue bay of Sandakan is often scattered with fish trawlers and far isles. It is easy to picture how amazing this town was during the colonial period, filled with foreign groups of traders and voyagers. Today, Sandakan is buzzing with life with the focus of the palm oil industry.
Distance: 319km from Tawau
Car - (5 hours 29 minutes)
Bus - (6 hours)
Fly - (1 hour 20 minutes)
Located 40km north of Sandakan in the Sulu Sea, lies the Turtle Island Park comprising three small islands and Selingan Island is the main attraction for tourists. Species of endangered turtles find it a haven to come up and lay their eggs. Hatcheries and conservation are done on all three islands so visitors can learn about the activities are done. Apart from the turtles, the blue sea and coral reefs are not excluded from being an attraction on the island. They’re perfect for water activities like snorkelling, scuba diving or just swimming.
Note: The peak seasons range around July to October, suitable for the egg-laying turtles, however, seas can become a bit rough from October up to February.
The caves would make you feel like you’re walking in a magical realm as you walk through the chambers. Rays of sunlight flitting in the ceilings and natural dwellers settle into the walls and floors. Make sure you’re wearing proper shoes and a hat due to the excrements of the hosts, the birds and bats. Simud Hitam (Black Cave) is the only cave that is allowed to accept visitors. There are raised boardwalks going around the chamber, where you will see other inhabitants such as giant centipedes, scorpions and freshwater cave crabs. After 6 pm is when you can see millions of bats fly out in search of food.
Sandakan Memorial Park is a major site of death for thousands of Japanese military prisoners during the invasion of the land. The park is identified with well-maintained signs alongside the surrounding landscape. There is also a mini-museum capable of captivating any historical events enthusiasts. It is used to remember the lost lives of the Australians and the British against the Japanese during the Second World War. The memory of the war is accentuated by the ruins that remain unmoved from the steps to the Commemorative Pavilion.
One of the oldest buildings in Sandakan happens to be built in 1887. Despite not being especially large, the Sam Sing Kung Temple has a beautiful ornate stonework exterior surrounding it. In addition to that, it also has a stunning interior, making it one of the prettiest Taoist temples around. Within the chamber lies the altar which is fully decked out with the burnt incense, you will see the culture of the Chinese community by coming to this spot.
One of the lesser talked about structures is the Sandakan Fountain. People may not deem the fountain as a well-known attraction, but it carries huge importance to the city’s history as well as the country. It signifies the day which Sabah was officially declared independent from the colonial grip of the British as well as formed a union with Malaya and Sarawak to become Malaysia on the 16th September 1963.
An island called Semporna exists on the coasts of the South Eastern part of Sabah. The name is a Malay translation of ‘perfection’, which can perfectly describe the city because of the cluster of beautiful islands surrounding it. With the sandy beaches, beautiful blue waters, it is no wonder that visitors choose here for their diving getaways. You can find some of the best spots to dive since Semporna is just breathtaking with its beauty.
Distance: 106km from Tawau
Car: (1 hour 41 minutes)
Bus: (1 hour 30 minutes)
Malaysia has its fair share of islands, but Sipadan island is the only one formed through the growth of coral reefs atop an extinct volcano! About 600 metres from the seabed, the island sits on the East coast of Malaysian Borneo, nearing the borders to the Philippines and Indonesia. With hundreds of species of fish and corals inhabiting the area, it has become one of the richest marine habitat centres around. In 2004, Sipadan Island was announced to become a marine park in order to preserve its beautiful nature, which welcomes other animal lives such as the turtles, fruit bats and even monitor lizards.
Within Tun Sakaran’s Marine Park archipelago, Bohey Dulang is the second largest of the group of islands, and is only 23 km away from Semporna. It offers paths for hikers and bird watchers alike, and at the peak’s height of 353m, provides remarkable sight over the island’s 313 hectares of land. The islands surrounded a lagoon that was formed due to an old volcanic crater, where a long range of coral reefs reside at the side. You will be pleasantly surprised by the waterfalls cascading the small rocks on the eastern side of the island.
Another island, Pom Pom, a conservation organisation has been set up called Tropical Research and Conservation Centre (TRACC) which works with volunteer divers to ensure the protection of marine life. Their jobs are to stay a few months while replanting coral reefs and making sure the lives of sharks and turtles are taken care of. Staying here means that they will stay in tents set near the beach, and the purpose is to work with scientists and marine biologists. Visitors can also help out with this conservation movement by visiting TRACC, and be part of the team to help out.
Nature lovers will definitely love the visit to the Tun Sakaran Marine Park as it provides visitors with a mixture of both nature and marine biodiversity. The archipelago is a huge 35000 hectares of area and is holiday heaven for those who are ready to dive, snorkel, hike or even seek out the cultures around. You can encounter the Bajau Laut people known as Sea Gypsies and explore around the beautiful park. They have a special communal lifestyle to live side by side with the waters. Building houses on stilts over reefs or just live in houseboats, a skill harnessed over years of living by the sea. This particular bond with nature would attract any curious visitors.
Bukit Tengkorak literally translates into the Skull Hill, an archaeological site can be found on it. Archaeologists have uncovered skulls which led to giving the hill’s name. There is a rock shelter about 2 km in diameter, similar to a small cave, made from being near to the volcano site and is part of its mouth. Remains and evidence of pottery shards scatter the hill slopes and some can be traced to 3000 years earlier. Discovery of these artefacts have brought a conclusion that there was also consistent longe-ranged trading in that era. Nowadays, pottery making can still be seen practised by the natives of Semporna, the Bajau people.