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Best Places to Visit in Sabah for 2015

Best Places to Visit in Sabah for 2015

While many have heard of the Land Below the Wind and Kota Kinabalu, this article highlights the Best Places to Visit in Sabah for 2015. This year is also Malaysia Year of Festivals 2015 and the entire nation will be celebrating this event throughout the year and Sabah over in East Malaysia has some pretty amazing places to visit for MyFest2015. While Sabah offers multiple areas for tourism, you should plan your trip in order to make the best of your Sabah visit. 

A general guideline to how long should you spend in Sabah, I would say that around seven to ten days for the foreigners to explore the east and west of Sabah and for the locals, I would consider three nights would be just nice for one city in Sabah. Among the best places to visit in Sabah, they are narrowed down by logistics and accessibility for everyone and the list is;

Sandakan City Panoramic Photo
Sandakan City Panoramic Photo (Click to see large)

A true nature city, Sandakan boasts of the best wildlife in the entire Malaysia where visitors can see the famous Orangutans at Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, The Bornean Sun Bear at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre just next to Sepilok and Labuk Bay to see the unique mascot of Malaysia - The Proboscis Monkey. For the hardcore wildlife and nature lover, there is the massive Kinabatangan River where all of the natural wildlife can be spotted by doing some river cruises and nature walks here.

Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center in Sandakan
Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center in Sandakan
The curious traveler can also explore the Gomantong Caves which is one of the premier birds nest collecting caves in Sabah, a trip here will let you understand more in depth knowledge of this fascinating and expensive luxury sought by many Chinese people around the world. Gomantong Caves are also located on the way to Kinabatangan and Sukau.

New Sepilok Nursery Sandakan
The new Sepilok Nursery
Island lovers fear not, just outside Sandakan are two popular islands - Selingan Island (Turtle Island) and Lankayan Island. Turtle Island offers visitors the experience to watch turtles lay their eggs and also releasing the baby turtles back to the sea. Lankayan Island on the other hand has only one diving resort and is a one of the beautiful and popular diving spots off Sandakan in east coast Sabah. 

Church in Sandakan
The oldest stone church in Sabah here in Sandakan
For culture and food, Sandakan city offers some interesting places like the Agnes Keith House, a historical museum based on the story of a POW's wife during the war here.

A heritage city walk is available for those interested in the history of Sandakan while everyday life in the city is a must experience, especially the Sandakan Wet Market which is divided into the dry section and the fish market. This also one of the best places to buy fresh seafood in Sandakan.

Food in Sandakan is easily available around the main town area and also at Mile 4 area. Local hawker food is found around the main town area and seafood restaurants are popular around Mile 4. A notable place to explore is the Prima Square Area at Mile 4 in Sandakan which is the latest development here. A lot of cafes, restaurants and bars are found here. A recommended place is called SS2 Prima. For additional information, you can also read my previous article on 10 Things to do in Sandakan.


Teck Guan Cocoa Museum in Sandakan
Teck Guan Cocoa Museum in Sandakan
Further down south of Sandakan is Tawau, one of the strong financial cities in Sabah. Tawau also serves as the main gateway to Sipadan Island, one of the worlds best diving sites. From Tawau airport, divers travel to Semporna overland before boarding the boat to Mabul Island and Sipadan Island. Other islands around here include Mataking, Kapalai and Pom Pom Islands.

Pasar Tawau
Salt Fish at the Tawau Market
While Tawau is more of a business city, the highlights here are the seafood as they are the cheapest in Sabah, even much cheaper than Kota Kinabalu and Sandakan. I can assure you that price wise, you will be in for a treat if you love seafood.

There are a few areas where the seafood restaurants in Tawau are located at. For foodies, you must also try the famous Pisang Cheese in Tawau or the Banana Fritters with Cheese as this is one of the local unique foods here.

Tawau was once known as the cocoa empire, and today, the farmers are still producing this. One of the forefathers of Cocoa can be seen at the Teck Guan Cocoa Factory here. A visit to this interesting museum will open your eyes to the cocoa world. Among other interesting and fun attractions around Tawau is the Lost World of Sabah or Maliau Basin, where it is a shorter route here compared to Kota Kinabalu. Maliau Basin is a highly protected conservation area where serious hikers, trekkers and nature lovers should visit. It's the rainforest of rainforest, the best Sabah has to offer.

Seafood in Tawau
Tawau Seafood choices, some unique dishes available
Other places around Tawau include Tawau Hills, a great place for nature walks, hiking or trekking. There is also the Balung River Eco Resort where nature lovers will fully appreciate this place. Another attraction is Bukit Gemuk or Fat Hill where you can find the longest canopy walk in Sabah at 231 meters long. This is also a trekkers and hikers paradise with abundance of nature available here.

Lahad Datu 

Tabin Wildlife Resort, Lahat Datu
Tabin Wildlife Resort, Lahat Datu
While most people will shiver on hearing this world renown town due to the Lahad Datu standoff issues in 2014, let me assure you that Lahat Datu is one of the safest place in Sabah now due to that. Anyhow, those visiting here will not be spending time in the town areas but out of Lahad Datu. Also to highlight, the area which was affected during the crisis was in Kampung Tanduo which is 37 kilometres from town. Much to the amusement of the world media, the military presence here is beyond your imagination.

Danum Valley Canopy Walk
Danum Valley Canopy Walk
Anyway, the beauty about Lahad Datu is found at the unique Tabin Wildlife Reserve, a full nature resort build in a wildlife resort. Here, you can most likely spot the rare Borneo Pygmy Elephant and many other rainforest animals. Bird watching is also top of the list here as many endemic birds of Borneo can be found here. For insect or reptile lovers, there are specialized tour guides available so you need to request this in advance.

Another very special place in Sabah is also Danum Valley which is 70 kilometres west of Lahad Datu. Called the Danum Valley Conservation Area, this is also one of the highlighted nature and wildlife places in Sabah having being known as the only luxury resort in the middle of the rainforest. When I say luxury, this is of course the international standards of luxury and not your usual luxury resorts.

Getting here overland will easily take you 3-4 hours via four wheel drive and it is well worth the journey as you will pass pristine rainforest spotting a variety of wildlife, flora and birds. A must-visit place if you love all things nature, wildlife and birds.

The star attraction here is the very unique Canopy Walk at Danum Valley which stretches from tree to tree and where one can spend the whole morning observing nature and of course the many birds found here. Many bird watchers are known to come here to spot a number of the endemic birds found in Borneo.

Mabul Island

Mabul Island Semporna
Mabul Island, off Semporna
Among the most beautiful islands in the east coast of Sabah, Mabul Island takes top spot in terms of overall attractions. Mabul offers all kinds of island accommodations ranging from luxury, chalets, guesthouses, lodges and the unique oil rig dive resort. Mabul Island is also the gateway to snorkeling or diving at Sipadan Island, one of the top three dive sites in the world.

To get here, one needs to fly into Tawau and take a taxi to the laid back seaside town of Semporna and then a 30 minute boat ride here. Attractions on Mabul Island are the lodges and resorts built over the waters and also the luxurious water bungalows give you the feel of being in the Maldives. The island is so small, it takes only 20 minutes to walk from one end to the other. Islanders or the Sea Bajaus make this island home therefore you will have the opportunity to witness the local lifestyle here.

Sabah Turtle Photo
A Green Turtle seen around Mabul Island
On Mabul island, there are no modern amenities, roads or infrastructure available, only the water village and resorts which are connected by paths and wooden bridges. In the sea just in front of the island, you can find the ethnic Sea Bajau people who still live on boats which is an amazing sight to observe and photograph too. Other than that, it's all snorkeling and diving here. Many scuba divers come here due to the many types of Mabul island diving packages offered by the various dive operators. This place is recommended for those who love islands and the sea.

Maliau Basin 

Maliau Basin in Sabah
Maliau Basin in Sabah
Often called the Lost World of Sabah, Maliau Basin Conservation Area is hands down the most unique conservation in Borneo with a Class 1 Protection Forest Reserve and a size of 588 square kilometers. Recommended for the pure nature lover, Maliau Basin is one of the least explored places in Borneo Island. There are accommodations here which cater to backpacker dorm style rooms, individual twin sharing rooms and also a luxurious twin room bungalow complete with Jacuzzi. I personally stayed at the dorm and also at the twin-sharing rooms in my visits here.

Maliau Basin, Sabah
Maliau Basin, Sabah
The highlights here are the trekking to the many camps located around the basin, some nearby while extreme ones take around 1-2 days of trekking. Usually for the first timers, they will cover the basic trekking which includes the Agathis Camp and also exploration to the Maliau Basin Canopy Skywalk, which is one of the best in Southeast Asia. Highly recommended for those who are fit and love the outdoors.

A trip to Maliau Basin is usually booked through specialized tour agents in Kota Kinabalu. You can also find Maliau Basin Packages from recommended online sites from Malaysia too.

Again, a reminder that this place is not recommended for those with any medical condition and moreover, there are no clinics, shops or restaurants here, while the nearest village is hours away.

The time it takes to get to the entrance of Maliau Basin from KK is about 3-4 hours while from Tawau, it is about 2.5 to 3 hours. From the entrance to the base camp is another one to two hours off road drive on the former logging roads.

Kota Kinabalu City

Kota Kinabalu City Photo
Kota Kinabalu City, vibrant and exciting
Once called Jesselton back in the day, Kota Kinabalu or KK is your main gateway into Sabah as all international flights land here. The best part is that the KKIA or Kota Kinabalu International Airport is located just 10 minutes from KK town. If fact, all of the logistics are cleverly located in the vicinity, things like jetties, bus terminals and so on which make moving around very easy.

Gaya Sunday Market in KK
Gaya Street Market on Sunday
While in KK, one has the luxury of exploring the vibrant multi-cultural city lifestyle where you can visit old charm of KK at Gaya Street area or move to the KK Waterfront to enjoy the modern side of the city where you will find shopping malls, restaurants, bars, markets and a long waterfront filled with many things to do.

Apart from the city, one can do a some nature walks at the KK Wetlands or even at the Sabah Museum Botanical Gardens. For an amazing view of the city, visitors can trek up to Signal Hill Observation Point in town during the evening to photograph the much talked about amazing KK sunsets. This is one of the recommended places to see KK city and the sunsets.

Hard Rock Cafe Kota Kinabalu Rock Shop
Hard Rock Cafe Kota Kinabalu Rock Shop
Entertainment in Kota Kinabalu is also high on the list with a number of popular spots to find bars, pubs and clubs. One of the up and coming attractions is no other that the Hard Rock Cafe Kota Kinabalu which is scheduled to open in 2015. The HRCKK is also located at the new Oceanus Waterfront Shopping Mall which is part of the new KK Waterfront.

Other notable places in the city include KK times Square and the existing KK Waterfront. Food is also a popular must-have while here as there are numerous seafood restaurants found around the city. A great place to explore for food is around the Gaya Street area too.

Kinabalu Park

Mount Kinabalu Peak
Mount Kinabalu Peak seen from the Kinabalu Park
Only about two hours from KK city, the Kinabalu Park is one of the most popular sightseeing spots in Sabah. This also serves as the main gateway to climbing Mount Kinabalu, however many travelers love to come here for the nature experience and cool climate. Around Kinabalu Park are a number of other attractions like visiting the Desa Dairy Farm which is Malaysia's own Frisian Farm, Kundasang town where traders sell their vegetables, The Australian War Memorial and on route back, a visit to the Poring Hot Springs.

mountain squirrel Kinabalu
A mountain squirrel
Mainly in Kinabalu Park, you can explore the many short trails which are marked with the distances, trek all the way to the Timpohon Gate to catch a view of the majestic Mount Kinabalu for your photos and at the park centre.

Around the entrance area, you can also visit the Kinabalu Park Museum which has some interesting information of flora and fauna. Bird Watching is also a very popular hobby here too so don't be surprised if you see a number of people with huge telephoto lenses walking around the park.

Most pre-arranged trips via tour and travel agents will take you to Kinabalu Park and also to Poring Hot Springs, and if you're lucky, to spot the world famous Rafflesia flower, if it's in bloom.

Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park (TAR Park)

Manukan Island, Sabah
Manukan Island, Sabah
Anyone visiting Kota Kinabalu who loves the beach and islands must visit this marine park which is only located only 15 minutes by boat from KK city. At this park, there are a cluster of islands here which caters to all kinds of island activity. Scuba divers and snorkelers are not forgotten as there are numerous dive sites available around the park. Crystal clear waters await visitors where you will be amazed by the clarity and also the marine life seen from up top and also underwater.

The most popular island here would be Manukan Island followed by Mamutik Island where day trips here will let the traveler experience the natural island beauty complete with a lunch before returning back to the mainland in the afternoon. Among the unique activities here, visitors can go trekking or bird-watching while for those wanting to stay here, there is also a resort available. Food is easily available from the many restaurants and cafes on the island while for water sports, there are shops that offer equipment rentals.

Coral Flyer Island Zipline in KK sabah
Coral Flyer Island Zipline in KK - Image from www.voicewithin4me.blogspot.com
One of the latest attractions here is the Coral Flyer Zipline which takes you from one island across the sea to another island. This is also currently the longest island zipline in the world. A must try for any adventure lover. In all, there are five islands at the TAR Park which are Manukan, Mamutik, Sapi, Sulug and Gaya Island and the popular ones are Manukan Island, Pulau Sapi and Mamutik Island. The main jetty to get here is at Jesselton Point in KK town.

Manukan Island View of Mount Kinabalu
Mount Kinabalu and KK view from Manukan Island
There you go and I hope you liked this article and hope to see you in Sabah for MyFest 2015. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask me in the comment form below or you can also contact me on my social media channels as I am constantly updating them regularly. You can follow @MalaysiaAsia on most popular social media channels.

You can also read an interesting article about Why I Keep re-visiting Sabah featured on popular news website MalaysiaKini. This article was written by me based on my actual experiences at all of the places mentioned in the Best Places to Visit in Sabah for 2015. 


Happy Go KL said...

Thanks for this great list! We are just about to go to KK for the first time, so recommendations come in handy! This time we only have time for KK and around and will have to save the fantastic nature around Lahad Datu for next time. Would you happen to have a view on KLIAS wetlands vs. Weston for some river cruising and monkeys potting?

Zul said...

thanks for the list. Tak pernah lagi pergi ke Mabul.

Malaysia Asia said...

Thanks Zul, you should visit Mabul one day. It's really a beautiful and not over developed island destination in Sabah.

Anonymous said...

Hey David,

I'm planning to go to Kota Kinabalu in September and will be visiting the Kota Belud Sunday tamu. From there, I was planning to drive all the way to Kudat but I'm not sure whether it's safe considering the district could be under the ESSZONE.

Any recommendations for Kudat?

Malaysia Asia said...

Hi Dan, it's actually safe there so there are no worries. I once drove from KK to Kudat too, passing KB and the Sabah Tea Gardens.

Anonymous said...

something interesting to expose about Sabah attraction place!