Monday, November 13, 2006

Essential Travels in Sabah Part 1

After being in Sabah for 5 years, I must admit there is really some wonderful and marvelous places that everyone should not miss seeing if heading here. Here is a short list of some destinations to visit during your sojourn with my own personal experience as a guide.


Aerial view of Pulau Gaya with the other islands in the TAR Marine Park cluster in the background.

Island Hopping

Sabah is a state with numerous islands, with accesability like no other destination. Right on the doorstep of the city is the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park (TAR). 10 minutes boat ride from the city jetty (now rebranded as Jesselton Point) and only cost about RM40 odd per person for a full day's trip including park fees and return boat pickup. These five clusters of island (Gaya, Mamutik, Manukan, Sulug and Sapi) offers various activities such as camping facilities, cabin rentals, snorkelling, watersports, picnic areas, banana boat rides, diving lessons, restaurant cuisine and boating. For the more luxurious traveller, try the Gayana Resort with its stilt cabins over the shallows and natural open ocean pool. The more adventurous will find camping out an option as well as the various nature trails along the islands. Underwater adventures are options for divers and non divers, for the former there are various natural coral beds with excellent natural formations and abundant sea life all over and the latter, even those suffering from hydrophobia can opt for the seawalking, diving with the aid of a breathable helmet without the fear of oxygen starvation. Rentals are also available for a boat charter to take you from island to island.


Aerial view of Mt Kinabalu shrouded in a sea of clouds.

Climb Mount Kinabalu

No trip to Sabah is complete without an attempt to scale the highest mountain in South East Asia. For its level, it offers both challenging terrain but also is one of the easier and acceable climbs around with anyone of a normal fitness level able to reach Low's Peak. Chartered tours often offer a package deal for a night stay and tour around Kinabalu Park which is a UNESCO World Heritage site for its biodiversity and a guided climb to the top of Mt. Kinabalu, added in one can also visit the nearby mountain town of Kundasang famed for its cheap vegetables and flowers and later relax the fatigue of the climb by immersing in a natural mineral hot spring at Poring. There is a lot to see along the trails up Mt Kinabalu, Mesilau is the tougher trail but offer unlimited vistas and sights such as lush green forests, natural cascading waterfalls, breathtaking scenery and countless animals along its path.


Fabric merchant plying his trade at one of the multitude of open air stalls during the weekend at Gaya Street.

A Weekend Foray along Gaya Street

Gaya street is a weekly Sunday market is an amalgamation of our more familiar pasar tani (farmer's market), pasar malam (night market) and flea markets. Tamu meaning a weekly gathering of people to sell goods, is stock full of various items; from fresh home grown vegetables, to various animals stalls, artist corner with watercolour prints, antiques and curios, tourist t-shirts, food stuff, local fruits and produce and much more. Almost anything can be found here and there is no better place to get a souvenier to bring back home with its vast stock of local handicrafts with cheap bargains for those willing to look about. Sometimes you may be in luck when performances, promotions or cultural shows are held during occasions at the Dataran Desoka and the atmosphere turns even more festive. Celebrations such as the annual Christmas festivals are also held intermitently and the whole street are full of stalls and activities throughout the week.


Various skulls hang from the rafters in the House of Skulls at the Monsopiad Cultural Center.

Cultural Experience at the Best

Sabah is home to various ethnic tribes of which the largest must be the Kadazan Dusun followed by various others such as the Bajau laut, Rungus, Bajau Darat, Bonggi and more. Each have their own distinct cultural traits and traditions, accounting for the various cultural festivals celebrated throughout the year such as the annual Harvest Festival or Pesta Kaamatan by the Kadazan Dusuns, the Pesta Lepa-Lepa by the Bajaus in Semporna, Pesta Kalimaran by the Murut in Tenom and many more. Their daily lives are also available for tourists to experience with programmes such as the Runggus longhouse homestay where visitors can spend the night in a traditional longhouse or the Monsopiad Cultural Village which showcase the various aspects of the Kadazan's heritage with its main attraction as the House of Skulls, a sacred monument of warrior's skulls taken by the current owner's ancestors in battle when head hunting was still prevalent here. Take lessons in using a blowpipe, join in a traditional Sumuzau dance or bamboo pole dance, try your hand at harvesting sago and most of all take a sip of the strong alcoholic beverage called Tuak.


Mantis Shrimp peeking out of coral outcrop.

Learn to Dive Cheap

There are countless advantages to learn diving in Sabah. For a three day course you can get a basic open water dive certification for under RM500 which include lessons, fees and 5 dives at the TAR marine park all inclusive. Various dive shops near the city offer attractive packages which do not unlike their counterparts in Peninsular lessons taking place in a swimming pool in a shopping center nor the extended trip to one of the remote islands for a single practice dive. Here lessons are hands on and immedietly in the water, offering unparallel practice and experience. The islands here are also more beautiful than those found back in Peninsular with various marine life found nowhere else. After accreditation what do you do? Go dive some more! Sabah is endowned with a rich marine biodiversity and countless islands to explore. Sipadan, mabul and Langkayan offer rich dives, explore Layang-layang or the Turtle Islands. Wreck diving, just head on to Labuan. There is so much to see and not a chance to be missed.

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