A three-hour drive from Kota Kinabalu, Kudat is the town at the very tip of Borneo. Tourism infrastructure isn’t at its best here, so you will probably need to rent a car to get around. It is home to the Rungus people, a sub-group of the indigenous Kadazan ethnic group, who still live in traditional longhouses and gong-making villages.
Make your way to Tanjung Simpang Mengayau, the famed landmark known as the ‘Tip of Borneo’, and drive along the stunning coastline which hides some of the best secluded beaches in Malaysia – crystal clear and untouched.
It’s easy to be beguiled by Kudat’s laid-back vibes, so you might want to satiate your tropical fantasy or rekindle the flames by staying a night or two here. Both the Hibiscus Villa and its sister property, the more affordable Hibiscus Beach Retreat, are homes away from home that will leave you feeling rejuvenated.
Located in Ranau, Kundasang boasts some of the best views of majestic Mount Kinabalu, and is often a transit stop when visiting the Kinabalu National Park. It is cool all year round, with a few attractions that are worth discovering. The Desa Cattle Dairy Farm’s beautiful green pastures, dotted with Friesian cows amidst the rolling mountains, might easily pass off as a scene from New Zealand at first glance.
With enlightening activities on how milk is made, a visit here is both educational and fun. Another must-see is the Kundasang War Memorial. Built in 1962, it commemorates the brave Australian and British prisoners of war who died in the infamous Sandakan Death Marches. Within the memorial lie four beautiful gardens – the Australian Garden, the English Garden, the Borneo Garden, and the Contemplation Garden and Pool – to represent all of the Allied soldiers’ homelands.
If you fancy a cup of tea, head to the Sabah Tea Garden, the only organic tea farm in Borneo and one of a handful in the world. Whatever you do, enjoy the fresh mountain air and cool climate.
For outdoor lovers, take a detour from wildlife-spotting at the Kinabatangan River to visit the Gomantong Caves, one of the biggest cave systems in Sabah. Part of the Gomantong Forest Reserve, millions of bats inhabit the darkness accompanied by swiftlets, the birds that produce edible bird’s nest.
Make Time your visit to coincide with the harvesting seasons, which are from February to April and July to September, as you can watch skilled harvesters collect the nests using only rattan ladders, ropes and bamboo poles. There are two caves to explore; one is known as the Black Cave and the other, the White Cave. The former is easily accessible by plank walks, but the latter will need prior arrangements as it requires more caving skills.
Remember to cover your shoes with plastic bags, if you don’t want them ruined by bat and bird droppings. Outside the caves, keep your eyes peeled as you might spot a wild orang-utan or two, along with birds such as serpent eagles and kingfishers.
Although close to the infamous Sipadan and Mabul islands, Kapalai is a different world of its own. Once an actual island, Kapalai has been reduced to sea level due to the effects of erosion over the last few hundred years. What’s left is actually a big sandbar, but the very exclusive Sipadan Kapalai Dive Resort, with chalets built entirely on stilts, sits here in the middle of the ocean.
With no land in sight and nothing but crystal-clear turquoise waters everywhere you turn, we like to call it a floating paradise. Dive spots are aplenty around these waters, which makes it the main activity here. But fret not: there are also other water activities one can indulge in such as swimming, snorkelling and ocean kayaking.
If you’re keen to venture more into diving, the resort offers a variety of beginner and advanced PADI courses. But return in time to lounge on the sundeck, and watch the sky turn a glorious shade of gold as the sun goes down.
Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary
Did you know that proboscis monkeys can only be found in Borneo, and not in every forest but mainly only in coastal swamp forests? A local palm plantation owner scrapped plans to develop the area and built this private sanctuary instead, after discovering that there were proboscis monkeys living here.
It is at the centre of a mangrove forest, about an hour’s drive from Sandakan Airport. Two observation platforms give visitors an up-close view of these monkeys during feeding times. and night treks are also available. It’s a great place to visit after touring the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre. Accommodation