Sabah is brimming with amazing tourist attractions. From the misty highlands of the Crocker Range to idyllic diving spots in Mabul, this Malaysian state is drizzled with colourful tradition and cultural diversity that mystify tourists from all over the world. It has been stated that some of Sabah’s tourist spots are so iconic that they should be included in the seven wonders of nature. Let’s dive deeper into the unique world of Sabah and the top must-see tourist spots around the state.
1. Climb Mount Kinabalu
One of the best places to visit in Sabah is Mount Kinabalu, the tallest mountain in Malaysia, located two hours away from the bustling city of Kota Kinabalu. Standing at 4,095m, Mount Kinabalu is popular climb for locals and tourists alike, promising spectacular views at the top. A definite must-do for avid hikers and nature-lovers out there.
At the summit of Mount Kinabalu
If you are not into hiking, fret not, the surrounding town of Kundasang has transformed into a picturesque tourist-friendly hub with interesting places like the Kinabalu National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), DESA Cattle Dairy Farm with freshly-made dairy products from frozen yoghurt to cheese, the historic Kundasang War Memorial and the stress-relieving Rabbit Village. Kundasang is also dotted with beautiful resorts and little home-stays tucked away amid the hills.
2. Head to the islands
There are beautiful islands in Sabah, each with its own hidden treasure and unparalleled experience. If you want a top-notch, premium location, it’s none other than the world-renowned island of Sipadan. Located off the eastern coast of the state, Sipadan made the top 77 finalists vying for the 7 wonders of the natural world. The island was selected from a pool of 440 nominees in a four-year voting period that garnered over 100 million votes!
Sipadan is truly among the top dive destinations in the world. For divers and ocean-lovers, it’s a world unlike any other with thrilling drop-offs into the deep blue and amazing reefs sheltering rich biodiversity and wildlife.
Diving at Pulau Sipadan
Other must-visit islands in Sabah include Manukan (a 25-minute boat ride from the city), Pulau Tiga, the island made famous by reality show, Survivor, and where you can get a therapeutic mud bath, Bohey Dulang for its unrivaled scenery and Kapalai if you’re into five-star luxury.
3. Immerse in rich culture and tradition
If you visit Sabah, don’t miss out on what it has to offer from a cultural and traditional perspective. Every 30-31 May, Sabah celebrates the Harvest Festival, or Pesta Kaamatan, one of the most important dates for the indigenous people of the state. For two weeks, the Kadazandusun Cultural Association (KDCA) building at Penampang, Sabah turns into a never-ending festival with singing, eating and traditional celebrations.
Pesta Kaamatan // Credit: Astro Awani
The highlights of Kaamatan include Sugandoi, a singing competition, and the Unduk Ngadau beauty pageant. The pageant is a state-wide competition, with district winners competing for the coveted title at KDCA. A highly-anticipated event, the final usually draws huge crowds on both days.
Another big cultural day to mention is the Regatta Lepa held every April in Semporna. A festival celebrating the lepa, a traditional sailing boat of the Bajau Semporna people, this festival is a sight for the eyes. Imagine hundreds of colorfully decorated boats in a sea side parade as they compete for the title of Most Beautiful Lepa. Truly a spectacle! On land, you can enjoy cultural performances, fireworks displays and participate in various traditional and contemporary sports and games.
4. Visit iconic places in and around the city
As you end your holiday here, make time to visit some of Sabah’s must-see sites in and around Kota Kinabalu. The Likas Floating Mosque was built on over 14 hectares of a man-made lagoon, and is a beautiful sight of grace and calm. The Sabah Fund Bureau building is also a great place to take photographs, being one of the first ‘tall’ buildings in Sabah and where you can catch Mount Kinabalu peeking through the horizon on a clear day. The Upside Down House in Tamparuli is also an interesting place, where you can defy gravity, for the camera at least.
Likas Floating Mosque // Credit: Wikimedia Commons
If you’re up for a bit more ‘rail’ adventure, experience the North Borneo Railway (premium travel) or hop on an old train from Beaufort to Tenom along with local families and travelers. For a snippet of colonial history, visit the century-old Sabah Tourism Board Building and take a short hike up to the Atkinson Clock Tower or Signal Hill Observatory Platform. Nature-lovers can head over to the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park for rescued animals or catch fireflies and proboscis monkeys at the Klias Wetlands.
Klias Wetlands // Credit: Wikimedia Commons
If you love sunsets, Sabah is known for its world-famous sunsets! Vibrant strokes of colour fill the skies and on good days, you’ll see the ball of fire slowly dropping past the horizon. For a great sunset, chill at Tanjung Aru Beach or Kokol Hill.
5. Don’t forget to try Sabah’s ginger beer!
So there you have it! There are of course, many more places not mentioned and we didn’t take on the foodie trail this time around, but if you’re looking for an option — try Happy Place, Kolombong serving gourmet steaks that pair extremely well with UINAH Ginger Beer made from some of the spiciest ginger found in Tambunan! When you come to Sabah, it’s always an adventure. Have fun!