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Malaysia » Malaysia States » Borneo - East Malaysia
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by: Editorial Team

Sabah and Sarawak

The states of Sabah and Sarawak in Borneo offer visitors an experience unique to the destination. While Borneo supports rainforests, it’s the people that make visiting Sabah and Sarawak so special.


o     Sabah - Nature’s Wonderland.

Sabah is known as the ‘Land Below the Wind’ and once out of Kota Kinabalu (KK) the capital, much of the state remains forested. There are over 32 ethnic communities speaking 80 dialects in Sabah. The main festival here is Ka’amatan when the Kadazan Dusun, Sabah’s largest ethnic group, offer thanksgiving for a bountiful harvest to the spirit of the paddy. Kota Kinabalu is a vibrant city on Sabah’s west coast and the gateway to eco-adventures like mountain climbing, white-water rafting, caving, diving and river cruising. Located in the South China Sea, it’s a bustling city with a mixed population. Once known as Jesselton when Sabah was British North Borneo, it was mostly rebuilt after World War II.


Ø Places of interest are the State Museum, the Sunday Gaya Street Market which offers fresh produce, handicrafts, foodstuff and jungle products in the open air.

Ø The five islands of the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park in the vicinity of Kota Kinabalu offer peaceful solitude in the sun.

Ø Enjoy a stay in many superb resorts like Sutera Harbour and Shangri-La Tanjung Aru. Just out of town, the resorts of Nexus Karambunai and Shangri-La Rasa Ria have extensive seaside facilities.

Ø While ascending the 4,095m Mount Kinabalu, Southeast Asia’s highest peak is achievable; descending 600m to the ocean floor off the famed dive site of Sipadan is not humanly possible.

Ø Sabah is a global wildlife sanctuary with the Kinabalu National Park being Malaysia’s first World Heritage Site. The 754sq km park has one of the world’s richest assemblages of plants and the two-day return walk to the summit of Mount Kinabalu, challenges intrepid climbers.

Ø The nearby Poring Hot Springs and canopy walkway will rejuvenate your body and mind.

Ø Other eco-treasures in Sabah include Turtle Island Park, Sepilok, Tabin and the Kinabatangan River.

Ø White- water rafting on the Padas and Kiulu Rivers offers thrills and spills.

Ø Sandakan, 45 minutes by air from Kota Kinabalu is the gateway to fascinating nature reserves like Turtle Island, Kinabatangan River, Gomantong Caves and Sepilok.

Ø Sepiok is a sanctuary for Orang Utans where 200 primates, rescued from illegal captivity, have being retrained for jungle living. Get close to them in their natural habitat during the twice-daily feedings.

Ø Sukau on the Lower Kinabatangan River has Malaysia’s greatest wildlife concentration. It is Sabah’s longest river where Orang Utans, macaques, Red and Silver Leaf Monkeys, elephants, crocodiles, otters and Proboscis Monkeys live along the riverine wetlands. Boat trips along the Menanggul River provide guaranteed sightings.

Ø On the way to Sukau, visit Gomantong Caves, home to millions of swiftlets whose nest are prized for birds’ nest soup.

Ø Lahad Datu provides access to the Danum Valley, home to Sabah’s largest expanse of lowland dipterocarp forest.

Ø Walk the canopy bridge for aerial views or trek into the Maliau Basin wilderness and Tabin Wildlife Reserve.

Ø Take a ride on the antique train from Kota Kinabalu to Tenom through the picturesque Padas Gorge or enjoy the North Borneo steam train to Papar.Many islands are found off Sabah in the Sulu, Celebes and South China Seas.

Ø Diving is possible around most with Sipadan Island being the jewel; marine biologist Jacques Cousteau rates it one of the world’s best. This is the ‘must-dive’ reef and Malaysia’s only deepwater oceanic island.

Ø Layang Layang in the Spratly Islands, some 300km northwest of Kota Kinabalu is East Malaysia’s remotest island. Wall diving for hammerhead sharks, rays and barracuda is possible.

Ø In the small island resort of Lankayan, northwest of Sandakan, diving is perfect Mantanani,located north of Kota Belud, is one of Sabah’s newest dive islands surrounded by seagrasses and reefs.

Ø Turtle Island Park is the place to watch turtles nesting between July and October.


o     Labuan - Borneo’s International Garden Island.

Labuan, one of Malaysia’s three federal territories is an international offshore financial centre. Located 10km off the Sabah coast, it offers duty-free shopping, wreck diving, golf and World War II Memorials.

Ø Several resorts and hotels provide a holiday atmosphere and interesting sights include An’Nur Jamek Mosque, ‘Tao’ Chinese Temple and a Sikh Temple inspired by Amritsar’s Golden Temple.

Ø Other attractions include the Labuan Bird Park and two water villages.

Ø Several dive sites are situated in Labuan Marine Park and four sunken ships provide unrivalled wreck diving. Labuan’s free port status, numerous international hotels and excellent telecommunications facilities also make it an ideal venue for meetings and incentive events.


o     Sarawak - A Paradise of Eco-Adventure.

Sarawak, the ‘Land of the Hornbills’ is the country’s largest state forming part of East Malaysia in Borneo. It’s characterised by distinctive ethnic groups many of whom still live in riverside settlements. James Brooke, the first ‘white rajah’ ruled Sarawak from 1841 after resolving a dispute between Brunei’s Sultan and local chieftains. The legacy of the Brooke Dynasty and the British includes many colonial buildings in Kuching. Fondly known as ‘Cat City’, Kuching, the capital, is located on the Sarawak River.


Ø Its tourist belt is the waterfront and Main Bazaar which features old shophouses selling local pepper, artefacts, antiques, birds’ nests and exotic forest products. The State Mosque is perched on the riverbank and nearby markets offer a mind-boggling range of produce.

Ø At the other end of the Main Bazaar, Tua Pek Kong Temple built in 1876 is an important place of worship for Chinese. Kuching lays claim to nine museums, many within walking distance of each other.

Ø Visit the Sarawak Museum which has one of the region’s best ethnographic collections. The city also has several well-preserved colonial buildings.

Ø Other interesting spots include Fort Margherita.

Ø Damai Beach, 45 minutes from Kuching, is a pleasant playground of beaches, golf course, resorts and culture.

Ø The nearby Sarawak Cultural Village is a themed attraction showcasing the diverse lifestyles of the ethnic groups in the state and is host to the annual Rainforest World Music Festival.

Ø Enjoy the hospital of Sarawak’s indigenous communities who live in longhouses along the Lemanak, Rejang, Skrang and Batang Ai Rivers. Access in normally via long motorized boats. In the past, padding meant arduous journeys but today, small outboards make the eask easier. The larges group is the Ibans, once headhunters. Other group include the Bidayuhs, Melanaus and Orang Ulu (upriver people). Visitors can stay with their hosts and watch the community make jungle product, join in cultural dances, go trekking or relax in jungle streams. Women weave traditional pua cloth on old back-strap looms. Gawai is a thanksgiving festival held in June at the end of a bountiful rice harvest. Tuak or rice wine and other traditional delicacies are offered at ‘open houses’ in longhouses around the state. Sarawak is an eco-adventure destination for trekking, caving, mountain climbing, kayaking, biking, rafting and diving.

Ø There are many national parks and wildlife reserves such as Bako National Park, close to Kuching which contains many plant species endemic to Borneo.

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