Up until last month I hadn’t even heard of Sabah. Seems ludicrous for someone who travels extensively but it was my first time. That too because of an invitation to a travel conference. Four short days in Sabah doesn’t warrant an extensive posts on the things to do in Sabah Malaysia but I’ve tried my best. I had two days to explore ( the other two I was locked in a conference ) and tried to make the most of it.
My takeaway is that Sabah is beautiful and I really didn’t do justice to the destination. It’s unlike the Malaysia I had in my mind and pleasantly surprised me. Sabah is easy to get to, relatively inexpensive ( food is super cheap and so is most of the tourist attractions ) and is full of lush greenery and abundant natural beauty. What more can you ask for ? So while this is a short blogpost, I hope it inspires you to visit and help you pick the things to do in Sabah Malaysia!
What To Do
Tembara River Cruise – Sabah is blessed with natural beauty and apart from scaling mountains and deep sea diving, a river cruise amidst the thick foliage of mangroves is another exciting activity. Tembara River Cruise is a company that provides a beautiful sunset cruise where they stop on a little strip of beach in the middle of nowhere, almost at the mouth where the river meets the sea and you can hop off and wait for the sunset on the beach. It’s possibly one of the best experiences I had in my short visit to Sabah but what’s even more special comes once the sun goes down.
Instead of taking the boat back to the dock you’re taken for a night cruise though the mangroves under the illuminated night sky. With a carpet of twinkling stars the cruise heads in search of fire flies and if you’re lucky, on a clear night without any rain you’ll witness magic. Sadly it’s next to impossible to photograph the experience but it’s one I highly recommend.
Mari Mari Cultural Village – This isn’t an actual village but a representation of five of the forty five indigenous tribes in Sabah. A tour guide takes you through show you how each tribe lives, what they’re known for and even allows for samplings along the way. The rice wine and pandan fritters are excellent and not to be missed. A part of me wished it wasn’t role play and that it was an actual village but the truth is the tribes are scattered all over the island and it’s rather insensitive to barge into people’s home to take photographs. This works well because you encounter different tribes and get a better understand of what the local life was like. The tour ends with a cultural dance performance and a local lunch. I wasn’t impressed with the lunch in particular but I had merrily gorged on all the food and drink samples on the tour so didn’t feel the need to eat anything more than fruit and coconut water.
Sapi Island – There are many little islands surrounding this tropical paradise and each one gives you plenty of adventure and water activities to choose from. Sapi is a quick 10 – 15 min speed boat ride from the Jesselton Jetty and you can spend the entire day ( from 10 am – 5pm ) on the island. You can snorkel ( which is what I did ), walk on the surface of the sea, zipline, deep sea dive or even parasail. Or just laze on the beach and work on your tan. It’s a small island so there’s just one restaurant but you can also book a table and lunch as part of your package. Our lunch as well as the entrance fee and conservation fee was approx 100 Ringats per person so a really easy way to enjoy the beach.
I was actually lucky on Sapi island because right on the beach in a corner full of trees and a hill, I saw a couple of monitor lizards and even the famous Proboscis Monkey. Only thing left was Sabah’s Orangutun but I guess that’s left for next time.
Tanjung Aru Beach – This is a public beach frequented by locals every evening to enjoy one of Sabah’s many beautiful sunsets. The beach can get crowded in the evenings but the atmosphere is lovely and the sky just lights up with all sorts of colours as the sun says good night. Next to the beach are dozens of small eateries, mostly stalls and kiosks also with a few souvenir shops. The eat street is fabulous and you can grab a meal at a fraction of the cost a restaurant would charge you. From grilled seafood ( octopus being the most popular ) to satay sticks, local burgers, boiled sweet corn and plenty of iced drinks.
These were the activities that I personally did and can recommend but if you’ve got a more adventurous streak you can hike up Mount Kinabalu, go ATV riding on another beach further north, go camping over night and stay at a local home stay with the villagers or perhaps cycle through the jungle. Sabah has a lot to offer.
What to Eat
Satay – This is easily found in restaurant menus or even at stalls on the street. It’s pieces of grilled meat, usually chicken or beef served with a flavoursome chunky peanut sauce.
Char Kwey Teow – This is mostly found in Singapore but it’s a very popular Malay dish of noodles with prawn, bean sprouts, cockles and fish cakes. all mixed together in a special sauce. It’s one of my favourite dishes and very filling.
Coconut Pudding/ Jelly – I’m not sure what the local name is but their coconut pudding is fantastic. Doesn’t have much sugar so it isn’t overly sweet but it’s cold and wonderfully refreshing in this temperate climate.
Baked Clams – I didn’t actually try these though I was supposed to, but I’ve been told it’s a popular snack and easily found at road side stalls.
There’s obviously a LOT more Malaysian food to sample from their own crispy burgers to grilled seafood and a range of other dishes found all over Malaysia but these are the few that stood out on my trip.
Where To Stay
Avangio – This hotel is part of the Accord Group Of Hotels and while it did seem to be located in the middle of nowhere, it’s about a 20 minute ride away from the waterfront. There are a couple of local restaurants and stores right next door so it’s still a convenient option.
The rooms are clean, there’s a swimming pool and staff is courteous and friendly. The only catch here is that the breakfast spread is not very exciting and if you’re a vegetarian then it’s really slim pickings.
Shangri La Rasa Ria – While the location is incredibly inconvenient being nearly an hour away from the city centre, the private beach and access to the adjoining forest makes up for its inconvenience. This is a luxury resort so it goes without saying that guests here are extremely happy. I didn’t stay here but my conference was held here for two days and I was lucky enough to enjoy the property specially that gorgeous private beach.
How To Get There
There aren’t any direct flights to Kota Kinabalu ( yet ) from India so the easiest way to connect is to fly in from Kuala Lumpur. There are a couple of airlines that fly in including Malaysia Airlines via KL or Malindo or Air Asia. I flew via Malaysia Airlines and had seamless flights. The staff is polite and helpful and there’s plenty on the in flight entertainment to keep you occupied.
Disclaimer – This post was done in association with Sabah Tourism and Travel Earth as part of a conference I attended in Kota Kinabalu. As always, thoughts, ideas, expressions and opinions are mine:)