By Muhammad Hasif Mohd Jelani on January 28, 2020
Ask any Malaysian about his or her favourite local destination, Sabah is bound to be among the top three. Places like Kota Kinabalu, Kundasang, and Mabul are some of the more popular spots that travellers love. But there are actually more places in Sabah that are still under the radar that travellers simply must discover!
To unearth Sabah’s hidden gems, Sabah Tourism Board, in collaboration with Gaya Travel Magazine and Tourism Malaysia, flew selected social media influencers and bloggers to Sabah to participate in a familiarisation programme named #KUDATangSabah, a Malay phrase meaning ‘Sabah, here I Come’, which puns on the word Kudat, one of the places where the programme participants were brought to, besides Kota Kinabalu and Kota Belud.
Apparently, the stretch from Kota Kinabalu all the way to Simpang Mengayau (popularly known as The Tip of Borneo) in Kudat, holds many authentic facets of Sabah that are not yet popular among travellers. Read on to find out how you could have an enriching experience as you head to Kudat from Kota Kinabalu!
Located in Bandaran Berjaya, this practical hotel offers two types of accommodations: studio and capsule beds. We experienced the latter, which are cosy, brilliantly-designed and convenient, especially for backpackers. The capsule beds come with complimentary Wi-Fi connectivity, reading light, clothes-hanging unit, multipower sockets with USB ports, shoe locker and lock-up storage. Interestingly, the hostel also has a co-working space on the first floor called ‘Opis’ with ample space, comfortable seats and desks, relaxing common area, printer and complimentary Wi-Fi, coffee and snacks. Houseguests can use the ‘Opis’ for free.
Located on the second floor of Plaza Shell, this restaurant serves authentic Sabahan cuisines, mainly Kadazan Dusun. The highlight on the menu is the simple yet juicy, rich-in-protein delicacy known as butod or sago worms, which is usually eaten raw but travellers can try it in the forms of butod pizza and butod sushi as well. If one cannot handle it, rest assured that the restaurant serves other dishes like linopot rice, soko (bamboo shoots) soup, fried salted sulit (fusilier) fish, hinava (lime-marinated mackerel fillet) and tuhau (minced ginger).
Thanks to social media, this village has now emerged as a hit destination among travellers, especially those who love nature photography, camping and stargazing. It has a scenic landscape comprising paddy fields, mountain ranges and river. To cater to travellers’ needs, the villagers have come up with various facilities such as camping site, resting huts and tents for rent. While camping is obviously popular here, other activities travellers should do is stargazing (meteor shower and fireball are some of the wonderful things travellers might get to witness), bamboo rafting, picnicking and trekking to Minorit Hill, Ponohuan Waterfall and Mount Tambuyukon. Best time to visit is between February and March, including November and December when the paddy fields are covered in green.
This lovely resort is mostly fully booked on weekends. Travellers come here for the glamping experience. Each tent comes with cosy beds, toiletries, air conditioner and barbecue pit. The resort is located near Rampayan Beach where fun activities like banana boat, ATV, paddle boat, volleyball and cycling can be done at additional cost. Other amenities include free Wi-Fi connectivity, swimming pool and open cinema. The resort offer many Instagram-worthy spots, making it perfect for relaxing and a snazzy staycation.
Unlike other villages in Malaysia, this village is unique because most of its residents produce and sell gongs (flat, disk-like musical instrument played by hitting its bulgy centre with a mallet). In Rungus culture, gong plays a significant role during many occasions, especially weddings. Different sounds and rhythms signal different events. The gong is usually made of brass and zinc. Travellers should not miss visiting this village to learn from the friendly gong-smiths how the gongs are made and buy the exclusive gong merchandises. Oh, taking selfies with the record-breaking gargantuan gong weighing 980 kilograms is also a must!
Did you know that one longhouse can accommodate not just one family but an entire village? This is just one of the interesting facts that we learned during our visit to Bavanggazo in Matunggong, about 100 kilometres from Kota Kinabalu. The longhouse, which has now been converted into a homestay, provides the unforgettable experience living like how the Rungus tribe did in the olden days like eating traditional dishes, participating in social ceremonies, learning craft-making and trekking around the village.
Led by Datuk Jeffry Yahya, fondly known as ‘Cobra’, this homestay offers travellers authentic local experience that can be customised to travellers’ interest. We stopped here to taste delectable Rungus traditional cuisine that includes bamboo shoot cooked with sweet leaf, chili mud crab, stir-fried sweet leaf with prawns, and linopod corn rice with longkobungan leaf. For more information about this homestay, contact Datuk Jeffry at firstname.lastname@example.org .
This beach lies next to Simpang Mengayau. It has few resorts and chalets offering not only relaxing accommodations but invigorating water activities, including surfing. We spent a truly enjoyable hour learning how to surf here from the professional and highly experienced instructors of Blue Fin Surf and Dive (contact Mr Ivan Nicholas at +6 012 827 1662). The best time to surf here is from November to February and July to August. This activity costs MYR80 per person for an hour for beginners, which include surfing instruction and surfboard rental.
Simpang Mengayau is a headland renowned as the northernmost-tip of Borneo, the spot for travellers to admire the dramatic panorama where the South China Sea converges with the Sulu Sea. Do come here during sunset for a memorable view of the open ocean, besides unique rock formations at the foreground shaped by the wind and the waves. Entrance to this site is free.
Caution: It is not advisable for travellers to go down the slope due to the slippery surface and the possibility of strong waves and current.
Established in 2002, the rooms at this beautiful resort overlook either the garden, golf course or ocean. The resort’s design is inspired from Rungus architecture with a contemporary twist. It has a large swimming pool, children wading pool, fitness centre, sauna room, futsal court, and meeting rooms, making it convenient for leisure and business travellers. Its in-house restaurant called SIX°55 Casa de Norde is designed with a trendy bistro concept where guests can dine for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Owned by Wong Sin Hin, this fish farm in Tambakan is unique because it is located in the middle of the sea. It breeds fishes like keratang, sunuk, siakap, putih and mameng besides other sea creatures like abalone and sea cucumber. The tour package to this farm starts at MYR180 per person, inclusive of return boat transfer from Marina Jetty, snorkelling activity and lip-smacking seafood lunch.
As its name denotes, this eco-friendly resort facing Bak Bak Beach in Kudat has only nine rooms in a form of huts. Located on the crest of a hill, each hut is made from locally-sourced materials and has an unobstructed view of the sea. The huts are fully furnished with facilities like water heater, air conditioner and mosquito nets. The signature activity here is yoga, which we did during sunset with the other guests, headed by a volunteer yoga instructor Tereza Frydmanova from Czech Republic. We found the whole experience rejuvenating and warrants a repeat.
As part of the effort of strengthening the beekeeping programme initiated back in 1989, this centre plays a pivotal role in advancing the agro-tourism industry for the benefit of the locals. Located in Sikuati, travellers can expect to see the bee hives upclose (don’t worry, safety gears and attires are provided), learn about the bees’ life cycle, understand the process of honey production and buy high-quality honey products, including raw honey. The main produce is the honey from the stingless bee (locally known as kelulut), known for its health benefits.
Though the main highlight is the cosy cruise ride on a traditional catamaran along Sulaman Bay, this place offers other exciting activities too such as cycling around the villages and the beach, kayaking, crab-catching, sunset-viewing and watching the bioluminescent show of fireflies. Well, we experienced them all and we could not be more satisfied! The price depends on the type of package chosen, but we think the experience travellers will gain at the end of the day is definitely priceless.