Things to Do in Sabah
Nestled among the mangrove forests of Semawang, the privately-owned Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary allows you observe the endemic primates during feeding times throughout the day. Fresh fruit and vegetables are provided to supplement the diets of the monkeys, who roam free in the surrounding forest.
A scenic option for water-sports fans and wildlife lovers who don’t have time to travel to Mabul or Sipadan, Tunku Abdul Rahman National Marine Park is just a 20-minute speedboat ride from downtown Kota Kinabalu. Comprising five small islands, the park combines white-sand beaches with coral reefs, jungle, and abundant marine life.
One of the highest mountains in Southeast Asia, the mighty Mt. Kinabalu (Gunung Kinabalu) attracts climbers from all over. But the 13,435-foot (4,095-meter) summit isn’t the only reason travelers visit Kinabalu National Park. With around 6,000 species of flora, the UNESCO-listed park is recognized as one of the most important biological sites in the world.
Reigned over by the mighty Mt. Kinabalu—the tallest mountain in Malaysia—Kinabalu National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its biodiversity. A paradise for nature lovers, the park is home to around 5,500 plant species (including varieties of orchids and pitcher plants), about 326 bird species, and more than 100 mammals.
Nestled in the jungle outside Kota Kinabalu, the Mari Mari Cultural Village lets you discover the old lifestyles of five different Borneo ethnic groups. Enjoy traditional food (and rice wine, watch demos of crafts from tattooing to fire lighting, catch a dance performance, and learn about traditional beliefs and building styles.
The Kota Kinabalu City Mosque (Masjid Bandaraya Kota Kinabalu) is not only the largest mosque in the city, but also the most visually striking. Surrounded by a lagoon, the building appears to float when viewed from a distance, and casts a picturesque reflection into the water below.
Built in 2000, theKota Kinabalu City Mosqueaccommodates up to 12,000 worshipers at a time, and can be entered by non-Muslims outside regular prayer times. The mosque features a classical style with four minarets and a grand blue-and-gold dome, designed to resemble the Nabawi Mosque in Medina, the final resting place of Muhammad.
A visit to the mosque is best enjoyed as part of a half-day city tour of Kota Kinabalu, where you’ll get the chance to explore other cultural landmarks, like the Wisma Tun Mustapha and the Sabah Museum, and view the city sights from Signal Hill.
Located on the hills near Padang Merdeka, the Signal Hill Observatory Platform is the highest point in Kota Kinabalu, which means it’s one of the best places to go for sweeping, unobstructed views of the city and beyond.
Signal Hill is widely considered a ‘mustdo’ attraction for all visitors to Kota Kinabalu. From this decked observatory platform, you’ll not only get a panoramic, bird’s eye view of the sprawling city center, but also vistas extending to the beaches of Tanjung Aru and Likas Bay, and even to the outlying islands of the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park.
You can visit Signal Hill as part of a halfday city tour, which also takes in other Kota Kinabalu attractions and landmarks, including Wisma Tun Mustapha (Sabah Foundation Building), the City Mosque, the University of Sabah, and the Sabah Museum.
Nestled among the jungles of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Kinabalu National Park, Poring Hot Spring and Nature Reserve (Poring Hot Springs encompasses tiled pools used for soaking in sulfurous thermal waters; a suspended jungle walkway; a swimming pool and slide; and an orchid Conservation Center home to more than 1,200 different species.
Located within easy reach of Kota Kinabalu city center, Sabah Museum (Sabah State Museum explores the heritage, art, culture, and daily life of Sabah and its people. As well as the main building, the museum comprises a Heritage Village, Ethnobotanical Garden, and a Science and Technology Center.
One of the most recognizable buildings in all of Sabah, Sabah State Mosque (Masjid Negeri Sabah) combines contemporary architecture with traditional Islamic design. A gold, honeycombed main dome is reigned over by a 215-foot (65-meter) minaret, which was inspired by those found in the Saudi Arabian cities of Mecca and Medina.
More Things to Do in Sabah
The second-largest island in Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park, Manukan Island (Pulau Manukan) boasts coral reefs, crystal clear waters, white-sand beaches, and lots of lush vegetation. Head to the island to do some snorkeling and to explore on the network of walking trails.
With their comically long noses and ginger fur, proboscis monkeys are a highlight of any visit to Borneo. And the Klias Peninsula (Klias Wetlands, an expanse of coastal forest a couple of hours south of Kota Kinabalu, is the perfect place to watch them swing through the trees. After nightfall, fireflies flicker and glitter by the river.
Sapi Island (Pulau Sapi is part of Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, an underwater wonderland located just off the coast of Kota Kinabalu. Though the second-smallest island of the archipelago, Sapi Island is home to the Coral Flyer Zipline, one of the longest island-to-island ziplines in the world.
Kota Belud is an unsuspecting town located in the north of Sabah, approximately 75 kilometers northeast of Kota Kinabalu. Relatively quiet throughout the week, the town comes alive each Sunday with its bustling market known as a tamu.
The market is part social occasion, partly commercial, and entirely enthralling for visitors. It's a colorful kaleidoscope of stalls selling local produce that overtakes the small town each and every week. With everything from leafy vegetables and farm produce to manufactured goods and home-baked treats, Kota Belud’s tamu is a hugely popular local event, with a smattering of tourists enticed in for good measure.
The market very much serves as a social occasion for locals, who swap stories and news as they gather for their weekly meet. Visitors to the tamu might also catch the Bajau horsemen displaying their horseriding skills, with both riders and animals decked out in spectacularly dazzling costumes.
From picturesque beaches to illegal settlements, Gaya Island (Pulau Gaya) is home to diverse people, landscapes and history, which make a visit to its scenic shores perfect for any traveler. The well-known Police Beach boasts one of the most pristine stretches of white sand on the island, and travelers say it’s the perfect place to escape the chaos of city life and relax on sandy shores or take a dip in crystal blue waters.
A visit to nearby Kampung Lok Urai, a Filipino colony the state government refuses to recognize, offers travelers a different look at this storied island’s darker side. Located on the eastern shore of Gaya Island, Kampung Lok Urai is filled with stilt houses and walkways made of well-weathered planks. While it’s considered a high-risk travel area by police, it’s also home to a unique way of life found only on this popular island.
As the northernmost point of Borneo—the third-largest island in the world—the Tip of Borneo (Tanjung Simpang Mengayau is the meeting point of the South China Sea and the Sulu Sea. The significant location of the dramatic headland is marked by a bronze globe and surrounded by rugged coastal scenery.
Located along the banks of the Penampang River, just 16 kilometers the bustling capital of Sabah, the Monsopiad Cultural Village is a living, breathing museum that aims to give visitors an insight into the history and culture of the Kadazandusun people.
The village is named after a notorious Kadazan warrior and headhunter who lived in the area hundreds of years ago. The village as it stands today was established by the descendants of Monsopiad in 1996 to serve as a heritage center.
There are a number of historical artifacts on display, as well as demonstrations of traditional customs and trades. One of the main attractions is the somewhat grizzly House of Skulls, where Monsopiad kept the skulls of his enemies as trophies.
Located just outside of Kota Kinabalu city center, the Kota Kinabalu Wetland Centre is a naturally-occurring mangrove forest that provides some of the best bird watching opportunities in urban Sabah. The wetland is fed by both salt and fresh waters, which allows more than 80 species of resident and migratory birds to coexist within its diverse boundaries.
Ride a steam train on a scenic journey on the North Borneo Railway in Malaysia. Formerly used to transport tobacco, the steam train today carries passengers along the only railway line in the state of Sabah, chugging from the coast through the lush interior of the island, between Tanjung Aru and Papar.
Established in 1964, the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre rehabilitates baby orangutans that have been orphaned as a result of illegal logging and deforestation in Malaysia. Visit the center for an opportunity to see this endangered animal in its habitat at scheduled feeding times and in the rehabilitation nursery.