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Famous places to visit in Malaysia: Sabah

Sabah is one of the two Malaysian states on the island of Borneo. With a myriad of races and cultures, flora and fauna, and outdoor activities to experience, there is no shortage of things to do in this state.  

If you plan to visit the Land Below the Wind but is unsure of where to go (or where to even start), here we helpfully compile for you some places and activities that will be suitable for the perfect family vacation or for a stress-free holiday to unwind, away from the hassle of work life.

(Photo source: Viator)

We list down attractions that may have been brushed aside due to more popular destinations such as Mount Kinabalu, the highest mountain in Malaysia which is now open to the public again following the shocking earthquake last year; and Pulau Tiga, the “Survivor Island” that serves as the filming location for several “Survivor” seasons including the upcoming “Australian Survivor”

Read on to discover that perfect “Bornean pearl”:

1. TAR (Tunku Abdul Rahman) Park 

(Photo source: yongyong lynz / YouTube)

(Photo source: Amazing Borneo)

This Marine Park, made up of a cluster of islands (Pulau Gaya, Pulau Sapi, Pulau Manukan, Pulau Mamutik and Pulau Sulug), is famous as a destination for island-hopping. Stay at one of the resorts in Pulau Gaya and spend your days snorkeling or diving in the turquoise water of Pulau Sapi, Pulau Manukan and Pulau Mamutik. 

Visit Borneo Reef World (the largest reef activity pontoon in Southeast Asia), located nearby the Sapi and Gaya islands, to experience sea-walking. Yes, you get to play with fishes underwater – and you hair stays dry! 

Meanwhile, the latest addition to Pulau Sapi and Pulau Gaya (they’re the more popular ones, you can say), called the Coral Flyer Zipline, will appeal to thrill-seekers. Last year, the 235 meter long zipline (or flying fox) was introduced. It was the longest island to island zipline when it first opened but has since been dethroned to second place by a similar zipline in neighbouring country, the Philippines. Lasting for about 40 seconds per ride, you can enjoy the scenic view as you zip through the air from Pulay Gaya to Pulau Sapi.

2. Poring Hot Spring, Ranau

(Photo source: visit-malaysia.com)

(Photo source: Panoramio)

Did you know you can boil an egg in the hot springs here? Well, that’s what the locals say, feel free to try out the theory yourself when you swing by for a dip and a soak at this hot springs resort. Small as it may be, it is one of the bigger attractions among the locals. It is a popular destination for families and mountain climbers alike due to the water’s therapeutic properties. Soaking in one of the small pools will instantly relieve your muscle of stress, thanks to the spring’s hot sulphuric minerals. The young’uns can swim around in the bigger pools, more fun with all the slides. 

Since Poring is located in Kinabalu Park, there are various other places nearby to visit such as the butterfly farm, orchid conservation centre, Rafflesia flower site (you can’t miss this large flower) and waterfalls (Kipungit and Langganan). Activities you can try include the canopy walk, bird-watching, monkey-watching (do not feed!) and maybe…egg-boiling?

3. Monsopiad Cultural Village, Penampang

(Photo source: Sabah Tourism)

(Photo source: Wikimedia)

From the seas, to the mountains, now for some ground-level fun as you brush up on your cultural knowledge. Nestled in the lush green of Kampung Kuai Kadazan, Penampang, this cultural village is a memorial dedicated to (and named after) a Kadazandusun warrior, Monsopiad. As Borneo used to be a hotbed for headhunters, of course one of the buildings in this village is called House of Skulls. As the name depicts, it is full of skulls, supposedly belonging to the enemies of the warrior. 

Mari Mari Cultural Village is another must-see if you are keen to learn more about the cultures in Sabah and not just of the Kadazans. Located in Inanam, you’ll feel like you’ve step back in time as the village’s main purpose is to preserve the ways the local tribes used to live in the olden days. Experience the traditional lives of the Kadazan (yes, here too since it is the largest ethnic group in the state), Rungus, Lundayeh, Murut and Bajau people all in one village.

4. Maliau Basin (Sabah’s Lost World)

(Photo source: maliaubasin.org)

(Photo source: Adventure Alternative)

If you’re all about connecting with nature then this is the perfect place for you. A tagline on its official website says: A “Jurassic Park” sans dinosaurs.  A step into the protected wilderness and you will instantly get why. Located in the Tongod area of Sandakan, Maliau Basin conservation area is accessible from Tawau or Keningau. Be prepared for the long 5-hour drive on unpaved roads. Another option, if you have pockets deeper than the waters in the basin, is to fly in using helicopter.  

Since this is a conservation area, getting in won’t be a breeze. You’ll have to obtain permission in advance from Yayasan Sabah. But the hassle will be worth it as you get to enjoy nature at its best. Make sure to trek the 7-tier Maliau Falls for the ultimate trekking experience. 

5. Sepilok, Sandakan

(Photo source: Cede Prude)

(Photo source: Lonely Planet)

“I’ve seen you at Sepilok”, says a local to you. Don’t grin and say thanks, you’ve just been insulted to your face. You can avoid hearing this by minding your manners, it is never a smart idea to incense the locals anywhere no matter where you go. So, in what way was that an insult? Here’s Sepilok’s full name: Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre. Yes, you’ve just been likened to a certain orange-haired primate! Here’s a banana.

Famous among tourists and researches alike, this centre, located nearby Sandakan, gives you the chance to be up close with these gentle apes that are indigenous to Borneo and Sumatra. 

Other sanctuaries worth a visit are the Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary and the Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre, both also located in the Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve. These mascot-worthy creatures will make you think twice about cutting down the rainforests. 

6. Tanjung Simpang Mengayau, Kudat

(Photo source: raalsma / Flickr)
(Photo source: Zackohzack Blogspot)

Known as the Tip of Borneo, this is the best place for you to enjoy the sunset. Want the scenic view to be accompanied with music? Then attend the annual Sunset Music Festival, taking place every June, to enjoy some classical as well as contemporary music by local and international acts. This year it is set to take place from 3 to 4 June.

Fun fact 1: this used to be a watch-point for the Rungus people during the battle against the Moro Pirates, hence the original Rungus name of Simpang Mangazou (the junction to the battle at the tip). 

Fun fact 2: the tip marks where the South China Sea and the Sulu Sea meet.

7. DESA Dairy Farm, Kundasang

(Photo source: Metalz / Flickr)
(Photo source: Snippets of Our Love Affair Blogspot)

So you want to go to New Zealand but are a little tight on budget. Here’s a cheaper alternative, this may be only a slice of what the real deal has to offer but hey, the photos you take here will be just as “Instagram-able”. Locals love to take pre-wedding photos here due to the rolling hills and emerald fields, dotted with black and white milk cows (these usually don’t end up in those photos though). 

Do get your hands on the cartons of milk with its signature cow logo – there’s coffee too now apart from the usual fresh milk and chocolate flavour – and enjoy what Sabahans have for years. A sip and you will be asking for moooore (bad pun always intended).

(Photo source: Trip Advisor UK)


Upside Down House, Tamparuli

(Photo source: Tropika Events & Travel)

This “Rumah Terbalik” (that’s “upside down house” in Malay) deserves a mention as it did enter Malaysia Book of Records for being the first of its kind in the country (and Southeast Asia, too). As the name suggests, the whole house is upside down. So enjoy feeling a little “Alice in Wonderland” trip when you visit this gravity-defying house. The experience will turn your life upside down – in a good way.

(Photo sources: Amazing Borneo, Sabah Tourism, Adventure Alternative, Tropika Events & Travel)

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