- Written by Dan
Sabah Travel Insights
Travel advice covering the basics when preparing to travel to Sabah.
Malaysia Airlines services Sabah's largest city, Kota Kinabalu, from the national capital Kuala Lumpur. There are no direct flights at present from anywhere in Canada to Kuala Lumpur on Malayasia Airlines; you'll need to fly from either New York or Los Angeles. Cathay Pacific offers flights from Toronto and Vancouver to Kuala Lumpur via Hong Kong. www.malaysiaairlines.com www.cathaypacific.ca
Mini-buses are the most popular mode of transportation within Sabah, servicing both local and intercity routes. Car rentals are prohibitively expensive.
Sabah is home to Borneo's only railway service, running from Tanjung Aru railway station in Kota Kinabalu to Beaufort and Tenom. The journey to Beaufort takes less than two hours; the ride to Tenom is about five hours, but includes a scenic journey through the Padas Gorge with views of the swift-flowing river and mountains.
When to Go
October to March is rainy season in Borneo, which will hinder any plans to visit beaches or climb Mount Kinabalu. If you are interested in spotting turtles on the east coast, the best time to do so is from May to October, with peak nesting times beginning in July. Sabah Fest, the annual harvest celebration, take place for a week in May. It is the best time to experience the music, dance, food and handicrafts of tribal Sabah.
What to See
Penambawang and Mengkabong Water Villages
Two scenic fishing villages built on stilts out over the sea. Mengkabong is the more accessible of the two villages, but noisier. It is worth the extra effort to reach tranquil Penambawang, which boasts timeless village houses and interconnected boardwalks lined with fish laying out to dry. www.virtualmalaysia.com
The Gomantong Caves are home to swiftlets, 27 species of bat and the largest cockroaches you are likely to ever see. Twice a year, workers scale precarious rattan ladders and ropes roughly 60 metres in the air to harvest the edible nests of the resident swiftlets. The nests are a prized delicacy in chinese cooking and demand quite a price at market. As an added bonus, stay around until dusk when the millions of bats fly through the caves. www.sabahtourism.com
Turtle Island National Park
Forty kilometres north of Sandakan, three tiny islands make up this favoured egg-laying site of Green and Hawksbill turtles. Each night at around 7:30, turtles begin to come ashore to lay their eggs which are then transplanted to one of three sanctuaries to protect them from hungry rats. Hatchings are a nightly event, so it's likely you'll catch a glimpse of the tiny turtle hatchlings determinedly making their way across the sand. Sabah Parks only allows 20 people on the island each night, so book ahead. www.malaysiasite.nl/turtle.htm
The quality of accommodations in Borneo has greatly improved in the last decade. Sabah now offers something to suit every taste and budget, from motels and guesthouses to upscale resorts.
The Borneo Rainforest Lodge
Get a real jungle experience by staying in this lodge's rustic wooden cabins whose back verandas overlook the Danum River, ideal for wildlife spotting, the lodge is a quiet escape, as guest numbers are controlled to protect the environment. www.borneonaturetours.com
Sukau River Lodge
Award-winning for its environmentally forward-thinking policies, this chalet-style low impact eco-lodge is basic but clean, comfortable, and airconditioned. The lodge organises jungle night walks—where you set out into the jungle at night to see sleeping birds, bugs, snakes and anything that goes bump in the night. www.panborneo.com
The Sandakan Death March Track
In August 2005, Lynette Silver, a renowned author and historian, along with Tham Yau Kong, an award winning and experienced tour guide, combined with their expertise and talents to identify the path taken by the Sandakan prisoners of war. Today, TYK Adventure Tours, organized by Tham Yau Kong, takes visitors through the jungles of Borneo along the historic track, either on a three to six-day semi-adventure tour or an eight-day challenge trek. Full vehicular support and experienced jungle guides are provided for all tours. www.sandakan-deathmarch.com/au www.thamyaukong.com