Discover the best of Borneo in Sabah, an incredible, exciting Malaysian state on the northern part of Borneo island…
Natural highs abound here – and we’re not just talking about 4,095-metre-tall Mount Kinabalu (South-East Asia’s highest mountain), which is crowned with craggy granite spires. Sabah is also home to a magical mix of white-sand beaches, rugged mountains, untouched islands and emerald jungles. There’s plenty of culture to discover, too: Kota Kinabalu (affectionately known as KK), is Sabah’s cosmopolitan capital, where lively markets; a one-stop dining and entertainment centre (along the famous Waterfront); spectacular sunsets; and the picturesque Kota Kinabalu City Mosque await you.
Prepare to be amazed by Mother Nature’s diversity in Sabah. Flora and fauna bloom in abundance in the rainforests and national parks, and the marine life is equally impressive. Record-breaking new species continue to be discovered in Borneo, including the world’s largest flower, the Rafflesia, which can measure up to three feet in width. The world’s tallest tropical tree species – the tualang – grows here, towering up to 260 feet high. Its lofty branches provide a home to giant bees, who make a delicious multi-floral jungle honey. Don’t forget to try it while you’re here…
Sabah offers visitors some of the world’s most exciting wildlife encounters (you might have seen a few on Blue Planet 2). Admire Sabah’s diverse wildlife at Lok Kawi Wildlife Park, a 40-minute drive from KK, or traverse the wooden walkways of the Kota Kinabalu Wetland Centre, whose trails wind through a 24-hectare mangrove swamp. Sabah-adventurers should also check out Sipadan National Park, just off Sabah’s east coast, which offers amazing diving, including cliff dives, cave dives and more. You might meet schools of barracuda, jackfish, turtles, and harmless white- and black-tip reef sharks. If you’re lucky, you could even see orca and humpback whales in season…
Sabah’s coastal waters form part of the Coral Triangle, where nearly 600 different species of reef-building corals can be found. Six of the world’s seven marine turtle species live here, along with more than 2,000 species of reef fish. Waterbabies will be wowed by Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park (TARP), a quintet of lush, tropical islands. There are plenty of watersports to try, but zip-lining between islands is an unmissable experience. You could also embark on a cruise with North Borneo Cruises: enjoy a delicious dinner on board and Instagram those #nofilter South China Sea sunsets.
Sabah’s culture is fascinating and diverse. The best way to soak it up is to talk to the locals, but you can also learn a lot at the Sabah Museum in Kota Kinabalu, which explores the state’s history. Stroll along KK’s waterfront, admiring the fishermen at work and the bustling market stalls, then visit the Central Market for prime people-watching. Admire six galleries devoted to Malaysian culture and Muslim history at the Sabah Islamic Civilisation Museum, or go on a tour of the Mari Mari Cultural Village, which showcases the traditional homes of several Sabahan ethnic groups. Wondering what to take home with you? Sabah is famous for its bead-making and local handicraft, so pick up beaded bags and traditionally-inspired jewellery from the local markets. You could also treat the folks back home (or perhaps yourself) to colourful traditional batik fabrics, bedecked with motifs of leaves, flowers and geometric patterns.
Sabah’s multicultural mix makes for an exciting food scene. Many of Sabah’s traditional dishes are made up of simple yet delicious ingredients that are pickled or preserved. Three top dishes to try include:
1) Hinava. This mouth-watering dish comprises thin slices of raw fresh fish tossed with chilli, ginger, shallots, bitter gourd; cured in lime juice. It’s very similar to the Latin American ceviche.
2) Ambuyat. Originating from Sabah’s neighbour, Brunei, ambuyat is a traditional Bruneian dish that is derived from the interior trunk of the sago palm. Ambuyat is similar to the tapioca starch and it goes well when eaten with tangy, spicy or salty dishes. It is prepared by mixing the sago starch powder into boiling water. As the sago starts to coagulate, you can use a pair of wooden chopsticks to roll the starch around, then dip into an accompanying dish and munch.
3. Butod. The adventurous eaters out there must try butod; the most exotic of Sabah’s native foods. The butod is a sago worm, found feeding on the insides of the sago palm tree, a few months before they turn into beetles. This ‘dish’ can be served fried or eaten alive. To eat it, grab its hard head (to avoid eating it) and bite the body off. Some say it tastes like butter. Don’t let its maggot-like appearance fool you- the butod is highly nutritious!
Try as many local dishes as you can stomach at the Night Market in KK, which has hundreds of hawker stalls and an educational fish section, where you can spy all kinds of finned and shelled sea creatures. For more fishy business, head to Alu-Alu Kitchen, which serves some of the city’s most succulent seafood in a plain and fuss-free setting. Order cheap, delicious Chinese noodles and pork cooked all kinda ways at Yu Kee Bak Kut Teh. For Indian flavours, head to waterfront Kohinoor, whose charms include a well-used tandoori oven, exemplary naan and curries and friendly service.
Getting to Sabah is easy and stress-free, thanks to one-stop flights with Singapore Airlines from the UK to Kota Kinabalu International Airport. You’ll experience a taste of Malaysian hospitality before you even land, thanks to the award-winning cabin crew.
Come for adventures in national parks, days spent cruising crystal waters and trips to the heart of the jungle. After all that exploring, return to a five-star resort and relax with sundowners (and more of that delicious food). Sabah is as safe as it is beautiful, making it ideal for romantic holidays, honeymoons and family vacations. Dive in…
*The above fares are per person from London Heathrow/Manchester and include the price of the air ticket, as well as associated taxes and surcharges, correct as at 19 December 2018, subject to seat availability and currency fluctuations. Tickets are non-refundable and date changes are allowed but may be subject to an administration fee. Other terms and conditions apply.