You can’t deny the grand beauty of Sabah’s 394 islands located within its waters. But if you were not seeking the piercing turquoise seas, its idyllic interiors characterised by dramatic landscapes and mighty mountains await travellers of all kinds.
Besides, Sabah is also one of the most culturally diverse states in Malaysia where over 30 indigenous groups – each with its own language and beliefs – call it home. Sabahans are proud of their heritage and always open to share them with the world.
So, no matter where you choose to go in Sabah, there is always something to love about the places. If you are a first-timer in this destination, or a regular who needs a new sense of discovery, the following are some of the state’s finest offerings that you can experience…
Kota Kinabalu is the capital of Sabah and the crowd’s favourite for many good reasons. The city marvels with bounteous natural and cultural appeals that keeps a traveller busy.
Sun-seekers can head towards the nearest idyllic islands with only a short boat ride, while those who are more culturally inclined will find the Mari Mari Cultural Village rewarding.
The culinary scene is also diverse, so be sure to sample as many local delights as possible. For a start, below are our top picks of Kota Kinabalu.
1. Experience a lively dinner on the North Borneo Sunset Cruises
The North Borneo Cruise is the first cruise operator in Sabah that sets sail daily past the islands of Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park and along the city’s vibrant Waterfront.
The cruise schedules three sessions in a day, but for the ultimate experience, go for the sunset slot. Kota Kinabalu’s sky is truly remarkable as the sun begins to set, resulting in spectacular burst of colours.
During the cruise, guests are treated to an impressive buffet dinner for them to fuel up and then groove on the dance floor as live performers enliven the party with popular songs.
2. Get inspired at The Luma Hotel
Being the first creatively constructed hotel in Kota Kinabalu, you know you’re in for a treat at The Luma.
This hotel expertly blends natural furnishings that pay homage to the state’s tropical rainforest with contemporary design, while retaining a relaxed, homely feel.
The hotel’s 115 rooms come in seven categories, dressed in a sexy mix of dark wood, emerald feature wall and a hint of burning orange. What’s more, all units are equipped with eco-friendly amenities, and the beautiful soap dishes placed in the stunning bathrooms all crafted by local artisan.
A café and a gastrobar are available on site, but should guest prefer to venture out, other culinary options are aplenty nearby.
Tuaran is around 40 minutes from Kota Kinabalu. It has a steady population growth with many hail from the Dusun, Lotud, and Bajau ethnic groups.
The town is famous state-wide for its fried Tuaran Mee, the springy egg noodle served with slices of meat (generally comprising sweet barbecued pork, but halal version is also available) and fresh vegetables.
1. Have a #healing moment on the Tembara river cruise
Cruising across the Sulaman Bay at sunset is magical, and even more so when it is done on the traditional catamaran.
The cruise takes around one hour and a half, giving visitors ample time to soak in the brilliant beauty across the wetlands.
As the sky gets darker, be prepared to be dazzled by the twinkling lights from a colony of fireflies on the tree branches. Sometimes, they even come to the boat!
Contact: Tembara Travel & Tours Sdn Bhd
2. Have a well-rounded respite at Shangri-La Rasa Ria Resort Kota Kinabalu
Laze away in this luxe sanctuary tucked within the serenity of Dalit Bay, touted as one of Sabah’s finest resorts.
Shangri-La Rasa Ria Resort is a fusion of understated elegance and nature, boasting well-equipped rooms and fabulous range of facilities including fitness centre, restaurants, award-winning spa, 18-hole championship golf course, outdoor swimming pool, and the most perfect sundowner spot along its two miles of talcum-white sandy beach.
The resort also invites guests to explore its 64-acre Rasa Ria Reserve teeming with numerous plants and animals that are endemic to Borneo.
Though Kota Belud might still be relatively under some travellers’ radar, this is one place that you should never miss!
Covering the serene seaside, then passing the expansive paddy fields, up into Mount Kinabalu National Park, this district has plenty to offer. It is also the jump-off point to visit the gorgeous Mantanani Islands.
The districts tranquil atmosphere transforms during the annual Tamu Besar Festival, a cultural event featuring the biggest open-air market in Sabah, a colourful parade of Bajau horsemen, buffalo races and a beauty pageant.
1. Cycling with the majestic view of Mount Kinabalu
Swap the city streets for small thoroughfares and glorious scenery of the majestic Mount Kinabalu with a leisure bike tour by Karanahan View at Kampung Tempasuk.
You will pass through quaint villages and swathes of paddy field; the area is so serene and calming that you can’t help but feel more relaxed throughout the ride. We recommend that you start the journey early in the morning to avoid the mid-day heat; besides, it is a good time for travellers to catch a glimpse of the countryside as the locals go an about their days.
Apart from cycling tour, Karanahan View provides a variety of other facilities and services for its visitors, including a paddle boat activity, a mini water playground for children, and homely chalets.
Bicycle Rental Rates: Start from MYR15 (for 1 hour) per person
Tenom is a landlocked district with rocky topography that is part of Sabah’s largest biosphere reserve, the Crocker Range National Park. It takes about a three-hour’s drive to reach the town from Kota Kinabalu.
Aside from lush greenery, Tenom is the heartland of Murut community. Every year, the town hosts the annual state-level Kalimaran Festival, a celebration that honours Murut’s rich culture.
1. Get introduced to Murut culture at Marais Centre
Love to learn more about the Murut way of life? Then head to Marais Centre in Kampung Marais Lama, which is a community-based project developed by Marais Centre Cooperative to give the public a genuine insight into Murut culture and traditions.
There’s nothing gimmicky about the experience as everything is carried out by the people. Expect plenty of engaging activities, including weaving demonstration, cooking lesson, traditional dances, and rubber-tapping. Those who love craft-making should try their hands on weaving.
Visitors can stay overnight since lodgings are available.
Rates: Start from MYR250 per person (the rate includes lodging, meals and activities)
Contact: James Ranggi at +6 016 834 9781
2. Learn the local coffee cultivation at Yit Foh Tenom Coffee Park
Tenom drives on coffee, and even dubbed as Sabah’s coffee capital by many.
One of the largest commercial coffee producers here is Yit Foh Coffee Factory that has been around since 1960. Interestingly, the factory maintains its traditional way of roasting the beans using charcoal up until today, resulting in coffee that possesses a strong aroma and distinctive taste.
Not forgetting, the factory also has a retail shop selling ready-packed grounded coffee sold at cheaper prices than the market.
Located in the west coast of Sabah, around three hours’ drive from Kota Kinabalu, Ranau is a small town known for its hilly geographical landscapes and cool climate.
It considerably has a smaller population of less than 100,000 people, who mainly are of Dusun ethnicity.
The main economy of this area is agriculture, but that doesn’t mean the place doesn’t hold enough attractions to keep travellers in awe. Just remember to dress warmly!
1. Ride a bicycle mid-air
Yes, you read it right. Long are the days when cycling can only be enjoyed on the ground. Of late, sky biking is becoming a popular activity around the world, including Malaysia. In Sabah, you can find it in Ranau which is the first place to deliver such experience in the whole Borneo.
The activity involves strapping the rider onto a bike as he or she pedals across a 100-metre zipline in each direction, affording them stunning views of the surrounding mountain range.
Rate: MYR90 per person.
Operational hours: Every day, 9:00 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Contact: Mount K Skybike
2. Conquer your fear and go on a paragliding
Thrill seekers can also get a dose of adventure in Ranau by soaring through the air hundreds of metres above the ground while being suspended by nothing but a colourful wing and a harness in tandem with an expert pilot. The experience can be scary for some at first, but trust us, it will be absolutely rewarding!
Besides, it is the best way to admire the beauty of this hilly district in all its glory. Do note, however, that as a safety measure, you aren’t allowed to hold your phone throughout the flight. Instead, you will be given a GoPro on a selfie stick to record your paragliding experience.
Flight duration: A flight takes between six to eight minutes depending on weather conditions.
Rate: MYR180 per person.
Requirement: Participants must be at least 13 years old. However, those with medical condition like epilepsy or high blood pressure are not recommended to participate in this activity.
Contact: Ranau Paragliding
3. Slow down and sip tea at Sabah Tea Gardens
If you are an avid tea drinker, chances are you would be familiar with the Sabah Tea brand, which originates in Ranau.
Sabah Tea has a plantation spanning 2,480 hectares and is one of the world’s few tea farms that is completely free of pesticides. It is open for visitors to explore and learn about tea-harvesting and tea-making processes.
Take the tea appreciation journey up a notch at the Tea House where you will be spoiled with a spread of tea-infused delectables. There are cosy lodgings on site too, ranging from a classic longhouse, a campsite to cottage-style units.
Kota Kinabalu is the main entry point to Sabah, connected through direct flights on AirAsia, Malaysia Airlines and Malindo Air from Kuala Lumpur.
The following airlines also have direct connectivity from cities outside Malaysia: AirAsia (via Singapore), AirAsia (via Manila), Scoot (via Singapore), Royal Brunei Airlines (via Brunei), Jin Air (through Incheon), and Air Busan (via Incheon).
For this trip, Gaya Travel Magazine team travelled with Malaysia’s national carrier, Malaysia Airlines.
The flight takes around 2 hours and 40 minutes to reach Kota Kinabalu International Airport from Kuala Lumpur International Airport, and includes a complimentary meal, checked baggage (32 kg for Business Class and 23 kg for Economy Class) and ample leg room.
The service is also efficient and warm, reflecting true Malaysian hospitality.
Gaya Travel Magazine extends our heartfelt gratitude to Sabah Tourism Board, Malaysia Airlines and Pertubuhan Media Negeri Selangor for organising the familiarisation trip themed ‘Sabah, Onsoi’ and for the kind travel arrangements that have made the whole journey possible and smooth.
Filed in: Kota Belud / Kota Kinabalu / Mount Kinabalu / nature / Ranau / Sabah / Tenom