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12 Things to Do in Sabah

Date Published
January 20, 2023

Ascend and embrace the rocky side of Malaysia's highest mountain, armed with harnesses, ropes, cables, helmets, and safety equipment. Photos courtesy of Sabah Tourism Board.

Sabah in Malaysian Borneo offers a wide array of travel destinations and activities. For those planning to visit this year, the Sabah Tourism Board has prepared an itinerary of 12 things to do that will appeal to different types of tourists.

1. River cruising down the iconic Kinabatangan River

The Kinabatangan River cruise offers tourists the chance to see Pygmy elephants and other wildlife. It usually runs twice daily, once in the morning and evening. Some lodges also provide night cruises or night walks to catch a glimpse of nocturnal wildlife, birds, and insects.

2. Doing the Mount Kinabalu Via Ferrata

If you've already done the standard Mount Kinabalu summit climb, it's time to take it up a notch and try the Via Ferrata. Ascend and embrace the rocky side of Malaysia's highest mountain, armed with harnesses, ropes, cables, helmets, and safety equipment. Did you know that the Mountain Torq on Mount Kinabalu is the world's highest via ferrata and Asia's first? It's not any easier than the normal climb, but with proper pre-climb training, it's doable.

Tip: don’t forget to send a postcard from Malaysia’s Highest Post Box located at the Pendant Hut.

3. Cycling around the paddy fields of Tenom

Tenom is often underrated, and most people forget that there’s more to do in there than just white-water rafting. The charming Marais village, about 46 minutes away from the town, looks like it belongs in a fairy tale, with its hilly backdrop, flowing creeks, and greenery of paddy fields and small huts. Consider how relaxing cycling through this scene could be. Other activities offered by the village include traditional cooking, paddy cultivation, barkcloth making, bead crafting, and cultural performances. The rice harvesting season is usually in March and April.

Tip: Don’t forget to indulge in a cup of Tenom coffee while you are in town.

4. Celebrating Regatta Lepa

Regatta Lepa is an elaborate celebration that showcases the nomadic Bajau Laut. The festivities are held annually and usually celebrated in April in the quaint little district of Semporna. The district is the key gateway to dive havens—Mataking Island, Kapalai Island, Mabul Island, Pom Pom Island, Tun Sakaran Marine Park, and Sipadan Island. The main highlight of this event is the colorful parade of the lepa boats, accompanied by the hypnotic beat of the traditional Bajau dance Igal-Igal. Other highlights are the Regatta Lepa Queen pageant, Lepa Tug of War, Lepa boat race, and cultural performances.

5. Tasting exotic and traditional cuisine

Kaamatan (Harvest Festival) is celebrated throughout May from one district to another, climaxing on the 30th and 31st of the month at the Kadazan Dusun Cultural Association (KDCA) grounds in Penampang. It's the best time to go on a gastronomic adventure. Traditional cuisines by the Kadazan Dusun and Murut communities are usually served during these festivals. Try the fragrant nasi linopot, bambangan (pickled wild mango), hinava (much like a Bornean version of ceviche and sashimi), pinasakan sada (simmered basung fish with tangy wild fruit known locally as takob-akob), ambuyat, bosou (preserved dish), tuhau (pickled wild ginger), pakis (stir-fried jungle fern), and more. Delectable desserts include hinompuka (steamed glutinous rice cake), steamed cassava, and rice wines Tapai and Lihing.

6. Go Big or go home

The Bigfin Beach Resort is a private beach resort, Kota Belud’s hidden gem. The resort offers many leisure activities, such as snorkeling, paddle boarding, kayaking, jungle trekking, and scuba diving with a full range of PADI dive courses. It’s the perfect place to unwind and have a mid-year break far from the city.

7. Finding balance with SUP

SUP, or stand-up paddle, has become a popular activity in Tanjung Aru Beach, Kota Kinabalu. The sunrise SUP provides a serene view of the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, while the sunset SUP offers a view of the seascape in magical hues.

Tip: Try the tandem SUP with your kids.

8. Makan seafood at James Fish Farm Tambakan Kudat

Makan means “eat” in Bahasa Melayu. A trip to Sabah should always include a good seafood meal. The James Fish Farm in Tambakan, Kudat serves fresh, affordable seafood, cooked either steamed or boiled. Visitors can go on a short-distance snorkelling tour or even swim in the fish farm.

Tip: Along the way, stop by the Tinagol Beading Village, Sumangkap Gong Village, Bavanggazo Longhouse, or Gombzau bee farm.

9. Spelunking Madai Cave

Go on a road trip to Kunak for a spelunking adventure at Madai Cave, a huge limestone cave within a massive limestone block on the Lahad Datu-Tawau road. This cave is an important producer of bird’s nests, a prized delicacy; hence, the area is guarded by the Idaán community. It is also an archaeological site.

10. Birdwatching at the Rainforest Discovery Centre, Sandakan

Birdwatching is a serious hobby in Sabah, which has numerous Important Bird Areas (IBA). One of them is located at the Rainforest Discovery Centre in Sandakan, which hosts the annual Borneo Bird Festival in October.

11. Trekking to Tabin Wildlife Reserve’s Mud Volcano

Tabin Wildlife Reserve in Lahad Datu is known for its active mud volcano. Last September, the volcano spewed a large volume of mud, which rarely occurs but it is not hazardous to people’s health. Trekkers are rewarded with a mud volcano face mask, which is rich in minerals that are good for the skin.

12. Daydreaming at Shangri-la’s Rasa Ria Resort

The resort is located on the outskirts of the private land of Dalit Beach in the Tuaran district. It's the ideal place to unwind, rejuvenate, and celebrate the end of the year with family. There's a spa, a golf course, a nature reserve center, watersports, and a wide range of restaurants and entertainment options. The rooms are beautifully designed with a tropical beach vibe.

For things to do by district, visit Regions of Sabah or watch the video.