BEST THINGS TO DO IN SABAH, MALAYSIA
Let’s just start off by saying that one week is not even close enough to see half of what Sabah has to offer. However, from what we have seen, we can tell you that this green region of Malaysia, is a magical one and we have plenty of tips to share!
How to get there
There are direct flights from major Asian cities, including Kuala Lumpur, Seoul, Hong Kong, Osaka and Singapore. From the airport, you can either get a bus or a taxi to the city centre. The bus takes 25 minutes and is only 5 MYR and comes every 30 to 45 minutes, while the taxi takes only 15 minutes and costs about 30-35 MYR.
More commonly referred to as KK, Kota Kinabalu is the state capital of Sabah, which was only granted city status relatively recently (in 2000). With an abundance of endless eco-treasure and cultural villages, you are guaranteed an experience that is unlike any other. In this article, we will highlight several places to see, and where to stay – in and around the city and the Sabah region. If you do want to spend some time in KK, you should definitely pass by the Filipino Night Market. This famous food court in Borneo is located at Jalan Kampung Air.
Another thing you should do in KK is snorkeling, easy, affordable (like these destinations), and a fun activity. It’s easy to arrange a snorkeling trip via an agency, but if you want to save money you need to take the local bus to the jetty at Jesselton Point and book your trip over there. You will find various tour operators inside who can bring you to one of the 5 islands for about RM100 and RM200.
Where to stay in and around Sabah
Hyatt Centric Kota Kinabalu
If you want to be right in the heart of the action, Hyatt Centric is the perfect place for you. This newly opened 5-star hotel is the first of Hyatt’s lifestyle hotels in Malaysia. Inspired by its green surroundings and the rich heritage, the hotel incorporates local elements into its designs and works with local artists to not only design the rooms but also the uniforms worn by the friendly staff. Make sure to check out the infinity pool on the 22/F. It overlooks the mountain on one side and the sea on the other, perfect for a morning swim.
While this might not be a 5-star hotel, guests are nonetheless guaranteed a culturally luxurious stay at Kiulu Farmstay. Stay off-grid at local homes and immerse yourself into the local Sabahan ways of living. Village Pinion, where Kiulu Farmstay is located, offers one of the best representations of village life in the area. Learn about community based ecotourism and make a difference by taking part in local activities, such as rubber tapping, paddy planting and many more! We honestly had the best fun here as this experience was unparalleled to anything we have tried before. (Read on for more of what you can do in the “What to do” section)
Bungaraya Island Resort
If heaven is a place on earth, pretty sure it’s Bungaraya Island Resort. This beautiful resort is located on Gaya Island, just off the coast of Sabah. Guests can get to the island by ferry from Jesselton Point Ferry Terminal, which is just opposite Hyatt Centric and the journey takes only 15-20 minutes. Bungaraya is not only luxurious but it is also an eco resort, which means they are committed to preserving their surrounding environment. And true to that, all 48 villas are built completely within the jungle, without a single tree being chopped off. This is also why no one villa is the same as the other, as they are all built to suit their surroundings, instead of the other way round.
The resort has two restaurants and an underground wine cellar. Equipped with an infinity pool, a spa and access to the ocean and the jungle, it is impossible to run out of entertainment during your stay at Bungaraya. What’s more? All water sports are available to resort guests with no extra costs, so get those snorkels on and explore the underwater wonders! Book your stay here.
Things to do in & around Kota Kinabalu
Klias River Cruise
One thing that is almost unique to Sabah is proboscis monkeys. These long-nosed monkeys are very uncommon and sadly endangered. There are about 800 to 1000 of them in Klias wetlands, on each side of the Klias River. Join a river cruise to search for them, but remember, they can be very shy so do not try to rattle them. At night, hop back onto the cruise after dinner for some fireflies sightings. You’ll see the trees lit up by these wonderful creatures, making it quite a spectacular sight.
Mountain biking with Trekfinders
From someone who is not particularly active, this mountain biking tour was fun without being too physically demanding, even when we got caught in a tropical rainstorm (true story). The route we took was mainly flat and scenic, despite the weather. This is an exciting alternative way to explore the island.
Experience Borneo’s rustic countryside at Kiulu Farmstay
Do you ever want to disconnect completely from city life and experience a life that is (almost fully) self sufficient? If so, you need to visit Kiulu Farmstay. As briefly mentioned above, the village is so remote from the city, making it the perfect place to enjoy nature’s gifts.
Get on a quad bike and experience the winding roads and paddy fields. Or go rafting down the Kiulu River. Better yet, explore the countryside, cross the Tamparuli Suspension Bridge and partake in community-based ecotourism projects. This is a wonderful way to not only experience a unique village life but also to support sustainable initiatives and give back to the local community.
Visit the Kota Kinabalu City Mosque
Also known as the “Floating Mosque”, the Kota Kinabalu City Mosque is the largest mosque in Sabah. Built in 1997, the mosque is inspired by the design of the Nabawi Mosque in Medina. This has got to be one of the most breathtaking sights to see in Kota Kinabalu, particularly when the sun sets behind the mosque.
Back in the days, people from the sea and the land would pick a place to meet in the town centre to trade freely and peacefully. While the city has greatly developed, this tradition lives on. Every Thursday from 6am to 4pm, there is an open market in the city centre called Tamu Donggongon. “Tamu” means meeting place amongst the locals. So if you time it right, definitely go check out the open market and enjoy the local experience.
There is a famous trail called the salt trail (which is up to 40-60 km from the village to the city centre. It is believed to be this is the trail the villagers used to travel to the Tamo to do the salt trade, as back in the days, salt was the main commodity villagers would trade for.
Visit Manukan island
Near Kota Kinabalu – just a 15 min boat ride, you will find a place that is a wonderful treat to nature and adventure lovers. It’s one of the five tropical islands – Pulau Gaya, Pulau Sapi, Pulau Manukan, Pulau Sulug and Pulau Mamutikis Plenty of people come here for the underwater activities, so it can be a bit crowded but still Manakan is the best island for diving and snorkeling.
Marine Ecology Research Centre
The Marine Ecology Research Centre (MERC) is located at Malohom Bay of Gaya Island. At MERC, the team propagates giant clams and restore coral reefs. Not just like any other aquariums, MERC conducts guided tours and offers other fun and educational activities for visitors of all ages – spending a day as a marine biologist. If you’re coming from the mainland, you can get here by boat in 20 minutes from the Jesselton Point Ferry Terminal. Alternatively, it’s a 10-minute boat ride from Bungaraya Island Resort.
Where to eat
Nevertheless, an important part of this article! Of course we haven’t be able to test everything, but there are a few places we wanted to highlight, which you can save for your next visit to Sabah, Malaysia.
My Native Sabah
With Kadazandusun being the largest ethnic group in Sabah, it is almost impossible to claim to have tasted authentic Sabahan cuisine without trying traditional Kadazandusun food. My Native is the place to go to if you want a taste of true native Sabahan food. Try the traditional Linopot set (warning: very spicy). The sago ambuyat was a controversial dish amongst the group. Made of starchy gluten, this “dessert” is served in a bowl of savoury soup, a must try!
Instead of eating out every meal, cook your own meal with the local villagers at Kiulu Farmstay. The villagers take turns to host. When we visited, three lovely ladies taught us to cook some local dishes, such as making rice parcels. Through our collective efforts, we cooked up 5 simple yet delicious local dishes and enjoyed it with our hosts.
ON22 Restaurant at Hyatt Centric
As if the breakfast buffet was not impressive enough, the dinner here was truly something else. Just like the rest of the hotel, the dishes at ON22 are prepared using locally sourced seasonal produce. Inspired by Kota Kinabalu’s culture, the chef has created a menu that reflects just that whilst keeping the dishes modern and flavoursome. Don’t forget to go up to ON23 Sky Bar for a drink after dinner.
The Longhouse at Bungaraya Island Resort
The restaurant is not only beautifully located by the infinity pool and the ocean, it also serves amazing food from breakfast to dinner. For breakfast, choose from a wide selection of western food such as eggs Benedict, to more traditional Malaysian options, like Mee Siam. If you are having dinner here, you are in for a treat! We enjoyed an eight-course Chinese set menu. ECHO resorts chefs use only fresh and seasonal produce from their own organic farm, Green O. Bayu Aquaculture also raises their own fish to ensure a safe and hygienic condition. Every dish was so well presented and the food was exceptional.