23 reasons to love Sabah

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Every month we’ll bring you a rundown of the best places to see, things to do and – of course – foods to eat in various states or areas around Southeast Asia. This is part of an editorial series on reasons to love various places in Southeast Asia. This week: Sabah, Malaysia.

Each state in Malaysia has something unique to offer and Sabah, one of two Malaysian states on the island of Borneo, is a favourite place for tourists to visit. The state is not only famous for its immense mountain, Mt. Kinabalu, but a diverse range of wildlife and some of the best diving in the world.

If you have yet to visit Sabah, these 23 reasons will have you packing your bags for the next flight out (we hope!).

1. Mount Kinabalu

You can hike to the summit of Mount Kinabalu, 4095m above sea-level. It is the highest peak in the Malay Archipelago, which is the mainland between Australia and Southeast Asia.

View from the Mount Kinabalu summit (4035m) | Photo credit: Stéphane Enten
View from the Mount Kinabalu summit (4035m) | Photo credit: Stéphane Enten

If you are up for a challenge, take a four-day mountain biking adventure across the foothills of Mount Kinabalu.

biking in borneo
Biking | Photo credit:

See Also: The Battle between Kota Kinabalu and Kuching

2. The hoya flower

Sabah has some weird and wonderful fruits and flowers such as the beautiful hoya flower, also known as the waxplant, waxvine, or waxflower. The flower was named by the botanist Robert Brown in honour of his friend, Thomas Hoy.

Hoya Flower - Sabah
Hoya Carnosa | Photo credit: Lorenzo Andrioli

3. Durian

Another symbol of Malaysia, the inimitable durian comes from the durio tree. The name is derived from the Malay-Indonesian word for ‘spike’. There are 30 recognised species, at least nine of which produce edible fruit.

Dalit durian | Photo credit: fmpgoh
Dalit durian | Photo credit: fmpgoh

4. The rafflesia

Sabah is home to the world’s largest known flower, the rafflesia (although you won’t want to hang about for too long – this flower is also known as the ‘corpse flower’ for its “rotting flesh” stench).

Rafflesia | Photo credit: vil.sandi
Rafflesia | Photo credit: vil.sandi

5. The Mari Mari

Experience a traditional way of life in the picturesque at the Mari Mari Cultural Village.

Entrace to Mari Mari cultural village | Photo credit: shankar s.
Entrace to Mari Mari cultural village | Photo credit: shankar s.

6. Kinabatangan River

Kayak down Malaysia’s 2nd longest river, the Kinabatangan, where you can look out for the infamous Anhinga, also known as “snake bird.”

Anhinga in the sun | Photo credit: Teresa Shen
Anhinga in the sun | Photo credit: Teresa Shen

7. Turtles

You can swim with turtles in the coral reefs around Turtle Island, home to Green and Hawksbill turtles.

Photo credit: Tchami
Photo credit: Tchami

8. Dancing

You can have fun learning an ethnic dance with the indigenous women of Sabah, such as Daling-Daling belly dance or Magunatip, known as the bamboo dance.

Kinabatangan dancers | Photo credit: Carol Schaffer
Kinabatangan dancers | Photo credit: Carol Schaffer

9. Mabul Island

You can revel in the beauty of the unique marine life when you dive into Mabul Island’s clear waters. From seahorses and exotic starfish, to snake eels and the crocodile fish.

Blue-Ringed Octopus, Mabul Island | Photo credit: Angell Williams
Blue-Ringed Octopus, Mabul Island | Photo credit: Angell Williams

10. Tribal arts, crafts and skills

Seek out Sabah’s indigenous tribes: learn traditional medicine, arts and crafts from the Kadazan-Dusun tribe and discover the Bajau people’s exceptional ability in “free-diving” – some divers spend more than 5 hours a day underwater!

Girl, from Rungus Tribe | Photo credit: JamesJames
Girl, from Rungus Tribe | Photo credit: JamesJames

11. Bamboo music

Fall in love with the sound of Sabah’s unique music. Sabah’s bamboo musical orchestra have taken their unique sounds all around Asia. Don’t miss the Bamboo Music Festival, held every 2 years.

Traditional bamboo dancers
Traditional bamboo dancers | Photo credit: shankar s.

12. Sandakan

A taste of China can be found in the harbour town of Sandakan. With a strong Cantonese influence, there are many Chinese temples and restaurants serving traditional fare.

Puu Jih Shih Buddist Temple

13. Gomantong Caves

Explore the Gomantong Caves; an intricate limestone cave system, home to millions of bats.

Gomantong Caves
Gomantong caves | Photo credit: Aber TREC

14. The Floating Mosque

Revel in the serenity of the “floating mosque,” the Kota Kinabalu City Mosque. Its surrounding man-made lagoon makes for a dramatic night-time vista.

KK mosque
Kota Kinabalu City Mosque | Photo credit: shankar s.

15. The night market

Enjoy an array of culinary delights from all over Southeast Asia when you dine at the Kota Kinabalu Night Market.

waterfront market
Waterfront market | Photo credit: Alexander Synaptic

16. Sipidan

Sipidan Island off the east coast of Sabah is rated by many divers as one of the top diving destinations in the world.

Diving under Baracuda Point
Diving under Baracuda Point | Photo credit: Chen Wu

See Also: Sipadan: Still the Best for Diving

17. Danum Valley

Take a nice walk in the forest at Danum Valley Conservation Area.

Danum Valley
Danum Valley canopy walk | Photo credit: CIFOR

18. Agnes Keith House

View some awesome vintage photography at the Agnes Keith House (former home of the Conservator of Forests), including a photo of Keith’s husband standing next to a dead elephant…

Agnes Keith House
Agnes Keith House | Photo credit: Jeremy Higgs

See Also: Book Review: Three Came Home

19. English tea time

Take tea in the English Tea House and Restaurant for a true taste of England in the heart of Malaysia.

English tea house
English tea house adjoining the Agnes Keith House | Photo credit: shankar s.

20. Hot Springs

Sink into the steamy sulphur waters at Poring Hot Springs, thought to have curative properties for the skin.

Hot springs
Poring Hot Springs | Photo credit: shankar s.

21. The railway

Fall in love with the mountain views on Sabah’s only railway, which winds up a scenic mountain track.

diesel railcar
Obselete diesel railcar | Photo credit: shankar s.

See Also: Exploring Sabah by Rail

22. The zipline

Sabah has the world’s longest island zip line, located at the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park. Fly through the air between two islands for the ultimate adrenaline rush.

See Also: Sabah Has World’s Longest Island Zip Line

23. Tanjung Aru

Lie back and relax on the dreamy white sands of Tanjung Aru Beach.

Tanjung Aru
Photo credit: IcedNyior

See Also: 3 Sabah Beach Resorts You Should Know

What’s your favourite thing to do or see in Sabah? Let us know in the comments below.

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This article has been updated as of February 2016. This article was updated on 4 October 2014 to replace the picture for point 23.

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Michelle Chen

Mai Tai Lai hope u get to visit one day . Enjoy the tea….

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