Mention Borneo and the first image that usually pops into people’s minds is of a lush green rainforest. And while that’s still a pretty accurate depiction of the world’s third-largest island, there are other elements that make up the amazing region of Sabah.
The northern part of Malaysian Borneo, Sabah occupies an area of almost 72,500 square kilometres and is home to 4,095-metre Mount Kinabalu, one of the highest peaks between the Himalaya and New Guinea. It’s also home to 32 officially recognised ethnic groups, of which 28 are recognised as indigenous.
Getting to Sabah from Australia usually takes about ten hours (not including transit time), with several airlines flying there via hubs such as Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Hong Kong. Once you arrive, you’re spoilt for choice as to how to fill your visit, but here are three suggestions:
1. Island visit
Only a 15–20-minute speedboat ride from Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah, Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park protects a cluster of five islands: Pulau Gaya, Pulau Sapi, Pulau Manukan, Pulau Mamutik and Pulau Sulug. There are resorts on a few of the islands, while Sapi, Manukan and Mamutik host fun beach activities, as well as snorkelling and diving. You can even go ziplining from one island to another via the world’s longest island-to-island zipline: the 250-metre connection between Gaya and Sapi.
2. Mari Mari Cultural Village
A man-made cultural village may sound like a contradiction in terms, but we’ve yet to receive any bad feedback about this tour. It’s a great option not just for families, but solo travellers as well. Unlike in India, where women still wear sarees in the streets, in Sabah, traditional dress is now rarely worn, so travellers frequently ask where they can see local culture and taste authentic local food. Well, the answer is, right here! Mari Mari Cultural Village introduces visitors to five difference ethnic tribes: the Kadazan Dusun, who are well known for their paddy fields; the Rungus, who are known for their longhouses; the Lundayeh, who are mainly hunters and fishermen – the cowboys of the east; the sea gypsy Bajau tribe; and the famous headhunting tribe, the Murut.
3. A trip to Sandakan
A day trip to Sandakan will allow you to see the orangutans at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre and the bears at the adjacent Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre. But if you stay the night, you’ll also be able to fit in an historical experience by following in the footsteps of the infamous Sandakan Death March, in which hundreds of Allied POWs were forced to march through inhospitable jungle by their Japanese captors towards the end of the Second World War. Afterwards, head on to the Lower Kinabatangan region, where you’ll find numerous jungle resorts, perfect for a serene getaway and some amazing wildlife sightings.
It’s time to tick Sabah off your bucket list. Your local agent will be able to offer advice on the best itineraries to make the best out of this trip.
For more information, visit the official Sabah Tourism website.