Sabah is a true gem of Malaysia, full of natural spaces, wildlife treasures, islands, and friendly people. This state is located on the northern side of the Borneo Island surrounded by the highest mountain of South East Asia like- Mount Kinabalu and most famous diving islands like Layang-Layang and Sipadan. This paradise has become famous for the warm and friendly people besides wide range of attractions and World Heritage Sites.
Sabah is one of the thirteen states which Malaysia is made of. Sabah is the second largest state in Malaysia and shares the island of Borneo with Sarawak, Brunei, and Indonesian Kalimantan.
Sabah is richly blessed with nature diversity, unique cultures, fun adventure, beautiful beaches, and fantastic cuisines for the adventurous taste buds. We have it all, from the world’s largest flower – the Rafflesia, one of the highest mountains is South East Asia – Mount Kinabalu, to one of the world’s top dive sites – Sipadan Island.
Not only will you be amazed by the places to see and things to do here, you will also be treated with unique Sabahan hospitality. Explore the unique culture and tradition of Sabah and get ready to experience sweet memories to last a lifetime!
Equatorial/Tropical—the climate is generally hot and sunny all year round; visitors need to wear comfortable clothing to avoid heatstroke. We also have scattered unpredictable rains, therefore, it’s advisable to always bring an umbrella in case it rains.
Lowlands (Kota Kinabalu, Kudat, Sandakan, Tawau) – 32 degrees Centigrade
Highlands (Ranau, Kundasang, Tambunan) – 21 degrees Centigrade
Bear in mind though, that Mount Kinabalu has its own climate. Temperatures can drop to freezing level above 3500 meters.
Sabah is divided into divisions, a legacy of the British North Borneo days. The divisions are in turn divided into districts. The divisions are:
Kudat Division located in the north of Sabah with Kudat and Kota Marudu as the main towns,
West Coast Division along the west of Sabah where Kota Kinabalu is located,
Interior Division located in the south-west of Sabah, with Keningau and Tenom being its largest towns,
Sandakan Division in the east, with Sandakan town as its largest town, and
Tawau Division in the south-east of Sabah, with Tawau, Lahad Datu and Semporna as its largest towns.
Labuan is a group of offshore islands with federal territory status.
Kota Kinabalu – capital city of Sabah and the largest city in East Malaysia.
Lahad Datu – a town located on the east coast.
Sandakan – a town located in the east of Sabah and was formerly the capital of Sabah prior to WWII.
Semporna – a town located on the east coast, main hopping off points to the dive islands
Tawau – major town located at the southeast corner of the state, entry point from Indonesia
Tenom – main town in the interior of the state
Sipadan – one of the world’s best dive spots with lots of large pelagic species (sea turtles, reef sharks, hammerhead sharks, manta rays).
Layang Layang – an island off the west coast that offers spectacular diving.
Mabul – one of the world’s best muck diving locations
POPULAR TOURIST ATTRACTIONS IN SABAH
Tambunan Rafflesia Center
The Tambunan Rafflesia Center operates as an access point to the Forest Park surrounding it. But the center is equally educational, for those who don’t want to or don’t have the time to explore the park. The world’s largest flower, Rafflesia, is unique to the Rafflesia Forest Reserve. One can get information about the flower at the center itself or you can go trekking in search of it in the park.
Tawau Hills Park
With its sprawling grounds, lush green foliage and sparkling river, Tawau Hills Park is the ideal place to get in touch with nature. Located some 24 km from Tawau town, the park is a popular spot for families and friends to enjoy a picnic or, for the more adventurous, spend a night camping under a blanket of stars.
Sipandan Island has been chosen amongst the top five diving sites of the world. Extremely small in size, just a 25 minute walk is enough to orbit the island. As it is an oceanic island, it is home to some of the most assorted variety of gorgeous marine life. Also a bird sanctuary, your binocular can catch glimpse of some rare birds such as sea eagles, kingfishers, sunbirds, starlings, etc. For avid divers, this island is a paradise in itself.
Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary
Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary is the most mesmerizing place for animal lovers to visit, as they see orphaned orang-utans being trained by their trainers, to make them apt for living in their natural surroundings. One can have a close view of these animals and the best time to be with them is at 10.00 a.m. and at 2.30 p.m. when these primates come down from the trees for their daily feedings of bananas and milk.
Maliau Basin (Sabah’s Lost World)
The Maliau Basin is a place set on a sprawling 588.4 square kilometers land in Tawau, at the South Central Part of Sabah. It contains an unusual assemblage of 12 forest types, comprising mainly of lower montane forest dominated by majestic Agathis trees, rare montane heath forest and lowland, and hill diperocarp forest. The highlight of the adventure is to trek the majestic 7 tiers Maliau Falls.
Pulau Tiga Marine Park
Located opposite the Kilas Peninsula are three small islands, Pulau Tiga, Pulau Kalampunian Besar and Pulau Kalampunian Damit. Of these three, Pulau Tiga is the biggest island. The reserve was started in 1978, covering a total of 158 square kilometres. The islands are an interesting mix of rich flora and fauna and diverse yet beautiful marine life. As the islands are still unadulterated, they offer some good spots for snorkelling and diving for tourists.
A practically virgin island located off the Sulu Sea, the Lankayan Island can be counted as one of the best tourist getaways. Pristine white sand beaches and the chance of spotting the Whale Shark, is not an opportunity to be missed. Through, the Lankayan Dive Resort which arranges all the tours, one has the possibility of getting close to the whale shark or view the black tipped sharks, green turtles and hawkbills. The island is also home to the famous to the Lankayan Wreck, which is a mecca for divers who visit Sabah.
Danum Valley is located south west of the town of Lahad Datu, Sabah’s fourth largest town. The Danum Valley Conservation Area is which covers an area of 440 square kilometres of untouched, virgin forests, is home to some of the rarest species of animals such as orang-utans, Sumatran rhinoceros, mouse deer and blue coloured leopard. The valley also encompasses an eco resort, known as the Borneo Rainforest Lodge, which is said to be the first one in Sabah. Visitors who want to explore the diverse and complex ecosystem of Danum Valley have all the facilities available here, like a restaurant, bar, and chalets. Jungle treks, river swimming, bird watching and night jungle tours are some of the outdoor activities that you can engage in.
City Mosque in Kota Kinabalu (Capital City)
Built on a 2.47 acres site at the Likas bay, the Kota Kinabalu City Mosque is exemplary of the Islamic contemporary architecture. Situated near the sea, this majestic white mosque boasts similar features to the Nabawi Mosque in Medina. This floating mosque has a prayer hall which houses three madrasahs and accommodates from 9, 000 to 12, 000 people at a time. By far the largest mosque in Kota Kinabalu, the Kota Kinabalu City Mosque is even possibly the most beautiful one in Malaysia – the man-made lagoon which surrounds it gives a serenely gorgeous and dramatic look to the mosque on a full moon night. The Kota Kinabalu City Mosque is open for public visits daily except Fridays from 8am to 5pm. There are no fees charged on visitors.
Double Six Monument
The Double Six Monument is located in Sembulan, marking a significant tragedy in the history of Sabah. On June 6th, 1976, an airplane carrying Sabah’s fifth Chief Minister, Tun Mohd. Fuad Stephens and six other State ministers crashed, killing all on board. The Double Six monument was erected on the exact spot of the fatal crash.
Signal Hill Observatory
A 15 minutes walk from the old quarters of Kota Kinabalu takes you to Signal Hill, a look out point from which you enjoy a breathtaking view over the whole city. This is the ideal place to take photographs of Kota Kinabalu. From the Signal Hill one can also see Tunku Abdul Rahman Park and some of the traditional villages built on stilts in the sea. The entrance is free.
Described by WWF as ‘the best-managed edible birds’ nest cave in the world’, Gomantong Caves in the heartland of the Gomantong Rainforest Reserve have been the focus for birds’ nests for centuries. Since the 13th century, Chinese traders have come to Sandakan in search of birds’ nests, a prized delicacy among the Chinese and found nearly 100 metres up on the ceilings of the Gomantong Caves. Harvesters put their lives on the line literally, climbing networks of rattan ladders and ropes to get to the nests. The risky nature of nest collecting has only helped made the commodity a pricey one.
There are two cave complexes – Simud Hitam (Black Cave) soaring up to 90 metres high and the more accessible of the two, and Simud Putih (White Cave), where the more valuable nests are found. Simud Hitam is a five- minute walk from the registration centre. A well-maintained boardwalk gives you easy access to do some exploring or watch the skilled harvesters at work.
Turtle Island Park
The Turtle Island Marine Park was started in 1977 to protect endangered species of turtles and consists of three islands Selingan, Gulisan, and Bakungan Kechil. The Park encompasses a total area of 1,740 hectares which includes the islands, seas and the surrounding reefs. Its main attractions are the ‘Greens’ and ‘Hawkbill’s’ turtles which come ashore every night to lay their eggs. Hatcheries on the islands take care of the eggs and see to that after they hatch the turtles are left in their natural environment. Along with the turtles, the coral reefs are also famous for water sports such as scuba diving and snorkelling.
Mabul Island is reputed to house some of the best underwater species of fish and other photographic marine animals. Located along the Celebes Sea, the waters surrounding the island are crystal clear, thus giving a clear vision of the underwater animals and this is a supposed boon for photographers. Some of the marine animals that you can get a quick look at are, sea horses, star fish, pipe fish and eels.
Atkinson Clock Tower
One of the most enduring landmarks in Kota Kinabalu, it stands prominently on a bluff along Signal Hill Road adjacent to the old Police Station. Built in 1903, this all-wood, no-nails structure was built in memory of Francis George Atkinson – the popular first District Officer of Jesselton during the British North Borneo Chartered Company Administration, who had succumbed to a tropical disease at the young age of 28. This Clock Tower has the distinction of being the oldest standing structure in the whole of Sabah that survived the destruction of Jesselton town during World War II. Till today, it still serves to keep the city’s time. The Atkinson Clock Tower is managed by the Sabah Museum under its Antiquity and History section.
Aquarium & Marine Museum
The state-of-the-art marine museum is yet another addition to the Universiti Malaysia Sabah campus. Established in 1995, the Borneo Marine Research Institute (BMRI) is aimed to promote education, research and training in conservation and sustainable development of marine resources, and a rational deployment of biotechnology. Situated within the Borneo Marine Research Institute (BMRI) Complex adjunction to the Sepanggar Bay area, this aquarium and marine museum boasts one of the best aquarium facilities on the Borneo Island. Among its facilities are the free standing exhibition tanks, live open water reef exhibition centre, live shallow reef exhibition centre, mangrove walk, contemporary Marine and Maritime Museum, Multimedia Interactive Information Kiosk, and Sipadan deep dive diorama.
Kinabalu Park was gazetted as the first State Park in Sabah in 1964 and declared Malaysia’s first World Heritage Site by UNESCO in the year 2000 for its outstanding biological attributes. A sprawling 75, 400 hectares, this melting pot of natural wonders is larger than Singapore. Also the Center of Plant Diversity for South East Asia, the Park boasts more than 5,000 vascular plant species, an estimated 1,000 orchid species, 621 fern species, nine Nepenthes species, 29 Rhododendron species and two Rafflesia species. The Park has no shortage of fauna as well, being home to some 90 lowland mammal species, 22 montane mammal species, 21 bat species, 326 bird species, 62 toad and frog species and a large population of the 850 butterfly species that occur in Sabah. Out of the 29 bird species that are endemic to Borneo, at least 17 are confined to the mountains, notably Mount Kinabalu. These include subspecies of the Red breasted Tree-partridge, Crimson-headed Wood-partridge and Mountain Blackbird. Such diversity is truly the makings of a naturalists’ paradise!
THINGS TO DO IN SABAH
The staggering range of outdoor activities is the number one draw for Sabah’s tourism industry. Whether scaling the highest peak in Southeast Asia, exploring the coral reefs of Sipadan, or trekking through the vast rainforests and ravines, there’s always a reason to spend time outside in Sabah. Sabah’s natural beauty is well-guarded and most of the activities here require a permit or at least a guide. It is easy to find an organisation that can help you arrange exactly the sort of adventure you’re looking for. Read more…
The best Sabah shopping experience is centered mostly around the state capital where you will find a variety of different Kota Kinabalu shopping malls selling a comprehensive range of goods. Much like Bukit Bintang in Kuala Lumpur, Kota Kinabalu is teeming with modern shopping malls and outstanding eateries. Visitors can spend days experimenting with new dishes such as laksa and sampling local foods at the Central Market or in the sprawling food courts. Read more…
Pamper your tastebuds with flavours from all four corners of the world here in Sabah. From the scrumptious pasta and to spicy masala to the delightful sushi and sashimi, there is absolutely something to allure each adventurous gastronome! Read more…
Because of Sabah’s remote location, just about everybody will arrive by air through the Kota Kinabalu International Airport in the capital city (tel. 088/238-555), about a 20-minute drive south of the central part of the city.
A surprising number of direct international flights connect Sabah to the region. Malaysia Airlines flies from Hong Kong, Manila, Osaka, Seoul, Shanghai, Singapore, and Tokyo, among others (tel. 1300/883-000; www.malaysiaairlines.com), and AirAsia flies from Bangkok (tel. 1300/889-933; www.airasia.com). Australian Airlines, operated by Qantas (tel. 131313; www.australianairlines.com.au), flies from Sydney.
Malaysia Airlines also has direct domestic flights to Kota Kinabalu from KL, Johor Bahru, Kuching, Sibu, and Miri, with in-state service to Sandakan and other towns. AirAsia has direct domestic flights from KL and Johor Bahru.
The most efficient way to get into town from the airport is by taxi. The cars line up outside the arrival hall and are supposed to use a coupon system – look for the coupon-sales and taxi-booking counter close by. You’ll pay about RM20 ($5.50) for a trip to town. Ignore the drivers that will try to lure you away from the coupon counter - they will always overcharge you.
If you’re a foreign visitor, a valid passport (and visa wherever applicable) is required. A Social or Tourist Visit Pass does not permit the holder to take up employment, business or professional work in Malaysia.
The Professional Visit Pass allows foreign visitors to enter the country for business negotiations or inspection of business premises. These passes however, cannot be used for employment purposed or for supervising the installation of new machinery of the construction factory.
A fee is charged for a Professional Visit pass depending on purpose of visit, profession and country.
In the downtown area, you can get around quite easily on foot between hotels, restaurants, tour operators, markets, and the tourism office. For longer trips, a taxi will be necessary; in town trips cost about RM10 ($2.80). Taxis are flagged down on the street or by your hotel’s bellhop.
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